Apr 25 2011
Here’s a factoid for you: Singapore is actually made up of 63 separate islands. But most people, even locals, don’t venture much further beyond the main island and Sentosa. Many of the outlying islands are explicitly off-limits to visitors because they’re used for heavy industry or military training, but my goal is to visit as many as possible. First up: Kusu Island.
Little Kusu Island is only 5.6 kilometres from Singapore and a short ferry ride from the Marina South Pier. The island’s name means “Tortoise Island” in Chinese and the reptilian theme persists with tortoise statues and a tortoise sanctuary with hundreds of the animals.
The island’s name originates from its creation story. Local folklore says a giant tortoise turned itself into the island to save two ship-wrecked sailors, one Malay and one Chinese. Both men returned to the island and built shrines to show their thanks to the magic tortoise, and to this day the island is an important place for religious pilgrimage.
One of the first things you see after getting off the ferry is the gate of the Da Bo Gong Taoist Temple. Most of the year people visit the temple to sightsee after enjoying an island picnic, but during the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar (around October/November) thousands of devotees flock to the temple to pray to the God of Prosperity and Goddess of Mercy for good luck, wealth, and fertility.
Exploring further you’ll find stairs leading to a hilltop with three shrines. Known as the Kramat Kusu, the shrines are dedicated to a Malay saint and his family. Many people, not just Malay Muslims, come year-round to leave offerings and write their wishes on a large rock in hope they’ll come true.
Even if you have nothing to pray for, Kusu Island is a lovely spot for a swim or a picnic. There are two swimming lagoons and unspoiled beaches where you might spot crabs and fish from the nearby coral reefs. The island has bathrooms and picnic tables, but there are no restaurants or accommodation. Pack everything you’ll need for the day: sunscreen, snacks, drinks, and swimwear.
How to get to Kusu Island: Singapore Island Cruise operates regular ferries from the Marina South Pier to Kusu Island, with a short stop at St. John’s Island in between. There are two departures on weekdays and more frequent service on weekends and during the Kusu Pilgrimage season. Round-trip fare is S$15 for adults and S$12 for children. Visit their website for the current schedule.
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