Sembawang Hot Spring

Singapore Infopedia


The Sembawang Hot Spring is located near the junction of Sembawang Road and Gambas Avenue. The only natural hot spring on mainland Singapore, the Sembawang Hot Spring is popular for its apparent curative properties.1 The water used to be bottled as Seletaris by Fraser & Neave (F&N).2

In 1908, municipal ranger W. A. B. Goodall discovered hot springs in the Sembawang pineapple estate belonging to Seah Eng Keong, a Chinese merchant and son of prominent Chinese elite Seah Liang Seah.3 He covered three of the springs so that water would be concentrated through the fourth one.4 Sensing a business opportunity, Seah sent a sample of the spring water to London for examination. After receiving a favourable report, he began bottling the water in aerated form and sold it under the brand name Zombun. The drink was widely used as a table water for years.5

Seah’s bottled-water business was later continued by his father, under Singapore Natural Mineral Water Hot Springs Company.6 The company was sold to another proprietor in 1914.7 In 1921, the soft-drink firm F&N acquired the land and business of Singapore Natural Mineral Water Hot Springs and continued to bottle water from the spring under the brand names Seletaris and Zom.8

The spring, along with a well built nearby, soon became popular with the villagers, who frequently sought its water for its supposed healing powers. They even went there to boil eggs, wash their clothes and de-feather poultry. The village gained fame and came to be known as Kampong Ayer Panas (“Village of Hot Water”).9

The hot spring’s flow was interrupted during World War II, when a bomb fell near the well during an 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.10

A newspaper report in 1960 described punters turning up at the hot spring on race days to take “good luck” baths before the start of races.11 That same year, villagers began urging the authorities to develop the area into a spa-like tourist resort. However, F&N shelved the idea apparently because geologists could not find the source of the spring.12

Five years later in 1965, the idea of the spa resurfaced. This time F&N had bigger plans, including the development of baths, restaurants, a miniature golf course and even a nature reserve.13 The project was named Semangat Ayer, which means “energy/spirit water”. Phase One of the project started in the same year with the construction of a new bottling plant, which was completed and opened in 1967.14 However, the rest of the plan never materialised. By the mid-1980s, 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.15 Its water-bottling plant, built in 1965 at the nearby Semangat Ayer area, stopped production soon after.16

In 1985, the hot spring and the land surrounding it were acquired by the Ministry of Defence for the expansion of Sembawang Air Base.17 This led to calls from the public to preserve the hot spring and keep it open. In 2002, the Ministry of Defence announced that development plans for Sembawang Air Base would continue, but agreed to preserve the hot spring and to provide a gate for the public to access the spring during daytime.18 

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.19 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 two months later on 1 May.20 In 2007, it was reported that the hot spring received 20 to 30 visitors between 7 am and 7 pm daily.21 In 2016, the Ministry of Defence announced that it would return to the state the land on which the hot spring sits.22

The exact source of the Sembawang Hot Spring remains unknown. It is believed that its origin is northwest 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 3 km underground, the water is heated to high temperatures by the hot rock masses. The temperatures range between 100 and 150 deg C. Consequently, the high pressure causes the water to seep upwards through cracks, forcing itself out of the ground and onto the surface. At this point, the temperature of the water drops to 70 deg C. The Sembawang Hot Spring exerts enough pressure to create a six-metre-high fountain.23

Tested by PSB Corporation and SGS Testing & Control Services, the spring water was found to contain 420 mg of chloride per litre – significantly higher than the amounts in the water from the Choa Chu Kang and Bedok waterworks, which ranged from 35 to100 mg. In addition, its sulphide content is three times higher than that of tap water. It is the presence of these minerals that has enticed thousands to the hot spring, in search of cures for ailments like rheumatism and arthritis, as well as skin conditions like acne and psoriasis. Medical authorities, however, have remained sceptical about the healing powers of the spring water.24

A second hot spring exists on the offshore island of Pulau Tekong.25


Renuka M. & Nureza Ahmad

1. Goh Mei Yi, “Up in the North,” Straits Times, 30 May 2008, 109; Pauline Leong, “Hot Air over Hot Spring?” Straits Times, 3 February 2002, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Eddie Toh, “F&N to Redevelop Sembawang Site of Former Seletaris Plant,” Straits Times, 8 September 1992, 40 (From NewspaperSG); David Brazil, D. (1991). Street Smart: Singapore (Singapore: Times Books International, 1991), 273. (Call no. RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS])
3. “Hot Spring Discovered in Singapore,” Straits Times, 9 December 1908, 6; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 17 August 1909, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Song Ong Siang, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 429–30. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
4. Chua Lee Hoong, “Hot Spring Next for Conservation? Straits Times, 9 January 2002, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Untitled”; “Zombun,” Straits Times, 29 November 1909, 6; “Singapore’s Hot Spring,” Straits Times, 22 October 1912, 8; “Semangat Ayer Limited,” Straits Times, 10 March 1967, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Song, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese, 429–30.
6. “Singapore Natural Mineral Water,” Straits Times, 26 October 1912, 3; “Notice,” Straits Times, 12 October 1914, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Notice.”
8. “Semangat Ayer Limited.”
9. Chua, “Hot Spring Next for Conservation?”; Dominic Nathan, “S’pore’s Last Hot Spring in State of Neglect,” Straits Times, 7 December 1998, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Chua, “Hot Spring Next for Conservation?
11. M. Loganathan, “Hot Dip for a Hot Tip,” Singapore Free Press, 24 February 1960, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Nathan, “S’pore’s Last Hot Spring in State of Neglect.”
13. Nathan, “S’pore’s Last Hot Spring in State of Neglect.”
14. Mok Sin Pin, “Spa’ for S’pore to Draw in Tourists,” Straits Times, 20 October 1965, 16 (From NewspaperSG); “Semangat Ayer Limited.”
15. Nathan, “S’pore’s Last Hot Spring in State of Neglect.”
16. Toh, “F&N to Redevelop Sembawang Site.” 
17. Bertha Henson et al., “Land Near ‘Hot Spring’ Site May Be Redeveloped,” Straits Times, 15 March 1989, 17 (From NewspaperSG); Chua, “Hot Spring Next for Conservation?
18. “Hot Spring to Remain Open to the Public,” Straits Times, 18 January 2002, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Hot Spring to Remain Open.”
20. “Hot spring Ready for Visitors Tomorrow,” Straits Times, 30 April 2002, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “Do You Know These Places?” Straits Times, 22 April 2007, 47. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Melissa Lin, “Mindef to Return Sembawang Hot Spring Land Back to State: Ong Ye Kung,” Straits Times, 24 April 2016, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Pauline Leong, “Hot Air over Hot Spring?Straits Times, 3 February 2002, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Leong, “Hot Air over Hot Spring?
25. Chua, “Hot Spring Next for Conservation?

The information in this article is valid as of 2016 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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