Monday, April 26, 2010

Singapore Camping!

Since moving to Singapore, we've really missed going camping. Bryan and I have both done a fair amount of camping, and it's something that we enjoyed doing together in the U.S. There aren't a lot of places to camp, but we'd heard that Pulau Ubin has a few places, and we decided to give it a shot.

It's been raining pretty much every afternoon for the past month and the weekend forecast predictably included rain for Ubin. Our tent didn't come with a rain fly so before we left for the island we decided to detour to VivoCity to pick up a tarp. VivoCity had a cool sculpture that I missed on our last trip there.

After VivoCity, we headed to Changi Point Ferry Terminal to catch the bumboat to Ubin. The bumboats run on a pretty casual schedule; boats just leave whenever twelve people arrive. The ride's cheap (S$2.50 a person) and short, only about 15 minutes. When we got to the island, we talked to an NParks guy about our campsite options. He said that they were all pretty similar, except that campfires are only allowed at the site nearest to the jetty, the one called Jelutong. Since campfires are half the fun of camping we decided to check that one first. It turned out to be a little disappointing because the sites were all very close together and the fire pits were huge and looked like they were meant to be shared by multiple sites. It was also facing toward the main island of S'pore, so there was a lot of boat traffic.We decided to check out Mamam campsite, on the opposite side of the island, facing the Johor Straits and peninsular Malaysia. But first we rented bicycles since the bag I was lugging (which contained all our camping gear) was getting a little heavy and the walk wasn't exactly a short jaunt. Poor Bryan is still injured so I did all the heavy lifting. He felt pretty silly for toting a small daypack while his girlfriend huffed and puffed with the big pack. It probably looked like I was being punished.

Anyway, we got on our rickety bikes and pedaled across the island to Mamam campsite. It was all right- it seemed quiter than Jelutong, but it still wasn't the best place for camping. There's a path that goes off to one side of the campsites, and it gets a fair amount of bike traffic. We briefly contemplated checking out Noordin, the third camping spot, but at that point I was ready to put the bag down, so we just set up camp there. The sites are first-come first-serve, and we were the only ones there, so we picked a shady spot and pitched our tent with our jury rigged tarp on the outside to protect from rain. The tide was low when we set up our tent, but it was high the next day. It made a huge difference!After setting up camp, we decided to go on a hike. We headed off in the direction of the Chek Jawa area, on the east side of the island. Along the way, we took some side paths. At one point Bryan got all excited about a bird that he had spotted but I didn't see it. We rounded the corner and I spotted a bird that sounded like the one he'd described. It was on the ground, nestled into the underbrush. We looked it up later and discovered that it's a large-tailed nightjar, a nocturnal bird.Not long after we saw the bird, we spotted this crazy spider. It was gigantic! If you include its legs, it was bigger than Bryan's hand. A little research revealed that this is a female golden orb web spider, and the tiny red spiders in her web may be male spiders who are so incredibly minute that they can sometimes live in the web of the female without her even knowing!  Or they could be a separate species of spider called red silver spiders, which live in the nests of other spiders and snatch their prey.  Sneaky!On the side of one path we found an abandoned building!!! Everyone knows how much I love abandoned things, so I was pretty stoked. And this one was pink! Pulau Ubin has a lot of abandoned buildings, most likely because many of the inhabitants left Ubin for mainland Singapore as S'pore became increasingly urbanized.The skies were growing darker and thunder was grumbling, but we kept going and eventually arrived at Chek Jawa. I went to the toilet there and saw a bride putting the finishing touches on her makeup while glancing nervously at the sky. What a cool place to get married! And in the end, the rain held off for her.

We caught the tail-end of low tide at the intertidal flats, so we saw some cool shells, snails, mudskippers, and fish.

Judging from information I found in the Chek Jawa Guidebook, I think the photo below shows knobby periwinkle, tiny algae-grazing snails.

The mussel with the green rim was my favorite!

