hotel diaries (part one)

Strictly speaking, I am no frequent traveller, but I like to stay at different hotels when I travel just so that I can see and experience the different hospitality experience, the good (hopefully) and the bad. Although there are repeated stays because I just like the hotels so much or they are such a great bargain but if it’s for work, it generally means I don’t have a choice as to the hotel option.

Maybe for starters, I will just choose 2 pictures of each of the hotels, otherwise this is going to become a massive effort and post. So here goes:

Australia, Brisbane

Novotel Brisbane (March 2010)

It was my first time to Brisbane, and even after this trip, I didn’t get to see the famed Gold Coast, because it was a 2-week business trip, where I spent all my time in the city. I had a weekend but when I was there they were having a bout of bad, rainy weather (which actually helped to make the summer a lot more bearable than what it would have been), so I decided against venturing to the coast and spent the weekend chilling at the mall (when it was open) and lazing in the hotel room.

Novotel was where they put me up at, which was a pretty no-frills kind of business hotel I would surmise. As you can perhaps see from the picture, it’s rather spacious with a lot of room for you to walk around in, and also an equally spacious and relatively clean and spartan bathroom.

The one thing I wasn’t used to was that they did not have bedroom slippers in the room, which I think is something quite common in Australia? I have not stayed in many hotels in Australia since I have only been there all of 3 times, one of which I was staying with a friend, and the other 2 times including this, the hotel room came without bedroom slippers. Maybe I am just used to having them and makes walking about the carpeted floor of the room or the tiled floor of the bathroom seem like a more sanitary option.

Novotel was pretty decent, and since it was a work trip in Australia that was more or less solo, I was glad they offered room service since most evenings by the time I finish work, the mall would have been closed and I am just not that much of a restaurant-eater. They do not have an extensive room service menu but for 2 weeks I think it was sufficient, and I am not that fussy when it comes to choice of food since I can jolly well live off sandwiches for a rather long time. Breakfast was provided at the hotel as well, with a decent but again not too wide variety available, based purely on what I can recall of things more than a year ago.

The hotel was located in a fairly alright location, not right smack in town, because I had to walk about 10 minutes to get to the shopping area (which was quite small and limited) but the Central station (where I could catch a train to the airport) was just a few minutes’ walk away, and Chinatown, which was in the next street to where my office was at, is another 20 minutes’ walk towards the opposite direction. It is considered convenient since I could find a supermarket nearby but the town isn’t all that interesting since everything pretty much slows down past 5-6pm.

Australia, Sydney

Grace Hotel (December 2010)

China, Shanghai

Intercontinental Shanghai Pudong (March 2009)

Hong Kong

Express by Holiday Inn (July/August 2008, August 2011)

Second time visiting this hotel following a holiday in 2008. This time I was back for a business trip. I am bias towards the Intercontinental chain of hotels, and have stayed at the IC hotels, Holiday Inn, as well as the Express line. Of course, this is probably the most basic of the lot, and honestly there isn’t much to rave or rant about. I don’t like that the room is fitted with white florescent lighting, which gives the room a very dormitory kind of feel. Besides that, the size is small but still sufficient for one person to live in for a few days, and maintenance still alright.

It was generally clean but not entirely spick and span, and the furniture although not exactly brand-new or well-maintained, wasn’t grubby either. There was free wifi/broadband and breakfast but you don’t have a lack of options for breakfast when you’re in Hong Kong. Express in Hong Kong has a good spot, just to the side of Times Square in Causeway Bay, home to lots of shopping and eating places. There was this dessert shop on the ground floor of the hotel that was always brimming with customers, even in the late hours of the night when I returned, so it must be really good. But on this trip, I didn’t have a chance to try though so I couldn’t be that sure.

The Wharney Guang Dong Hotel (February 2009)

Hotel Jen/Traders Hotel (April 2009, May 2010)

I was probably surfing for hotel deals back in April 2009 when I chanced upon this new boutique hotel (or at least I think it was new) located at the Western district of Hong Kong Island, further west from where Sheung Wan MTR is. It was a good deal that we got (although I couldn’t remember the exact price, maybe about S$100 per room/night thereabouts) and so we thought we’d check this out. It was quite a pleasant surprise because by 2009, I have stayed my share of hotels in Hong Kong, and most of the time the hotels are quite old with the usual dimly-lit rooms, a bit of a musky smell, you get the drift. So this was indeed a refreshing change!

