Yes... and no. Haw Par Villa is a cultural icon in Singapore, and there is plenty to explore for the whole family. But Hell is no place for children...
Haw Par Villa has long fascinated locals and visitors to Singapore alike. Filled with giant statues representing Chinese mythology and a Hell’s Museum depicting all the punishments you suffer in the afterlife if you are evil on Earth, this is one cultural day out that will leave you pondering for days afterward. With its colourful characters and oodles of history, this is one outdoor adventure only the bravest souls should try. Warning: Hell’s Museum is not recommended for kids under 9 years old due to ‘sensitive and explicit scenes’. Proceed at your own risk – things are about to get a little freaky…
Haw Par Villa: 5 Must-Do activities at the freakiest attraction in Singapore
1. Visit Hell’s Museum
The star attraction amongst all the weird, wonderful and scary has to be the infamous Hell’s Museum. Start with a fairly normal-looking exhibition and historical learning journey about the origins of religions. Things get a little creepier when you get to preview burial practices in Singapore. There’s even a real coffin to examine. After that, it’s time to enter Hell. Tickets are $18 per adult, and $10 per child. Kids under 6 are free, but it’s not recommended for kids under 9. Read on for why.
Opening the doors of a cave-like structure that is mercifully air conditioned (no fires of Hell here), meander through a gruesome depiction of what could happen if you commit any of the noted sins. Diss your parents? Your heart will be cut out. Swear like a trooper? That gets you thrown onto a hill of knives. Whatever you do, do not waste food. That will your body sawn in two. Visitors to Hell’s Museum often emerge with a whole new moral outlook (and a few sleepless nights ahead of them).
We heard from our Honeycombers teamies that many of them were taken to see Hell’s Museum as kids to scare them into behaving nicely. That was before the upgrades, and to be honest, we think the newer version is a lot scarier. The worst displays aren’t even shown in the pics above. There are plenty of other places to the take the kids in Singapore; in our book, Hell doesn’t have to be one of them.
2. Tour the exhibits (and take all the selfies!)
If you do take the kids to Haw Par Villa for a lesson in mythology, the rest of the park is equal measures of fabulous and gruesome (but a lot more kid-friendly). Be warned though, some of the statues and dioramas will definitely make for some interesting questions from the kiddos. Maybe defer them to a Park Guide if they ask why that grown lady is breastfeeding an old woman (yes, you read that right). It’s a touching story, but quite confronting!
You will also find statues of giant gorillas near enormous crabs with human heads and lots of figurines of Australian animals. Why? Because the Aw brothers (who founded Haw Par Villa – more on that below) liked them. Legends like Journey to the West, Madam White Snake, and the 8 Immortals are all there. Admittedly, these can be quite baffling if you are not well-versed in Chinese folklore, but still hugely fun to see!
3. Walk the grounds
There are some steep hills and narrow walkways around the park, so it’s not particularly stroller or wheelchair-friendly. But there are beautiful terraces and pagodas, wishing wells, ponds (with live turtles) and lots more statues. There are over 1,000 dotted around the park! There’s plenty to see and Haw Par Villa definitely makes for a quintessentially Singaporean adventure if ever there was one. We loved checking out our Chinese Zodiac and learning about our personality traits. You can also book a kid-friendly tour so that the kids can learn about the park in an age appropriate way.
4. Workshops and Culture Corner
There are lots of seasonal activities and different events that take place at Haw Par Villa at different times of year. Halloween is a big one – is there any creepier place to celebrate the Day of the Dead? Crafty workshops such as mosaic tile creating and painting or sketching of the statues is also a fun one for the fam to get involved in. Check the calendar to find out the latest.
5. NEW: Stay onsite in a Shipping Container Hotel!
Would you risk staying the night so close to Hell? Singapore’s very first movable container hotel has moved to Haw Par Villa, Carpark C. Although they look modest on the outside, the containers are fully air-conditioned and each of them come with an en-suite bathroom, small kitchen, two Queen size beds, and even modern amenities like WiFi and Netflix! Not sure how cosy it will feel in the dead of night surrounded by the creepiness that is Haw Par Villa though…
A litte bit of history: The story behind Haw Par Villa
The mansion and gardens on the current site were built in 1937 by the famous creators of Tiger Balm ointment, Burmese brothers Aw Boon Haw (meaning ‘gentle tiger’) and Aw Boon Par (‘gentle leopard’). Check out the artwork of the tiger and leopard on the entrance to Haw Par Villa, representing the brothers and their namesakes! Once construction was complete, Haw Par Villa (originally named Tiger Balm Gardens) was opened to the community. Originally, the attraction served as a teaching centre and theme park dedicated to Chinese legends and mythology. Oh, and to advertise Tiger Balm.
Back then, the sprawling garden contained not just the epic, if a little (lot) freaky, statues, but also an architecturally revered villa (think gold ceilings, sweeping views and all out decadence). There was also a zoo, where animals were allowed to roam freely until they started causing rather too much mischief for the tourists. The animals were eventually caged and then finally moved on altogether, with statue versions built in their place.
Haw Par Villa in wartime
When World War II made its way to Singapore, the whole place was abandoned, only for it to end up in the clutches of Japanese forces. They used it as a vantage point to watch ships out at sea (the views are pretty special). Boon Haw fled to Hong Kong while his much-loved younger brother, Boon Par, returned to Burma. Sadder still, Boon Par died in 1944, leaving his big bro so grief-stricken that he demolished the villa (which had taken a bit of a battering, in fairness, during the war). The whole site eventually fell into the hands of the Singapore government, who in turn put the Singapore Tourist Board in charge of its fate. The park was expanded, rides were added and it became a ticketed attraction for the first time. But while the fun factor grew, the tourists waned, and it eventually, once more, fell into disrepair.
The park’s resurrection
The park was given another big ol’ makeover, and is, once again, free to the public (as Mr Haw and Mr Par always intended). The Circle Line has handily popped an MRT station right next to the attraction, and it would seem that the park is gaining in popularity for both local and international tourists. It’s certainly one to put on any kind of Singapore bucket list!
So go get your freak on and have fun!