Sunrise paddle to Pulau Ubin

We were going to join our friends for a short social paddle to Pulau Ubin at 8am. Decided to sneak in a bit of training and watch the sunrise before.

Lovely paddle this morning. Nice cool breeze; felt good to get back in the water. It’s been two months!

Me vs the Evergreen (photo credit: Jeff)

Kayaking the Four Rivers of Pulau Ubin

When the time and the tides align, one of our favorite paddles is to explore the four rivers of Pulau Ubin, where we’d cross over from Pasir Ris, and cut up from the southern side of the Island via Sungei Jelutong up through to the northern tip, then paddle back down through the island again on a couple other rivers.

On Sunday, we did just that. The gloomy weather predictions had mostly fizzled, such that we were offered a clear sunny window to mid morning. The crossing was easy – on flat waters under a partly cloudy sky after a beautiful orange-pink sunrise, and all too soon, we’d left behind the drone of power boats in the channel and entered another world, filled with the melodic chirpings of unseen birds and incessant calls of crickets.

Shan, as always, was our unflappable guide through the rivers, although on this day KayakAsia was also leading several groups up through the rivers as well, so we used them as our guideposts as we overtook the groups, exchanging pleasantries and greetings with our friends as we passed.

Jeff’s shot of me – love the lighting!

We made good time, even with stopping for a short snack by the narrow silver of beach on the northern side of the island (next to fresh wild boar tracks!) and floating around in the thick of mangroves for around 20 minutes or so, waiting for the tide to rise just high enough for us to paddle over a couple of half submerged tree branches that blocked our paths.

Busy day on the water: Waiting for the ship to cross the channel from west to east, and two sand barges to cross from east to west before we made our north to south crossing back to Pasir Ris

By the time we made it back out the southern end of the island via Sungei Puaka, we could see thick grey clouds overhead. And by the time we hit Pasir Ris and looked back, Pulau Ubin was shrouded in mist; the storm had descended upon the island. We got lucky; a few passing puffs of rain clouds hit us as we got our kayaks out of the water, but it was only after Jeff and I had just finished washing our kayaks that the rain really started to come down – just in time for a warm shower and lunch!

Quick Jaunt to Paulu Ubin from Pasir Ris by Kayak

When your company’s country head asks you for a 1-1 meeting done on the water, why would you ever say no? Especially on a brilliantly warm and breezeless day like it was last Monday, when the waters even in the middle of the channel looked absolutely flat and glassy?

So it was that we set off from Pasir Ris towards Pulau Ubin, me in my trusty Oru kayak, and Scott on his stand up paddle board.

Mid crossing pic from Scott
Scott on his paddle board, approaching Pulau Ketam

We had a couple of hours before other meetings, and so decided on a quick exploration of the mangroves in Pulau Ubin. We ventured up the river mid-tide, when the flow was still mild and in our favor, past a family of monkeys swinging through the trees alongside and overhead us.

This looks like a drone pic, or a pic from a bridge, but it’s actually just from Scott standing on his SUP

There are rivers that we could paddle up to bisect the island, but the turns are tricky, and without relying on maps, we found ourselves in disused prawn farms instead. No matter – it was time to head back to the mainland anyway.

We wandered through the old prawn farms on Pulau Ubin

As it was during the phase of the full moon, the tides were stronger than usual, and the head-on flow took us almost by surprise. The waters were still calm, but we had to exert much more energy to fight the currents all the way down the river and back across the channel to Pasir Ris.

But fun times – and we’ll be looking to do more of such meetings on the water!

Gourmet kayaking at Pulau Ubin

Our friends Shan and Desmond were inspired the other day. Let’s do a gourmet kayaking trip, they suggested. That is, load our kayaks full of provisions and drinks, and paddle from Singapore to Pulau Ubin, and cook up a storm there.

