SINGAPORE - There is nothing novel about capsule hotels in Singapore. The earliest entrants to the market - such as Wink Hostel and Matchbox the Concept Hostel - welcomed their first guests in 2011.
However, a new kid on the block wants to up the ante with better facilities and services of hotels, while retaining the low prices of hostels.
Nestled in the heart of Chinatown at Smith Street, the 78-bed Cube boutique capsule hotel occupies a refurbished shophouse that was once the 22-room Hotel Lulu.
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With reasonable prices below $100 a night for single capsules, Cube manages to hit the right balance in comfort and price.
Its rooms are named after streets around Chinatown, such as Pagoda, Sago, Mosque, Smith and Temple, typically with over 10 capsules in each room.
Having stayed in a few hostels in Europe and Asia, Cube is a breath of fresh air with its squeaky clean interiors and amenities.
Mood lightings and neutral tones at Cube lend to the tranquil and intimate ambience, which is a welcome break from the lights and sounds of the bustling streets of Chinatown.
Accommodation spaces are carpeted, while there are shoe lockers outside the rooms for guests. Getting stuck in a room with unpleasant smells (read: foot odour from fellow roommates) is quite an unforgettable experience, so this thoughtful gesture allows guests to clean their feet before entering the room, or dissipate the foul smell at the very least.
Keycard access to the shoe lockers, room and safe ensure a hassle-free experience, while there is also an additional combination locker within the capsule for guests who need more storage space.
Capsule hotels may thrive on a no-frills business model with basic amenities, but Cube has bucked the trend with thoughtful trappings in each capsule.
Despite the limited space, the ceiling in each capsule has been deliberately arched ever so slightly, said Mr Benedict Choa, director at RB Hospitality, which owns the hotel.
While aesthetically insignificant, it allows enough headroom for guests to sit upright in the capsule, who would otherwise have to crawl in the capsule. It is another minor but ingenious gesture which I appreciated during my stay in the queen capsule.
To maximise the limited space within each capsule, there are retractable shelves that double as tables, but the sharp edges of the shelves can be obstructive. It would have been better if the edges were 'child-proofed' with corner guards, given the cramped conditions.
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So far, I was thoroughly impressed until I peered over the luxurious duvet and - to my horror - found strands of short curly hair and an empty water bottle.
But it was all forgiven after the hotel staff quickly cleared the unsavoury bits, which I dismissed because of the communal concept in each room.
The only privacy separating each capsule from the room's common space is a blind, with the assumption that guests with keycard access to the room will stay in their allocated capsules.
As with all hostels, the shower facilities at Cube are located at common areas, although each bathroom has its private shower, toilet and sink. Unlike most hostels, the bathrooms were spotless and pleasant.
There are also comfortable communal spaces for guests to work or eat. Otherwise, guests can hop over to the Cube bar, which serves breakfast for guests in the day, and alcoholic drinks at night.
Fans of local cuisine will be pleased to know that the breakfast spread includes traditional Singaporean food bought from nearby hawker centres around Chinatown.
Cube, which welcomed its first guests from Sept 10, 2016, has plans to expand to three other properties under the same branding.
Mr Choa told AsiaOne that there are also plans to include shared workspaces in other properties, allowing business travellers to rent a space to work, before retiring back to their capsules - part of its holistic and affordable strategy.
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Plans to expand Cube to the region are also on the drawing board, Mr Choa said.
For the new kid on the block, Cube has been quick to differentiate itself from other capsule hotels, even bucking the trend to offer better amenities.
However, with concerns of an oversupply of rooms in Singapore, it remains to be seen if Cube can be a disrupter, not just in the capsule hotel scene, but in the hospitality scene.
Prices for the single capsule start from $64 a night, while prices for the queen capsule start from $119 a night.