What’s the deal with this place?
You’ve seen the memes on Facebook (no, we’re not talking about the wedding photos), and maybe you’ve been there. But for those of you who have not, we revisit this quaint little park.
So the story goes, Haw Par Villa (also known as Tiger Balm Gardens) was created by Aw Boon Haw in 1937 as gift to his brother, Aw Boon Par (hence the name). The brothers were the people behind the popular medicated ointment, Tiger Balm. The park was wildly popular its in early years and after subsequent facelifts before it dwindled to the state that it’s in today.
Haw Par Villa is slated for another makeover soon so I thought it’d be good to see what’s like right now. The last time I visited Haw Par Villa was probably more than 20 years ago and it’s kind of hard to imagine it without the iconic huge green dragon now. This was definitely not the same tourist attraction I visited as a child with its theme park rides and shows.
But the place still holds its own appeal today and although some international visitors don’t really get what it’s all about, here are some things you need to know about Haw Par Villa to make your visit a little less confusing.
It was built as a venue to uphold Chinese values and mythology
If the Eight Immortals, Lady White Snake and Journey To The West do not ring a bell for you, this is the place for you to learn about them and their significance to Chinese culture.
Information boards are available to retell the stories and legends behind the statues and dioramas.
The Ten Courts of Hell WILL give you the creeps
Ever wondered what hell looks like? Find out right here. This attraction features vivid portrayals of hell in Chinese beliefs. We’re talking about people burning in fires, body parts being mutilated and other forms of torture. Yikes. And it clearly tells you the crimes that were committed to warrant such gruesome punishments.
See, when I visited as a child, this segment of the park was housed inside the 65-metre long green dragon and we had to take a boat ride through the whole thing. Sure, it was creepy then, but at least we were seeing dioramas from afar sitting in the boat.
Now the flume has been cemented over and visitors can walk through the whole area and get as close as you want to these hellish depictions (#ThanksButNoThanks). Viewer discretion and parental guidance are advised for this exhibit.
Don’t be surprised to see worshippers
As the park features some religious elements, believers often offer prayers along with incense and joss sticks at selected statues.
My favourite is this huge pagoda with Buddha atop.
The park also has memorials to the Aw family
They are pretty hard to miss.
Spot the Statue of Liberty
Wait, what? International elements were added to the park in the 1950s to give visitors back then a peek into the world beyond Singapore. Try to find the Sumo wrestlers, Thai dancers, kangaroos and koalas, and even the Statue of Liberty.
Look out for subtle product placements
In case you forget the brand that made this park possible.
Learn the complete history
Drop by the little exhibition hall for a comprehensive history of the Aw family and little known facts about Haw Par Villa.
There are some things that will still leave you puzzled
“What the *bleep* is going on here?” was a recurring thought in my head as I viewed some of the statues and exhibits, because background information are not provided and Chinese mythology are not exactly my forte.
We hope the revamped Haw Par Villa will be able to tell us more about these puzzling pieces.
Haw Par Villa is located at 262 Pasir Panjang Road.
By Muneerah Bee, April 2016
Photos by Muneerah Bee