Sentosa in the early 1800s was mostly uninhabited. In fact, it was so deserted and creepy that people called it “Pulau Blakang Mati” – the Island of Death from Behind. Sometime later, having been recognized for its strategic location, the island was developed into a military fort, serving as a coastal defence during both World Wars. Eventually, it became apparent that Pulau Blakang Mati wasn’t such an auspicious name and the island was renamed Sentosa, which means “peace and tranquility”. Indeed, it can be rather peaceful and pleasant to take a hike around the island, especially during the early morning hours before the crowds come in.
Can’t wait to get in there? Let’s go!
There are many ways to get onto Sentosa Island, the most popular (and most expensive) of which is to take the cable car from Mount Faber or Harbourfront ($30-35/adult). Cheaper options include hopping onto the Sentosa Express monorail from VivoCity ($4/person), riding the public buses (standard bus fare depending on distance), or driving in ($2-6/vehicle).
Our favourite way of course – because it is free – is to hoof it across the causeway along the scenic boardwalk.
The Sentosa Boardwalk is sheltered and equipped with convenient travellators for those too lazy to walk the whole 600 metres.
The best part about walking is being able to slowly savour the looming views of Sentosa Island as we stroll along the boardwalk.
The many flowering plants scattered along the way delight not just the tourists but also the birds. It is quite common to spot the sunbirds enjoying the sweet nectar of the many flowering plants, including the Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis)…
…and the Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis).
As we step onto the island, we are tempted by a whole host of popular attractions, such as the Universal Studios, Trick Eye Museum, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Butterfly Park, S.E.A. Aquarium, Adventure Cover Waterpark, and the list goes on.
But for now, we’re going to skip through all that and make a beeline for our main goal – to explore the island’s green spaces and hopefully bump into some of the endangered species of birds and other wildlife that are known to live here.
Naturally, the first place we’re drawn to is the deep dark forest surrounding the Imbiah Trails that lead to the summit of Mount Imbiah.
Standing on the 200-metre long Imbiah Bridge at the trail entrance, we are immediately surrounded by the deafening sounds of cicadas like an orchestra of screechy violins.
These shrill sounds are actually created by the male cicadas as they repeatedly work their internal muscles against their abdominal membrane.
The boardwalk bridge soon ejects us onto a sandy trail that leads us deep into the eerie forest.
While walking, we have to watch out for the creepy crawlies that inhabit the forest.
There are rest spots along the way where we could stop for a picnic, or simply to meditate.
We might even hear the gurgling sounds of the man-made waterfalls planted at several locations along the trail, probably to make up for our island’s dire lack of natural waterfalls.
At some point, a gentle slope beckons us towards the summit of Mount Imbiah.
At the summit of this humble little hill are the remnants of the old military fort and battery that was abandoned in the 1930s. Today, all we see is an empty pit where the mighty 9.2-inch coast gun once stood proudly at this site. The gun and other war relics are now on display at Fort Siloso.
Also standing at the summit is a 10-metre high bird-watching tower, from which we could not only enjoy the fabulous views of the Southern islands, but also attempt to locate our most beloved winged friends…
…such as the Oriental Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis)…
…the Tanimbar Corella (Cacatua goffiniana)…
…the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita)…
…the Olive-winged Bulbul (Pycnonotus plumosus)…
…or the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier).
From the Imbiah trails, a possible exit point is via the Tempinis steps which will lead to Fort Siloso and the Coastal Trail.
At the entrance of Fort Siloso, we are presented with two options: take the elevator to the Skywalk…
…or continue via Siloso Trail to get to the Fort.
We opted for the Skywalk and found ourselves climbing the endless stairs to get to the top, as we were too early and the elevators were not yet in operation (open 9am to 7pm).
But we had no regrets, as we were rewarded with awesome 360-degree views of Labrador Park and Keppel Island with its impressive skyscraper backdrop…
…VivoCity and Harbourfront, our favourite shopping and dining haunts…
…the alluring sandy lagoon of Siloso Beach below…
…and, far into the horizon, the Southern islands that we’d always dreamed of exploring.
We looked on lustily at the string of cable cars suspended above the dense forests, imagining that we were sitting inside one of those cabins.
From the elevated sky bridge, we could peep into the tree-top roost of the Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus) and see what he’s up to.
At one point, the amiable Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis) stopped by to say hello and welcome us into his fort.
If we look up into the sky, chances are we will spot a raptor or two soaring in the skies. While standing on the sky bridge, the White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) gave our neck muscles a good work-out as we tried to track his flight path while he circled above us.
The Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) soon followed and hovered overhead for a brief moment, before flying off into the horizon.
As we entered Fort Siloso, we could hear a melodious song echoing from the surrounding forests. We were delighted to discover that it was the song of the Chinese Hwamei (Garrulax canorus)! Not a native bird in Singapore, the Chinese Hwamei (also known as melodious laughingthrush) was first introduced here in the 1980s through the pet bird trade, because of his beautiful melodious voice. A very small wild population soon established itself here, probably from escaped pet birds, and we were fortunate to be able to encounter him here in Sentosa and hear his enchanting song!
Scattered all around the Fort Siloso compound were educational boards that gave us a comprehensive history lesson on this last preserved military fort of Singapore.
As we ventured down the trail, we got a glimpse of the colourful stories that illustrate Fort Siloso’s role as a key defence post during our colonial past.
The Battery Command Post as it was in the 1930s, can be seen here today. But that wasn’t the only thing in command here.
The resident peacock was on display, distracting us with his commanding presence.
At the westernmost tip of Sentosa Island, we had an unobstructed view of Labrador Park, one of our favourite hiking haunts.
If we were feeling lazy and didn’t want to hike all the way back, we could hop onto a shuttle bus (Sentosa Bus A) along Siloso Road, and then take the monorail (Sentosa Express) from Resorts World Station to VivoCity. All for free!
At the end of a long hike, nothing beats sitting down and tucking into a big bowl of ice kacang.