It’s been awhile since I last updated this blog; I was burdened from weeks worth of illnesses and some major life readjustments. Over the next few weeks, this blog should pace up a little to meet my more recent history. Anyways, let’s get to the crux of today’s entry!
Tis’ the festive season of Chinese New Year, and the scent of fresh sweat filled the air on Smith Street, along with my tears to dismay; a dense human traffic endeavoured to obstruct my quest to our next destination: the Royal Hostel. Given this was arguably the most expensive price I’ve ever paid for a hostel up till this point, averaging at $23.80 per night (inclusive of GST and taxes, booked via hotels.com), I was driven into restless despair by the extended plight of curiosity and anticipation. (I applied 3 free nights from hotels.com rewards program to save $44 off the total sum)
Despite a persistence through what seemed to be an endless journey over merely a stretch of a single street, it appeared my determination was deemed unworthy by my Google Maps app, which misled me to the entrance of CK departmental mall. Surely our dear hostel wasn’t holed up within these premises? I backtracked as hastily as I could, to which I was once again bounded by the aforementioned incorrigible crowd. This would be the general theme of traverse within the vicinity of Royal, or even just Chinatown as a whole.
But alas, a sign of respite! In midst of all things bright and glaring, the unlit Royal banner proved inconspicuous to a weary me. Nonetheless, excitement grew deeper as I approached its door, to which I was about to unravel the mysteries surrounding its hefty price tag. How should one gauge a hostel at such an range of expense in the context of Singapore? What should one expect from paying said expenses? Royal holds that burden of being my first of such nature, and as such shall be my initial reference point to subsequent journeys of similar rates.
My third consecutive hostel to which I was greeted with a lofty flight of stairs, it left me a little puzzled as to the lack of an outstanding design characteristic to distinguish itself from that of a more budget friendly hostel. Still, immediately noticeable was a commendable standard of cleanliness; without hesitation I left my shoes at the dedicated shoe racks, which cling on walls leaning across doors into the relevant interior lobbies of Royal.
Just 9pm, and yet to my unpleasant surprise, I found myself locked outside an inaccessible entryway from where the then closed receptionist counter was stationed inside. I was left to further investigate the situation, and a bold late check in signage to my left was clue number one. Amongst a stack, my name was one of many written on slips of folded envelopes as they sat patiently, waiting for the arrival of their owners. Given the doorway was locked via digital access code, I’d guessed keycards would be in place to my usage. Such a prediction proved futile in the absence of any card in the document. It’s as if the puzzle was doomed to prolong my fatigued state.
Without examining closer into the printed document, a perplexed me took towards a second flight of stairs upwards, heading to yet another dead end. The wearisome nature of my check in tonight had just about seeped out all of my optimism along with my initial impressions into the drain, but a frowny face would happen upon its glass panel. Turns out, he was Uncle Peter, the interactive staff who would then escort myself through the standard hassle of routine check in procedures behind and have a good night’s rest. Or so I thought it would be the routine.
Upon stepping into the priorly out of order reception, the yet-to-have-smiled Uncle Peter began a series of inquiries into my length of stay, my purpose of visit, my history, my track record… you name it. Although quite frankly, I wasn’t too surprised by this phenomenon, one which is not unheard of to the Singaporean hostel backpacker of Singapore. Such measures are frequently taken by no sparse numbers of hostels to weed out potential law evaders from congregating amongst the tourist crowd, and it seems more than a few hostels have had first hand negative experiences with said personales to speak of tales. The circumstance customarily bestowed the burden of proof regarding my innocence and clear conscience on my shoulders, to which I gallantly accepted with sympathies.
However, despite already survived several instances of suspicion and questioning of such nature, I sure as heck wasn’t expecting a full blown interrogation! Rested on this eye catching sofa, I had assumed to have surmounted the climax of a night’s autobiographical plot. A glimmer of humble expectations landed an uncontrollable sigh in my mind when I came to learn of another to crash this oh-so-joyful party, and the next activity in plan was a personal get to know session. And the main subject of interest? The one on the red chair. And in a painstakingly ironic fashion, the two men pulled a pair of chairs and seated themselves sternly around a cornered me, all while most convincingly reassuring me that this was not an interrogation.
