Category Archives: Singapore

Singapore’s Other Islands

Most people know that Singapore is an island off the southern tip of Malaysia. Fewer people know that Singapore has about 64 satellite islands and one outlying island. (In all honesty, I didn’t know those numbers until I looked it up to write this post.) One benefit to being in Singapore for the summer has been ample time to go exploring! This post is a quick overview of my recent travels to some of Singapore’s other islands.

Pulau Ubin

I’ve wanted to go to Pulau Ubin since I first moved to Singapore in 2015. One morning, a friend and I cycled out to the ferry terminal at Changi Point, paid $6 each for bumboat fare with the bikes, and waited mere minutes until the boat left with its maximum capacity of 12 passengers (4 of which were bikes).

There are plenty of bike rentals on the island but easy enough to take our own. Much of Pulau Ubin is made up of mountain bike trails and the one benefit to rental bikes is that they’re already pretty beat up. We were there on a muddy day and mostly stayed away from the mountain bike trails but there was plenty of easy cycling to keep us busy.

In addition to bike trails, Pulau Ubin is known for fishing and camping and there is an option to spend the night. Unlike the islands that I’ll discuss below, some people do live on Pulau Ubin (population was under 40 when I checked) and there are a few places to eat and drink there. There are also picnic tables at clearly labeled locations on the maps conveniently found around the island. We brought snacks and that served us just fine.

(Thank you to my friend for the Pulau Ubin photos below.)

I didn’t take pictures (again, thanks to my friend!) because I travelled the island by bike but I do want to highlight the flora and fauna that we saw. In addition to very tame wild boar and far more monkeys than one normally sees, Pulau Ubin is home to birds not found elsewhere in Singapore and some really beautiful mangroves that have been painstakingly restored. It’s a very special thing to walk along the narrow boardwalk between the mangroves and the sea.

For those of us who spend most of our time in cities, Pulau Ubin is a chance to experience one of Singapore’s last kampongs and an environment that we do not find elsewhere. If I’m able to go back, I’ll definitely take photos.

St. John’s, Lazarus, and Kusu

These three islands sit partially inside Sisters’ Marine Park and are about 40 minutes away from Singapore by ferry. The ferries leave from Marina South Pier and move between islands according to a set schedule. One round trip ticket costs $15 and there was no fee for bikes. The islands are quite large if you plan to explore on foot but bikes allowed us to cover a lot more ground and spend time in places that would have been a little too far to walk. It is also important to note that are no shops or restaurants (and nowhere to refill water bottles) on the islands but plenty of food stalls at the ferry terminal.

Our day started out bright and sunny and it was a lot of fun to see Singapore’s skyline from the other side.

And then the wind started to pick up. The color of the water changed from blue to steel gray and clouds took over the sky. The islands we were approaching disappeared and we were suddenly very, very small.

As happens in the tropics, especially during the monsoon seasons, if it looks like it’s going to rain, it does. The question of where it rains, however, is a good one. We watched rain on Singapore while the sun came out again on St. John’s. We saw plant species that I’d never seen before and so many coconuts!

We didn’t go in the water but I did take a few minutes to make my way down the rocks as far as I could go. There are many parts of St. John’s and Lazarus that have accessible (and lovely) beaches but it’s always an experience to go look where no one is looking.

We cycled from St. John’s over to Lazarus where we found people fishing and taking advantage of largely private beach space. My favorite part was watching the sky and this is why I’m not sorry we ventured out here during the rainy season. We watched another storm roll into Singapore and then continue straight for us. The sky darkened and we chased the wind to a gazebo where we ate our picnic sitting on towels on the ground.

The rain was quick and we had time for another quick cycle. It really is wonderful to be somewhere without cars and without buildings.

The ferry brought us from Lazarus to Kusu, a tiny little island that is close enough to Lazarus to swim if you’re so inclined. It is enshrined in legend that vary in telling, but all versions contain Chinese and Malay symbolism and remain culturally significant. In the legend, a tortoise turned itself into an island to save shipwrecked sailors. In actual history, the island has had many uses over time and is mostly built on reclaimed land.

Tortoises are found all over Kusu, both real ones in a sanctuary and in the form of giant statues. Kusu is also home to a Chinese temple that is visited on pilgrimage during the ninth lunar month.

I don’t know that I’ll visit St. John’s, Lazarus, or Kusu again but I’m glad to have done so. There’s a lot more to Singapore than sparkly buildings and I’m glad to be able to share that.

Coney Island

I first visited Coney Island on foot at the end of March, which was shortly before Singapore’s circuit breaker began on April 7. Since then, I’ve returned several times by bike. It’s a quick little ride or a longer stroll but feels like a different world. Have a look at the blog post linked above for details and pictures!


