Tuesday, 31 March 2009



Today has been a success in every way. We managed to film three good features, have fun ... oh ... and I holed a 20 foot putt ... on camera! Yay!

I met the boys at 0730 at reception. The clouds looked angry -- very black ... very threatening ... as it turned out, these clouds were kittens and all they wanted was to play, not to cause any grief. I did not rain a drop!

First up, we headed to the Orchard Road (main shopping fare in Sinagpore) and to the Estheva spa. Here I had a chocolate massage. My therapist Chow Yet Wah melted some 100% cocao chocolate. While still warm and runny, she poured it onto my back and started the massage process. The scent was wonderful, the feeling was delicious but sadly I was not allowed to even taste the chocolate. This chocolate has 4 times the anti-oxidants of green tea and as a massage "oil", is anti-ageing ... i'll have 4 bars please. The treatment was excellent. I still feel uneasy about spas ... tv-spa wife needed ... cv's by email please! haha!

Next up - golf. We drove up to the Raffles Country Club ... 30 minutes from the city centre and just 3 miles from Malaysia. We met up with Albert Khor - the general manager - who took us round the course. I am not a golfer ... but I try ... my drives were good - putting fabulous ... the middle bits needed help. Albert is a wonderful fellow - full of golfing anecdotes. I can't wait to play the full course some day. There are two courses and there are crocodiles and iguanas (we filmed one) roaming the bunkers and fairways! excellent!

Hold on, pizza has arrived. Looks yummy ... :)

It was!

The last feature of the day was great, great, GREAT fun - a polo lesson at the Singapore Polo Club. By this time of the afternoon, the sun was REALLY beating down, the humid was nigh and I was hot! hot! hot! Met up with the GM of the club Torrey Dorsey - fabulous fellow. There are approximately 1200 members here - with regular chukkas throughout the year. The facilities are superb - clubhouse, swimming pool, tennis court, training areas, stables and of course the field. I had a one hour lesson on a lovely pony called Tucoza. My tutor Fattar Khan is a 4-goaler. I thoroughly enjoyed the riding, the swinging of the mallet ... everything. I wasn't bad .. I wasn't good BUT this is the new golf for me! When I get home ... it's loads of riding lessons for me!

I met a couple of cats as well at the stables - Ginger and Smokey ... gorgeous!

Got back to the hotel for a drink with GM Pierre ... he's a fan of the Trevallon wine too! If you have not heard of this, you must try it. A wine from Provence ...

It's our last night in Singapore - the boys have gone out to have some fun. We still have filming tomorrow but they have worked so hard.

I am lucky, I have a bottle of Pinot, a jacuzzi run by Rahmat (butler/friend) and a few hours to spare! YAY!YAY!

Songs of the Day: Jump - Madonna ... oh! and The Romantics - Talking in Your Sleep
Weather: Awesome

i still need a TV wife for spas!
but i will play the golf
and the polo
"dr" rahmat
that's us that is!

Monday, 30 March 2009

It is 2 am and once again I am here instead of being in bed! I am listening to "I'm Slightly Mad" by Freddie Mercury. I know how he feels ...

It started off as a tough & difficult day BUT all is well and back in harmony.

I fell back in "love" with Raffles today .. more on that later.

I got an answer ... the whisky from Tasmania is called Sullivan's Cove. It's excellent.

The "angel" is called Rahmat ... my butler here at The Sarkies Suite. He ensures that I have Strepsils for my sore throat, hot water drinks everywhere, that I don't get lost around the hotel ... and that my clothes are tidied up! I certainly would be in a stress without him.

OK - so up early again - as today it's "Raffles Day".

We film the drive up to the hotel ... in the 1960's Daimler Classic limo. Very refined. Sarjit the doorman is there to greet me. He's a legend here. The facade of the hotel is one of the most famous in the world. The address is Beach Road ... the property used to be at the waterfront but land reclamation means that the hotel is some 500 metres from the sea now.

