Pulau Ubin is the last bastion of rural village life in Singapore. A short boat ride away from mainland Singapore, the island will transport you to a different time and place, one where the houses are still made from wooden boards and where you can cycle past mangroves and stop for a drink at roadside kiosks.
The Legend and History of Pulau Ubin
According to legend, Pulau Ubin was created when a frog, a pig and an elephant (yes, wild elephants once roamed about the region) in Singapore decided to have a race to see who could swim across to Johor.
They vowed that whoever did not make it across the straits from Singapore to Johor would be turned into stone.
When the race started, all three animals started to flounder in the water. The elephant and the pig turned into Pulau Ubin while the frog got turned into Pulau Sekudu or Frog Island, just off the shore of Pulau Ubin.
Leaving behind the mist of legends, Pulau Ubin has been charted on the map since 1828.
It is said that the Malay community on the island began in the 1880s when settlers moved over from the Kallang River. There were numerous Malay kampongs on the island and you can still see various Malay cemeteries around Pulau Ubin.
In the 1910s, there were also German-run coffee plantations on Pulau Ubin.
Between the 1950s to the 1970s, there were around 2,000 people living on Pulau Ubin and the Bin Kiang School was established in the 1952 to cater to the population. This eventually closed in 1985. A Malay school was also set up around 1956 before closing in the late 1970s.
Pulau Ubin has always been known for its granite and this resulted in the establishment of numerous granite quarries on the island.
You can still see many of these quarries when you pay a visit to Pulau Ubin today. They have been filled up with rainwater.
Eventually, the quarries closed down in the 1970s.
Overview of Pulau Ubin
For members of the public, a trip to Pulau Ubin begins at the Main Jetty after arriving by bumboat from the mainland.
The Main Jetty is located at the southern shore of Pulau Ubin.
This is also where Ubin Town, the main village on the island can be found.
Stretching out to the west of Ubin Town, some of the landmarks and prominent areas are
- Butterfly Hill;
- Pekan Quarry;
- Jelutong Bridge;
- Puaka Hill and Ubin Quarry;
- Ketam Quarry.
At the far western end of Pulau Ubin is the Outward Bound School area.
North of Ubin Town is the National Police Cadet Corps Camp Resilience and the Maman Campsite.
At the eastern end Pulau Ubin is the Chek Jawa Wetlands.
Ubin Town – The Main Village at Pulau Ubin
Ubin Town is a nostalgic throwback to the 1960s.
Found to the left of the jetty after disembarking from the bumboat, Ubin Town is made up a cluster of wooden houses and building.
The small settlement is mainly made up of two types of businesses: bicycle rental shops and eateries.
At the very centre of the village is the Wayang Stage. The present stage was built in 1971 and stands directly opposite from the Tua Pek Kong Temple.
The Wayang Stage was a central part of the social life of the village on Pulau Ubin, providing entertainment for residents. In the 1960s, it was even used as classrooms for the island’s Bin Kiang School.
On the western fringe of Ubin Town is an assembly area and the Ubin Volunteer Hub.
Take note that there are no ATMs on Pulau Ubin. So be sure to bring along any cash that you need.
Pulau Ubin Bike Rental
You can choose from different shops renting out bicycles. The cost for a bike rental can range from between $10 to $30 for a full day rental.
You can also rent bike helmets and bike locks at the rental shops.
Some of our recommendations if you are planning to cycle on Pulau Ubin are:
- Wear a helmet.
- Keep to the left – many of the lanes are narrow and there can be two-way traffic, including motorised vehicles.
- Watch out for holes in the ground – some of the paths can have large pot holes.
- Heed signs – when a sign advises cyclists to disembark and push, follow the sign’s warning. It is there for a reason.
- Take your time and enjoy the ride – there’s no need to rush around. Instead, do it Ubin way and soak in the rustic feelings of being on the island.
