Sentosa Cove: “The World’s Most Desirable Address”

Sentosa Cove

Photo by Studio8

That is the unabashed marketing tagline for Sentosa Cove, Singapore’s haute island residence that has in the same vein been touted as the “Monte Carlo of Asia”.

Since the first homes were completed in 2006, Sentosa Cove has become the epitome of living the high life in Singapore. Its very name conjures up images of luxury waterfront bungalows, with private yachts berthed alongside. A tony residential retreat for the wealthy where “Lamborghinis, Porsches and Bentleys fill the driveways of multimillion-dollar villas”, Sentosa Cove is indeed home to Singapore’s well-coiffed and well-heeled.

For those of us old enough to remember the 80s TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, I think it would be apt to say that Sentosa Cove residents are having their “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” fulfilled.

Sentosa Cove

Villa Alba – Photo by Mercurio Design Lab

Incredibly though, barely 10 years ago Sentosa was a very different island.

THE LOWDOWN

Sentosa Cove occupies approximately 120 hectares on the eastern end of Sentosa island, just across the harbour from mainland Singapore. It is Singapore’s first and only gated community and is home to the who’s who of Singapore. In fact, as it is the only place in Singapore where non-Singaporeans are allowed to buy landed property to reside in, Sentosa Cove boasts a veritable list of High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) from all over the world as residents. Today the over 2000 lavish waterside bungalows and luxury seafront condominium apartments within are home to approximately 6000 residents.

Sentosa CoveNot long ago however Sentosa used to just be Singaporeans’ humble family leisure venue, so the island’s relatively recent dramatic transformation into a resort home and playground for the rich and famous has caught many by surprise. Older generation locals still have fond memories of the island’s family friendly attractions we grew up with in the 70s, including the Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, the Fort Siloso war museum, the Musical Fountain with its then “high-tech” laser show, and later on the kitschy Volcano Land theme park with its lifelike volcano eruptions, and of course the Fantasy Island water park with its many water slides.

Sentosa CoveBack then in the 70s and 80s the only way across to the island was by ferry or the overhead cable car ropeway. A causeway, built in 1992, became a huge game changer allowing visitors to simply drive over to the island. Hotels and beach-side restaurants and other amenities soon followed, and Sentosa became a popular “staycation” venue for Singaporeans and even tourists who wanted to kind of get away for a day or two of fun and relaxation.

The transformation of Sentosa into a high-end retreat only began in 2006 however when the first affluent occupants took up residence in Sentosa Cove (although plans for the up-market residential enclave were put in place as early as 1986). A large area on the eastern shore of Sentosa including the small reef island Pulau Buran Darat was reclaimed and redeveloped to form the Sentosa Cove site.

Sentosa CoveOutside of the Sentosa Cove residential area the rest of Sentosa was also undergoing a major revamp. 2010 saw a milestone reinvention of Sentosa with the opening of the glitzy Resorts World Sentosa, a casino resort that also housed the headlining Universal Studios theme park. The old cable car ropeway was also upgraded that same year.

Interestingly, the transformation of Sentosa from mass market leisure resort into a high-end residential and high roller retreat wasn’t the first transformation for the island. Before the island was renamed to Sentosa (which means ‘peace and tranquillity’ in Malay) in 1972 and developed purposefully into a tourist attraction, it was a naval base with the ominous sounding local name of Pulau Blakang Mati – loosely translated as “island after death”, a possible reference to a malaria outbreak on the island in the late 1840s.

An even more curious fact is that Sentosa was used as a detention site for one of the government’s earliest political prisoners – Chia Thye Poh, who was imprisoned on the island from 1989 and was not allowed to leave for the mainland until 1992.

Sentosa CoveWith Sentosa now famed instead for its Sentosa Cove millionaire’s row, the island has certainly come a long way. It is probably more of a “Fantasy Island” now than the water theme park ever was.

VISITING

Sentosa CoveTo reach Sentosa Cove, drive eastwards once you enter the island along Allanbrooke Road, past the golf courses. Once past the arches of Sentosa Cove you’ll arrive at the dolphin fountain and Sentosa Cove Village, or the Cove Arrival Plaza. Continue left and you’ll see Quayside Isle, a restaurant and shopping plaza fringing the marina’s boardwalk. Up ahead is the W Singapore luxury hotel, and on the other side the ONE°15 Marina Club. While the restaurants in Quayside Isle and the hotel are open to the public, the restaurants and facilities within the marina club are open only to members and their guests.

