World Travel Magazine

9 Staycations, Road Trips and Island Hops Around Singapore

As the world adjusts to a new normal and slowly emerges from its enforced hibernation, habitual travellers find themselves hostage to their pent-up yearning. Yet times have changed, with radically scaled back air transportation options and varying visiting restrictions enforced around the globe, making the days of a week-long trip to Paris, or weekend hop to Sydney from Singapore, for now, a thing of the past.

Much more realistic are short breaks around the Lion City, to locations reachable by car, boat, yacht, seaplane, or even closer to home right here on the island — quick, easy, effective ways to assuage that burning wanderlust without the need for time-consuming quarantines.

From a Sentosa staycation at a resort designed by a British starchitect to a road-trip in neighbouring Malaysia, from a tranquil stay at a remote Indonesian archipelago to the chance to indulge in one of the world’s true Grande Dame hotels, these nine trips are effortless options for a night or two of escape, and promise to get your travel engine firing up once again.

Sleep in a Former Post Office at The Fullerton

The Fullerton Hotel Singapore

The Fullerton Hotel Singapore

The Fullerton Hotel Singapore’s Grand Staircase

Start your adventure with a staycation in Singapore. The Fullerton Hotel opened in 1928 on the Singapore River, and was the time the most expensive building on the island. It has served as a General Post Office and private club, though underwent a S$400 million refurbishment to reopen in 2001. The beautiful colonial stylings of the Palladian building are evident throughout, from the coffered ceilings to the marble floors, and the stunning atrium lobby is bright, grand, and is the setting for a fantastic, indulgent afternoon tea. Rooms, with motifs that date from the building’s opening, have a lovely historical feel about them, while the Lighthouse Italian Restaurant & Rooftop Bar is where a lighthouse was actually located from 1958-1979.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry at Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands’s rooftop infinity pool

A short distance away, across Marina Bay, stand the three towers of Marina Bay Sands, their design inspired by playing cards. This is one of Singapore’s most successful hotels, often running at full capacity and linked to a casino and a large, luxury shopping mall, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. It’s also where to find a rooftop pool shaped like a boat, an aquatic refuge that’s graced thousands of Instagram shots. The 2561 rooms come in light, soothing tones, and views of the Marina Bay or Gardens by the Bay. Gourmands are spoiled for choice with restaurants here and in the mall by celebrity chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, David Myers, Gordon Ramsay, and Tetsuya Wakuda.

Living History at Raffles Singapore

Raffles Full Hotel Facade_Day

Raffles Singapore’s Grand Lobby

For a hotel staycation in Singapore with rich history, the Raffles Singapore takes some beating. It opened in 1887 as a 10-room beach resort on what was then a waterfront road (reclamation has since pushed Singapore’s land boundaries further forward). Now more than 125 years later it is one of the Grande Dames of Southeast Asia, the place where the Singapore Sling was invented. Following a two-year closure, the all-suite hotel reopened in 2019 after a full-scale renovation by Champalimaud Design, with brighter, fresher interiors, a more open lobby, neutral tones in the rooms, soundproofing of the floors and freestanding tubs added to the bathrooms. As quite a culinary coup, La Dame de Pic, by French luminary Anne-Sophie Pic, opened as her first restaurant outside Europe.

Escape the City at the Lush Capella Singapore

Capella Singapore – Facade by Day with view of Palawan Beach

Capella Singapore

On the fun-filled island of Sentosa, Capella Singapore mixes old and new. Just over a decade old, it was designed by Foster + Partners, and combines four heritage former British Army officers’ messes with a winding, sexy extension. The property is set in 30 acres of verdant, tropical grounds where peacocks roam freely, and offers guests rooms, suites, and the Colonial Manors, black-and-white bungalows with private gardens, three bedrooms, and a plunge pool. At Bob’s Bar, with outdoor seating on comfortable rattan couches, cocktails come with sigh-inducing sunset views.

An Adults Getaway at Cempedak Private Island

Cempedak, Adults Only

Cempedak Dodo Bar by twilight

Just off the coast of Bintan, an island that is a short ferry ride from Singapore, voyagers can find Cempedak Private Island, a resort named for a sweet local fruit. Allowing only guests aged 16 and above, the property is popular with couples keen on a quick romantic getaway from Singapore. Rooms are all open-air, villas with curved roofs made of blady grass and many with views of the water. Indonesian bamboo is liberally used throughout the property, from the spiral staircase in the rooms that wind up to the first-floor bedrooms to the long stalks used to fashion an elevated walkway to the bar. Elsewhere, the compact island offers nature walks, with plenty of opportunities to spot birds, butterflies, sea otters, and hornbills.

