I had big expectations going to the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, after all, it does stand out from the crowd as one of the true icons of the Singapore skyline. And that is where (unfortunately) the good news ends. I had already been to the Pan Pacific and the Raffles Hotel. And if these two forebears were a litmus test, then the Marina Bay Sands crashed and burned on impact. It was a slap-in-the-face to my understanding of customer service and it began as soon as I entered the giant foyer.
In fairness to the Marina Bay Sands, this venue is one giant throng of heaving flesh…everywhere. There is zero room for the personal touch, as almost everyone and everything scurries from taxi to elevator dragging suitcases on un-oiled, squeaky wheels. Yet the whole place unquestionably runs like a well-greased machine, best suited to the convention fraternity, or the Willy Wonka factory. Bodies are designed to be cranked out, farmed into bedrooms and then harvested like a cash crop.
I too was a victim.
I felt like a number. An insignificant one. The whole of my stay.
Peace reigned and a sense of normality and quietness returned when I entered my room, which though small, was diametrically pricey and fabulous. I was lucky enough to have a floor-to-ceiling view overlooking the CBD, from where I could watch the sun go up (and down) with the shimmer of boat wakes amusing me as they shuttled across the bay drawing white lines. I kicked off my shoes, placed my outstretched feet across the glass coffee table, photographed them like all women do on beaches, and then sucked up the mesmerising urban scenery before me.
It was a perfect moment of reflection from 40 floors up.
The bed was snug and comfortable; a tiny writing desk provided a compact work area for my laptop. It was pretty much a room for short term convenience and probably designed as such. The bathroom was likewise modern with neutral tones and marble finishes. Nothing too lavish or over the top.
THE ROOF TOP – WHERE THE ACTION IS AT THE MARINA BAY SANDS
I’m not a big fan of public swimming pools. For obvious reasons, I refer to them as “pee soup” since most kids (and probably adults) have a penchant for relieving themselves in the water.
As a consequence, I am a marred man.
I have experienced two unforgettable episodes in my life when I have ended up with an ear infection from swimming in floating guano. Once was in Nassau, the Bahamas, when (by the way) both my ears were squeezed completely closed by exceptionally painful swellings (abscesses) They took five days to burst. The other (second torture) was at Cap d’Antibes in the South of France. That episode I will never forget as long as I live. I was eight years old.
It was an emergency, or as the French would have said, “Un urgence“. And now that I’m older, and wiser, I’ve just figured out that the english stole the word “emergency” from the French for their inability to say “urgency!”
At that time I didn’t care. I was reeling in pain.
Le docteur appeared and diagnosed my agony with my first ever prescribed suppository. As you can imagine, that image is still etched into the interior of my scalp.
I remember having to clutch my ankles in the shower as my mother inserted a conically shaped, greased pill into my rectum. It was an inordinately uncomfortably “cure” and totally alien to my 8-year-old understanding of modern medicine and “oh la la!”
I remember asking my mum, “If I have an ear ache, why do you have to shove something up my bum?”
THE ELEVATOR RIDE
The Marina Bay Sands is famous for its rooftop infinity pool and despite my reservations of climbing into the water, I was resigned to having a swim there. I wanted to tick another square on my ill-informed bucket list. To not do so, would be like going to Paris for the first time and avoiding the Eiffel Tower! But getting there is the fun part. You simply follow the trail of (mostly Asian tourists), bedecked in white bathrobes as they squeeze into the elevator. Everyone is quiet. No one speaks. It is awkward. Like they’ve just had sex. Or are about to.
I so wanted to break the ice and ask ,“So-where-are-you-going-today” but I didn’t have the time to explain such a dumb question.
The main part of the pool is for hotel guests only and you can’t access it unless you have an electronic key card with you or a Colt 45. This is rigorously checked by officious-looking ladies in white polo shirts that are clearly taught never to smile which is why a Colt 45 would be so much fun.
The infinity pool is stunning and every guest in the hotel knows it, which is why you’ll never be there alone to savour the moment. It’s not a very spiritual or romantic place to be at, especially when you are surrounded by a million selfie sticks that look like snorkels. But the view is stunning and the water comfortingly warm (I’m not referring to urine). Not wishing to be left out, even I waded to the pool’s edge with my (cough) neon green selfie stick. The photo outcome was another story. I looked like a blubbery, glutenous mass of body fat bobbing in the water before being strained through muslin cloth.