Desmond, a professional cook by training, was more than up for the challenge. His menu, ambitious by normal standards, blew our minds for this being an outdoor setting:

  • Baby Spinach Salad with a Tomato and Bacon Dressing
  • Celeriac Veloute (Soup)
  • Foie Gras
  • Ballontine of Chicken with Herb Jus
  • Prime Rib of Angus Beef, Red Wine Sauce
  • Roast Potatoes and Onions
  • Marinated Mushrooms
  • Burnt Cheesecake

We set off bright and early from Pasir Ris. The weather window looked clear for us in the morning, with ominous threats of thunderstorms later in the day – hopefully when we’re back safely on the mainland and all cleaned up.

Launching from Pasir Ris beach. The calm and flat waters were a welcome change from the prior week
Approaching Pulau Ubin

After a leisurely paddle to Ubin, we beached up by the old PA chalets and unloaded our kayaks. Desmond quickly got to work, starting a fire on his charcoal stove to heat up the soup and grill the steaks.

Chef at work. Look at those gorgeous hunks of meat

Meanwhile, the rest of us got busy with setting up our drinks table. Champagne, Bordeaux, espresso martinis, cold brew boulevardier, gin and tonics with freshly smashed peppercorns…

We’re serious about our drinks
While waiting for our meal, Sarah, Judy and I decided to go for a short paddle up the river

Desmond truly outdid himself! After all that food and the drinks, it was a struggle to paddle back to Pasir Ris. Haha, but what a fun morning out with a fantastic bunch of kayaking and food buddies.

Kayaking: First paddle of 2021 at Pulau Ubin

We rang in the new year with relentless rain. Literally, from the first day of the 2021 till pretty much last Thursday, it poured buckets everyday. Heavy, pounding rain that lashed against our windows, along with howling winds and startling claps of thunder and angry flashes of lightning.

We ended up cancelling all our outdoor activities and hunkered down indoors, spending the first weekend painting away.

Paint by numbers of our favorite Sydney sunrise from my kayak

Last Saturday though, the weather finally cleared, and eight of us (yay for relaxed covid restrictions!) eagerly got into our kayaks for a paddle to Pulau Ubin.

Photo by: Jingyi

After weeks away, our muscles definitely felt it. The strong currents and headwinds didn’t help either, so after battling our way to Ubin, we abandoned our plan to get to the Chek Jawa reserves and instead turned to go with the currents to explore Sungei Tiga, one of the many rivers on the island.

After, we beached up on Ubin itself, in the hopes of some belly warming Mee Rebus from the Muslim lady in the store by the jetty. Alas, she was closed for business, so we just found another store for some refreshments.

Felt almost like we were in another country – Malaysia / Philippines / Thailand
Our paddles neatly lined up

Felt so good to be back out on the water, even though I was honestly wiped out and had to nap the rest of the afternoon. 😂

Kayaking: Exploring my backyard in Pasir Ris

The tides didn’t line up with when we wanted to go out to explore the mangroves of Pulau Ubin. Rather than wait another weekend though, we decided to venture out anyway. Even if we couldn’t find a river to cut through the island, it still would be a great way to get in some fresh air and workout.

The rain overnight did not clear the clouds, which still loomed low in the sky. The air also felt still and heavy, but at least we had a smooth crossing from Pasir Ris over to Pulau Ubin. Within a half hour of launch, we entered the river fronting the abandoned PA chalets. As soon as we rounded the first bend, the chirping of the crickets enveloped us. We spotted our first pair of otters placidly swimming past.

As always, the cacophony of crickets enveloped us when we entered the mangroves

On our past forays into the mangroves, we had friends guide us. This time, my brother and I were alone. With the help of a grainy Google Earth (Google Maps did not offer enough detail here) and a compass though, we felt confident enough to map our way out of the labyrinth network of riverlets.

We squeezed past narrow gaps in search of navigable routes to the northern shores of Pulau Ubin

Alas, no matter what small channel we managed to squeeze past, the tide was just a little too low, the mangrove roots too exposed. Oh well. We retraced our path, following a brilliant blue kingfisher that flitted just ahead of us with every quiet stroke of our paddles.

