Pulau Ubin

Most Singaporeans are familiar with Pulau Ubin, having visited the island during school excursions or childhood times.

The second largest island of Singapore after Pulau Tekong (not including the reclaimed Jurong Island), Ubin largely retains the looks of a rural Singapore. The name Ubin means granite in Malay, as Pulau Ubin is once famous for its granite quarries, although most of these quarries had ceased operations in the sixties and seventies. The granite quarries had supported the construction of the Causeway and the Horsburgh Lighthouse.

Visitors to Ubin usually take the bum boats from Changi Jetty (at Changi Village) at a rate of SGD2 per trip.

How did the island of Pulau Ubin form in the first place? A legendary tale explains that in the early days, three animals (an elephant, a pig and a frog) from Singapore challenged one another to reach the Johor shores. Those that did not succeed would be turned into stone. The frog failed to cross the straits and was turned into Pulau Sekudu. Both the elephant and pig did not make it too and they became Pulau Ubin.

In the past, a Jelutong River cut through the island, splitting it into two halves. Over the years, the mud accumulated from the prawn farms slowly covered the river and joined both regions as one.

One of the favourite activities on the island by visitors is mountain biking. There are scores of shops near the island’s jetty that rent out bicycles at affordable rates. In May 2008, Ketam Mountain Bike Park was completed and opened to the public. At about 10km long, the trail is extremely popular among the cyclists.

A famous Tua Pek Kong Temple is also located near the island’s jetty. Devotees make regular trips to the island for praying of good luck, health and wealth at the modest-looking temple.

Visitors can also book minibuses to tour around the island. The rate for a fully seated minibus of about 8 passengers is SGD20, but is fully negotiable with the driver.

Vehicles on Ubin carry green car license plates with white fonts and are started with “PU”, so as to differentiate from mainland Singapore. Like Singapore in the sixties, the roads are mostly gravel without arrows. There are few traffic regulations, as drivers learn to give way to each others.

There are still about 45 families living on Ubin. Most are of the older generations who could not bear to leave their homes of decades. The villagers live in attap houses, using electricity from generators and drawing water from wells. The kampong on Ubin is one of the last surviving kampong in Singapore (other than Kampong Lorong Buangkok).

The fishermen live on kelong, a common sight around the island of 10.2km square.

Once a major industry on Ubin, granite quarrying started on the island as early as the 19th century. It supported the livelihoods of many islanders but by the seventies, many quarries had their granite sources depleted. The Aik Hwa Granite Quarry was the last to cease their operation, having shut down in 1999.

There are currently four large abandoned quarries on the island, namely Ketam Quarry, Kekek Quarry, Ubin Quarry and Pekan Quarry. They have since evolved into scenic places, covered with natural vegetation and homes to many birds and other animals.

Rich in flora and fauna, Pulau Ubin is a popular place for nature lovers. The 20m-tall Jejawi Tower was built in 2007, allowing visitors to have a clear bird-eye view of the greenery. The tower was named after a fig known as Jejawi or Malayan Banyan, home to birds such as bulbuls and pigeons.

There is also a 1-km boardwalk through the Chek Jawa Wetlands, where visitors can do close studies and observations of mangroves, hermit crabs, kingfishers, monitor lizards and nipahs.

Perhaps the most famous structure on Pulau Ubin is the Chek Jawa Visitor Centre. Also known as House No. 1, the Tudor-styled cottage was built in the 30s as a luxurious holiday chalet facing the sea completed with a private jetty.

Built in 1930s by Langdon Williams, former Chief Surveyor of Singapore, the house is perhaps the only place left in Singapore with a workable fireplace. Braving the weathers throughout the decades, the house was badly dilapidated before Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) determined its conservation status in 2003. After more than three years of restoration and replacement of damaged roof, walls and tiles, the Visitor Centre finally opened to the public in July 2007.

In 2000, the Singapore Association of Visually Handicapped (SAVH) and Singapore American School (SAS) adopted the Sensory Trail of Ubin. Visitors can explore the various plants and fruits such as lemon grass, pandan, ciku, guava, tapioca, sweet potato and jackfruit. Dozens are displayed at the “Secret Garden”, including unique ones such as the elephant’s foot, job’s tears, pitaya (or dragon fruit), betel nut and basil.

Pulau Ubin is truly one of the few places left in Singapore largely unaffected by the nation’s rapid urbanisation. In 2002, the government decided to postpone its plan to develop the island, and instead focused on the conversation of the coastal and wetlands of Chek Jawa.

For other information about the island, visit the official Pulau Ubin Website.

