A tale of two Singapore hotels

March 28, 2019 — I first came to Singapore in the 1980s to consult when it was cheap and booming like nothing I’ve ever seen before or since. The pace was even more frenetic than Hong Kong. I loved it then and do now, though it’s no longer inexpensive. in fact it’s now one of the costliest cities on earth.

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Singapore at Gardens By The Sea

In the 1980s through early 2000s I stayed at luxe hotel properties in the bustling business district, but now I prefer more modest and interesting hotels, and recently opted to try two very different places in Singapore’s always-fascinating Little India.  Here are my real-time notes describing and contrasting the two hotels.

Staying first for a couple of nights at the Parkroyal Hotel on Kitchener, a Pan Pacific property. The lobby needs sprucing up and has a weird incense odor that permeates every nook and cranny, but my room is quite large and comfortable (no incense odor here). The bathroom is roomy, too, with a great shower. The hotel hallways are nearly as wide as the Champs-Élysées. I prepaid to get a cheap rate and feel it’s definitely well worth it.

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The Parkroyal is a short block off Serangoon Road in the heart of Little India. The area’s lively pulse and high energy quickens my step even in the relentless heat.

After a couple of nights at the Parkroyal, I walked from one hotel to the other (a newish Hilton Garden Inn) after breakfast as I had planned.

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Little India, Singapore

The Hilton Garden Inn on Serangoon is actually also a block off Serangoon on Belilios, a 15-minute walk from the Parkroyal on Kitchener. The hotel is not easy to see unless you are looking for it. I found it okay because I checked the location on my phone before setting out.

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Big screw-up on my part. Must have made the reservation for Feb 6, but it’s Feb 5. Hilton GI took pity and found a room for me on the busiest day of their year despite my date error. Today is Chinese New Year.

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Lobby area, Hilton Garden Inn Serangoon, Little India, Singapore

The HGI is a “Limited service” property.  The hotel industry now prefers the term “focused service” which means no bellhops or room service. In HGI’s case, they do all have a restaurant. Hampton, also owned by Hilton and also a “limited service” brand, has a free breakfast, but no on-site restaurants.

My day room ended up costing a few dollars more than I had planned, but I smiled and thanked the front desk manager profusely because it was entirely my fault. I booked it in a hurry just before I went to Austria two weeks ago and selected the wrong date, easy to do when my flight technically leaves tomorrow (just after midnight tonight).

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Room 505, GHI Serangoon, showing tiny dimensions

I am in room 505 at HGI. Initial impressions: ultra-modern and super-clean property. Rooms tiny, especially compared to Parkroyal. But very bright and cheery.

The Parkroyal room was far larger, but underlit and always a bit gloomy. Very nice and well-trained staff at HGI. Parkroyal staff was always cheerful and ready to help, but a clear difference at the Hilton in professional appearances and training.

Bottom line so far: I like both, and despite the crisp modernity of the HGI, I’d choose the Parkroyal again even with its eccentricities.

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Itty-bitty bathroom at HGI Serangoon

Wow, this HGI room is soooo small. The bathroom alone in the Parkroyal wasn’t much smaller than this entire space. Bathroom here is like one on a train.

The aging Parkroyal had electric receptacles that took either Asian or US plugs, but the HGI, despite being so new, requires adapters. I brought one or two, of course.

The  room is very attractive and bright, however. And then I did find two receptacles by the desk for laptops and phone chargers that take US and other plugs. Odd, though, that they are the only receptacles in the room that do.

If I was tall, I could almost reach the four walls standing in the center, but most American business travelers always go with the consistency that they feel is certain with a chain hotel like Hilton. Most U.S. businessmen would choose this hotel over the Parkroyal simply because Hilton is in the name.

The room is actually replete with receptacles: two by the desk, two on a small stand, one on each side of the bed, plus the usual ones in the throne room. I think the ones on the stand are meant for the coffee maker so didn’t think a guest would use them for charging. If so, then why did they install two there?

My room (505) is in the so-called (by the front desk staff) “tower” across the narrow street from the main hotel. “Tower” is an odd name for it since the main building stands far taller, at least 10-12 floors.

An overhead walkway connects the two buildings, but it’s on the 4th floor, so guests who are not in “tower” rooms on the 4th floor must take two elevators (one in each building) if they choose to use the connecting walkway instead of simply crossing the narrow street. I am guessing they built the skyway to protect guests from rain during the monsoon. Or perhaps just to provide guests wary of mixing with the locals a way to stay safely insulated from their present reality (i.e., the scary thought of being in Singapore rather than Poughkeepsie; personally, I’ll take Singapore).

