Travelling: Regional Travel
Regional Travel - Pulau Ubin

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This kampong-style dwelling is typical of those found on the island

Mention the city of Singapore and immediately images of a sky-scraped city with bustling crowds shoving their way through the shops along Orchard Road are conjured up. But there is another side to Singapore that most people seem to have overlooked as we get caught up in the frenzy of modern life. As we advance into the new millennium of technology and progress, and get a little closer to the life of ‘The Jetsons’, now is an opportune and appropriate moment to take a step back and look at what life was like yesterday.

Pulau Ubin appears to be a little of an anomaly in modern Singapore and in fact, most of the inhabitants of Pulau Ubin have left for the rat race in the city. The main occupants that remain in this hilly island are now mostly fishermen or subsistence farmers.

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The flooded quarry looks inviting - but don't risk a swim!

The nostalgic us decided to take a trip to the 1019-hectare island off the northeastern coast of Singapore to say good-bye to the ‘old life’. Despite the rapid change Singapore has gone through, this island has managed to evade the hands of development for much of its existence. However, the tentacles of modernisation have crept up on it and it is now being developed into a nature park. When works are fully completed later this year, this offshore island will have trails, shelters, camping sites, chalets and other basic amenities. Quite inevitable, since Singaporeans need a recreation place that takes them back to nature (with all the creature comforts, of course). Thankfully though, much of Pulau Ubin’s natural environment will be preserved in the development programme. Visitors will still be able to capture the rustic ambience of village life, sights of granite quarries, coconut and rubber plantations, mangrove swamps, fish and prawn farms and even fishing kelongs and temples.

In order for his trip to be worth his while, the boatman wouldn’t leave until he had a minimum of 12 passengers. We didn’t have to wait for long at the Changi Point Jetty before he had the right number. We arrived at this picturesque island after a 15-minute bumboat ride. The tranquillity that the island retains attracts many city dwellers like us, to take a respite from the humdrum of modern life. Adventure seekers also have a fine time here as they explore untouched areas of the island. The best way around is, of course, on a bicycle, which you can rent from the shops as you get off the jetty. The cost of renting a bicycle starts from a mere $3 per hour to $6 for the whole day. We found ourselves a suitable bike and ensured that the brakes were working (there are many steep slopes here) before we set off in search of some adventure. The boy from the bicycle shop handed us a hand drawn map of the island in case we got lost. Good idea.

Visitors to Ubin will notice that the people there are really friendly and unassuming. Time appears to have frozen (for a while) here and you will not see any high-rise buildings apart from two-storey shop-houses. Run down de-registered taxis and rusty pick-ups ply the island. It’s quite a strange sensation as you feel as though you are caught in a time warp even though you are only minutes away from the city, which you can see in the horizon.

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The only "luxuries" are run-down taxis and two storey houses

There are a few provision shops and seafood shops at the entrance of the island where you can get some drink and food if you’re in need of some grub before or after your trip. As you venture further into the island, you will soon come across large amounts of land that have been scarred by the effect of quarrying. Despite that, these abandoned quarries actually do look quite inviting with their clear blue waters. Which is why there are now severe fines for anyone foolhardy enough to jump in for a swim.

You will also find vast stretches of virgin forests. Some of the more adventurous and die-hard fans of the king of fruits – (yes, the putrid smelling durian), will actually go in search of the fruit. There are also numerous other tropical fruit trees such as coconut trees and jackfruit trees that line the island.

As the map was just a little hard to decipher (maybe it was just our bad map reading skills), we found ourselves a little lost and had to ask a park ranger for some directions. After those un-worked muscles started aching and we started panting our lungs out, we thought it a jolly good idea to stop at a roadside stall for some fresh coconut and cold water. As we pedalled along, we came across some fairly well-kept kampong houses, fish farms and ducks having a bath. It was a really refreshing experience going back to nature, and seeing that life was after all, really simple.

After a good workout and a great day in the past, we decided it was time to get back to the future before it got dark. Helpful hints that will ensure a memorable trip: Bring a hat or cap Pack some light refreshments Wear comfy shoes and light clothes Be prepared to use those muscles and sweat it out a little Have dinner at Charlie’s Corner at Changi Village.

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