The word “Pulau Ubin” means Granite Island in Malay and it comes as no surprise that main industry there was granite quarrying. Other businesses included farming as well. But over time, government regulation meant that these businesses could no longer continue on the island.
This, coupled with the fact that in the early 1990s the government bought over parts of the island (affected residents had to pay rent or move out), led to the dwindling of permanent population on the island. Today, only about 38 residents remain on Pulau Ubin.
Pulau Ubin is a small island just 15 mins off the main shore of Singapore. The island is made smaller by the fact that half of the island is used as a training ground for Outward Bound Singapore. Pulau Ubin is popular even among locals as it is one of the last Kampongs (village) left.
The island can be accessed by boat (SGD$2.40 – one way) from Changi Point Ferry Terminal (Near Changi Village). You can get to the terminal via Bus 2 from Tanah Merah MRT Station.
There are no fixed schedules for the ride and boats to and fro will leave once it is filled up its maximum of 12 persons. This also means that if you want a “private transport” you can simply pay for 12 persons to move off immediately.
Once you arrive at the island’s jetty, turn left at the end of the walkway and you will find yourself at the start of a 500m long street where most of the businesses on the island are located.
The island is not big and some activities you can enjoy are cycling, kayaking and there is even a fish spa at the “Celestial Resort”. I know they market snorkeling as one of the activities you can do but the water is not really that clear there. There are also seafood restaurants, coffeeshops as well as provision shops selling food and water.
I decided on renting a bicycle for a day (SGD$13/$18 during peak – for a reasonably new bike) but even if you can’t cycle, exploring the island is still doable on foot. Otherwise, you can get a taxi from the jetty though I’m not sure about the rates.
As luck will have it, it didn’t just rain. It poured for a full 1.5 hours so we had seek shelter
Pulau Ubin has many steep slopes and the roads can be very slippery when it rains so be careful when you cycle. There have been many cases of serious cycling accidents over the years with some resulting in deaths. Key thing is to WEAR A HELMET! You can rent from the bicycle shops but for hygiene sake I brought my own.
Our first stop was the Chek Jawa area. You can get there in 15 mins by bicycle or about 45 mins brisk walk. There you can explore the “Coastal Walk” and the “Mangrove Walk“. The routes are not very long and both can be covered comfortably in about 1 hour.
You can book a free guided tour at Chek Jawa but it is extremely popular so do some early planning!
Turning from the main roads to smaller ones might lead to to pretty places such as this colorfully decorated Lotus Pond Temple. An extension of the temple was reportedly built to appease the spirit of a woman who died at sea.
Interestingly enough, there is a German Girl Shrine on the island as well. It is said that during World War I, colonial government seized the property of a German family living on the island and captured them. However, the couple’s daughter managed to evade capture and hid in woods.
A few days later, her body was found at a quarry. Locals speculated that she might have gotten lost and fell off the quarry’s cliff. Out of respect, the locals gave her a proper burial. After the war, the German couple came back but was unable to locate her remains which was later housed in an urn in a Taoist Shrine along with her silver crucifix.
Since then, the shrine gained popularity among gamblers who attributed their luck to praying to this German Deity. People coming to pray leave items such as nail polish and dolls. Although her remains and crucifix was stolen (Who does such things?????) in the 80s, devotees still continue praying to her, believing that her soul remains on the island.
On your way around the island, you will see many stalls selling cold drinks to help counter the sweltering Singapore heat.
I really enjoyed my day at Pulau Ubin, soaking in the rustic atmosphere of a Kampung. If you are interested, you can even help out by volunteering in Pulau Ubin’s conservation efforts 🙂