Depending on who you ask, “barefoot luxury” is either an annoying buzzword that will peter out soon enough, or the next big thing in upscale travel.
The concept is nebulous and difficult to pin down. Some places take it literally- at the Gili Lankanfushi, guests literally surrender their shoes for the duration of their stay. Others, like the Six Senses, believe the term is synonymous with getting back to nature and being one with the environment (although the ecological credentials of a far-flung air-conditioned resort where the vast majority of supplies are flown in is debatable).
If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that barefoot luxury is about embracing the natural environment, without foregoing creature comforts. Unfortunately, Singapore doesn’t afford too many opportunities to experience this trend. Our luxury hotels are surrounded by masses of glass and concrete; our barefoot options are select-service (read: lower your expectations) hovels like Kranji farmstays and Changi chalets.
I suppose that’s why I was so intrigued by Villa Samadhi, a retreat that channels rustic chic in a hideaway location. I was vaguely aware of its existence thanks to a few specialty interest featurettes, but only recently started considering it as a serious staycation option. If nothing else, I figured it might be a nice change of pace from my usual haunts.
The verdict? Villa Samadhi is an intriguing concept that isn’t quite delivered to its fullest potential.
|📋 In This Review|
|🏨 Other Staycation Reviews|
|Andaz Singapore | Ascott Orchard | Crowne Plaza Changi | Dusit Thani Laguna | Duxton Reserve | Four Seasons Singapore | Hilton Singapore | Hotel 81 Tristar | Hotel G | Hotel Soloha | InterContinental Bugis | Mandarin Orchard | Mandarin Oriental Singapore | Marina Bay Sands | M Social | Outpost Hotel | Pan Pacific Singapore | PARKROYAL Pickering | Raffles Hotel | Shangri-La Singapore | The Capitol Kempinski | The Barracks Hotel | The Fullerton Hotel | W Sentosa Cove | YOTELAIR Changi Airport|
Booking a Villa Samadhi Staycation
As some of you may know, Traveloka has been going absolutely gangbusters with their promo codes of late. Every weekend, you can reliably get at least S$100 off most hotels (you’ll have to act fast as the codes disappear really quickly), plus additional savings with certain credit cards.
It was during one such sale that I saw a Villa Samadhi package going at S$575 nett for a one-night stay with breakfast, afternoon tea, and a set dinner for two. I managed to cut the price by S$230 thanks to a combination of Traveloka promo codes (S$130) and The Milelioness’ SRV (S$100), paying just S$345 nett.
I’d say that was a great deal, if not for the fact that I later discovered a similar package on Samadhi’s official website which starts from S$455 nett.
That meant my Traveloka discounts were pretty much illusionary- the S$130 of promo codes merely helped me save S$10 compared to the official price. I’m not saying that’s always the case (it’s possible to score some excellent deals with Traveloka codes), but it does mean you’ll want to do some comparison shopping. In my defense, this package wasn’t on the Samadhi website at the time I made my booking, but ah well…
Villa Samadhi: Arrival & Check-in
Villa Samadhi is located at 20 Labrador Villa Road, nestled within the Labrador Nature Reserve. The nearest MRT station is Labrador Park, but I’d recommend you take a car instead. The 8-minute walk to the hotel is unsheltered, and the sidewalk disappears towards the end.
Keep an eye out for the Villa Samadhi and Tamarind Hill signs, where Labrador Villa Road forks into two.
If you’re taking a car, ask the driver to turn right at the fork and head up the hill.
While it’s possible to drive all the way to the top, the car won’t be able to enter the driveway and you’ll have to leg it the last 20 meters or so.
If you’re driving your own car, head straight at the fork and park at the open air Tamarind Hill restaurant carpark (parking is free for hotel guests). Walk back the way you drove and look out for a wooden walkway on the left with a sign that says “entry only for hotel guests”. These long wooden walkways are apparently a standard feature at Samadhi properties, and are meant to be a metaphor for a “gateway to a dream state”, whatever that means.
The walkway deposits you on the upper floor of the hotel. Walk down the stairs to reception, and be warned, there’s no lifts for your bags.
Regardless of which way you arrive at the hotel, the last part of your journey will be unsheltered, so pray the weather is in your favor when you arrive.
