Singapore's outlying islands stand in total contrast to its mainland.
Just around the corner from Raffles Place's glittering skyscrapers and Orchard Road's swanky shopping malls, the visitor suddenly discovers a very different world of small tropical islands, offering peace, tranquility and in some cases, a traditional village lifestyle that has changed very little over the years...
This beautiful 5-minutes' video takes you on a day-trip to Pulau Ubin and shows you what is there to do and see... Really nice!
Pulau Ubin, probably, the most recommended of Singapore's outlying islands, is a 10.2 km² boomerang-shaped island, lying northeast of Singapore's mainland, in the middle of Johor Strait (that separates Singapore from Malaysia), and approximately two kilometers from the beaches of Changi and Pasir Ris.
Originally, it was a group of small neighboring islands which became one unit after dikes were built for prawns farming. It offers the visitor some fabulous beaches, beautiful nature reserves, and peaceful village lifestyle that bare no resemblance to the vibrant pace of life in downtown Singapore.
Pulau Ubin means Granite Island in Malay and granite, indeed, was what attracted the island's first settlers, more than a hundred years ago... a silent witness to that early settlement can be seen in the abandoned granite quarries across the island, most of which have been long filled by water and covered with thick vegetation, which make them a popular (and quite picturesque) tourist attraction.
The island's population reached a few thousands, back in the 1960s, when granite quarrying was the main industry. Currently, however, there are just more than one hundred dwellers on Pulau Ubin, living a lifestyle that seems to belong to another era altogether... Water is pumped from wells, electricity comes from generators and traditional "kampong" (villages), with simple wooden houses are dominating the scene. This is probably the last place in Singapore where you can still see traditional Kelongs, which are sort of offshore houses on wooden piles, used by fishermen.
Did you know ?
Pulau Ubin's small population lives a lifestyle that has nothing in common with the daily reality of downtown Singapore... Water is pumped from wells, electricity comes from generators and traditional "kampong" (villages), with simple wooden houses, are dominating the scene... This is probably the last place in Singapore where you can still see traditional Kelongs, which are sort of offshore houses on wooden piles, used by fishermen.
Most of the island is covered by thick vegetation... Coconut groves, Rubber-tree and mango plantations, spices and herbs, natural forest and mangrove forests that cover the wetlands. There are also a few Buddhist temples on the island, worth visiting.
Pulau Ubin is also a paradise for those of you who like to see animals... From the rich and diversified marine life in Check Jawa Wetlands, on the island's eastmost end, to birds, fowls, parrots, hornbills, and even large mammals like wild hogs and the extremely rare Leopard Cat.
The island can be explored either by bikes, which can be rented in the village centre, next to the jetty, or by hiking along the various walking trails - Both ways are great !
Bikes are naturally more practical, as they can take you faster to the different parts of the island.
The National Parks Board offers guided walking tours across the island, as well as in Check Jawa Wetlands. They also provide good information about the island and its sightseeing spots. You can find them at the Information Kiosk, next to the jetty (as soon as you arrive at the island from Changi Village). Open daily, 8:30am - 5pm.
It's possible (and very advisable) to call them and book in advance to all those guided tours, especially for the highly demanded ones, like Check Jawa. Phone 6542 4108 / 6545 4761
Check Jawa lies around the island's easternmost end and is, surely, one of Pulau Ubin's most popular tourist attractions. The 250 acres wetland is home to an extremely unique, rich and diversified ecosystem that actually comprises of six different habitats, including Rocky Shore, Mangrove Forests and Seagrass Lagoon. The rocky plates are actually ancient coral reefs, covered by shallow water where hundreds of different sea creatures live... Estuarine Seahorses, Mudskippers, Pipefish, Eel-tail Catfish, Toadfish, Fiddler Crab, Sea Cucumber, starfish, shells, Cuttlefish, Octopus, Sponges and Horseshoe Crabsare only a few of the creatures you can see around here.
A small tip from 'Metropolasia-man':
Check Jawa is one of Pulau Ubin's most amazing spots, and a must-see for marinelife lovers. This relatively small wetland is home to an extremely unique, rich and diversified ecosystem that actually comprises of six different habitats...
The area was a part of a planned land reclamation project and, once it was discovered (almost by chance), heavy pressure was put on the government to stop the development and declare it as a reserve. Environmentalists, green organizations, scientists and ordinary residents expressed their opinion loud and clear, in a manner that is normally unacceptable in Singapore... Surprisingly enough, the government acceded the public requests and decided to protect the area, at the early 2000s.
