In all my previous visits to Singapore I had never heard of Haw Par Villa. It had not come up in any of those “Top 10 things to do in Singapore” lists, nor in any recommendations I had been given. I came across it only a few months ago, and so decided I had to go.
We arrived at Haw Par Villa at just before 9am, and had to wait a few minutes until the gates opened. No crowds here, we were the only ones waiting. In fact, during our visit we saw only a handful of other people. For me this was fantastic, I am not a fan of large crowds.
Haw Par Villa is described as a theme park, but you won’t find any roller coasters, overpriced food or souvenir shops here. It was built back in 1937 as a private garden by brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, better known as the inventors and sellers of Tiger Balm. It consists of dioramas and displays dedicated to Chinese mythology and morality.
One area is called the Ten Courts of Hell, and its gory displays depict the process undertaken between dying and reincarnation. If you don’t get judged “good” by the first court, there are some pretty bad things that could happen before moving on to your next life.
We particularly like the section related to the Monkey God. As children in the 80’s, we were avid watchers of the cult tv show “Monkey Magic” and until seeing the series of dioramas, I had no idea that it was an old Chinese story. I just assumed it had been made up for television. All the characters were here – Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy, Tripitaka, even the magic horse.
Between the many stories were statues of all sorts of animals. In fact, almost anything you can think of. It was really surprising to find koalas, kangaroos, and emus of various sizes and colours in one area. New Zealand got a nod too with the kiwi also appearing.
All up we spent about 90 minutes wandering around having a look at everything. This would be a good amount of time to allow, or perhaps a little longer as towards the end of our time it was getting quite hot in the sun so we were moving on quickly if there was no shade.
One warning – the main driveway was quite slippery as we walked back down to the main gates to leave. The driveway was wet, but it seems like perhaps some oil had been spilt. There was a lot of renovation work going on in the park, so hopefully that was the cause and once it is over it will not be as bad.
Haw Par Villa is at 262 Pasir Panjang Road, Singapore and getting there is easy. There is a MRT station on the Yellow Line with the same name. Follow the signs in the station, and it’s only a few metres from the exit. Entry to Haw Par Villa is free and the opening hours are from 9am to 7pm daily.