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Escaping the Singapore squeeze

Updated 8 Mar 2011

One of the most oft-heard gripes by expats in Singapore, especially amongst those who recently returned after a few years' stint elsewhere, is about how quickly the country appears to have become over-crowded. While it's certainly true that the sheer number of people has increased to quite a considerable degree, the process has been quite gradual to us who lived here the past few years.

Still, that said, you do notice the squeeze when you take a moment to reflect. For instance, simple day-to-day acts like crossing the road, even certain roads in the heartlands, can take quite a bit of patience, because the flow of cars can at times seem endless. Elevators seem fuller than they used to be. And the same applies to buses and MRT trains. Even taxis are harder to find nowadays.

Is there a way to escape the crowds? Is there any real nature left in Singapore? Fortunately, there is. Believe it or not, there still are plenty of areas within Singapore that are sparsely populated and quiet, even tranquil.

It may take you a while to get there, but if you're yearning to recharge your peace and quiet batteries, then try the Bedok Reservoir or the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. The silence will be deafening, just the way you like it.

If you're keen on the sea, spend a few hours or the weekend at the East Coast. Alternatively, take a stroll along Changi's Boardwalk. You'll be ready to take on Singapore's hustle and bustle again before you know it.

You can also join the Mega Marine Survey Group, a collection of volunteers that organize field surveys in areas in Singapore that are well off the beaten track. They'll take you to mudflats and mangroves that you never knew even existed anymore in Singapore. Quite an eye-opener and good for an interesting afternoon. 

If you have a few days to spare and you feel a craving coming up for a hefty dose of nature's serenity, or just need some serious time away from the ever-present throngs in Singapore, then let's not forget that Malaysia's many attractions are only a short hop across Woodlands away.

Malaysia's most southern state, Johor Bahru, boasts seemingly endless landscapes and seascapes that will simply take your breath away. Best of all, there are plenty of locations to take your kids to enjoy your favourite beach activity or some outdoors fun.

Try visiting Johor Bahru's East Coast for example. The areas north and south of Mersing will definitely have you coming back for more. Desaru, Air Papan, Tanjung Resang are all stunning capes with lots of wilderness and plenty of opportunities for good old-fashioned fun in the sun.

Of these three capes, Tanjung Resang deserves a special mention. We recently stumbled upon this area and it has really got us hooked. Although it's just a few hours' drive out of Singapore, its fairly out the way and mostly under-reported in the media, so the majority people, even Malaysians, haven't even heard of it. Those that have, invariably are repeat-visitors.

One aspect of Tanjung Resang that you'll simply love, are the various types of terrain, from dense, virtually untouched jungle, to pristine wide open beaches and rugged rocky patches. There are even a few rolling hills, Gunung Arong being one of them, which at almost 300 meters is a rigorous but enjoyable hike.

Nature lovers will enjoy Tanjung Resang for its many off-road opportunities, its exotic flora and fauna. In fact, snakes, otters, monkeys, wild boars, flying foxes, monitor lizards, eagles and even porcupine, all are regulars in this neck of the woods.

In spite of its remoteness, Tanjung Resang boasts a few rather quaint chalet resorts, most of them facing the sea, that are doing quite well. Almost all of the rooms are air-conditioned, some have just a ceiling fan. Try the food too, because the dishes here are divine.

If you're into beach, sea or outdoors activities, there's an outfit called Malaysia Sea Sports, run by Singaporeans, that offers a whole range of fun things to do.  Whether it's sailing, kite-surfing, windsurfing, stand up paddling, or just fishing, snorkelling or jungle-trekking, they can set you up. In fact, they don't only provide the gear but organize lessons too.

Alternatively, you can take a plane or ferry ride to sunny Tioman, a breathtaking emerald little isle, just off the east coast of Malaysia, that's renown amongst Singaporeans, and expats alike, as the defacto bounty beach paradise to simply get away from it all for a weekend. Possible activities here range from lounging on one of the countless powdered sugar beaches to scuba diving or snorkelling in Tioman's turquoise, coral-peppered waters, to hiking and even jungle-trekking.

So, if one day if the crowds in Singapore all seem a little bit too much to bear and you're just aching to smell some fresh air, see the horizon, ply the friendly waters in a sailboat, or just want to soak up the true outdoors atmosphere from your hammock, rest assured that there are plenty of choices on both sides of Singapore's borders that will revitalise you before you know it.

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