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A Bumboat Ride into Singapore's Past

Reconnecting with nature in one of the world's most cosmoplitan cities.

When you spend most days caught up in the hustle and bustle of urban life, it’s easy to forget how rejuvenating the outdoors can be. I did. Luckily, one successful adventure is all it takes to jog your memory. Mine happened to be an impromptu escape to the island of Pulau Ubin.

Pulau Ubin is only a 15-minute bumboat ride from the Changi Point jetty in Singapore’s northeast corner, but travelling to the island is a bit like stepping back in time. The island is currently off-limits to developers, which means no paved roads, concrete buildings or urban construction of any sort. Instead, visitors are afforded a glimpse of life in pre-industrial Singapore. There are aging wooden houses, abandoned plantations and an abundance of flora and fauna. Wild animal sightings— monkeys, otters, and even boars—are a frequent occurrence.

One of the first things you see when you walk into the main village is a bicycle. Actually, make that hundreds of bicycles. A bike is a great way to get around the island and dozens of renters have opened shop since Pulau Ubin became a popular tourist destination. Rentals are cheap too; my friend Melissa and I adopted a baby blue tandem for S$6/hour and set off on a self-guided bike tour of Pulau Ubin.

We had great time riding around the island, pedaling our rusty single-gear uphill and coasting down “steep” slopes—yep, there were warning signs screaming danger—that reminded me more of a suburban driveway than a black diamond ski run. A quiet lake, an empty shack and a giant tree trunk provided backdrops for photo ops.

I hadn't ridden a bicycle or been in the woods in over five months. Feeling the wind in my face and hearing the sounds of wildlife reminded me just how much I love being in the great outdoors. There’s nothing quite like spending time with Mother Nature, even if it’s only for a day. Melissa and I ended our excursion with a delicious seafood dinner in the village, a must for anyone visiting Pulau Ubin.

Getting away from the high-rise buildings and high-speed connectivity of Singapore city without leaving the country was a pretty special experience. I’ve made a mental note to re-visit Pulau Ubin for a second round of R&R, hopefully sooner than later.

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Tiffany Wang

Tiffany is an International Fellow at Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore, where she teaches in the School of Film & Media Studies. A Californian at heart, Tiffany previously lived in Greece and has visited 22 countries around the world. She spends her free time rock climbing, drinking coconuts and relaxing by bodies of water. 

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