Singapore's real estate is among the dearest in the world. Few of us can actually afford to own real estate. Public housing falls under the purview of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) which has been responsible for providing relatively cheaper low-cost housing. Some 80% of Singapore's population live in HDB flats, with ownership limited to a 99-year lease. Singapore is short on land, despite large scale reclamation programmes with sand bought from our neighbours. Thus, accommodation is priced accordingly and tends to reach skywards. Visitors to the island can expect to pay among the highest room rates in Asia, less than in Tokyo, and certainly more than in Hong Kong.
From backyard hostels for backpackers to luxurious old world palaces, from dorm beds to luxuriant gardens overlooking private pools, a range of options beckon, although those with thick wallets will feel more at home... Our hotel picks for Singapore all have immediate access to MRT stations (Mass Rapid Transport). We prefer historic districts to the shopping centres of Orchard Road, which are anyhow just a few stations away. Although the Marina has a number of palatial offerings, the area tends to be on the quiet side and a little far from MRT stations. We have been looking for a SGD 100 hotel with pool and a convenient location, but we are still looking...
#66A & 66B Pagoda Street, Chinatown, Singapore - Tel: 6222 4955
SGD 15 to SGD 25
Crowd: Backpackers looking for a hostel with trimmings
Go for: Cuddly hostel with thoughtful finishing touches
A beary good day to you... The cuddly polar bear cub welcomes you to the heart of Chinatown. The hostel is a reflection of its beary good website. Less than a year old, the cub has not made it to the usual guidebooks, but is slowing garnering attention on traveler's forums. It is cute, thoughtful, well laid out and practical. Thirsty? Have some coffee, tea, chocolate, all day. How about some breakfast before you hit the city? Need to make a local call? Surf the net with your laptop? A Beary Good Hostel is a backpacker's haven, thus dependent on guests' hygiene and body odour. Still the bear cub does its best at making you feel comfy with air conditioning, clean individual showers, fresh linen and pillows, a small common kitchen, lockers for personal belongings. And it's non-smoking! A beary good night to you, beary nice...
#1A Cuscaden Road, Singapore - Tel 6738 2222
SGD 195 to SGD 480
Crowd: Comfort cats wary of the financial crisis
Go for: Luxury trimmings at a fair price (for Singapore!)
The Traders Hotel is run by the Hong Kong based luxury chain Shangri La, and is fairly typical of the Asian luxury hospitality business. Traders is marketed for the value conscious traveler who presumably does not mind comfort at a reasonable price so as to withstand the financial crisis. The Traders Hotel is certainly not a bargain, but worth the money when taking into account special offers and advance booking. The Orchard MRT is a good ten minute walk, but more interesting is the close proximity of the Botanic Gardens which are convenient for strolls, runs and some much needed fresh air. Facilities include fully equipped pool, steam bath, sauna, health spa, gymnasium, which are much needed after gorging oneself at the overabundant buffets. Another worthy contender in our Comfort Picks category is the Carlton Hotel located in the historic district.
Carlton Hotel Singapore
#76 Bras Basah Road, Singapore - Tel 6338 8333
SGD 200 to SGD 350
Crowd: Pajama cats in baba-nyona slippers
Go for: Comfort in the heart of the historic district
The Carlton Hotel Singapore's strong point is its central location in proximity of two MRT stations (City Hall and Bras Basah), opposite Chimes, the once Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, turned food and beverage courtyard. Visitors looking for a bit of fast disappearing Old Asia charm will enjoy a leisurely stroll in the neighbourhood. The Bras Basah complex provides opportunities for arts supplies and down to earth shopping. The Singapore Art Museum is within sight, live Hindu temples and a little further on Arab Street and Bugis. The Carlton is a comfortable hotel with a welcoming pool, gym and sauna. Another worthy contender in our Comfort Picks category is the Traders Hotel closer to Orchard Road and the Botanic Gardens.
