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Archive for February, 2012

Aloft Bangkok–new hotel with a young&trendy atmosphere Feb 27

IMG_7024I stayed at Aloft in Bangkok located on Sukhumvit Soi 11 for 3 nights in February 2012 and I chose the hotel as it was brand new (opened in December 2011), the price was quite reasonable and I wanted to stick to a Starwood Preferred Guest hotel (I have a Gold card so it gives a few benefits). I have been to Bangkok a number of times and I have stayed at hotels such as Sheraton Sukhumvit, Westin Sukhumvit, Lebua, Centara Grand at CentralWorld, Shangri-La, St. Regis and Plaza Athenee just to give you an idea of my reference point when I write this review about Aloft. I booked the hotel online on the SPG site and I went for an offer “stay 3 night – pay for 2” and the cost was 7000 Baht plus the mandatory 17-18 % hotel tax (so a grand total of 270 USD including taxes for the three nights). You can get single nights down to 2100 Baht if I’m not mistaken and that is about  80 USD including the taxes!

IMG_7025I arrived in Bangkok at night and took a taxi into the hotel (remember to use the meter even if they suggest a fixed price of 450 Baht). I’m familiar with the Sukhumvit Soi 11 area so this was not a surprise to me – I actually had to guide the taxi driver as he was not familiar with the hotel location at all. Driving up to the hotel lobby it was easy to see that this was a young and trendy hotel rather than a 5 star hotel like Sheraton or Le Meridien. When I got to the reception the music was blasting from speakers, TV’s were displaying sports and music videos etc. The check in was fast and I got a different room than I had booked (I got Urban and not Chic) but I’m not sure that it makes a big difference. As I have a SPG gold card I also got late checkout (4 PM) and I got a voucher for three drinks in the lobby bar.

IMG_1306I got room 1103 on the 11th floor and with 4 lifts it was not a problem getting fast to the room. As it is a new hotel it offers modern technology like swiping the card in the lift to be able to get to your floor and the door to the room was also opened by just placing the hotel key card next the lock. The hallway to my room was quite dim and very warm but my room was a nice surprise. The room was a bit on the small side and it was a bit hard to place my over-sized Samsonite suitcase but it still looked like a nice room.  As I walked into my room I had the bathroom to my immediate right while the room was straight forward. IMG_1304The floor was covered by a colorful carpet while the walls were in light colors. The room was dominated by the king size bed, a corner sofa and the desk with the large flat screen TV on it and a small mini bar. The bed was huge and it was actually quite comfortable. The TV had a number of channels like you would expect in a modern hotel – but more importantly: the wifi at the hotel was free and seemed to work pretty good. The mini bar had a small selection of drinks and a beer was about 120 Baht (about 4 USD) but why buy it at the hotel when you can get it on a street bar for 2 USD? ;-) The small table next to the bed included a Philips alarm clock where I could dock and charge my iPhone – brilliant in other words. But there were also lots of sockets around in the room to charge the laptop, iPad, camera etc. The view from the room was not bad – I had a city view and I was looking down on the bar The Nest.

IMG_1302The bathroom was very nice and with a pretty creative setup. The first part of the room contained on one side the wardrobe (with an ironing board and iron), small safe, a coffee machine and water boiler (maybe a bit weird to have this in the bathroom) and on the other wall there was a sink with just a couple of amenities. With a mirror sliding door it was possible to divide the room in two rooms and the inner part of the room contained the toilet and the shower – nice setup if you are sharing the room with someone but want to have some privacy when e.g. taking a shower. The shower was huge (I guess there is space for a bigger shower when there is no bathtub) but there was not a lot of the amenities that you find in the 5 star hotels. Instead of having small bottles with various products there were just two dispensers on the shower wall…one with shampoo and one with shower gel. The water in the shower took a bit of time to heat up but in the end it was possible to get a pretty hot shower if that is want you want. The floor was in dark tiles which looked stylish but with the uneven surface it might be a bit tricky to clean?

IMG_1303I did not have breakfast in my room rate but I did have breakfast at Crave one day. It is located on the 8th floor and it seems like it is a restaurant at night (with a nice selection of wine on display) and a breakfast place in the morning.  It is split in two section so you can actually sit outside or inside in air-con. The breakfast selection was quite good with the option of getting your eggs made the way you want, they had bread, cereal, fruit etc. It was not as lavish as the breakfast buffet that you see on the 5 star hotel s but more than good in enough for most people I would imagine. If you don’t want to pay the 550 Baht for breakfast at Crave you also have the option of getting something in the lobby. IMG_7029In the lobby there is a small self serve place that has drinks, fruit, cereal and there was also staff there to make a sandwich – a great option if you are not a big eater in the morning.
On the 10th floor you can find the pool and the gym. The gym had the stuff that I need for a workout – a couple of treadmills, and they were brand new and everything was control on a touch screen – not sure if that is the best option. The pool was described on the Aloft webpage as being 80 meters long which is of course wrong. The pool area is rather small but at least you have the option of cooling down in a pool and get a view at the same time. I think the tower itself puts the pool in the shade in the afternoon.

