Singapore – The Final Border Run, Johor Bahru to Changi Beach

Johor Bahru, Malaysia May 2018: Today will be the last border run into Singapore from my base here in Johor Bahru. Although I’ve been to Singapore a few times, this trip has seen me cover new ground, digging a little deeper into some neighbourhoods that have previously gone unnoticed. Now though it’s time to quit while I’m ahead as the saying go’s. Yes, the Immigration authorities at Woodlands are stepping up interrogations ahead of the impending North Korean/American meeting and to have a foreigner like me going back and forth like a yoyo will undoubtedly fray some official nerves. So, for the last border run, Changi Beach is the destination.



Don’t forget to tap the transport card!


Once again Google has worked out a route – Woodlands to Bishan to Macpherson and the final MTR stop at Tampines East beore transferring to bus 9 or 29 to Changi Village. The track to Bishan is elevated overground giving one a view of modern Singapore. A skyline of government built flats along with a handful of private condominium towers is not an entirely unpleasant scene. Tastefully constructed without the density one sees in Hong Kong or Taipei for example. Clearly the redevelopment planners of Singapore have put a good deal of effort into making pleasant surroundings for its population of flat and apartment dwellers. Yes, the days of living in wooden houses on stilts in village communities have since long gone.

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Pleasant surroundings North Singapore


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Memorial to the former RAF Changi

Back in history, Changi’s first generation redevelopment was as a Royal Air Force Station with its main runway close to the small Changi village and pretty soon the whole area became a British Military enclave, 1940’s to 1960’s. Today the village resembles nothing like its origins, the airbase as was has long gone, but its where the bus terminates and its where one accesses the beach via a giant food court. Since I’m feeling a little hungry now is a good time to grab some noodles before hitting the beach. The prices are good, the food is good too and the choice is mind-blowing.

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Glorious Food

As one stomps across the creek bridge its clear that Changi Beach Park is another of Singapore’s gem’s. Well laid out, super clean with amenities like showers, changing rooms and of course a pretty good beach, natural too according to google. On the left is Changi point where small boats ferry people back and forth to Ubin Island (Google Map). On the right is the Changi Creek and a small collection of fishing boats and straight ahead, a queue of planes lining up to land at the nearby Changi International Airport.

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Changi Point for boats to Ubin Island

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Changi Creek Harbour

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Changi Beach, look no garbage!

Midweek is a good time to visit Changi Beach if one is seeking solitude. Here, its just me and a few locals facing the Johor River estuary, while a handful of old timers shuffle between the stone seats set underneath the trees.  Its pretty much the perfect spot if one likes to combine a trip to the beach with some plane spotting! The place is also good for those with an ornithological interest – green and white parakeets flit around in the tree tops as a woodpecker pecks happily at lower levels. Then there’s the ships slipping silently by, giants creating waves along the shoreline.



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Spotted Woodpecker, Changi Beach Park

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Plane Spotting from Changi Beach

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Ship Spotting from Changi Beach


In Summary…

A decent beach away from tourist crowds. For bird spotters, ship spotters and plane spotters its the ideal spot! Those with energy to spare can take a coastal path walk towards Changi Beach Club looping back through the former Changi RAF camp where there are still plenty of colonial relics to be found. Wikipedia has a comprehensive historical write-up of Changi and its British associations and is worth the read, here 

Singapore – Top Secret in Sembawang

Johor Bahru, Malaysia May 2018: Its pretty well known that Singapore was ruled by the British for most of the 20th Century, finally handing back the colony in 1968. Shortly afterwards a fleet of bulldozers sought to rampage across the Island tearing down primitive jungle, Malay Kampung villages and just about anything else in their path as Singapore embarked on an era of change. Not everywhere though saw the face of a bulldozer. Sembawang, on Singapore’s north coast seems to have been spared, well a small area of the town right on the coastline as Google Maps shows. An area that’s close to a shipyard and with road names like Queens Avenue and Malta Crescent, one suspects there maybe some colonial connections to discover.


