By Chern Huan Yee (22S06A), Chung Thong En (22S06N) and Jason Sutio (22S06U)
Travelling to Istana Park is relatively easy with its accessible location—directly next to exit B of the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. Once you ascend the escalator and into the centre of the park, you will be greeted by a large Festival Arch and pool. To the left and right of the Arch is an Art Space and Heritage Gallery. However, these attractions are not where you can find the monarch of Istana Park eating.
Instead, this “king” resides in a more secluded, natural environment—a pond to the left of the arch.
The royal majesty graced us with his presence, immediately becoming the highlight of our visit. An energetic white-breasted waterhen, it ran and flew from one end to the other with poise and dignity as it searched for worms. When it found one, the worm dangled on its beak as if it was a skinny moustache. After feeding, It would curiously monitor the perimeter of the pond, jumping and flying from one end to the other. The bed of water hyacinth and surrounding foliage was the kingdom; the bird stood at the top of the food chain.
The king is only a king with citizens to rule. In the pond, scarlet dragonflies, frogs and fishes cohabit harmoniously (when not in feeding period). You may also find a silent and observant red-eared slider turtle hidden amidst the bushes.
Indeed, in Istana Park, you can observe the fascinating interactions of wildlife. In a modern city, green spaces that still maintain local fauna become increasingly difficult to find, especially lodged between high-risers and malls. Like the hidden turtle, Istana Park is a charming little park that sits preciously in between Plaza Singapura and Singapore Shopping Centre.
However, the pond is not all that Istana Park offers—the aforementioned Festival Arch, the Heritage Museum, and the Art Space lie in the centre of the park.
One of the most striking things you would notice while driving past Istana Park would be the giant metal pillared structure, the Festival Arch. Standing four stories tall, it towers above a calm pool of water, and is usually decorated with banners and flags around National Day. Walking close up and around the Arch, you can get a few more photogenic shots at odd angles.
In addition to nature, Istana Park also contains two buildings: the Istana Heritage Gallery, and My Art Space’s studio. As we had the unfortunate timing of visiting the park over the Labour Day holiday, neither were open; however, just from looking through the glass doors, the allure of the various exhibits was clear.
The Istana Heritage Gallery is what it says on the tin: a gallery documenting the history of the Istana across the road, from its roots as the British Colonial Governor’s House to becoming the official residence of the President in independent Singapore. According to the official website, some of the exhibits include various gifts to Singapore’s Presidents and Prime Ministers and ‘other state artefacts’.
Admission is free and guided tours are offered. However, visits to the Gallery have to be arranged beforehand with the relevant authorities. Otherwise, curious students who may not have the time, energy or trusted adults to do all the liaising beforehand can just stand at the glass doors and admire the exhibits from afar.
Also decorating the landscape was the My Art Space studio. A Singaporean art club conducting various workshops, its main base of operations was the Istana Park studio where people can express their artistic desires. Again, you will need to book a visit in order to enter the studio. (That being said, standing outside to look at the dazzling array of works is free, though rather dubious-looking.)
Walking around the park will also lead you to various Instagrammable spots. For example, a hidden back path had an almost fantastical feel to it, framed by hanging roots and lush green leaves.
As you exit the park and head towards Dhoby Ghaut Station’s Exit B, you can pass by a few swings, wet from the morning dew (and probably bird droppings). There were many birds there, including the ever-common pigeons and crows, but unfortunately not His Majesty the waterhen. Even then, a couple of families pushing strollers milled about, relaxing and taking in the fresh air.
Despite its small size, Istana Park has many great things to see. It is a hidden gem unfortunately overshadowed by its affiliated building. Just remember to prepare accordingly (read: prepare mosquito repellant, sunshade and book your special visits), and you could easily spend an entire morning or afternoon enjoying the sights in this 1.3 hectare large park.