Is a night at Singapore’s first shipping container hotel worth S$188?
Yes, if you’re a party of four, travelling on a budget or looking for an off-the-beaten-track staycation. No, if you're a claustrophobe. CNA Lifestyle’s Genevieve Loh tries one for size.
Sleeping in a shipping container is unlikely to be at the top of every Singapore visitor’s list, but when I woke up after my night at the Shipping Container Hotel at JTC Launchpad in one-north, I reckon I got a glimpse of the future of international budget travel.
It’s a 280 sq ft air-conditioned rectangular steel box.
Sure, it may not immediately sound like the most comfortable place to lay one’s head for the night, but steel shipping containers have been the latest hotel trend around the world for some time now. It has sprung up in cities such as Amsterdam and Dubai, and countries such as Malaysia, United States, Czech Republic and Chile in the past few years.
So why not Singapore? Especially since shipping containers are very much woven into the fabric of the country’s identity as one of the world’s busiest ports.
A pop-up shipping container hotel on a grassy knoll in the middle of an industrial park does seem novel, fun and literally off-the-beaten track right? It depends.
FACILITY AND SECURITY CHECK
I was admittedly a little apprehensive about spending a lonesome overnight at Singapore's very first shipping container hotel. My slight tendency towards claustrophobia aside, the CNA newsroom was just up the road – who fancies a staycation where one can see and walk to one’s office?
Though called a hotel, the container is more like a trailer or cabin because there are no facilities such as swimming pools, room service or daily housekeeping. Which really won't affect you if you’re planning to be out exploring the city the entire duration of your travels.
You're greeted by the owners themselves upon check-in, as they patiently explain all the necessary things one needs to know about living in a souped-up shipping container.
The number one concern for me was security. But it’s got a camera on the porch (although not inside the container) to record the comings and goings of people, and I felt reassured that guests are given a 24-hour hotline number to call should we need anything.
The digital key lock system also self-locks when it’s firmly shut, so hearing that resounding “click” instantly makes one feel just that little bit safer. Pulling the curtains to keep away prying eyes and curious passersby also added to the cocoon effect.
YOUR VERY OWN TINY HOUSE NATION
At 280 sq ft, fellow claustrophobes might want to know that’s slightly smaller than two ample carpark spaces. But once inside the container, the service apartment layout and minimalist design makes one feel less boxed-in than initially imagined.
It’s almost like being in an episode of Tiny House Nation, and I appreciated that the container had been fitted out completely, with smart modular furniture and imaginatively used space that can sleep up to, wait for it, four people.
The kitchenette came surprisingly well-equipped with an induction stove, pots and pans, utensils, crockery, cutlery, and even spices and cooking oil. There were even added luxuries like a full-sized fridge and freezer, a souped-up washer/dryer (great for weary travellers) and a microwave, which makes late night takeaway suppers convenient.
A small dining table and the porch with lounge chairs certainly make communal living for four seem a little more spread out. But it’s the fact that the couch and study desk areas can transform into two queen size beds that really makes all the difference.
My usually achy back was pleasantly surprised that the mattresses were comfortable, given that they were murphy beds (wall beds). The strategic placement of wall sockets (there were many throughout the container) was also a well thought out and welcome feature for travellers reliant on their gadgets.
And it was a proper en suite bathroom – complete with hot rain shower and toilet – that was tucked away at the end of the container. A far cry from the portaloo situation I was expecting, it was a nice and fancy revelation, especially since it came with ample bathing and sink space.
And if you're wondering about heat and stuffiness – it is a shipping container right smack in sunny Singapore, after all – there are three air-conditioners placed strategically to cool the entire box. It might not seem the most eco-friendly of ways, but I was assured by the owners of future plans towards solar panels and overall sustainability.
THINKING INSIDE THE BOX
Indeed, it’s all about thinking “inside” the box when it comes to container hotel designs. And to pay anywhere from S$140++ (from Sunday to Thursday) to $160++ (from Friday to Saturday) plus taxes for all this, including free Wi-Fi and Netflix, is considerably a steal.
It's also competitively comparable to what one would pay for four people at a three-star hotel anywhere in Singapore. Especially when the MRT station is right across the road, along with a Cold Storage supermarket, a food court, a 7-Eleven convenience store and a Starbucks.
And let’s not forget, local hipster hawker food court Timbre Plus is also just a stone’s throw away. Though the free local live music that comes with that can be a boon or a bane – you can enjoy it while sitting on your porch or it’s a noisy nuisance if you want peace and quiet.
Overall, the Shipping Container Hotel and its surrounding “facilities” is right in the vein of a new breed of budget hotels that aim to make life easier for the cash-strapped 21st century traveller.
As we're being asked to spend more on air taxes, checking in our baggage and even being charged for the privilege of using a credit card to pay for it all, pop-up container hotels like this are looking to be more popular than ever.
A VIEW OF… THE ROAD
Of course there are downsides. These hotels aren't going to suit everybody. If you like concierge service, bellboys to help with your baggage and free branded toiletries, this certainly isn't the experience for you.
You need to be happy being self-sufficient, watching television up close and good in small spaces. You also need to be okay living alongside the odd creepy-crawly, given that your container is on top of a grassy patch of land. More than anything, you need to be sure you're very comfortable with the person(s) you’re sharing the room with. Here, your dance space is their dance space.
But my main gripe has to be the current location, what with my container porch opening up to the glorious view of… the main road. My side door opens up to provide an alternative vista of the carpark. As novel as it might seem living among start-up offices, I felt myself longing for the container to be somewhere more private, surrounded by unbounded nature or the gentle seaside.
I felt better after hearing from owner (and self-taught container hotel designer) Seah Liang Chiang that the long-term plan – after its two-year lease at JTC Launchpad – is to move his two container hotels closer to beaches or more view-friendly locales such as Sentosa and Coney Island.
The aim, I'm told, is for it to be a pop-up hotel that will shift to a different location every two to three years, allowing guests to explore various parts of Singapore.
So is it worth the money spending a night inside a big steel crate that is usually loaded onto ships and trains? The answer is yes, especially when they are this innovative and creative that for most parts of the stay, you simply forget that you’re in a shipping container.
Sustainable and mobile, these containers are perfect for those who travel light and don't mind forgoing a bit of space and privacy in exchange for affordable comfort in the one of the world's most expensive cities.
Guests can make reservations at www.shippingcontainerhotel.com