Hell on Singapore – Haw Par Villa

Following closely in the heels of my blog about the Meguro Parasitological Museum I thought it only fair that I continue to bring you stories full of gore and torment. Singapore didn’t generally float my boat, I found it rather dull compared to its regional cousins. It seems that quite a few backpackers feel the same. However, boredom can never be an emotion experienced at Haw Par Villa, which is easily the most disturbing theme park I’ve ever heard of. Wonderfully imaginative, graphic, disturbing but great fun. Disturbing photographs fill this article so brace yourselves…

So, how to begin a piece about such a weird venue? Background information I suppose:

A classic car painted with orange and black stripes, with a huge tiger's head on the front bonnet

Tiger Balm-mobile!

Haw Par Villa is the warped brainchild of Aw Boon Haw, a Burmese-Chinese entrepreneur most famous for his creation of Tiger Balm – a topical paste designed to bring heat to injured muscles so that they lose tension and therefore hurt less. Aw Boon Haw was obsessed with stories of the Chinese underworld and afterlife, especially obsessed with the descriptions of the demonic vengeance spooned out to sinners.

With this pre-disposition towards Taoism and its more horrible facets Aw Boon Haw’s gift to Singapore was always going to be slightly potty. Haw Par Villa, originally called Tiger Balm Villa, is still being altered and finished today as you can see new sculptures being installed when you visit the gardens. This theme park is a fairly long way out of the centre of Singapore in transport terms – it took me about an hour of metro and bus rides to get there – but it’s really well worth it because it’s more entertaining than anything else in the city centre.

You enter Haw Par Villa’s grounds through a typical Chinese-style gate and climb some steps. You soon find yourself looking at a diorama depicting a war between rabbits and rats and you also find a happy cliff-face of dismembered human heads. There are also hordes of evil Asian ants, the kind that are so large that their eyes are fully visible without even having to stoop too low. They tried to eat me when I sat down for a second on a bench, so be careful!

A diorama in the Haw Par Villa depicting a war between rodents. Rabbits, rats and lemmings fight and tend to their wounded on a sculpted hill.

A diorama in the Haw Par Villa depicting a war between rodents. Rabbits, rats and lemmings fight and tend to their wounded on a sculpted hill.

Then comes the main event. There is a low building designed to look like a system of caves, you enter this and you enter hell.

When you die you go to a lovely waiting room full of other unfortunates. You gaze into the mystical mirror of truth and much like in the Neverending Story‘s Magic Mirror Gate it reveals your true self.

One of the indoors scenes at Har Paw Villa, chained-up humans are led by demons to look into a mirror that reflects your true self back at you. This determines the punishment you will receive.

Unfortunately, in contrast to that fantastic tale you don’t just run away screaming if you don’t like what you see. Oh no, this is Chinese mythology! No, you see your sins and then report to the appropriate demon assigned to you for your personal torture.

Chest hair, devilish chest hair - Har Paw Villa, Singapore

Chest hair, devilish chest hair.

People lucky enough to have been thrown into a volcano. Perhaps for not saying 'Bless you' after someone sneezed, Har Paw Villa Singapore

People lucky enough to have been thrown into a volcano. Perhaps for not saying ‘Bless you’ after someone sneezed?

Helpful signage. Yes, the seething lava-filled fole is a volcano. Cheers. Har Paw Villa, Singapore

Helpful signage. Yes, the seething lava-filled hole is a volcano. Cheers.

You walk through a series of chambers where each set of sins is carefully displayed for you. Everything is dramatically lit and the figures are splashed blood-red with great gusto. Use your camera’s flash to see the figures without the not-so-ambient lighting.

You dirty git - drinking straight from the milk carton is never allowed - OFF WITH HIS TONGUE. Har Paw Villa, Singapore

You dirty git – drinking straight from the milk carton is never allowed – OFF WITH HIS TONGUE!

You ate the last Rolo - Spiky mortar and pestle death for you, you bastard. Har Paw Villa, Singapore

You ate the last Rolo – Spiky mortar and pestle death for you, you bastard!

Without excessive chiaroscuro, Har Paw Villa, Singapore

Without excessive chiaroscuro. Note the dude dancing a merry jig…

Turned the dorm light on at 2am - OFF WITH HER ARMS AND HEAD. And you, stealing other people's beer from the communal fridge - SQUASH HIM TIL THE BEER COMES BACK OUT!

Turn the dorm light on at 2am will you? OFF WITH HER ARMS AND HEAD. And you, stealing other people’s beer from the communal fridge – SQUASH HIM TIL THE BEER COMES BACK OUT!

Socks, WITH SANDALS - Unconscionable. Har Paw Villa, Singapore

Socks, WITH SANDALS? Unconscionable.

Maybe this is how the 9 metre tapework was removed from the guy in the Meguro Parasitological Museum. Har Paw Villa, Singapore.Too dramatic. Singapore.

Like cutting in the queue do you. CUT HIM IN HALF FROM THE HEAD DOWN, Har Paw Villa, Singapore

Like cutting in the queue do you? CUT HIM IN HALF FROM THE HEAD DOWN!

Don't like replacing used toilet rolls - THE HILL OF BLADES FOR YOU. Har Paw Villa, Singapore

Don’t like replacing used toilet rolls? THE HILL OF BLADES FOR YOU!

By now I expect you’re getting the gist of this incredible place and its unhinged beauty? I thought it was a work of art to rival the Chapman Brothers or El Bosco (Heironymus Bosch). When you emerge from this cave system things don’t really get any more sane.

A rare oasis of calm in this restful domestic scene. Har Paw Villa, Singapore

A rare oasis of calm in this restful domestic scene.

WAR. DIE DIE DIE. Har Paw Villa, Singapore

WAR! DIE DIE DIE!

Nicole Scherzinger's new diet was a cause for concern. Har Paw Villa, Singapore

Nicole Scherzinger’s new diet was a cause for concern…

How dare you look at me you god-damned hippy. Har Paw Villa, Singapore

How dare you look at me you god-damned hippy!

Dancing on the back of a turtle as the boat sinks. Nice. Har Paw Villa, Singapore

Dancing on the back of a turtle as the boat sinks. Nice.

Of course, just what the Har Paw Villa needed - a lady-faced crab

Of course, just what the Har Paw Villa needed – a lady-faced crab.

So in summary, WTF?

Indeed. Didn’t expect this from staid old Sing-don’t-chew-gum-apore did you? When you’re tired of the air-conditioned shopping centres and the eerily santised bar districts come out here. Especially if you’re only in the country for a few days because quite frankly, there’s nothing better, or else, to do that’s as fun.

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2 thoughts on “Hell on Singapore – Haw Par Villa

  1. awesome blog! jill (you met in mexico) and i arrived in singabore this week and will be visiting haw par as soon as the typhoon clears

    • Cheers! I hope it’s every bit as ridiculous now as it was when I went. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were bits that I missed as there were some renovations going on. Also, spot anything else out of the ordinary in Singapore – let me know, I’m sure I’ll be back in the next year or so. Enjoy the typhoon!

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