Pulau Ubin

This little island (10 sq km) sandwiched between Singapore and Johor is a rustic reminder of how time stood still here while the  rest of Singapore has progressed into the 21st century. The name Pulau Ubin means Granite Island in Malay, and true enough, there are a lot of abandoned granite quarries on the island. There used to be a few thousand villagers living on the island, but nowadays, there are only about a hundred or less, as most of the villagers have settled on Singapore island instead.

Easily accessible by  small bumboats from Changi Point, you can visit the island in about half a day to a full day. The fare to get across to Pulau Ubin is $2.50/person one way. You can bring your bicycle along and the charge is an additional $2.

The ferry point at Changi Village. It has been upgraded over the years.
The ferry point at Changi Village. It has been upgraded over the years.
Fishing boats also bring fresh seafood to sell along the road leading to the ferry terminal.
Fishing boats also bring fresh seafood to sell along the road leading to the ferry terminal.
The upgraded terminal with customs check-in for people taking the boat to Malaysia.
The upgraded terminal with customs check-in for people taking the boat to Malaysia.

Each bumboat can carry up to 12 passengers and the captain will wait until there are 12 passengers before he departs.

Sitting and waiting for enough passengers to fill the bumboat.
Sitting and waiting for enough passengers to fill the bumboat.
Getting onto the bumboat. The man and lady seem to be the island's residents.
Getting onto the bumboat. The man and lady seem to be the island’s residents.
Pulling into Pulau Ubin's jetty.
Pulling into Pulau Ubin’s jetty.
One of the few restaurants on the island located near the jetty. I found out that it wasn't open on weekdays.
One of the few restaurants on the island located near the jetty. I found out that it wasn’t open on weekdays.
The jetty at Pulau Ubin.
The jetty at Pulau Ubin.
Welcome! But check in at the local police post first? Well, I didn't bother.
Welcome! But check in at the local police post first? Well, I didn’t bother, and so did everyone.

What’s there to do at Pulau Ubin? It’s more of a nature retreat kind of place. The main town is near the jetty and you have the bicycle rental shops, restaurants, police post, volunteer guide center and several other amenities. As I went on a weekday, I found out that the restaurants don’t open. They probably cater only for the weekend and holiday crowds.

From the jetty the road leads into the Ubin town. You can't miss it, since its the only built up area on the island.
From the jetty the road leads into Ubin village. You can’t miss it, since its the only built up area on the island.
A panorama view of Ubin village. This is the village centre.
A panorama view of Ubin village. This is the village centre.

I decided to hike instead of renting a bicycle so that I could enjoy the sights along the road. Most of the tourists rented bicycles, although some others were hiking as well. There are several mini-vans and decommissioned taxis that operate on the island. If you prefer to be driven around in aircon comfort, you can hire these.

The roads are mostly well maintained.
The roads are mostly well maintained.
Rustic village scene reminiscent of Singapore in the 1960's.
Rustic village scene reminiscent of Singapore in the 1960’s.

My plan was to hike to Chek Jawa and back. It should take 3 hours or less. Chek Jawa is a conservation inter-tidal zone and coral reef that has been receiving good reviews over the years since it was designated as a protected habitat, and is located on the eastern end of Pulau Ubin. It took me about and hour and a half to make a slow leisurely hike to Chek Jawa.

The Chek Jawa visitor centre is a preserved colonial house.
The Chek Jawa visitor centre is a preserved colonial house.
It even has a fireplace. I wonder why you need a fireplace in tropical Singapore?
It even has a fireplace. I wonder why you need a fireplace in tropical Singapore?
There is a boardwalk for visitors to go round the protect zone without stepping on the corals and disturbing the wildlife.
There is a boardwalk for visitors to go round the protect zone without stepping on the corals and disturbing the wildlife.
I was there at the wrong time. It was high tide and the inter-tidal zone was submerged.
I was there at the wrong time. It was high tide and the inter-tidal zone was submerged.

Ok, so I missed out on Chek Jawa’s wildlife. It was time to go back to the jetty. Back at the entrance, I encountered a pack of wild boars…

A family of wild boars were at the entrance to Chek Jawa. They weren't aggressive and I think they have probably gotten used to visitors.
A family of wild boars were at the entrance to Chek Jawa. They weren’t aggressive and I think they have probably gotten used to visitors.
Beauty and he beast.
Beauty and the beast.
These boars were too used to humans. Here they are sniffing for food that visitors have left in their parked bicycles.
These boars were too used to humans. Here they are sniffing for food that visitors have left in their parked bicycles.
After finding the food, the adult boars knock over the bicycles so that they can grab the food from the baskets. They seem to have a liking for potato chips and can smell them inside their air tight packaging.
After finding the food, the adult boars knock over the bicycles so that they can grab the food from the baskets. They seem to have a liking for potato chips and can smell them inside their air tight packaging. None of us onlookers did anything since nobody wanted to mess around with a 100kg wild boar.

Besides the wild boars, the other wild life on the island include monkeys, birds, monitor lizards, and crocodiles. Many years back, an elephant had also swam across from Johor. Some of the other sights on the island that you can see are abandoned quarries and fish/prawn ponds.

One of the abandoned quarries while walking back to the jetty.
One of the abandoned quarries while walking back to the jetty. It has been filled in by rain water to form a small lake. This quarry has been fenced off for safety, although you can climb over the fence and risk falling in.
Looks like Jiuzhaigou?
Looks like Jiuzhaigou?
Abandoned fish farms that is now a lotus pond.
Abandoned fish farm that is now a lotus pond.
One of the many old wells that are found wherever villages are located. These have been covered to prevent people from falling in.
One of the many old wells that are found at the abandoned villages. These have been covered to prevent people from falling in.
The most prominent structure on Pulau Ubin is the costal radar and radio towers.
The most prominent structure on Pulau Ubin is the coastal radar and radio towers.

Tips

A visit to Pulau Ubin should take you 6 hours or less unless you plan to do some extended sight seeing. There are campsites and a couple of resorts on the island if you plan to stay overnight. The bumboats don’t operate at night, so plan your visit well if you don’t want to get stranded on the island at night.

For visiting Chek Jawa, it’s best to check the low tide timings before you go and be disappointed like me.

For clothing, wear light cotton clothes since it will be hot and humid. Pack rain gear in case of thunderstorms. and mosquito repellant is very important.

If you are going on a weekday, remember to bring your own food and water since the restaurants on the island don’t seem to open on those days. Don’t leave your food unattended or the wild boars will have a feast.

The western half of the island is taken by the Outward Bound School and there are more quarries and a mountain biking trail.

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