Posts from the “Asia” Category

The Eugenia, Bangkok: Sadly getting a little tired

Update:

I am very sad to report that the Eugenia in Bangkok is starting to get a little tired. I’ve always enjoyed staying at the hotel as you will have known from my previous posts, but having advised a friend that it was worth the money I was horrified when she reported back on her experience this week.

She and her beau had shelled out for one of the most expensive rooms with a double four poster bed, only to be put in a room which just had twins beds shoved together.

The overhead shower wasn’t working in the bathroom and wasn’t fixed during their three day stay, and reports were that generally the decor and furniture is now looking rather tired and scuffed.

So. Until I hear that the Eugenia has been renovated, or at least repainted, I won’t be advising anyone to stay there.

Sad.

Central Park Hotel, Hong Kong: A shabby filthy hole

Review:

I’m currently investigating hotels in Hong Kong that can be had for US$200 or less a night.

A couple of weeks ago it was the turn of the Central Park Hotel in Sheung Wan. A 3* hotel that is used by many overseas travel agents who put tour groups there or those who are staying just one night in HK on a transfer through to somewhere else.

So, was it the “hip boutique hotel…in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial and commercial centre” that it claims on its website to be?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For a start, when I last looked (yesterday), the financial and commercial heart of Hong Kong Island was definitely still Central and Admiralty, whereas Sheung Wan was still the heart of sharks fin and dried bark trade. But petty differences in geographical opinions aside, onwards to what I actually experienced.

After an unnecessarily long 15 minute check-in process, the first room I was assigned (2504 I believe it was) was so musty, and the atmosphere was so damp I couldn’t believe they’d dared give me the key. Uninhabitable.

Central Park Mould

The mould covered the entire wall

Keeping the door wedged open so as not to be overcome by the smell, I rang reception for a new room. As I was on the phone holding for a response, I realised that the odd pattern on the wallpaper I was staring at was in fact mould. It was all over the entire wall behind the bed.

I then looked at the other walls and found rising damp above the skirting boards, stained carpets and general scruffiness – and this was one of the rooms on the Executive Floor!

On to the second room.

I went to meet a porter on the 7th floor, and as soon as the lift doors opened the reek of stale cigarette smoke was thick in the air. I told the porter I wouldn’t stay in a smoking room as I had indicated on my booking reservation, so there was no need for me to see it, yet he assured me that it was just the corridor that smelled. Hmm, what a bloody stupid thing to say, and what a bloody stupid room to try and check me into when I’d asked for a non-smoking room, and already turned down one room partly because of the stench.

Against my wishes he hauled me into the room, and lo and behold, on entering it was more like walking into a smoking lounge at an airport than a hotel room. Having reiterated my request to change room, poor Mr Porter suggested that maybe all it needed was some air-freshener! Um…No…What it needs is a thorough gutting.

I tilted my head to one side and looked at him with pity, “That would be like spraying perfume on a pile of poo, dear. It’s still a pile of poo, and will still stink like a pile of poo, although probably just more rancid once the smell of pine and lilies has worn off a little.” He smiled back weakly in bafflement, as these were not the English words he was used to hearing. Poor chap, but by this stage I was gently fuming.

On the march again, and on to the third room.

This room was still shabby, dented and scratched, but at least it didn’t smell, but by now I was running so late that it would have to do.

I had a quick shower, where I noticed that the window frame didn’t fit properly so there was an air gap down the entire length of one side, and the loo was surrounded by a blooming stain of rust.

In the bedroom I also saw that not only was the bed so low to the ground that it didn’t even come up to my knees, but I also realised that it was rather short. Rather too short for even a person of just 5 foot 10 inches, which isn’t overly tall by anyone’s standards apart from probably the Mbuti tribes of central Africa. Livid and running late I had no time to do anything about it.

My night out was not starting well.

Central Park Hotel Horror

Rising damp, ill-fitting windows, leaking toilets

Later that evening, after a fine meal at a surprisingly empty Roka and a trip to the flicks, the bed as expected was found to be too short for Mr H, who had to sleep diagonally across it and I had to sleep with my knees round my ears (and not for any kinky reason at all).

In the morning before even 7:15am had rolled around, the cleaning staff were crashing about with their walkie talkies squawking at full volume, so the only thing to do was admit defeat, forego the lie-in and check-out as quickly as possible.

The night out was thus not a great success I’m sad to report, but at least it has given me the chance to reveal the full horror of the hotel to you here, and thus save countless others from a night of misery (and potential infection). I did wonder about reporting the hotel to the Food and Hygeine Department, but instead have settled for exposing the hotel for the disgusting, health hazard it most surely is through these pages.

Price: We paid HK$1308 (US$168) for a Garden View room for the night through Agoda, booked on the day. We ended up staying in a cheaper City View room, but I didn’t have time to argue once I’d finally settled on the 10th floor, and as we’d pre-paid it wasn’t worth my while walking out to find another hotel at so late an hour.

Website: www.centralparkhotel.com.hk

 

The Golden Silk, Hanoi – Elegance in Exclusive Luxury my arse…

Review:

I found the website to the new Golden Silk Hotel in Hanoi back in February. It was yet to open, but from the website it looked as though it might finally be the breakthrough boutique hotel that Hanoi so desperately needs, and I was all for trying it.

If money isn’t a concern and you just want to stay somewhere small, stylish and 4* or 5* in Hanoi, it is utterly impossible.

The options at the deluxe end for a quick weekend break are:

  1. The Sofitel Metropole‘s Historic Wing – very pleasant, but unless you stay in one of the history soaked suites, ultimately it’s just like any other 5* hotel. The rooms have been refurbed to the point of losing their historic feel.
  2. The Sofitel Metropole’s Opera Wing – pleasant, but modern with no real connection with the older areas of the hotel, so could be any Sofitel in any city in the world.
  3. The Hilton Opera – pleasant, modern, again could be any Hilton hotel in any city in the world.

The Metropole has a lovel swimming pool and landscaped courtyard, so definitely rates higher than the Hilton and is a very nice hotel, but it has somehow lost most of its former charm in the refurbishment, which is a great shame, (oo, and don’t eat at Spices Garden)

There are other 5* hotels in Hanoi, but none of them are within easy walking distance of the Old Quarter which is where you want to spend most of your time poking around, so aren’t very convenient for tourists.

The next level down in price are the raft of Hanoi’s 3* boutique townhouse hotels. These include the Luxe Guide recommended  Church, and the Zephyr  (no idea why these two in particular, they don’t seem to offer much to me), and whilst all of them try to deliver an international standard of styling, quality, amenities and service, none of them actually manage it.

Plus, if you want to stay in a decent room at any of these hotels, it’s going to set you back upwards of US$100, (all their cheapest rooms are well under US$100), and it starts making more sense to just suck it up and go to the Metropole.

Under this level, are the plethora of small, honest to goodness 2* and 3* townhouse hotels, that are just as comfortable and have the same amenities as their ’boutique’ brethren, but with none of the deluded aspiration.

