Category Archives: Singapore

‘Time Travel’ in Singapore: The Pulau Ubin alternative

Singapore is known for being a highly industrialized city with its high-rise buildings and modern landscape. So it came as no surprise that the more popular tourist attractions were man-made (Orchard Rd, Sentosa, Universal Studios, Marina Bay Sands, and the list goes on). Of course, these places were all on the itinerary for our trip, but we also preferred something “off the beaten track”. That was why I was happy that I stumbled upon Pulau Ubin during my online search for Singapore destinations. The travel guides described Pulau Ubin as the last kampung (village) in Singapore. The island was able to retain its simple way of life despite the rest of Singapore’s fast rise to modernization. It was said that Pulau Ubin would be like a blast from Singapore’s past. That got our attention, so we happily reserved one full day of our Singapore trip just for Pulau Ubin. We took the MRT to Tanah Mera Station and then rode the no. 2 double-decker bus for a 30-minute ride to the Changi Bus Interchange. From there, we just had to walk a few meters to the Changi Point Ferry Terminal, but not before we had Singapore’s famous ice cream sandwich! Singapore is so hot and humid, the occasional ice cream is a must 🙂 We located the terminal for Pulau Ubin and fell in line with the other tourists to wait for the bumboats. Our bumboat got ready to leave when the 12-person seating capacity was filled, and the bumboat operator collected the 2.50 SGD fare during the 15-minute trip to the island. Upon our arrival, I could easily see why visiting Pulau Ubin was like traveling back in time. It was so different from modern Singapore even though it was just a few minutes away from the buzzing metropolis. More than the look (the building walls and roofs are mostly made of wood and GI sheets), it was the feel of the place that got to me. Whereas Singapore awed us with its man-made wonders, Pulau Ubin just made us feel right at home. It had the island vibe, where we just felt relaxed and did not feel at all rushed. We first went to the information kiosk and tried to get hold of a map of the island. The building was open and they had some exhibit about the flora and fauna in Pulau Ubin, but we failed to find a map or a person that could give us one. We ended up just looking at the maps posted in strategic places throughout the island. We then bought water and some snacks from a small sort-of convenience store near the port, and then checked out the bikes to rent for the day. There was a whole line of stores renting out bicycles, and the ‘aunties’ of the different stalls will try to catch your attention by shouting out prices and recommending different types of bikes. My friend Joyce was able to rent a mountain bike for 10 SGD, while my boyfriend and I chose a tandem bike (it looked interesting) that we rented for 15 SGD, after much haggling. The tandem bike took some getting used to, but we finally got the rhythm after a minute of pedaling. We decided we wanted to see as much of the island as possible, and since the port was on the southern part of the island, we just tried to follow the map that directed us towards the north, and just checked our progress every time we see a map along the way. The route we chose took us to a gravelly path that was full of shade because of the sheer number of trees.The route also had some sloped parts, so we enjoyed the challenge provided by the gearless tandem bike 🙂 We passed by farms, fruit plantations, bodies of water, and even a small beach. We kept on saying that the place didn’t feel like Singapore at all, but more like one of the small towns in the Philippines. After we ended up on one of the beaches on the northern part of the island, we took the road leading to the southeast, where Chek Jawa is located. Chek Jawa is an intertidal flat that boasts of a diverse ecosystem, from the mangroves to the shore and the lagoon. We parked our bikes at the designated bike parking space just at the entrance going to Chek Jawa, then walked to the shore. We chose the path leading to the boardwalk, where mangroves and palms and small crabs burrowing in the mud abound. We also climbed the Jejawi Tower to reach the 20-meter high viewing deck. The climb rewarded us with a very nice view of the forest and the sea. We then continued on to the coastal portion of the boardwalk. Our timing was off, because our visit coincided with the high tide, so we weren’t able to view the diverse intertidal ecosystem that Chek Jawa was so popular for. The view was still pretty good, though, and we just enjoyed a leisurely stroll across the kilometer-long boardwalk. All the cycling and walking of course made us hungry, so we headed back to Ubin Town (the area near the port) and got ourselves some late but sumptuous lunch at 2:30 pm. We then returned our bikes and rode the bumboat back to Singapore. I was really amused at the thought that Pulau Ubin belonged to Singapore, because the two places really felt very different from each other. I am also comforted by the thought that the Singapore government decided to forgo development in Pulau Ubin and preserve its rustic charm, at least for the time being. I was glad that in Pulau Ubin, I got to experience the old Singapore before it became the urban metropolis we now know it to be. The ‘time travel’ provided us with an outdoorsy day trip alternative to the usual Singapore destinations. 🙂

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