SINGAPORE - Rebranded from budget chain Fragrance Hotel last year, Ibis Budget Singapore Imperial in Lavender has had a much-needed facelift.
Gone are the lurid purple walls, cushions and bed runners, replaced by simple yet modern decor such as brightly coloured murals in the lobby, and neutral cream and beige tones in the rooms. A rooftop pool is temporarily closed.
So it's cheap, but is it comfortable?
Crisp sheets and plush pillows ensure a restful sleep. There is not much of a view - my room overlooks a back alley - but there is close to zero traffic noise during my stay. Keep curtains closed for privacy.
I do not meet other guests - who include those on stay-home notice, foreign workers and those affected by Malaysia's movement control order - but I hear them throughout the day.
Indian music wafts from next door and Chinese accents boom through the walls. A team of cleaning staff, whom I spot each time I leave the room, makes its rounds conscientiously.
What else is there to do?
Design your own jewellery dish, clock or coffee table at Room to Imagine, a studio specialising in acrylic and resin-pour art workshops.
Located in a shophouse in Jalan Besar about a 10-minute walk away, it offers workshops that are beginner-friendly with rewarding results. I am no Picasso, but manage to turn out an attractive pearlescent silver-and-coral coffee table when I did a class earlier this year.
Plant lovers should stop by Jungalore in Tyrwhitt Road, with a curated selection of popular house plants. Staff dole out helpful advice for newbie plant owners and you can also pick up an adorable planter to house your little green friend.
You've saved on a stay, now indulge in a good meal.
For breakfast, stop by new cafe Out To Chill, which opened just outside the hotel in October and serves mains such as burgers and breakfast sets. It has partnered the Association for Persons with Special Needs Delta Senior School to give students with mild intellectual disabilities an opportunity to gain work experience.
As a fan of streetside barbecue joints in China, I am delighted to find that China Tastes in Tyrwhitt Road tops lamb, beef and pork skewers with the same delicious spice-and-garlic blend. A pair of skewers starts at $2.
Round off the meal with a platter of la zi ji ($15.80) or deep-fried chicken with Sichuan chilli peppers, addictively crisp with just enough heat.
The fast-gentrifying Jalan Besar neighbourhood is ripe for cafe-hopping, with stops like iconic coffee joint Chye Seng Huat and vintage-chic Wimbly Lu, known for light and crispy waffles.
Verdict: Hidden gem or budget disaster?
The Ibis brand, part of hotel group Accor, assures cleanliness and a certain standard - though some may be leery about staying in close quarters with guests who have just returned from abroad.
Bookmark the hotel for a few months down the road, when crowds may have eased.
Ibis Budget Singapore Imperial
WHERE 28 Penhas Road
INFO Accor's website
RATES Standard rooms start at $90. Sign up for the Accor Live Limitless programme for 10 per cent off bookings made through the app. Membership is free.
This staycation was hosted by the hotel. For more staycation reviews, go to str.sg/SuiteLife.