Last Updated on 2023-03-26 , 12:37 pm
Opened in 2014, ORTO Leisure Park quickly established a name for itself in the rest and relaxation scene with its rustic kampung vibes, fishing activities, green spaces and good food.
It’s the sort of place that younger Singaporeans remember as that one place where they were brought to for their school excursions.
Alas, despite being one of the most unique destinations for rest and relaxation, ORTO has been handed the short end of the stick as it will be closing down in mid-2023 so it can be repurposed for residential buildings.
If you’ve only two minutes to spare, you can watch this video to know what’s next for Orto:
Future Plans For The Land
ORTO Leisure Park spans 5.14 hectares within a plot of about 70 hectares and is located at 91 Lorong Chencharu, connected to Sembawang Camp, Sembawang Road, Yishun Avenue 1 and Yishun Avenue 2.
Before ORTO was established in 2014, it was owned by Bottle Tree Park, which operated from end-2006 to 2014.
According to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), the two tenants within the area—ORTO Leisure Park and Ground-Up Initiative (GUI)—have their leases extended to 30 June2023 to ensure that it has time to carry out their transition plans.
The Housing Board will be taking 40 hectares of land just north-west of ORTO’s grounds to prepare the land for a new housing area.
11 sites around Lorong Chencharu have been marked out as aquarium fish export centres, but its development will be postponed until later.
Originally, the leases of these sites were renewed between July 2020 and March 2021, but were snipped short by planned developments.
ORTO Leisure Park Attractions
Although it’s saddening to hear that ORTO will be closing down, at least it’s not immediate.
Before it closes down in the mid-2023, it’s highly recommended that you visit the place once!
Among other things, it is an excellent spot for fishing enthusiasts or for a fun day out with family. It has three modes of fishing— prawning, a general fishing spot called Fishing Paradise, and longkang fishing, which is something that older Singaporeans are intimately familiar with from their kampung days.
The hourly rates are affordable, and you get to keep your catch!
Even if you’re a first timer, you just need to bring your awesome self since the facilities will provide the bait and rod.
Better yet, if you’re going for prawning specifically, there are electric grills on-site and you can feast on your freshest catch straight away.
Dining at ORTO Leisure Park
Besides the physical and fishing activities available at the leisure park, there are nine dining choices at ORTO.
For starters, it has SEA Kitchen that offers South-East Asian cuisines, Tasty Loong by Chef Pung which has a Chinese cuisine menu, with most of its creations. Most of its dishes look like something out of a cooking show with its elaborate plating and gorgeous colours.
Furthermore, it has a Mookata restaurant, which is basically a combination of Korean barbeque and Chinese hotpot, paired with Thai sauces and spices.
It is also a great nightlife destination too; enjoy all sorts of liquor drinks and finger foods under the yellow stringed lights and next to a view of the waterfront with bars such as BBK Bistro & Bar, Kamikaze Asian Tapas Bar, and Quench! Bistro & Bar.
If you’re having something sweet to finish off the night, you can check out M.A.D, otherwise known as Modern Asian Desserts.
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The Crawling Tortoise Museum
Honestly speaking, if there’s one unlucky tenant that deserves more recognition, it is the Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum.
The Tortoise Museum made its first home at Chinese Garden for 18 years, initially starting out as a pet project for Museum owner Connie Tan to let children learn about different tortoise and turtle species.
The museum was told to vacate its Chinese Garden premise by March, but the deadline proved to be trying for the museum since it had to rehouse over 500 turtles, tortoises and terrapins.
Let alone the transport issues that came with live creatures that are sensitive to changes, having to prepare and build a suitable habit is extremely costly.
Ms Tan took to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Facebook page in March 2018, appealing for help as the deadline drew closer.
The government agencies stepped in, and the public was later informed by Ms Tan that the museum’s lease was extended by the National Parks Board.
Despite having sponsorships and discounts from various contractors to help with the $600,000 renovation costs, Ms Tan still had to fork out around one-third of the cost.
In order to break even the initial sunk cost as quickly as possible, the museum had no choice to raise its $5 entrance fee for the first time since its founding.
Singaporeans had to pay $10, non-Singaporeans were charged $14, and children had the discounted price of $6.
It’s unknown if the museum managed to break even before the pandemic struck, but its business definitely suffered during the two-year-drought, no thanks to COVID-19.
Now, it has to move again.
Regardless, Ms Tan appears to be vaguely aware that the museum wasn’t going to stay at ORTO for the long-term, as she admitted that she was prepared to stay for approximately 15 to 18 months after it settled down in the leisure park in January 2019.
She mentioned that there had been murmurs that Orto’s lease, which was going to lapse in mid-2020, would not be renewed.
Thankfully, Ms Tan is presently in talks with authorities for a new site that is close to ORTO.
It will still be expensive though, so if you’re interested in helping the Live Turtle & Tortoise museum, which is home to 40 different species, you can donate here.
Another tenant that is buried in financial woes is Ground-Up Initiative, a non-profit organisation that focuses on sustainability and community building through farming, crafts, and cooking workshops.
Having to evict their current grounds will be painful, as GUI started a natural soil-based farm in Lorong Chencharu as far back as 2009, with the help of volunteers and people from the Yishun community.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, GUI executive leader Cai Bingyu relates that his organisation couldn’t run educational programmes for schools and corporate clients, which was an important source of funding.
There were a few times during the pandemic where GUI skirted the brink of closure, but they toughed it out anyway as they believed that there was value in their work, and they enjoyed serving the community.
For instance, some of the farm produce goes to beneficiaries in Yishun through corporate social responsibilities workshops.
It also hosts woodworking workshops for items for easy-to-make items like mask-hangers, stools, pet scratching boards, and toy houses.
It has workshops where people can learn to turn fruit waste into soap enzymes, upcycling wood waste, and grow their own microgreens as well.
GUI is still looking for a new green plot to resettle itself, hopefully within the Yishun area since the organisation has formed tight bonds with the community over the years.
However, it will be exceedingly costly to set up another farm. Mr Cai estimates that the first phase of building a new facility will cost $2 million.
And that’s only enough to cover the basic facilities and services to get its workshops running.
Likewise, if you’re interested in becoming a patron of GUI, you can donate here.
The Other Tenants’ Plans
Unfortunately enough, the dining establishments at ORTO are plagued by financial troubles.
Chef and owner Pung Lu Tin of Tasty Loong stated that his restaurant will remain at ORTO until the lease inevitably expires, adding that he has no plans to relocate his restaurant yet since it is still reckoning with the financial impact of the pandemic.
Moreover, it’s undeniable that there isn’t another place that is quite like ORTO Leisure Park in Singapore.
After receiving media inquiries, Orto spokesperson Clifford Loh said that some of Orto’s tenants may move to 27 West Coast Highway, a two-storey commercial building that is close to Haw Par Villa MRT Station.
Once ORTO’s imminent closure was announced, Singaporeans were none too happy about the development.
Some lamented the loss of another place that is meant for recreation and leisure.
They point out the importance of ORTO’s existence as a place where families can enjoy themselves, and where the working class congregate for dinner and to have drinks. The environmental kampung tour run by GUI and Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum tours are also a beneficial experience for students.
Additionally, the loss of the leisure park means that Singapore loses the last remaining vestige of Yishun’s old landscape, because the LCK farms were already cleared out in the past.
Other Singaporeans note that ORTO is one of the main reasons why people go to Khatib.
They feel like unique locations are being replaced by ubiquitous and repetitive malls and condos. If the price of urbanisation is sameness, then the island-state has become a soulless metropolis.
Naturally, whenever an area is reclaimed by the government for residential and/or commercial development, there is always the age-old argument of ‘why isn’t another place being reclaimed instead’.
The typical victims of their verbal onslaught are the golf courses—seriously, why do we need so many, it’s not even a popular sport in Singapore—and the branches of HomeTeamNS.
Besides that, people are wondering if the housing demand in Singapore is so urgent to the point where green spaces are constantly being targeted for planned development.
Alas, there’s no winning against the gahmen.
The pretty scenery that is the ORTO Leisure Park will be sorely missed on train rides on the red line.
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