Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Tag: boutique hotel

Where to stay Wednesday: Village House, Santubong

dsc_6365From sweaty sightseeing in Singapore to monkeys stealing our dinner post-trekking in Bako National Park, Borneo (more on that later): after a fantastic, but hectic, first week in Asia, we decided a change in pace was in order.

Dominated by the eponymous mountain, the Santubong peninsula is less than an hour from Kuching – the capital of Sarawak, Borneo – by mini bus. But it feels a world away. As we drove, concrete shops and mid-rises gave way to jungle and stilt-houses. The only traffic we encountered was caused by a seemingly constant stream of guests in beautiful outfits going to a wedding, which even mid-morning appeared to already be in full-swing. (Does anyone know the customs of traditional Malay/Borneo weddings? I’d love to read about them). Kuching isn’t particularly fast-paced, especially compared to a lot of Asian cities (or cities in general), but after spending a few days there you really appreciate how peaceful this surrounding countryside is.
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Tucked away down a gravel track, the idyllic Village House is the perfect place to stay in the area. We felt at home from the minute we walked into the frangipani-lined courtyard and were handed our ‘Welcome’ iced teas.

Comprising of just 14 bedrooms, this u-shaped hotel is built in traditional stilt-house style around a stunning pool/courtyard area. Underneath the bedrooms you’ll find the small restaurant, and seating and loungers for the pool. There’s also a bar, fancier upstairs ‘dining room’ type area (featuring a stunning wooden-carved table) and a living room full of books, television and dvds and – most importantly – board games. All of the rooms are decorated in traditional Sarawak style, with local craft pieces dotted throughout.

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We stayed in a Village Double, the standard private room, which are priced from 250 ringitt (about £50) a night (twins cost the same). Although a bit on the small side, we found it perfectly suited our needs: traditional Malay sarongs provided, enough space to dump our rucksacks, a decently-sized, modern bathroom and – most importantly – a four poster bed. To be honest, we spent most of our time relaxing by the pool anyway.

However if you want something a bit more luxurious or somewhere a bit more private to relax, the two Rajah Rooms have a sitting area, private veranda and mod cons like a television and Nespresso coffee machine. These start from 460 Ringitt a night (about £90).

At the other end of the spectrum, those just wanting a bed can book into the plainer dorm-style rooms, which sleep up to six people in bunkbeds. A night here costs 93 ringitt (just under £20).

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Arguably the real stand-out of this hotel is the staff and service. Not only helpful – they’re full of recommendations and there’s a number of trips they can help you to plan such as to the nearby Cultural Village and firefly cruises – they’re also very friendly, stopping to chat and ask about your day. Just little touches, such as bringing your drink to you at the pool, really makes this place feel luxurious. Admittedly so far this is all in a good day’s work – especially by Asian hospitality standards (which are generally amazing). But they really went above and beyond for us: one of the girls stayed late to print our plane boarding passes. Another came in extra-early on our last day to unlock and make sure we got our taxi to the airport, even providing us with sandwiches to take with as we were missing out on breakfast.

Talking of food, if there’s one downside to the Village House, it’s that the eating here is little costly (by Sarawak standards). Also, if you want dinner then you have to make your mind up about it quite early: you have to pre-order by mid-afternoon. Understandable considering the size of the hotel, but perhaps not ideal for the more fleet of foot. You could probably organise to eat elsewhere – I’ve read good things about some seafood restaurants in a nearby village – but you’d have to plan that too unless you had your own car. However everything we ate here was pretty tasty so, so long as you accept that you’re paying the Sarawak version of hotel prices, we didn’t find being confined to the hotel for mealtimes too much of a problem. And breakfast is included in the cost of your stay, so that’s one meal you don’t have to worry about budgeting for.

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If you can bear to drag yourself away from the beautiful hotel, the surrounding area is worth exploring. Although a bit too rocky for sunbathing, the quiet beach – just down a sandy path – is the ideal location to watch the sun set. We also enjoyed walking into Santubong Village itself: an older lady sitting outside a shop, chopping coconuts ready for the next day. Roadside food stalls. Families going for a spin round the roads on their mopeds. John got chatting (sort of) to football-playing children, bonding over Manchester City. Later on, the call to prayer from the local mosque echoed through the village.

Stunning, entrancing, relaxing, we felt utterly spoilt for the entirety of our two nights here. Our only regret is that we didn’t stay longer.

The important details
Website: http://www.villagehouse.com.my/villagehouse/
Pricing: Range from about £20 p/night for a dorm bed to around £90 for the Rajah Rooms. Standard doubles/twins are around £45/£50. Price includes breakfast.
Location: Near Santubong Village, 20 miles from Kuching.
Any other extras?: Welcome drinks. Board games, dvds and books can be borrowed.
Recommended?: Absolutely. This was by far and away our favourite hotel of the trip.
Any reason not to?: If you like to be able to get around easily without a car then you could feel a little claustrophobic – you’ll be relying on wheeled vehicles to get most places from here. Not recommended if you don’t like to ‘stop’; this is strictly a ‘getting away from it all’ kind of hotel. Though if anywhere can convince you to take an unplanned break, it’s here.
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Where to stay Wednesday: The New Majestic Hotel, Singapore

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In May-June 2013,  J (my partner – because apparently we’ve got to the stage in our lives where they’re no longer a ‘boyfriend’ but ‘manfriend’ feels too old and too Sex and the City cliché) and I went on the holiday of a lifetime to Malaysian Borneo, via Singapore. This is the first of a series of posts from the trip.

Baths are one of those things that are always so much better in my head. It’ll be just like an advert, I think, I’ll look like a Bath Goddess, with water and bubbles up to my neck with just my glowing face on show. I’ll make content sighing noises as I become absorbed by a magazine or book. The reality is never like that. The water doesn’t come quite high enough, which results in either having to lie at an awkward angle or your top half getting a bit cold. Reading is impossible, unless you don’t mind sacrificing either a limb to the cold or the book to soggy pages (I don’t even like bent spines, so you can imagine my feelings on this). And then, when you’ve finally got yourself into a semi-comfortable position and are starting to relax, the water starts to go a bit lukewarm and you have to drag yourself out again. That’s when you encounter the worst part of this experience – the cold, cold air, and cold, cold tiles that inevitably await you, which even a fluffy towel that has been strategically arranged over a radiator on full blast can’t counter. So instead of being the relaxed, glowing goddess you envisioned, you’re shivery and frustrated and not even that clean because you’ve been sat in water with your own dirt for half an hour.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I discovered the dream solution to all my bathing woes: the outdoor bathtubs in Singapore’s New Majestic Hotel. It doesn’t matter if the water doesn’t come up high on you, because it’s always 30 degrees outside. So you can make the most of the high-sided vintage-style bathtub and get yourself into a comfortable reading position without having to make the choice of cold body parts vs book pulp/mess. And the aforementioned temperature means there’s definitely no need for the it’s-so-cold hopabout when you finally drag yourself out; in fact the air is so warm that you barely need a towel to get dry. (There are awnings you can pull over to cover the private veranda area where the bath is, so no opportunities for voyeurs. Which is good, because apparently it’s illegal to be naked in your own home in Singapore, so I’m not sure how they’d take to unintentional displays of nudity. And based on some of the warning signs we saw about for other crimes, I don’t want to find out either!)

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The outdoor bath tubs are just one of the many fun features of this boutique design hotel. There’s also art installations in the lobby (and, more importantly, a bookshop), portholes in the pool (so diners in the restaurant can watch swimmers…) and each of the 30 rooms is unique, many decorated by local artists. Our room was ‘One Day I Just Drifted Off and Floated Away’, which was CAT THEMED.

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To get the outdoor bath tubs and veranda you want to book a ‘Premier Garden Wing’ room – not much more than the cheapest category and definitely worth the extra! However if you really want to splash out, then the attic rooms look pretty special too.

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However as you can probably tell from the photo above – in most rooms (judging from photos – and definitely in ours) the bathrooms are quite exposed. In that there isn’t a separate one. Our toilet was hidden by frosted glass. Fine for those of us in long-term relationships, and actually quite a fun and space-saving design idea. But probably not one for new couples who still want to maintain a bit of mystery about their toileting habits.

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We were also quite taken with the cute ceramic Chinese-style teacups in our room, which a less honest version of myself would have been very tempted to permanently borrow. (I feel like the thought may have been crossing my mind when this photo was taken – shifty eyes…)

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The hotel’s location on the outskirts of Chinatown was also ideal. We preferred this area as a place to stay to Orchard Road and Marina Bay – we didn’t dislike those places, but we felt Chinatown had a bit more charm to it. It’s also home to a few food courts, perfect for cheap but tasty eats (more on that later). And while most of the key sites were within walking distance if you wanted them to be, as we were still acclimatising to the heat and humidity we really appreciated being a very short walk from Outram Park SMRT (Metro) station.

Overall a great experience that I’d highly recommend – especially the Garden rooms. That really was one fine bath.

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The Essentials

Website: http://www.newmajestichotel.com
Pricing: List prices start from 238SGD (about £115). Premier Garden Rooms (with the outdoor baths) start at around 268SGD (about £130). Splashing out on an Attic Suite will set you back about 385.20 a night (just under £190). Prices include breakfast, but not taxes and fees – so remember to budget a bit more if you’re booking directly via the website.
Location: On the outskirts of Chinatown, near Outram Park SMRT stop – which is handily on the same line as the airport.
Any other extras?: Lots! Non-alcoholic drinks in the mini-bar are complimentary; Kiehls toiletries; Nespresso machine; iPod dock; ginormous bathrobes
Recommended?: Absolutely. The prices may not sound cheap, but Singapore isn’t an easy place to do ‘budget’ – when we were looking, it actually seemed quite good value for money compared to other hotels in a similar price range. I also have to mention the staff, who were really friendly and helpful.
Any reason not to?: If you prefer your hotels traditional then this probably isn’t the place for you. Also while we really liked the location, some might find staying in the Marina Bay/City Hall or Orchard Road areas more convenient.

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Photo Credits: New Majestic Hotel exterior: Wikipedia (Creative Commons License); Room Photo – One Day I Just Drifted Off…: Black Tomato; Room Photo – Attic Room: New Majestic Hotel; Pool photo: New Majestic Hotel. All others are my own, please credit if using.