The scenic sights and historical structures of Pulau Ubin

The island was formerly home to close to 4,000 locals. Today, there are only 38 villagers left.

Zahin Ilmi

Sports enthusiast and expert overthinker.

Published: 30 June 2022, 9:46 AM

Whether it’s for an overnight camping trip or a short getaway, Pulau Ubin has served as one of the more renowned recreational destinations in Singapore over the past decades.

Home to only a small population of approximately 38 villagers today, Pulau Ubin was formerly a granite quarrying hub with close to 4,000 villagers in the 1970s before its transition into a popular getaway destination today.

However, despite the decrease in population, Pulau Ubin’s rich variety of natural flora, fauna, and man-made structures from its past remains present on the island today to tell its unique story.

As you venture around the island for your next hike or cycling trip, keep your eyes peeled for some of these sights at Pulau Ubin.

1. The 2-in-1 tree

It is nearly impossible to miss the sight of the huge banyan located along the Kampong Tree Trail, especially with its tall branches and characteristic aerial roots.

However, what most might not know is that there is actually another tree hidden within the banyan tree.


According to a villager on the island, the host tree in the middle is a durian tree. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/MUHD ZAHIN ILMI


Such an occurrence is due to the fact that banyan trees are strangler figs, which characteristically grow around a host tree.

The seeds of the banyan tree are first scattered on top of a host tree through bird droppings, before they eventually fall onto the ground. As its roots start to grow and its branches begin to develop, the banyan tree will eventually smother the host tree in between and kill it.

2. The cinnamon tree

Just next to the majestic banyan tree is the cinnamon tree, which is much more discreet in contrast due to its smaller size.

As the name suggests, the cinnamon tree is the source of the cinnamon spice that is used in our everyday cooking. If you take a whiff of the tree’s bark, you’ll also likely catch the familiar scent of cinnamon.


Apart from its bark, you can also smell the scent of cinnamon by crushing a dried cinnamon leaf. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/MUHD ZAHIN ILMI


Apart from its conventional use as a spice in food preparations, some also use cinnamon as medicine.

Villagers of the past believed that the tree had healing properties and would use the cinnamon tree’s bark to reduce fever symptoms and use the other parts of the tree to treat illnesses such as gastrointestinal and urinary problems.

3. The kapok tree and its red-coloured pests

Similar to the banyan tree, the kapok tree is also one that is hard to miss due to its huge size. 

However, apart from its size, it can also be easily identified by its surroundings, which are typically scattered with brown pods and a white, cotton-like substance known as kapok.

The brown pods are a product of the kapok tree, which grows on its branches before falling onto the ground, where they burst open when they are ripe to release the kapok inside it.

If you take a closer look at the ripe brown pods, you may also catch a glimpse of little bright-red insects known as cotton stainer bugs. 


As the name suggests, the cotton stainer bugs damage the kapok by staining them with excrement. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/MUHD ZAHIN ILMI


As the kapok from the pods are water resistant and buoyant, it is also typically used to make items such as mattresses, life jackets and quilts.

4. The Jelutung bridge

While it may appear as any other bridge, the Jelutung bridge is one that carries a large piece of Pulau Ubin’s history.

Formerly a cluster of five smaller islets separated by tidal rivers, Pulau Ubin was united by the building of bunds for prawn farming, which was introduced to the island in the late 1950s.

Sluice gates, such as the one found at Jelutung bridge, were attached to the bunds and used to regulate the water levels of prawn ponds in order to harvest the prawns.

While it was primarily kept closed, the sluice gates would be open from time to time to let the water out and catch any prawns that were moving out of the water.

The gate would also be opened when the water was at a high tide as it allowed prawn larvae to flow into the pond. The gate however will be closed when the tide begins receding to keep a suitable level of water.


Water in the pond was also regularly flushed to ensure the healthy condition of the water for the prawns to grow. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/MUHD ZAHIN ILMI


While the sluice gates are no longer in use, the Jelutung bridge remains intact today, and makes for an ideal spot for a quick water break with a view.

5. Mangrove habitats

Home to the largest mangrove areas in Singapore, mangrove species such as the Rhizophora and the Bruguiera are common sights all around Pulau Ubin.

The mangrove habitats are characterised by brackish water and mangrove plants with unique root formations, such as the Rhizophora’s propped roots and the Bruguiera’s knee roots.

The Nipah Palm, which produces the attap-chee fruit used in local desserts such as ice kacang, can also be found at the mangroves around the island.


Mangroves are desalination plants as they can naturally filter out the salt from salt water and secrete the excess salt through their leaves due to high salt tolerance in their tissues.


Apart from shrubs and trees, mangroves are also home to several species of aquatic animals, such as the Mud Lobster, Tree Climbing Crab and the Half-beak Fish.

The mangrove habitats also serve as an important nursery ground and breedings sites for birds, insects, spiders, fishes, crustaceans, shellfish, reptiles and mammals due to its conditions.

6. The Pekan quarry

Formerly named Pulau Batu Jubin, which translates to Granite Stone Island, Pulau Ubin was home to 10 functioning granite quarries. In the 1970s, the quarries were used to mine for granite that would eventually be used in the construction of various structures on the mainland in the 1970s.

In 1999 however, the granite quarries were closed, and while four were removed from the island, six of them remain and have since been converted into scenic viewpoints and habitats for biodiversity. 

One of such quarries is the Pekan quarry, which also houses a floating wetland with a Heron nesting platform that was introduced in 2015 as part of a habitat enhancement project.

If you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the Grey Heron, Purple Heron or Great-billed Heron flying by or resting atop the platform.


The plants on the wetlands filter sediments, heavy metals and other pollutants in the water to prevent contaminants from flowing downstream into water bodies.PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/MUHD ZAHIN ILMI


The National Parks Board (NParks) have also introduced a Youth Steward for Nature initiative known as the Pekan Quarry Citizen Science Bird Survey. 

The initiative involves the public in monitoring the number of birds using the nesting platforms to gather data to aid decision makers in formulating future conservation strategies.

With scenic trails and a plethora of flora, fauna and structures on the island, Pulau Ubin is definitely a place to consider for your next hike or cycling trip.

As you explore the island, keep your eyes peeled for these unique sights, and of course, don’t forget your mosquito repellent!

This article is written with inputs from Amalena and Desiree, instructors at Outward Bound Singapore.

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