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Dollarsandsense Experiences: Camping On Lazarus Island, Here’s What To Expect In Singapore’s Great Outdoors

Camping under the stars


For those of us looking for a weekend getaway that’s easy on the wallet, Lazarus Island springs to mind as the perfect spot. With its still turquoise waters, fine white sand and rich green foliage, it is reminiscent of our favourite island getaways without the hefty price tags.

Pre-trip planning and logistics

Setting a date can be a pain if you’re planning an outing for more than four people. Here’s a tip- set a date that works for four of you first, then propose it to the others. If they can make it, yay. And if they can’t, you’re still confirmed for a party of four.

Our merry band of five adventurers set our camping date for the Vesak Day long weekend so that we could enjoy a second day on the beach, then have a day of rest before heading back to work.

Applying for a Temporary Occupation License is free and can be done through your Singpass app at SLA. Be sure to apply at least 2 weeks in advance to secure a choice spot.

Booking a boat ride is easy. We bought ours on Klook:  tickets are sold for $13.59 by Singapore Island Cruise ferries. Each ticket comes with a Gong Cha voucher, perfect for a post-trip bubble tea to beat the heat when you’re back on mainland Singapore.

Buying and organizing supplies is an adventure in itself. A shopping spree in Decathlon or online has never been so justified. In our case, we had basic supplies but needed to stock up on a few essentials we had missed sorely during our early camping attempts. Keep in mind as well that there are no shops on Lazarus Island, so bring your own food and drink. In the end, the five of us collectively lugged the following to Lazarus Island.

Must-haves:

  • One 4-wheel trolley (from Decathlon for SGD$90)
  • One 4-man tent (from Lazada for SGD$28.50)
  • One 1-man tent
  • Two groundsheets (One to sit on and the other as a canopy for shade in the day)
  • Three sleeping bags (from Lazada for SGD$17 each)
  • Two sleeping mats
  • Two battery-operated camping fans
  • Two portable lights
  • One camping stove (hands-down the MVP of the trip)
  • One canister of gas
  • Two cooler bags with ice packs
  • Ziplocked, canned and packaged food
  • 10 big bottles of water that we re-filled on the island (using a bottle with filter attachment)
  • Towels, bathing suits and clean clothes
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellant for material surfaces and skin
  • Lots of wet wipes and tissue paper
  • Plastic bags for collecting rubbish

Nice-to-haves:

  • Air sofa (from Lazada for SGD$13.90)
  • Giant float and pump
  • Booze aplenty!

Things we wished we had brought:

  • More 3-in-1 coffee/tea sachets
  • More camping fans
  • Inflatable pillows
  • Foldable beach chair

Floaties and air sofas are fun toys to bring along if you don’t mind the extra weight

The Journey to Lazarus Island

Getting to Marina South Pier is best on the MRT if you are travelling light. The pier is visible when you come out from Exit B of the eponymous Circle Line station. If you are carrying loads though (in our case, the cooler bags stuffed with beers were what took the heaviest toll), taking a taxi saves on time, complaints, and body aches.

Supplies for a group of 5 camping overnight

We redeemed our tickets on the 2nd floor, bought water and soda from the small shops that line the path from the MRT station to the pier, and were soon ready to board the hourly ferries. The operators are not fussed if you take a 10 a.m. ferry even though you’ve booked a 9 a.m. one, as long as you have a ticket. Still, it pays to check the schedule before your trip.

A roving robot at the pier allows travelers to call for assistance

Getting to St John’s Island took 20 to 30 minutes on a comfortably air-conditioned ferry.

Our ferry disembarks at St John’s Island

We thanked our lucky stars as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and promised us an afternoon free of rain (no extended guarantee for nighttime). Bright signage welcomed us to St John’s Island as we disembarked in typically orderly Singaporean fashion.

A welcome sight that marked the start of our adventure

The walk to Lazarus Island was a 20-minute one peppered with the loveliest views of blue skies, clear waters and virgin greenery.

The stunning landscape keeps the long walk to Lazarus Island interesting

Place your bulkiest belongings in a trolley, then take Instagram-worthy photos of the scenery and little signboards along the way.

