Planning a Singapore staycation? A staycation is a perfect way to enjoy all the perks of staying in a hotel, without the hassle of long-haul travel. Shamus Sillar staycations in two hotels located at opposite ends of Little India’s main thoroughfare to see what’s on offer.
Hilton Garden Inn
Snap quiz: Name a location in Singapore where you’ll find lots of hotels. I’m guessing you answered Sentosa, Orchard Road or Marina Bay. Maybe Chinatown. Either way, I doubt many (or any) of you mentioned Little India.
No surprise. Until recently, there hasn’t been much in this part of the island aside from a handful of budget lodgings and backpacker joints. In fact, the newly opened Hilton Garden Inn Serangoon Singapore, which I recently called home for a couple of nights, is the only international brand hotel in all of Little India.
It’s right in the heart of the neighbourhood, too. My room – a comfortable King Deluxe with City View – overlooked the famous Sri Veeramakaliamman temple, constructed almost a century and a half ago, and dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali. She’s popular in Bengal, where many of those who worked on the temple were from.
The area may have plenty of history, but the Hilton has an eye firmly on the future. My check-in, for example, was done electronically – and before I even arrived at the property. This was via the free Hilton Honors mobile app, which also allows you to choose your exact room when booking; it shows the configuration of each floor, so you can opt to be in a corner room or away from the lifts – handy for light sleepers! Then, a day or so before my arrival, I received an email telling me I could check-in with the app, a process that took all of two minutes.
The techy touches continued during my stay, as my smartphone became my hotel access tool. So, instead of fumbling around in my wallet looking for a plastic key amidst a stack of expired coffee-shop punchcards, I just clicked on the app while standing close to my door and I was in. My phone also gave me elevator access, and it would theoretically have let me in to the small 24-hour gymnasium, if I’d had any desire to exercise with so many brilliant curry houses in the surrounding streets. (Muthu’s, Mustard and Banana Leaf Apolo are three big names just a stone’s throw away.)
Unassuming & Effective
Though it has over 300 rooms, the hotel isn’t a grand affair. The Garden Inn brand is a more modest product in Hilton’s range of properties, and what it brings as a result is very competitive room rates – prices at the Singapore hotel start from under $150. That’s a third of many of the fancier places in town. If you’re looking for luxury touches, high-end service and fine dining restaurants, you’ll perhaps prefer the island’s other Hilton – the “grand old dame” on Orchard Road.
The Garden Inn does a great job within its moderate parameters. The DIY approach with check-in and keys extends to snacks and beverages; instead of a mini-bar with a tiny handful of set items, there’s the 24-hour Pavilion Pantry next to the lobby, which offers a range of nibbles, noodles, cold drinks and travel essentials to buy at any time of the day or night – it’s useful for satisfying the cravings of hungry travellers (and especially handy if you’re hunting a few takeaway beers after the 7Elevens have locked their fridges!).
The outdoor pool on the eighth level is small, but it comes with impressive city views. Breakfast is served in the room just next to the pool, and it can get squishy at peak hour in the mornings. But here’s where you can take advantage of one of the hotel’s main selling points: the restaurants of Little India are a minute’s walk away. My tip: stroll across to famous Komala Vilas on Serangoon Road for the 7am opening, and order an idli set or a veggie samosa, with a cup of chai – it’s a $4 breakfast of champions.
Taking It All
In After breakfast, you can explore more of the area on foot before the crowds arrive for the day; the shops may not have opened, but the many temples and markets will be busy and bustling. It’s a fantastic time for taking photos, too, with the sun low in the sky providing plenty of angles and shadows.
Soon enough, the heat of the day will drive you back into the air-conditioning, like it did to me. But I continued to take in the sights and sounds of Little India from the comfort of the bay-window bench seat in my room, while cracking on with some work. (There’s a workstation with an ergonomic chair, if you prefer, and the Wi-Fi is free and fast.)
It’s for this reason that room choice is important at the Hilton Garden Inn. I strongly suggest you pay extra for a City View room, or one of the Balcony rooms – and ideally on a high floor; the vista that takes in the aforementioned Sri Veeramakaliamman temple, along with colourful Serangoon Road (decorated with Deepavali ornaments during my stay), the countless red-roofed shophouses, the CBD and Marina Bay Sands beyond is impressive.
For a staycation, or if you have family or friends who are visiting Singapore (and who don’t need all the pampering of a high-end hotel), this is a quirky place to stay, smack-dab in a culturally interesting part of the city.
3 Belilios Road 6491 0500 | singaporeserangoon.hgi.com
I f you happen to suffer from a bout of insomnia at One Farrer Hotel & Spa, just go shopping! The hotel is located in the up-and-coming Farrer Park area in the northeast of Little India, with the Mustafa Centre just a few minutes’ walk away. Mustafa is open 24 hours a day, so even at 3am you can pick up a ten-pack of vanilla-scented hair conditioner, or a DVD of a classic 1980s Bollywood film.
