Memos from Asia

Pulau Ubin: Travel in Time to Singapore’s Untouched Island

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The boardwalk along the Pulau Ubin island Singapore. A picturesque place with beautiful sunny beaches for cycling along or kayaking.

Singapore itself is an island city. The daily hustle and bustle of city life can become all too overwhelming for travelers. Thankfully, off the coast of Singapore lie over 60 islands that can provide a much-needed break from the metropolis.

One of the most popular escapes from the city amongst Singaporeans is Pulau Ubin. Situated North-East of Singapore, Pulau Ubin is like a time-capsule from the 1960s.

Buddhist prayer flags have been put up at Wei Tuo Fa Gong Buddhist temple on tropical Pulau Ubin island, Singapore

The island contains Singapore’s last kampong and probably holds the richest amount of history compared to the other islands. Kampongs are traditional villages, especially of ingenious people, found in South-East Asia. Once there were many kampongs in Singapore, but as time has progressed and urbanized, the kampongs have become extinct.

The unspoiled beauty of Pulau Ubin is kept by the small community which continues to live there today.

The boat back from Pulau Ubin

Getting there, you have to take a small ‘ferry’ or bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal. The journey is a blissful 15-minutes long where the yearning freedom apart from the city kicks in. You can feel the cool wind from the boat racing across the water while Ubin begins to appear in the distance. The boat fare is $3 per person each way. It’s also good to note that the boat schedule is very irregular because it only departs once each boat is filled with 12 people.

Once you arrive on the island, you will find that the most popular activity there is cycling. As you exit the jetty, you will be greeted by a number of bike shops. Most people will rent a bike, which ranges from $8-$20 per day depending on the model of bike you want. The bike shops are located in the main part of the village, and as you walk around, you can really get a sense of Singapore’s rich cultural heritage.

Pulau Ubin, Singapore – January 4, 2014: One of the many stores renting bicycles on the island of Pulau Ubin.
Two tourist bikes parked by the tropical lake Ketam Quarry on Pulau Ubin Island, Singapore

It’s a beautiful blend of different traditions from across South-East Asia. Particularly, there is an old Tua Pek Kong temple around the corner from the bike shops that you must visit. These are the oldest Chinese temples found across Malaysia and Singapore.

There are several different trails on Pulau Ubin, but the most popular is Chek Jawa. The trail leads to the Chek Jawa wetlands, one of Singapore’s few remaining natural reserves. It’s a unique ecosystem that possesses six different habitats in a single area and boasts a variety of tropical wildlife.

From there, you can adventure onto the mangrove boardwalk. If you are traveling with children, it’s a brilliant place for a mini-safari. As you walk, you can try and spot the different animals, from the pistol shrimps and crabs living on the shores to the monkeys in the canopies to the dazed monitor lizards baking in the sun. If you’re sharp-eyed enough, you might just spot a kingfisher! You can venture onto the pier and take in the azure water and the stunning views of Ubin’s rocky shores painted against its proud tree canopy.

Very Tall tree Pulau Ubin Island

As you continue, you will reach the Jejawi viewing tower. The tower climbs over 20 meters high above the tree canopy. Climbing to the top is a hundred percent worth it! The view above the canopy and across the wetlands is truly captivating. The image remains in my memory today, like a landscape painting with all the elements of Ubin composed into one spirit.

It’s impossible to visit Ubin without coming across the resident wild boar family. More often than not, they will block the path directly in front of you. Don’t panic; the best thing is to calmly walk past them or wait for one of the park directors to wield a large stick, driving them out the way.

Piglet of wild boar on Pulau Ubin, an island north east of the coast of the main island of Singapore.

If you decide that a day trip away from the city is too little, there is a campsite called The Ubin Living Lab where you can stay overnight. If you haven’t slept a night on a tropical island, I would highly recommend the experience. The atmosphere is incredible as you sleep under the night sky and listen to all the wildlife partying amongst the mangrove trees in the distance. The warm air and humidity can become a little claustrophobic, but sleeping in a well-aired tent or a bivvy is probably the best thing to do.

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As you head back to Singapore’s mainland, it can be quite a dystopian feeling. Despite Ubin only being 15 minutes from Singapore’s shores, it feels like the boat itself is a time machine. The traditional kampongs and the untouched nature of Singapore’s original land vanishes. The peaceful sounds of wildlife are replaced with engines and crowds of people. This little haven is no more, but the endless possibilities of Singapore’s spirit still remain. Now it’s time to explore the city!

A jetty along coastal Pulau Ubin Singapore

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