Saint John’s Island is one of the Southern Islands of Singapore. It is most famous for being the actual site of Sir Stamford Raffles’, who was the founder of modern Singapore, anchorage before he went to meet the Malay chief of Singapore in 1819. The island is also earmarked for a quarantine area in the event of an emergency due to its past use as a quarantine station. Probably due to its chequered history, the island is also infamous for its various rumoured haunting. There are no stores or eateries on the island so bring along your own food and drinks.
The island used to be a home to a quarantine station for cholera cases during the late 1800s. Victims of beri-beri were also brought to the island for quarantine from 1901 and by 1930 victims of leprosy and other deadly communicable diseases were also housed there. During this time, the island also gained international recognition as a quarantine centre screening Asians immigrants and pilgrims returning from their pilgrimage to Mecca. After 1950, the island was used as a penal settlement as well as a drug rehabilitation centre after mass immigration was closed. An interesting fact is that Devan Nair, the third President of Singapore was once held prisoner on the island from 1951 to 1953 for subversive anti-colonial movements. The island was converted in 1975 into a getaway for locals with the building of amenities like swimming lagoons, trekking routes and picnic grounds. There is also an old national crest of Singapore found near the holiday bungalows.
Sights and Activities
There are a number of sights worth visiting on Saint John’s Island. Firstly there is the Marine Aquaculture Centre located west from the jetty. The centre belongs to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore and here visitors can get to see the development of technologies to aid large-scale hatchery and fish farming production.
Another interesting sight is the human-sized Chess Board found to the left of the designated campsite. Rumour has it that the Japanese soldiers used their prisoners as chess pieces in morbid chess games where if any side was blocked by the other party, or loses, the prisoner representing that particular chess piece would be beheaded on the spot.
The old Saint John’s Point, located to the left of the modern jetty, is a picturesque old jetty that is ideal for photo-taking. The old treatment centre for opium addicts is another significant building on Saint John’s Island. It serves as reminder of the island’s past and is located near the basketball court. The old detention centre that was previously used to house illegal immigrants is still standing at the far left end of the island. However, there is nothing much to see inside.
There is a wide array of flora and fauna on the island and trekking and picnicking are popular activities. The rich marine life in the waters around the island also makes this place a good diving spot. Dolphins have occasionally been spotted in the waters so you might see one if you are lucky.
Saint John’s Island has only two forms of accommodations. Visitors can choose to stay in the holiday bungalows, which are well equipped and suitable for family gatherings. Each bungalow can house up to 10 people and comes with a kitchen. Booking of bungalows can be done at Sentosa Station, which is at level 3 of VivoCity. The costs range from S$53 to S$214. Bungalows are limited so it is advisable to book about two months in advance. The alternative is to stay at the holiday camps which can house up to 60 people. The camps are similar to dormitories and come with basic cooking facilities. Costs range from S$64 to S$107 and to make bookings, contact Mr. Eddy Bin Ali at 91385029.
There are regular ferries, operated by Singapore Island Cruise, that go to Saint John’s Island from the Marina South Pier. Fares cost S$15 for adults and S$12 for children. Take note that the ferry timings can change during the Kusu pilgrimage season so it is best to check the schedule before planning a trip to Saint John’s Island. Alternatively, just avoid visiting during the pilgrimage season.