Competition is fierce among hotels in the Garden City, driven by a steady stream of business and convention travelers, many of whom stay at international hotel chains such as Hyatt, Hilton, Sheraton, and Marriott (all represented here). These companies invest millions in a never-ending cycle of renovations, constantly upgrading their super-royal-regal executive facilities, all in an attempt to lure suits and CEOs and -- eventually, it is hoped -- land lucrative corporate accounts.
Sadly, this means that good-quality budget accommodations are not a high priority on the island. Between the business community's demand for luxury on the one hand and the inflated Singaporean real estate market on the other, room prices tend to be high. What this means for leisure travelers is that you may end up paying for a business center you'll never use or a 24-hour stress-reliever masseuse you'll never call -- and all this without the benefit of a corporate discount rate.
Don't fret, though: I'm here to tell you that there's a range of accommodations out there -- you just have to know where to look. I'll help you pick the right accommodations for you, based on your vacation goals and your budget, so you can make the most of your stay.
Choosing Your Neighborhood
In considering where you'll stay, think about what you'll be doing in Singapore -- that way, you can choose a hotel that's close to the particular action that suits you. (On the other hand, because Singapore is a small place and public transportation is excellent, really nothing's ever too far away.)
Orchard Road has the largest cluster of hotels in the city and is right in the heart of Singaporean shopping mania -- the malls and wide sidewalks where locals and tourists stroll to see and be seen. The Historic District has hotels that are near museums and sights, while those in Marina Bay center more around the business professionals who come to Singapore for Suntec City, the giant convention and exhibition center located there. These hotels in Marina Bay overlook the bay, the Singapore Flyer, and the Harbor, offering some of the best views in town. Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar have some lovely boutique hotels in quaint back streets, and Shenton Way has a couple of high-rise places for the convenience of people doing business in the downtown business district. On a strict budget, but want to be close to the center of things? Check out my recommendations on and around Bencoolen Street for decent backpacker stops. Many hotels have free morning and evening shuttle buses to Orchard Road, Suntec City, and Shenton Way. I've also listed two hotels on Sentosa, an island to the south that's a popular day or weekend trip for many Singaporeans and might be a good choice for families or honeymooners. (It's connected to Singapore by a causeway, cable cars, and a light-rail system.) Remember, Singapore isn't huge and has myriad transport options, so nothing's ever really far away.
Sentosa Island -- Sentosa's island getaway gets bigger every year, with new attractions, hotels, and facilities being added all the time. Thanks to a huge land reclamation and building project, the island itself is expanding geographically, too. Sentosa's hotels are geared toward couples on romantic breaks and young families, attracted by the beach resort feel and the accessibility of the city.
Choosing Your Home Away From Home
What appeals to you? A big, flashy, internationalist palace or a small, homier place? Hyatt, Sheraton, Hilton, and InterContinental are just a few of the international chain hotels you will find in Singapore. For the most part, these city hotels are nondescript towers -- though Swissôtel The Stamford has the distinction of being the tallest hotel in Southeast Asia, with 71 floors. A few exceptions stand out. The Shangri-La, operating a highly reputable luxury hotel chain in Asia, has a property near Orchard Road with gorgeous landscaped grounds and a pool area, making it truly a resort inside the city. Meanwhile, Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort and the Sentosa Resort & Spa on Sentosa Island are out-of-the-way but have a real "get-away-from-it-all" ambience. In addition, a few hotels offer charming accommodations in historical premises. The most notable is Raffles, a Southeast Asian classic, and the Fullerton Hotel Singapore, converted from the old general post office building. But you need not pay a fortune for quaint digs. Budget places like Albert Court Hotel and the SHA Villa offer budget rooms with old-world charm in great locations.
A newer trend is the boutique hotel. Conceived as part of the Urban Restoration Authority's renewal plans, rows of old shophouses and historic buildings in ethnic areas like Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar have been restored and transformed into small, lovely hotels. Places like the Scarlet Hotel and the Inn at Temple Street are beautiful examples of local flavor turned into quaint accommodations. Others, like the trendy New Majestic, focus on art and design, with rooms dramatically different from each other and from the usual corporate tones of tan and beige that predominate in the city's high-rises. Although these places can put you closer to the heart of Singapore, they do have their drawbacks -- for one, both the hotels and their rooms tend to be smaller than their modern counterparts, and due to building codes and a lack of space, most are unable to provide facilities like swimming pools, Jacuzzis, or fitness centers.
