When you’re in a foreign country or new city there are two types of things to do: the stereotypical tourist things and off the beaten track things. I think we’d all be lying if we said finding exciting things off the beaten track (ie: probably not in Trip Adviser’s top 10 ‘Things to Do’) is totally satisfying and makes you feel like a ‘real’ explorer.
Some lofty-hardcore backpackers might laugh at the idea of you filling your travel itinerary with stereotypical popular tourist things but there shouldn’t be any shame in that! Sometimes they’re popular for a reason. A visit to Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling is precisely one of these things.
Spoiler: I’d been to Raffles 6 years previously but I was looking forward to going back again on my recent Singapore trip, perhaps solely for old-time sake. Also, in other cities I’d been to in Asia I’d not done some of the typical tourist things and I really regretted that in hindsight. (Who goes to Beijing and doesn’t visit the Summer Palace or the Forbidden City?! Me…). If I had to pay an unreasonable amount for the quintessential Singapore Sling experience then that was what I would do.
The joy of Raffles is its history and beautiful colonial architecture. Much like The Peninsula in Hong Kong, Raffles is Singapore’s oldest hotel and it’s roots date back to the 1830’s and officially opened as Raffles in the 1887. (For reference, The Peninsula in Hong Kong opened much later in 1928!). 2017 marks the 130th anniversary of Raffles as it’s currently known.
Throughout my Asia trip I felt increasingly uncomfortable about British colonialism and it’s legacy. No, it wasn’t all bad but I still felt somewhat ashamed for some of the things my compatriots had done one hundred or so years ago. However, this doesn’t mean I have anything to apologise for nor does it mean I can’t enjoy the picturesque colonial architecture like everyone else.
My favourite part of Raffles is the laid-back old-fashioned style and atmosphere everywhere which is probably most obvious in its famous Long Bar. Here everything is covered in paneled mahogany wood, the floor is made up of vintage tiles and the ceilings have bamboo fans instead of air conditioning. Most bizarrely, a layer of peanut shells litter the floor! Anyone not in the know would think Raffles’ cleaning staff had gone on strike. Instead, the littering of peanut shells in a long-time tradition and is actively encouraged to this day! There’s something childishly joyful about tossing a peanut shell onto the floor and knowing you won’t get told off for it.
Most significantly, it was in the Long Bar that the Singapore Sling was invented in 1915. Although somewhat mocked by local Singaporeans as something only tourists drink, it’s still the nation’s signature drink and you’ll find souvenirs all over Singapore dedicated to this fruity pink concoction. I even bought Singapore Sling tea in the Raffles gift shop!! And yes, it truly does smell and taste like a Singapore Sling! Minus the alcohol of course.
As I was travelling solo in Singapore I didn’t stay for long in the Long Bar (pun not intended) but I made the most of my eye-wateringly expensive Singapore Sling and soaked in the atmosphere before taking a stroll through the public parts of the hotel.
Raffles is much more than just the Long Bar: it boasts eight restaurants in total (including a perfect place for afternoon tea which I experienced six years ago) a patisserie shop and a large shopping arcade including Raffles own gift shop. I can’t lie, I did go a bit nuts shopping there. I bought everything from a Singapore Sling key-rings to the most wonderful tins of Raffles’ own loose tea!
I only recently learnt that Raffles is currently undergoing a serious renovation: it’s biggest since 1989. As of August 2017, much of the hotel is closed (including the Long Bar) and Raffles will fully close in December 2017 for the final stage of renovation. Sadly it won’t reopen until Autumn 2018 so if you’re planning to visit Singapore soon, make sure you visit Raffles whilst you can!
Until it’s reopening, you can read up about its history! Speaking of which, I didn’t know Raffles had a resident historian! If you’re interested in learning more but can’t make it to Singapore, their historian Leslie Danker has written a book called Memoirs of a Raffles Original which you should be able to buy on Amazon.
To sum it all up, you’d be crazy to visit Singapore and not visit Raffles! Perhaps staying for a Singapore Sling isn’t your thing but you should definitely take the time to wander through some of Asia’s most iconic colonial architecture.