If you want a comfortable, fuss-free stay on the doorstep of Kampong Glam, you could do worse than spend the night at The Sultan hotel - an elegant row of conserved shophouses in Jalan Sultan.
The Sultan Room ($160), where I stay for a night, is not as majestic as its name suggests. But it has a pleasant, classy decor and feels spacious, thanks to the high ceiling.
A whiff of disinfectant reminds me of a dentist's clinic, but I am comforted by the knowledge that the room is probably as "squeaky SG clean" as its website says it is.
The room is starting to show signs of age, and could use a better view - the window faces an air well. Nor is there a swimming pool. But I am not too bothered by these, since I plan to spend most of my time exploring the historic area.
Kampong Glam on a Monday afternoon, I discover, is a sleepy place. Schoolgirls file out of Alsagoff Arab School. A man at Sarvan's Carpets mends a Persian carpet with needle and thread. Roosters take a jaunt down a back lane, under the watchful eye of a cat. Every few hours, the call to prayer from Sultan Mosque rings through the air.
I stumble into The Heritage Shop, which is crammed with curios and bric-a-brac, from tiffin carriers to vintage ice kacang machines. Also worth checking out are the Coda Culture art space and The Gallery by Clay Journey, where, if you are lucky, ceramic artist Steven Low will let you play the drums with him.
Strolling past the historic shophouses of Kampong Glam, I am reminded of its history as a hub of Malay and Islamic culture. At the same time, I notice the gentrification and feel a sense of loss - gone are the old pondoks (communal lodging houses), craftsmen and blacksmiths. Gedung Kuning, the yellow mansion that once housed a prince, is now an interactive-game space.
At night, Haji Lane is abuzz with the drinking crowd, and I wind up at the Oriental Elixir, a well-hidden watering hole. When I step in, I am greeted by Filipino folk music and shelf upon shelf of jars with flavours as exotic as kangaroo.
Marion, the chatty bartender, says he will concoct something based on my preferences (there is no drinks menu). I ask for something "spiced, subtle and sophisticated", and when he hands me my drink ($25) - a mix of gins, thyme, turmeric, lemongrass, wormwood and ginseng, I am not disappointed.
Back in my hotel room, I get ready for a good night's sleep (the bathroom has a glass-enclosed rain shower and the water is warm).
At around 7.50am, I am awakened by the doorbell - breakfast, 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Due to Covid-19, guests order breakfast in advance and have it delivered to their room at a time of their choosing. My meal consists of juice and fish porridge topped, to my delight, with plenty of ginger and caramelised shallots.
WHERE: 101 Jalan Sultan
RATES: Starting at $143 for a Standard Double Room. There are early-bird and minimum-stay discounts if you book on the hotel’s website. Check-in and check-out times are 2pm and noon respectively – call the hotel to ask if you can check in early. Also, you can upgrade to a better room or change your check-out time to 6pm, free of charge.
I appreciate The Sultan's understated design, brisk service and the lobby building's history as the former site of Harmy Press and AlAhmadiah Press, but the star attraction is its location. If you need a psychological reset button, this might be just what you are looking for.
HOT TIP: Consider booking a Standard Double Room, which entitles you to a free upgrade to a Sultan Room, or a free 6pm check-out.