[UPDATE: If you live in Singapore lucky you, you’re eligible for Scott Dunn’s staycation flash offer at Raffles. Priced exclusively at S$1,330nett for a two night stay between 1 October and 13 December 2020, enjoy complimentary breakfast for two at the Tiffin Room, the Raffles Heritage Evening dinner experience for two at The Grand Lobby, a specially curated trishaw ride around Raffles Singapore detailing the locations mentioned in A Life Intertwined: Reminiscences of an Accidental Raffles Historian and an autographed copy of the book by Mr Leslie Danker himself. This flash offer is valid for 24 hours (book by 16 September 2020) at http://www.scottdunn.com ]
Raffles hotel in Singapore has today reopened following a two and a half year, multi million dollar refurbishment. Here’s what to expect from the revamp by interior designer Champalimaud and architect Aedas.
The grand lobby has a fresher feel and a new, stunning take on a chandelier. Afternoon tea will now be served here rather than being side lined to the Tiffin Room (more on which later). The heavy wooden reception desk with pigeon holes behind has been replaced by a more inviting desk and chairs, more in keeping with luxury 21st century hotels.
Off the lobby, the Grill restaurant has been replaced by a new venture from chef Anne-Sophie Pic whose restaurant in France holds three Michelin stars.
The room is almost unrecognisable from the former Grill with softer tones and furnishings though the white columns and French windows overlooking the Palm Court remain.
It’s also gratifying to see that the alcove tables in the restaurant still in situ, albeit with a more modern edge. Statement lighting abounds here too.
On the other side of the lobby the Tiffin Room, serving Northern Indian cuisine, has re opened. This too has been given a transformation with the addition of open shelving displaying tiffin boxes (naturally) and Chinese porcelain and again, statement light fittings. The new furniture with a nod to colonial style (dark wood and rattan) is said to be inspired by the hotel’s archives.
Elsewhere in the hotel, a new Alain Ducasse restaurant in the Bar and Billiard room and Yì by Jeremy Leung are due to open in September.
All the suites have been restored and look lighter while retaining a heritage feel. The separate parlour room has been retained in the Stateroom, Promenade, Courtyard, Palm Court and Personality suites – a good choice since it’s so synonymous with guest rooms at Raffles.
Updated technology and bathrooms also figure with Peranakan inspired tiles in the latter – in homage to the Chinese Malay settlers in Singapore.
To celebrate the opening Raffles is offering two special rate packages: Opening Package From now till 31 October 2019 guests may upgrade their stay for S$120 plus taxes per night including additional privileges of daily breakfast for two either in their suite, on the verandahs poolside or at Tiffin Room. They will also receive a $100 daily credit for spending at the Raffles Spa or at one of the restaurants. A commemorative Raffles heritage souvenir and guaranteed late checkout until 3.00pm is also included. Staycation Package Available to residents of Singapore, this staycation offers a 50% reduction on an adjourning suite for families to stay together. The package includes daily semi buffet breakfast for two adults at Tiffin Room, where children can dine for free (for two children aged 12 and under), S$50 Raffles Spa Credit per adult per stay, Raffles Children Customised Programme, Complimentary souvenir for children from the Raffles Boutique, guaranteed late check out till 3pm, early check in at noon, subject to availability, 10% off Raffles merchandise at the Raffles Boutique. Adjourning suites are subjected to availability of interconnecting suites. More details on offers are available at www.rafflessingapore.com and enquiries or reservations can be made via email@example.com
[UPDATE: Parts of this trip have changed since we took the journey but a visit to the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai and the Thailand Burma Railway Centre and Prisoners of War cemetery is still an option. It was the most moving part of experience.]
Cocktail hour can be a precarious business on board the Eastern & Oriental Express. There’s a risk of losing great splashes of your G&T overboard with every sway of the train. But standing on the open sided observation deck at sunset, passing by the verdant scenery of South East Asia, is worth any effort incurred. And of course being a passenger on a luxury train is really no effort at all.
