Two Saturdays ago, I joined about twenty other photography enthusiasts in Singapore for the Scott Kelby Photowalk 2016 at Pulau Ubin. This island lying north-east off the Lion City is considered to be Singapore’s last authentic rural village (kampong) and retains the simplicity of the bygone era of the 1960s.
Pulau Ubin’s wooden houses and jetties, colourful wildlife, old rubber plantations, abandoned quarries and mangroves and laid-back lifestyle give the visitor a glimpse of the “old” Singapore that existed before industrialisation and modernisation. With no access to the modern and efficient public utilities on mainland Singapore, the 100 plus or so residents in Ubin rely on wells for water and noisy diesel generators for electricity. They used to engage in traditional farming and fishing for subsistence, but now those activities have been greatly reduced. Due to the growing attention on going back to nature, many of the residents have switched to bicycle rental services, restaurants and the occasional provision shop to cater to the needs of mainland Singaporeans and tourists who throng the place during weekends and holidays.
Getting there entails a 10-minute bumboat ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal in Singapore. Each bumboat will depart as soon as there are 12 passengers on board for a one-way fee of SGD3.00 per person. If you’d rather not wait for the bumboat to fill up, the boatman will gladly bring your group across for a flat fee of SGD36.00.
The best way to get around Ubin is by walking or cycling. It’s a place where you can stop holding on to your mobile phone, grab the handlebars of your bicycle instead and go on a cycling journey of discovery round the island with friends and family.
You can rent bikes from the many rental shops at the main village near the jetty. A wide variety of bicycles is available from mountain bikes to tandems and children’s bikes for a rental fee of between SGD5.00 – SGD15.00 per day, depending on the type of bike and number of gears. You are allowed to test out as many bicycles in the open area in the main town until you find one that you’re comfortable to ride on.
Pulau Ubin is home to one of Singapore’s mountain bike trails, Ketam Mountain Bike Park. This trail is approximately 8 kilometres long and features a wide range of terrain from open grassland to dense forests. There are numerous levels of gradients, well-marked with signs that indicate the difficulty level of each section.
I have been to Pulau Ubin several times in the past especially during those working years when I was tasked with organising company retreats and teambuilding activities in the island. Not much has changed since then. Ubin has so far resisted the lure of urban development and remains a rural, unkempt expanse of jungle. I did not rent a bike this time round, as I didn’t want to have the added weight of camera gear on my back while I struggled to pedal up and down the gravel paths. I can say from experience that some of those cycling trails are really challenging. I still remember having to get down from the bike and pushing it uphill when traversing some of the steeper sections. At other times when I had to lead a group, I would stop for a quick rest on the pretext of admiring the view!
The island is home to lots of birds, insects, monitor lizards, monkeys and wild boars.
Ubin’s main tourist attraction is Chek Jawa, that used to be a coral reef 5000 years ago. You can stroll on the boardwalk to explore this six-in-one ecosystem that boasts of mangroves, beaches, coastal forests, sand flats, mud flats and coral rubble.
Before boarding the bumboat back to mainland Singapore, I ordered a coconut drink and sipped it under the shade of a huge umbrella in Ubin’s main town. Be forewarned, though, that food and drinks prices in Ubin are higher than in mainland Singapore!