Find one in a quiet spot (I’ve had a lot of luck with a number of the Prince Hotels over the years), and you’ll enjoy family style service and clean rooms at great value.

The Golden Silk is unforunately yet another example of that merry middle band of boutique hotels that promise luxury and barely deliver anything beyond necessity, (i.e. four walls, a bed and a basin). Here’s my take.

Service:

This hotel had been open barely six weeks when we stayed and so I didn’t expect much of the service.  It was horrendous though – painfully slow, staff who weren’t empowered to make decisions when faced with a problem to be solved, and no managers around in the evenings or at the weekend to sort out such problems personally. We spent much of our time forcing the staff to ring the managers for their input when there was an issue.

Weird to stay in a hotel where the staff thought that their managers’ leisure time was more important than their guests’.

The staff need training, and I’m sure that the service will improve when they get it. Unfortunately the rest of the problems with the hotel will not improve without a complete refurbishment, or maybe a few days with a bulldozer…

Rooms:

The bathrooms: Let’s start at the design travesty of the bathrooms and get one thing clear. For all those idiots à l’étranger who post on Trip Advisor and think that a separate bath and shower are the very quintessence of sophistication: it’s not, it’s a basic human right. Any hotel that describes itself as luxury and then makes you clamber into the bath just to get clean deserves a rating of zero. The Golden Silk has actually managed to screw this up even further by installing showers that spray water everywhere but the bath, and so unless you dam the edges with towels you end up with a flooded bedroom.

Not content with designing a bathroom with merely safety hazards to negotiate, the Golden Silk has gone one step beyond in the silly stakes and inexplicably, (but like a growing number of its Asian contemporaries who can’t afford switchable smart glass), erected a clear glass wall to separate bathroom from bedroom…and then plonked the loo in full view of the bed.

Although there is a “modesty” blind of sorts it covers both the wall and door, so it’s impossible to get in and out without hoisting and lowering said blind on each visit.

I just don’t understand the f**king stupidity of the interior designers. It’s not just the fact that I don’t want my beloved to inadvertently catch a glimpse of me straining on the pot; what about when one of us needs to visit the bathroom in the night? There is no way to not disturb the other person unless we start wearing bloody headlamps to clamber around the room. The bathrooms are so awful that I wouldn’t stay here again just because of them.

Golden Silk Hotel, Hanoi

Can you see the similarity?

Right -onto the rest of the bedroom.

The styling: Hotel marketing 101 suggests that you don’t lie about the rooms on your website. None of the rooms (and I looked in four) looked anything like the renderings on the website. Shiny floors, square rooms not rectangular, no rugs, no dimmer switches on the lighting etc, etc, meant that I couldn’t actually get the room to look even close to what was displayed on the website. I was standing scrunched in the corner to take my photo, so the perspective in the hotel’s rendering is way out, and the Studio Suites are far smaller than suggested.

The noise: It seems rather a large screw-up that in the Golden Silk the more expensive your room, the noisier it becomes. The “better” rooms have balconies, are larger and apparently have more furniture. Unfortunately they have the same bathrooms and hanging rails and  are also on the front of the hotel.

Hang Gai is pretty much the busiest street in the Old Quarter, so the noise is appalling. Plus, the windows and doors don’t fit, so though they are double-glazed, they are pointless.

Even if I didn’t nearly die of shame every time I had to take a pee, I can’t recommend anyone to stay in a room above Luxury class (which are all at the back of the hotel), because of the cacophony of constant traffic and early morning loudhailers they will be subjected to.

The terraces: None of the rooms have terraces. They have balconies wide enough for a table and chairs, but there are none provided, so it’s pointless to have a balcony.

Again, do not stretch the truth on your marketing material, over-promising and under-delivering is unforgivably bad business practice.

The wardrobe: There was no wardrobe. Simply a couple of short hanging racks along part of the bathroom wall. A complete mess and somewhat in contradiction to the idea of luxury in a hotel.

Powerpoints: The one powerpoint in the luxury room took five minutes to find and was behind a heavy bedside lamp that had to be moved to access it. There was one powerpoint in the Studio Suite in the same position and another thankfully near a shelf in a more convenient place.

Bedside lamps: The bedside lamps in all the rooms had their switches hanging off the far edge of the bedside table making it impossible to reach whilst actually in bed.

Electicity and Water Pressure: Hanoi does seem to have a bit of an issue with the stability of its water pressure and electricity, so it was no worse here than at any other of the townhouse hotels I’ve stayed in. Don’t expect hot water on the higher floors by 9:30am.

Beds: Surprisingly the beds were not rock solid, and were actually pretty comfortable. In the luxury rooms though the beds are so wide that there isn’t really space for much else. However on the plus side, if you are six foot five inches tall you can sleep across the bed, which makes it one of the best hotels for tall people in the whole of the capital.

Summary:

If my expectations had been managed properly before I arrived  - a photo of the bathroom, realistic descriptions of rooms, and photos not renderings, then I think my impression of the hotel would have been more forgiving. But having been dumped in a room in a lower category without being told when I checked in, and then at every turn when I wanted to do something in the room being faced with inconvenient and downright stupid design, I’m not in the mood to be charitable. The Golden Silk provides a brilliant case study of pretty much everything you shouldn’t do when building a new hotel.

So, once again  I shall have to make my way back to the Metropole or the Prince until someone in Hanoi finally comprehends and then manifests a Boutique Luxury Hotel. I’ve been travelling to the city for seventeen years, and I’d have hoped by now that the hoteliers here would have caught up with the rest of Indochina. Heavens to Betsy! If Laos can manage a dazzling array of small luxury hotels why the darnation can’t Vietnam?

Location: 109-111 Hang Gai Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam, Tel: 84-4-3928 6969

Website: www.goldensilkhotel.com

Satri House – Worth paying for the best room.

Satri House

Review:

There are now many choices of where to stay when visiting Luang Prabang, that little Cotswold-style gem of a town in central Laos.

On our last trip we decided to stay on the edge of town in Satri House as Mr H had his heart set on staying in one particular room he had seen online. Built in the early 1900s for the Laos royal family, it consists of a mishmash of separate buildings and salas; old and new. Thankfully, the new wing has been very sympathetically styled and blends in well with the old.

We stayed in the upstairs suite in the original wing of the hotel.  There are only three bedrooms in the house (pictured above), as well as a couple of beautiful public lounges. Suite 442 where we were, occupies one half of the upstairs and was worth the money.

I’m sure the other rooms are also very nice (the hotel was refurbed and expanded over a couple of years ending in 2009), but it felt good to be in the authentic wing of the hotel.

AnteroomRoom: Everything you want in an Indochine colonial villa of old; Silk, hardwoods, art and furniture. AC helps, and the bathroom was large, new, airy and stylish, (just remember to close the shutters as people can see you at the mirror.)

The “lounge” wasn’t really a lounge, more an anteroom to the bedroom, but it was a comfortable and bright place to read and plan our next meal or shopping foray.

