We have had the privilege of travelling through areas of South East Asia in recent years. Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Borneo and areas of Malaysia including Langkawi and Johor Bahru. In many of these locations we have experienced some unique and interesting aspects of South East Asia that make this region a backpackers hotspot.
We live in Singapore and I think I have begun to realise I have my own unique mindset on this tiny island nation. It would bother me sometimes when other locals would describe Singapore as "too small" or "boring, with nothing to do". I would jump into defensive mode and being to explain the countless gems we have found. But even though the list is extensive and varied, I was never received well and I would find myself frustrated and a little disappointed. It was then that I realised that Singaporeans are in an incredibly fixed mindset regarding their country and that even if I would name hundreds of places and things to do, they would not hear it as something fun to do.
When we were in Siem Reap, Cambodia, last year, I was blown away by the kindness and warmth of the people. The way they were happy to interact and smile. A few weeks later, we found ourselves in Langkawi, being totally blown away by the nature we experienced. Last month, we took a few days to explore a very small part of Borneo and were bowled over by the islands there. But throughout all of these places, I was always reminded that we have all of this at home in Singapore. Singapore has suffered the consequences of it's own success - we promoted our zoo, the Gardens By the Bay, Marina Bay Sands - and they are amazing places... but the world see us as ONLY that. In fact, sometimes Singaporeans would say that it's all we have got too, but we couldn't be further from the truth.
People. Our people are warm and kind. Have you ever taken time to sit in a coffeeshop in the Heartlands and strike up a conversation with an uncle or aunty who is sitting having their kopi? They will always have conversation - share their thoughts, and more importantly, their kindness. Singapore has very few people who are immediately available for a chat - our country has changed and the work pace is fast. But there are friendly, kind and warm people everywhere.
One Singaporean fact that I have committed to sharing as much as possible is that Singapore is a country that consists of 64 islands. I think I have been on 12 of them now. I would fully recommend taking time to explore three in particular and it is super convenient. Take the train to Marina South Pier and buy a ferry ticket for the day. It costs around $12 I think. The ferry will take you to St John's Island, a multi-hyphenate island... a former-quarantine-residential-nature-conservation-research-site that has a nature trail and information boards that will tell you all about it. Connected to St John's Island is Lazarus Island, arguably Singapore's most beautiful beach - a large cove with calm, blue waters. Last time we were there the water clarity was like swimming in a pool - we could see right down to our feet and beyond.
There are places you can stay now at Lazarus Island for a unique experience. We had the honour of staying there in June and even though we were there just one night, it felt like we were gone for a whole weekend. My favourite island to visit so far is Kusu Island - the next stop on the shuttle ferry. Kusu is a charming island. Paved with brick stones, it has shaded huts for it's visitors and washroom facilities too. The beaches feature shallow water that is perfect far wading through or even for smaller children who are building their confidence in the water. The water is super clear here too.
On the hill at Kusu Island stands a shrine or keramat, which has been present since around 1917 (there's a dated plaque on display). In April 2022, a fire broke out which destroyed most of the shrine, but noble efforts has returned the shrine to it's former glory and tourists and pilgrims can still walk the stairs up to the top of the hill. Prayer ribbons, tied to branches adorn the pathways and there is a sense of mystery and peace as you walk up the stairs.
Singapore is such a varied country and this blog could easily turn into a travel book if I'm not careful! I would love to hear some tourists or prominant travellers talking about these wonderful aspects of Singapore, to hear them share the depth and wonder of this charming nation. For now, this is my two cents and I hope it has changed the perspective for one or two people.
Should you want to see more, please visit our YouTube Channel, which will show you many wonders of Singapore and beyond. Reach out if you'd like to know more!