I think that holiday snap will stay in the drawer forever!
GROUND FLOOR & BELOW
Everything at the Marina Bay Sands is big. Giant flower pots with towering ficus trees. Long, snaking check-out lines. Three towers and three elevators to suit. A jumbo Christmas tree. A large invoice. With the double-whammy VAT added after the fact.
The shops within the Marina Bay Sands are world class with barely a fashion house or label missing from between the lines of Gucci and Cartier. This was very impressive. Immensely clean, totally modern and fully undercover. It is a shopper’s paradise and not small either.
And if gambling is your bent, then there is a casino on the lower lever. I would have gone in for a quick look, but they have a strict policy in Singapore that you must to carry your passport to enter a casino. I didn’t. So I kept on walking.
The Marina Bay Sands Hotel Review Singapore are the sole opinon of me, The Walking Critic.
The Intercontinental Singapore was an afterthought and I’m kicking myself, because it should have been elevated to a “must stay” list.
How could I have stuffed up my planning so badly?
Well it was tagged onto the end of a stupidly hectic 16-day tour of South East Asia. And no, I did not book the hotel myself. My PA did that for me.
I’m a sucker for big things and “grand entrances”. My stint as a style reporter for the Washington Times newspaper blemished me in that way, thanks to my very noble and wonderful editor, Kevin Chaffee. Yet my arrival here seemed dismal and ignoble compared to my previous fanfare at the Raffles. My driver kind of slid across the cobbled paving to the front door, made more magnificent by the crescendo and reverberations of the courtyard confines. Everything echoed.
Yet, you know what, I arrived with gusto! A large entrance, for a person of indifferent significance and stature.
So, this is my take on the Intercontinental Singapore. And it began with the best and warmest welcome possible, which was good, because I was sad. This was my last stop on a whirlwind tour. I was checking into the hotel late and then leaving by 7am the next morning. Hardly time to know my “date”.
I was met with smiles and led to my room down the newly carpeted corridors. Everything felt and looked pristine. Soothing.
Intercontinental Singapore – Reception
Where many Intercontinental hotels have vast sweeping reception areas, this is not the case here. Instead, you have a more refined boutique feel that is alive with colour and bright lights. The marbled floor is a network of angular and square patterns infilled with green, white, grey and burnt gold textures.
The small concierge lounge looks onto the front courtyard through French doors. It is a vibrant palette of colours too, dominated by tub chairs and couches with velvet purples and brown tones. A large modern painting hangs above a dark lattice console table, on which rests a pair of Chinese ceramic urn lights, with pleated silk shades. Even the drum side and coffee tables reflect the same theme that is mirrored throughout the hotel on carpet designs and carved wood work.
The Lobby Lounge
I find that whenever I’m tired and hungry, I kind of gravitate towards the nearest lounge or bar and the Intercontinental Singapore was no exception. I can barely remember my sort of dirge-like march as I floor-scraped towards where the signs told me to go, but I do remember my shock when I entered the Lobby Lounge. If you think the reception area is an understatement, then wait until you see this place. A towering atrium fit for a train station or a New York trading floor or a press room. The only thing missing was a giant railway clock and the throng of people.
The lobby lounge was more of a giant tea room, than a bar lounge, even though there was a silver bucket teeming with Perrier-Jouet. All around one, vast columns rose two stories high, flanked by onlooking wooden louvre shutters and dangling glass lanterns. Square and round tables were interspersed, affording one privacy as well as comfort. And the seating choice varied from the modern looking dining chairs, to leather tub chairs or tall winged arm chairs. It oozed tranquillity and formality at the same time. The perfect place for quite reflection or a more intimate business meeting.
I ordered a gin and tonic (I’d overdosed on sampling Singapore Slings) and just as I was settling into my laptop to bash out some work, I noticed the unmistakable curly locks of celebrity chef Marco Pierre White sitting to my left. Close up, he looked big and prostrate. Inclining and sober.
He was locked in a slow, pensive discussion with a colleague, may be a contestant. I’d forgotten that they were filming Master Chef Singapore at the the hotel the next day. He was sipping water from a wine glass. I wanted to nudge my way into their chat, to eavesdrop or intrude, yet I have this “thing” about not annoying celebrities.
