Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The hidden waterfall at Bukit Batok

There is a beautiful cascading waterfall at Bukit Batok.
Most people would not even see it when it is in plain sight.
There is a magical secret to this!

Many of you may have noticed that even whilst we are in a pandemic situation, a lot of people have found new ways to relieve stress. One of the most visible that I have seen is that more people have been out to the parks, nature trails and forest reserves and in bigger numbers than the usual.

As a result of sharings on social media, more people are finding places that were once unknown to most.
Two of these lesser known places are the former Bukit Batok Hillside Park, as well as the Bukit Gombak Nature Park. They have been closed for more than twenty years now for various reasons, mainly for public safety.

In this article, I will tell you some secrets of the Bukit Batok Hillside Park located at Bukit Batok West Avenue 2, especially of its hidden waterfall.

Bukit Batok Hillside Park was created in the early 1990s. It was designed by the HDB based on a totally new concept then.
While most HDB neighbourhood parks were built within the housing precinct and thus would be basically 'flat' and built on cleared land making them easily accessible, the Hillside Park was designed to be a 'rugged' countryside park instead.

In early 1990, HDB's Principal Architect, Ms Evelyn Chua, on a trip to New Zealand was inspired by how the Kiwis preserved their natural terrain and natural vegetation in creating nature parks.

New Zealand Nature Park 

In trying to emulate this concept, HDB planners found that the hilly Bukit Batok region was ideal for this kind of natural rugged parkland.
It  had natural hills, was forested, had natural springs and had rocky outcrops to emulate mountain climbing features. Importantly, it was also isolated and away from the bustling new town, giving it a 'getting away from civilisation' feeling.

The intention was to keep it as pure and natural where possible. Making full use of the terrain, the rocky outcrops for hiking trails and using the forest flora supplementing it with local palms, ferns and rhododendrons for the more general public areas.

A lot of the secondary forest would be kept natural with only prepared trails in, to minimise damage to the natural vegetation. It would be a park not just for the general public but would also cater to those who prefer a hardier hike or climb or some jungle trekking.

For the general public, the Park was built with an 'enchanted forest' theme. There were cobblestone paths, a wishing well, floral pergolas and gazebos built all around the hillside where you could gaze on the developing Bukit Gombak New Town below. It would be like walking through a floral wonderland from one place to another through the pergolas to the gazebos.
But the best feature was a hidden waterfall that could be seen only when the conditions were right.

The Park was completed in early 1990 and was handed over to the Choa Chu Kang Town Council as part of their town facilities.  Choa Chu Kang Town Council was in charge of that area of Bukit Batok at the time as part of their constituency. The Town Council renamed the new park as Greenwood Park, however, the name did not last and was forgotten by most and was never included in further official listings when the park was closed for the reasons  I will explain below.

Photos by ©EngOng Bluefly


Alas, Hillside Park was not popular for the very same reasons that they expected that it would be.
It was too rugged, people found it too hard to climb about the rocky surface, the slopes were too steep for comfort, there were no handrails along the paths, and the park features felt a bit fake, a bit out of place.
Even simply to access the park, you had to climb a steep stairway of 10 metres just to reach the entrance. And it was too far away from most residents then, being isolated at the far end of Bukit Batok West at that time, while most of them were living in the eastern and central zones.

So the very reasons that they thought would make the park outstanding and unique became the very reasons for its downfall. 
The public, especially residents of Bukit Batok, were not used to this new concept and most gave the park a miss due to these difficulties. So visitor traffic to the Park dwindle to almost zero over the next few years. It was the wrong type of park at the wrong time.

The Wishing Well

For the Town Council, the park became a costly liability. It cost them more to maintain than there were visitors to justify its continued upkeep. However, they kept it going at that time as there were talks that a new statutory board was to be formed to take over the management of all parks in Singapore.

When NParks was formed to take over all Singapore parks, they decided not to upkeep the unpopular Hillside Park and so it was closed and left to fallow. It was eventually abandoned and the land was returned to the HDB.  Over the years since, it was literally forgotten except by the few hardy explorers and 'ghost hunters' and it became a hidden gem for birders.

You can watch the accompanying video clip below that will show you some of the remnants of the features that were in the park. The video was done more for the birding community but it will also show you a bit of the old park.
In this video, I also dispel the mistaken notion that the pergolas many hikers and explorers come across there were once Japanese "Torii Gates".

Definitely not Japanese Torii Gates!


One of the most unique features of Hillside Park, one that can still be seen even today after being abandoned more than 20 years, is the hidden waterfall.
On a fine day, you won't be able to find it but when it rains, it appears like magic in the enchanted forest.

The main access into the park was a man-made rock stairway leading to the Wishing Well and the Gazebos.

The unique feature of this stairway was that all the drains around the park were directed towards it.
Whenever it rains, all the runoff rainwater would be channeled into this stairway causing the rainwater to cascade down the steps.
The heavier the rainfall, the larger would be the cascading waterfall.
This effect can still be seen today whenever it rains.

When NParks closed Bukit Batok Hillside Park to let it revert into a secondary forest, they removed the bottom half of this stairway to prevent the public from getting inside. The stairway was also covered with new plants to hide the entrance. 


What NParks didn't realise then was that when the original hidden waterfall was put in, it was covered with a layer of Gunite (shotcrete). This layer of gunite, which is a type of concrete, was laid all over the stairway channel to prevent erosion of the soil when the waterfall effect happens during the rain.

HDB planners apparently knew that a gushing waterfall would soon erode the soil beneath but I guess NParks know more about flora and fauna than civil engineering. hee hee. just kidding.

NParks failed to recognise the ingenuity of the HDB architect's design.
Essentially, HDB had created a huge concrete 'longkang' (canal) to drain all the runoff rainwater away from the park. Creatively, they made that same longkang into a stairway as well. This canal/stairway would channel all the rainwater to the main drainage at the roadside. And in this process the magical waterfall would appear for those willing to wait in the rain.
Can you imagine what would happen if someone cut the longkang away?

As the erosion prevention layer was removed together with the lower half of the stairway, the bottom half of the waterfall channel has now eroded the hillside over the years and continues to pour rainwater and mud directly onto the roadside today.
The intact upper section of the stairway is still in excellent condition and hasn't eroded all these years.
The gunite layer also acted as a non-slip layer to allow people to walk through the cascade without falling.

Bukit Batok Hillside Park is slated to be re-developed for new flats over the coming years. A small replacement neighbourhood park would be built for the new residents on one side of the present hill by 2024. Today, Hillside Park has already been reduced to less than a quarter of what it originally was when it was built.
If you want to see this magical phenomena, go there soon before it is all gone.
But only when it rains!
If you intend to go further in, remember it is very, very slippery on the steep slopes during a rainfall.

Here is my accompanying video where you can see the fake cobblestone stairway that turns into a beautiful cascading waterfall during the rain.
If you prefer to watch in full screen or with subtitles, you can click on this link 

A word of thanks to my hiking friend Tan Kim Lai for the use of his photographs.


  1. 去那儿玩玩会危险吗?

    1. Just use common sense as you would on any hiking trail. It is not dangerous but maybe get someone along with you for support. There are many Youtube videos online about Hillside Park and many will guide you to the right tracks.