I wondered if the rooms in the main building were larger. I caught up with a hotel maintenance guy on my floor and asked him. His exact words were that the main building rooms “are little big” as he held up two fingers to indicate a small measure. I’ll take his word as an expert that the difference is negligible.

This hotel supplies hand towels whereas the Parkroyal, oddly, did not.

I tried out the bed in my room. It’s very comfortable, but while lying there typing on my phone, I soon discovered that the tiny room dimension contributes to a very annoying problem: The A/C blows directly down onto the bed because it has nowhere else to distribute air, resulting in an arctic blast on my face and body every time the thermostat is triggered.

I had to get under the covers to stay warm. Even then, my head and arms got so cold that I turned off the A/C entirely. Now it’s getting hot; the outside temp is 91°, but at least I am not shivering.

A great deal of corridor noise penetrates my room. Partly that, too, may be attributed to the small room size. Though the bathroom should act as a sound shield, it doesn’t thwart the noise. I think it is due to poor sound insulation in the walls.

I did hear a baby screaming in the hall last night about 10:00 PM at the Parkroyal, but it was quickly removed, and that’s the only time I heard anything there.

But here at the HGI I can distinctly hear every word said in the corridor outside my door every time somebody goes by. That would be a consideration for me should I return.

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Resturant and bar at HGI Serangoon is on the 8th floor

I checked out the HGI restaurant, which is also the bar and breakfast cafe. It’s on the 8th floor, along with the pool. The youthful staff seemed very friendly and genuinely welcoming in the restaurant. God bless the young for not being jaded.

Back in my room, I noticed there is no bathtub, just a shower, but that’s my preference anyway.

Joe Brancatelli wrote about that coming feature in so-called three point bathrooms. Here is Joe’s 2007 article on the movement of hotels away from tubs to showers, which, to my surprise, was already well underway 12 years ago.

The back wall in the HGI shower is translucent glass and forms the wall by the bed, so weak but noticeable sunlight pierces the glass and brightens the shower interior.

No door on HGI shower, so some water tends to splash out even with a slightly depressed floor.

Only way to avoid either scalding or freezing myself is to remove the telephone shower head and hold it facing away until the desired water temp is achieved.

Shower water temp fluctuates slightly hotter at irregular intervals. I assume that’s because a toilet has been flushed somewhere.

Heck, that’s not good. My dorm room shower at North Carolina State University almost 50 years ago had conquered that old plumbing problem. Surely a country that can build an entire subway of 124 miles with 119 stations from scratch (opened in 1987) can keep a shower from scalding me.

My obsession with perfecting hotel and airline services comes from having spent forty years flying across the globe, spending far more nights in hotel rooms every year during those decades than I did in my own bed at home (usually five nights a week on the road versus two at home).

Those years taught me to closely observe every detail of what services were provided and how well the hotel and airline companies performed in delivery of what they promised. I learned to see things that infrequent travelers may not think were important. The practice has stayed with me.

Looking back, I was comfortable and could embrace either hotel as a base when working in Singapore.  The Hilton Garden Inn is very modern, but I still prefer the larger rooms, the consistent room quiet, and the better plumbing at the Parkroyal. I also had a larger table area and more room to work on my laptop at the Parkroyal than at the HGI. The other differences between the full service property and the so-called “focus-service” HGI  are not as important to me.

2 thoughts on “A tale of two Singapore hotels

  1. Pan Pacific overall is an unsung chain. I stayed in the Singapore Pan Pacific at Marina Square (not the Park Royal where you stayed, they have several products in Singapore) and I can honestly say it was one of my best hotel experiences ever. The Pan Pacific in Hanoi is also lovely. Just really gorgeous hotels at a good price point.

  2. Will: Next time in Singapore, I’d highly recommend checking out the Andaz, which is not only an amazing property but centrally located in Bugis and a short walk (indoors) to the MRT. The rooms were top notch and one of the best hotel breakfasts I ever had. I also stayed at the Grand Hyatt on the same trip. Very different kind of stay, though still nice. What struck me was that despite it being huge, it was extremely quiet once you left the lobby. It also has one of the better hotel gyms and a sizable pool that hits the spot after a long day out.

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