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Singapore

Raffles Hotel Singapore

A massive, bearded, doorman with a huge smile on his face opens our cab door. ‘Welcome to Raffles’ he says and sounds like he means it. Dressed in an ornate white uniform and a turban he opens the hotel door and bids us enter. We walk into an enormous white foyer dominated by a massive and beautiful flower arrangement. The reception desk is miniscule but as soon as we’ve given our names we’re led away ‘Your suite is this way. We’ll complete the check in there.’ We’re impressed.

Singapore Raffles Hotel

Singapore Raffles Hotel © Hugh Taylor

We’re in the Palm Court wing of the hotel. Our door opens onto a terraced veranda with a table and two chairs shaded by frangipani trees. Once Somerset Maugham spent his mornings here writing up the titbits of salacious gossip and scandal he’d picked up at society dinner parties the night before. Our suite looks untouched since it was built but that’s an illusion for the hotel has been fully restored to the condition of its heyday just after the First World War, but with modern conveniences.

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Emirates operates several flights per week to Singapore with fast convenient connections between Dubai and the UK. The award-winning airline also provides complimentary chauffeur drive for Business Class passengers to and from their home to the airport plus access to an exclusive lounge in Dubai.

Raffles Hotel is expensive by Singapore standards but not in comparison to UK luxury hotels. A suite in the ‘finest hotel in the world’ will set you back £280 a night.
 

Opened in 1887 and named after Sir Stanford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, it was just a ten room bungalow until the Palm Court wing was added in 1894. By 1899 the main building was completed and Raffles’ reputation as one of the world’s top hotel secured. Although hailed as ‘the most magnificent establishment of its kind East of Suez.’ Rudyard Kipling was unimpressed urging anyone visiting Singapore to ‘Feed at Raffles, but stay elsewhere.’ You can still see the hotel advertisements from that period quoting Kipling - partially of course.

From the foyer a massive central staircase rises up to the floors above. Off to one side is the famous Tiffin room. Opened in the early 1890s to provide light business lunches, its Northern Indian fare is still a rite of passage for all patrons. Opposite this the Writers’ Bar is a tribute to the literary giants who have stayed over the years. Noel Coward may no longer be heard playing the piano in here but there’s still music every evening.

We head for the Long Bar once the haunt of rubber planters where Punka fans still agitate the air. Here, a century ago, bartender, Ngiam Tong Boom invented Raffles signature cocktail, the Singapore Sling. He was looking for a drink that would appeal to ladies. Based on gin and pineapple juice and with a load of other alcoholic liqueurs tossed in for good measure, it tastes fresh and light, with little hint of the alcoholic danger lurking beneath the surface. It would appear that Mr Boom invented the alco-pop many decades before the rest of the world caught on. As we sit sipping our bright pink cocktails, another customer, who had been carefully piling up peanut shells on the bar, suddenly sweeps the whole lot to the floor. We’re shocked for Singapore is a city with draconian laws and there’s an instant $500 fine for littering. The barman laughs at us. ‘This is a tradition in Raffles’, he says ‘It’s the only place you can drop litter legally.’

Raffles is more like a town within a city than a hotel. We sample the spa and go swimming in the rooftop pool while our assigned butler brings us drinks and food. We wander through the shops and pick up a couple of Singapore Sling glasses and a recipe so we can mix our own when we get home. We stop for drinks in the Billiard room and learn that the last tiger to be killed in Singapore was chased in here and shot by a local schoolteacher in 1902. We enjoy a splendid lunch in the Long Bar Steak House. Dedicated to the memory of legendary Malayan planter Frank Cavendish, who had a penchant for local spices, the menu features meat and seafood grilled to perfection, with marinades of tamarind, sugarcane, cracked Sarawak peppers and peanuts. Cavendish appreciated the good things in life, which explains the extensive line-up of wines and cocktails available! His favourite tipple, the Whiskey Stengah, is still a favourite with lunchtime guests but we decide to give it a miss.

Singapore is a city buzzing with commerce and ethnic diversity. We trawl the vast shopping malls of Orchard Street looking for bargains and pick up a brand name watch and a digital camera at half the UK price. In Chinatown after feasting on Dim Sum at a roadside stall we visit the tailors and buy hand made suits. Two fittings and 24 hours later they appear in our suite at Raffles. In Little India the market stalls are piled high with the bright colours of silks and flowers while the scents of exotic fruits, spices and perfumes fill the air. In a corner we find stalls offering Indian, Thai, Chinese and Malaysian cuisine. Each display a hygiene rating from A to E, based on regular inspections. Raffles as one would expect is A, but we enjoy a sumptuous meal at one displaying C. The meat and vegetable dishes are piled on a broad palm leaf and we eat them using our fingers and chapattis. We can hardly rise from the table and all it cost was a quid.

Back at Raffles it’s the quality of service that pushes all the buttons for us. They call it the ‘Gentle Breeze’. It’s there and you can feel it but only just. We hear of a guest who ate only the strawberry from the plate of fresh fruit in his suite. Next day he gets three and that’s all he eats. Day three they deliver a whole plate of strawberries. Now every time he returns there are strawberries in his suite.

On our last night we bump into the manager. ‘Where are you dining tonight?’ he asks.

‘We might try the Courtyard’ we tell him ‘or the Billiard Room but we haven’t booked anything.’ Thirty minutes later we find the Courtyard is fully booked. ‘But you have a reservation,’ we are told and a gentle breeze wafts us to our table.
 

 


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