SINGAPORE - 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 put up for a night, isn't 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'm also 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 some signs of its age, and could use a better view - the window faces an airwell. Nor is there a swimming pool. But I am not too bothered by any of this, since I plan to spend most of my time exploring the historic area.
Kampong Glam on a Monday afternoon, I come to discover, is a sleepy place. Schoolgirls file out of the 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 (Antiques & Collectibles), which is crammed with curios and bric and brac, from tiffin carriers to old lunar calendars and vintage ice kacang machines. Also worth a visit are the Coda Culture art space and The Gallery by Clay Journey in Sultan Arts Village, 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.
The outdoor Gelam Gallery in Muscat Street is a honeypot for the cafe-hopping Instagram crowd, drawn to the art on the alley walls.
At night, Haji Lane is abuzz with the drinking crowd, and I wind up at Oriental Elixir, a watering hole so well-hidden I wouldn't have known about it if not for Google. Tip: enter via Bergs Gourmet Burgers and go up the stairs. When I step in, I am greeted by the strains of Filipino folk music and shelf upon shelf of jars with flavours as exotic as durian, kangaroo and blue cheese. 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).
Around 7.50am, I am awakened by the doorbell - breakfast, 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Due to Covid-19, guests order their breakfast in advance, and have it delivered to their rooms 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.
The hotel's One Bowl Restaurant and Bar is one of my favourite things about the place. For lunch, I pick the set meal ($14.80++), which features chef Tammie Loke's signature char siew noodles. I am sad to learn that the restaurant will be closing at the end of October.
I appreciate The Sultan's elegant, understated design, the brisk service and the lobby building's history as the former site of Harmy Press and Al-Ahmadiah Press. But the star attraction is its location.
Would I do this staycation again? I don't know - nothing quite beats the comfort of my own home. Still, if you need a psychological reset button, this might be just what you are looking for.
Where: 101 Jalan Sultan
Info: The Sultan website
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 either upgrade to a better room, or change your checkout time to 6pm, free of charge.
Hot tip: Guests who want to take advantage of the room upgrade should note that the room type that is one tier above the Sultan Room is in a section of the hotel that is currently closed. Consider booking a Standard Double Room (via the hotel website), which entitles you to a free upgrade to a Sultan Room, or a free 6pm check-out.