On a whim, when we got back to Pasir Ris, we decided to venture up the canal bisecting Pasir Ris Park. We’d crossed the main bridge hundreds of times in the years past, but never did venture up its length. But the canal is much cleaner now, evidenced by another pair of otters that ducked between the mangroves alongside the water’s edge, watchfully eyeing us as we paddled past.

Going up the Pasir Ris River

We were so astounded by the quiet beauty of the river, and of the uniquely Singaporean sight of the colourful housing blocks peeking from above the trees. What a lovely view these residents enjoyed of the river, with the resident egrets and herons nesting on the high branches. My brother spotted another otter, this one bravely swimming right under his kayak and then popping its head out of the water to stare at him.

Beautiful morning.

Kayaking: Pasir Ris to Ubin

With Covid cases flaring back up in countries that had already eased restrictions, we are resigned to the fact that for the foreseeable future, we will be stuck here in Singapore.

A friend reminded us the other day though, that it’s important to find pleasures where we can, otherwise life will be miserable. True that.

So we try to be in the present, to continue to count our blessings that we otherwise are healthy and have jobs, have still the freedom to meet with small group of friends for in-person catch-ups, and the freedom to take to the waters to explore.

In the past couple of months, we have made a half dozen paddles over to Pulau Ubin from Pasir Ris, eagerly squeezing under low bridges to dive deeper into the lush mangroves. Each time that we bring new friends along to explore, we delight in the wonder and excitement they enthuse as the cacophony of cricket calls and overhanging branches envelope us, transporting us into a different world.

If we’d have the flexibility to travel, we would not have been able to explore as deeply as we have the wondrous environment right at our doorstep, so there’s something to be thankful for!

Kayaking: Exploring the Rivers of Pulau Ubin


Waning moon phase with a high tide at 940am. With mild currents predicted, we were in a good place to launch off from Pasir Ris at 730am to leisurely explore the mangroves in Pulau Ubin.

Unlike the stormy conditions from a couple of weeks before, the air was still and the water glassy. It made for an easy and light-hearted crossing to Pulau Ketam, from which we crossed over to Pulau Ubin.

Our goal was to explore another river of Pulau Ubin – river Mamam. The mouth of that river opens up from the northern end of the island, but not wanting to do the lengthy circumnavigation, we opted to cut through the island via Sungei Juletong and under Juletong Bridge next to the famous Ah Ma Drink Stall.

Kampong by the mangrove’s edge
Photo credit Jeff
Jeff contemplating our green waterway – photo credit Jingyi
Me, happy to be on the water – photo credit Jeff

The twisty streams are a challenge to navigate, especially with rough maps that don’t show all the detail. But Shan led the way with aplomb, and a few false but fun turns later, we found our way through to the northern end at around 1030am.

A beautiful blue bird day to explore the Mamam River

Initially, we worried that the tide might not be high enough to traverse the mangroves, and indeed in certain stretches our paddle tips kept striking the mangrove roots in the shallow water. But the lower water levels proved a blessing, for it enabled us to squeeze under the two bridges that bisected the river, so that we needn’t step out onto the muddy banks to portage across. Win!

Jeff just managing to squeeze under the bridge, a manoeuvre that required him to slide all the way into the front of his kayak, so that he lay flat in his kayak
Our route from Pasir Ris to Ubin and back. We were all excited that the water levels were low enough for us to squeeze under the two bridges that bisected the River Mamam, so we didn’t have to get out into the muddy mangroves to make a portage – or to retrace our route to circumnavigate the eastern flank of the island

Such a fun paddle! Animals sighted: egrets, wild boar crossing the river, family of otters feasting on fish near the river banks, iguanas floating in the water.

We’ve now kayaked the major rivers of Pulau Ubin, but there remains plenty more twisty turns to get lost in!

Kayaking: Exploring the mangroves of Pulau Ubin

When we launched early Friday morning from Pasir Ris, the water was still. The air hung, weighty and heavy and silent. Dark clouds filled the sky, ominous.

