Raffles Place, Singapore: Then and Now

Singapore - Raffles Place in the 1930s.

Singapore: Raffles Place in the 1930s.

In the spirit of national mourning for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, I kick off this blog with a post on the city Mr Lee built, which also happens to be my city.

The photos present Raffles Place in the 1930s and today – and they demonstrate starkly and eloquently Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy, as well as the phenomenal growth of Singapore from a colonial entrepot to today’s global trade and financial hub.

Raffles Place is the commercial heart of Singapore.  Known as Commercial Square in the 1820s, it was renamed in 1858 after the (British colonial) founder of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles; and it has held that name every since.

Throughout much of the 1900s, it was the centre of the major trading and banking corporations in the world, including the Standard Chartered Bank and the Hong Kong and Banking Corporation.  It was also the centre of retail, housing the premises of premiere departmental stores, Robinsons & Co. and John Little & Co., both of which still operate today.

The photo on top shows the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China building (the forerunner to Standard Chartered), with its distinctive dome and Neo-Classical architecture, at centre.  Immediately to the right is the John Little & Co. departmental store building, erected in an Ibero-Moorish style.

The photo below captures almost the exact same view, with the Standard Chartered Bank building standing exactly where it used to stand, but replaced by a towering, brown skyscraper.  At centre is the entrance to the Raffles Place MRT Station – MRT being Singapore’s underground public rail system – built to recall the facade of John Little & Co.

The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia will be available after April 15, 2015 at all major bookstores and featured hotels in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, major museums in Singapore and on http://www.amazon.co.uk.  

Singapore - Raffles Place Today

Singapore: Raffles Place today.

Steamships, Grand Hotels and Port Cities in Southeast Asia

The Romance of the Grand Tour

Dear Readers,

After two and a half years of working on this, my new book, The Romance of Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia is finally to be launched on 15th April, 2015 in my home city of Singapore.

It is a new coffee table book celebrating the Grand Tour of Southeast Asia in the 1920s. Retracing the journey of those grand tourists of the ‘20s, the book takes today’s traveller through 12 fabled port cities in what was then known as the East Indies.

Setting sail from Rangoon (Yangon), we visit Penang, Malacca, Singapore, Batavia (Jakarta), Surabaya, Bangkok, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Phnom Penh, Hanoi and Manila before disembarking at Hong Kong harbour.

Each chapter presents a historical and photographic overview of the city’s old town, colonial precincts and living cultural heritage, drawing on archival images, maps and accounts, as well as contemporary photos.

In each city, we also stop at the city’s grand colonial hotel – the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang and the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, to name a few. 

As part of the on-going marketing and publicity campaign for the book, I am starting this new blog, where in the course of the year, I shall be posting images, photographs, maps and quotes from my book; interesting stories related to the “making of” the book; book events in the region, AND – as a plus – images, quotes, bits of history that are related to the history of travel, or to the 12 port cities in my book, but which did not make it into the “final cut.”

Welcome on board ship… and to a year of history, nostalgic and excitement!


Kennie Ting