What it’s really like to visit Pulau Ubin in Singapore
When you think of Singapore, you think of a fast-paced city with a crazy nightlife and crazier shopping. However, every city has a beautiful hidden secret, and Pulau Ubin is the one for the city of Merlion.
On my recent trip to Singapore, I did the whole tourist experience – from partying to sampling local food, Universal Studios and the safari. While this was fantastic, I’m also someone who has a penchant for the road less travelled. It gives me a kick when I go to a place that people haven’t heard of, and that’s where Pulau Ubin comes into the picture.
Why Pulau Ubin?
Originally called Pulau Batu Jubin or the Granite Stone Island, Pulau Ubin was a supplier of granite in the 1800. The Indonesians, Malaysians and even the Chinese all worked here on the quarry, so the place has multiple influences on its food and architecture. Now, the granite quarry is shut and the place is preserved as a natural marvel, housing 1960s Singaporean culture and sights along with other influences.
Learning this, I took it up as a challenge to do something offbeat while visiting the concrete jungle that is Singapore. Being the nature lover that I am, Pulau Ubin was one of the places in Singapore that was perfectly suited to my taste. It had a trail through the island where I could just cycle around, empty beaches, mangroves, various plant and bird species and so much peace.
How To Get To Pulau Ubin
This tiny island with an area of 10.2 square kilometres, is located off the north-east corner of Singapore. In the midst of the Straits of Johor, this is close to the Changi Ferry point in Singapore.
I was staying in MacPherson in central Singapore, and had to reach the northernmost point at Changi. Since the ferry terminal is popular, you can simply hop into a cab and get there. However, I have a rule when I travel – it is to choose the public transport instead of cab, as it is the best way to experience the city and to get to know it better.
So, first I took a MRT from MacPherson to Tanah Merah station. From Tanah Merah, it was a 30- to 40-minute bus ride to get to Changi ferry point. From the ferry terminal, Pulau Ubin is only a 15-minute ferry, or bumboat as it is locally called, ride away.
There is a daily schedule for the ferry and it is usually on time. Plus, it was not very crowded, which made me realise that the island is not going to be as crowded as I imagined. The bumboat cost me SG$ 3 (Rs 160, US$ 2.17) one way.
What To Do at Pulau Ubin
While going to Pulau Ubin, you will find plenty of people offering the island tour. I suggest you avoid that and explore the island on your own. However, some tourists do prefer having a guide. I was among the ones who took off on my own.
The First Look
As soon as you reach the island and start walking inside the island, you’ll find some well-maintained restrooms and an information centre. This is where I got my map for no charge at all.
A little ahead was a bunch of tiny restaurants selling snacks like chips, soft drinks and fast food. I was too excited to be hungry, so I grabbed my map and started to walk ahead to explore.
Further ahead is where there were many bike rental stores. The bike cost varied from SG$6 to SG$10 (Rs 320 – Rs 533, US$ 4.34 to US$ 7.23). For SG $3 (Rs 160, US$ 2.17) you can hire children’s bicycles too. There are expensive ones too that have extreme mountaineer tools and gears. My bike cost me SG$6 and I had it with me for a whole day. I didn’t have to give any proof or license in exchange for the bike. I just had to pay upfront, use the bike all day, and then go return it to the same place.
Once I had my cycle, I was ready to explore the place. However, you must note that the roads are quite raw and bumpy, so riding a bike here can be a bit of a challenge. I spent the first 10 minutes just trying to get my balance right. Within minutes, I found my balance and started riding smoothly. Soon, I started to spot some pretty viewing points as mentioned on the map.
There are two routes. One basic route that takes you throughout three quarters of the island, and another route that covers a quarter of the island, and is actually meant for seasoned cyclists; hence the geared mountain bikes. I picked the basic simple route, as it was definitely more scenic. Plus, I had more time to explore and breathe in the sights and sounds of nature
My first point to halt was Butterfly Hill. As the name suggests, I saw a garden with varied flowers and plant species that were surrounded by fascinating butterflies. In addition, a gorgeous view was definitely the cherry on the cake. I could enjoy all this just by myself. Thankfully, when I went, it was not too hot; the pleasant weather only added to my experience.
I continued to ride along the rugged little path without the help of the map to surprise myself. Since it was not crowded on that day, I saw just a couple of people on the path. Along the way, I also saw a few empty beaches, more viewing points, two quarries that were no longer in use, a museum, and a stretch of mangrove.
I walked and biked through all of these places for four hours at my own pace and then made a stop at the Chek Jawa wetlands. Here I found a spot to sit and gape at the view of the rocky shore and ocean in front of me.
A Refreshing Experience
A couple of minutes into exploring island, it started to rain. It started with a drizzle, then moved onto a stronger downpour with winds. While people on the roads were looking for shelter I continued peddling and enjoyed riding in the rains. After all, where else would I ever get to experience this kind of a rush and freedom in the middle of a paradise?
Things To Keep In Mind While Visiting Pulau Ubin
– Once you go inside the island, there are no places to buy food, except at the start of the island where you rent your bikes. So have a good meal before you go there, and don’t forget to carry some snacks and water with you.
– No matter how advanced Singapore is, it does have an issue with mosquitoes, especially in Ubin’s natural terrain. So, definitely carry bug repellent.
– Carry a raincoat. Singapore is a tropical island and will have intermittent showers throughout the year. So if you’re not the type of person who loves the rain, a raincoat will be a better choice over an umbrella.
– Carry a change of clothes, so if you do get sweaty or wet while exploring like I did, a change of clothes will help at the end of the journey
– Start your day as early as possible. It gets more crowded in the noon. Exploring the island with fewer people is a much better experience.
– I strongly recommend to not book a tour for this. It’s best explored on your own.
– Wear comfortable footwear, loose clothing, sunscreen, and sunglasses. You want to be more comfortable than fashionable when in Pulau Ubin.
– Keep the island clean – Singapore has a strict cleanliness culture. There are dustbins placed at many points. Use them.
– Carry a backpack so it’s easy for you to ride on the bike.