Haw Par Villa

It will come as no surprise to you that I am deeply interested in the stories people tell and they ways in which they choose to tell them. So, off I went to Haw Par Villa, a Chinese mythological “theme park,” with dear friends, Flora and Singapore Noodle.

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For my non-Singapore-based readers: Haw Par Villa, previously known as Tiger Balm Gardens, was built in 1937 by Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, brothers who made a fortune in the early 1900s selling Tiger Balm. (Yep, Tiger Balm. The panacea touted by everyone’s grandmother.)

Haw Par Villa features over 1,000 statues and 150 dioramas that illustrate Chinese legends and folklore. The most well-known is probably the Ten Courts of Hell which depicts gruesome scenes of punishment and reincarnation.

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The Ten Courts of Hell did not disappoint. Sinners are boiled, beaten, drowned, crushed, attacked, and flattened in the most heinous of ways.

Overall, Haw Par Villa is trippy, kitchy, and macabre. The park is also quiet and contemplative and, perhaps, the perfect location for an off-the-beaten-track picnic. I will surely be going back.

Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa

7 responses

  1. Was quite traumatised by the Ten Courts of Hell as a kid. It was all so real to me. But I still liked visiting the place. Haven’t been here in ages but your beautiful photos make me want to explore it all over again.

  2. It is, hands, paws and cut-off tongues down, my favorite tourist attraction in Singapore. It has been ever since I was a kid, and I will say that I pooh-pooh’d my grandparents entreaties to be a good girl even after the 10 Courts of Hell. (My pragmatism started at a young age.)

    However, through the years, I have such wonderful… well, funny… pictures of me and my family and friends monkeying (literally, at times) about with the statues. I LOVE all the folklore. I don’t know if you read all the stories behind all the life-sized dioramas, but I always love revisiting them because these were stories my mom and my grandmothers told me and then to see in person is like going to see a movie made of a favorite novel.

  3. was also traumatized as a kid when my parents brought me there, so scary yet so attractive at the same time.

    i hear there is a similar one in HK too, though it is open by appointment only at the moment. need. to. go. check it out. soon !

  4. I thought it was interesting that, back in the late 80s and early 90s (when I was living in Singapore the first time around), people were paying entry fee at one point as it was an amusement park with roller coaster. Then that was scrapped when no one would come.

    I also went back recently with my fiance and it was interesting to understand the different perspective I now had as an adult with different cultural attributes. Funnily enough, I kept getting asked by classmates if I saw any ghosts or felt any presences – I just explained that I “wasn’t inclined that way.” Which begs the question… did you feel any eerie presences?

    I was kind of fascinated by the oddly-shaped home built by the older brother for the younger brother (located near the gorillas). If I remember correctly, the story goes when the younger brother died, the older brother basically destroyed the house that was already in ruins as it had been abandoned… and they led a rather cosmopolitan life moving from place to place, which made me wonder, does that make them TCKs? LOL… anyway…


  5. @kittenita, thanks. To answer your question, I also am not ‘inclined that way,’ so I didn’t feel any eerie presences. However, I wonder, if I were raised with the stories illustrated at Haw Par Villa, would I have felt differently?

  6. We used to take school trips there, and I remember the highlight being the boat ride into the Ten Courts of Hell! On hindsight, not quite sure why the school thought it would be a good place for excursions…

    The whole park is a classic Chinese take on hell, which probably explains why i’m less creeped out by Western ghoulies and find the Asian sort much, much scarier.

    i thought it closed down though! am surprised its still open!