Villa Samadhi is one of a pair of 1920s black-and-white bungalows that originally served as the quarters of the British Army’s artillery garrison. Throughout the years it’s gone in and out of use, with stints as the Pasir Panjang Boys Hostel (after all, when’s the last time a bunch of boys got in trouble in the jungle?), Breakthrough Missions (a halfway house), and the unsuccessful Villa Raintree Resort and Spa (wound up in 2010).
Samadhi Retreats took over management in 2011, developing one bungalow into Tamarind Hill restaurant and the other into Villa Samadhi. The hotel opened in January 2017 after a long and protracted renovation- as you can imagine, sprucing up conservation buildings is always a herculean task.
From the moment I arrived, it was clear that this was going to be unlike any staycation I’d done before. There’s a wall of greenery in all four directions, the stillness of the air is punctuated only by the incessant chirping of cicadas, and even cell phone reception is patchy in places. It was like something out of a Rudyard Kipling novel.
I’d arranged for 1 p.m early check-in on my Tuesday arrival, and the friendly staff (either barefoot or in slippers, as is the vibe) came out to greet me as I walked towards the building. My luggage was taken, and I was ushered into the check-in area with its bank teller counter and oversized buddha statue.
Check-in was fast, and once The Milelioness arrived, we were escorted to the room.
Villa Samadhi: Crib
Villa Samadhi has just 20 rooms (called chambers), split into the following categories:
|Room Type||Number of Rooms||Size|
|Rustic Crib||2||25 sqm|
|Luxe Crib||2||40 sqm|
|Luxe Sarang||1||56 sqm|
First, a little bit of terminology. If you browse the hotel’s website, you might get confused by the references to “ground floor” and “first floor”. As it turns out, this is one of those Briticisms, where the ground floor (logically) is the floor on the ground, but the first floor (less logically) is the floor above the ground- you know, what normal people call the second floor. Anyway, for consistency’s sake I’ll adopt the hotel’s terms in this review.
The nine Cribs are the lead-in category, spread over the ground and first floors. The two Rustic Cribs are basically the same as the regular Crib, except they have a wooden bathtub in addition to the standard rain shower. The two Luxe Cribs are 50% larger than the regular Crib, with the extra space used for a living room area.
The six Sarang rooms have either outdoor or indoor plunge pools. Request the ground floor if you want an indoor pool; request the ones in the building’s appendix if you want an outdoor pool. The single Luxe Sarang is Villa Samadhi’s “presidential suite”, housed in a separate structure adjacent to the main villa and boasting its own garden and plunge pool.
We were assigned to a Crib on the first floor, up the stairs from reception. The route passes through The Library, with its striking wrought-iron chandelier and vermilion red curtains.
The Library also has a bar, but I think the hotel missed a step by not having an evening cocktail hour for guests. This would be a lovely place enjoy a libation while reading a book from the hotel’s collection.
As you walk through the bungalow, you get the sense that the hotel has taken great pains to keep as much of the original structure as possible. The owner personally sourced the materials for restoration, even setting up a workshop in Malaysia to rehabilitate the damaged timber. The furniture is a mixture of genuine antiques and reproductions, and accessories like bamboo blinds and rattan furniture are sourced from indigenous groups in Malaysia and northern Thailand.
Our chamber was #16, behind a set of French doors.
As you can see, the décor is decidedly rustic. There’s no electronic keycards here; you literally use a key to open the padlock on the door.
It’s quaint, but not an example of great design. The latch can be fastened from either the inside or the outside, which means that someone in the corridor could easily lock you in. In fact, The Milelioness absent-mindedly (or so she says) did so a few times upon leaving the room, and surely that’s a potential fire hazard too?
The Crib may not be huge at 27 sqm, but it feels spacious thanks to a very high ceiling; perhaps 4 meters by my estimation.
If you’re expecting cutting-edge interior design, you’ve come to the wrong place. Teak furniture is the order of the day here, with dark wood floors and whitewashed walls. It feels rather spartan, although on closer inspection, most of the things you’d expect in a standard hotel room are present in some form or another.
The four post bedframe boasted a king-sized mattress that was firm and great for sleeping. The sheets were thick, perhaps even a little too thick. This room’s high ceiling means the air conditioning has a lot of work to do. I’d recommend cranking it up to full blast and lowering the thermostat.
