|Da Bo Gong Temple, Kusu Island - Photo by Mo|
Singapore is very cosmopolitan, so things can get a bit claustrophobic if you’re not much of a city-person. If you’re more the outdoorsy type, or if you’re just looking for a peaceful outing in general, then consider a day trip to St. John’s and Kusu Islands.
St. John’s Island and Kusu Island are two of Singapore’s southern islands, between five and six kilometers off of the mainland, and their stunning shrines and beaches make them popular with religious pilgrims and tourists alike.
|Kusu Island - Photo by Mo|
St. John’s and Kusu islands are a short ferry ride away from Marina South Pier. To reach the pier, first take the MRT to Marina Bay Station. Once outside, cross the street to the bus stop and take the 402 bus to the stop right in front of the pier entrance. It’s about a five minute ride, and the bus stop is near the water’s edge, but you can ask the driver exactly which stop it is to avoid any confusion. The 402 bus route is actually a loop service (from Shenton Way Terminal to International Cruise Terminal), so you can ride it several times if necessary, and you can catch any 402 bus from the pier back to the Marina Bay MRT station (your EZ-link MRT card is valid on the bus system, but make sure you scan your card both when you get on and when you get off the bus!) A round-trip ride will cost you less than 2 Singapore Dollars (SD).
Once at the pier, you can purchase a ferry ticket from the Singapore Island Cruise company, which provides a daily service between St. John’s and Kusu. Tickets cost 15SD for adults and 12SD for children under 12, and they are fairly flexible, meaning you can stay on each island for as long as like and catch the ferry of your choosing to your next destination. However, the ferries run fairly infrequently (for example, there is only one morning and one afternoon departure from Marina South Pier to the islands on weekdays), so I suggest you make your island outing a day-trip and go first thing in the morning. My friends and I decided to go in the afternoon, and by the time we got to the pier, we caught the last ferry out, which means we had about 15 minutes on each island before the boat continued on its way (and at one point the crew was yelling at us to hurry up!) We still had a blast, but the islands are gorgeous, and we would have enjoyed having more time to explore them, so keep the ferry schedule in mind. To view the ferry schedule, click here.
While you’re waiting for your ferry ride, you can check out the pier’s top deck for some great ocean and city-views, or you can visit the Singapore Maritime Gallery, which is a lot cooler than it sounds (and it’s free!) The museum has amazing exhibits and some awesome interactive technology and simulations to explain Singapore’s history as one of the world’s busiest ports; for example, you can practice steering a ship in various sea conditions. The museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.
|Photo by Mo|
|Monsoon Weather! Photo by Mo|
After you’ve explored St. John’s, take the ferry over to Kusu Island. Kusu means “Tortoise” or “Turtle” in Chinese, and legend says a magical tortoise turned itself into the island to save two shipwrecked sailors who were so grateful that they returned to the island to build, according to their beliefs, a Muslim kramat and a Taoist Shrine. Naturally, tortoises are a big theme on Kusu, and there is even a tortoise sanctuary on the island that you can visit.
One of the most famous landmarks on Kusu Island is the Chinese Temple Da Bo Gong (also called Tua Pek Kong). This gorgeous temple, which was built in 1923, houses the deities Da Bo Gong (Grand Uncle) and Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy). Da Bo Gong is known for conferring prosperity and averting danger, while Guan Yin is known as the “giver of sons,” and pilgrims will often visit the temple to pray for good fortune and children (in fact, during the Kusu pilgrimage season, which is from mid-October to mid-November, thousands of pilgrims visit the island!) As you search the grounds, don’t forget to make a wish in the temple’s wishing well.
|Photo by Mo|
Kusu is also home to three hilltop kramats (or holy shrines for Malay saints), which honor the pious Syed Abdul Rahman, his mother, Nenek Ghalib, and his sister, Puteri Fatimah, who lived in the nineteenth century. You must climb 152 steps to reach the kramats, and many pilgrims will visit these shrines as well.
|Da Bo Gong - Photo by Mo|
Kusu boasts some beautiful lagoons and beaches, and it’s a great place for an afternoon picnic. But unlike St. John’s, overnight stays are not permitted, so give yourself plenty of time during the day to enjoy the area.
If you want to see a different side of Singapore, visit St. John’s and Kusu islands. Whether you stay on the islands all day or only have time for a mad-dash trip, this island-hopping outing is an adventure worth having!