I booked an overnight stay at Shipping Container Hotel, a container-unit-converted-movable-living space in Singapore.
The hotel is located in Haw Par Villa, a park with themes of hell and mythology.
The experience was relaxing because the location was so private and I kept forgetting I was in a parking lot.
This is Haw Par Villa, Singapore’s hell-themed park.
As a kid growing up in Singapore, I was fascinated by the park. I asked my family to take me there and was turned down, with my mom saying the park was a bit ‘creepy’.
Now, ten years later, I still feel strangely attracted to the infamous compound.
The 3,800 square meters (about 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 the 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 to the Singapore Tourism Board by the Aw Family decades ago and they have no ties to the attraction anymore,” Tiger Balm’s corporate communications manager told insider. †
Either way, the Aw Brothers – Aw Boon Haw (the gentle tiger) and Aw Boon Par (the gentle leopard) who created Tiger Balm in the 1900’s will always be part of our heritage story,” the representative added.
The Singapore Tourism Board has not responded to my request for comment on Haw Par Villa.
Haw Par Villa’s infamous ‘Hell’s Museum’ contains sculptures depicting what happens in the 10 courts of hell.
The museum claims it is the ? “The world’s first museum exploring death and the afterlife.”
There are more than 1,000 statues and 150 life-size dioramas in the park, many of which are inspired by Chinese folklore and legends. The colorful dioramas were designed to recreate scenes from Chinese literature, such as the 16th-century novel “Journey to the West.”
Built on a hill in southern Singapore, the sprawling park even has underground caverns that descend beneath the life-sized figures.
Also tucked away in the parking lot are two hotel units made from shipping containers.
I’ve always been curious about small houses – small but livable spaces that usually also serve as mobile homes. But in Singapore, where most people, myself included, live in high rise apartmentsI always thought this was a lifestyle that I could only 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). Booking was no easy task – not only were most dates sold out in February, there were also times when I didn’t pay fast enough and the booking slipped under my fingers.
After a handful of attempts I finally got one reservation for shipping container hotel No. 1.
On a rainy Thursday afternoon, I took a 45 minute taxi ride to the park to reminisce about my childhood and ended up staying in a shipping container for the first time.
Editor’s Note: Insider paid for the reporter’s stay at the hotel in full.
The drive to the park had my taxi driver through winding roads and even a guardhouse.
The back road leading to the hotel had a security guard, who checked my vaccination status. When he was free, he moved three small orange cones to let my taxi through.
When I realized that the hotel faces the back entrance of Haw Par Villa, which is open even at night, it dawned on me that the overnight stay would not be for the faint of heart: there are rumors that supernatural presence hanging out in the park.
I met the owner of the hotel, Lorraine Chua, who assured me that the units are safe.
Chua and her husband were inspired to set up Singapore’s first shipping container hotel by watching shows like “Tiny House Nation” on Netflix.
“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 to share what we saw.”
The units are decorated with a nature-themed print, with blue accents on the container doors and canopy. A porch stretched along the front wall.
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. Having little experience in the hospitality industry, they were surprised that the containers became so popular in Singapore.
“When we opened for bookings in June 2020, it was full,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if it would work, but my husband and I really wanted to try it,” she added.
After showing me how to operate the security keyboard, she said goodbye and let me explore my house for the night.
The hotel had a spacious patio, where I did most of the work. It really felt like I was living off the grid, at least for a day.
The patio was my favorite part of the hotel. No one was around for most of the day, and with a light breeze in the air and the sounds of birdsong in the background, I could write in peace.
Some girls hosted a party in Shipping Container No. for a few hours. 2 before they abruptly left. When they left, I not only had the entire unit to myself, but the entire parking lot.
At 26 square meters, it wasn’t the largest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. But for a solo traveler it was more than big enough.
The interior was replete with sliding glass doors and two air-conditioning units, which kept the hotel cool even with Singapore’s tropical weather.
Due to the rectangular orientation of the hotel, the layout is different from most other hotel rooms. It’s like a studio, but with the bedroom and bathroom on either side of the space.
With a minimalist design, I found that the interior was reminiscent of Ikea furnishing style. However, there were a few details that showed personality, such as the photo decor, which kept the theme and depicted shipping containers and ports.
The interior was replete with a dining table, kitchen, television and sofa.
The TV came with a Netflix subscription.
The kitchen had an induction hob, which added to the modern feel of the hotel. An electric barbecue area can also be rented for an extra charge.
Thanks to a pull-out bed, the unit could accommodate up to four people.
The queen bed was quite easy to set up, with metal legs supporting it firmly. It was also right in front of the television.
The bathroom was surprisingly modern and spacious, with an extractor fan and water heater.
I wasn’t expecting much from the bathroom as it was in a shipping container after all, but I was pleasantly surprised. It felt like a 4 star hotel bathroom, albeit smaller, with a rain shower (pictured above).
The toiletries were pretty basic but did the job. I wish dental kits were provided as there are no convenience stores nearby. Luckily I had my supplies with me.
But the best part of the bathroom? The porcelain throne was filled with a bidet.
On the other side of the container was the bedroom, where I slept the night.
There were a few creepy crawlies in the sheets, but the queen bed was comfortable.
I heard a rooster crowing in the wee hours of the morning, something I don’t experience in my high-rise apartment. Usually construction noises were heard throughout the day in the city, so I had the peaceful feeling of being in the dumpster.
The bedroom area led to an emergency exit, which was fitted to the doors of the shipping container.
It afforded me a view of the jungle and some of the animals that lived in it right from my bed, which was a nice sight for me, as I lived alone in cities.
There were hardly any people around during my stay, so I can guarantee that the experience is perfect for those who want a private getaway surrounded by nature.
While I was having breakfast the next day, a middle-aged couple ventured into the parking lot. They were clearly fascinated by the container units.
“Is this a hotel?” one of them asked me. “Very good, very quiet.”
They were the only non-guests of the hotel that came around during my stay. The hotel offered a lot of privacy by Singapore standards.
The city-state is one of the most densely populated in the worldso residents, myself included, are often looking for ways to get away, even within national borders.
The night before I had gone into the park to take pictures of the giant dioramas. It’s not for the faint of heart, but I loved having the whole park to myself.
Sure, seeing towering dioramas in violent poses in the dark was a little scary, but walking around felt calm. There were hardly any sounds, except the occasional cricket. It felt like I was on an adventure abroad.
One thing I won’t do alone at night is enter the caves – I don’t know what’s in there, and I don’t really want to know.
While I have stayed in several luxury hotels, my stay at the Shipping Container Hotel has to be one of my favorites.
It was easy to forget that I was literally sleeping in a container unit parked in a parking lot, thanks to the lush foliage that encircles the property.
If I had the choice between a luxury hotel or a shipping container, I would think twice about my options now. I recommend the experience to anyone who wants to escape the hustle and bustle of city life – without even having to leave the city.
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