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December hotel in Jeju island in Korea Jul 29

P1000709My wife and I stayed at December hotel in July 2012. We booked the hotel online on Agoda and we had to pay 170 USD for the room for three nights. When we booked the hotel we were not familiar with the island so we didn’t really know where to stay but we decided to stay near Jeju-si as it seemed central. Taxi from the airport to the hotel only takes 5-10 minutes and it was about 3000 W. Check in was fast and we got room 305. The guy who checked us in was not very fluent in English but he managed to explain the basics of our stay and to explain the remote control (as this controls TV, aircon and light). When we got out of the lift on the third floor we became a bit skeptical as the carpet seemed stained or really dirty. But the room was far nicer than expected. When we entered the room there was a tiny room to leave your shoes and to put on the slippers – one door leads into the bathroom and one into the main room.

IMG_3314The main room contained a bed, two big chairs, a table, a small fridge that was empty apart from two bottles of water (complimentary each day), a desk and a TV. Let’s start with the king size bed: it was brick hard and not the way I like it! And to make it even more challenging the pillows were huge and also very firm! I don’t think I have ever tossed and turned that much during sleep as I did at this hotel. So if you like your bed soft, this is not the hotel for you.

 

IMG_3316The remote control gives you access to control the TV, air con and light. There were some problem with the light and the guy in the reception tried to explain it to us and we did manage to turn of the light but we did experience that it came on automatically a couple of times. The air con was OK but it was a bit tricky to get the right temperature at night and it became pretty freezing at night. IMG_3317And we only got a thin sheet at a duvet for the bed – I like it better when the blankets are covered up by a sheet. The TV contained a lot of Korean channels and only a few English ones. There were not that many amenities in the room but there was a water boiler and some bottles. One was with a gel called Exciter Superhard – with a lot of Korean signs on the back. I thought it was hand sanitizer gel to start with but in the end I think I came to the conclusion that it was hair gel!

IMG_3321The bathroom was actually quite nice with light tiles and a decent shower. The only “problem” was that the drain was in the middle of the room so when taking a shower it would get kind of wet in the room. There was also a drain for the air con and that would leak water all the time on to the floor and it is kinda annoying with a wet bathroom floor. But I guess that is why you have bathroom slippers. The decorations in the bathroom were also a bit cheesy (with decorations on the toilet seat) but maybe that is common practice in Korea? Bathroom amenities included dispensers for shampoo and body wash.

The location of the hotel is very good – when we walked out of the hotel we could walk to places like FamilyMart and GS25 (places like 7Eleven) within seconds and nearby there are lots and lots of restaurants and bars. It is close to the airport and a taxi to Jeju-si bus station is about 4000 W in a taxi. If the taxi driver doesn’t know where the hotel is, ask him to take you to Grace Hotel – it is just around the corner.

The lobby has a selection of pamphlets for the main attractions of Jeju. The hotel also has free wifi which seems to work well. Note that there is not safe in the room so we just used a suitcase to lock up our valuables.

Conclusion
IMG_3320Due to extensive business traveling in the last few years, I have gotten a bit spoiled when it comes to hotels as I have stayed at very nice 4 and 5 stars hotels all over Asia. December hotel in Jeju is a pretty basic hotel and my main problem was the bed and pillow that were brick hard and due to this I had a hard time getting decent sleep in this hotel. But the room is pretty cheap at least compared to some of the big chain hotels that you find around the island and the location is quite good. So if you can handle the bed it is not a bad place to start exploring the island of Jeju. But as the island is bigger than you think I would advise you to get a hotel on the different parts of the islands if you want to explore it in an effective way. I’m not sure the hotel has a homepage but you can find some more information on the Agoda page for the hotel.

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

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Westin Calgary–good hotel location if you are working downtown Jul 03

IMG_7636I stayed in Westin Calgary in connection with a work trip there in June 2012. I chose this hotel as the location was very good and it was possible to walk to where I was going to work within minutes. I travel a bit for work and pleasure and I have stayed at various 4 and 5 star hotels around the world just to give you an idea about the background for this review. I do admit that I have been a bit spoiled by staying at some very nice hotels in Asia and due to this I do have high expectations when I stay at nice hotel chains like Westin. I booked the hotel through t a travel agency in Norway.

