As a child growing up in Singapore, I was fascinated with the park. I would ask my family to bring me there and get turned down, with my mother saying the park was kind of “creepy.” Now, a decade later, I’m still strangely drawn to the infamous compound. The 3,800 square meters (around 40,900 square feet) estate is dedicated to exploring hell, the afterlife, and mythology, and it’s the only one of its kind in the country!
The park was built in 1937 by businessman Aw Boon Haw, who also founded the topical ointment Tiger Balm, according to government microsite Singapore Infopedia. He dedicated the park to his brother, Aw Boon Par. “Yes, indeed, the Haw Par Villa is part of our heritage story. It was donated by the Aw Family to Singapore Tourism Board decades ago, and they no longer have ties to the attraction,” the corporate communications manager for Tiger Balm told Insider.
“Regardless, the Aw Brothers – Aw Boon Haw (the gentle tiger) and Aw Boon Par (the gentle leopard) who created Tiger Balm in the 1900s will always be a part of our heritage story,” the representative added. The Singapore Tourism board did not reply to my request for comment on Haw Par Villa. There are more than 1,000 statues and 150 life-sized dioramas in the park, many of which are inspired by Chinese folklore and legends.
The brightly colored dioramas were made to seem like settings from Chinese literature, such as the 16th-century novel “Journey to the West.” The huge park, which is situated on a hill in southern Singapore, even features underground caves beneath the life-size sculptures. Tiny houses – small yet living structures that frequently double as mobile homes — have long piqued my interest.
But in Singapore, where most people including myself live in high-rise apartments, I always thought this was a lifestyle I’d only be able to try when traveling abroad. But Shipping Container Hotel, which has two units in Haw Par Villa, is an exception. I booked an overnight stay, which cost 200 Singapore dollars ($148). Making a reservation was no easy task — not only were most of the dates in February sold out, but there were also times I didn’t pay fast enough and the booking disappeared from under my fingers.
After a handful of tries, I finally secured a reservation for Shipping Container Hotel No. 1. On a rainy Thursday afternoon, I took a 45-minute cab ride to the park to relive my childhood memories and finally stay in a shipping container unit for the first time.The back road leading up to the hotel had a security guard, who checked my vaccination status. Once cleared, he moved three small orange cones to let my cab pass through.
When I realized the hotel faced the back entrance of Haw Par Villa, which was open even at night, it dawned upon me that the overnight stay wasn’t going to be for the faint of heart: There are rumors that supernatural presences lurk around in the park. I met the hotel’s owner, Lorraine Chua, who assured me the units are safe.
“We couldn’t let go of the idea,” Chua told me. “We then visited Athens and saw all the beautiful container homes, and we returned to Singapore wanting to share what we saw.”Chua told me it took a whole year to design the container. She and her husband have been running the business for two years. The couple worked in IT distribution before founding the hotel. As they had little experience in the hospitality industry, they were surprised to find the containers got so popular in Singapore.
“When we opened for bookings in June 2020, it was full,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but my husband and I really wanted to try,” she added. After showing me how to operate the security keypad, she said her goodbyes and left me to explore my home for the night. The patio was my favorite part of the hotel. For most of the day, there was nobody around, and, with a light breeze in the air and the sounds of birds chirping in the background, I could write in peace.
A group of girls threw a party at Shipping Container No. 2 for a few hours before leaving abruptly. When they went, I had the entire unit to myself, as well as the entire parking lot. The hotel’s interior had sliding glass doors and two air conditioners, which kept the hotel cool even in Singapore’s hot heat.
The hotel’s rectangular orientation sets it apart from most other hotel rooms in terms of layout. It’s similar to a studio, but the bedroom and bathroom are on different sides of the room. The inside had a simple design that reminded me of Ikea’s furnishing approach. The photo decor, which maintained on theme and depicted shipping containers and ports, was one of the few things that displayed personality.
The kitchen had an induction stove, which added to the hotel’s modern vibe. An electric barbecue pit can also be rented at an additional cost. The unit could accommodate up to four people thanks to a foldable bed. The queen-sized bed was pretty easy to set up, with metal legs that securely prop it up. It was right in front of the television, too didn’t expect much of the bathroom considering it was, after all, in a shipping container, but I was pleasantly surprised. It felt like a four-star hotel bathroom, albeit smaller, with a rain shower (pictured above).
The toiletries were pretty basic but did the job. I wished dental kits were provided, as there aren’t any convenience stores nearby. Thankfully, I brought my necessities with me. But the best part of the bathroom? The porcelain throne was replete with a bidet. There was a couple of creepy crawlies in the bedsheets, but the queen-sized bed was comfortable.
I heard a rooster crowing in the wee hours of the morning, something I don’t experience back in my high-rise apartment. Most of the time construction noises would be ringing throughout the day in the city, so I cherished the peaceful feeling of being in the container. It afforded me a view of the jungle and some of the animals living in it right from my bed, which was a fun sight for me, having only lived in cities.
It was easy to forget that I was literally sleeping in a container unit parked in a parking lot, thanks to the luscious foliage enclosing the compound. If I had a choice between a luxury hotel or a shipping container, I would be thinking twice now about my options. I recommend the experience to anyone who wants to get away from the bustle of city life — without even having to leave the city.