Yishun – from farms & kampongs to a new town with many firsts in Singapore

Yishun (义顺) is a residential town in northern Singapore, formally called Nee Soon but renamed to the hanyu pinyin name of its pioneer. The town was named after Lim Nee Soon, a prominent industrialist who made his fortune from rubber and pineapples in the early 1900s. This area has gone through a lot of changes since the 1800s, where it used to be filled with gambier & pepper plantations, then rubber & pineapple plantations in the early 1900s, the opening of the Singapore Naval Base in 1938, & later on the construction of HDB estates from 1976. It was largely covered with farms & villages until Yishun New Town was constructed. This is also where I call home since 15 years ago. 😉

Frankly speaking, I didn’t really know or explore much about the town until recent years. Back then, I was still very attached to my birth home in Ang Mo Kio New Town. 😛 Only in the last 3 years did I start to make small notes about the town I live in, & I discovered it’s actually a new town with many “firsts” in Singapore! Here’s the list of things that Yishun is proud to be first on the little red dot:

1. Asia’s 1st cineplex, i.e. a movie theatre with several auditoriums, was opened on 28 May 1992 to much fanfare in Yishun Central near to Yishun MRT station! Known as Yishun 10, a joint venture between Golden Harvest & Village Roadshow, it transformed the cinema industry in Singapore. People didn’t think a cinema with 10 movie auditoriums would work then, particularly in the heartlands. But Yishun 10 has proved everyone wrong. After a 3-month renovation in 2010, it was renamed GV Yishun, & proud to be Golden Village’s 1st “green” cineplex. Not sure if you noticed, GV Yishun is also the only GV multiplex to have a building of its own. 😉

the upgraded GV Yishun (image credit: cinemaonline)

The upgraded GV Yishun (image credit: cinemaonline)

2. A few months after Yishun 10 was officially opened, Yishun residents were delighted to witness the opening of Singapore’s 1st heartland mallNorthpoint Shopping Centre. It was the 1st time big brand names such as Cold Storage, John Little, Marks & Spencer  & Toys R Us opened their 1st suburban outlet. Before that, you could only find such brand names in town. I also remember this was the 1st time we had air-conditioned comfort when shopping in the heartlands, so it was like THE place to go to if you didn’t want to travel all the way downtown. In October 2008, the mall was refurbished & a new extension was added. Then in 2015, the old Yishun Bus Interchange was demolished to make way for a new building. Finally, in December 2017, the largest mall in the north, renamed as Northpoint City, reopened to much fanfare with its wide selection of shops (about 500 tenants), particularly in terms of food choices. Look forward to the new air-conditioned Yishun Bus Interchange to be connected to the mall in 2019. 😉

Northpoint Shopping Centre (image credit: Frasers Centrepoint Trust)

Northpoint Shopping Centre (image credit: Frasers Centrepoint Trust)

3. On 2 May 2010, Singapore’s 1st outdoor heritage space – Heritage Garden was launched in front of the HDB Branch Office in Yishun Central 1.

4. On 15 November 2010, another milestone was reached in Yishun, with Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) opening as the 1st hospital in the north. Prior to its opening, the nearest government hospital for Yishun residents was Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) near Novena MRT station. KTPH relieved some of TTSH’s patient load as well as provided convenience for northlanders. It has environmentally-friendly features that reduce energy usage compared to other hospitals. Furthermore, the building is located beside the serene Yishun Pond, & there’s plenty of green landscaping in the hospital to provide a nice healing environment. Personally, I enjoy brisk-walking round the Yishun Pond when I need a breather too. 🙂

Yishun Pond with KTPH in the background (image credit: Jui-Yong-Sim)

Yishun Pond with KTPH in the background (image credit: Jui-Yong Sim)

5. On 14 Sep 2017, Singapore’s first female head of state, President Halimah Yacob was sworn in as the nation’s eighth President. What has that got to do with Yishun you ask? Well, because President Halimah continued to stay in her family jumbo HDB flat in Yishun Ave 4 even after she assumed office. Erm, albeit only for a month or so after she was sworn in due to security challenges, but it still made Yishun the talk of town for that period. To date, you won’t be able to find a Singapore President who lived in public housing while in office, you know? So this is definitely a “first” for Yishun that needs to be mentioned! 🤭