Another routine border run between Johor and Woodlands, although with just a week or so before the American president and North Korea’s Mr. Kim descend onto Singapore Island, the authorities at Woodlands are understandably more jumpy than usual. A longer interrogation as they add up all the passport stamps, comes to nothing and I’m on my way once again. Woodlands to Sembawang MTR then bus 882 to Sembawang Park, information courtesy of Google Maps, which so far has been accurate to the minute!

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Sembawang Park, well kept and clean complete with amenities.

Sembawang Park is where the bus drops off. well kept, impeccably clean and right next to a giant shipyard. Yes, a few pretty big ships are anchored just along the shoreline facing the Malaysian coast. Perhaps more interesting is a good view of a traditional Kampung village of the type that used to be prevalent here on Singapore Island pre- 1980’s. A sight to behold as a thick jungle background offers protection from overbearing swanky condominium towers.

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Traditional Malay Kampung Village

The little white sand beach here isn’t going to win any awards on the international stage, but I suppose its sufficient as a weekend picnic spot with wavelets lapping at the shoreline. The park itself isn’t large by any means but a pleasant enough stroll to while away half an hour or so. The paths run parallel to a what looks like a top secret installation, the Singapore Navy at a guess since according to Wikipedia the whole place has naval and maritime connections right from the early British occupation era. The perimeter fence surrounding a dockyard here pretty much prevents prying eyes from looking in unless one stands on a table, on raised ground from the parks picnic area!

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From Sembawang Park, the only top secret view one gets!

Here’s a look at Sembawang Park, its Cannon Ball tree, the beach and a colonial mansion…

Aimlessly wandering through this park and suddenly one comes across a colonial style villa, or perhaps it can be classed as a semi mansion given the size of the building. There’s a few of them here and at a guess I’d say former residences of British Naval Officers. All looks quite original in this rather sleepy little colonial estate. Oh, and there’s an old bunker, perhaps an air raid shelter, a remnant from troubled times. Several of these properties are laying empty sadly, waiting for the highest bidder to show a hand no doubt – yes, I bet living here in these former British houses is going to cost plenty!

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A big house, Sembawang

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A WW2 bunker or Nuclear Shelter?


Its an interesting hour wandering around the area, combined with a visit to somewhere else, Changi Beach for example, then its a pretty nice day out from Johor. Wikipedia has a good write-up on Sembawang here.

Singapore – Kuan Im Tng Temple and Geylang Serai

Johor Bahru, Malaysia, May 2018: As one strolls neighbourhoods, especially those heavy with Chinese occupation, then one will at some point stumble upon the local temple, Joo Chiat is no exception. Mooching around the place generally heading north and I’ve stumbled upon the Kuan Im Tng Temple about halfway along Tembeling Road, according to Google maps. Plenty of locals queuing to enter this rather ornate Buddhist temple. Not only are the usual fierce dragons present on the roof, but a couple of  oddities  feature too. Not so long ago the seashore would have been close by, according to Wikipedia, but since land reclamation  the sea is now some distance away and forms the Islands East Coast region so perhaps there’s a tenuous maritime connection here.

Some kind of celebration underway as crowds gather and wait patiently for a their opportunity to come before the gods. In the meantime, one is curiously looking in and around, but its so busy there really isn’t that much I can actually get to see on the inside.




As one continues to wander north towards the neighbouring district of  Geylang serai one comes across more of the shophouses that are a characteristic of  Singapore’s heritage. Here though, a slight change in architectural style indicating more of the Malay style than Chinese suggesting that Geylang Serai was probably a malay settlement.

Here’s a few snaps of the shophouses near Geylang Serai…


Tucked away in a side street is this rather forlorn looking temple building. Possibly abandoned, needs a little TLC!