Don’t expect bedside USB ports or even light switches for that matter. The light controls (with an old-style dimmer) are located by the door, and there’s a single power plug near the base of the bedside table. A bowl of welcome fruits was provided, as well as two (unwrapped) masks in an envelope.
The other bedside table had a bottle of hand sanitizer and a jar (yes, a jar) of tissues.
There’s no work desk in the room, but answering emails somehow feels antithetical to the ethos of this property. You can use your laptop in The Library or at Tamarind Hill, although fair warning: neither has work-friendly chairs. I’d rather head to Privé at Keppel Bay Island for coffee and a chance for some solid productivity.
I must say though- for a hotel that’s supposedly all about disconnecting, Villa Samadhi has their Wi-Fi done right. Internet speeds were among the fastest of any hotel I’ve visited, which means you can stream 4K Netflix with ease.
|Mandarin Orchard||273 Mbps||294 Mbps|
|Villa Samadhi||62 Mbps||53 Mbps|
|M Social Singapore||46 Mbps||49 Mbps|
|Conrad Centennial||40 Mbps||44 Mbps|
|YOTELAir Changi||29 Mbps||49 Mbps|
|W Sentosa Cove||34 Mbps||34 Mbps|
|Ascott Orchard||29 Mbps||29 Mbps|
|Duxton Reserve||28 Mbps||29 Mbps|
|Mandarin Oriental||28 Mbps||28 Mbps|
|The Fullerton Hotel||23 Mbps||24 Mbps|
|PARKROYAL Pickering||24 Mbps||23 Mbps|
|Shangri-La Singapore||19 Mbps||18 Mbps|
|Pan Pacific Singapore||19 Mbps||19 Mbps|
|Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore||19 Mbps||19 Mbps|
|InterContinental Bugis||15 Mbps||15 Mbps|
|The Capitol Kempinski Hotel||16 Mbps||13 Mbps|
|Hilton Singapore||13 Mbps||14 Mbps|
|Marina Bay Sands||11 Mbps||11 Mbps|
|Andaz Singapore||8.0 Mbps||9.5 Mbps|
|Four Seasons Singapore||6.7 Mbps||9.8 Mbps|
|The Barracks Hotel||7.3 Mbps||7.7 Mbps|
|Hotel 81 Tristar||7.0 Mbps||6.8 Mbps|
|Raffles Hotel||6.9 Mbps||6.8 Mbps|
|Hotel Soloha||4.7 Mbps||5.1 Mbps|
|Hotel G Singapore||4.4 Mbps||4.8 Mbps|
|Internet speeds based on Speedtest.net scores|
A freestanding TV occupied most of the space on the console table facing the bed. Cable channels are available, but there’s no option to pair it with your smartphone. Bring a HDMI cable if you want to watch your own media content.
In keeping with the hotel’s eco-friendly credentials, plastic bottles are eschewed in favor of a copper water pitcher. The little card below elucidates the anti-microbial and anti-carcinogenic (really?) properties of copper; all I thought about was how nice a Moscow Mule would taste in one of these.
Next to the bed was a solid-looking armoire, which had wardrobe space on top and an empty mini-bar below. I thought it was somewhat amiss that the room didn’t have any teabags or a coffee capsule machine, considering how much guests are usually paying.
The subway-tiled bathroom is behind a set of wooden doors with clear glass panels. There aren’t any privacy blinds, so you probably shouldn’t share this room with anyone you wouldn’t want to see naked. It’s also not air-conditioned, relying on the shutters to let in fresh air (and some amount of outside noise).
There were three types of shower outlets- a hand shower, an overhead rain shower, and a faucet for washing your feet. I couldn’t tell what brand of toiletries were provided, because they came in bulk-sized ceramic pump bottles (one of which had faded noticeably). Whatever it was, it was pleasant enough.
The toilet wasn’t anything fancy, but at least it had a bidet hose- more than I can say for a lot of luxury hotels.
While there’s certainly room for dual sinks, Cribs come with only one installed. My faucet kept dripping, but fortunately it wasn’t loud enough to cause a disturbance in the bedroom.
In the drawers beneath the sink was a range of amenities, including Colgate toothpaste and mouthwash, a shaving razor, a shower cap and two toothbrushes.
