The Mandarin Orchard is arguably Singapore’s most iconic hotel, standing imperiously over the famed shopping and business district of Orchard Road for well over thirty years. I’ve been accused of being ridiculously impartial to this hotel because of sentimental reasons- my family has been longtime guests at the Mandarin since the days of my grandparents, who have long ago passed. Admittedly, there are countless treasured family memories here, but isn’t that exactly one of the qualities that makes a hotel legendary? That intangible ability to become home to generations of families, generations of corporations and the ability to evolve with a fast changing world without losing its core identity?
With two sky high towers, the Mandarin Orchard has well over one thousand guest rooms to choose from, each wing with slightly differing characters, one more contemporary and the other more traditional. But the Mandarin experience begins long before entering any room; it begins the moment you arrive at the formal yet welcoming front entrance, flanked by several traditionally attired attendants who will always be ready for you with a genuine smile and quick hand to help carry luggage, a baby stroller or to help grandma get out of the car. Does my impartiality begin at the door? Sure, considering the same Indian Singaporean man has greeted me at those doors since I was two years old.
Swaths of marble and a swoosh of cool air greet guests inside, as does a most comforting level of bustling activity- the guests checking in and out conversing with cheong-sam clad front desk ladies, the din of the Mandarin’s numerous restaurants serving deliciously fragrant food, the background jazzy tones and the clickety clack of heels reverberating on the expansive floor. A lightning quick elevator ride to the thirty something floor later, I step into a tranquil hallway with plush carpeting and I am overwhelmed by that oh so sweet, familiar scent that can only be described as the Mandarin scent. It’s on every guest room floor and only in those hallowed halls where that scent fills my nostrils, enveloping me in a joy that words fail to describe.
Guest suites are impeccably dressed, in a blend of gold and silver tones and contemporary furnishing with accents that are acutely Asian. These are rooms created for savvy travelers who demand luxury at just barely affordable prices. A basket of fresh tropical fruit awaits in each room, a small but detailed touch that makes this gargantuan hotel seem like a boutique bed and breakfast. Modern amenities are at fingertips while fluffy pillows and plush sofas await tired limbs. Did I mention that the views from every angle are breathtaking? All of Singapore sits below in one glance.
While the Mandarin has countless award winning restaurants that each deserve rapt attention, in room dining for breakfast cannot be missed under any circumstances. The hotel’s Congee (rice porridge) has been a Singapore legend since time began. Yes, it’s that good. My grandfather used to refuse to stay elsewhere in Singapore just because of this Congee. When you have the chance to journey through the culinary tour in the hotel, take your sweet time to indulge in everything the hotel has to offer from authentic Singaporean favorites to dim sum to decadent desserts worthy of being any traveler’s obsession.
So while family and friends have dragged me to stay in Singapore’s newer and glitzier hotels, inevitably, I come back to the Mandarin. It’s huge; it has the most enviable location right in the heart of Orchard Road; it houses numerous restaurants; it has some of the world’s largest ballrooms; it has a lovely swimming pool; it has its in house galleria of world class shopping; the list goes on and on. All of those are reasons I come back. None of those reasons are why I love this hotel. There’s so much to be said for a place where people have come in and out through the years, where changes have happened, where marriages have taken place and birthdays celebrated, where Christmas and Chinese New Year are done right, corporations grown and political campaigns rallied. But there is no price tag on a place where the spirit of generations of both Singaporeans and world travelers have lingered indefinitely, continuing to build an iconic legend.