An outdoor diorama theme park that was once a beloved destination, but has grown tired with age. Time may be running out for this attraction, so visit while it’s still here.
One of the first “diorama theme parks” I’ve seen in all my travels, the Haw Par Villa in Singapore is a unique attraction with over a thousand oversized sculptures and dioramas. This venture is courtesy of Aw Boon Haw, one half of the brother duo who gave us Tiger Balm (ahh… that smell is instantly flooding your memories, isn’t it?), who used his millions to create this place. It is described as “a treasure trove of Asian culture, history, philosophy and religion – quirky yet enlightening, at the same time.”
Entrance Fee at Haw Par Villa & How To Get Here
Admission to Haw Par Villa is free. There are two ways to get in: the main entrance on Pasar Panjang with the signature Chinese gate and red brick road, but there’s also a back entrance on Zehnder Road which is the way we came after doing the Southern Ridges. Google Street View will show that the way is blocked by a chain-link fence, but it was open when we stopped by on a Monday afternoon. There was a guard in the building on the left, who cheerfully waved us along when we told him we were going to the Haw Par Villa. Seeing and talking to actual human beings was probably the highlight of his day in this sleepy corner of the park.
This entrance takes you on a road that goes upward at a gentle incline. I think this is supposed to be the parking lot for the park. After a short time, the path will lead you to the northeastern edge of the park by this god sitting on a lotus flower.
What To See at Haw Par Villa
The park is a hodgepodge of God statues, various scenes from mythology, nice pagodas to take pictures in, and giant apes. Sometimes there’s something that’s not Asian at all, like this haggard Statue of Liberty. Most dioramas will have a plaque in front that gives the necessary info on the scene or God you are looking at, but things like the apes had no context and, perhaps, required no extra details.
Man-made ponds surround certain pagodas and some fountains will have fish swimming in them. Keep a lookout for fish feed stations, of which there are several scattered around. These operate on an honour system where there will be a box that you slip $1 in, and next to it will be another box filled with smaller packs of fish food that you take. Remember: although there’s no staff keeping a watchful eye, the Gods are literally all around watching you, so don’t be a scummy bummy who steals money or fish food.
Tours at Haw Par Villa
There is a daily tour at 9:30 am that costs $10 ($5 for children aged 7-12) and lasts an hour that is a general interest tour of the Haw Par Villa. If you’ve come via the main entrance and are doing the tour, keep on the path until you see the Visitor Centre on your left. Similarly, if you’ve entered the back way, keep on going straight and the centre will be on your right.
Every Friday (except on holidays) there is a twilight tour ($20 adults, $10 children) at 6:30 pm that has a spookier vibe and revolves around the concept of the afterlife. This tour meets at the MRT station that is just next to the main entrance.
Facilities at Haw Par Villa
There are four washrooms scattered around the park that are nicely spaced out. There’s not much to eat or drink here. Whereas once I’m sure there were ice cream vendors and an on-site restaurant or hawker centre, now the only thing available are vending machines selling drinks.
I think this was a passion project of Aw Boon Haw, who loved Chinese folklore, mythology and religion. For the previous generation, before there was a Cloud Forest and Marina Bay Sands, Haw Par Villa was like the Disneyland of Singapore. It was packed, drawing roughly a million annual visitors in the 70s and 80s. Everyone from locals to tourists visited here at least once. It was fun for the whole family, informative, and frequently there was entertainment like acrobats or puppet shows put on.
Sadly, people nowadays don’t share the same interest in Asian culture, or they’re busy visiting the glitzy big-name attractions that Singapore has to offer. The winding paths among the colourful dioramas saw little foot traffic – we must have only come across less than twenty other visitors during our time here. The little fun shows that used to happen are dead, with only the tours being advertised. This place has become a ghost theme park and in a state of disrepair with worn-out paint being a common sight. Thankfully, it’s Singapore, so even when dilapidated, places still look clean and presentable.
Haw Par Villa is seriously dated and has not aged well. Many are predicting that it is only a matter of time before this once-adored anachronism dies unless it can capture the attention of today’s eternally bored tourist. The management, Journeys Pte Ltd., is not giving up and putting forth 110% when it comes to the park’s marketing. The Haw Par Villa still boasts an impressive and slick website that gives no hints to the state of the park today. They’ve also succeeded in getting some trendy events to be hosted at the park: an art and music festival, escape rooms, and even free outdoor guided yoga (although the website needs to do a better job of not padding out the events list with events from years long past).
Walking around the desolate Haw Par Villa was sad, but it will be even sadder if/when this place closes down as it has been a cherished Singapore destination since 1937. Since it is open so late, you could swing by here if you’re not ready to call it a day after doing the Southern Ridges trail. A visit here is practically spoon-fed to you since it’s free and right next to an MRT station. Visit while you can!
Haw Par Villa
262 Pasir Panjang Rd, Singapore
Daily: 9am – 10pm
Nearest MRT Station: Haw Par Villa
Washrooms On Site: Yes