Situated at the heart of Orchard Road in Singapore, the President’s Official Residence, Istana (meaning palace in Malay), is only open to the public 5 days in a year. The palace open house is held on the celebration days of Chinese New Year (2nd day), Labour Day (actual day), Hari Raya Puasa (actual day), National Day and Deepavali.
Considering the rare number of occasions that The Istana is open for all, I thought that people would be crowding and queueing to get in. I planned to be at the Istana gates in Orchard Road by 8 am of October 22. If you want to visit this year, you already missed your chance and you would have to wait for the second day of Chinese New Year in 2018, which is around the 17th day of February.
I reached Istana only at 11am (meh!) but to my surprise there was no one in queue. I “donated” two dollars at the gate for entrance (Singaporeans and Permanent Residents enter for free!), then went through security and I was inside the palace grounds in less than five minutes! I was expecting tons of people but it was almost empty. Perhaps they went early, I’ll never know. Anyway, this was favorable for me although the heat was scorching at the middle of the day.
Not all areas are accessible to the public, there are only selected places where people are allowed to go, which is clearly shown in the yellow portion of the map below.
The first thing you will see once you get in is the vast grassland beside the marsh garden and the lake. People tend to idle by in here with the kids playing and running around. Some people bring in food to enjoy in picnics in here as well. The trees by the roadside give enough shades for that.
The next point of interest is the small Japanese garden, near it you can find some booths selling drinks and other merchandise. Note that for the drinks, they do not give change as they consider this to be a donation to the President’s Challenge, a fundraising and volunteering movement to help the less fortunate in Singapore. So, bring plenty of two dollar bills.
There is also one big tent set up for various activities like face painting and orchestra and band performance from different schools.
Further in the left is the Sri Temasek, the official residence of the Prime Minister. It is not open to the public. Nearby the house is a tree whose roots are stretching out to the ground.
The Istana, probably the highest point in the palace grounds, stands overlooking the lawn. It is one huge white structure and on open house days, Singaporeans and Permanent Residents can enter for free while foreigners can pay four dollars to get in. There are also guided walks available at a higher fee, not only inside the main building but around the palace grounds as well.
Truth be told, I was not very impressed with what I saw inside. This can be because only the first floor is accessible, which is only three halls. Or maybe, there is not much to the history of Singapore yet. I think I tend to compare it with what I saw in Japan, Korea and London. But one thing I can say, the chandeliers are splendid!
Photo taking is not allowed inside the main building of The Istana.
There are three main halls that the public can go to. At the left of the entrance is the Reception hall. The main feature of the state room is it’s elegant dining table. This is where tea receptions are held after state dinners. On the right is the State Room which is the office of the President of Singapore. In the middle, under the grand staircase is the Banquet Room which is the biggest hall on the first floor. Here you can find various gifts from the different states that visited Singapore.
Directly in front of the main building is The Lawn, with a water fountain in the middle. I would say this is the best photo spot for the main building.
Near the main building is a small path of stairs leading to the Victoria Pond. They say there used to be a statue of Queen Victoria at the end of the pond but all that is there now is an empty gazebo.
The landscape inside the palace grounds is admirable. Everything is neat and clean as it is always around Singapore.
If you are planning to visit The Istana, you can check out their website at www.istana.gov.sg. The nearest MRT station is Dhoby Ghaut which can be accessed from the red line, the purple line and the yellow line.