I have heard many people talk of Haw Par Villa with its 10 Courts of Hell, but I have never been there. It’s one of those places that I vowed to visit one day but have not had the chance to. I have been seeing people posting about Haw Par Villa on Instagram recently, which piqued my interest.
Since I had some spare time on my hands, I decided to check out the “famed” Haw Par Villa.
Getting to Haw Par Villa
Haw Par Villa is easily accessible via Haw Par Villa station on the Circle Line. After exiting Haw Par Villa station, walk 5 minutes to the left and you will reach Haw Par Villa.
Haw Par Villa History
Your first stop is the Jade House, where you can learn about The Haw Par Villa Story.
Haw Par Villa was once known as Tiger Balm Gardens. The founder of Tiger Balm medical ointment Aw Boon Haw built it for his brother, Aw Boon Par.
After the completion of the park in 1937, the park was open to the public. This cultural park showcases Aw Boon Haw’s passion for Chinese culture and mythology.
The Japanese army used the park as an observation point during World War II and returned to Singapore after the war. From the 1940s to the 1970s, many members of the Aw family contributed to the development of the park.
Singapore Tourism Board took over management of the grounds in 1985 and began revitalization work on the space. The park was closed for 9 months for upgrading works and reopened in 2021. There were enhanced night lighting and extensive conservation work done on many of its iconic statues.
Before exiting the Hade House, remember to get one of these Frozt ice popsicles available in 6 refreshing flavors. It’s supposed to be locally-made in Singapore, dairy-free and vegan-friendly. The price is 1 for $3 and 2 for $5, just drop your money in the Honesty Box on the bench next to the machine. It’s prefect to cool you down as you wander in the park in Singapore’s humid weather.
Besides the infamous Ten Courts of Hell, the cultural park is home to over 1,000 statues and 150 dioramas. These depict surreal scenes from legendary works of Chinese literature such as Journey To The West, Madame White Snake, and the stories of the Eight Immortals.
This is the recommended route, which you can find at the entrance of the Jade House. If you follow this path, you will get to see all the statues and dioramas, ending at Hell’s Museum.
Haw Par Villa’s iconic Ten Courts of Hell is now part of Hell’s Museum (Hell’s Museum sounds a lot more sexier). It used to be free to enter but you now have to not only pay $18 to go in, you also have to book an appointment due to reduced capacity in line with Covid-19 safe distancing measures. Hell’s Museum is closed on Mondays and its operating hours are Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 6pm (last entry at 5pm). Not suitable for children under 9 years old.
After checking through my email booking details, the kind lady at the ticket counter handed me a ticket. She directed me to a room to the left of the counter.
This room is a mini cinema and it’s playing a 5-minute introduction video called “A Journey of 300000 Years”. This video gives a brief overview of the spread of religion over the centuries and the different religions’ take on death.
After watching the introductory video, I followed the crowd out of the room. We moved past the ticket counter into the room right of the counter. This room is called “Purgatory and Permanence: Paths in the Afterlife”. There was a young tour guide who was just starting his tour, I sneakily joined in.
The tour guide first brought our attention to the map “One World, Many Beliefs”. This map shows that the world’s major religions and philosophies all originated from Asia. Different religions have different beliefs about afterlife. Some religions believe that the dead go to a specific plane of existence after death, as determined by God or other divine judgement, based on their actions or beliefs during life. Other religions believes that life continues on, the nature of the continued existence is determined directly by the actions of the individual in the ended life.
Two worship tables, Mexican on the left and Chinese on the right, flank the entrance to the room “Ashes, Niches and Graves: Living with Death”. Even though the two countries are miles apart, there are various similarities between the worship tables such as the use of flowers, fruits and incense. This section talks about how different societies and religions do with the dead. There used to be many burial graveyards located all around Singapore for different religions. However, due to land constrains, most of these graveyards have been evicted for redevelopment.
The next room is “Prayers and Verse: Scripting the Afterlife”. The walls are painted with verses and prayers from major world religions about life, death and the afterlife.
This is Da Shi Ye, the fierce disciplinarian of the netherworld. He wears a crown-like hat with pictures of monks and there is a small guan yin figurine at the top of his hat. He looks fierce to scare people into becoming a good person.
In the courtyard, you will learn about the different Buddhist and Taoist icons used in the traditional Chinese grave and traditional Chinese void deck funeral with eerily-real replicas.
As you make your way to the infamous 10 Courts of Hell, you will pass by the figurines of Da Ye Bo (First Great General) and Er Ye Bo (Second Great General). Together, they are known as Da Er Ye Bo. They are usually dressed in white and black respectively, so they are also known as Heibai Wuchang. In Taoist belief, they are soul dispatchers, they escort souls of the decreased to the netherworld.
Besides the Da Er Ye Bo, dressed in monk’s robes, is Ksitgarbha or Di Zang in Chinese. He is more commonly known as Tang Sanzang in the Chinese novel Journey to the West. The elderly figurine besides him is known as the Earth Diety, Tu Di Gong or Tu Di Shen. He reports the good and bad deeds of the people in his territory in the Book of Life and Death (Sheng Si Bu) and Book of Good and Evil (Shan E Bu). These determine the fate of a deceased in the 10 Courts of Hell.
We have finally arrived at the infamous 10 Courts of Hell. Each court is helmed by an underworld king who will judge if you were a good or evil person. The ancient Chinese believe that the soul of the deceased passes through the 10 courts of hell 3 years after death. After that, they will take the “meng po soup” which makes them forget everything about their former lives before being reborn.
After passing through the 10 Courts of Hell, you will come to “Virtues Amidst Challenges” with various sculptures depicting The Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars.
The round tower which is now known as Karmic Kaleidoscope was once a cylindrical changing room near a defunct swimming pool to compliment the villa that Aw Bon Haw built for his brother, Aw Boon Par. After War World II, Aw Boon Hwa had the changing room’s 18 windows filled with miniature tableaux depicting a kaleidoscope of scene. The upper level most depicts deities, immortals and humans while the lower level are mostly animals – a hint at the different realms of rebirth in Buddhist and Taoist belief, powered by the law of karma. Many of the tableaux in the upper level offer life lessons in values and morality, drawing from Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese culture.
The tour ends at The Village Temple which shows a replica of a village temple found in Singapore. There used to be thousands of mini temples scattered all around Singapore. Many were forgotten and others were collectively housed in a single location.
Haw Par Villa is a 8.5-hectares cultural park which revolves around Chinese mythology and Chinese moral values such as filial piety. Hell’s Museum takes a closer look at afterlife and makes one realise the importance of life. The many statues and colourful archway provides the perfect backdrop for photographs.
Haw Par Villa
Address: 262 Pasir Panjang Road, Singapore 118628
Opening Hours: Daily 9am – 10pm