I am standing on a giant bowl. Mind wide open; eyes closed. Before long, my toes start to tingle. Not from excitement or anxiety, but from vibrations generated through multiple strokes to the rim of the round coppery vessel. Miguel Gamboa then hit a smaller specimen close to my ears, producing peals of resonating yet soothing spiels that embolden me to stay in the very stoic state that I’m currently in. As my body ceases from shuddering and the tail end of the last resounding crash becomes ostensible, I hesitantly open my eyes. Gamboa, the front office manager, smiles and declares, “Welcome to Six Senses Duxton.”
This is a first. Most luxury hotels offer a welcome drink to help you relax before you check in. While that’s still the case, Six Senses’ pioneering urban base goes further by inviting guests to step unto what many have mistakenly thought to be a salad bowl. On the contrary, no greens to be tossed in here; the oversize metal singing bowl may look like kitchenware but it’s actually an instrument, with origins from Tibet and India, only used to cook up a sense of peace as well as aid healing and meditation. Gamboa asks, “When was the last time you tried to be completely still for 30 seconds?” I immediately answer: “Probably never. Or only when I’m trying to fall asleep.”
Six Senses is known to transport guests to another world, somewhere unhurried – simply because the hospitality chain’s portfolio of properties comprises far-flung places that almost always attract the Crusoe-type crowd. So, by opening right smack in the middle of bustling Singapore, the brand has broken protocol. Yet, at its core, Six Senses insists it has not lost all its senses.
“Six Senses is all about crafted experiences,” says Murry Aitken, the general manager of Six Senses Duxton and soon-to-open sister property Six Senses Maxwell. According to Aitken, the singing bowl ritual wasn’t even the first experience tailored to connect guests to the property. “From the moment you walk in, you’ve probably already felt the wellness experience.”
And he’s right. The lobby’s room temperature isn’t blizzard-cold or too warm. Low-level lighting and background music further foster a quietude quality. Some may not find the baroque-black colour scheme too soothing, but it’s meant to give off an opiate vibe, a nod to the building’s notorious past. The hotel’s designer and one-time Bond girl, Anouska Hempel, has managed to inject mustard-yellow zings unto pots, fans, pillows and carpets to liven things up. A circa-1865 property indenture from her personal antique collection also finds its way, replicated and plastered throughout the corridors and some rooms of Six Senses Duxton, like never-ending essays on the walls.
I am the first fortunate few to call the Duxton Duplex Suite home for a night, one out of 49 rooms and suites of the boutique-in-size hotel. My den’s main draw is that it’s spread across two storeys so your head will never touch the ceiling. There’s also a stunning spiral staircase connecting the lofty lounge and sleeping section with an en suite. The wellness experience follows you even to the bed as turndown service sees a bag of intimate things placed atop the mattresses of each room. And as far as “intimate things” go, these are cosmetics and ointments of the health-preservation kind, mind you. Think colouring pencils and a colouring card with a trippy design of the Duxton neighbourhood, as many adults today find putting colour to paper therapeutic. The kit also contains a brain teaser toy, nutmeg oil, Tiger Balm and can you believe it, Po Chai Pills, in case you are not feeling too well.
If so, make sure you book an appointment with the hotel’s most unlikely but there-he-is affiliate. Professor Zhang Mao Ji — a reputable TCM physician with a successful practice called Long Zhong Tang located just across the street — offers complimentary consultations and a medicinal herbal dispensary for all in-house guests. In a shock twist, Six Senses Duxton takes sustainable tourism to a higher echelon with this peculiar partnership.
Save the fact that the hotel stocks toothbrushes and other bathroom amenities made out of biodegradable cornstarch; or that there’s hardly any single-use plastic to be found within the premise (absolutely no straws, and drinking water is good ol’ Singapore tap water — treated, purified and mineralised, no less — before being bottled in stylish Six Senses-branded resin decanters), Aitken says Six Senses Singapore aims to sustain the cultural heritage of the city-state as well.
That explains the localised wellness supplies; walking tours to discover culture-rich Chinatown or the important historical trees; as well as the traditional therapies available, like TCM, which in itself is a sustainable medical practice, providing natural resources for human health. Even the food at the hotel’s Yellow Pot oriental restaurant follows a strict social-eco-ethos. Try the Sichuan-style chilled sliced beef cooked with herbal marinade and authentic chili bean paste for a start. Full-flavoured dishes include the 14-day aged tofu in spicy broth and a winning plate of braised sweet and sour eggplant — it’s managed to please and excite even a non-aubergine-loving diner like me.
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Other exciting concoctions await those who dare step into the adjacent antiquarian-themed Yellow Pot bar. Featuring a breathtaking original vintage stained-glass ceiling, the bar’s specialty cocktails are equally grand. While gin-based Escape To Kaifeng, starring chrysanthemum, is the hotel’s signature drink, I opt instead for a delicious deliquesced dessert of Rebel Yell Rye whiskey mixed with pandan, Gomme syrup and egg yolk. The drink is simply called Kaya and it sure tastes like the perennial Southeast Asian favourite, or even better.
Breakfast is handily divided into western options and local choices. After devouring some dim sum, a salmon quinoa bowl and the hearty mishmash of chili crab sauce on omelette served with mantou, it is time to leave Six Senses Duxton. But not before witnessing another session whereby Gamboa gongs guests into a state of repose, welcoming them to the sensationally new heritage hotel in Singapore.