Haw Par Villa, Singapore’s First Theme Park

In all my previous visits I had never heard of Haw Par Villa Singapore. 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.

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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 path
The park was mostly empty, which was actually nice.

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.

As such, sometimes sometimes in Singapore Haw Par Villa is called the Tiger Balm Gardens. It consists of over 1000 statues and 150 dioramas and displays dedicated to Chinese mythology and morality.

Many older Singaporeans who were brought up in the mid-twentieth century would recall coming here as kids and being shown the exhibits to each them the morals of the time.

While the tales are mostly based around Buddhist folklore, there are touches of Confusianism and Taoism too.

We could liken these to the stories we heard of Pinnochio, but instead of our nose growing longer if we told lies, the consequences could be much more severe – and the stories much more gory.

Haw Par Villa playing cards
Gambling is bad!
Haw Par Villa three staues
The gods of happiness, wealth and longevity

One renowned area is called the Ten Courts of Hell, and its gory displays depict the process undertaken between dying and reincarnation.

After death you are judged by each court in turn, and punished if required.

If you don’t get judged “good” by each court, there are some pretty gory things that could happen before you can move on to your next life.

Haw Par Villa ten courts of hell
A warning at the entrance
Haw Par Villa third court sign
Some of the crimes and their punishments.
Haw Par Villa third court diorama
I don’t know what’s worse – being grilled or having your heart cut out!
Haw Par Villa sixth court sign
See! I knew abusing books was bad!
Haw Par Villa sixth court diorama
Being sawn in half doesn’t look like fun!
Haw Par Villa ninth court sign
Don’t neglect your elders.
Haw Par Villa ninth court diorama
Getting your arms chopped off

We particularly liked another section related to the Monkey God. As children in the 80’s, we were avid watchers of the cult TV show “Monkey Magic”.

Until I saw 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, and even the magic horse.

Haw Par Villa monkey king
The Monkey King, who the character from Monkey Magic is based on.
Haw Par Villa pigsy
Here’s Pigsy from Monkey Magic
Haw Par Villa sandy
Looks like Sandy is in trouble!
Haw Par Villa tripitaka
Tripitaka and his 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.

Haw Par Villa aussie animals
We were very surprised to see these.
Haw Par Villa two faces
Stunned pandas?
Haw Par Villa owls
Wise owls
Haw Par Villa sheep
So many of the animals have weird expressions on their faces
Haw Par Villa snake
Snake strangling a rat. Not what I would normally expect to see.
Haw Par Villa seals
Seals? Otters? Not 100% sure.

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.

Haw Par Villa pagoda
The lake under the pagoda is home to lots of turtles
Haw Par Villa statue of liberty
Not too sure why the Statue of Liberty is here?
Haw Par Villa tea
Tea anyone?

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 gate
The gates of Haw Par Villa with renovation barriers visible

Overall, my experience at Haw Par Villa was a unique one. There is nothing like this place any where else.

The figures are all a bit creepy looking, and the stories are a bit gory, but it’s a great sign of the times the park was build in.

In my view, maybe we need to bring more of our kids here and show them these old-style, perhaps even macabre, messages of morality.

Since my last visit to Haw Par Villa the Hell’s Museum has opened. This is a museum focusing on the death in Asian cultures. I will be checking it out next time I am in Singapore, but you can find all the details here.

Getting there

Haw Par Villa is at 262 Pasir Panjang Road, Singapore and getting there is easy. There is a Haw Par Villa MRT station on the Yellow Line.

Follow the signs in the station, and it’s only a few metres from the exit. There is no Haw Par Villa admission fee and the opening hours are from 9am to 7pm daily.

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5 thoughts on “Haw Par Villa, Singapore’s First Theme Park”

    • No, I was more fascinated than disturbed. I had also read about it in the past so knew what I was getting myself into ?

    • Thanks Carol, it was a bit gory at times! Even the creepy expressions on the faces of the animals were weird.

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