They get enough attention from fleeting onlookers. Why contribute to their public discomfort?
Yet Marco had me baffled. He seemed at ease, slouching in the corner with one arm hanging over the side of the arm chair. A complete contradiction to his infamous, firebrand personality from within the kitchen. Mind you, he had me in awe, after all, he was the youngest chef to ever be awarded three Michelin stars. And he has been rightly dubbed the first ever celebrity chef too.
I looked on him with great respect, knowing how he’d trained such notables as Mario Batali, Gordon Ramsay, Curtis Stone and Sharon Bennett. I wanted to thank him. Not just for the food, but my memories that went with them: the Six Bells pub in my old stomping ground of Wandsworth; The Restaurant Marco Pierre White; and the Oak Room at the Le Meridien Piccadilly Hotel. I’d eaten at all of them. I remember every instance with un-aged clarity.
The Intercontinental Singapore has just been brilliantly revamped and I tip my hat to the designers for how well they incorporated the Straits Chinese, Peranakan heritage into the building. It draws much influence from the once teeming shop houses of the Bugis District though a big departure from the screaming 50s when they were in full swing.
In times of old, Bugis had a thriving nightlife, a draw card for visiting sailors and military personnel, not to mention the less savoury and nefarious folk that lurked in the shadows. It became an internationally renowned hub for a bizarre and colourful transgender sex culture. Tourists and gawkers alike flocked there to see (and sometimes dabble in) the Asian exotic, until quashed in the 1980s by more conservative elements in the Singaporean government. I still love the banter amongst Westerners, that you could easily tell who was a real female and who was not – the transvestites were drop-dead gorgeous, while the rest were real women!
The Intercontinental Singapore is a far cry from its once wild and notorious neighbourhood. Today she stands as a symbol of modernity in the heart of a go-to shopping area filled with hip stores and fine dining restaurants. Hints of the Peranakan culture are everywhere; tiles, screen print patterns, wood mouldings, Chinese ornaments, marble flooring, bed throws, paintings, carpets, cushions, furniture, lamps, ceilings. It just has a really comfortable feel of where classic Asia meets contemporary living.
I love it when I enter a hotel room and get this overwhelming sense to scream, “Yes!” and my Executive room was just like that. A really clever design job that managed colours and contours in a relatively constricted space to achieve a sense of grandeur. It was historically sensitive to the building, thematic to its cultural surroundings which were played out with the patterned print above the bed and the busy, latticed lines of the carpet. Both were borrowed ideas from Peranakan culture, yet counter-balanced by the softer, flatter colours of the furniture and fabrics.
The formula worked. It was serene.
And then you have the little touches and nuances that go a long way. The welcome plate of pastries served on a grey slate; the personalised welcome card; the Nespresso coffee machine; the courtesy bottles of water; the digital safe; the ample provision of electrical sockets, both for normal plugs and USB chargers; the built-in luggage rack. As a seasoned traveller, I felt the guest had been given priority, not housekeeping.
As with all Intercontinental hotels, the bathroom is bright and spacious with marbled floor and their signature bathroom toiletries from well-known luxury American fragrance house, Agraria.
Club Intercontinental – Singapore Style
This was my 5th Club Intercontinental experience in over two weeks, covering thousands of flying miles and four countries. And I have to say that I’ve become more than just a vagrant traveller passing by. I’ve become an expert on Intercontinental, and indeed hotel clubs.
The Club Intercontinental is located on the second floor and worthy of the long walk to get there, as you cover immaculately polished wooden floors and passing alcoves of wonderfully painted modern art. Even the eagle eye’s view of the Lobby Lounge is impressive from on high, before you traverse through the doors and into the Club.
The interior is another testament to the influences of the Chinese-Malay Peranakan people, a mish-mash of areas to sit, each defined by bright colours and furnishings of a mixed colonial origin. Even the vaulted ceiling light commands attention with its unusual square panels.
It definitely scored highly for the cultural experience, friendly staff and cleanliness. And like all the Intercontinental hotels, it was well designed and free flowing. However, I did have a niggling feeling that the buffet was more Spartan than others I’d experienced, but then I was in a rush for the airport; I literally had seconds to quaff two coffees and wolf down a pastry. I barely had time to enjoy my breakfast with President Obama.