The hotel opened in 1887 as a 10 bedroom "Beach House" ... was bought by the Sarkies Brothers and turned into this iconic hotel. In 1987 it was awarded National Monument status ... it now boasts 103 suites ... It would be fair to say that like The Ritz in London, Taj in Mumbai and Peninsula in Hong Kong ... Raffles is THE hotel landmark in Singapore. With such greatness ... comes even greater responsibility.

It's very different here to The Fullerton. While there it's a "new" product, here it's a real step back in time with a very long & well-documented history as a hotel - and its a tough call to uphold the tradition - keeping the history in place while also updating the product can't be easy.

We met up with Leslie Danker - the hotel's historian. He has been here over 35 years, the ONLY member of staff here before, during and after the major refurbishment of 1989 that lasted 2 years or so. He knows EVERYTHING about the hotel. The museum is excellent and full of photos that tell the story ... and what a story. Bankruptcy, wars, tigers being shot in the bar, Hollywood stars, writers ... Raffles has seen it all in over 120 years.

The hotel has a new General Manager for the past 5 months - Pierre Jochem. This hotel is in need of some TLC and he is the right man to do it. We interviewed him in my lounge ... more on that on Wednesday - when we actually get to film the dining room. bedrooms, bathrooms etc. As you may have gathered I LOVE my hotels and I have come across some that have lost it, some that have it all and some that need a tweak. I am 100% sure that with Mr Jochem at the helm, within a matter of weeks, Raffles will be once again the world beater that it has been for so many decades. Pierre gets "it".

Off to the Long Bar. In around 1915 - a couple of years before I was born - a chap called Ngiam Tong Boon created the Singapore Sling. The mix of gin, cherry liquer, pineapple juice, cointreau, benedictine and grenadine was originally a hidden secret ... but soon got out and is one of the most popular cocktails in the world. The home of it though will ALWAYS be Raffles - Long Bar. It costs around £13 (SG$25 ++) and is pink and is really a ladies drink BUT it's a MUST! WIth Jimmy the Barman at his best, I supped a couple ... yum!

The last feature of the day was at The Raffles Culinary Academy ... the cooking school. Tim ALWAYS groans when we film a food feature as I am so inept in the kitchen, it's scary. Today I managed to turn Singapore's most famous dish - the mud crab in chilli sauce - into a gloop AND a chocolate fondant into ... a sad stodgy mess. Chefs Wilson Fam and Gael Etrillard were VERY patient ... but I think were slightly peturbed at my culinary mischief. Thank you guys! I will be posting all my recipes on a new page on the site later this month.

My issues with all things digital came to the fore today. I lost most of the photos from my disk - for now ... James assures me that he has copies on his proper camera. SO more tomorrow!

BIG thanks today to Iori - who has been brilliant in getting us from A to B ... and finally to G - while feeding us with smiles and hot water!

Tomorrow is going to be painful ... and pleasurable. I feel it.


Song of the Day: Someone Somewhere in Summertime - Simple Minds (from the Live in the City of Light album)

Weather: healthy

i can't cook!
i try to cook!
a warm welcome!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

There IS a God! And he/she rules the weather. Actually my name - Varun - is derived from the name Varuna who is the "God of Water" in Hinduism ... (basically I am a big drip! haha). Anyway - the Great Weatherman In The Sky answered all my prayers ... will explain more later.

Arose quite early feeling quite dreadful. Have had a tickly cough for a week now and air-conditioning does not help ... but everywhere in Singapore needs a/c as the climate is such ... i have never drunk so much hot water, lemon and honey in my life! grrrrr!

Breakfast - disaster.

The sun was shining ... and the sky was blue and the heat was of Victoria's Secrets 2009 Calendar proportions. We were driven in the hotel 1962 Rolls limo to Kepple Marina around 10 minutes away. We met up with Caroline Ko who runs a yacht charter company. We sailed to Sentosa and to the Two Sisters (islands) ... and enjoyed the gorgeous weather. It was brilliant! The boat - Sea Duction - is a 44 foot Catarmaran ... very easy on the eye and those who lack sea-legs (me). For around US$1500 you can enjoy a 4 hour cruise ... its wonderful. A fact I didn't know until today ... Malaysia is just 300 metres from Singapore and Indonesia just 3 miles ....

