The Shangri-La

Travel - September 5th, 2008
Shangri-La

A world of extravagance

by Marie Teather

When was the last time you basked in a world of pure exravagence?

There may be a chance that you have never basked in a world of pure extravagance. I’m not referring to those indulgent purchases you insist you deserve, only to later find yourself answering to your conscience about why you really needed such an impulsive buy. I’m talking about being able to relish in the excesses of outlandish luxuries, to have butlers answer your calls to carry out day-to-day tasks (pour your cup of tea or run your bath perhaps?), and, most importantly, to savor in the experience completely and 100 percent guilt free. After years of minimalism and co-operating together to eco-save the world, this is, in fact, a very hard thing to do. That is, of course, until you stay in the Valley Wing of the Shangri-La.

You see, for so long living in a state of unrestrained gratification has been somewhat frowned upon. It’s not cool to put it all out there. “Keep it minimal, keep it restrained, hint at your importance, only suggest to your wealth,” they say. But in a small corner of Asia, at the very tip of a very small country, there lies a place where unadulterated extravagance lives on, undeterred since those old colonialistic days when the British were here, there, and everywhere telling everyone how it was done. It must be so un-PC you ask? Absolutely not, the reply, and more than that, it’s really very good.

At the Shangri-La, you are you happy to know that the floors you walk upon are the finest 150 tones and $2 million worth of marble shipped in from Italy that money can buy. The crystal chandeliers above your head are each handmade from 15,000 crystal pieces and each took one week to make. The bed you lay your head upon is covered in Egyptian cotton of 300 to 490 thread counts and the pillow menu (yes that exists) comes with a selection of pillows from natural latex to aromatic herbs and oils, and one with buck¬wheat hulls. Oh, and that bed, it is so big. And while everything at first sight seems so grandeur, look a little closer and you’ll find that every little detail has been painstakingly selected. It is as if someone has silently left these little surprises in the perfect little spot for you to discover at the just the perfect moment. It’s just like being in a fairy tale.

And that’s how the Valley Wing came into being. Based upon James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, the hotel’s setting takes inspiration from the fictional idyllic settlement high in the mountains of the Tibet; the ‘Shangri-La.’ As I’m brushing my teeth in my monogrammed yakuta bathroom after watching the TV in the bath and taking a monsoon shower (I chose not to ask the butler to run the bath for me), I find little snippets of this novel hidden among the La’ Occitane provided amenities. Here I am, living within the pages of Hilton’s imagination and what a fun little world it is.

Valley Wing guests have their own personal
chauffeur to drive them to and from the
airport, have their owm driveaway, and their
own entrance…

The Valley Wing is made of 140 rooms on just 17 floors but don’t forget that this part of the Shangri-La is separated from the ordinary folk in the remaining 600 rooms or more. Valley Wing guests have their own personal chauffeur to drive them to and from the airport, have their own driveway, and their own entrance (first off the highway and secluded by trees). On the 17th floor, for really important people, things get even more special. This, the Presidential Suite, is serviced by another separate entrance, one that is designed to be just seven steps from exiting the car to standing in the lobby, so as to avoid the glare of hiding photographers, or worse, assassins. From there the suite is serviced by its own private elevator, and from there onwards, you’ll have to speak to the likes of David Beckham or President Bush to find out more. Still, on an average day expect to share your lift with ambassadors, heads of states, TV celebrities, and the odd Russian. During our stay, we mingled by the pool with acclimatizing Olympians on their way to Beijing seeking gold, silver, or bronze—in hindsight you can bet the best part of their trip was with us.

…as if someone has silently left these little surprises
in the perfect little spot for you to discover
at the just the perfect moment.

“Eat breakfast like a king,” said somebody once, and Valley Wing did just as commanded. In the circular Summit Room, looked down upon by large Chinese wall hangings, choose from steak, fois gois, udon, or traditional breakfasts from a daily menu, graze upon croissants, fruits, and salmon from the extremely long buffet, and have your butler stir your tea when it all gets too much. Back in the lobby, Hong Kong artist Lam Chung’s 8.6 meter high interpretation of Hilton’s Shangri-La is truly magnificent. The best time to view this is when listening to the harpist and when sipping on the free champagne and canapes available all day, or again in the evening when drinking an inevitable Singapore Sling. Is this the best Singapore Sling in town? You betcha winks a butler, before telling me that the Slings made at that “other place” are batch made and stored in the refrigerator. Of course, at the Valley Wine they are made fresh, with the freshest of the best; who would have doubted it.

Valley Wing

And in the morning, you can wake up in this world all over again.

(As a side note, to those who really do want to stay in environmentally and community aware surroundings, you’ll be glad to know the Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts had this covered way before terms like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and other such ideas that the hotel works closely with, came into the making. All guestsrooms are fitted with water sav¬ing devices and wherever possible rainwater is harvested and heated with solar panels or heat pumps, making it all rather PC after all. Seems you can have your cake and eat it after all.)

Double rooms in the Valley Wing start from ¥45,000, suites from ¥115,000. For more information see www.shangril-la.com.

“He liked the serene world that Shangri-La offered him, pacified rather than dominated by
it’s single tremendous idea.”
From Lost Horizon, by James Hilton.


Stepping Out in Singapore

Three things to do beyond the hotel

Little India
The Indian Community has featured prominently in the development of Singapore throughout its short history (though not always by choice) and has been dominating this part of town since the 1840s. Under the since abandoned policies of ethnic segregation put in place by the British and the People’s Action Party, Indian immigrants first resided in the Chulia Kampong district. When this area became too crowded, the community moved along the Serangoon River and developed neighborhoods around a former settlement for Indian convicts.

No trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to Little India and on Sundays, when migrant laboring workers from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal enjoy their days off; the streets really come to life. Wander down the labyrinth of little back streets, following the scents of jasmine and spices and jostle through crowds and shops selling silk saris and ethnic jewelry.

You must eat a curry and the Banana Leaf is perhaps the easiest to spot and well known of the area. As the name suggests, you eat from a banana leaf and forks are optional.

Hawker Stalls
Skip the mud crab and head for a hawker stall. There must be some kind or order at hawker centre, how else would the staff know who had ordered and what, but above clanging of trays, the panic to find a seat, the shouting of orders, and the pungent smells wafting from animal parts I thought not edible, I can not yet distinguish it.

Choosing your dish can be tricky. Surrounded by many different stalls, each with shabby, sunlight faded pictures all grasping for your attention and an impatient waitress standing by your side, it’s best to point randomly at something and hope for the best. Noodles can never really be bad and I threw in a plea for “beef?” which was exactly what I got. I had a beer too and then watching the disorderly ordering continue to show before me.

Night Safari
An owl hoots from somewhere out in the darkness and a tree branch snaps just as you cast sight on a group of hyenas prowling in a pack. There is the flash of a camera in the carriage ahead and the driver, our safari guide, is starting to get angry. This is the fourth time she has told the group not to take pictures and so for that we will be punished; no stopping at the rhino before “somebody” (that certain somebody in carriage three) blinds him.

This is the Night Safari and boy it is fun; if only you can keep the humans under control. Jump aboard a cross tram and chug off into the shadows where a thousand animals representing one hundred species await. Pass by deer, lion, (they were not side-by-side), otters, leopards, and elephants as they live out their nocturnal routines before your eyes. There are also three walking trails focusing around; forest giants, leopards, and fishing cats—just take care when in the presence of flying squirrels.

After the 45-minute ride grab a burger and take in the live fire-eating show. It’s almost all a little cheesy but surprisingly really good-hearted family fun. For more information see www.nightsafari.com.