In my experience, hotels that double as tourist attractions almost always tend to be a let-down. More often than not they’re just capitalizing on reputation – but have little to offer in the way of real, actual interest. One of the only exceptions I’ve personally visited is Hostel Celica in Slovenia – a former political prison renovated by an artist and turned into one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever stayed.
The Raffles Hotel in Singapore is another. It definitely lives up to the hype.
This place is amazing – not just a hotel but more like a museum, it’s elegant, beautifully designed, and complemented by so many courtyards and lush gardens that at times it’s hard to tell if you’re walking through a hotel or some tropical rainforest. Except for the soft ambient music that always seems to be coming from “off in the distance.”
Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), the scene is a bit spoiled by the hundreds of camera-wielding tourists (erhm…like me). I can’t help but wonder how few of the people there are actual guests, as it seems like virtually everyone is either posing for photos or narrating to their video cameras 😆
(I should also mention that despite its obvious appeal, I personally would still never want to stay at The Raffles. It’s the exact type of place where you could expect to pay $5 for a bottle of water that usually goes for $1 – as evidenced by the fact that almost everything in the hotel shops are marked at about 500% of the real prices back on Earth. But I guess that’s what you get to do when people come in the thousands just to see the place! ;))
After spending an hour or so exploring The Raffles, I hopped on the metro to Orchard Road – the one “Must See” part of Singapore that remained on my list…
…Stopping briefly for a bite to eat in Doby Ghaut station. It was just about the best-deal meal I’d had in the country: a huge set lunch with unlimited drinks AND ice cream for S$6! I went for the Tori Katsu (懐かしい、なぁぁぁ) that included two whole chicken breasts, miso soup, rice, and salad – plus about 10 ice cream floats and a slushee. Can you say “food coma?” 😆
Then I finally made it to Orchard:
“Singapore’s wall-to-wall consumerist nirvana is an assault on your senses – and your wallet. Faced with this immense stretch of towering malls, some will scream with delight, others will run screaming. From quirky, rundown Lucky Plaza to the imposing chocolate-coloured marble edifice of Ngee Ann City and the chic, exclusive grey of Paragon, it’s possible to spend days here and never visit the same mall twice. Trees that shade the ever-present crowds are almost the only reminder that this area was, in the 19th century, an orchard lined with nutmeg and pepper plantations.
Frankly, I was a bit disgusted by the whole thing. How many hulking shrines to materialism do you really need in one area – let alone country? Orchard Road is little more than megamall after megamall after megamall after megamall, an endless string arranged on both sides of a long 4-lane boulevard. It’s miles of wall-to-wall Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and D&G – literally dozens of each – because apparently just one isn’t enough.
Personally I find shopping about as enjoyable as pulling teeth – but if you’re the type who likes gazing at overpriced fashion behind ornate glass displays, well, Orchard just might be considered a little slice of heaven 😛
But for those who aren’t, believe it or not the area does offer one pleasant and unexpected little surprise: Emerald Hill.
Branching off from the bustling heart of Orchard is yet another bubble of “Surprising Singapore”: a lovely neighborhood of Perenakan-style houses and shopfronts, all beautifully maintained. Literally within seconds of leaving the main boulevard’s shimmering glass and modernity it’s as if you’re somehow transported back to the early 1900’s.
…Minus the parked cars, of course 😉
Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above took place on Wednesday, February 23rd.