Pulau Ubin is an island located off the northeastern coasts of mainland Singapore. Covering 10 square kilometres in land space, Ubin is Singapore's second-largest offshore island just behind Pulau Tekong Besar and could be seen from the beaches of Punggol to Changi.
First inhabited by the Orang Laut and indigenous Malays of Bugis and Javanese descent in the 16th century, the thriving granite mining industry at the turn of the 20th century saw the population peak with over 2,000 Chinese and Malay inhabitants on the island . Today, only 20 over residents remain.
Pulau Ubin is now revered by Singaporeans and visitors from all over the world as an eco-tourist attraction, where nature lovers could find respite from the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan city by engaging in recreational activities and exploring the wildlife here.
While the regreening of the island landscape is a celebrated move in our combined efforts to combat climate change, it remains bittersweet especially for the Orang Pulau community, for them to witness the place their homes once stood reduced to nothing more than overgrowth.
With just 13 houses remaining, Kampung Sungei Durian on Pulau Ubin now stands as the last remaining kampung for the Orang Pulaus of Singapore.
A name that rocks
How the island got its name
"Ubin" is derived from "batu jubin" which means "granite rock" in Malay, which comes as no surprise as the whole island sits on top of the Bukit Timah Granite — a local geological formation dating back to the Early to Middle Triassic Age over 250 to 235 million years ago .
Initially, the island was called Pulau Batu Jubin but overtime, the Orang Pulau community has shortened it to the Pulau Ubin we call today.
Ubin played a significant role in Singapore's nation building — literally — as the granite quarries that scatter the island provided the stones that constructed the Istana, Singapore-Johor Causeway, Raffles Lighthouse, Horsburgh Lighthouse on Pedra Branca, and our early public housing and roads on the mainland .
Mined to a depth of a 10-storey HDB flat, the six deep quarries — Balai, Kekek, Ketam, Pekan, Petai, and Ubin — are inactive today and have since transformed into beautiful scenic water bodies rich with natural biodiversity .
Ubin's early inhabitants
In the 16th to 17th century, Pulau Ubin came under the influence of the Johor-Riau Empire and among the first to inhabit the island were the Orang Laut and indigenous Malays of Bugis and Javanese descent .
When Singapore was part of the Johor Sultanate from 1528 to 1819, the Orang Laut were the first line of defense for the reigning Sultans ; functioning as a naval force to deter enemies who would invade by the open seas.
In 1540, under the rule of Sultan Allaudin Riayat Shah II, a new capital was built by the banks of Sungei Johor in Johor Lama . Maritime access into Johor Lama would have to be made via the mouth of the Johor River, where Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong Besar sits.
Therefore, to protect the entryways and safeguard the surrounding waters, a small population of Orang Laut settled on Ubin and Tekong Besar thus becoming the early inhabitants of the northeastern islands of Singapore.
The Legend of Pulau Ubin
As told from the perspectives of the Orang Pulau
In an oral narration by the penghulu (village chief) of the Malay kampung Abdul Latiff bin Ahmad, more affectionately known as Tok Busu Latip, the Legend of Pulau Ubin refers to the three unique rock formations off the southeastern coasts of the island that are aptly named "Batu Gajah" (Elephant Rock), "Batu Kodok" (Frog/Toad Rock), and "Batu Babi" (Pig Rock) due to their resemblance to these animals.
As narrated to him by his grandfather, Tok Busu Latip shares of a tale involving three animals: an elephant, a frog, and a pig. A very long time ago, the trio challenged one another to a race to see who could swim to Pulau Ubin the fastest, under the condition that whomever failed to reach ashore by the strike of noon shall be cursed into stone. Unfortunately, none of them were successful and were thus petrified into boulders where they were— with the frog located off the coasts of Pulau Sekodok; the pig located off the beaches of Kampung Tanjung; and the elephant by the right banks of the mouth of Sungei Ubin.
Overtime however, the original narrative of the legend has become corrupted or lost in translation — with one source claiming that the animals were instead swimming towards Johor but drowned, with the frog resurfacing as Pulau Sekodok, and the elephant and pig as Pulau Ubin — two halves supposedly joined together through the introduction of prawn agriculture .
As Urban Explorers of Singapore poignantly pointed out, "a comparison of both older and modern versions of the story shows us how tales can become garbled in the retelling, reminding us of how important it is to keep exploring instead of always taking what we hear for granted" .
Getting to Pulau Ubin
You can get to Pulau Ubin by hopping onto a bumboat at the:
Changi Point Ferry Terminal
51, Lorong Bekukong
Bumboat fares cost S$4.00 per pax for a single trip. There is an additional S$2.00 surcharge if you're bringing your own bicycle over. Bumboats will only depart once there are 12 passengers.
(Chartering a bumboat on demand is possible for S$48.00)
No purchase of tickets is required and cash payment is to be made to the respective bumboat operators upon departure.
Bumboats operate daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Nearest bus stops
Changi Village Bus Terminal (99009)
Bus no. 2, 29, 59, 109
Bef S'pore Aviation Ac (99181)
Bus no. 9, 19, 89, 89A, 89e
Nearest MRT stations
EW4 Tanah Merah
DT33 Tampines East
1. “The Documentation of Wooden Vernacular Houses and Settlement Histories.” Pulau Ubin Lives. Accessed September 2, 2022. https://pulauubinlives.wixsite.com/home/pulau-ubin.
2. Cai, Jun Gang. “Geotechnical Engineering Appreciation Course (Jointly Organised by IES Academy and GeoSS).” Geology of Singapore. Reading, July 2012.
3. “Quarries of Pulau Ubin.” National Parks Board (NParks), January 28, 2021. https://www.nparks.gov.sg/pulau-ubin/biodiversity/places-of-interest/quarries.
5. National Heritage Board, "Pulau Ubin," Roots, https://roots.sg/learn/resources/virtual-tours/pulau-ubin.
6. Jejak Warisan. “Orang Laut di Singapura - Jejak Warisan Singapura.” Facebook, August 31, 2022. https://www.facebook.com/jejakwarisansg2021/posts/pfbid02yh73xtYmCZz7fVvX3xmdqygABxNMiJNiDQtL4i47ehWiE2UbAhSCjL1ZA2tZWzrfl.
7. “Kota Johor Lama Museum.” Kota Johor Lama Museum | Department of Museums Malaysia. Accessed September 2, 2022. http://www.jmm.gov.my/en/museum/kota-johor-lama-museum.
8. “The Legend of Ubin.” Web log. Pulau Ubin Stories (blog), June 10, 2004. http://pulauubinstories.blogspot.com/2004/06/legend-of-ubin.html.
9. Urban Explorers of Singapore. “The Origin of the Pulau Ubin Legend.” Facebook, December 5, 2020. https://www.facebook.com/urban.explorers.of.singapore/posts/3508561155859757/.