Haw Par Villa: Hallucinations, Hell And The Hokey Pokey

Spread the word – Haw Par Villa is the best trip you can have in Singapore without risking a criminal record.

[For non-Singaporean readers: Haw Par Villa is a statue park in the west of Singapore, built in the 1930s by two tycoon brothers who made their fortunes in Chinese medicinal ointment, and it’s full of garish life-size statues commissioned by the brothers to portray stories from Chinese mythology and traditional Chinese values.]

Haw Par Villa’s been terminally uncool ever since that spectacularly failed themeparkesque revamp in the late 80s, but no one seems to have noticed that they’ve since reversed many of the ill-advised changes that led to its downfall. It’s free to get in again these days (apart from the $5 parking charge and the $1 entry fee to Hell), and they’ve removed all those ridiculously kitsch additions like the rides and shows. So now, just the ridiculously kitsch original statues are left.

I took first Alec and recently Russ to it, and I think I wouldn’t be overstating things to say they both left a little changed by the experience. I don’t usually like to post too many photos in an entry, but my words really can’t do justice to the lurid reality of Haw Par Villa on their own, so forgive me if you’re on a slow connection and this entry takes a while to load. As usual, click on the photos for larger versions, and oh, be warned: CONTAINS WEIRD STATUE NUDITY.


In an apparent battle of oneupmanship with Dante, there are 10 courts in Chinese hell, where various cruel and decidedly unusual punishments await various kinds of sins. This was always the highlight of my childhood visits, until the revamp made Hell into a boat ride – how do you linger and gawk at a man being disembowelled by a misshapen demon when you’re stuck on a freaking boat? The idiocy.

Xia xue le!

So anyway, Hell has gore galore, trees of knives[1. Very Jake & Dinos Chapman! See Great Deeds Against The Dead on this site (click on the bottom right thumbnail graphic).] and very pleasantly, the only air-conditioning in the park. The women on the left are “prostitutes getting drowned in filthy blood”.


“Ohhh you put your left hip in…”

Apart from the long-necked demon and the guy’s dinky pinkies, I also really like the official doing the hokey pokey in the background.



I love you damn long time

Apparently, bad girls in Chinese mythology don’t look much different from bad girls in the 21st century. I have a suspicion the brothers rather liked these particular girls, the tableau is quite lovingly elaborate. I guess sometimes Madam White Snake just ain’t enough.


I love you long time underwater in damn weird position

I realize Singapore used to be a more swinging place than it is now, but really, I was under the impression this was a family park. It isn’t so much the nudity of the mermaids that unsettles me a little, it’s their…agility.



Actually, I was willing enough to grant the brothers those earlier fantasies. After all, which guy doesn’t want to fuck a mermaid? This little “accident” on the left does seem a little gratuitous though, and it somewhat detracts from the park’s later tableaus on filial piety.



Para para haw par villa

Man, look at those cool cats. I’d happily go out clubbing tomorrow in that girl’s outfit, but I’d be hard-pressed to match the guys’ groovy moves.



I want whatever they’re on




I always thought Dadaism was primarily a European movement, but clearly it must have had some influence in Asia. If any of the following pictures actually make sense in Chinese culture, please feel free to educate me.

Worst case of the crabs ever (Photo by Russ)

What would Freud make of this? What do you make of this? I don’t know. I only know what No Signboard Seafood would make of this.


Just too weird, can’t think of witty caption

So this is Russ, standing between the kiwis, taking a picture of the tortoises, which are wearing hats and riding on ostriches. Obviously.


Check out the melons on that chick!

Who knew that chickens led such climactic lives? Or required underwired lingerie, for that matter?



Come back here you KNNBCCB!

Close-up of one of the figurines in a tableau. I can’t remember what story it was illustrating exactly, but no doubt he was lacking in traditional Chinese values and therefore deserved his grisly end.



I was quite fond of this tentative gorilla. He looks all shy and self-conscious, uncomfortable with his gorilla-ness. I bet he listens to indie music at night when the park is closed.


Rust, paint, gate

This gate is tucked away in a corner of the park, a little distance away from a gigantic but otherwise unremarkable statue of Kuan Yin. We loved the gate and spent quite a while taking photographs of it, attracting occasional “Uh, guys? The sights are over here” looks from other visitors.


The Singapore press loses no opportunities to trumpet Singapore’s latest international rankings in all manner of things, but I bet you didn’t know that Haw Par Villa is regarded by some as one of the 7 Kitsch Wonders Of The World! That puts it on the same level as Graceland, man! Why this sort of achievement neber highlight as “Uniquely Singapore” one?[2. For non-Singaporean readers, that’s Singlish for “Why has a laudable achievement such as this not been highlighted as part of the ongoing tourism campaign which is somewhat ungrammatically named “Uniquely Singapore”?]


