Tourism festival breathes new life into Haw Par Villa; restoration works planned

A tourism event at Haw Par Villa has breathed new life into the old attraction, bringing in more than 12,000 people over the last two weekends. -- ST PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO
A tourism event at Haw Par Villa has breathed new life into the old attraction, bringing in more than 12,000 people over the last two weekends. -- ST PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO

A tourism event at Haw Par Villa has breathed new life into the old attraction, bringing in more than 12,000 people over the last two weekends.

Visitors attended free tours, enjoyed puppet shows and ate nostalgic food like Ramly Burgers and kweh pie tee in the gardens.

"Say Haw Par Villa and eyes light up, it has a unique place in Singaporean memories," said Robert Lim, 45, an engineer. Called "Reliving Haw Par Villa", the festival was part of the Singapore Tourism Board's 50th anniversary. Through special events at heritage places, it wants local residents to relive memories of famous Singapore attractions and create new ones with friends and family.

Indeed, a free tour at Haw Par Villa turned out to be crowd favourite, attracting about 2,500 people over two weekends. The turnout was so good that tour company Journeys Pte Ltd had to add four slots to the original eight a day that they planned for.

At about 9.30am on Sunday, about 30 Singaporeans and foreigners had already gathered at Haw Par Villa to go for the tour. Armed with water bottles, cameras and caps, they were taken on an hour-long, where guides explained the heritage of the park, originally built by the Aw family that created Tiger Balm.

The tour also revealed some less well known corners of Haw Par Villa. A secret cave near the gardens' entrance contains five tigers.

"The five tigers, wu hu in Chinese, sound like five fortunes, wu fu," explained tour guide Ms 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 interesting and well-explained," said Ms Sou Souad, 58, a manager from Algeria on her first visit to Haw Par Villa. "I wouldn't know the stories behind these statues if I came on my own."

The Singapore Tourism Board plans to carry out "more extensive restoration" to rejuvenate the park, which has attracted an estimated 200,000 visitors annually in recent years. Come next month, the Board will open up Haw Par Villa to arts groups for exhibitions and workshops. The first exhibition, which opens April 5, will feature a mosaic and asphalt re-creation of the original checkered floor pattern of the Jade House, where the Aw family exhibited their jade collection.

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