Haw Par Villa: World's most unexpected theme park
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“If you steal, you'll be frozen into blocks of ice," the woman says.
"Lie, and your tongue will be cut. And -- this is very important -- if you cheat in an examination, you'll have your organs and intestines pulled out.”
“So if I change immediately, can I go to heaven instead?” asked the seven-year-old girl.
The source of this heart-warming exchange? A mother reading out exhibit captions to her daughter in the Ten Courts of Hell at Haw Par Villa, a Chinese mythology theme park in Singapore.
Built in 1937 by Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par -- best known for introducing the pain-relieving ointment Tiger Balm to the world -- the park has more than 1,000 statues and dioramas vividly depicting Chinese folk tales, myths and Confucian beliefs.
“What I have in mind will be unique, like nothing anybody has seen,” Aw Boon Haw said when he obtained the land in Pasir Panjang, where the park's located, in 1934.
“We shall call it after us, Haw Par Villa.”
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Well, the brothers certainly achieved something unique. Nowhere else in the world will you see a diorama of a woman breastfeeding an old lady -- one of the charming displays in Haw Par's hellishly popular underworld section.
Its intended purpose? To educate visitors in morality.
And maybe to freak them out just a bit.
The Singapore Tourism Board has been operating Haw Par Villa since 1988, and it's been free to the public since 2001.
Even with free admission, however, the theme park's popularity has declined in recent years.
Locals were incredulous when this writer told them she was planning to visit such an apparently shabby old attraction.
And the cab driver drove right past the entrance, assuming my destination was the residential area next door.
A shame Haw Par's appeal has waned -- you really won't find attractions anywhere else in the world that include a granny being breastfed or demons pitchforking loan sharks in hell.
Exhibit captions are in English and Chinese, among other languages.
Haw Par Villa, 262 Pasir Panjang Rd, Singapore 118628 Singapore; +65 6872 2780; open daily 9 a.m.-7 p.m
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Originally published September 2013. Updated March 15, 2015