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Singapore’s Raffles Hotel to get 18-month facelift

Travelling light A long-overdue biography of Harry de Windt (1856-1933) has just been published in Britain, and will be released in the United States next month. One of the lesser-known but most interesting travel writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this French-born Englishman was already exploring Borneo at the age of 16, working as aide-de-camp to his brother-in-law, the second White Rajah of Sarawak. His second visit to the tropics was described in On the Equator (1882), written when he was in his early 20s. It contained some useful tips for other young men setting out to explore the world. “Nothing is more embarrassing than a large amount of luggage,” he advised. Travelling with only “one small overland trunk, one small portmanteau for cabin use on board ship, and a gun-case” – at a time when tourists would routinely set out with small library trunks, collapsible rubber bathtubs and portable beds just to visit the French Riviera – he was the Victorian forerunner of the modern backpacker.

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Some of de Windt’s later journeys were described in From Pekin to Calais by Land (1889), A Ride to India (1891) and From Paris to New York by Land (1903). That last trip took him across Siberia (for the fourth or fifth time) in search of a potential overland route between the Russian Far East and North America – something now being actively re-examined by China and Russia. Going to Extremes: The Adventurous Life of Harry de Windt, by Stephen Wade, is available at Amazon.co.uk. Several books by de Windt, including those mentioned above, can be downloaded cheaply or free of charge, either for Kindle at Amazon.com or from the iBooks store.

Raffles renewal Singapore’s Raffles Hotel, which turns 130 this year, will embark upon extensive renovations in January. The work will be undertaken gradually until the end of 2017, when the hotel will close until mid-2018. General man­ager Simon Hirst is quoted in a press release as saying the work will be “designed to ensure that we retain what is so special about Raffles Hotel Singapore – the ambi­ance, the service, the charm and the heritage of the hotel”. That’s a more upbeat apprai­sal than was offered to the media by Roberto Pregarz, when the hotel closed for a two-year restoration in 1989.

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The long-serving general man­ager, who famously turned the struggling prop­erty’s fortunes around in the 1970s and 80s, bemoaned the impending loss of the hotel’s “heart and soul” before all staff were laid off, the famous Long Bar was removed from the lobby and turned into a noisy second-floor theme pub, and accommodation rates were quadrupled on reopening in 1991. The renovation met with some disappointing reviews. The Los Angeles Times was damning with faint praise in a 1992 article, which concluded that “the new Raffles is by no means a terrible place. Its shiny decor will eventually soften and fade, and in 20 years or so the place may get worn and creaky and attain, once again, the seasoned comfort befitting a grand old colonial hotel”. And just as that quarter-century patina begins to glow, of course, another facelift begins.

Bali breakout Upmarket Japanese ryokan operator Hoshino Resorts is opening its first property outside Japan. Hoshinoya Bali will be ready for guests sometime this year, according to its website. Bringing “Japanese elements” to the Indonesian island, the new resort will be located by the Pakerisan river, in Ubud, with 30 rooms, a restaurant and a spa with pool. Visit www.hoshinoresorts.com more information and opening news.

Deal of the week Business-class flights with Dragonair to the Cambodian capital and two nights accommodation are offered from HK$4,750 with Charlotte Travel’s Phnom Penh package. Most of the sub-HK$5,000 hotels on offer aren’t worth considering, but three familiar favourites – the Intercontinental, Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra and Raffles Hotel Le Royal – are available from HK$5,890 to HK$6,850 per person, twin share. For details and reservations, scroll down to International Packages at www.charlottetravel.com.hk.