Written by: Matt Newkirk
Visited: December 2017
If you ask any Singaporean over the age of 30 about Haw Par Villa, they will tell stories about school field-trips and hot days during their childhood spent cooling off at the water-slides with friends and family. Despite the notoriety among locals,very few visitors to Singapore take the time to explore this truly hidden gem in the West side of the island.
The history of Haw Par Villa starts in 1934, about a decade after the Haw brothers, creators of the highly successful Tiger Balm brand, moved to Singapore from Burma (now Myanmar). Aw Boon Haw and his brother Aw Boon Par were extraordinarily successful from the sales of their infamous ointment, and wanted to give something back to the community. Boon Haw decided to build a grand mansion for his brother. The mansion would be surrounded by manicured gardens, which would be open to the public, featuring statues depicting the stories and moral values from Chinese legends.
The park was opened in 1937. It cost over a million dollars to build at the time, and was packed with visitors every weekend and holiday.
Today the park is open, free of charge, to the public, Monday-Sunday (9:00 am - 7:00 pm.). One of the best deals in Singapore that almost no travelers take advantage of, Haw Par Villa is easily accessible from the Circle MRT Line (Haw Par Villa Station), and can be reached in under 30 minutes from downtown Singapore.
Upon entering the park, it is hard not to be in awe at the altogether strange and beautiful statues and landscaping. Colorful life-sized, and larger-than-life, depictions of everything ranging from Buddha, to scenes from “Journey to the West”, all the way to the Statue of Liberty adorn the path. It is almost reminiscent of Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona, but even more like it's straight out of a strange acid induced hallucination.
The park is continuously maintained and undergoes regular restoration, as evident from the painters and landscapers that are present every time I have visited. Despite the best efforts of those charged with maintaining Haw Par, the extreme climate of alternating sun and rain have left the park looking a little worse for wear.
Far from lessening the experience, this shabbiness really ads to the aesthetic of Haw Par Villa, giving it the allure of a long abandoned amusement park, but with a distinctive Singaporean feel.
Without a doubt, the main attraction of the park, is “The Ten Courts of Chinese Hell”. Just ask any Gen-X Singaporean, and they will recount stories of being subjected to the gory terrors of the attraction in their youth.
The Ten Courts of Chinese Hell
As you approach the entrance to Hell, you will be greeted by “Ox-Head” and “Horse-Face” who will be your escorts through the grizzly experience.
First Court of Hell
Once inside of Hell, you will immediately be face-to-face with King Qinguang, the first judge who will weigh the deeds of your past life and recommend the rewards and punishments accordingly. A sign reads:
“Those who are virtuous in their past life will be led over the Golden Bridge to reach Paradise.”
“Those whose past good deeds outweigh crimes committed, will be sent over the Silver Bridge to reach paradise.”
“Those who were evil doers will be sent to repent before the Mirror of Retribution and then taken to the subsequent Court of Hell to be punished.”
Second Court of Hell
|Inflicting physical injury
|Thrown into volcanic pit|
|Frozen into blocks of ice.|
|Prositiutes||Drowned in a pool of blood|
Third Court of Hell
Disrespect to elders
Escape from prison
|Heart cut out|
|Drug addicts and dealers
Urging people into crime and social unrest
|Tied to a red hot copper and grilled|
Fourth Court of Hell
Refusal to pay rent
|Pounded by stone mallet|
|Disobedience to one's siblings
Lack of Filial piety
|Ground by large stone|
Fifth Court of Hell
|Thrown onto a hill of knives|
Sixth Court of Hell
|Thrown onto a tree of knives|
|Misuse of books
posession of pornography
breaking written law
|Body sawn in two|
Seventh Court of Hell
Sowing discord among family members
|Tongue pulled out|
Driving someone to their death
|Thrown into wok of boiling oil|
Eighth Court of Hell
|Lack of filial obedience
causing trouble for parents or family members
Cheating on exams
|Intestines and organs pulled out|
|Harming others to benefit yourself||Body dismembered|
Ninth Court of Hell
Any other unlawful conduct
|Head and arms chopped off|
|Neglect of the old or the young||Crushed under boulders|
Tenth Court of Hell
In the tenth court, sinners face “The Wheel of Reincarnation” and the “Pavilion of Forgetfulness”. After serving their sentences, prisoners are brought before an old lady named “Men Po” who hands them a cup of magic tea that causes them to forget their sins and their past life.
Then “The Wheel of Reincarnation”, or “Samsara”, decides if they will be reborn as a human or as an animal. Some will be reborn into a life of ease and comfort, while others will be born into sorrow and suffering.
Haw Par Villa is one of the most underrated attractions in Singapore, and wandering around the park is a great way to spend a few hours, or even an afternoon. Haw Par offers a great chance to learn about Chinese culture and legends, while you marvel at the fantastic artwork and landscaping. The fact that it's free of charge is one more reason to visit, especially if you are traveling on a budget and need a break from the high costs of being a traveler in one of the most expensive cities in the world. It can get really hot, and there is not a ton of shade, so bring a hat and sunscreen. There are clean and well maintained public toilets, and usually vendors in and just outside of the park selling water and snacks. And when you've had enough, the MRT is right there.