#1 Beach Road, Singapore - Tel 6337 1886
SGD 490 to SGD 7800 (shy of eight thousand Singapore dollars for the presidential suite)
Crowd: Jet setters, movie stars, royalties and people whose bills are settled by their companies
Go for: Old charm luxury
The Raffles Hotel in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Beijing are steep in their respective country's history. Raffles in Singapore is the mothership of these historic monuments. The list of famous guests, not including the nouveau riche adorning the cover of people's magazines, is as long as Gnarfgnarf's travel diaries. The Raffles building is old enough to have ghostly legends. Starting as a ten room hotel in 1887 where Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad slept, ate and drank, Raffles quickly expanded to its familiar neo-renaissance main building. The beginning of the XXth century saw Singapore's last tiger hunted down in the Bar and Billiard Room. A few years later, the Singapore Sling and the Million Dollar Cocktails were born, a tad too sweet and expensive for our taste but aficionado will enjoy the Long Bar. W. Somerset Maugham, Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Elizabeth II have all enjoyed the luxuries of this officially designated national monument. In a landscape cluttered with luxurious offerings, there may be better value for the money savvy, larger swimming pools, more varied shopping malls, higher tech suites etc. But Raffles remains our compulsory historic pick for Singapore. Other worthy contenders in our Luxury Pick category include the Fairmont, conveniently located next to an MRT station, shops and landmarks in the historic district, the Shangri-La with its boisterous tropical gardens and pools, and the Fullerton, another Singapore historic icon.
Eating at Singapore's hawker centres, while affordable and in the main hygienically safe (as tap water in Singapore is potable), has become something of a trendy pastime, along side role playing games, viewing independent films d'auteur, collecting 1980s memorabilia etc. Every Singaporean has his or her own favourites, unbeknownst to all others, hidden mom and pop toiling to make egg noodles with bare hands and sweat, with accompanying anecdotes taller than the famed merlion. On a relatively reasonable budget, and equipped with a strong stomach and a sense of adventure, visitors may explore and discover their favourite hawkers as well.
Our hawker centre picks are: Newton, Serangoon (appropriately named Chomp Chomp), Adam Road and Maxwell Road.
Great chai tau kueh (Fried Carrot/Turnip Cake) is served at both Newton and Chomp Chomp. This dish is fabulous! Pieces of turnip are violently tossed about in a huge wok with eggs, pickled vegetables and garlic! Bust your diet and boost your cholesterol but don't miss this fantastic dish. Price - around SGD 3.
Try the murtabak at Adam Road Hawker Centre. This is an Indian pancake filled with minced mutton, onions and more onions. Fried till crispy on a heated pan by chubby Indian chefs. Served with a curry dip. Fabulous! Price - around SGD 3.
Feast on barbequed seafood at Newton Hawker Centre. Competition is extremely stiff but prices never go as low as they should. Do not bother choosing from the many stalls there. You will be approached by hoards of walk-around waiters. Try the crayfish, tiger prawns, stingray and clams. All very yummy. Expect to pay more for shelled items. Watch out for the final bill as it may sting more than a ray.
Pig-out on kueh chap at Maxwell Road. Kueh chap is a porky dish so it is non-halal. Flattened and square noodly things are drowned in a strong brown pork broth. Very tasty. Served with hard boiled eggs, bean curd and various piggy body parts, ranging from intestines to fatty skin. Not sure if you can get trotters and ears but check with the chef. Price - depends which body parts you choose. Price - around SGD 3.
Down some teh tarik (tea that has been pulled) to dilute your breath. This interesting drink is sweet and milky. Watch the chef as he repeatedly pours the tea into a mug placed as low as where his knee is. If he is a true expert, not a drop of tea is wasted. Appreciate the naturally generated froth. Have a few mugs, this is latte Singapore style! Price - around SGD 2.
A Beary Good Hostel
Hawker Centre Picks
Chai Tau Kueh