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Cycling Singapore’s Pulau Ubin Island

Posted June 4th, 2011

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.

Pulau Ubin
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.

Photo by Koalkzymonkey
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.

A basic shop on Pulau Ubin island
A basic shop on Pulau Ubin island. Photo by Mikka Skaffari (flickr)

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 Pulau Ubin Island
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.

Old British House
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.

Does my bike look big in this?

Posted December 2nd, 2008

Bike packing in SingaporeWell, that’s it. Another marathon session of bike packing for a flight is finally over.

It was a marathon. First it was into the city centre. We hunted down a box from a very friendly shop, then back on the bus. Just one problem. Where is the bus? We did the rounds of 4 bus stops before we found the right one, trekking up and down Orchard Road with bike boxes on our heads.

Then it was time to get the pedals off. We cranked and yanked with our only wrench but with no success. A local bike mechanic showed us how to do it in about 2 seconds flat with his mega ‘persuader’ wrench.

Back in the apartment, Andrew did almost all the work. We rarely fight but experience has taught us that two people trying to fit a too-big bike into a too-small box just doesn’t work. Friedel is strictly on duty for an extra pair of hands and to apply enormous quantities of packing tape to the outside of the box, while Andrew does the bike packing and works out the logistics of how to fit everything together.

The whole process was made so much easier by our two hosts, Patrizia and Bro, who are just great all-round people – the kind that don’t mind you spreading bike parts from one end of the apartment to the other. Well, they are cyclists so of course they understand and we’ve really appreciated their hospitality. This daring couple are off on a tandem to Yemen, UAE and Iran soon.

With the bikes packed, now we just have to finish stuffing our bags, get to the airport and cross our fingers for a successful flight to Perth. So far the excitement of going to a new continent outweighs the usual nervousness about the bikes.

And of course we’re in a reflective mood about our time in SE Asia. We certainly won’t miss the humidity but the great food in Thailand and Malaysia will be in our minds after our 100th plate of pasta with carrots and onions. And of course we will miss the budget accommodation. In Australia, we’ll be going back to a strictly-camping diet.

Next time, from Australia!

At the tip of Asia

Posted November 30th, 2008

What great colours!It was barely 6am when we pulled up to an Indian restaurant for breakfast in the seaside town of Pontian, 60km from the causeway to Singapore.

All four waiters just stared at these strange foreigners who’d rolled up unexpectedly on their doorstep. One man’s gaze was particularly persistent. “Good morning!” we said, trying to break him out of his sleepy state. There was no reaction. “Salamat Pagi!” we said in our cheeriest and loudest voice.

That did it. They snapped to attention and soon we were sitting with steaming mugs of teh tarik – a spicy, milky tea – and two roti canai, a fresh bread grilled up to order. It’s the only way to start the day in Malaysia, as far as we’re concerned.

First night with new friends, Patrizia and BroA few minutes later we emerged back onto the road and started off under still dark skies. The cool temperature was so refreshing but it lasted all of 10km. By 7:15am there was sweat dripping off our chins. “Just get us to Australia,” we thought. Five months of intense humidity hasn’t sat well with us. Our faces are breaking out all over. Heat rash seems normal, as do daily rounds of laundry to wash out our sweaty clothes. It’s just not good cycling.

Aside from a brief photo stop to capture Andrew posing beside a giant pineapple – the area is famous for them – we breezed towards the Singapore border. With 60km on the clock by 11am, it was one of our best days yet.

A few minutes were spent inhaling motorbike fumes in the queue at the border and then we were through. There was no “welcome to Singapore” sign. Just a note on our immigration form that said in bold, red lettering: Death to Drug Traffickers.

There was also to be no jaywalking, no littering and no spitting but oddly enough in this land of rules, no one raised an eyebrow when we rode our bicycles on the sidewalks. Pedestrians politely let us pass and all the curbs were beautifully graded so we didn’t even need to dismount at crossings. The longer we spent in the city, the more we realised that the number of cyclists on the roads was far fewer than those using the sidewalks and incredibly no one seemed bothered. Everyone just got along. We’ve never seen such harmony between those on foot and those on two wheels.

Even better were Singapore’s road signs – so clear that we navigated our way to the city centre and back out again without a hitch, even though we had a highly inadequate map, showing only the biggest roads. Now, if they’d just fix up that humidity maybe we could live here!

Our last stop of the day was home for the next few nights, with Patrizia and Bro, two fellow cyclists who are taking a break to work in Singapore. What a welcome they gave us! We had a BBQ feast down by the pool and talked into the wee hours before our eyes were all drooping and we returned to their flat high on the 17th floor for some much needed rest.

Now it’s time for some hard work. Our bikes, tent and bags all need to be cleaned until they’re sparkling for Australian customs. Then there’s a box to get, packing to be done and a laptop to fix (ours died two days ago). Not to mention another BBQ planned for tonight and maybe, just maybe, a little sightseeing in Singapore. We can always sleep on the plane…