Singapore is firmly back on Australians' radar as a stopover destination now that Qantas has reinstated it as a pit-stop for its kangaroo route. Though known for years for its amazing food and culture mix, great shopping, the world's best airport and a Singapore Sling at Raffles, it has been busy building and boasting about its many other attractions: Gardens by the Bay, the incredible Night Safari at Singapore Zoo and the Singapore Flyer giant viewing wheel – to name just a few. The Swissotel, Merchant Court, which celebrated its 20th birthday last year after a two-year refurbishment, has a central location which makes it a perfect pitstop.
The hotel sits above Clarke Quay with its rows of restaurants – (including Jumbo Seafood and its lauded chilli crab). Many rooms have views of the chugging bumboats and colourful shopfronts along the Singapore River. Chinatown, Raffles Place and Orchard Road are a short walk away as is a subway station.
The should-be strange Swiss/Singaporean mix somehow makes perfect sense in the hotel's grand lobby with its dramatic ceilings and marble floors. Here, Peranakan and Swiss artefacts and artworks face off against each other in duelling display cabinets. Two traditional bowls, two hats, two woodcuts mark the differences yet synch the similarities between the two cultures. To the left of the reception area, a giant chandelier hovers over the Crossroads Bar. Outside on Level 2 is the place to be in this sultry city – either in the large pool, or beside it on a covered deckchair. Exercise classes are held on under-water treadmills in the morning but the pool soon reverts to a more laid-back vibe. Leisurely swims, a drink and a bite from the adjoining Blue Potato café/bar make it hard to leave. A punctual downpour from 5pm to 5.02 precisely, clears the air, leaving a dusky smell of rain and a hint of frangipani that helps us slip away from this modern city back to the land of Somerset Maugham and G&Ts in an instant. Also on the pool level is a large, well-equipped gym, the Purovel Spa, and a guest laundry.
Let there be light - natural light - plead many travellers sick of depressingly dim hotel rooms. Swissotel Merchant Court has come to the party, offering light, bright rooms, paired with fresh modern décor that instantly cheers our jetlagged psyches. And the added bonus? Our Swiss Select Clarke Quay room is one of 91 in the 476-room complex blessed with a balcony. Ours perches over the Singapore River and across from the Clarke's Quay dining hub. While it is requested that you keep balcony doors shut so the air-con can do its stuff, just having the option to enjoy the view with a chaser of night air is a bonus, as is watching birds perch on the railing for a perve inside. The king-size bed with a yellow-splashed headboard is very comfortable. There's a smart phone offering instant and free local and overseas calls and a portable Wi-Fi hub in case you want to venture out of range of the hotel's offering. The shower is huge. There are Purovel Spa products, cotton robes, and a retractable clothesline – (the thinking person's perfect addition for a stopover hotel). There's pod coffee and a kettle with Singapore's own TWG cotton hand-sewn teabags: Emperor Sancha from Japan, French Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Moroccan Mint. Guests in Executive rooms have access to free drinks and h'ordeuvres in the Executive Lounge during happy hours each night and can also breakfast there rather than the more hectic – but much more interesting – Ellenborough market Café breakfast buffet. Two chocolates (Swiss, of course) complete the excellent personal touches.
This is Singapore so settle in and fasten your belts while you still can. Food is your friend here: no matter how near or far you venture. But where to start? Head just metres away at Clarke's Quay with its rows of restaurants including seafood, Japanese, Malaysian, Italian, small bars, larger bars and craft breweries. And then there's Chinatown just up the road with a madness of stalls offering excellent noodles, seafood, laksas, stir fries, Hainanese Chicken Rice, chilli crab and pepper crab for just a few dollars washed down with icy beer. But if you prefer to venture inward on a hot day, the hotel's Ellenborough Market Café – named after the original market that once stood near the hotel - offers a buffet with the best of Peranakan and Straits Chinese offerings plus other Asian and international dishes. Highlights include La Mian noodles with Dan Dan (Sichuan spicy sauce), Wanton Noodle Soup and Kueh Pie Tee, a thin and crispy tart shell filled with a spicy and sweet prawn and vegetable mix.
Orchard Road is just around the corner for a spot of the other national pastime: shopping. Or ride a bumboat to get a quick lowdown on Singapore's colourful history – complete with glimpses of the city's stunning colonial buildings such as the Fullerton Hotel and the pastel coloured Old Hill Street Police Station, which somehow provide the perfect accompaniment to the city's sprinkling of space–age George Jetson buildings and riverside sculptures. Venture a bit further (there's a subway station nearby) for the wow factor and sheer eccentricity of Gardens by the Bay and a glimpse of or a drink at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Or, head to Singapore Zoo for the acclaimed Night Safari.
The Swissotel Merchant Court is a perfect choice for a short stopover; for families wanting a quick break, or for business travellers sick of dark hotel rooms and keen to keep fit to offset the effects of the array of Singapore's delicious food nearby.
The location and the light, airy rooms.
The Executive Lounge with its oddly positioned furniture has shades of an office meeting room rather than a great place for a cocktail.
Jane Richards travelled to Singapore at her own expense and was a guest of Swissotel, Merchant Court, Singapore.