Located on the northeast just off the coast of Singapore, Pulau Ubin, or Ubin island is worlds away from the bustling city. The small island is blessed with beautiful scenery, swaying coconut trees, mangrove forests, lovely shorelines and abundant wildlife. It is rural, rustic and retains the calm laid-back atmosphere of village life. I had a lovely time pedaling around the island and soaking in the surrounding greenery and fresh air.
I started the day early by taking a cab to the Changi Point Ferry Terminal in Changi Village. The bumboats at the terminal make the trip to Pulau Ubin all throughout the day– there are no fixed times, and the boat leaves when there are a maximum of 12 people on board. The trip takes about 10 minutes and the fare of S$2.50=US$1.80 is paid on board before the boat heads off. The return trip works the same way too.
Cycling in Pulau Ubin
The best way to get around Pulau Ubin is by cycling. Bikes are available for rent from the many bike stalls lining the small road to the left of the jetty. It is best to choose a mountain bike; some of the roads go uphill and downhill, and are quite a ride. I rented mine for S$14=US$10, but a local ranger later told me that I could have easily gotten a good bike for S$10=US$7 or less. On request, the shops will add on a basket if you need space for your belongings, but what I regretted was not bringing extra padding for my bicycle seat– after cycling for hours, my bum hurt!
Before beginning your exploration of the island, pick up a map from the Pulau Ubin Information Kiosk to plan your path. If you forget, worry not as there are many map boards and signboards all throughout the island.
Around Pulau Ubin
The trail around Pulau Ubin does not run around the island– so you have to choose to either head east or west. Most of the roads are paved; unless you’re looking for some adventure into the the jungle. The west of the island offers beautiful quarries and temples; as well as chalets and the Ketam Mountain Bike Park if you’re looking to try out your bike skills. The east of the island on the other hand is the location of the Chek Jawa Wetlands’ mangrove swamp and coastal boardwalk.
I started my journey by heading to the west side of the island. My first scenic stop, the Pekan Quarry. There are many abandoned granite quarries on the island; and thus the island name ‘Ubin’, which translated means granite in the Malay language.
The Lotus Pond Temple
Also known as the Wei Tuo Fa Gong Temple, the Lotus Pond Temple is located on the west side of Pulau Ubin. There is a small bumpy lane that leads to the temple just off the road after passing the Pekan Quarry. It was the only temple I visited while there, and I was mesmerized by the colorful flags decorated around the temple. They looked so beautiful when reflected under the sun and waving in the wind.
The temple is named after the lotus pond just in front of it, but when I visited, there were not many lotuses in bloom.
Exploring the Island
I carried on further west of the island– passing by coconut trees, old rubber plantations and open grasslands. I managed to spot a couple of wild boars and saw a wild rooster crossing the road. I also passed numerous graveyards along the way; the island has a long history and many people have been buried here over the years. Chinese and Malay cemeteries are scattered around the island, and its often hidden by the growing grass surrounding several trees. It’s best to be cautious and respectful.
Just before reaching the mountain bike park, I decided to turn around and explore the other side of the island.
Chek Jawa Wetlands
The east side of the island heading towards the Chek Jawa Wetlands, consists of rugged terrain uphill and downhill. There were several times when I couldn’t pedal uphill anymore and had to walk. Upon reaching the entrance to the wetlands, I had to park my bike as no bikes are allowed on the mangrove boardwalk and coastal walk.
At the start of the mangrove boardwalk is the Jejawi Tower. After cycling for a couple of hours, I was tired so the stairs up the 20-metre high tower looked steep and daunting– but the climb was worthwhile as I was rewarded with an amazing view of the sea and the tree canopies.
The Chek Jawa Wetlands has a 1-kilometre loop, the first part being through the mangrove swamps. It contains a rich ecosystem, and the mangrove trees made the first part of the walk enjoyable, as it provided some shade from the hot sun. The mangrove forest is located along the sea shore; and I was especially intrigued by the seagrass lagoon that formed in the area– mossy, yet pretty.
The second part of the loop continues with the coastal boardwalk that heads out to sea along the shoreline. This pathway offers fantastic views of the sea on one side; and on the other side, the scene changes throughout the walk– from the lagoon to rocks, corals and sandy beaches, as well as coastal forests. I was told by the ranger to try and spot different species of birds, lizards and even starfishes while walking along the boardwalk; but unfortunately didn’t get to see any.
The Chek Jawa Wetlands also has a visitor center in a Tudor-styled house with a fireplace, which has a viewing jetty that goes way out into sea. The sun was crazy hot that afternoon, so I didn’t want to walk out into the open.
My Time in Pulau Ubin
I finished my tour of Pulau Ubin in about 4-5 hours. There are definitely more places to explore throughout the island, but by that time, my thighs were aching from too much cycling and my bum was hurting from the bumpy roads!
There are lots of small shops and stalls along the roads around the island– and getting a huge coconut drink after all the exercise was really refreshing. If you are hungry, there are many restaurants serving seafood and Chinese meals near the jetty. You can either get a bite to eat before leaving the island; or wait a while, take the bumboat back to Singapore island and be spoiled for choice at the hawker center just next to the ferry terminal. I had myself some beef brisket noodles and a bowl of ice-kacang (a dessert of shaved ice, red beans and all things sweet) at the hawker place, a fantastic way to end my trip to Pulau Ubin.
*Some pictures are courtesy of my travel companions, Ian Lee and Abby Tan.