Turtle soup and buried treasure: Raffles Hotel launches guided tour before it closes for restoration

Turtle soup and buried treasure: Raffles Hotel launches guided tour before it closes for restoration
The main lobby of Raffles Hotel will be undergoing restoration from Aug 13.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Update (Aug 1): All tours have been booked out due to overwhelming response. Visitors who are interested can reach Raffles Hotel directly for enquiries about the tour.

SINGAPORE - Did you know? Turtle soup was served here at Raffles Hotel Singapore during the Silver Jubilee dinner of King George V in 1935.

But it's not the Chinese herbal turtle soup that we are familiar with. Instead, the "clear turtle soup" served then was an expensive Western soup that became so popular in the 1750s, that it was snapped, - or rather, slurped up - by the British royalty. 

This is just one of the quirky facts on display from the hotel's menus during 1900 to 1941 - a romantic era for the iconic landmark that stands along Beach Road. 

Menus from Raffles Hotel during 1900-1940s on display as part of the exhibition and guided tour "A Last, Lingering Look at an Icon".Photo: AsiaOne

The menus are part of an exhibition within the hotel where visitors can visit on a newly-launched guided tour by National Heritage Board (NHB) and Raffles Hotel Singapore. Held from Aug 1 to 12, visitors can trace the footsteps of many VIPs that have entered the doors of the hotel that once faced the sea. 

During the 1-hour tour, which will be conducted by a volunteer guide from NHB, guests and members of the public can get a glimpse into the wooden walkways and presidential suites of the grande dame before it closes for restoration on Aug 13.

The 130-year-old landmark is slated for phase two of its restoration, where its main lobby and a portion of hotel suites will undergo renovation. Raffles Hotel will close at the end of this year, before reopening in third quarter of 2018.

A last look at the iconic Raffles Hotel before it closes its doors for restoration

The tour "A Last, Lingering Look at an Icon" will run daily and costs $12 per person. Each visitor will also receive a jar of traditional blend kaya from Raffles Hotel.  

Besides learning about the history of Raffles Hotel through the crockery and food served during the early 1900s, guests will also hear about the rumours of hotel staff burying silverware at the hotel grounds when the Japanese soldiers took over the hotel during World War II, renaming it to Syonan Ryokan. It was said that they then dug it up after 1945.

One of the famous personalities who stayed there, among a long list of other interesting people, is author and Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling. He stayed at the hotel in 1889 for about a week when he was 24 years old, while he was making his way to Japan. Artefacts have been curated and displayed in a room to tell the story of Kipling's stay and visitors can find out more about the writer. 

Guests will also get to walk through the Sarkies Suite, where they can take one last look at the presidential suite that has played host to many famous personalities, such as Prince William and Kate Middleton during their visit in 2012, among many others.

The Sarkies Suite in Raffles Hotel before it undergoes restoration in August 2017.Photo: AsiaOne

This is the spot where visitors will step on handwoven Persian rugs for the last time and appreciate the antique furniture used here,  which will no longer be present after the restoration.

One of the bedrooms in the Sarkies Suite at Raffles Hotel. The antique furniture here will be removed after the restoration.Photo: AsiaOne

Raffles Hotel is one of the few remaining 19th century hotels in the world that is still functioning today. In fact, it was the only hotel in the Straits Settlement with electricity and ceiling fans, which were installed in 1903. 

According to director of sales and marketing at Raffles Hotel Ms Cheryl Ong, Raffles Hotel has long been an "internationally well-loved icon of Singapore". 

Madam Jean Wee, director of the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, added that the exhibition and tours brings to life some of the many stories of prominent personalities who left their imprints at the hotel.

"Aside from admiring its architectural beauty, visitors will also have the opportunity to explore spaces which are rarely opened to the public, before the building enters a new chapter in its history," said Madam Wee.

For more information on tour timings and bookings, click here.

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