Built in the ’30s, widely popular in the 70’s and ’80s, commercialized and turned into a theme park in the ’90s, and now, back to being free for all to roam, Haw Par Villa is a part of every Singaporean’s childhood.
Famed for its depiction of the Ten Courts of H*ll as told by Chinese mythology, this was the stuff that every kid remembers – dioramas of people being thrown into volcanic pits, having their tongues pulled out, getting their bodies cut in two… All the tortures and punishments that one would be subjected in the after life if he had done bad things such as cheating, stealing, lying etc.
This was the part that made kids cling to their parents and promise to forever be good and obedient. For a short period in time, people would enter through the mouth of a dragon (the dragon is now gone) on a boat, and cringe at the sight of these dioramas. Now it is open for visitors to stroll through. Directions to this area are very clearly marked so that parents can watch out for their little ones and steer them away from it.
We stayed away from that direction and explored the rest of the park instead.
First known as Tiger Balm Gardens, this was built in 1937 as a token of love from one brother to another. Looking past the weird factor of the whole park, it is actually a wonderfully sweet gesture.
Aw Boon Haw built a beautiful villa on top of Pasir Panjang Hill for his younger brother Aw Boon Par. On the grounds of this villa, was a huge garden filled with scenes of Chinese mythology and folklore, many depicting Chinese values such as filial piety and family togetherness. After a few rounds of name changes, it is now known as Haw Par Villa, a blend of the brothers’ names. Haw means tiger, and Par means leopard, and you’ll see lots of tigers and leopards within the park.
Today the brothers’ legacy lives on not just through Haw Par Villa, but also through the products that they sell, most notably, Tiger Balm Oil which is used for aches and pains.
If you are of Chinese descent, chances are high that you will find certain dioramas familiar, like the ones of the Eight Immortals, the Journey to the West, as well as Madam White Snake.
I don’t know about you but stories that I heard in my childhood never ever mentioned any topless mermaids. Beautiful as the park is, the weird factor runs rather high in some parts.
There is a fair bit of signage around, explaining (or attempting to) the dioramas, so do take the time to read them. If not, you’ll just find yourself frowning in wonder.
It’s a great place to bring kids – there’s lot of wide open space to run around, and while some areas clearly mark “Danger – do not enter”, there are some that look welcoming enough. There’s a good mix of exhibits around – those that you can see but not touch, those that you can explore, and those that you can climb in and be part of the action. Just remember to exercise caution and use a good sense of judgement.
Haw Par Villa is located at 262 Pasir Panjang Road, and open 9am to 6pm daily. It is a 1-minute walk from Haw Par Villa MRT station on the Circle line. Admission is free.
There are no eateries within the park (we got back on the Circle line and headed to Vivocity at Harbourfront MRT station and were seated for lunch in less than 20 minutes) but there is a vending machine with cold drinks. Bring water, a hat and sunblock, and put on good walking shoes!
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