Sunday, 10 August 2014

A DAY OUT! Yishun, Bottle Tree Park, a reservoir, hot Spa treatment and so much more!

I took a day off from temple spotting as my friend and I decided to explore a small area in the north of the island. We met at Khatib MRT (I can't find any definite confirmation why the MRT is named khatib. A khatib in islam is the person who delivers the sermon for Friday prayers but, I also know that there was a nearby waterway called Sungei Khatib Bongsu which I think is probably the reason - can anyone confirm this?) then took a brief wander through Yishun park 8 and entered Bottle Tree Park by its rear entrance. Bottle Tree Park is described as a kampong style recreation park that was built up over the past 10 years, home to restaurants, paintball, fishing lake, go karts, mini zoo and much more. However it will have closed by the 17 Aug, if you could tell the difference! It has been bought by Chinese firm Fullshare Group who intend to develop it into a recreation centre, but believed under a new name, many of the former incumbents have already moved on. To be honest the place looks like it has been left with nothing done to it for a few years, as my friend L said usually it's sad in Singapore when something old is taken over and revamped/knocked down but in this case there is most definitely a need and hopefully an improvement. It's a lovely tranquil relatively rural setting that needs some love, although I'm aware that local opinion probably differs to mine but I'm seeing it in its last few days.

The old go kart track

From here we wandered along the frontage of Lower Seleter Reservoir a short stroll, nothing too taxing. This is a pleasant place to sit, but I think the real plus side is the view, with the 2 jetties at either end of the waterside framing the reservoir perfectly. You can certainly see why photographers come here to take their shots. The only downside is that you can only walk such a short distance, its a vast expanse of water (for Singapore) but so little is accessible, it would seem Singapore is a missing an opportunity here!

From the far jetty we had spotted some large wall art on the front of an HDB block. My friend L has a project on the go at the moment to spot, photograph and record as much of the HDB art as possible, and to be honest I'm getting slightly hooked too. I'm sure there are other countries that have this as well but its fascinating and certainly brightens up the buildings. So we crossed out of Lower Seleter Reservoir park, across the road for a better look and then came across a Chinese funeral "celebration" at the bottom of this HDB in the void deck. It was clearly someone of importance as it was larger than many I had seen, with many floral tributes. These celebrations last for 5 days and the people there explained that it was only getting started and would be extremely busy by day 4 and 5. They were busy making ready all the preparations, wrapping what seemed like endless red packets filled with money. The coffin was there and at the end of it stood a chair with the gentleman's clothes laid out for him - ready for the afterlife? There was also a very large joss paper bungalow already on site which will be burnt later, this will be his home when he moves on. The people couldn't have been more polite and welcoming but we didn't want to intrude on such a personal occasion so we moved on walking back toward Khatib MRT. We spotted even more of the HDB art, it appears it is a popular occurrence here in Yishun.

Joss paper bungalow with the accountant that will travel with him into the next life standing in the doorway.

We hopped onto the MRT and alighted at next stop Yishun. (Yishun is mandarin for Lim Nee Soon known as the "rubber and Pineapple king" who owned much of the land here which was used for agriculture) Last week just a few hours after I had landed from my trip back to the UK the ladies group I'm in had visited Semabawang Hot Springs and I had missed this. As we were so close L decided to show what I had missed! Now I've known about this place for many months so I'm really chuffed to have finally visited. We walked for probably a good 15 minutes then turned down an unassuming path just off Gambas Ave, surrounded by military land, barbed wire, fencing and the usual military signage - I certainly wouldn't have wandered down this path without knowing what was down there. Round a bend and there the path opens up into a large concreted area surrounded by green chain link fencing, with a small brick pump building in the centre home to the hot spring that was discovered by Seah Eng Keong in 1909. In the past a malay village had grown up around the springs which was called Kampong Ayer Panas "Village of Hot Water"

Not exactly a welcoming entrance

 Not what most people would expect Hot Springs to looks like. Out of this expanse of concrete jut 3 metals pipes with 2 taps at either of end, from these boiling water continuously gushes with steam rising. The overriding smell is that of sulphur as you would expect with hot springs. This water continues to pour 24 hours a day with a caretaker putting a collection of plastic buckets, containers and even a baby bath out to catch the water. These containers are soon overflowing and the water eventually runs away into drains in the concrete, wasted water, wasted energy and another wasted opportunity - surely something could be made of this site, whether as a more promoted hot springs or/and some use of the hot water as a green energy? In the past the water had been bottled by Fraser and Neave after they bought the land in 1922 but this ended when the military purchased the land in 1998. There have also been various tests and suggestions for the use of the water and energy but to date nothing has come out of this. The water is reported to have healing properties.

When my friends had been the previous week there were a number of "aunties" there with feet placed in the buckets and flannels and cloths dipped into the water then wiped over them, or placed on their aching joints. This time there was just one lone "uncle" who soon left and we had the place to ourselves! NB: the water is said to take an hour to cool down so please DONT put your feet straight in the water!! We found a couple of buckets that were full and had been pulled to one side. I can't say how long ago they had been removed from the tap but, it took me several attempts and a good few minutes until I could get my feet into the water and to keep them there, one stung quite considerably but this was due to a large blister I had rubbed on yesterday 8 mile walk. L followed suit with her own bucket and we both sat there like a couple of good Singaporean "aunties" passing the time of day for maybe 3/4 hour, so tranquil if not picturesque, I could quite see myself if I was a local passing the morning there with my friends. Soon the caretaker of the site arrived in his over sized and extremely bright yellow welly boots. As with my friends visit he carried with him a bamboo wooden cage, which he hung up in the trees surrounding the site. This turned out was a bird trap, to catch the wild birds. A big thing in Asia is the keeping of birds which, although I've become accustomed to seeing I still find it slightly alien to me.

Take my word for it, its hot, very hot!!
Cant beat a bit of pampering!!!
Finally after a relaxing time spent with our feet in buckets and with rain clouds building we bade farewell to Sembawang Hot Springs and made our way back to Yishun MRT. NB. I can highly recommend the waters my nasty weeping blister dried and healed in super quick time :)

We passed by Chong Pang City which has some impressive Chinese city gates (built in 1992) as you enter into the area. Chong Pang was originally a village named after a Chinese business man Chong Pang who built the village in the 1930s to house the Indian workers for the Sembawang navy base. It later became "city" in the 1980s when it was redeveloped and was the first development in Yishun New Town. Prior to all this the area was once home to many Chinese Cemeteries and agricultural use.

Statue depicting the agricultural history of the area
One of the Chinese City Gates
From here we jumped aboard the train, feeling relaxed, chilled and a tad sleepy and found our way back home. Lovely to explore a new area of Singapore and one that we will be back to, more history, more HDB art and so close to Sembawang Park and the North coast of the island with Malaysia sitting across the water

More information on Sembawang Hot Springs can be found here

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