by Ian de Stains OBE
It is the time of year when tense Tokyoites seize the wonderful opportunity that is Golden Week to take a break from the office and experience something different. Living in this part of the world means that’s really quite simple to do. Whatever your preferred vacation identity—beach bum or culture vulture—there’s something on our doorstep to meet your needs.
Singapore is a terrific place for short trips, especially if you can make time to enjoy the great variety of extremely good food and take advantage of the superb shopping facilities. In recent years, too, the nightlife—especially by the waterfront—has improved significantly. The fact that the city-state also has some of the region’s best hotels is a real plus.
That said, I find I always want to return to the hotel I stayed at on my very first visit to Singapore in 1977. Then it was a somewhat run-down reminder of a curious colonial past—strong on history, not so strong on mod cons. But following an extensive multi-million dollar renovation, The Raffles is now back to the grand state it enjoyed in its early 20th century heyday.
Named after Singapore’s founder Sir Stanford Raffles, the hotel was actually started by four Armenian brothers who in 1887 opened a colonial style bungalow on Beach Road. Though it’s hard to imagine it now, it actually was right on the sea front. The architect RAJ Bidwell was commissioned to build what is today the hotel’s main building, which was completed in 1899.
The hotel has strong literary connections, being the favorite stopover and/or watering hole of many successful authors, among them Anthony Burgess, Joseph Conrad, Noel Coward and W. Somerset Maugham. They are just a few of the very many celebrities (not to mention heads of state and royalty) to have enjoyed a curry lunch in the Tiffin Room or the hotel’s original cocktail, the Singapore Sling (invented by barman Ngiam Tong Boon in the very early 1900s) in the Writer’s Bar.
Other aspects of the Raffles’s history are less romantic. During the Pacific War when Singapore was occupied by the Japanese, the hotel was known as the Shonan Ryokan, and after the defeat of the Japanese it was used as a transit camp for prisoners of war.
Now a National Monument, the renovated hotel has additional facilities including a museum and a Victorian-style theater, and the rooms and suites have everything the visiting business person can want. Fortunately many of the original features remain—the Tiffin Room is a must for Saturday lunch and the Raffles Courtyard and Gazebo Bar a perfect setting for cocktails on a sultry evening before heading in for dinner at one of the many other restaurants or indeed, out into the night and the many other culinary options Singapore has to offer.
Ian de Stains, OBE is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. He is also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and Convenor of its Japan Chapter. He is also the author of The Business Traveller’s Handbook to Japan, just published by Stacey International in the UK and available from Amazon.
The Raffles homepage