Sentosa prides itself as Singapore’s “state of fun” – and they’re not wrong. In the land-scarce city-state, the 4.71km2 island is where most residents go for a quick getaway given the number of attractions packed within it – Universal Studios, beaches, walking trails, restaurants, watersports centers, and luxury hotels. In addition to that, it’s also the playground to some of the world’s wealthiest, where their lavish holiday homes and luxury yachts are parked.
The Barracks Hotel Sentosa
However, this wasn’t always the case. With all the lifestyle destinations and activities to indulge in at Sentosa, it’s easy to forget its less than “fun” past. Before taking on its current name, which means “tranquility” in Malay, it went by something more ominous: Pulau Blakang Mati or “island behind death”.
Despite having visited Sentosa countless of times and being somewhat familiar with its dark history, it was a weekend stay at The Barracks Hotel Sentosa that gave me a more in-depth understanding of what went on in the island all those years ago. In fact, the luxury hotel served as the perfect window to the island’s storied past because it occupies a conserved colonial building built in 1904, which was once used by the British Army.
(Related: Review of The Barracks Hotel Sentosa)
Rooms on the ground floor have direct access to the swimming pool
The Living Room
Today, The Barracks Hotel is a far cry from the artillery outpost that once housed weary soldiers. The colonial building has been beautifully restored and now houses 40 guest rooms, surrounded by immaculately manicured grounds and swimming pools on either side of it. The space is anchored by The Living Room, which serves as the hotel’s dedicated dining area, allowing guests to enjoy their breakfast, afternoon tea, or evening cocktail beyond the comforts of their room.
Premier room balcony
However, we won’t fault you for not wanting to leave as each guest room features comfortable beds (choose between a king or twin beds), bathrooms with a walk-in shower and spacious bathtub, as well as a balcony perfect for in-room dining – or in my case, where I parked myself to catch up on reading while sipping coffee.
History on the Agenda
The Barracks Hotel's façade at night
For guests who choose to check in at The Barracks Hotel on a Saturday, you are treated to the Barracks Heritage Tour, which is expertly curated by heritage specialist, Jerome Lim. Held at 2 and 3:45PM, the tour is led by army veterans Winston Wong and Khor Sing Hong who used to serve and stay at this former military barracks.
On this tour, the two gentlemen share stories of the past, allowing guests an exclusive peek at their unique personal experiences. The tour is a literal trip down memory lane, where they share the transformation of the island from its humble beginnings surrounded by small villages into the popular destination it is today.
Colonial Charm Tour - Mount Imbiah
As for those who want to embark on something slightly more immersive that goes beyond the hotel’s grounds, The Barracks Hotel introduced The Colonial Charm Tour, which is a half-day experience that runs until the end of the year.
The tour, which is led by a specialized guide, begins in the heart of the island, covering locations like Fort Siloso and Mount Imbiah. If – like me – your previous visits to Sentosa were limited to the theme park, hotels, and restaurants, then this historical side will take you through forested areas, hills, and restored tunnels that chronicle Sentosa’s important role during the war.
Colonial Charm Tour - Seletar Barracks
The Colonial Charm Tour is also inclusive of a luxury car that will get you to various destinations in comfort and style. Once you’ve completed the tour within Sentosa, you’ll be brought to other locations around Singapore that boast more colonial structures, as well as equally interesting histories.
These locations include Gillman Barracks (which now houses a handful of art galleries), Dempsey Hill (a former nutmeg plantation turned military barracks), and ends at Seletar Estate, which has transformed into a destination dining enclave.