Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pulau Ubin (Ubin Island)

Of the 64 tiny islands of Singapore, Singapore main island and Sentosa are the most famous and visited. But there are also other islands worth visiting. The largest and the most interesting one is Pulau Ubin. Pulau Ubin is a small island just in the north east of  Singapore. Unlike Sentosa, which is highly developed with resorts, golf courses, casinos and high end condos, Pulau Ubin is largely underdeveloped and accomodates the last kambung (village) in Singapore. It is a great place to get away from crowded Singapore island, cycle and witness how Singapore was in the past.

How to go to Pulau Ubin? From Changi Point Ferry Terminal near Changi Village, you need to take a bumboat operating to Pulau Ubin from as early as 6 am until at least 8 pm. The bumboat ride to Pulau Ubin takes ten minutes and costs $2.50 per person. If you are bringing your own bike, you need to pay extra $2 for it both way. There are no scheduled departure times to and from Ubin, as bumboats set off only when there are 12 passengers. Although the boats fill quite fast, you can pay the difference for the boat to leave immediately.

Where is Pulau Ubin?
A trip to Pulau Ubin is a throwback to Singapore in the 1960's. The island is home to Singapore's last villages or kampongs, and there are still about a hundred villagers living here.Ubin residents rely on wells for water and noisy diesel generators for electricity. Some villagers depend on traditional farming and fishing for subsistence, while others tend to their provision stores and eateries. At the main village, near the jetty, some houses have been converted to bicycle rental shops to support a quiet tourist trade. Just after you go out of the Pulau Ubin Jetty, you will directly enter into a kambung (village in Malay) where you will be greeted(!) by bicycle renting shops. Although you can enjoy the island by walking, it is much fun and easy to rent a bicycle here. Try your bike carefully and bargain for the price. Since there are many small hills on the road, you will need good breaks, and gears. Last time, (June 2012) we have rented a bike for $10. Rent is usually for all day and the prices changes with the bicycle type.

Many skip renting out a helmet with the bike, which can be rented for 2 dollars. If you do not ask, the rental shop will not offer you one. But the roads have many ups and downs, sometimes with steep descends so be on the safe side and rent a helmet with a bike. Fatal cycling accidents do occur in Pulau Ubin and most of the victims would survive if they have had a helmet.

Do not forget to bring mosquito repellent with you to Pulau Ubin. Otherwise the island can be a very annoying experience.

Pulau Ubin is 1020-hectare large and it was once a cluster of five smaller ones separated by tidal rivers. The building of bunds for prawn farming has since united these into a single island. Two other islets, Pulau Ketam (Crab Island) and Pulau Sekudu (Frog Island), lie to its south. Ubin is largely a series of undulating, granite hills. In the early days, granite mining supported a few thousand settlers. Much of the original vegetation was cleared for the cultivation of rubber and crops like coffee, pineapple, coconut and jasmine. Today, abandoned granite quarries remain as picturesque relics of Ubin's history, while forests and grasslands have regenerated to cover up the ravages of the past.

The first place to head on the island is Check Jawa Wetlands. Check Jawa is one of the main attractions on Pulau Ubin. This is a unique nature area housing some of Singapore's richest coastal and intertidal ecosystems. It is located on the south-eastern tip of Pulau Ubin.

The best time to go to the wetlands is the low tide. During high tide,  Coral Rubble and the Seagrass Lagoon can be under water. You can find Pulau Ubin maps on every intersection, just follow the map towards east of the island to reach Check Jawa visitors center. You live your bike outside and head to the wetlands.

Pulau Ubin Map
Pulau Ubin Map
Where to stay in Pulau Ubin?
For most, Ubin Island visit is a 1 day activity. But you can also stay in Pulau Ubin. There is Celestial Resort Pulau Ubin on the island.

Towards the wetlands after Pekakak Hut, there is a colossal Common Pulai tree. Common Pulai is a very tall tree (up to 40m tall) found in this region. It is easily recognisable from its pagoda-shaped branching pattern and simple leaves that are arranged in whorls. This Heritage Tree  is 35m height and the surrounding of it has been recently cleaned so it is hard to miss. It stands out among the canopy and can be seen from a distance.

Common Pulai on Pulau Ubin
Common Pulai on Pulau Ubin
When you arrive to Check Jawa, you need to alight from your bicycle and leave the bicycle at the entrance. I have done it many times and the bike was always there when I have came back. Around this area, you can come across with some wild boars. The ones we have seen were quite "domesticated" but still it is wise to stay a little away from them.

There is a tower at Check Jawa which is called Jelawi Tower. This is a 20 metres high tower. It is a great place to have a bird eye view of the wetlands and for bird-watching. For aviation enthusiasts, you can also observe the landing airplanes to Changi Airport from here.

But the main attractions here are the coastal board walk and mangrove board walk. The area was unknown until 2000s when the area's rich biodiversity was discovered almost by chance during a nature outing at low tide. The government had plans to reclaim here but a public effort prevented it at least for now. Still it may be reclaimed because Chek Jawa may still be re-used by the government in and after 2012.

View from Jelawi Tower - Pulau Ubin
The Coastal Boardwalk
The Mangrove Boardwalk

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