The huge window helped let in the natural light, and it afforded a partial view of the harbour, which wasn’t anything spectacular from this angle but it was certainly better than nothing. And the decor of the room was updated and modern, something totally unexpected. I really loved it!

The only odd thing was that the entrance of the room was where the separate toilet and shower cubicles were, and there were segregated from the beds with this wooden sliding panel that you close when you want to take a shower unless you don’t mind your travel mate seeing you in the shower. Being April, it was still rather cool in Hong Kong to make it bearable to walk outside, or take a ride on the tram (at HKD2 per trip) from where the hotel was to other parts of the island, or to get to the MTR stations. We stayed there again towards the end of May 2010 but around that time, the weather had turned humid and it became quite uncomfortable to either walk about or even take the open-air trams.

Butterfly on Wellington (November 2010)

Courtyard by Marriott (April 2011)

I thought of doing a revisit at one of the hotels I’d stayed at before, since it was a solo trip and I needed to economise on the accommodation while ensuring that I still have a good night’s sleep each night. But while surfing around, I thought I’d just splurge that bit more, and check out Courtyard, since I read pretty good reviews on Trip Advisor, and especially since the hotel was still considerably new. And it was quite a good experience, despite that it isn’t exactly the most conveniently-located of hotels and somehow this April, the weather wasn’t as cool as it was before.

The room isn’t big, even if I were to compare it to the other Hong Kong hotels that I have stayed at but to me the bed is important, and this hotel’s bed was definitely comfortable! King-size, not too hard/soft, and just thinking about it makes me want to go to sleep already. The room was clean and well-maintained (since it is still new), and the staff were polite and professional. I don’t mind staying there again if I had to choose a hotel in Hong Kong, but the location is just a bit off-putting, especially if I were to be doing a lot of shopping, which means I have to take a tram/cab back to the hotel, put down my stuff, and then go back out again. And perhaps I’m just really ignorant where technology was concerned, but I was pretty amazed with the electronically-controlled blinds in the room, since one wall of the room that faces the road is really just a panel of glass, and to have some privacy at all, you need to lower 2 sets of blinds (like day curtains and the thicker more opaque ones) , and there was this set of buttons on the wall panel beside the bed where you can just press and they will go up/down! Amazing!

And check this out, nice and modern bathroom! Opposite the basin is where the shower cubicle and the W.C. was, oh but if you want a tub in your bathroom this isn’t it.


Japan, Fukuoka

ANA Crowne Plaza Fukuoka (February 2010)

You all probably know by now how much a sucker for nice hotels I can be, although there are times I am forced by circumstances to stay at hotels that aren’t so nice and comfortable. Well, that is all about experiencing hospitality, or the lack of it, because only with comparison then we can know which is better and which is not, right? Wrong. Well, those like I said, are circumstantial, and so I am not the decision-maker. Period.

So in 2010, I was off to Japan after celebrating CNY at home. And since I have never been to Fukuoka before, my friend and I thought perhaps we could give it a try, and this was the hotel that I suggested and that my friend agreed to, since we both like nice hotels. Haha. The room is in a longish shape, and so is the bathroom, which sits behind that wall where the headboards of the beds were. The beds were great because as you may be able to see from the picture, it was like 2 double beds (or are these called super singles) in one room, one for each of us! Typically, I don’t need a huge bed because I tend to not roll around while sleeping but more of just like a dead log, but I still fancy sleeping in huge beds somewhat.

It was a good hotel under the Intercontinental chain too, and located not too far from the main rail station (Hakata station) that connects us to basically everything else in this area. I actually do not recall too much about the trip except that there was actually nothing much in Fukuoka that I would venture a revisit, but it was the first time in my life I saw sleet (or if I would like to think of it as snow) drifting down from the sky for a few minutes while we were out one morning. I remembered the cold too, fondly, except when I was at the castle ruins and the biting cold wind made my fingers and toes go totally numb I thought they were going to get frozen and snap off.

It was one of those relaxing trips that we took and have a break from home, something that I always enjoy, especially in such weather that we never get at home, and is also when I can sit and have a warm cup of coffee (or tonkotsu ramen!!) while the outside is cold.

