Theme parks of our yesteryears (part 1)

Our kids today might have Universal Studios Singapore, LEGOLAND Malaysia or even Wild Wild Wet @ Downtown East, but in our day, we had our fair share of theme parks, too. If you’ve visited any — or all — of these theme parks from a past era, your childhood was awesome (in some circles, you might also be considered old).

Tang Dynasty City (1992-1999)

Opened in 1992, $100 million, nearly 50-square kilometre Chinese-period theme park was modeled after Chang’an (now Xi’an), the ancient capital of China during the Tang Dynasty, and even featured its own army of terracotta warriors. It was also the location of a number of Channel 8 period dramas, and was once even used by a Hong Kong movie production crew to film a New Year period comedy flick.

The Tang Dynasty City was first and foremost a victim of the 90’s Asian Economic crisis. It didn’t help that its admission would set you back more than $30, and once you entered, there really wasn’t much you could see that wasn’t already in some of the better-funded Chinese temples that would let you in for free; it just wasn’t very exciting for a theme park. The City closed its imperial gates in 1999, and was left unmaintained for a good ten years. During that coma period, its carpark would be used to serve heavy vehicles and private buses, and secondary school students were spotted breaking into its premises to try and catch ghosts.

The dilapidated Tang Dynasty City was finally torn down in 2008, and in its place now sits a barren land hiding behind the cluster of gardens in Lakeside (Chinese, Japanese and Tropical Gardens) that’s only just beginning to grow grass. But you might still be able to find its now-mercenary terracotta warrior statues being sold today in some antique furniture and landscaping stores.

Escape Theme Park (2000-2011)

The youngest of our defunct theme park features, the Escape Theme Park boasted “360 degress of fun” when it opened its doors in May 2000; the NTUC Downtown East mall was only just being built around it at the time.

Visitors were treated to go-kart rides, a swinging pirate ship, and a log flume ride consisting of 2 drops, one of which was 5 storeys high. 4 years later, Wild Wild Wet was introduced as an adjacent attraction. The theme park even had an indoor roller coaster ride called the Alpha-8, which had to be shut down in 2005 after 2 girls were thrown off the ride from a height of 3 metres and sustained critical back injuries.

Despite the accident, the rest of the theme park survived well for the next 6 years. On 26 November 2011, NTUC Club announced that the theme park would be redeveloped, and the site now serves as the grounds for Costa Sands Resort and the extension of Wild Wild Wet which is estimated to be completed in mid-October this year.

Haw Par Villa (1937-present)

What is considered today as the strangest theme park to have been conceived, the 75-year-old Haw Par Villa (also known as the Tiger Balm Gardens) features more than 1,000 statues over 150 huge dioramas featuring Chinese deities, folktales and of course, its very infamous depiction of 18 levels of Hell which is ironically set up as a rather inappropriate “Tunnel of Love” boat ride.

You may be wondering at this point why you’re reading this in the present tense. Well, the theme park is still very much open, though visitorship has dropped to such a level that the Singapore Tourism Board (which took over management of the park and had it restored in 1988) had to waive entry fees in 1998, so the wonderfully weird Haw Par Villa Dragon World is now a free-for-all attraction. And while it was a pain to get to via public transport back in our own school days, today it’s even got its own Haw Par Villa MRT station!

I wouldn’t expect it to be very crowded right now, though, so don’t worry about old aunties poking you with umbrellas trying to get in.

Look out for part 2 of this feature as we explore 3 more “olden days” theme parks you can tell your children (and grandchildren) about!

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About Winston Tay
Our staff aims to Discover and review family friendly activities and places that never bores kids.