The Istana is the palace of the President of the Republic of Singapore.
How many Presidential palaces are opened to the public around the world? And one where for an ultra low fee, even foreigners can visit? Well, look no further than the Singapore Istana. Opened to the public on gazette public holidays, one can get into the grounds and enjoy a full day of beautiful green gardens. And perhaps you might even meet the President of Singapore! On gazette days, the Istana opens from 8:30am in the morning and closes at 6pm.
Dhoby Ghaut station (NS24/NE6/CC1) is the best way to get here. Upon exit, make you way along Orchard road in the opposite flow of traffic and you will see crowds in a distant forming a queue as ubiquitous as can be in our little red dot.
You need to take note of what you want to bring with you when visiting the Presidential grounds. Because right after the main entrance gate, you will be channeled into one of the security lanes resembling airports. Except the folks checking you here are not security folks. They are the Police with policing powers to back it up!
Once you are in, you will be walking along Edinburgh road. Funny isn’t it, so many roads and landmarks in the little red dot having such quintessentially English names.
Ah you see, prior to the country gaining autonomy (we are not talking independence yet), Singapore was a crown colony. And it was ruled by a governor appointed in London. Thus the Istana was not the Istana. It was not a palace but rather ‘government house’, the seat of the colonial government.
Today though the grounds turn into some sort of fun fair as you walk towards the main buildings. Exhibitions, activities and concerts all take place here in an un-coordinated manner, each catering to different interest groups. Like the botanical gardens, people come here and sit on the lawns to enjoy their day out.
The one place that we cannot access is the Sri Temasek. This is the official residence of the Prime Minister, though none has lived there before!
And now the highlight.
Up the gentle slope, on a small hill overlooking the grounds is the main building. During the open days, one can do a self guided walk of the building for a fee. There are also guided walks but they fill up fast! The main hall is converted to an exhibit room, showcasing the state gifts that Singapore’s President had received from foreign heads of state. Although we could not take photos in the Istana itself, you can still see what were some of the exhibited items here in the heritage gallery (here). This can also be an alternative if you should miss all of the open days!
At the front lawn is a fountain and around it one will find groups of musicians striking a note or two of traditional songs, many of which are taught and sung in schools (primary school that is).
Perhaps you might want to join them? Why it’s fun!
And look at the lone artillery gun. It stands facing south towards the greens of the Istana. Someone said the gun is a remnant from the times of the Japanese occupation, when then government house was taken over as the HQ of the occupation forces. It appears this lone piece of artillery has been left standing there since that time!
One might decide to stay a whole morning or afternoon here. Perhaps President spotting would be a nice sport. Whatever your motivation, this experience where one may walk freely within the premises that is home to the President of a country (without the tight chaperoning) is one of few in the world.
Look out for the next opening of the Istana at its website here!