But it was a holiday weekend (Hari Raya Haji), so our spirits were high. We just needed to make that 2+km crossing over to Pulau Ubin. Given that our destination was to explore the heavily wooded mangrove rivers of the island, a bit of rain didn’t faze us.

The calm before the storm

As it was, as soon as we started the crossing, the winds picked up, flattening the left side of my wide brim hat against my face, so that I had to physically turn my head port side to look out for the rolling white caps that had formed, and which slammed repeatedly into my kayak.

We powered on without stopping, for a brief rest meant getting immediately pushed eastwards by the strong currents. As it was, to make the narrow slit of land that bisected Pulau Ketnam at high tide, we had to paddle full steam upstream.

But as soon as we crossed the channel, the howls of the winds abruptly subsided and the waters become glossy smooth again. Protected by the islands of Pulau Ketnam and Pulau Ubin, it was as if we’d crossed into another world.

Shan and Caroline had just explored the area with Huey of Kayak Asia the week before, so they were familiar with the windy route. We ventured up the river Sungei Puaka, and as the river narrowed, the sounds of the mangrove surrounded us. Crickets in their never ending chorus, unknown birds hidden in the dense foliage calling out to one another. We spied herons, sea eagles, a swimming otter. Shan and Caroline, in the lead, also spotted a wild boar in the waters.

Midway up the river, the skies opened up. But protected by the trees, we only felt light droplets on our heads. We delighted in moving slowly through the increasingly narrow river, up through sections where we almost had to navigate by pushing ourselves off the exposed roots, because it was too tight to get in a sweep on our paddles.

The passing rain showers had cleared though, by the time we pushed out of the mangroves into the northern side of Pulau Ubin. Soft golden light lit up our kayaks, and a gentle breeze played about. We could either round the island back to the southern side facing Singapore, or wend our way through another set of rivers in the mangroves again. It was a unanimous decision – back into the magical mangroves we went!

Our route

Finding peace and contentment in the present

The Singapore Minister of National Development, Lawrence Wong, came out this past weekend to advise us not to expect to travel this side of 2020. 😦 I guess it’s no big surprise, but still a somewhat depressing to hear.

That said, we had a blast this weekend. If every weekend went down like that, we really have nothing to complain about being stuck in Singapore.

  • Kicked it off bright and early Saturday morning with a 15km paddle to Pulau Ubin and back from Pasir Ris. We went with some friends, and with the high tide, decided to venture into the mangroves for a bit of exploration. We all had wide grins on our faces as we sliced our paddles through the still waters, a reflection of the blue skies above. Around us, the sounds of crickets filled the air, and hawks and hornbills flitted from tree to tree as our kayaks glided by. Overhead, we caught glimpses of the fighter jets and choppers bearing the Singapore flag as they flew past, practicing for the upcoming National Day celebrations. Otherwise, in the middle of the verdant oasis, we felt transported into another world, a Singapore of a century past.
  • In the evening, while Jeff caught up with some coworkers for tennis and dinner, I met up with a couple of college buddies for much missed catch ups, drinks and food. So glad to be able to start socialising in small groups again outside.
  • Sunday morning, I watched the streaming of the Santa Fe Opera Gala (bit boring to be honest), and Jonas Kaufmann’s recital in Bavaria, hosted by the Metropolitan Opera (so good, I’m watching it again).
  • In the afternoon, Julia came over again for our usual Sunday routine since Phase 2: tennis, refreshing dips in the pools, dinner (bunless lamb burgers with rosti and sautéed zucchini, and freshly baked almond cake), and board games. Washed down with a deliciously smooth and potent bottle of peppercorn negroni from No Sleep Club.

Life is good.

(Featured image photo from Huey, who took of Shan’s group when they visited the mangroves a day later – I used it because I didn’t bring a camera or my phone out when we went out, but it perfectly shows the serene and beautiful conditions when we went out ourselves the day before)