I have to say it is the Mandarin Oriental
. I have stayed at most of the 5 star properties in Bangkok over the years, and the Oriental tops them all in my opinion. It is excellent in every category, as its impressive list of awards attest:
The Gallivanters Guide, 2014
#1 Best Hotel in South East Asia + Editors Choice
Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards USA, 2014
#1 Best Hotel in Thailand
Travel + Leisure Award, 2014
#2 Top City Hotels in Asia
Conde Nast Traveler Gold List, 2014
Best for Food, Best for Service
Consistently on Gold List for over 20 years
Destinasian Readers’ Choice Awards, 2014
Best Hotel in Bangkok
Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, 2014
Top award Luxury Thailand
The Times, The Sunday Times & Sunday Times Travel Magazine, 2013
#1 Best Worldwide Hotel
Travellers World, 2013
#1 Best City Hotel in the World
Readers’ Travel Awards Conde Nast Traveller UK, 2013
#3 Best in Asia
Given the really, really high price of good hotels in Asia now (compared to a few years ago), the rate for the Mandarin is pretty reasonable.
I was in Bangkok in the middle of the 'riots' and during Military take over. I felt no less safe than at any other time - which is to say, very safe. With one notable exception; It was much safer to cross the road in the main city areas, because there was much less traffic.
Crossing a road in Asia, Bangkok in particular, can be a daunting experience if you are used to the 'well behaved' pedestrian aware traffic in Australia. Here are some tips for the first time traveler:
- do not think traffic will stop for you if you are using a crosswalk. Pedestrians on crosswalks are invisible to drivers in Bangkok
- don't assume traffic lights will be obeyed by all drivers, and expect them not to be obeyed by scooters
- if you have a green signal to cross the road, you still need to give way to turning traffic
- if a policeman directs you to cross, check the traffic first. Policemen are only slightly less invisible than pedestrians
The best way to cross the street is to wait next to a local and cross with them, making sure you are 'down-stream' of the traffic from them. But sometimes, even with a fair bit of experience now, I have found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then, the only thing I can do is hold up my hand, palm out to the traffic - the universal sign for 'sorry, dumb tourist crossing, please don't kill me', which has worked so far.
I had visited Thailand 5 or 6 times before I tried street food - an overcautious mistake. Forget the price for a moment, Thai street food is one of the best eating experiences in the world and for flavour and taste can match anything anywhere. And a full meal, including beer, will set you back about 200-400 Baht - $6-$12.
If you don't know a local to find you a good place, just walk down any street and look for somewhere lots of Thais are eating and you can't go wrong. The best dish to order is a river perch grilled over charcoal. The fish is cooked whole and stuffed with lemon grass and served with spicy sauce, lettuce leaves and fresh basil and coriander. To eat, lift off the skin, and scoop some of the delicious moist flesh onto a lettuce leaf, spoon on some spicy sauce and add a few basil and coriander leaves, then wrap up in the lettuce and eat.
I am staying at our unit in Albany for few days I am down here. The unit is part of the Belneaire Resort
. As owners we get to use of for a couple of weeks each year, though I try to pick times when it isn't otherwise wanted by tourists.
For exercise I have been walking into town each morning, along the boardwalk at Middleton beach
. This is a very pretty walk, with great views of Middleton Beach, King George Sound and Princess Royal Harbour opening up along the trail. There are also some side trails to very interesting historic sites, such as the old lighthouse keepers house, and WWI and WWII gun emplacements. It's an 8km return trip and even though I have done the walk about 10 times now, the views never seem to get boring.
We have started our own site for our until - www.unit7balneaire.com
. It's not quite finished yet, and I plan to put a lot more scenic shots on there. What I am looking to do is show some of the less well knows, but very beautiful scenery of the region, as well as some tips for travelers of what I think is the best Albany has to offer.
I nominated for, and have been accepted as, Treasure for the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot
. We sponsored this organisation heavily when I was at Exetel
, and, post Exetel, I am keen to see its objective - to save the Western Ground Parrot species - realized.
