If I can’t find someone to pay for my five star accommodation, and I seldom can, going down-market has its charms too.
“What hotel are you staying at?” our Indian/Singaporean taxi driver wanted to know.
I told him, slightly reluctantly, because I know where discussions with taxi drivers sometimes lead.
“You like it?”
“It’s okay.” It wasn’t a place to boast about; not up-market enough to sound like we were important or rich, not funky and cheap enough to sound like we were savvy travellers. It was a convenient, central, generic hotel, four stars at a three star price on the internet booking service.
“How is the breakfast? Is it good?”
“It’s fine.” Meaning it was the same as any chain hotel breakfast anywhere in the world. Bacon too crisp and curly, scrambled eggs dry and cool on the bottom of the bain marie. Sweet fruit yoghurt in little tubs, tinned peach slices, packets of cornflakes and cocopops, scoops of sugary toasted muesli, stewed filter coffee…
“Next time you are coming here, you should be staying in Little India. Hotel 81. Very, very clean, and you can get breakfast at restaurant around the corner. Very, very good price.”
I’ve visited Singapore many times since then, and often taken his advice, because surprise, surprise, it was very, very good.
I’ve stayed in various incarnations of the Hotel 81 chain – Dickson, Elegance, Fragrance – in Little India, as well as in Joo Chiat Rd. They are very basic, but cheap, and fine if all you want from a hotel is a comfortable bed with clean sheets. I often don’t need a pool, a gym, a business centre, a plasma TV or even a telephone.
I like Little India and I enjoy getting my breakfast at the very, very good price restaurant around the corner.
Central Singapore can seem like one big shopping mall, because that’s what it is, but Little India is different. I love the smells, the congestion, the racks of cheap clothing blocking pedestrian access and forcing me out onto the road.
I love the food, particularly the mango lassi drinks and the banquets served on banana leaves at Ananda Bhavan (‘the oldest Indian vegetarian restaurant in Singapore’) – all at a ridiculously low price compared to the sanitised, air-conditioned restaurants in more touristy areas of town.
I even enjoy squeezing through the sweaty crowds in the Mustafa Centre, where I can buy anything at all at a cut price though, it must be warned, possibly cut quality too.
Christianity and islam fared better than hinduism when the religions were being allocated their architecture. Hindu temples are generally OTT and gaudy in the extreme, but no-one can say they’re not interesting to look at.
I’ll be back in Singapore tomorrow and am looking forward to it very, very much. It’s not in Little India, but I’ll be checking out the very, very brand new, 5 billion dollar mega hotel/resort/casino/mall/ice-skating rink that is Marina Bay Sands. More to come, very, very soon…