Geylang Serai, at the very top of Joo Chiat road, is absolutely packed with people. The whole area looks pretty much one huge market place, modernised in some respects, but in others there is still plenty of 20th century character to be seen, especially as one looks along the Geylang road (Google Maps). The place looks to be mostly Islamic, certainly the markets around here have a distinct Islamist theme going on.


Cross over the Changi Road and one is in quite a distinctive shopping centre. Not the usual bright swanky block mall one has become accustomed to across Asia, but a rather unique structure with several apex roof sections to give the place a feeling of old time charm. On the second floor there is a rather fine display detailing the history Geylang seri and anyone interested in Singapore’s past will enjoy this small gallery as I did.

The story of Geylang Serai…

And so that was the story of how Singapore changed from a nation of jungle village settlements and shophouse towns to a nation of hi-rise and concrete. While opinions are split over the destruction of the past, here in Geylang Serai at least, one gets to see a little of the old style urban Singapore, how it used to be across the Islands towns and of course in the city itself, before the mainstream banks moved in.

Here’s a comprehensive Wikipedia write-up on Geylang Serai with a time-line of development from the days of cultivated fields to the present urbanised jungle. Wikipedia Here

Singapore – Joo Chiat Road, Singapore’s Neighbourhood of Charm

Johor Bahru, Malaysia May 2018: Anyone looking at Googles satellite imagery of Singapore will undoubtedly notice areas of grey, green and rustic red. Generally one can consider to grey to represent hi-rise residential and industrial areas, green to represent areas not yet bulldozed and rustic red to represent areas of townhouse estates. Its these red areas that potentially could be of some interest. A little research might reveal some of Singapore’s hidden gems that are really off the beaten tourist path. One such area to look at is Joo Chiat, 3 1/2 miles east of downtown and according to Google the area retains Some of Singapore’s originality, some of that old style charm that existed across the Island before the proliferation of mass hi-rise housing. So, Joo Chiat is today’s destination as another escapade into Singapore from Johor Bahru begins.


Grey, Green and Red, a colour code to Singapore

The Johor checkpoint is as always a trouble free process, but the Singaporeans at Woodlands are getting a little jumpy! This will be my third border run in as many days and they want to know what I’m upto! A brief explanation that Singapore is too expensive and that’s why I’m commuting from Johor seems to satisfy, for now at least. so, its Woodlands to Bishan and finally Dakota on the MTR then bus 16 or 33 to Joo Chiat Road, a journey of about 1 1/4 hours according to Google.


North to South

Wikipedia has a comprehensive article on the Joo Chiat neighbourhood, including a detailed rundown on its long and interesting history – for urban stompers like me, worth a read (here). Briefly, life here began as a spice and coconut plantation early 1900’s and when the market for spices diminished the surrounding lands became prime development areas for those looking to escape the overcrowded downtown. Today as one wanders around their is plenty of evidence remaining of how the area developed, a time line evident in its architecture. From 1930’s shop houses to the characteristic art-deco era of the 1950’s and of course a little more upto date with some swanky villas along the Oman Road. So, what started out as a cart track between spice plantations is now the Joo Chiat Road, lined either side with a colourful and vibrant array of period architecture along with plenty of traffic, just to give the place a modern touch!


On the left, looks like a former 1940’s cinema building, Dunman Road


1970’s bungalows on Onan Road looking north


On Onan Road looking south, lovely townhouse character


Now its time for lunch!

As one thinks about lunch, another food court appears just around the corner, quite a common occurrence on Singapore Island!. Looks as though this building might have served as an indoor market once upon a time, but today its just teaming with an array of food, on two floors. Modest cuisine at modest prices, £2 to around £5 per meal price range here, with fish being the most expensive items. And so with lunch out of the way one is free to stroll around the neighbourhood taking in the charm and character of Joo Chiat, named after the original land owner Mr. Chew Joo Chiat, back in the early 1900’s. Ornate facades, intricate motifs and ceramic tiles complete with the colourful architecture give this neighbourhood a vibe and vibrancy I haven’t experienced anywhere else in Asia, pretty unique and well worth a visit.