Besides the many “firsts”, Yishun is also home to several green spaces where I can breath in fresh air & soak in the refreshing scenery. Here are some noteworthy green spots:

a. ORTO @Yishun

Let’s start with the park nearest to my home. Located less than 10 min by foot from Khatib MRT is the 555,000 sqft leisure park known as ORTO. About the size of 7 football fields, this piece of land was formerly occupied by the Bottle Tree Park which has ceased operations in August 2014. While much of the kampong charms & rustic feel have been retained, unfortunately the iconic bottle trees are now gone. Luckily I took photo before they were removed!

Old Bottle Tree Park

Orto @Yishun

ORTO is open to the public 24 hours a day, where visitors can engage in activities such as prawning, longkang fishing, paintball etc, or dine at the 6 restaurants in the park. Although I stay quite near to the park, I have never tried dining at any restaurants there hehe. Nonetheless, it is a green place that offers a quick respite from the concrete jungle. 🙂

b. Lower Seletar Reservoir Park

From ORTO, walk along Yishun Ave 2 towards SLE / Yishun Ave 1 for a few minutes & you will see the Lower Seletar Reservoir Park diagonally across at the traffic junction. This is the reservoir you will see while travelling towards/ out of Khatib MRT. Often, you can also find people who cast their fishing rods into the waters. Sometimes, there are enthusiasts kayaking or dragon-boating in the reservoir too. If you walk till the end of the park, look out for avid golfers at the Orchid Country Club just across from the reservoir. Over here, there is a Family Bay with a water play area that is popular with kids.

I love to visit the reservoir park for long leisurely strolls, as the beautiful scenery almost always seems to have a calming effect on me. The idyllic environment is a stark contrast to the modern high-rise flats in the surroundings. Really appreciate nature so close & accessible to home!

View from the Heritage Bridge

View from middle of the Heritage Bridge

View from the end of Heritage Bridge

View from the end of the Heritage Bridge

The water play area in the Family Bay

The water play area in the Family Bay

See if you can spot these in the Yishun Nature Way

See if you can spot these in the Yishun Nature Way

c. Sembawang Hot Springs

Technically speaking, this doesn’t really fall into any of the roads/ streets of Yishun, as you can guess from the name. 😛 & certainly hot springs isn’t green space? Haha but this precious gem in a city with hardly any natural resources to boast of is located in between Yishun & Sembawang. In fact it is quite accessible from the famous Chong Pang City – the 1st neighbourhood centre in Yishun. As the only natural hot spring found on the main island discovered over a century ago, it’s surely a spot not to be missed! Especially when it’s so near home I don’t need an air ticket to enjoy a soak in therapeutic mineral water! 🙂

Earlier this month, I finally ventured to the rustic plot of land nestled inside the grounds of Sembawang Air Base along Gambas Ave. You can take a short ride on buses 858 or 969 in front of Yishun MRT & alight at the bus stop after Chong Pang Camp (bus stop #57121 Opp 115B). Or you can also walk towards that direction, should only take about 10 min or so. From bus stop #57121, walk straight along this road towards Gambas Ave. Soon, you will reach a traffic junction that looks something like the pic below:

View of traffic junction between Gambas Ave & Sembawang Rd

View of traffic junction between Gambas Ave & Sembawang Rd

Keep left when you reach this junction. Within about 5 min walk, you will see a gate on your left with a concrete path & opening hours signboard:

The gate to Singapore's only natural hot spring!

The gate to Singapore’s only natural hot spring!

