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Tipping etiquette around the world Mar 04

It is always a bit tricky to know if you are supposed to tip or not when you get to a new destination. But here is a map that at least can give you some idea what the etiquette is like around the world. You can read more and see comments in the article http://www.mint.com/blog/goals/tipping-abroad-03022011/

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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To the top of Petronas Twin Towers Mar 01

IMG_6998I go to Kuala Lumpur (or KL as it is also called) in Malaysia on business from time to time and I have had the great pleasure of actually working in Petronas Twin Towers and I have been to the skybridge when I went on vacation to Malaysia a few years back (see my KL trip report on my homepage ). As I have worked in the towers I have had the chance to stop by the skylobby on 41st and 42nd floor all the time – but a few months back I came across some information saying that it was also possible to get to the 86th floor – IMG_1258which means that you practically get to the very top as there are 88th floors. So one day when going to work in the towers, I stopped by to check out the ticket situation. The tickets can be bought in the lower level and you reach it by using the escalator leading down near the lobby of either tower 1 or tower 2. When I did the skybridge a few years back when I was in KL on vacation the tickets were free and it was a “first come, first serve” basis and the tickets were only given out day by day. It seems like they have changed that now – these days you can buy tickets in advance for a given time and the tickets are 50 Ringgit (17 USD). The ticket gives you access to the Skybridge and the 86th floor.

IMG_1280So on a Sunday afternoon at 4 pm I had a ticket and I got there 15 minutes ahead of time as instructed. After an introduction where the animation was displayed on water vapor(!) I was allowed to enter the elevator. The whole thing was organized in a great way as people got different color badges and hence it was easy to instruct people around. The elevator that took me up to the skybridge on 41st floor is really a service elevator I guess but they have pimped it a bit as there were screens on the wall displaying the view of the KLCC area as if the elevator was a glass elevator.  IMG_1284The view from the skybridge is pretty good but not amazing in any way – but as it is located about 170 meters above the ground (about 560 feet) you get a good view of the KLCC park and area but a lot of the view is also blocked by the towers. Due to this I have always recommended people to rather check out the view from KL tower instead. After about 10 minutes on the skybridge I was summoned by one of the guards and we were pushed into the elevator once again and this time I was transported to 83rd floor. From here there was a passage where they had posted info about some of the tallest buildings in the world (like Burj Khalifa in Dubai which I had the pleasure of visiting a while back …see http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=696 ). Once again we had to get into an elevator – this time much smaller and much slower as it only took us 3 floors up to 86th floor.

IMG_1275The 86th floor was actually a lot bigger than I thought it would be – when I have enjoyed the view from the lounge at Traders hotel (see my review of this great hotel on http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=72 ) the top of the towers looks so small – but in reality there was quite a lot of room and the best thing was of course that there was a view in more or less all directions!  It was unreal to see how tiny buildings like Citybank and Traders were compared to the height of the Petronas tower! IMG_1276The 86th floor is located about 360 meters above the ground so the view is just spectacular! Apart from the view there were also various models of the city, of the towers and also a model of how the future of KLCC might be. They also had a couple of screens with some augmented reality (so hang on to your ticket after you go in). After 10-15 minutes at the top we were called again by the guards and after a quick stop on 83rd floor, we took the lift all the way down from 83rd to the ground level (or sub level actually) where we had to go through the gift shop on the way out. If you are into skyscrapers and buildings with a view you should definitely stop by Petronas Twin Towers to enjoy the view from the 86th floor ;-)

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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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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My trip report from Lisbon Jan 01

Hi everyone and happy new year!

Nikki and I went to Lisbon in May 2011 and I have finally posted my trip report on  my homepage. As you will see it includes photos, links, videos etc. I have also made this interactive google map: http://gardkarlsen.com/Lisbon_Google_map.htm . It shows were some of the attractions are located and also the restaurants that we went to – you can click on the markers to get more info. I hope that this trip report can be of use to others traveling to Lisbon – get in touch if you have any questions or comments :-)

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

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Traders hotel Singapore Dec 10

IMG_0389I  stayed at Traders hotel in the period from November 15th 2011 until November 23rd – I booked this hotel for our Singapore vacation as I have stayed at Traders in KL (Malaysia) several times and I find it to be good and partially because I’m a Golden Circle member and about to reach Diamond status. You can get to the hotel in various ways – you can take the MRT and walk from Orchard station but it will be a bit of a walk if you are dragging along a big suitcase. The best budget way is probably to take a bus that goes to Tomlinson road which is basically just around the corner from the hotel. We arrived at night after a long flight from Europe so we decided to just take a taxi to the hotel and that cost 30 Singapore dollar at night (prices will vary if it is during the busy period or not etc).