As a Club InterContinental guest, you get to enjoy a host of complimentary bespoke services and privileges:
- Personalised arrival and check-in /-out at the exclusive InterContinental Club Lounge
- Access to dedicated Club InterContinental Concierge team
- Culinary indulgences including:
– A la carte breakfast from 6.30am to 10.30am
– Afternoon tea from 2.30pm to 5.00pm
– Evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres from 6.00pm to 8.00pm
- A premium selection of coffee and loose-leaf tea throughout the day
- A private library featuring Peranakan literature and reference books
- Professional secretarial services
- Clothes pressing for two pieces of garments upon arrival
- 25% savings on all laundry services
- High-speed wi-fi throughout the hotel
- One smartphone per guestroom with 4G data and local/IDD calls to up to 10 countries during stay
- A private InterContinental Club boardroom for up to 10 guests for one hour with state-of-art audio-visual capabilities, high-speed wi-fi and a projector
- Guided two-hour heritage walking trail in the Bugis precinct (Saturdays only)
Parting Comments on the Intercontinental Singapore
I never got to inspect the other rooms at the Intercontinental Singapore, which was a real shame, since I left feeling like I’d only scraped the surface of an amazing experience.
The InterContinental Singapore places you minutes from Marina Bay and the Central Business District, and it’s a short stroll from the National Museum, the Singapore Art Museum and other cultural institutions. Direct access to Bugis train station connects you to the city’s many shopping and entertainment precincts.
80 Middle Road
+65 6 3387 600
Argh, the Raffles Hotel, the Grand Dame of Singapore. How much I miss you already. You are everything I dreamt you’d be, only better.
The Raffles Hotel was the one property that I most wanted to review on my tour of Singapore and I had butterflies in my stomach from the anticipation. It left me edgy and uneasy. A meld of fear, apprehension, excitement, adrenalin.
Would it live up to its reputation? Would it let me down?
I relate to history. I was exposed to it from an early age, born into an aristocratic line that owns most of England and Scotland, and probably killed much in between. It left me with a cluster of notable friends that would make for really fun dinner talk: actors, prime ministers, foreign secretaries, royalty, writers; and less interesting “common” folk…like me.
When my taxi crunched to a halt on the circular gravelled driveway, a tall, smiling doorman, sporting regimental Sikh livery, stepped out from under the shaded portico to open my door and welcome me. I realised then that my quest for knowledge had begun. How was he able to wear a full-length coat and turban and not suffer from the oppressive humidity? I’d just left the comfort of an air-conditioned cab and was dripping wet!
The battle of doubts versus wants had ended. This was real. I was about to enter the most iconic hotel in Singapore. To follow in the in footsteps of so many great names. I was bubbling with excitement. I couldn’t wait to relive what they had seen and done. To hear the voices of the past.
When I stepped out of the cab, I did so with new purpose, strutting up the red carpet, past the doorman’s dais, and thorough one of the French doors into the vastness of the white marbled lobby. My heart quickened and my pace slowed. The immensity of the moment gripped me. And so did the space. I was like a bewildered child caught by the twinkle of Christmas lights.
My quest for the old-world had begun in earnest. I had arrived. I was no longer a voyeur. I had become part of the Raffles story.
The staff were amazing and faultless as they escorted me to the check-in desk on the right. I barely remember doing more than scratching my signature on the guest registration form before being ushered to an arm chair beside one of the giant white Corinthian columns. I put my hand luggage down and before I could blink, there was a silver tray sporting a complimentary Singapore Sling in a tall glass with a pink straw poking out of it, and a carefully balanced cherry and slice of pineapple on the lip.
I got up and walked a few metres to the adjoining Writers Bar musing over my cocktail and surrounding space. I was glowing with invented thoughts. Did Somerset Maugham sit here? Noel Coward there? I wanted to break open my pad and pen, just to say I’d been in the bar and scribed something important too.
The Singapore Sling is one of my litmus cocktails that I often use to gauge the proficiency of bartenders worldwide. A gin and tonic is another one. And I’m not saying this lightly, but I truly think that was the best Singapore Sling I have ever had.
