Photo Collection: Jordan, 2010

The highlight of Year 2010 was a holiday trip to Jordan in the Middle-East. You can read about the trips here:

1. Marriot Hotel at the Dead Sea review

2. Six Senses Spa Review

3. Evason hotel review

In keeping with the theme of this blog, the articles are mostly hotels and spa reviews. I did take many wonderful photos of the trip and during a quiet weekend, had some opportunity to organise these photos. Here’s some better photos that I would like to share with you. Please let me know if these photos are okay with you or you would prefer that I stick back to just doing spa and hotel reviews. Thanks and I hope you enjoy the photos!

The Holy Land
The Holy Land as viewed from Jordan

Biblical and history enthusiasts will be fascinated
Biblical and history enthusiasts will be fascinated

Mosaic art has a long history in Madaba, Jordan
Mosaic art has a long history in Madaba, Jordan

Mosaic art in a Greek Orthodox Church
Mosaic art in a Greek Orthodox Church

More artwork in the Greek Orthodox Church
More artwork in the Greek Orthodox Church”

The mostly dry and arid landscape in Jordan
The mostly dry and arid landscape in Jordan

Castle in Karak that has seen occupation from different rulers
Castle in Karak that has seen occupation from different rulers

I met a Singapore student studying in a Jordan University here
I met a Singapore student studying in a Jordan University here

The tunnel leading to Petra Valley
The tunnel leading to Petra Valley

Does this remind you of the Indiana Jones movie?
Does this remind you of the Indiana Jones movie?

An unforgettable scene from Petra
An unforgettable scene from Petra

No visit to Jordan is complete without a visit to Petra
No visit to Jordan is complete without a visit to Petra

The temples, houses and coliseums were etched from stone
The temples, houses and coliseums were etched from stone

The 'main street' of Petra Valley
The ‘main street’ of Petra Valley

Camels and donkeys are available for the tired visitors
Camels and donkeys are available for the tired visitors

The temple of Petra
The temple of Petra

An ancient civilization that curved an entire temple from stone
An ancient civilization that curved an entire temple from stone

Look at the humans to get a proportion of the size of the temple
Look at the humans to get a proportion of the size of the temple

The temple from up close
The temple from up close

The temple from up close
The temple from up close

It's a long and sometimes steep climb. Hiring a donkey can be helpful
It’s a long and sometimes steep climb. Hiring a donkey can be helpful

A rest and cool drink in a cave can also be helpful
A rest and cool drink in a cave can also be helpful

Wadi Rum - Another fascinating desert landscape
Wadi Rum – Another fascinating desert landscape

A Bedouin camp in the desert
A Bedouin camp in the desert

Climbing up the golden desert sand
Climbing up the golden desert sand

Fascinating belly dance at the hotel
Fascinating belly dance at the hotel

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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: The Benjaphan Thai Herbal Spa, Singapore

I was looking for an authentic Thai Massage in Singapore and The Benjaphan Thai Herbal Spa seems to pop up frequently on the search engine whenever I searched for authentic Thai Massage in Singapore.

I’m a die-hard Thai massage enthusiast. I need a Thai massage fix every so often and since I was not in Thailand but Singapore, I decided I had to trust ‘Mr Google’. I decided to check out The Benjaphan Thai Herbal Spa and booked an appointment.

The Benjaphan Thai Herbal Spa is located at one of the older shopping mall in Bukit Timah area. The decor of the spa is quite simple & rustic, with the furniture made of Teakwood and Thai silk and they even have the Thai Massage day beds.

Foot massage chairs near the reception area
Foot massage chairs near the reception area

So far, so good. True enough, the massage therapists are all from Thailand. Second tick in their favour. There was a strong wiff of Thai massage oil and lemon grass in the air. Third tick in their favour.

I opted for the 120 mins Thai Aroma Oil Massage while my partner chose the 120 mins Royal Thai Massage.  We were put in separate rooms as the Royal Thai Massage was done on the raised Thai Massage bed in the public area while my Oil Massage was done in the privacy of the room.

I was not really impressed by the Aroma Oil Massage. It felt like any ordinary Swedish massage and not the strong, smooth strokes of Thai oil massage.

The Royal Thai Massage was done on a raised flat bed in a public area. That’s quite typical of a authentic Thai massage setting. Unfortunately, most Thai massage places would also let down the bed curtains; hence, ensuring some privacy even within a public setting. However, the masseur left the curtains up; hence, exposing my partner to full public view throughout the massage.

All 4 raised beds were empty while we were there. Instead of choosing the furthest bed, the masseur also chose the nearest bed, which was within the walking path for guests and staff walking to the toilet and changing room. All sense of privacy was totally stripped.

