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Haw Par Villa to get fine dining, new museum

SINGAPORE — Nearly 80 years after it was built, the Haw Par Villa theme park is undergoing a makeover. Fresh attractions will be created with some focusing on brand new themes. Efforts are also in the works to bring in a new generation of visitors.

Journeys’ Cultured Leopard, Rising Tiger guided tour at Haw Par Villa. Photo: Journeys

Journeys’ Cultured Leopard, Rising Tiger guided tour at Haw Par Villa. Photo: Journeys

SINGAPORE — Nearly 80 years after it was built, the Haw Par Villa theme park is undergoing a makeover. Fresh attractions will be created with some focusing on brand new themes. Efforts are also in the works to bring in a new generation of visitors.

The new operator, Journeys, said some of the new attractions it plans to bring in are fine dining and a museum on successful Asian businesses.

Formerly known as Tiger Balm Gardens, the attraction is the work of two Myanmar-Chinese brothers, who wanted to create a park rich in Chinese folklore and mythology. They were the same people who developed the Tiger Balm ointment.

The park was well known for its exhibit on the 10 courts of hell, which depicted punishments such as being thrown into a volcanic pit and tongue slitting for crimes like lying, cheating or being disrespectful to elders. Elsewhere in the park, many sculptures showed the importance of good morals.

In Haw Par Villa’s heyday, it is said to have drawn at least a million visitors a year. But the numbers fell and now, only an estimated 200,000 people visit it each year.

MARKETING IT TO THE WORLD

With new attractions like Gardens by the Bay, the integrated resorts and the Night Safari, has Haw Par Villa fallen off the radar?

“I don’t think so,” said Journeys’ executive director Jeya Ayadurai. “It is an amazingly rich heritage site and I think we have an opportunity to market it to the world - to people who are interested in Singapore, not only in terms of its modernity, but in terms of its depth and history.”

To attract visitors, Journeys plans to introduce new attractions to the park, including the Rise of Asia Museum, which will tell the stories of successful Asian family businesses through artefacts, old photographs and multimedia storyboards.

Added Mr Ayadurai: “There’s going to be fine dining, restaurants that will draw people in with music and there will also be a new museum that we are creating called ROAM, or Rise of Asia Museum. It’s going to tell the story of not only the famous Tiger Balm brand, but also that of other Asian families in Asia that have risen to great success, like Tata and Samsung.”

Singapore Heritage Society executive committee member, Dr Yeo Kang Shua, revealed that the park’s founders built in subtle advertising for Tiger Balm: “It’s very interesting to find how in the mid-20th century, advertising was being carried out in a public, leisure setting. And that’s very subtle. It’s not in your face like newspaper articles and advertising billboards.”

What is also unique is the park’s only trained craftsman – 81-year-old Teo Veoh Seng has helped to take care of the sculptures since he was 13 years old. The park operator intends to work with the National University of Singapore to document and archive his work to show visitors.

Said Dr Yeo: “Visitors will be very interested to see how the sculptures are being maintained and the conservation of it. And it helps to bring out the stories about the actual work itself.”

“The way forward is to bring a very personal experience to the park. Be it tourists or locals alike, one way is a guide, guiding you through and bringing the stories alive,” he added.

Journeys will tie up with tertiary institutions and art schools to include Haw Par Villa as modules in their programmes.

Said Mr Ayadurai: “What I’m really excited about next year would be school programmes and getting primary and secondary school kids to come out here and discover the beautiful sculptures, the values they share, the history behind them.”

Haw Par Villa is the only one of its kind left in the world, after its sister park in Hong Kong was demolished in 1998. CHANNEL NEWSASIA

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