One of the many benefits of living in Singapore is that, despite the fast pace of everyday life, peace and tranquility, and beautiful uninterrupted vistas are never far away. The islands around Singapore provide many easy getaways, and so taking a short break for a day and seeing something new and engaging is simple and straightforward. Alternatively, if you are looking for a resort-style break, this can also be found within easy reach of the city as well.
In some ways, Sentosa has become a part of the mainland, in that it’s so simple to get there and the fact that so many people visit it, around 5 million each year. Nevertheless, it’s a place that is truly packed with things to do and see and so day trips are always worthwhile and no two need ever be the same. The range of family-oriented activities is very impressive, and so Sentosa is always a great place to head to with the kids in tow.
You can visit the Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom or take on the Skyline Luge at Imbiah Lookout, get down and dirty at Combat Skirmish Live at Siloso Point, hang around (literally) in the wind tunnel at iFly Singapore or swing through the air on The Flying Trapeze. And of course, there is Resorts World Sentosa, with Universal Studios, Marine Life Park (the world’s largest oceanarium) and Dolphin Island (where you can get up close with the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose). If you’re looking for something more grown-up, there are more hotels, restaurants, bars and spas on Sentosa than anyone could ever hope to visit, and so you’re never far away from quality food and wine, and plenty of lively entertainment.
But it’s not all go all the time, and there is some very attractive beach and coastline on the island. Visit Palawan Beach for family fun or to walk on the suspension bridge to the southernmost point of continental Asia, head to Tanjong Beach for white sands and a tranquil vibe, or Siloso Beach if you’re looking for that resort-style experience.
There are almost as many ways to get to Sentosa as there are activities on the island. You can take the cable car from Harbourfront MRT (Exit B), which gives you a great aerial view of the island. It runs from 8.45am-10pm daily, and costs $26 for adults and $15 for kids. You can walk, via the garden-themed Sentosa Boardwalk, from the promenade at VivoCity. Open 24/7, It has covered travelators (operating 7am-12 midnight) and will cost you $1 (you can use your EZ-Link card). If you don’t fancy walking, the Sentosa Express is the light rail system that runs from VivoCity (Lobby L, Level 3) and is available 7am-12 midnight every day. You can pay with a Sentosa Pass or your EZ-Link card ($4).
For a remarkable change of pace, however, a visit to Pulau Ubin off Singapore’s north-east coast is the perfect pick-me-up for those jaded with city living, and yet is only a 15-minute boat ride away. The 10km sq. island has no electricity or running water and is a reminder for many of what Singapore was like in the early years after independence. Granite quarrying was the island’s only industry (the last quarry closing in 1999) and thousands of people lived there, but now the population is in the region of 50.
A trip to the island is popular with Singaporeans and tourists alike, and making the short journey in the simple wooden vessel called a bumboat lands you in another world. There is a tiny main village and so the only sounds you can hear are the birds and the rustling of the trees—the island’s biodiversity is one of its many appeals, with over 600 species of bird, 200 kinds of plants and more than 150 types of butterfly to be found.
Cycling on Singapore’s only off-road mountain bike track is a popular way to get around the island (bikes can be hired for between $8-$10) and to reach its 70 foot high viewing tower, where you can look back to the mainland and revel in the sharp contrasts between the two.
Bumboats depart from Changi Point Ferry Terminal (51 Lorong Bekukong) when there are twelve passengers (the waits are never excessively long). A one-way ticket costs $2.50 or a whole boat can be hired for $30. To get to Changi Point Ferry Terminal take the East-West MRT to Tanah Merah, and then bus No. 2 to Changi Village Bus Terminal (the last stop), or MRT to Simei and bus No. 9 to the stop after Changi Golf Course.
St. John’s Island and Kusu Island
A trip to St John’s Island and Kusu Island, both on the same ferry route off the southern coast of Sentosa, is one of the most invigorating journeys you can make that is within an hour or so of the CBD.
St John’s Island is small with some extraordinarily clear water and beautiful coastline, and at its best looks every part the tropical island paradise, especially when you’re relaxing around one of its three swimming lagoons. It is the larger of the two islands (39 hectares), but still easy to traverse on foot and there are many trekking routes to explore. It does have something of a murky past, however, having been used in the past to house cholera, leprosy and beri-beri sufferers, while it also had a brief history as a prison and drug rehabilitation center.
It is a perfect spot for a day trip with playing fields, toilets and public phones available. There is a host of flora, fauna and marine life to enjoy, including the Tropical Marine Science Institute’s Marine Aquaculture Centre, whose staff conduct guided nature walks.
It is possible to stay on St John’s Island in holiday bungalows that sleep up to 10 people and are comfortably furnished with fitted kitchens, with a three-night stay costing as little as $53.50 or up to $214 during peak school holiday times. There is also a small restaurant on the island.
Kusu Island (Hokkien for turtle) is particularly known for its temple and shrines, and the tortoise sanctuary that has been established there. There are many legends surrounding the island and two shipwrecked sailors (or perhaps monks), one Chinese and one Malay, who were rescued by a turtle who had turned itself into an island. The story goes that they later returned to the island give thanks, and people have continued to do so ever since. A Taoist temple known as Tua Pek Kong, and three Islamic keramat shrines have been built here, the latter standing atop the island’s only hill. In fact, the only time that Kusu Island is not a peaceful haven is during the ninth lunar month, known as Kusu season, when there is an enormous Taoist pilgrimage (in the region of 50,000 people) to the temple.
Although very peaceful, Kusu is not untamed wilderness and this is why it proves such a popular swimming and family picnic destination. There are two swimming lagoons (the one to the north provides a good view of the mainland), picnic tables, toilets, and public telephones, although overnight camping is not permitted.
Singapore Island Cruise (islandcruise.com.sg, 6534 9339) operate the ferries that sail from Marina South Pier (31 Marine Costal Drive). They are both on the same route, so you can hop off at either island and wait for the next returning ferry. Ferries depart Marina South Pier twice a day Monday to Friday (at 10am and 2pm), three times on Saturday (9am, 12pm and 3pm) with five services on Sundays (9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm). From South Marina Pier to St John’s Island takes about 30 minutes, and it is then another 15 minutes to Kusu Island. Return tickets cost $18 for adults and $12 for children aged 1-12. To get to Marina South Pier, take the 402 bus from Marina Bay MRT (departing every 10-15 minutes) and get off at Marina South Pier terminal. A new MRT station, Marina South Pier (NS28) on the North-South line, is set to open towards the end of 2014.
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