Although budget hotels have very limited facilities and simpler interior style, you can always expect a clean room. What's more, service can sometimes be more personal in smaller hotels, where front desk staff has fewer faces to recognize and is accustomed to helping guests with the sorts of things a business center or concierge would handle in a larger hotel. Par for the course, many of the guests in these places are backpackers, and mostly Western backpackers, at that. However, you will see some regional folks staying in these places. Note: The budget accommodations listed here are places decent enough for any standards. While cheaper digs are available, the rooms can be dreary and depressing, musty and old, or downright sleazy.
Unless you choose one of the extreme budget hotels, there are some standard features you can expect to find everywhere. Although no hotels offer a courtesy car or limousine, many have courtesy shuttles to popular parts of town. Security key cards are catching on, and while in-room safes are standard, many are shifting to safes that incorporate a plug so you can charge electronics gadgets while they're locked away. You'll also see in-house movies and, many times, CNN, ESPN, and HBO on your TV. Voice mail is gaining popularity, and fax services can always be provided upon request. You'll find most places have adequate fitness center facilities, almost all of which offer a range of massage treatments -- hotels generally do not offer in-room massage treatments. Pools tend to be on the small side, and Jacuzzis are often placed in men's and women's locker rooms, making it impossible for couples to use them together. Although tour desks can be found in some lobbies, car-rental desks are nonexistent.
Many of the finest restaurants in Singapore are located in hotels, either operated by the hotel directly or just inhabiting rented space. Some hotels host five or six restaurants, each serving a different cuisine. Generally, you can expect these restaurants to be more expensive than places located outside hotels. In each hotel review, the distinguished restaurants have been noted.
Making Hotel Reservations Online -- The website www.asiarooms.com offers the best rates I've seen for Internet bookings, particularly for hotels in the Very Expensive and Expensive categories; however, they don't have deals for every hotel property. It's worth it to browse and compare.
Making Reservations on the Ground -- If you are not able to make a reservation before your trip, a reservation service is available at Changi International Airport. The Singapore Hotel Association operates desks in all three main terminals, with reservation services based upon room availability for many hotels. Reservation lines are open 24 hours: Terminal 1 tel. 65/6542-6966; Terminal 2 tel. 65/6545-0318; Terminal 3 tel. 65/6542-0442.
For a "Little Red Dot," Singapore gets big visitor numbers. Hotel prices -- already comparatively expensive for Asia -- continued to set records in 2007, when occupancy rates hit an all-time high of 87%. With room rates rising more than 20% year-on-year and an average room now breaking the S$200 ($134/£90) barrier for the first time, this can be a tough destination for travelers on a budget. As more and more hotels move away from the rack rate system of published room prices, it can be difficult to compare value, so although some rack rates are included here, there are plenty of promotional rates on offer. A little research can really pay off, leaving your expensive hotel costing less on a particular date than a so-called moderate hotel. If you've decided where you want to stay, make sure you call in advance and ask what special deals are available. Also check out hotel discount websites on the Internet (such as www.asiarooms.com), though they don't list every hotel. Places that have just completed renovation programs tend to offer good discounts, and many business-orientated hotels have special rates for weekends and longer stays.
Rates shown here represent the price of a standard double room in high season, booked via the Internet. For the purposes of this guide, I've divided hotels into these categories: very expensive, S$450 (US$302/£203) and up; expensive, S$300 to S$450 (US$201-US$302/£135-£203); moderate, S$200 to S$300 (US$134-US$201/£90-£135); and inexpensive, under S$200 (US$134/£90).
Taxes & Service Charges -- All rates listed are in Singapore dollars, with U.S. dollar and British pound equivalents provided as well (remember to check the exchange rate when you're planning, though, because rates fluctuate). Most rates do not include the so-called "++" taxes and charges: the 10% service charge and 7% goods and services tax (GST). Keep these in mind when figuring your budget. Some budget hotels will quote discount rates inclusive of all taxes, and Internet sites normally include taxes.
The Busy Season
Busy season? It's all busy season in Singapore, with month-by-month occupancy rates holding steady over 80%. Visitors are advised to book rooms well in advance, and check with the Singapore Tourism Board to make sure there are no huge conventions in town during your dates. That said, probably the worst time to find a last-minute room or to negotiate a favorable rate will be between Christmas and the Chinese New Year, when folks travel on vacation and to see their families.