Haw Par Villa
It’s safe to say that most kids live for a visit to the theme park. And while we have Universal Studios Singapore and Adventure Cove, kids back in the day had Haw Par Villa instead. Elders might remember it as Singapore’s oldest theme park, while millennials might remember it as her scariest.
Most known for its iconic 10 Courts of Hell attraction that features gruesome dioramas that are pure nightmare fuel, the park was said to help inculcate traditional moral values. But aside from the scary stuff, it’s also a cultural park filled with rich history. Here’s all you need to know before going down.
Built in 1937 by the brothers behind Tiger Balm
Fun fact: There were a total of 3 Tiger Balm Gardens around the world back in the day – the other 2 were in Fujian and Hong Kong.
Image credit: @hawparvilla.sg via Instagram
Constructed back in 1937, Haw Par Villa started out as the wacky brainchild of Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, best known for establishing the “cure-all” ointment, Tiger Balm.
A nod to the brothers’ greatest success, the park was named Tiger Balm Gardens and dioramas were commissioned to be placed in the park as mediums to preserve stories of moral values.
Image credit: National Archives Singapore
After Boon Haw passed away in 1954, the park in Singapore became public property and changed operators several times over the years. In what could be called an era of identity crises, the park was renamed Haw Par Villa Dragon World, reverted to Tiger Balm Gardens when footfall dropped, and finally settled on Haw Par Villa – what we know it as today.
Haw Par Villa’s attractions – 1,000 statues & Hell’s Museum
Image credit: @lgxgxl via Instagram
Most wouldn’t have realised this but during the pandemic, the park underwent a 9-month-long facelift and reopened in July 2021, with a refreshed layer of paint and reinforced sculptures.
Image credit: @veraarev06 via Instagram
Visit today and you can explore the 8.5-hectare park with over 1,000 statues and 150 dioramas. Walk along colourful archways and intricate pavilions as you explore motifs of scenes from iconic tales like Journey to the West and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, alongside statues of mythological gods such as the Laughing Buddha and Guanyin.
Explore the revamped Hell’s Museum
Any poignant memories of the park will likely be infused with the unforgettable 10 Courts of Hell – now a part of Hell’s Museum – with explicit sculptures of the hellish things that’ll happen in the afterlife should you commit moral crimes. Think: being burnt alive, getting dismembered, and lots of impaling.
An iconic boat ride used to run through this attraction decades ago, but was later closed – some say due to feng shui.
Not to worry, not all the 10 zones of Hell’s Museum involve super gory imagery. The rest of the attraction exhibits discussions about death and the afterlife in a peaceful manner. Read: information boards and decorated exhibition spaces. You can even find a visitor’s centre near the exit to buy Tiger Balm ointments and other souvenirs.
Stay in a unique container hotel
Image credit: Shipping Container Hotel
Many theme parks have an accompanying hotel, and so does the quirky Haw Par Villa. Should you be brave enough to fall asleep within close proximity of hellish dioramas, The Container Hub (from $200/night for 4 pax) lies just around the corner.
Image credit: Shipping Container Hotel
Not your regular bed and breakfast affair, this unique hotel has rooms made of shipping containers. That doesn’t mean things look makeshift – quite the opposite. Each room has a fully maximised space complete with a dining area, kitchen, living room, and 2 double beds for one hell of a staycation.
Visit Haw Par Villa today
Image credit: @theri_travels via Instagram
Regardless of whether you remember the park fondly or were low-key scarred as a child, Haw Par Villa is undoubtedly one of Singapore’s most special attractions.
Despite the changing of hands several times since it was built, the iconic park looks like it’s here to stay for good. Visit now to enjoy it with a fresh coat of vibrant paint that brings all the age-old statues back to life. Not too alive, we hope.
Getting there: The park is a minute’s walk from Haw Par Villa MRT Station.
For more museums in Singapore:
- Guide to Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum
- Things to do at SAM Tanjong Pagar Distripark
- Guide to National Museum of Singapore
- Museum of Ice Cream guide
Cover image adapted from: @lgxgxl, @theri_travels via Instagram
Originally published on 2nd July 2021. Last updated on 22nd September 2023.
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