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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.