Singapore is well known for it’s underground labyrinth of shopping malls, skybars and of course the Merlion, famous fountain and mascot of the Lion City. What I did not know when I arrived was that it’s also the home of Tiger Balm.
Backpackers and travellers the world over will know (and love) Tiger Balm and it’s wondrous healing powers. Literally, this small tub of smelly balm will cure ANYTHING (except sunburn; I fried my forehead on a hike in Indonesia and stupidly slapped it on. It was the most intense pain of my life!) from muscle pain to mosquito bites. It is a staple, one-cures-all in any travel first aid kit!
Haw Par Villa, on the Circle Line of Singapore’s MRT train system, is the former home of Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, Chinese-Burmese brothers, responsible for developing this lifesaver and moving their headquarters here in 1937. Their home and gardens were built not only to house their business, but as a place to teach traditional Chinese values. These are most clearly, and brutally, explained in the ‘Ten Courts of Hell’; a series of caves filled with gruesome statues and scenes of tortured bodies and emancipated ‘sinners’ slaving away in the fiery depths of hell. Being ungrateful deserves having your heart cut out, whilst having a flutter will see you frozen in to a block of ice. Seems proportionate…
Things take a lighter turn in the gardens, where you can stroll between statues of saxophone playing rats, crabs with human heads and turtles drinking tea. The house where the brothers lived is gone, but in it’s place is a hillside covered with a maze of weird representations. Here’s a taste of some of the sights you’re likely to see:
To call it surreal is an understatement, but it’s a good laugh. Just bring plenty of water as wandering around in the Singapore sunshine is bound to work up a sweat and there’s nowhere to buy refreshments nearby. The best thing, it’s completely free, which in one of the world’s most expensive cities, is much appreciated!
Read this for more tips on saving money whilst travelling in Singapore. Want to find some more unusual things to see and do? Check out this guide to hipsterdom Tiong Bahru from local resident and pal Sam.