Service: I don’t know why, but service staff were almost exclusively male. Everyone was very friendly, and we were shown varying degrees of competence and initiative, but you had to pick your man if you wanted to be sure they understood more complex requests.

This is Laos, and they are only just getting to grips with the level of service that well-heeled tourists expect. Being friendly is a good start, but don’t expect Mandarin Oriental levels of excellence for a good while yet.

Facilities: Large pool for the size of hotel; big enough to swim lengths and a great way to cool off in the stifling heat of a Laotian afternoon. There’s a small bar, and a nice restaurant that whilst isn’t offering anything out of the ordinary in terms of lunch or dinner, did put on a really good breakfast.

There’s also a spa, although I didn’t get a chance to partake, and you can take bikes out rent-free to explore the surroundings.

The grounds are beautifully kept and the hotel is very nicely styled. Lots of nicknacks that you think would look great in your own home. The hotel does in fact claim that many of the furnishings are available in their shop in town, but it was a huge disappointment; with low quality products in a dusty old shop.

Ambience: There is a bit of a hush about the hotel, sometimes it feels like a bit of a museum, but it is a very pleasant place to chill out, with lots of different nooks to sit and enjoy the surroundings. You don’t feel too bad spending hours lounging around in your room either when you have a suite like 442. It feels more like a house than a hotel up there.

Price: The rate card starts at US$180++  for a standard room, and rises to US$400++ for suite 442.

Location: Satri House is on the eastern edge of town away from the centre. You’ll need a taxi back from a night out, and we made good use of the bicycles to get in and out of town during the day, (you can always load them into the back of the “Song Tao” style taxis, if you decide you can’t make it back to the hotel in the heat!), if you want to have the town and it’s splendours right on your doorstep, this is not the hotel for you.

One word of warning though. We stayed in Sari House during Laos New Year (beginning of April) and the local fair was in full, exuberant cacophony well into the early hours and is located less than 200m away.  It was great fun to go to and see, and we weren’t much bothered by the techno and concerts that blared from midday until the wee hours, but I imagine that it would ruin some people’s holiday. Some guests did indeed check-out and move to different hotels. This happens every year, so forewarned is forearmed.

Summary: I would definitely recommend staying in the original Satri House, we had a good time, and Mr H was very happy with his room.

Next time we go to LP we will stay somewhere different simply because there are now so many interesting little hotels to try out, that it would be daft to stay in the same one twice.

Necessity meant that we had to visit Laos at the beginning of April, but I wouldn’t really recommend visiting at this time. On the positive side, the town was almost empty of tourists, but on the negative side, it’s stubble burning season. The air is full of smoke, your clothes will stink, and you will never see a clear blue sky. For anyone with respiratory problems, it would be a nightmare.

Three Hotels in Kota Kinabalu

Reviews:

Sunset Bunga Raya

Sunset at the Bunga Raya

Kota Kinabalu is one of those destinations that is very family friendly and easily reachable from HK and Singapore in particular. Then there are the Koreans who come for the golf, and finally those people like me who use it as a transit point to the far more interesting destinations either deep in the jungle, or off the eastern and northern coasts.

The first two categories of tourist head to the resorts out of town, so as I wish to avoid them, I stay elsewhere.

This year I’ve stayed in three of KK’s hotels and enjoyed my short stays in town immensely.  KK has a fantastic set of night markets that sell some of the best seafood in the whole of South East Asia – all freshly caught and grilled including king prawns that are literally a foot long, and amazingly cheap beautiful lobsters.

In town:

Hyatt Regency

The best of the in-town hotels. Right on the seafront, the rooms on the front afford astonishing views of the sunset over the South China Seas. Among the most incredible sunsets I’ve witnessed.

The hotel has been refurbed more recently than the Meridian, so whilst it’s quite a bog-standard and bland business hotel with averagely sized rooms, it’s well appointed and doesn’t feel tired.

The hotel is close to the more interesting bars in town and just by one of the night markets.

What I did like particularly was the super old-school club lounge. Great service, some smashing snacks and again, that awesome view that really makes you enjoy your sundowners which are free and plentiful between the hours of 5pm – 8pm.

Location and contacts:

Jalan Datuk Salleh Sulong, 88991,
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Tel: +60 88 22 1234

Website

The Meridien

I stayed here the first time I came to Kota Kinabalu after reading reviews of both the Hyatt and the Meridien on Trip Advisor (Why did I do that I ask myself? It seems that people who write on the website are just not used to the same standards of accommodation that I am, cooing as they do over the fact that there is a separate shower and bathtub…)

Anyway. Again I had a seaview room, and the views made up for the fact that the hotel is stuck in the 1980s. The service was fine and the room-size was good, but oh my, it’s a tired old girl, and the club lounge wasn’t competing with the Hyatt either.

Once we’d stayed in the Hyatt, we wouldn’t go back to the Meridien, as they were basically the same price at a very reasonable US$200 for a sea-view room with club access.

Location and contacts:

Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens, Sinsuran, Kota Kinabalu, 88000
Phone: +60 8832 2222

Website

Off-Shore:

The Bunga Raya

Whilst not particularly convenient for the airport, I did spend a couple of days at the Bunga Raya on Gaya Island.

Originally there were only the sister hotels of Bunga Raya and the Gayana Eco Resort on Gaya Island, but there is some busy building now across the bay from the Eco Resort. Fortunately the Bunga Raya sits in it’s own bay so will never be compromised by further development.

The Bunga Raya is the smaller of the two resorts and is somewhat more expensive.  Although guests of the two hotels are free to come and go between them, the beach and facilities were almost deserted when we were there back in Easter. Astonishing given the quality of the accommodation.

Make sure you are given a true sea-view room if you stay there, and you won’t be disappointed. The rooms all have large terrace balconies, and large bedrooms. The decor is precise and although the bathrooms are dark, they are well stocked.

Service was patchy. Nice touches like a morning muffin and fruit basket, but generally the service was very, very slow – the pool was without towels for a couple of hours one day so we all had to just sit around drip-drying. Was also surprised when seated at the bar that there were no snacks served with the drinks. Unusual for a 5 star hotel.

The staff were very good at remedying problems when they occurred, but it begged the question as to why the problems occurred in the first place. We were given a really late check-out of 5pm and a free transfer back to KK because the staff were changing shifts which were much appreciated.

Again though, the staff were more concerned about giving us a present of a necklace when we left than actually help us take our luggage along the dock, which was just a bit baffling.

Food was also patchy. The breakfast was very decent, but the evening meal we had was surprisingly disappointing considering the amazing ingredients on offer in the town. I had a chicken soup that was overpowered by too much cinnamon, and a fish salad that had so much lime and vinegar on it that it destroyed what was potentially an excellent dish.

I was also confused as to why the evening menu tended towards the international rather than the local with a very limited choice of seafood, and no beach barbecue.

They have a spa which has a number of treatment rooms spread up the side of a hill and is accessed across a suspension bridge. All quite fun, very nicely styled and we had a couple of very good massages.

