I’m quite genuinely surprised it took me this long to get to an Arab Quarter based hostel entry, considering the vibrancy of the locale. To bring some context into this drag, most, if not all, hostels within this vicinity shun themselves away from rock bottom price tags, of which I could only observe on seasonal occasions shy dips towards the $16 per night range. In contrary to the disincentives, I would always find myself compelled to return to the quarter beyond my regular means.
But here we are at Five Stones Hostel, and this is not a first timer’s trip for myself despite the hefty average of $21.40 per night (including GST and taxes via hotels.com) I would be forking over the course of a week. While most of the Arab Quarter’s hostel brethrens valiantly feature the highlights of its integration into the surrounding architecture, Five Stones locates itself quietly along its corner at Beach Road, striving to portray itself as a self reliant destination, successfully capturing my attention in spite of its off centred coordinates.
It’s by no means difficult to arrive at Five Stones; I had a quick route via bus to our hostel of topic, which brought me directly across the road from its doorsteps. Here, it self evidently establishes a code of conduct of no shoes with peer pressure. I was greeted by no shortage of slippers and shoes laid out on my right upon my first step inward, thereby setting the mood for a world of dense activity and much social interaction. To my left, I was greeted and tended to adeptly at the 24 hours receptionist desk.
But I would note the wider investment into a greater variety of snacks and *yikes* cup noodles, as if the management patiently anticipates a party crowd, only to be put off by the usual hostel overpricing. Nonetheless, it was quick from checking in on the first floor lobby and being briefed on house rules to being directed outside to the rest of the hostel, which main entrance stood next door and guarded by a keycard panel. The staff persisted in excellent service as she led me through the various procedures, demonstrating the use of my $20 security deposit on a card to authorize my entry into the premises.
There’s much to applaud in the courtesy of Five Stones’ service given its size and potential occupancy; Five Stones is a five storey establishment, with each floor above the first hosting strong numbers of rooms. Due to its impressive scale, one may not expect having the counter staff dedicate their time and manpower individually to show each guest to his or her respective room. Said expectations do defy themselves here, as I was accompanied by the diligent staff who would bring me through the elevator towards my residence on the third storey.
Yes, one does not leave the ground lobby without their shoes on, but within the zones of the upper storeys, an identical no shoes rule applies. Such was immediately implied, if not explicit, as the elevator doors opened to reveal a familiar shoe rack and mat setup. Of course, our friendly staff would pose a reminder should one be so daft, but otherwise I was guided once again to another locked entrance, this time securing the bounds of the dormitory corridors.
Said corridors were profoundly pristine as one could expect following the cleanly conditions of prior spaces, although it could perhaps come off as rather sterile. Yet when no windows were in sight and my field of vision was encompassed by a linear hallway enclosed only by pale white walls and black doors at every inch, I would consider this the poorest crucial impression that Five Stones would give for a first timer, a feat that is ultimately commendable given the corridor’s otherwise well ventilated and odor free traits.
Inside my designated room, an 8 bedded mixed dormitory, I was hit again by a similar feeling of narrow confinement, but to a lesser extent; sufficient distractions were added into the mix to offset the negatives. Unlike the utter whitewash overwhelming that of outside corridor, many tints of green were thrown into the mix, sprouting life to what was potentially a repetitively dull environment for respite. A floor mat was laid out in front of my bed space to rest my feet on more comfy terms, but speaking of comfy…
Ah I’ll not get ahead of myself this time. The security deposit also covers some provided keys attached to the keycard, to which permits access to a bedside locker and the room itself should the front door be locked. It was second nature to hold on to my keycard at all times while traversing within hostel grounds as I wore the complimentary lanyard to save myself from the mess of forgetting as such. But let’s not forget the sanctuary of our nightly routine.
Toilets. While it rarely posed an issue to myself, I think it’s important to note the eccentricity of Five Stones’ gender segregation of its washing grounds, perhaps to unnecessary extents. On the third and fifth floors were where male toilets lodge themselves with the mixed dormitories, and likewise female toilets cling themselves to their female only counterparts. It therefore poses a bit of an issue with females living in the mixed zone, although it was hence not unexpected (nor offensive actually) to observe women patronizing the male toilets unashamedly.
An L shaped walkway encompassed that of the common area in the bathroom, where three flush toilet cubicles and three shower rooms arranged themselves within. Ironically, it was where hygiene and ergonomics was inevitably to be thoroughly judged that Five Stones’ slips a little. Right off the bat, the flush toilet cubicles as seen below were definitely narrow beyond one’s comfort zone, not to mention the numerous subsequent times I would encounter a seat stained with drips of yellow. While not seeming significant, such repeated occurrences, along with a constantly out of stock toilet roll, surely dampened my experience of doing my private businesses.