Our journey had begun in Singapore where we spent the night at Raffles whose white shutters, balustrades and wrap around balconies outside; and dark wood, ceiling fans and antique furniture within took us back to a more gracious era. Perfect before boarding the E&O for a three-day journey through Malaysia and into Thailand, disembarking in Bangkok.
Now, 24 hours later, we are deep into the Malaysian countryside. And with darkness swallowing up the last of the view, it’s time to dress for dinner. The E&O is owned by the Orient-Express company [Update: now rebranded Belmond]and as such features exquisite marquetry and fabrics. Unlike the Venice Simplon train that runs through Europe, the carriages are not Art Deco originals. But what they lack in authenticity they make up for in modern comforts – ensuite bathrooms, the aforementioned observation deck and a reading room (home to a resident reflexologist and a fortune teller). There’s also the bonus of some pit stops along the way.
The first takes place just before dinner when we pull in to Kuala Lumpur station. It’s fun to walk up and down the platform in our finery, and see the pleasure on the commuters’ faces when they look at our gleaming train, but the best bit is to come. As we leave the station, tucking into our first course of goose liver wrapped in Chinese with pumpkin and coconut veloute, we spot the Petronas Towers sparkling in the darkness.
In the bar car after dinner the gregarious pianist, Peter, keeps playing until the last guest goes to bed. On this occasion, not us – we are out stayed by a young couple from the UK. When we return to our State cabin it has been transformed into a bedroom, the sofa and lounge chair magically turned into twin beds.
“Did you sleep well?” enquires our steward, Sarawut, as he brings us breakfast in our cabin the next morning. When we sheepishly reply in the negative he is not that surprised. “Some people don’t on the first night, it’s like sleeping through an earthquake.” At 8.35am we pull into Butterworth station. All the passengers set off on the first of our excursions to the island of Penang, passing a sous chef wheeling a trolley filled with ice along the platform.
Georgetown, the capital, has UNESCO heritage status on account of its abundance of historical buildings. We are all now settled into trishaws as we are pedalled around the ancient streets. Had I known it was an unofficial race I may have chosen a younger cyclist – the task of pushing both me and my husband seems a little much for ours. But the leisurely pace means we get a good view of the beautiful buildings from old merchants houses to Chinese temples filled with red lanterns or bright pink firecrackers. We pass through Little India, China Town and the Street of Harmony (so called because it’s home to a church, a temple and a mosque) and make a promise to return for a longer stay.
Back on board it’s time for lunch. From his tiny galley kitchen chef Yannis Martineau has prepared a tom yam vichyssoise with quail followed by pan roasted seabass with Sichuan style vegetables. Yannis’ dishes are a perfect blend of East meets West with local ingredients and techniques incorporated with his French fine dining background. At Penang, he took the opportunity to stock up on spices which will we try tonight in a delicious beef medallion curry.
We gain an hour today, as we cross the border into Thailand. The scenery changes noticeably. Palm trees give way to paddy fields, small temples can be glimpsed through tree tops and in the distance we spot a huge golden Buddha statue.
From the observation deck we get an unbeatable taste of local life. We pass through rural stations where food stalls are set up along the platform. A couple of Buddhist monks in their distinctive orange robes chat on a bench. In one village the locals are sitting in a row of deckchairs having an evening foot rub. Children riding bicycles try to keep up with us. Everywhere, people stare or smile and wave – the train has an uplifting affect on everyone who sees it.
To celebrate our crossing into Thailand, a traditional Thai dancer is performing in the bar car this evening. There’s the usual merriment as the she entices guests up to join her. The trip is a convivial one: there’s something about a train journey that draws people together. Friendships are forged in the bar car, on the observation deck, over lunch and dinner. Our fellow passengers range from other couples to families with young children or teenagers, and several singles. There are honeymooners, Ruby wedding celebrators and at least one blossoming romance.
Our last day on board and the train manager announces that we are running slightly late but I think we are all secretly pleased to have some extra time on the train. When we pull into a stop right next to the River Kwai bridge we cause quite a stir. The tourists are intrigued and delighted by the train.