Bawah Reserve, a Remote Refuge in Indonesia

Bawah & 5 islands view from the plane

Bawah Grouper treetop and Jules bar

Accessible via seaplane from the Indonesian island of Batam, just south of Singapore, or by private yacht, the cluster of islands that make the resort Bawah Reserve feel truly remote, part of Anambas archipelago. Though Bawah is only about 270 kilometres northeast of Singapore as the crow flies, it feels like it inhabits a more distant realm, with rugged forested hills, clear, clean lagoons, and blue sea all around, making it feel like a cross between the Maldives and Hawaii. The villas are dotted on one side of the main island, on land or over water, and come with teak floors, chrome fittings stripped down to look vintage, and recycled copper tubs. WiFi, formerly only available in guest rooms, is now available throughout the resort — offering guests the ability to connect and work remotely. The bars and restaurant have an appropriately nautical theme, from the large grouper sculpture made from driftwood at the Grouper Bar to the lamps that resemble jellyfish at Treetops restaurant. This year, Bawah will debut Elang Private Residence on one of its islands, six cliffside lodges with butler service and a spa.

Road Trip to Anantara Desaru Coast

Anantara Desaru Coast Dining By Design

From Singapore, a road trip to Malaysia is a breeze, with the northern neighbour reached via two checkpoints. Travelling northeast from Singapore, visitors will encounter Desaru Coast, reached from Singapore in under two hours, traffic permitting, or from next year by a 30-minute ferry ride. Singaporeans popularised this part of coastal Malaysia in the 1970s, visiting simple beach chalets and later the resorts that opened. Fast-forward a few decades and now the integrated destination Desaru Coast supplies a waterpark, Ernie Els golf courses, and four high-end resorts, including Anantara Desaru Coast. The first impression of this resort for visitors is the lobby, British-colonial in look, with red-tile roofs, black doors, and white walls that open up to a viewing platform, the vista taking in swimming pools, villas, restaurants, and the endless sea. Most rooms sit either side of the lobby, with many taking decor inspiration from Malay villages. The angular Residences, nearer the beach and with multiple bedrooms, are contemporary in look and feel. There are plenty of dining options, from the Thai-Malay Turmeric, to the grilled seafood at Sea Fire Salt. A children’s club with two rock-climbing walls will keep youngsters entertained, while Adventure Waterpark is a five-minute walk away. The property can also arrange nature excursions into the nearby mangrove environments.

An Aquatic Paradise at Japamala Resort

The numerous coral reefs of Tioman Island make it a popular scuba diving spot, image (C) Ariffin Aris Photography, Tourism Malaysia

Tioman Island, image by Fadlurrahman Maksom, Tourism Malaysia

Further up the coast, and continuing the theme of road trip from Singapore, is the small town of Mersing, where ferries leave for Tioman Island. Located 32 kilometres off the coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Tioman is a heavily forested island surrounded by clear emerald seas and fringing reefs. It’s hugely popular with scuba divers, sitting within the Pulau Tioman Marine Park, and nature lovers who come to marvel at birds, mouse-deer, lizards, and many species of towering hardwood trees. Book a couple of nights at Japamala, which describes itself as a ‘fashionably rustic eco-luxe resort”. Taking ten years to build, and aiming to merge into the landscape — no rocks were moved and no trees cut down — the property offers wooden chalets, hillside sarangs (or dens), and beachside villas. Adventures include boat trips, jungle treks, and scuba dives.

Majestic Moments in Malacca

Majestic Malacca

Driving is the best way to get to Malacca (also spelled Melaka), a fascinating city on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia with a rich trading history, deep colonial heritage, and a thriving Peranakan population. This is where to see a churches built by the Portuguese and Dutch, a sultanate’s palace, and a museum that explores the multi-layered culture of the Peranakans. There are plenty of boutique hotels in Malacca, but the pick is The Majestic, a hugely atmospheric property built around a 1920s Straits Settlement mansion, with fine details like original porcelain tile fittings and teak fittings. It is a place that is guaranteed, as the best travel should, to take you away. ◼

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© This article was first published online in June 2020 – World Travel Magazine.

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