Whether that can happen or not remains to be seen. There are only an estimated 110 of these birds left in the wild. The current 'rescue' plan hinges on effecting a captive breeding program, removal of feral predators, and re-release of birds bred in captivity.
At Exetel, we funded the trial for the captive breeding program, which involved the capture of 8 birds, conversion of a building to an aviary, and some other time and materials costs. But what we could afford, as a small company, only got us to the end of the trial - proving that yes, it is possible to run such a program on full scale.
Unfortunately, a full scale program is well beyond the means of a small business to fund.
I am going to Albany today to meet up with my fellow comity members, take up the reins as Treasure, and get a handle on just what level of funding is going to be needed. My guess is we will be looking at around $750k over maybe 5 years. A lot of money, a lot of money per bird in fact. But that is what happens at the very pointy end of extinction this species is facing.
Our 'ace in the hole' is that I think we can leverage off the fact that any money put into this project can have direct and measurable effect on species survival. Which is very good for potential sponsors who actually want to know, and get some green mileage, from what their conservation dollar is doing.
The reason speaks for itself if you have never been there. It is a unique place in the world and while becoming more popular for tourism, still has plenty of the 'off the beaten track' feel to it.
You can safely build an expectation of going to Sri Lanka and finding it unlike anywhere else. Sure, it is a bit like India, in the same way tea is a bit like coffee. But as a Sri Lankan once told me, there are at least 118 differences between a Sri Lankan and an Indian.
The culture of the land is very gentle and accommodating. People are helpful and courteous - in a sub continent way.
One time we were en-route to a place several hours travel out of the city when the car we were in broke down. The driver pulled over and we got out to wait on the side of the road for a replacement vehicle. Without askance, locals from nearby bought us some chairs, glasses of cool water and a shade umbrella to sit under. None of them had much English, but their smiling happy faces made it clear they were just happy to offer a bit of kindness to strangers. It was really nice.
Being, literally, a tropical paradise, Sri Lankans aren't too bothered by anything much. Life is good for most, and that is the feeling that pervades the land.
There are many more, such as scenery, ancient temples, beaches and elephants. But since I never get out of Colombo, these are what I like:
2. The curries. You _think_ you have had a good curry, but wait until you try a Sri Lankan Fish curry or Cucumber and Cashew curry. Sri Lankans make the best curries in the world, no doubt about it.
2. Clothes. Garments are a major export of Sri Lanka, many top brands are made there, such as Ralph Lauren, Cargo and others. You can get designer jeans/pants and shirts from around $12. Or local band names (almost certainly from the same factories and as well made) like Odel for half that.
3. Fine China. Noritake is made in Sri Lanka and you can buy direct from the factory showroom in Colombo. Absolutely beautiful designs on the finest porcelain and bone china. Nothing is pre-packaged, you can buy whole settings or piece by piece, then watch each piece being wrapped and packed ready for you to take back. Best I can make out, you pay about half the price you would if you bought from a department store.
4. Sapphires! If you can find the right place, you can get 4-5 carat flawless natural blue sapphires for under US$1,000 per carat. Rubies of the deepest colour under US$2,000 per carat. Other stones like aquamarine or citrine of exceptional size (like 10 carats +) and quality in the US$20-$40 range. Zams and Carimms have showrooms in the Colombo Hilton. Some of the pieces will just blow you away with their beauty. You CAN NOT even see stones like this in even the best jewelry shops here, and if you do they are going to cost you 5 times what you would pay in Colombo.
5. Cost. A hotel car with driver for the day will cost about $50. The most expensive hotel in Colombo is the Hilton - full 5 stars, rooms start from $155 per nigh including breakfast. Pay a bit more and get a room on the Executive floor, which has a butler for the floor. Pay around $300 for a room, and you will get a suite with your own butler, who will come with you when you go out (if you want), and make sure you get the best prices and the best deals, as well as direct you to the best sights and places to eat and shop.