We leave them to their photography and embark on a gentle raft journey along the Kwai, floating under the notorious bridge as a local historian tells its story. Our tour continues to the Thailand Burma Railway Centre, a small but well run museum and the adjacent cemetery for Prisoners of War – a soothingly pretty spot. Everyone seems moved by this visit; it is undoubtedly one of the best experiences of the trip.
We re-board the train at the photogenic Kanchanaburi station for the last leg of the journey. As we draw closer to Bangkok the temples become bigger and more frequent. On the outskirts of the city, hard hatted construction workers wave at the train with the same enthusiasm as the school children in the countryside.
Soon we draw alongside canals – the city’s famous khlongs – and know we about to reach Hualamphong station. The frenetic station is a shock after the cosseting of our train trip but we are soon back to the comfort we have grown accustomed to when we check into the Mandarin Oriental. We are staying in the Author’s Wing, the original part of the hotel named after the likes of Somerset Maughan and Noel Coward who stayed here. At the heart of it is a gorgeous colonial style conservatory with rattan chairs, cream shutters and a Gone with the Wind staircase. It’s as fitting an end to our trip – although you can also take the train from Bangkok to Singapore, with an extra night onboard.
On our last evening in Bangkok we catch the wooden shuttle boat over the Chao Praya river to the hotel’s Sala Rim Naam restaurant. In the opulent setting of a Thai pavilion we feast on the set banquet menu including fried snow fish in red chilli sauce, roasted duck with tamarind and warm flour dumplings with coconut milk. All the while entertained by a traditional show.
Tomorrow we will be leaving Thailand but alas the journey involves airports and planes not stations and luxury trains. If only travel was always as glamorous as the E&O.
Westworld season three sees the storyline move outside of the Western theme park as the hosts seek to discover “the real world”. And what a world it is when the scenes are shot in Singapore. For the city state looks magnificent on camera with its beguiling blend of steel and glass skyscrapers and lush tropical foliage. And especially at night as the Formula One coverage has long proven and Westworld 3 displays in lingering shots of the Marina Bay area, Raffles Place skyline and the twinkling Esplanade theatre roof.
It’s this mix that caught the eye of Westworld co-creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan. “The goal from the beginning was to find the future. If you go out in the world the future is there, it’s in places like Singapore,” Nolan says in Westworld’s Behind the Scenes aftershow on HBO.
“There’s nowhere that looks like Singapore. There is a shape to the skyline that no other city has. There is a beautiful curvature to it that is really unique and interesting,” Joy told media during filming. “[And] It’s the ways in which nature entangles with modernity here. Singapore has done this incredible job of integrating nature into the city.”
For the most part the Lion City is mainly masquerading as a futuristic Los Angeles though it gets a name check in episode four. “Another simulation? Well this one is a bit over the top,” snaps Thandie Newton at the Atlas Bar only to be told “No Maeve, it’s Singapore.”.
While the cast Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright and Luke Hemsworth Instagramed themselves visiting the Botanical Gardens, Haw Par Villa and Sentosa’s Adventure Cove waterpark, here are some of the key locations in episode one and beyond.
Parkroyal Collection Pickering
In the opening scenes of series 3 we catch a glimpse of this hotel close to the CBD and Chinatown in a flashback shared with Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores (now a champagne quaffing killer in a little black dress and heels). Specifically the roof terrace with its distinctive bird cage cabanas and infinity pool. In a later episode the hotel’s exterior is shown in its full splendour, all curved lines and draped with greenery. Charlotte Hale (or whoever is inhabiting her body since she was killed at the end of series two) meets Dolores here for a martini. The interior shots of the bar and bedrooms are not the Parkroyal though – in reality these are pared back, Scandi chic. The cast and crew did however stay here during filming. Jeffrey Wright who plays Bernard posted an impressive picture of the hotel on Instagram with the caption “’Til next time, Singapore.”
Dolores arrives in LA by futuristic looking helicopter. The building she exits though, having landed on the roof, is in actual fact in Singapore. An aerial shot focuses on a courtyard garden surrounded by multi level, loop shaped walkways. And Dolores walks through the garden (complete with three storey waterfall) when she demands: “Find me something fast.” Although it looks as if it could have been created for a dystopian fantasy, this is the Green Heart at Marina One, an exclusive condo, office and retail complex between Marina Bay and the CBD. The garden was designed to provide shade for office workers, shoppers and now presumably tourists.
We are introduced to new character, Caleb, an ex soldier played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, visiting his mother in hospital – in reality the School of the Arts (SOTA) – before leaving at the Stadium MRT station. Spectacular looking SOTA, made up of three towers connected by bridges and again dripping with foliage, is a high school dedicated to visual and performing arts. Its three performance spaces – the concert hall, the Drama Theatre and the more intimate Studio – are open to the public for performances.
Lasalle College of the Arts
Caleb seemingly attends a job interview at Lasalle’s McNally campus, noticeable for its striking multi faceted glass facade. Then in episode three Caleb and Dolores are filmed outside Lasalle following, not to give anything away, their first official introduction (but not first actual meeting which occurred in episode one’s unconventional meet cute). The college’s prominent Expression and Collaboration signs are strangely apt in the scene.
When Caleb takes a phone call about his job interview against a backdrop of brightly lit designer stores and neon illuminated steps at night it’s between Wisma Atria and Ion shopping centres on Orchard Road. Sensibly Caleb is there in the evening, the best time to visit rather than during the punishing sun of the day. Had Caleb nipped inside the Ion he probably would have skipped all the cookie cutter international stores and headed to the sub basement four levels underground and Food Opera with its hawker style stalls.
Taking another call, again at night, Caleb walks across the eye catching Helix bridge, the Singapore Flyer observation wheel just visible in the background. The pedestrian bridge links the Marina Centre waterfront with Marina Bay Sands and is so called as it’s constructed of a double Helix ie it apes the shape of a double stranded DNA molecule. At night The Helix looks particularly spectacular and futuristic as the neon LED lighting emphasises the parallel curved steel structure.
At the close of episode one Bernard walks through a kampong before approaching a local fisherman at the jetty and asking him to take him to Westworld. The scenes were filmed on Pulau Ubin, an undeveloped island a 15 minute bum boat ride from Singapore’s Changi Point ferry terminal though a million miles away in other aspects. Pulau Ubin is a glimpse of how Singapore used to be, and a side that tourists rarely see.
Thandie Newton’s Maeve and Vincent Cassel playing new character Serac meet for a drink at the visually ravishing Atlas Bar. Maeve is still knocking back the sherry (“In the largest glass you’ve got”. Perhaps she’s heard about Singapore’s notoriously small pours) although gin and champagne are the house specialities.
“If you really wanted to impress me you’d have taken me to Paris,” she quips to Cassel. The line is doubly amusing as Atlas is a new build, designed in homage to the original Art Deco European brasseries. While it’s consistently voted one of Singapore’s favourite bars, it feels decidedly theme park-ish which makes it perfect for a Westworld location.
National Gallery Singapore
Dolores and Caleb’s visit to “the bank for a certain social set” takes place inside the National Gallery, the former Supreme Court and City Hall. The design, 19th century architecture mixed with modern additions of glass and steel, alone is worth a visit. Design and history tours take place daily during the week and twice a day at weekends. The pair’s banking transaction scene was shot in the Terrace, an event space in the Supreme Court Wing next to the Rotunda. You can actually go inside the dome as it’s a library (open Monday to Fridays except public holidays).
Visitors are also spoilt for choice for bars and restaurants here including rooftop Smoke and Mirrors where there’s a bird’s eye view of the curvaceous Singapore skyline beloved of Westworld’s creators.
Chinatown’s Food Street is where we see Maeve meander under the red lanterns and past the roast meat and noodle stalls in episode four. (Though the beginning of the scene was actually shot over on Orchard Road with Maeve in front of Orchard Gateway and Peranakan Place). Following a multi million dollar revamp, the shophouse lined street with all weather roof is probably the most theme park-esque of all the Westworld 3 locations.
