Haw Par Villa: Singapore's Weirdest Theme Park

Updated on April 10, 2019
CYong74 profile image

Yong earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, mythology, and video-gaming.

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 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 easily reached from the downtown area. Best of all, this strange statue theme park now charges no entry fees for all visitors.

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The gaudy main sign at the entrance to Haw Par Villa offers a hint of the macabre attractions found within the statue park.The Chinese-style Entrance Arch to Haw Par Villa
The gaudy main sign at the entrance to Haw Par Villa offers a hint of the macabre attractions found within the statue park.
The gaudy main sign at the entrance to Haw Par Villa offers a hint of the macabre attractions found within the statue park.
The Chinese-style Entrance Arch to Haw Par Villa
The Chinese-style Entrance Arch to Haw Par Villa

History of Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa is also known as Tiger Balm Gardens, and was built in 1937 by Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par after they shifted their business to Singapore. Depending on whom you are speaking with in Singapore, you might get very exotic stories on why the park was built. (Some say the park houses spirits, others claim the brothers were sorcerers)

On tourist literature, the statue park is introduced as an attempt by the Aw brothers to instill Chinese values through the telling of beloved Chinese myths. Something that the park indeed does pretty well with its many statues and elaborate dioramas. Incidentally, the Aw brothers also gave Singapore another tourism treasure—Tiger Balm. A citrus scented herbal cream for various external maladies, such as muscle aches and insect stings, the balm is nowadays one of many local "souvenirs" promoted to visitors to Singapore. I personally always have a small vial in my first aid box.

Trivia

The Chinese name of Haw Par Villa is Hu Bao Bie Shu (虎豹别墅). “Hu” and “Bao” are the final characters in the names of the Aw brothers. “Hu” also means tiger in Chinese.

A quirky reminder of the Aw Brother's most famous product.
A quirky reminder of the Aw Brother's most famous product.

Depictions of Famous Chinese Myths

The elaborate dioramas of Haw Par Villa feature practically all of the most famous myths and legends from China mythology and folkloric stories. All displays are also accompanied by terse and well-written summaries that had been continuously improved over the years. For visitors interested in Chinese culture and social thought, a visit to this weird statue theme park is an unparalleled visual treat.

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Diorama presenting the story of the Eight Taoist Immortals crossing the Eastern Sea.An important scene from the famous legend of Madam White Snake. (Madam White was a kind python spirit that married a mortal man)The Flooding of the Golden Mount. Also from the legend of Madam White Snake.The climatic ocean battle from the Chinese myth, the Eight Immortals Cross the Sea.
Diorama presenting the story of the Eight Taoist Immortals crossing the Eastern Sea.
Diorama presenting the story of the Eight Taoist Immortals crossing the Eastern Sea.
An important scene from the famous legend of Madam White Snake. (Madam White was a kind python spirit that married a mortal man)
An important scene from the famous legend of Madam White Snake. (Madam White was a kind python spirit that married a mortal man)
The Flooding of the Golden Mount. Also from the legend of Madam White Snake.
The Flooding of the Golden Mount. Also from the legend of Madam White Snake.
The climatic ocean battle from the Chinese myth, the Eight Immortals Cross the Sea.
The climatic ocean battle from the Chinese myth, the Eight Immortals Cross the Sea.

Lessons About Morality

As mentioned above, morality is a key theme in Haw Paw Villa, and it is while promoting this virtue that the statues get a tad disturbing. To punch across the message, many dioramas do not refrain from exhibiting violence and gore. In a way, this could be said to be the right approach. To shock is to educate, as some would say. As for me, 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. Whatever the Aw brothers’ actual purpose in building the statue park, they successfully kept me in good behavior for many years.

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Chinese tales of morality. The virtue of charity, the danger of indulgence, etc.The ugliness of violence is not shied away from in Haw Par Villa.Celebrating and honoring the hard work of farmers.A rather disturbing marriage scene that's strangely unmarked and unexplained at the park. Is it a warning against sham marriages? Or marrying for money?
Chinese tales of morality. The virtue of charity, the danger of indulgence, etc.
Chinese tales of morality. The virtue of charity, the danger of indulgence, etc.
The ugliness of violence is not shied away from in Haw Par Villa.
The ugliness of violence is not shied away from in Haw Par Villa.
Celebrating and honoring the hard work of farmers.
Celebrating and honoring the hard work of farmers.
A rather disturbing marriage scene that's strangely unmarked and unexplained at the park. Is it a warning against sham marriages? Or marrying for money?
A rather disturbing marriage scene that's strangely unmarked and unexplained at the park. Is it a warning against sham marriages? Or marrying for money?

More Scenes From Chinese Mythology

Fortunately, other displays are less disturbing. A good many also feature Buddhas and Taoist deities. The most famous Chinese mythological character, Sun Wukong the monkey king, naturally appears as well.

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A sunken pond with Jiang Ziya, one of the protagonists of "Investiture of the Gods."The Chinese version of Maitreya Buddha. A jovial monk with a bag of goodiesThe world famous Monkey King Sun Wukong.
A sunken pond with Jiang Ziya, one of the protagonists of "Investiture of the Gods."
A sunken pond with Jiang Ziya, one of the protagonists of "Investiture of the Gods."
The Chinese version of Maitreya Buddha. A jovial monk with a bag of goodies
The Chinese version of Maitreya Buddha. A jovial monk with a bag of goodies
The world famous Monkey King Sun Wukong.
The world famous Monkey King Sun Wukong.

The Gruesome Ten Courts of Hell (十殿阎罗)

The most famous attraction of Haw Par Villa, and what cemented its macabre reputation, is the Ten Courts of Hell display. Alternative also known as Hell's Museum. Now, this is gruesome. Far more gruesome and disturbing than any of the morality dioramas. Evildoers are shown suffering in various horrific, gory ways after judgment by the Ten Kings of Hell. For visitors with children, you might 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 give you an idea of what to expect.

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Impaled on a mountain of knives in Chinese HellDismemberment, in various forms, repeatedly features in this hellish showcase.Tongue snipping for liars and rumormongers.To say Haw Par Villa's Hell's Museum is gruesome is an understatement.
Impaled on a mountain of knives in Chinese Hell
Impaled on a mountain of knives in Chinese Hell
Dismemberment, in various forms, repeatedly features in this hellish showcase.
Dismemberment, in various forms, repeatedly features in this hellish showcase.
Tongue snipping for liars and rumormongers.
Tongue snipping for liars and rumormongers.
To say Haw Par Villa's Hell's Museum is gruesome is an understatement.
To say Haw Par Villa's Hell's Museum is gruesome is an understatement.

Haw Par Villa Opening Hours

Haw Par Villa is open daily from 9 am to 7 pm, with last entry at 6 pm.

The Ten Courts of Hell display closes one hour earlier at 6 pm. Final entry is at 5.45 pm.

How Do I Get to Haw Par Villa?

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 one minute’s walk away.

Look for this sign within the MRT station.
Look for this sign within the MRT station.
2019 Map of Haw Par Villa.
2019 Map of Haw Par Villa.
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Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Kuan Leong Yong

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      • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR

        Kuan Leong Yong 

        3 years ago from Singapore

        Thanks for commenting, AliciaC! The place is ... a little creepy, especially with it usually being quiet nowadays. But it's quite a visual feast, and offers a glimpse into the personalities of the Tiger Balm founders.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This sounds like an interesting place to visit, although as you say it might be disturbing for some people! I didn't know the origin of the Tiger Balm cream before I read this hub. Thanks for sharing the information and the photos.

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