So go to Sri Lanka and have a great time. And tip. Tipping isn't expected and you will get excellent service anywhere you go anyway, but if you tip it is genuinely appreciated and it will make the very nice time you will have just that much better. I usually tip around 100-200 rupees ($1-2) for valet or waiters, and 500-1000 rupees ($5-$10) if I have a driver for the half day/day. Doing that you can be sure you will be very, very well looked after, steered away from the tourist traps and see the absolute best Sri Lanka has to offer.
Remember the tea your grandmother used to make? Remember the old tea crates it came in? A strong, rich brew you could smell through the house while it was drawing in the pot.
Tea now is a pale imitation of that. Tea bags - forget it. But even the loose leaf tea from quality manufacturers still just doesn't seem to cut it, does it?
Well my friend, I have news for you. Tea like that is still made and in Colombo you can buy a 100g vacuum packed tin of the best single plantation high altitude tea for around Rs. 250 ($2.50).
In the olden days, before vacuum packing, it used to be shipped as the full leaf, because a broken leaf would oxidize faster and not be as rich by the time it got to the pot in another country.
About the time I remember my Grandmothers tea from, the leaves were broken, but into larger 'chunks', and shipped in big tea crates sealed with tin foil. The larger crates reduced the surface area to volume ratio, so the tea arrived fresh.
The smaller the leaf is broken, the richer the tea - if it can remain very fresh.
The best Ceylon tea is called 'Orange Pekoe' - OP, and when grown above 6,500 feet is considered (by some) to have the best flavours.
Broken Orange Pekoe - BOP is when the leaf is more broken up, and gives a darker and richer brew. It also contains a lot of leaf tips, which is where the flavours are most concentrated.
BOP Fannings, or BOPF is a finer grade again, with very small leaves and produces a very dark, rich and full bodied brew. Nana's tea, just as I remember it.
Vacuum packing allows that to happen because with it, very small leaves can retain their freshness for a very long time.
Depending on the area, the altitude and the plantation, the flavour will vary just like fine wine. The differences are apparent as subtle overtones of vanilla, mint, 'grassyness', 'earthyness' and even caramel and berry. Well, that is what I taste anyway.
Anywhere you go in Sri Lanka, you will always be offered tea. Never refuse - the Sri Lankan's know their tea and many come from, or have ties to, a family plantation and have access to what I think of as 'special family reserve' grades that you can't buy anywhere. You are going to be in for a treat every time.
... because you can get tasty, satisfying food at a price anyone can afford.
I don't know why it is; Tony Roma's is a global franchise, but the food never tastes as good outside the US.
I like the non-pretentiousness, the egality and the just plane joy of eating here. So perfect for down town Las Vegas.
If the deep fried onion rings don't stop your heart, the famous ribs will close whatever arteries remain open. But how can food that tastes so good really be bad? And... double lobster tails for just $8.50!
Nothing more to say.
This is a great hotel, with fantastic views of Bangkok. But, it is just one of many great hotels in the area. Apart from the view, there is nothing really to commend it over places like Shangri la, Chatrium or The Peninsular.
While there was nothing I didn't like about my stay there, it is clear that this hotel gets a large number of western tourists. It is the first hotel I have stayed at in Thailand where the porters hang around expecting their tip. And because there are so many western tourist staying there, the tuk tuk drivers and touts are thick as rats as soon as you step out onto the street.
Being a 5 star hotel, you pay 5 star rates, but I didn't think it was any more or less expensive than other places in the same class.
The restaurants are excellent. The breakfast buffet was really exceptional, as was Breeze restaurant.
I have stayed at this hotel many times in the 6 years, It is true that it is not the best Hilton property in the world, mainly because the room fit out is very old and desperately in need of refurbishment (as of May 2013).
However, there are some excellent features of this hotel that more than make of for the shortcomings.
First of all, the staff, trained to Hilton standards, are the best of any '5 star' hotel in Colombo. I know, because I have stayed at them all, and none come close to the competence of the Hilton staff. My guess is that the Hilton management maybe also treats their staff better, because they certainly seem happier than at other hotels.
Like any Hilton property, the food is great. The buffet restaurant offers a wide range of local, regional and international choices, and caters to just about any dietary/religious requirement.
