Tuesday 8 October 2013

Island hopping

Every weekend in Singapore can be a mini holiday. And as Singapore is more than just the main island, it actually consists of sixty-three islands all together, it is time to explore another one than the one we live on. 

We, our family of five and my visiting parents, take a bumboat out to Pulau Ubin. At the ferry terminal, where we are waiting for some more people to arrive to fill up a boat that seats twelve, Roel nudges me. Shouldn't we have bought our passports? No, I reassure him, Pulau Ubin might be out in the Strait of Johor, it is part of Singapore. Still, just after landing on the island, my mobile bleeps ‘welcome to Malaysia’, and that reflects just how we feel at Pulau Ubin: in a different country. Guidebooks will tell you that Pulau Ubin is where you can go if you want to see what Singapore used to be like years ago, before skyscrapers and shopping malls overtook kampongs and muddy hills.

Straight after alighting from the bumboat it is obvious what people come here to do: cycling. Rows and rows of shops try to let us their two-wheeled wares. The bicycle does seem the nicest and easiest way to navigate the islet, and we Dutch feel right at home. Even though Opa and his grandson watch them with hungry eyes, we decide not too. Apart from the grandparents we have a toddler in tow, and the temperature is soaring well into the thirties. Shall we, anyhow, do it? No. We really shouldn’t.

Oma asks how large this island is, and whether it is the same size as the Dutch wadden-island of Texel. I laugh. The whole of Singapore is not much larger than Texel, and Pulau Ubin measures little over ten kilometres square. After a short walk through a sensory garden we feel hot, flustered, and hungry enough for a Pepper Crab lunch and some cool drinks. In Singapore’s heat energy levels get drained fast, and proper walks, like bicycle tours, are best left for cloudy days. 

We decide to take one of the taxi’s waiting by the jetty to drive us to the Chek Jawa Nature Reserve. It is a mangrove reserve, which worries Oma, as she is not wearing the right shoes for mud tramping, but again, I can comfort her quickly. Pulau Ubin is still Singapore. Singaporeans do not trod mud. The whole reserve is laid out with wooden boardwalks, through both mud flats and sea, perfectly suited for toddlers in buggies, kids on scooters or their flip-flopped grandparents. Distances are short, and there are plenty of nice shelters on the way for rest and much needed hydration. 

There so much to see and admire. Weird mangrove trees with their roots sticking out through the mud, and their seeds, hanging like arrows pointing from branches. Mud skippers. Mud lobsters, or better said their mounds that look like muddy volcanoes. Fiddler crabs with humongous claws. Striped nose halfbeak pointy fish. Snails. Lizards. Birds. Wild boar snuffing up our buggy. A Mock Tudor house on a hill, with a view. And, as this is still Singapore, across the sea oilrigs, an LPG tanker, and plenty of aircraft in the sky. 

So. Singapore Island, Sentosa, and Pulau Ubin done. Only sixty to go.


  1. I love this - and I loved PU when we went to visit a few weeks ago. To me it is Malaysia, or a little bit of Malaysia. I know it's not the real deal but it's as close as we can get without fishing out the passports. Lovely!

  2. Interesting read and love the photo of the kids at the end!

  3. I have visited malaysia, and was surprised by the boardwalks. You brought back nice memories. Thanks