May 10 2012
Any Singapore trivia buff should know that the city-state isn’t made up of just one island, but 63 small separate ones. In my ongoing series exploring the 62 lesser-known islands, I take a short bumboat ride to the east coast island of Pulau Ubin, one of the most rustic places left in Singapore.
In local folklore, Pulau Ubin was created when a frog, a pig and an elephant decided to have a race from Malaysia to Singapore. The elephant and pig failed to swim the whole way, and were together transformed into the relatively large island of Pulau Ubin.
During the British colonial days, the island was known for its quarries and its name actually means “Granite Island” in the Malay language. The stone walls and floor tiles in many historic Singapore buildings originated from here and the rocks used to build the original causeway linking Singapore and Johor Bahru came from Pulau Ubin’s mines. However, the mines shut down in the 1960s once they had dug to sea level and by the 1970s the island was practically abandoned to nature.
Due to Singapore’s serious land shortage it wasn’t long before the government began eyeing Ubin for redevelopment, but citizens objected on the grounds that Ubin had essentially become a nature reserve. The abandoned quarries had filled with water and turned into lagoons, the thick jungle trees were growing back, and animals previously extinct in Singapore – like the Malay mouse deer and majestic hornbill birds – had returned.
Thankfully the government relented and Pulau Ubin remains in its charmingly rustic state, now serving as a popular weekend destination for locals and tourists alike. A few shops have sprung up near the ferry point where you can rent a bicycle or enjoy freshly-caught seafood and there is a visitors’ centre where you can learn about the island’s wildlife. There are a few other points of interest scattered about the island including the Chek Jawa wetlands, some peculiar shrines, and a mountain biking trail, but most visitors simply want to escape urban life for a few hours.
Pulau Ubin is ideal for a day trip, but it’s also possible to spend the night. It is free to camp on Noordin and Mamam beaches (bring your own tent and food) or, if you’re not the “roughing it” type, more comfortable accommodation is available at the Celestial Resort which has its own swimming lagoon and restaurant.
Getting to Pulau Ubin: Simply getting to Pulau Ubin is an adventure as the only way to get there is by the bumboats that depart from Changi Beach Pier from 05:30 to 21:00. Instead of following a strict schedule, bumboats depart when they have 12 passengers. The fare is S$2.50.
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