THE heady perfume of frangipani flowers in full bloom fills the breeze wafting through the open windows of the James Michener suite at the stately Raffles Hotel Singapore.
Inside the spacious suite some of the famous American writer’s works including Caribbean, The Drifters, and Hawaii, lay on the polished teak table inviting guests to pick one up and read on.
Two photos of Michener — one snapped at the hotel and another in Singapore’s Chinatown in 1985 — adorn the walls of the beautiful suite.
It is complete with handmade Persian rugs, classic decor, lofty ceilings and teak floors.
Michener first stayed at the hotel in 1949 soon after World War II, and in an interview a decade before his death, he described it as a luxury for a young man to stay at the hotel where he had the time of his life.
“To have been young and had a room at Raffles was life at its best,” were his words.
It seems he was so fond of his last stay that as well as his luggage he took the hotel room key home with him as a souvenir.
After his death, the Michener estate returned the room key and hotel management decided to name the room after him. The key is now part of the Raffles Hotel Museum collection.
There’s a great charm to the suite, which features a cosy living area, large bedroom, dressing room and bathroom with an old-fashioned bath as well as modern necessities.
Colourful stories about Raffles Hotel abound and hotel historian, Leslie Danker, who has worked at the hotel for 42 years, loves to share them.
Opened in 1887 by the Sarkie brothers, Martin and Tigran from Armenia, they decided to name it after English statesman Stamford Raffles, who founded Singapore, knowing they would have the support of the large British ex-pat community.
It started as a 10-bedroom bungalow overlooking the sea, which was extended then later demolished for a new building in 1889.
It opened with great fanfare and was the first building in Singapore to have electric lights and fans and a French chef.
Mr Danker speaks about the history of the hotel with great enthusiasm and loves the story about the tiger that escaped from a travelling circus in 1902 and was found hiding under the Raffles billiard room.
“Ahh that’s one of the stories everyone remembers about Raffles,” he says.
“Thankfully, a local sharpshooter and principal of the Raffles Institute, Charles Phillips was around but he was slightly worse for wear after returning from a ball.”‘
Woken up and wearing his pyjamas, he missed the tiger the first time but later redeemed himself and saved scared onlookers.
Perhaps the most defiant story of all happened in 1942 as Singapore surrendered to Japan, British colonials gathered at Raffles to dance and sing There Will Always Be An England.
Over the years the hotel has attracted the rich and famous and has become a national treasure.
It had a major overhaul, which took from March 1989 to September 1991 to restore it to its glamorous heyday of 1915 — at a cost of $160 million.
The Singapore government then declared it a national monument in 1987.
Mr Danker has a great photo album that features snaps of him with John Wayne who he describes as “soft spoken”, Michael Jackson as “very quiet” and the Queen, who he says was “charming”.
As well as Michener, there have been many writers who have been seduced by the charm of the hotel and become part of its history.
They include Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling, who once wrote “the food is as excellent as the rooms are bad” obviously he stayed pre-renovation days.
Some of the great experiences include a drink at the famous Writer’s Bar, which pays homage to literary luminaries who have stayed or written about the hotel.
Legend has it Maugham, who described the hotel as the legendary symbol for “all the fables of the exotic east”, worked all morning under a frangipani tree in the Palm Court, turning the whispers of gossip and scandal overheard at dinner parties into his famous stories.
The hotel is also known for its famous Singapore Sling cocktail, which was created at Raffles at the turn of the century by Hainanese-Chinese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon.
Originally the rose-coloured drink was created for women but today it’s enjoyed by all, especially tourists.
The original recipe is locked away, as well as the Sling recipe hastily jotted down on a bar-chit in 1936 by a visitor to the hotel who asked the waiter for it.
The hotel’s famous Long Bar, with earthy decor inspired by Malayan plantations of the 1920s, is a great place for a Singapore Sling — and the only place in Singapore where littering is allowed.
Patrons are encouraged to throw peanut shells on the floor, a tradition that harks back to colonial days.
For sheer indulgence, high tea in the Tiffin Room is another must.
It’s a great place to people watch as you enjoy delicious traditional savouries, desserts and scones, jam and clotted cream.
For curry fans enjoy lunch or dinner in the Tiffin Room. Founder Tigran Sarkies opened the original Tiffin Room at Raffles to provide a midday meal for those in the heart of the business district.
The Raffles spa offers indulgent treatments and relaxing massages and head to the pool for a dip after a busy day of shopping and sightseeing.
Raffles Hotel provides a welcome haven from bustling Singapore — from the moment you step through the front doors opened by handsome turbaned Sikh doormen in military-like dress into the light-filled lobby with beautiful flowers and a grand staircase.
Walk through the extensive grounds with manicured lawns and fountains and you will soon understand why Raffles has become an institution.
As I pull up a chair on the verandah and open Michener’s book, I am distracted by the rustle of palm trees in the breeze and birds singing, just like the author was all those years ago.
Where: Raffles Singapore is located in the heart of Singapore’s business and historic district. It is 20 minutes from Changi International Airport and a five-minute train ride on public transport MRT from Orchard Road. The restored hotel features 103 suites, extensive gardens, 15 restaurants and bars, eight indoor and outdoor function areas, gift shop, Raffles Spa and 35 shops. There is also a pool, outdoor spa and gym. Visit raffles.com/singapore