Kusu Island, Singapore

Photo: Tim Gage via flickr

Ah, Singapore. Your green skyscrapers, bustling markets, fusion cuisine, and luxurious hotels make you a favorite stopover city for so many travelers. Instead of dreading your layovers, they look for ways to extend them. But most people never leave Pulau Ujong, the main island. They have no idea what’s just a quick ferry ride away.

There are six Southern Islands that lie south, of course, of Pulau Ujong. These islands, many former sandbanks that were expanded through land reclamation, sit in the Singapore Strait. In the 1970s, the Singapore Tourism Board began developing one of them, Sentosa, into a resort. Its success turned their focus to the rest of the islands in 2006.

Kusu (Tortoise) Island is the smallest and easternmost of the Southern Islands. According to local legend, a magical tortoise turned itself into an island to save two shipwrecked sailors. It, too, was expanded in 1975, when a reef and two small islands were merged to form a larger, 21-acre island.

In the years that followed, the island became a destination for pilgrims. Three keramats (holy shrines), dedicated to a Malay saint who lived on Kusu Island in the 19th century, were placed atop a forest-covered hill. Infertile couples tie yellow pieces of cloth to nearby tree branches to wish for children. Da Bo Gong, a Taoist temple, was built by a wealthy businessman for the God of Prosperity. Locals pray for wealth here.

From the Marina South Pier, it takes only 20 minutes to reach the Kusu Island Pier. There are no vehicles on the small island; it’s completely walkable. There are no accommodations either; overnight stays are prohibited. So the island hasn’t been overdeveloped. It’s usually only busy during the ninth lunar month (usually between September and October). In addition to sacred sites, there’s a tortoise sanctuary, pristine beaches, and a stunning view of the city’s skyline from a lagoon on the north coast. This is your chance to see a completely different side of Singapore.

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