Sentosa Cove Quayside IsleQuayside Isle is a great waterfront dining venue especially if you want some respite from the city, or if you just want to soak up the glamour of the Sentosa Cove lifestyle. Notable restaurants at Quayside Isle include chef/owner Emmanuel Stroobant’s Saint Pierre offering his acclaimed modern French cuisine; Spanish seafood and tapas grill Sabio by the Sea, as well as the Blue Lotus Chinese restaurant and the Earl of Hindh Indian restaurant that cater to the many Chinese and Indian nationals living on the island. More casual dining options include Brussels Sprouts, known for their Belgian beer and mussels, or Picotin Express bistro or SolePomodoro Trattoria for wood-fired oven pizzas and casual European and Italian fare respectively. Kith cafe too is a great place for a coffee and a light bite, and is usually packed during the day with island residents and non-residents alike.

Sentosa CoveThe residential area in Sentosa Cove is just beyond the public precinct, and is divided into a North Cove and South Cove. Access to the residential areas is limited strictly to residents and their guests however. Since many would not have an opportunity to enter the residential areas (unless you happen to be a realtor with occasional access!), I’ll give you a quick peek.

Sentosa CoveOpposite Quayside Isle you have the Residences at W condominium. Go left and you’ll be in North Cove, where you will cruise by the houses along Ocean Drive and on 3 small artificial islands – Treasure Island, Paradise Island, and Coral Island. Virtually all the houses have yacht berthing facilities. Continue along the sea front road and you will come across the condominiums The Azure, The Berth by the Cove, The Coast @ Sentosa Cove, and The Oceanfront @ Sentosa Cove, all sea-facing with gorgeous views.

If you turn right at the dolphin fountain junction you’ll be in South Cove, where along Cove Drive there are similarly 2 artificial islands – Sandy Island and Pearl Island with more waterfront homes. There is also a development featuring cluster terrace houses called the Green Collection, while condos on South Cove include the Marina Collection, Turquoise, Seascape, the very exclusive Seven Palms Sentosa Cove by luxury developer SC Global Developments, and the newest and tallest condo on Sentosa Cove – Cape Royale.

Sentosa Cove Cashew tree

Cashew tree and fruit

Both the North and South Coves have lovely green park spaces fronting the coastline called “Foreshores”, which are reclaimed coastlines. These beach front areas shored up by a stone embankment feature an automatic irrigation system to keep the well-groomed lawns in tip-top condition. The pleasant open spaces have shady trees (even a fruit-bearing cashew tree), and park benches and wooden gazebos to rest in and enjoy the strong sea breezes. You’ll also be afforded wide open views of the Singapore Strait and the nearby Tanjong Pagar Port with its container ships pulling into and out of the busy port. On Sundays, domestic helpers lucky enough to be employed by families living in Sentosa Cove like to gather at these areas for a bit of R&R themselves.

LOCATION

Eastern part of Sentosa island; just follow the signs.

Sentosa Cove

TIDBITS

  • Beleaguered City Harvest church pastor Kong Hee recently put his The Oceanfront @ Sentosa Cove luxury penthouse up for sale for S$10M. The 5,242 sq ft lavishly furnished apartment is served by a private lift and comes with a huge rooftop infinity pool. The church pastor has been involved in a long drawn out court case accusing him and his team of misappropriating church funds to the tune of S$50M.
  • In 2010, the drowning of a Karaoke lounge hostess at one of the bungalows made the headlines. The young lady from China was found floating naked in the mansion’s pool after an apparent pre-dawn swim. The courts ruled the drowning an accident, and the owner, who had paid for the lounge hostess’ companionship for that night, sold the house soon after.
  • Australian mining magnates Gina Reinhart and Nathan Tinkler both own property on Sentosa Cove (at the Seven Palms), as does a Spanish tycoon named Ricardo Portabella Peralta, as well as Indian Telecom billionaire Bhupendra Kumar Modi.
  • Houses in Sentosa Cove are currently up for sale for between S$6.5M for a terraced house to S$50M for a luxurious designer bungalow. You can also rent an apartment at one of the 9 condos from about S$6000 up. Both rents and purchase prices on Sentosa Cove have taken a tumble in recent months however as the property market cools, so renters and buyers can actually pick up some good deals!
  • Sentosa was originally master-planned by the Housing Development Board (HDB) in 1970, however was soon taken over by the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC), set up in 1972 to develop the island into a tourist destination.
  • A scene from an episode of the popular 1970s American detective show Hawaii Five-O was filmed on the original Sentosa cable car line.