Anyway. Considering the price of the room, which was US$500 a night, we decided that the location, environment and standard of the accommodation did make this a hotel we’d go back to if we had more than 24 hours to spend in the town, despite the dodgy service delivery at times.

It is so convenient for KK, has beautifully clear water, a lovely beach, is surrounded by jungle, is delightfully landscaped (as long as you ignore the Italianate fountains out the back, and the gigantic fake mushrooms in the pond), is quiet, friendly, has a great pool, and a wealth of wildlife to marvel at like wild boar, monitors and hornbills.

Location and contacts:

Malohom Bay, Gaya Island, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Tel: +6 088 442233, 475533

Website

Koh Yao Noi – The Paradise Resort

Dawn

Dawn breaks over Phang Nga Bay

Now usually I wouldn’t divulge my most favourite places until I’d swooped in and secured the real estate at a decent price, but I feel compelled to share this one right now.

I love holidaying in Thailand, and I’ve recently discovered another little gem that joins the River Kwai and Khao Sok in my list of perfect long weekend jaunts from Hong Kong.

Koh Yao Noi is smack dab in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, a gentle 45 minute boat ride from Phuket. It’s got all the charm of Koh Samui and Phi Phi back in the day i.e. limited numbers of tourists, a fair number of dirt roads, secret beaches, fantastic and cheap food, and a laid back local populace.

There are two upscale accommodation options on the island,  The Paradise Resort and the Evason Six Senses, and for this trip the Paradise checked all the boxes:

  • A decent hotel spa
  • My own terrace with sala and jacuzzi
  • A villa on a hill overlooking the marvelous karst scenery of Phang Nga bay
  • No large groups of Russian tourists (sorry Russian tour groups, but you’re noisy and tend to wander around inappropriately in speedos and thong bikinis).
  • Quiet

I’d say The Paradise has 80% of what you get at the Evason for less then half the price, (and the 20% that is missing is made up entirely of aesthetics, more sophisticated food and a wider range of spa treatments.)

Paradise Resort

The Paradise Resort

So, after a night in Bangkok at the Eugenia, we caught the early flight to Phuket and were picked up by the hotel at the airport. After a 15 minute transfer to a marina, we waited for a few other guests to arrive and then shortly after we set off for the island.

Transfer: THB2,200 per person, one way. To leave the island we took a huge public speedboat back to Phuket which was just as convenient.

The view from my bed

Villas:  We stayed in a Jacuzzi Deluxe villa, which was perched high on the hillside with a sea view. I’m not a huge beachy person, and much prefer having grandiose open views rather than being able to access the beach from my front door. I was expecting thunderstorms too which are always more exciting when you’re up high.

Good sized room, well constructed, nice natural materials; all wooden, stone and slate inside. Great little terrace with a covered sala one end and an unheated, sunken jacuzzi. Bathroom also opened one entire wall onto the terrace so you felt like you were showering outside, (Mr H was a little concerned he could be peeped at so wasn’t keen on opening up, but I was certain it was fine).

The room was excellent value for money.

Service: The manager is a friendly Swiss guy who’d been in the hotel trade for decades. Staff were helpful, although at times a little slow to respond.

Facilities: We made good use of the spa, which was well priced and very pleasant. There was also a yoga sala on the beach and a lot of watersports options. There was a good deal of wildlife around the hotel, from hornbills to monitor lizards.

Our guide kayaking on a tiny lagoon inside a limestone island

The hotel organised a boatman and guide for the day and we went kayaking around Phang Nga Bay which was an excellent excursion.

Because we were so much closer to all the best islands and lagoons than people staying on Phuket, we could get everywhere earlier than the hordes of braying booze cruisers.

The kayaks would be strapped to the side of the boat until needed and we’d zap off in our long-tailed skiff to each location. The hotel also organised a great picnic lunch and we had plenty of water, towels, extra dry bags for our gear and sunscreen etc. Very thoughtful.

We explored all kinds of hidden lagoons a la “The Beach” and generally just pootled around with our very nice guide.

Food: The food we had at the hotel was good if limited. Un-fussy, lots of fresh seafood and locally grown produce. Buffet breakfast was generous and surprisingly varied. You could eat in the restaurant or on the beach and there was also a beach bar with friendly staff and TV to watch if you wanted. Not sure how bonkers it would have driven me if I had stayed a week and only been able to eat at the one restaurant.

Beach: The tide goes very far out on the beach here and leaves quite a muddy bay behind it. That doesn’t bother me, and there was a well landscaped, large swimming pool to use. But I know that a lot of people who don’t have the same kind of daily access we do to beaches in Hong Kong need to have their beach expectations managed.

Getting around: The resort is barely accessible by road, and is remote from the rest of the island. It’s in a great location with wonderful views of the karst islands rather than just bare ocean. There are private speedboat transfers, or you can hop on the public boats that ferry staff over to the inhabited side of the island.

We took an eyeopening ride back to the hotel one evening in a taxi. From half-way the roads were just rubble and we had to get out and push the taxi up a hill at one stage. All quite fun!

Island: The rest of the island is super chilled. It’s a mainly Muslim community so it’s not a raucous party island. Apart from the Evason, the rest of the accommodation is very simple, low-budget backpacker style beach huts. There are no penny-pinching gap-year backpackers which is a blessed relief.

We had a fantastic meal at Sabai Corner, and would highly recommend sitting there watching the sun go down and eating supper.

We also had a spa treatment and lunch at the Evason Six Senses. It was very pleasant, very sophisticated and ever so hushed. Shhhhh.

The villas are impressive, but unless I was going to the island in high season and really needed the seclusion that money buys, I wouldn’t be tempted. The hotel also caused some upset in the community when they arrived, and so the locals were unimpressed for a long while. Apparently management are now more sensitive about their role on the island and relations are slowly improving.

Price: THB15,600 for four nights! That’s around US$500. Awesome value. This included one night free which was a special deal for patrons who lived in Asia.

We will definitely be going back to The Paradise. The hotel isn’t the plushest, most sophisticated in the world, but for the budget that they must have had to build it, it has been very thoughtfully planned and maximizes the stunning location. It sits gently in it’s surroundings and the atmosphere (at least in low season when we were there) is friendly and super chilled, and you just can’t argue with value for money like that.

Koh Yao Noi is a delightful island, and staggeringly unspoiled considering that Phuket is mere minutes away.

The Eugenia, Bangkok. Still a little gem.

Update:

The Eugenia is now off the Candy list. It’s now tipped into being a little too scuffed.

Review:

I’ve tried out a number of hotels in Bangkok over the past few years since I first stayed in the Eugenia back in 2006 (review here).  Getting around Bangkok is still a bit of a nightmare, so you have to mitigate this by planning where you stay very sensibly in relation to what you want to go and do.

I made the mistake of staying near the palace during one visit and spent more time stuck in traffic jams than I did sleeping, eating, shopping and getting massages combined.