Japan, Kyoto

Japan, Osaka

Japan, Tokyo

Shinagawa Prince Hotel (August/September 2007)

 

The Strings by Intercontinental Tokyo (April, May 2008)

 

Oakwood Shinjuku (December 2008)

This was a place recommended by a friend who was then working in Tokyo, and it turned out to be a really great place to stay at! Unfortunately, it has since stopped accepting reservations for short stays, since this was anyway supposed to be serviced residence that used to be open to travellers for short bookings but now it has reverted to only taking reservations of at least 30 days.

The room that we got was fairly small and compact, with a bed that barely accommodates the 2 of us although we managed to squeeze onto it. I hope that I didn’t toss too much (even though I profess to  not move about too much while I sleep, I wouldn’t really know do I) to affect my friend sleeping next to me in that small space. However for the price that we paid, at about 13,000JPY per night it was really a great price for what we got!

The bathroom was also very compact and space-efficient yet affording all the necessary amenities that you will need for a bath. They even have all these shelves/cabinets in it to cater for those guests who are staying longer, and somehow staying there kind of gave me the feeling that I was more than just a temporary visitor. I know it’s silly to feel that way but I love the city so much I really wouldn’t mind if I could stay there on a prolonged basis.

Upon entering the room, along the narrow walkway where you have the door on the right that opens to the bathroom, the left is packed with the washing machine and dryer (not pictured, to the left of the stove), the cooking hobs and sink with a lot kitchen utensils for your use, and then the fridge and microwave, etc. So it’s really pretty self-sufficient although I think I wouldn’t want to be cooking in a space like that since it would mean the room will reek with all the cooking odours after that! 

In the basement of the apartment, there is a lounge area where you could just sit and read magazines, and if you need, 2 terminals that provided complimentary internet access. We made quite good use of that at night when we returned since we did not bring any laptops with us and at that time, iPhone what?

We had a balcony through which we got a very good view of the place. It was freezing cold to be out there though, so mostly we just kept our sliding door closed and locked. It was so windy that December that at night when I was trying to sleep, I was kept awake by the sound of the sliding door hitting against its frame and the howling wind outside, it actually sounded pretty scary. There was a sort of bar area on the top-most floor, and from there you also can get a very nice view of the Shinjuku area. I hope this establishment is still around, and if you are in Tokyo for a longer stay it would be a rather good place to consider! Location-wise, it is about 10 minutes’ walk from the Odakyu side of Shinjuku, and there are various convenience stores and eateries in the vicinity as well, so yes still considered a rather great place I would say!

Shinjuku Prince Hotel (October 2009)

 

ANA Intercontinental (February 2011)

I wanted to pamper myself, and pamper myself I did when I packed my bags during the CNY holidays to jet away to the cold comfort (sometimes a bit too cold) of Tokyo in 2011! It was a tough choice between The Strings and ANA Intercon, the former in which I’d stay but which was located in Shinagawa and not as convenient as compared to Asakasa i.e. nearer to Roppongi. Since I hadn’t stayed in ANA Intercon before, I decided on this, and although after 3 nights there I sort of wished I had chosen The Strings instead, it was still an experience, and actually it wasn’t all that bad because the room was definitely much bigger as compared to Strings, but it’s an older hotel. Nevertheless, Intercontinental seldom disappoints, and so far it hasn’t disappointed me, so I must still say that my short stay there was a good one! Just check out the room below:

One thing I always grouse about Japanese hotels is that the bathroom doesn’t always have that “international-hotel” feel to it. In some local hotels, it’s like they put a plastic mould into what the bathroom is supposed to be, such that it seems as though you are stepping into a tiny doll house’s bathroom. Good thing is that it’s much easier to clean since it’s so… plasticky, but it just downs the glam/elegant factor. Well, this wasn’t a plastic mould I got, but it still doesn’t compare to other Intercontinental bathrooms that I have been to (not that I have tried many anyway), and oh I realised I see myself in the tiny crack of the door through which I was trying to get the picture. Haha.

