While most tourists head to Singapore for its city attractions, there are those who are nostalgic about the way things were in the early 20th Century. For them, the Villa Samadhi Singapore on the south of the island would fill a void or two. Mallika Naguran is pleasantly surprised with her staycation experience at a restored black and white bungalow that still tells the story of the British Singapore in the 1920s and is ecologically sensitive to the fringing nature reserve.
SINGAPORE, 26 March 2018. In many ways, Villa Samadhi Singapore surprises, even to a Singaporean and workaholic like me.
First, its location.
Away from the maddening crowd of Orchard Road and its blinding shopping lights or the imposing Marina Bay Sands with selfie-stick-wielding tourists milling around, Villa Samadhi Singapore is a boutique residence that is close to nature, and very quiet. Fact is, it is right on the verge of the Labrador Nature Reserve, fringing the southwest coast of Singapore.
Executives need only spend five minutes on a cab from Villa Samadhi Singapore to the industrial and shipping districts of Alexandra and Pasir Panjang and another 15 minutes to get into the financial and business districts, which is why it makes sense to stay a few nights there while on official business. From their rooms - and there are 20 distinctly furnished ones at Villa Samadhi Singapore - the view of the PSA Building and Maple Tree is nearly obliterated by the foliage of age-old trees.
Business rustic style, and why not?
Leisure guests can appreciate the southern charm of Singapore with the attractions such as the Keppel waterfront, Harbour Front’s cable car rides into Sentosa, Mount Faber, and Labrador Nature Reserve where Villa Samadhi Singapore is located.
Singapore is not always a concrete jungle.
The location of Villa Samadhi makes it popular with foreign travellers who need a rustic holiday in a city. For residents, the Villa comes up as a worthy Staycation.
Next, it is stress free.
The combination of being inside a nature reserve and staying in a historical building has the effect of slowing time. Just pulling in at the lobby and being greeted by staff clad in loose cotton tops and Thai-styled ‘fisherman pants’ might for a minute make you think you’ve taken a wrong flight and ended up in Phuket!
The spirit of hospitality as one mingles with the staff there is also distinctively relaxing. Samadhi in Sanskrit means the highest state of meditation. The mission of the Villa is to free guests of their anxieties and to “transition to a relaxed state of mind”.
Even with pressing editorial deadlines, hence I had to work during my two-day stay at Villa Samadhi Singapore, I felt calmer than what I would usually experience at the office. As cocktails are complimentary from 6-7 pm daily, I am strangely compelled to shut down my computer and to walk up to the bar Somerset Maugham style. There, Ramesh Batumalai describes the many infused gins he has created over time with flower, fruit or herb (and this bartender is a teetotaller!).
Over a cocktail of infused orange gin and spicy ikan bilis (anchovies) tidbits, I chat with guest relations officer Helen Millar who spins stories of yesteryears and of her fishing days in early Singapore, not too far from the Villa itself!
A soak in the jacuzzi is just what the body needs to unwind, releasing toxins in the tub with the bath salts provided. As there is no swimming pool, and if you’d love a good soak, ask for a room that has the Jacuzzi or the ‘plunge pool’. Climbing down the wooden ladder to get into the little pool can be a little tricky; so slow and easy does the trick!
Slow food comes to mind when breakfasting at Tamarind Hill, which is situated up slope, a five-minute walk on the pretty boardwalk through the trees from the guestrooms. A hot breakfast of your choice is prepared as you help yourself to the spread of toast, jams, freshly squeezed juice, homemade granola, mini nasi lemak or coconut flavoured rice and fried bee hoon.
Have a night cap with the delicious port supplied to every guest. A rare treat indeed and truly one of the few little touches that makes staying at Villa Samadhi Singapore a memorable one.
So close to nature!
Throughout my two-night stay at this Villa, I had the company of forest music courtesy of crickets and frogs. Birds, even cockerels, doubled up as alarm clocks.
Taking the path through the reserve with my binoculars, I spotted the woodpecker, a pair of kingfisher, several pigeon species as well as the family of Jungle Red Fowls (forest dwelling hens and cockerels).
“Once there were even peacocks,” said Millar. These could have been the feathered residents of the Singapore Botanical Gardens that flew southwards on a much needed break from tourists.
Animal lovers and bird spotters will not be disappointed with even a one night’s stay at Villa Samadhi Singapore. Long-tailed macaques from the forest edge may watch you have a slow breakfast on the outdoor platform of the Tamarind Hill restaurant, just a short stroll from the residence.
From your window or balcony, watch bushy tailed squirrels jump from branch to branch. The Labrador Nature Reserve is home to a chunk of the 300 bird species identified in Singapore, both residential and migrating ones.
Only walking is permitted through Labrador Nature Reserve; no bikes are allowed through the park due to the sensitive nature habitats.
Who needs a gym when one can walk or jog from the Villa, through the hilly reserve, to the waterfront and back? Nature here is the gym and sanctuary.
Step back into time
Villa Samadhi Singapore smirks every bit of a bygone era.
The black and white building initially served as a garrison built in the 1920s. British soldiers had to live close to military installations such as the fort, watch tower, gunnery, underground tunnel and chamber for gun emplacement in Labrador Battery as it was known then… these are attractions that must be viewed at the nature reserve there while you stay at the Villa.
The coastal fortification ruins dotted inside the nature reserve come with interpretation signs and maps to allow anyone without an inkling of history to have some awareness of the wartime period prior to and after the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942.
Be sure to snap a photo of the life size gun emplacement of Fort Pasir Panjang outfitted with a QF 6-inch Mk II rifled Breech Loading gun.
This era of Singapore’s heritage is also relived at The Library on the second floor of the Villa, with its remarkable tall chandelier and heavy Asian wooden furniture. There, one can have a quiet reading while having afternoon tea comprising sandwiches, scones and jam - complimentary for house guests.
Stepping into Villa Samadhi Singapore is really like stepping back into time.
Socially and Ecologically Sensitive
As Villa Samadhi Singapore turned one in January 2018, the CEO and Founder Federico Asaro spoke about having “a continued focus on sustainability and giving back to the local communities and the environment” as they expand. The group presently comprises Japamala on Tioman island and the cluster of the Samadhi resorts in Singapore, Malaysia and soon Chiang Mai. Also within the same group is the chain of Tamarind restaurants in Singapore and KL.
In renovating the building for use as guestrooms, the management was careful to retain the façade, the architectural style of that time, and tone even as the void of the ground level was filled with new living spaces.
The building materials at Villa Samadhi Singapore are mostly sourced ethically or reused, while the rattan furniture is made by the local or the indigenous communities in Malaysia. The use of salvaged timber lends to the idea of “rustic-luxe” that the Villa embodies. A eco-traveller's delight!
Instead of plastic bottled water in the guestroom, I received drinking water from a copper jug with tumblers that are claimed to possess Ayurvedic health properties. The bins are not lined with plastic trash bags either. Soaps, shampoo and body lotion are in ceramic pump dispensers. I appreciated the fact that waste was kept at a minimum and that there were no signs of plastic disposables at Villa Samadhi, with the exception of straws in cocktail drinks.
The complimentary fruit platter in the room keeps one going (if not the bowels). A small food garden round where breakfast is prepared provides fresh and pesticide free vegetable and fruit.
The underlying commitment in preserving the surroundings would hopefully extend to the planned floating tented camp to be set up at the pristine Belum Rainforest of Malaysia by the end of this year.
So these are just five reasons for an ecotourism vacation to be had at Villa Samadhi Singapore right smack in urban Singapore. Care to add more? Responsible travel just got better!
Photographs by Mallika Naguran