Camping on Pulau Ubin

What would you do if you had a long weekend in south-east Asia? Don’t tell me yet. Last week, I trawled through websites, blogs, and even had actual conversations, gathering answer after answer. Some said Langkawi. Others said Bangkok.

“I don’t want to get on a plane,” I realised. People asked why and I couldn’t quite answer them. So they shrugged and said Malacca or Bintan or Johor Bahru, or one of the more southerly island resorts, such as Rawa. None seemed right. At the last moment, I figured it out.

Like these old plastic bottles, I was struck by the light.

Like these old plastic bottles, I was struck by the light.

Singapore is a city both well-planned and well-regulated. They’ve caged mini forests, and fenced in the bay. There’s either too much work or too much leisure – but either way, it’s compartmentalised. There’s no disorder, no grey areas. I’d had enough.

The last thing I yearned for was more neatly-functioning transport systems, well-groomed sands, sparkling buildings or smiling service. I guess we all have our opinions on the soul, but it seems to me that as long as it’s bound in earthly form it must hanker for a life reflecting the chaos of this blue-green sphere it wakes upon.

The sun. The breeze. Sweat. Thunder. Rain. If there’s order there, it takes some searching for.

So no sleek modernity, no compartmentalisation. Anyway, we are flat broke on account of booking airfares to Tasmania, Brisbane and Tokyo (squee! but also eek!) on the same credit card bill. Enter the Camping Weekend!

The uncompartmentalised holiday: not exactly "work" but not really "fun".

The uncompartmentalised holiday: not exactly “work” but not really “fun”.

Getting to Pulau Ubin

Presently, we own one two-man tent, so only half of us could sleep out. But we all made the trek to Changi Point Ferry Terminal and boarded the bum boat to Pulau Ubin.

Bum boats, Pulau Ubin.

Bum boats, Pulau Ubin.

On weekends it takes about five to ten minutes to collect enough passengers for a sailing – on weekdays, between fifteen and thirty. Pro tip: the set of benches is the queue. If there is an empty space on the bench closest to the sea, people will take that as an invitation to join the head of the queue. Pro-pro tip: if there is any question of who is ahead of whom in the queue, it helps to look Chinese. The boat operators aren’t strong in Foreign and will gravitate towards anyone they think they can communicate easily with. Both of these tips apply only on the way out. On the way back, there is a fiercely efficient group of women organising everyone – just follow their directions. You won’t have the option to do otherwise.

Registering at the Police Post

After a brief frolick on the beach gawking at rock pools, we decided we should register our intention to camp at the local police post, which is just to the right along the shore as you leave the jetty.

The road to the right as you leave the jetty.

The road to the right as you leave the jetty.

Walk past the sign of the guy saying you’ll get shot if you enter here, and hang around at the locked front gate looking like a bit of a knob until some young bloke in a uniform lets you in and takes your details.

Police Post, Pulau Ubin.

The promised safety briefing is not, apparently, routine. You might get asked off-handedly where you intend to camp, but don’t worry too much if you haven’t chosen a site yet. Nobody else will.

Available Campsites

All the information you need is on the map next to the jetty. Currently, there are two campsites to choose from. (Noordin is closed due to erosion. Updates can be found here under “notices” at the bottom).  Both are free of charge and do not require advance booking. No planning!

Food, Beverage, Bike Hire

We fuelled up on fried snacks at a local restaurant, where service was nothing short of slovenly (which is a change, which by itself is a holiday).  We then hired two bikes so we could scope out our campsite options. It’s not hard to find bike rental places or restaurants on Pulau Ubin.

It's actually harder to not find them.

It’s actually harder to not find them.

Somewhere in the background of this picture there’s even a convenience store (closes around 8:30pm) and an adventure centre where signs said ‘kayaking’ (closes by 6). A and T took a single bike with a baby seat, and P and I picked a tandem with a chain which kept slipping off. Neatly-functioning transport systems – take that!

Campsite Facilities

There’s not much road traffic on Pulau Ubin – only a few minivan “taxis”. After several miles of cycling to and fro – to the tune of either Postman Pat or, if you picked the other passenger, constant shouts of “You’re veering towards the edge of the road!” (yelled at every fractional departure from the invisible median strip) – we found Mamam. It had a toilet block with squat toilets, solar-powered lights, and non-potable running water, plus picnic tables – and a cozy neighbourhood of tents overlooking the sea.

Note: because the water at the campsite is not drinkable, you’ll have to bring your own drinking and cooking water.

At over five hundred metres from the nearest roadside drink seller:

One of many such.

One of many such.

…and nearly 3km to a meal you don’t have to cook yourself, it’s easily the most remote campsite in all of Singapore, beating out the one near the bright lights and foodie havens of Changi Village and the one next to the twenty-four hour McDonalds at West Coast Park by a Singapore mile. We decided it would do nicely.

So we cycled back to the bike hire shop together, where we returned our extra bike and retrieved our tent. Then P and A headed back out to Mamam to pitch camp for the night, having drawn the ‘camping’ straw, whilst T and I took our boat back to sparkling, organised Singapore.

The boys spent the next day cycling through and past the reefs and wetlands of Pulau Ubin, taking absolutely no photos. I guess next time you have a long weekend free in South East Asia you can decide if you’d rather visit Langkawi, or Bangkok, or Bintan or Malacca or Rawa, or just take a tent to Pulau Ubin and look around at what they didn’t record for you.

Or you could look at what Prasad did, and go to… well, where would you?


Here’s some more information on camping in National Parks in Singapore. We’ve noticed weekend camping permits booking out faster over the last twelve months, so best to plan a weekend or two ahead (or choose a weeknight). Here’s where you apply online (at least one day in advance, for areas requiring permits).

Camping is also possible on the Sentosa-managed Sisters’ Island and Pulau Hantu. You have to write/fax them for permission. (Instructions are at the link.)

Me and Adrienne at 500 Adventures are SO IN SYNCH at the moment. Check out her post about their camping trip across the UK.

Camping on Pulau Ubin, Singapore: getting there, registering, facilities and what to bring.

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