The hotel was located near to several stations on the Tokyo Metro, although Roppongi station is about 10 minutes away, but I have a love-hate relationship with the transport network in Tokyo. There are so many different lines owned by different companies, so it can make getting to a place easy but difficult at the same time because sometimes you have to get out at a station, walk to the other station, pass through another gantry and hop onto another train. It makes the place well-connected, yes, but at the same time, it can confuse the hell out of me. Even if transportation is so convenient in Tokyo, each trip there always involves a lot of walking, and I walked so much on this CNY trip that there are times when I get out of the train and realise I have to walk 20 minutes to the hotel, I really feel like I can crumple to the ground in a heap. But yes, Intercontinental is a good hotel, and this one is no exception too, good service, and I got there straight from the airport on the Airport Limousine, where you do not have to worry about lugging your suitcases around because the friendly Airport Limousine staff will take care of it for you all the way until they drop you off at your destination!

Hilton Tokyo (February 2011)

And there in the second part of that 2011 CNY trip, I decided to switch hotels, not because I didn’t want to stay at Intercontinental anymore but more because I was cutting on some costs, and wanted to redeem whatever remaining Hilton points I had for a room. It was a pampering trip after all (as always), so I tried to not think too much about the costs, trying is one thing, reality is a totally different thing altogether.

I like how the windows looks so traditionally-Japanese with the sliding panels, and the amazing thing about them was that they actually block out the cold! I was on a rather high floor, although I couldn’t remember exactly the level, but at that height, when I open the white panels with just the glass in front of me I could feel the cold but once I shut them, I don’t feel it so much anymore. The room wasn’t as big as Intercontinental, but it seemed newer and more updated, as far as the room looks though.

And here I go about the bathroom again. The only thing consistent, and which is also why I love Hilton hotels (though some can be quite old) – Crabtree & Evelyn La Source toiletries! I never fail to just grab a set when I stay at any of the Hilton hotels, and they affirmed my adoration for the La Source shower gel (which is actually the only thing I liked, the shampoo and conditioner are a tad blah in terms of caring for your hair, and the body lotion is light, good perhaps for our climate, but definitely not enough for me at that point).

The hotel was located near Shinjuku, but it’s actually within closer proximity to Nishi-Shinjuku (and the station as well) rather than JR Shinjuku. It takes about at least 10 minutes to walk from the hotel to where the shopping areas are, where you will reach Odakyu first before connecting to the rest of the shopping belt! I cannot go on enough about how much I love Tokyo although I don’t know what’s become of it now with the March earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant meltdown that have affected even Tokyo. I wonder how Tokyo will be like without the bright lights at night, and it will put the resilient Japanese to a further test just how tough they really can be. I’m full of admiration for them where that is concerned, but I digress. Staff at Hilton Tokyo are professional, as how most Japanese service people are, dedicated to their profession and being proud of it. It was a very enjoyable trip and as well, stay for me, and I wished I didn’t have to leave for home when my vacation came to an end.

Korea, Seoul

Grand Intercontinental Seoul Parnas (July 2008)

Hilton Millennium Seoul (July 2010)

Toyoko Inn Seoul Dongdaemun (July 2010)

Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur

Hilton Kuala Lumpur (October/November 2008)

One of the best hotels that I have stayed at, or rather, I should say that certain Hilton hotels have that standard hospitality that you would expect. It was particularly good since the hotel at KL Sentral was still rather new then, and conveniently located just above the station, so it makes travelling from the airport to the hotel on the KLIA a mere half an hour. It is about a 5 minutes’ walk to the monorail that can take you to other parts of the city’s shopping area like Bukit Bintang/KLCC although it is not the best mode of transport since each monorail only comes with 2 cabins and sometimes it is just too crowded.

Hotel Istana (May 2011)

It definitely was not my choice of hotel but that of the company’s, since there was a corporate tie-up that supposedly afforded us rather decent rates, with free wired internet in the room (and wireless in the hotel’s public access areas) and a very good buffet spread at breakfast. And that was about it.

The pictures look pretty good don’t they? Room is big, and bathroom is huge, with 2 basins (that I did not need), a bath-tub (that I did not use especially not when there was no plug to fill it up), a separate shower cubicle and the toilet cubicle at the end. TV channel selection was miserable, since in my room I only had the local channels, NHK, Star Movies and Star Sports, and there were not much amenities provided in the room. The hotel comes with a pool that I did not utilise, and a gym that is considered well-equipped. Housekeeping isn’t always consistent, the room definitely has seen much better days as signs of wear-and-tear and its age clearly showed, and there were unwelcomed creatures (a big lizard-like thing in my room, a cockroach in my colleague’s) lurking about! But the positive thing was that it was within 10 minutes’ walk to either the Bukit Bintang shopping area with the huge Pavilion mall or Suria KLCC. And if you are lucky (which I wasn’t), you get a room with a view of the Petronas Twin towers or the KL Tower! They look great at night, illuminating the night sky beautifully.

Malaysia, Malacca

Hotel Equatorial Melaka (December 2009)

Mexico, Mexico City

Presidente Intercontinental Hotel (July 2011)

Taiwan, Taipei

City Lake Hotel (June 2011)

It’s not my first time in Taipei but the first on a business trip, which explained why I was staying at this hotel that was rather far from the city area. It’s located in the Neihu District of Taipei, about 20-30 minutes away by subway to Taipei City Hall station (where Taipei 101 is located), although the hotel is situated very conveniently within a 3-5-minute walk to the subway station (Hu Zhou station on the brown Wen Hu line).

Although I felt that the airconditioning in the room did not work all that well since it got a little too warm for comfort on some really hot days, overall I quite liked the room because it’s relatively big and spacious as you can see from the pictures below:

There is a work desk to the left of me in this picture where a desktop computer is actually provided for guests’ use, with a flat screen monitor no less, but I would advise that if you have your own portable, just use that instead because the desktop really does test your patience in terms of speed. I love that there are so many channels on the TV even if I have a very dated-looking CRT sitting in the room, and I spent many nights with an internal struggle to either go to bed or finish watching the drama/variety show. Under the TV in the cabinet, there’s a fridge that provides 2 complimentary cans of soft drink per day (if you finish it), and besides the typical complimentary tea/coffee facilities (unfortunately my electric flask was not working), there is a DVD player as well! That I didn’t use though.

Bathroom was generally ok and clean, with a separate shower compartment that helps keep the floors dry. They provided disposable toothbrushes, combs, shower caps and the likes but I didn’t check them out or use them since I had my own stuff with me on this trip and the toiletries (shampoo and body lotion) didn’t appeal since they are not C&E. Haha. On the whole, I think this hotel is not too bad; they have complimentary airport pick-up/drop-off for long-stay guests (we stayed 7 nights) and also there are free shuttle services to various places (my office area and also to various spots in the city) at certain timings, where you just need to reserve a day in advance. Most times I just use the public transport system since it is easier that way and I could plan my timing better.

The hotel has a buffet breakfast that is not exactly a big spread but you get your usual bread selection, some local choices of breakfast like porridge and the accompanying conditions, an egg counter and some cereals/oatmeal. Not too bad because I like having toasted bread or oatmeal for breakfast. There are some restaurants and convenience stores around the hotel, which is a major plus point for me since I am not a big fan of room service but am a big sucker for convenience stores. Staff are friendly and polite, and oh the hotel has a small gym at the top floor that also houses the laundry room; you can actually do your own washing with the machines and dryers provided there if you do not want to spend money on the laundry service!

Thailand, Bangkok

The Ascott Sathorn (August 2011)

Love this place, even if some wear-and-tear is already evident in the room ad its furnishings. It’s actually a serviced apartment and I was staying in the studio which was still considered to be pretty big! The bathroom was not very brightly-lit, which was fine with me since I don’t like harsh lighting in hotel rooms, and the shower featured a rain shower! There’s a bathtub to the left of me in this picture but I haven’t included any picture since there isn’t anything special about it. And I love that they provided L’Occitane toiletries, though not my favourite scent/flavour, but still giving a very fresh feel to it. The last time I saw the same set of toiletries was way back in 2006 in Four Seasons hotel in Houston! Ah, that was another heaven in itself which unfortunately I don’t think I’ll ever get to experience again.

To the right-side, there’s the wardrobe that’s hidden, and the seating area with a small set of couch. Just in front of the bed is quite a generous amount of space before you get to the television and dressing table. My only grouse with the room was that I needed one place with enough lighting (doesn’t conflict with my earlier-stated preference) for make-up; there wasn’t any here.

There is also a mini-kitchenette that is fully-equipped so if you want you could cook up a storm, that is if you don’t mind the whole room smelling like a kitchen thereafter. Location-wise, it isn’t the best because it’s about 10 minutes to walk to the nearest BTS Chong Nonsi, but once you get there, it’s just 3-4 stops to Siam station. Very friendly and courteous service from the staff at Ascott, much better in comparison to the service (or lack of it) on Thailand’s flagship carrier.

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