Trust me, though, you won’t have insomnia while staying here. This is one of the most comfortable sleeping experiences I’ve had in a hotel – the bed, the linen, the mood lighting and the seamless controls (electronic blinds and curtains) all ooze luxury.
One Farrer’s 243 rooms are divided across three sections, or “Hotels within a Hotel”: the Urban Hotel, the Loft Apartments, and, in the highest part of the 20-storey building, the Skyline Hotel & Sky Villas. I stayed in the latter, in a chic Skyline Studio (from $440), which I highly recommend. It gave me access to a slew of great “club-style” benefits, from newspapers and meeting room access, to garment pressing and more. I didn’t take advantage of any of those, but I certainly made the most of the exclusive access to the Skyline Lounge and Terrace, which offers five free light-meal sittings a day, plus wines and other drinks. The service here is fantastic – a special shout-out to Malik, who’s as friendly and mellow a hotel employee as you’ll find.
Hotels with in-house farms are flavour of the month (pun intended), but many consist of nothing more than a tiny plot of herbs that occasionally get used to garnish a cocktail at the lobby bar.
There’s a farm at One Farrer, too – called (what else?) The Farm, but it’s the real deal. For one thing, it’s massive: over 11,000 square feet of garden beds, orchards and trellises, located on an outdoor mezzanine on the hotel’s seventh level. And it’s a proper working farm. I took an impromptu tour and came across two resident horticulturalists who were busy watering, pruning and planting seedlings. I saw everything from kale and cauliflower to pineapples and limes, plus plenty of plants at the more exotic end of the spectrum: kedodong (a common ingredient in rojak, I’m told), jambu (tasty, crunchy red fruit sometimes referred to as wax apple) and chiku (used, like durian, in cakes and ice cream), to name a few.
All these goodies are freshly plucked for use in the hotel’s restaurants, of course, but The Farm is utilised in other fab foodie ways, too. Groups of six or more can book a private alfresco barbecue amidst the papayas and passionfruit (menus from $88 per person); or you can sign up for a canning and preserving class (from $60 for two sessions), where you get to make a couple of jars of pickles of your choice – peaches, plums or onions, for example – following old-school recipes.
Loads more classes are offered at One Farrer through its high-tech food cooking studio, Origins of Food. I like the sound of the “Market to Table” class, which includes a visit to the nearby Tekka Market followed by a session using the fresh ingredients you’ve handpicked from the stalls to create the dishes.
If you’re a carnivore, all this talk of fruit and veg might be making you nervous. Fear not! One Farrer does great meaty dishes, too. I spent a fantastic night beside the pool at the breezy Sunset Bar, enjoying a Luau feast. (The hotel’s chairman has family ties to Hawaii, and you’ll find items on various menus throughout the property paying homage to the state.) Even if you’re not staycationing here, it’s worth coming along with friends for the smoky, spicy treats on offer – from Hawaiaan pupus (small bites) including crispy crab wontons and panko prawn balls with jalapeños, to giant platters of meat and seafood expertly grilled on the barbecue. Wash it all down with a Suffering Bastard, a famous tiki cocktail consisting of rum, orange curaçao, orgeat syrup, Demarara sugar and lime – the latter ingredient fresh from The Farm, no doubt.
The Farm is just one green zone in a property that boasts loads of them: 14 gardens over its 20 levels, including a reflexology walk, water features, a palm orchard and more. It’s surely part of the reason why this hotel exudes such a serene vibe.
Adding to this feel is the curated selection of artwork – a permanent collection of more than 700 pieces of original contemporary art by emerging and established artists from Singapore and the region. You’ll find these everywhere, from the wall of your room to the hallway on each floor. My favourites included Golden Harvest No. 2 by Thai artist Songwoot Kaewvisit, a vibrant and colourful depiction of farmers threshing rice, and a 3D display of Cambodian shadow puppets made by puppeteer Mann Kosal. There are some wonderful antique carpets too, including a massive one in the lobby. It all makes the walk back to your room after a splash in the beautiful outdoor swimming pool much more interesting.
Speaking of pools, there is a second one up on Level 18, for the use of anyone staying in the Skyline Hotel & Sky Villas. The wonderful spa on the sixth floor is open to all guests, and while I didn’t have a chance for a treatment, a couple of my Expat Living colleagues have done so in the past and raved.
I did take the opportunity to spend some time in the Japanese onsen-style area just next to the spa. These hot baths and plunge pools are pristinely maintained and ultra-relaxing – just another welcome aspect of a hotel that feels like it lives up to its goal of striving to nourish the body and soul.
1 Farrer Park Station Road 6363 0101 | onefarrer.com
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