The seafood market and traditional Sri Lankan clay pot restaurant is a must try, especially for the local King Crab delicacy.
There is also good Japanese/sushi and Chinese. A bar with reasonable 'pub grub', and a nice lounge bar area with interesting an unique teas available throughout the day, and becomes a cocktail bar in the evening.
It is also worth mentioning that the 'pub' has an outstanding selection of single malt Scotch.
A poolside Italian restaurant and a western style dining restaurant complete the ensemble. But in the case of the last two, they are ok, but not great.
Despite the age and wear, the rooms are immaculate, and everything is in good working order. Linen is fresh and the beds are comfortable.
But again I come back to the staff, that really make this hotel a great place to stay. Sri Lankans are a friendly lot anyway, but the staff here just go above and beyond to make you feel welcome. The only other hotel I have stayed at equal to this is the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, and I can't think of a higher standard than that.
The big, genuine, smile on the greet-and-seat girls at breakfast; "Hello Mr Steve, how are you today?". The doorman who sees you come in late in the evening and presses the lift button in anticipation "Good evening Sir, nice to see you again". Just makes the stay that much nicer.
I had spent a few weeks researching a health resort to go to to de-stress and improve my health. Basically I wanted to find the best place, anywhere in the world. Chiva Som came up in the 'top 5' time and again in various travel site reviews. And finally, some friends of friends recommended it as they had been going there every year for some time.
So my explanations of what it would be like were extremely high. I was expecting it to be the best of the best.
What I found was that it exceeded my expectations in every way.
But before I go on, first let me point out that this is not a hotel or a holiday resort. It's a health spa, specifically for people who want to go to a health spa for the specific reasons relating to their health. You can't judge such a place in relation to a normal hotel, it is a completely different category.
The Chiva Som resort is side by side with other beachside hotels in Hua Hin, but you would never know it. The layout of the buildings and the high stone walls make you feel completely separate from the outside world, and there is no noise other than the soft sound of the waves on the beach.
From the moment I arrived it was clear I was in the hands of exceptionally well trained staff. I was greeted by a pleasant young lady who showed me the grounds and facilities on the way to my room.
Everything in the resort is maintained to the highest standard, and all the facilities and equipment are first rate. The general staff are very friendly and helpful, and the health care staff impress as being expert in their field. So too do the trainers seem to be picked from amongst the best in the world.
Even though there were 60 other guests there at the same time I was, I would rarely see more that 3-4 other people, except at meal times.
The food was fantastic, super fresh, of the highest quality and expertly prepared.
At the start of the visit there is a consultation where they determine what you want to achieve from the stay. Based on that, the adviser works out a schedule to meed those objectives. In this also were my expectations exceeded. I left the resort after 10 days feeling relaxed, healthier, lost 5kg and reduced my blood pressure.
The great thing about Rockpool is it brings the Sydney standard for fine dining to Perth. Hopefully this will force the other Perth Restaurants to lift their game to the same level.
The serving staff at Rockpool are excellent, very well trained. Always attentive, but not 'in your face. The sommelier really knows hist stuff, and you can confidently rely on his recommendation. The wine list also is top notch, though, my only slight criticism is, even for a restaurant, the prices are high.
As for food, I can only really comment on the oysters and steak, since that is all I eat when I go there - oh, and the cheese board. But all are fantastic. As any oyster aficionado will tell you, Sydney rock are the best in the world. And Rockpool serve them as fresh and well shucked as any.
I see the West Australian Good Food guide ranked this restaurant only equal with several others in Perth.
They are wrong.
It is head an shoulders above any other Perth restaurant at the moment.
Well, maybe second best, after Tetsuya. But then again, I used to think Est was about on a par with Quay and Aria, but in the last couple of years they have taken a step up.
The service is just astounding, I doubt it is better anywhere in the world.
Food is exceptional. Right up there and close to the best of the best in the world.
Wine list is rightly considered one of the best in Sydney. Though a bit pricey, even by 3 hat restaurant standards.
The only thing that every so slightly lets it down is the ambiance and the décor, but that is being really, really nit-picky.