PULAU UBIN & CHANGI VILLAGE
PULAU UBIN (GRANITE ISLAND)
Just a 10-minute bumboat away from Singapore's mainland lies Pulau Ubin ("Ubin"), a delightful rustic retreat teeming with ecological diversity. Ubin is certainly an "off the beaten track" destination.
Home to about 200 inhabitants, the rural lifestyle here has changed little over the last 3 decades. Ubin is one of those rare places where you can find "kelongs" (traditional fishing huts built on stilts over the sea), "kampongs" (Malay villages), farms, rubber plantations, coconut groves, and trees laden with local fruits like durian, rambutan and chempedak.
A number of abandoned granite quarries, filled with water, dot the island. Wildlife is abundant, especially the bird life and the marine life along the coastline. In all, over 150 bird species have been spotted on the island.
Ubin also appears to be a "dumping ground" for old, used vehicles in Singapore. Taxi cabs and motorcycles which used to operate in Singapore from the 1960s are now used by the inhabitants of Ubin.
To get to Ubin, take the MRT to Tanah Merah MRT Station (EW4), then board Bus No. 2 to Changi Village bus interchange. Changi Point jetty is not far from the bus interchange. From the jetty, take a bumboat ride (S$2 per adult one way) to Ubin. The bumboat will only depart when there are 12 passengers or if the whole boat is chartered for S$24. The bumboat service operates from 6.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. by private operators. Admission to Ubin is free.
On reaching Ubin, pay a visit to its Information Kiosk (to the right of the jetty) to collect a map of the island. On the 4th Saturday of each month, free guided walks of Ubin depart from the Information Kiosk at 9.30a.m. and 10.00a.m. Contact Yook Sau at (65) 6542 4842 for more information.
Shaped like a boomerang, the island is 8 km in length and 1.7 km in width. You can get around it easily by bicycle, which can be rented cheaply on the island. The bicycle rental shops are concentrated in the village, to the left of the jetty. Competition for business is keen and rental for a full-day is about S$8. Remember to check the condition of the brakes before you ride off as the terrain is hilly. Be led by your sense of adventure and you'll find your trip most enjoyable and fulfilling.
Exploring Ubin can take a good part of the morning and afternoon. Eating places are scarce and you are unlikely to be near one during lunch, it's a good idea to bring some food with you. In any case, remember to bring lots of water and look out for falling durians!
TANJONG CHEK JAWA
Until recently, the south-eastern coast of Ubin called Tanjong Chek Jawa was the best kept secret from nature-lovers in Singapore.
Chek Jawa is an area with mangrove swamps, rocky beaches, mudflats, and seagrass beds (with at least 5 different species of seagrasses), all rolled into one. There is also an abundance of marine life, such as sea cucumbers, sea squirts, sand dollars, anemones, crabs, shrimps, nudibranch, burrowing worms, etc. At very low tide, an enormous variety of multi-coloured sponges are exposed.
Chek Jawa is best visited during low tides of 0.5m and below, when you will be able to see most of the marine life. At higher tides, the area will be submerged by water. If you can help it, avoid visiting Chek Jawa over the weekend when it is least tranquil.
Until late last year, the Singapore Government had plans to reclaim the site of Chek Jawa for development. Nature lovers rallied against the move and the Singapore Government surprised the nation when it eventually retreated and shelved its reclamation plans. Unfortunately, in their bid to save Chek Jawa, the public outcry of the nature lovers brought about another problem. Throngs of curious onlookers began to descend upon Chek Jawa, thinking that it was their last chance to visit the national treasure.
Fearful that the hordes of people would frighten away the marine life and destroy the natural habitat of the area, the National Parks Board has now imposed a system whereby all visitors to Chek Jawa must register themselves at the National Parks Information Desk (at the basketball court opposite the Ubin Community Centre in the village).
Do not walk barefoot at Chek Jawa as the marine creatures will defend themselves in an unpleasant manner should you accidentally step on them. Wear closed shoes with laces and hard soles. You are also advised to slather yourself with insect repellant and to bring a spare change of clothes. To wash up, there is a well nearby. There are no toilets (the last toilet stop is at the jetty).
While at Chek Jawa, keep an eye on the tide, as it is stressful to walk back at tide levels above 0.7m.
CHANGI CHAPEL & MUSEUM
If you have some time to spare or if your trip to Ubin got rained out, catch Bus No. 2 from Changi Village to Changi Chapel & Museum (1000 Upper Changi North Road). It's 12 bus-stops away and the bus fare is S$1.30.
The chapel and museum was built in 1988 by the inmates of Changi Prison (Singapore's maximum security prison), which is just one bus-stop away. The chapel, which is located in the open-air courtyard of the museum, is a replica of those built during the Second World War.
