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Pulau Ubin is an Island home to Singapore’s last villages or kampongs. Having been conserved and kept from urban development the island retains its rustic beauty and simplicity of the past era. While most of the early inhabitants have moved over to settle on mainland Singapore, there are still families who chose to live here, enjoying the relaxed and simple pleasures of life. The island is open to anyone who is interested to discover its nature and biodiversity and I am fortunate to be given the chance to do such.
Going to Pulau Ubin is easy – simply take the MRT to Tanah Merah MRT Station (EW4), then board Bus No. 2 or 29 to Changi Village bus interchange. A few meters walk from the busy Changi Village Hawker Center is the Changi jetty with boats departing for Pulau Pengerang and Pulau Ubin. Take a bumboat ride for S$2.50 per adult one way (as of this writing) to Ubin. Just join the queue and the boats will leave when there’s already 12 passengers on board. If there are less than 12 passengers, you might have to wait a little while until enough people turn up or you can pay SGD30.00 and depart for Ubin straight away. Be sure to join the correct queue for Pulau Ubin though, or you will end up in a different island! 😉 And remember, no ticket will be issued and payment is to be made onboard so make sure to register with the bumboat operator.
The ferry ride was short and in less than 10 minutes, we were already in Pulau Ubin. I spend some time walking around the main square, soak it all in. I still can’t believe that a place like this still exists in Singapore. I can see that time has actually stood still – it felt like I was transported back in time. Just imagine Singapore prior to an economic boom, maybe back in the 1960s where life is much simpler, when there are more trees than buildings when there was no advancement in technology yet. Life here is quiet without the usual rush we encounter in the busy streets at the city proper. Such a breath of fresh air and I am loving it!
I walked towards the National Parks information kiosk to get the map and was informed that cycling is the best way to explore the island though you can also hire a van for a private tour. I opted to go for a bike ride, not only it is cheaper, but it is also a great way to burn calories! Haha! There are different kinds of bike for rent to suit every preference – mountain bikes, tandem bikes, even bikes with side carts for babies or really lazy partners. For a little extra, you can get a basket attached to your bike for your belongings. What’s important is to find a bike that’s comfortable for you, give it a try to make sure everything works especially the brakes, and then pay around $8-$12 (depending on the type of bike) and the bike is yours for the day.
I started my Pulau Ubin exploration passing by the main paved road of Jalan Ubin. I cycled along a metalled road, meandering past old wooden houses and coconut trees. Cycling around the island evoked an idyllic feeling and the serenity the place soon made us forget the hustle of urban Singapore. There were some hilly and rough parts of the cycling trail which can test one’s endurance, oftentimes everyone was too focus and eager to conquer these trails that they often fail to notice some of the best views on the island while many only stops to take a picture of the wild boar roaming around freely.
Some slopes were really steep and it would be best to follow the advice of the many signboards on the roadside. You would not want to go home with a broken neck or leg.
Finally reached the entrance of Chek Jawa. Bicycles are not allowed inside the wetlands so you must remember to request for a bicycle lock at the point when you select your bike at Ubin Town!
Inside the House no. 1 of Check Jawa Visitor Center, I’ve learned about the existence of the creatures and mangroves along the coastal line of Pulau Ubin.
This beautiful Tudor-style cottage was built in the 1930s and served as a holiday home for Langdon Williams, the Chief Surveyor of that time. In 2003, the Urban Redevelopment Authority declared it as a Conservation Building and by 2006, meticulous repair and restoration works were completed.
Today, House No. 1 serves as a visitor center for the Chek Jawa Wetlands. While some of us took this opportunity to take a short break from the scorching sun, others took beautiful pictures with the cottage as a backdrop.
Chek Jawa is the largest natural intertidal flat in northern Singapore, and is precious because several different ecosystems can be seen here in one small area, in fact, this is a wetland of six ecosystems! These provide refuge for plants and animals that are no longer common elsewhere in Singapore.
As I walked along the boardwalk of Chek Jawa, I was awed by the rich diversity of flora and fauna thriving in this unique natural area. I can’t help but marvel at the different species co-existing within the mangrove. At low tide, you can have a closer look at some of the strange animals that live here, including barnacles, crabs, and fierce shell-drilling snails. Under the rocks are even more amazing animals such as living cowries, sea stars, and fast flat crabs. The marine bio-diversity that it offers was so amazing!
The hill overlooking Chek Jawa is covered with trees and plants that shelter and feed a variety of animals. Many plants and animals in this coastal forest are no longer commonly seen on mainland Singapore.
The sandy shore teems with tiny crabs which, if undisturbed, you can go about their amusing antics at low tide. The sand bar is also a popular rest stop for shorebirds that fly in from as far away as Siberia.
The coral rubble area near the front beacon is probably the richest part of Chek Jawa and also the most fragile. Rarely exposed, even at low tide, this area shelters delicate sea creatures that prefer to be submerged most of the time.
The big red Knobbly sea star is a favorite! Others include sponges in bewildering shapes and colors, delicate fan worms and even living corals! Octopuses, seahorses, and colorful flatworms.
I have learned that Pulau Ubin literally means Granite Island in Malay, which is appropriate for an island which is largely made up of granite hills – in the past, granite mining was the main industry for the residents of the island. The abandoned quarries at Ubin are now filling up with rainwater and the natural vegetation is recovering around their edges. Fish have somehow appeared in some of them, attracting birds such as herons. Although the quarries are now quite scenic, they remain dangerous places. Swimming and other activities near them should be avoided.
In conclusion, Pulau Ubin is a great place to explore. Despite the heat, I really enjoyed biking around the Island, it was very peaceful and a nice change from the hustle and bustle of mainland Singapore.
- Dress appropriately. Wear light-colored clothing.
- Bring an ample supply of drinking water, snacks, hat, mosquito repellent, an umbrella, sun glasses, and most importantly, comfortable walking shoes and a good sunblock!
- Check out the tide tables on the timings should you plan to have Chek Jawa in your island itinerary to avoid disappointments.
- Make sure you have sufficient cash. You will need it for the ferry rides, to pay for meals, and even to get drinks from a vending machine. Ubin operates on cash!
- Respect the wildlife. There are wild boar and monkeys all over the island. Don’t provoke them.
- If you are cycling and planning to park your bike at Chek Jawa, get a bike lock from the bike shop.
- Stay on designated roads and tracks to protect the wildlife and not get lost.
- Don’t feed the wild animals!
Have you been to Pulau Ubin? Share your experience by commenting below 🙂