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 the 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 Aw Boon Haw later diversified his wealth into newspaper publishing industry. His newspaper empire, by the 1930s, would had almost a dozen different set of daily newspapers distributed at China, Hong Kong, Malaya and Singapore.
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.
Aw Boon Haw was a marketing genius, while the more introverted Aw Boon Par preferred to work in his researching and refining of their famed ointment. In the 1920s, the Aw brothers spent heavily in marketing; almost two-third of the manufacturing costs of Tiger Balm were used for packaging and advertising. The strategy worked, and their company’s turnover reached a hefty $10 million in 1926.
After convincing his brother to move to Singapore, Aw Boon Haw acquired the land along Pasir Panjang Road at a cost of US$1.95 million for the construction of his dream park in 1937, which placed importance on Chinese traditions and family harmony. It was said that his pick of the Pasir Panjang site was purely coincidental.
While driving on Pasir Panjang Road one day, his car broke down. As Aw Boon Haw’s chauffeur was repairing the car, he wandered nearby and liked what he saw – a small hill facing the vast sea (Pasir Panjang Road was then situated just beside the coast before the land reclamation). Citing good fengshui, Aw Boon Haw decided to purchase the parcel of land for his villa and theme park.
In 1937, the grand villa and park were completed, but the happy days for the Aw brothers could not last for long. The Second World War struck Singapore in the early forties, and their business was disrupted by the Japanese Occupation. The villa and park were occupied by the Japanese forces, forcing Aw Boon Haw to move to Hong Kong, whereas Aw Boon Par escaped to Burma, where he died in 1944. The two close-knit brothers would never meet again.
After the war, Aw Boon Haw returned to Singapore only to find his villa and park in bad shapes, damaged during the war and looted after the Japanese surrendered. Devastated at the loss of his dear brother and the destruction of his prized properties, Aw Boon Haw decided to demolish the villa. He, however, devoted his time to restore the park.
Most of Haw Par Villa’s existing hundreds of statues and dioramas in Chinese deities, Buddha, dragons and mythological and legendary figures were added after the war until Aw Boon Haw’s death in 1954. That year, he passed away, at age 72, in Honolulu, Hawaii on his return trip after a stomach operation in USA.
Haw Par Villa’s golden period arguably came in the seventies and eighties. The theme park, and its famous illustrations of Ten Courts of Hell, was opened to the public for free, and attracted tens of thousands of visitors every year.
At Haw Par Villa, there are four eye-catching stone memorials. They are dedicated to Aw Boon Haw, Aw Boon Par, their parents Aw Chu Kin and wife, as well as his adopted son Aw Hoe, who managed the family’s medical hall and newspaper businesses.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) took over and revamped Haw Par Villa in 1988, but the high entrance fees affected the visitorship. The addition of the Dragon World in 1990 as a new section of the theme park failed to revive the public’s interest. Singapore, by then, had built numerous new places of interest to attract both the local and foreign visitors.
Beside 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. There is a pavilion in Penang bearing the name of Aw Boon Haw.
Published: 23 July 2011
Updated: 01 May 2019
remember singapore past…….
“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 ?
I think it was a donation to the country and they were not compensated.
They gave it over free on the condition that the memorials remain there. Source: Singapore, Tourism & Me by Pamelia Lee
is there a way to get in or can we ask permission from any authority to get in …
You mean visiting Haw Par Villa? It’s open to public free of charge.
was toid that Haw par villa not open to public and it is closed due to upgrading work. is it true
Is it closed for renovation now and any idea when it will be opened
It is open now! You can just take MRT to Haw Par Villa Mrt Station (on circle line) and visit it for free
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?
The Dragon World was shut down in 2001 and the dragon head was removed in 2004
Awwwwwwww!!!!!! Noooooooooooo!!!!!!! Whyyyyyyyyyyy?!?!?
Why does everything have to be removed, demolished or changed in Singapore????? It’s so sad!!
Went today and soooooo sad to see dragon head was no longer there…
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.
You can get Tiger Balm from pharmacies in Singapore or even convenience stores such as 7-11 or Cheers.
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
Hi! Do you know what’s the story behind the Aw brothers? It’s touching that the brother built this for his sibling
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…
haw par villa was a good place it lookd like a palace
So as of now, Haw Par Villa is closed to the public or is open already for public to visit?
It’s opened free to the public! 🙂
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.
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
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.
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!
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!
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
It is the same as George Town, was with the Aussie SF,and were based near GT, that is the same lovely old Colonial Buildings decaying away, by destroying the past will return to you with badness in latter years, feel like a nice cold Singa Beer, anyone want to join me?
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.
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.
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.
Aw Boon Haw’s legendary tiger car
There was also a leopard car owned by Aw Boon Par, but it was not around anymore
Revisited the scary Ten Courts of Hell after some 30 years later!
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.
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)
I think 7:18 to 8:00 of this clip shows Haw Par Villa in 1957 (not named in the clip though).
“But here in a sunny garden near the shore..”
New operator hopes to bring buzz back to Haw Par Villa
22 August 2015
SINGAPORE — Haw Par Villa, the iconic Chinese-mythology theme park and heritage site that has seen better days, may get a new lease of life with the appointment of a new operator to manage the site.
The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) announced yesterday that it had appointed travel company Journeys to operate and manage Haw Par Villa, on a three-year contract starting from Aug 1.
The company will undertake the park’s programming and management of potential retail and food and beverage spaces. Journeys has 14 years of experience in running heritage-based tours in Singapore, including the successful management of the Changi Chapel and Museum site.
