Mention Singapore and immediately images of skyscrapers and frenetic shoppers come to mind. With its population of about 100 fishermen and subsistence farmers Pulau Ubin is in stark contrast and remains the last bastion of kampong or village life in Singapore. Sandwiched between the main island of Singapore and Malaysia, the pulau or island has so far managed to evade the developers. Many city-bound Singaporeans go there looking for off the beaten track adventure, unheard of on the mainland. It’s also a great escape for any visitor wanting to flee the fast paced shop until you drop syndrome.
The slow lane starts as soon as you join the bum boat queue at Changi Village Ferry Terminal where the journey only takes about 15 minutes. No entry fee is charged and free island maps can be obtained from the National Parks information kiosk near the jetty which is open 8.30am – 5pm. Exploring the island is made easy with three recommended sealed routes and almost everyone cycles around the island to explore its hidden mysteries. Heading north is Chek Jawa Nature Reserve route. This tidal flat is home to a wide variety of marine life which sadly is no longer seen anywhere else in Singapore. Along the way you can explore farms, fruit plantations, and rubber plantations.
To the east is the sensory trail route where you can enjoy flourishing mangroves and rustic roads with swaying coconut palms overhead before joining up with the northern route. In the west, the route takes you to the old granite quarry where there are scenic views of Singapore and Malaysia. If you get off the beaten track along the dirt trails you can find unexpected treasures such as abandoned wooden houses being slowly swallowed by the forest. Unable to resist a look into the past, I negotiated my way past tropical grade vines and undergrowth. Being careful not to slip on the green moss that had grown every where, I wonder from room to room and feel like the first explorer stumbling upon an ancient civilisation.
The roads and trails are all well marked. Public transport on the island runs from sunrise to sunset, but most people go by foot or bicycle. Bikes can be rented at shops near the main jetty area and the cost ranges from $3/hour to $6/day. From experience, the cheaper antique models do the job just fine. Keep your pace leisurely as despite heeding the warnings, I narrowly escaped a head on collision with another cyclist on a bend. The basic safety strategy of sticking to the left doesn’t account for right-side-of-road tourists and expats who think they are back home. No one wants their holiday ending in a trip to hospital with a broken limb.
By public transport, take the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) to Tampines Station on the Pasir Ris Line, then take SBS Transit bus 29 to Changi Village bus interchange which is a short walk to Changi Village Ferry Terminal. The bumboat costs SGD$2.50 each way and they operate from sunrise to sunset and there is no set departure or arrival times.
Only when there is a minimum of 12 passengers will the boat leave (or if you pay them SGD$30 they will leave straight away). On the weekend I only waited about ten minutes to get a ride. If you take a taxi, then be sure to tell the driver it is the Changi Village ferry terminal, otherwise there is the risk of ending up at either Tanah Merah ferry terminal or getting stranded at the old deserted Changi ferry terminal like I did. I recommend getting an early start and arrive at the island prior to 0900 before the heat of the day sets in. Bring sunscreen, a hat, plenty of water and wear closed in shoes. Water and soft drink can be bought at shops near the main jetty area. The island can easily be explored in three hours after which you can indulge in delicious fresh seafood for lunch at the restaurants near the jetty before heading back to the main island.