Despite the lack of privacy,  my partner dozed off during the 120 minutes of massage, as she had just arrived from a long and tiring flight. That was how relaxing the experience was but on a second thought, if this was an authentic Thai massage, how could one person slept all the way through as authentic Thai massage would certainly have kept one awake with the many twist and turns of the body?

Tea was served after the massage. As we were there during non-peak timing, we were offered a discount off the menu price.

Will I be back? I doubt so. I had enjoyed Thai massage so much in Thailand but seem to find the same massage experience elusive once outside of Thailand. As much as these Thai spas outside of Thailand offer authentic Thai decor and Thai masseurs, these Thai masseurs simply seems not to be able to match the skills of their counterparts back home. Maybe the best masseur talents are secretly kept at home and only the second rated ones make their way outside of the country. That seems to be the only logic I can think of…

Size of Spa: About 5 private rooms and 4 public beds
Facilities: Shower and changing room

Friendliness: Friendly
Pricing: 1 hour Thai massage starts at S$85. Other treatment and massage services start from that price onwards.

Pix credit: www.singaporemirror.com.sg/

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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 of Six Senses Spa, Ma’In, Jordan

The Six Senses Spa is located just a couple of minutes drive from the Evason Ma’In Hot Springs hotel within the same resort compound. You can choose to take a leisurely 5 minutes walk from the hotel or take a short drive using the complimentary electrical buggy or car from the hotel.

Along the way to the Six Senses Spa, you can see vegetable farms with herbs, vegetable and fruits in various stages of bloom. There are also various hot streams and waterfalls along the way.


The Six Sense Spa is a short walk from Evason Hotel


The Six Sense Spa is located in a natural ravine –
note the natural waterfall on the right of the picture.


Entrance to the Spa

The Six Senses Spa is a stand-alone villa compound housing a reception area, a hot waterfall lounge area, 2 levels of massage rooms and a spa facilities room. Walking into the reception area, there are shelves displaying Dead Sea spa products and an over-size round sofa fronting the reception area.

The receptionist on duty was a Gentleman and he took us for a tour of the spa despite being after their operating hours when we arrived at the spa.

The Six Senses Spa in Jordan is indeed unique. The Spa compound is built around it’s key attraction; a natural hot spring waterfall and a main hot spring water pool. There is even a very unusual cave sauna, heated by very hot spring water, right beside the waterfall! It’s natural, unique and amazing.

Just swimming in the heated pool and listening to the continuous waterfall is guaranteed to take away whatever urban stress and worries that you may be having!


Just being able to rest and relax beneath the
hot spring waterfall is worth all the money in the world!


Another view of the waterfall and hot pool


Check out the waterfall temperature

I understand that the Six Senses’ commitment was SLOW – Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome Learning.  It is their commitment to utilize local ingredients as much as possible. So the treatments offered by the Six Senses Spa focus on their therapeutic properties of the mineral-rich waters, offering healing mineral and deep sea therapies combined with Asian and Six Senses signature treatments to ensure pampering in the hands of their trained Six Senses Spa therapists. Treatment prices are not cheap but considered reasonable for a brand name like Six Senses.

There are two types of Spa Menu offered by Six Senses Spa.  One is the SLOW menu where local ingredients were used and the other is the familiar menu of Six Senses treatments common throughout the Six Senses group.

There are about 10 treatment rooms in total on two separate floors to distinguish male & female due to Jordan being an Islamic country.  On the ground floor where the heated water fall pool is the changing room and spa facilities for male and on 1st level is the changing and spa facilities room for ladies.

In the changing room, there is a sauna, steam room, relaxing area as well as shower facilities. In the middle of the building, there is a outdoor sitting lounge where guests could sit, relax and enjoy the sound make by constant flow of hot spring waterfall. Self serviced cold and hot drinking beverages were placed in a booth besides the rest area.


The large and private massage treatment room


The colourful rest area

Hotel guests could use the Spa facilities with a fee of 15 JOD(@US$19) but the fee is waived if a massage of at least 60 mins is being booked. We booked our massage treatments for the next day and were offered free use of the spa facilities for 2 days.

My treatment was a 90 minutes Holistic Massage which is a combination of Swedish and Shaitsu full body massage that also include a face and scalp massage by a Thai therapist.  As usual, with a Thai therapist, you will never go wrong with their skill and as always, be welcomed with their friendly smile.

After our Spa treatments, we relaxed with a hot cup of ginger tea, dried fruit and nuts beside the hot pool. You may spend the whole day there – soak in the hot pool, have a massage and relax by the waterfall.

