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Palawan Beach Sentosa
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5 beautiful beaches in Singapore and the stories behind them

Coastal kampongs and wartime massacres – Singapore's idyllic beaches have fascinating stories to tell

Cheryl Sekkappan
Written by
Cheryl Sekkappan
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Natural or not, Singapore is not short of beautiful beaches and hidden shores. Better known for their man-made distractions and amenities than natural scenery and water quality, our local beaches are nevertheless a favourite destination for weekenders in search of fresh air and tranquil settings. Yet, beaches like Punggol Beach and Sembawang Beach are not just convenient getaways – they hold tales that are as old as the island itself. The site of quiet coastal kampongs, and later, the tragedies of World War II, our beaches have fascinating stories to tell. 

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Punggol Beach
  • Attractions
  • Beaches
  • Punggol

That this was the site of the Sook Ching Massacre in 1942 is impossible to ignore – there is an on-site heritage marker detailing the tragic event. On February 28, 1942, over 400 Chinese men were rounded up on suspicions of being anti-Japanese. They were shot dead on the beach by the Hojo Kempei (auxiliary military police) firing squad and their bodies thrown into the sea or left on the shore. Up to the late 90s, remains of the victims were still being found, including a skull and two gold teeth. By this time however, a cluster of popular seafood restaurants had set up at Punggol Point – drawing seafood lovers from all over Singapore. 

What to do today Today, Punggol Beach is a sweet spot for nature lovers and photographers alike. It's a great place to catch the sunrise and sunset, while boulders dotting the beach form an eye-catching backdrop. Punggol Point Park has other draws too, including Punggol Point Jetty (where you can fish), Punggol Promenade, and easy access to Coney Island and more walking and cycling trails. 

Changi Beach
  • Things to do
  • Changi 

Like Punggol Beach, Changi Beach bears the unsavoury reputation of being the site of the Sook Ching massacre. According to the National Heritage Board, 66 male civilians were killed by the Japanese auxiliary military police on February 20, 1942. But in the years following, Changi Beach underwent a few rounds of development in an effort to turn it into a lifestyle destination. In the 70s and 80s for example, Changi Point was the site of a 1000-seat restaurant, chalets, and food and beverage joints. There was even a Polynesian themed development called Aloha Rhu. In the 2000s, the government poured $4 million into Changi Beach Park to upgrade its amenities and enhance its rustic charm. 

What to do today Changi Beach Park still has a distinct kampong vibe. Quieter than other beaches in Singapore, it's the perfect spot to escape the weekend throngs. Spend the weekend barbecueing up a storm at one of the 20 barbecue pits, or rent a bicycle to explore the nearby park connectors. Just want to chill out? Head to the stretch along Carpark 2 to catch the best views of planes landing during sunset. 

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  • Attractions
  • Beaches
  • Pasir Ris

Pasir Ris Beach's history is more glitzy than grisly. In the past, the beachfront had a reputation for being a private escape for the wealthy and influential. It all started in the 1890s, when Jewish broker Ezra Nathan and real estate agent H.D. Chopard built the first bungalows by the beach, starting a trend of exclusive parties and gatherings in these breezy beachfront properties. After the war, the former Pasir Ris Hotel opened here – again, it was only accessible by those in the upper echelons of society. It was only in 1958 that facilities – the promenade, shelters, seats – were built expressly for the public. In the 50s and early 60s, Pasir Ris Beach was also a favourite among water skiiers. Competitions were even held every two months, to the delight of competitors and beachgoers.  

What to do today The coastline view is as pretty as ever, worthy of a jaunt in the cool morning or evening breeze. Don't forget to explore the mangrove swamp using the boardwalks, and also climb the three-story viewing tower for some birdwatching. Playgrounds and pony rides keep the kids entertained, while nearby barbecue pits and nature trails ensure parents can keep an eye out for their little ones.

 

 

 

  • Things to do
  • Sentosa

Before Sentosa was 'the island of fun', it was a fishing village that served as a British military fortress and Japanese prisoner of war camp. And like Punggol Beach and Changi Beach, it was the site of the Sook Ching Massacre, when scores of Singaporean Chinese suspected of anti-Japanese activities were killed. Today, that beach is occupied by the Serapong golf course. Sentosa began a new lease of life as a holiday resort in 1968, its dark history washed away by a stream of developments along the beachfront. Funny enough, there was even an attempt by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to set up a nudist resort on the island to revive flagging tourism. 

What to do today There's no end to what you can do on Sentosa's beaches. Head to buzzy Siloso Beach for a taste of the glamorous beach life at one of its many beach clubs – though, do book well ahead – or head to Palawan Beach for a calmer, familial atmosphere. If you're looking for water activities to try out, we recommend hitting up Ola Beach Club for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.  

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  • Attractions
  • Beaches
  • Sembawang

The secluded Sembawang coastline was once home to a good number of bustling kampongs. Kampong Tengah, Kampong Wak Hassan, and Kampong Tanjong Irau are just some of the villages that sat under coconut trees. In the early days, families in the kampongs were involving in fishing activities, but by the 80s and 90s – when many villages were redeveloped – people had started moving away to work in the city centre. Sembawang Beach and its park also offers a glimpse into our naval history. The remains of Seletar Pier hint at a time it was used to transport materials for the Sembawang Naval Base in the early 1920s. Meanwhile, the beautiful Beaulieu House – once the seaside residence of senior engineers and officers of the naval base – still stands today. 

What to do today Sembawang Park's beachside locale is perfect for a lazy weekend picnic. While fishing is a popular pastime here, many can be seen crowding around barbecue pits and picnic tables sprinkled along the coast. If you're keen on its naval history, follow a new heritage trail by the National Heritage Board

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