Tuesday, Sep. 30, 2008

Pulau Ubin

If you've ever wondered what Singapore was like when its founder Sir Stamford Raffles first stepped ashore in 1819, the rustic, leafy island of Pulau Ubin will give you a pretty good idea. Politically, it's the same country but geographically, it's a whole other time and world. The island's highlight is Chek Jawa, a lovely marine sanctuary of rare sea creatures and wildlife. Because the area's ecosystem is so fragile, visitor numbers are strictly controlled on a first-come, first-served basis; contact the National Parks Board Ubin Information Kiosk (65-6542-4108) for visiting information. From the Tanah Merah MRT station, take a cab to Changi Point Ferry Terminal (Changi Village) and then hitch a 10-minute boat ride out; round-trip tickets cost S$5.


The hour-long ferry ride from Singapore makes the Indonesian island of Bintan a perfect escape, especially if you're hankering for a bit of quality time tanning by the beach. Framed by blue sky, powdery sand and clear turquoise waters, the 18-mile beach at Trikora on Bintan's eastern coast is especially lovely. Ferries for Bintan depart from the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal; you can check schedules and buy tickets online from Bintan Resort Ferries. Depending on the season, round-trip tickets cost between S$48 and S$59. Visas (US$10 for seven days) are available on arrival. Remember to pack insect repellent.

Kuala Lumpur

For an intriguing case study of contrasting city styles, take a brisk 40-minute flight north to Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur. Where Singapore is prim and efficient, KL is brash, chaotic and packed with sensational street food (though Singaporeans will claim theirs is better). Since time is limited, head straight for Bangsar, a hip neighborhood of modern art galleries, quaint coffeeshops, summery boutiques and excellent restaurants. Have a lunch of laksa (curry noodles) and chicken rice at Alexis Bistro before making a quick dash through Chinatown's heaving Petaling Street for last minute souvenirs.