A day trip to Pulau Ubin is an excellent way to escape the bustle of the city and enjoy a slower pace of life for a few hours. This 1,020 hectare island is the second largest of Singapore’s offshore islands and is just a ten minute boat ride from Changi. A visit here allows you to step back in time to the days when Singapore was a rustic village, with traditional kampong houses, swaying palm trees and little traffic.
Kampong Houses in Pulau Ubin — Photo courtesy of Marianne Rogerson
Pulau Ubin began its days as a settlement in the early 1800s when several Malay families and later Chinese families set up a community here, attracted by the good fishing and farming prospects. Later the granite quarrying industry took off here with the granite being used to build the Horsburgh Lighthouse and Raffles Lighthouse, the two extreme points of Singapore, in addition to the Causeway linking Singapore to Malaysia.
The island also shares its piece of World War II history, being the first landing point of the Japanese in 1942, who falsely lead the British to believe they would attack from here before moving in from the north-west. With the war firmly in the past and quarrying having ceased in 1999, the island has now returned to its sleepy farming and fishing days, with around 100 villagers still living in the kampong houses dotted throughout the countryside.
To get to Pulau Ubin, jump aboard a bumboat at the Changi Point jetty in Changi Village (not the Changi Ferry Terminal). The boats run from sunrise to sunset and leave once they have 12 passengers on board. Once you arrive on Pulau Ubin, hire a bike from the selection of bike hire shops in the main square. Inexpensive mountain bikes, including children’s bikes, child seats and tandems are all on offer for daily hire. The main square also contains several restaurants dishing up fresh seafood and shops selling drinks and snacks – there are no other refreshments stops around the island so make sure you stock up before you head off exploring.
Once you are fully equipped and stocked up, there are several well-signposted biking trails to allow you to explore the island. Shelters are provided at intervals, allowing you a shady place to rest, and all are furnished with maps to check your location.
Chek Jawa wetlands — Photo courtesy of Marianne Rogerson
One of the most popular destinations is the Chek Jawa Wetlands, one of Singapore’s richest ecosystems. The area was slated for land reclamation and re-development before the richness of its natural wonders were realised in 2000. Following public outcry and scientific consultations, the area has been saved for as long as it is “not required for development”. In 2007 a viewing jetty, a boardwalk offering mangrove and coastal loops, and the 21-metre Jejawi Tower were all opened as part of a long-term sustainable visitor management plan to protect the rich biodiversity here. Chek Jawa is a few minutes walk from the main trail – you will need to leave your bike at the gate so be sure to ask for a lock when you hire the bike.