It was a relief to offload some weight onto the foldable trolley

Of special interest was the signboard detailing St John’s Island’s historical significance as a quarantine and screening island for contagious diseases in the early 1900s.

Information boards dot the boardwalk

Toilets are a rare and precious commodity on this trip. The first ones you’ll see are en route to the land bridge that separates St John’s Island from Lazarus Island.

Signboard before the land bridge to Lazarus Island

Follow the signboard and take a 50 metre stroll from the main path to find a row of toilets and showers separated from the sea by a meshed fence. They aren’t the cleanest, so bring along your wet wipes.

Toilets on St John’s Island

Day 1 on Lazarus Island

Chilling on the beach was a well-deserved respite after the long walk under the sun. We set up camp at Campsite A, which was a little farther up the stretch of beach.

So near our campsite, yet so far

For your skin’s sake, find a shady spot or set up a canopy with a spare tarp, and remember to slather on serious amounts of sunscreen and insect repellant.

In the water at long last!

Stinging water is a mysterious phenomenon apparently caused by the presence of tiny jellyfish / sea lice in the sea. We didn’t feel the stings as much on our previous day trips, but this time they had us doing involuntary jumping jacks in the water. Consider cladding yourself in a full-body bathing suit or rash guard to escape the discomfort and maximise your enjoyment of the water.

Mind the monkeys! Keep your food out of sight when unattended

Setting up camp is a true test of a group’s dynamics. Camping etiquette dictates that everyone takes the initiative to help out in setting up tarps, canopies, tents and floaties, even if the heat has you longing for a lie-down first.

Many hands make light work. So do auto-open tents

Cooking is essential if you’re staying overnight, as most dabao-ed food will spoil by morning, and the idea of having canned food for three consecutive meals isn’t a particularly enticing one.

Cooking prawn risotto with the aid of a stove, gas canister and wind guard

A camping stove also allows you to boil water for tea and coffee sessions. Bring along a small packet of milk and a few sugar sachets for the full experience.

Boiling water for tea

Getting cleaned up on a camping trip is optional really. If wet wipes won’t do it for you, take a 15-minute walk down to the washrooms by the small pier on Lazarus Island where private boats make pit stops. The toilets there have hoses to shower with, wash your dirty dishes and refill your water supply. Remember to bring a water filter or boil your water before drinking.

Watching the sun set as the beach empties

A Night to Remember

Supper under the stars was arguably the best part of camping. We had a good long stretch of beach to ourselves by sunset after the last boat had left St John’s Island.

Roasting marshmallows for dessert

Booze, conversation and ghost stories flowed as we huddled companionably around our portable lights.

2 a.m. on the beach is the best time to bond

Instant noodles were requested and cooked at 4 a.m. followed by another tea session to close the night (well, morning). It was a warm night too, so three of us ended up crawling out of our stuffy tents and having a short sleep under the stars.

Clear skies and a light breeze are as good as any tent

The Morning After

Day 2 on Lazarus Island was a very relaxing one. We chilled on our tarp and sipped warm wine as Sunday morning revellers thronged the beach around us. The stinging critters had still not let up, but we were equally determined to have our time in the water.

A lone iguana heads home after his morning dip

Packing up didn’t take us long, but the trek back to St John’s Island did as the heat and lack of sleep caught up with us. Take a quick shower at the toilets there to wash the salt and sand off, as long as you’re on time for the last ferry back. The ferries are mostly air-conditioned, so enjoy a cat nap in the cool air and gentle rocking of the waves.

Catching a few winks on the ferry back to mainland Singapore

Back on mainland Singapore, queue your way through Customs to assure the authorities that you haven’t brought any nature back from Lazarus Island, then go for that well-deserved bubble tea.

Camping Is An Experience Not For Everyone

Overall, camping on Lazarus Island is not for everyone. The lack of toilet facilities and F&B options may not be suitable for those who enjoy the modern conveniences. If an overnight camp is too much for your modern sensibilities, a day trip to Lazarus Island may be much more palatable as evidenced by the many day trippers we encountered during our stay.

However, if you (and your party of adventurers) are willing to rough it out for a day (or two), it can be a richly rewarding experience that brings you in close contact with nature, a rare feat in Singapore’s urban jungle. It was also much more affordable compared to the glamping experiences.

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