True to form, the toothbrushes were made of wood instead of plastic.
A few odds and ends: While previous reviews talk of turndown service complete with a decanter of port, chocolate and local snacks, we received nothing of the sort during our stay.
There is room service available courtesy of Tamarind Hill, but expect to pay nosebleed prices. Sample prices include S$30++ for a plate of chicken curry and prawn omelette, S$30++ for Tom Kha Gai, S$34++ for Tom Yum soup and S$15++ for mango sticky rice.
You might also be interested to know that Villa Samadhi has organic alarm clocks, courtesy of its trio of house chickens. These guys crow at 7 a.m each morning, and trust me, you’ll hear it. Unless you’re a really heavy sleeper, you should get used to early rising here.
Villa Samadhi: Facilities
|No (under construction)||No||No|
|Kids’ Club||Business Centre||Others|
Villa Samadhi isn’t really a place to come for facilities. There’s no gym, no spa, and while a swimming pool is on the way, work has just started and you shouldn’t expect it to be ready this year.
I think the expectation is that guests will find their own distractions, like taking a walk in the nearby Labrador Nature Reserve, or meditating in one of the many secluded nooks around the premises. I do wish the hotel was more proactive in organizing activities, however, a point I’ll further expound on in the Verdict section.
Villa Samadhi: Breakfast
|Tamarind Hill||Included with rate||Set menu|
|7.30 a.m to 11 a.m||No||N/A|
Breakfast is included with all bookings at Villa Samadhi, and orders need to be placed by 8 p.m the evening before. Each guest receives freshly-squeezed juice, coffee and tea, with a choice of one hot dish. Both Western and Asian options are available, such as pan-roasted vegetable frittatas, pancakes, nasi lemak or roti canai.
Breakfast is served at Tamarind Hill, a short walk from the main villa (one wonders how this works on mornings when it’s raining).
While lunch and dinner are taken inside, breakfast patrons get to enjoy the restaurant’s outdoor patio, which overlooks lush greenery and has partial views of the sea.
Regardless of what main you order, all guests receive an assortment of pastries, a small portion of fruits, yoghurt and granola. Make sure you try the pineapple spread; it’s delicious.
The Villa Samadhi Special came highly recommended, but I thought it was rather average. It’s kind of like a deconstructed eggs benedict, with mushrooms, bacon and asparagus on the side. The Hollandaise sauce had too much lemon in it, the poached eggs weren’t runny enough, and everything needed to be seasoned.
The beef kway teow was much better, with a deep, hearty broth and delicious pieces of deep fried garlic dotting the surface. I think you should stick to the local options here.
The breakfast portions were large enough so we were full, but I would have preferred it if they instead served an a la carte buffet, allowing guests to sample more options in smaller bite-sized formats.
Villa Samadhi: Other Dining
As mentioned earlier, our booking came with afternoon tea and a set dinner for two.
I felt slightly disappointed about the afternoon tea, because I assumed it’d be at Tamarind Hill with its unique Thai-inspired menu. Alas, it was actually a much simpler affair, served at The Library.
Proceedings consisted of a two-tier tea set with an egg mayo sandwich, a scone and a macaroon. A small portion of fruits, and that was all. It certainly wasn’t substantial enough to be a meal replacement.
Since we were staying during my birth month, the hotel gave us an additional fruit pudding (at least I think it was a fruit pudding).
We did manage to visit Tarmarind Hill on the first day for lunch, which cost S$35++ (S$41 nett) per person.
The food was tasty, but I wouldn’t call any particular dish life-changing. It feels like you’re paying more for ambiance than anything else. What irked me the most was that despite the fancy environment, the restaurant couldn’t even be bothered to serve free ice water (to be clear, they’re not alone in that dumb decision). We paid S$4++ for a bottle of the house still water, which was all the more frustrating given that water at dinner was free.
Speaking of dinner, guests who have the set dinner inclusion can choose from three different menus: vegetarian, meat and seafood. A bottle of house red or white wine is included too.
The appetizer platter was largely similar to lunch, and again, the mains were good but not spectacular. The rice was a bit disappointing- while at lunch it was fantastic, it felt like they added too much water in the dinner batch.
