Beach bars, cable cars and… a military fortress? There’s more to Sentosa than you thought. Psst: check out our video below!
Well-loved by residents and tourists alike, Sentosa is a place you’ve probably set foot on at least once in your life (if not, it’s time to get planning!). You’ve lazed on its beaches, tried your hand at extreme sports (or the ultra fun luge) and had a boozy sip at a seaside bar. What’s next? Exploring the hidden military fort.
The history: Singapore’s only coastal fort that’s well-preserved till today, Fort Siloso one served as part of the nation’s defences during WWII. Built in the late 19th century, Singapore was an important trading port under the British colony, so the fort was set up as protection in case a sea invasion occured. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen – the Japanese invaded by land.)
This may be a military museum, but you won’t be going through a yawn-inducing tour. We spent an afternoon uncovering Sentosa’s past as a military fortress and emerged with fun facts, new discoveries, stunning pictures and a pretty good workout …
The view from above
The most scenic way to get to Fort Siloso is via the Skywalk, a treetop trek along a spacious bridge that’s 11 storeys high. Not keen to climb those flights of stairs? There’s a bubble lift that takes you up in a jiffy and lets you admire the view as you ascend. Stroll along the bridge and you’ll see signs providing historical tidbits about Labrador Park, Keppel Bay and more.
Guns… but no roses
We have no doubt that this wartime compound didn’t sport the sprightly colours it does now (scroll down for some unexpectedly vibrant guns!). Fort Siloso has become a tourist attraction in the years since it was vacated, and the refurbished structures certainly make for a good picture, while providing a fascinating glimpse into the past.
Venture to the battery command post for a clear view of the horizon. This post was used to direct coastal defence guns, meaning the greenery you see now was previously a view of the harbour during WWII!
Step into the air conditioned museum block to get schooled on the events of the wartime years in a non-boring way. Who needs a history textbook when you can look at a miniature model of Fort Siloso that lights up at the push of a button? Or watch an intriguing black and white tape that offers a peek into the past?
Once you’ve made your way out, you’ll see more bright blue ammunition stores and another military post that depicts soldiers hard at work. Just a few steps away from the museum and the men, there’s a vending machine where you can snag a drink… and read up on the hari-kari practice, or suicide by disembowelment, done by Japanese soldiers who didn’t want to be caught by the enemy (look for the sign on a white wall).
Now for something a little less gruesome: here’s a beautiful peacock we spotted on this heritage trail.
After going through a restoration process, the labyrinth of underground tunnels now house figures of wartime soldiers manning their positions and loading artillery. Others display artwork by prisoners-of-war (there were way more than expected) that recount anecdotal tales of the horrors they experienced. From dark cartoons to ironically beautiful murals, expect a wall of somewhat unsettling images that offer a rather personal way of communicating war history.
Back above ground
Another museum transports us to the time of the Japanese Occupation, when Singapore was known as Syonan (or Syonan-to), which stands for Light of the South. The museum shows postcards, badges and video testimonies from the Syonan years, alongside recreations of the meagre food rations of the time. Near the Fire Director Tower, a garden of wartime staples includes vegetables that people grew for sustenance during the Japanese Occupation.
The western part of Sentosa was once known as Sarang Rimau, or Tiger’s Lair, as these big cats were supposedly found here. Since WWII though, this has been home to a twin six pounder gun, a director tower, a magazine (i.e. an ammunition dump) and other military posts. For a glimpse into troop life, take a look at Fort Siloso’s restored bunkers and guardhouses – complete with fake guard dogs!
At the surrender chambers, (somewhat eerie) wax figures reenact history-making moments like the Japanese forces’ formal surrender and the British surrender of Singapore, marking the start of Singapore’s freedom.
Climbing down the stairs from the chambers, we’re greeted by wartime posters promoting solidarity in bold fonts and attention-grabbing colours. Outside, vividly-painted guns line the pathway.
For those who aren’t history buffs, Fort Siloso isn’t all about restored tunnels and historical scenes: at the exit, murals created by local artist Yip Yew Chong can be found not just on walls, but on the roads and even rocks. Some of these make for fun optical illusions too!
Fort Siloso, accessible by car (nearest car park: Beach Station car park), cab, the Sentosa beach shuttle or Sentosa bus A and C (alight at Siloso Point if you’re taking cab or bus).