Haw Par Villa (warning-some images are NSFW)

I have never dropped acid.  But thanks to Haw Par Villa, I think I can image what that must be like–because it’s the strangest trip I’ve ever taken.

IMG_7838I may not do drugs, but these pandas definitely do…

What is Haw Par Villa?

Previously known as ‘Tiger Balm Gardens’, Haw Par Villa was later renamed after its former owners, the Aw brothers – Boon Haw and Boon Par, who made a fortune in the early 1900s selling Tiger Balm, a cure-all paste created by their father.

Haw Par Villa is like no other place in the world, with over 1,000 statues and 150 dioramas that dramatise Chinese legends and folklore. Founded on Chinese legends and values, this historical theme park has large, imposing statues from famous legends of old – featuring characters like Fu Lu Shou, Confucius and the Laughing Buddha.


IMG_7839This would prove to be one of the LEAST creepy statues

IMG_7855One fish dude stabbing another.

As I walked around, I tried to read the information plaques to better understand what I was seeing.  Much like the statues themselves, some are in better repair than others.  I was familiar with some of the stories (Madame White Snake, for example) and others were new to me.

I reached out via twitter as I was there asking what people thought of/remembered about Haw Par Villa.

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 10.37.26 AM

I tend to think of myself as a fairly liberal parent.  I’m strict about school and behavior, but I don’t filter music for the girls and I don’t believe in censoring books (if you want to read it, read it).  I’m open minded.  Haw Par Villa put that to the test–I can’t imagine bringing Ellie here (Rhi is too young to comprehend what she sees–or that’s what I’m telling myself).


As you would expect in a park paid for by the inventors of Tiger Balm, there was a lot of Tiger statuary.

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While it is at times extremely confusing and creepy, Haw Par Villa is also beautiful.  The morning I was there, I saw fewer than 10 other people.  Solitude is not something you often experience in Singapore.  While the bizzare statues FAR outnumber the beautiful, I saw beautiful statues as well.

IMG_7896A small shrine I stumbled across in a corner of the park.

Singapore isn’t a country that places a lot of value on its past.  Since I’ve been here, the Urban Redevelopment Authority gazetted Bukit Brown cemetary for demolition (see Kirsten’s moving post here), and closed the historic Tanjong Pagar train station (see Flora’s post here) in favor of Woodlands Train Checkpoint.  Knowing that, I’m somewhat surprised Haw Par Villa has survived, and is even being maintained by the Singapore Tourism Board, especially as it doesn’t produce any sort of financial profit (I doubt that 5 dollar parking fee pays for the guard-I was the only car there last Friday, and the park itself is free).

IMG_7847One of the many statues being freshened up with a new coat of paint.

While I’m sure that I could learn many a lesson from the statues at Haw Par Villa, my most common reaction was to tilt my head to the side and try to figure out just what was going on, even with the help of the plaques (and there isn’t always one).

IMG_7874For instance, I can relate to the mom resignedly trying to keep her pants up as her toddler tries to climb her leg.  Been there.  Solidarity, sister–I feel your pain.

IMG_7875Or perhaps not.  Now I’m wondering if that kid isn’t screaming “MOM THERE ARE PEOPLE DYING OVER THERE, WHY ARE YOU STILL TALKING TO YOUR FRIEND ABOUT YOUR NEW PAIR OF SHOES????? MOOOOOOM!!! MOMEEEEE!!!!”  I don’t understand what the seemingly disconnected halves of the tableau are supposed to teach me.

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However, the kitschy and random statues are not the big attraction at Haw Par Villa.  The 10 Courts of Hell is.  I won’t go through each court and what the punishments are (if you want to see that, this post by Where Sidewalks End does so) but a few of the highlights

  • Rhiannon should probably take note that disobeying a sibling means spending some time being ground by a stone…and hand over the crayon.
  • I can look forward to getting my body sawn in two for misusing books, possession of pornography (I wonder if I’ll do some drowning in blood like the prostitutes for writing pornography as well?), breaking written rules and for wasting food–I’m guilty of all of them.
  • Cheating on an exam?  I have some former students who can look forward to their intestines and organs getting pulled out.

