Haw Par Villa Singapore

Singapore's Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa: The World's Weirdest Theme Park

There are very few places in the world like Haw Par Villa. About a twenty minute MRT ride from the centre of Singapore, Haw Par Villa is one of the city-state’s most surprising, often perplexing and frequently gruesome tourist attractions.

Haw Par Villa is a Singaporean icon. This unique theme park promotes the important life lessons found in ancient Chinese folk tales and Buddhist teachings of morality, piety, family duty and generally staying on the straight and narrow. 

The sprawling statues and dioramas at Haw Par Villa serve as a breathtaking and often terrifying morality tale on the importance of sticking to your moral compass

Detail of the entrance gate at Haw Par Villa, Singapore
The entrance gate to Haw Par Villa

Those who stray face ruin, as well as judgement and punishment in the afterlife. Nowhere in Haw Par Villa is this hammered home more forcefully and graphically than in the grizzly Ten Courts of Hell.

Whilst the moral messages behind many of the dioramas are clear, the meaning of several others are utterly bewildering, seemingly a testament to the power of an unlimited imagination and an anything goes attitude. 

The History of Haw Par Villa

Built in the 1930s, Haw Par Villa was the brainchild of two brothers, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par. The pair made a vast fortune from Tiger Balm, the medicinal ointment that their Chinese father invented in his herbal shop in modern day Myanmar. 

After setting up stall in Singapore, Boon Haw built a villa here for his younger brother, Boon Par. In the grounds of the villa he added this spectacular theme park, originally named the Tiger Balm Gardens.

Tiger Balm Gardens bench at Haw Par Villa, Singapore
The memorial to Aw Boon Par at Haw Par Villa in Singapore

A bench still bearing the original name of Tiger Balm Gardens and the memorial to Aw Boon Par

Haw Par Villa's Tales from Buddhist Folklore

Many of the statues at Haw Par Villa are large dioramas that reenact several mythical Chinese and Buddhist folktales, such as the stories of Madam White Snake, the Monkey King’s Journey to the West or the tale of the Eight Immortals

Each has a virtuous moral attached, such as the devotion to family and faith or to resist against immoral temptations. 

Many of the great and the good of Buddhism and Chinese history are also on display; there are large statues of Buddha, Confucius, Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy) and Lin Zhe Xu, a Chinese scholar who sought to combat the perils of opium that plagued China in the early 19th century. 

Overlooking a large terrapin filled pond and pagoda are the three colourful deities of Fu, Lu and Shou, the Gods of Happiness, Prosperity and Longevity.

A statue of Buddha at Haw Par Villa in Singapore
Confucious at Haw Par Villa, Singapore
The statues of Fu Lu Shou at Haw Par Villa in Singapore
Statues of Buddha, Confucius and Fu, Lu and Shou at Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa's Mysteries

Most of the statues are accompanied by text explaining the scenes and the moralistic stories that they tell. The meaning behind many are not so clear and some are utterly mystifying.

The most perplexing (and most fun) statues consist of animal heads on human bodies. In one scene a tortoise serves tea to a deer whilst a rat takes a phone call.

Nearby a pig in blue pants pinches the cheek of a rat that offers a plate of oranges. Perhaps the most baffling statue of all is of a crab with the head of a young woman.

Elsewhere a war rages between armies of rabbits and rats. What it all means is anyone’s guess.

An animals tea party at Haw Par Villa, Singapore
A pig and a rat at Haw Par Villa
Rabbits and rats at war at Haw Par Villa, Singapore
A family affair at Haw Par Villa
Crab with a human head at Haw Par Villa in Singapore

The Terrifying Ten Courts of Hell

The most spectacularly macabre section of Haw Par Villa is without a doubt the Ten Courts of Hell

Set inside a dark and foreboding cavernous tomb, the Ten Courts of Hell vividly portrays the gruesome punishments handed out by the ten Yama kings to the recently deceased who lead a less than virtuous life. 

Punishments for crimes and moral wrongdoings are severe, and the dioramas are graphic enough to terrify anyone from straying from the righteous path.

The statue of Hu Fa Shi Zhe at Haw Par Villa, Singapore
Warning sign at the entrance to the Ten Courts of Hell at Haw Par Villa, Singapore

Hu Fa Shi Zhe, the upholder of the laws inside the Ten Courts of Hell; Discretion is advised before entering the Courts

Each of the Ten Courts of Hell doles out set punishments for specific crimes.

The crime of ungratefulness is punishable by chopping out the heart, tax dodgers are pounded by a stone mallet, whilst unscrupulous money lenders are thrown onto a hill of knives, which looks as much fun as it sounds. 

As the severity of the crimes increases so too do the punishments, before the chance to repent is offered and the subject of reincarnation is decided in the tenth and final court. 

As a parable for living an honest life it’s pretty convincing, though as a part of a theme park presumably aimed at the young it seems remarkably heavy handed.

A list of crimes and their punishments in the Ten Courts of Hell in Haw Par Villa, Singapore
Awaiting judgement in the Ten Courts of Hell in Haw Par Villa, Singapore
The Hill of Knives in the Ten Courts of Hell at Haw Par Villa in Singapore
Severe punishments in the Ten Courts of Hell in Haw Par Villa
The macabre judgments and severe punishments in the Ten Courts of Hell

The villa that once stood at the centre of the gardens didn’t survive the Second World War, though there have been additions and tweaks made to Haw Par Villa’s gardens over the years.

Statues of animals replaced the zoo that was once part of the park, whilst sumo wrestlers and a somewhat-out-of-place replica of the Statue of Liberty were added at some point in an attempt to add a more international flavour to the park.

Sumo wrestlers at Haw Par Villa
Gorilla statue at Haw Par Villa in Singapore

What is surely one of the most unique theme parks in the world is currently enjoying a renaissance. 

There are daily tours of the park that reveal the history of Haw Par Villa, the Aw Brothers as well as the deeper meanings behind some of the dioramas. There are also night time tours of the park every Friday.

How to Get to Haw Par Villa

To get to Haw Par Villa take the Circle Line to Haw Par Villa MRT station. A right turn at the top of the escalator at exit A brings you straight to the entrance of Haw Par Villa.

Haw Par Villa is open daily from 9.00am to 7.00pm, last entry is at 6.00pm. The Ten Courts of Hell closes at 6.00pm. 

Entry to Haw Par Villa is free, though the daily tours are S$10 for adults and S$5 for children. The night tours are S$18 for adults and S$9 for children.

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Discover the crazy world of Haw Par Villa in Singapore, the most unique theme park in the world
Discover the crazy world of Haw Par Villa in Singapore, the most unique theme park in the world

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