IMG_0391Check in was fast and efficient and we got room 1513 on the 15th floor. The hotel was opened in 1995 and you can see that the hotel is starting to age a bit. The room we got was smaller than the rooms at e.g. Traders in Kuala Lumpur but I guess this is a general issue in Singapore. The room itself had a king-size bed with just one large duvet which worked out fine. The room was with light color wallpaper and a carpet on the floor. Due to the small room and the light walls you could see that people had bumped into the walls and left marks here and there. Apart from that there was room to put down one suitcase – the other one had to be placed on the floor. There was one chair but no table but there was also a desk and a chair. The desk included quite a lot of stationary and I don’t think I have seen that before (stationary like scissors, yellow pen marker etc).

IMG_0390The bed was quite comfortable and from the side it was possible to control the fan speed of the air con (but to control the temperature you had to use a knob on the wall) and the lighting in the room. There was a flat screen TV in front of the bed and some sort of strange “art work” hanging over it. The view from the room was to the pool on the 4th floor. There was also a mini bar behind a strange wooden door which sort of covered it – it contained just a few drinks but as we were staying on club level we could get free drinks in the club lounge all day.

IMG_0392The wardrobe included some hangers and some drawers and the wardrobe also contained a small safe.  The bathroom was really, really tiny – and with one sink, one toilet and one bathtub there was basically just room for one person in there. The bathtub had a shower option and a shower curtain prevented water from splashing everywhere. This is not my favorite shower solution but it worked. As at Traders in KL there was also a range of amenities ranging from shampoo, body wash to a comb, hair band etc. There was also a bit of smell in the bathroom – nothing really bad but maybe it was the smell of a damp shower curtain?

IMG_0744We got several bottles of water each day complimentary but it is also possible to drink the tap water in Singapore. Internet is now free on all Shangri-La and Traders hotels and we did have to log in every day with room number and a password but it worked out pretty good even if we had several devices connected. The location of the hotel is not bad at all – located on Cuscaden road it is 650 meters from Orchard road. On Orchard road you have to walk another 400 meters to get to the Orachard SMRT subway station. But if you want to take the bus there are also bus stops nearby. There were always taxis around and they do run on meter. There is also a shuttle bus that takes guest to the Orchard road SMRT station every hour.

IMG_6832We had breakfast in both the lounge and at Cafebiz (on the ground floor). The lounge is located on 17th floor and the breakfast here is not as lavish as in Cafebiz. In the lounge you can get some cereal, bread, a few hot dished, eggs made according to your wish etc. It provides a breakfast with a view in more a more quiet environment. The lounge is also the place where you can get afternoon tea or evening cocktails if you stay at Club level. The evening cocktails were served from 5.30 to 7.30 pm and also includes some snack food – but remember there is a lot of good food to eat in Singapore so don’t eat too much in the lounge ;-) The girls in the lounge were helpful and nice but we didn’t really use the facilities that much. The lounge seems to be in need of a bit of an upgrade – and how about replacing those uncomfortable chairs by the window ;-) The breakfast at Cafebiz is more lavish and typical for 4 and 5 star hotels in Asia. Here you have a wide selection of basically everything that you can imagine for breakfast and a bit more ;-) It is of course much bigger than the lounge and nosier.

On the 4th floor there is a pool and it can be worth a visit if you want to cool down a bit as it is more or less always 30 degrees in Singapore. Right next to the pool is the gym and it contained new equipment it seemed like. There is also a spa connected to the hotel and a Swedish type massage for an hour cost about 100 Singapore dollar.

