If you’re as old as me, you won’t think of Haw Par Villa as an Instagram-worthy place.
Instead, it’s a place that’ll remind you that if you anyhowly throw litter on the ground, you’ll be thrown into hell, and Haw Par Villa is a peek into that hell.
It’s become an Instagram-worthy place because we’ve all grown up (and given up on going to heaven). In fact, I’m not the one who claims that this place’s now made for Instagram: Haw Par Villa themselves said it so:
In fact, they even encourage you to tag them when you’re there.
Who’d have expected that hell could be so Instagram-worthy?
But hold your horses before you really think that the place’s guarded by Ox-Head and Horse-Face.
This place isn’t just about the popular Ten Courts of Hell; it’s actually an Asian cultural park.
Recently, it extended its opening hours to 10:00 p.m., so for the first time ever, the park will be open for free and easy visiting when the lights are out, as previously, it’s open daily only when the sun’s up.
And since everyone’s suddenly so excited about this place, here are ten facts about Haw Par Villa that you should know before going there.
History of the Park
The site was bought by Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par in 1935 because of its good feng shui. They’re the founders of Tiger Balm, and had moved their business from Burma (now known as Myanmar) to Singapore in 1926.
And they were so rich, they decided to build a garden because why not?
Boon Haw wanted a garden that has sculptures, tableaux and grottos. Throughout the years, the Aw brothers slowly saw through the construction of the garden, and it was open to the public (despite it being a private property—you can imagine how rich they were!) as an advertisement for Tiger Balm products.
Now you know why it’s called Haw Par Villa: it was a villa owned by Boon Haw and Boon Par.
In 1944, Boon Par passed away, followed by Boon Haw in 1954. Boon Har’s nephew took over the “garden” and made some amendments until his death in 1971.
In 1985, the Singapore Government acquired the villa through the Land Acquisition Act and the Aw family agreed to donate the statues to the Government on the condition that the name “Har Paw” is retained and the family memorials located within the garden grounds be retained.
And the rest is history: Singapore Tourism Board (used to be called Singapore Tourist Promotion Board) took over and leased it to a private company to be developed into a theme park.
The S$80-million theme park failed to turn a profit despite charging an admission fee, and Singapore Tourism Board took it back, removed all the theme park elements and turn it into a free park we now know today.
Obviously the current park isn’t making money but hey: at least it created some bad memories for us.
Now Managed By Journeys Pte Ltd
The park, though owned by the Government, is managed by a third-party company, Journeys Pte Ltd.
And with its recent revamp, you can bet that they’re doing a good job.
The heritage-tours travel company was appointed in 2015 for a three-year contract, and seeing that it’s still going strong (and more popular, in fact), they should have extended the contract.
They’re also the company that does tours for the park; read on and you’ll understand.
Ten Courts of Hell
Most of us would only remember this in Har Paw Villa, simply because it’s scary for kids.
You see, the Aw brothers didn’t just want to advertise for Tiger Balm products: they want the garden to educate visitors about the values and beliefs that were highly regarded in the Chinese culture.
This includes values like filial and familial piety, resisting temptation and evil-doing, loyalty and fidelity, as well as community service, charity, and judgement in one’s afterlife.
These values were shown in other statues, but for judgement in afterlife, it’s primarily within the Ten Courts of Hell.
It’s to tell you (and your kids) that if you anyhowly ride a PMD and hit others, you’ll be hit in hell by 1,000 PMDs.
And this attraction is so popular, they’ve decided to take it up a notch.
As mentioned earlier, Journeys has been tasked to manage the park and one of the more interesting changes the company has made is the Hell’s Museum.
Unlike Ten Courts of Hell, it’s “a sneak peek into the space which aims to expose them to Asia’s death rituals, funerary practices and various religious beliefs on the afterlife.”
The museum is supposed to be launched in June 2018, but according to its website, it’s still “coming soon”.
Nevertheless, we’d be waiting.
But you can still have a sneak peek if you’re going for the night tour. Read on.
Popular in the Past Because We All Eat Full Nothing to Do
You’d have realised something interesting: it seems like every Tom, Dick and Harry; and Mary, Jane and Denise have all been there before, and they’re born before 1990.
Anyone who’s born after 1990 doesn’t seem to have much impression of it as a “scary place”.
There’s a reason for that, my dear old readers.
You see, back in the days when there were no TV or shopping malls, the only place to visit without having to pay a single cent was Har Paw Villa. Shopping malls soon came but parents would still bring their kids to the place.
In fact, in a 1995 survey, many Singaporean adults then remember going to the park as a child and learning about Chinese folk history.
So it’s not just hearsay when we say that this park is memories for the SMS generation and Instagram for the Telegram generation: history says one.
Can Marry There
If you’re getting married soon, and don’t want a mainstream wedding banquet because that’s so yesterday, why not marry in hell?
I mean, marry in Har Paw Villa?
The company that manages Har Paw Villa has opened it up for wedding, calling it a “unique wedding destination”.
In their words, “Framed with lush greenery, the historic Haw Par Villa is the perfect location for the wedding of a lifetime. Enjoy a dreamy cocktail reception at our sprawling courtyard as the sun sets over the horizon. Our spacious Museum Hall is where the magic begins, a celebration of the everlasting union – glorious feasting, heartfelt speeches, champagne toasts and quirky moments. The sky’s the limit at Haw Par Villa.”
Of course, in the website, it shows an ang mo marrying there, because let’s face it: even if you’re hip and drink bubble tea as plain water, your parents and relatives would still prefer tea.
Nevertheless, you know there’s one more option for you to go to hell.
Tiger Car Is Still There
If you’ve been there, you’d know about the Tiger Car.
In fact, the car alone warrants a trip there.
This car might look Instagram-worthy, but it’s more than that. Firstly, it is was a working car: the horn sounded like tiger roar instead of a “beep”. It even has the plate number 8989, which of course means huat long long ah.
And the reason for having a car with a tiger head? You’ve guessed it: advertisement. Last time no influencers mah, must use creative ways.
While the park is now open at night for you to scare yourself, you can actually visit the park at night prior to the new opening hours with their “Twilight Tour: Journeys to Hell”.
The tour is on every Friday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and is a ticketed event, costing $20 per adult, $10 per child and $15 per student.
Unlike the free-and-easy entry, you’ll get to hear stories about the Aw family and also get a sneak peak at the Hell’s Museum you’ve read earlier.
Also, they’ll show you how Singaporeans communicate with the afterlife (WhatsApp, perhaps?)
According to their website, “We promise you’ll never see dying – and living – in the same way again.”
I’m dying to go there already.
If you’re timid like BuffLord95 who screams when he sees his own shadow, then the day tour’s for you.
Just like the night tour, this is a ticketed tour at a lower price of $10 per adult and $5 per child. Commencing every 10:00 a.m. daily (obviously for tourists, no?), it’s just like the night tour minus the scary part of the afterlife thingy.
Okay, this one I’m not dying to go there.
You Can Visit It Via Google Maps
Don’t have time to go there? Or do you want to go there right now, at this very moment?
Well, thanks to technology, you can.
Simply go to Google Maps and use the street view function: for some reason, you can explore the inside of the park with a click of your mouse.
In fact, Google’s algorithm is so goody that they even blurred out the statues’ faces, because #privacymatters
Unfortunately, you can’t go to hell with it. Geddit? Geddit or not?
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