Also read A German Deity at Ubin and When the Pulau Ubin Durians Fall.

Published: 05 March 2011

Updated: 25 June 2014

23 Responses to Pulau Ubin

  1. Xi says:

    Such a lovely place.. with much fond memories for Singaporeans. Hopefully the govt will let it remain as it is….

  2. Francis Tan says:

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  3. Annette says:

    I went for 3 weeks on an Outward Bound School course there, in 1971. Had the most marvellous time. We had to jump from the end of that jetty into the water – they told us that it was a 30ft drop. I’ll never forget the fun we had on that island.

  4. Loo Rosalind says:

    I too went there for the Outward Bound School . Best course in my life . Thank you for the beautiful photos … bring me sweet, sweet memories . Thank you Singapore , I am proud to be a Singaporean. Best nation in Asia !

  5. Here’s a very beautiful clip on the wayang performance on Pulau Ubin during the seventh month (with credit to Jeremy Low):

    “A dying tradition that still finds its way around Singapore during the hungry ghost festival. It’s amazing to see the amount of effort and heart these performers put into their show.”

  6. Alamak!! 😦

    The Pulau Ubin house was so special, it was featured in the National Parks Board’s walking trail guide to the island. A taxi driver on the island said he would take tourists inside to show off a “kampung house” whenever the owner was around. But two weeks ago, the 40-year-old house was almost completely destroyed when a durian tree fell on it. Madam Puasa Ahmad, 78, the house owner, was not there when it happened.

  7. Why??
    Why turn Pulau Ubin into an adventure park and resort??
    we don’t need more such parks!



    Letter informs Ubin residents of possible resettlement
    Published on Apr 12, 2013

    Some residents on Pulau Ubin appear to be facing resettlement to make way for a possible adventure park.

    They have been sent a letter telling them that their homes are slated for “clearance”.

    The Housing Board document said officers will visit their premises to conduct a “census survey” and determine their “eligibility of resettlement benefits”. It also suggested the houses will be making way for an adventure park on the 1,020 ha boomerang-shaped island, which is home to some of Singapore’s last kampungs.

    No details were provided but the last time a project like this was mentioned was in 1993. Back then, it was reported that the Government would acquire 254 ha of the private land on Pulau Ubin within the following year, partly to create an adventure park.

  8. Visiting Madam Jariah and Hamidah” photo album by Lawrence Wong

  9. A Commentary: Pulau Ubin and the unsettled Singapore psyche

    Indeed, the uncertainty of Pulau Ubin’s fate has been reflected in official documents through the decades.

    The 1958 Master Plan designated the island as “Mineral Workings” and “Fisheries Reserves”. The 1977 and 1980 Master Plans labelled the island “Rural” and “Unplanned”, respectively. And from the revised 1985 Master Plan to the present 2008 one, Pulau Ubin is seen as an “Open Space, Sports and Recreation, Agriculture, Reserve Site”.

    Hints of development grew clearer in the 1991 Concept Plan. It stated that “Pulau Tekong and Pulau Ubin will be safeguarded for leisure and recreation purposes for as long as possible. However, if the population exceeds four million, they will be developed by Year X — linked to the mainland by the MRT and a major road.”

    The current 2001 Concept Plan removed mention of development but expressed plans to keep Pulau Ubin, Lim Chu Kang and other existing nature areas in their rustic state for as long as possible. A road link from the mainland to the island is still on the cards. The same position was reiterated in the Parks and Waterbodies Plan and Identity Plan 2002.

  10. Wilfred says:

    I was disgusted by SLA’s recent plan to resettle the islanders and develop Pulau Ubin into a recreational resort-park. I love the rustic Pulau Ubin and hope it can be left as it is now. I have many fond memories of Pulau Ubin because I used to stay at Pasir Ris.

    • Mr A. Teo says:

      I sincerely hope that Pulau Ubin will remain as it is, an untouched and natural place to remember for generations to come.
      To ensure that future government will leave Pulau Ubin as it is, maybe the current government should include in the S’pore Constitution that this island must stay untouched.

  11. Ubin’s past ‘worth preserving for future’

    The Straits Times
    Oct 03, 2013

    SLEEPY Pulau Ubin was once a hotbed of rowdy gang activity in pre-war Singapore.

    Initiation ceremonies by secret societies such as Sin Ghee Hin would take place on its shores.

    This is one of several little-known facts uncovered by the National Heritage Board as part of its efforts to document the history of the 10.2 sq km, boomerang-shaped island in the northeastern corner of Singapore.