IMG_7638The taxi from the airport to the hotel was about 35 Canadian dollar (about 35 USD these days) and on a Sunday afternoon it only took 15 minutes. Check in was fast and I got room 551 – to my surprise the internet was included in my business room rate which is great. I was also offered more Starwood points if I could do without room service during my stay and I think this is a great idea. The internet worked pretty good and when logged in I did not have to log in again every time I got back to the hotel – excellent! I was also able to log in with several devices which is also great.

IMG_7674The room I got was located on the 5th floor and from the hall there was a view out on a huge construction area. I think they are putting up a large building here so it might create some noise for the next few years. The rooms at Westin are refurbished recently but I have to admit that my first thought when I walked in was that it was a bit outdated. The carpet was dark brown while the curtains where dark greenish in color. Due to this the whole room seemed a bit on the dark side. The lighting in the room was not very modern either as there were no master control for the lighting – IMG_7640each of the lamps had to be switched on individually. The walls in the room were covered in a mustard colored wall paper and there where dark furniture. The flat screen TV was mounted on the wall and it was possible to pull it out to face it towards the chair in the room and that is a great feature. Under the TV was a rather big dark furniture of drawers and a cupboard. It was totally empty so I guess it at least provides space if you unpack your entire suitcase. In many other hotels this normally contains the mini bar and the amenities that you need in connection with that.

IMG_7642The mini fridge was located by the entrance in the room and it was totally empty which seems a bit weird but maybe that figured that they don’t sell anything anyway as prices are normally too high compared to prices on street level. But at least there were two wine glasses and two regular glasses and a bucket for ice (there was an ice machine on the floor). There was also a coffee maker but there is a Starbucks in the lobby so there are also other options for coffee. The wardrobe included quite a few hangers, two robes, iron and ironing board and a small safe – but no slippers. The desk had a pop up plug stand but it did not have international sockets – but luckily I could borrow a plug adapter from the reception.

There were two queen sized beds in the room and the bed was quite comfortable. But I’m not sure I understand the lack of a proper bed linen around the duvet – instead the duvet is just placed between two sheets – not a very good system for the guests in my opinion.

IMG_7646The bathroom was partially tiled and included a bathtub with a shower option. The shower curtain was on a curved bar so at least it didn’t stick to me while I was showering. But it did splash a bit on the floor anyway as it was hard to control the water pressure in the shower. I was very disappointed by the amenities as there was only shampoo, conditioner and a bar of soap – but then again I’m not a big fan of the Westin products. I did get a few more amenities after a couple of days at the hotel e.g. mouth wash. There was a bit of noise in the room – the aircon was not very quiet kind even when running it on low. The traffic on the outside also created a bit of noise but luckily there is not that much traffic at night so it was not a huge problem. I was also in a room close to the elevators and that is never a good idea as you get quite a bit of noise when the lifts go up and down.

IMG_7670The location of the hotel is good for work as it is located close to many of the main office buildings in downtown Calgary. There is also direct access to Calgary +15 from Westin which is great – the +15 is the skybridge system that connects many of the building together in the downtown area. Note that the downtown area is pretty dead after like 6 pm as most shops and food courts close about this time so just finding a 7Eleven around the hotel was tricky. Breakfast at the hotel is served at Essence restaurant and it had a pretty decent selection of food. I enjoyed the cereal on offer but they also had an egg station and a selection of bacon, sausages etc. The pool and gym is located at the 20th floor but the gym was smaller than I had expected. But if you want to go jogging you can easily walk over to Prince’s Island to go jogging there.

Conclusion
The Westin Calgary had a great location for me as I was basically working next door. But I was not that crazy about the room itself. There was quite a bit of noise from the lifts next to the room and the room was a bit on the dark side and not very cozy. But thanks for providing me with free wifi and complimentary drinking water. I don’t have experience with other hotels in Calgary so it is hard to compare how Westin is to other hotels – so if I go there again I might try a different hotel.

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Shangri-La Bangkok – Great hotel by the river Jun 19

IMG_7511I have had the pleasure of staying at Shangri-La Bangkok a couple of times. The first time was in October 2011 when I stayed in the Krung Thep wing and the second time in June 2012 when I stayed in the Shangri-La wing. In June 2012 I actually booked the hotel using my Golden Circle points as I was only staying one night. I chose the hotel as the location is pretty good and I am a Golden Circle member and like staying at Shangri-La/Traders hotels.  I travel a bit for work and pleasure and I have stayed at various 4 and 5 star hotels around the world just to give you an idea about the background for this review.

