Travel: Sling yourself into Singapore’s spirit

12:13 06 June 2015

Singapore: A bustling mixture of the archaic and ultra-modern

Singapore: A bustling mixture of the archaic and ultra-modern

PA Archive/Press Association Images

This city-state has a world-class hotel in Raffles, but its blend of antiquity and futuristic designs proves a potent cocktail for Jon Dean

Raffles: One of the world's most famous hotelsRaffles: One of the world's most famous hotels

If someone asked you to name the most famous hotel in the world, what would you say?

The Ritz is a definite possibility; the Plaza; maybe that shark fin one in Dubai.

But pretty high on most people’s list would be Raffles, in Singapore – favourite of Rudyard Kipling, home of the Singapore Sling and monument to colonial elegance amidst a bustling modern metropolis.

The story of this remarkable establishment is a fascinating one; intertwined with the history of the island state itself.

You've arrived: the amazing lobbyYou've arrived: the amazing lobby

First established by a pair of Armenian brothers in 1887 on what was then the coast (Beach Road today looks like a massive misnomer) it was named after Stamford Raffles – the founder of Singapore.

The height of sophistication at the turn of the century (featuring, as it did, electric lights) it quickly found favour with the likes of Somerset Maugham, then latterly Ernest Hemingway and Alfred Hitchcock, as well as royalty from around the world.

Despite the odd tiger attack (a wild cat found its way into the billiard room in 1902 and hid under the table from terrified guests before reportedly becoming the last tiger shot in Singapore) the hotel continued to be popular, with plenty of distinguished visitors and bartender Ngiam Tong Boon creating the Singapore Sling.

The came the recession, and the Second World War – rumour has it the Raffles ballroom saw one last dance as the Japanese invaders approached – during which Raffles was used for prisoners of war.

Travel info

Stays at Raffles Singapore from 1450 SGD (Approx. £704) per room per night based on two sharing | +65 6337 1886 |

Fares to Singapore start at £489 from London Heathrow via Paris with Air France or via Amsterdam with KLM. Book before 10th June on or Travel periods and other T&Cs apply. Check the websites for promotional fares available from other UK regional airports.

It closed in 1989 for a colossal $160million overhaul, and today stands proudly as one of Singapore’s best known buildings – complete with iconic liveried Sikh doormen and an impressive array of classic cars permanently on the gravel drive.

But what’s it like to stay in? Lovely.

The sense of history was inescapable as we wandered the elegant white corridors, palm fronded courtyards and huge, sweeping staircases.

Pictures of famous guests – world leaders, statesmen and superstars – adorn the walls and even the name of our room, the Charlie Chaplin suite, gives you an idea of the calibre of visitor the place has enjoyed over the years.

It’s a huge complex – incorporating several restaurants, bars, shops, gardens, billiard room (no longer avec tiger), outdoor pool and so on and so forth.

It’s possible to amble happily around here for a good day, or at least an afternoon, without getting bored at all; sauntering, shopping, getting lost, marvelling at the architecture, imbibing a few slings and monkey nuts at the Long Bar (a right of passage for all visitors to Singapore) and generally feeling like part of the erstwhile British Empire.

Dinner is a cinch – our indulgent meal at the Raffles Grill was a dream; incorporating cool oysters, giant langostine, incredible cuts of beef, foi gras, all the things you’d expect from a luxurious meal at a top end hotel.

But despite the scale and comfort of Raffles, there’s a vibrant, bustling city out there that needs exploring.

In some ways incongruous amid the dusty chaos of much of south east Asia, Singapore is a sleek, modern conurbation with a well run tube, skyscrapers for days and hotels that look like they belong in the future.

The Marina Bay Sands is particularly crazy – a

kind of surfboard on top of three skyscraper legs, complete with casino on nightclub on top.

Right next door is the Gardens by the Bay, litterred with giant, man-made ‘supertrees’ which, with concrete trunks and steel branches, stand as tall as the giant buildings around.

Every night, this metal canopy lights up in fluorescent wonder, eerie iridescences pulsing in time to music as awestruck tourists, including us, gasp below. There’s nothing remotely like it in London.

As you’d expect, Singapore has more shopping than you could shake a stick at, from ultra modern malls and super-swish Orchard Street to the cool and calm colonial district, all of which make for some pleasant retail therapy – if you like that sort of thing.

But, in one of the most charming aspects of Singapore, amid the modern maelstrom there are heaving pockets of antiquity.

Chinatown, for example – where myriad stalls sell tat, lanterns guide your way and dumplings abound; Little India – a hustling, bustling snapshot of the subcontinent; and the ubiquitous street food markets, dotted across the city, where you can snack on some of the best grub in this part of Asia at a price that belies Singapore’s expensive reputation.

And if you need respite from the hot, humid city, the impressive open plan zoo or the island village of Plau Ubin provide a slower pace.

A trip to Singapore tends to be a two to four day affair, which is about right, and one of the must do attractions is a visit to Raffles’ long bar for a sling. But actually staying there is a bit of a ‘bucket list’ ticker. If you can go the whole hog, do.

Latest Islington Stories

Fabric nightclub in Charterhouse Street. Picture: Polly Hancock

Two 18-year-old boys who died after taking ecstasy at Fabric had bought the class A drug from strangers inside the Farringdon club, where substance abuse is rife and security lax, an explosive report today alleges.

Yesterday, 16:11
Emergency services and displaced commuters outside Caledonian Road and Barnsbury station (Picture: Sam Gelder)

A commuter has described his horror at seeing a boy attacked on a bus in Caledonian Road, in an incident believed to be linked to a stabbing on a nearby Overground platform.

Yesterday, 15:57
Marco Polo: An Untold Love Story at the Shaw Theatre

The Philippines and UK celebrate 70 years of diplomatic relations, and the Shaw Thearre’s Marco Polo charts the explorers journey

Yesterday, 15:12
John Ball, pictured on January 31, on the balcony of the second floor flat in which he died

Firefighters called to a housing block three times could not have saved the alcoholic found dead in his soot-covered flat the next day, a coroner has ruled.

Yesterday, 07:30
Middlesex bowler Tim Murtagh

With just a month of the season remaining, Middlesex appear better-placed to become county champions than at any time since their last title 23 years ago.

Yesterday, 07:15
Watford midfielder Etienne Capoue

The match stats team at bettingexpert pored over the recent history of league contests between Arsenal and Watford – who meet at Vicarage Road on Saturday – and discovered that, while the Gunners secured a 3-0 win in the corresponding fixture last term, all of their goals came in the second half.

Thu, 17:00
Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special leather outfit.

Despite not growing up with Elvis on her musical radar, Zoey Goto has devoted the past two and a half years to finding out about his style

Thu, 16:15
Brass (Copywright: National Youth Theatre)

The National Youth Theatre’s production Brass at the Hackney Empire, tells of a brass band who sign up, and the women they leave behind.

Newsletter Sign Up

Most read


Show Job Lists


You could win £15,000 to spend on either their mortgage or a deposit towards the home of their dreams

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a period of time when you simply don’t have to worry about finding the money each month to pay your mortgage? When you don’t have to put money aside from your monthly income, or worry about having to afford other essential outgoings?

Which book character do you share cleaning habits with?

Whether you have more in common with put-upon Cinderella, emotionally turbulent Jane Eyre, or easily distracted Mole, you’re sure to appreciate that one lucky winner will receive four sessions of free cleaning. Enter our quiz for your chance to win. All runners up will get £10 off their first clean when making a repeat booking.

Digital Edition


Enjoy the
Islington Gazette
e-edition today


Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now