SINGAPORE - I step into the cavernous lobby in Shangri-La Hotel with a heavy heart.
The once-bustling hotel seems like an enervated, hollowed-out shell.
If not for the chirpy welcoming committee of three hotel staff from the front desk, the silence is almost deafening.
I check in on a Thursday two weeks ago at noon for the Valley Wing Indulgence staycation package at one of the hotel's 26 Valley Wing suites.
My suite on the 14th floor of the wing comprises two outsized adjoining rooms - one for watching TV and the other for hitting the sack.
In the chinoiserie-inflected suite, there are artisanal chocolates cradled in a three-tier lacquer box, a bulging fruit basket, complimentary champagne (pity, I am allergic to alcohol) and a gorgeous bouquet. And there is just one more thing.
"You need to call your personal butler to arrange for a rose-petal bath," advises one of the concierge staff, smiling as she shuts the door.
What a to-do.
A few minutes later, my 1.8m-tall butler appears with a tray of freshly plucked rose petals and proceeds to replicate a Roman bath experience.
It coaxes out long-suppressed hedonistic urges I never knew toiled and moiled deep within.
"Your bath is ready, ma'am," says Mr M. Govindasamy, beaming. The 42-year-old has been a Valley Wing butler for two years, I learn.
The delicate scent of fresh roses, the afternoon soak and the quietude of the luxury suite is strangely bracing.
After a quick lunch in my suite while Mr Govindasamy deftly sets up my office laptop and even fixes a faulty mouse, I feel a new spring in my step and get ready to ferret out more experiential gems in the hotel's sprawling grounds.
I am not disappointed.
Shangri-La, which boasts more than 60,000 sq m of landscaped gardens, is home to more than 130,000 plants, flowers and trees from 110 botanical varieties.
I while away the late, lazy afternoon following the undulating pathway - from the Garden Atrium to the pool gardens - gasping at majestic, towering banyan and ficus trees.
Guests who book the Garden Wing Staycation and Fun Family Playcation packages get a picnic basket delivered to their rooms on arrival to soak in the sun and sights while dining amid greenery.
After my much-needed tryst with nature, I snoop around the rest of the hotel grounds, exploring the lobby of the Tower Wing, with its Tree Canopy installation by Japanese designer Hirotoshi Sawada, crafted with thousands of cascading stylised leaves, and the hotel's iconic waterfall koi pond.
I spot families with young children - a mix of expatriates and locals - cavorting and screaming in delight in the hotel's pools; love-lorn couples - both young and old - hugging the corners of the hotel wings for privacy; and the ubiquitous businessman, always glued to his mobile phone.
It dawns on me that this is not so much a staycation as a retreat from routine.
Surrounded by people from every part of the globe, albeit not in the usual numbers pre-Covid-19, it feels like I have gone on wing'd flight and left Singapore for some far-flung tourist haunt.
I must admit I had come with mixed feelings. I initially reacted with aversion to all things that threatened to render my visit sterile, such as hand sanitisers, masks and a woeful lack of buzz.
But by dinnertime, I felt a palpable sense of rejuvenation at the Origin Grill, dining on salmon baked in a paper bag.
I did not have to leave Singapore to sate my wanderlust. Just getting away from it all for a short spell can work wonders, despite Covid-19's ravages.
My mind revisits the words of James Hilton, the British author who introduced the literary world in 1933 to his mythical "Shangri-La" valley, hidden deep in the Himalayan mountain range, in his novel Lost Horizon.
"(In Shangri-La) it is our tradition... that we are never slaves to tradition. We have no rigidities, no inexorable rules."
• Hot tip: Unwind with the Valley Wing Indulgence package's 90-minute Chi spa session for two worth $470++. Also check with the concierge for access to the massive buds children's wonderland for endless fun.
SHANGRI-LA HOTEL SINGAPORE
Where: 22 Orange Grove Road
Rooms: 792 (only the Garden and Valley wings are available for bookings)
Rates: From $345++ for deluxe rooms and $660++ for suites