Island hasn’t changed at all in 50 years or more
The fact that the island of Pulau Ubin adds an extra dimension to a visit to ultra-modern Singapore is precisely because it hasn’t changed at all in the 50 years of Singaporean independence.
A rewarding trip to multidimensional Singapore can typically take in the little-known diversity of its ethnic precincts, such as Little India, Chinatown and the Arab Quarter, experiencing its colonial heritage, exploring the Marina Bay area with its jaw-dropping futuristic structures and the adrenaline-fuelled family-friendly rides on the pleasure island of Sentosa.
But there’s another angle too – the peaceful forgotten mangroves and jungles on Pulau Ubin, which are surprisingly accessible and can be seen over a few memorable hours by bike.
Ubin is located far from the towers of city-centre Singapore, nestled close to rural Malaysia. Essentially, it is the last “kampong”, or village, in Singapore. A leisurely bike ride or stroll around the island in the addictive tropical climate takes you back decades in time to recall the simpler pleasures in life.
Reached by taxi via Changi Wharf and a refreshing 15-minute bumboat ride, the island offers activities such as abseiling, rock climbing, nature walks and canoeing. Admission to the island is free and the bumboats operate from sunrise to sunset. But the best way to see the island is to hire one of the hundreds of bikes of all shapes and sizes that crowd the narrow road by the jetty. Many of the island’s rustic roads are paved and it’s pure pleasure pedalling up and down them between coconut palms, flourishing mangroves and overgrown rubber plantations.
The island’s wildlife includes monitor lizards, mud lobsters and tame wild boars. If you’re carrying some nibbles in your bicycle basket, the boars will soon sniff them out. The roads pass lakes, rickety tin-roofed kampong houses and mangrove lagoons. An easily climbed observation tower rises above the thick forest canopy. A coastal boardwalk above the seawater circles one of the island’s points where, if you’re lucky, you can spot anything from octopus to cuttlefish.
Singapore’s all-powerful government seems intent on preserving Pulau Ubin from the breakneck speed of development going on in Singapore’s city centre. It has so far resisted calls for the ubiquitous modern food courts, timetabled air-conditioned ferries and large-scale hotels. As long as it does, Ubin is a fascinating half-day or full-day excursion on a visit to one of the world’s most fascinating countries.
[pictured: Traditional village house on Pulau Ubin; photo by Cmglee/Wikimedia]