Always wanted to explore a kampong in Singapore? These native Malay villages were once everywhere in Singapore back in the day, but they’ve since been replaced by urbanisation. If you want to find one, your best bet is Pulau Ubin, where you’ll be able to indulge in the nostalgia of the past – complete with eating, nature adventures, farm explorations, and other kid-friendly activities.
Hence, we bit the bullet and took a trip to Pulau Ubin in search for a major throwback to the good ol’ days that we missed out on.
By some stroke of luck, we didn’t have to wait like most – we strolled into the terminal at one moment and were whisked off on a swaying bum boat in the next. For those on a budget, don’t worry, $12 dollars for transportation will more than suffice for the day. While the boat ride costs $3 each way, entrance to Pulau Ubin is free. Bicycle rentals go for an average of $5 per person, so we suggest getting in early to get the most bang for your buck.
Equipped with mosquito patches and a can of precautionary insect spray, we trudged onto shore, maintaining a tight grip on our cameras, ready to capture any defining moment that shared even a shred of semblance to those laissez faire instances that seemed to consume my parents’ pubescent years.
Hopping onto our bikes, after having bantered quite extensively with the friendly locals in the village’s little town square, we sped off to what we know to be one of Singapore’s richest ecosystems to date. At this point, a word of caution. Do not, at any point, whilst under a tree or in any unsheltered vicinity, take out any sort of food or plastic bag that you want to keep. The troop of long-tailed macaques (or to be less specific, monkeys) that are equipped with quick-grab abilities roam the pebbled trails of Ubin. Other wildlife around the island you might have a chance of spotting include mousedeer, otters, hornbills, and wild boars.
The island itself is easy to navigate, with multiple signposts pointing you to various places of interests around the island. If you’re keen to see six kinds of habitats mix into a unique blend of wild life, we suggest visiting the Visitor’s Centre at Chek Jawa to marvel at the old repurposed stone cottage filled with important background information about the reserve, as well as a little viewing jetty that is exceptionally beautiful at low tide. After, continue on the 1-kilometre long boardwalk, known as the Mangrove and Coastal Loops. This would lead you to a 20-metre-tall artifice known as the Jejawi Tower that is perfect for getting that bird’s eye view of the island’s flora and fauna.
Tired already? Before heading back to the town centre, don’t forget to pop by a quarry. Having been sites for granite mining in the past, water has collected overtime to form these beautiful artificial lakes. Yet, these lakes are not for swimming due to its unpredictable and dangerous landscapes below the water’s surface. Regardless, we still think that it’s worth a view while you catch your breath. For those who aren’t yet disillusioned by those pesky uphill climbs, why not check out Butterfly Hill? Home to about 140 species, it’s definitely a sight to behold for insect enthusiasts.
Another spot that is essential for getting those ‘gram worthy pictures is the lotus pond that sits near the town centre. You may wish to stop by on your way to Chek Jawa or en route back but either way, it’s hard to miss. Water lilies dot the lotus-covered pond to give you a spectacular scene that great artists like Monet saw beauty in. Throw in a couple of coconut trees and voila. You’ve got yourself that enviable island-life shot.
As I approached the ferry terminal, and my 4G reception got stronger, I was surprisingly reluctant to leave. It felt amazing to have that place where we can tune out, catch our breaths and declutter. Like how the mangroves sieve out the debris from the sea, Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa is as vital for our wellbeing as it is essential for Singapore’s ecosystem. As we add skyscrapers to the concrete jungle, we hope that these islands and habitats remain intact for future generations.