These yellow, snot-like blobs are actually colonial ascidians, a type of simple animal.
We also saw some interesting birds. I think this is a white egret, but I'm not sure.As we moved off of the Chek Jawa boardwalk and back onto the mangrove area we began seeing more and more crabs.
In one spot we'd stopped to watch the crabs when we heard some squawking and branches crashing. It was an Oriental pied hornbill!! Apparently they're not very graceful.
After walking all over Chek Jawa, we decided to go back to our campsite to pick up our bikes. On our way, we stopped by one of Ubin's abandoned quarries. The island used to be heavily mined for granite ("Pulau Ubin" actually means "Granite Island"), but now all the quarries are abandoned. This one was called the Balai Quarry and was my favorite because of all the colors- rich red earth, cerulean water, bright green trees, and a baby blue sky with fluffy white clouds. I look really moody in this picture, but it's only because I'm squinting at the brightness.Back at the campsite, our tent was now surrounded by other tents. The people to the right of us had a huge group and about six tents. So much for for a campground all to ourselves! Anyway, we picked up our bikes and rode into town for some dinner. I wasn't too optimistic about my options, since I was attempting to get something vegetarian on a seafood-crazy island, but my fried rice turned out to be delicious and Bryan raved about his black pepper beef. An ice cold Tiger washed it all down. We got a couple more beers and some bottled water (you can't drink from the tap on Ubin!) and headed back to the campsite. Sitting by the beach and watching the sun set was a great way to end a day full of hiking.
We sat around for awhile longer, draining our Tigers and waiting for it to get completely dark. There was some moonlight and Bryan and decided to go for a walk to see if we could spot any night wildlife. We brought along my headlamp to try to find some eyeshine.

The island was so much quieter at night. During the day, it's crawling with people on bikes, cycling all over the place. At a talk I went to last week, I heard a guy who does research on Ubin say that people may be "loving it to death," by frequenting it for its nature. It's not so surprising I guess, S'pore is so packed that people, ourselves included, are often looking for a getaway and Ubin is one of the most convenient options. It was much more peaceful at night after most everyone had departed on the last bumboat at 9 PM.We roamed awhile and didn't see much, but it was enjoyable anyway. It was so nice to hear the night sounds and to not see anything that reminded us of the city- no lights, no skyscrapers, no cars, not even any other people.

I spotted some eyes off to one side and I think it might have been a civet, but I'm not sure. We saw lots of little glints that turned out to be spiders, and we also spotted another nightjar. At one point we stood perfectly still and turned off the light. After a few seconds, something BIG started crashing around in the trees to our left. Even after we turned on the light and pointed it in that direction we couldn't see what it was, but it really sounded huge!

After our walk, we headed back to the tent and got ready for bed. Someone else had set up a tent right next to ours, which seemed a little obnoxious to me, but I supposed that this was just like the rest of S'pore- there are just a lot of people and not much space. Our neighbors (the big group) was being pretty loud and listening to music, but it was still pretty early and I figured they would quiet down soon. Oh man, was I wrong. The night went like this:

11 PM: Try to go to sleep, despite the horrible, old American pop blaring from a boombox about 15 feet from our tent (LeAnn Rimes? N*SYNC?!? Boyz II Men?!?!?!)

12 AM: After stewing about the rudeness of these people for over an hour, I put on my boots and go over and ask them to turn down the music, because we are trying to sleep. One girl in the group is very apologetic and suggests that they move the party up the beach. Everyone leaves, but GET THIS. One guy stays. With the stereo. And doesn't turn it down.

1 AM: Still awake, silently cursing these people and wondering what on earth is wrong with them. Have they absolutely no consideration for other people? Why is this one guy such a loser? Is he leaving the music on just to be a mean jerk?

2 AM: The party that had moved up the beach returns, and the fun rages on...for them.

3 AM: I conclude that death is a suitable punishment for disturbing the peace. Right around when I decide this, everything abruptly gets quiet. The music turns off and everyone goes to bed. I finally fall asleep.


9 AM: Give up trying to sleep, and get up to start the day. Am unsurprised to see that everyone else that was not associated with the raging party has already packed up and left. The partying neighbors are hanging out in front of our tent.

