Cities have a habit of falling in and out of favour – travel has it trends like anything else – but with its unique mix of Colonial heritage, historic neighbourhoods and jaw-dropping contemporary architecture, Singapore has got its groove back
Words: Vicky Mayer
Like fashion labels, cities have a habit of falling in and out of favour. One minute New York is hot, then London and Berlin are in. But where does Singapore fit into the mix? Often derided as simply a safe stop-over, can it stand up against its sexier, edgier Asian rivals like Shanghai and Ho Chi Minh City?
The answer, simply, is yes.
In the 20 years since I’d first visited, this confident, colourful city has gone from strength to strength. With a nod to its colonial past, it’s looking to the future with fantastic new buildings like the Marina Bay Sands hotel, complete with its instagrammable ship roof and the Arts Science Museum that looks even better after dark. Add to that the beautifully preserved Indian and Chinese districts and world famous shopping mecca Orchard Road, and you’re spoilt for choice on where to visit first.
But where to begin? At Raffles, of course. This world famous hotel sits proudly in its own grounds on centrally located Beach Road. Established in 1887, it’s still going strong in the 21st century, pleasingly retaining its colourful heritage alongside all the accruements you’d expect from one of the world’s finest five star hotels.
We stayed in one of the exotic Palm Court Suites, resplendent with their original 14-foot ceilings and languid fans. The whole feel is pure colonial comfort where you are instantly transported back into the past, with cool teak interiors, a lavish bathroom and enough room to hold a cocktail party if you wish.
Coupled with this, as you would expect at Raffles, guests staying in a suite are treated to a 24-hour personal butler service throughout their stay. The hotel plays up to its iconic status with good grace. Its turbanned doormen open the doors to the many visitors on their way to the hotel’s famous Long Bar for a Singapore Sling, but despite its enduring popularity with tourists around the world, this expertly-run hotel is quick to ensure its guests come first.
Tired from our travels, we spent our first night relaxing with a first class G&T in the Bar and Billiard room. Enlivened with a quick aperitif, it was a short stroll to the busy Tiffin Room where we feasted on the popular Indian buffet, a smorgasbord of the some of the finest Indian food I have ever tasted. Here, light, succulent curries for both carnivores and vegetarians are complemented with the fluffiest naan breads and bejewelled rice dishes. Dinner here was the perfect welcome to Raffles and Singapore.
As one of the most famous hotels in the world, it’s not surprising that Raffles has become more than just a hotel. It’s bigger than you think for a start, with many of its buildings housing upmarket boutiques and restaurants as smart as the hotel itself. If you’ve only got one night in Singapore, Raffles has everything you need under one roof.
The famous Singapore Sling was created by a clever barman who wanted to give female guests the chance to drink alcohol when they weren’t allowed to, disguising the alcohol in the positively pink cocktail
If you’re a history fan, you can even take a tour with in-house historian Leslie Danker to discover the secrets of the hotel and its founders. Who knew, for instance, that the famous Singapore Sling was created by a clever barman who wanted to give female guests the chance to drink alcohol when they weren’t allowed to? Disguising the alcohol in the positively pink cocktail, the tipple soon became the talk of the town.
Luckily for us, we had 48 hours in this fascinating city and after a heavenly night’s sleep we headed off in search of Singapore’s colonial past. Across the river from Raffles in Chinatown, you can easily escape from the many hawkers selling tourist tat, to the back alleyways where it’s fun to breakfast on a bowl of congee and tea in the old style Chinese cafes. Nearby Little India offers a taste of old style Singapore too for visitors looking for the past.
But vacations are all about mixing it up and art and lifestyle fans will enjoy a visit to Singapore’s new arts destination, Gillman Barracks. A half hour journey from the city centre, this 1930s military barracks houses more than 12 galleries showing the work of emerging and established Asian artists.
One of the best things about visiting Singapore is its lush greenness. Its first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, dreamed of a well-ordered city island where locals and residents alike could enjoy the best of urban living coupled with calm, green spaces where you can chill out and take refuge from the searing midday heat. One of my favourite spots is the Botanic Gardens, which houses one of the most impressive orchid collections in the world.
The locals often choose to start their evening at one of the many hawker stalls dotted around town where you can feast on the best cuisine from the city’s melting pot of nationalities
Like citysiders everywhere, the locals often choose to start their evening at one of the many hawker stalls dotted around town. Here you can feast on the best cuisine from the city’s melting pot of nationalities including Chinese, Indian and Malay. But for a more uptown choice, head for popular Club Street, named after many of the gambling dens that once operated here. Try Japanese sharing plates at Izy or grab a table at Lolla, the hot new Mediterranean eaterie.
Two days was just time enough to rediscover this fascinating city and plug into its new groove. I’ll be back – at Raffles of course.
Stays at Raffles Singapore start from 1,550 SGD (approx £792) per room per night in a Palm Court Suite, based on two sharing. See raffles.com/singapore