Haw Par Villa (AKA Tiger Balm Gardens)

Unique in SIngapore

What we say: 3.5 stars

Despite what the glossy brochures tell you, Singapore isn’t all glitzy shopping centres and perfectly manicured gardens. See the darker, more dilapidated side of the city with a visit to the bizarre cultural theme park known as Haw Par Villa.

Pass through the gates and prepare to be bewildered

Pass through the gates and prepare to be bewildered.

Originally known as Tiger Balm Gardens, the park was founded in 1937 by Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the Burmese brothers and businessmen behind the popular herbal ointment Tiger Balm. Wanting to give back to the community, they designed the park as a place where children could learn about traditional Chinese values. To achieve this goal, more than 1,000 sculptures were built especially for Haw Par Villa illustrating morality tales, scenes from mythology, and the punishments that sinners endure in the Ten Courts of Chinese Hell.

No, he won't be fine.

No, he won't be fine.

While it’s questionable if a visit to Haw Par Villa will make your children better behaved, it will almost certainly give them nightmares. The dioramas in the Ten Courts of Hell illustrate the extremely specific punishments for different sins in extremely gruesome detail. For example, cursing gets you thrown on a hill of knives, being ungrateful to your elders gets your heart cut out, and prostitutes are drowned in a pool of blood. Don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled them all – there’s plenty more.

Of course, the Ten Courts of Hell is just one of the many things to see at Haw Par Villa. Most of the space is hilly gardens containing large sculptures that range from violent (a war between fish-men, a boy who’s been hit by a car) to out of place (the Statue of Liberty, a kangaroo) to downright perplexing (a wolf speaking on the telephone, the crab-lady below). While these creatures must make sense to someone, there are no signs explaining the story or significance behind them.

Uhm.... why?

Uhm.... why?

As you might have suspected, Haw Par Villa has fallen out of favour as a tourist attraction and maintenance over the last two decades has been minimal. However, with the opening of the Haw Par Villa MRT station serving as a reminder that it still exists, there has been a resurgence in the number of people going to see this bizarre place for themselves. Or maybe they’re going because admission is now completely free.

Want to see more? Check out my gallery of Haw Par Villa photos on Flickr.

And if you want to continue a tour of the grittier side of Singapore, check out a Chinatown wet market as well.

More details
262 Pasir Panjang Rd
Opening Hours: Daily 09:00 - 19:00
Last updated: 22nd October, 2014

Last reviewed by:
Tanya Procyshyn is a Singapore-based freelance writer and photographer. With a passion for unusual destinations, she has camped alongside Komodo dragons and shook hands with soldiers in North Korea. She blogs at www.idreamofdurian.com.

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Read 1 opinions from Travelfish readers

  • Great fun 4 stars

    31st January, 2012

    Haw Par Villa is certainly Singapore's most unique attraction, and being away from the busy downtown area adds to the feeling that you're seeing something different. It's THE place to begin exploring ancient chinese mythology, which prospered in Singapore even during periods of repression in mainland China. After being closed for a long time it's been open the past few years, and well worth a visit while you're here. The new MRT station and various bus routes make it easy to get to, just cross your fingers there aren't too many tour buses arriving at the same time as you. Give yourself a few hours if you want to take in all the different stories and read the explanations.

    Haw Par Villa (AKA Tiger Balm Gardens) reviewed by edblax (1)
    Written on 31st January, 2012, rated 4 out of 5. Visited here in May, 2010

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Great fun
Haw Par Villa is certainly Singapore's most unique attraction, and being away from the busy downtown...

By edblax

Most popular sights in Greater Singapore