Sentosa CoveTAKE NOTE

  • To access the North or South Cove residential areas you need to be a resident of Sentosa Cove with a resident’s pass, or be visiting a resident (the resident’s details will be noted down) in order to get past the security gates.
  • You can take the free Sentosa Shuttle Bus 3 from stations around the island to Sentosa Cove Village. The bus operates at 35 minute intervals daily from 8am – 10.30pm.

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Sentosa Cove

Steve Fisher’s “Fish House”

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The Verge Mall: Faux Flowers are Forever

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

Fresh is fleeting, while faux is forever.

“Forever flowers”, “everlasting blooms”, “permanent botanicals” or whatever you call them, artificial flowers today look amazingly lifelike and have become a legitimate alternative to Mother Nature’s originals.

Faux Flowers The Verge MallThe Wall Street Journal in fact recently proclaimed faux flowers “chic”, reporting that “the seemingly uncool craft of simulating nature’s blossoms has stealthily become chic. Brilliant faux blooms that defy preconceptions and last forever – the handiwork of artists and inspired floral stylists – have begun popping up everywhere from Kate Spade stores to high-end weddings”.

Closer to home, the Straits Times in a write-up earlier this year titled “Fake and Fabulous”, stated that “fake flowers and plants are enjoying a resurgence”.

I had wanted to add a display item to my plain TV feature wall, and felt I could use some colour as well to liven up my predominantly white themed apartment. Not being much of a green thumb, and not wanting to deal with the bugs that real plants attract, I thought I would look to artificial flowers instead.

No longer the cheap plastic abominations we remember from the ’80s, today’s artificial blooms are very realistic looking and, are practical longer-lasting displays than fresh flowers. So off I went to The Verge mall where there are a few shops on the 5th floor retailing these faux flowers and plants, at reasonable costs to boot.

THE LOWDOWNFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

In the ‘80s and ‘90s Blanco Court shopping centre along Ophir Road was the go-to place to buy decorative items at wholesale prices – party accessories and gift wrappers, as well as artificial flowers and plants. When Blanco Court made way for the Raffles Hospital in 1998, many of the retailers moved to The Concourse along Beach Road. In 2008 the retail part of The Concourse was acquired to make way for service apartments however, and some of the retailers relocated to The Verge mall in Serangoon Road.

There are 4 shops on the top floor today selling artificial flowers, adding a burst of colour to an otherwise dowdy mall. Pretty floral displays cram every inch of the shops, in readymade potted arrangements or as individual stalks.

Artificial flowers are primarily made of silk, however nowadays many are made using the cheaper polyester, with the stems and other bits made of plastic. The techniques and technology used in making these flowers have improved by leaps and bounds in recent years with better prints, colours, and materials to mimic the look and feel of the real McCoy.

All that’s lacking perhaps are the sweet floral scents.

VISITINGFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

The artificial plant and flower shops on the 5th floor are:

There is also another shop wholesaling toys and a shop selling party and festive supplies.

At this time of the year the floral shops have cleared some of their regular flower and plant displays in favour of Christmas trees (fake of course) and other yuletide décor items. In fact the shops switched over to Christmas sales mode as early as October. Great for Christmas bargain hunters, not so great unfortunately if you’re looking for non-festive plants.

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

http://www.madehow.com/Volume-5/Artificial-Flower.html

There’s still plenty to choose from though, and it’s fun to wander among the cramped aisles of the shops admiring the multi-coloured creations. Just remember to be careful walking among some of the precariously displayed pots and vases though, lest you break something (as I did..!).

