No, we did not mean Singapore has hot seasonal spring – like in Spring/summer/autumn. We really meant a hot spring as in water coming out of the ground piping hot…
Hot springs are normally associated with places with geothermal and/or seismic activity. So it should be pretty much a surprise for anyone outside Singapore to know our little red dot has not one, but two! Ironically they are both located on military grounds.
The one on Pulau Tekong, is said to be tapped out, or at least not gushing much hot spring water. In any case it is hard to verify since the island is a military area and no civilians are allowed. Have heard of it before during my service time but never bothered to take a look. Took my watch anyway, so too late. No chance…
The Sembawang spring on the other hand appears to be rather robust with the gushing hot water (measure with 3x Sulphide than normal tap water) still active and a lot of folks visiting.
Initially I had intended to come on a morning over the weekend, but the recent bouts of news spurred me to actually take an afternoon to get here.
The way to get to the hot spring is only via a walk along Gambas avenue, a slip of road in the northern part of the island.
I took the MRT to Yishun station. From there I boarded bus service 859 for a 7 minute ride. Four stops later (the one with an overhead bridge), I had alighted to begin my 750m walk to the entrance (or so Google map tells me).
Now who would be here at close to 12 noon?
As I walked towards the entrance, it was getting to be a blazing ~35°C. Apparently when you needed it the overcast sky does not come, so I was already sweating like a horse when an old gentlemen riding a bicycle came up to me. I waved him over and sought confirmation that I was in the correct direction. He said “yes, a lot of hot water”, “ go inside at the sign in red” in mandarin, gesturing ahead.
Ok, so I walked on and came to this large sign posted by the Ministry of Defence. The entry to the hot spring is open only between 7am till 7pm. I guess no late night bath then! As I turned in, another cyclist came barrelling past as we glanced a smile at each other when he passed.
The pathway is concrete and just another few minutes before I came up to the entrance. I did not manage to take the photos but a couple of Apache attack helicopters were taking off as I walked in. Yeah, it’s that close to the airbase.
Sprawled in front of me was a square compound with a red brick structure in the centre. I later learned that’s where the spring well is.
There are two piped outlets here and they are constantly sprouting out hot water. When I got closer, it does smelt of sulphur or at least it smelt a little like rotten eggs. And the water does look like it is steaming, which suggests it is hot – the university’s precision devices suggests 70°C.
There was an old man sitting by the side, with buckets of the spring water. He was scooping the water and pouring it over his head repeatedly. I asked him if he came often. He said he is retired and comes every day, since he lives in nearby Yishun.
His bicycle was parked by the side of the fence that rings the compound. He advised me to park near block 115, eh don’t know where’s that. We spoke a bit about how the place gets really crowded during the weekends and becomes a mini carnival.
Today there were only 3 others – a couple seemingly immersed in some kind of therapy while another was making rounds collecting the spring water. Maybe he’s the caretaker I read about somewhere on the web.
← Hidden behind the hydrant is a pail of clothes. Someone was washing his/her laundry here! It is not hard to imagine in the weekend how the place can become rather congested. Imagine the number of pails and line that will form to collect the water.
Anyway, this is supposed to be a far cry from the time before 2002, when soggy mud trails lead the way to the spring. At least the military has some heart and rebuilt the area into something respectable.
Some may have heard about the kampong spirit that lingers in some parts of Singapore. Perhaps this is it?
But then my question was answered – there seem to be a constant flow of people coming and going here, even in the heat of noon.
Not the hundreds, but still quite some. And they collect the water too!
The army is about to transfer this compound back to a public agency such as the National parks, so I understood. And the guy I spoke to said “they are going to charge us for coming here”, “the national park is out to make money”.
Really? I thought the NParks only spent money managing the trees and gardens + getting the botanical gardens on UNESCO’s heritage list. I am top tier tax payer you should know! In my opinion the compound is rather small. It will take an expansion to turn it into a feasibly sized development. The question for me is, do we want to have a public bathhouse here? Will it be the naked baths as I describe here like in Japan?
Trivia: the spring water was tapped by a local soft drink firm in 1922. Today, a nearby condominium development is named Seletaris by the same company, after the original mineral water brand. For a time after 1942, the Japanese military seized the place and turned it into a thermal bath.
It’s enough for me. There, I have shown you where the hot spring is in Singapore.
For our foreign friends, you need to come here to see it for yourself. It’s worth an hour’s effort and is unfortunately not really a photographic paradise. However when you get here, speak with the people who use the spring water and perhaps you may glean a thing or two about living in Singapore.
For local folks, it’s a nice day out (not at noon) and if you have kids, a wonderful way to teach them a thing or two about geography and geology. It’s one thing to be proud to have in your little country. Afterall, the little red dot is NOT known to be a thermal spring haven. Thus, it appeared incredulous even to me until I saw it for myself. Here’s a short video clip: