Amusement theme parks aren't high on my list of things to do ordinarily, especially when traveling solo, but I do enjoy the ones that do the best at capturing the culture, scenery, and character of the locale. For example, I would choose San Antonio's "Fiesta, Texas" over most of the Six Flags parks. With that in mind, I personally recommend a visit to Sentosa Island by anyone spending a couple days in Singapore. Sentosa emphasizes 'theme' over 'amusement' and proudly puts Singapore's wonderful history on display amidst displays of light, color, and water.
As each amusement park has its signature feature -- so too does Sentosa. It is the Merlion (the "sea lion"), the very symbol of Singapore itself, lording over the Musical Fountain. The Fountain is a lively display of water that dances to a wide selection of songs from classical to jazz to rock to country, for 30-minute shows held two to four times daily. The Merlion is a very tall structure (I'm guessing about 100m tall), representing the half-lion and half-fish creature of Singaporean legend. This Merlion is a tower that (for a fee) allows access to an observation deck on the top of the head, and a smaller deck inside the jaws (the picture gives you a hint of a couple people inside the jaws).
There are two attractions that cover Singapore's history -- Images of Singapore and Fort Siloso -- and both are highly recommended. Images of Singapore is a combination wax museum and photo/art gallery that takes you though the 17th-20th centuries, especially covering the turn of the century and World War II (particularly focused on the Battle of Singapore that saw the Japanese overrun western Malaysia and Singapore, leading to a very embarassing British surrender; the following occupation years, and the reclamation by the British three years later). Fort Siloso was a major stronghold by the British, guarding the western access to the Singapore harbour. It has been converted into a museum, allowing visitors to get a flavor for life in the British army at the time, and the fort's role as one of the last strongholds during the Battle of Singapore.
There are plenty of other things of a more 'amusement' nature to do, of course. I was quite impressed with the Underwater World, where you are allowed to travel in one of those underwater tubes that 'immerses' you in a huge aquarium filled with fish, sharks, and a real-live endangered dugong (or 'sea cow'). Fantasy Island, the Dragon Trail nature walk, the Asian theme village, all of these are enjoyable.
Sentosa also has a lot of beach. Running from Fort Siloso at the west end all the way across the southern part of the island, Sentosa provides plenty of room for the thousands that congregate there on a summer day. In the middle lies a point claimed to be the 'Southernmost Point on Continental Asia', a peninsula that becomes an island at high tide and only accessible by rickety bridge. This picture shows some of the perfectly sculpted islands around this point.
Getting to Sentosa Island can be done by a number of ways, but all of them cost money. For cars, there is a single toll causeway running from the Singapore mainland. Walkers can also reach Sentoso this way, but believe it or not they don't avoid a toll as well. Probably the most impressive way to get there is via cable car from Mount Faber. The cable car is run is fairly new and has a mid-station in the middle of an unfinished town complex, as shown in this picture.
The advantage of the cable car is the vantage point, of course. You pass very close to the Singapore Harbour and get a great view of the many docks. In the other direction, you can see the oil refineries and other industrial grounds that fuel Singapore's economy. As the cable car continues, you get a great view of the city, shown in the final photo.
It never ceased to amaze me how such a small country could be so rich and active. But it has been said that one can judge the depth and strength of a culture by their amusement parks. If so, I would say Singapore has quite a strong position on the world's cultural stage based on its must-see resort at Sentosa Island.
Trip taken 12-14 January 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin