We made the most of a sunny Sunday to explore Pulau Ubin, an island situated in the north east of Singapore. In the 1960s granite quarrying supported a few thousand settlers in Pulau Ubin, but only around 100 villagers live there today. It’s one of the last rural areas to be found in Singapore with an abundance of wildlife and lush vegetation to explore. We were looking forward to being taken back to the 1960s and a simpler way of life.
Legend has it that Pulau Ubin was formed when three animals from Singapore challenged each other to a race. A frog, a pig and an elephant attempted to reach the shores of Johor, racing to avoid turning into stone if they failed. All three animals came across many difficulties along the way and were unable to reach Johor. They all turned to stone, creating the island of Pulau Ubin! The island is now one large expanse of land rather than three separate islands and there’s plenty to keep you busy.
We travelled to Pulau Ubin from the mainland of Singapore via a 10-minute boat ride that carries a maximum of 12 passengers. The captain waits until his boat reaches maximum capacity before setting off. Luckily for us the weekend was a popular time to visit so we didn’t have to wait long and before we knew it we’d landed on the peaceful shores of Pulau Ubin.
Many Singaporean residents visit Pulau Ubin for summer camps (think Scouts) and outdoor activities. We felt like locals, although probably stood out like a sore thumb, as it’s not a regular tourist activity that many complete if they only have a weekend in Singapore. Locals are drawn in by the rustic pathways and swaying coconut palms. They come to explore the shady trails, overgrown rubber plantations and flourishing mangroves.
Cycling is the main way visitors chose to get around the island so we naively made a beeline for the first bike rental stall we spotted and hopped on the saddle without looking back. It quickly became apparent that these bicycles weren’t top of the range and hadn’t been serviced for quite some time. They felt clunky and awkward to ride at the best of times but it was when we approach a gentle incline that Mark realised he had an issue with his bike chain. The bike crunched painfully up each minor hill we were faced with, jolting and even coming off completely at one stage. Lawrence and Naomi also struggled with the lack of gears so we worked up quite a sweat under our helmets.
As well as battling with the dodgy bikes we had been warned of the scandalously bold monkeys on the island. They made their presence known early on when a foolish tourist left a plastic bag filled with tasty goodies in the front of her bike basket tantalizingly close to greedy monkey fingers. Plastic bags to monkeys are like red flags to bulls. They won’t let anything get in their way of whatever is inside a plastic bag and go about it rather aggressively too. By this point in our travels we knew better than to get too close to a hungry monkey (and they’re hungry all the time) and avoid eye contact at all costs preferring to quickly and quietly move out of their reach. Their cute fluffy facades no longer fool us as we’ve seen the massacres they’re capable of. When the woman with the plastic bag had a wobbly moment on her bike and it proceeded to fall sideways, the macaques were on her like a hive of angry bees. They snatched the bag and ripped it open to devour its contents, ignoring their targets futile screams of distress. The rest of us looked on in a ‘you deserved it’ kind of way, silently judging her stupidity and breathing a sigh of relief that we’d escaped the claws of the macaques.
We saw some slightly more timid and less fearsome animals such as wild boars, which proved to be quite delightful little characters. They’re chubby barrel-esque bodies covered in downy hair clumsily knocked over parked bicycles as they burrowed for food in the dirt. When the bikes came tumbling down after their backsides nudged them a little too hard, the boars trotted off in surprise, quite alarmed and this disturbance. As they appeared more unsure than the monkeys we were less worried about getting too close to the piggies.
We hopped off our bikes and walked some of the island, including a board walk running through a mangrove. This allowed us to observe plant and marine life as well as climb the viewing tower.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon sipping coconut juice on the seaside before catching a boat back to the mainland. It was easy to forget we were in Singapore at all during our time on Pulau Ubin.