They weren’t lying entirely, of course. Conclusively, we had a pleasant chat revolving my state of affairs and their establishment’s state of hospitality, and I would’ve otherwise been a recipient for a job offer if not for my already employed status. When our newest party crasher took his leave, Uncle Peter mapped several more interesting details within the premises, such as the array of framed artworks along the hostel’s main stairway. Apparently, the original prints of said artworks were of decades older than my birthdate, once proudly occupy what was now mere Uncle Peter’s replicas; these placeholders did however reflect his passion for the antique, perhaps capturing a moment in history that can never truly be retraced again.
Then maybe it’s no coincidence afterall that Royal Hostel obsesses its spaces with that of framed pictures and worded house rules, although never forgoing substance for style; approaching my room (just steps from the counter), said frames of house rules pinned tightly around the door’s room label just like speech bubbles obnoxiously sprouting from Uncle Peter himself, meaning you can’t miss them. Also in many of said frames were images of previous guests with their countries of origin and dates of visit documented at its bottom corners; a rather family friendly touch to a backpacker’s format, I’d say.
But literally a doorstep away stood the moment of truth! And as I pushed my way in my eyes instantly zoomed into the sheer volume of reflection beaming from the floor textiles. Royal Hostel boasts two larger scale dormitory rooms, to which hosts a indiscriminate combination of single and double sized bunk beds. Unlike the common trend, spaciousness was preserved as much as possible in its dormitory rooms, easing the flow of movement even in the most populous of occasions, such as for the big travelling family. It’s as if the former demographic was to be Royal’s principal concern, and Uncle Peter would not deny the hostel’s strong leanings in that direction.
Certainly I paid more for just some additional floor varnish, hence I was on my way to meeting my allocated space of restitute. The bed was of the lower bunk, and it rightfully entitled me and others alike to sliding curtains serving in place of missing architectural segregations. A little bummer that the curtains in the above could never reach beyond the edge of the bed’s ladder. Still, I would appreciate the utility it brought, akin to that of a capsule’s segmentation, allowing for a more carefree usage of the inner private bedlight without much disruption to neighboring guests.
Two sockets (one occupied by the light), a pillow and a distinct wooly blanket awaited to warmly embrace me inside, tempting me further to quickly pursue my night routine. Even so, my eyes couldn’t resist gleaming over the nearby window to the sight of the nasty congregation of lethargic slow walking zombies on the streets, and I rejoiced little inside in my childish vanity. Despite significant levels of activity below, noise was kept to a negligible degree inside, and it seamlessly contributed to a nonobstructive yet immersive visual form of ambience.
Hence I was (still am) to be so envious of whoever’s about to own this upper bunk bed, who would have the pleasure of said immersion as they lull themselves into most definitely sweet dreams. In retrospect, street festive activities would gradually thin out over the course of the nightly hours, transitioning the colorful zombie fest into that of a convincingly ghosted town.
Toilets were second and last on tonight’s must visit checklist, but to a small extent the one sitting across “DORM 1” just missed the jackpot that the dormitory room sufficiently was. The second floor toilet accommodates five separate rooms, of which one connects the next four, two of which housed flush toilets and the last pair serving as shower rooms. In spite of the small scale, much was neatly compressed within its limitations; beyond said shower rooms, the floor were rarely wet on contact, and here a dry environment was evidently high in a priority of to do’s, with no shortage of water absorbing mats efficiently laid out within the toilet premises and even outside.
Exposed water pipes are a thing here in Royal, and such in the photo of a flush toilet room above is an example of them having done right. The results are not always consistent throughout all sectors, but in the larger picture these infrastructure ripped little away from the cleanliness factor, donning a pair of colors to each blend and contrast with the existing spaces respectively. That’s not to say the facilities were sparkling indefinitely, but the periodical urine stains on toilet seats were salvageable scenarios to the average person.