Pulau Ubin Food
For a nostalgic trip back to an old school provision shop, pay a visit to Yak Hong and pick up some snacks or drinks for your exploration of Pulau Ubin. The shop is about 100 years old.
There are some tables and plastic chairs in front of the provision shop if you should want to have a seat while enjoying your refreshment.
Other restaurants and eateries on Pulau Ubin include Season Live Seafood, which has an outdoor seating area where diners can enjoy the sea breeze.
For more casual dining, you can try Kampong 22 Ubin, closer to the jetty, which has rice dishes like egg fried rice ($5), spring onion ginger chicken/pork/beef ($6 to $7) as well as pies.
Also close to the jetty is Cheong Lian Yuen Coffee Shop which sells zi char-style food.
Nature lovers may also wish to pay a visit to the Sensory Trail before leaving Ubin Town. There are two entry points, one next to the police station close to the main jetty and the other near Teck Seng’s place.
The Sensory Trail was first developed in 1995 for the visually handicapped to experience Ubin using their senses.
On the Ubin Sensory Trail, you can see, touch, smell or even taste different plants and listen out for birds and animals. It also showcases the cultural heritage of Pulau Ubin through the plants that were commonly found.
Read more about the Pulau Ubin Sensory Trail.
Things to See and Do West of Ubin Town
Butterfly Hill & Jelutong Campsite
Heading west out of Ubin Town, one of the first landmarks that you will reach is Butterfly Hill.
About the size of a football field, Butterfly Hill is designed to showcase butterflies and attracts about 140 species with over 50 butterfly-attracting plant species.
It is located within the Jelutong Campsite, area that was reclaimed from the sea.
Pekan Quarry is one of the oldest quarries in Pulau Ubin. It ceased operations in 1970 and its well is the oldest in Ubin!
Previously known as Ho Man Choo Quarry, it was renamed to show its proximity to the main village. “Pekan” means town in Malay. It had two quarry pits and overflows at a drainage point leading to the sea.
You may be able to see of grey herons nesting and roosting at the Pekan Quarry. Structures have been built by NParks to enhance the habitat and attract the birds.
Read more about Pekan Quarry.
Jelutong Bridge and Ah Ma Drink Stall
The Jelutong Bridge has a set of sluice gates that control the water flow at the upper reaches of Sungei Jelutong. The sluice gates were used to control the water levels of prawn ponds when prawn farms could be found on Pulau Ubin.
Beside the Jelutong Bridge is the Ah Ma Drink Stall. Open on weekends and public holidays, thirsty riders can get some drinks at Ah Ma Drink Stall.
The structure was renovated in 2018 with the help of Architecture students from the National University of Singapore, the Singapore Heritage Society and community groups Kawan Ubin and Sea Angel, and the support of NParks.
Past Jelutong Bridge and Ah Ma Drink Stall is Puaka Hill.
Puaka Hill is the highest point of Pulau Ubin and offers views of Ubin Quarry, as well as sightings of Johor Strait and Malaysia.
Puaka Hill is sited at the centre of the island and the location of the old Ubin Quarry, one of the six quarries that used to be operating in Pulau Ubin.
From the Merbah Hut at the bottom, it is a short five-minute trek to the first of two viewpoints on the hill.
Read more about a visit to Pulau Ubin’s Puaka Hill.
Ketam Mountain Bike Park
Heading westwards from Puaka Hill, the road will take you past the Republic Polytechnic Experiential Learning Centre and the Ubin Living Lab, a research facility that has a mangrove arboretum.
The Puaka Bridge crosses over Sungei Puaka before you arrive at the start of the Ketam Mountain Bike Park.
The Ketam Mountain Bike Park offers course of different difficulty levels. It was built on a disused quarry site, rehabilitated by NParks through planting many trees and shrubs.
There are other facilities that cyclists can enjoy at the park – shelters, viewpoints and a freeride park for practising obstacles.
Read more about what you can expect at the Ketam Mountain Bike Park.
One of the well-known sights on Pulau Ubin is located at Ketam Mountain Bike Park – the German Girl Shrine.
