A Thai Birthday Celebration

Happy Birthday to me

Seat 1A is a great way to start a holiday- even more so when no one else is in the row. And you got the ticket for free, with points. And it’s your birthday this week.

Being a Thai Airways Airbus, and after a pilot, at a party, telling us how much better Boeings were, I thought it best not to mention to family, until now, that we were delayed on the ground for an hour after pulling back, as the aircraft lost power while taxiing. We were towed back and had to use airport power to restart, which took a few goes.

That was the only hitch, though, as with only 3 passengers, and me in the first row, alone, I always got what pleased me (except a 3rd serve of caviar). The malossol caviar seemed better than usual, especially with egg white, onions, lemon and rusks.  A lobster and salmon canapé was good, too, but by the time I got to prawns for the main, the other food had surpassed them, so they seemed less magnificent. Smoked cheese with fresh figs, dates, strawberries and Ferrero Rocher topped off with a double espresso made me full enough to wait until the next movie to have the chocolate mousse cake dessert. I’m not usually a drinker, but Dom Perignon, then some frozen vodka with the caviar, had me smiling, too.

The flight was very comfortable and uneventful, and passed quickly.  All 3 first class passengers were met at the aircraft door, and all the FAs ’wai’ed goodbye to us as we were whisked to private immigration in a golf cart, where we were met by a gloved porter to retrieve our luggage, go through ‘customs’ (with quote marks as it’s more of a ‘wave-through’) and I was delivered to the Novotel desk, where a van was waiting.

I won’t bother too much with hotel description as I’ve stayed here before, but  the Novotel Suvarnabhumi Bangkok is an excellent choice of airport hotel, with little noise, a few reasonable food outlets and even a pool to cool off. It’s about a 5 minute walk or shuttle ride to the terminal, where there are lots of shops and restaurants to occupy you if you aren’t tired after the flight. I bought drinks and snacks and headed back to the hotel.

Banyan Tree Samui. View from my pool.

Up early and to the airport again. I had checked-in online the night before, and again, only 2 others sat in business on Bangkok Airways.  I had a prawn dumpling soup for breakfast in the business lounge (I first went into the main lounge and offered my boarding pass, only to be told there was a better lounge down the way, and it was).

I arrived to board with a long line of people, but somehow the staff knew I was in business,  and pulled me out of line, past the long queue and into a private van to be taken to the tarmac. After the business passengers were all aboard and settled, the main buses were allowed to come with the economy passengers.

Breakfast was adequate, but the service good and the flight was short. Bangkok Airways is a small, private airline and a great choice in Thailand. It’s good value and very comfortable, offering all passengers lounge access. They have only 4 aircraft with business class at the moment, but luckily Samui is one of the destinations. Samui airport is very quaint, with little open wagons, like Wiki-Wiki in Honolulu, but no walls. In fact, the whole airport has no walls.

My private pool, overlooking the bay.

My luggage came off first and I went to get my rental car. I was a bit disappointed that no one had come to meet me, though, as the W Retreat Koh Samui had mentioned they would send someone. Oh, well. I had booked the W but construction was not completed, so they accommodated me at the newly opened Banyan Tree Samui.

I stopped at Tesco Lotus supermarket to pick up some snacks and drinks, when my phone rang. It was Gino, the hotel manager of the W (where I’m not staying) saying that he and Vivian, both of whom I know from other hotels, were waiting for me at the Banyan Tree. When I asked if there was a sign on the road, as it’s a new hotel, they weren’t sure, so they drove to the supermarket to pick me up.

Inside my villa at Banyan Tree Samui

I followed them to the hotel, where there were another 3 W staff (5 in total), waiting at the door to greet me, plus the GM of the Banyan Tree and the rooms manager. We sat in the lobby drinking a mango ginger cocktail and looking at the 180 degrees of water. Boy, did I feel special!

After about 20 minutes of chatting – I was quite overwhelmed by all the people who greeted me, I suggested looking at the room. I had booked a beachfront villa, so when we started climbing the hill in the club car, I asked where we were going, and was told they had upgraded me to a Royal Banyan villa with pool, Jacuzzi, lounging area, sunbathing area, outdoor dining area, living room with espresso maker, TV with iPod/phone/everything inputs, 20 foot satin lined ceiling, bedroom equally over the top with another similar TV and a work desk with unlimited free wired and wireless throughout the resort, then the bathroom, walk-in robe, toilet and bath….and every single part of the villa has a 180 degree view. I could walk directly into the Jacuzzi or pool from the living room, and the other end of the pool from the bedroom or bathroom. It was so fantastic that i turned off the air con and opened all the glass doors to soak in the warmth. I’ve said this before, but this is really the most beautiful place I’ve ever stayed.

Enjoying sunrise with espresso and a dragonfruit, from the pool.

Ton, my villa butler, gave me a mobile phone with a button to press if I needed ANYTHING while on the island – not just at the resort. It charges in the drawer of the desk, which has built in power and Ethernet (all hidden in the pull-out drawer). There’s a stingray skin lamp on the desk, too. The bedhead is carved, and reaches to the ceiling, where the satin roofed arch joins it to the apex of the room. The 2 basins are solid black marble towers, with fossilised shells. The shower is so big, they need double doors to it. Actually, there are 3 doors… the third is into the pool.

