Tag Archives: Flowers

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.

Exploring Coney Island

It’s always important to get outside. We know this, and it seems to be increasingly part of collective awareness because there are currently so many restrictions on movement. I am so, so grateful that we’re still able to get out and about in Singapore and I am taking advantage of this simple freedom as much as possible.

Over the weekend, my social cohort and I met early in the morning to take the MRT all the way to Punggol, the northernmost terminus of the North-East Line. From there, we caught the 84 bus to Punggol Waterway Park, is exactly what it sounds like. We were greeted by a turtle pond!

We walked along the path next to the water until we reached the bridge to Coney Island, also known as Pulau (“island” in Bahasa Melayu) Serangoon. Click here to read about the history of the island, which opened to the public in 2015 after ownership changed hands repeatedly beginning around the 1930s.

While much of Singapore looks like this . . .

. . . Coney Island felt like a whole world away.

We heard birds that we don’t hear in the city and saw different flowers, which I really enjoyed.

There were neat mushrooms, too!

It was great to smell the sand and the sea and the sand felt different here than it does in other parts of Singapore.

We walked the length of the island and then turned back to head back to Punggol Waterway Park. It was very hot and we were glad we’d ventured out in the morning. Except for a toilet, there are no amenities on Coney Island so if you’re planning to spend some time there, make sure you rent bicycles before crossing the bridge and stock up on snacks! There’s plenty to eat and drink along the promenade leading to the bridge but nothing but trees and beach once you’re on the island. Trees, beach, and groups of old men fishing.

Since we’re surrounded by glittering skyscrapers, it’s easy to lose sight of what Singapore used to be. And it’s the juxtaposition of the two landscapes that I love.

Travel Guide: Yunnan Province x2

I’ve been very privileged to be able to travel abroad to wonderful places with students. Just like last year in Yunnan and the previous year in Battambang, Cambodia, my school worked with the JUMP! Foundation who develop, design, and manage our programs. As trip lead for the past three years, I have a close relationship with JUMP! – and in all honesty, they make me question my career choices every time. It is an honour to work with them.

Yunnan is in Southwestern China. It borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.

For many students, this was their first time playing backpacker. We took an overnight train, three bus rides, and a short train throughout our trip. There’s a lot to see and do in Yunnan and we were all over the place in our six days of travel.

Our first stop was the town of Baisha. We arrived there after flying from Singapore to Kunming and taking a nine-hour night train from Kunming to Lijiang. This was my third experience on a night train and I slept surprisingly soundly. The earplugs probably helped, as perhaps did having the lower bunk. From Lijiang, Baisha is only about thirty minutes away by bus.

Like most of where we go on these trips, Baisha is a small rural community and it’s beautiful.

I was particularly fascinated with how buildings are constructed and how space is used.

Our primary reason for being in Yunnan was to engage with the environment around us and the minority groups that live there. Our first real activity was a hike up to Fuguo Monastery, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery that has been around since 1601. The hike was beautiful and we really enjoyed the cool air. We don’t get air like that in Singapore.

I’ve been to many temples and monasteries and I really enjoy them. I enjoy their beauty, their quiet, and their overwhelming sense of peace. I do sometimes wonder if that comes from shutting out the outside world and its problems, but that did not seem to be the case here, such as when the monks utterly defeated our students in our annual basketball game.

Our exploration of the landscape continued the following day. We hiked up to a reservoir located just outside of town towards the monastery and then down to a village located alongside Wenhai Lake. The terrain was steep and damp from the previous night’s rain and it changed as we walked. Once again, the air tasted different from the air that we have in Singapore and the wind came from a different direction. There were times during our walk when I lost myself in the forest and in the sensations of being somewhere foreign yet completely familiar.

It is a true pleasure to feel like I’m somewhere new and to look around at a completely different sky. Singapore is dense and full of tall buildings; our time in Yunnan gave me some much-needed solace and an escape from a world that I often feel is moving too quickly.

From our forest walk, we visited the Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute where we learned traditional Naxi Dongba calligraphy. The symbols are pictographs that can be combined in a variety of ways to create many different messages. It was a lot of fun to use the calligraphy brush! We also learned traditional embroidery, which the kids really enjoyed and which reminded me of the sewing I used to do in elementary school.

We did not stay still in Yunnan, however. After two nights in Baisha we took a three-hour bus ride to Laojunshan. If I’m going to return to any part of Yunnan on my own, Laojunshan is it. I didn’t know it before I arrived, but the area is China’s traditional climbing heaven and as soon as we got there, I understood why.

The buildings are beautiful, too, and fit so completely into the red sandstone that was everywhere.

Many people from the Lisu minority community live in the area around Laojunshan and are known for their music and dance. We visited the home of famous Lisu musicians who have performed as far away as France. We spent an afternoon with them to make bamboo flutes and learn traditional Lisu dances. A week later, my flute still tastes and smells like wood and smoke, which I love.

Later that evening we had the opportunity to put our Lisu dance steps into practice, which was great fun. Laojunshan is basically one long street and the nightly entertainment is dancing! We gathered with the community after dark in a large courtyard with lights, tables, and benches and followed along as best we could. The Lisu women had beautiful costumes and many men were involved in the dance, too.

When we left the dancing, I looked up at the stars. It was so dark and there were so many stars. We don’t see that in Singapore.

Another thing we don’t see in Singapore is mountains. The following day we climbed Thousand Turtle Mountain, which was astonishingly beautiful. The views are glorious and the day was fresh and new from rain the night before. I loved watching the light and the mountains appear from the mist. I took some time to write and to sit and breathe the air; there aren’t many occasions when the world feels right to me but this was certainly one of those, for which I am grateful.

Thousand Turtle Mountain feels like a different world from anywhere but it was starkly different to Lijiang, our final destination that afternoon. Lijiang is about three hours by bus from Laojunshan and the home of the closest airport to where we were. At just over a million people, one of my Chinese colleagues pronounced it tiny. Considering we’d spent the week in towns so small that you could count the number of streets, Lijiang felt huge.

Rather than spend any time in the city, though, we headed straight to Lijiang Old Town, which used to be the market district. It maintains that character and flavour through winding, twisting, narrow streets full of shops but the shops today are for tourists. They sell souvenirs, food, and beverages of every kind. I do enjoy a market in any form and it was fun to wander around and see what there was to see. I really did like the architecture, too. Most buildings in the parts of Yunnan I have visited have exteriors far grander than I would have expected and it always catches me by pleasant surprise.

Throughout our time in Yunnan, I photographed flowers. We have lots of flora in Singapore but I love exploring the beauty of the places that I visit. It’s all so different! And there were so many purple ones!

The following day, we were back at the train station for a high speed train to Kunming to catch the flight that would take us to Singapore. We spent six days in a different world and I am grateful for each one of them, and for the people I spent time with along the way. It is experiences like this that make me feel right in the world and this one came at a good time.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. – John Muir