Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pulau Ubin - the last kampung of Singapore

Village dwellings at Pulau Ubin, a short boat ride out from Singapore.
Imagine a Singapore with no cars or high-rise buildings, just small huts on tilts and electricity by generators only, surrounded by a noisy bird-filled jungle... well, that's Pulau Ubin, or the Granite Island, just a short 10 minutes bumboat ride from the east coast. A trip here takes you back to Singapore of the 1960's or 70's, to a kampong life that was eased by more modern lifestyles from the main island - just like from so many other places in Asia.
This small island was named after its rolling granite hills, that supported a couple of small quarries and provided work for a few thousands islanders a century ago. Others cleared off most of the native jungle, and planted crops like rubber, coffee, pineapple, coconut and jasmine. Today, the quarries have closed and a lush jungle again covers the island. Only some hundred villagers still live at Pulau Ubin, supported by farming or by tourists - mainly Singaporeans coming for a biking tour amidst the greenery during the weekends, and having a seafood dinner in the green while on the island.

Despite all complains about a continuous destruction of "genuine Singapore", Pulau Ubin seems to have a bright future - the government has seen the value of this quaint island, and has already gently developed it as a park. A new project is on way looking into ways of conserving the lifestyle and nature of the island, so it seems that the charms of Pulau Ubin can be enjoyed by coming generations of Singaporeans. Take time to get out there, spend a couple of hours strolling the narrow roads, listen to the birds and cicadas, and have a messy dinner of chili crab and steamed fish - you would never guess you are only half an hour away from one of the busiest ports and financial centers of Asia!

 Bumboats waiting for travelers - 10 minutes and $2 is all you need to get to Pulau Ubin.

 Approaching the tiny harbor... 

The village seen from the sea - one of the "famous but simple" seafood restaurants on the left; many Singaporeans take the trip to Ubin only to eat a lunch or dinner there.

Village center - no cars, as only bikes are allowed on the island.

The village temple dedicated to Tua Peck Kong, a Daoist god of prosperity; the islanders think that he helped to spare them from diverse atrocities during the Japanese occupation.

The local grocery store selling coconuts - guaranteed fresh and local...

Most tourists on the island are Singaporeans who bike around the beautiful and car-free island.
 One of many hiking paths, between two large ponds growing waterlilies and lotuses.

Dark pink waterlilies in the bright sun.

One of the local houses, probably with a romantic view over the palm-surrounded pond.  

Another kampung house, with chickens running inside the corrugated iron fence.
A well-renowned seafood place, still going strong despite the faded sign (we tested - the steamed white fish with ginger and shallots was delicious!).  
Yet another village house, by the sea.
And a bumboat ride back home with my kind of a captain - look at the mini garden on roof; he even had potted plants inside the boat!

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