IMG_7934Disrespect to elders carries the same punishment as escaping from prison–your heart will be cut out.

There are also serious consequences for things like rape, tax evasion, driving someone to their death, robbery and so forth.

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 10.37.52 AMme too, Claire!

As if the 10 Courts of Hell isn’t disorienting enough on its own, you emerge from the dark cavern to this statue…

IMG_7959Kissing Cockroaches are not what I need to see after the 10 Courts of Hell–I’m already freaked out, thanks.

However, none of what I’ve highlighted thus far wins the crown for weirdest thing I saw at Haw Par Villa.  The image below wins that prize.

IMG_7844I have so many questions about this.

It’s a theme park highlighting Chinese Mythology and Confucian lessons for the local population.  The country is a former Brit Colony, but it became a colony in 1824, which is over fifty years after we declared our independence.

There is no plaque to explain the presence of a mini statue of liberty.  There is NO other statue relating to another country such as France or Brazil.

Just a random, inexplicable minature Statue of Liberty.

So many questions about this.

If you’d like to see more photos of my visit to Haw Par Villa, go check out my set on Flickr here.

If you’d like to read more about other blogger’s visits to Haw Par Villa (and if you have a blog post, link it below in comments and I’ll add it to the list)

This entry was posted in Attractions, Culture Shock, general places, Pictures, Random Stuff, Singapore, Uniquely Singapore. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Haw Par Villa (warning-some images are NSFW)

  1. ianord says:

    Ahhhh – isn’t it the trippiest theme park you’ve ever been to? I’m glad you were able to get out there. It’s a very interesting (and unique) look into elements of a culture foreigners may often be curious about. Thanks for the shout out for the 10 courts of hell, by the way 🙂

    • Thank you for such a great post!

      I don’t use the word trippy very often, but it’s the first word (bolded, capitalized) that comes to mind when I discuss Haw Par Villa.

      • ianord says:

        hahaha… I’m not usually one to describe things as trippy either – but man… what a trip 😉 Looking forward to following more of your ‘trip’!

  2. Jim says:

    This was mentioned in the guidebooks I read before visiting Singapore. It sounds like the equivalent of the “hell houses” that evangelical Christians put up around Halloween in the US, which depict the (supposed) torments of hell that sinners have to look forward to.

    • I think it’s tough to describe Haw Par Villa in the space an attraction like that is afforded in a guide book. Had I been before you visited, I would totally have dragged you there.

  3. Pingback: Daily SG: 8 Feb 2013 | The Singapore Daily

  4. Jack says:

    If you had attended Chinese funeral wakes, you would had noticed some ritual performed by priests, prancing and chanting and even spitting fire. This is to smoothen the deceased’s journey to
    to hell and lessen his pain by pleading for his/her past sins.
    This is mainly Taoist beliefs but ultimately most religions teaches us to do good when we are mortal

  5. Chang says:

    I visited Haw Par Villa in the 90s on a school field trip. Back then, you had to pay (quite a bit!) to enter, and the park was absolutely bustling with visitors. In addition to the statues, there were theater shows (movies) and I recall the “18 levels of hell” attraction was also a water ride (definitely no mini statue of liberty). The theme of Chinese mythology was consistent throughout and I was fascinated!

    Thank you for sharing your visit! I am a little sad that the park now looks much less than a shade of what it used to be.

    • I heard that it used to be a boat ride housed inside a dragon, which sounds really really cool (Although, my SGean friends tell me the word ins’t cool, but “traumatizing”–I’m guessing it would depend on how old you were at the time).

      I would really love to see what it looked like back then (and earlier). Thanks for sharing your experiences!

      • Chang says:

        Have to say I was probably 11 or 12 then? Yes, the boat ride did go through a huge dragon, which you could see as you approached from outside the park. Wow, how times have changed…

  6. tigershue says:

    Fyi, in Hokkien, “Haw” means Tiger and “Par” means Leapard. I know cuz my name has one of those animals.

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