Novotel Citygate Hong Kong: One Awesome Mid-Range Hotel!

And here’s why:

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/b88/68413283/files/2015/01/img_0201.jpg1. I can’t stop gushing over this one: it is directly adjacent to the Citygate Outlet Mall, where discounted luxury and branded shopping abounds. Even without shopping on my agenda, the convenience of having many food and beverage options in the same building is a big delight because it saves me the trouble of finding out where to eat in an unfamiliar city.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/b88/68413283/files/2015/01/img_0234.jpg2. Excellent connectivity for getting around in Hong Kong: the Hong Kong International Airport is just a 15-minute bus or taxi ride away, and the hotel provides a very courteous and efficient shuttle service to and fro. It departs every 15 minutes from the hotel, and is free of charge.

On top of that, the Tung Chung MTR station is also connected to the Citygate Outlet Mall. All it takes is a 5-minute leisurely indoor stroll through the mall to get there, and from there getting to the rest of the cosmopolis is a breeze, without having to spend a small fortune on the city’s taxis. Another gem for a directionally challenged person like me!

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/b88/68413283/files/2015/01/img_0222.jpg3. Quiet, scenic location away from the hustle and bustle of the city: the hotel, as does the mall, faces the sea, with a beautiful view of Lantau Island and Ngong Ping 360. Discounted luxury shopping in a spacious mall with a view — can’t complain!

4. Cosy and comfortable rooms with efficient, pleasant service: the soft bed felt heavenly after one day of shopping and sightseeing, and all my requests to housekeeping were met in less than 10 minutes.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/b88/68413283/files/2015/01/img_0221.jpg5. A nearby park with a running track: this one is for the runners! The clean and beautiful park is just a 2-minute walk from the hotel. Enough said!

I guess I have decided where to stay on my next trip to Hong Kong.

Sparkling in Stillness

I sparkle in stillness. That’s me, the introvert. At the time of writing I am getting ready for my solo retreat to a little island.

Among the things I am bringing are a few Snickers bars, my running gear, bikini, and a book. It’s going to be a hideaway, at a privately owned island with pretty much nothing else save for a resort and a marina. I am expecting the beach resort alone to be enough for me.

Some people find it hard to understand the enjoyment of just lounging around with no company other than myself. How do I explain the sheer pleasure of just enjoying the beauty of my surroundings, taking in the sea breeze, tucking into breakfast after a morning run, and then maybe falling asleep in a cabana with an open book lying facedown on my chest? There’s no agenda to follow, no other people’s preferences to worry about, no tiring myself out rushing from one place to another. It’s just me, nature, and my faculties. Aren’t these enough to keep one occupied and happy?

I do love people and their company. But I also love my own company. And I am quite a bubbly person…it’s just that I can also be bubbly when going around doing things on my own. šŸ˜€

And on second thought, diamonds sparkle when they are still, too! Here’s raising my glass to my fellow introverts.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/still-or-sparkling/

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.

IMG_5599

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!

The Pain in Phuket: An Unpretty Perspective

Who could tell the pain that exists alongside such beauty?

Who could tell the pain that exists alongside such beauty?

Three months ago, inspired by my first solo travel to New Zealand, I wrote this post, The Paradox of Travel, about how I travel looking forward to enhancing my perspective. After New Zealand, I had another vacation to Phuket Island, Thailand, albeit not alone this time.

It’s been 3 days since I bid the beautiful island goodbye–a good time to reflect on the trip. Flashing through my mind as I write is the image of a male beggar I saw at the local night market we went to, wanting to experience a slice of daily life there. I noticed the ugly stumps on his right hand–he had lost all his fingers except for the thumb, with which he was holding the cup he used to beg for money. He was sitting on the dirt floor with a crutch next to him, so I guess he couldn’t walk unaided. But what I really cannot forget was the look on his face–his eyes were red and moist though I did not see any tears, and he was just glaring into space. I thought I sensed a mixture of grief and anger, and helplessness and defiance. All that aside, he looked physically healthy, a man in mid to late thirties of medium build.

I didn’t quite know what to do, and I felt uncomfortable giving him money so I just walked away. Beggars can be a common sight, and some may be bogus…but this one…maybe with the look on his face, I sensed he might have been there by force and whatever money given to him might just go to some cruel human trafficking syndicate.What could I have done now, I wonder. Make a report to local police that there was a beggar sitting at the corner of the Kamala town night market?

As it turned out, I did nothing about the beggar, and just went on shopping for dinner, which we took back to our suite to eat before showering and then heading out for more massages. On my first day in Phuket, I had three massageas – a foot reflexology in the morning almost right after we arrived, and then a full-body traditional Thai massage after dinner, followed by another foot reflexology, just because the masseuse was so good I became reluctant to leave after the full-body massage ended!

The next day, we took the free hotel shuttle to theĀ  central Patong area, where all the action was supposed to be. Shopping at nearby local stalls while waiting for the Jungceylon Shopping Mall to open its doors at 11 am, once again I encountered the harsh reality of life on this touristy island.

“Tell me what price you want, miss. Give me some good luck, you’re my first customer today.”

“What do you want? Do you want this bikini? No? Then you go away.”

I looked at the quiet lane where these stalls were situated, and concluded that these traders were really hard pressed for business. There had been crackdowns recently by the Thai authorities on stalls selling imitation branded goods, which had driven many tourists away.

I ended up buying a floral dress and a pair of shorts from the first trader for 400 baht after some haggling–partly because I liked the dress, and my sister liked the shorts, and partly because I felt a bit intimidated by the gangster-looking seller! “400 baht, only for you, miss, because you are my first customer today.”

This is almost good enough for me to want to go to Phuket again. This, and the massages.

We quickly left the stalls and we happily joined the crowd that had gathered in front of the mall and went in the moment the doors opened. Lunch at the mall’s food court, Food Haven, was good (I miss the Patong coconut ice cream already!)… and after that we encountered a few more frustrated stall owners inside the mall, but at least within the confines of the air-conditioned complex, we did not feel so threatened.

Back at Kamala Beach, where we stayed, the shop owners seemed to be facing a similar quandary. Only the massage parlours enjoyed reasonably good business.

“You from Malaysia? Apa khabar?” (“How are you?”)

I joked back: “Khabar baik.” (“Good.”) “Sabai dee mai?” (Thai for “how are you?”)

And they answered: “Mai sabai. Business no good.” (“Not good. Business not good”.)

We smiled and walked on. We were on holiday, but once it ended, it would be back to work too for us, and back to the daily reality, harsh or not.

All over, we are all just humans, trying to working out our own levels of survival. Some are more fortunate, some are less…but dare we complain and insist on carrying another person’s cross? I choose to be thankful for my lot, and make the best out of it.

Phuket, surprisingly, has turned out to be quite a humbling experience.

 

Why I Love Hotel Majestic Kuala Lumpur

20141021-191141.jpg

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!

Thailand Here I Come!

I swear the Thais make about the best music in the world–but of course, thereĀ  is some bias because I am 12.5% Thai. This is the song I am currently listening to over and over again. This video has English subtitles but with Thai love songs, one does not have to understand the meaning to feel the romance of it all. I find Thai pop songs to boast crisp melodies that make them easy singalongs (or hum alongs for those who do not know the language) without sounding trashy. Thai pop is art!

I need to brush up on my Thai, and of course, continue plotting and strategizing to make my one-month Thai language school sabbatical happen. Time to continue My Thai Lessons. Sawadeekhaaaaa.

 

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!