After a 04:00am wake-up in Bangkok we board a cramped flight to Singapore and navigate the city’s metro system during sweltering midday heats. Our arrival to Clover 33 Jalan Sultan felt more like an arrival to a sensual spa, than just another urban hotel experience with soft spotlighting, therapeutic aromas and sedate ambiance. Concrete completely surrounds us, yet we feel hidden in a tropical haven of calm within a conserved shophouse complex on the fringe of Singapore’s Bugis Heritage area. This is just one of five distinctly unique accommodations under this new boutique brand as Hotel Clover, in Singapore, are popping up thick-and-fast. Their first hotel doors opened just three years ago, in 2012, and they are now one-to-watch in Asia as their expansion reaches next to our own area of Asoke in Bangkok, then on to Shanghai. It’s all quite exciting.
The Garden Suite
During our stay we are in the Garden Suite which brings a mix of design from Southeast Asia with rich tones, native hardwoods and handpicked art pieces and batik silks. To me it also felt slightly Japanese with its asymmetric balance, tatami-like wall panels and robo-toilets (Japanese washlets). On each side of the room are private, connecting garden areas which I don’t fully appreciate until the first morning when I wake to the sounds of birds chirping as the sun beats on the leafy canopies just outside the shutter windows. It feels more like waking in a forest bungalow, than a concrete metropolitan sprawl. The city feels miles away as I sneak to the garden area for my morning coffee and complimentary M&Ms from the free minibar.
The Bugis Heritage Area
I start exploring Singapore with a walk to Marina Bay area, just to see if it is possible. The distance is roughly 2 kms and it follows a route between skyscrapers and via Suntec Mall, just another of Singapore’s mega structures. The walk is easy enough, but there’s always the more convenient options of local taxis or the nearby Bugis MRT train station. Either way the city’s easily accessible. However, for this visit, we’re more interested in the Bugis area, which we’re relatively new to having only passed once before leaving the nearby little India on our way to the bus terminal on Beach Road. At the time we promised to come back, and here we are. Unlike many parts of Singapore Bugis feels more pedestrian with walking streets and not so much traffic. It is centred round the Sultan Mosque which presides over the central pedestrianized zone and from here small lanes and alleys sneak off to all sides. It’s definitely one of the more amiable areas of the city bringing a mish-mash of ethnic eateries, and a slightly trendy / hipster cafe culture. Along with it there’s still traditional shop house culture and roadside hawkers to be found.
There’s a good chance you’ll be in Singapore for the food and, if you don’t understand this, then you need to go eat some food in Singapore. It’s the reason we keep coming back. But after exploring the diverse cooking pot of cuisines in Singapore we try to balance the heat of our fish head curry and nasi padang with some more delicate flavours at the onsite Fukusen Japanese Restaurant. It makes a welcome retreat from the heat and spices of the city and offers a simplified lunch menu along with an extensive menu of many plates I’ve never heard of before. We order a couple of our usual favourites and, having heard the sashimi is imported fresh from Japan, we would have been rude not to order it. Admittedly, in the past I’ve never been overly kind to sashimi “I prefer my salmon, smoked, and my tuna in a sandwich” but the freshness and flavour here had me eating my own words, along with some seriously delicious food. The wasabi is also made in-house and is lighter than normal for those who might find it overpowering. If you want it to be overpowering just add an extra dollop. We eat next to a statue of Tanuki the big-balled, good luck mascot of almost every restaurant in Japan.