The letters, photographs, drawings and personal effects in the museum gives a horrifying account of atrocities which took place during the the Japanese occupation (15 February 1942 to September 1945). During that grim period, more than 50,000 civilians and soldiers were imprisoned by the Japanese in Changi. The shores of Changi Beach, near Changi Village, were where 66 male Chinese civilians were killed by the Japanese hojo kempei (auxiliary military police) firing squads at the water's edge on 20 February 1942. They were among the tens of thousands who were massacred during the Japanese occupations to purge suspected anti-Japanese civilians within Singapore's Chinese population.
Climb to the roof-top of the museum for an elevated view of the chapel and the surrounding area.
The garden next to the museum features a collection of local plants which civilians relied on as supplements to their diet during the Japanese Occupation.
The museum is open from 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. On Sundays, Sunday service is conducted at the chapel from 5.30 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. You're more than welcome to join in the service.
Tonight, you have 2 choices for beachfront dining. Both options are off the beaten track.
PASIR RIS PARK
The first is at Paris Ris Park. "Pasir Ris" is Malay for "beach bolt-rope". Not surprisingly, the beach is a narrow one.
The park is popular with families and I have fond memories of its playground. The park has transformed over the years and it now features a boardwalk over a mangrove swamp, a hedge maze, an amphitheatre, canoe and jet ski rental. Take a walk around the park, then enjoy a hawker-style dinner at its Fisherman's Village. Choose from a variety of outlets selling barbequed seafood, frog legs and other local fare.
To get there, return to Tanah Merah MRT Station by Bus No. 2, then ride the MRT to Paris Ris MRT Station. The bus fare costs S$1.30 and the MRT fare costs S$1.20. From Tanah Merah MRT Station, catch Bus No. 403. Alight just before Paris Ris Way. The bus fare costs S$1.20.
NSRCC SEA SPORTS CENTRE
Your second alternative for beachfront dining, which in my view is a better alternative, is at NSRCC Sea Sports Centre (10, Changi Coast Walk). "NSRCC" stands for National Service Resort & Country Club. Members of the sea sports centre are national servicemen i.e. military personnel. In Singapore, it is compulsory for guys to serve 2 ½ years of national service. You don't have to be a member to dine at the sea sports centre though.
For years, the unique dining experience offered by the South Changi Restaurant at the sea sports centre was the best kept secret. Enjoy a candlelight dinner right on the beach with the sea breeze caressing your hair. Occasionally, aircrafts taking off and landing at Changi Airport whiz overhead. The restaurant serves steaks, seafood off the grill, and a comprehensive array of local food. The burgers here are excellent, especially when you order it with sautéed onions and a fried egg. Yummy! Prices are reasonable too. You can get something from about S$5 onwards.
Public buses do not stop anywhere near here, so you'll have to take a cab. I estimate the cab fare to be about S$5 or less from either Changi Village or Changi Chapel & Museum. All cabs in Singapore are metered. A regular-sized cab can carry a maximum of 4 passengers. If you're sharing a cab with others, this could work out to be a cheaper alternative than taking the bus and MRT to Paris Ris Park. Also a meal here is probably cheaper and the ambience more appealing than at Pasir Ris Park.
The sea sports centre is out of the way and it's hard to spot. Make sure your cab driver knows the way or you'll have to pay for his aimless driving. The sea sports centre is close to Tanah Merah Country Club and, by night, it glows in blue.
After dinner, you can retreat to the Yachtsman Tavern above the restaurant, where there's karaoke and a pool table.
If you're beat and want to return to the Hostel, your cheapest transport option is probably to take a cab to Changi Airport and ride the MRT from there.
If you're game for more activity, return to Changi Village by cab.
Tucked away at one end of the hawker centre at Changi Village is Charlie's Corner. They're open on weekdays from 11.00 a.m. to 2.30 p.m., then 6.00 p.m. to 11.00 p.m. They're closed on weekends when the cook goes fishing. Charlie's Corner is famous for their chicken wings, fish n chips, and their well-stocked fridge with ice-cold beer from all round the world. Enjoy the laid back atmosphere here.
Each night as the clock approaches 11.00 p.m., Changi Village becomes a magnet for transsexuals, who parade along the walkways and the two carparks adjacent in their svelte figures and highly seductive outfits, soliciting for business. I must add that they are really beautiful. It's a pity that their voices are a dead give-away. The queens work till about 6.00 a.m.
Changi Village is well-known for another delicacy, one of the best nasi lemak (rice cooked with coconut milk and served with deep-fried chicken wing, egg, and anchovies) in Singapore. the nasi lemak stall called International Muslim Food Stall is located at #01-57 at the hawker centre. You can't miss the queue in front of the stall. The stall opens for business at 6.00 p.m. and stops when they're sold out.
With all the nightlife in this area, it's unlikely that you'll make it for the last MRT train which departs from Tanah Merah MRT Station at 11.30 p.m. After the grub, take Bus No. 2 to Bugis MRT Station instead. The last bus departs from Changi Village at 11.45 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, and at 11.30 p.m. on Sundays and public holidays. You can walk back to the Hostel from Bugis MRT Station.
~ Happy Touring ~
Copyright 2002 © The InnCrowd. All Rights Reserved.
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