Explore a Different Singapore: Haw Par Villa and Chinese Gardens
January 1, 1970
Many would think of Singapore as an orderly, modern, concrete jungle decked with towering skyscrapers. However, there are destinations for travellers who wish to immerse themselves in a world beyond the realm of the Singapore everyday life. Perfect for a day’s itinerary on the sunny island, Haw Par Villa and the Chinese Garden present an opportunity for travellers to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Haw Par Villa
I first stepped into Haw Par Villa for a module on the history of Singaporean Chinese in undergraduate study and have gone back many times ever since. Mysterious and eccentric, this fantasy environment is filled with sculptures and tableaux that will surprise you at every turn. In 1973, the Burma-born Haw brothers built Haw Par Villa (also known as the Tiger Balm Gardens) out of concern that Chinese immigrants would forget their roots after living overseas in Singapore. Founded on Confucian ethics and Chinese mythologies, visitors will leave Haw Par Villa with a greater understanding of the Chinese culture, and its mythologies and beliefs.
Pagoda and Pavilion Zone
My personal favourite is the Pagoda and Pavilion zone. With the statue of the Goddess of Mercy, and the Buddha towering above, one cannot help but feel at peace with the tranquility of the surroundings. A series of uniquely crafted bridges also allow for people to cross the central pond. Take some time to snap a few pictures keepsakes, and to admire the turtles frolicking in the water.
Pagoda and Pavilion Zone
Statue of Buddha
Ten Courts of Hell
Undoubtedly the most iconic attraction of Haw Par Villa is the Ten Courts of Hell. Those who have visited the Villa in its heydays as children would have bittersweet memories of being taught moral lessons through gruesome depictions of Hell. A far cry from what one would describe as picturesque, the Ten Courts of Hell is all at once unforgettably grotesque and charming in its own way. Simply put, the Ten Courts of Hell depict scenes of a mortal’s punishment as they transit into the afterlife. There is however a different form of torture and punishment for specific sins, ranging from rape, to fraud, and even not finishing one’s food! While I was most definitely fascinated by the graphic nature of the exhibits, some might find them disturbing. Parental guidance is advised for those travelling with young children.
Advisory prior to entering the Ten Courts of Hell
Inside the Ten Courts of Hell
Transport and Admission
Address: 262 Pasir Panjang Road, Singapore 118628
Admission to the park is free, although a $5 flat fee will be charged if you were to park on their premises. For most of my trips to Haw Par Villa however, the train is a more accessible and affordable option. Haw Par Villa has a dedicated station of its very own on the Circle Line, which makes transportation a breeze for travellers on a budget.
The Villa is open seven days a week, from 9am to 7pm.Take note that the Ten Courts of Hell closes at 6pm. My advice is to visit the Villa in the evening when it is cooler. In the scorching afternoon sun, there is only minimal shade for respite. For those who are prone to mosquito bites, insect repellant might be handy.
Singapore is recognised for being one of the greenest cities in the world. However, the Chinese Garden provides visitors a glimpse into landscape and architectural styles from a different place and time. Built in 1975 by renowned Taiwanese architect Yuen Chen Yu, the Garden is pleasantly embellished with pagodas, pavilions, bridges, ponds and even statues. The aim at the time was to bring recreational and green spaces into the increasingly industrialised Western region of Singapore. Visitors may also visit the smaller Japanese Garden which is connected to the Chinese Garden via a bridge.
Tea House Pavilion and Stone Boat
My personal favourite is the Tea House Pavilion and the Stone Boat. Take in the grandeur of the features by admiring them from far – along with the glistening lake and the blue skies, the Pavilion and Stone Boat makes for a picturesque scene. Here, visitors may also seek some shade from the scorching sun.
The Stone Boat
Interspersed within the Garden is also two pagoda attractions. The Twin Pagodas (named Cloud Wrapped Pavilion and Moon Receiving Tower) are three-storeys tall and overlooks the surrounding lake. The 7-storey Pagoda (named Cloud Piercing Tower) provides more majestic views of the lake and the Garden. Both pagoda attractions are accessible for the public to climb to the top. Take note that the 7-storey Pagoda is open only from 6am to 7pm daily.
Open from 9am to 5pm, the Bonsai Garden hosts a spectacular collection of bonsais imported from countries around Asia. Each bonsai is beautifully manicured and unique in their own way, along with a tag that gives a brief description of their name, origins and age. Within the Bonsai Garden there is also a pavilion where visitors may sit and rest. It is a great spot for a break so do bring along some snacks and a drink while you admire the beauty of nature around you.
Bonsai in the Bonsai Garden
Pavilion in the Bonsai Garden
For those who wish for a livelier atmosphere within the Garden, make a trip down during the weekends. You may witness people practicing Tai Chi, families taking a morning walk, or even couples on their wedding photoshoot! Better still, the Garden is stroller and wheelchair friendly, thanks to the wide pavements and gentle slopes.
Transport and Admission
Address: 1 Chinese Garden Road, Singapore 619795
Admission to the Chinese Garden is free. Via public transport, the Garden is accessible by the Chinese Garden Station on the East West Line. For those who are driving however, there is no dedicated car parking space on the premises of the Garden.
The Garden is open seven days a week, from 5.30am to 11pm. The Garden is especially beautiful during the dawn and dusk hours as the warm glow of the sun lights up the lake.