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Boutique Singapore
The Scarlet Hotel

It seemed a good idea at the time. Find a cosy serviced apartment in one of Singapore's residential districts and be close to the community.

Live as the locals do, shop in the same markets, be spoiled for choice by freshly cooked food sizzling on hawker stalls, take leisurely strolls on steamy evenings when the smell of fragrant flowers and spicy foods perfume the warm air.

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In such a relaxed state, I would soon imagine that I really did live there. But all does not go to plan while choosing an apartment.

I discovered that, in most cases, Singapore's serviced apartments have to be let out for a minimum of seven days and - like most travellers to Singapore - I planned a shorter stopover en route to Europe. It was time for a quick re-think.

Yet I remained determined to find somewhere interesting to stay, somewhere tucked away from the business suits and often soulless interiors of many of the city's high-rise hotels.

Instead, I looked for small boutique hotels with not too many guest rooms in one of the interesting neighbourhoods, such as Chinatown and Little India. This time my search came up trumps and I was bowled over by accommodation choices.

Some of the rooms are new and trendy, others have been around a while - but all offer a different experience from the city's big hotels where I rarely remember the number of my room, especially when every floor and every door looks the same.

I find places such as the Ascott Hotel close to the business area at Raffles Place, which does let out apartments by the day as it also holds a hotel licence.

This hotel shows respect for the city's colonial past in its heritage building restored to retain the Art Deco facade.

There turns out to be nothing grey about Singapore's plethora of boutique hotels as so many are bursting in a rainbow of colours and design touches.

These small hotels are often in traditional shop-houses (narrow, deep terraced rows that used to have shops below and accommodation above) which have been converted, in the same way that many elegant colonial buildings have been given a new lease of life.

Soon it will be decision time, but for now I am mulling over the diversity of accommodation choices.

Chinatown

The Scarlet Hotel (80 rooms) is on Erskine Road in the heart of Chinatown, opposite Maxwell Food Centre, which is one of Singapore's oldest hawker centres with some of the city's best food.

Snaking queues are a regular sight here at lunch-time for black-peppered char siew rice, Hainanese chicken rice, peanut soup and delicious tapioca pastries.

The Scarlet is lush in its black, gold and cardinal red decor. Breeze, the hotel's rooftop seafood bar and grill, has panoramic views of Chinatown.

Nearby Smith Street is closed to cars at night and locals join visitors for alfresco dining on traditional dishes.

Also in historic Chinatown, The Saff hotel (79 rooms), on Keong Saik Road, is in a row of traditional shop-houses amid an area that played an important role in spice trading, hence the hotel's naming after the precious spice saffron.

It's an area alive with traditional Chinese medicine shops, goldsmiths, textile stores, dim sum restaurants and teahouses such as Kwong Chen on Sago Road, as well as stylish bars along Club Street.

Also on Keong Saik Road is Hotel 1929 (32 rooms).

The area used to be Singapore's red-light district with a high concentration of brothels in three-storey-high shop-houses.

These days it is a trendy haven of boutique hotels as well as coffee shops, art galleries, antique and speciality shops.

Hotel 1929 takes its name from the old-world architecture that surrounds it and belies its interior chic.

At the edge of Chinatown, the New Majestic Hotel (30 rooms), on Bukit Pasoh Road, is a fusion of traditional and modern Asian design located in a row of heritage shop-houses.

The hotel's quirky use of space, colour and style has been likened to an art gallery as Singaporean artists have work displayed in concept rooms including a mirror room, a hanging bed room, an aquarium room and a loft room.

Tiong Bahru

Close to Chinatown, Tiong Bahru is renowned for bird song with its traditional kopitiams (coffee houses) where bird lovers gather with their songbirds to catch up with fellow bird lovers and enjoy the melodious chirping of prinias, robins and shrikes which are paraded by their proud owners.

In the past, this area was renowned as the place where the rich and powerful kept their mistresses.

As a result one of Singapore's earliest housing estates was named Mei Ren Wuo (meaning den of beauties).

Hotel Nostalgia (50 rooms), on Tiong Bahru Road, and Wangz Hotel (41 rooms), on Outram Road, are both in the Art Deco precinct.

The economical Link Hotel, on Tiong Bahru Road, is a clever conversion of a public housing block into a chic hotel which has won awards for its service and facilities and is close to local hawker food at Tiong Bahru market.

For travellers in doubt, street food is invariably hygienic and safe as it is regulated by the Singapore government.

Little India

The Wanderlust Hotel (29 rooms) is on Dickson Road in the heart of Little India, an area where Indian immigrants once reared cattle and livestock.

The hotel's facade retains the old-world charm of the 1920s when the building housed the Hong Wen School but inside is contemporary decor with whimsical touches of pop art.

The area is bursting with colour and atmosphere where merchants sell everything from garlands of flowers to sarongs and gold jewellery.

Peranakan

Peranakan means descendant in Malay, and Peranakans blend Chinese and Malayan traditions in religion, customs, language, dress, and food.

Le Peranakan hotel (65 rooms) is on East Coast Road, near Katong and Joo Chiat roads, where guests immerse themselves in the distinctive Peranakan culture, shop for handcrafted embroidery, sarongs, hand-beaded slippers and handbags as well as enjoy traditional food that combines aromatic herbs, spices and coconut milk.

FACT FILE

• Getting there: It is hard to go past Singapore Airlines, the country's international carrier, which gives travellers a taste of Singapore's style and food flavours. www.singaporeair.com.

• Apartment choices: Travellers planning a seven-days or more stay in Singapore can check out the wide range of apartments available at www.servicedapartments.org.sg.

More

'''www.yoursingapore.com

www.thescarlethotel.com

www.thesaffhotel.com

www.hotel1929.com

www.newmajestichotel.com

www.hotelnostalgia.com.sg

www.wangzhotel.com

www.linkhotel.com.sg

www.wanderlusthotel.com

www.leperanakanhotel.com'''