Anyway, I had an issue with some liquid vitamins. The airline must have dropped my bag, as it had leaked everywhere. Big yuck! I asked Ton to fix it. He did. Luggage and clothes are being cleaned at the airline’s expense.

Relaxing in my personal pool

Gino and Vivian invited me to lunch, which turned out to be 7 W staff and me at the coolest place in the world, the Beach Republic Club, which is part open-air restaurant and part beach club. Most of the male W staff are gay, and this is obviously where they come to perve at all the European boys eating, lounging, swimming, and wearing as little as possible. The Euro girls weren’t so bad to look at either.  Lunch was as amazing as I could have hoped. I started with prawns, sushi, spring rolls, satay…then I laid my eyes on the Maine lobster, which I took a whole one of, at Gino’s prompting. Then a bunch of Thai food, 2 fresh strawberry Mojitos, a crepe with ice cream and a bunch of stuff I can’t remember because of the Mojitos. The funniest thing about this day was that the boys insisted on paying, as it was a staff outing. Then they drove me to one of the local sights, and we bought some yummy coconut soft candies famous from the area and headed home.

I spent the afternoon in my infinity pool looking at the sea and then headed into town to the Lamai Walking St market, where I bought a gift for the boys, as I would be inspecting the W with them the following day.

Even work isn't too hard with a pool and view like this.

I really can’t remember a better day in many years. Couldn’t even be bothered watching the F1.

Can’t wait for the Thalassotherapy Rainforest Spa experience and massage tomorrow, some beach time under the coconut trees, then some dinner in the Thai restaurant at the peak of the resort. What a birthday treat!

I loved:

  • Caviar and lovely Thai service on Thai Airways
  • Bangkok Airways
  • Banyan Tree Koh Samui – really a world-class resort
  • Having my own pool overlooking the sea on my birthday

Bedroom at Banyan Tree Samui

Not so much:

  • If I have to say something……. it rained one night, but really, this was a perfect experience!
Posted in Thailand, travel | Leave a comment

Quick! Read me!

Flightbiz QR Code

We first saw the technology in Japan about 4 years ago.  Apparently, it was originally designed by a subsidiary of Toyota as a new type of 3D bar scan to use on car parts.  But then it took off.

QR stands for Quick Response, as the creator intended the code to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed.

QR Codes storing addresses and URLs may appear in magazines, on signs, buses, business cards, or on just about any object about which users might need information.

Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR Code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a web page in the phone’s browser. This act of linking from physical world objects is known as a hardlink or physical world hyperlinks.

Back to our first experience with a QR Code. It was at McDonald’s in Roppongi where we went to have an Ebi Baga, but that’s a story for another time.  Pete saw this technology and asked someone what it was. Then he looked up QR Code that night, and downloaded some software for his iPhone.

The next day, we went back for another Ebi Baga fix, and he took a photo of the QR Code.  It was a coupon for a deal at McDonalds.  So we got 2 ebi burgers for the price of one, that fine day.

We’ve adored the technology ever since, but it has taken years to grow from its inception in 1994.

Now, you can do even more unique things with it, such as adding your logo, and a very good website to build this is beqrious.

Now, we’ve ventured into creating our own QR Codes, and will be rolling out some special surprises this year for those willing to download and take on the technology.

“But how can I do that?”, you ask.  I’m about to tell you.

If you have an iPhone, it’s relatively simple.  You can go to the app store, and download QR Scanner or NeoReader for free.

Then, open the new software, hit scan, and point your phone at the QR Code on our Facebook Page or at the top of this blog article.  This will take you to the site or deal we are offering!

If you have Android technology, your phone should have a scanner already built into it, so give that a try in the same manner.

If you have a portable device with a camera, you should be able to read QR Codes, so if yours isn’t listed above, have a look around.

Oh, and if you like this new technology and are looking forward to seeing what we have to offer when using it, please do us a favour and share it via the link at the top of the article, or like it on Facebook by clicking like below.

Happy QR-ing!

Posted in Technology | Leave a comment

Hotel Review: Hilton Odawara

We decided this year that we were going to venture up into the hills near Mt Fuji, this Christmas, on our annual trip to Japan.  The Hakone region, the region we were planning to venture into, is dotted with small, upscale Ryokan, Onsen accommodation, and luxury hotels, but few western chains.

With one person having a bad back, so futon beds on the floor not so good, and most Onsen accommodation being segregated sex baths, so hard to enjoy as a couple, we decided we wanted to find the scarce western luxury hotel in this region to stay in.

The seemingly only option within Hakone proper, is located in Gora, a beautiful, leafy hill town, and is the Hyatt Hakone. This property has very large, comfortable looking rooms and beautiful leafy outlooks, so we thought we might give it a try.

However, the town of Gora is quite isolated from other eating options, and difficult on transport, so we quickly changed our minds.

Hilton Odawara

We realised that another viable option might lie in a town which is considered the “gateway” to the Hakone region: The point where you start your journey on the Odakyu Railway into the mountains to see Hakone.

We found our new option in the form of the Hilton Odawara.

Hilton Odawara is actually not located in Odawara proper, but two train stations south, down the Izu Peninsula, closest to a small town called Nebukawa.

Transport To/From the Hotel

In order to make it possible to take public transport to the hotel (something many Tokyoites do), the Hilton Odawara runs shuttle service from both the Odawara and Nebukawa train stations.