There’s more than just pipes to stare at while one engages in their private businesses here. In fact, in here the private business of Yummy Viet invades your privacy with some enticing Royal exclusive food deals and discounts, advertised in those repeatedly familiar matching frames, consistent with that of the hostel’s theme. Located at the heart of tourist trap-ism street, the advertisement would only heighten my wariness of the purported value of dining at this restaurant, although admitted the beer deals did raise an eyebrow even for a nonalcoholic like myself.
The biggest mixed bag in the wet rooms would most likely be the showers, which speaks volumes to Royal’s successful management of said department considering the nitpicky criticisms I’m barely reaching to grasp here. To start on positive notes, it was my first to examine a hostel’s legitimate solution to barring the soaking of hanged or hooked dry clothes in the shower environment; a simple and inexpensive shower curtain to earning a thumbs up from me. There’s also no shortage of shower shelves for one place their belongings on, as can be observed in the picture above where a three levelled rack is hidden behind those curtains.
I am quite a fan of the use of wooden textured folding doors to amp up the otherwise dull interior space. Unfortunately, none of these could ward off the big elephant in the room: grime! Or so was my first chosen shower room afflicted with an ever flooded ground. One cannot help to be revolted by the layer of water, of which sustains direct contact with an out of sight drain under a block of built structure. What I could see was a discoloration of the floor near said built structure, several strands of floating hair and dirt, and no way to which a housekeeper could deliver his or her service under that block. Being the only toilet room inflicted by such conditions, I did best to avoid said room in favor of other identically functional yet cleaner facilities.
As soon as the sun rose, I was excited to meet the next chapter of this wallet shattering adventure. But already, I felt an unexpected chill in my feet despite securing my whole body under the warmth of the wooly blanket. Contrary to appearances, the wooly blanket wielded an underwhelming thickness to sustain ample warmth in less heat generating regions of the body. In contrast, Smith street was once again packed with a crowd of heat emitting bodies and the aroma of overpriced local delights! What a way (and view) to start the morning!
The dark and cozy mood of last night’s latrine experience was swapped with vibrancy and a light hearted vibe, facilitating my morning routine on a brighter note. In turn, the rush of the morning took a huge leap downwards in comparison to last night’s, leaving behind an ambience of a lazy Sunday morning. One could say that arrangements relating to that of breakfast might have contributed to a strikingly unoccupied state of the morning, a state of affairs which was rather uniquely Royal.
So I’d be a tad disappointed to pay a premium for the same old toast, and then came a refreshing turn as I claimed my free meal vouchers this morning from the reception, which quantitatively I received in equivalence to the number of days I was booked, and was subsequently directed by the staff to take a minute’s walk away from the hostel to an off premise location for what was to be Royal’s take on complimentary breakfast. My destination was Nanyang Old Coffee, a tradition honoring breakfast hotspot with a customer base extending beyond that of Royal’s own guests, as already evident by an everlasting queue to the counter consisting of the average passerby.
A shame I’m not a coffee fellow, or you’d have a glimpse into Nanyang’s signature kopi. Anyways, as a Royal guest I was entitled to one of three free breakfast items per voucher: Loh Mai Gai, Fun Choy and Nyonya Nasi Lemak. If none of the options strikes a fancy, one could opt to select any item off the menu at a $2 discount per voucher. The potential utility of this package begins to shine through once we account for the lengthy duration of said complimentary breakfast, which stays open from 7:30am-3pm, meaning I could alternatively repurpose my vouchers for free or subsidized teatime munchings instead.
In my first breakfast venture, Fun Choy was first in the list to go. Perhaps already being acclimatized to the taste of the local delights, I could only acknowledge the familiar flavor and texture engaging my tastebuds, although not for a satiable duration; barely five minutes seated and my plate was swept clean of the edible, and my stomach still left craving for more. For the purpose of this blog, little was I to dread as I followed up quickly with my next on the free menu: Loh Mai Gai. Once again fazed by stingy portionings, it incentivized a period of hiatus before subsequent meddlings with Nanyang.
Few days past and I approached the eatery again, albeit with lower expectations, for a humble noontime meal. Redeeming two vouchers net for my third time, said expectations were promptly surpassed by a sizeable Nyonya Nasi Lemak and a $2.20 Ice Blended Milk Tea, of which the remaining bill was charitably waived off entirely. While not spectacularly mind blowing in taste, for a savory and still likeable breakfast item to feasibly supplement, if not completely replace, a lunch’s worth was a welcoming prospect in the frame of finding an excuse to eat out, or not to eat cup noodles (aka cancer) for lunch!
But here’s to an actually lunch item on the menu: Black Bak Kut Teh at $6.80, or $2.80 after 2 vouchers worth of redemption. By manner of presentation, this typically pepperish dish packed quite a diverse range of ingredients I wasn’t quite anticipating; in fact, this take on Bak Kut Teh wasn’t quite the one I was used to by any measure, in absence of the definitive peppery base. Ingredients such as mushrooms, tofu and a healthy dose of the greens were implemented into the dish, rendering in a more wholesome lunch time course.
I’m wildly guessing that the above rendition of one of my beloved local delights pays homage to that of a Malaysian variant, as “herbal” was the first word that slipped into my mind sipping my first of this delicious broth. My liking to this dish would be contrary to my assumed and presumptive narrative of Singaporeans and Malaysians each having a preference of their home styled pork rib soup, although that is if Nanyang truly represents the “herbal” essence of Malaysian Bak Kut Teh. Oddly, one seeking an all encompassing introduction to the taste of Singapore may ultimately be misguided here if so was the case.
The chore of leaving one’s hostel with an empty stomach to fix said emptiness in the morning may seem redundant relative to the convenience and intuitivity of the regular breakfast deal, but I found myself won over by the aesthetics of Nanyang, not to mention the open wifi of the upper storey Loft Cafe, which offered me reasonable terms to enjoy oneself closer to the heart of Smith Street. Along with a flexible utility of the breakfast coupons and an largely intriguing menu, Royal definitely earns one more thumbs up on this note.
As it were, the hostel wasn’t the perfect picture of what I had envisioned prior to my arrival. The astounding shortage of sockets in the less than comprehensive living space left me with second thoughts regarding its steep asking price; in my earlier nights, I felt an over reliance upon personal adaptation to work on my laptop in a subpar furniture arrangement of the lobby, often having to move chairs away from its original bearings to my inconvenience, a fellow guest’s detriment and Uncle Peter’s irk. Yet Uncle Peter wasn’t one to simply spectate a disaster, for he wouldn’t earn my description of “interactive” otherwise. The above image is of a newly stationed desk layout halfway throughout my stay, granting myself and others a more instantaneous access to previously inaccessible plug sockets.
What was in place of the tall desk beforehand was a refrigerator containing Royal’s treasury of overpriced drinks for sale, of which you may observe its updated position above. To mask the bank robbery, the hostel instead promoted its sales via cheeky notions of clearing of one’s spare coins. Said position all the more highlighted the apparent irony of offering bottled water for a fee when a free to use water dispenser was located just steps away and in view… Oh, except it’s not so free after all upon realizing there weren’t any cups or mugs in reach! Upon a polite request, Uncle Peter readied one paper cup from a locked away stack to my discretion, and after a series of comments made, this dilemma shall hopefully be a thing of the past, as was once with the utter lack of plug sockets.
Royal is surely most receptive to constructive feedback, a winning point not to be overlooked. Still I could never shake off the feeling of being handicapped via insufficiencies in space, flexibility and functionality, ranging from an absence of kitchen facilities, limited reception hours translating into limited air conditioning hours in the lobby, to even a restrictive code of behavior. One midnight, the heat of an unventilated second floor lobby compelled me and my laptop towards the cooler third storey, where one would discover a potential working space as shown above, only that it was (unsurprisingly) plagued by remote socket placements. While my laptop cord wire was just adequately lengthy enough to stretch the needed distance, a passing Uncle Peter would immediately take issue with my unorthodox conduct, directing my return to the lower lobby to which he reflexively bestowed the necessary conditioning.
Even under regular circumstances, the upper storey lobby would seem well equipped to tackle the multitudes, but said equipments were either missing a crucial component of a whole, or were severely restrained for staff usage only. Laundry service fell under such restrictions (although there were plans to expand this service for guests), and so were the water dispenser woes of downstairs replicated above. To see such potential laid to waste sends an inappropriate message of complacency and inhospitality that had me almost wishing those facilities weren’t already there to softly tease me with.
For better or worse, I was already and still was a recipient to the impact of the nonexistent doorway keycard, for which none were issued. Guests are to memorise the numerical door code to gain entry into each relevant quarter, of which all may then proceed to enter. This freely permitted me or anyone into the premises of “DORM 2”, a dormitory consisting primarily of double bunk beds but otherwise stylistically identical to its single bedded majority counterpart, except of the remains of a once open upper balcony premise now sealed behind a wall of a more recent refurbishment.
And a quick round two of toilet expedition! On the third floor, I stumbled upon what was a more intimate setting for the intended purposes of bodily excretion and cleansing. Adding to the additional pristine touch of the environment, more defined architectural lines were drawn to establish one’s complete sense of privacy, with washing sinks nested privily within folding doors of flush toilet spaces. In riddance of advertisement filled walls and larger dimensions of seclusive interiors, these wet sanctuaries bore drastically closer resemblances to properties of the homely kind.
But conclusively I found myself a stranger rather than at home in these upper quarters, opting to dwell mainly in the lower lobby during extended sessions on my laptop. Having a decent amount of exposure to the quirks of my surroundings, a humble bookshelf two thirds my height captured the attention of my fickle mind as a slip of information pasted on its rack trotted along lines of “free to take”. Exhibiting the essence of kiasu curiosity, I sought a double confirmation with the receptionist at the time and true enough; all books on the shelves next to the entryway were indeed seeking new owners to return home with, free of charge. A far cry from some double digit price walls of other establishments for the same offering, such gifts would earnestly make lovely souvenirs for travelers far from home.
Personally, I require no such memory aids to revisit my time at Royal; scenes such as the above effortlessly imprint themselves in my memory an overall beauty of living within Royal’s humble spaces. In contrast to perhaps what was intended, my affection was steered towards the less glamorous, when crowds disperse and vanish from the streets and lights go out save a few. Over my week’s stay, I spent many nights and early mornings traversing a much quieter version of Smith Street which was in and of itself a charming sight to behold. While a chilled air still lingered within the lobby space, I spent my nights attached to the lampside desk, of which the lamp shone to its warmful presence.
While such moments were always temporary and brief, often dependent upon the time of the day or interjected by logistical flaws, said temporary natures only sought to further my appreciation for the precious flashes in the timeframe of a whole picture story. That said, Royal had also painted for me a less than optimistic image of hostels matching similar substantial price tags, draining much of the enthusiasm I once wielded marching into the unknown. Irregardless, the mood of the day of check out was in polar opposition to the rocky start I had in the beginnings: peaceful. From a fairly designated luggage storage compartment to the absence of a rush hour crowd throughout my checking out, the Royal Hostel strongly determined a happy ending to this entry’s narrative.
Soon thereafter, I left its doorsteps, knowing I have a new friend in that of Uncle Peter. The check in timing is from 2pm onwards, although it is advisable to arrive before the official closure of the reception before 6pm.
Royal Hostel Singapore
28A Smith Street
28 Smith Street
Nanyang Old Coffee
268 South Bridge Road