Joo Chiat Road


Back to 1928 on Joo Chiat Road


Chinese Paranakan residential houses


Pre WW2 Chinese Shop houses still in use



Singapore – Beach, Jungle and Exotic Wild Birds, Pasir Ris Town Part 2

Johor Bahru, Malaysia, May 2018: Sun, sea and sand, scintillating white sand here at Pasir Ris Beach. Haveing just completed a 45 minute trek through the jungle, one comes across this rather pleasant scene of a white sand beach lined with coconut palms for as far as the eye can see – the most picturesque, photogenic beach I’ve come across in a while. Google suggests the whole thing is about 2 miles long split into 3 sections separated by rivers. I’m at the middle section between Tampines river and Api Api River. Tampines is where the Mangroves originate, thousands of years old I’d say and the beach isn’t far behind either probably – in short, it all looks pretty natural. Even Singapore couldn’t manufacture a mangrove, could they? So, while thousands of tourists are sunning themselves on the imported Indonesian sands at Sentosa, lets take a look at the natural Singaporean sands of Pasir Ris.

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Picture Postcard scene from Pasir Ris, Singapore

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Mouth of the Tampines River

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A deserted beach, where are all the tourists?


Fishing for lunch is this Tern.

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Dwellings on the sea

A pretty near near perfect beach. Cooling breeze, lawns set back for picnics and pretty good scenery too, better keep an eye on the coconuts though! One can follow the Api Api river back towards civilisation via the nearby parkland and observe a little more of the nature on offer here. Dragonflies in abundance hovering around the ponds, birds tweeting happily and the park staff, sweeping, tending the place to near perfection.

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Parkland by the sea.

As much as I’d like to stay here forever, I better start back towards Woodlands and beat the causeway rush hour pandemonium. Perhaps I’ll make a return visit one day, but for now Pasir Ris is going to be one of the more memorable places I’ve been to on Singapore Island. Food, nature, beach all within close proximity of the transport hub too. The town itself, whilst full of housing blocks, still has a certain likability about the place – plenty of space and a thoroughly modern well crafted new town. So, as I approach the town green and the MTR for Woodlands, here’s a quick look at Pasir Ris Central.

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Pasir Ris Central Town Green


Singapore – Beach, Jungle and Exotic Wild Birds, Pasir Ris Town Part 1

Johor Bahru, Malaysia, May 2018: Pasir Ris on Singapore’s northeast coast is today’s destination. I’m visiting there because I read that one can find snakes, lizards and a few exotic birds and since I like to include a little nature spotting on my travels, Pasir Ris sounds like a pretty good place to go. According to Wikipedia, the place as it is today began life in 1983 from whats was originally an area of undeveloped rural lowlands dotted with Chinese Kampong villages here and there, including Kampong Pasir Ris. Given that Singapore is famous for bulldozing its past, the planners in this case decided to leave some Jungle and created a nature park with a beach. Since the place is connected to the MRT system (Google Map), it should be a pretty straight forward trip, in theory. So, lets go and check it out!

A routine border run between Johor CIQ and the Woodlands Checkpoint. I have an immigration card already prepared having filled in the requited details over breakfast. Yes, I had the brainwave of grabbing a bunch of these cards on the first border run a few days ago. From Woodlands then, its going to be about an hour and 17 minutes on the MTR with a change of line in downtown, according to Google. Also according to Google there is a bus route, more direct but only 5 minutes quicker.


Pasir Ris Central is where the MTR line ends, buses congregate and shoppers shop. Yes, its the hub of the town which spreads far and wide in all direction except North, for that’s where one will find the Jungle with its beach. before that though, time for some lunch and since the Pasir Ris hawker centre is a prominent feature just across the road, well, lets just go and eat! Hawker centres, also known as food courts are a social fixture in Malay and Singaporean society featuring, in my opinion, some of the worlds best cuisine at the cheapest prices. Right now I’m going to down a wanton and noodle soup topped with fresh raw garlic!

