FRV Travel goes to Singapore on a budget and finds some amazing bargains, excellent street food and a great holiday away.
Text David Trauts & Photos Trauts and Hotel Clover
The first time I arrived in Singapore was by ship in 1973. I was a young lad on a stopover travelling with my father to London. The first thing that hit me was the raw, pungent smell of the place and the extreme heat. Man, it was uncomfortable. The last time I arrived was by train from Bangkok in 2006 and I was annoyed by the incessant road works everywhere that made getting around a real challenge. This time, arriving by air on an Air Asia flight from Jakarta, I was knocked out with how modern the city had become – it was so dazzling in its modernity. This was the new world, right from when you get off the plane and all the way into the centre of town.
After all the planning and toil over the past years it appears Singapore has come into its own; easy to get around, clean, leafy, organized and one has to admit, expensive. However, there is no way you are going to receive such great services and infrastructure without someone paying for them, and that’s exactly what you do when you are in Singapore from start to finish.
This time I was travelling with my own son to the city state, on a well disguised mini-holiday to renew his Indonesian visa. I also had some business to do so we thought we would make a trip of it, but funds were not plentiful so I hunted around for reasonably priced accommodation. Singapore real estate has gone through the roof, just like most of Southeast Asia, and hotel prices definitely reflect that more than ever. I came across an interesting looking hotel by the name of Hotel Clover The Arts near Clark Quay and booked it for two nights. I was in Jakarta and flew in to meet my son Jon as he arrived from Bali. Next, we were the quintessential tourists arriving at Changi Airport, trying to find our way to this newly opened, fourth hotel from the Hotel Clover group in downtown Singapore.
On the flight, I read about the Singapore Tourist Card in the Air Asia 360 magazine and thought the use-when-you-want local transport card for tourists at a price of S$30 for three days (and they give back a ten dollar deposit when you return the card) could be well worth the investment. I did recall the prices of taxis being rather high, so after finding out where the hotel was, we bought the card and were off on the next MRT train.
The MRT system has come a long way in the past few years and thinking back to my visit in 2006 and all the road works I encountered at that time, I realized that it must have been the construction of this magnificent rapid transport system getting in the way. Racing into town on this modern network was an exciting experience after living in laid-back Indonesia for so many years, and a lot more exciting than being stuck in the traffic jams on the main roads into town.Click to view slideshow.
the best food stalls are judged by the length of the queue so just jump on the end of the longest line you can find.
I must admit I was expecting a larger hotel entrance than what greeted us at the Hotel Clover The Arts, but it was modern, new, and like most things in Singapore, a very practical experience. What were once shophouses and later small offices of Chinatown have been converted into 44 rooms with the nifty idea of utilizing local art students to enliven the theme of each room in an individual style. Some are painted and others air-brushed into novel and fresh looks including pande bears, Mount Fuji, urban graffiti and pop art themes. While you are enjoying the art you may well forget how tight the rooms are, but I have to say the bed was exquisite in its comfiness.
The location is also very handy for any tourist to Singapore and so is the free/fast Wi-Fi. Breakfast also rocks. Sited right between Boat and Clark Quays, with the new-look Circular Road right next door offering some great street food, the hotel is greatly positioned. Try the Steamboat at Tom Yum Kungfu on Circular Road for around S$40 for two people, and simple Chinese food at Golden Café over the road from The Vault, a restaurant/bar which also offers tasty western dishes and after-work beers for the local expat community. Clark Quay has also cleaned up a lot since the last time I was there and is now an incredible nightlife attraction with restaurants, bars and clubs busy seven nights a week. A beautiful, almost space age, umbrella-like roof hangs over the central pedestrian areas offering shade during the day and protection from rain. Watch out for the price of drinks though as a mixed drink will set you back S$20.
It’s said that there are over one million tourists in Singapore on any given day, and there are plenty of attractions on offer such as the famous Singapore Zoo, Gardens by the Bay, the Singapore Flyer, S.E.A Aquarium and some of the world’s greatest shopping in an abundance of malls and shopping streets all over the city. However, in my mind, the food and especially the street food is the star attraction. Just near the Hotel Clover The Arts is one of the busiest and best hawker buildings in Chinatown, called the Hong Lim Market and Food Centre, on Upper Hokkien Street. We couldn’t keep away and tried a number of stalls over the couple of days there. It’s easy to find the best food stalls by the length of the queue standing out the front of them so don’t be scared, just jump on the end of the longest line you can find. And remember, they don’t supply free tissues or paper napkins so buy your own at the stalls selling drinks. Delicious noodles, wanton, curries, kwetiau, fried rice, you name it, it’s all there to be devoured and savoured for around S$5 each.
It’s claimed that Singapore is the most expensive city in the world, but if you look for bargains it doesn’t have to be that way. Prices at Hotel Clover The Arts start at S$172 for singles and S$197 for doubles. The Tourist Pass for free transport over three days, available at MRT stations, is only S$30. Meals in the hawker stalls approximately S$5. As you can see it is not all that costly and it leaves a fist of dollars for that all important shopping!