An iconic tourist must-do or a colossal waste of money? You decide.
Growing up, I read volumes about the British Empire where the heroes were shipped overseas to some exotic location, made to work in the hot sun, and sometimes even learned to appreciate the cultures in which they were immersed. Therefore upon arrival in Singapore, I was more than excited to do the touristy thing and head to the Raffles hotel, even though we had a really busy time trying to get all the top Singapore sights on our itinerary.
Named after the first governor of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles Raffles arrived around 1818 and decided there needed to be a British presence on the tip of the Malay peninsula. He set about building infrastructure and making a place British subjects could live. After he felt this job was done and he went home to London, he then founded the London zoo. A pretty industrious gentleman, Raffles accomplished quiet a bit in his 46 years of life, and the luxurious Raffles hotel is only one of them.
The hotel is all Victorian grandeur with a beautiful white-washed and colonnaded facade, sweeping verandas, and a precisely manicured landscape. Today it is dwarfed by all the tall buildings and malls that is downtown Singapore, but with such a large lot, you can certainly imagine how it dominated the city-scape of days gone by.
To luxuriate in such rich environs for even 30 minutes to an hour and imagine yourself one of the privileged has become one of the things most visitors have placed high on their list. To sit in the long bar and sip on a Singapore Sling, concocted in that very room, really cements the idea that yes, you are in Singapore. (One of the last strongholds of the empire?)
I’ve been to Singapore twice, and the first time was not during high tourist season, so my daughter and I were able to sit in the Raffles bar, enjoy our drink and take a breather from the oppressive heat and humidity that plagues the city-state all year round. It was quiet and elegant, tasty and cool; we loved it.
Second time around, I was with Jim and my other daughter, Devon. We were hot; we were a little cranky. We needed a stiff drink and a respite from the concrete jungle. Unfortunately, this was not a unique notion. The bar was packed, but we finally spotted a table in the back. They had introduced the peanuts phenomenon well-known in chain western-style steak houses. What a mess! They had increased the price of the Singapore Sling to make it very difficult for the cheaper travelers (read me) to dole out the money. Twenty-seven Singapore dollars ($) for the drink alone, but there was a special for a full lunch that included a Sling for a mere 45. In Singapore that’s a pretty expensive lunch.
However, we were hot; we were cranky, and we were getting a little peckish to boot. We still didn’t spring for three lunches. Are you kidding? But, we did share one and order the other two the drinks. It was definitely one of the more expensive touristy things we did during the trip.
Was it worth it? Overall, I would say just don’t bother if you are on a budget! There are plenty of malls that are air-conditioned that will give you a nice cold drink or ice-cream and a chance to get out of the heat. I felt the old-world charm diminished with the entire peanut experience. Yes, there is history and yes, it was novel to have a drink where it originated, but I don’t think it was worth the price.