For me, the Eugenia is still number one on my list for the following reasons:

  • It’s pretty quick to get to and from the airport.
  • I love the styling.
  • It’s got a pool.
  • It’s tiny – just 12 bedrooms, which is my kind of boutique hotel.
  • I love the breakfast in your bedroom at no extra cost.
  • It’s a 10 minute walk or 3 minute hotel tuk-tuk ride to the Sky Train.
  • It’s close to Siam by Sky Train which is where I like to shop.
  • It’s within a 5 minute walk of some awesome home-furnishing shops like Incredible and Almeta Silk.
  • My favourite foot massage joint in Bangkok is within a 5 minute walk – Mulberry Spa.
  • It’s close to a lot of good restaurants, bars and clubs.
  • It’s on the right side of town to get down to Silom and some of my other favourite restaurants and bars by taxi if I don’t want to get the sky-train.

So for convenience and style it ticks lots of boxes, and makes up for what it lacks in facilities and flawless service by being tiny and friendly.

Rooms:

I’ve stayed in both the 1st floor Eugenia rooms which are at the front of the hotel and open onto a terrace, and the Sawadee rooms on the 2nd floor which are at the back. What you lose in terrace you gain in peace and quiet, and I was very happy staying in the Sawadee rooms this time round.

The Eugenia is all about colonial shabby chic, so floorboards creak, air-con is quite noisy, and there’s no lift, but that just adds to the feeling that you’re staying in someone’s house rather than a hotel, and that’s just fine with me.

When I first stayed here the rooms had the most fantastic heavy linen sheets, but now they have gone back to cotton (albeit very high quality), I was unaccountably disappointed by this.

Beds are very comfortable though, huge deep mattresses and lovely duvets.

All the drinks in the minibar are free which is a nice touch, and as they don’t really have a breakfast room, they bring it to you in your room as a matter of course, which is perfect. We also got a good wifi connection in the room which was useful.

Bathrooms:

I love The Eugenia’s monotone floor tiles.  The showers are hot and strong, and the copper bathtubs a lovely treat.

The only quibble is that although their organic, homemade bath products all smell fantastic, they aren’t that great at doing the job of lathering up, and tend to leave me feeling a bit gunky. Must try harder on that front.

Service:

Don’t expect perfect English here. The staff are all very helpful and are as attentive as they need to be, without being overbearing. I tend to try and find one staff member who I can go to for everything rather than having to explain things a couple of times to different people who don’t understand. This trip it was Ong-Art Rungsamai, the reservation manager. He was efficient and used his initiative to help us find and book what we needed in the city.

eugenia_swimming_pool

Facilities:

There is a good if tiny restaurant downstairs: the D.B Bradley room, which I’ll review separately, and the Zheng He Lounge for reading and drinks, both beautifully decorated, and very chilled.

The swimming pool at the back of the hotel is big enough to exercise in and is mostly shaded during the day, and there is a little sala bar beside the pool which is a lovely spot to hang out and have a pre-dinner drink.

Where: All the contact details are at the bottom of this post here, which has more photos and blather too.

Price:

Costs have risen since we first stayed (although that was very soon after it had opened), but not by much. We paid US$230 a night this time round for a smaller Sawadee room rather than US$166 for the larger Eugenia room back in 2006, but I still think it’s great value for what you get.

Sukhumvit/Ploenchit – Where to sleep, shop, spa and sup in Bangkok

I never tire of Thailand. I don’t think it’s possible to have a bad holiday there, unless you are a muppet and go around smoking drugs and letting coconuts fall on your head.

I never tire of Bangkok either, even though I’ve been there countless times.  It’s just a great city, but – and this is important – it’s only great as long as you know how to get around and don’t sit in traffic jams for hours on end.

causticcandy_bangkok

If you only have a long weekend or just a couple of days in Bangkok then I would heartily suggest staying somewhere along the Sukhumvit Road or the beginning of Ploenchit (they lead into each other).

As the traffic is still atrocious you do need to base yourself close to a Skytrain station preferably, or an underground.

Any bars/restaurants etc outside this immediate vicinity mainly have their own posts elsewhere on the blog (eg, if it’s your first time in Bangkok you really do have to go for sundowners at Vertigo at the Banyan Tree but it’s a way away from Sukhumvit in Silom).

Stay:

The Eugenia on Sukhumvit Soi 31 for small, chic and sophisticated.

Hyatt Erawan or Conrad, for big 5* chains that are both very close to Gaysorn and Siam Paragon for shopping/cinemas/Skytrain junctions/on-site spas.

Do not stay anywhere near the Grand Palace unless you are only going to be doing siteseeing/eating in that area or along the river. The traffic is enough to try the patience of the Buddha.

Eat:

Around Sukhumvit:

Vendome is good (if French and formal), next to the Eugenia. Nice setting in a house with a sweet garden and terrace. Big wine list, and a couple of private rooms up stairs.

Cabbages and Condoms – standard Thai fare, and is always worth a meal if you have time as the service is laughably haphazard – but it’s all for a good charitable cause.

Kuppa at 39 Sukhumvit Soi 16, lovely for lunch, huge, airy and industrial. Tel: 02663-0495

DB Bradley Room in the Eugenia. Now I haven’t eaten here, I was thwarted by the traffic last time I was in BKK when I was trying out a hotel in another part of town. It gets good reviews, and it is the most stunning room – hand painted wallpaper with gold leaf, and only about 8 tables in toto. Super romantic.

It’s fusion, but apparently very good. Someone please go and let me know what it’s like as I’ve been dying to go here for months!

Avoid: Lan Na Thai (great venue, poor food), Spring & Summer (again great venue, poor food).

Bed Supperclub -If you haven’t been to BKK before and you are under 25, then this venue is still something fun and different to go to, but bear in mind you eat lounging around on beds, so it’s not for everyone’s digestive system (must bring ID with you for age-verification even if you are 90), and it’s still style over substance.

I’m putting non-Sukhumvit restaurants in other posts. It is worth heading out and braving the traffic only in the evenings, and it’s certainly easier to get across town starting here, way out west than it is, starting off round the Palace or River areas.

causticcandy_bangkoktaxi

I know I haven’t mentioned many Thai restaurants here, but I’d suggest that your hotel concierge knows where the best ones are in your district, or where their favourite ones are.

Thai’s think that all farang are pussies and can’t possibly take their food as hot as the locals do. If you like it hot, do impress upon your waiters/concierge that you want it proper spicy. I sometimes feel like I have to down a bottle of Tabasco to get them to believe me.

Sup:

Face: Although the Thai restaurant here (Lan Na Thai), is nothing to write home about, Face, the bar, is great. Serves good cocktails and is in a stunning teak housing complex.

Bed Supperclub: Again, one for the kids, but it’s still quite fun.

Q Bar: still fun here too, but better if you are in a bigger group as at least it’s easier for the boys to avoid the hookers (if they want to…).

BKK has lost it’s party really, after the crackdown. If you hang out in some of the bigger clubs though it’s easy to meet people and there is a big scene in underground after-parties (in fact most of them seem to be on roofs).

