Colourful shophouses still remain in Balestier

At Novena in Singapore, Hanna Hussein experiences life in a bustling suburban district while still being close to interesting touristy sites downtown.


Stylish lobby on the 22nd floor

LOOKING out at the Singapore skyline from the 22nd floor of Courtyard by Marriott Singapore Novena, the concrete jungle looks impressive.

The Lion City is undoubtedly a world-class destination - safe, convenient, and clean. A neighbouring country that I won't mind visiting numerous times, by air or by land.

This time, I am staying at Novena, a less-crowded area popular for medical tourism. The stylish hotel is located next to some premium hospitals and a two-minute walk away from the MRT Station.




Sleek deluxe of Courtyard

SLEEK SKYLINE

The hotel starts from level 22, which is where the lobby is and the roof top is on level 33. Rooms are located in between these levels, so you can imagine the views of the city from the floor to ceiling windows.

My room has ample space and minimal and sleek design.

The queen bed is soft and plush. The bathroom has a sliding door made of wood.



Appetising starter

HEARTY CHOICES

For breakfast, Sky 22 serves hearty and healthy dishes.

Here, you can savour delectable international cuisine in a stylish setting, enhanced by floor-to-ceiling glass windows that showcase stunning views of the Singapore cityscape.

For a 250-room hotel, the buffet choices are impressive. There are local fare and international choices like pizza for breakfast. However, some choices are not halal.

Sky 22 also opens for lunch and dinner. Of course, I do not miss my chance to have my dinner here.

Looking at the menu, the choice are endless; you'll go gaga especially if you're health-conscious.

Since there are five of us, we go overboard and order a few dishes. The chef recommends Singapore chilli crab and thin crust pizza. Okay, that's not too healthy but why not!


Healthy option, go for Nasi Ulam

For a healthier option, we order nasi ulam wild rice salad followed by platters of bruchetta served with tomato and basil, avocado and mushroom, as well as my favourite creamy platter of camembert cheese served with grilled sourdough.

For mains, I recommend the signature tiger prawn laksa lemak if you like to try something local. If you like something light, go for pan-seared red spotted grouper.


Oh that rich laksa!

End your night with a delicious mouthwatering bubur cha cha cup - a medley of sweet potato, yam, sago, banana and pandan jelly topped with coconut ice cream.


COLOURS OF BALESTIER

What can you do here? Go for a heritage walk at Balestier, I say! It's a self-guided walk so you can go anytime at your own leisure.

My morning walk today is accompanied by a local, Stephanie, a Courtyard by Marriott Singapore Novena employee.

At 9am, we take a Grab ride to the first point of Balestier Heritage Walk located nearby, stopping at a the traditional bakery shop of Sing Hon Loong at Whampoa.


The antique bakery along Balestier

It's a small old-school shop that supplies freshly baked loaves of white bread, and it smells so good! In operation for more than 50 years, the bakery uses old-fashioned ovens.

The baking kitchen is open so you can feel the heat of the oven and watch the baking process.

Buy a loaf and see how fluffy it is. There's butter, kaya and peanut butter choices to spread on toast.

We then continue our walk along the main Balestier road, while Stephanie briefs me on the area.

"Do you know how this place got its name?" she asks. Clueless, I shake my head.

According to Stephanie, the road was named after Joseph Balestier, an American Consul to Singapore who owned a large sugar cane estate in the area. He arrived in Riau in 1834, but later chose to reside in Singapore as he felt that the island was a more important trading hub.

Quite a prominent businessman during those days, Balestier leased 405 hectares of land to plant 89 hectares of sugar cane but in 1848, the plantation was put up for sale.

Another Balestier trivia - the area is famous for its chicken rice and bak kut teh.


the vibrant Sim Kwong Ho

Next we spot the quaint colourful shoplots known as Sim Kwong Ho shophouses located by the junction of Balestier and Kim Keat roads. It feels like I am transported back to the old days. The distinct building looks so traditional but vibrant.

It was built in 1926, by Madam Sim Cheng Neo, a rich merchant who also owned other properties in the area. You can see unique detailed carvings of flowers, birds and mythical beasts, which are ancient symbols of good fortune to the Chinese.

If you like coffee and the smell of coffee beans, do check out Lam Yeo coffee. The small old-fashioned shop, opened since the 1960s, sells various types of coffee powder, mainly from Indonesia.


The old fashion way to check your eye

A couple of blocks away is an antique shop selling opticals. Known as Lim Kay Khee Optical & Contact Lens Centre, the traditional optical shop proudly retains its interior. In fact, it still has the vintage eye-testing machine!

If you want to know more about history, head to Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. It is a posh villa built in 1901 by Chinese businessman Boey Chuan Pohfor his mistress, Bin Chan.

It was later bought over in 1905 by rubber magnate Teo Eng Hock, a keen supporter of the Chinese Nationalist Movement to overthrow the Qing Dynasty.


Coffee bean antique shop

In 1906, he offered the house to Dr Sun Yat Sen as the Southeast Asian base for Chinese Revolutionary Alliance.

The elegant villa then served as the centre for revolutionary activities and local headquarters. The Japanese military has also occupied the house as the communication centre during the Second World War.

Today, the gallery houses important artefacts, paintings and photographs that trace the story of Dr Sun and highlights the contributions made by Chinese communities in Southeast Asia to the revolution.


Sweet and savoury Tau Sar Piah

Do visit two beautiful sacred places - Maha Sasana Ramsi Burmese Buddhist Templer and St Alphonsus church. Both have a historical story behind it.

Oh, and grab a box of tau sar piah too!

nhanna@nst.com.my

FAST FACTS

Courtyard by Marriott Singapore Novena 99 Irrawaddy Road, Novena, Singapore

TEL +65 6250 0303

WEBSITE www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/sincy-courtyard-singaporenovena/

STAY The hotel boasts 250 stylishly-designed guest rooms, with floor to ceiling windows that offer panoramic views of the city skyline and nature reserve.

EAT Dine at Sky22, the hotel's all-day dining restaurant, recharge at Lobby Lounge or head up to Urbana Rooftop bar for cocktails, where the 20-metre infinity pool is located.

GO Experience life in a bustling suburban district while still being close to the Balestier Heritage area, downtown Singapore and Orchard Road. Three shopping malls, a premier hospital, medical centres and Novena MRT station are within walking distance of the hotel.

DO Gym buff, the Fitness Center opens 24 hours, seven days a week! Psst... it has stunning views.

HIGHS Impressive roof-top infinity pool, dazzling even at night.

LOWS Parking is not free.

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