Tortoises of Kusu Island - Atlas Obscura

Tortoises of Kusu Island

Legend holds that a tortoise turned itself into this island to save two shipwrecked sailors. 


Off the southern shores of Singapore where waves whisper ancient tales, you can find Kusu Island. In the Hokkien dialect, kusu means “tortoise” or “turtle.” True to its name, this island is adorned with many tortoise statues and home to a legendary tortoise tale.

The most prominent mythology revolves around a giant turtle and his generosity. During the ninth lunar month, two sailors found themselves shipwrecked and in distress on the rough seas. Thankfully, a benevolent turtle spotted the men and turned itself into an island where they could take refuge. Honored and grateful for the creature’s help, the sailors returned the following year to make offerings. Since then, Kusu Island has transformed into a place of worship.

The ancient pilgrimage continues today as thousands of devotees pilgrimage to Kusu Island to worship at the Da Bo Gong (Tua Pek King) Temple on the ninth lunar month. The island hosts a Chinese temple, three Malay shrines (Keramats), and a tortoise sanctuary. One of Singapore’s famous cultural heritages, the hawker center, is also on the island and only open during festivities and pilgrimages.

Originally 1.2 hectares, the island grew to 8.5 hectares through landfill and reclamation in 1975. During British colonization, the island once served as a burial site for newly arrived immigrants who died in quarantine on St John’s and Lazarus islands.

Know Before You Go

To get to the island you will need a ferry from Marina South Pier.

In partnership with KAYAK

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