A 716.1 km2 concrete jungle of a city-state, Singapore’s perks can sometimes be difficult to find. Amidst the malls (which are a dime a dozen), and the high-rise suburbs (also superabundant), where does one go for respite? Fortunately, as with most things, there is more than meets the eye, and Singapore offers up a bunch of underrated gems around the island. Note: the following are ideal for daytrips.
Located off the main island, it is one of the last existing rural areas in Singaporeo. For the nature-lover, the abundance of flora and fauna lying alongside trekking and mountain-bike trails make for a satisfying experience. If you are a bird-watcher, Pulau Ubin forms part of the Ubin-Khatib Important Bird Area which supports significant numbers of migratory and resident birds, some of which are endangered. There is also Chek Jawa a 5000-year old coral reef which is virtually unspoilt, home to a variety of marine wildlife. Just remember to dress light and bring lots of water and insect repellent.
Accessible via a 10-min bumboat ride ($2.50/person for a full boatload of 12 people) from Changi Jetty in the eastern part of Singapore. People can pay $30 for the entire bumboat if they do not want to wait. A variety of mountain bikes can be rented from the island for between $2 and $20 (for the entire day).
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
While technically not part of Singapore, Singaporeans love visiting this booming industrial hub (abbreviated to ‘JB’) due to the strong exchange rate. The journey is made simple by the Causeway linking Malaysia to Singapore and, on the weekends, people flock in droves to the border town. Once there, it is almost like one has been transported to the 90s, the surroundings retaining a sense of old-world charm that has all but disappeared in Skyscraper Singapore. Fill your bags with cheap shopping and your stomachs with authentic maggi goreng.
Take the Singapore-Johore Express or 170 bus (about $2.50/trip) from Queen Street Terminal which takes you straight to the border, then go through immigration and continue by foot to Johor Sentral (5 mins via a linked walkway). Specially-licensed taxis can also be taken from Queen Street Terminal to Kotaraya II Terminal in JB ($10/person or $40/car).
Yet another island off the coast of Singapore, it used to be a burial site for immigrants who died from infectious diseases while in quarantine. Popular with worshippers who visit the shrines located on the island, it attracts up to 100,000 people during the Pilgrimage Season, on the ninth-month of the Chinese lunar calendar. It is quieter at other times, and one can relax at the two swimming lagoons while encountering animals such as clown anemone fish, giant clams, and crabs seldom seen on other Southern shores. Bring your own food and drinks as none are sold there.
Take bus 402 from Marina South MRT station (exit A) to Marina South Pier. Ferries ($11/return trip) depart every day at 1000 and return either at 1145, 1415, or 1515 (last ferry); the last two ferries make a stop at neighbouring St. John’s Island before departing to Singapore.