By being at the Raffles, I had traced the Singapore Sling back to its roots,. It was here in 1915, at the Long Bar on the first floor, that a very clever bartender called Ngiam Tong Boon would create his infamous masterpiece and thus his ascension towards fame. Nowadays, people flock from all over the world just to have a Singapore Sling (and get poor in the process), a testament to both his wizardry and its enduring taste.
I tried cocktails at many other venues, but I can say with absolute authority that the Raffles Hotel is the King of Sling.
They are truly unrivalled and unmatched.
For me, there is another side to appreciating this wonderful cocktail, both fascinating and enshrined in the history of the Raffles. What Ngiam Tong Boon did was very daring for his time and in total breach of convention.
The Long Bar was a popular watering hole for colonial Singaporeans, almost a social institution, and it was not uncommon to see the gents tipping away on their glasses of gin or whisky. However, this was in stark contrast to the women. Prevailing etiquette dictated that they should not drink in public…in case, I presume, they got tipsy or worse still. It was very unladylike to see a woman swaggering or wobbling in public, but quite okay for men to do so. Alcohol was very much the preserve of male habit in those days. Ladies were relegated to sip on juice or water or tea.
In a genius moment of early Singaporean marketing prowess, Ngiam clicked that he could slip a dash of gin and cherry brandy into his pink “fruit cocktail” and the men (and public) would be none the wiser.
And thus was born the Singapore Sling and his legend. He may well have become the most sought after man in the country.
THE LONG BAR
The Long Bar is the public and much-hyped part of the Raffles Hotel. It is flaunted and well-marketed. I last visited it in 2004 when you could smash a few peanuts and drop them on the floor with wanton abandon. I seem to remember that the beer was well chilled and on the steeper side of expensive. Of course, it didn’t shock me to discover that nothing has changed since my last visit. Not at the Raffles, nor the Long Bar, nor with alcohol prices throughout Singapore.
My gorgeous personal butler, bedecked in pressed beige uniform, escorted me through the grey cast iron gate that delineated the separation between the public and the private guest quarters. To my right lay a perfectly manicured square lawn that had me thinking, “croquet and cocktail” parties. As we walked around the edge to my room, I had this overwhelming sense that I had stepped back in time. Voices and faces from the past were reaching out to me in flashes. But there was no one there. Just me.
The Raffles Hotel is grand and my room was no exception. It felt like a furnished apartment with high ceilings that you lived in, not a room that you stayed in. You stepped through the door into a small ante-room. To the right was a round breakfast table with an orchid and welcome fruit bowl on it. There was enough space for two chairs and a standard lamp. Botanical prints hung above it. A Nespresso machine was on the counter opposite. To the left was a small couch. I didn’t know what to try first.
Giant tied-back curtains partitioned the ante-room from the huge bedroom with its two-post bed, chaise long, suit stand, writers table and giant armoire wardrobe. And beyond there was the timeless green marbled bathroom with two rooms; one with basin and Raffles amenities; the other with toilet, shower, giant bath tub and ceramic elephant pot holders. I felt as if I could live in this room alone!
You truly got the impression that time has stood still. The colonial furnishings and nuances unblemished. Egyptian cotton sheets. Tapestry bed seat. Even the wicker table under the colonnade outside my bedroom door was in keeping with the “old world” charm. I would have my coffee there each morning. So peaceful. Mind you, a word to the wise, the air conditioning in your room will be so cool that when you step out in the warm humidity, everything fogs up – glasses, cameras and all. Enjoy those moments of being electronic free, as you can’t fight the condensation until all temperatures equalise.
I loved my room and really, for a single traveller, it was overkill. The king-sized bed was enormous, soft and all mine! I would never trade it for anything else.
BAR & BILLIARD ROOM
Sunday brunch at the Bar and Billiard Room should be on everyone’s bucket list of things to do in Singapore. For me, this was unquestionably “the” highlight of my stay at the Raffles Hotel. The sheer scale and size of the offerings would rival almost any decadent banquet and although I have seen bigger, I had certainly not eaten better.
Almost every taste was catered for, even with bite-sized morsels in shot glasses (my favourite being the Seared Tuna and Sweet Soya Sauce Gazpacho), exquisitely laid-out salads (loved the asparagus and crab meat), wooden chopping boards with cut meats, a carvery under heat lamps, a slurry of chefs and wait staff running everywhere.