    A team from the board, headed by group director of policy Alvin Tan, spent the last five months scouring academic texts, newspaper articles and conducting interviews with some of the island’s 38 remaining residents to add to existing literature.

    Mr Tan said publications about the island tend to focus on the island’s flora and fauna and marine life. “Not a lot of research has been done on the lives of the people here, the occupations they held and how the land was used,” he said.

    He added that Pulau Ubin is worth documenting and preserving because it is the “last real kampung in Singapore”.

    There are plans to compile the information from the fact-finding exercise into an e-book and make it available to schools and heritage groups.

    The island hit the headlines in April this year after a notice by the Housing Board led to confusion among islanders that 22 households would be evicted for the development of an “adventure park”.

    But the Government has since clarified that there are no plans for the time being to further develop the island, which is to be kept in a “rustic state for as long as possible”.

    Beyond the research effort, the board also launched a virtual tour of the island’s main hub as part of its Walking Through Heritage series yesterday, while cooking classes organised by the Malay Heritage Centreat a Malay kampung house on the island will take place over the coming weeks.

    By December, a documentary on Ubin’s boat operators will also be uploaded on to the board’s YouTube channel.

    The video will be the final episode of the board’s second season of Heritage In Episodes – a series of short documentaries aimed at connecting with the younger generation through social media.

    The team’s research further delved into detailing heritage sites such as the island’s jetty, which was built by the Japanese during World War II, Singapore’s oldest community centre and the Bin Kiang School, which was set up in 1952 and demolished in 2000.

    Other interesting facts uncovered include how granite from the island was used in the construction of Fort Canning, Pearl’s Hill Reservoir and the Horsburgh Lighthouse on Pedra Branca.

    Islanders such as Mr Kit Kau Chye, 65, a boat operator and chairman of the Changi Point Ferry Association, said the island is worth documenting and conserving.

    “Through these materials, I hope Singaporeans and other visitors will get to learn more about the island’s rich history and make a visit here,” he said.

    • Richard and Christine Barrett says:

      My family and I spent many happy weekends on Pulau Ubin in the 1960s and 1970s. We stayed in a bungalow which was on a long lease to the Borneo Company. Electric lighting was supplied by a generator and we washed with water taken from a large Shanghai jar. My husband celebrated his 21st birthday there in August 1952 and over the years we held children’s birthday parties on the island. Happy memories of a very special place – we are reluctant to return because I guess the old house has been demolished.

  12. Radha says:

    I have so much respect for this blog. The pictures make me teary eyed with nostalgia. I have lived away from Singapore for almost 20 years, and every time I go back, am stunned at how things keep changing. Your photos and descriptions tear away the shield I use to pretend I am not heartsick at being so far away, and leave me feeling raw. Yet I am glad that you have preserved the past so lovingly. We have so much history, so much to tie us to one another. I almost feel I am back in my youth, perspiring in my school uniform at an orange bus stop, reading an actual paper book to pass the time!

  13. Fergus says:

    Friends of mine owned House No. 1 and I spent many happy weekends there in the 1970s and 1980s before they were served with a compulsory purchase order and kicked out. The house was then left empty and deteriorated badly for many years until it was restored and turned into the visitors’ centre.

  14. Ken says:

    Pulau Ubin indeed a remarkable and beautiful place for those who appreciates nature and Kampung lives. I have been there countless times thou last visited was 1 year ago, every visit always bring joy and peace.
    The estimated 25mins boat ride is already rewarding for urban stayers, and when I stepped ashore, never failed to be greeted by friendly smily folks, apart from fresh air, u get to eat fresh seafood from run down but well equipped coffeeshop, u can choose cheap bicycle rental to explore the entire island or hire a cab/van to bring u around some popular attractions like Quarries, Temples, beaches or newly introduced chalets.
    I really hope this island can be preserved and stay for our future generations where they can learnt how our forefathers had lived and left behind.
    Thank you editors who created this page and share these wonderful photos.

  15. Owen Jones says:

    I moved to Singapore last year and just visited Pulau Ubin for the first time, and expect I will make many more visits! What a wonderful relief from the intensity found everywhere else in Singapore. They is no way anyone should let this place be “developed”, that would be a disaster. Hopefully there is onough feeling in Singapore to make sure that never happens.

  16. Melissa tan says:

    I went for OBS in 1979..PU 125!!! Such great memories! Canoed around the island, dingy sailing, absailing, rockclimbling, etc… There was a night where we had solo overnight camp in the hill top! Fast forward…I took my son, nieces and nephews to explore and hike in the 90s. Please…preserve the island.

