Raffles is one of the most famous names in luxury travel, and nearly everyone who visits Singapore stops by the original Raffles Hotel on Beach Road. The majority go for tea at the Tiffin Room or a Singapore Sling from the wood-paneled Long Bar. Fewer stay as guests. But during my recent visit to Singapore I had the fortunate opportunity to get a tour of the hotel and one of two Presidential Suites.
In case you’re wondering, Raffles does have the Raffles Ambassadors loyalty program — though it is strictly by invitation and doesn’t earn you free nights. (Some may be able to obtain elite status in the Fairmont or Swissôtel programs and receive reciprocal benefits.) The hotel has regular guests as well as many others who treat themselves to a stay for special occasions such as weddings and honeymoons. Rooms start at $1,000 SGD (~$750 USD) and go up to $10,000 SGD (~$7,500 USD) for the Presidential Suite that we toured. From what I observed, $750 did not appear unreasonable as Raffles is in an entirely different league than Park Hyatt or St. Regis.
Most of the property is off limits if you’re not a guest, so just going upstairs was a treat. Everything is massive, from the enormous wooden staircases to the doors, which must have been 12 feet tall or more. “Hallways” are actually quite spacious. Chairs and couches are scattered throughout. While most sit empty, every effort is made to ensure guests feel at home and retain their privacy.
We were led to the end of the hallway on the third floor to the main entrance of the Presidential Suite, passing a rear entrance along the way. The suite runs the entire length of the main atrium pictured above. And once we stepped inside, it did feel just like home. A very ornate, expensive home but nevertheless very comfortable.
Fresh flowers were on every table as we passed through, starting in the living room. I was already won over just seeing a recent issue of The Economist waiting on the coffee table. A bar in the opposite corner completed the picture, but sadly it was not stocked.
It’s not unusual for large suites to have a dining table, but this was the first one I’ve visited that had a dining room. Most of the furniture looked antique, but the pieces were so well maintained it was difficult to be sure. Off to the side was a small kitchen with a Nespresso machine, TWG tea, and its own wine refrigerator. Naturally it contained a bottle of Krug (vintage unclear), as well as a 2007 Vincent Girardin Chassagne-Montrachet and a Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Our next two visits were the private verandah, looking out toward the growing sea of skyscrapers in Singapore’s colonial district, and a private office.
The first bedroom was about as large as a normal hotel room in its entirety. Several chairs providing space to sit and move about. I would have been happy with this.
But moving on we found the master bedroom next door, about twice as large and with its own smaller version of the living room we entered through. A vanity to the left and dresser to the right (out of view) provided plenty of space to get ready in the morning or before a night out. Further to the right is a door that leads to the bathroom and a wall of wood-paneled closets.
Fully clad in marble and with ornate fixtures, the bathroom reminded me of some other hotels from this era, although the mirrors and sconces were more elaborate than I’m used to. I was glad to see double sinks, which I consider a must for any suite. (How some suites get away with one sink — even when the rest of the bathroom is quite large — is beyond me.)
I also appreciated the wicker hamper for wet towels, the individual bottles of mouthwash next to each sink, and the convenient racks for hand towels. (Again, I’m amazed how many hotel rooms don’t have a place to hang hand towels.) There was clear attention to detail everywhere.
We actually started our tour with a visit to Tiffin. Unlike most tea services I’ve enjoyed before, only half the food — finger sandwiches, cakes, etc. — were delivered to our table. The rest could be found at a buffet on the other side of the room, where a harpist was playing. This wasn’t such a bad idea. Fresh fruit was kept chilled, and the scones and dim sum were kept hot. I was satisfied
Tea is fine, but I probably would have enjoyed the Writers Bar even more, across the lobby. With Hendrick’s given such prominence they must know what they’re doing.
The Writers Bar, next to the restaurant, is a little quiet — exactly what I usually prefer. For more action I suggest you go outside where the Bar & Billiard Room sits in a separate building near the main entrance. I’d never seen so many different whiskys on display. You could very easily arrange a tasting flight just by picking one of the shelves. Have it sent over to the back, where tables are set up for both billiards and pool.
Legend has it that an escaped tiger was found hiding under one of these tables. In fact, it was merely hiding underneath the building, which is slightly raised on stilts. It’s still fun to imagine. 😉
We returned to the private hallways that are normally restricted to guests, visiting one in particular. Those who stay at Raffles should definitely seek out this collection of historic photographs showing not just the history of the hotel but also its slow transformation over time (a large dance hall used to be located out front) and the famous guests who have visited before.
Except for the lobby, all the hallways are open-air. Singapore is hot and humid nearly all year round, but we were still comfortable in the shade. As we walked we passed more verandahs, courtyards, and an outdoor cafes.
Finally, we ended our trip at the Long Bar, birthplace of the famous Singapore Sling. It’s an amazing place only because it’s so different from the rest of the hotel, with peanut shells littering the floor and mechanical fans waving back and forth on the ceiling.
There are now several kinds of Singapore Sling, and our group ordered one of everything to share and taste. Anthony Bourdain will tell you it’s a horrible drink — too sweet and not nearly enough alcohol to get you buzzed. While I agree when it comes to the original and most other variations, the passionfruit flavor was actually pretty good and — surprise! — the green apple was a close second. But I would still take a pass. If you want to treat yourself to a drink at Raffles, visit one of the many other bars and you’ll blend in better with the locals.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever stay in the Presidential Suite that we toured. That price is too rich for my taste even if I could afford it. But I did appreciate the sense of luxury the staff cultivate for all their guests at Raffles Hotel. More likely I’ll visit again with my wife — maybe a special occasion, like our anniversary — and we’ll stay a few nights in a standard room. Because nothing is “standard” at Raffles I’m sure it will be a memorable trip.
Full Disclosure: Singapore Tourism Board provided air and ground transportation, accommodation, meals, and a guide during my visit to Singapore. I received no other compensation, and STB did not review or recommend specific content prior to publication.