Sofitel, Oh Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16!

2015/01/img_0075.jpgThis is the higher-end sibling of Novotel–both being among the 13 brands owned by the Accor Group.

I stayed at Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16, which was a walking distance from the Macau historic center, a Unesco World Heritage site. Taxi from the Macau Ferry Terminal cost 40 MOP, but I should have known that like most major hotels in this gambling city, Sofitel also had its own free shuttle bus–which I eventually took the next morning to catch my ferry ride back to Hong Kong.

With the tagline, “Life is Maqnifique!”, Sofitel seeks to exude French luxury–thus the L’Occitane and Hermes toiletries. However there was a policy that restricted guests to only one extra set of these branded bathroom amenities–I am not sure if it applies only to this Sofitel, and if it applies to guests who stay more than two nights, for example.

That aside, service was pleasant and efficient, albeit lacking in warmth, I felt. Perhaps that was just because my time there was so brief–checking in late afternoon, and off the next morning by 10 am. There was a casino which I didn’t bother visiting, and a cafe and bar which my sister and I found a bit too hot and stuffy. The pub was playing loud music, with people playing darts and foosball, and a heavy smell of cigarette smoke–it reminded me of the clubbing scene during my college days and seemed out of place in a hotel like this. So we decided not to bother about drinks and just went back to our room.

2015/01/img_0084.jpgThe hotel itself gave an impression of luxury and grandeur at first glance, when we first stepped into the lobby to find ourselves going ‘wow’ over the glittery, gigantic Christmas deco–think life-sized reindeer and life-sized statue of an old man depicting, I believed, one of the three wise men on the night Jesus was born. And of course, fake snow. It was a visual feast that quickly lost its appeal instead of growing on me.

So it was tacky in my opinion, but since this was Macau, the lack of subtlety was probably an intent rather than an accident. It is, after all, known as Asia’s flashiest city. I am not quite sure what French luxury stands for, but I have a feeling Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16 reflects its host country more than the one of its origin.

2015/01/img_0059.jpgEnough about the tackiness of Macau–how a rich, old world heritage ended up coexisting with such loudness is another post altogether. But I must say that having made it only to Senado Square at night, and one of its famous biscuit and pastry shops, Macau continues to intrigue me after I have left–like a mysterious stranger whose quiet charm I cannot deny after a brief encounter. I have a feeling I will be back in an attempt to understand it more.

2015/01/img_0101.jpgMeanwhile, back to the hotel–Sofitel Ponte No. 16, in a nutshell, has all the trappings of a five star establishment. Comfort, cleanliness and prettiness. But its attempt to be sophisticated is overshadowed by all the tack–and at the end of the day I actually prefer the four star sibling hotel I stayed in the following night, Novotel Citygate Hong Kong. It was supposed to be a lesser hotel by star rating and price, but I found the Novotel to be elegant, sleek and unassuming.

Maybe it’s the location rather than the hotels themselves. Maybe Macau is trying too hard to differentiate herself from Hong Kong, the fast and sophisticated metropolitan neighbor. Another post for another day!

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Why I Love the JW Marriott Kuala Lumpur

Completing the lovely room ambience was the music that played from the TV the moment I slotted the room key card into the main power slot.

I stayed at this hotel early September this year, and wrote an incomplete post about it. It’s time I finish writing about the marvelous experience I had lounging around in my room at this flagship hotel.

Aside from the spelling error on my name by the receptionist who helped me register for the Marriott Rewards membership, the service was impeccable. I love smiling and I got to return many smiles and greetings the moment I alighted from my taxi at 11.30 am for the early check-in I had been given. Assistance was offered proactively – almost automatically. It felt like with every step I made there were a few more made towards my direction, with hands extended so readily – whether it was to open a door, take my luggage, or press the lift button.

In perfect order.

In perfect order.

And of course, there was the room–I will let the photos do the talking. I had a formal event to attend at this hotel the next morning, so I decided to spend my day just relaxing before meeting up with my friend for dinner and cakes. The  perennial introvert, I was more than happy to just nap in the bed, laze on the sofa by the window and watch the scene outside since my room faced a popular shopping mall, The Pavilion KL.

The delicious beef tacos from one of the hotel's seven eateries - I can't remember which one.

The delicious beef tacos from one of the hotel’s seven eateries – I can’t remember which one.