The boys then spent most of the afternoon filming Singapore ... all the little detailed stuff like the statues of its "founder" Sir Stamford Raffles ... the Flyer and the F1 areas ... the night race will take place in September ... I am VERY tempted to be here for that!

Around 4.30 p.m., there were HUGE claps of thunder then it started raining for 2 hours! And when I mean rain, I mean whoooooooosh - droplets the size of rocks and lightning that lit up the sky like a firework display awesome! This was BRILLIANT for us ... as we popped up to the Four Seasons to film a tennis segment on the ONLY indoor air conditioned courts in Singapore! It filmed FANTASTICALLY! From the rain to tennis --- this would not have worked in sunshine! After being beaten into a sweaty frenzy by the club pro, I headed up to the 20th floor of the hotel for a quick neck and head massage from Sumitra - one of the sweetest people you will ever meet. She is here for a few months from the Chiang Mai property in Thailand. She is small and shy BUT she has the power of 12 rampaging elephants. She removed the knots in my shoulders in just minutes and I feel relaxed now!

We had a spot of dinner in the hotel with the PR Adaline and (sports) Club director Eloise. It was a PERFECT evening!

Back here at Raffles an "angel" has pressed all my clothes, has laid on hot drinks,has left me a bottle of 12 year McCallan, has left on the radio with the best 80's music, tidied up my messy desk and left a bottle of soya milk in my fridge ... I will investigate this tomorrow! Fabulous!

Tomorrow will be extreme so it's a relatively early night for me ...

Songs of The Day: Don't Stop the Dance - Bryan Ferry and Wicked Game - Chris Isaak (two today as I have been spoilt for choice!)

Weather: Extreme

super boat

super powers

super smash

super sumitra

Saturday, 28 March 2009

I am a wee late with the diary today ... too much work, too much fun ... too little sleep ...

The day started awfully as we checked out of The Fullerton. You know that song "I left my heart in San Francisco"? ... well I leave a little part of me everywhere I stay and a slightly larger part was left with the lovely friends that run that hotel.

Tim came up with the "tv wife" moniker and today the poor victim is Marina from CrocMedia - a PR company over here. She eats & drinks luxury and is therefore the perfect person to show me around town.

First up - Host. On Clarke Quay, this is a private dining room that hosts wine lunches & dinners. The "host" today was David Coleman who set up this excellent event where we tasted wines from New Zealand, Italy, Hungary and one with grapes from Japan. He says that you can't change the taste of the wine in the bottle BUT you can change the taste of the food that you serve it with so he has Claudia the chef on hand to prepare excellent dishes that complement the wine perfectly. She was last at Rockpool (Neil Perry) in Sydney so she knows her stuff. We drank, ate and laughed a lot ... I even tried a whisky from Tasmania that is "the best whisky outside Scotland" .. I am very sad to report that my sleep-deprived mind has completely forgotten the brand ... hopefully I will remember ... hmmmmm. David runs a company that imports wines from all over the world. There is no "cheap" wine here as there is an SG$8 tax on every bottle of alcohol ... BUT the charge is the same for a bottle of Cava as it is for a vintage Dom Perignon ...

We then checked into our next hotel - the world famous Raffles. We were greeted by a huge turbaned doorman dressed in full uniform. Its been a while since I have been here ... and you know, nothing seems to have changed. It smells the same (wonderful)AND looks the same (unique). My Suite - Sarkies - is enormous. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining room, lounge, kitchen and huge outdoor verandah. Staying here is like stepping into another era - the Raj. It's a culture shock ... but not a bad one. More on the hotel on Monday when I review it fully.

Anyway, next up, Marina led us to the Singapore Flyer! This is currently the world's tallest Wheel - 165 metres tall - 30 more than the London Eye. Each revolution takes 30 minutes and of course gives you spectacular views of the city. It's also rather romantic - completely wasted on me then! haha!

