Singapore Part 4: Ubin Island – Singapore’s time portal

On Saturday, I went to Pulau Ubin, off the coast of Singapore. The island is almost entirely forest, and the only people there lived in traditional kampungs, which were once the main style of house in Singapore. The villages are very old fashioned and the people rent bikes to travellers.

We went there with a university student from Hong Kong, and Singapore’s local historian KL Lee, who also took us to the Changi museum a week before. We walked approximately 12 kilometres for five hours across a third of the whole of Ubin island, and saw many interesting features on the island.

On Ubin Island with Singpore historian KL Lee.
On Ubin Island with Singapore historian KL Lee.

My first thought was how different Ubin Island was from the rest of modern Singapore. In one week I had stayed in one of the grandest hotels in the world – Marina Bay Sands Hotel, then days later I was walking in a completely wild forest. I had memories of the time we went to Baku National Park in Malaysia about six years ago, where I saw proboscis monkeys and flying foxes.

Ubin Island bridge

Luckily the weather was pleasant, as it wasn’t too hot, making it perfect walking weather. There were no tours so we could walk at our own pace and discover the beauty of the remote island slowly. Getting to the island was free, only requiring $2.50 per person per ride by boat. The boat could only fit 12 people at a time and it was a very old fashioned boat. It was very fast and rickety. It was an open boat, so the waves were very up close. In the boat I could see many islands and boats, some probably heading to Malaysia and Indonesia.

Getting to Ubin Island from From Changi ferry terminal.

The boat to Ubin Island is very basic.
The boat to Ubin Island is very basic.

ferry terminal changi Singapore

The animals on Ubin Island were completely wild, so approaching them would have been risky. There were monkeys which were very social and allowed me to take lots of pictures of them. The small monkeys were running across the trees and they didn’t seem to be too bothered about visitors.

There were also wild boars. There was a mother and four young. I warned my mum not to get too close, as the mother would probably be very protective. To be honest though, I’d rather have a female pig attack than a male one, as the males have tusks.

There was an observation tower with views of the undisturbed rainforest. The trees were full of birds, including some rare hornbills. I think the island breaks the perception of Singapore being just a massive city full of skyscrapers and no greenery or nature. Even on the mainland there are plenty of natural areas, such as the Botanic Gardens, and the zoological parks. I’ve seen all aspects of Singapore; the hyper-modern tourist side and the traditional side.

It’s great that Singapore still keeps these natural areas and old fashioned traditions alive so that everyone has a chance to experience both sides of Singapore. On the island, I wanted to try and find monitor lizards and pangolins but sadly I couldn’t find them.

This is one of the few very old houses on Ubin Island.
This is one of the few very old houses on Ubin Island.

The only people on Ubin Island were very old people who still maintained the old way of living. It’s hard to believe that it was how the whole of Singapore was like, before Lee Kuan Yew, the late Prime Minister of Singapore, transformed the island into the modern city it is now. It really felt like stepping back in time.

Ubin Island view

Overall the day was exhausting but worth it. Ubin Island was a natural experience full of wildlife and a glimpse into Singapore’s past. I say that this is a must do on any Singapore visit, if you want a break from the city life, and experience a unique, unspoilt part of Singapore.

4 thoughts on “Singapore Part 4: Ubin Island – Singapore’s time portal

  1. I have really enjoyed reading about your travels and learned a lot whilst doing so. What a fantastic experience, with so many memories. If I am ever out in Singapore again, I will use your blog to compile a completely new ‘must do’ list. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Ben, thank for capturing the PU’s day. It was also a great workout for me. Physically I fully recovered the next morning and went on with another adventure with my wife – shopping for another 5 hours.

    PU still preserves some of the beauty of wildness and secondary forest in Singapore although tigers had completely disappeared from the lion city. Even the way we board the bumboat and the bumboat itself would give us the kind of feeling of good old days.

    However, this preservation did not come naturally. We appealed to the government and our wish was granted, we are still not certain whether this decision would be time lasting when Singapore permanent population increases from 5.3 million today to 6.9 million by 2030 based on planning. Nevertheless we will put up our strong defence in search of a green green grass of homeland.

    Although the PU setting was at the time before LKY, Singapore was definitely not a rural village back then. In fact Singapore was a world class entrepot by the turn of 20th century. It was the world no. 7 seaport then and had generated huge income for UK, so much so that Singapore was even branded as the “Crown Colony” of Britain. Today we still see many 100 years old palladian architectures in the civic district. They were built from the local money generated during the “old” Singapore era. So, I would say that the super rich and the super poor coexisted in Singapore before and during LKY era. For the fact that LKY and his wife both came from rich peranakan families speak for that part of history.

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