Lonely Planet Writer

Forgotten Singapore hot spring may finally become a tourist attraction

Singapore’s Ministry of Defence has handed the nation’s last remaining natural hot spring over to the State in the hope it will be developed into a more user-friendly facility.  

Sembawang Air Base.
Sembawang Air Base. Image by missypeixiin

Located on Sembawang Air Base grounds in northern Singapore, the Sembawang Hot Spring is open to the public from 7am to 7pm. However, the little-known ‘spring’ consists of little more than a concrete base with standpipes where visitors can fill buckets with the warm water, which is thought to have healing properties.

Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye hopes that a public agency such as the National Parks Board can now take over and maintain the spring.

“The place is small, rustic and charming, but desperately lacking in amenities, such as a toilet,” Mr Ong said at a seminar where Malay youths discussed ideas to shape Singapore’s future.

The spring was discovered in 1909 by Chinese merchant Seah Eng Keong, and the village in the area was subsequently named Kampong Ayer Panas or ‘hot water village’ in Malay. The site was acquired in 1922 by a soft drink company, which set up a plant nearby to tap the water, and later became a spa for Japanese officers during the WWII occupation of Singapore.

Although there were plans to turn the area into a proper spa in the 1960s, 1990s and in 2003, nothing materialised. In 1985, the government acquired most of the land in the area for military use. In 2002, plans to expand the Sembawang Air Base over the land occupied by the spring were scrapped following calls from the public to preserve it.