Cycling Singapore’s Pulau Ubin Island
Plenty of long-distance cyclists pass through Singapore, but not many take the time to explore the quieter side of this modern city.
You might be wondering where the quiet side of Singapore is. Well, the next time you pass through, take an afternoon to discover Pulau Ubin.
It’s a small island just to the north of Singapore city, and it’s a paradise for cyclists. In this guest post, Sam Walker tells us about his trip there.
Singapore is an interesting and thriving city with lots of added greenery but for cyclists it is mostly city riding, with few places to go that provide a more natural setting. Recently, my wife and I took a ferry over to a small island off the main island called Pulau Ubin (which means ‘Granite Island’). We spent the day cycling around this lush and natural jungle.
The lush jungle scenery of Pulau Ubin. Photo by Williamcho (flickr)
Pulau Ubin is one of the last rural areas left in Singapore and has the last old style village in Singapore (called ‘kampung’). It is very worth the trip for anyone travelling through this way. Going to Pulau Ubin is a chance to see what Singapore was like 30-50 years ago, before Singapore as a city existed.
Here is a description of the journey for anyone interested:
Getting to Pulau Ubin
You need to take a small ferry (called a bumboat) from Changi Point Ferry Terminal, which is near Changi village. The ferry only costs a few dollars and you can either bring your bike along for a few dollars more, or you can easily rent mountain bikes once you arrive. The small ferry itself is interesting. They are small, old, dinky, yet endearing and colorful in an old fashioned kind of way. It doesn’t take long for one to putter you over to the island.
Once you reach the island, there are a few things to explore:
1. The Village of Pualau Ubin
This small village and a basic tourist office are situated right near the ferry terminal. The village is composed of some very old wooden houses and shops. As soon you step off the ferry you feel yourself starting to slow down and absorb the more tranquil and slow pace of the village atmosphere, which is completely opposite from the rest of fast-paced Singapore.
The jetty of Pulau Ubin. Photo by Koalazymonkey (flickr)
You will not see any tall buildings or modern civilization here, though they have kept the bicycle lanes around the island clear and upgraded. There are numerous shops renting bikes out of their old wooden structures and you can rent a helmet too if you ask. The prices start at $2 per bike but you may pay a little more if you’d like a nicer one.
Don’t forget to bring a lunch. There are a few shops selling food in the village but this is a small village so it’s best to come prepared with whatever you need before arriving.
Once you pick your direction and ride out of the village you will leave the village setting and move into the totally natural jungle with a mostly paved pathway running through it. If you need to buy anything from the shops, do so before you leave. Bring plenty of water and bug spray. Riding is fantastic through the lush setting, but the humidity will drain you quickly and it’s important to keep hydrated. Also make sure to wear sunscreen.
2. The Nature of Pulau Ubin
At some point you will come along the shoreline. Unlike the city setting, life is everywhere in humid Southeast Asia. Look anywhere on the beach and you will see something moving or crawling along. I saw some crazy looking cranes doing their one legged stand in the water and small fish-like creatures with what looked like legs, pushing themselves from one puddle in the sand to the next. Various styles of crabs also litter the beach.
A lake on Pualu Ubin island. Photo by Rojina (flickr)
In the jungle you will likely see monkeys, birds and lizards of all shapes and sizes but my personal favourite was sighting a wild boar. The first one I saw almost came right up to where I was eating my lunch (which gave me a scare) but took off when she saw me. I later learned from the ranger that this particular female was used to people and does not bother much with humans but you need to keep a safe distance from the males (the ones with the ‘don’t mess with me’ tusks). I did catch a glimpse of a couple just off the trail and one grunted in my direction, which was a signal to keep moving. If you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a boar, don’t try to get close.
3. The Old British House
There is a old beautiful British house built along the water that is totally out of place. It’s been turned into a visitor center and the tourist office near the ferry terminal can show you how to get there. It was built many years ago when the British first inhabited Singapore. The craziest thing for me was that the house had an old fireplace. I do not know what was going through the architect’s mind when he drew the plans for a fireplace in Southeast Asia but I’m pretty certain it was never used in this land that has no winters. It’s like bringing a fridge with you to the North Pole to keep things cold. Maybe it just made the place feel like home.
The Old British House on Pulau Ubin. Photo by Schristia (flickr).
Remember the ferries stop at dark so don’t overstay. Start earlier rather than later. It is not the most well known destination in this area but it really is a worthwhile trip to ride through here and it allows one to see how far Singapore has come in recent decades to become the mega-city it is today. I do hope the government doesn’t modernize this last remaining time capsule but instead continues to allow Singapore’s citizens and tourists to journey back in time through a simple bumboat ride.
Sam Walker is a travel & cycling enthusiast who writes articles on the benefits of cycling. He also researches and reviews cycling gear part time, including a recent series of bike repair stand reviews for people interested in home bike repair.