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For good cheap food

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Mouthwatering selection

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Wanton Noodle Soup S$3, about £1.50

Directly opposite the towns central hub lays the Jungle or more precisely ‘Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk’. Running next to Tampines (Tam pin ez) River this will be my best chance of spotting a snake, a few lizards will do if not a snake. So, just a short hike across the main road and one finds the entrance, a few warning signs about garbage plus bathroom amenities! Its a real jungle alright – since its Singapore one might be forgiven for assuming the place might have been artificially manufactured such as the recent gardens in downtown bay. So, here we are treading the boardwalk in a cool mangrove, but no sign of a snake yet. Oh, look, Toucan Joe flying around! Oh, on closer look its a Hornbill, but still its nice to see exotic birds naturally, including a flock of parakeets.


Fire Ant




Jungle Nuts


Peter and Paul Parakeets



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Lovely cool shade from the watch tower

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Asian Koel

A wonderful 45 minutes in the mangroves and jungle spotting all sorts of nature – no snakes, no monkeys but plenty of interesting birds and plants if that’s ones area of interest. As the jungle opens into a well manicured park with the sea on its northern edge, that can only mean one thing – yes indeed, the beach!

See you in part 2.

Malaysia/Singapore – CIQ, Woodlands and Paya Lebar Air Base Part 2

Johor Bahru, Malaysia, May 2018: After leaving Johor about 1 hour and 15 minutes ago, I’ve arrived at the Woodlands MRT station navigating my way through 2 sets of immigration checkpoints. Now, I need to find my way to the Paya Lebar air Force Museum on Airport Road.  Although the Singapore MRT system is pretty easy to navigate, its bus system is not.  A consultation of Google Maps however makes the job of finding bus routes a whole lot easier than trying to decipher on-line timetables. Google maps is coming up with bus 90 from Potong Pasir to Paya Lebar air Base, all I have to do then is arrive at Potong Pasir in one piece! Woodlands -Bishan-Serangoon-Potong Pasir on the MRT, sounds pretty straight forward, but first I’d better get a transport card. Its slightly cheaper than paying cash and of course avoids all the messing around trying to find the right change for the bus. Yes, the card will work on all Singapore’s public transport.


So, diligently following Google, next I need to walk to Tai Thong Crescent, about 8 minutes away, to find the bus stop and hopefully a bus numbered 90. Singapore of course is famous for its bulldozing of the past and reshaping its future, but here on Tai Thong Crescent the contrast with the rest of the areas modern developments couldn’t be plainer. Development has grown up around this little crescent of old shop houses that I guess were prevalent around Singapore pre and post World War 2. Its good to see a little bit of historic character among the islands modernity, and its the ideal place to stop for lunch. A local foot court occupies the corner shop house with all the local favourites being cooked up, like fish porridge!


Tai Thong Crescent

Well, Goggle has been pretty accurate so far as bus 90 rolls up. Tap the transport card on the pad and we’er off, heading to the Singapore Air Force Museum – hope its open, forgot to check! As Google promised, the bus stops right outside the place, marvellous.

A small place compared to the RAF’s Hendon Museum in London for example, but then the Singapore Air Force hasn’t been operating as long so its not surprising. A modest display of aircraft exhibits though and mostly under cover. Exhibition rooms on 2 floors tell the story and provide a degree of education with some computerised interaction. On the whole its a good display and worth the effort of getting there. Disappointingly, there are no official views of the actual operational side of the Airbase, however all is not lost as I spotted a small gap in the fence that offers a partial view of the top secret base!