Conclusion
All in all I’m quite happy with the stay at Traders hotel. At 330 Singapore dollar (250 USD) + taxes, the hotel room was quite expensive but Singapore hotels are expensive it seems like. The room was on the small side and the bathroom was really tiny – but at least we had access to a good breakfast and the option of evening cocktails. The service at the hotel is very good and the location is not bad at all – but it would have been better if it was a bit closer to the subway station.  I wouldn’t have any problems with recommending this hotel to friends and family.

Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Experience on Lufthansa A380 Nov 28

I just had the pleasure of going on a short vacation to Singapore. The trip came about when Lufthansa had a great offer from Norway to Singapore in connection with starting the use of the Airbus A380 on this route. Here are some of my observations after flying a 12 hour flight in economy class.

IMG_6603As I have a SAS Eurobonus Gold card we had access to the Lufthansa lounges in Frankfurt. There is actually a lounge by the gate (E5?) for this flight but the lounge was quite small and was not very cozy. Anyway, boarding was fast and we had seats in the front cabin both ways (rows 55 and 56). Upon entering the plane the blankets and headset was already placed on the seats which I think works out pretty good.

IMG_6610I have had to joy of flying A380’s before (both with Singapore airlines and Emirates) but never on economy class so I was kinda excited to see how it would be. The seat itself was OK and as usual you just have enough space – the cabin is in a 3-4-3 configuration. On long flights on economy class I think the entertainment system is one of the key factors and the Lufthansa A380 has of course a screen for each passenger. The size is not bad but I was kinds disappointed by the selection of movies – on Emirates it seemed like they had an endless list of movies but I found it rather limited on the Lufthansa flight. And the screen itself is touch screen but I had a bit of problems of maneuvering around. Maybe I was not aiming correctly but I felt like I had to press several times to choose the things I wanted.  The headsets are collected before touch down but they keep on running the movies all the way until the wheels hit the ground so bring your own headset if you want to catch the last part of the movie.

IMG_6614There are also games to be played but there is not game control that comes with the seat – you have to ask for this from the crew. I asked for it and got a small cube that folded out to be a game controller. This had to be plugged into the USB connection under the arm rest (kinda awkward position) and after that it was game time. But the game controller feels a bit flimsy and it was not very easy to play with it. The control for light, calling the crew, volume etc is placed on top of the armrest. The placement doesn’t seem to be ideal as it looked like people where leaning on top of it and with their elbow they would press the buttons and hence you could see the lighting go on and off in some seats.
Sleeping comfort. Well, as a friend said “economy class is economy class…it doesn’t really matter if it is in a new plane“. Sleeping on economy class will never be easy as it is hard to find a good sleeping position when sitting upright. One nice feature on the seat is the head rest where you can fold in support on the sides so that you have something to lean your head on.
Service on board was pretty good – we got a drink to start with together with some nuts and after that a meal was served along with more to drink. They also came around later on with more wine and even cognac and Baileys. 

So all in all: I would have enjoyed seeing a better movie selection and I would like to have a better game controller. But it is a huge step forward compared to long haul with Lufthansa 747 where they used to only have a screen hanging from the ceiling ;-)

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My hometown Stavanger and the surrounding area Sep 18

Here is a nice video that I found focusing on Stavanger and the surrounding area. It is a pretty accurate presentation…but the weather is not always that nice Winking smileYou can find more information about Stavanger and the area on http://www.greaterstavanger.com/

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Video from the Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) Sep 04

As I live in Stavanger, I have had the pleasure of visiting the amazing Pulpit Rock (or Preikestolen as it is called in Norwegian) many times. I went there in June 2011 and the weather was perfect for trekking. Here is a short video showing you what you can expect if you do this trek in the summer time. You can also read more about it in this trip report.

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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A suite at St. Regis in Bangkok Aug 29

I stayed at St. Regis in Bangkok earlier this year and it was a great stay as the hotel is brand new and it is a quality hotel with an amazing view. Here is my review from the visit earlier this year: http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=922 . I went back there recently and I got upgraded to a suite this time and I got a HUGE room with an amazing bathroom. Below is a video that I took that shows the room – if every hotel room could be like this Winking smile

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures