Fancy a dose of Vitamin Sea but don’t want to venture too far away from Singapore? Luckily, the Little Red Dot is just a stone’s throw away from some of the world’s best islands, where you’ll find crystal clear waters, luxe resorts and plenty of holiday activities to keep the kids busy. Check out this list of nearby islands for your dream getaway, the next time the urge to retreat from civilisation hits:
1. Lazarus Island
If day-tripping is totally up your alley, then make a stop over the weekend at Lazarus Island. It’s one of Singapore’s southern islands and has gorgeous white sand beaches, calm waters and minimal crowding. Pack a picnic and your swimwear for an afternoon by the blue waters. The beach is also perfect for a dose of water sports and games like kite-flying, beach volleyball, snorkelling and more. And if you’re a cat lover, pack a few kitty treats too, as the island is home to many furry felines who love a scratch behind the ears.
Getting here is easy enough – hop on a ferry from either Sentosa Cove or Marina South Pier to Lazarus Seringat Jetty with the express Marina South Ferries, or take a ferry to St John’s Island and use the walking causeway between the two isles to get to Lazarus Island.
Lazarus Island is uninhabited, but as of April 2023, you can rent one of the tiny homes, also known as Tiny Away Escape @ Lazarus Island. These extremely compact, trailer-like homes are perfect if you’d like a weekend of off-the-grid living. These little homes are air-conditioned and include a mini kitchen, a bed for two adults and a sofa bed for little ones, as well as biodegradable shampoo and body wash.
Tiny Away Escape @ Lazarus Island is completely eco-friendly; it uses solar energy as its main power source, is made using recycled plastics and wood fibre, is durable and even has a high-tech recycling system that composts food waste in 24 hours.
2. Cempedak Private Island
If an adults-only paradise is that you’re after, check out the luxurious bamboo villas and lush greenery of Cempedak Private Island, 9km off the east coast of Bintan, Indonesia. From Singapore, jump on a Bintan-bound ferry from Tanah Merah ferry terminal, traverse the island for about an hour by car, then transfer to a private speedboat. The journey takes about three hours, but it’s well worth it for the five-star hospitality, stylish eco-living and delicious all-you-can-eat meals.
Spread over 17 hectares, the resort is home to an array of wildlife such as otters, hornbills, monitor lizards and pangolins; a small but dedicated and friendly staff; and, thankfully, not much else.
Its bamboo architecture is the star of the show – New Zealand-born architect Miles Humphreys, together with Balinese architects Chiko Wirahadi and Ketut Indra Saputra, both experts in bamboo, built the villas using this sustainable “super material”, along with recycled teak and rubber wood and cogon grass for the roofs.
The villas are available either on the beachfront or perched atop jungle-festooned ridges with stunning views of the sea. Shaped like curvaceous conch shells, the two-storey, open-air villas boast luxe features such as stone ensuite bathrooms, private infinity pools, organic cotton sheets and speaker systems. And while they’re completely wall-less and without air conditioning, the spacious 150m² floor plans are a true study in smart design – natural ventilation works a treat, and the sea breeze flows throughout the villas.
Meals are mostly enjoyed at the resort’s airy hilltop restaurant (private picnics can also be arranged), which comes with 180-degree views and private dining pods. The menu changes daily and spotlights the region’s rich local produce – think barbecued seafood sourced from local markets and organic veggies grown in the resort’s garden – while also putting a modern spin on Indonesian flavours. Have a nightcap at the bar, which has a fine collection of aged rums and top-notch craft cocktails.
Don’t miss their spa treatment, and for a real treat, request for the staff to arrange it to coincide with sunset. The treatment rooms overlook the sea, and the experience of being pampered against the sound of waves is unbeatable. If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s a hidden path from the spa that takes you to the water’s edge. There, you can lay on the flat rocks and soak in the sun at your leisure. What heaven.
3. Rawa Island
For a slightly more modest, yet equally secluded island getaway, look to Rawa Island in Malaysia. This coral island in Johor’s Mersing district is relatively small and only has two resorts. Getting here begins with a bus or car journey from Singapore to Mersing, before you hop on a speedboat to your chosen resort.
At Alang’s Rawa, weekdays pass blissfully, as the peaceful oasis is filled with families looking for a break from the big city within one of six different types of accommodations. The restaurant here is known for its simple but delicious nosh, and come nightfall, you’ll find beachside tables lit by flaming lanterns to accompany the menu.
However, note that children under age 16 aren’t allowed on weekends, as Alang’s Rawa transforms into party central, with Saturday night barbecues, exciting nightlife and a to-die-for cocktail list made with fresh local fruits, juices and spices.
Rawa Island Resort is the place to be if you’re in the mood for water sports such as snorkelling, kayaking, scuba diving and even island hopping. There are four chalet and bungalows to choose from, and the room packages include three meals daily with sea transfer to and from Mersing.
Want to really treat yourself to stellar views of Rawa Island? Take a leisurely hike to the top of the island to see the surrounding islands and the South China Sea. Unwind with a massage afterwards, or enjoy a spa treatment that makes use of fresh local ingredients.
4. Pulau Ubin
This boomerang-shaped Singapore island escape is situated off the northeast coast of Singapore, just $4 (add $2 if you’re bringing your own bicycle) for a 15-minute bumboat ride from the mainland. The jumping-off point from Pulau Ubin is Changi Ferry Point Terminal – there’s an excellent hawker centre around the area, dishing up some of the country’s best nasi lemak (coconut rice with condiments), leafy cafés and other great eateries. There are no set times for bumboat departures, as these only set off when there are 12 passengers for the journey (if you don’t want to wait for other passengers to make up the numbers, simply cough up the difference.)
Setting foot on Ubin is like stepping inside a time warp, back to when skyscrapers and expressways were non-existent in the country. Some of the island’s earliest inhabitants were the seafaring Orang Laut people and indigenous Malays of Javanese descent, though Ubin was later settled by Chinese families and Malay fishing communities.
Walking tracks and cycling trails lace around the island – you’ll cover more terrain on the latter. Bikes can be rented near the end of the arrival pier for around $10 a day, and you’ll be able to enjoy more of Ubin’s rustic, charming villages, shrines, thick jungle and pretty lakes created from old granite mining sites.
On the eastern end of the island, you’ll find the Chek Jawa wetlands, home to a plethora of wildlife including kingfishers, snakes, fish, wild boars, otters and plenty of marine creatures. A boardwalk juts over the mangroves, letting visitors see the marine life up close.
There aren’t any resorts, hotels or lodges if you’d like to spend the night. Instead, pack your own camping gear for a night under the stars within the allocated camping grounds – just watch out for the wild boars and keep your food stowed away safely before turning in for the evening.
This large, 1,173km2 island (almost double the size of Singapore) may be part of Indonesia’s Riau archipelago, but the Lion City is regarded as its easiest access point – just an hour-long high-speed ferry ride away from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.
While Bintan is a popular Singapore island escape for a weekend, most visitors don’t venture outside of Lagoi, where the sprawling Bintan Resorts property is located. It spans sweeping golf courses, family-friendly beach resorts and manicured luxury villas.
But there’s plenty to explore further afield – the southeastern coast has gained a reputation as a first-rate dive destination, particularly for beginner divers, with its good visibility, shallow 10 to 15-metre reefs and an array of hard corals and marine life such as moray eels, cuttlefish and pufferfish.
However, if you’re looking to take it easy, there are high-end resorts where rest and relaxation are elevated to art forms. Back in Lagoi, The Sanchaya – a luscious, 10-hectare beachfront estate built on a former coconut plantation – dials up the luxury several notches, boasting a gorgeous stretch of powder-white sand and even its own VIP lounge at the ferry terminal.
The 29 villas and suites are all elegantly furnished – some are colonial-inspired with teak floors and marble bathroom fittings, and others feature Thai-style pitched roofs and Khmer antiques – and come with Bang & Olufsen televisions and sound systems, wine fridges and iPads. The pièce de résistance, however, is the 50-metre infinity pool – perfect for relaxing in before feasting on The Sanchaya’s excellent menus.
6. Pulau Tengah
This privately owned island in Johor, Malaysia is a 20- to 30-minute boat ride from Mersing. Although small, you’ll find eight sandy beaches and some of the country’s clearest waters dotted with rock formations. There’s only one resort on the island – Batu Batu – and it’s built to resemble a small Malay village.
Guests are welcome to stay in any of the 22 villas, which are made from tropical hardwoods and blend into the uninhabited island’s rustic surroundings. The villages face either the sea or the jungle, guaranteeing privacy and a tranquil environment for couples or families.
Spacious bathrooms feature stonewashed bathtubs and showers, and guests can dine on European or Asian dishes at the restaurant and bar. With activities like snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding, island trekking and diving on offer, there’s plenty of excitement here.
Batu Batu also runs several conservation initiatives, with its most popular one being the Tengah Island Conservation programme, which includes sea turtle conservation efforts.
7. Sugi Island
For a holiday that will truly take you off the grid and give you time away from your tech devices, head to remote Sugi Island, which, like Batam and Bintan, is part of Indonesia’s Riau archipelago. The two resorts on the island, Telunas Beach Resort and Telunas Private Island, are both free of Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and televisions – letting you truly focus on yourself while you’re there.
Getting here may seem like a hassle, requiring a ferry ride from Harbourfront Centre Ferry Terminal to Sekupang Ferry Terminal followed by another cruise on a local ferry to the resort. However, the total travelling time is no more than three hours from Singapore. Upon arrival, gracious hosts will direct you to your spacious villa, which comes with a panoramic view of the water.
These resorts encourage you to focus on yourself and nature, so offerings like spa treatments, water sports and visits to untapped natural sights are part and parcel of your stay. For meals, take your pick from either Western or local cuisine.
Initially a project started by like-minded eco-conscious friends in 2004, Telunas continues to be committed to sustainable practices, supporting the local community through a myriad of initiatives such as preserving endangered species and offering scholarships to residents of the neighbouring islands.
While its slightly seedy reputation might precede it, Batam is an island escape that’s just a 45-minute ferry ride away from Singapore. What many might not know is that it has a sophisticated side that prioritises luxurious relaxation as well as adventure and sports. The island is also the perfect starting point for further exploration of the Riau islands, especially for divers.
On Batam’s eastern side, you’ll find Montigo Resorts Nongsa – the gleaming white modern villas dot the coast and face the rolling waters of the South China Sea. To reach the resort, take a 10-minute shuttle bus ride upon disembarking at Nongsapura Ferry Terminal.
Since the resort is secluded from the main part of the island where the bulk of tourists congregate, a stay here guarantees peace and privacy with the option to reap nature’s benefits. From bike tours and mangrove cruises to batik painting, dirt track racing and much more, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the quieter side of the island.
If you’ve come for a respite from the stresses of everyday living, the spa offers tailored experiences where you can fully rejuvenate your mind and body. On the other hand, thrill-seekers can get their adrenaline pumping with some target practice – go old-school with a bow and arrow at the archery range, or try a state-of-the-art Airsoft gun that’ll have you racing across the resort’s grounds playing wargames.
To learn more about Singapore Airlines’ flights to Singapore, visit the official website.
This story was first published in April 2023 and updated in November 2023 by Michelle JN Lim.