IMG_7513The taxi from the airport cost about 400 Baht (including the 50 Baht airport tax) + the toll station fees of 70 baht.  The reception at the hotel was great as always when coming to a 5 star hotel in Thailand. The staff took care of the luggage of course and we were taken to the reception where we got checked in and I got 1425. This time I was staying in the Shangri-La wing – the hotel has these two wings that both have stunning views of the Chao Phraya River. IMG_7515The room was delicate as always at Shangri-La hotels – a neutral carpet, light wall paper, dark furniture, art on the walls etc. The centerpiece was as always, the over-sized king-sized bed which was quite comfortable. Apart from that there was a sofa by the window with a grand view of the river, a desk and chair and a flat screen TV mounted on the wall in front of the bed. As a Golden Circle member I was also greeted with a welcoming package on the room which is always a nice treat. The furniture under the TV hid a small fridge with a selection of drinks but as usual it is cheaper to buy this outside the hotel (one Coke is 160 Baht) . There is also complimentary water in the room.

IMG_7522The room also included a large wardrobe with hangers, ironing board, iron, a small safe, robes and slippers. The bathroom was also in line with other Shangri-La hotels that I have stayed at around the world…a combination of neutral marble tiles and dark tiles. The sink was in black marble finish and the bathroom also featured a bathtub, shower corner (with a proper glass door) and a toilet. The selection of amenities are not as extensive as when you stay at the club level but you still get a tooth brush, soaps, shampoo etc. When I checked in the duty manager came to greet me and said that I should get in touch if I had any additional requests – later on I did go to the front desk to ask if I could get the L’Occitane shower products and not the standard shower amenities as I love the small of the L’Occitane products. I know this is just for the club rooms but I was hoping the guy would give me a break as I’m a Jade member but apparently not.

My friend stayed at the club level and at 5.30 PM he invited me to the Horizon lounge on the 24th floor for evening cocktails. The lounge has again a stunning view in many directions and there are lots of tables right by the windows. Here they had a small selection of snack and a pretty good selection of wine and drinks that we could enjoy while watching the sun go down over Bangkok.

Conclusion
IMG_7527Shangri-La Bangkok is a great hotel and it has a great standard as you will find in many other Shangri-La hotels in Asia. The room is lovely, the reception that you get at the hotel is great and if you stay at horizon level you will be able to enjoy breakfast and evening cocktails in the horizon lounge on the 24th floor. The hotel is located near the river so it is easy to get around by skytrain as it is located near Saphan Taksin skytrain station. But you can also easily take a river boat bus to go e.g. grand palace. If you want a great hotel and want to stay by the river in Bangkok, you should definitely check out Shangri-La as one of the options.

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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China World Hotel Beijing–excellent Shangri-La hotel May 21

IMG_2571I stayed at China World Hotel in Beijing in May 2012 for a few days. I booked the room online on a Norwegian travel agent and I chose the hotel as the location seemed pretty good, I got a good rate and I am a Golden Circle member and like staying at Shangri-La/Traders hotels.  I travel a bit for work and pleasure and I have stayed at various 4 and 5 star hotels around the world just to give you an idea about the background for this hotel review – so in some ways I guess you can say I have been spoiled by staying at very nice hotels with great service.

IMG_2489I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel and it was about 140 Yuan. The hotel has a great lobby as you often see at Shangri-La hotels and when I tried to check in I was informed that as I had a club room (or Horizon room) I would be checked in at the Horizon lounge on level 20. Check in was fast and I got room 1844 located at the very end of the hall on level 18. The only thing that I found a bit strange with the reception at the hotel was that no one came to take my suitcase. Normally at 5 star Asian hotels the suitcase it brought to your room so that you don’t have to drag it around while checking in.

IMG_2500The room was larger than expected when I walked in.  The curved hallway leads to the room itself and it had yellowish/cream color carpet while the walls were in neutral colors. To start with there was a wardrobe in dark wood with a number of hangers. It also included a couple of robes and slippers together with an iron and ironing board. There were also a number of drawers and a mini safe – I’m not sure there was a plug inside the safe for charging a laptop but it seemed large enough to store one at least.

IMG_2497The bathroom was to the left after the entrance and it was very well laid out with a combination of white marble tiles and beige wall paper. There were both a bathtub (which I personally think is a waste of space) and a great, large proper shower corner – excellent. Shangri-La also knows their amenities and here you will find everything that you need…shampoo, shower gel etc but also toothbrush, shave kit etc. I do like their L’Occitane bathroom amenities and it is nice to not have to bring your own shampoo etc.

IMG_2492The room itself was quite large with a huge king-size bed. The bed was a bit too firm for my liking but it was still comfortable. And it came with a proper duvet and 4 huge pillows. There was a bench to put the suitcase on but I had to look around to finally discover that this bench also included a drawer with the laundry bag.  Apart from that there was a TV bench which included the mini bar and amenities related to that and also a work desk with a chair. There was also a chair with a small table by the window and it provided a pretty good view of the city looking south.

IMG_2490Breakfast was served at the 20th floor in the Horizon lounge and it provided more or less the same view as from the room. The lounge seemed to be a bit small so there was also a section on the 19th floor but it got pretty crowded at breakfast and during evening cocktails. The breakfast was great for me…it included some granola, fresh bananas, a great red berry smoothie and fruit. But there were also eggs to order, bread etc but if you want a huge selection you should go to the main breakfast restaurant on the lobby level. During evening cocktails it was possible to get wine, beer etc but also a nice selection of small dishes.

IMG_2498Location of the hotel is not bad at all. It is right by the Guamao metro station and metro line 1 will take you straight to the Forbidden Palace and Tianamen square in just a few stops. The hotel is also linked to the huge China World complex which includes three other Shangri-La hotels and a large mall with lots of well known brands including Louis Vuitton etc. But traffic is bad around the hotel so taking a taxi around town can take some time depending on what time of the day you go of course.

IMG_2499So what was not that great about the hotel?  Being at room 1844 I was at the very end of the hallway and hence the wifi was pretty weak. That created a bit of frustration but I also had the option of plugging directly into the wall to get broadband. And thank you Shangri-La for understanding that internet is important these days and it should be free of charge!

Communicating with hotel staff was a bit of a challenge. The main hotel staff all knew English of course but it was still a bit tricky to talk to them to ask them about stuff. I had a long conversation with the laundry department to ask when my shirts would be ready pressed and I had a hard time explaining that I had already handed in my shirts and I was just wondering when they would be done. But all in all the staff is great and did our best to help us out whenever we requested any help.

IMG_2491But apart from that…Shangri-La China World Hotel was a great hotel. The staff was great, the room was very nice and the location is quite good for sightseeing the main attractions of Beijing. There are restaurants nearby (including Aria in the hotel itself) that are rated high on e.g. TripAdvisor but do note that they are pretty upscale (like Grill on 79 (Summit Wing), China Grill (Park Hyatt) etc. But I would not mind staying at this hotel again if I had the chance and I would not hesitate to recommend it to others.

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

 

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Starwood Preferred Guest vs. Golden circle Apr 25

Over the last few years I have travel a bit for work and pleasure and due to this I have spent a few nights at hotels. Once you start to stay a lot at hotels it can be useful to stick to an alliance of hotels to achieve some benefits like you do on airline alliances. I have ended up staying at Starwood Preferred Guest hotels (Sheraton, Le Meridien, Westin, St. Regis, Aloft etc) and Golden Circle hotels (Traders and Shangri-La).

IMG_1858Just recently I went to Madrid and I ended up staying at Westin as the location was good and I was hoping that my SPG gold card would give me some benefits. To save some time I booked the hotel and flights as a package deal on a travel website and when I checked into the hotel in Madrid I was a bit annoyed that I did not get any benefits from my card as I had booked the room through a third party. Normally it is possible to get free wifi due to the gold card but this was not the case due to this – and it cost like 16€ per day if I wanted to pay for it. I think it is totally over the top to charge 16€ per day for wifi but I guess they assume that if you can afford the room, you can afford to pay extra to get access to the net. I did twitter about this and the response I got was that they offer free wifi in the lobby. Yes, they do offer a bad 256K wifi connection in the lobby but who wants to sit around in the lobby when skyping, surfing the net etc? And I can’t understand this policy of not giving me benefits when booking through a third party – with so many travel websites out there it is perfectly normal these days to use a third party to book plane tickets, rental cars and hotels. So I do hope that Westin and the other SPG hotels soon realizes that having access to the net should be for free as everyone will have some use for it these days. With 16€ per day it was cheaper for me to buy a local sim card and surf using 3G!

