Escaping from the hustle and bustle of city life is a necessary step towards keeping your sanity, even for the most ardent urbanites. The island of Pulau Ubin is the perfect rural counterpart.
Situated off the north-east coast of Singapore, it's accessible by bumboat, a little chugging ferry that can carry about 15 passengers. An orderly queue forms at the Changi Point Ferry Terminal in Changi Village, as boat after boat traverses the short stretch of water.
You land in the main village on the island, comprising of just a couple of streets. If you turn left from the terminal you'll find bike hire shops and a couple of restaurants. Turn right and you'll find the police station and the path to the Celestial Resort (think shanty rather than shiny).
There are two ways to enjoy island life. Plan your trip and go equipped, or turn up and absorb. It really depends in the activities you're interested in: Walking, camping or cycling.
It's a safe place to explore, as there is very little traffic. The only motorised vehicles are a couple of island shuttle taxis. This also means that many of the main roads are unmade and can get muddy in the rain.
We opted to walk and found our way out to the Chek Jawa Wetlands, which is a loop of boardwalks. At low tide you can marvel at the mountainous mounds of mud in the mangroves, created by excavating crabs. At high tide you feel like you're walking on water, looking back at the coastline from the middle of the sea. Looping back inland there is a viewing platform (the Jejawi Tower), which offers great views of the jungle.
At the start of the boardwalk is a parking plot for pedal power, which was turned into a circus on the day we visited. Wild hogs were running amok, pushing over bikes in their quest to scavenge the tastiest treats. A word of advice: take your picnic with you. These foresters can smell dinner a mile off and were not put off by the camera-clicking spectators.
Watching wildlife in its natural habitat is part of the rural idyll, and the children loved scampering after butterflies, sneaking a peek at shy crabs and cooing over the baby boars. Just make sure they keep their distance. Animals are becoming more and more used to human interaction, but they are still wild.
Hot, exhausted, tired and a little muddy, we found a shack selling cool drinks and coconuts, and revived ourselves enough to stagger back to the ferry terminal, wondering why we hadn't hired bikes. Now we've done a recce we'll be returning fully equipped.
The practical bit:
- You can't get ferry tickets in advance but even on public holidays you don't have to wait for long as the flow of bum oats is constant. The fare is cheap (S$2.50, 2014), with children paying the same as adults. You also pay extra (S$2) for bikes.
- There are plenty of places to hire bikes, and the full range is available: children's bikes, bikes with stabilisers, adult bikes with child seats, tandems. Go early for the pick of the crop, as quality can vary, or take children's bikes with you. You can also hire bike locks. There are some mountain biking tracks for the more adventurous.
- Remember your mozzie repellant.
- There are no paper maps of the island, in a bid to be environmentally friendly. When you get off the boat remember to take a photograph with your phone of the map on the board at the end of the pier.
- There is a cursory nod to national security as you land again in Singapore again, in the form as an x-ray machine.