One could attribute a particular moistness of grounded textiles here to poor ventilation, but stuffiness was far from how I would describe my general experience throughout my routines of cleansing. As opposed to the lack of room in the previous cubicles, room was traded up for larger shower spaces, offering a considerate freedom of movement for complete bodily sanitization. As it were, I had been going for ages without using a proper hair shampoo (yes I know), so it was a welcoming sight to behold: a actual dedicated shampoo dispenser! A bummer only two of three shower rooms were functional.
Irregardless of its apparent flaws, the polish of these wet interiors outshine them, a reflection of general maintenance well kept. The sinks and taps were absent of the usual grime and dirt, to which eased me into a rather pleasant end of my nightly routine with the oral care phase. On my right, I noticed a hair dryer readily stationed to facilitate the good hair days of its guests. Five Stones’ emphasizes upon empathy and responsibility towards neighbors via a sticky note on the wall above the dryer, urging to close the door behind should one engage in this noisy chore.
Which allowed one such as myself to reap the joys of a peaceful first and following nights in bed, bracing oneself for sweet dreams. Or maybe a little night owl smartphone session with the fluffy stone was what I ended up with; the bed comes with a flexible private light and a pair of plug sockets to accommodate to one’s insomniac tendencies. More often than not, my roommate just back of me would be up in the off hours, holding a book in his hands while wrapped in that double layered blanket under a warm light that really exemplifies what a good bedtime reading experience should be like.
Alas, here comes the sun with a delectable morning ahead! The ground level pantry is located just back of the lobby where the reception is, and here was where I was treated to a visual galore of a respectable array of colorful breakfast items. It’s easy to dismiss said items as typically barebones lest one travels far and wide to compare the varieties presented between hostels. Five Stones sits tall on the charts as we further recognize the services rendered to consistently maintain a ample supply of the various bread, jams and cereal stock on the counter, even under an impressive crowd.
Much attention must be paid to replenish said items, but I wager less thought was invested into the flow of movement of said crowd; let’s not get started with having only two toasters to tackle four slices of bread at one go. As if the traffic doesn’t already congregate there, I found myself selfishly applying my spreadable poison of choice just front of the jam section, where then I became a disillusioned obstacle for the ensuing hungry bodies tightly squeezing into my personal space.
Five Stones was clearly responsible for that elevated sense of hunger with an equivalent number of jams to go about. Chocolate, orange (rare!), margarine, peanut butter and strawberry jam filled in fitting jars teased even the sugar wary such as I. That, and three diabetes inducing options of dry cereal to break anyone’s dieting efforts. If there’s any lesson to learn from these pictures, pour some effort into an appetizing presentation and there’s much more to garner in approval from the minds of guests, even if the ingredients themselves aren’t worlds away from the everyday hostel’s.
Now here’s a brand of milk (if there’s actually a brand I could read) I couldn’t figure my head around, only that it’s “Made in Germany”. It always intrigues me where hostels purchase their milk from, for brands such as the above seem completely foreign to me. I never took the time to taste the milk by itself, but for its European origins I was already skeptical. Pouring the creamy liquid into my sinful bowl of corn flakes, it was time the test the waters!
The minimal impression imprinted into memory is good news, for it meant the absence of unwarranted foul smells. Or maybe I was more engrossed in the rush of sinful flavors served via a pair of orange infused toast and another smudged in peanut butter. Certainly, my sugar intake paled in comparison to my neighbors, who would let loose on themselves with a surge of chocolate spread and koko krunch. That’s not inclusive of their supplementary choices of beverages: instant black tea, green tea, basic coffee, three in one mix and most indulgently, Milo. Even beyond the breakfast hours of 7am-11am, a free flow of black tea and the coffee options rested in their respective jars to a guest’s caloric displeasure.
Healthy’s not a far fetched concept despite the temptations of the morning. Five Stones hosts a comprehensively equipped kitchen counter, armed with the right cooking utensils to meet the needs of chef wannabes like myself. A sizeable water dispenser rested at the corner left end of the counter with functions of hot, room and cold water to one’s liking, except the hot water function was deemed to be out of order for the duration of my stay. There was none to fret about; a water boiler served as its placeholder, and somehow presentation was never compromised.
Cooking would be severely limited, if not outright barred, without a refrigerator to store one’s inventory of groceries. As always, I would prepped my ingredients with a means of identification lest the fridge is emptied of said belongings, although it’s rare to witness the happenings of such a procedure. Not in Five Stones, for the rule was evidently enforced on a strict basis. A closer glance above the cold storage revealed the aftermath of several non-abiding items left out of the chiller, almost as a warning to obey their iron fist in the name of responsible behaviour.
Admittedly, it’s a tad of a waste to cook for the run of the mill backpacker. Exploration of Singapore’s local delights is made easier on posters listing a generous selection of reputable hawker stores and restaurant outlets. Glad to see the likes of Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh given a shout out!
Much has been said so far, but I’ve yet to speak on the centre of activity here in Five Stones: a very attractive TV lounge that I could almost never get a seat on. Potato couch-ing is a wildly popular past time for the guests, here having the television tuned to a lineup of up to date movies and television series over the course of well… all the time. I appreciated the ambience that the sounds and visuals of the moving images provided to the overall aesthetics of an already lively lobby environment, along with various reading contraptions to leer one into a longer stay in (surprised to see a Richard Dawkins book here!)
I’m not so much of a television person myself to be honest, as you could already tell, but boy do I dig the fluffies! Which conclusively explains all that hogging of these precious sofa seats, if you ask me. It appears Five Stones has an obsession with floor mats, an obsession that wholly keeps in touch with the sensibilities of homeliness and relief. The influence of the sleep inducing fluffies and cotton may strike one as antithetical to an energetic spatial vibe, but it’s the burst of colors upfront and pop music in the background that merged the respective two polar opposites into one plausible all purpose setting.
If you share my disdain for contemporary pop music, you may save your eardrums from that atrocity blasting in the background while working on either two of Five Stones’ guest desktops, where headphones are charitably offered as compensation. It’s easy to forget their existence altogether for myself, who uses my personal laptop wherever I go. What was impossible to ignore was the free complimentary Wi-Fi I’d rely upon to write a blog like this one; each floor possessed its own set of networks for use, and that’s not a grammatical error. Naturally, this gave me and my hostel mates the ability to circumvent existing connectivity issues via network hopping!
It was a fresh daily exercise to be fueled by a pronounced spatial energy every morning, one unreliant upon the density of the inside population. The above graphic screams fun even through the transparent glass entrance, of which many passersby and to be guests may peek in to satiate their curiosities. Amplified by the tall ceilings of the interior is a luxury of openness in the dimensions, never leaving even a nitpicky me feeling constrained by any measure.
But oddities, even if minor, did exist in place of said constraints. It’d be a misrepresentation to portray a lack of plug sockets in the lobby, for there were aplenty of such. These sockets install themselves in mostly optimal locations (under the built in wall tables above high chairs), but there could only be so much done to tend to the many seating arrangements laid further from the walls.
I dislike the straining seating postures of high chairs, so I did my best to nearer myself to the walls as much as possible over the course of hours pinned on my laptop. Of course, there’s more than enough fluffy pillows to go about, hence more often than not I helped myself to grabbing one of those from the sofas, snuggling myself into a warmful bliss while attempting to concentrate on finishing a blog post like this! Indeed, it’s easy to be distracted by the plentiful cascade of audible and eye catching distractions, and that Kingsglaive film on TV certainly did no good in my case!
But warm was not the state of my body in the long term; in proportion to my time lingered, the cool temperature of air strayed further away from its ideal, and I was caught digging through my belongings for a jacket or the equivalent and performing some gymnastics in manners of folding my legs at attempts to shelter my feets from the cold. This freezing air permeated every corner of the living space, which came ultimately as an irk to my situation but likewise laudable in its own rights.
Which also arrived as a missed opportunity for Five Stones to capitalize on! I suppose I’m obliged to refer to a parallel scenario with a specific competitor, whose inhouse powerhouses of vending machines feature a humble selection of hot drinks to combat the chills. Anyways, this doorside utility could deliver as a sneaky bypass of the hostel’s exorbitant drinks pricing, although given the plenty of said machines based all over the Arab Quarter, a little price hunting does pay off for some cents of savings.
An alternative safe haven from the chills of the lobby lied no further than its own roomy washroom. Granted, the huge could do with more than the functionality of a singular occupancy. Nevertheless, I would obnoxiously hole myself in in the upscaled washing closet, likely to the dismay of other lobby dwellers, unfazed by the discomforts of bad odors and the fears of a claustrophobic. It’s decent to note the rather disabled friendly nature of its design, with handrails generously stretching easily within the grasp of a seated user.
Let’s not lose mention of our little price hunting in the Arab Quarter, which by itself always delights me with a sparkling and gorgeous bombard of the local graffiti talent. Especially along Haji Lane, it was an everyday sight of tourists grabbing snapshots of themselves in the company of said display throughout the day (and night!). While it is blatantly a tourist attraction by intent, I always enjoy strolling down this path for fanciful options of hunger suppression!
Just walking the alleyway does initially have the opposite effect, and one such mouth watering destination settles itself down no further than at the heart warming Al’ Frank Cookies shop. I remember my virgin’s stroll down the route, where my dreams were met true with a signboard written “Flourless Cookie! 100% Oatmeal Recipes!” on it to advertise the healthier choice. All my friends would be aware of the gaga tantrums I would enact upon the slight mention of the word oatmeal, yet alone a whole store dedicated to the fusion of said ingredient into undeniable cookie recipes!
What you see above is the primary ingredient for all of Al’ Frank’s sweet treats: oat flour! My introductory trip was made memorable by Frank’s passion and dedication to his foods; immediately, I was acknowledged and a quick summary of the above ingredient’s role in the final products was established in person to distinctify the selling point of this humble business. Thereafter, one would be gifted a gobbling chance to munch upon sample bites of handpicked tastes, and at this stage you’d have no soul to leave your wallet unscathed! Of course, I was already a regular for this current visit, hence it was godspeed to the transaction phase.
One has a selection of ten different renditions of oatmeal cookies to choose from on the counter, from the basic oatmeal chocolate chip cookie to Al’ Frank’s best seller, the oatmeal macadamia cookie. Nothing comes cheap here, with the former flavor and poor man’s (me) go to comprising the cheapest amongst the lot at $6.50 per 100gm. Beyond that, one can expect a price range from $7.50 to $9 for the same quantity for the other varieties, although I dare attest to the premium quality of all that loveliness. It just puts a smile on my face and makes my heart squeal upon receiving that cookie stuffed air sealed packaging every time!
Home sweet home! A combination of milk and chocolate chip cookies could never go wrong, but that outwardly petite mouthful of chunky bites should never be underestimated in packing a fill; they are made from oatmeal after all. Now, you’re going to ask, but how does it taste like? Will it be as bland as a bowl of breakfast oatmeal? First, you’re doing it wrong if you’re asking the second question. But to the question at hand: just like plain ol’ grandma’s, or perhaps even better. Personally, I compare the above to the beloved famous Famous Amos, which in my opinion the latter relatively pales in attaining that crunchy texture and satisfying swallow. Otherwise, one might mistakenly attribute its delicious foundation to an absent flour base!
I could go on about those cookies all day long, but for the sake of yours and my sanity, you may refer to the official website here for more information. To burn off some of those effortlessly accumulated calories, one could opt to climbing the stairs spanning all five levels of Five Stones over the elevator. Since only one such lift facilitated such vertical traversals, I was accustomed to taking to said stairs for the morning rushes to work or in heavy traffic circumstances.
It didn’t warrant much for me to take to the fifth storey throughout my stay, but there did lie a pair of washing machines on said floor to any and all’s disposal. Five Stones is the only hostel in Singapore to my knowledge to open their laundry services, or rather its self serviced devices, without any additional charges: it’s free! A fact I learnt too late during my stay to capitalize on, I did ponder the extent to which this becomes an abusable resource to the detriment of the establishment; its limited availability from 8am to 9pm served as a measure to control such concerns. An ironing station neatly leaned against a wall facing transparent sliding doors leading into the hostel’s rooftop garden.
I wasn’t too impressed to be in this constricted outdoors from its insides, for the little gallery was composed strictly within clearly defined rectangular wall boundaries, save a window (with a modest view) and a missing ceiling. This general lackluster in aesthetics was accompanied by a shortfall in functionality, for there was only one chair without a table to complement with, and disturbingly no plug sockets to incentivise one’s entry into this space. The lack of vision in this potent getaway left me barely admiring said garden from the hostel’s interiors only through the sliding doors.
Noon would soon arrive as I removed my belongings from my allocated room into the ground floor lobby. From day one towards my time of check out and after, the staff of Five Stones retained a demeanor of professionalism and kindness I would least expect, even for one who’s a recurring guest. It was to joy when two afternoon counter staff called me by name upon our first sighting for the week, a pleasant surprise given a mere four days worth of history in the total duration of my prior stays, of which the most recent was almost half a year ago! I was then gifted a free Ribena drink as a will of good gesture, which was really nice of them!
$25 for a fluffy souvenir may seem to be the equivalent of a daylight bank robbery, but such were enjoyable moments here in Five Stones sufficient in elevating it beyond the average rubble, setting the gold standard for perfection in service and a great balance between activity and respite. Hopefully this overwhelmingly positive entry convinces you to my side of the story to no shortage of expense well spent here at the Five Stones Hostel! The check in timing is from 3pm onwards.
Five Stones Hostel
285 Beach Road
Al’ Frank Cookies
12 Haji Lane