The other thing that annoyed me about Westin in Madrid was breakfast. When we checked in the guy in the reception said that they had a special breakfast promotion and it was 22€. I said I would think about it. Next morning we decided to have breakfast at the hotel and I went to the reception to ask about this promotion and it turned out that it was 22€ per person for breakfast and it was not possible to just have breakfast one day. If I wanted the promotion I had to go for breakfast the entire stay. I should of course said that I just wanted a regular breakfast rate for that day as there were breakfast places just around the corner – I normally just have some cereal for breakfast so paying 22€ per day for that was a huge mistake.

IMG_1999A week after I went to Madrid, I was on the road again and this time I went to New Delhi in India. I had the option of Shangri-La or Le Meridien that was just across the road and I think the price was about the same. As I have a Jade membership on Golden Circle (equal to a gold card on SPG I guess) I get certain benefits. I get a room for two for the price of one and breakfast is on the house. In addition to this Traders and Shangri-La hotels also provides free internet at the hotels! So what should I choose? A hotel that charges me for internet, breakfast and gives me no benefits if I book through a third party? Or a hotel that welcomes me with free breakfast for me and my wife, gives me free internet access and actually awards me with a welcome present due to my Jade card? I did ask the same rhetorical question to SPG on Twitter Winking smile Maybe this is just ranting and raving about nothing – I guess for some I must appear as a spoiled brat complaining about these things. Maybe I should just be happy that I get to stay at nice hotels. But the fact is that I do feel more appreciated at Shangri-La and Traders due to my Jade card compared to the SPG gold card. So which alliance is the best? And what should you choose? I guess it depends a lot on where you travel and your budget. Due to the recent events I will be staying more at Shangri-La and Traders at least!

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

Nice hotel with a great location–but expensive breakfast and wifi Apr 11

IMG_1858We decided to go to Madrid during Easter of 2012 and to stay at the Westin as it looked like a good location and I hoped to get some advantages as I have a SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) card. After some price comparison, we booked plane tickets and hotel in one go using travellink.com and we had to pay 16.000 NOK (2700 USD) for the flights and 6 nights at the hotel. We arrived at the hotel at about midnight – the hotel is located between the Prado museum and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum so very well positioned. IMG_1495The taxi ride in from the airport only takes no more than 20 minutes and costs about 23€ – additional costs for airport, day of the week and time apply. The Westin is an elegant historic hotel built in 1912 and the sign still says Palace hotel outside. Check in was fast and we got room 630 on the top floor (6th floor). The problem with old hotels is that they are not necessarily equipped to handle modern expectations – like there are stairs leading up to the reception, steps leading up to the lifts – not that practical when you are dragging along a big suitcase. Although there are staff on hand to help carry luggage to your room.

IMG_1487The room was pretty inviting when walking in. There are light tiles on the floor and a huge mirror on the entrance wall. From the small entrance the room opened up and here there is beige/light carpet and light yellow/cream colored walls. The view was not that great as we had windows facing into the courtyard – looking down on the large glass dome on top of the dining room. IMG_1479If you stay here during Easter, try and get a street view room so you can catch the Holy Week procession on Good Friday. The room was equipped with dark furniture – a desk and chair, a cabinet for the 32” flat screen TV and mini bar (where a coke cost something like 7€), a small table and a bigger chair and a bed. The queen sized bed was firm but quite comfortable. Along one of the walls there were three doors which revealed the wardrobe with enough hanging and drawer space, an iron and ironing board and a mini safe (which included space for a laptop and a plug to charge it while storing it). The TV had quite a variety of channels but the menu system seemed to make it a lot slower to start, change channels etc.

IMG_1480We had some problems with the air-con when we were there. April in Madrid was quite cold in the evenings. When we had the air-con on it got too cold in the room (there is no display for choosing the temperature) and when turning it off the room got a bit stuffy. The rooms are not very well sound insulated either – we could easily hear people talking when walking past our door. The bathroom was impressive– quite large with a combination of wall IMG_1484paper and tiles and with two sinks in marble finish. There was a bathtub with a shower option which worked out pretty good. I normally don’t like shower curtains but this had a curved pole which prevented the shower curtain from sticking to me when taking a shower. There were also two shower heads with good water pressure and hot water. There were standard amenities like shampoo, conditioner, lotion, mouth wash but no shower cap (which baffled my wife). There was a small separate room (separated from the rest of the bathroom with a frosted glass door) with a toilet and bide – separate toilets are quite a good solution in my opinion. We had some issues with the telephone and it took 4 different calls to reception to finally get a technician to fix it – he ended up replacing the phone.

As I mentioned earlier, the location of the hotel is very good. It is located right next door from both the Museo Nacional del Prado and El Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza and it was only a bit more than 500 meters to walk to Puerta del Sol and just over 1 km to Plaza Mayor.

IMG_1790Let us talk about some of the stuff that I was not that happy with. When I booked the hotel I was hoping to get some perks with my SPG gold card but that was not the case. When checking in I knew that breakfast was not included so the receptionist said that they had a promotion for breakfast for 22€ and I said that I would think about it. My wife and I talked about this and next morning we decided to use this “promotion” but it turned out that it was 22€ per person and we could not only do it for one day – IMG_1491we had to do it for the entire stay. Charging 22€ for a breakfast is  totally over the top, in my opinion – I normally just have some cereal and fruit in the morning and I think it is annoying that you still have to pay for the entire buffet. That said – the breakfast is great here. You have an excellent selection of cereal, fruit mixes, good quality juice, eggs made the way you like, healthy options – and even some local specialties like churros. My recommendation is: go around the corner to buy your breakfast at VIPS or Starbucks. The breakfast area is also mentioned in guidebooks and we saw a number of tourists stopping by to admire the dome.

There was no coffee/tea option in the room but there was a note saying that you could get this by calling room service – and they would only charge 4.50€ as a delivery charge! In other words: it is cheaper to walk around the corner and get your coffee from Starbucks.

IMG_1493Another thing that annoyed me about the hotel was the internet situation. Having access to the internet is getting more and more important as it is a great tool for planning a stay in a new city, booking restaurants, looking at maps etc. More and more hotels are offering this for free (e.g. Traders and Shangri-La chain that I also stay at) but this is not the case for Westin. They wanted 16€ per day for access to the net which is totally insane in my opinion. I think it is one of the perks you can choose when you have a SPG gold card but I think the rules states that as I booked it through a third party, they didn’t offer this to us. IMG_1483SPG also argues that they have free wifi in the hotel lobby but this is a 256K internet connections and who wants to sit around the lobby whenever you want to check something online? I have stayed at Westin hotels in Asia too and it has been the same there – even when staying on business levels the internet is not included. I usually end up buying a local SIM card to get online (you will need your passport to get one in Madrid). I hope that SPG hotels soon realize to move with the times and introduce free internet. I don’t want to seem petty and complain a lot – but the internet and breakfast issues actually annoyed me quite a bit. I guess they figure if you can afford the hotel you can also afford to pay a lot for these services?

Conclusion
IMG_1489It might sound like I’m very negative to the hotel based on what I have written above but all in all the Westin hotel is a great traditional hotel with reverend façade, ballroom etc. The location of the hotel is great as you can walk to the most important museums in minutes and you can also easily walk to the most important squares of Madrid. The room was pretty well laid out and it is a nice mix between the traditional and the modern hotel. I have given feedback to Starwood about my annoyances – it is great of them to respond to Tweets. If you are going to Madrid and need a 5 star hotel with a good location you should look into staying at the Westin.

Regards
Gard
http://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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New mega hotel in Singapore Jul 17

There is a new hotel in town and the name is Marina Bay Sands. Hotels opens all the time you might say but some hotels are more of an eye catcher than others and Marina Bay Sands is one of them it looks like. First of all there are three towers with 55 floor each and on top they are all connected on top with the so called Skypark which includes one of the largest pools in the world and it is even an infinity style pool so this is not for people with fear of heights :-) With about 2500 rooms this is the biggest hotel in Singapore at the moment. Hmmm…maybe I have to go to Singapore again and see how it has changed since the last time I was there :-) Anyway, here is a review of the hotel by Kate Schneider in News.com.au