Hotel Review: Marina Mandarin, Singapore

It’s a strange feeling that I’ve traveled and chronicled sights and scene all over Asia but had no time to show the sights right in my own home – Singapore.

I’ve not been to the Esplanade, Suntec, Marina Square and Marina Bay Sands area for a long time. In fact, I’ve never even been to the Marina Bay Sands Resorts and certainly not the Esplanade area since the place has been enhanced. It’s funny that foreign friends and colleagues seem to have seen and taken photographs and know more about this area more than me!

So, it was time to make plans for a short stay-cation in that area. We chose the Marina Mandarin Hotel; both for the fact it’s one of the cheaper hotels in the area and that it has great view for photographing the surrounding area.

Welcome to Trader's Hotel
Nice spacious room and bed

Nice spacious room
Chair fit for any Chinese scholar

Nice spacious room
Spacious dressing and writing table

Beauiful singing birds at the corridor
Beautiful singing birds at the corridors

Driving to the Marina Square Shopping Mall car park wasn’t a problem. Looking for the parking area designated for the hotel wasn’t a problem. Finding the staircase leading to the hotel was a bit of a hassle. Apparently, the carpark does not lead straight to the hotel; you need to go up a staircase, come out near the hotel, go into the main entrance and then take a lift to the 5th level hotel reception area. Not quite a good idea to be lugging luggage and bags. Better to engage the valet service.

The hotel receptionist told us the rooms facing Marina Bay Sands Resorts were completely taken up. Pay more to upgrade. Bad suggestion!

We showed her our confirmation sheet that was printed direct from the hotel website. We had already paid more for a deluxe room because it faced the view we wanted and we had specified clearly we had wanted a high level, sea facing room.

After a bit of to and fro, we got the view we wanted; albeit on a low floor. Oh well, a low level sea-facing room is still better than nothing.

Corny sink design
View from the hotel lobby

Wonder how much is Evian water at the convenience store
Spacious atrium area

Many reviews rave about the view of the Twin Tower - this is my room's view
We had our high tea here

Work desk area
View from the hotel room window – what we came for

The hotel has a number of restaurants and cafes that seem to be well patronised at all hours. As locals, we know our way around and hit the Marina Square mall and the Esplanade area for our favourite food.

Towards dusk, we got ourselves busy by setting up a tripod and camera within the room for some fancy dusk and night photography. The room was just about the right angle for photographing the Marina Bay Sands resort and CBD skyline although I would have preferred to have been on a higher floor. The balcony was also a little small and odd shaped for spreading up a tripod and we had to put up the tripod within the room itself. That had to involve some shifting of furniture within the room itself as only one panel of the sliding window could be opened.

Drop off point is on a side-road; reception on the fifth level
Entrance to Marina Square Mall

Drop off point is on a side-road; reception on the fifth level
The CBD and Esplanade skyline by day

Drop off point is on a side-road; reception on the fifth level
Sunset and the early lights make nice photographs

KLCC is just next door; note Twin Tower in background
CBD area at evening dusk

The shuttle that brings hotel guests to Twin Tower
Our neighbours

Walking distance to the Twin Tower shopping mall and offices
Night fall and all the fancy lights came on

Although this is a 5-star hotel and was indeed grand in it’s hey day, the hotel does look slightly aged compared to all the fancy hotels in the area.

Other than the bad reception encounter we had, everything else was pleasant and the staff were cheerful and greeted us whenever we bumped into one. Room rate was indeed high and it did not even come with breakfast. Luckily Ya Kun is just round the corridor and we had Mee Siam and toasted bread for breakfast; much better than the usual hotel breakfast if I may say.

The hotel is busy and the restaurants, function rooms and atrium seems to be extremely busy at all times of the day despite the high prices charged in this hotel. Singapore is indeed living up to it’s reputation as a rich country.

Speaking of restaurants, we did had a unpleasant encounter at the Peach Blossom Chinese restaurant. We were at the restaurant reception and asked the restaurant manager for a Dim Sum menu. The manager did not look up from his counter and pointed us towards some menu on a table. We had a look through and decided to have Dim Sum. That was when the manager told us that Dim Sum order will close in 5 minutes. Is this guy dumb or what? Why didn’t he inform us when we inquired about Dim Sum?

The hotel has a large swimming pool, nice high tea buffet and corridors filled with nice art paintings and caged singing birds. I had a fun time listening to the birds. Apparently, they’ll not sing when I’m right below observing them but the moment I walk away, they’ll start singing. The moment I walk back, they’ll stop singing! I’ll certainly say they’re proud singing divas who know how to play the fame game.

There are indeed many, many nicer and grander hotels in the Suntec, Esplanade and Marina Square area. If you’re looking for the most economical and best positioned hotel that is with easy reach of Suntec, Esplanade, Marina Square, CBD and the Flyer, Marina Mandarin hotel certainly ranked as one of the best.

Marin Mandarin Hotel, Singapore
6 Raffles Boulevard
Marina Square
Singapore 039594

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Review: Traders Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A family occasion found me in Kuala Lumpur(KL) Malaysia, again, just a couple of months after my business trip there.

Well, at least this time it’s for pleasure and not work. Hence, I was free to choose my hotel and again, I check in to Tripadvisor for my choice of hotel. The top hotel consistently appearing in Tripadvisor for KL was Traders Hotel near KLCC(Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre). I decided to go along with Tripadvisor’s readers’ choice.

Most time, I find Tripadvisors’ readers to be spot-on with their choices. I had been very happy with their recommendation for my last few trips. I wasn’t quite sure about the recommendation for Trader’s Hotel though; sometimes, I find the reviews, especially the sweeping positive reviews, had raised expectations to a level that perhaps when real delivery does not meet, you become even more disappointed. It’s like waking up to find that Santa Claus does not exist.

