I recently discovered that you can visit two of Singapores islands via a local ferry service that runs out of Marina South Pier. It’s a fairly limited service on weekdays with just two ferries a day so you need to be prepared to spend the day there. We caught the 10am ferry over giving us loads of time to explore before catching the next (and last) ferry back at 14:45. The boat then takes you on to Kusu Island (which I will do a separate post on) for an hours stop on route back to Singapore mainland.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this island but thankfully I came prepared with food and water for the day as there was nowhere to buy any. I think I was expecting something a little more rough and ready (I even wore trainers) but what we found was some concrete paths and lots of picnic benches and rain shelters. I should have known really, this is still Singapore after all! There is a nice little beach and the water was surprisingly clear considering how churned up and dirty it looks down off East Coast Park on the mainland.
In the 1870s this island was used as a quarantine camp for Chinese migrants with cholera. They were housed in a building here which in the 1930s became the worlds biggest quarantine camp. As well as screening Asian immigrants they also screened Malay pilgrims returning from mecca before allowing them into Singapore. Later in the 1950s Singapore closed its doors to large scale immigration and instead the colonial government used it as a holding place for political detainees and secret society ring leaders awaiting deportation. At one time it was even used as a treatment center for opium addicts.
Finally in 1975 it was developed into what it is today, a little leisure haven off Singapore’s coast. It is also home to the Tropical Marine Science Institute and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore’s Marine Aquaculture Centre. The old camp buildings are still there, surrounded by barbed wire and can be booked by groups as accommodation. There was even a tennis court surrounded by barbed wire. Part of me wondered why they didn’t take it down but perhaps they are preserving it how is was and respecting the colourful past of this little island.
After a little exploring we soon found the island was small and it made sense to take a seat on one of the many picnic benches and have an early lunch. After some lunch and chatting I started to look at google maps only to realise that St. John is connected to two other islands, Lazarus and Seringat, via a man made walkway. So off we went for more exploring only to be stopped in our tracks but a monsoon thunderstorm which had us running for shelter. Unfortunately, the storm wouldn’t shift and the rain battered down for 2 hours only stopping just before our 14:45 ferry arrived. A shame, but from what I could see these two connected island weren’t so different from the one we were already on.
Below is the view of Singapore from the water, another different perspective. I’m so used to arriving by plane this was a weird concept.