SINGAPORE - A tourism festival has breathed new life into Haw Par Villa, drawing more than 12,000 people over the last two weekends to the iconic but faded attraction.
Visitors joined free guided tours, enjoyed puppet shows and ate snacks such as Ramly Burgers and kueh pie tee at an event called Reliving Haw Par Villa, held as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
The response was so good that more tours of the attraction are being planned, along with more arts activities, as well as a "more extensive restoration" by the STB.
Tour organiser Journeys said it will hold longer weekly tours on Fridays at $35 per person. It had been encouraged by how the free tours had drawn about 2,500 people over two weekends. It had to add four slots to the original eight a day, to meet demand.
From next month, the STB is also opening up the grounds to arts groups for exhibitions and workshops. The first exhibition to open on April 5 will feature a mosaic and asphalt installation, which mimics the original chequered floor of the Jade House, where the Aw brothers exhibited their jade collection.
Haw Par Villa, replete with figurines from Chinese stories such as Journey To The West, was built in 1937 and named after Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par - the brothers who created medical ointment Tiger Balm. The Pasir Panjang attraction, which the Aw family opened to the public, is famous for its 10 Courts of Hell. Here, for example, statues of demons are shown throwing unfair moneylenders onto a hill of knives.
The nostalgic attraction had been popular with families in the 1970s and early 1980s, but is now a pale shadow of its former self. In 2012, the Hua Song museum housed within closed down as a result of losses.
STB estimates Haw Par Villa attracts about 200,000 visitors a year - not a lot compared with the millions who go to Orchard Road each year.
But the good turnout has raised hopes of greater interest in the attraction. "This has exceeded our expectations, and we are very happy and encouraged that many locals are still very interested in Haw Par Villa," said STB.
Several visitors who took the tour praised it for revealing some less well known corners of Haw Par Villa. For instance, a secret cave near its entrance contains five tigers.
"Wu hu, or five tigers, in Chinese sounds like five fortunes, or wu fu," explained tour guide Carol Joy Dragon. This was a reference to the Chinese proverb Wu Fu Ling Men, which means "five fortunes arriving at your doorstep".
"The tour was interesting and well-explained," said Ms Sou Souad, 58, a manager from Algeria, on her first visit to Haw Par Villa. Others said the tour helped bring back fond memories.
Mr Kong Wei Ren, 24, a recent accountancy graduate, made his first visit to Haw Par Villa in more than a decade.
"I still remember the big dragon and the water ride where we came splashing out of its mouth," he said, eyes lighting up when he talked about the old ride, which has since closed down.
Another visitor, Ms Sally Tan, 36, welcomed news of the facelift and said she would take her seven-year-old son to visit next time. "I can relive old memories... yet see something new. For my son, it is something different from the zoo or Universal Studios."
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