Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sentosa sardine-packed?

Sun, Apr 26, 2009
The Straits Times

[ The crowd at Beach Station 2 jostling to get into trams that take them to various attractions on the island.]

By Cara van Miriah

Upcoming developments

Life is not quite a beach nowadays along the Siloso shoreline at Sentosa. It is more, well, a mini-construction site.

The opening of Sentosa's integrated resort, Resorts World, is barely a year away and Siloso, the island's main beach, is morphing from a laidback hangout into splash city.

Two massive structures are already being built that will house two of four new attractions planned for the beach.

One is a 7,650 sq m hotspot with three wavepools and a three-storey complex with bars and a restaurant.

The other site spans 1,870 sq m with a double-storey entertainment complex, offering activities such as banana boat rides.

Another new hang-out is a treetop high-rope course, where participants swing over obstacles. All are due to open this year and by next year, Singapore's first indoor skydiving simulator will be located on the 1.2km beach too.

When the three attractions are completed, there will be 29 attractions on the 500ha Sentosa, including bars, mostly along the 3.2km stretch that includes Siloso, Tanjong and Palawan beaches.

Siloso Beach alone will have about 10 attractions, including bars, and this is getting too crowded for some visitors who fear their chill-out zone is becoming a concrete zone.

Secretary Cheryl Ho, 29, who prefers the quieter Palawan Beach, says: 'Siloso Beach is a mini-city now. It has become too built-up.'

Visitors lament that it has become hard to find a tranquil spot too. They point to the shoreline, deck chairs spill out onto it from Coastes beach bar and Cafe del Mar bar, eight volleyball courts are packed with teens, and sunbathers hog the beachfront just before the Sapphire Pavillion event hall.

The only portion of unspoilt beachfront is a 25m gap between the bars and the shoreline, they grouse.

Ms Cindy Berlandier, 52, ran Sentosa's first beach bar Sunset Bay from 1995 to 2006.

She recalls: 'Siloso Beach was just sand, sea and jungle. It had the kampung vibe. In the 1990s, people had to take the bus to Mount Imbiah and walk down to the beach.

'There were only three snack bars in Siloso Beach then.' She now runs Sunset Bay in East Coast Park.

In the last 15 years, the sleepy beach has undergone several phases of development.

In 1997, the width of the beach was doubled to between 40m and 60m. About 38,000 sq m of beach was added to the existing 35,000 sq m.

Today, Siloso Beach spans 100,000 sq m.

In the last five years, more attractions appeared, including Siloso Beach Hotel, multimedia show Songs Of The Sea, Cafe del Mar, Coastes bar, Bikini Bar and Sentosa Luge & Skyride.

They are part of Sentosa's efforts to diversify its lifestyle offerings, with Siloso positioned as a hip party zone.

Mr Mike Barclay, chief executive officer of Sentosa Development Corporation, tells Life!: 'The energy at Siloso will start to build up with the opening of a new attraction from June. There is never a dull moment on our sandy stretch, especially at Siloso Beach.'

On the concrete build-up, Ms Suzanne Ho, deputy director communications of Sentosa Leisure Group, says: 'Siloso Beach is for the young and energetic. It's about beach volleyball, fun in the sun and soon, adventure. Thrill-seekers to the new attractions will find some action at every turn.'

The group is the overall operator of Sentosa.

Many visit Siloso Beach as it is near Mount Imbiah which has 10 other attractions, such as Images Of Singapore, Merlion Walk and Tiger Sky Tower.

Visitors can also take a short tram ride from Siloso Beach to Palawan and Tanjong beaches.

Palawan has four attractions popular with families including the Animal & Bird Encounters, Dolphin Lagoon and Southernmost Point Of Continental Asia.

Tanjong, at the far end of the southern coastline, is the least populated of the three. It has no attractions, but a beach bar, The Shack, opens next month.

But some visitors wonder if Tanjong and Palawan beaches will go the way of Siloso Beach.

Office manager Harpal Singh, 42, who visits Palawan Beach twice a month with his family, says: 'The new attractions will draw more visitors and the other beaches may be further developed when Resorts World opens.'

Ms Ho of Sentosa Leisure Group points out: 'Palawan Beach is a family-themed beach and Tanjong Beach will retain its chill-out atmosphere.'

About 300,000 visitors, or about 3.6 million annually, visit the three beaches every month, says Sentosa's Mr Barclay.

In 2007, Sentosa saw a record 6.1 million visitors, a 7.9 per cent increase over 2006. Of these, 3.8 million were beachgoers, up from 3.4 million visitors in 2006.

No wonder hotel operators want a slice of the action. The five-star Movenpick Hotel Sentosa opens next year near the Beach Station and will be the fourth resort in the Siloso area. The others are Siloso Beach Resort, Costa Sands Resort (Sentosa) and Rasa Sentosa Resort.

Nature lovers such as housewife Diana Chow, 32, gripe that there is 'too much concrete, too little greenery' at Siloso Beach.

Mr Shawn Lum, 46, president of the Nature Society (Singapore), says: 'When the structures are built, it will take away the tranquility that has been there before.'

But he adds, 'key areas like Mount Imbiah retain the greenery of the Siloso Beach'.

Lifestyle operators such as Mr Tom Lochtefeld, 56, who is developing the new Wave House Sentosa at Siloso Beach, say they are drawn to the 'thriving beach culture'.

During Life!'s two visits there, hundreds of visitors, mostly tourists and expats, were hanging out at beachfront bars such as Coastes, Bikini Bar, Sand Bar and Cafe del Mar.

The beach culture reminded some of the vibe on Spain's famous fun isle of Ibiza, known for its bars and beach parties.

Local partygoers say Siloso Beach lives up to its hip quotient, hosting numerous bashes such as the annual ZoukOut dance music festival. The duskto-dawn party drew a record of 26,000 revellers last year.

And tourists like what they see at Siloso Beach.

Briton Jeremy Lale, 42, who is here on a holiday with his fiancee, raves: 'It's a refreshing change from the sardine-packed beaches in Brighton where everyone is 5cm away from you.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times.


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