Sembawang Hot Spring
The Sembawang Hot Spring lies off Gambas Avenue near the junction of Sembawang Road and Gambas Avenue, along Jalan Ulu Sembawang. It is the mainland's only natural hot spring and is popular for its apparent curative properties. The waters had been used for F&N's bottled water, Seletaris.
Seah Eng Keong, a Chinese merchant and the son of Chinese pioneer, Seah Liang Seah, discovered hot springs in 1909 in his pineapple estate in Sembawang. Three springs were covered so that water would be concentrated through a particular spring. The spring along with a well built nearby, became popular with the villagers who frequently sought is waters for its healing powers. They even went there to boil eggs, wash their clothes and de-feather poultry. The village gained fame and came thus to be known as Kampong Ayer Panas, translated as "Village of Hot Water".
In 1922, soft drinks firm Fraser & Neave (F&N) acquired the site and set up a plant nearby to tap the mineral water, which it called "Seletaris". The spring's flow was interrupted during World War II, when a bomb fell near the well during a Japanese air raid over Singapore. The Japanese forces, upon learning of the existence of the hot spring, built a number of thermal baths in the area, to relax in the waters.
In 1960, punters turned up at the hot spring on race days, and took "good luck" baths before the start of races. That same year, villagers began urging the authorities to develop the area into a spa-like tourist resort. However, F&N shelved the idea when it said that geologists could not find the source of the spring.
Five years later, in 1967, the idea of the spa resurfaced again. This time F&N had bigger plans for the development of baths, restaurants, miniature golf course and even a nature reserve. But once again, the plans never materialised and the hot spring site remained in a dilapidated condition. By the mid-80s, the Government had acquired most of the land in the area for military use. F&N was left with less than 4 ha of land. Its water-bottling plant, built in 1965 at the nearby Semangat Ayer area however, survived till the early 1990s.
In 2002, plans were made to expand the Sembawang Airbase over the spring but calls from the public to retain this natural feature led to the spring being preserved. Although development plans at the Sembawang Airbase continued, the Ministry of Defence agreed to provide a gate for the public to access the spring. On 1 March 2002, the spring was temporarily closed for improvement works. A perimeter fence was erected around the spring, separating it from the airbase. At the same time, a cemented walkway replaced the muddy footpath and drainage pipes were installed to make the place cleaner and more accessible. It was reopened to the public on 1 May 2002. The hot spring remains open to visitors between 7:00 am. and 7:00 pm. As recently as 2007, it attracted 20 to 30 people daily.
Its exact source remains unknown. It is believed that the spring's origin may be north-west of its actual location, possibly at Bukit Timah. Hot springs are formed when groundwater comes into contact with solid igneous rocks. Upon entering the earth's crust a good 3 km underground, the water is heated up to high temperatures by the hot rock masses. The temperature ranges between 100 and 150 deg C. Consequently, the high pressure causes the water to seep upwards through cracks, thereby forcing itself out of ground into a 6 m spring. At this point, the temperature of the water drops to 70 deg C.
Tested by PSB Corporation and SGS Testing & Control Services, the spring water was found to contain 420 mg of chloride per litre, an amount which is evidently higher than the 35 mg to 100 mg in the water from Choa Chu Kang and Bedok waterworks. The samples of the spring water also prove that the sulphide content is three times more than tap water. It is the presence of these minerals that has enticed thousands to the hot spring, in a search for cures for ailments like rheumatism and arthritis, as well as skin conditions like acne and psoriasis. However, medical authorities remain sceptical about the healing powers of the spring water.
A second hot spring exists in the island of Tekong.
Renuka M. & Nureza Ahmad
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The information in this article is valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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