  17. Pulau Ubin ‘far from a dying town’

    03 October 2015
    The Straits Times

    A forested route in Pulau Ubin that is the dwelling of poisonous snakes and wild boars leads to a mangrove swamp that Mr Quek Kim Kiang frequents daily to catch crabs. Using a hook attached to a pole, the 63-year-old fishes out the edible crustaceans from the mud. He then sells them to families on the island or the mainland for about $25 a kilogram.

    Mr Quek’s daily routine was uncovered by anthropologist Vivienne Wee, who has discovered “hubs of economic activity and vast social networks within and beyond the island”.

    She said this puts to rest the assumption that the island, home to 38 residents – down from 2,000 in the 1950s to 1970s – is a dying town. Through her research, she found that the islanders have established links with people beyond the island, such as former residents, as well as the 300,000 day trippers it gets annually. She said that heritage, nature and sports interest groups also have ties to the place.

    Dr Wee, managing director of anthropology company Ethnographica, was commissioned by the National Heritage Board (NHB) to map the island’s multi-faceted layers of social history. This is the first such comprehensive effort for Pulau Ubin.

    She is leading a five-member research team, which started work in April and has conducted interviews with more than 20 residents. The project is expected to be completed by December or January. NHB assistant chief executive of policy and development Alvin Tan agreed with Dr Wee’s assessment.

    “Everyone thinks the trades here are in decline, but that is not true. There is a actually a sense of rejuvenation and renewal,” he said.

    For instance, Mr Quek, hoping to pass on his crab-catching skills, has taken a disciple under his wing.

    “I am passing on my technique to a nine-year-old boy from Singapore who comes here on weekends to fish with his father,” he said.

    The information gathered by Dr Wee and her team so far can be clustered into categories such as economic activities, trades and skills; social lives and relationships; religious festivals; and kampung architecture. The cultural mapping project, first suggested by the Singapore Heritage Society, was undertaken by NHB.

    It is one of the board’s contributions to an ongoing Ubin Project led by the Ministry of National Development.

    The ministry is working with the community and other government agencies through its Friends of Ubin Network to gather ideas on how to maintain the island’s rustic charm. Its plans include preserving Ubin’s nature, biodiversity and heritage.

    NHB’s Mr Tan said research findings will be shared with the network “to help the authorities develop sensitive strategies to retain and enhance the island’s rustic charms”. The project also builds on NHB’s earlier work on the island, which includes a 2013 documentation of its historical sites, a documentary on its boatmen and a virtual tour.

    Among Dr Wee’s other interviewees is farmer turned drink-seller Wang Xiao San, known by islanders as Madam Lai Huat So, 76. She represents the varied skillsets of an average islander. Madam Lai, who zips around the 10.2 sq km, boomerang-shaped island on a motorbike, used to farm vegetables, grow fruit trees, rear poultry and cultivate prawns.

    While she continues to maintain 90 durian trees and 10 rambutan and jackfruit trees, her main source of income today is from her Ah Ma Drink Stall along Jalan Jelutong, on the island’s main strip.

    The stall – a blue wooden structure built by her late husband – still gets about 100 customers a day on weekends, thanks to day trippers. Madam Lai also exhibits the island’s culture of self-reliance, as she is able to build structures such as chicken coops on her own.

    She picked up these skills from her late father, an influential islander credited with building most of Pulau Ubin’s kampung homes.

    In addition, the island’s Wei To Temple complex, on which a Hindu shrine was recently established alongside a Tibetan Buddhist temple and Taoist temple, is evidence that the landscape is continually evolving, said Dr Wee.

    The shrine is just a few months old and is where deities from demolished Hindu temples on mainland Singapore were relocated by devotees.


  18. Juliana Lim says:

    My grand-uncle (a 1920-30s building contractor) David Wee Cheng Soon leased land on the NW side of Pulau Ubin from 1920s – 1944 and probably mined granite from there for Maxwell Road police station, Singapore General Hospital, Makepeace Road and we understand, House no. 1. We discovered recently that his wife’s younger sister Cecelia Tan lived just 100m to left of House no. 1 in the 1950/60s. It was a beautiful Eureka moment for us which I’m thrilled to share (with RememberSG’s approval). Thank you! – Juliana Lim

  19. Sally Nunn (Dalgliesh) says:

    Reading the posts about the visitor centre has brought back many memories. In the 1950″s an 60’s my parents used to regularly rent the house for a month at a time and a lot of my growing up was there.with many friends invited to stay. There was a rowing boat that was stored in the house called Bootlebumtrinket and many early mornings were spent fishing from it. As a child I could wander off anywhere on the island on my own and my parents knew I was safe. I have many pictures taken there.

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