There is no doubt that any spa and massage treatment with the Six Senses Spa is definitely not a cheap endeavour. But then again, where else in the world can you have a massage and relax beside a natural hot spring pool and waterfall? Not many – so, banish the dollar and cents from your mind and you’ll naturally feel relaxed, at-ease and cleansed of all urban stress by spending a day at this Spa.

Location of Spa:
P.O. Box 801 Madaba, 11117 Ma’In, Jordan

Size of Spa: Many rooms within a 2-storey spa compound
Facilities: Large private massage room with toilet. Common hot pool, spa and rest area

Friendliness: Friendly
Pricing: 1 hour massage starts at US$75. Other treatment and massage services start from that price onwards.

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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: Spring City Hotel, Beitou, Taipei

There are a number of hotels in Beitou, the popular hotspring destination on the northern outskirt of Taipei. These hotels range from wooden inns from the Japanese occupation era to modern glass and steel modern hotels. However, most hotels seem to have been around for a number of years and are mostly of the 3-4 stars category.

I stayed at the Spring City Hotel when I was in Beitou recently. Again, I took the recommendation off the internet which mostly gave it favourable reviews and put it as a 4+ star hotspring hotel.

The Spring City hotel is located nearly a km up the narrow Beitou hills. It is too far to walk and you’ll need to wait for the hourly shuttle bus at the subway or hail a taxi. I took a taxi up to the hotel.


The Spring City hotel entrance


The hotel has a modern facade

The hotel certainly look like a better class hotel compared to the other hotels at Beitou. However, at the time that I check-in, there was a horde of guided tourists who were waiting to check out, making the small reception area seems chaotic and noisy. (Over the next 2 days, I realised that the majority of guests in the hotel are mostly from Hong Kong and mainland China).

The rooms are spacious and offer a tea-drinking table and hot spring water piped directly to the bathrooms. Unfortunately, the rooms do not offer good views of the surrounding hills which was a big disappointment given it’s uphill location.

The hotel also offer a Japanese and Taiwanese restaurant as well as a gym, a spa, a swimming pool and a hot spring communal pool area. However, the gym and swimming pool were under maintenance during the period that I was there.

I was tired and late in checking into the hotel and was glad to soak in my personal  hotspring pool at the bathroom. Most, if not all hotels in Beitou has hotspring water piped to their bathrooms – do note that hot spring water in Beitou has a slight sulfuric smell. I also wanted an early night as I wanted to wake up early to catch the sunrise at YangMingShan the next morning. (See earlier article)


A tea drinking corner is available in each room


Hotspring water is supplied to each bathroom

The next morning, I spend several hours climbing up the hills and had a wonderful time taking photographs. I came back for breakfast at the hotel. Breakfast is modest with more Taiwanese choices than international dishes. International tourists who are expecting a sumptuous international breakfast spread may be a little disappointed.

I rested a little while before hitting the communal hotspring area. This is a little garden area that had several whirl pools, still pools, showers and rest area supplied with hot spring water.

Just tell the reception that you are a guest and you’ll be supplied with a basket containing shower caps, towels and slippers. Day visitors who are not hotel guests will need to pay a fee to use the facilities.

Nothing beats soaking in the various hotspring pools with the mountains in the foreground. A massage spa is available just across the road and what better finale than to finish the hotspring visit with a massage. Unfortunately, my time schedule did not allow me to do that.


The communal hotspring area


Various hotspring facilities set amongst lush greenery


I love standing under the hotspring waterfall

I checked out from the hotel and took the hotel shuttle to the subway station. From there, it was a train and airport bus trip to the airport and home.

Will I stay at the Spring City hotel again for my next visit?

I doubt so. The hotel price is steep compared to many other hotels available in Beitou. I had mistakenly thought that hotels higher up the hills would offer a better view and hence was prepared to pay the premium. Not exactly an accurate assumption!

There was absolutely no view at the hotel. The view was much better only when I climbed YangMingShan. I could have stayed at a much cheaper hotel and climb YangMingShan if I wanted the view. The hotels at lower Beitou were also nearer to restaurants, amenities, subway station and guests did not need to depend on the hotel shuttle to get around.

Otherwise, I think the hotel is decent and in fact, I would recommend this hotel if you are bringing children or older folks as I’m sure they would enjoy the various convenient hot and cold pool facilities. (I find it heartwarming to see many mother-daughter couple enjoying the hot springs – seems to be a perfect mother-daughter bonding kind of activity)

If you’re an independent adult, try the cheaper options at the base of the hills and spend the extra money on good food or a massage!

