Ced earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, and mythology.
Before glitzy casinos and futuristic theme parks, visitors to tropical Singapore were entertained by its zoo, its bird park, and the truly bizarre Haw Par Villa.
A Chinese mythology statue theme park in the south of the city-state, Haw Par Villa used to be a premier tourist attraction, but went downhill in the late 80s following a fizzled attempt to integrate western-style entertainment.
Thankfully, the park survived that slump and has since reverted to its Chinese Confucianism roots. Nowadays, it is also easily accessible from the downtown area by local subway. Best of all, with the exception of its world-famous Hell Museum, this strange statue theme park now charges no entry fees for all visitors.
Brief History of Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa was previously known as Tiger Balm Gardens, and was built in 1937 by Burmese-Chinese philanthropist Aw Boon Haw. Originally consisting also of an art-deco style villa, Aw Boon Par progressively filled the grounds with Chinese mythological and folkloric statues between 1937 and 1954, transforming the entire area into the eclectic outdoor gallery it is today.
On today’s official brochures, the statue theme park is also described as an attempt by Aw, and his brother Aw Boon Par, to instill Chinese values through the telling of beloved Chinese myths. With its many statues and elaborate dioramas, many of which are based on Chinese morality stories, this is a task that the park continues to perform well.
Incidentally, the Aw brothers also gave Singapore another tourism treasure, i.e., the Tiger Balm. A citrus-scented herbal cream for external maladies such as muscle aches and insect stings, the balm is nowadays one of many local "souvenirs" heavily promoted to tourists in Singapore. The Haw Par Corporation also remains one of Singapore’s most prominent listed companies.
Depictions of Famous Chinese Myths
In a nutshell, Haw Par Villa’s elaborate statues and dioramas present near all of China’s most famous myths and legends. All displays are also accompanied by terse and well-written summaries that had been continuously improved over the years. Ongoing restoration works furthermore ensure that the displays receive fresh coats of paint every few years.
For visitors interested in Chinese culture and social thought, a visit to this weird statue theme park is undoubtedly a visual treat. One that can be most “educational” too.
Lessons About Morality
Morality is a key theme in Haw Paw Villa, and it is while promoting this virtue that the statues and dioramas get a tad disturbing.
To punch across the message, many dioramas do not refrain from exhibiting violence and gore. Some could even be described as ghastly.
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Objective speaking, though, this approach could be described as harsh but precise – to shock is to educate, as some would say.
On a more personal note, I remember being very disturbed when I first viewed the morality dioramas as a child. The message of helping the weak, never to bully the unfortunate, and never to indulge in wickedness thereafter stuck in my head for years.
If the Aw brothers’ truly intended their property to be educational, they successfully kept me in good behavior for many years.
Famous Chinese Mythological and Historical Characters
Fortunately, many other displays in this macabre theme park are less disturbing. A good many also feature Buddhas and Taoist deities. The most famous Chinese mythological character, Sun Wukong the monkey king, naturally makes an appearance with his almighty cudgel too.
The Gruesome Hell's Museum (十殿阎罗)
The star attraction of Haw Par Villa, the “Hell’s Museum” is today, the only paid segment of Haw Par Villa. In short, it is also a gruesome experience for any who dares to enter.
Far gorier and more disturbing than any of the morality dioramas, the Hell’s Museum is dominated by a long man-made cavern, one in which evildoers are shown suffering in various horrific ways after divine judgment by the Chinese Ten Kings of Hell. Examples of “punishments” include dismemberment, pounding, grinding, even boiling in oil. In all displays, the suffering and agony of the condemned are also vividly shown, while creepy lighting gives the entire cavern an otherworldly ambiance.
For visitors with children, you might thus want to check out the displays before allowing your kids near them; some of the hellish scenes are absolutely the stuff of nightmares. The following images should also give you an idea of what to expect.
Do note too that Haw Par Villa does not recommend the Hell’s Museum for children younger than 9.
Haw Par Villa Opening Hours
Haw Par Villa is open daily from 9 am to 10 pm, with last entry at 9.30 pm.
The Hell’s Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Hours are 10 am to 6 pm, with final entry at 5 pm.
Visiting the Villa at Night
Since 2019, the management of Haw Par Villa has experimented with night visits. As of early 2022, the park is permanently open for evening visits every day. On some weekends, there are even “ghost tours.”
As expected, it’s a markedly different experience to visit after dark, beginning with how the villa would usually be void of visitors. However, do note that the experience could also be unsettling, given the creepy displays. While footpaths are well illuminated, many dioramas and statues are not lit at night too. Should you truly wish to visit in the evening, I would recommend the hour around sunset for the best experience.
Entrance Fee and Access
Haw Par Villa charges no entry fee. However, to visit the Hell’s Museum, a SGD 18/- ticket is necessary. A child’s ticket is SGD 10/-.
To reach the park, take the MRT (subway) Circle Line to Haw Par Villa station (CC25). Leave the station using Exit A. From there, the entrance to the park is but a minute’s walk away.
Is Haw Par Villa Safe for Children?
The Hell’s Museum explicitly states that it is unsuitable for children under the age of nine.
Outside of that, some of the displays could be distressing for younger visitors. While gore usually isn’t shown, the subject matter would unnerve even adults. For example, a certain “morality scene” shows teens being mauled to death by wolves.
Should you wish to bring children, it is best to keep them near to you, so you can explain the context of what’s happening.
© 2016 Ced Yong