Before traveling to Singapore, I was told often that a few days would be more than adequate time to see everything there. As it turns out, three days was not nearly enough. While Singapore has no one great attraction to draw tourists, it does have many interesting sites and activities, not to mention some of the best shopping in Asia. This view of the financial district, south of the Singapore River, was taken from the river’s north bank at Raffles Landing. The colorful buildings in front of the skyscrapers form the eastern end of the Boat Quay.
The first thing one notices about Singapore is that the name “Raffles” seems to appear everywhere: Raffles Hotel, Raffles City, Raffles Place, Raffles Marina, Raffles Hospital, and more. They’re all named after Sir Stamford Raffles, who founded Singapore in 1819. An officer of the British East India Company, he had served in the region for over a dozen years - many as a governor - when he decided to set up a British strategic base and free trade port here, and signed a treaty with a local Malay leader giving him control over the territory in exchange for cash. Fifty years later, Singapore became a British colony. This statue of him resides at Raffles Landing, where he supposedly first set foot on the territory.
Singapore and the region had plenty of history before British colonialism, and much of it can be discovered here at the Asian Civilisations Museum, just beside Raffles Landing. The museum is both young and old: its home is an 1867 colonial government office building that was renovated, expanded, and re-opened just three years ago; and while the museum acquired many of its holdings within just the past decade, its original holdings came from the century-old Raffles Library and Museum. The museum collection reflects the multiple cultures of Singapore - Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Arab - as well as the rest of Southeast Asia.
The Boat Quay, along the Singapore River across from the museum. Much trade used to take place here, with crowds of boats transporting goods from the harbor up the river while the Chinese trade bosses in these shophouses looked on. Today, the shophouses have been converted into restaurants, cafés, and bars, with the boats used for river taxis and visitor trips along the river.
Near the entrance to the Asian Civilisations Museum.
The Cavanaugh Bridge, on the east side of the museum, complete with a sign from days long past. When traveling to Singapore, it’s best to leave your cattle and horses at home.
Another look at the Boat Quay...
...and the Cavanaugh Bridge. Though a major thoroughfare across the Singapore River in the past, it became a pedestrian bridge when another larger bridge was built nearby.
A ten-minute walk north through Singapore’s colonial area - with old British government buildings on one side of the street and the open green cricket field of the Padang on the other - leads to Raffles Hotel. A Singapore National Monument, this is no ordinary hotel: room rates start at US$500 a night and rise quickly from there. First built in 1887, the hotel underwent massive renovation fifteen years ago to restore the look it had in 1915 - at a cost of US$100 million! This view appears near the lobby entrance.
Lighting at Doc Cheng’s, one of the many excellent restaurants at Raffles Hotel. It seems that anyone who was anyone who traveled to Singapore long ago - Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward, Prince Edward, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Ava Gardner - stayed at Raffles. Authors Conrad and Maugham even featured the hotel in their novels. Today a number of the hotel’s most impressive suites are named after some of these famous visitors. And the famous continue to visit: two months before these photographs were taken, the hotel hosted Queen Elizabeth II.
View from the second floor in Raffles Arcade, the shopping section of Raffles Hotel. The hotel complex is huge, made up of a connected array of three-story white colonial-style buildings. Despite its size, the hotel has only a hundred or so suites; the remaining building space is used by shops, restaurants, cafés, bars, ballrooms, lounges - even a culinary academy.
The Tiffin Room, just off the hotel lobby. Over a century ago, Rudyard Kipling - then a young journalist traveling the world - dined here and recommended the Room to his readers.
A veranda near the hotel entrance. Verandas feature prominently at Raffles Hotel, in both the public areas and the room suites.
The Bar and Billiard Room, bar section. The Singapore Sling cocktail was invented long ago at the Raffles Hotel, in another of the hotel bars.
The Bar and Billiard Room, billiard section. Legend has it that in 1902, a Bengal tiger wandered in and was discovered under a billiard table here by a bar boy after closing hours. Actually, the tiger had wandered under the building itself - but no matter; the story adds to the exotic mystique of the hotel. Other unusual visitors to Raffles Hotel in its early days include a wild boar, a large squealing pig, and a python; each visit has an unusual story behind it.
Terracotta roof tiles and palm leaves above the Raffles Courtyard.
Raffles Hotel is historic enough to have its own museum on the premises, shown here. The museum is a wonderful display of round-the-world travel that took place during the height of British colonialism. Photographs, brochures, travel posters, illustrations, and even old steamer trunks covered with luggage labels all add to the atmosphere of exotic luxury travel years ago.
The veranda in front of the Jubilee Lounge, just off Jubilee Hall, a stunning Victorian-styled theater. Also located near here, in the rear sections of the hotel, is a huge ballroom built during the hotel’s renovation. In the early days of Raffles Hotel, the ballroom was located out front near the hotel entrance, and was a huge draw for both locals and globetrotting visitors.
The old carved furniture, palm, and wall mural shown here are located outdoors along another veranda of the hotel. Despite their being in the shade, I imagine Singapore’s year-round heat and humidity take their toll on these hotel amenities after a while.
Coconut palms in the Fern Court.
Raffles Arcade, across the Fern Court from suites of the hotel. The Raffles Hotel gift shop, located here, is remarkably rich with hotel memorabilia. My favorite item was a large coffee table book entitled “Raffles Hotel” by Gretchen Liu, published early this year in Singapore and available summer 2006 in the US. It’s a must for anyone interested in the history of Singapore and the golden age of exotic luxury travel - and it doubles as an exhibition catalog for the Raffles Hotel museum.