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BeiTou hotspring area, Taipei, Taiwan

I had planned to spend a leisurely 2 days in the Wulau Hotspring area on my last visit to Taipei, Taiwan. Unfortunately, luck was not on my side as my visit was disrupted by Typhoon Fanapi, which caused 2 deaths, hundreds of injuries and millions worth of damage to property and farmland across Taiwan.

Although the drive to Wulai was only 1 hour from Taipei, I was advised against visiting it as the drive was mostly through mountainous road, which was prone to landslide and avalanches, whenever there was a typhoon. I had no choice but to sit out the trip by staying in my hotel room as Typhoon Fanapi lashes across Taiwan. Luckily, the hotel at Wulai was gracious enough to provide a refund.

The typhoon died down considerably the next day. It was alright to move about but I was still advised against going to the mountains. Instead, I decided to visit the Beitou Hotspring area, which is within the suburbs of Taipei and did not involve driving across mountain road. In fact, the Taipei subway system will bring you right to the foot of the Beitou hotspring area.


A natural hot pool at Beitou. Note the steam rising from the water


Signboard points to yet another hot spring


An old communal hotspring bathhouse from the Japanese occupation era
– it’s still operational and open to for public use

Beitou is a historical hotspring area which was first visited and popularised by the occupying Japanese at the start of the last century. In fact, several Japanese style public hotspring bathhouses and wooden inns remain to this very day.

Today, Beitou is popular with locals and tourist alike. Locals tend to come over the weekend for a short break while most tourists may stay a day or two. The entire Beitou area has the feel of a tourist resort with fast food joints, hotels and restaurants dotting the area.

Beitou is also the gateway to YangMingShan, which is a Taiwan National Park.

You will get a cluster of hotels that offer hotspring at the foot of Beitou; about 200m after you get off the sub-way station. Most of the hotels here are relatively inexpensive; I was even quoted less than 50USD per night. Of course, this was during the summer months on a week day. I hear that prices shoot up over the winter months especially over the weekend.

These hotels are relative clean and neat. Most will offer hot spring water in the bathroom and some hotels will also have communal hotspring pools. Also, some will offer private hotspring rooms for 3 hours for day visitors. The hotspring water come from underground all around Beitou and you can see these hotsprings simply by walking around.


Even the subway station is designed with a hotspring theme


Signboard points to the various area of interest outside the subway station

As you go up the Beitou steep and narrow road uphill, you will come across more hotspring hotels. In fact, the higher you climb, the more expensive and ‘exotic’ are the class of hotels.

The roads are too small and steep if you are carrying luggage. You should pre-book your hotel and arrange for hotel transport or get a taxi to pick you up at the subway station. If you visit during off-peak season, you can shop around for your hotels but it is best to pre-book during peak periods.

The entire Beitou area is a tourist area. Visitors will find plenty to do or nothing to do at all times. I was told that many couples and families spend their entire time at the hotels; either at the hotspring bath in the privacy of their rooms or the communal hotspring in their hotel; if there is one. This is followed by a sumptuous meal at the hotel restaurant; after all, people come to Beitou to relax, rejuvenate and re-charge.

On the other hand, you have the entire YangMingShan to explore if you are so inclined to wake up early and join the numbers of morning strollers, joggers and cyclists. Many local residents will climb early to enjoy the cool morning breeze and catch the morning sunrise.


Steam from a hot spring fault on the way to YangMingShan @6am


The entire mountain area is dotted with
geothermal faults that spout hot steam all the time


You can’t get lost; there are signboards all over


Spectacular view from the near peak

I woke at 5am to walk up YangMingShan. It is not really steep and there is a spectacular view as you climb higher. Steam from various geothermal faults dot the climb and equally early strollers and joggers greet you as you pass them by. Even as a first time visitor, I was not afraid of getting lost as there were signboards all over the hills.

However, I was no where near the peak even after climbing an hour or two. It was then that I noticed that there were small buses going uphill and I decided to catch one. It was a long drive and even then, the bus only reached and terminated somewhere at the middle of the peak. It was good enough for me as it offered some spectacular photography opportunities.

The climb downhill was relatively easy. In my haste to rush back to my hotel for breakfast, I took a wrong bus and ended up at the subway station. No problem; I just retraced my steps back to my hotel.

I may have lost the opportunity to visit Wulai but Beitou was certainly not a poor substitute. I had the opportunity to enjoy hot spring water bath, a climb up an interesting mountain area and wonderful photographic opportunities.

All in, a great holiday indeed! I will be back.

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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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