In the first few years, there were no facilities whatsoever, and entry was restricted only to those lucky visitors who managed to book in advance for the infrequent guided tours of the National Parks Board. Today, however, things have changed: The recently opened boardwalk, more than a kilometer long, makes it possible for everybody to see and appreciate the underwater glamour of this place. The boardwalk also takes the visitors to other parts of the reserve, such as the mangroves forest and the coastal forest...
Other than the boardwalk, there is a 21 meters high viewing tower and a good visitors-centre, housed in a charming 1930s Tudor-style cottage, where you can learn more about the place and its unique ecosystem.
Nevertheless, the National Parks Board's guided tours are still considered to be the best way to see the wetland. If you do wish to join one of them, make sure to book long time in advance (either by phone, letter or Email) as demand is high and the tours are few and far between... You should also be prepared to walk in the water and bring good, strong shoes (no sandals please...) to protect your foot from sea urchins and scratchy coral rocks.
A small tip from 'Metropolasia-Man':
Inspite of the boardwalk and the viewing tower, joining one of the National Parks Board's guided tours is still the way to see Check Jawa. The only problem is that these tours are few and far between, so you should make sure to book long time in advance...
The beauty of Check Jawa is fully unveiled in low tides, when the water is 0.5 meter deep (or less) and the rich marine life can be seen clearly... You can still visit the place when the tides are not low (for the mangroves and the coastal forest), but it's really not the same thing...
To get to check Jawa : From the jetty, next to the village center, you can either cycle or take a taxi (around SG$ 2 one way). You can also walk, but it takes something like 45 minutes, each way.
Opening Hours: daily, 8:30am - 6 pm
In the 'main village' (Ubin town), next to the jetty, there are some good and inexpensive eateries, as well as some shops where you can get fresh fruits and other groceries, and, of course, bike renting businesses. Prices range around SG$ 5 - 10 a day and you can haggle a bit... You should also take the bikes for a short ride before renting them, just to make sure it's functioning properly...
All the riding trails leave from here and cover the island's four corners... Take a minute to chat with the folks of National Parks Board (at the information kiosk) before you decide which way to go...
Small stalls, selling fresh fruit juices, are scattered all over the island, especially over weekends, so you are never likely to find yourself too far from refreshment...
The beaches on the island's northshore are the best, especially Noordin Beach, where you can enjoy white sands and spectacular views across the strait, and Mamam Beach.
There are three places where you can camp on Pulau Ubin: On the two beaches, as well as in Jelutong Campsite, not far from the village. Conditions are pretty much basic and you should bring your own tents and food (there is running water in the camp but it's not really adequate for human consumption).
There is no need for any camping license or permission as such but, if you do wish to spend the night in any of the campsite, you'll better drop by at the information kiosk and get the necessary info from them. Campers are also advised to report at the small police post, not far from the jetty, just so they'll know where to look for you in case of an emergency...
Pulau Ubin can be reached by Bumboats, leaving regularly from Changi point ferry terminal, a minute walk from Changi Village (see East Singapore & Changi section). The trip takes around ten minutes and the boats operate daily, sunrise to sunset. Prices are SG$ 2.5 one way. The boat leaves as soon as there are 12 passengers or if an amount of SG$ 30 is collected (against 12 passengers X SG$ 2.5 each).
A small tip from 'Metropolasia Man'...
The National Parks Board published a free PDF brochure about the island of Pulau Ubin, its vegetation and trails. You can download it from here.
Tiny Kusu Island occupies an area of just 25 acres, six kilometers south of Singapore's mainland. Its name translates to "Turtle Island" in Chinese...
According to a popular legend, a mystical turtle turned itself to an island in order to save the passengers of two boats, one Chinese and one Malay, which were wrecked around this area... The grateful survivors thanked their savior by building temples on the island... The Chinese built a Taoist temple, while the Malays built three keramat shrines at the top of the hill.
An insight from 'Metropolasia-Man':
The word "Kusu" translates to turtle, and the reason the island got its name is thanks to a legend about a mythical giant turtle who saved the survivors of a nearby wrecked ship and brought them to the shores of this small island...
The current Chinese temple was built in 1923 by a wealthy businessman, and is dedicated to Da Bo Gong, the 'Merchant God' of Malaysian Chinese, and to Guan Yin, Chinese goddess of mercy and 'calmer of the sea' (also reputable for having the power of 'giving sons'). Alongside the shrines, the temple has a small turtle shelter.
Every year, during the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar (usually falls around October), thousands of worshipers are making pilgrimage to the temple, bringing gifts and offerings to the deities and praying for success and prosperity... It is better not to visit the island during this time of the year, as it might be unbearably congested...
Up, on top of the small hill, stand the three Kramat shrines, commemorating a 19th century Muslim-Malay pious man, Syed Abdul Rahman, his mother Nenek Ghalib, and his sister Puteri Fatimah. The place is popular among those who pray for children, and from here you can enjoy lovely views of Sentosa Island and Singapore's City Centre.
Other than temples, the island boasts two beautiful lagoons, with sandy beaches and pristine turquoise water... as well as some lovely shallow coral reefs, where you can see the rich marine life without actually having to dive... (Provided it is during low tides).
A visit to the island makes a lovely day out (especially when combined with neighboring St. John's Island). Spending the night on Kusu Island is impossible.
St. John's Island lies only one kilometer south of Kusu (on the other side of Lazarus Island) and occupies a much larger area, of approximately 100 acres.
There are no historic temples here and the island's history lacks those glamorous legends of its northern neighbor... As a matter of fact, other than serving as Sir Raffles' anchorage, when he came to meet the local chiefs in 1819, the island had the dubious honor of housing a quarantine station for leper immigrants, and a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts.
A charming tropical island with with an unflattering history...
St. John's Island history is far from being glamorous... As a matter of fact, other than serving as Sir Raffles' anchorage, when he came to meet the local chiefs in 1819, the island had the dubious honor of housing a quarantine station for leper immigrants, and a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts...
Now adays, however, St. John's is a charming tropical island with white sandy beaches, lapped by blue and turquoise water and fringed with coconut palms.
There are also some lovely walking trails on the island, as well as picnic sites and simple sport facilities.
Part of the island is still occupied by governmental institutions, such as the Tropical Marine Science Institute, but there is enough left for holidaymakers.
For those of you who wish to spend the night on the island, there is one fully furnished bungalow, accommodating up to 10 people. The bungalow has its own equipped kitchen but you'll have to bring your own food. A short holiday here can be very pleasant indeed, especially during the week, when the flow of visitors is quite low. For more information about the bungalow, you can visit their webpage
Named after a famous 15th century Chinese Admiral-Explorer, the Cheng Ho is a replica of an imperial Ming Dynasty vessel, supposedly similar to the one that was sailed by the legendary admiral who gave it its name.
Watertours, the company that operates the Cheng Ho, offers three different "cruises": The Morning Glory and Afternoon High Tea cruises make a Stopover at Kusu Island, where you can visit the ancient Chinese Temple, while the Imperial Dinner Cruise boasts a buffet dinner and stops next to Sentosa'ssouth shore, where passengers can view the fireworks at the "Songs of the Sea" show...
The Morning Glory cruise departs from Marina South Pier at 10:30 am and lasts 2:30 hours. It costs SG$ 27/14 for an adult/child (price includes some coffee/tea and light snacks)
The Afternoon High Tea cruise departs at 3pm from the same place, and the price of SG$ 32/16 for an adult/child includes a High-tea buffet of sweet and savory pastries... It also lasts 2:30 hours
The Imperial dinner Cruise leaves at 6:30 pm, lasts 2:30 hours and costs SG$ 55/29 for an adult/child
The operator provides a complimentary Pick-Up Service from some hotels in town, as well as from Marina Bay MRT
For more details: call Watertours on (+65) 6533 9811 or visit their website, where you can find all the necessary information.
Southwest of St. John's, the Sister Islands are two tiny islands (Pulau Subar Laut and Pulau Subar Darat), facing each other, and separated by a narrow channel.
Their name comes from a popular legend about two sisters who were very close to each other... One day, a pirate fell in love with one of them and wanted to take her with him and marry her against her will... As he forced her into his boat, the sky turned dark and a storm began. The second sister swam after the pirates' boat, not willing to give up, but eventually, the sea was stronger than her and she sunk. The kidnapped sister was so desperate when she saw it, she broke away from her kidnappers and threw herself to the ocean, preferring to die together with her sister rather than to spend her life in misery...
On the following morning, the sea was calm again and two islands appeared at the place were the two sisters drowned...
The islands has some fabulous coral reefs around them, as well as a lovely beach, thick tropical vegetation and even a group of Long-tailed macaque monkeys (on the bigger island)
Pualu Hantu (Ghosts Island) is another small island which got its name from a local folk tale about two legendary Malay warriors who killed each other in a fierce battle, and their spirits keep on roaming around the isle... The island actually comprises of two small islets, Hantu Besar (Big ghost) and Hantu Kecil (Little ghost), and is well known for its excellent fishing and snorkeling, as well as for its beautiful beaches.
Hantu Besar seems to be a bit better and has better facilities and nicer swimming lagoons.
A camping permit is necessary for anyone who wishes to spend the night on either the Sister Islands or Pulau Hantu. You will have to write to the Executive (Southern Islands Management), Sentosa, at fax: 62750161 or email email@example.com with details on camping date, choice of island, applicant's name & contact number & number of campers.
Almost needless to mention, you will have to bring your own camping gears and food