Haw Par Villa: Gruesome & Strange, but a Once in a Lifetime Kinda Place

My mum recalls that when I was a toddler I used to love sitting on the plastic tiger at the entrance of Haw Par Villa. Back then we called the place Tiger Balm gardens.

Try as I might I couldn’t find those tigers anymore. Everything seems to be made of a kind of varnished paper. I was wondering if I should upload the most gruesome photos taken at the cave part of the theme park called the Ten Courts of Hell. It gave me nightmares as a child, and even then I thought the punishments were far worse than the crimes and this was just cruel, but I thought in the interests of anthropology and preservation, I should.

Back when I was a kid this park, built by the brothers in 1937 (they developed tiger balm oil), wasn’t considered weird but returning now as an adult, it is. It’s the same way with TV shows I used to love in the 80’s that now seem so strange when I watch them. It’s interesting how things get dated as values change. Even as I was downloading the photos I was spooked as somehow the courts of hell photos didn’t get downloaded and I had to try a couple of times. Yeah, I’m just being superstitious.

This place might soon be torn down as it hardly gets any visitors even though entrance is free and it’s located just next to the new Haw Par Villa MRT station on the yellow line. But I can quite understand it, as one visit will leave images lingering in your mind for quite a while. As a child I was terrified out of my wits but strangely still came back here a couple of times. I suspect that lots of parents bring their kids here as there were no other theme parks then apart from Sentosa and hardly any malls. The wax museum depicting soldiers from WWII at Sentosa was rather spooky to be me well. Maybe even more so as they were more life like.

My cousin who visited Haw Par Villa in the 80’s recalled the ride (tram?) and shows, but back in the 70’s I don’t think we had those additions. This time the park just seemed like quite a forgotten place stuck in time which is a rarity in Singapore where there is this out with the old, in the the new mentality. Even when old places are preserved they lose their authenticity and there is usually some economic value to be gained. Like the turning of the old post office into a hotel. I do like the Fullerton Hotel but this trend just had to be stated.

This was our first view of the theme park with all the flags up for National Day. It looks so completely different from what I recall. Or perhaps my memory of Haw Par Villa is just too hazy but I think there have been lots of changes in the facade since the 70’s?

Although all of these might seem campy to the uninitiated, it’s all part of the culture and Chinese mythology, and it’s only campy I guess, as we are not used to it? I’m not an expert in this area, so I can’t quite comment.

Parts of colourful Haw Par Villa were quite beautiful, against the blazing blue sky.

This sign seems like the original one as this was the kind of font used back then.

As soon as you enter, the main attraction, the Ten Courts of Hell is pointed out. I will cover that most gruesome part in another post and you can avert your eyes from that one if you’re faint hearted like I am, although as an adult it was not as scary as when I was little.

Lots of tiger imagery everywhere. This place was built as a marketing project to sell tiger balm ointment after all.

There’s a shaded portion of the park where there is a canopy of leaves that relieves you from the heat. In a way being in the courts of hell (a paper machie cave), ironically gave us protection from a Singapore heat stroke. But having said that I’m glad the courts of hell attraction is closed at 6pm. If it’s so spooky in the bright light of day, imagine the nightmare it will inspire when it’s dark. Yikes.

A little known fact, at least to me, is that the brothers were from Burma (known now as Myanmar) and their business boomed when they moved it to Singapore. It seems that the older brother built a mansion for his younger brother in the middle of this theme park. It was too hot so I didn’t cover the entire theme park which is really big.

Some of the figurines made us smile, like the goats.

Great photo op with a dragon. Thinking of Crystal when I saw this. I recall that she’s a huge fan of dragons.

And there was this tiger car that was a massive head turner. What a sight.

The older brother appreciated his younger brother’s flair for marketing.

Even without yet entering the courts of hell, there are these to greet you.

From the outside, the entrance to the courts of hell actually looks quite attractive against the blue sky. Can you imagine how it will look at night? Scary.

This tigers were very Singapore style 70’s cartoons.

I found these creatures cute. This one will appeal to the kids.

Not sure what creature it is though. Too small to be a panda? Too big to be a meerkat?

There’s even a copy of the statue of liberty here.

And that’s when it got late and we left the park. Perhaps we may return another day as I missed out on the mermaids.

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore helps me survive the mid-life crisis
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One Response to Haw Par Villa: Gruesome & Strange, but a Once in a Lifetime Kinda Place

  1. Pingback: Tiger Balm Gardens: Still Spooked as an Adult | Singapore Actually

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