  1. ay mic, first comment here. this, i must visit. the last one was like, lemme see, when i was in kindie. memories. sure brought back memories. thanks for sharing!

  2. Hahaha, the Jake & Dinos Chapman reference is spot on! So the boat ride through hell still operates? I was so fascinated by it as a kid, must’ve been the naked boobies and strangely lurid scenes. My poor mum was forced into forking out the $15 entrance fee for the lot of us just to sit on the flume ride, which to its credit was much scarier than the one in Disneyland.

  3. Loved the stoned seals, awesome expression! As a kid, visiting Haw Par Villa was one of the scariest encounters! I might just visit it again if I’ve the chance.

  4. Haw Par Villa is truly a national monument. ;) I thought it closed down, though. Or was that the Qing Dynasty place…

  5. Oops, I didn’t make it clear – Hell is NO LONGER a boat ride! So just like old times, you can now stand there and marvel at the sight of a man being fed through a mangle for as long as you want!

  6. Ah Michelle, this post made me laugh no end. I love the crab comment the best, having just explained to an expat friend of mine that Chinese people have uncommon ways of thinking, best illustrated by the fact that a friend of mine went scuba diving, saw the largest stingray he’d ever seen, and I asked, “So was your first thought on how good it’d taste with garlic?”, his reply was, “No! Sambal belachan.”

  7. Forgot to add … is there … umm … in any way, this, like, statue of a woman breastfeeding her family or something? I think it’s got to do with the filial piety bit of the park. Something to do with an old Chinese story about how a woman saved her family from starvation. I remember seeing it as a kid and thinking, “Wow! Porn!”

  8. Hi, came by way of Tomorrow.sg. I went to Haw Par Villa on a school trip back in the Eighties, and it was really, really cool. Those levels of Hell were great.

  9. Ooh ya, I remember visiting Haw Par Villa…pretty recently too. I brought some NZ exchange students there and I remember thinking how run down the place was…But, ho ya, them statues…

    Somehow I remember Hell being Scarier when I was younger, probably because there was actually proper lighting back then…the last time I went was just in plain broad daylight..

    But ooh, I miss having them screen stuff like “How Pan Gu Created The World” and “Nu Wa” etc etc. Those were the highlights of my trip to Haw Par Villa…well, other than the lurid statues. ;)

  10. you’ve been tomorrow-ed!

    cracking up @ work here…if only the government knows there are better/other ways of marketing this country. this is so uncool it’s cool. oh you make me wanna check this place out! I bet you the visitorship to HPV will spike because ppl are reading this.

  11. You know your first picture was named “hpv-bloody-women” – I didn’t realise at first that ‘hpv’ stood for Haw Par Villa. I thought you were referring to the condition that the prostitutes had, and I was wondering how you knew.

  12. i thought drugs were illegal in singapore?

    the creators of this place have dabbled in some type of hallucinogen.

  13. Benny: Um, yes, there is, um, a statue of a woman breastfeeding an old woman. Sorry I didn’t take a picture of it for you to download as your wallpaper.

    Kelly: If my little post could actually affect visitorship to HPV that would be GREAT! Every time I go there are only about 20 people in the whole park, on a Sunday afternoon.

    Jol: Going by Chinese Hell ethos, you have a warped mind and must therefore have your skull opened and brain fed to crows.

  14. Surreal, but entertaining even to non-Singaporeans, and despite the lure of the gymnastic mermaids, I like the stoned seals best of all. :)

  15. great to know i’m not the only one who loves the place to bits. for the same reasons, i actually quit (another) very decent job to work in HPV for 1 year plus on the redevelopment plan. going to work everyday was surreal!

    a museum on Overseas Chinese Immigrants should be opening sometime soon. so stay tuned for that. not too sure how that will truly succeed in giving the park a lease of life, but one thing is for sure. working alongside with STB was a pain in the ARSE!

    these fellas are erm, well, i better keep my mouth shut lest they sue the pants off me. but just imagine the nastiest things lah.

    but trust me, i went there with the best intentions of reviving the park, and left VERY VERY dejected and jaded.

    it’s truly one of the quirkiest locations in the world. made even more quirky set amongst a ring of industrial parks! thru my time there and other research, i’ve learnt alotta very interesting and spooky stories about the place and its founders.

    the Aw family. there’s more than meets the eye.

  16. I used to live down the road from Haw Par Villa, and remember vividly my mum bringing me there every CNY, back in the days when it was free (ie pre refit). Hmm…. subtle morality indoctrination at work? Probably explain me being the way I am now.

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