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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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Great hotel in a good location in Delhi Apr 29

My wife and I stayed at Shangri-La’s Eros hotel in New Delhi for a couple of days in April 2012. I booked the hotel online on Agoda and it cost 475 USD for two nights for the superior room. 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_1999We normally just use public transportation to get from the airport to our hotels but as this was our first time in India and since we had such a short time in Delhi, we decided to pre-book transport from the airport to the hotel and combine this with a half day tour afterwards. The trip from the airport to the city takes 30-45 minutes depending on where you are going and how heavy the traffic is. You can arrange for transportation through the hotel but I think it was a bit expensive (costing about 3000 Rupee – (60 USD)) – but if you want to really live it up you can be fetched by the hotel’s Rolls-Royce if you pay for it Winking smileWhen we arrived at the hotel there was an inspection of the car before entering the hotel area and before entering the hotel we also had to go through a security check including scanning of bags and metal detectors. I have to say that the check was pretty superficial. I was a bit disappointed when entering the lobby as it didn’t have the signature scent that I feel one finds in other Shangri-La hotels that I have stayed at.

IMG_1863Check in was pretty quick but I was told that I had to pay extra as I had only booked a room for 1. I reminded them that as a Golden Circle Jade member this is one of the benefits. I also asked about breakfast and reminded them that this was also a Jade member benefit and they agreed to that. The lady that checked us in also took us to our room 1014. We also got a complimentary gift of two Kingfisher beers, Perrier water and some chocolate – it was great of them to give us a room so early in the morning IMG_1862(we arrived at about 9 am). When entering the room the floor was in large black tiles but it went over to a carpet as you stepped into the bedroom. There was a height difference between the tiles and the carpet and I kept stepping on it for some reason. In the hall there was a wardrobe with two robes, enough hangers, a mini safe (large enough for a laptop and with a socket to plug the laptop in) and there was also an iron and ironing board. The small mini fridge included soda and beer and a coke was about 200 rupee (about 4 USD).There was also a water boiler in the entrance and a selection of tea/coffee – and the drawers included coffee cups and glasses. As tap water is not recommended to drink we got two big bottles of complimentary water each day.

IMG_1865The room itself was in cream and yellow colors with dark furniture – one desk and chair and one small table with a chair and stool. The main feature in the room was the HUGE king-size bed which was firm but comfortable. A lot of downlights and lamps filled the room with enough light. The flat screen TV was mounted on the wall and it was a bit to the left of the bed – it would have been great to be able to pull out the screen to see it directly from bed. There were a number of local and international TV channels. One thing that was slightly annoying was the smoke detector on the ceiling directly above the bed – the blinking seemed to light up the room and woke me up in the middle of the night. The aircon seemed to work fine even if it did get a bit hot in the room at night.

IMG_1874The bathroom was in white and black tiles and included a sink, toilet and bathtub with a shower option. As per the new trend, there was a window between the bathroom and the rest of the room but there was also a blinder that could be pulled down for privacy. As usual at Shangri-La there are lots of amenities but the brand of shampoo etc was not the same as I have seen in Asia-Pacific – maybe that have changed it recently? But other amenities included shower cap, toothbrush, sewing kit etc. A cool detail is the heat in the mirror that prevents it from steaming up when taking a shower. The shower curtain worked out pretty good but make sure you have one curtain on the outside and one on the inside to prevent minor flooding ;-)

IMG_2014The view from our room was towards Windsor place – basically a large roundabout and towards Le Meridien hotel. Even if there were lots of traffic on the outside, it was not disturbing at night.
The breakfast buffet was very good – they had a great selection of cereal including granola, muesli and fruit. There was also staff at all stations to provide us with fresh juice (even a mix to your liking), waffles or pancakes, eggs the wayIMG_2013 you like them etc. There was also a good selection of local breakfast dishes but also bacon, sausages etc. Basically this place had all that I could think of having for breakfast. The staff did seem to get a bit stressed out when the restaurant was completely full and on two mornings we were placed at a table where someone had already been assigned. This lead to a bit of discussion between the waiters and the welcome staff in the restaurant but staff in general were very helpful and brought us the food that we ordered. Note that you can also sit outside near the pool area to enjoy your breakfast.

IMG_2015The pool was reached by taking the lift to the lower ground level and it was a large pool with depth of 1.35 meters. When we were there pool seem to go into shade at about 4.30 PM – and you might have to fight for your place in the pool as there were lots of pigeons that seemed to enjoy taking a dip! We also tried out the spa at the hotel and we enjoyed some Indian massage. 1 hour of massage was 3900 rupee (75 USD) according to the spa menu but when we were done with the treatment we found out that this was excluding taxes so it got closer to 5000 rupee (95 USD)– so this is something to keep in mind!

IMG_1878The concierge was very helpful and helped us book restaurants and they also made sure that taxi drivers understood where we wanted to go and they gave us a Shangri-La business card that we could use in case we needed to call the hotel for assistance. I also got help from them to buy a local sim card to be able to call locally without breaking the bank. The shopping arcade in the lobby was a bit of a joke – only two stores and not much happening. And every time you enter the hotel you have to go through a security check.

Location of the hotel is pretty good – located half way between Rajpath and Connaught Place in New Delhi, it is in one of the better neighborhoods of the city. You can actually walk to the places mentioned above but if you do this you must be prepared to be mentally “assaulted” on the way by the auto rickshaw drivers, by beggars and by “accidental” friendly people that want to show you the way to a shopping mall that is very cheap.

Conclusion
Shangri-La hotels are normally a safe choice and the Shangri-La in New Delhi did not disappoint in any way. We had a great stay there and I can’t think of many things that could be changed to make the hotel any better. If you are going to Delhi and want to pay for a 5 star hotel you should really consider Shangri-La Eros.

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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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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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