Welcome to Trader's Hotel
Welcome to Trader’s Hotel

Nice spacious room
Nice spacious room

The disappointment started when we arrived at the driveway of the hotel. We were dropped off in a limousine driven by a relative. We thought we would get a warm reception. How wrong we were.

The bell-hop did open our car door. That was it.

No one helped me with the luggage. No one told us that the reception is on the fifth level. So, we were left dangling at the driveway lobby before self-discovering that we had to make our way to the fifth level.

The check-in reception at fifth level only had 3 counters. The queue was long; because 2 of the check-in staff were busy explaining and detailing the delights of Kuala Lumpur to check-in guests. Sure, I’m sure the hotel needs to live up to their high ranks in Tripadvisor for service beyond expectation but surely it makes more sense to pass on to concierge and guest relations to explain the delights of KL and not keep check-in guests waiting especially as some of them may had arrived after a long flight and want to be checked in quickly.

Work desk area
Work desk area – note the splotchy lights in the room

Corny sink design
Nice toilet but check out the corny sink design

Wonder how much is Evian water at the convenience store
Wonder how much is Evian water at the nearest convenience store

Many reviews rave about the view of the Twin Tower - this is my room's view
Many reviews rave about the view of the Twin Tower – this is my room’s view

During the check-in process, the check-in staff must have overheard that it was my birthday. She did not offer any greetings but we knew she overheard because that night, we found a small birthday cake in our room. Nice touch by the hotel but I remain unimpressed. Why? Because F&B delivered the cake without a cover and we were only back in the room at midnight and I wasn’t keen to eat a cake that was left exposed for 8 hours!

After checking into the room, we made a bee-way to the nearby KLCC for our family activity. We had read about the hotel’s buggy service in Tripadvisor and was looking forward to the short ride to KLCC. Again, it left us slightly disappointed as the buggy can only take 6 people at a time and the driver did not really differentiate between hotel guests and outsiders although the signboard clearly indicated it was for hotel guests only. Many in the shuttle queue were obviously not hotel guests and this can be expected when the shuttle service is situated right next to the convention centre and it’s horde of visitors!

Drop off point is on a side-road; reception on the fifth level
Drop off point is on a side-road; reception on the fifth level

KLCC is just next door; note Twin Tower in background
KLCC is just next door; note Twin Tower in background

The shuttle that brings hotel guests to Twin Tower
The shuttle that brings hotel guests to Twin Tower; if you can get a seat

Walking distance to the Twin Tower shopping mall and offices
Walking distance to the Twin Tower shopping mall and offices

I was looking forward to good food in the hotel. I found that there was only one restaurant serving standard international cafe fare. Not interested.

I asked a coat and tie staff near the cafe for recommendations for nearby restaurants. Unfortunately, we couldn’t communicate; I think he’s a Nepali and we couldn’t understand each other’s English.

Like all overworked executives, even on holidays, I had brought some reading materials. If you note in the photos, you’ll see that there are no reading lamps at the arm chair or work desk area; only splotchy ceiling lights that make reading of small text difficult. This is definitely disappointing for a hotel that is aiming for the business visitor.

One of the highlight of the hotel is the indoor sky lobby swimming pool. By night, it’s a clubbing scene by the pool and by day, it offers guests a spectacular view of the twin tower while relaxing by the pool. But it’s really an enclosed narrow pool and because it is a bar cum lounge by the pool, I found myself swimming and coming up for air and cigar smoke at the same time. I hated it!

I hope I do not sound overbearing naggy by now. The rooms are great. The hotel infrastructure is great. Everyone smile at the hotel. The hotel is definitely on par as any of the 4 and 5 stars hotels out there. But after reading so many grand reviews in Tripadvisor; I must say that I feel letdown because I was expecting more.

Maybe there are reasons for the good reviews. Like the fact that the hotel is a short walking distance to the Petronas Twin Towers. Like if you have the right facing room (we did not), you’ll get a fabulous view of the Twin Towers. Like if you’re attending a conference/exhibition at the convention centre, it’s right next door. Like if you take public transport, there’s a light rail station nearby. Like the fact that Wifi is complimentary throughout the hotel including the rooms.

Swimming by day - note the loung/bar area
Swimming pool by day – note the lounge/bar area and possible cigar smell

Clubbing scene by night - no swimming after 6pm
Clubbing scene by night – no swimming after 6pm

Night view of the Twin Tower from the Pool area
Night view of the Twin Tower from the Sky Pool area –
compensation for those without the room view

Will I recommend this hotel? I’ll say why not if you’re on a business trip or if you are attending to events at the convention centre or Twin Towers. It does have business function advantages.

If you’re a leisure traveler, I’m not sure if this is the right hotel and you should be able to get better hotels elsewhere in Kuala Lumpur that are better suited for the holiday visitor.

Traders Hotel
Kuala Lumpur City Centre

50088
Malaysia

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Review: Changi Village Hotel, Singapore

Changi Village has been a rustic retreat for Singaporeans for many, many years. Many Singaporeans grew up with memories of camping, chalet-holidays, BBQ, swimming, fishing, beaches, seafood and other youthful activities in this rustic North-Eastern part of Singapore.

For Singaporean men, this place holds even greater sentimental value as many of them would possibly have served National Service in the vicinity; either as recruits in Pulau Tekong, commandos in Hendon camp and others in the many airbase camps around the area.

I haven’t been to this part of Singapore for many, many years as work kept me busy and holidays usually meant a trip overseas and not to this part of Singapore. Well, recently I made a return to Changi Village by having a weekend ‘staycation’ in Changi Village hotel, which is smacked in the midst of Changi Village. I’m glad I did.

Changi Village Hotel
The colourful front facade of the Changi Village Hotel

The hotel has a nice tall lobby
The hotel has a nice tall lobby

The first impression you have of the hotel is the colourful front facade. The hotel is not tall and the colourful facade makes it blend into the low-rise buildings around the area and not stick out like a sore thumb.

The hotel has an impressive tall front lobby and check in was quick and speedy.

The hotel room though was a minor letdown as it tends to be minimalist. There was no real intent to dress up the room and while all the essential furniture and utilities were available, one tends to think that the hotel expect it’s main clientele of airport travellers(from the nearby Changi International Aiport) and weekend local holiday makers not to be spending a lot if time in the rooms.

The minimalist room
The minimalist room. Toilet in the background

Basic room furniture
Basic room furniture

The toilet looks into the bedroom
The toilet looks into the bedroom. Privacy is maintained by drawing a curtain

The room look out to the greenery outside. Some higher floor rooms has sea view.
The room look out to the greenery outside.
Some higher floor rooms has sea view.

The rooms may be bare minimum but the hotel surprisingly has a full repertoire of well-equipped facilities that a weekend or transit guest will probably find useful such as a gym, two swimming pools, a Koi pond, a 7-11 store, an award winning spa, a wine bar, a pool-side sun deck and several restaurants including local, Japanese and Italian.

I tend to agree that time at this hotel is absolutely not meant to be spent indoors; not when there are so many things to do and food to savour just minutes outside the hotel.

Two swimming pools amongst lush greenery
Two swimming pools amongst lush greenery

Italian restaurant at the rooftop that overlooks the South China sea
Italian restaurant at the rooftop that overlooks the South China sea

A Koi pond garden. Children would love feeding the Kois
A Koi pond garden. Children would love feeding the Kois

Changi Village has long known to be a food haven and it remain the case even till today. There are seafood restaurants, cafes, pubs, wine bars and cheap hawker food mere steps from the hotel. You’ll be spoil for choice!

For those looking for activities to do, fear not, for there are many to do. You can walk, cycle, jog, swim or fish by the beach, take a boat to Pulau Ubin, visit historical and war sites in the area or simply chill out and breathe in the fresh air.

Plenty of food options just around the corner
Plenty of food options just around the corner

The ever popular Pulau Ubin seafood restaurant
The ever popular Ubin seafood restaurant

Great city view from the room
Stroll, swim, cycle, fish by the beach.
Keep a look-out for suspicious immigrants and smugglers!

Visit the many historical and WWII sites around the area
Visit the many historical and WWII sites around the area

Hire a small boat to go fishing or take a boat ride to Pulau Ubin  for even more physical activities
Hire a small boat to go fishing or take a boat ride to Pulau Ubin
for even more physical activities

Will I recommend this hotel? Absolutely, especially local families who would like to spend a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Changi Village has a life of it’s own and it takes a weekend to savour the rustic Changi Village ambiance. I just wish the hotel room rate would be a bit better.

Breakfast at the hotel was a tad disappointing given that there are so many food options just outside the hotel. Because breakfast was disappointing, I did not take up the local food buffet lunch because I was sure I can get better and cheaper food outside.

Service at the hotel is generally good and I was greeted by housekeepers and maintenance workers whenever I bump into one. Thumbs up for the service.

There were a couple of things in the room that I find not quite right. Firstly, I couldn’t get the overhead rain shower to work… it shouldn’t be that complicated to work it.

The TV in the room kept advertising in-room movies but for the life of me, I couldn’t find any buttons on the TV remote control that says “Movies”. How am I supposed to watch movies then?

The room comes with free internet but only the wired version. No wireless is available which is surprising in today’s world of iPhones and iPads and especially also since a good portion of the guests in this hotel are savvy world travellers.

Then again, the inconveniences are minor and it wouldn’t be real problems if you are not in the room most of the time. Which is what staying in this hotel is all about – not staying in the rooms!

CHANGI VILLAGE HOTEL
1 Netheravon Road
Singapore 508502

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Review: Studio M Hotel, Singapore

A recent home renovation project gave me the excuse to check into a local hotel for a couple of days recently. I did some research online and as well as a friend’s recommendation made me decided to check out The Studio M Hotel near the Merchant Court area.

It helped that S$185++ per night was a relatively good price considering the expensive hotel room rates in Singapore especially in the city area. I was also piqued by the hotel’s claim to be offering a 2-level loft room for each guest.

The Studio M hotel
The Studio M hotel

Great city view from the room
Great city view from the room

First impression is that the hotel has a small and limited carpark. You are likely not to have a parking lot if you arrive late at the hotel although the hotel is good enough to offer a cash-back if you had to park elsewhere.

The lobby and ambiance of the hotel of the hotel feels nice. You can tell it’s not a high-end hotel, more like a high-end economy hotel, but the simple yet tastefully done decor and layout more than compensate.

First impression of the room is interesting as this is the first loft-designed room I have ever stayed in. You do get a ‘2nd floor’ built within a room and your bed is located on the 2nd level overlooking your ‘living room’.

It looks cool and zen-like and remind one very much of the shoe-box apartments of Japan. In fact, there seem to be many touches of Japanese-influenced interior design at work here.

Great city view from the room
View from top of loft

Great city view from the room
Nice concept but not exactly safe for children or older folks

Great city view from the room
The bed and TV are on the upper loft

Great city view from the room
The sink and coffee corner

The room does indeed looks cool – that is – until the impracticality sets in, literally with a few bumps on the head and knocks on the legs. Let’s start with the toilet.

Think of an airplane toilet and you’ll get what I mean. I enjoy my morning toilet with a magazine but you literally cannot do it here because you need to sit up straight on the bowl. There is literally no space to stretch to hold out a magazine. I pity the larger sized Caucasians who must have a struggle just to wipe their backside!

The sink is located in the living room due to space constraints. Your clothes are lined out for all to see because there is no cupboard or even curtain for the simple rack that serves as a ‘clothing cupboard’.

The toughest part is the bed on the 2nd level. I must reprimand the architect or designer who decided that half of the ceiling above the bed is a dropped ceiling painted in the same colour. I hate going to bed because I bumped into the ceiling more than once! How can anyone design a ceiling with 2 different heights above a bed is beyond my comprehension…

However, to watch TV, you have to be in bed because the TV is located on the 2nd level. Hence, I spent most of my time outside the room.

Great city view from the room
The tightest toilet space ever

Great city view from the room
Roll right and hit the wall or stand up and hit the ceiling!

Great city view from the room
Cracked walls: Shoddy building and maintenance work for a new hotel

The hotel has a nice lap pool, fitness centre and cafe on the 2nd level. The open air, wooden planks, chill-out seats and spacious layout compensated for the claustrophobic effect of the rooms and I was not surprised it seems popular all the time.

Food is served here as well as a cafe on the ground level. Disappointingly, all food served are Western and you cannot find a single local item on the menus. Luckily, the hotel is located in an area where there are many eateries and restaurants, and food was not really an issue.

The hotel seems popular with locals and it is obvious that many are here on stay-cations. However, I will not recommend this hotel for young children or older folks due to the small rooms and the steep stairs they need to climb just to get into bed.

There was a single long queue waiting to check out at the same time as myself. I was shocked to see a Western couple going to a staff at the other end of the counter and that the staff served them!

Will I recommend this hotel? I doubt very much if I will because once you get past the novelty value of staying in a loft-room, the impracticality of staying in such a room makes you yearn for the boring but familiar and practical layout of a typical hotel room.

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Review: Hilton Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I had the opportunity to work in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia for a couple of weeks. I had visited KL many times previously but always for leisure and had always tended to pick tourist-class hotels near major shopping malls.

This was strictly a business trip and hence I got to stay in a 5-star business class hotel, the Hilton KL.

If you have never been to KL, here’s a little background information. Kuala Lumpur is a big, modern city with tall skyscrapers, chic malls and crowded streets. However, like all modern and rapidly growing cities, traffic can be bad and traffic jams are common.

Bright spacious room<
Bright spacious room

The toilet area is connected via a series of sliding mirror doors<
The toilet area is connected via a series of sliding mirror doors

Wireless internet is available at a big price<
Wireless internet is available at a big price

Hence, if you are in KL for a business trip, you’ll tend to appreciate the location of the Hilton hotel. The hotel is just right opposite the Sentral station; which is a major interchange for the light rail, airport fast transit and commuter train systems of KL.

This means you can conveniently travel to and from the airport via the airport transit, travel rapidly within Kuala Lumpur by light rail or within the entire Peninsular Malaysia by hopping onto the commuter railway system. How more convenient can it get then by staying at the Hilton with all the major KL transportation system at your door-step. The hotel is also located off downtown KL and so you get to miss the worst of the KL traffic jam.

If you’re just traveling within KL, the nearby train stations bring you easily to popular destinations such as KLCC, Bukit Bintang, Bangsar and Chinatown.

On the other hand, other than the neighbouring Meridien hotel, the hotel is located in a isolated piece of land. There are simply no bustling shops, cafes, restaurants or any of the conveniences that is so typical of other hotels in KL.

You will either spend time within the hotel or you need to travel by train or taxi to another part of KL to enjoy some of the entertainment, culinary or tourist offerings that KL has to offer.

The Hilton is a relatively new hotel in KL and has a grand entrance, modern rooms and restaurants offering all the culinary delights of Malaysia. It is also apparently a iconic party location for the high society of Malaysia judging by the number of black tie events that occurred in the ballrooms almost every night I was there.

The room is a nice size with a large bed, sitting coach and a working table. There are many mirrors in the room and the toilet has no walls but a series of moving mirrors that slides in and out depending on whether you want the toilet enclosed or not.

The hotel tries hard to make the business visitor feel relaxed<
The hotel tries hard to make the business visitor feel relaxed

The bathtub is large and comfortable<
The bathtub is large and comfortable

Branded toiletries<
Branded toiletries for the business executives

Even fancy gadgets for the business bums<
Fancy gadgets for cleaning the business executives bums

Cozy working chair and table for the hardworking executive<
Cozy working chair and table for the hardworking executive

Or snuggle up and relax on the cozy lounge armchair<
Or snuggle up and relax on the cozy lounge chair

Service in the hotel is generally good and it is difficult to fault the helpful staff. I was a bit disappointed that the breakfast cafe was a little small and crowded given the size of the hotel and service can be a little off especially during the peak 8-9am timing. Non of the morning breakfast greeter gave me a cheery good morning for the 2 weeks I was there!

Given that this is a upmarket business hotel, I was also disappointed that the hotel does not have a lap pool but a wavy pool that is more suitable for children for which there were hardly any for this hotel.

There is also a gym and spa in the hotel. Having checked out the prices, I rather spend my massage money on the many nice boutique spas that seems to be all over KL especially in the Bangsar and Bukit Bintang area.

I tried the Japanese, Chinese and Noodle restaurants and was generally not impressed. I recommend you eat out rather than the hotel restaurants. On the other hand, the neighbouring Meridien hotel was running a Vietnamese international buffet at their cafe and I was quite pleased with the wide variety of food available. The desert was indeed impressive and seems to offer more than the main course itself!

Will I be back at this hotel? If on business, probably yes but definitely not if I’m a tourist visitor. I can think of many other hotels in KL that are definitely more suitable than the Hilton in offering a more complete tourist package.

Address of hotel:
3 Jalan Stesen Sentral
, Kuala Lumpur 50470, Malaysia


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Review: Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa, Jordan

As a spa and massage enthusiast, the Dead Sea is like the Holy Land that I must visit at least once in my lifetime. And here I am. The very thought of floating freely in the Dead Sea really excites me! Not to mention the mud-bath, mineral salt scrub, spa and massage that is so much associated with the Dead Sea.

Here’s some interesting fact about the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest body of water on earth, the lowest point on earth and the world’s richest source of natural sea mineral that was accumulated over thousands of years. Thousands of people come to the Dead Sea for the fun of floating at the lowest point of the earth but there are also a lot of people who come to the Dead Sea to seek and find cures for their skin or health problems.

The drive from Evason Ma’In Hot Spring Resort, which was our last hotel, is less than 30 minutes. The Dead Sea is actually a long lake straddling between Jordan and Palestine.

Along the long stretch of water, you will see three 5 stars luxury hotels side by side (namely, the Kempinski, Movenpick & Marriott). More hotels are being built alongside these few hotels.

We stayed at the Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa. Being a 5 stars luxury hotel brand, you would expect a certain standard of customer service but unfortunately, I could only say that this hotel fall short.


Nice comfortable hotel room


The resort has numerous swimming pools


Breakfast restaurant – Not impressed by food nor service

Nobody offered to help us carry our luggage after we walked through the Security counter x-ray scanner at the main entrance. Our luggage was left lying on the X-ray scanner despite a few bellhops standing around the lobby area. They were more interested in chatting with each other.

At the front desk area, only one receptionist was doing the check in & check out. This despite being a few hundred rooms hotel and being 1pm which is the peak period for check-in/out. This was obviously not an isolated incident because when I was checking out at 1pm the next day, the same scenario was played out.

The Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa sits on a large land area. The various amenities and facilities are well spread out and were designed to provide great views overlooking the Dead Sea. The hotel lobby area is spacious with Arabian theme decor and there are several restaurants, spa facilities, a few spacious swimming pool and chill-out areas in and around the resort.

The room we had was a good size with a comfortable king size bed, thick carpets and wooden furnishing.  The hotel only provide one small bottle of complimentary drinking water and the rest of the same brand (4 bottles) in the fridge were chargeable. The breakfast spread at the hotel was reasonable except that we were surprised that the bread were not fresh at all.  We even feed back to the restaurant manager (who was seen chit chatting with staff all morning) but no apology was offered. At least he was honest; he admitted that the bread was 2 days old!

The SPA facilities include an indoor pool with water from the Dead Sea, a heated lap pool and a Jacuzzi pool. The use of the spa facilities costs 19 JOD. Other spa facilities include a sauna, steam room, relaxation lounge and gym. The spa also offer a wide range of therapeutic treatments ranging from massage to body treatments using products from the Dead Sea. There is also a couple treatment room that faces the Dead Sea where guests could watch the sun set & relax in the room after their massage.


The Spa at Marriot


The couple room overlook the Dead Sea

We did not manage to book a treatment as the spa was fully booked on the 2 days that we were there. The Spa seems to be particularly popular during Winter as there were many day-guests from Amman and not just hotel guests.  Word of advice for spa enthusiasts: Please make prior booking if you want a spa or massage treatment even before your arrival.

Each of the 3 luxury hotels have their own private area of Dead Sea beach. For the Jordan Valley Marriott Resort, access to the Dead Sea is a path at the end of the property to the private beach area which is exclusively for Marriott hotel guests.

The beach at the Marriott hotel is a stone beach and not sand or mud. Luckily, the hotel provide tubs of Dead Sea natural mud, obviously extracted from other parts of the Dead Sea, and were placed on the beach area for guests to use freely.  You could rub yourself in mud and/or float in the Dead Sea for as long as you wish. It is almost impossible to swim in the Dead Sea and it is really true that you can read a book or drink a cup of coffee while floating in the Dead Sea!


Private Dead Sea access from the hotel


Floating in the Dead Sea


Dead Sea Mud. No smell. Just apply direct onto body


Scary: The skin is creased after the mud dries


Look at the amount of dried salt after dipping in the Dead Sea

Word of wise advice when you plan to float at the Dead Sea:

1. Wear a slipper or dive boot. The beach is made up of small and sharp stones.

2. Don’t swim if you have cuts. Cuts and scratches are magnified a hundred times due to the extreme salt content.

Other useful word of advice when visiting the Dead Sea:

1. Buy your favourite Dead sea spa products elsewhere. Prices are much higher here.

2. Better yet, bring your own plastic bag and grab the free mud. Many guests did that.

3. Buy your favourite drinks and snacks before arrival. There is not a single convenience shop around.

4. Do not try the Chinese food at the next door Movenpick hotel. Worst Chinese food ever.

Due to the Dead Sea area being below sea-level, weather in the Dead Sea tend to be warmer than the rest of Jordan. Even then, the December weather was a bit chilly to be hanging out at the pool or lounges. I could only afford to spend a short time dipping in the Dead Sea to avoid catching a cold.

You can thus get a bit bored. If you do get bored, you can also do some hotel hopping by asking the front desk to arrange to drop you off at the other nearby hotels.

The Marriott Resort is a large, clean and comfortable hotel. However, I also find it a relatively sterile hotel, where staff seems to lack the smile factor and where chatting between staff seems to be more interesting than serving guests. You can’t go wrong by staying at a Marriott hotel. However, do not expect anything outstanding, not at this branch.

Address of hotel: Dead Sea Road, Sweimeh, Jordan

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Review: Evason Ma’In Hot Springs Hotel, Jordan

A trip to Jordan in the Middle East was my last holiday destination for Year 2010. My travel Itinerary in Jordan was: Madaba, Petra, Ma’in and Dead Sea. I would like to share my experience with Evason Ma’In Springs Hotel & Six Senses Spa.

The Evason Ma’In Hot Springs Hotel & Six Senses Spa is located near Madaba, Jordan. The hotel is actually 264 metres below sea level and the drive down the ravine to reach the hotel, which took almost 30 minutes, was worth it as the view along the drive was magnificent.


Entrance to the hotel


The hotel is surrounded by hills and waterfalls


Quick introduction to the hotel

Upon arrival at the hotel entrance, we walked through the security checks and were led to the reception counter for check in. We were served with cups of cold hibiscus tea. The decor of the hotel is rustic Arabian and you’ll find large over-size colourful cushions, Indian cotton curtain, wooden floor and furniture, over-size Arabian lantern, Arabian carpets, beige tone walls and high ceilings.

I was quite surprised that the guest services were not very friendly (no smile). Not sure if it was because they were all males or if it was because we are Asian. No welcoming feeling at all which I did not expect from a 5 stars luxury hotel chain like Evason (Six Sense).

We were led to our room, the Evason Room. Yes indeed the room setup was very nice and thoughtful. The room cane complete with an Ipod dock, a Bose sound system, a 32″ flat screen television that swivels so that you can watch television from anywhere in the room, a writing table, sofa set, separate shower & bathtub (dead sea salt was placed on the bathtub area which I think it was a wonderful gesture) and of course not forgetting the beautiful mountain view just outside the balcony.


The cozy bedroom


The TV and just below it is a Bose iPod Sound System


The bathroom


Take a peep at the view outside the room

There is a library at the lobby with books, iPods and DVD movies to borrow. Scattered around were jars of cookies on the tables and best of all, the library was opened 24 hours and there were 2 computers with free internet which I think it was a huge perk for guests to use.

The wine cellar has a wide collection of wine and you can arrange for a private wine-tasting session. Breakfast spread was wide. The Evason Ma’In Hot Springs resort emphaize a lot on organic and healthy lifestyle. Most of the fruits, vegetables and spices used in the hotel were from the hotel’s own plantation or from nearby organic farms.

Breakfast was special as the restaurant is located with a wonderful view of a nearby waterfall. The weather was too cold to sit outside the veranda so we chose indoor seating. The breakfast spread was superb and there were many live cooking counters instead of the usual sole egg and omelet counter. I especially like the way food was displayed which was an art by itself. So different from most typical hotel breakfast display.


Have your breakfast with this view


Breakfast is a visual treat of presentation and colour


Stylish display of eggs


Milk bottles


Colourful Juice bottles


How about some really fresh honey!

The surrounding view of the resort in the day was amazing as the resort is below sea level and is surrounded by rough rock terrain and criss-crossed by small and large hot waterfalls and streams. You feel so at calm with nature at this resort.

Jordan at this time of the year was supposed to be rainy and even snowy but we were lucky to have good weather throughout. The sun was shining and all we needed was a long sleeve sweater to move around.

However, the flies are indeed a nuisance, it’s everywhere. We also found a couple of cats wandering around the restaurants which I feel is unacceptable especially since they were even allowed to climb onto chairs, dining tables and eating utensils!

Upon checkout, the cashier couldn’t get their credit card machine to work and we were asked to sign a credit charge authorization form. They then made a photocopy of our credit card without prior informing us. We stopped them and demanded them to thrash away the copy. This is so unprofessional.


Will we be back? I think so

In conclusion, it is definitely a very good hotel in a fantastic setting and it is very isolated and quiet which is perfect to relax and recharge. The resort is definitely not a cheap place to stay but it is worth it.

The other attraction of this hotel is the superb Six Sense Spa. (More in a later review)

Word of advice; make the Evason Ma’In Hot Springs Hotel your last destination to end your Jordan trip. You’ll probably have a tiring trip after all the climbing and exploration of Petra and Wadi Rum and so to end and relax off at this resort will be the perfect way to end your travel into Jordan.

Address of hotel: P.O. Box 801 Madaba, 11117 Ma’In, Jordan

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Review: Athens Gate Hotel, Greece

I recently returned from a wonderful week long holiday in Athens, Greece. I went in late November which is the perfect time as the tourist rush crowd is over, the weather is cool and hotels and restaurants were rolling out discounts packages. I stayed at Athens Gate hotel based on reviews that it is conveniently located and boast the best tourist view in Athens. I was definitely not disappointed!

Athens is served by the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport which is a big & modern airport. Getting passed immigration and baggage collection was a breeze and I was soon at the arrival hall. There are cafes, money changers, car-rental and tourist information counters at the hall and I was able to pick up a few tourist brochures and maps.


The Athens airport is conveniently
linked via a bridge to the Metro station


Make sure you validate your ticket before boarding train!

Note: the frequency of the train ride to downtown is every half hour. Make sure you validate your ticket after you buy it. If you are caught with an unvalidated ticket or no ticket at all it is a big fine (60 times of your trip fare)

Getting from the airport to downtown Athens is so easy. The Metro Station is located just across the road from the airport. A direct line, Metro line 3 runs from Athens Airport to Syntagma station, which is exactly in the heart of Athens city centre.

The single ticket price of EURO 5 will take you to downtown Athens and directly to Athens Gate hotel.

Finding the way to the Athens Gate Hotel is just as easy. Drop at Acropolis Metro Station (one stop after changing at Syntagma Station) and the hotel is a convenient 3 minute walk from one of 2 exits at the Station. Both exits will lead you near to the Athens Gate Hotel.

The Athens Gate Hotel is a small 4-star boutique hotel and reaches 7th floor high with a roof-top restaurant. The lobby is small with two small sitting areas, a nice little coffee/bar and a computer that is free for guests to use. Reception is warm and helpful and they’ll point out tourists and transportation options at check-in.

The two lifts to the rooms are tiny and slow and do  expect to wait for a while if traffic is heavy. It can only fit a maximum  of 3 people without any luggage. I understand from travel guides that most Athens hotels seem to have this kind of small lifts.


The cosy Athens Gate room


The view from the room


The small but clean bathroom

The rooms at the Athens Gate Hotel will either have a front view of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Mount Lykavettos or at the back, which will have a view of the Acropolis if it is on the 4th floor and above. The best view is the front where the spectacular sight of the Temple of Zeus literally right across your room balcony will simply take your breathe away. The unfortunate thing is that the front rooms facing the temple will receive road traffic noise and light sleepers may find it uncomfortable.

The room has wooden floors, a comfortable Queen size bed, a wall mounted flat screen TV, an in-room safe, minibar and black out curtains. Bathroom shower has an overhead rain shower and good quality olive oil-based bath products, including shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and shower gel. However, no toothbrush or toothpaste is provided.


Wake up to this view every morning!


Go to sleep every night with this view!


Have breakfast every morning with this view!


Have a cocktail every night with this view!

The rooftop restaurant is where breakfast is served daily from 6.45am to 10.30am and has a spectacular view of the Acropolis on one side and the view of the Temple of Olympian Zeus on the other side. In my opinion, the day and night view of these two monumental sights from the roof-top restaurant is already well-worth the price of the rooms. The rooftop restaurant also serves evening dinner specials & cocktails with reasonable prices.

In addition to friendly service, clean and comfortable room, Athens Gate hotel has one of the best location in Athens for a tourist. Staying at the Athens Gate Hotel is so convenient as it is located within walking distance to many of Athens major tourist, historical and cultural sites such as The Acropolis, The Acropolis Museum, The Temple of Zeus, The Panathenian Stadium, The Hadrian’s Arch, The Zappion Building, The Parliament House and The Plaka.


The white building in the background is Athens Gate Hotel
– as seen from the Temple of Zeus


Temple of Zeus with Acropolis and Athens Gate hotel in background


The Acropolis up close – mere walking distance from Athens Fate hotel


The new Acropolis Museum is just behind the hotel


10 minutes walk to the Parliament house


The Hop On/Hop On bus stand is just beside the hotel

If you need to go further than walking distance, the hotel is located near the Acropolis Metro station, where you can hop on a train to most parts of Athens and the Syntagma Square, where many local, regional and airport buses routes are located. The tourist Hop on Hop off bus stop is also barely 50 metres away on the left from the hotel entrance and plenty of local buses and eager taxis ply the road right in front of the hotel.

If you are into Greek food, you’ll also not be disappointed as many Greek restaurants, alfresco-style, line the street behind the hotel that leads to the Acropolis. Food is good, prices are reasonable and service is equally good. You’re also a short walking distance to The Plaka, which is a series of shops and restaurants located in traditional old Greek houses in streets that have been closed to vehicular traffic.

In my opinion, Athens Gate Hotel is one of the best hotel that you can check into if you are visiting Athens. It may not be a 5-star hotel or has the best bed or the best breakfast or even a swimming pool nor gym but in terms of staff friendliness, location and views of Athens best monuments – this has to be the ultimate hotel in Athens.

If I am ever visiting Athens again, this will definitely be my automatic choice.

Address of hotel: 10, Syngrou avenue. 117 42 – Athens, Greece

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Review: Tango Hotel, Taipei, Taiwan

Taiwan and Thailand remain my favourite countries for hot spring and massage holidays respectively. Of course, both countries are also well known to be great food and shopping destinations as well.

I was in Taipei, Taiwan recently to visit Wulai – a well known and popular hot spring destination near Taipei. I spent a few days in Taipei and stayed at the Tango Hotel. Just in case you’re interested in visiting Taipei, this is a good hotel you can stay while in Taipei.


Tango Hotel room

Tango is a boutique hotel chain with hotels in various parts of Taiwan. I stayed in the Tango, Xinyi branch in Taipei for this visit.

I’ve never stayed at the Tango hotel previously in my visits to Taipei. However, I decided to check out this hotel for this trip based solely on hotel recommendations and reviews from the internet. I’m glad to report that the recommendation was generally spot-on and I have no regret choosing this hotel.

Firstly, the hotel was offering a birthday special package. For anyone showing proof that they are staying during the month of their birthday, one can get a ice cream/fruit plate, free laundry (socks and undergarments only) and a special 2 day stay package.

Breakfast is included with the stay although if you’re used to sumptuous hotel buffet breakfast, you’ll find the breakfast here weak. Breakfast choice changes daily but are typically 4-5 Taiwanese porridge choices and 2-3 western bread and fruit choices. Supper is also served on Fridays and Saturdays but are very similar to the breakfast choices.

The geographical location of the hotel is also good especially if you need to visit Taipei 101 – which is a short 5 min taxi ride away. Alternatively, you can take the sub-way, which is a 3 min walk from the hotel. The subway system in Taipei is fast, convenient and serve a comprehensive section of Taipei. The nearest subway station to the hotel is known as the YongChun station.

Guest reception and service at the hotel is also good – as is typical of service oriented Taiwan. Guests are always greeted cordially and service is always prompt and unobtrusive. The hotel is too small for tour groups but apparently enjoy a good international reputation – I can see and hear guests that are from all corners of the globe.


There are 3 LCD TVs in the suite


There’s even an indoor garden in the bathroom


There’s a jacuzzi in the bathroom; with it’s own LCD TV of course

What differ this hotel from most other is the design of the guests rooms. I will hesitate to describe it as avante garde but it is definitely modernistic clean-cut design.

We had been upgraded to a suite because of the birthday package. The suite is not big as far as suites go but it had a separate work area, 3 LCD TVS, a jacuzzi and a hi-fi system. I’ve never seen so many TVs in a hotel room. There was even a TV in the toilet area!

The other interesting aspect of the room is the bathroom area. It is almost as big as the bedroom and is separated by a sliding glass door. There is a jacuzzi, a TV, a rain shower and even an indoor garden.

What was lacking in the room is a window. You are absolutely boxed in and there are no windows to let in any natural light. The entire room and corridor tend to be darkly lit as a result and I suspect the lighting was also designed to be dim.

There is also no light or AC switches in the guest room and everything is controlled via a remote control box. I had read in reviews that many guests had problem figuring it out but we had absolutely no problem with it.

I had also read in reviews that there were many shops and eating places near the hotel. I was disappointed that this was not true; most shops were catering to the local residents and were closed over the weekend. Other than a couple of high-end restaurants, there were only a McDonald and Starbucks nearby. Obviously, the reviews must have been written by Westerners who consider McDonald and Starbucks as ‘food’ places.

All in, I am satisfied with this hotel and will not hesitate to recommend it to anyone visiting Taipei, Taiwan.

Location of hotel:
297, ZhongXiao East Road, Section 5, Taipei 110, Taiwan

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Review: Andara Resort, Phuket, Thailand

Once in a while, you take a holiday and the hotel or resort you stayed in was so fantastic that you do not want to leave. Andara Resort of Phuket certainly qualify as one such resort as far as I am concern.

We stayed at Andara Resort on our last holiday in Phuket, Thailand. Andara Resort is one of the latest boutique resort/hotel that are giving mass-market hotel chains a good run for their money, not only in Phuket but all round the world. Boutique or niche hotel, in case you are wondering, are usually smaller and revolve around a certain special theme be it hotel concept, architectural uniqueness, outstanding F&B concepts or simply being better, cozier, friendlier, less noisy and more comfortable than most typical large chain hotel.

The grand entrance to Andara Resort
The grand entrance to Andara Resort

The lobby to Andara Resort
The lobby to Andara Resort

Andara Resort is certainly one such boutique hotel concept. Located at Kamala beach, Western Phuket, it is away from the maddening crowd at the popular Patong beach and yet retain all the special charms of a Phuket holiday – sun, sea, beach, pool, shopping, food and massage. Andara Resort is more than just a hotel – in fact, each room is not just a room but an entire apartment – ranging from 1 room to 4 room apartments; many with their own swimming pool. You can call it a ‘condotel’ if you like; it has all the comforts of a full apartment or condominium including a full kitchen, laundry room, dining table, audio-video system, luxurious bathrooms, multiple bedrooms and even a private pool for some units.

You can ‘hide’ in your apartment throughout the entire holiday if you wish; cook, eat, watch TV and luxuriate and suntan at your own private pool. You do not have to meet another soul throughout if you do not want to as the apartment is totally self-contained; right down to ice-maker, coffee-maker, micro-wave oven, cooking stove, ironing board, sound system, ample supply of towels and multiple rooms and bathrooms.

6 luxurious apartments to each 3 level block
6 luxurious apartments to one apartment block

Spacious living hall
Spacious living hall with a sea view

Master bedroom with grand beach view
Master bedroom with grand beach view

Fully equipped kitchen
Fully equipped kitchen – coffee maker, ice maker, oven, stove

Alternatively, you can have the kids, grandparents and yourself living in one apartment or have a boisterous party of 4 to 8 adults and yet be able to retreat to your own personal bedroom at the end of the day. Cook, wash and entertain as you like or pick up the phone and get the resort to provide full housekeeping, F&B and entertainment services.

Other than the facilities provided within the apartment, the resort also has a restaurant, wine bar, health club, swimming pool and a spa (not completed when we were there). Or the resort concierge is able to arrange day trips, rent a car or even send you to the beach if you wish. We organised a day trip and a rental car with the concierge and were surprised that prices are exactly the same as we would have paid if we had approached any tour shops down the road. No ridiculous mark-up as some hotel are apt to do.

Swim at the 30m public lap pool
Swim and suntan at the 30m resort public lap pool

IMG_0578
Or swim and suntan at your own private infinity-view pool

The resort is just a short 400 metres to the nearest beach. Take a short 10 minutes walk there by yourself or the resort can arrange to drive you there. And if you specify a time, even come and fetch you back to the resort. The Kamala beach is on a cove and hence, the waves are not rough and the sand is powdery as Phuket’s beaches are famous for. Incredibly, Andara Resort even has their own private space along the beach and as a guest, you’ll get comfortable deck chairs, towels and even flotation devices while everyone else at the beach will have to pay for their deck chairs and bring their own towels!

Along the beach is a great variety of restaurants, shops and massage palours. You can relax at the beach, wine and dine, shop and have a massage and just give a call and the resort will send a vehicle to send you right back to your apartment. Simply heavenly.

You can also easily get a taxi to explore other parts of Phuket (Patong Beach 20 mins; Phuket Town 30 mins), join the many day tours to go island hopping, elephant trekking, fishing, diving, watch Thai boxing or cabaret shows or perhaps like us, rent a car and go explore the entire Phuket island via a series of good roads.

The Andara Resort is scheduled for it’s official opening only on 12 February 2010. Hence, this is an absolutely brand new resort and you must be aware that final renovation and landscaping work is still an on-going process and may mar an otherwise perfect holiday with some noise and dirt.

Of course, the advantage of checking into a brand new resort also mean that everything still feel and smell brand new and if you’re lucky like us, the likelihood of being upgraded to a higher class suite or penthouse is very high!

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