The location of the hotel
IMG_7026I’m not quite sure what to say about the location of the hotel. It is located deep in Soi 11 but you can easily walk to Sukhumvit road and the second you turn the corner you are at Nana skytrain station so it is easy to get around from there. Soi 11 is a lively street with lots of restaurants, bars, massage parlors etc. There are some well known places here: Bed and Supper Club is right across the street from the hotel and you can find Q Bar and The Nest around the corner. Some of these places do contain a number of working girls so don’t be shocked when you see a number of western guys with Thai girls coming into the hotel.

IMG_1307So what about things that were not that great? Well, I came back to my room at about 3-4 pm after work and my room was not cleaned – a bit strange as this is normally done in the morning when people are out of the room.  My wifi worked pretty well but I tried to plug in the cable to get an even better internet line but the cable didn’t see to work at all. When I handed in the laundry bag one day I did not get a new bag – I guess this is just start up problems and they will figure it out when they get a bit more experience.

Conclusion
This is a brand new hotel located in one lively part of Bangkok. The hotel has a young and trendy atmosphere so I’m not sure it will be the right hotel for everyone. The good thing about the hotel is free wifi, it is new, the room was quite good in layout, there was a bit of complimentary water in the room for drinking and the location is not bad at all. But if you are looking for a quiet hotel for relaxation you might want to look somewhere else.

Regards
Gard
http://gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and picture

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Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur Feb 08

IMG_3431Thaipusam is one of those festivals that I have seen photos/documentaries about but never thought I would experience – but all of a sudden I found myself is Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia for business during this is a Hindu festival. The festival is celebrated mostly by the Tamil community around the world and the festival normally ends with a procession to a temple. But the preparation can be long for those that are really dedicated as it includes more than 40 days of fasting, trying to focus only on God, sleeping on a mat in the temple, goes into celibacy etc. In Kuala Lumpur (or KL) in Malaysia the festival ends in a procession from the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in the heart of the city to Batu Caves IMG_6955located about 15 kilometers out of town – and it ends with a steep climb up 272 steps to the temple there. To understand the photos it is also important to understand that on the day of the festival the devotees will shave their heads (and get some sort of golden painting on their heads) and undertake this pilgrimage while they engage in various acts of devotion. The people carry various types of what is known as kavadi (which means burdens). The simplest kavadi is a pot of milk but there are some that take this even further and they pierce the skin, tongue or cheeks with skewers and they carry huge constructions. You can read more about the Thaipusam festival on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thaipusam

IMG_6961Thaipusam was celebrated on February 7th of 2012 and I took the train to Batu Caves as lots of the roads are blocked due to the procession. But luckily the KTM Komuter train goes from KL Sentral station and stops right at the Batu caves. When I boarded the rather small train at KL Sentral it was easy to see where this was leading – the train cars were totally packed and I just managed to squeeze in before the doors closed behind me. In advance I has asked Malaysian acquaintances about Thaipusam at Batu Caves and most replied that it included too many people, that it was way too crowded, too IMG_6968hot etc. The train to Batu Caves was only like 2 Ringgit (70 US Cent) and it takes maybe 30 minutes. When getting out of the station, I was basically in the middle of it all. There were people serving food so there was a scent of cooking in the air, music was blasting from loudspeakers all over the place, people were selling books and there was even a couple of rides there (like a ferris wheel). But the main thing is of course the procession that ends here so I made my way over to the steep stairs leading up to Batu caves while I was holding on to my belongs as there had been a bit of talking about pickpockets during the festival. I moved close in on the procession to try to get some nice photos butIMG_6969 unfortunately my digital SLR camera stopped working on me so I had to stick to my small Canon IXUS camera. I guess I got a bit too close to the procession as all of a sudden I was in the stream of people and I was “dragged” towards the steps leading up to the Batu caves. It was fascinating to see some of the people carrying their HUGE kavadis. Each of them seemed to have a team of helpers who provided them with a stool to sit on, some water to drink and that shouted words of encouragement. Many of the people had piercings through their cheeks and tongues, some had hooks in the backs with apples or small bells and some even had larger hooks in the back and with ropes they were held back. The steps leading up to Batu caves were totally packed and I’m glad that people stayed calm as it could have been ugly if people had started panic for one reason or another. I walked up the steps slowly as I wanted to take pictures on the way and because it was 30-35 degrees Celsius so I was actually soaking wet of sweat after a few hours.

IMG_6973Inside the cave itself there were lots and lots of people and I guess this marks the end of the march. I just looked around there for a while and as it was pretty packed it was hard to move around. I don’t envy the people that had to clean up the area after the festival as there was trash everywhere. Going down also took a bit of time as it was packed but it seemed like they controlled which of the three “lanes” in the steps that were leading up and which was leading down. When I came down there were still lots of people lining up to start the climb to the caves and the procession leading to the area seemed to be never ending. Seeing this festival with my own eyes was a real treat so if you are in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia during thaipusam you should not miss out on a visit to Batu caves. Yes, it is crowded and it is hot – but it is totally worth it.

Some scenes from Batu caves

 

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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