I loved the neon blue ice bar with giant prawns, Irish and Tsarskaya oysters, Fine de Clair, crab claws and half lobster tails. The dessert selections were outrageous, some daubed in gold leaf, others drowning in wide glasses and fruit. The Coffee Caramel, served in small green elliptical bowl was simply stunning and enough to trigger my “get out soon” mode. I made for the door, passing rows of chocolates, dodging even more calorie bullets before hitting the cheese board selections and realising that I had failed in my escape. I needed a more worthy death, by cheese!
Reservations are a must and remember, this is a classy establishment, so try not to rock up in your singlet and thongs because there is a place for everything and everyone. The Raffles does not specialise in “the average” tourist meal and you pay for quality. If you want quantity and prices, McDonalds is across the road in the shopping mall. However, with the renovations to the Long Bar and the arcade, traffic is being directed to the Bar & Billiard Room.
THE RAFFLES HALL OF FAME
No stay at the Raffles Hotel would be complete without a quick traipse down the small Hall of Fame. Situated on the first floor, you’ll see a plethora of photos and pictures lining the wooden corridor.
One of the first on the left sums up the Raffles Hotel, an etched print of the main building that is headlined “Patronised by Royalty and Nobility”. It was not far wrong. Black and white photos of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, Bill Clinton, Ken Follett, Boris Johnson and Catherine Deneuve. These are but a few of the notables, though there are absences too like Michael Jackson.
Stories abound at the Raffles and I so wanted to pick the brains of their Resident Historian, Leslie Danker, but time was against me. I gleaned tit bits. The last tiger shot in Singapore was in 1902. It had escaped from a nearby circus and was cowering under the Bar & Billiard Room when it was noticed and shot by Raffles Institution principal Charles McGowan Philips. Or when Michael Jackson stayed. He wanted to go to the zoo but too many fans were camped outside, so the hotel “brought the zoo to him” in the form of an orangutan that subsequently ran riot around the pool.
HISTORY OF THE RAFFLES
The Raffles Hotel has come a long way since 1887, when it first opened its doors as a humble 10-room bungalow at number 1 Beach Road. As the address implied, it was originally on the “beach”, not where it is today. But thanks to land reclamation, the Raffles is now a majestic inland feature that rises three stories high, with a rather bland view of the CBD, not the ocean view that author Joseph Conrad would have relished in 1888. The number of rooms have also grown. Today the Raffles has 103 expansive suites, all framed by polished teak verandas and white marble colonnades. Their doors face inward, encircling perfectly manicured tropical gardens. It has the air of exclusiveness and privacy.
The front façade is undoubtedly impressive with its striking white-washed walls and terracotta roofing. Even the giant palm trees and frangipanis that frame the sides of the building lend themselves to this feeling of tropical greatness. A grand entrance that has contributed to the Raffles Hotel being made a National Monument. Today, she is one of the last remaining 19th century hotels left in the world.
The Raffles Hotel was named after the venerable founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles/ She was run by the Sarkies Brothers, proprietors of the Eastern & Oriental in Penang.
Business boomed for the Sarkies and they expanded their interests in Singapore. This included a major upgrade to the hotel. By 1899, the familiar Main Building, was completed and opened to a huge fanfare. Its neo-Renaissance style became the embodiment of the colonial, Golden era or exploration. Grand space. Luxury. Style. A list of firsts: electric lights and ceiling fans. A French chef.
Slowly but surely, the Raffles was giving birth to its legendary status. It became a magnet for the world’s great thinkers, travellers and actors. The Raffles became the darling of writers and “the men of letters”. They seemed to attract each other and gravitate to her doors. Names like Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maughan. Faces of the silver screen like Charlie Chaplin, Maurice Chevallier, Frank Buck, Jean Harlow, Eva Gardener and Elizabeth Taylor. Yet not every part of the Raffles Hotel’s history was rosy.
1931 saw the collapse of the Malayan rubber trade and the Great Depression. Arshak Sarkies, the last of the Sarkies brothers, died and the Raffles Hotel, including the Eastern & Oriental Penang, were placed into receivership. A new company called Raffled Hotel Ltd was created under a Swiss general manager, Teddy Troller. Even its main competition, the Hotel de L’Europe closed its doors for good.
In 1941, Singapore was consumed by World War II, surrendering in 1942 to the ravages of the Japanese invading army. But in 1945 she was liberated by the Allied Forces under Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. She became a transit camp for war prisoners – a shadow of her former self.
But the Raffles survived, allowing me to become another part of history.
I love that nervous feeling when you pull up to the front of a hotel like the Pan Pacific Hotel Singapore and you just know that you’ve arrived somewhere special before you even step out of the car.
The Pan Pacific Singapore was no exception. From the very second my taxi door was eased open by a smiling doorman, I sensed that I was special too.
That my needs mattered.
That someone else cared about me and what I wanted.
I spend a lot of time travelling on the road and reviewing hotels both for work and a growing list of readers. And I love it when everything seems to gel and come together. When the check in process is so effortless and soothing, that in one fell swoop, your body untangles every tense knot and just melts into this kneaded lump of puppy-dog contentment.
My opening reception augured well for my upcoming “Odyssey”. In the next 16 days, I was going to stay in 10 hotels, in four countries. And now, with hindsight on my side, I can look back affectionately and say, that the Pan Pacific Singapore eclipsed, outclassed and outshone most hotels I stayed in.
Harbour Studio – Room 3117
I barely had to breath for myself as I ambled across the foyer towards the elevator. I was in the capable hands of Charlene Ong, the Guest Services Officer, my bags already on route to my room on the 31st floor.
Service is clearly a forté of the Pan Pacific.
When the doors whoosed open, they revealed an external lift with the most amazing floor-to-ceiling glass view of the city. As we ascended to the 31st floor I watched the turquoise blue of the swimming pool disappear beneath me. It looked endlessly inviting, even on a grey, rainy day. But my real treat was yet to come: the room.
I was booked into a Harbour Studio, room 3117, which at 46 square metres (495 square feet) was not titanic but incredibly stylish. As a man on the go, it ticked most of my boxes with an enormous cherry on top, an outrageously great view beyond the Marina Bay towers and out towards Sentosa Island. On this morning, I spied two cruise ships in the distant port, side by side.
There was no luggage rack immediately noticeable (built in or otherwise) which was disappointing, but cupboard and hangar space was ample for the stay. I often prefer to dump and live out of my unzipped suitcase in lieu of unpacking it. A mild irritation.
I found a safe in the closet too, quite a large one, always a welcome resource for my clutch of meagre items (mostly cash and electronic goodies). I smile when I find one, mostly out of habit, not insecurity. And better still, I prefer a lock box with a four-digit code. I’m always flummoxed when I have to contrive a six-digit passcode when jet lag reigns supreme. I’m pretty sure I don’t have a six-digit code for anything back home home and I’m damned if I’m going to break that habit in another country. Too much stress to deal with.
Work space is crucial to me, but even that pales in significance to one other thing: electric sockets. I need them.
I travel for work and with me comes enough electronic hardware to light up a factory: laptop, iPad, phones, camera (generally two), back up battery pack. You get the gist. Nothing bugs me more than when I find there are limited or no electrical plugs, especially near the desk, or by the bedside table. The Pan Pacific Singapore had not such issues. A massive tick.
And trailing close behind, nearly neck and neck, is my need for internet access. This too was provided complimentary with my stay.
I swivelled my focus to the king-sized bed. It was alluring, delicious, huge. Beautifully set against a soft, panelled wall that had a distinct neutral, yet Asian theme. Like immovable papyrus panels lit my warm wall lights.
I love a big bed. It has to be soft. Warm. A giant workstation that I can crash in. I can put my laptop beside me. A book. A phone. A newspaper. I can drift off and relinquish myself to sleep, but when I wake up, everything will be just as it was. Barely a crease in the sheets. A well-earned slumber that was only possible from space and comfort.
These are the little things that matter. To me.
When people say, “It’s like a hotel bathroom,” they do so for a reason because it carries connotations of being lavish and plush and often over the top. As travellers, we forget that we spend a very large percentage of our hotel time in our bathrooms which is why space matters in this room. So do the accessories.
The Pan Pacific Singapore does not cut corners here. The premium Hans Grohe fittings, the marble surrounds, the fresh white robes and towels, and rain shower completing the “hotel bathroom” feel. The “home-away-from-home” we all yearn for.I loved the glass window pane above the bath tub. It made the studio brighter and that much more spacious and inviting. I took a bubble bath and watched the flat-screen TV in the lounge with the integrated speaker volume up and the lights off. It was really soothing and regenerative.
