Singapore West

1 Haw Par Villa
2 Holland Village
3 Jurong Bird Park
4 Chinese and Japanese Gardens
5 Science Centre
6 Singapore Discovery Centre
7 Snow City

Haw Par Villa

The gloriously tacky Haw Par Villa (formerly
Tiger Balm Gardens
) is on the way out to Jurong. Built by Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, brothers of Tiger Balm fame, it was their family home until they opened it to the public. The delightful estate was finally sequestrated by the Singapore government in 1985 and turned into a theme park. Boon Haw originally designed the gardens for his family's enjoyment. But his gory sculptures have instilled a sense of traditional morality in generations of Singaporeans. Sequences depict wrongdoers being punished in creative ways, most notably in the Ten Courts of Hell: one is having his tongue cut out, another is galled by a spear, others are variously impaled on spikes, gnawed by dogs, boiled in oil, bitten by snakes, sliced in two, drowned in the Filthy Blood Pond or ground into paste by enormous millstones. Some of the allegories and stories are obscure to say the least. Though doubtless highly significant to the cognoscenti of Chinese mythology, many of the stories will be lost on the uninitiated.

Its 9-ha site is five times the size of the original villa and its grounds. There is a large section on ancient China, with pagoda-roofed buildings, craft shops and restaurants serving authentic cuisine, as well as traditional theatre in which lion dances and wayangs are performed. The 'Creation of the World Theatre' tells classic tales from the Qin Dynasty; in the 'Legends and Heroes Theatre', a lifelike robot is programmed to relate stories; and a video in the 'Spirit of the Orient Theatre' explains Chinese folklore, customs, traditions and festivals. There is also a museum on the arrival of Chinese immigrants to Singapore.

Holland Village

This is really a residential area - and was once the home to the British forces barracked in Singapore - but it also developed into one of the trendier parts of suburban Singapore and is a pleasant area to explore. It is very popular with expats, especially at weekends. There are restaurants and bars, small craft and antique shops, and a good wet market called Pasar Holland. The Holland Village Shopping Centre, on the first floor of Holland Avenue, is a good stop for Asian arts and crafts and there are ample places to eat .

Jurong Bird Park

Jurong Bird Park is a beautifully kept 20-ha haven for more than 8000 birds of 600 species from all over the world, including a large collection of Southeast Asian birds. As it is now difficult to see most of these birds in the wild in Southeast Asia, a trip here is well worthwhile. Highlights include the world's largest collection of Southeast Asian hornbills and South American toucans, a new African wetlands section and an entertaining air-conditioned penguin corner, complete with snow. Another main attraction is one of the largest walk-in aviaries in the world, with a 30-m-high man-made waterfall and 1500 birds, many of which will happily come and perch on guests and eat papaya chunks from their hands. Kids will enjoy the Birds and Buddies show at 1100 and 1500. There is also an interesting nocturnal house, with owls, herons, frogmouths and kiwis and bird shows throughout the day (the birds of prey show is particularly good).

Chinese and Japanese Gardens

On Yuan Ching Road are these gardens, which extend over 13 ha on two islands in Jurong Lake. The Chinese garden (Yu-Hwa Yuan) is said to be modelled on an imperial Sung Dynasty garden and specifically on the classical style of Beijing's Summer Palace. There are artfully scattered boulders, Chinese pavilions and a brace-and-a-half of pagodas to give it that Oriental flavour, but it is hard to believe that the Sung emperors would have been happy with this. Rather more refined is the Penjing Garden (Yun Xiu Yuan - or Garden of Beauty), a walled bonsai garden, which reputedly cost S$6 million to develop. The garden contains 3000 miniature potted
(bonsai) trees, sourced from all over Asia. The two outside the entrance are said to come from Sichuan and to be around 300 years old. They symbolize male and female lions guarding the entrance, but just in case these arboreal defenders should fail, there is also a pair of stone lions to act as back-up. Close to the main entrance is a large statue of the sage Confucious (551-479 BC), looking suitably studious and wise, and a stone boat craftily concealing a food outlet. On a small rise in the middle of the Chinese garden is the main pagoda, which towers up through six levels. It is possible to sweat your way to the top for a great view of HDB blocks.

Science Centre

This centre might be aimed more at children than adults - it is usually packed with schoolchildren enjoying a few hours away from cramming - but there is plenty of fun for grown-ups too. The central hub of the museum has a figure of Einstein talking in a rather forced German accent, hatching chicks and various other exhibits, including a computer screen where it is possible to conduct plastic surgery on your face. From this hub radiates the Hall of Life Sciences, a Virtual Science Centre, the Aviation Centre, a children's Discovery Centre and a Physical Science Hall. In the Aviation Centre, where Changi Airport makes a predictably significant appearance, visitors are guided around the wonders of flight by Archie the Archaeopteryx - a sort of avine dinosauric maître d'. For an extra charge it is possible to fly a simulator. The Hall of Life Science's theme is humanity's impact on the earth and here there are some live animals along with a few talking dummies, including a dinosaur (spouting surprisingly unscientific rubbish) and Charles Darwin (far too thin) talking with an American-accented gorilla. Disney's
Jungle Book
has a lot to answer for. Overall, the centre succeeds in its mission to make science come alive, with plenty of gadgets and hands-on exhibits. It makes most sense to come here with children who will be able to spend several hours having fun and maybe even learn something.

Next door in the
, the marvels of science, technology and the universe can be viewed in a 284-seat amphitheatre with a huge IMAX screen. Films have a scientific, geographical or natural history flavour - usually space exploration, an underwater journey or a flying adventure over some geological marvel. Excellent films and very popular.

Singapore Discovery Centre

Located at the western end of the island, the Singapore Discovery Centre provides a hands-on insight into the past, present and possible future of the city state. Lots of high-tech interactive machines and play things make the centre popular with kids, such as a paintball set-up, which is great fun and plenty of exercise, plus a theatre and
, a 3D cinema screening a wide variety of shows, from wildlife documentaries to Hollywood blockbusters.

Snow City

Sun-bound Singapore now has its own indoor snow centre at Snow City, next to the Singapore Science Centre. Visitors can snowboard, snow-tube or ski up and
down slopes covering 1200 sq m with walls rather kitschly painted with alpine snow scenes. There is an airlock at 10°C to get you acclimatized to the -5°C environment of the snow slopes. There's also a giant (so-called life-size - how do they know?) model of the Yeti, slides for children and permission to have snowball fights. Snow is made with an aptly named snow gun where water is shot out and cooled with liquid nitrogen. Around 15 tons of the white stuff are made every week to keep the slopes topped up with around 40-cm depth of crunchy snow. Guests are required to wear long trousers (pants) or will be forced to rent them. In an attempt to attract a more mature clientele, there is the
Ice Bar
, with vodka in ice glasses and cheap beer promos. Also, occasional blizzard parties with house music, -5°C temperatures and falling snow.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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