Soi Nana and Soi Cowboy. As long as you’re not with your parents, or clients, then having a drink in both these Sois can be fun if you haven’t been to BKK before and you’re undecided on the moral dilemma of it all. It’s certainly the better end of the prostitution business, if there is a better end. I have no issue with girls (or boys, or lady boys) dancing round with next to nothing on, or shooting ping pong balls out of their more private orifices, but the take-it-home side of things does make me wince.

For a good overview of prostitution in Asia, that actually gives you some decent context read Louise Brown’s Sex Slaves - the trafficking of women in Asia. The content is useful and enlightening, even if the delivery is heavy-handed.

Day spas:

Ah, one of my favourite pursuits in Thailand.

Lavana Spa: I love this spa, it’s on Soi 12

I am a massive herbal ball massage fan, and they have five different varieties here, made up of different herbs for different purposes (you can even watch the ladies making them, and buy them in the shop, all their products are made in-house).

This is a big spa, they have nearly 50 rooms and it’s a bit of a labyrinth. Rooms are crisp and clean, and their therapists are superb. It’s actually quite an art to perform a herbal ball massage correctly and this is the best I’ve encountered. It’s not as plush as a 5* hotel, but it’s still stylish, at least half the price and it’s really very good. BHT850 (less than HK$200) for 90 minutes of massage is staggeringly reasonable. You’d be hard pressed to wait more than 10mins for a therapist if you walked off the street (although booking is advisable at busy times), and it’s open until 2am. Perfect.

Mulberry: I also love this spa, but mainly for foot massages. Soi 23.

I am a complete reflexology glutton – an addict even. The two best foot massages I’ve ever had have been here, and then at Dragonfly in Beijing.

The surroundings are very sweet and homely here – it’s set in a big wooden house with gardens, so it’s a very enjoyable place to spend some quality time. I’d go to Lavana which is very close by for other massages and treatments though. I had a facial here which wasn’t brilliant, and their herbal massage didn’t stack up against Lavana either. Again open late, so great for a spot of relexology on the way home from the pub, or if you are suffering from jet lag. Blissful.

Shopping:

Malls:

Siam Paragon and Gaysorn are the top end malls and where most of your designer shops are. I have found that for men especially, the designers here don’t carry many sizes, and it’s difficult to find anything in manly, European sizes, let alone US sizes. I’ve also found that prices are higher than in HK, so I’ve never bought anything top end in BKK.

Siam Discovery Centre is a bit more furniture, nicknacks focussed (even has a Habitat, dontyerknow), some nice shops in here.

Central World (the newest in this strip), Siam Center, MBK, Siam Square and Siam Discovery have all the rest of the things you might be interested in really – its a great conglomeration of shopping, just a very useful place to go and get your acquisition fever out of the way in one fell swoop. Really don’t bother going anywhere else if you only have a short period of time.

Siam Centre is one of my favourites even though it’s a bit old and cramped, as it has a Boots (for all you Brits out there), as well as Jaspal and a slew of funky Thai designer shops (like Fly Now), as well as a couple of great shoe shops in the form of Lyn (cheap and cheerful), and one which stocks shoes by Obsession (I’m not sure the whole shop is called Obsession, I’ll update that later but it’s almost opposite one of the exits of Jaspal). Anyway, suffice to say that especially on the level where Boots is, which is the skytrain level, there are loads of interesting shops.

Soi 23:

There are some very nice homeware type shops up around the Mulberry Spa, on the walk from the Asoke skytrain station to the Eugenia hotel.

Almeta Silk: Beautiful made to order fabrics, choose the thread count and the pantone colour.  You walk in and after 5 minutes wonder how on earth people choose, as you decide all you really want to do is deck your house out in the entire rainbow of colours they have on offer. Great for design freaks who know exactly what shade they need. These guys are used to handling overseas orders. Lots of pre-made merch on sale too. 20/3 Soi Prasarnmitr, Sukhumvit Soi 23. Tel:662 2041413.

Incredible & Eligible: These two furniture/nicknack shops are run by the same guy who is a designer. Incredible is stuffed with the antiques and oddities that inspire him, and Eligible houses the new designs bourne out of these inspirations.

Think old telescopes, hurricane lamps, ancient mirrors, stuffed birds, overstuffed sofas. It’s difficult to explain and I don’t have a photo. Just take a look at the Eugenia Hotel interiors on their website and this is the style of things you’ll find in these two shops. Eligible is at 116/2 Soi 23 (tel: 662 662 8053) and Incredible is at 116/4 (tel 662 260 9690). Really lovely staff too, and you can also commission bespoke pieces which is good news!

Pic from the Eugenia website: don't you want to stay there?!
Pic from the Eugenia website: don’t you want to stay there?!

These are my standout stores on this Soi, but take a wander as there are all sorts. For a thorough source I can highly recommend the Luxe Guide to BKK.  I’m not so bowled over by their restaurant recommendations – (to be fair this may well be more a matter of personal taste rather than bad suggestions), but for shopping they are very useful guides if you don’t have a lot of time (and being proper pocket sized, you can avoid looking too much like a tourist).

Cinema.

Quite possibly Bangkok has the best cinema in the world. It’s in the Siam Paragon mall and is called the Enigma Shadow Lounge. The cinema consists of a bar where you can sit and have drinks before the film, and the cinema itself.

There are around 17 booths which are basically 6ft by 6ft beds for two people. There are stacks of silken cushions and pillows as well as silk duvets for you to lie back in and relax. Totally sumptuous. To finish off this experience there is waitress service where you just raise your hand and they come scurrying down to bring you your next beer/G&T/plate of nachos. The screen is huge and you are totally private in your own high sided booth. Bloody marvellous. I have to admit that my recent weekend trips to Bangkok have all been worked around me being able to see the biggest films of the year at Enigma.

This has now become a members’ only cinema, but my hotel concierges have never had a problem getting tickets for us, so that’s probably the best way to sort it out.

One thing to note: Whenever you go to the cinema in Thailand, they play the national anthem before the film and you need to show your respect and stand up.

Places worth making a dash to away from Sukhumvit:

I love Jim Thompson’s house (and it’s on a skytrain line). I must have been there 5 times, and never stop enjoying it. I love the garden, I love the styling, I love the colours, and I actually really love the shop.  The handbags and scarves are particular favourites, (there are good branches of the shop in lots of the top malls in BBK including the ones mentioned above).

Vertigo at the Banyan Tree. Bar literally on the roof, nestled amongst the air-conditioning units 61 stories up. Spectacular. Well worth a visit at sundown, and best to arrive at that time to get a good spot. It is a bitch to get to unless you are staying in Silom, so I suggest leaving an hour to get there if you are in and around Siam Square, longer if you are at the Eugenia.

smashing photo from their website
smashing photo from their website

Cafe de Laos (in Silom like the Banyan Tree, so good idea to go here for supper after your aperitif at Vertigo for some really good Laotian/Isaan food), and Suan Thip, a fantastic half day river trip with lunch or dinner.

