On the Beach

We decided to venture a little farther afield today, onto a boat and out over the Singapore Strait.  Our goal was to explore the beaches of Singapore’s outer islands (turns out that Singapore has over sixty islands in total — who knew?).  I’m a huge fan of the look of the cruise ship terminal (note the endless cranes of the port just behind it):

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Our terminal was much more modest, which seemed fitting, because we started out on the smallest ferry boat I’ve ever seen.  I guess if you only have pedestrians, you don’t need that much space.

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The ferry was cramped and hot, but I was excited to see the views.  I soon discovered, however, that if people don’t spend much time on the beach in Singapore, it’s precisely because there’s not much to see.  You never look out over unadulterated blue water.  Instead, you look out over row upon row upon row of tankers.  The Singapore Strait, which separates Singapore from Indonesia, is cluttered with them.  They are lined up as far as the eye can see.  It’s both impressive and unattractive (and always a little bit hazy).

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Here’s a tanker up close:

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Anyway, our first stop was St. John’s island, about twenty minutes away.

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St. John’s is a hot, flat island with just a few bungalows and a lot of trees.  If you just look in at the trees, it’s as unlike Singapore as anything we’ve seen.  But we headed straight over a man-made causeway for Lazarus, which has a lagoon could be used as a movie set.

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Given Singapore’s huge population, this beach was surprisingly empty.  And if you stood in the bathtub-warm water and looked back toward the trees, it felt reminiscent of Hawaii.

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But what these pictures don’t show you is the surprising amount of litter that’s all over the sandy shoreline.   There are water bottles and styrofoam containers and Teh Gelas cups (no idea what those are, but there were a lot of them).  These pictures also don’t show you that you come out of the water smelling just slightly of diesel fuel.  And they don’t show you the view out toward the ocean from the beach itself:

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So while I really wanted to like the beach at the Lazarus lagoon — one website called it the nicest beach in Singapore — I didn’t quite fall in love.

We returned to the boat pier and took the next ferry to Kusu Island.  This is a much smaller island that someone tried to spruce up at some point, so it feels a little Disney-fied, but they clearly gave up on the project.  So while there are shelters and picnic tables and paved paths and lots of signage, there is also a vacant food stand and far more tables than there are people.

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Kusu Island has several things that make it more interesting than your average tiny island.  First, it has animals — it’s a turtle sanctuary (or it calls itself one), and it also has at least one monitor lizard and three free-range macaques.

It also has a Chinese temple and a Malay shrine.  The temple is beautiful:

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The Chinese temple was built to the god of merchants, but it also has a side temple to the monkey god:

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And the best part of all (this is sad, I know, but we were getting really dehydrated) was that someone at the temple was selling Cokes:

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The Malay shrine is a giant mass of yellow paint on a ramshackle building at the top of Kusu Island’s highest hill.  I found it more confusing than anything.

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Both the temple and the shrine were fascinating in that it looked like people actually lived in them — you could see living space at both places, and laundry hanging out back.

We don’t have a picture of the beach, which is too bad, because I spent a lot of time there.  The water was super-warm, and I collected shells and generally enjoyed myself.  Kusu has two lagoons, each of which is small and nearly entirely enclosed by man-made walls — and the one we chose had a hazy but great view of the Singapore’s skyline and a hundred or so tankers.  The beach wasn’t exactly wild and remote-feeling like Lazarus had been, but it had a certain cozy charm that we both really liked.

For dinner on the way home, we stopped by Din Tai Fung, a local chain famous for its dumplings:

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We also stopped at Dean & Deluca to try rainbow cake, which seems to be a Singapore thing.  Each layer really is a different flavor (strawberry, orange, lemon, green apple, blueberry, and grape) — it’s like eating a whole roll of lifesavers all at once.

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