Some plants and flowers are more realistic looking than others, and to be honest many of the plants, as compared to the flowers, still look pretty fake. The large potted plants aren’t cheap though, and in fact, the faux flowers do cost a pretty penny too – although if you amortize their costs over their longer life spans than they are definitely better value buys than genuine flowers.

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

I bought 2 black glass vases with potted purple orchids in the end, paying $68 each. Faux Orchids look very real (if you stay away from the strange electric blue coloured ones), and since they are local plants will be more convincing than say a pot of too-perfect Tulips or Gerberas in our climate. I had also been admiring the display of what looks like white orchids on Ellen’s set for a while; am pretty sure those aren’t real flowers.

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

LOCATION

5th Floor, The Verge Mall, 2 Serangoon Road (Juction of Serangoon Road and Sungei Road)

HOW MUCH TIMEFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

I picked out my flowers in about a half hour as I knew what I wanted, although you might want to allow yourself more time to admire the beautiful blooms and select your choice of what to take home.

TIDBITS

  • The Verge used to be known as Tekka Mall as it is opposite the famous Tekka Market and Food Centre, before it upgraded itself and adopted a fancier name in 2009. A sleepy mall with not much else happening apart from the 5th floor floral shops, there is a huge Sheng Siong supermarket in the basement levels though (Sheng Siong incidentally is where you can get a wide variety of fresh local fish).
  • The old Blanco Court mall had a food centre connected to it, and was known for its delicious “Kway Chap” (Teochew rice noodle soup dish featuring pig offal) stalls. One of the stalls is now located in the Old Airport Road Food Centre, and is called “To-Ricos Guo Shi (“guo shi” is Mandarin for “kway chap”) with a signboard highlighting its “Blanco Court Food Centre” origins. Just look for the long queue really.

TAKE NOTEFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

  • The Verge Mall has 2 buildings linked by a walkway – the smaller “main” building, and the larger Chill@TheVerge housing food and beverage, and entertainment outlets geared towards the younger set. The mall carpark is in the annexe building, and the entrance to the carpark is pretty hard to find as it’s tucked away among a warren of one-way lanes on a side street called Dalhousie Lane. Follow the signs carefully.

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Golden Mile Complex: Step into Little Thailand

With Thailand’s political unrest culminating in its coming under martial law in May of this year, Singaporeans have been putting off visits to one of their favourite destinations. For anyone having Thai withdrawal symptoms however there is always Golden Mile Complex, a.k.a. Little Thailand, for a quick fix of all things Thai.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Photo by the Straits Times

THE LOWDOWN

Amid an endless stream of gleaming new shopping malls in Singapore lie a few older, derelict almost shopping centres, untouched by time and development.

One such centre is the Golden Mile Complex, which over time has evolved into an ethnic enclave for the Thai community in Singapore.

Golden Mile Complex - Little ThailandOpened in 1973, the mall boasts none of the trappings of its young, glitzy Orchard Road brethren. Dark, dingy even and dotted with small shops and eateries, many with signage only in Thai, the centre looks like a provincial Thai shopping mall. And it certainly sounds and smells like one too, with the strains of Thai pop music and the scent of Thai cooking and spices wafting throughout the centre.

Golden Mile Complex - Little ThailandThe Golden Mile Complex did have its glory days when it first opened however. Back in the late 1960s the strip of land between Nicoll Highway (completed in 1956) and Beach Road was conceived as Singapore’s “Golden Mile”, a wonderfully romantic name for a shopping and residential high-rise belt fronting the Kallang Basin. The 16-storey Golden Mile Complex (first named Woh Hup Complex, then the Golden Mile Shopping Centre) opened soon after, a grandly touted integrated commercial and residential complex with full bay views, and boasting of an innovative stepped architecture that was a first of its kind in Singapore.

As to how Golden Mile Complex became a Thai hub: The stretch of Beach Road in front of the complex has long served as a terminal for coaches operating the Singapore-Haadyai (Southern Thailand) route. As business grew the travel company opened a Thai eatery in the complex. They gradually expanded their travel and dining services, and also opened a provision shop, all catering to their Thai clientèle. Soon other Thai businesses opened there too tapping into the opportunity.

