Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa (虎豹別墅), also known as Tiger Balm Gardens, was built by Burmese Chinese entrepreneur and philanthropist Aw Boon Haw (1882-1954) for his brother Boon Par (1888-1944) in 1937.

The Aw brothers originated from Burma, and made their fortune through their most popular product, a heat rub called Tiger Balm (虎標萬金油), which was invented by their herbalist father Aw Chu Kin (undetermined-1908) in 1870s. Aw Chu Kin, who had travelled to Singapore and Malaysia from China before settling in Burma, had three sons named Boon Leng (Dragon), Boon Haw (Tiger) and Boon Par (Leopard).

By 1920, Aw Boon Haw was the richest Chinese in Rangoon. Eager to expand his business, he migrated to Singapore six years later at an age of 45, and started his Eng Aun Tong factory along Neil Road. The empire grew so fast that Boon Haw soon diversified his wealth into publishing and banking sector.

During their studying years, Aw Boon Par was western educated and became well versed in western medicine, while Aw Boon Haw rejected his English education and was more keen in Chinese culture and medicine. But in their family business, the two brothers were able to cooperate in developing the household brand of Tiger Balm.

After convincing his brother to move to Singapore, Aw Boon Haw acquired the land along Pasir Panjang Road at a cost of US1.95 million for the construction of his dream park in 1937, which placed importance on Chinese traditions and family harmony. It had more than 1000 statues in Chinese deities, Buddha, dragons, legendary figures and the famous illustrations of Ten Courts of Hell. The theme park was later opened to the public for free.

The Aw brothers’ business was briefly disrupted by the Japanese Occupation during World War II. Aw Boon Haw moved to Hong Kong while Aw Boon Par returned to Burma, where he died in 1944. After the war, Aw Boon Haw returned to Singapore only to find his villa and park in bad shapes. He passed away on his trip to Hong Kong in 1954 at aged 72.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) took over and revamped Haw Par Villa in 1988, but the high entrance fees affected the number of visitors. The fees were finally removed in 2001, but the public’s interest in the theme park had already declined steadily over the years.

Beside the Haw Par Villa in Singapore, Aw Boon Haw also built similar theme parks in Hong Kong and Fujian of China. The one in Hong Kong, also known by the same name as Tiger Balm Garden, was completed in 1935. In 2004, the Hong Kong government demolished the garden, but the mansion was preserved and redeveloped as a museum.

In Thailand, Aw Boon Haw contributed a Haw Par Children Playground (虎豹兒童遊樂場) in 1938 for the purpose of promoting his Tiger Balm.

Published: 23 July 2011

Updated: 09 December 2014

34 Responses to Haw Par Villa

  1. Jeremy Ng says:

    remember singapore past…….

  2. wong says:

    “The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) took over and revamped Haw Par Villa in 1988,” – does anyone know how much was the family f the Aw family conpensated ?

  3. Jasonraj says:

    is there a way to get in or can we ask permission from any authority to get in …

  4. XWJ says:

    I remember the dragon mouth as a very distinctive feature of Haw Par Villa. My friends and I visited the place recently and couldn’t find it – has it been removed due to renovation works?

  5. Because I want to buy Tiger Balm ( which is originally sold in Haw Par Villa?). The last time I went to S’pore, Haw Par Villa was closed.

    • championgrumbler says:

      You can get Tiger Balm from pharmacies in Singapore or even convenience stores such as 7-11 or Cheers.

  6. eddy says:

    during its peak there was a huge flume ride, and its a river course through the dragon’s mouth by boat. I wonder y they remove the dragon. Its not haw par villa without the iconic dragon. There was also interesting myths abt the park, like how all the statues are so lifelike becos they are made by pouring wax over real beings, and if u crack the statues, maggots will climb out. lol

  7. momozi says:

    Hi! Do you know what’s the story behind the Aw brothers? It’s touching that the brother built this for his sibling

  8. lyn says:

    I never knew that they had an iconic dragon in Haw Par Villa, much less a dragon world! Sighs, I wish they hadn’t shut it down, I would have loved exploring that dragon world… I love dragons… :/ I rmb back in my childhood days I would always want to climb around in the exhibits and explore all its little nooks and crannies cause it looked like some kind of dream jungle gym. Those were the days…

  9. Vampire Boi says:

    haw par villa was a good place it lookd like a palace

  10. LWS says:

    So as of now, Haw Par Villa is closed to the public or is open already for public to visit?

  11. Arisha says:

    The dragon was a boat ride which inside was the ten courts of hell. It was built by singapore tourism board n not by the brothers. The dragon is a mystical animlal while the tiger was a real animal. It was told a conflict and cause the area to lose money. The flume ride was actually build to attract visitors but it too doesnt work.