If there’s a silver lining to Covid-19, it is that I have been forced to explore that place that I live. A friend once said, “Singapore is small enough that if someone ever asks, ‘Have you ever done…?’ you should be able to say yes.”

Journey on. Journey well.

Climb On

In the last couple years, I’ve (re)discovered my love of rock climbing. As a child, I always enjoyed the climbing walls at summer camp, and I spent a fantastic afternoon at a climbing gym during a visit to a friend many years later. I should have put all of this together and taken the opportunity to go to the climbing gym down the road in my town, but I did not. And then finally, just two years ago, I went to a climbing gym here in Singapore after encouragement from a few friends who climbed regularly.

It literally rocked my world. Climbing has put my mind and body in places I didn’t know I could go. And now that those feelings have been part of my world, I never want to lose them. There is focus on the breath, shutting down of the chatter in the mind, and direction of physical forces to balance the body. There is deliberate movement, tiny adjustment, and sometimes a jump that will either end in a hold or a fall. There’s fear to contend with, certainly, and there’s trust in my partner to catch the fall. Ego crops up more than I’d like and I’m learning to know when to trust the body and when to admit that I am out of my league, when to just reach for the next move and when to take time to rest.

This has been a strange summer holiday but one benefit of it is that I have been able to spend a lot of time climbing after ten weeks off during the circuit breaker. I have felt my body move and stretch and reach and I have grown strong again. The blisters on my hands have hardened into callouses. The strength in my fingers continues to surprise me – there are times when I’m strong and times when I’m not. My legs are bruised. There are scrapes on my elbows. The skin on the fronts of my toes is rough. I have worn through one pair of shoes and started to break in new ones.

Being in Singapore for the summer has also meant that we have been able to get out to the Dairy Farm quarry during the week when relatively few people are out. It rained a lot during the month of June but that has tapered off in the last couple weeks and it has been dry enough to get outside.

This is not what people think of when they think of Singapore. And this is not what you’ll find if you never step away from the MRT stations. But this is here. And it is beautiful.

Climbing outdoors feels very different from climbing indoors. Real rocks are part of the world and they have been weathered by time and the elements rather than bolted on a wall in neat patterns. Routes that would be relatively straightforward if colour-coded inside require thinking and problem-solving outside.

There’s a real humility to looking up and then recognising that the only way forward is to look for the next foothold, the next handhold, however tiny they are. The way forward is to understand how the rock is shaped and formed and how to respond to it. The rock has been there for all of time. I am just a visitor.

The experience of climbing – the smell of dirt, the feel of rock, the sound of leaves in the wind, the tiny toe holds that make all the difference, the exhilaration of being so much a part of the world – this is a way of being that I have come to know. And it is beautiful.

Dancing in the Rain

I haven’t spent much time in Singapore during the start of the Southwest Monsoon season, which lasts from June to September. I’m used to the hour or two of afternoon rains that characterises the new school year in August, but half a morning of pouring rain is a new experience. So is half a morning of pouring rain followed by an evening of more rain.

While I won’t be climbing rocks outdoors any time soon and while the rain has put a literal damper on morning bike rides, there are some new features to life here that I’m quite enjoying. It feels cozy, for once, which is something we rarely experience in the tropics. It’s breezy and (comparatively) cool both indoors and out; I’ve made soups and curries for dinner and I’ve been glad for their warmth.

Geylang in the rain – September 2017

When I first moved to Malaysia six years ago I learned to enjoy the rain. Where I come from, rain is cold. Rain in the tropics is not. The water is warm, the air is cool, and it’s a welcome refresher for the day. Granted, getting soaked on the way home from work is inconvenient (although getting soaked on the way to work is more inconvenient) but it’s so much fun at those times to feel like a kid again. You’re wet. Very wet. So you might as well hop off the bike, settle it safely against a wall or building, and dance in the rain.

This is what I have tried to keep in mind now that we’re in the strangest period of summer school holidays that I have ever experienced. Normally, summer for me is spent travelling between family members, catching up with friends, enjoying early morning runs on the nearby canal, and taking a complete break from my normal environment. But this year, we can’t do that. And so we adapt.

Singapore started its reopening a week ago and I have been so glad to see people out and about, to reunite with friends, and to feel my body move at the climbing gym. It has given me time to reflect on the experience of living here and what this place has to offer. And I’m not talking about museums (still closed) or fancy bars (some still closed). I’m talking about hot pot for dinner at a friend’s house and going down the street for a local coffee at a hawker stall. I’m talking about my favorite place in town to watch the world go by and the renewed joy of gathering at home in small groups. Simple things. Things that I missed when they went away.

Experiencing the small joys of an open world, although a small one right now, is what this summer is about. It might not be what I’d planned or what I’d wanted, but I am glad to have this time for what it is.

It might be raining, and that’s all the more reason to dance.

Potong Pasir in the rain – June 2018