This small temple is devoted to the worship of the German girl, rumoured to have fallen off a cliff during World War I when her family was captured by the British soldiers.
Things to See and Do North of Ubin Town
From Ubin Town, you can head northwards along Jalan Ubin. This is the road that leads to the Mamam Campsite on the north coast of the island as well as the road where you can branch off to Check Jawa.
Here are the sights and landmarks if you go northwards along Jalan Ubin.
Teck Seng’s Place
Perched on a little hillock overlooking the beautiful Sensory Trail Pond, Teck Seng’s Place is an house that still retains its 1970s charms.
Mr Chew Teck Seng operated a provision shop in the village centre called Teck Seng Provision Shop and owned House No. 363B from 1970. Like all houses built then, it was situated next to his poultry farm. It remained his home for three generations until poultry farming was phased out in Pulau Ubin.
Read our story on Teck Seng’s Place.
Former Headman’s House
Located opposite the Belatok Hut along Jalan Ubin is the Former Headman’s House. This was the residence of Mr Lim Chye Joo, the village headman. He passed away in October 2006. You can read an interview with him from 2006 where he shares about life on Pulau Ubin in the past.
Ubin Fruit Orchard
The Ubin Fruit Orchard once housed a fruit orchard belonging to an Ubin resident. It is a good place to learn all about local or tropical fruits here in Singapore. Read more about the Ubin Fruit Orchard.
Venture off Jalan Ubin onto Jalan Durian and you’ll be on your way to Chek Jawa Wetlands, open from 9 am to 5 pm.
It can be reached by a 40-minute walk from the jetty or by taking a van or bike.
There are six natural habitats at Chek Jawa wetlands, and probably why many tourists make the effort to visit Chek Jawa for its natural wonders.
Deemed Singapore’s richest shores, Chek Jawa has the sandy beach, rocky beach, seagrass lagoon, coral rubble, mangroves and coastal forest all meeting at one location.
You can also climb up the 21-metre tall Jejawi Tower for a view of the entire area.
At the Viewing Jetty at Chek Jawa, you can have a look at Pulau Sekudu or Frog Island. Unfortunately, you will have to imagine the frog’s shape now as the island has been eroded over time.
Read more about what to expect on a visit to Chek Jawa.
Campsites on Pulau Ubin
Due to its rural environment, Pulau Ubin is home to multiple campsites.
In 1967, Outward Bound Singapore opened its campsite on the western end of Pulau Ubin.
The National Police Cadet Corps has a camp site at the northern shore of the island.
There are also now three public campsites on Pulau Ubin where you can set up a tent and stay overnight with a permit. These are the Jelutong, Mamam and Endut Senin campsites.
Find out more about the experience of camping on Pulau Ubin.
More Useful Things to Know about Experiencing Pulau Ubin
There are different way that you can see and appreciate the beauty of Pulau Ubin.
You can choose to go on your own self-guided tour where you decide how to cover the island at your own pace.
NParks runs guided tours on Pulau Ubin each month. Look out for the Rustic Reflections Tours, the Kampong Tours and the Chek Jawa Wetlands Tours.
You can go on a mangrove kayaking adventure on Pulau Ubin too. The meeting point for the kayaking tours is at Ubin Town.
Pesta Ubin, the Pulau Ubin “open house”, is held each year in June. This includes many different activities and events on the island and is an opportune time to join one of these and pay a visit to Pulau Ubin.
How to Get to Pulau Ubin
You will need to take a bumboat from Changi Point Ferry Terminal to Pulau Ubin.
Changi Point Ferry Terminal is located at Changi Village, close to the Changi Village Food Centre. It is next to the bridge leading to Changi Beach Park.
The boat ride to Pulau Ubin cost $4 per person per trip (as of 2023).
Each boat can take a maximum number of 12 passengers. Payment is by cash only. Pay the boat operator on board the bumboat.
Be sure to that you have enough cash for the return journey too.