If like the Trumps you’re planning a visit to the Taj Mahal, there’s only one way to do it in style and that’s by staying at the Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra.
Not only does this glamorous, film set of a resort have a bird’s eye view of the iconic monument from most of its rooms and terraces, it’s also the only hotel in Agra to have private access via golf buggy right up to the gates.
In celebration of the Year of the Rat we bring you the University Arms where copies of The Wind in Willows, the tale of Ratty, Mole and Badger written by Kenneth Grahame, are in every guest rooms and a recording of Alan Bennett reading the book is transmitted in the restaurant/bar loos…
University Arms, Cambridge, UK
What’s the story?
Cambridge’s oldest hotel, the University Arms which began life as a coaching inn in 1834, has reopened following a four year, £80m refurbishment. The original classical façade overlooking Parker’s Piece (a green space that was the scene of Queen Victoria’s coronation banquet) has been retained but the interiors have been rebuilt and an out of place 1960s extension has gone. In its place the new building is in keeping with the original style.
University Arms, Cambridge lobby
It looks so authentic…
Architect John Simpson has worked on such grand projects as Buckingham and Kensington Palaces and a couple of Cambridge University colleges so knows a thing or two about classical refurbishments. His design for the University Arms includes a striking porte cochere – a columned, covered carriage entrance, for cars rather than horses these days and a grand lobby inside. It’s hard to believe the new addition to the hotel building hasn’t always been here.
What about the interiors?
They’re down to Martin Brudnizki, designer du jour (responsible for the new Annabel’s clubhouse in Mayfair and the refreshed Ivy in Covent Garden). Overall the feel is of a contemporary private members’ club: Farrow and Ball painted walls, reclaimed wooden floors, antique rugs, on trend ottomans and armchairs and sofas that beg to be sat on.
A suite at the University Arms, Cambridge
What about the rooms?
They span cosy (19-22sq ft) to superior plus there are 12 suites named after Cambridge alumni including Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf and Stephen Hawking. All the bathrooms have black and white tiles, underfloor heating and DR Harris of St James’s products. Twenty six of them have (roll top, claw foot) baths as well as showers.
Parker’s Tavern restaurant, University Arms
What’s the food like?
The hotel has cleverly recruited talented local (by way of London and Mustique) chef Tristan Welch. With the restaurant, Parker’s Tavern, taking inspiration from a college dining hall with stained glass windows and leather bench seating, the menu offers a modern take on traditional British fare using East Anglian produce including smoked trout, potted shrimp, a daily roast trolley and pie of the day. Don’t miss the Cambridge Burnt Cream pudding – a British take on Crème Brulee.
Is there a bar?
As the name suggests, Parker’s Tavern is split between a restaurant and a sizeable lounge bar where the members’ club atmosphere continues. The bar itself is lined with vintage style leather stools plus there are plenty of velvet sofas, a vast spirits list and strictly no beer on tap.
Parker’s Tavern bar, University Arms
What about my fellow guests?
Visiting academics, students being treated by their parents, tourists from the US and China and tech people (Cambridge is becoming known as the Silicon Valley of the UK).
What is there to do?
The hotel is on the doorstep of the city centre so the historic colleges are a short stroll away – or take one of the hotel’s bicycles in signature light Cambridge blue. Tours as well as punts on the river Cam can be arranged. The hotel will even whip up a picnic for you. If you’re looking for the willow tree celebrated in Xu Zhimo’s poem, Second Farewell to Cambridge, it has recently been removed but a cutting has been planted nearby at the newly opened memorial garden in the poet’s alma mater King’s College.
The Library, University Arms
Anything else I should know?
Playing on the learned location the hotel has made books a feature. Rather than the usual untouched, artful collection the hotel’s guest sitting area, The Library, has a selection intended to actually read curated by the renowned Heywood Hill booksellers in London. Each of the suites includes literature by or about the namesake while the other bedrooms each has a copy of The Wind in the Willows, Porterhouse Blue and Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Verses.
What’s the bottom line?
Prices for rooms start at £205 for cosy rooms and £505 for suites.