Sembawang Hot Spring
The Sembawang Hot Spring (Chinese: 三巴旺溫泉; pinyin: sanbawang wenquan), located at Gambas Avenue between Woodlands Avenue 12 and Sembawang Road, is the only natural hot spring on the main island of Singapore. It lies in a wooded area about 100 metres (330 ft) off the main road. The spring is believed by locals to have healing properties, and its water has been bottled commercially by Fraser and Neave, under the brand name of Seletaris. Since its discovery in 1909, the spring, now on land belonging to a military air base, has gone through several changes of ownership and abortive redevelopment plans. The hot spring retains a rural rustic feel for nature visitors to unwind.
In 1909, a Chinese merchant named Seah Eng Keong, the son of Chinese pioneer Seah Liang Seah, discovered hot springs in his pineapple estate in Sembawang. The three springs were channelled into one, so that the water would be conveniently concentrated in one area. A well was built along the spring, which became popular with the villagers, who frequently sought the waters for their supposed healing powers. The spring's fame spread, resulting in the village becoming known as Kampong Ayer Panas, which means "Village of Hot Water" in Malay.
Soft drinks firm Fraser & Neave (F&N) acquired the site in 1922, and set up a bottling plant at nearby Semangat Ayer to tap the mineral water, which they labelled Seletaris. During the Second World War, the spring's flow was temporarily interrupted when a bomb fell near the well during a Japanese air raid over Singapore in 1942. After the fall of Singapore, the Japanese military seized the place and converted it into recreational thermal baths (onsen).
The hot spring was frequented by gamblers in 1960, who took "good luck" baths before the start of horse races. That same year, the villagers urged the authorities to develop the area into a spa-like onsen tourist resort. However, F&N shelved the suggestion after geologists could not to trace the source of the spring water. In 1967, the proposal of the spa surfaced again, when F&N proposed plans for the development of a bathhouse, restaurants, a miniature golf course and even a nature reserve. However, the plans did not materialize, so the hot spring remained untouched and forgotten.
In 1998, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) acquired the land containing the spring for the expansion of the nearby Sembawang Air Base, leaving F&N with less than 4 hectares (10 acres) of land. Its water-bottling plant survived until the early 1990s however. In January 2002, locals' interest to the hot spring, which had caught the attention of Singaporeans after the surrounding land had been cleared to begin the RSAF air base extension. Sembawang community leaders gathered signatures to petition Mindef, which was going to fence off the area, to preserve and develop the hot spring for the general public. Mindef gave the green light to the appeals and opened a small side gate pavement for the public to access the spring.
During that same year, a series of scalding cases, including an incident in which a senior citizen diabetic lost six toes to gangrene after soaking in the hot spring, prompted the Singapore General Hospital to warn that people with nerve disorders or diseases affecting blood circulation should be cautious to hot mineral springs. As a result of some negative rumors and hearsay, and the RSAF redevelopment, public interest began to wane and the number of visitors dwindled.
During its peak, up to 300 people visited the hot spring daily. On 1 March 2002, it was closed for two months while upgrading and improvement works were carried out to the area around the spring, which had become sodden and muddy. Litter had also become a problem because of the increased numbers of visitors. The former dirt track leading to the spring was paved with cement, and lined with bougainvillea bushes and high fences to ensure the security of the air base. Drainage pipes were also installed. Mindef, which owns the land, allows public access between 7 am and 7 pm daily, free-of-charge. When the spring reopened on 1 May 2002, more than 100 people visited the site despite the afternoon drizzle. At the same time, some new free-hold condominiums were built in the surrounding area; one of the developments, built by the property arm of F&N in 2001, is called Seletaris after the company's former mineral water.
In July 2005, a Business Times reader proposed that the authorities should explore the possibility of tapping the geothermal heat that lies many miles under Sembawang—similar to the project in South Australia's Cooper Basin—in order to aid Singapore's reliance on oil and gas. The proposal was not acted upon.
As of 2014, the well can still be seen locked inside a red-brick enclosure with a steel gate, and its geothermal heat can be felt outside the building. Some plastic chairs, pails and mini-tubs kindly donated by visitors are stored at the perimeter of the compound, which has a makeshift shed in one corner. A caretaker, paid by Mindef, takes care of the place to ensure its overall cleanliness, but there is no toilet on location. The hot spring is less frequented nowadays but remains rustic for rural and suburban families to discover and explore.
The potential redevelopment of Sembawang Hot Spring into a national park is currently being explored. The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said on 23 April 2016 that it is prepared to return the land occupied by the hot spring to the Singapore Land Authority. MINDEF hopes a public agency such as the National Parks Board (NParks) can take over to improve and maintain the place, while constructing amenities such as toilets and adding more greenery. The ministry added that putting the place under a public agency means the land need not be tendered out to the highest bidder and become commercialised.
Earlier on 16 April 2016, a NParks senior director of Parks Development confirmed the statutory board was working with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore Land Authority and MINDEF on “the feasibility of using the area as a park
According to local geologists, the exact source of the spring remains unknown, but it is believed that its origin may be southwest of its actual location, possibly at Bukit Timah. Hot springs are formed when underground water comes into contact with hot rock masses. The resulting high pressure causes the water to seep upwards through cracks, forcing itself out of the ground as a spring.
A series of tests conducted by the PSB Corporation and SGS Testing & Control Services found the spring water contains 420 mg of chloride per litre, an amount which is substantially higher than the 35 to 100 mg in the water from Choa Chu Kang and Bedok waterworks. It was also found that the sulphide content is three times more than tap water and the spring water is also slightly alkaline due to the presence of minerals. Natural spring waters may have health benefits, similar to the hot springs of other countries near tectonic plates with volcanoes, in a search for cures for some skin conditions, as well as debilitating ailments like rheumatism and arthritis. Although local rheumatologists conceded that hydrotherapy is an accepted treatment that can be helpful for mild forms of rheumatism or muscle strain, they, along with dermatologists, remain skeptical of claims about the alternative healing of the natural spring water.
Hot hard water bubbles continuously in the well, releasing a slightly unpleasant sulphur mud-like odour together with steam. The temperature of the spring water is measured by precision instrument to be constant 70 °C (160 °F). In an investigation carried out by the Nanyang Technological University in 1994, the hot spring was found to have an estimated yield of approximately 150 litres (33 imp gal; 40 US gal) per minute at ground level through installed steel casings.
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- Goh, Chin Lian (29 December 2003). "Just the old faithfuls at hot spring". The Straits Times.
- Chong, Chee Kin (9 March 2002). "Carpenter loses six toes after soak in hot spring". The Straits Times.
- "Hot spring to close temporarily for works". The Straits Times. 21 February 2002.
- "Temporary Closure of Sembawang Hot Spring". MINDEF Singapore. Retrieved 2008-04-21.
- "The Return Of Spring Fever". The Straits Times. 2 May 2002.
- "Seletaris: The Blue Spring". F&N: Seletaris. Retrieved 2008-04-21.
- Tan, Kok Tim (6 July 2005). "Singapore should tap geothermal heat". The Business Times. p. Business Times Singapore.
- "Hot air over hot spring?". The Straits Times. 3 February 2002.
- Loh, Hui Yin (10 March 2003). "Sembawang hot spring - a potential spa?". The Business Times. p. Business Times Singapore.
- Pictures of Sembawang Hot Spring
- Renuka, M.; Nureza Ahmad (2002-02-08). "Sembawang Hot Springs". National Library Board.