  12. Jasni jaafar says:

    I used to live at pepys Rd in Pasir Panjang opposite the park. During school holidays and Hari Raya my friends and I would walk there . Our favourite places were the caves where the Chinese Heaven and Hell statues were located, where the sinners would be tortured. It was really a gruesome and scary place but we liked it

  13. financialuae says:

    Oh my, this brings back some memories. My father was posted to Singapore a couple of times in the 70s and as I young child I remember many trips to Haw Paw Villas. I was fascinated by the tableau, although they rather scared me.

  14. Watzzlim says:

    Actually I still love the OLD Haw Par Villa best. Way back before it was even revamped as a tourism attraction spot. The Dragon head that was removed was not even supposed to be there in the first place!

  15. Grace Darling says:

    My father was stationed at RAF Seletar in 45-46 and I have just found an old B&W postcard of Haw Par Villa that he purchased at the time. It shows a villa with a roof with four domes. I thought it was just a fancy mansion in an interesting architectural style. I was very surprised and delighted to learn its history and connection with Tiger Balm!

  16. Harry Sharpe says:

    Visited the villa when based in Singapore 69/71a great place to see then. It’s a shame Singapore has rushed to shed its colonial past. There is more to life than glitzy shopping malls

  17. An article of Haw Par Villa from The Guardian:

    Haw Par Villa, Singapore: the theme park made in hell


    We were barely 10 steps inside the dimly-lit stone tunnel that houses the Ten Courts of Hell when my friend jumped back and grabbed my arm. She had approached a mock replica of the “Mirror of Retribution” – where evildoers see their life replayed before they face punishment for their sins – and a demonic apparition had appeared out of nowhere through the looking glass. She calmed down from the shock. “He does have a nice collarbone,” she noticed.

    Any walk through this grim Hadean fairytale is laced with a mixture of curiosity, disgust and a little humour. The Ten Courts of Hell can be found at Haw Par Villa, a Chinese mythology theme park in Singapore with more than 1,000 statues and dioramas glorifying Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian folklore. Built in 1937 by brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par – famous for selling the popular medicinal paste Tiger Balm – older locals look back fondly at a place where parents would bring children for an education in morality, complete with bloody visual aids.

    Thousands used to throng the park, and it once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with attractions like Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park. “Every Singaporean over the age of 35 probably has a picture of themselves at Haw Par,” said Desmond Sim, a local playwright. Those pictures would probably include the following statues, each made from plastered cement paste and wire mesh: a human head on the body of a crab, a frog in a baseball cap riding an ostrich, and a grandmother suckling at the breast of another woman.

    But the highlight of this bizarre park are the Ten Courts. A tableau of severe disciplines are shown in painstaking detail, along with a placard stating the sin that warranted it. Tax dodgers are pounded by a stone mallet, spikes driven into a skeletal chest cavity like a bloodthirsty pestle in mortar. Spot the tiny tongue as it is pulled out of a screaming man, watch the demon flinging a young girl into a hill of knives. Ungratefulness results in a blunt metal rod cutting a very large, fleshly heart out of a woman. Perhaps the most gruesome depiction is an executioner pulling tiny intestines out from a man tied to a pole. The colons were visible and brown. The crime? Cheating during exams.

    However, Haw Par Villa is facing an afterlife of its own. Hardly anyone goes there anymore, and closed sections of the park point to an uncertain future. For some it’s a refreshing antidote to the mall-culture, but it looks like mall culture is winning out over a day out in hell. RemSG, the blogger behind the Remember Singapore website, believes new investment is needed. “Its future, in my opinion, is certainly pessimistic,” he said.

    During our visit, a father could be heard telling his bespectacled daughter to “do your homework, and you can spend more time with the iPad”. Unless, of course, you want to be crushed by a boulder.

  18. Please tell me it’s still there… It was one of my first memories of Singapore, the first time I visited back in the mid 90s.

  19. Leopard Anna says:

    When I was a little girl,my parents and immedIate family often brought me here whenever there was a family gathering.I guess being innocent and young,Im am always terrified by all the displays especially if the adults emphasized that this is what will happen to me when I die if I were to do bad things in life.I guess this really make me determined not to do all the nonsense till I grow up.Teaching children in those days are really simple and street guided..Now I wish to bring my own children there and show them there are such things in life apart from school,the internet and devices.This is a great place of history,self reflector and a good “textbook” too for our generations to come.I hope there is no plans for a demolish.

  20. Aw Boon Haw’s legendary tiger car

    There was also a leopard car owned by Aw Boon Par, but it was not around anymore

  21. Revisited the scary Ten Courts of Hell after some 30 years later!

  22. Aw Boon Haw settled at Penang before coming to Singapore, so naturally there are some remnants of his legacy. I came across this pavilion donated by Aw Boon Haw when I visited Penang.

    But it has been converted as part of a seafood restaurant.

  23. The 1958 map of Pasir Panjang shows that Haw Par Villa enjoyed a nice coastline view (before land reclamation), and there was a seaside hotel a short distance away.

    (Source: Singapore Maps 1958)

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