Villa Samadhi: Service
If there’s one thing Villa Samadhi has going for it, it’s service. You’d think that a property with 20 rooms should do it impeccably, but as my dismal experience at the 49 room Duxton Reserve showed, that’s not always a given.
From the moment we arrived till the moment we left, the service was uniformly excellent. The staff at the front desk were pleasant and remembered our names, there was proper coordination between the hotel and Tamarind Hill (when we arrived, the staff already knew we were having the complimentary set dinner), and miscellaneous requests were handled quickly (I asked for an ice bucket to chill some wine, and received it in less than five minutes). The hotel’s friendly GM was making regular rounds, greeting dinner guests at Tamarind Hill, and doing a handwashing ritual for Songkran.
If I had to nitpick, there were a couple of small details that were forgotten (e.g I indicated on my breakfast order form that I wanted a mix of apple juice and mint, but just got apple), but nothing too major.
I’m finding it really hard to render a verdict on Villa Samadhi, much less rank it alongside traditional hotels. On the one hand, it feels kind of unfair to penalise the hotel for not having a pool, gym or spa. After all, if it’s facilities you’re seeking, there are much more appropriate staycation options.
But then again, I also think that describing Villa Samadhi as barefoot luxury might be a stretch. It’s not a dump for sure, but neither is it particularly luxurious. The spartan rooms, the mid-range fittings, the passable breakfast options…it felt more like an upscale chalet, and much closer to 4 Stars than 5.
I also can’t shake the nagging feeling that the hotel doesn’t fully execute on its intriguing concept. Case in point: the complete absence of anything to do. Now, before you tell me that’s the point of a place like this, and how there’s enough hustle in the city life that guests are presumably escaping from, consider how nice it’d be to start the day with a guided nature walk or meditation session, rent a bicycle and explore the surroundings, take in an al fresco spa treatment, attend a Thai cooking class at Tamarind Hill, listen to a history tour, and cap it all with a sundowner in The Library.
I don’t think any of those are particularly at odds with the hotel’s ethos; in fact, I think they’re a perfect match. I mean, there’s something very wrong when the activities page lists Esplanade, the National Museum and Sentosa- if I wanted those, I wouldn’t be staying here.
For a prime example of how a hotel makes the most of its setting, consider Capella and its carefully curated list of activities- each one solidly in step with the property’s brand identity. There’s so much potential for Villa Samadhi to do more, but it holds back for whatever reason.
Samadhi’s founder says he aspires for the brand to be regarded in the same league as Aman or Six Senses, but based on the evidence, there’s still a long way to go. Villa Samadhi has neither the hardware nor the experiences to warrant those comparisons, although it could be a good building block to further develop the barefoot luxury concept in Singapore.
A final word about rankings. I think there comes a point where these convey a sense of false accuracy, in that a hotel ranked #X is not definitively better than the one ranked #X+1 (perhaps it’s time to rethink the rankings, and group hotels into stars instead). It’s particularly difficult when the property in question is a specialised one like Villa Samadhi, and it’s for that reason I removed the YOTELAir Changi (meant for layovers, not staycations).
But since Villa Samadhi is still a viable staycation option, I’ll nonetheless rank it alongside the rest, and in my opinion it falls somewhere in the middle, with the usual caveats about direct comparisons to traditional hotels.
Have you been to Villa Samadhi? Was it your cup of tea?
|Overall Staycation Rankings|
- Capitol Kempinski
- Raffles Hotel
- Shangri-La Valley Wing
- Conrad Centennial Singapore
- InterContinental Bugis
- Mandarin Oriental Singapore
- Four Seasons Singapore
- Fullerton Hotel
- Andaz Singapore*
- Pan Pacific Singapore
- PARKROYAL Pickering
- W Sentosa
- Villa Samadhi
- Mandarin Orchard
- Hotel Soloha
- Hilton Singapore
- Duxton Reserve
- Marina Bay Sands
*Andaz Singapore ranking is as per my 1 October 2020 visit; the experience has notably declined since then.
|🏨 In Summary|
While the experience is charming and the service is great, there’s an overwhelming sense that Villa Samadhi has not fully developed its intriguing concept.
Do say: No shirt, no shoes, no problem
Don’t say: This looks like a good place to drive around in a van and solve mysteries