Tips and notes:

Thai’s like tips as much as the rest of us. Try and take pink/orange taxis as they are newer. Avoid tuk-tuks unless you are going somewhere close by and the traffic is awful as at least the tuk-tuks can squeeze down the sides. Keep your handbags out of sight, and expect to smell of exhaust fumes and kerosene afterwards. I admit to taking a motocycle taxi once, as I was shopping and would have missed my flight home if I hadn’t. I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
causticcandy_bangkoktuktuk

Use your concierge to the max. The Luxe guide is good for shops, not so hot for restaurants. Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok is also incredibly useful. So useful, that even I, who hates looking like a tourist, will get it out on a street corner to consult. I don’t bother with any other guides than these. Pick up restaurant/events/bar recommendations from the listings mags like BK Mag and Metro amongst others. You can pick the guides up easily around BKK, but best is at the Asia Books store next to the ATMs outside Siam Skytrain station as it’s always a good place to start a weekend in BKK.

Remember to tell your waiters how hot you want your food, and if you don’t ask or tell them, it will come to you almost bland because of all the years of bloody package tourists who can’t take their heat.

Danang – Easily doable for a long weekend from HK

Getting to Danang in Vietnam is surprisingly smooth from Hong Kong.

If you travel with hand luggage only, you can leave HK early morning on a Friday and get to your resort in Danang or to Hoi An in time for lunch (the transfer is a bit of a squeeze in Hanoi but we made it no problem – you arrive at 9:40 and your next flight is 10:05, but if you miss that you can get the 14:30 which gets you in at 15:45pm). On Sunday you can catch a 16:35 flight back to Hanoi that connects to the HK flight that finds you back there at 22:50pm. So, very doable for a quick weekend away somewhere a bit different.

Danang Nam Hai Caustic Candy

Of the Danang resorts I would choose a villa at the Nam Hai (review here), although I do still have a soft spot for the Furama Resort as it was the first decent hotel in the area, cheap in comparison to the Nam Hai and very adequate. (The latest property someone tried to flog me was the Hyatt Regency Residences which look horrid.  Can’t believe the government have allowed 12 storey high buildings in this area. Very sad).

Nam Hai Caustic Candy

If you want to stay in Hoi An instead then I highly recommend the Vinh Hung 1 right in the centre of the old town. It’s an old teak Chinese merchant’s house and is really sweet, it’s very reasonable, staff are welcoming and the service is good.

Vinh hung1.jpg

In terms of things to do, you can either just chill out in your villa or on the beach, go into Hoi An which is very much worth a snoop around, take river trips, play at various watersports in the sea, visit the ancient Cham ruins, or in fact go into Danang, which I think is a thoroughly pleasant town and has some great street restaurants and some hilarious bars and clubs.

Restaurants.

The restaurants that I have been to and enjoyed (apart from the ones in the Nam Hai which are really very good), are thus:

Hoi An: Brother’s Cafe. Venue is lovely. If you go for supper and sit in the garden which is by the river, do load up with mozzie repellent and get them to light coils. This is the most expensive restaurant in Hoi An, but is not leaps and bounds ahead of the competition in terms of food.

Cargo Club – run by expats, good food, lively. Has a balcony that overlooks the river, went for supper.

Saigon Times Club – run by some guys from Saigon, has a large roof terrace and interesting interior. Food is good. Gives Brothers a run for it’s money.

Cafe des Amis and Tam Tam Cafe – tended to go to these for lunch and for daytime drinks – Cafe des Amis, hasn’t had great reviews for dinner.

All these restaurants (apart from Brothers which is a bit of a walk) are within about 150yards of each other and the Vinh Hung 1 Hotel in the two roads that run parallel to the river.

Danang:  There are loads of little street restaurants in Danang that open up at night. Just pick one that’s busy and sit down.  Even if the waiters don’t speak English or French, then fellow diners will always help out.

Apsara: Lonely Planet recommends this as the best restaurant to go to in Danang, but it was nothing special in terms of venue, ambience or food especially after dining in Hoi An, and was overpriced for what it was. Really don’t bother – I’d just as soon eat on a plastic stool on the street.

Camel Club: We also stopped by here for a drink as it had been touted as the best club in town by Lonely Planet again (they really didn’t get things right in Danang…) and it was absolutely hilarious. Riotous techno, seizure inducing strobes, sleazy old expats rubbing themselves up against young ladies of negotiable affection, and to our eternal but rather politically incorrect delight, a group of Little People who got really drunk and aggressive with one another on the dance floor.

All in all, for a weekend away from HK it’s very easy to find things to do around Danang, it’s incredibly photogenic, and of course you are in Vietnam so the food is bloody lovely.

The Nam Hai – Still the best place on China Beach by far

Review:

It’s difficult not to enjoy staying in a pool villa at the Nam Hai - they really are pretty pukka, but these days you do have to be as rich as Creosus to stay (when we first went during the soft opening it only cost us HK$2,400 for a two bed pool villa per night which was a ridiculous bargain).

Located on China Beach, near Hoi An and Danang, The Nam Hai opened in 2007 and is a collection of villas and hotel accommodation. It was developed by GMH who own such lovely resorts/hotels as the Chedis in Oman/Chiang Mai/Bali etc and the awesome looking Nizuc which is about to be built in Mexico.
Nam Hai Caustic Candy Danang 1

Service starts with being picked up at the airport or train station in Danang by a driver, which is always a nice touch. Each villa comes with a butler, who brings you whatever you want for breakfast, and then cocktails, fruit and snacks at lunchtime and sundown. You get an open bar, buggies to take you to the hotel and spa, a great stereo system you can plug your iPod into, a library of DVDs and the option to use hotel room service if you just can’t be bothered to move for lunch or dinner.

The added bonus of your own salt water swimming pool and garden really is very civilised – so when the tides are strong (which they are at certain times of year), you just can’t be bothered to go down to the beach, or you have an aversion to sand, you can gaze at the sea whilst keeping cool in your pool.

Nam Hai Danang Caustic Candy 2

The restaurants at the Nam Hai are very good, and there are lots of different options about where you can sit and sup – inside/outside/by the pool/in a sala.

They also have a very good spa with individual salas that open onto a lovely lily pond, so you can patter about butt naked but private to the rest of the world. I spent a whole afternoon having a range of massages, scrubs and facials that were blissful.

One word of caution though – this is not a small-child friendly venue.  As you can see the gardens and swimming pools have no barriers, the interiors of the rooms are all sharp corners and sunken baths, and you cross to the bedroom salas across little bridges with 6ft drops either side.

There are masses of things to do around Danang and Hoi An (take a look here) – watersports, ancient ruins, the UNESCO protected old town of Hoi An, even Danang itself is a great town to rumamge around with good restaurants and hilarious techno clubs.

Price: The Nam Hai is pricey – it’s the most luxurious place to stay in the whole of Vietnam, and direct rates start around HK$11,000 a night for a 2 bed pool villa like in the photos (hotel villas are around HK$5000 a night), but if you have a concierge company as good as mine through Coutt’s (or through Vertu for that matter) then you’re likely get a decent discount or upgrade.

