Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Our First Visit to Istana Open House during Deepavali

I had shared that Little One had to stay at home a fortnight ago because she contacted  conjunctivitis. As she was on the stage of recovery, she could not attend her cousin's birthday party. I was pretty worried that she may not recover in time for her first performance at her annual school concert. She had been so excited about it and had showed me her dance moves everyday then. Luckily, she made a speedy recovery. To make up for the days she had to stay at home, I brought her to Istana which was having open house during Deepavali last week.

The Istana ('Palace" in Malay) was formerly known as "The Government House" during the British colonial days. It is the official residence of the President of Singapore. However, since 1959, no president nor cabinet minister lives in it.

The grounds is open to the public on a few occasions such as Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Hari Raya Puasa, Labour Day, and National Day every year. You could view for announcement at the Istana webpage.

Admission to the Istana grounds is free for Singaporeans and Singapore Permanent Residents (PRs). Other visitors are required to pay an entrance fee of $1 per person. Entrance to the grounds is via the main gate at Orchard Road. Opening hours are usually from 8.30am to 6.00pm.

The Istana was designed and built by Colonial Engineer, Major John Frederick Adolphus McNair when Singapore was under British colonial rule. Did you know the entire brickwork, exterior of plastering and most of the flooring and interior work of Government House were done by Indian convict labourers? The building had also survived the Japanese Occupation.

We went in the late afternoon. There was already a long queue outside the Istana grounds.

For Singaporeans and PRs, all you need to do is to flash your identity cards. Other visitors would have to pay and entrance fee. After which, visitors are to go through security screening. 

Area accessible to the public
Upon entering the Istana, we were greeted immediately by the swan pond. Little One loves looking at the swans. We spent quite some time here. There were plenty of dragonflies as well as some small insects flying around as we walked on the grass patch.
Then, we walked past the Centre Gate.
There is a miniature Japanese Garden.

There will be a variety of performances on the grounds during the Open House. We watched a band performance by Siglap Secondary School Band.

Istana building

For an entrance fee of $2, visitors could tour selected function rooms in the Istana building and view a special display of gifts presented to the President and the Prime Minister. However, no photography is allowed inside the building. 

Reception Hall

To the left of the entrance is the Reception Hall. It is here that the president introduces the Cabinet of Singapore to visiting dignitaries and foreign heads of missions. As its name states, tea receptions are held here. We were charmed by the stunning chandeliers hanging above us and also by the cabinets of state gifts from various countries. The sofa set looked so inviting that Little One wanted to sit on them. I pointed out the "Please do not sit" sign on them.

Banquet Hall

State Dinners are held here. What amaze me is a trompe-l'œil located at the end of the hall. It was beautifully painted. The room was formerly part of the kitchen and some workshops.

State Room

This is the room to the right of the main entrance. The hall is used for ceremonial purposes such as the swearing-in of a newly elected Cabinet or President, or for presentations of awards. This room was called Victoria Room in the past by virtue of a large statue of queen Victoria. The statue was later removed to make way for what is now the Presidential Chair and two state flags: the National Flag and the Presidential Standard. The statue of Queen Victoria now stands at the end of the Victoria Pond located south of the Istana Grounds.

What we did...

As we toured around the Istana building, I tried to get Little One interested by telling her this is the place where our president works in. As we (or rather it was only me) were charmed by the grand furnishings in the rooms, I tried to get her attention by asking her to look at the chandeliers and do some counting. When I was interested in any particular state gift, I would carry her up for a closer look and admire the item together. Although I gave her a brief idea of the function of each room, I have a sneaky feeling that she might be thinking that this is a palace. We were particularly interested in a piece of art which is located just behind the grand staircase near the elevators, we had fun counting the merlions. 

Little One was holding a peacock feather which a kind visitor had passed to her . She loves the feather very much and was waving it around to dance. She even tried to use it to 'summon' the swans to her while they were resting on the bank. 

Guided tours of the Istana building are available for a fee (ranging from $2-10 per head for 4 years old and above). They are conducted by the Preservation of Sites and Monuments (PSM) volunteers.

Nature Guided walk at Istana is also available for a fee (ranging from $2-10 per head for 4 years old and above). This are conducted by volunteers. 
Istana and the fountain 
Look at the lovely flowers! We spotted some birds in the vicinity. One of them looked like a hornbill.
Queen Victoria Statue at the end of Victoria Pond
Japanese Cannon and one of the villa. The sculpture located in front of the villa is done by Han Sai Por
Gymnastoma Rumphtanum and Weeping Rhu (Casuarina)

Istana souvenirs are also sold at the Open House. All proceeds from the sale of the souvenirs and the entrance fees collected are donated to charity.

All in all, we enjoyed ourselves. Istana grounds is vast and you need to walk a long way to the Istana building. Do keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water. If you are looking for flora and fauna, this may not be an ideal place since Singapore Botanical Gardens would have much more variety. However. I do love the serenity of the grounds, particularly loved the Weeping Rhu and the mini Japanese Garden. If you like to visit the Istana building and explore what is inside, yes, this place would be great for you. Do check out the ceilings in each room if you do visit. I particularly loved the stained glass ceiling.


  1. thanks for sharing this! i remember visiting as a child, and again quite recently when calla was a newborn. it's such a gorgeous place isn't it? but oh, the crowds!!!

    1. The crowd was one of the reason why I postponed the trip again and again. We went after the rain so it was not so hot and perhaps the crowd would be lesser... We queued for at least half an hour though. I think the nice weather helped, otherwise, we would be rather grumpy at the queue. LOL


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