Pulau Ubin is the last remaining Kampong (village) in Singapore and also the second largest island. The island is reached by catching a bum boat near Changi Village. The boat will leave when full rather than on a set schedule and this pretty much sets the tone for a trip to the island. It’s like stepping back into the 1960s and it is really the only undeveloped corner of Singapore. On Pulau Ubin nature is heritage.
Once there were 5000 residents on the island of Ubin but now only around 30 remain. Most of the remaining residents are elderly, born in a country environment and overwhelmed by the idea of living in a hectic city. Life here isn’t easy, electricity comes from generators and water from wells. There are no schools or doctors on the island and the residents rely heavily on the mainland for support.
Ubin is the Malay word for granite and the island was once home to several granite quarries. The quarrying started as early as the 19th century and was a source of income to many local families until the 70s when the quarries became depleted. Today the old quarry sites are places of beauty, nature has reclaimed them and birds and wildlife thrive.
Also a spot packed with nature are the Chek Java wetlands which consist of a large area of sand and mudflats only fully revealed at low tide. There are at least six different types of habitats here including the rocky shore, seagrass lagoon, sandbars and mangroves which are essential for the marine life and prevention of costal erosion.
In early the 2000’s Chek Java was marked for development but the clearing of the area revealed the wealth of nature and wildlife. A campaign began to save the area from development and the focus is now on preserving the natural environment here. This spot is a haven and nursery for a range of species, many of these contribute to the food chain and boost fish stocks in the area. Bird life if also thriving here and you may be lucky enough to spot the distinctive hornbill. They have even discovered some chemical producing sponges which are proving extremely valuable in drug and medicine research. The ecosystem here is unique and rare, a huge surprise in such an urbanised city.
The island is also home to the oldest Malay house, now owned by the fifth generation and only occupied at weekends. There are also some local temples and a few places near the jetty for refreshments. Getting around the island is best achieved by hiring a mountain bike once you reach the island (or taking your own over on the boat), alternatively you can hire a taxi.
Recently the government announced plans to conserve and protect Ubin and we can play our part by visiting the island. This could help maintain the last remaining Kampong and save the area for future generations and visitors.