Service from the Odawara station leaves the Hilton on the hour and leaves Odawara Station on the half-hour, but only on weekdays and non-holidays.

Service from Nebukawa station runs in each direction 2 to 3 times per hour.  We found this much more convenient, as it was just as easy to get to Nebukawa once on the train, and was only perhaps a 5 minute drive up to the resort from the hotel (not the 10 minutes some people have noted).  It also ran late into the night.

We arrived over the Christmas period, so we didn’t have an opportunity to take the shuttle to Odawara, but our impression was that most of the year it would be full and crowded to go to Odawara, and Nebukawa was the better option anyway.

Rooms

Amalfi Coast-like View

The Hilton Odawara is a resort hotel.  It sits on a high hill overlooking the Philippine Sea.  The drive up to the hotel from Nebukawa is made up of steep, winding streets with local citrus trees and other agriculture growing on the sides of the steep hills along the way.  The drive was very reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

The hotel is a V-shaped hotel, with the bottom of the V pointing towards the sea.  The rooms in the hotel range from a small 27 sq m Hilton Twin Plus room to a roomy 54 sq m Japanese Western Suite, with 2 queen beds and a separate Japanese dining area.

Rm 1014 Living Area

In addition to the rooms in the main building, there are 95 sq m two-story cottage suites on the grounds behind the hotel, overlooking the sea.  These are roomy and probably considered the best accommodation on the site.  However, we felt that not being in the main building during winter might be troublesome, having to weather the winter conditions outside to get to the main building.

As mentioned, the rooms in the main building, aside from the 27 sq m rooms, are very spacious, because they are one big space with no walls in between, as a suite would have.  This suited our taste.

Hilton Odawara View from rm1014

The rooms are described as having juliet balconies, and twin deluxe rooms and above have two balconies each.  But the balconies are deeper than a standard juliet balcony, with cement floors and plenty of room to walk out and take in the views and sea air.

Views of the sea from the hotel are stunning, and sunrises can be viewed over the sea from all rooms.

My only complaint with the room was the firmness of the mattress.  It wasn’t firm, it was downright hard, like sleeping on a plank of wood.

spacious rooms, hard beds

The beds seemed to be trundles beds, which might explain the lack of springs in the mattress, accounting for some of the hardness.  Some of the Twin Deluxe rooms are listed as “Family” rooms, and have 4 beds in them, and I suspect they undo these trundles to arrange a “family” room, for guests needing 4 beds.

The amenities, such as soap, shampoo, conditioner, etc., as with all Hiltons, were Crabtree and Evelyn, and were very nice, and substantial as well.

Upgrades and Perks

We are Hilton Diamond, which entitles us to an upgrade, although Hilton doesn’t upgrade to suites.  Since it was a busy holiday period, we booked a Twin Deluxe, the highest regular room category, so there was no opportunity for an upgrade for us.

Welcome Gift

Because we already had other perks such as free internet access due to our status, the only thing they could offer us in lieu of an upgrade was a “drink voucher” which the front desk staff seemed to indicate was for a soft drink.

We thought this was at best unnecessary, and more insulting than offering nothing. However, when we went to use the voucher, they were having a special Moet promotion for Christmas, and we were offered a glass of Moet each, which was a nice way to end a day of sightseeing.  Another nice touch was a bowl of fruit and a few sweets, to welcome us as Diamond Members.

Pools and Onsen

Being a resort hotel, the Hilton Odawara has quite a few activities available.  Well-off Tokyoites frequent hotels such as this on the Izu Peninsula for weekend getaways during holiday periods, so this hotel was designed to entertain couples and families.

Off the main building, there is a section that is accessible through an indoor walkway on the third floor.  This walkway leads to the activity area of the hotel.

The hotel has two sets of baths for guests’ enjoyment:  Traditional, segregated Japanese Onsen baths, where you do not wear bathing suits, and a co-ed “bade zone” where you do wear bathing suits, which is done in the style of a German or Austrian thermal spa.

Hilton Odawara Bade Zone

The Onsen baths are open from 6am to midnight, and the bade zone from 9am to 7:30pm, which gives plenty of time to enjoy them.  We didn’t use the onsen baths, but the bade zone was a very extensive and nice set of hydrotherapy pools, which we did use on several occasions.

The bade zone had two large main pools, one indoor and one outdoor.  The indoor pool had cement benches around the edges, with water jets to massage your lower back, and some jets on the floor as well.  There were also jets around the side of the pool that would explode every 20 minutes or so, showering down a heavy rain shower, which felt quite good.

The large outdoor pool had access from the water from a pool entry inside, with doors leading outside, which was nice on a cold, winter’s night.

The outdoor complex had a few smaller hot tub pools attached to it, as well as some outer corridors in the main pool.  A little trick which wasn’t obvious that we learned in both the indoor and outdoor large pools was to look for the secret white buttons along the side of the pools.  When you pushed these buttons, it activated a series of jets at different levels on the walls, which massaged your calves, thighs, bottom, lower and upper back, progressively as you walked along.  This was a nice touch.

There were also several smaller, specialty surrounding pools.  These included a pool with large nozzles that dumped big volumes of water on your upper shoulders, good for those with a tight upper back.

Another of the smaller pools had stainless steel lounge chairs built in, with jets that gently massaged the back of your body while you lay in them. This pool was less hot than the other pools, so a good chance to cool down before returning to the lovely hot pools.

Another pool had bumps on the bottom of it, to walk along and massage your feet, and finally there was what I liked to call the “flush you down the toilet” pool.  This pool swirled very fast in a counter-clockwise direction, the idea being that you are supposed to walk around it in a clockwise direction, to strengthen your leg muscles.  However, we quickly found it was much more fun to go with the flow, lift your feet off, and swirl around with the flow as fast as you could in a counter-clockwise direction.

There were also a dry redwood sauna, and a steam room off to the side of the large, main inside pool, and a 25 metre lap pool off to one side, still indoors.

The Japanese are strange about swimming caps, and one usually has to wear a swimming cap when swimming in Japan. Usually these are provided free of charge, but at this property, there was a small charge for using their caps, so if you plan to swim in the lap pool, you might want to bring your own. Oddly, for a Japanese property, swimming caps were not required in the hydrotherapy bade zone pools.

The photos of the bade zone that you tend to see online make it look not very big and not very nice.  While it did look like it had had many years of happy use, I was delighted to find that all of the hydrotherapy pools were in good shape and still functioned very well, and that indeed there were MANY options, many more than it looks like from the photos on the website.  It was pleasant spending a couple hours there at a time, after a hard day of sightseeing.

Other Entertainment

In addition to being able to amuse yourself in the pools and onsen for hours, the facility has many other options for a relaxing and fun getaway.

Bowling Alley

A unique option the hotel had available was its own bowling alley in the basement under the main building.  It looked bright and fun, but we didn’t partake personally.  I understand there is an additional charge to use the bowling alley.

They also have a golf driving range, a putting range, indoor and outdoor tennis courts and a fitness centre available for guests to enjoy, with varying charges, depending on the rate you booked and your Hilton status.

Other Hotel Services

I was also delighted to discover a coin laundry about halfway down the third floor corridor on the way to the bade zone.  We were going to have to do some laundry later on our trip, so what a treat it was to not have to leave the hotel to do so.

The washers/dryers were not large ones, maybe 5kg, but good for a quick wash of some of your things. We had forwarded our luggage to Osaka, so only had our hand-carry items, which nicely filled up one washer.

The washer cycle took about 35 minutes and cost 200 yen, and the dryer, also to my delight, dried the clothes very fast, especially by Japanese dryer standards, at about 40 minutes.  It was 100 yen per 20 minutes so it took 200 yen to dry our clothes, for a total of 400 yen or only about AU$5.50 to do a set of washing.  Washing powder was available in the coin laundry free of charge.

Another great discovery was the gift shop.  We don’t generally frequent hotel gift shops when traveling, but one night when we came back from sightseeing rather late, we decided to have a quick look around.

We were surprised to find that we could have easily purchased any souvenirs we desired from the Hakone region in the Hilton gift shop for the same price or in many cases even less than you would pay in the tourist areas.

The gift shop had souvenirs, clothing, both nice and casual, food, drinks and alcohol, in volumes I’ve never seen before sold in a hotel.

The first night we came into town, we brought our own bentos from the train station to have for dinner, but we needn’t have. There were plenty of instant noodle bowls and things available for a great, competitive price right in their gift shop, as well as plenty of drinks to go with them.

Food

We only ate breakfast at the hotel, which was included in our rate, and seems to be included in every rate the hotel offers.

Breakfast Room

We chose to eat our lunches while playing tourist, and to grab a quick bite at Odawara on our way back.  While it is true that there is nothing at all around Nebukawa Station, we found it easy to get to and find plenty of food options at Odawara before heading back.  The Hilton Shuttle to Nebukawa runs so late at night, that it would also be easily possible to shuttle down to Nebukawa and take the train two stops to Odawara for a nice dinner, and then go back.  I have heard people report that you are at the whims (and prices) of the hotel for  your food, but in my opinion, this is not true.

Anyway, because breakfast was included in all rates, we were expecting it to be both crowded and not very good quality.  I think we got lucky again, because we were there just before their busy holiday period.

There were chairs lined up outside, and free drinks offered while waiting, because they obviously do suffer from too many breakfast customers.  However, the area was empty during our stay.  We were seated immediately on both mornings.

The dining area seemed more elegant to me than it looks in the photos on their website, another pleasant surprise, and the breakfast itself was one of the best hotel buffets I’ve had in Japan.  The Japanese selections were outstanding and of great variety, while the Western choices were very good quality.

Conclusion

Sunrise from rm1014

All in all, I felt the Hilton Odawara was in many ways what I had expected, or a pleasant surprise, exceeding my expectations.  The single exception being the hard mattresses on the beds.

Were I to need accommodation in this area again, I would certainly consider it.  While it is technically out of the way, it is located conveniently on the train line between the resort area of the Izu Peninsula and its beaches, and the mountainous Hakone Region, making it equally useful for trips to both areas.

Posted in Hotel Reviews, Japan Travel, travel | 1 Comment

The Arctic tundra of north Alaska – a winter story

Barrow's Location

With just a few days to go until Christmas, which I still think of fondly as a winter holiday, despite having eaten mangoes for breakfast this morning here in Australia, I thought I’d post a wintery story.

A few years ago, my family persuaded us to go on a cruise to Alaska.  The cruise was pretty grand, with great weather, to boot, something that doesn’t happen often, apparently, in Alaska.  But it wasn’t enough for us.  We wanted something more while we were up there.  We decided to go to Barrow Alaska, which is the northernmost city in Alaska, 340 miles into the Arctic Circle, and America’s farthest northern community. With approximately 4,500 residents, the Barrow area is probably the harshest polar location in Alaska. So it sounded perfect to us!

Top of the World Hotel

We stayed at the Top of the World Hotel in Barrow.  It was a palace!  For any of you who have been to frontier towns, you will get the joke here.  I only know of one other hotel in Barrow, called the King Eider Inn. If I were staying there today, I would probably choose the Presidential Suite at the King Eider, but I suspect it isn’t as well-located, and that’s why we didn’t stay there.

I remember walking into the hotel room, flipping on the TV, and being greeted by the TV Show Northern Exposure.  I don’t recall when I have laughed so hard before or since.  It was even more funny because this town was quirky and friendly and all the things represented in the TV show, almost identically.  Perhaps they set all the TVs to show this program, for effect. Who knows?

Innuit Children Playing

Anyway, it was a quirky place indeed.  One of the main tourist attractions up in this town of 4500 people is a place called Pepe’s North of the Border Restaurant.  Pepe’s serves Mexican and American food, and is run by a real character called Fran Tate.  Fran has a whole business set up selling souvenirs of her restaurant, and giving away a couple freebies, in the hopes you’ll bring them back to your friends, and they will go to Barrow, because of the great sights to see there!  Still, the food was pretty decent, when you consider the location.  And it was even more convenient for us, because the restaurant is located next door to the Top of the World Hotel.

For the one full day we spent in Barrow, we took a tour with Tundra Tours.  The tour was informative and only took 6 or so people at a time in a 4wd out to see a dog sledding team, to the place where whale meat is dumped, outside town, to satisfy the hungry Polar Bears, so they won’t come into town looking for food.

A main street in Barrow

We also took a trip to the edge of the tundra, where the water meets the sea, and learned that when water is a certain low temperature, even when it is salt water, it doesn’t taste salty. It is also very very blue.

The town is totally flat, and because of the tundra environment, pretty much devoid of trees and plant life, but again, has that quirky air of people surviving in a harsh environment.  The sun is only out for half the year, but for that half year, it is out constantly.  It was another funny moment when I woke up at 4am, went to the window, and saw children out playing and riding their bikes in full sunshine.  Thank heaven Top of the World has blackout curtains!

Posted in travel | Leave a comment

Hainan (Sanya) – A new resort destination for the Aussie Tourist

Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the first ever Australian trade show on Hainan, organised by VisitHainan.com.au.

Hainan is a province consisting of islands, at the southern tip of the Guanzhou Peninsula of China.  Its largest island is generally referred to as “Hainan” by the Chinese, although there are other smaller islands also in the province.

Hainan Island

Location of Hainan Island

For several decades now, one of Hainan Island’s main cities, Sanya, which is on the south side of the island, and has several large, beautiful bays, has played host to mainly Chinese and Russian tourists.  However it has recently seen a rebirth as the “Hawaii of China” for English speaking tourists, as well as Koreans and Japanese, among others.

Sanya’s climate is tropical/monsoonal, being about the same distance from the equator as the Hawaiian Islands, and thus is a good resort destination year-round. Sanya has long stretches of beach, water sports such as snorkeling and jet-skiing, rainforest hiking, and innumerable hotels ranging from zero to five stars, so there is something for everyone.

The Main Areas
There are several main areas in Sanya, with differing levels of comfort and activities for tourists, as follows, although new bays and tourist areas are opening all the time:

Dadong Hai Beach

Dadong Hai Beach

Sanya Bay Beach- stretches for around 25 kilometers, but is rather polluted and devoid of swimmers. It is lined with seafood restaurants and moderately priced hotels.

Sanya city – filled with souvenir shops and street grills at night. You will see locals dancing along the beach in the evenings, and a range of people selling souvenirs, street food and fairground games. I picture Sanya City to be the “Honolulu” of Hainan.

Dadong Hai – has Sanya’s best balance between development and natural beauty. The town behind Dadong Hai is more expensive than Sanya, but has better restaurants and a gorgeous beach. The shopping, however, is not as good as Sanya city’s. The dominant languages in this area, both spoken and written, are Chinese and Russian.   I call this the “Waikiki” of Hainan.

Yalong Bay

Yalong Bay

Yalong Bay – For those looking for an upscale, relaxing, resort experience, this is the area to come to.  It is farther from Sanya city than Dadong Hai beach, but has been developed into an international holiday center with multiple 5 star resorts, golf etc. The long beach is well taken care of by the various hotels, many of which are international chains, with the list of well-known brands growing all the time. You will find many restaurants in the new shopping area.

Perhaps two of the biggest draw-cards of Sanya for the Australian tourist are the beautiful resorts, and the prices.

Most of the international chains, as well as some local brands, have huge activity pools, unrivalled in other parts of the world, and if/when you should tire of the expansive grounds and pool areas, they have beachfronts with activities ranging from ATV and Segway rental to Waterskiing, Banana-boating and parasailing.  There is plenty to do and to do in style.

The food in Sanya has a reputation for being very very fresh.  The seafood, some of the freshest you will eat in your life, is often stored in tanks in the ground outside restaurants, so you can pick it fresh, and the prices are low.

Accommodation

There are literally hundreds of tourist accommodations in the various parts of Sanya, ranging from self-catering apartments to luxury 5-star (or some say 7-star) properties.  Some of the more memorable properties described last night were as follows:

 
 

Mangrove Tree Resort

Mangrove Tree Resort

Mangrove Tree Resort

The Yalong Bay Mangrove Tree Resort is the only luxury resort in China designed in truly “Balinese Style”. The ambience and décor with vibrant earth tones in all guest areas and the open construction with natural sea breeze gives this resort its special style. The dining experience is further enhanced with outdoor seating so guests can enjoy the enchanting environment.

The hotel offers panoramic sea views from more than 70% of its 502 spacious guest rooms. A 260 metre beautifully-landscaped beach, and an opened and unobstructed lobby are integral parts of the environmental and pristine design of this hotel. Since opening, Yalong Bay Mangrove Tree Resort has been honored to be one of “The Top Ten Resorts of China” for 5 consecutive years and to have earned the “China Hotel Award 2008” as one of the Top 10 Leisure Hotels.

Mandarin Oriental Sanya

Mandarin Oriental Sanya

Mandarin Oriental Sanya

From every room, suite, pavilion, and villa at Mandarin Oriental, you’ll be treated to views of the sparkling South China Sea, lush landscaped gardens and pristine protected coral beach. The luxurious and spacious interiors combine contemporary designer flair with artistic touches inspired by Sanya’s ethnic minority Li culture. It’s a combination you won’t find anywhere else.

Choose from a range of first-class restaurants. Enjoy the poolside Sunset Bar, where guests can enjoy refreshments while the kids are kept entertained by the Kids Club.

Mandarin Oriental’s Spa Village, offers spa techniques from around the world, promising a blend of treatments, ensuring an optimal wellness experience.

Horizon Resort & Spa

Horizon Resort & Spa

Horizon Resort & Spa

This resort sits in the middle of Yalong Bay, known as the number one bay in China. Covering an area of 130,000 square meters, the hotel is adjacent to Yalong Bay Central Square and Yalong Bay Golf Club.

With almost 1,000 rooms, Horizon Resort & Spa is the biggest resort in Yalong Bay. The design is a mix of Hawaiian and Chinese-Zen styles, featuring numerous Teak wooden elements. All rooms advocate a natural style of living, featuring freshness and relaxation. Wood furniture and classic ceiling fans give the guestrooms a romantic and cool tropical taste. Each room is equipped with a multimedia station including PC, LCD monitor and WIFI.

Intercontinental Sanya

Intercontinental Sanya

Intercontinental Sanya Resort

InterContinental Sanya Resort occupies one of the most beautiful locations in Sanya. Surrounded by pristine white sands and majestic mountains, this resort offers guests inspiring views from every room. Beautiful water features and water gardens throughout the resort create a serene yet stylish ambience.

InterContinental Sanya Resort offers 343 rooms including 24 beachside villas, and guests can lounge in three swimming pools, dine in seven restaurants and bars, unwind in the soothing spa or choose from seven inspiring meeting rooms.

InterContinental Sanya Resort is a mere 10 minutes away from the city of Sanya which offers a wide choice of attractions and dining options.

Hilton Sanya

Hilton Sanya

Hilton Resort Sanya

Hilton Sanya Resort & Spa features a total of 501 guestrooms, suites and villas. These 48.5m² rooms are elegantly furnished in contemporary southern Chinese style, with open plan bathrooms featuring round or balcony view bathtubs. The elevated floor provides unique spatial perception and shows off the living and dining areas to perfection.

All 266 Standard Rooms include: spacious balcony, plasma TV, DVD player, pillow menu and other luxury amenities.

The defining feature is the sprawling Spa Retreat that encompasses eight treatment pavilions, with traditional massages, steam room, herbal tea lounge. Other facilities include six restaurants and bars as well as family friendly facilities including a 3,800m² pool, two tennis courts and a Kidz Paradise.

Sheraton Yalong Bay

Sheraton Yalong Bay

Sheraton Yalong Bay

The Official Resort of Miss World for three consecutive years, the Sheraton Sanya Resort Yalong Bay is a truly self-contained masterpiece of design, comfort, luxury, relaxing and style, with a high recognition by the 2007 China Travel Awards. Built among the pristine white sands and tropical mountain scenery, the natural surrounds provide a consummate backdrop to its generously styled open air lounges and chic poolside bars.

511 rooms including 49 suites, all with temperature controlled air-conditioning, IDD/DDD facilities, mini bar and satellite TV. All rooms provide the ultimate in comfort and luxury, commanding spectacular vistas of Yalong Bay, lush tropical gardens and mountain scenery or golf course.

Water sports and other activities are organized daily by the hotel, including kayaking, parasailing, sailing and the beach volleyball, most are free of charge and can be registered at reception. The hotel boasts perhaps the finest beachside bars in Yalong Bay, including Aqua Bar and the Sea and Sand Beach Bar, all with services until midnight.

 
 

Nanwan Monkey Island

Nanwan Monkey Island

Hainan Fishing Village

Hainan Fishing Village

Activities/Attractions

You could easily spend all your time relaxing at a resort, eating and shopping at this island paradise, but there is also plenty to see.

Hainan Island is loaded with beautiful rainforests, rivers and waterfalls, relics of the ancient civilizations of the area, scenic spots and temples which can be accessed easily through guided tours or on your own.  Hainan Island also has world-class golf-courses, fantastic snorkelling, and an interesting village.

Whether you are a young, independent traveller, a family, or a couple looking for a getaway, there is something for you in Hainan.

Is it a destination for Australians?

So perhaps the biggest question is whether Sanya is a suitable destination for Australians at this point. Barry Warner, Co-founder and Local Guide of PlanetDwellers, one of the speakers of last night’s event who has been to Sanya, believes this is the next big “Phuket” for the Australian market.

Indeed, the international style resorts, fresh, inexpensive food, excellent climate, and vastness of activities and sights, along with the geographic location, are poised to make Sanya a popular destination with Australians over the coming years.

How to get there

China Southern Airlines has daily flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Sanya via Guanzhou, as well as 3 weekly flights from Brisbane.  Cost of an economy flight on China Southern is around AUD$700, AUD$900 for premium economy.

Please note there is no visa required for visiting Aussie tourists.  The visa is simply issued automatically when you touch down in Hainan.

To learn more about Sanya and book your trip to this new paradise destination, please e-mail us at enquiries@flightbiz.com.au.

Posted in travel | Leave a comment

Le Meridien Hotel, Bangkok – review

Review of Le Meridien Bangkok

This is written from the POV of an SPG Platinum guest so your experience could vary.

I was met at the airport. The car was a small Mercedes. The driver spoke good English. Today’s newspaper and a Travel & Leisure magazine, as well as hotel info was provided, along with cold towels, Perrier and Evian – a nice touch and a notch above most others. It’s a 30 minute trip from the airport.

The driver called the hotel about 3 mins before arrival and when we pulled up, there was someone to open the car door and greet me by name, another unloaded the luggage, the bell captain confirmed the number of pieces, the doorman greeted me by name as well as 2 other staff on the walk through the lobby. A front office supervisor met me and also greeted me by name, took my passport and led me to check-in, which was expedited by two staff members.

They offered an upgrade to an Avantec Suite on the 16th floor. I asked for a higher floor and was told that the hotel had only completed up to level 17 of 24. The GFC has obviously bitten this property, along with Thailand’s many other problems. Actually, the other floors are finished, just not yet in use.

The suite is modern and funky, as with many of the newer le Meridien properties. Wenge wood finishes and silk wall panels give a warmish feel, while the bamboo inspired carpet and Thai bed-runner add to the Asian style. The suite is not 2 full bays, but an L shape. It’s around 60 sq m and has lots of nice touches. A partition between the front door and room acts as a large bookcase, with lots of Thailand travel literature. The living area features a good sized desk with a Cisco colour touchscreen IP phone (I want this in my office!) and power points and Ethernet along the side, close to hand. There’s a calendar but not all the usual bits of cardboard marketing material. They obviously realise that the desk is used for working and it also offers a second chair so 2 people can work at the same time.

The desk separates the entry from the living room which features a long sofa opposite a 42 inch TV and Bose music system. The minibar is funky with lots of le Meridien branded chocolates. I wouldn’t pay $5.00 for a Mars bar but these are fun, boxed, chocolates made by, or for the hotel and worth the money. There are 7 bottles of Evian placed around the room, all complimentary plus a Lavazza pod system espresso machine with regular, strong and decaf, plus filter coffee for those who prefer it and Ronnefeldt flavoured teabags, which have hooks attached so they can be hung off the pot. They also list brewing times for each tea. The coffee was restocked, with additional extras of the coffee type I had used – very attentive.

A chaise longue fills the space at the bottom of the floor to ceiling window. Sliding doors in the hallway offer access to a luggage area and a view through to the bathroom creating the perception of space, and another goes through to the bedroom. The bedroom is on the corner of the building and offers views in 2 directions, along Surawong Rd and over towards Silom. The bed is huge and before I can test it, my luggage arrives and a few minutes later, housekeeping, with the previously requested 5th pillow. I like to sleep in a nest. The pillows are huge and fabulous.

There’s another plasma TV in the bedroom and another built in work desk. Everything is high tech. Another Cisco phone at the bedside is cordless; all the lights are remotely controllable as are the electric blinds. There is excellent lighting, both direct and indirect to create different moods and for different purposes. I particularly appreciated this after the Ritz in Singapore which offers 4 desk lamps only. No overheads at all. I needed a miners’ lamp to get around the room, there. The TV system works well and there are ports by the bed and desk (VGA and AV) to plug an iPod or computer, so you can watch a movie on the TVs, or make a presentation to clients in the living area.

There is another sliding door, which I left open, with a view through to the bathroom. This is only for effect and to create a feeling of space as the large German tub separates the bedroom and bathroom once the door is opened. The bathroom entrance hall features two wardrobes – not large, but sufficient, with iron and board. There is a large, separate toilet cubicle with frosted glass door, a small shelf to put your phone, or whatever you take in there with you, 2 basins, Hermes Eau D’orange Verte toiletries (again, my favourite) including 3 full bars of soap, not the tiny ones usually provided, although after I put 2 of them in my luggage to take home, they were replaced with medium sized bars, and a huge 3m x 1.25m shower with 2 shower heads plus 2 rain showers… 4 outlets is real luxury – even a small window to look out to the street from the shower.
I could go on about the room features but I’ll move on to the bar/restaurant, Bamboo Chic. Included with the upgrade was the complete cocktail list except French Champagne. I had a cool pomegranate and Cointeau martini and a fruit whip with strawberries, banana, apple and lime. They served freeze-dried okra in spices as snacks, and a taster plate of dim sum and fresh made sushi. A Japanese chef works here so even the rice is at the right temperature.

Back in the room, the turndown service had been, and left a bar of le Meridien, Illy cappuccino flavoured chocolate on the bed and a presentation of home-made almond cookies and French macaroons on the desk to go with the espresso… Maybe they had done some research on me or maybe they got lucky but it’s exactly what I like, anyway.

I love the one-touch electric block-out blinds. The bed was either comfy (the pillows sure were) or I was exhausted, because I slept very deeply and woke up perpendicular to the direction I fell asleep in.

The hotel is typical of new le Meridien properties with the art theme and changing lights and music in the lifts and throughout the public areas, different for each time of day. Breakfast at the sell-out , Jean-Georges Vongerichten ‘inspired’ Latest Recipe, and also thanks to the German head chef, has a very Euro-Asian feel. The room is bright and 2 stories high with a void at one end, making an indoor balcony overlooking the hotel entrance. Food is presented in a funky, design-school manner with hot dishes sitting on beds of rock salt, or on induction cooktops, condiments in copper cooking pans, and fruits over dry ice with the wafting vapour around. The egg and waffle station made a good Thai omelette, with the addition of salami and crisped-to-order bacon! This is a first for me and I loved it. There’s nothing worse than bacon getting soggy in a covered pan. Pastries tasted like they are from a shop, not a hotel buffet – meaning I would pay for them – with interesting tastes like the green tea and coconut brioche loaf. Parma prosciutto is carved off the bone to order, wood smoked salmon sliced to order, apricot glazed warm pastrami, also. Illy coffee is served throughout the hotel, except in the rooms where suites get Lavazza pods. Staff circulate with Jean-Georges’ mini ‘eye-opener’ mocktails in test-tube-like shot glasses – mine was frozen cherries, lemon juice and pepper. The girl serving these also greeted me by name although I hadn’t been to the outlet before- unbelievable service. There is a glass refrigerated cabinet with yoghurts, fruit sauces, etc and 8 different juices. Breakfast was enough to make me miss lunch.

After breakfast I met the Director of Sales, Sunny, for an inspection. Sunny came from 9 years under Richard Chapman at the Sheraton Grande, which helps to explain the great service. I saw the standard ‘Vista’ rooms on 22 (not in use yet). These have circular beds which would be fun for a honeymoon or dirty weekend. The Vista Corner rooms are at the opposite end to the suites and are single bay rooms but have 2 windows, offering more light and a feeling of space and only THB500 more than standard. This upgrade may be given to Gold members. The Vista suites are as per the room I stayed in but with the circular bed.

There are 2 duplex (2 story suites) on 23/24 – the top floors which are for the wealthy who want to entertain 10 guests in their room for dinner.

The health level, 6, has the Spa, pool and 24 hour gym. The whole level is covered, floor-to-ceiling, in white river pebbles, giving a fun, uplifting and natural feel. The spa rooms are luxurious, with separate changing and shower rooms, including some for couples. The pool area is chic and sleek, but no Sheraton Grande rainforest pool. This feels more like an inner city modern pool. There are 2 king-sized massage beds by the pool but the spas rooms are recommended and Plunge, a bar which also serves from the kitchen on 4.

All the public areas are very chic with a few Asian touches but the overwhelming art feel of the modern LM100. There’s an illycafe partnership lounge in the lobby, a small outdoor, covered smoking area, and wireless internet throughout. Also, the hotel controls their own internet facilities instead of the silly Maginet outsourcing so you can easily watch DVDs without ripping the wiring out of the electronics. To stress the service attitude again, Sunny asked at the end of our tour what she could do to help our business (I’m a travel agent) and thanked me for my constructive comments.

I recommend requesting a high floor so your view is not of the ugly buildings opposite. There is nothing to complain about at le Meridien Bangkok I and recommend the hotel without reservation. The only thing I would prefer is for the Skytrain to be 300 metres closer. Otherwise, this hotel has it all.

Platinum guests receive:
- Upgrade to Avantec Suite
- Breakfast at Latest Recipe
- Creative hour cocktails (2 hours – 1730-1930) at Bamboo Chic (anything off the excellent cocktail menu plus wine and beer, excluding French champagnes. Platinum guests are allowed in 30 mins before the regular opening time of 1800.
- Snacks (last night was freeze-dried okra is middle eastern spices) plus a taster plate dim sum and sushi with the cocktails
- 2 pieces of pressing on arrival
- 4.00pm check-out
- Free internet
- VIP service, which I guess was the turndown sweets presentation and also, obviously the daily staff meeting informs them of VIP arrivals as so many of them greet me by name. I can’t stress the welcoming feeling of this, enough.
My rate was THB 3995++ and would have included breakfast, also. The hotel is still very new so there are a few glitches, like running out of hot water and a few things not working, and I had to explain the Thailand Starwood Privilege discount, but they are eager to fix things and I feel that the low occupancy has helped the new staff to ease into the hotel so they are adept at dealing with the fussiest guest – me. This is clearly a hotel trying to build its business by impressing the guests, and it works.

The most

Excellent quality for the price, and great SPG recognition for Platinum guests

The least

5 minute walk to BTS through Patpong.

Posted in Hotel Reviews | Leave a comment