The Little Bits That Count
I’m not a giant mini-bar user (especially with prohibitively expensive prices!) but this one was fully computerized and automated, apart from being well stocked and very cold: Asahi, Heineken and Tiger beer; tonic, juice and Perrier; Bombay Sapphire gin, Smirnoff Vodka, Bacardi rum; Snickers, M&Ms, Twix and an Alpen bar. I did, however, dip into the slightly less fattening complimentary fruit bowl.
The Dining Experience
“Embark on a diverse culinary experience at Pan Pacific Singapore,” the hotel likes to boast and they are not far wrong: innovative dining concepts, award winning restaurants, a massive, full length 44-metre lobby bar and a gourmet marketplace are but a few of the treats on offer.
Han Tien Lo
The Pan Pacific Singapore is renown for its choice of food and if there is one restaurant that leads the charge, it is the superb, award-winning Han Tien Lo. Here you find the best traditional Cantonese dining with a contemporary twist. The chefs still dip into age-old recipes to produce classic dishes, but their modern spin has got the food pundits calling it ‘new Cantonese’ cuisine.
Leading the foray is Master Chef Lai Tong Ping whom I had the great pleasure of being cooked for and served by. A medley of outstanding dishes from dim sum, double-boiled soup, Peking duck and a modern spin on the “Trio of Treasures” and “Lobster in Lemon Butter Sauce”.
- Location: Level 3
- Seating: 180
- Private dining: Room for 20 guests, 4 private dining rooms (10 guests each); 4 semi-private dining rooms (8 guests)
- Lunch: 12:00pm to 02:30pm (daily)
- Dinner: 06:30pm to 10:30p (daily)
Edge presents an engaging gastro-tainment dining experience and a culinary tour of Singapore, the region and the Pacific Rim. Seven ‘live’ food theatres present a la minute cuisine which include a variety of delectable Asian and Pacific cuisines – including Chinese, Malay, Indian, Singaporean, Japanese and Pan Pacific’s signature “Pacific Cuisines”. A self-serve dining concept, diners are invited to explore the live food theatres to interact with the chefs and take their pick from an extensive choice of almost 120 dishes and 35 desserts that are available. For the ultimate indulgence, Sunday Champagne Brunch is a convivial event with traditional roasts, crustacean on ice, freshly-made pasta, a grill, 30 types of cheese and 20 varieties of dessert.
- Location: Level 3
- Seating: 298
- Private dining: Room for 14 guests
- Website: www.edgefoodtheatre.com
- Breakfast: 06:00am to 10:30am
- Lunch: 12:00pm to 02:30pm (daily)
- Makan Makan: 12:00pm to 04:00pm (Saturdays only)
- Sunday Champagne Brunch: 12:00pm to 04:00pm (Sundays only)
- Dinner: 06:30pm to 10:30p (daily)
Renowned for the use of seasonal delicacies air-flown from Japan, Keyaki provides authentically prepared and immaculately presented traditional Japanese cuisine. These include sashimi, teppanyaki, kaiseki, omakase and more. Perched on level 4 of the hotel and surrounded by a beautifully sculpted Japanese garden and koi pond, this elegant venue provides an authentic setting for Chef Hiroshi Ishii’s exquisite cuisine.
- Location: Level 4
- Seating: 146
- Private Dining: One private Tatami room (six persons): one private Western dining room (10 persons); one semi-private dining room (eight persons); four outdoor tables (seating four persons each)
- Lunch: 12:00pm to 2.30pm daily
- Dinner: 6.30pm to 10:30pm daily
Located in the heart of the lobby, Atrium presents a curated collection of craft beers, boutique wines and spirits. Guests can enjoy a bespoke cocktail at the dramatic 44-metre (144 feet) long bar or have an intimate tête-à-tête at a private pod floating over a reflection pool.
- Location: Ground floor
- Seating: 207
- Pods: 16 pods (holding a total of 132 persons)
- Living Room: seats 48
- Front & Back Bar Counters: seats 24
- 10:00am to 01:00am (Sunday to Thursday)
- 10:00am to 02:00am (Friday & Saturday)