Mr Chan Ying-Loone, Journeys’ director, said the company hopes to return Haw Par Villa “to its former glory and more”. The new operator plans to introduce tours as well as community and art programmes at Haw Par Villa. These will include qigong or tai chi classes and demonstrations led by community centre groups.
It also plans to use the theme park’s natural landscape to support the performing and visual arts. To preserve the authenticity of the heritage site, the tours will revolve around themes of culture and religion, stories of family and bonds of brotherhood as well as the historical setting of the colonial era. The park’s Gate of Hell, a popular tourist attraction, will also be retained to preserve its rich culture.
Journeys beat four other companies to win the contract.
“Journeys was selected on the strength of their holistic proposal, which focused on conserving the heritage of Haw Par Villa alongside regular programming of events and activities for various groups of people. The company is also experienced in the management of heritage spaces,” said Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, the STB’s director of attractions, dining and retail.
Originally known as Tiger Balm Gardens, Haw Par Villa was built in 1937 by two Burmese-Chinese brothers, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, as a place for the teaching of traditional Chinese values. The site was taken over by the STB in 1988.
Given its origins, Haw Par Villa is also a story of brotherly love between the two siblings as well as the story of Asian entrepreneurship, Journeys said. To ensure that the focus of the site will be on culture, education and heritage, the new operator said it would avoid the excessive erection of signs and advertisements at the theme park.
Journeys also plans to replace the current Hua Song Museum with the Rise of Asia Museum. While the current museum structure will be retained, the Rise of Asia Museum will have new exhibits focusing on the various developments during the colonial era, the post-war revival, and the rise of Asian economies. Journeys said it was aware of past failures by private companies to bring the buzz back to Haw Par Villa, and will be taking proactive measures to ensure the park’s success through its programmes and activities.
When asked how the heritage site could be revitalised, Dr Michael Chiam, senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said: “One possibility to enhance the experience of visitors is by telling the historical story of the site through multimedia (in the form of) quizzes and games. This will allow trails to be more interactive.”
According to the STB, Haw Par Villa receives about 200,000 visitors annually, on average. The park will remain open daily to all visitors and admission into the park is free, it added.
I had been visiting Singapore for 20 years and ‘finally’ got to see this magnificent place.
Shame my legs were not 20 years younger. There are many enterprising young people so why doesn’t one of them start a little bus to take visitors to the top so they can gravitate back down ? We had to give up through fatigue and didn’t see as much as we would have liked to. Next holiday for sure.
81-year-old keeps sculptures in good shape
27 September 2015
The Straits Times
For the past 68 years, Mr Teo Veoh Seng has maintained Haw Par Villa’s 1,000-odd surreal sculptures.
Mr Teo, who has been a painter there since he was 13, is the last of six artisans working on the park’s statues after the rest retired. Armed with a paint brush, chisel and scraper, the 81-year-old nimbly climbs scaffolds to reach the larger-than-life statues that dot the sprawling park.
Mr Teo was trained by a master craftsman who had worked at Haw Par Villa’s sister park, the now defunct Hong Kong Tiger Balm Garden. His work never ends as the sculptures’ exposure to the elements results in deterioration and the need for constant restoration.
Mr Teo said he has tried to recruit apprentices, but to no avail. Speaking in Teochew, he said: “They don’t stay long because they are put off by the elements.”
The father of seven is not looking to retire despite his age and still clocks nine-to-five hours five days a week. He said he likes every part of the park, and is unfazed about having to work on topless mermaids or gruesome scenes of torture in sections such as the 10 Courts of Hell.
Mr Teo’s family, including his father and uncles, used to work for the park’s owner – ointment tycoon Aw Boon Haw. They were responsible for the general maintenance and cleanliness of the park.
Mr Teo initially sold drinks at the park before he was picked by Mr Aw to become a painter. He said his extended family used to live in two zinc-roofed houses behind the park. He recounted to The Sunday Times how the Japanese army took over the place during World War II and threatened to execute people who breached its boundaries. He said the army used it as a look-out post because of its vantage point facing the sea.
On the imminent changes to the park now that it is in the hands of a new operator, Mr Teo said: “I’m just a worker here and I will work here until I can no longer do so.”
Hi RememberSingapore, I had been reading your article regarding the Haw Par Villa and I had some enquiries regarding the additional shelter that are found opposite Haw Par Villa and near to Harbour Drive. May I know if this structure is part of Haw Par Villa as well?
I have researching about it however I am unable to find relevant information regarding it. Thank you.
(Refer to attached below.)
Does anyone remember that there was a lookout point in haw par villa for dragon teeth gate on the sea ? Is it still there ? Is the remains of dragoon teeth hate still visible ? Thanks.
I have just come across this site, and have had a lovely memory tour back. We have iconic photos of our parents standing at the gates of Haw Par. I remember going around the area with my family, but as I was only 10 and 11 (1957/58) we lived at Gillman Barracks Lock Road. I remember feeling sick having seen the statues, but I still went back, there were so bright and real looking. Thanks for the memory and this look back into my history
I would say the greatest ‘damage’ done to the garden was the time when STB tried to build an amusement park in the garden. Some very nice theme was remove in order to build the fun rides. I remember there was a shunken ‘sea’ with turtles, sea creatures and old Chinese buildings half submerge in the sea. And there are tunnels that leads to it and we kids love to go in there and climb onto the sea creatures. I think it was removed in the 90’s.