Travelling is about meeting the unexpected. At least, when you do it right, it is. And about keeping your eyes and ears open for opportunities. And giving yourself credit for doing it, which is what I am about to do.
As we were hiking to the Annapurna base camp, I’ve spotted a billboard in Chomrong, reproducing an article in The Times that was promoting the joys of a break at a certain cafe on the next hilltop. The article was absolutely right – the cafe was spotlessly clean, the service friendly, the views unrivalled and the break mostly welcome after the long climb. But as I am addicted to reading whatever printed text I lay my eyes on, I’ve read the whole article, which was about enjoying relaxed spots in faraway places. One of the places mentioned was Pulau Ubin, a small island offshore Singapore. Singapore is of course offshore itself, but in addition to the main island the city-state is comprised of dozens of smaller ones, some unihnabited, others, like Sentosa, resembling Disneyland. Pulau Ubin was praised by The Times as an opportunity to experience Singapore as it once was.
We’ve spent a few days in Singapore as a pleasant acclimatization step between the turbulent Asia and the Westernized New Zealand. On the last day with a few hours to spare before our flight, we decided to give Pulau Ubin a shot. Pulau Ubin is relatively close to the famous Singapore airport, but the feel of it couldn’t have been more distant. Getting there was not a trivial affair, invlovling train, bus and boat, fortunately all perfectly connected. The progressive means of transport were moving further and further away from the high-tech image of Singapore, culminating with the rather squeaky ferry boat with space for no less than 12 passengers. All it lacked was a pair of chicken and a pig on board and you’d never know that you’re in one of the richest countries on earth and not in a remote corner of Sichuan province.
The chicken and pigs were all present at Pulau Ubin, and The Times was right on the money again – if you want to know what Singapore was like before it got rich – go to Pulau Ubin. Bicycle is the number 1 transport on the island, and renting one is totally worth it – Pulau Ubin is small, but still big enough to get tired if you’re walking. There’s little if any traffic on the local dirt roads and the slopes are very moderate, accessible to even the most inexperienced cyclist. But the best thing about Pulau Ubin is the wildlife. Yes, there’s wildlife in Singapore, outside the superb Singapore Zoo and the wonderful Jurong Bird Park. On Pulau Ubin there are wild pigs, kingfishers, weird crawling fish and even beautiful monitor lizards are running around, in perfectly natural setting, without any fences or nets. There are also a couple of fishermen villages that supposedly serve great seafood but it was really time for us to go. We finished our Asian adventures in style – chilling in the rooftop swimming pool in the airport before the long flight to New Zealand.
I liked Singapore a lot – the food, the friendly people, the shopping walhalla, the variety of temples, the amusement parks and the excellent museums. And I am also very happy I’ve stopped on that path in Chomrong to read the whole billboard – thanks to it I’ve seen the quiet side of Singapore in Pulau Ubin. Tourists usually spend just a few hours or a day in Singapore in between flights and many never leave Changi airport, which is rightfully famous for its excellent facilities. I promise you, though, that there’s more to Singapore than just the airport. Should you be in the area, I would suggest to take a few days to get a full taste of what this suprisingly diverse tiny country has to offer. If you’re really just passing by, and you would like to have a different, laid-back kind of a Singapore stopover – a trip to Pulau Ubin might be just the thing for you.