I ordered room service for my lunch – beef tacos – which was sent up to me by a very polite butler and came with a glass of iced water which I did not request. A very thoughtful little gesture. My request for extra lotion and mouthwash was happily met by their housekeeping staff, who also went the extra mile, asking: “Is there anything else you need, ma’am, more mineral water, maybe?”

There were sun loungers at the shaded area too, which I interpret as yet another thoughtful arrangement by the hotel. Perfect for people who want to be outdoors without being directly under the sun.

There were sun loungers at the shaded area too, which I interpret as yet another thoughtful arrangement by the hotel. Perfect for people who want to be outdoors without being directly under the sun.

Came 6 pm, I changed into my exercise clothes to go for a workout at the gym and made a request for my room to be made up while I was away. I came back after my workout to find the room restored to perfect order, and the bathrobe hung behind the bathroom door-another thoughtful gesture. The lavender and ylang ylang scented toiletries were perfect for a relaxing post-workout shower, and since bath salts were also provided I soaked in the bathtub…and was feeling so pampered that I started contemplating extending my stay till I remembered that my flight home had already been booked.

Meeting up with my friend Eroll was also a breeze–the KL Pavilion Shopping Mall was at the hotel’s doorstep–I just had to cross the road! So he drove to the area right after he finished work and we met at the mall’s food court for dinner and cakes.

The luxurious bath. There is also a separate shower.

The luxurious bath. There is also a separate shower.

Checking out was a pleasant experience. I had water offered to me while the receptionist worked on the necessary procedure, and when that was done, I did not even have to ask for assistance for my luggage to be carried to the parking lot because a bellboy came right to my aid after I told the concierge that I did not need to call for a cab anymore since I made a lovely new friend at the event who offered to send me to the airport.

This was the first Marriott hotel I had ever stayed in–and I couldn’t find any fault with it. The location was also perfect, with KL Pavilion right at its doorstep, and the hotel being connected to the Starhill Shopping Gallery, right in the heart of Malaysia’s capital city.  So I came to associate the Marriott label with thoughtful, impeccable service, and the expectation was thus set for future stays at JW Marriott KL’s sibling hotels–and who can blame me?

Why I Love the Swissotel Phuket Resort and Spa

I had to swim.

I had to swim.

At 10, 470 baht for three nights, this place was a steal. Especially when what we got was a minimalist, but tastefully furnished two-bedroom studio apartment, with a kitchen, dining area, living room, and balcony. Not to mention the lovely swimming pool, restaurant, free shuttle to Patong area, polite and helpful staff, and numerous massage parlours and shops right at its doorstep!

One of the seating areas at the lobby.

One of the seating areas at the lobby.

Needless to say, I loved the Swissotel Phuket Resort and Spa from the moment I stepped into its lobby. It was spacious, with three seating areas, including one with a bookshelf offering books and novels in various languages. The whole place smelled of lemon grass, befitting its status as a resort cum spa. The wooden furnishing, with colourful cushions and potted plants gave the whole place a warm, welcoming aura with an unassuming elegance.

We were given welcome drinks of strawberry cordial, and then had our luggage sent up to our fourth-floor unit, for which I was grateful because there was no lift since this resort consisted of low-rise blocks.

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Can’t complain! Disclaimer: this wasn’t all I ate.

The restaurant was right next to the pool so we decided we would have breakfast there for one least one of the days we would be in Phuket. After checking in, we set out to look for an early lunch to appease our hungry stomachs–but hunger did not dampen the fun I had walking out of the resort on that sunny morning. Being a lazy holidaymaker, I always love it when I discover shops within a few steps away from the place I am staying. But since it was still early and the eating places would only open at 11 am, we decided to go for a foot massage at one of the parlours. I did not bother taking down its name because later that evening we discovered a far, far better place with much better massages – Kamala Massage 2 – just a few more steps down the road from the first parlour we went to. I would wind up ending my first day in Phuket by walking back to the resort slightly dazed from two hours of post-dinner massage.

The shops at the resort's doorstep, literally.

The shops at the resort’s doorstep, literally.

Alas, we did not find the nearby eateries interesting, so we simply hopped into one of the cabs waiting at the area near the resort. 200 baht and 5 minutes later, we found ourselves at the Kamala beachside town – a reasonably pleasant place for dining, some shopping, and a relaxing stroll along the beach. It was away from the hive of activities of the prime Patong area, so it would be perfect for those who would just like a leisurely getaway without the crowd and congestion.

