Island hopping around Singapore
There's no arguing the matter -- Singapore is one of Asia's most happening cities.
But sometimes it's good to take a break from the metropolitan mayhem -- and all you need to do is hop on a boat to a neighboring island.
It may take only 15 minutes to get here from the pier near Changi, but a trip to Ubin is a half-century step back in time.
Set back from the jetty, the cluster of old-school wooden houses is inhabited by cheery villagers. Housing Development Block flats are unheard-of here; likewise traffic lights and shopping malls.
Ubin is one of the last few undeveloped places in Singapore, its environs still refreshingly free from urban planning. The disused quarry here was once Singapore's major source of granite.
Today, Ubin is a convenient getaway for weary city slickers.
Most arrive to experience its rural charms. The winding dirt paths, the unfettered forests, the slow pace of life – these, they say, are the best reasons to visit.
To get around Ubin's 10 square kilometers, rent a bike one of the shops near the main jetty.
Look hard into the surrounding forests, and you might even spot some of the local wildlife -– think native boars, hornbills and even mouse-deer.
You can also kick back and watch the day go by at a local eating house, or cycle off to Chek Jawa, a wetland reserve on the southeast coast which boasts a pristine shoreline ecosystem.
Getting there: Wooden bumboats regularly ply the 15-minute commuter route from Changi Village Ferry Terminal (51 Lorong Bekukong) to the Pulau Ubin Jetty. S$2.50 one-way.
Kusu and St. John's Island
It's hard to believe that these islands are part of a republic with the second-largest population density in the world.
Visit Kusu and St. John's island on a weekday and its a good bet you'll see hardly anybody else.
That's because these twin isles are known more as religious destinations, especially Kusu with its lone Chinese temple -- dedicated to Da Bo Gong and Guan Yin -- and three Malay keramat shrines.
In fact, October heralds an annual religious pilgrimage which sees the island swamped with devotees from the city.
For the rest of the year, this far-flung corner of Singapore is practically deserted. St. John's and Kusu lie on the same ferry route, making it easy to see both places in a single trip.
There are no food vendors here so bring your own supplies. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the first stop from the starting point at the Marina South Pier.
Get off at St. John's for a few hours of solitude amidst fine white sand and crystalline waters -- you'll probably have it all to yourself.
Board the next passing ferry for Kusu for a look at its ancient places of worship. You'll realize just how isolated you are when you look out to the horizon and see the buildings of downtown Singapore in the distance.
Getting there: Singapore Island Cruise (islandcruise.com.sg) ferries sail from Marina South Pier (31 Marine Costal Drive) St. John and Kusu several times a day. This is a single route, so you can hop off at either island and wait for the next returning ferry. S$15 round-trip.
Singapore's next-door island neighbor isn't just about golf courses or overpriced luxury resorts.
Lying a mere 20 kilometers off Singapore's south coast, Batam is a major gateway to the Riau Archipelago and the rest of Indonesia. It is also a bustling industrial zone whose factories churn out electronics for multinational companies.
For the sightseer, though, Batam hosts its own set of unique attractions. From Singapore's Tanah Merah ferry terminal it takes less than an hour to get to Batam (don't forget your passport).
After landing, hire a car and set off on a scenic drive south, past idyllic seaside spots and the signature Batam landmark, the Barelang Bridge.
Stop by Galan to check out a relic of the recent past -– the eerie remains of Camp Sinam, now a virtual ghost town that formerly housed refugees from the Indochina wars.
Not far from here, pristine Melur Beach is arguably the finest stretch of shoreline in these parts. You can spend the rest of the day here before heading north to Sekupang district to indulge in another Batam attraction -- luxurious massage and spa treatments at a fraction of Singapore prices. We recommend an hour or two of blissful kneading at Paddy Spa (tel +62 778 741 5135).
Getting there: BatamFast (www.batamfast.com) operates a regular 45-minute ferry service from Singapore's Harbourfront terminal (2 Maritime Square) to the Sekupang and Waterfront City terminals in Batam. Round-trip fare is S$34 for adults, S$31 for children.
Bintan - Tanjung Pinang
Located right next to Batam, this Indonesian island has all the makings of a major tourism destination with its sleepy towns and lovely beaches.
Sure, the Bintan Resorts area up north is a virtual extension of Singapore at weekends, but the rest of the island is largely un-touristed and makes for a welcome break from the maddening crowds.
To experience a slice of real Indonesian life, take a ferry from the Tanah Merah terminal to Tanjung Pinang.
This provincial capital is a great base for exploring the rest of the island. Power up with a traditional nasi campur buffet at a local padang specialty restaurant, then head to the east coast.
Over here there's no shortage of quiet little stretches of sand, like those at Trikora and Sumpat. Get your fill of the beach before heading back west to explore the ruins of Penyengat island, a former capital of the Malay kingdom, just off the coast of Tanjung Pinang.
Top off your visit with a sumptuous seafood spread at Melayu Square before you take the ferry back to Singapore.
Getting there: From Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal (50 Tanah Merah Ferry Road), both regular Penguin (www.penguin.com.sg) or Indofalcon (www.indofalcon.com.sg) fast ferries sail to Tanjung Pinang. Travel time is 90 minutes, and round trip fare is S$50.