KL Yong 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 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, this strange statue theme park now charges no entry fees for all visitors.
History of Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa was previously 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 when in Singapore, you might get very exotic stories on why the park was built.
Some would say the park houses spirits, while others might claim the brothers were sorcerers.
On official brochures, though, the statue park is introduced as an attempt by the Aw brothers to instill Chinese values through the telling of beloved Chinese myths. A task that the park indeed performs well with its many statues and elaborate dioramas.
Incidentally, the Aw brothers also gave Singapore another tourism treasure i.e. the 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" heavily promoted to tourists in Singapore.
Depictions of Famous Chinese Myths
The elaborate dioramas of Haw Par Villa feature near all of the most famous myths and legends from Chinese mythology and folktales. 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. A most educational one too.
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 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.
Objective speaking, though, this approach could be described as harsh but precise – 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.
Famous Chinese Mythological Characters
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.
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. Also known as Hell's Museum and housed in a man-made cavern.
In a nutshell, this is gruesome. Far more gruesome and disturbing than any of the morality dioramas too.
Evildoers are shown suffering in various horrific, gory ways after judgment by the Ten Kings of Hell. With torture and execution that include dismemberment, burning, and impaling.
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.
Haw Par Villa Opening Hours
Haw Par Villa is open daily from 9 am to 7 pm, with last entry at 6.30 pm.
The Ten Courts of Hell display closes half an hour earlier at 6.30 pm, with final entry at 6.15 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 walk away.
© 2016 Yong Kuan Leong
Yong Kuan Leong (author) from Singapore on April 05, 2016:
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.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 05, 2016:
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.