On our last day in Phuket, we had our breakfast at the resort’s poolside restaurant after our swim. I enjoyed the generous spread with Western and Thai offerings–bacon and pork sausages always make my day. The night before, our last night in Phuket, we went for another massage at Kamala Massage 2 again – and this time I tried the oil massage, having had Thai traditional massage and foot reflexology on my first day. It did not disappoint – and felt so blissful I wished it would just go on and on. Ahhh.

Every unit comes with its own balcony.

Every unit comes with its own balcony.

As we prepared to leave for the airport I remarked to my friend and sister that I would not mind staying at this place again, especially if I were to make one of my solo, introverted trips again. With the massage place, convenience store, restaurants just a few steps away from the resort, I might even not go anywhere else in Phuket!

Why I Love Hotel Majestic Kuala Lumpur

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The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur is owned by YTL Group, the same group behind some other luxury hotel brand names in Malaysia, like JW Marriott and Pangkor Laut Resort. Thus the ‘wow’ service and small yet opulent touches are rather characteristic, though they are all branded differently.

20141021-191320.jpgHaving been around since 1932, Majestic KL boasts a grand colonial-era building — reminiscent of Singapore’s Capella Hotel and Penang’s E and O — white, imposing, majestic looking. Once at the door, however, service is warm and attentive. “Good morning ma’am, welcome to Majestic Hotel.” “This is Eunice, and she will assist you with your check in.” “Ah were you the one who called regarding an early check in? Your room is ready now.”

The reception staff even helped me check the best way to get to the airport tomorrow morning for my early flight to Phuket, Thailand. I am also given the express check out option — a very thoughtful and proactive gesture.

20141021-191434.jpgPlush beds, LCD TV, mini bar and tea/coffee making facility, bath robes and the whole works in a well-appointed and elegant decorated white and earthy-color theme came as a delight rather than a surprise, being standard features one would expect of a luxury

20141021-191549.jpghotel. But the bathroom caused a me to do a double take: there’s a bathtub with a tray right smack in the middle, AND a television! I wonder which channel to watch while I soak in it later tonight, maybe while sipping a glass of wine, too. Hee hee.

20141021-191728.jpgToiletries come in colourful, generous-sized bottles — probably close to 100 ml each — the shampoo, shower gel, conditioner, and body lotion come in pomelo, cucumber, and mangosteen flavours. Soap bars are from Crabtree and Evelyn’s La Source range. What a delight!

20141021-191824.jpgDining and room service are pricey–which is not a big problem since the hotel provides a regular shuttle service to KL Sentral, which is adjacent to the Nu Sentral Shopping Mall, and also Starhill Bukit Bintang, another shopping and dining haven.

This is another plus point for Majestic KL–since from KL Sentral train station it is easy to get to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and KLIA2 either by bus, train, or a cab.

I am looking forward to my Thai tropical island getaway, but I will be sorry to have to leave Majestic tomorrow morning. So I will just make the best of my evening there–with service and surroundings fit for the Majesty.

Gonna hop on the free shuttle back to the hotel now!

At Home in Hotels

Hotels are cool, especially good ones. Luxurious ones. There’s just something relaxing about checking into a hotel and then plonking my heavy self on the bed, even when my travel is work related. And if it’s a luxurious hotel, the relaxing part rises another notch to become pampering.

On this note, therefore, I should really make it a point to write and rave about all the hotels I have been happy staying at. This blog is about 5 months old and it’s interesting that my hotel-related posts have been among the most read. And who knows, one day in the not-too-distant future I might run my own little boutique hotel?

I enjoy staying in hotels once in a while because it’s just relaxing to have my space organized for me, with little touches that I may not have thought of myself. I am not an architect or interior designer, but it is interesting and even inspiring sometimes to look at how a hotel room is laid out and decorated. I have brought some ideas home, such as having four pillows, two on each side of the bed–makes reading in bed so much easier! And I love buffet breakfasts, thanks to my hearty appetite. Breakfast is my favourite part of the day, so having a wide range of things to eat to my heart’s content is definitely an awesome way to start my day!

And anyone who writes would identify with how getting away from our familiar zones can help get the inspiration flowing…and what better place to run away to than a comfortable, romantic home away from home? Be it a rustic chalet by the sea in the tropics, or a gilded five star establishment right smack in the middle of a concrete jungle.

I can’t wait for my upcoming island getaways!