Haw Par Villa could easily be one of the most unique theme parks in the world. Simply put, how many theme parks in the world revolve around religion, life and hell? Probably just this one!
The private villa that became Singapore first theme park
Haw Par Villa was formerly known as the Tiger Balm Garden. Yup, it is related to that famous Tiger Balm!
However, the park wasn’t built to be a theme park in the first place.
The colorful history
This park was originally built in 1937 on the grounds of a splendid villa near the sea by Aw Boon Haw, 胡文虎; Hu Wenhu (whose name means ‘Gentle Tiger’). A millionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist. Boon Haw was otherwise also known for perfecting the famous ointment Tiger Balm with his younger brother, Aw Boon Par, 胡文豹; Hu Wenbao (whose name means Leopard’) – which gave the park its original name.
When you walk to the entrance of the park. their names will be the first that you would see, along the statue of a tiger and leopard as a symbolism of the meaning of their names.
First – a villa built of brotherly love
After the near completion of the first villa Haw Par Villa for his second wife in Hong Kong, Boon Haw commissioned this villa in Singapore. He built a residence in it for his brother Boon Par. However, his brother lived only briefly here, before he moved to Rangoon (today’s Yangon in Myanmar) during the World War II.
The park was abandoned at the start of World War II. Japanese forces eventually took control of it because of its excellent vantage point to watch ships at sea. It was left much damaged during the occupation.
Then, a cultural theme park for the people
After the war, Boon Haw rebuilt the damaged park and expanded it with more additions. He worked personally with artisans and contractors to build sculptures and dioramas to reflect the Asian culture, history, philosophy and religion. The result was a mystical park where one can learn about Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist mythology.
The park was later opened to the public to share Chinese values. It was the philanthropic brothers’ desire to preserve the Chinese culture, against the surge in Western ones, and to provide a recreational space for Asians. In its heyday, the park was a popular attraction with the locals.
Finally, the almost forgotten theme park
Unfortunately, visitorship to the park declined drastically over the years. After Boon Haw’s death in 1954, it was managed by the Aw family but no major additions made to the park since. In 1985, the Singapore government took over the park and it came under the management of the Singapore Tourist Board (STB).
Despite STB’s effort, the park did not have what it need to ‘compete’ with the new recreational options Singaporeans started to have in the 1990s. And the park soon fell into obscurity and became what it is today.
Nonetheless, as its history shown, the park is an interesting gem that is both an oddity and a cultural flux of many things, and one that’s definitely worth your visit.
Why you should visit?
So, if you are looking for a cultural experience and do not mind the statues being a tad too peculiar, then this park is great for you to explore!
Walk through a mystical land of Chinese folklore and legends
The park consists of as many as 1000 statues and 150 dioramas that portray the diverse Chinese folklore, legends, and mythologies while containing elements of Buddhism and Taoism.
The moment you step into the park, you will notice the wide variety of peculiar and literally “out-of-this-world” statues such as armed monkeys and giant crabs with human faces.
Walk through the 10 levels of Hell
Since you are here, don’t miss out on the “Ten Courts of Hell” – the trademark attraction of this place. According to Chinese mythology, a soul needs to pass through a series of courts before it can enter heaven to see if he or she is deemed worthy. If not, punishments will await those who are deemed otherwise. However, due to the graphic nature of the statues in this particular attraction, we will not recommend this for families with younger children.
Join a guided tour to Asian Fairylands and back
And if seeing is not enough for you, there are also tours that cultural lovers like yourself may want to embark on to fully experience the stories being told by this place.
Daily Tour : Finding Your Tao in Haw Par Villa – The Tiger Balm Garden Story
In this tour, you will get to get a glimpse of the history and story of the park and the Aw brothers accompanied with the interesting stories of Chinese folklore and philosophy while being immersed in the surreal landscape of Haw Par Villa.
Timings: 10am & 4pm respectively
Duration: Approximately 1 hour
- Children (7 to 12 years old) – $5
- Adults – $10
To take note: Arrive at Haw Par Villa Visitor Centre 15 minutes prior to the preferred timing to register and make payment for the tour.
- Twilight Tour: Journeys to Hell – Death and the Afterlife in Haw Par Villa
This tour takes place at night and walking through the “Ten Courts of Hell” at night is definitely a totally different experience. If this doesn’t scare you, you should come and try out this tour. Through this tour, you will get to see the dioramas that portray death and afterlife in the light of the Chinese religious belief.
- Every Friday night (Exclude Public Holidays): 6.30pm-8.20pm
- Children (7 to 12 years old) – $9
- Student (show your student card for verification) – $15
- Adults – $18
To take note: Meeting place is outside Exit A of Haw Par Villa Mrt station – 15 minutes prior to tour to register and make payment.
How to get there?
Ready to visit the Hades?
Hidden away in the far west of Singapore, the park has fallen into such obscurity that you may find yourself the few lonely souls visiting on a weekday. If you prefer some company, do join a tour, or go on a weekend!
Nonetheless, it is easily accessible from Haw Par Villa MRT Station Exit A, and admission is FREE!
- Haw Par Villa: 9am – 7pm (last entry 6pm)
- Ten Courts of Hell: 9am-6pm (Last Entry: 6.45pm)
Admission Fee: FREE!