Royal Singapore Air Force Museum, Paya Lebar… 


Malaysia/Singapore – CIQ, Woodlands and Paya Lebar Air Base Part 1

Johor Bahru, Malaysia May 2018: Today’s mission is to visit to the Singapore Air Force Museum sited at the Paya Lebar Air Base, east Singapore. Malaysia is connected to Singapore via a causeway between Johor Bahru on the Malay side and the town of Woodlands on Singapore. First, one has to negotiate a way through the Malaysian Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex (CIQ) and repeat the process at the Woodlands Checkpoint. So, the first bus from KSL Mall down to JB Sentral (Johor Bahru Sentral City bus station) leaves at 8.30 AM leaving just enough time to pack a flask of coffee, a bottle of frozen water and a mango!

From JB Sentral its about a 6 minute hike to the immigration hall inside the CIQ complex which itself is a marvel of modern architecture. Unfortunately I was caught taking photos – “its forbidden”, says the lady guard who then promptly made sure they were erased. As its after 9 Am the queues are short, just a 5 minute wait, a passport stamp and one is through, following the signs to the bus station down below, no questions asked. Generally speaking the station is split between destinations to the west and east of the Woodlands Checkpoint. Since I’m heading to the Woodlands MRT station I need to cross over to the eastbound side and find bus SMRT 950. Its a Singapore operated bus but they are happy to take the Malaysian currency – 2 MYR  (36p) is the ticket price to Woodlands MRT (cash and no change) and one is soon on the causeway, queuing to get into Singapore.

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Johor Customs, Immigration and Quarantine

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Bus to Woodlands, Singapore

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25-35 minute queue to Singapore, No queues into Malaysia!

About 30 minutes of inching towards Woodlands in the biggest traffic jam I’ve seen in a while. The bus is pretty comfortable though and with air conditioning. Then There’s a kind of organised stampede as several bus loads of passengers alight and head for the passport gates, but first, those who are not residents or Malaysians need to fill out an arrival form – the usual formality one faces when crossing borders. The queues here are longer, interrogation more thorough but they are satisfied that my one day in Singapore is full of good intentions. After the passport stamp one is channelled towards baggage x-ray belts and an airport style metal detector. Thankfully no further interrogation and I’m on my way to the bus, the same bus that brought me here will be waiting hopefully. Yes, it rolls up just I join the queue and so that was Malaysia to Singapore by bus, taking about an hour checkpoint to checkpoint. Next stop, the Woodlands MRT Station.

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In Summary…

For those cost conscious, adventurous travelers with time on their side, residing in Johor and bussing into Singapore should save a bucket load of cash, given that staying anywhere on Singapore will be expensive.  At first it may all seem a bit daunting – 4 sets of checkpoints if on a day trip, finding the correct buses and actually ending up where one has intended. Having done this journey several times over the years here’s my Malaysia to Singapore by public bus top tips.

  1. Decide on the bus. Singapore operated buses (SMRT) all operate at the first MRT station after woodlands. Eastbound Bus 950 stops at Marsiling MRT and terminates at the Woodlands transport interchange (Google Map). Westbound Buses 170, 170x and 160 all stop Kranji MRT for onward travel towards Jurong (Google Map). All these buses operate from the Johor CIQ bus station to Woodlands checkpoint. The Malaysian operated Causeway Link buses ply the direct route into downtown Singapore. If one has no plan, just cruise the bus platforms, look at where the buses end up and hop on.
  2. Leaving after 9 AM and returning before 4.30 PM will ensure a smooth and painless ride back to Johor. Traveling at peak times will mean long immigration queues and long bus waits since they get caught up in the causeway traffic queues.
  3. Ensure one has a ball point pen, necessary to fill out the Singapore arrival and departure card. Trust me when I say that pens are not provided!
  4. If one intends on a few trips across the causeway, buy a transport card at the first opportunity, available at the MRT stations. It will save a great deal of time and keep the bus drivers on schedule and happy.

Woodlands Bus Interchange and MRT Station


Welcome to Singapore!