Haw Par Villa in Singapore is a large outdoor exhibition that serves as an open-air museum to showcase the mythology and culture of Chinese-Singaporean heritage.
I had planned to visit the weird and wonderful world of Haw Par Villa on a couple of occasions, and was both times thwarted by the weather. Being almost totally outside, Haw Par Villa is threatened by the elements, and you do not want to be stuck there during one of Singapore’s infamous afternoon tropical monsoons! There are a few small pagodas scattered around on the ponds, under which you take refuge from the rain, but apart from that, you will have to run out of the park and head back to the MRT station for the chance to get indoors!
On the third attempt to come and see Haw Par Villa, I managed to just about escape a downpour and was able to experience everything this free outdoor ‘theme park’ had to offer. As soon as you enter the area, you are confronted with colourful statues and displays depicting a mixture of daily Chinese life and also many of the Chinese legends and fables. You do not need to have a background on this kind of thing when you arrive; it is perfectly fine to just walk around and marvel at the displays, like I did!
One of the main highlights of Haw Par Villa (apart from the turtles in the ponds, of course) was the Big Laughing Buddha, located toward the heart of the park. It is possible to climb around this Buddha, up steps and then back down again. Some parts, though, were cordoned off when I visited.
While many of the exhibits and displays here at Haw Par Villa may be colourful and somewhat amusing, there are many stranger, more serious displays, which leave you wondering what the heck we have just seen – and what was the purpose of such brutality?! If you plan to take your kids here, you must bear in mind that there are statues of animals eating one another and depictions of pretty graphic death and mutilation. In a way, this is why Haw Par Villa has such a weird and wacky reputation, as tourists and backpackers like myself will come here without any background knowledge of the culture, and will inevitably get quite surprised at what we are seeing!
Overall, the scenery here is great, and you never forget you are in Singapore. Be it the annoying sound of the cicadas, the lush green foliage all around you, or the roaring of thunder signalling the imminent threat of a monsoon, you will acknowledge that although you are still in Singapore, you can still enjoy some of the Chinese cultural history and fairytales from the region. I did enjoy my time at Haw Par Villa, but it is unquestionably one of the strangest places I have ever been. I admit that I did not understand a lot of the dioramas, even with textual background to each display on hand. Still, I would recommend it as a good side-trip when you are in the Pasir Panjang area of Singapore (look for Haw Par Villa on the MRT map, as it has its own station).