As you can see from the signboard, the gate is open from 7am to 7pm daily. Just walk in & follow the dim & quiet concrete path till you see the hot spring signage. Get ready for your hot spring bath or cook an all-natural egg breakfast! 😉

Pictured in this collage is the hot spring background & main water tap

Pictured in this collage is the hot spring background, centre standpipe & my foot bath experience 😛

Discovered in 1909 by Chinese merchant Seah Eng Keong, he sent the water for testing in Europe, and found it to resemble water from “mineral hot springs” with “valuable medicinal properties”. Being a businessman, he bottled the water for sale using the brand “Zombun”. In 1922, soft drinks maker F&N acquired the plot of land to set up a plant nearby to tap the mineral water, & sold it under the brand name Seletaris. The Japanese officers also knew how to enjoy themselves while at war. During the Japanese Occupation, it became a spa for them, with several thermal baths built in the area. Of course, anyone would also want to take advantage of such free natural goodness!

There are 3 standpipes here, with the centre standpipe carrying the hottest & most powerful stream of water. You can bring your own pails, basins etc if you want to hold the water. Otherwise, just make use of the spare basins/ buckets available on-premise, probably thanks to the uncle warden here. According to a regular I spoke to during my visit, the other 2 standpipes by the sides aren’t as piping hot, & I could see some of them enjoy a shower with the therapeutic water & wash some laundry. Too bad I only knew about the intense heat of the centre standpipe after gathering a basin of water for my foot bath. I didn’t want to waste water (I’m a well-educated Singaporean who knows every drop of water is precious, OK? :P) so I could only wait for the extremely hot basin of water to cool down. It was a good 45 min before I dared to soak my feet in it haha. But really shiok! 😉

The spring water was found to have substantially more chloride, and 3 times more sulphide content than tap water. Due to its mineral content, the water is slightly alkaline. There are claims that the water can cure rheumatism, & heal skin problems like acne or psoriasis. While there’s no scientific proof to back up these claims, the heat of the water can relax muscles & joints. So come here for a soak to enjoy the relaxing & curative effect of natural mineral water, without a passport chop! 😉

[UPDATE AUG 2018]: Since 10 August 2018, Sembawang Hot Spring has been closed as works commenced for the area to be developed into Sembawang Hot Spring Park. It is expected to be reopened in October 2019. During the closure, the public can still draw hot spring water from 2 temporary taps though.

 d. Springleaf Nature Park

The Springleaf Nature Park is the latest new nature park in the Yishun-Sembawang district, officially opened on 1 November 2014. The 6-hectare park entrance is located at Upper Thomson Road, where you will find the popular Ampang Yong Tau Foo, Hans etc further down the road.

The area used to be part of the Chan Chu Kang village – named after the headman Chan Ah Lak who acquired the land near Seletar River to cultivate gambier and pepper. With urbanization, the village & nearby plantations eventually became nature corridors between the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and surrounding green spaces. Due to the proximity to the CCNR, the park serves as a habitat for more than 80 species of resident & migratory birds, including the White-throated Kingfisher, Long-tailed Parakeet and Blue-tailed Bee-eater.

Different views of the quiet nature park

Different views of the quiet nature park

In a way, this park is like a mini-Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, a large sanctuary for diverse variety of birds in northwest Singapore. There’s even an observatory deck for bird-watchers! Alas, luck wasn’t on our side when we visited that day. We didn’t manage to see any. Either we weren’t observant enough or it was so hot & humid the birds also went into hiding haha. But we did see a couple of avid birdwatchers equipped with their binoculars & cameras. It wasn’t a huge park so we finished the tour pretty quickly. There is a nice little cafe you’ll see once you enter from the main entrance, called Verdure Cafe. Its interiors look pretty inviting, with an alfresco dog-friendly dining area. Some dishes on the menu look interesting, though we didn’t check them out that day.

Verdure Cafe at the main entrance of the park

Verdure Cafe at the main entrance of the park

It’s great to be staying near to natural green spaces where I can enjoy some fresh air & get closer to nature. At least I have less excuses not to be lazy & go for healthy jogs/ walks! In addition, the town is not just home to many firsts in Singapore. Works are currently ongoing to improve its transport infrastructure and amenities too. I definitely look forward to the new integrated transport hub at Yishun town centre with a bus interchange, shopping mall, community club and a town plaza in 2 years’ time. 🙂

This article was first published on 29 August 2016 & updated in December 2018.

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