Finally, we ended up at The Prime Society. It's in an area on Dempsey Road that is filled with restaurants, bars & clubs. Prime Society is the brainchild of entrepreneur Ingrid Prasatya - aka Prime Princess. PS serves THE best steak in Singapore (so I am told ... I don't eat beef!). The actual restaurant is built in former army barracks and has enormously high ceilings. I had baby pork ribs and french fries (with ketchup). The fries I have had in Singapore have not been good BUT this all changed here. Truly scrumptious!

The big suprise of the night was my dear friend Carolyn turning up with husband - Stu - to say "hello". The MOST wonderful thing about my job is seeing friends all over the world and spending time with Carolyn in Singapore will make me smile for the rest of the trip!

The hospitality at PS is just perfect. The Princess treated us like royalty ... which is what she is trying to achieve and why she has her name!! It's a kind of wierd concept BUT it works -- excellently.

Anyway, "Saturday TV wife" and I are now "divorced" ... I wonder who it will be tomorrow! Ha!

Song of the Day: Still got the Blues - Gary Moore

Weather: hot hot hot!

tim fiddling with my "saturday tv wife"

my dear friend carolyn

the princess (& the beast!)

a drink problem

Friday, 27 March 2009

Today was superb because not only did we get everything done (Tim mentioned that we filled a 14 hour day) BUT the sun was shining from 0700 to 1900hrs ... and it was hot! This is the Singapore that I love! NO RAIN!

An early start as today is "film the whole hotel day". We started with an interview with the General Manager Louis Sailer. He's worked in Singapore for over a decade(in stages) and not only knows everyone but is known BY everyone. We filmed in the Straits Room on the 4th floor of the hotel. This room was part of the Singapore Club and it's very ornate ... with corniching on the ceiling, elaborate light fittings ... a wonderful place to have a formal dinner ... or formal interview. Louis gets "it".

We spent the rest of the morning filming in places like the Post Room (bar that used to be part of the Post Office), the restaurants, outdoor infinity swimming pool (SUPERB) and general areas. The hotel is full of character & characters and films very nicely. The Fullerton Building was built in 1928 ... and on January 1st 2001 (after a $400 million dollar refurb) opened as the hotel with 400 rooms and suites.

There is a private elevator in my Suite ... there is now a single armchair in there ... this is "luxury". It's the "small things" that make that word real.

Part of the filming was with the Concierge, Lynn ... who has become my "tv wife". She arranged a few feature excursions for us ... not only the cruise down the Singapore River yesterday but this afternoon we visited two boutiques ... Chopard - that has its Asian flagship store here in Singapore and then Rossi - where they tailor men's shirts & suits. We are not talking a 8 hour low quality back-room, Rossi is all about taste and choice ... and Daniel Lum talked me through the real way of being measured for clothes and of course having them made up. I was shocked to film that my neck size is now 16.5 ... eek ... i need to diet! I am up a collar size in a year!!!!!!! No more fries for me. We were chauffeured around town in a vintage Rolls-Royce which was a real head-turner.

We spent a while filming on the hotel roof which gave us excellent views of Singapore - in bright sunlight. There is a lot to see & do here ... I hope we have time to do it all.

We wrapped up the day on Singapore's famous night safari. My expectations were actually quite low ... but thankfully exceeded by the show that is put on and yours truly was dragged on stage to meet a rather large snake. You'll have to see more of that on the show ... needless to say that "Maggie" the boa was a "loving creature". Lynn was with me everywhere today ... a highly entertaining and knowledgeable lady!

Later in the evening, I popped into the "Butter Factory", a local nightspot - to celebrate Time Out magazine birthday. Once again its an amazing venue ... very chic and full of people who just want fun. There are NO drugs here in Singapore ... alochol duty is enormous and residents are not even allowed to bring alcohol & cigarettes into the country through Duty Free ... the fun here is "clean" ... quite refreshing.

We leave The Fullerton early tomorrow. This hotel gets "it". My team has been VERY impressed by the service, the staff and the atmosphere. The F&B manager Errol is omnipresent (sometimes scarily so) and the PR lady Carolyn is one in a million ... we are going to miss her. I love The Fullerton - what else can I say?