Golden Mile Complex - Little ThailandFast-forward to recent times however and the increasing crowds the centre draws has unfortunately created a problem for the complex. With the Thai community in Singapore largely made up of blue-collar manual workers, the complex gained a reputation as a sleazy haunt particularly on weekends, with rowdy intoxicated men and working girls frequenting the complex. In 2006 a member of Singapore’s parliament went so far as to describe the complex as a “vertical slum”, a “terrible eyesore” and a “national disgrace”. Residents and owners have since made several attempts to cash out and sell their building “en bloc” to a developer to tear it down, however all unsuccessful.

In spite of its rawness Little Thailand does have its charms though, especially if all you want is authentic Thai food in an unpretentious setting. Just look past the grittiness and tuck in.

VISITING

My friends and I go to the Golden Mile Complex every so often when a craving for “cheap and good” Thai food strikes. There are numerous small eateries offering all manner of Thai cuisine that are popular with the Thai nationals, however the non-Thais usually go to Diandin Leluk, prominently located around the open centre of the mall and the most fancy of all the restaurants at the complex. The eating place my friends and I go to however is the other sizeable restaurant in the complex, the BeerThai House Restaurant tucked away in the back. The food here is no-frills, but definitely authentic. There is an English menu and some of the servers do speak a smattering of English. The restaurant’s extensive menu is interesting and offers uncommon regional Thai fare, in addition to all the usual favourites.

In recent years with the popularity of “Mookata” combination Thai barbecue and steamboat dining in Singapore, the eateries offering Mookata at wallet-friendly prices in the centre of the complex have also been drawing the crowds.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Sai Ooah Northern  Thai Spicy Fermented Sausage

After a satisfying meal you can amble up the stairs to the large well-stocked supermarket on the second floor. Even if you don’t cook and have no use for the abundant fresh and packaged native Thai produce (they actually also stock Vietnamese and Filipino produce), chances are you will find some tantalizing Thai munchies to take home. There are also fresh fried banana fritters, grilled sausages and the “kanom berng” mini crepes on sale, all popular Thai street snacks.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

There are different brands and types of Sriracha hot sauce apparently

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Ready-packed green preparations

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

I have no idea what this is – some kind of tripe??

If you are male and enjoy the charms of Thai ladies then you might be tempted to linger at any of the cafe/pubs after dinner over a few bottles of Singha, the ubiquitous Thai beer. If you are a party animal to boot then check out the action late night/early morning at the Butterfly Thai disco. Thai discos have become “hot” in Singapore in recent years, and the Butterfly Thai Disco at the complex (previously named Pure Thai Disco, and before that Thai Disco 2) is one of the biggest and oldest. Open till 4am and sometimes later, you can listen to a live Thai band belt out cover songs, as well as sponsor garlands of plastic flowers or more expensive sashes to shower your appreciation on your favourite singers. This is clearly for generous (and gullible) free-spenders only.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Kanom Berng mini crepes

LOCATION

5001 Beach Road (Near Crawford Street)
Open:  Late morning till late night

HOW MUCH TIME

About an hour and a half for a meal and a quick stroll through the ethnic supermarket.

TIDBITS

  • Golden Mile Complex was designed by local architectural firm Design Partnership, which has since grown to become Singapore’s preeminent architectural firm DP Architects.
  • Conservationists have started to clamour that the building, viewed by most as an ugly monstrosity, is actually an architectural wonder with too much historical merit to be torn down.
  • Songkran, the Thai/South East Asian new year “water festival” is also celebrated in Little Thailand each April. Revellers douse each other with water in a symbolic cleansing ritual that is fun if a little messy. The celebrations this year were muted however as Singapore experienced one of its worst droughts earlier this year.
  • The Golden Mile Food Centre across the road has a few notable local food stalls. Upstairs, the Army Market is also fun to trawl through.

TAKE NOTE

  • The complex is super crowded on Sundays when scores of Thai foreign workers get their day off and throng the shopping centre. Visit during the day or early evening, before the atmosphere turns rowdy.
  • Don’t get confused with the neighbouring Golden Mile Tower, a far more prosaic looking office and retail building. Although there are some Thai cafes in that building too including Beer Thai Restaurant’s more upmarket outlet, the tower is better known for its Golden Digital Theatre which screens Indian movies.
Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Water Mimosa – great stir-fried

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