The Istana

The Istana, Singapore - Istana Main Building, Grande Corrected Perspective Sky

The official residence and office of the President of Singapore, The Istana, is open for a handful of times every year. Located at Orchard Road, the extensive compound is filled with gardens and historic buildings completed in the 1800s.

The Istana (‘Palace’ in Malay) is open to the public in celebration of local holidays, such as Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Hari Raya Puasa, Labour Day and National Day. Occasionally, it is also open during special events, such as the SAF50 @ Istana that took place recently.

The Istana, Singapore - Entrance queue

It was a last minute call – visiting the Istana during the National Day Open House, which happens the Sunday before National Day, 2nd August 2015. It’s been more than 20 years since I knew about this place (and the free entry), but somehow I’ve never felt motivated to visit. Then a friend got a new camera – and I got the Zeiss 16-35mm lens for my A7. So I was like “Istana’s open tomorrow. Do you want to go and ‘test cam’?”

And then I woke up at 7AM that Sunday.

The Istana, Singapore - Entrance Wait time

During these Istana Open House events, local residents (Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents) may enter the grounds for free, while other visitors can buy an entrance ticket for $2. There are three lines: Two queues on either side of the gates are the same for all visitors, according to a Scout (don’t know if he’s forced to be here for Community Involvement Programme, he looked so bored..). The centre lane is the priority queue (e.g. for visitors in wheelchairs).

We thought that it’ll be packed since it’s SG50 craze and all, but surprise surprise – even at 8:20AM, there were just a hundred or so people in front of us. They didn’t let people in until 8:40AM.

Entrance ID checks and the security scans were the bottlenecks. We got in at around 9:00AM.

The Istana, Singapore - Entrance queue 2

The Istana, Singapore - Istana Main Gates

Golden State Crest on the Istana’s Main Gates.

The Istana, Singapore - Istana grounds

It’s so much bigger on the inside – when was the last time I’ve been in such a place? The last garden I stepped in was Gardens by the Bay’s Flower Dome. A visit and photo tour of the Botanic Gardens is in order.

The Istana, Singapore - Istana grounds 2

It’s a huge open field. Resist the urge to steal the buggies.

The Istana, Singapore - Istana, Guards marching

Or take awkward photos with the Istana Ceremonial Gardens.

The Istana, Singapore - Signboards

Some things looked very out of place. Yes, everything’s to the right – we know. Are these signs of any historic value? I’ll offer to re-design all the signage at the Istana, pro-bono. Just reach out to me.

The Istana, Singapore - Centre Gates

The one of the first ‘attractions’ inside the Istana – the Centre Gates.

The Istana, Singapore - The Fair

Tents are set up here for special events, such as the Istana Art Event held on 2nd August 2015. You can also buy Istana-branded souvenirs here. Proceeds go to the President’s Star Charity.

The Istana, Singapore - The Fair 2

As part of the Istana Art Event, many museums set up special activities and giveaways here.

The Istana, Singapore - The Fair 3

The Istana, Singapore - Open Field and Sky

After walking past a field, comes the bigger field – with one patch of golf green that’s fenced off. Anyway doesn’t this remind you of the ol’ classic Windows XP wallpaper?

The Istana, Singapore - Open Field and Sky 2

It’s hard to see outside of the Istana – almost like Disneyland. Speaking of which, there’s enough land here to build a small Disneyland – but we’ll probably see pitchforks before the idea gets pitched.

The Istana, Singapore - Sculpture at the Villa

We walked across the field and went towards the Villa. I was surprised to see this installation, because there’s a similar piece near my workplace. If you know who created this sculpture, do post a comment!

The Istana, Singapore - Gun Terrace

A 105mm Japanese cannon rests at the Gun Terrace, a symbol of the liberation of Singapore after the Japanese Occupation.

The Istana, Singapore - Gun Terrace and Istana Main Building in the background

The main building is nearby, but we saw a path leading down to the Victoria Pond.

The Istana, Singapore - Road to Victoria Pond

The Istana, Singapore - Victoria Pond

This is probably the quietest part of the entire Istana compound, although…

The Istana, Singapore - Queen Victoria Gazebo without Queen Victoria Statue

The Statue of Queen Victoria is missing.

The Istana, Singapore - Queen Victoria Statue Gazebo

The Istana, Singapore - Istana Instagram Tree

Is this the #InstagramTree of Istana? Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to explore that area.

The Istana, Singapore - The Road to the Main Building

Many paths lead to the main building, but the most iconic one is through The Lawn.

The Istana, Singapore - The Lawn

This is where you’ll want to go if you decide to be at the Gates early. Come here first, take your photos before it gets crazy crowded with people.

The Istana, Singapore - The Lawn with Istana Main Building 2

The Istana, Singapore - The Lawn with Istana Main Building 3

The Istana, Singapore - Istana Main Building, Grande

Yep, this is the kind of empty I want. Beautiful, isn’t it.

The Istana, Singapore - Istana Main Building, close-up angle

The Istana, Singapore - Istana Main Building Tour tickets

There is a charge to enter the Istana building, and of course, you won’t be able to explore the whole place. For $2, you get to access select areas of the first floor. Guided tours are also available (which we accidentally bought, forgetting that the self-tour option was available) for $4. These rates are for local residents. Other visitors will need to pay $4 for a self-guided tour and $10 for the guided tour.

The Istana, Singapore - Istana Main Building Tour, guide explaining column capitals of the Istana Building

The guided tour can get as long as an hour. You’ll learn about column capitals. We spent 10 minutes outside admiring the exterior of the Main Building.

Guide: “It looks like it’s going to rain. Let’s go inside” (Once inside) “As I was saying outside…”

Oh dear.

The Istana, Singapore - Istana Main Building, Dramatique

Whether the guided tour is worth it or not largely depends on what experience you’re after. As much as I’d like to be nice, there really isn’t much to see inside ($2 donation to get in after all, and a bit more for the guide) that a typical walk might take… 10-15 minutes? Also, many of the state gifts were sloppily displayed in the banquet hall. First time I’ve ever seen frayed, wrinkled and odd strips of cloth being used to do table scallop and skirting.

The Istana, Singapore - Istana Main Building, Tour of the building

The Istana, Singapore - Pathways around Istana

The Istana, Singapore - Sri Temasek on the Hill

The last place to see is Sri Temasek, which is officially known as the residence of the Prime Minister, although it is used for official state functions. Earlier this year, it was used to hold the private wake for Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

The Istana, Singapore - Sri Temasek on the Hill 2

There’s a limit to how near visitors can get to the building, which is probably.. a 10-metre radius. Meanwhile, we spotted this strange fountain:

The Istana, Singapore - Sri Temasek, mini fountain

The Istana, Singapore - Sri Temasek, Tree Roots

And that concludes the Grand Photo Tour of the Istana. Would you make a trip down to see it yourself? Save the date for Deepavali this year. The Istana will be open to public again on 10 November 2015!

The Istana, Singapore - Main Building dramatic sky

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