Tiger Balm Gardens
The Tiger Balm Gardens a.k.a. Haw Par Villa is an oriental theme park located off Pasir Panjang Road, on the Southwestern side of Singapore. It is famed for depicting traditional Chinese legends, in particular the unforgettable 10 Courts of Hell. A similar garden had been built by the Aws in Hong Kong.
The Gardens was first built by Aw Boon Haw for his brother, Aw Boon Par in 1937. Boon Haw acquired the hill-side property in 1935 and spent US$1.95 million and two years to build his fantasy world. Born in Burma, Boon Par relished his British education, whilst his elder brother Boon Haw rebelled against it. In their adulthood, they concocted the pain-relieving ointment, popularly known as the Tiger Balm, which soon became a household brand. Boon Haw was known to be a philanthropist contributing over half his income to charities. Owing to his exposure to both Eastern and Western culture, Boon Haw sought to create a park which told traditional Chinese stories but displayed it in a modern, Western way. As both brothers were affluent, the park had to reflect their level of prosperity. When it was opened in March 1937, the sprawling villa had a recurring theme in its compound: the circle motif. This was meant to represent family harmony. In fact one of the reasons for building the Tiger Balm Gardens was to create a public space for families to visit and recount Chinese tales and stories. In the early days, the Gardens had a zoo of live animals.
Unfortunately, Boon Par did not reside in the villa for long. He fled to Burma with his family before the Japanese invasion. During the war, the Japanese occupied the villa, using its hill-side location to keep a watch over ships at sea. When the Japanese left Singapore, the villa suffered damage from residents who vandalised it out of hatred for their captors. Boon Haw returned to Singapore from Hong Kong, only to be greeted by an abandoned villa. His brother had died in Burma.
Boon Haw did not make any major renovation changes to the villa, except for the removal of the shattered remains. His nephew continued to add sculptures of Chinese folklore to the garden. Boon Haw had intended a stroll in the garden to be a trip to the world of Chinese mythology. Every statue to this very day has an interesting story behind it. In 1988, the Singapore Tourism Board took over the running of the Tiger Balm Gardens. Re-named Haw Par Villa Dragon World, it became a popular tourist spot. The magnificent statues were restored and the original flavour retained. Visitors to the theme park were treated to plays, acrobatic displays and puppet shows depicting Chinese stories. However, the exorbitant entrance fees discouraged the public and after 10 years of operations, the management incurred a loss of S$31.5 million.
In March 2001, the Singapore Tourism Board re-named it Tiger Balm Gardens and the public has since visited it without charges. Apart from the wealth of moral tales in the gardens, the Tiger Balm Gardens has been restored in the people's minds as a place of cultural heritage and an emblem of Boon Haw's generosity.
Brandel, J., & Tina, T. (1998). Tiger Balm Gardens: A Chinese billionaire's fantasy environments. Hong Kong: South China Printing.
(Call no.: SING 959.57 BRA)
Balm for the ailing gardens? (2000, September 3). The Straits Times, Review Focus, p. 53.
Debbie G. (2001, June 10). Wine and dine at Tiger Balm Gardens. The Straits Times, Home, p. 30.
Haw Par Villa - Land of Ancient Chinese Mythology Home Page . (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2002,
Singapore Gardens. (2002). Tiger Balm Gardens. Retrieved December 4, 2002, from www.tigerbalmgardens.com/SINGgardens.html
The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.