Trees may be a common sight in Singapore, even in the heavily built-up mainland. Still, a giant like the one on Pulau Ubin never fails to amaze visitors. It had been quite a while since since I had first heard about Pulau Ubin from fellow mountain bikers in Singapore. I had been told that the island, which they simply call Ubin, also has a bike park that boasts some interesting trails. However, it was only on a recent holiday with my sister that I got to visit the island.
Like many other tourists, we opted to explore Ubin by bicycle. We rented the rigs, ordinary ones with gears and front baskets, from one of the shops near the island's ferry jetty. Each cost S$5 (B120). Cross-country and fat bikes were also available, but we decided not to pay more since we wouldn't have enough time for the mountain-bike park anyway. Any well functioning two-wheeler that could take us from one place to another would be good enough.
Our plan for that afternoon was to visit attractions in the east part of Ubin. Before we set off, the friendly man at the bike-rental shop briefed us about the direction and warned us to be careful, especially on down slopes. His words prompted us to double-check the brakes to make sure they wouldn't fail us.
From the shop, we rode through the seaside community and out of it towards the island's lush interior.
Our first stop was a pond at the beginning of the Sensory Trail. Drawn by the pink lotus blooms which could be easily spotted from afar, we parked the bikes and walked to the edge of the pond. Rich with myriad aquatic plants, it serves as a bountiful habitat for fish, birds and insects whose presence could be felt by the sounds that filled the air.
Having learned beforehand from the exhibition pavilion next to the ferry jetty that this magnificent pond was once used as a fish farm, I couldn't help but admire the magical power of Mother Nature to bounce back to life, as well as the hard work of those who had helped make the natural self-healing process faster with no interruption. As a matter of fact, a few decades ago, apart from fish and prawn farms, Ubin was damaged by other economic activities, such as rock mining and rubber planting. These days, thanks to concerted efforts by the government and many parties, including the island's residents, Ubin has become a haven for Singaporean city slickers and foreign visitors alike.
The gentle breeze and the serene atmosphere at the pond tempted us to sit down on the grass and just chill out. Too bad our time was limited.
We skipped the Sensory Trail and headed towards Chek Jawa, the wetland at the southeastern tip of the island. On the way, we rode past a number of rural-style wooden homes and cemeteries. We also saw wild boars and monkeys. At Chek Jawa, apart from a mangrove and tidal ecosystem that can be observed via boardwalks and a tall observation tower, there is a beautiful Tudor-style house built in the 1930s as the vacation home of a British official.
It was already late in the afternoon, and grey clouds were taking over the sky by the time we finished with Chek Jawa. We took another road on the way back so we could see more of Ubin, such as one of the old rock quarries and a campsite on the north side of the island, from whence we could see the Malaysian shore on the other side of the Johore Strait.
We managed to return the bikes and catch the ferry back to the Singapore mainland before it rained. While on the boat, I looked back to Ubin, to its west side in particular. Next time, for sure, I'll hit the bike park. My mind also drifted back to Thailand. We Thais are luckier than the Singaporeans. We still have many times more wilderness and rural areas. It's a pity that, unlike them, we tend to take those precious assets for granted.
By Pongpet Mekloy.
Pulau Ubin can be reached by boat from the Changi Point Ferry Terminal, which is a short walk from the Changi Village Bus Terminal.