Song of the Day: Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd

Weather: Stunning (LM)

daniel - the shirt man

tea in the pool

my tv "wife" Lynn

the armchair in the elevator - EXCELLENT!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

You know, I adore sleep! I love sleep! I would marry sleep if I could. Sadly, sleep is not marriage material, does not love me and in fact plays games with me. It's just gone 1.15 am ... and I am still wide awake ... miserable, depressed and in need of ... sleep.

I did get a 30 minute power nap yesterday lunchtime ... which I think the boys found rather amusing.

Yesterday (as it now is) was frantically exhausting ... the first day of filming ... but we achieved a huge amount so we are VERY happy.

At 0830 we arrived at Jade - the hotel's famous Chinese restaurant - for a lesson in how to cook Peking Duck ... at least 5 ways ... with Chef Leong. He's a young fellow - a Cantonese speaking Malaysian who lives here. His English is great -- but soft -- my Cantonese is non-existent BUT we still managed an entertaining cooking feature.

The most prized part of the duck is the crispy skin and a small layer of the meat. This is turned into the "roasted peking duck with marinated orange peel, zesty hoisin sauce and cucumber wrapped with pancake". As with yesterday, this dish is awesome. The orange peel gives it such a fabulous taste.

The other dishes include a steamed chawanmushi with diced duck meat, duck bone consomme, sauteed duck with foie gras (I am NOT a fan) an finally a "crispy money bag filled with friend rice and duck meat" ... yum! The actual menu contains two other, non-duck related dishes. I have been told that the menu is a HUGE hit in Singapore and I can see/taste why ... those duck spring pancakes ......

We then started filming my suite - complete with air-conditioned verandah, private elevator, state of the art music and tv centre and of course Shahar - the Butler who is actually more like a friend. I have had a bad throat for a couple of days and whenever I turn around, Shahar is there with hot lemon and honey. Dude!

The Singapore Tourist Board has been very kind to us on this trip facilitating us with guides and transport. Even though the show is all about luxury, we try to do a nice segment on the history & geography of the destination.

Our guide Toon Hee & the driver Johnny took us around some of the more ethnic areas - Little India, Little Arabia and Chinatown - which all help tell the story of Singapore ...

What now follows is a brief history/geography lesson in Singapore. If I have made any errors, PLEASE tell me ... its better that I right them now .. rather than on the show!

Singapore is an island city-state located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Its 710 square kiloemetres in size (ever expanding through reclamation). Its the smallest nation in Asia but the largest of the three sovereign city-states in the world (other two are Monaco & The Vatican in Rome.Singapore is made up of 63 islands.

The name Singapore derives from the Sanskrit words - Singa and Pura or Lion City. The island was originally called Tamesak (Sea Town) ... when a Prince, Sang Nila Utama - who had taken over the area - apparently saw a lion in the area (14th Century) and renamed it Singapura. The motif for Singapore is the head of lion, body of the fish - denoting The Lion City and its humble beginnings as a sea town.

Although a port visited by traders from India, Malay, China and Europe, by the 19th century, Singapore was on a decline. Sir Stamford Raffles - a visionary from the East India Company - arrived on 29th January 1819 and started Singapore on a path that would see her become one of the greatest financial and cultural cities in the world.

The British influence is clear to see - road-signs, architecture etc - but with areas like Chinatown, Little India and Little Arabia - there's also a HUGE ethnic influence as well. There are approimately 5 million people in Singapore ... most Residents (70%) the rest being foreigners from India, Europe and the rest of Asia.

Following WW2, Singapore became a self-governing state within the British Empire in 1959. She gained full independence from Britain in 1963 and in 1965 became independent from Malaysia too. The driving force behind this was a chap called Lee Kuan Yew.

Sir Stamford Raffles has left his legacy for all to see with roads, hotels and hospitals names after him.

Local currency - the dollar - 2 Singapore dollar to the British pound ... and this place is HUGELY expensive for alcohol! HUGELY!

The country has a tropical rainforest climate ... so real seasons ... and at the moment, it's hot & humid! Lots of linen clothing!

