Just a five-minute ferry ride from Singapore’s busy streets is Pulau Ubin, a near pristine island oasis with some of the best city-fringe cycling and mountain biking in Southeast Asia, perfect for those seeking a little respite from the city.
A slice of history
For many years Pulau Ubin – which mean “granite island” in Malay – was used as a quarry for the granite used in many of the nation’s major structures, including the causeway that links Singapore to Malaysia.
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But quarrying started to decline in the 1970s and only small-scale operations exist on the island today. This withdrawal has left behind a slice of Singapore from 50 years ago: an overgrown and rugged landscape, a small number of wooden, old-style Malay and Chinese kampongs (villages), around 100 residents and little else.
Despite being earmarked for high-rise housing development and a proposed MRT tunnel link to the mainland, Pulau Ubin has managed to remain green and natural. There are no traffic jams or shopping complexes, not a single KFC or Starbucks, and very little urban stress, making it a favourite weekend retreat for both locals and visitors.
There are very few motorised vehicles on Ubin, and even fewer roads. Bicycles are the way to get around, and in 2007 a superb mountain bike trail network was put in place; the 45 hectare Ketam Mountain Bike Park, an all-weather, manmade route that has solidified the island’s unofficial title of “Bicycle Island”. The park even has International Mountain Bicycling Association endorsement, which pays testimony to its quality riding.
From gridlock to greenery
Stepping off the old “bumboat” ferry onto Ubin’s narrow wooden jetty is a relief, with the hustle and the stress of the city suddenly a world away.
Just a few metres from the shore is a tiny kampong with a few restaurants, all set in traditional, single-storey wooden shops. There are also bikes – hundreds of them – that are purely for visitors. Rent a bike (or bring your own) and follow the only pathway out of the village. This is the start of 10km of mountain bike trails.
Weaving through calming woodland and across open grassland on gently winding singletrack trails is a tonic to the heat and hurry of the city. For experienced mountain bikers there are demanding single sections, with short but tough climbs, hillside switchbacks and rocky sections.
For less-skilled riders, Ubin also has a network of rolling and flat gravel roads, and even the odd sealed stretch. By using the gravel roads you can reach the more remote areas of the islands, including the 100-hectare Chek Jawa wetland area, which has a walkway and viewing platform, affording great bird and marine life spotting opportunities.
Ketam’s master trail builders have also created a skills area with manmade obstacles to negotiate and a pump track (a BMX-style section for jumping) by the trails’ starting point, which can be great fun for those wishing to spice up their ride.
You can circumnavigate the entire island in half a day, and would be unlikely to hear the roar of a single engine. With its one-way directional ride system you can plod – or blast – away in peace.
Pulau Ubin is a short ferry ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal. Bikes are not allowed on the MRT or on local buses, so if you are taking your own wheels then it is best to ride to the terminal or to take a taxi.
Bike rental costs between eight and 14 Singapore dollars, depending on the rental duration and bike quality. The rental mountain bikes found on the island are well used and of reasonable standard.