Bubbling Out of the Ground – Sembawang Hot Spring, Singapore

[Jonty] After a morning of making new friends, our family set off to search out the Sembawang Hot Springs, Singapore. I had never been to the Hot Springs before – in fact, I had never heard of them ever existing and every local friend we had asked had never been either! This left the pre-conceived-mind-image of the spring as a muddy puddle, flowing into some soggy patch of grass, with maybe 3 or 4 people looking at it, disappointedly! As is often the case, this image was wrong.

We adopted the 21st century tourist pose – head down looking at Google Maps – and took the MRT (Singapore’s underground train system) to Yishun where we jumped on a bus. Our kids asked us every few seconds whether the next bus stop was ours to hop off – much was their enthusiasm to press the bell. We walked a few hundred metres from the bus stop to the entrance to the Hot Spring Park, passing a couple of locals carrying plastic buckets. My pre-conceived-mind-image nearly gave in to the temptation to morph into something a little more impressive than that muddy puddle. The entrance to the park was deceiving – a pathway on the side of the road, with a muted sign: Sembawang Hot Spring Park. No neon lights, no bright lettering. The distinct lack of a ticket booth and a car park – essentials for any attraction in the UK. But this is Singapore. Instead, a clean pathway lined with an array of plant species, intentionally planted to perfection. Also, typically Singaporean, we passed a cafe, air-conditioned and offering a selection of snacks and drinks. We followed clear signage towards the hot spring and approached a grassy lawn, where families sat and children played. There was a thin stony path, sunken into the ground, which resembled a dry river bed. I wonder whether water ever streams over it. As we approached the hot springs we were met with clues that we were getting near: more people with buckets; a lady with a crate full of eggs (this was a real clue – read on!); more people and most recognisable, the QR code to sign in and out, allowing for contact tracing for COVID.

There was definitely the feint smell of boiled egg in the air. I don’t know whether it is Singapore’s obsession with food, or whether it’s the novelty of nearly boiling, drinkable water, flowing out of the ground, but everyone (including us!) brought eggs along to cook and eat.

The hot spring came into view – not a muddy puddle, but a well built concrete structure, categorised into temperatures. The hottest temperature was at the highest level, with small waterfalls running down to the next level, and lower temperature. Around the lowest level and at 45 degrees celcius, was an area for people to sit and dip their feet. Many believe the water has restorative properties. People would scoop the water and pour it on areas that ached; some washed their faces repeatedly and one man even brought a large bin, filled it with hot spring water and got in it, leaving just his face exposed.

Many people gathered around, armed with plastic buckets, bowls, tubs. There was a buzz in the air – happy people, enjoying this natural phenomenon. An area dedicated to cooking eggs was beyond the spring – water had been channelled to this area and flowed out of pipes. Queues formed at busy points and then would dissipate as their naturally cooked snacks were ready. We brought two eggs – and a good thing too, we needed two attempts! Attempt one – we didn’t leave it under the hot flowing water for long enough. What slopped out was an undercooked, slightly snotty egg. Our eager daughter, Aspen, still managed to sneak in a dip and lick though! We decided we would take some tips from the locals around us and left our second egg under the running spring water for a good long while! Probably 40 minutes in total… After this a perfectly cooked runny egg plopped out into our Tupperware tub! For those unfamiliar with runny egg, it is a Singaporean breakfast staple, served with soy sauce and a dusting of white pepper. I have tried to cook these myself in the past – unsuccessfully! So I was pretty pleased to see this egg turn out so good! Aspen and Milo, our son, got stuck into the egg pretty quickly, Milo’s eyes watering because of the heat of the freshly cooked egg!

While we waited for the second egg to cook, we decided to explore the foot-dipping area of the hot spring. A 45 degree celcius section had been designated for foot-bathing and crowds gathered probably a little closer than government regulations would have allowed, what with covid still being very prominent. We waited patiently for a space to clear, wanting to remain socially responsible. This cleared up quickly. Often people will spot there is someone waiting and will move to create space, or will decide they have been there long enough. The kids and I took our flip flops off and waded into the hot water. I’m not sure how much of its healing properties affected us, but mind you, we weren’t ill! Millie joined us once she felt her egg was safe from prying Grandmas looking for a free snack. And she too, waded into the water and took a seat. The humid Singapore air made the experience only bearable for 10 or 15 minutes before we were far too sweaty to stay much longer and we stepped out for our snack. 

The children loved the whole experience. The cooking of an egg outdoors, the idea that the water was just bubbling out of the ground. The constant running taps, that can’t be turned off was another highlight. They were buzzing for the whole trip and have since asked to return, which I’m sure we will. With more eggs this time!

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