ANYWAY - after the lessons from Toon Hee, I was joined by Lynn (hotel concierge) and Shahar for a boat trip down the Singapore River. This is A MUST -- especially at dusk when the city comes alight ... not in Hong Kong fashion ... but it's still spectacular. The Fullerton REALLY lights up ....

OK - loads more planned over the next few days. For now - I will TRY & sleep.

I did go out last night for drinks at a local hotel where the views of Singapore were just magnificent! Apparently the hotel is currently the tallest in Asia ...
It wasn't the greatest evening ever BUT it was lovely to see that the Singaporeans take their fun seriously - even mid-week!

Party on Singapore!

Song of the Day: Love In an Elevator - Aerosmith

Weather - Hot & Humid

the boys in "little somewhere"

"the" finest butler in the world - Shahar

a power nap - THANK YOU ANZ!

erm - a dead duck?

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

So - I have arrived in Singapore. I feel like I have been travelling for days ... which in fact I have ... you get my drift!

The flight from London was just over 12 and a quarter hours ... it was pretty uneventful and I did - as usual - snore most of the way. The A380 is a BEAST of a plane ... rather ugly ... with its two decks, I felt more like an animal on the way to the abbatoir rather than a traveller on the world's most advanced passenger aircraft ...

Changi Airport is awesome. We arrived in the new terminal (that takes the A380) and got through customs & immigration within 20 minutes. Usually - with our 60 kgs excess luggage and film carnets - this process can take upwards of an hour.

I did see a brilliant sign (see below) that made me smile - were they talking about me??

We guffawed for ages after Tim went through customs. The officer looked at his passport photo, then him and said "this is not you ... you are more hairy & plump in real life"!

The drive from the airport was entertaining as Henry (the driver) filled us in with the history, geography and economy of Singapore. More on that tomorrow when I am 100% alive.

I am currently sitting at my desk in The Presidential Suite at The Fullerton ... I have only been in the hotel for a matter of hours and I have already tasted the finest Peking Duck EVER ... and tomorrow I am getting a masterclass on how to prepare this - my favourite Chinese dish! Yum!

The Fullerton (Building) was built in 1928 ... and was home to the Post Office, The Singapore Club and other government departments. It opened as a hotel on January 1st 2001 - has 400 rooms & suites and superb views of the Singapore River.

My suite has a "baby-Grand" piano, a huge bedroom ... butler called Shahara ... and glass enclosed verandah. It used to be the card room for the Singapore Club ... I am rubbish at all card games including "snap" ... I did try poker once ... but lost all my money on the first hand ... hmmm ...

Tomorrow, I will have a good root around the hotel and get to meet its General Manager - the legendary - Louis Sailer ...

It's VERY exciting being in Singapore - it's been a while. We have a pretty packed itinerary for the next few days ... polo, golf, food, shopping ... more food ... zoos, gardens ... phew! I think I need more sleep ... the gym is open 24/7 here ... maybe a quick walk before bedtime .. or I could answer all those emails ...

Apologies again for the photos - I have this Sony point & click contraption which I have yet to master. I love technology, technology doesn't like me ...

that's me apparently


the desk!


the baby grand

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

I was recently asked the question, which is more important: the journey or the destination. Well, the answer for me is ALWAYS the destination. So I won't bother with the journey today!

Tim (cameraman) & James (assistant) will be at Heathrow in a matter of minutes ... and later we will fly off to Singapore to start filming the new series! See you there ...!

Song of the Day: I Promised You a Miracle - Simple Minds
Weather: Cold but clear

Monday, 23 March 2009

A New Series, A New Blog for 2009

Dear Friends,

It's 2009 and Inside Luxury Travel is going on the road again .. for a new series ...

I will be writing a new daily diary ... to follow this, PLEASE head over to


Tim is still behind the camera but in this series, is joined by James ...

see you soon and thank you for reading!

Varun :)

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Beginning (again)...

In four days time I head off to Singapore to start filming for the new series.

Oli (web supremo) has designed this new diary system...and today is just a test to make sure it works. Soon there will be a music player, photos & video...

But for now...

Song of the Day: Absolute - Scritti Politti
Weather: Cool but sunny
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