Singapore has a hell-themed park filled with life-size dioramas of demons and tortured sinners. I spent a day there — and it’s one of my favorite day trips.

Haw Par Villa entrance.Haw Par Villa entrance. Haw Par Villa is a park in Singapore known for its themes of hell, the afterlife and mythology. The park has more than 1,000 statues and 150 life-size dioramas, many of which are inspired by Chinese folklore and legends. The park’s Hell’s Museum showcases what happens in the 10 courts of hell — and it’s hair-raising. This is Haw Par Villa, Singapore’s most notorious cultural park.Haw Par villa, Singapore.Haw Par villa, Singapore.

The 3,800 square meters (about 40,900 square feet) park is known for its themes of hell, the afterlife, and mythology. It is one of Singapore’s strangest cultural attractions.

The park was built in 1937 by Chinese-Burmese entrepreneur Aw Boon Haw, who also founded the topical ointment Tiger Balm, according to the government’s Singapore Infopedia microsite. The park is dedicated to his brother, Aw Boon Par.

Although the brothers have no more ties to the park, and the family has donated it to the Singapore Tourism Board, a Tiger Balm representative told Insider it remains “part of our heritage story.”

Either way, the Aw Brothers – Aw Boon Haw (the gentle tiger) and Aw Boon Par (the gentle leopard) who created Tiger Balm in the 1900’s will always be part of our heritage story,” the representative added.

The Singapore Tourism Board has not responded to my request for comment on Haw Par Villa.

There are more than 1,000 statues and 150 life-size dioramas in the park, many of which are inspired by Chinese folklore and legends.Dioramas in the park.Dioramas in the park.

Many of the park’s colorful dioramas are designed to recreate scenes from Chinese literary classics, such as the 16th-century novel “Journey to the West.”

While some statues depict benign figures, such as laughing Buddhas, many others are gruesome. Violent scenes are commonplace – a sculpture (pictured above) depicts young boys being eaten alive by beasts.

Within the local community, many have said the park is haunted, or at least “creepy as hell.”

The museum claims it is “the world’s first museum exploring death and the afterlife,” making it one of Singapore’s most popular dark tourism attractions.

On a recent weekday afternoon, I took a trip from hell to the Singapore theme park.

The park’s infamous “Hell’s Museum” displays depictions of what happens in the 10 courts of hell.Hell's Museum.Hell’s Museum.

The Hell-themed museum is air-conditioned, making it a welcome relief from Singapore’s sweltering heat. It faces the PSA Singapore Multipurpose Terminal (pictured above), a commercial port terminal that facilitates some of the country’s commerce.

The entrance to “hell” is extensive, with a shade to protect visitors from the sun and figures embedded around the doors.

In the 10 courts of hell, people are punished for a multitude of sins.Judge two of the ten courts of hell.Judge two of the ten courts of hell.

The museum contains scenes based on Taoist and Buddhist beliefs about how people would be punished in the afterlife.

In Chinese mythology, people have to go through “courts” in the afterlife. The dead are condemned by a king, who condemns them to their specific kind of punishment.

There are 10 kings who preside over the courts, and they were first mentioned in a Chinese script in the eighth or ninth century, according to a plaque in the museum.

Only when sinners have completed all ten steps of judgment can they reincarnate.

In the second court, those who practice prostitution are thrown into a “puddle of blood” controlled by a demon holding a pitchfork (pictured above).

The sculptures are violent and kitschy at the same time – and often on a human scale.Court 4 of the 10 Courts of Hell in Haw Par Villa.Judge four of the 10 courts of hell.

Sinners can be brutally punished for seemingly trivial things like swearing, wasting food, and “misusing books.”

Here the fourth court condemns sinners in a great stone for a “lack of filial piety.” Filial piety – being faithful to your parents – is one of the most important values ​​in Chinese philosophy.

One of the most brutal scenes is shown in court nine, where a person’s head is chopped off for one of these offenses: robbery, murder and rape.Court nine of the ten courts of hell.Court nine of the ten courts of hell.

Chinese mythology has devised multiple ways to punish a sinner for horrific crimes. For example, rape is punished in various courts.

The courts act as both a judiciary, where sinners are tried for their crimes, and a criminal justice system, where sinners are punished, according to a plaque in the museum.

The museum was a strange mix of seemingly minor misdeeds and serious crimes, all of which are brutally punished.

At one point during my tour of the museum, I turned to a group of friends who were also exploring the courts of hell. I asked them what they thought. One of the women, an experience counselor named Tracy, just shrugged.

“I honestly don’t believe in it that much,” she said. “I rather see how it all ties into the park’s heritage.”

I ventured into the park one more time that evening to see some of the most bizarre dioramas, including a chicken-headed prostitute who lured a man into a cave.Chicken head dioramas prostitute at night.Dioramas for prostitutes with chicken heads.

The park is open every day until 8pm, except Friday and Saturday when it closes at 10pm

Exploring the park after dark was a weird and wonderful experience – the half-human, half-animal statues hiding in the caves seem much more haunted at night. But it was also strangely peaceful, with no one else around.

The chicken-head prostitute diorama was large: both figures were a head taller than me.

Built on a hill in southern Singapore, the sprawling park features caves that descend beneath the life-sized dioramas.Caves at Haw Par Villa.Caves at Haw Par Villa.

The man-made caves are painted in a gradient of green. Steep steps led me to a dark and dingy cave, where my steps echoed, making me feel like I was in a Hades fairy tale.

But inside the caves a gnarled sight awaits – it was full of sculptures of deformed dogs.Sculptures in the cave.Sculptures in the cave.

The rest of the cave was bare. After taking a few pictures, I ran back up the stairs. I know it’s all fake and just for show – but I still didn’t want to be there alone.

Although the park was a visual overload, it still remains one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been.A crypt for fresh burials in Singapore.Me with a crypt for fresh burials at Haw Par Villa.

The park is a weird and wonderful world. I have lived in Singapore for over 20 years and the park is one of my favorite places for a day trip.

It’s also unlike anything else in Singapore, so I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Singapore – or anyone looking for a new adventure in an otherwise glittering, modernized city.

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