Just before Chinese New Year, I was invited to spend a weekend reviewing a newly opened hotel called Amoy. I had enjoyed my previous staycation at the Village Hotel Katong, but just because of its proximity to my workplace, it was a little hard not to think about work while I’m in that area. Also, I had just cancelled my Bangkok trip, so I was definitely looking forward to this quick weekend getaway.
The review is going to be a little different from my usual format, but that’s also because Amoy is a rather unusual hotel; straight away I knew my stay (and this subsequent review) was going to be a little unusual when the address brought me to this place:
This quaint little building is Fuk Tak Chi, Singapore’s first Chinese temple built in 1824 that once stood on the banks of Singapore’s coastline, welcoming Chinese immigrants to shore, and is now a little museum one can visit to learn a little bit about the lives of these Chinese immigrants and their part in Singapore’s history.
It’s not a very big temple – mostly consisting of one main open-air courtyard, a small hallway and altar beyond that, one can walk around the inside pretty quickly. There is a diorama in the middle of the hallway that depicts what the place might have looked like back in the day.
And then again, not all museums or temples come with this magic doorway in its back wall…
Step through the sliding glass door it feels like you’ve stepped outside… except it’s air-conditioned. Once the back alley of Fuk Tak Chi, it has now been converted into the lobby of a hotel with a rather al-fresco concept, high ceilings with glass panes that fill the hall with natural light. This is Amoy, the first (and probably only) hotel in Singapore to have its entrance housed in a museum.
The thing you really want to look out for here is this feature wall – the well which is now a fountain was there long before the temple was even built, and the decorations on the walls are actually some of the surnames of the first Hakka and Cantonese immigrants here in Singapore. Sadly, mine aren’t up there, but then again I come from Hokkien and Teochew lines…
Amoy is a boutique hotel with a very small number of rooms, 37 rooms at present count though they’re looking to add a few more rooms in the near future. There is a lift in the back (that red tower you might have noticed in my first picture) that goes up 4 floors so you don’t have to haul your stuff up, thankfully.
The rooms are built in what used to be old shophouses, so the first thing I noticed was that the corridors felt a little like you were in a large cruise ship – rather low and undulating, with sudden steps and slopes and bends. Jeremy, the hotel staff who was showing me to my room, explained that the old shophouses in the past were not built with any regulations, so the hotel had to build around these uneven structures in order to stay within the strict regulations of these old buildings – thus no two rooms has the same specifications!
My room was #214; a rather cute touch is that all the rooms were named after one of the Chinese surnames up on the feature wall, and sometimes the hotel tries to match guests to their surnames if possible. Unfortunately, my surname wasn’t one of the chosen few, so I was assigned to ‘Cai’ instead. There are cozy single rooms, but mine was a deluxe double room which is more spacious – the doorway opens into a split level room, with the bed tucked away on the lower level, with a modest work area against the wall. The room overlooks Far East Square, which isn’t actually very crowded on weekends, and there are blackout blinds on the windows for privacy, or you can ask for a room on a higher level. Not that noisy either thankfully, though there was drilling in the afternoon because of some repair works in the area.
The bathroom in my room was on the right hand side of the doorway, with the toilet hidden aesthetically behind a full length mirrored door, and while the shower was smallish, it came with a kick ass rain shower and nice wooden paneled floors.
I liked the clean oriental design that manages a chic modern feel without being too kitschy. They also did a pretty good job of not making the room feel squeezy, with lots of space saving features, like doing away with cupboard doors altogether and having a flat-screen TV that swings out from the wall so you can enjoy in bed. It also has quite smart features, like a safe with a powerpoint in it, an alarm clock with USB points and an iphone dock, and even a nespresso machine! Fairly thoughtful all things considered.
THE FACILITIES AND STAFF
It’s a boutique hotel built in a rather unusual and tight area, so don’t expect extra facilities like a pool or a gym or a spa – it’s focus is mainly on the rooms. Right now they don’t even have an in-house restaurant, so breakfast is served continental style as a buffet in the lobby, though they tell me the in-house kitchen is opening soon. Still, you are connected to a retail space like Far East Square (more below), so dining options are a-plenty just steps out the doorway.
What really impressed me more than anything is the quality staff that they have, who take the time to get to know the guests and really introduce them to the hotel and its heritage. Big shout out to Jeremy, who patiently checked me in and delivered me up to my room, and took the time to explain all the features of the room to me. Later on that day, he even took me on a personalized guided tour around Fuk Tak Chi museum, and surprised me with his detailed knowledge and passion for its history – I learned quite a lot that day. For guests arriving via the free airport limousine service, this tour of Fuk Tak Chi is usually the first thing they encounter, so I think that’s one way to really make your trip special.
Psst some trivia I learned thanks to Jeremy: look out for the resident bats (a couple and their baby) in Fuk Tak Chi – their usual spot is high up in the temple’s rafters in front of one of the sliding doors – you’ll know which one by the bat shit marks on the floor! I honestly thought they weren’t real until they started moving… The word for ‘bat’ in Chinese has the same sound as that of good fortune, ‘fu’, so having a bat fly through your house is said to mean an impending windfall. Having bats decide to take up residence is even better and means the good luck is here to stay!
LOCATION AND AROUND THE AREA
The hotel is actually a part of the Far East Square complex, which is a commercial building with various offices, shops and retail spaces. You can enter via the back (and less interesting) entrance through Far East Square.
Fuk Tak Chi, and by extension Amoy, has a very central location along Telok Ayer Street, very close to the towering offices of the Central Business District and in an area close to many historical buildings. Just along Telok Ayer Street, you can find the famous Thian Hock Keng temple and Nagore Durgha shrine amongst others.
Also within walking distance is Chinatown, which I visited in the evening of my stay (more on that here). I didn’t have to worry about the usual festive traffic jams, just strolled there and back again when I was done with the crowds! That area is where you can find the Sri Mariamman hindu Temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic temple, as well as the street markets of Chinatown. And for those who want to have a little more modern fun, Ann Siang Hill has a few streets that are blocked off in the evenings filled with restaurants, pubs and cafes.
The closest subway/MRT station is Telok Ayer on the newly opened Downtown line, which is right across the street from Fuk Tak Chi so it’s very convenient. I came from the Raffles Place station, which was about 5-10mins away, which also puts major sights like the Esplanade and Singapore River area within walking distance. The front desk tells me that some companies check their staff in here because it gives them a chance to learn about Singapore’s history even while on a business trip.
AND… THE COST
Branding itself as a 4-star boutique hotel, it’s definitely not a cheap stay though I have to say it has a great location. The current promo price of $218 for a single room and $268 for a double room is only till 9th Feb, before it becomes $318 / $368, which is pretty pricey considering some of the other boutique hotels in the area. Definitely not for the budget conscious and those who like the frills of hotel facilities, but for those who want great service and a unique hotel stay. Amoy’s reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and other sites have been pretty high so far, not bad for a hotel that opened only in Dec 2012!
Overall, I’d recommend you check it out if you can afford it! I love the less noisy yet very central location and the sheer fact that this hotel is somehow built out the back of a temple, as well as the good service.
Thanks to Far East Hospitality for the complimentary stay. All views are my own