I think it’s a great place to stay. Really tip top, very private, utterly relaxing with fantastic facilities, food and service.

Location: Hamlet 1, Dien Duong Village, Dien Ban District, Quang Nam Province, Tel: (84-510) 3 940 000

Resotel – Super chilled hideaway on the River Kwai

Review:

The Resotel is hidden away on the River Kwai about 40min past Kanchanaburi.  I love this part of Thailand, so jungly and quiet.

So jungly you can barely see the bungalows

The hotel is a mish-mash of little bungalows in the jungle with a great swimming pool, restaurant, spa, lovely gardens and a river deck you can hang out on and while away the time reading a book.

resotel river kwai caustic candy deck

The usual (and fun) way to get to it is by boat which you pick up 1km down the river where there is a car park. You can drive round the long way though fording the river further up, but unless you have mobility problems then I wouldn’t bother.

We aren’t talking 5* here, but it’s clean and charming and a lot better than the other hotels I’ve stayed at in the area including the Royal River Kwai and the Oriental Kwai (both were fine, just didn’t have a patch on the Resotel, and their locations aren’t as good). There are around 90 bungalows in total, but as they are spread out through the gardens you don’t realise there are so many.  There is also a cultural centre with meeting facilities and a mini-mart, but these are at the back of the plot behind the main building, so you don’t need to even see them unless you go looking for them.

Now, I don’t know what they do to the food here, but it is just delicious. It’s very typical Thai food, all the old favourites, nothing fancy, but it’s executed perfectly. I love it.

They have fantastic masseuses and a sala for the purpose up in the eaves of the main building which is open to the river (Go for the Herbal Massage, which mixes traditional Thai massage with the use of a big ball of herbs to gently knead your body, it is unbeatable).  The main building is a huge teak edifice which is open to the elements – it’s lovely to sit in the evenings on the terraces and listen to all the wildlife.

The concierge is very helpful and they will organise trips for you, and private cars to take you to and from Bangkok if you want.

This hotel is part of a group that has some other interesting looking accommodation in the area, including staying on river rafts with no electricity, and staying in posh tents near Hell Fire Pass.  I’m intending on trying both of these next time I’m up.

Price: Varies by season and who you book through, but it’s about US$100 a night for a double bungalow, or US$130 for the best bungalow which has a river view and a jacuzzi. Do book ahead as it’s a popular place, especially now the Russians have found it.

Note for the feeble pansies:  You are in the jungle so you will get big spiders, plenty of mozzies, geckos of all sizes, snakes and the odd monitor lizard. If you’re scared of wildlife, just suck it up and get on with it.  This is a great place to stay.

The Eugenia, Bangkok – lovely boutique hotel

Review:

I first stayed in The Eugenia when it had just opened, and it really was a lovely experience. It’s a refurbed colonial era house, oooooozes charm and character, and is very chilled and sophisticated. We love this kind of “colonial safari lodge” style décor, animal skins on the floor, stuffed wildlife on antique tables, old cameras converted into lamps, natural linen and leather furniture (and great cocktails).

The Eugenia, Bangkok

Here is the skinny:

If you are arriving late at night at BKK airport, resist the temptation to be met by their vintage Jaguar S-Type.  The back seat is just big enough for 2 with hand and man bags.  If you travel light as we do then our cabin-sized luggage just about fitted in the boot.  The car is oooold, so it is slooooooow, and it struggles getting up hills, so when all you want to do is get to your hotel and then hit the town, it’s quite frustrating to be dribbling along in a car with rubbish suspension, (I’m sure under other circumstances it’s really romantic…).

Rooms: We usually stay in one of the two rooms that open on to the little terrace on the 1st floor – think they are the Sawadee or Eugienia Suites. Eugenia is a good deal bigger than the other.  The bed linen is some of my favourite in the world.  It’s really heavy french linen, and the mattresses are some of the deepest you will come across.  The toiletries are homemade with lovely essential oils – lemongrass, citronella etc, just yummy.

Service: In-room breakfast.  Yes, yes, yes!  A hotel that’s got it right.  I hate having to go down for my breakfast, so always end up spending a fortune on room service – I like to have a cup of tea and eat my yoghurt in my bathrobe.  The Eugenia will bring you breakfast whenever you want it, so civilised. Very helpful staff, good concierge skills, English skills very greatly between staff so sometimes need to find the right person.

Facilities: lovely bar – The Zheng He Lounge, stunning (decor at least) restaurant D.B Bradley Dining Room – I was meant to eat there for my birthday last year, but was staying in a different hotel in a stupid part of town, where it would take me 2hours to get to the Eugenia – grrrrr), decent sized pool, garage full of cars that will take you about.

Location: 267, Soi Sukhumvit 31, North Klongtan, Bangkok. Tel: +662 259 9011.  The hotel is a 5-10min walk to the Skytrain (Asoke) or metro (Petchaburi), but the hotel has it’s own tuk-tuk so they will happily buzz you down there if it’s too hot or rainy. Close to Soi Nana, lots of good shops and little eateries, pretty quiet little road even though the hotel is right on it.

Price: we think good value for the surroundings, service and facilities – we usually pay around HK$1300 through our concierge (Coutts Worldcard).

Peninsula Bangkok – Surprisingly Convenient

Review:

As the credit crunch was starting to bite me in the butt we booked a 72 hour package to BKK rather than book flights and hotel separately as usual. I was a little apprehensive as for non-business travel I don’t like large hotels.  Have to say that the package was very good value for money, and the Peninsula turned out to be a really good choice.

Rooms: Could do with an update, especially lacking in techno gadgets. Large, comfortable, clean but a bit tired round the edges and very early 90s pastels. Each room looks out across the River Praya and the views really are cool.

Bangkok Skyline from the Pen

Bangkok Skyline from the Pen

Service:  Very good service, and the concierge was top notch.  Pointed us to a couple of really good restaurants, booked cinema tickets for us, organised a boatman to take us on a trip round the klongs and then up to Suan Thip for lunch.

Price: Part of a package, and was good value.

Facilities:  Nice gardens and pool, 5* so gym, business centres etc. I did get my legs waxed in the beauty salon and it was fine but massively expensive.  Think I paid HK$600!

Restaurants/Bars: No interest in eating inside the hotel. Did go to the whiskey bar for a night cap one evening, pretty decent jazz singer, cosy etc.

Location:  On first glance I though the location was going to be a nightmare. So far as I was concerned it was the wrong side of the river and too far south from all the locations I usually go to: Siam Square, Sukhumvit etc. In fact it was great.  The Pen has a little boat that takes you over to the Skytrain on the opposite bank, and then the Skytrain takes you to within 10mins of most places you would ever want to go.  Unless it’s late at night, it really isn’t worth getting a taxi in BKK, so your accomm does need to be very close to the Skytrains or underground to get about (or be wildly irresponsible and take motorbike taxis).

All in all, for a large hotel with little charm, it had top notch service, great views and convenient transport links.