I brushed my teeth while glaring at our neighbors, and then Bryan and I left for a hike. As we were walking away, we found cool wildlife right by our tent. Jellyfish!And a flatworm fireworm, which apparently stings with those hairs (thanks, Ivan)!A very well-camouflaged mudskipper!We walked by a local's house. The man that lives there sells cold drinks and keeps a small garden and a hutch full of rabbits. As we walked by, someone waved us over to show us the wild boar that the man had caught and was keeping in an enclosure in his yard. It made me sad to see it- I'm sure that boar had been much happier out in the wild, free to go where he pleased and without annoying people yelling at him and trying to get his attention. I tried not to be bummed about the poor pig, and the cute little frog we found helped a little bit.Then we found ANOTHER ABANDONED BUILDING! Obviously, this made me happy.There was some weird stuff inside, like an entire corner full of cups. Bryan let me take over the camera (he usually takes all of the photos on our outings since I get the camera during the weekdays at Bukit he's better at photography than I am!), so I took a bunch of abandoned building shots.Strangely shaped spiderweb in the corner of the side door.This is the upstairs. I should probably get some health insurance if I'm going to make a habit of scaling rotting staircases, but it turned out all right this time!Back on solid ground, Bryan went inside so I could take his photo through the barred window. He was about to pose when he saw a big, nasty spider and made this wonderful face instead.I relinquished control of the camera when we left the building, and Bryan snapped this shot of me in the jungle.After hiking around a bit more, we went back and got our bikes again to cycle around the island awhile. Most of the western part of the island is restricted because it belongs to Outward Bound Singapore, but we went until we saw the boundary and then turned around. For the first part of the ride, the sun was really beating down and it was almost unbearably hot. We stopped in town for a 100 Plus (mmmm) and while we cooled off it started thundering and then poured down rain. I suggested that we continue anyway and it turned out to be lots of fun to bike through the rain on mostly empty roads. At some point on our journey, we saw a red junglefowl! They're the ancestors of domestic chickens and they look almost identical to regular chickens, but they're very good at flying. I call them tree chickens, haha.
In the afternoon, we biked back to our campsite and packed up our tent (it was a good thing we did- our neighbors had moved some of their tents so that they were boxing us in on all sides. They had pretty much absorbed us. Weirdos). Anyway, we went back into town, dropped off our bikes, and walked over to the jetty. Catching a bumboat back is a distinctly unSingaporean experience. I'm used to everything in S'pore being somewhat orderly, but the bumboat ordeal is disorganized and there are lots of people shouting and pointing and it's hard to tell who's in charge. We just stood patiently and waited for someone to point us in the right direction and it all worked out in less than 10 minutes. Here we are on the boat, a little sunburned and sleepy but happy nonetheless!Back in Changi Village, we were looking forward to Mexican food at Tequila Blue, but they were only serving drinks at that time of day so we went to Subway instead. As we headed there, Bryan heard some screeching up in the trees. In the trees were two very colorful birds! They're red-breasted parakeets, which are not native to S'pore but have been introduced here and now survive in the wild in a small breeding population. They were likely introduced from Java and Bali as part of the bird trade.
After a very satisfying meal, we splurged and got a cab home. It was nice to be back at our place and to have a very quiet night's sleep!


  1. It's also possible that the tiny red spiders are the kleptoparasitic red silver spider (Argyrodes flavescens), which hangs around the webs of larger spiders and steals prey.

    And yep, that's an egret, possibly the little egret (Egretta garzetta).

    The "flatworm" is actually an annelid, a bristleworm also called the fireworm (Chloeia), due to the stinging hairs. Those things are nasty!

  2. Oh yes, based on what I've heard, that wild boar has actually been a pet. A Flickr image search for "ubin boar" brings up photos dating back to 2005. Don't know if he was caught as a piglet or adult though.

  3. Thanks, Ivan! You have all sorts of useful information! I really appreciate the help on identifying some of these things. I do my best, but sometimes I struggle to find good resources for IDing all the different things I see. Having people comment on the blog and help me out when I'm lost or correct me when I'm wrong has been immensely helpful!


  5. next time try Pulau Hantu or Sister Island, less crowded, most go there for marine life or fishing

  6. The white cups shown in the abandon house are for collecting of latex from rubber trees. These cups are attached to the rubber trees trunk at the point where the bark is cut to collect the oozing white milky latex. Pulau Ubin use to have extensive rubber tree estate as an idustry in addition to granite quarrying.

  7. Oh wow! Thanks! I knew that Ubin used to have rubber plantations but I didn't make the connection. I've seen the cups for collecting rubber in Sumatra but they looked like they were made of wood or coconut halves, so I didn't think about using cups like these. Neat!

  8. Ubin is a great place to camp, perhaps the only place in 'Singapore' that is out there and open to the public.