DISHA DESHPANDE finds a middle path in travel destination. The green lands of Pulau Ubin are away from the concrete jungle of civilisation, but still will not leave you isolated from the human population
Sometimes travelling to mega cities can induce serious claustrophobia. You want to find a piece of land so green that you can retreat to, not too far from civilisation, but not too close either. A paradise so pristine that it makes you forget about the life you needed a little break from. That is Pulau Ubin – the last standing island village of Singapore. It would be a shame to come so close and miss out on this tropical delight.
Rent a bike, or walk!
This well mapped destination (even by google) is quaint and easy to get around. The informative sign boards all over the village make it very tourist-friendly and easy to explore. You can choose to rent a bicycle or bring your own on the bumboat to Ubin from Changi, the east coast of the Singapore mainland. The rental bikes are old and new. Ride around a bit before you pick one for the day, as they may be more weather worn than you’d think.
If you are a fan of guided walking tours, check out the Cultural Kampong and Natural Chek Jawa Tours. They are each about 2 hours long and start at the Ubin-HSBC Volunteer Hub. Start early and stay hydrated.
Though it is possible to explore the highlights of the island on a day-trip, you might want to consider staying over for a night or two, if you truly want to experience it all. The island has three campsites – Jelutong, Mamam and Endut Senin – with toilet facilities, out of which two have campfire circles. Be sure to register your stay at the Pulau Ubin Police Post before you pop your tents for the night.
Perfect for adventure lovers
Ketam Mountain Bike Park has 10 km of trails for leisurely cycling as well as off-road tracks spanning five difficulty levels for international competitions, as per the International Mountain Bicycling Association Standards. From steep slopes with poor traction and rocky stretches to sharp corners and obstacle courses, this biking park challenges all levels of cyclists.
Are your hiking shoes itching to be on your feet? The Bukit Puaka trail may take about 30 minutes to complete but is surprisingly challenging, with its rocky terrains and steep climbs. But view of the Ubin Quarry from the top is well worth the effort. You can explore the island by water too. Kayak through the mangroves to spot jellyfish, kingfishers and otters. There are several local adventure organisations that offer kayaking courses that last a few hours and day-long tours.
For the wildlife enthusiast
This slice of land is home to over 700 species of plants, 500 species of marine life, 220 species of butterflies and dragonflies, 215 species of birds, 40 species of reptiles and 30 species of mammals. Aside from the rarest species of Mangrove in the world, ‘Eye of the Crocodile’, you can also find Singapore’s only two Mangrove Heritage Trees here, over 14 metres tall and 5 metres in girth.
Head to the Chek Jawa Wetlands for a stroll along the 1.1km boardwalk through some of Singapore’s richest coastal and intertidal ecosystems. During the low tide, you might spot Mud Lobsters, Peacock Anemone and the Biscuit Sea Star in the ancient coral reef. From the jetty, you can get a glimpse of Pulau Sekudu (Frog Island) and sweeping views of the sea.
The 21-metre tall Jejawi Tower nearby offers panoramic views of Ubin’s lush tree canopy and the Johor River. Just 120 steps takes you to the best bird watching spot on the island. Keep your eyes peeled for the Straw-headed Bulbul, Mangrove Pitta, Hornbill, Barred Eagle Owl and Brown Wood-Owl.
One of the most inexpensive ways to travel around the world is to find volunteering opportunities. Since the preservation, conservation and restoration of Pulau Ubin is a massive project undertaken by the National Parks Board, you can get a hands-on experience with the Ubin Volunteering Program. Devote time and skills as guides at the Sensory Trail, Chek Jawa and other nature walks or be involved in other heritage and nature efforts for Ubin.
Relax in nature
If your heart longs for quiet corners in nature, intimate picnics or just amazing spots to read or meditate, there is no dearth of nooks to escape to. There are plenty of neatly planned fruit orchards of Durian (the national fruit of Singapore) Starfruit, Rambutans and Jackfruits, large coconut and rubber plantations, against the symphonic background music of the forest dwellers. Make your way to the old granite quarries from the 1800s, freshwater lakes rich in biodiversity, sit by the beach, or stroll around the sensory trail.
Fo Shan Ting Da Bo Gong Temple
This temple located near the Pekan Quarry, hosts celebrations for all major festivals like, Chinese New Year, the God’s birthday, Hungry Ghost Festival, the Lantern Festival and Tua Peh Kong’s birthday, aside from the Chinese Opera.
Thai Coconut Ice Cream is probably one of the best things you’ll ever have. Scoops of fresh coconut ice cream topped with crushed peanuts served in chilled hollowed-out tender coconuts, with cold coconut water on the side poured into a frosty beer mug. Ah… The coconut ice cream comes in flavour blends of Mango, chocolate and original. Take a break from biking around and hydrate with this little local treat.
Aside from this delicacy, you will find several shops around the village centre that sell refreshments, snacks, local seasonal fruits and Malay desserts like Cendol and Ais Kacang. And when you’d like something warm, opt for traditional Kopi (coffee) and Teh (tea) at any of the local restaurants.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, food might be a struggle on Ubin. You might want to carry your own, or better cook your meals outdoors on a campfire. There is also the option of catching your own fish and preparing it under the open skies. The island has four restaurants located by the jetty, famously visited for their fresh/live sea food preparations, alfresco seating homemade Malay dishes and views of the jetty and open waters. Mud Crabs, Lobsters and prawns are Ubin specialties.
- There are no ATMs on the island. Since businesses do not accept NETS or credit cards, so carrying cash will be a good idea.
- The first bumboat from Changi reaches Ubin at 00amand the last one leaves latest by 6.30pm.
- Carry plenty of insect repellant spray or citronella essential oil, and reapply every 4 hours.
- Wear sturdy shoes and pack light.
- Cell reception is good in most areas of the island. However, it would be wise to carry portable chargers for your phone and camera.
- Don’t forget to use sunscreen.