I wouldn’t be surprised if you said you had never heard of Haw Par Villa. When you think of Singapore you think « giant Avatar-like trees » (Gardens by the Bay) and « that boat shaped hotel with an infinity pool » (Marina Bay Sands Hotel). Most tourists miss out on Haw Par Villa, which is a shame because it’s one of the most unique and freaky places I have ever been to in my life! Get ready for some weird s***.
A little bit of history
You’ve probably all heard of Tiger Balm. You know, the Chinese medical ointment that smells amazing and helps with a lot of things (mosquito bites, muscular pains, nausea, etc.). Well Haw Par Villa was created by the brothers who invented Tiger Balm, Boon Haw and Boon Par. Hence the name Haw Par Villa.
The older brother had the villa built for his younger brother in 1937, and decided to use the garden as a journey into Chinese folklore and mythology. The park was opened to the public and attracted many people, but when World War II broke out, the two brothers fled the country. The abandoned house was then occupied by the Japanese forces. Fast forward a few years after the war, Boon Par’s son owns the house and adds the finishing touches to the park. Over 1000 statues and tableaux are on display today! Many Singaporeans visited the park in the 70s and 80s. Unfortunately it has since then been forgotten and if you visit today, there probably won’t be more than 10 people in the whole park.
You’re going to Hell!
Haw Par Villa is most famous for its Ten Courts of Hell, an explicit and gore representation of the Chinese folklore. As you approach the dark cave (of course it had to be in a cave), you’re warmly greeted by statues of severed impaled heads, how charming!
After a person passes away they arrive in the First Court of Hell, where their good and bad deeds are weighed. You get the picture. If they are deemed virtuous they get sent to paradise, otherwise they get punished. Every Court of Hell punishes a list of crimes, and each crime has its own horrible and disgusting punishment. For example, stealing results in being frozen into a block of ice. Don’t forget to pay your taxes, or you’ll be squished with a giant pestle with spikes. And kids, don’t even think about cheating on exams or cursing, unless you want to be thrown on a tree of knives and have your intestines pulled out! Getting your limbs cut off, drowning in a pool of hot blood, the list goes on. Plus, you get tortured by a freaky green monster with scary eyes, so that’s fun!
Apparently, families used to take their kids there to scare them in the right path. I don’t know if I find that cruel or hilarious!
Vices and Virtues
My favourite section of Haw Par Villa was dedicated to the Vices and Virtues. There were so many small characters, I didn’t know where to look. The vices and virtues are explained through tales and stories. You’ll see virtues like the importance of hard work, generosity and loyalty; but also vices like gambling, stealing, laziness (whoops… I hope I’m not going to Hell!) and wealth.
The colourful displays show you beggars in the streets having to save up and rely on the generosity of others, and at the opposite a cabaret show where money is wasted on drinks and women. They show you strength and courage through men fighting beasts. Friendship and loyalty is portrayed with the story of two friends in the woods. One of them sees a bear and runs away without his friend, but the bear is fooled by the other boy who plays dead and therefore chases the first boy and kills him… Kind of extreme but the moral is basically don’t abandon your friends.
My favourite story was The Grateful Tortoise, which was beautifully illustrated in one the tableaux. It’s about being rewarded for your good deeds.
Wang Qing is a kind man and loves animals. One day, he sees a tortoise being carried to the market and decides to buy it and set it free in the sea. Years later, as he is travelling, the ship starts to sink and everyone around him is dying. His tortoise (now giant, because the story wouldn’t work if it was a tiny tortoise haha) comes to save him. And he lives happily ever after married to a princess or something like that.
What in the world have I just seen?
Haw Par Villa is really interesting if you want to find out more about Chinese tales and mythology. You will see some beautiful things like pagodas, warriors dressed in traditional clothes, and a wall of Chinese dragons.
But you will also come across some really fun but weird and creepy stuff. Topless mermaids, a crab with a human head, scary pandas that look like they just got a shot of adrenaline, animals dressed as humans… And even giant gorillas, because why the hell not?
But worst of all, a woman breastfeeding a grandma while two boys laugh cheerily next to her. I wish I was joking. I saw it before I could avert my eyes and now I am scarred for life. And because I’m evil, here is a photo of that. Can’t get it out of your head now can you? Mouahahahaha (bad guy laugh)!!
Your face will go from amused, to curious, to disgusted, to “what the actual f***” as you walk through this theme park. And that’s what makes it awesome!
Haw Par Villa is not a traditional theme park. You won’t find cotton candy and roller coasters here. But it is far from boring and definitely wins the award for weirdest theme park in the world! So you can add that to your list of things to do in Singapore.
Written by Lea