May 27, 2024
Shipping Container Hotel.

Shipping Container Hotel at Haw Par Villa.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

  • I booked an overnight stay at Shipping Container Hotel, a container-unit-turned-movable-living-space in Singapore.

  • The hotel is located in Haw Par Villa, a park that features 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.

Haw Par Villa entrance.

Haw Par Villa entrance.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

As a child growing up in Singapore, I was fascinated with the park. I would ask my family to bring me there and got 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 meter (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.


Haw Par Villa’s infamous ‘Hell’s Museum’ features sculptures that depict what happens in the 10 Courts of Hell.

Haw Par Villa museum.

Haw Par Villa museum.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The museum claims it is the “world’s first museum exploring death and the afterlife.”

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 colorful dioramas were designed to mimic scenes from Chinese literature, like the 16th-century novel “Journey to the West.”

The sprawling park, which is built on a hill in southern Singapore, even has underground caves that descend below the life-sized figures.

Also tucked away in its parking lot are two hotel units made out of shipping containers.

Shipping Container Hotel 1 and 2 at Carpark C, Haw Par Villa.

Shipping Container Hotel 1 and 2 at Carpark C, Haw Par Villa.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

I’ve always been curious about tiny houses — small but livable spaces that usually double as mobile homes. 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, 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.

Editor’s note: Insider paid in full for the reporter’s stay at the hotel.

The ride to the park had my cab driver passing through meandering roads and even a guardhouse.

Back entrance to Haw Par Villa.

Back entrance to Haw Par Villa.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

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.

Chua and her husband got the inspiration to set up Singapore’s first shipping container hotel from 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 wanting to share what we saw.”

The units were decorated with a nature-theme print, with blue accents on the container doors and awning. A porch stretched alongside the front wall.

Shipping Container Hotel 1.

Shipping Container Hotel 1.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

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 hotel had a spacious patio, where I did most of my work. It really felt like I was living off the grid, at least for a day.

The hotel's patio.

The hotel’s patio.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

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 few girls hosted a party at Shipping Container No. 2 for a couple of hours before abruptly leaving. When they left, I had not only the whole unit to myself, but the entire parking lot, too.

At 280 square feet (26 square meters), it wasn’t the biggest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. But for a solo traveller, it was more than large enough.

The interior of the Shipping Container Hotel.

The interior of the Shipping Container Hotel.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The interior was replete with sliding glass doors and two air-conditioning units, which kept the hotel cool even with Singapore’s tropical weather.

The hotel’s rectangular orientation means its layout is different from most other hotel rooms. It’s like a studio, but with the bedroom and bathroom at opposite ends of the space.

With a minimalistic design, I found the interior was reminiscent of Ikea’s furnishing style. However, there were a few details that showed personality, like the photo decor, which stayed on theme and depicted shipping containers and ports.

The interior was replete with a dining table, kitchen, television, and a sofa.

The interior of the Shipping Container Hotel.

The interior of the Shipping Container Hotel.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The TV came with a Netflix subscription.

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 hotel's folding bed.

The hotel’s folding bed.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

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.

The bathroom was surprisingly modern and spacious, with an exhaust fan and water heater.

The bathroom of the Shipping Container Hotel.

The bathroom of the Shipping Container Hotel.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

I 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.

At the other end of the container was the bedroom, where I slept for the night.

The bedroom space.

The bedroom space.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

There were 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.

The bedroom space led to an emergency exit, which was fitted to the shipping container’s doors.

The emergency exit.

The emergency exit.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

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.

There were barely any people around throughout my stay, so I can vouch that the experience is perfect for those who want a private getaway surrounded by nature.

Shipping Container Hotel.

Shipping Container Hotel at Haw Par Villa.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

While I was eating breakfast the next day, a middle-aged couple ventured into the parking lot. They were clearly fascinated by the container units.

“This one’s a hotel?” one of them asked me. “Very good, very quiet.”

They were the only non-guests of the hotel to come into the vicinity during my stay. The hotel offered a great deal of privacy by Singapore standards.

The city-state is one of the most densely-populated in the world, so residents, including myself, are often looking for ways to get away even within the country’s borders.

The night before, I had ventured into the park, taking photographs of the gigantic dioramas. It’s not for the faint of heart, but I relished having the whole park to myself.

Haw Par Villa at night.

Haw Par Villa at night.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

Sure, it was kind of scary seeing towering dioramas in violent poses in the dark, but walking around felt tranquil. There were barely any sounds except for the occasional cricket. It felt like I was on an adventure abroad.

One thing I won’t do at night alone is enter the caves — I don’t know what’s in there, and I don’t really want to know.

While I’ve stayed at several luxury hotels, my stay at the Shipping Container Hotel has to be one of my favorites.

The Shipping Container Hotel at night.

The Shipping Container Hotel at night.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

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.

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