Tuesday, September 19, 2017

VIETNAM HIGHLIGHTS IN FINE STYLE

Our ultimate Vietnam enthusiast, Ada, returns yet again to this fascinating country, and takes a look at desirable hotels, new and old, urban and beach. One is "shockingly" exciting ...


Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City & Park Hyatt


This landmark hotel is situated at Lam Son Square just steps from Saigon Opera house and several famous restaurants like Secret Garden, Royal Saigon and Hoa Tuc Restaurant in the courtyard of a former Opium factory – very good Vietnamese food in a nice garden setting.

The stately Park Hyatt Saigon

Enjoying Hoa Tuc restaurant in the courtyard of a former Opium factory

Opened in 2005  and refurbished in 2015, this excellent hotel is decorated in French colonial style – very classic and bright with similar furniture in all rooms, designed and made in Vietnam especially for the hotel. This comes with 21st century technology and comfort. The lobby is very elegant and peaceful with floor to ceiling windows letting in the daylight, lovely flower arrangements and Oriental rugs. 



In the adjacent Park Lounge Afternoon Tea is served. For a more contemporary style – the ”2 Lam Son ” seemed more popular for pre-dinner cocktails. Too popular actually – not for a quick fix.

Dining

The Opera all-day dining with Italian menu overlooks the Opera house; the city is famous for Italian Cuisine and this is one of the best. Square One is their Vietnamese restaurant and also their breakfast venue. Serves a mean Pho Soup with Beef – my best breakfast recommendation.

Opera - all day dining - Italian cuisine


Rooms

The hotel has 245 rooms, with free wi-fi all over, butler service 24h for all rooms, and own dedicated butler in Suites. In the room find mini iPads, Nespresso machine and sensor lighting system with a nice touch – the light switches are named. No more searching for the right one – loved it. The wardrobe can be accessed from hallway and bathroom and the Cochin amenities are lovely. 


Popular Park Deluxe Suites 

The Park Deluxe Suites are located by the pool on level 3 and each has a private terrace – almost like a garden. They are popular among the leisure travelers.

Facilities

The pool is surrounded by a garden. The spa is popular but quite small, a good idea to prebook, while the gym is spacious and very well equipped.

Who to stay

Anyone – families, couples, old and young, and groups. It’s quite casual, feels a bit like Cape Grace in Cape Town

Jeep Tour to Cu Chi Tunnels with VJT Adventures

A worthwhile tour, Cu Chi Tunnels is one of Saigon´s main attractions. This area is an immense network of connecting underground tunnels,  which are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. Cu Chi was the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War and was the Viet Cong base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968. They were used as hiding spots and communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for the North Vietnamese fighters.

In a restored army jeep

The perfect transportation there is in a restored army jeep. The trip takes approximately 90 minutes and takes you out of the city, through suburbs and on smaller local roads to Cu Chi. It’s great fun to be in an open car, with lots of photo opportunities along the way and drinks in the car. We were so hungry, had no time to eat since early morning, so we asked if we maybe could stop to pick up a snack. They asked if we wanted pizza or hamburger, but no way, in Vietnam we eat Banh Mi – the wonderful baguette. We stopped the car and did not even need to get down to buy our food  that’s what I call drive in Banh Mi and happy ladies...



Remember sunblock, sunglasses and a cap. There is a driver and 2-3 guests in each car plus the guide. These are veteran cars, so not all have seat belts, but travel slowly at 40-50km per hour.  Families and couples love these jeep excursions, both in Saigon and other destinations in Vietnam – adrenalin kick and fun. It’s possible to do the return drive in a closed air-conditioned car.


The Reverie – new kid on the block

This was a shockingly positive experience – where Park Hyatt reminded me of Cape Grace, this was Saigon’s The Silo. Wow!  It’s spectacular and extravagant.  Entering the hotel at street level you immediately understand that this is different. The lobby decorations set it apart from anything else and then you take the elevator up to 6th and 7th floor where you find the reception, the restaurants, the pool, gym and the bars. Italian design through and through.




Colorful and burlesque – not to everyone’s liking – but I would love to spend a night or two.
The reception is on a mezzanine floor above the breakfast and all day dining restaurant Le Cardinale. They pride themselves not only in the furniture, but also in food presentation. Very chic indeed. 

The centrepiece in the reception is a 3 meter tall Baldi Firenze clock – described as  ”Versace meets Liberace”.



The pool area looks like a club, so cool, see the photos.





Rooms

The rooms are on 27-39th floor and then they have residences from 19-26th floor. The Reverie Club is on 39th floor. They are also colorful, but mostly in a calmer way than the rest of the hotel and very different from one to another.

One thing they all have in common is a spectacular city view from floor to ceiling windows. The bathrooms have colorful mosaic floors, and the walls in the rooms are often covered in colorful tapestries.






All in all 286 guestrooms ranging from 43 -313 sqm in 12 categories. All rooms have complimentary minibar with soft drinks and beer plus fruit. All the beds have the best linen in the world. In their lead-in rooms they use the same cotton as Park Hyatt use in their suite we were told. Big competition between these two properties.

Who to stay

The young and trendy and those who are curious. Its stunning, but also shocking and bling bling. I think I find Park Hyatt more relaxing, but having a glass of bubbles at this pool bar – yes please.

Six Senses Con Dao

After a comfortable 45 minutes flight we arrived at the tiny Con Dao Airport.  Six Senses has their own little corner beside the only luggage carousel and they welcome their guests with water and a cold towel. It feels a bit like the small airports in safari destinations in Africa. Landing almost on the beach.

We had a shared transfer to the hotel – 8 seater comfortable van. The landscape was attractive and we got to the property in about 30 minutes.

Facilities

The hotel feels very Six Senses – rustic luxury with a small main area they call The Market. It’s like a short  street where you find their Kids Club, Shop, Icecream hut, the Elephant Bar, Vietnamese restaurant (refurbishing now) and spa reception in high season and a meeting room. 



From here you can walk the steps down to the, at the moment, only restaurant, By the Beach – and the Jungle Cinema. The restaurant was very good for breakfast – with stations outside for Vietnamese Streetfood – nice touch. The dinner dining was excellent on Western cuisine, but was less impressed with the Vietnamese. Excellent wine pairing by the sommelier. Wonderful to sit outside – felt a bit like Shirley Valentine.

The spa is located at the end of the property.....one small road leading from welcome area by the market, past all the rooms.

Rooms


The rooms are located along the bay, up on the hill or at the beach. There are buggies driving up and down and bicycles for every room.

I had a Seaview Villa Duplex where the bathroom, toilet and outdoor shower and all wardrobes are downstairs and the bedroom is upstairs with exterior stairs. Very Six Senses style all over, with own plunge pool.



The other villas are similar with the 2-bedroom villa differing with bedroom downstairs and bathroom and living room upstairs, and the 3-bedroom has one extra building with bedroom/bathroom.

The beach

The tide was very high at 7am with the water covering most of the beach up to the beachfront room porches. At 2pm the tide was out and the beach was huge. It’s very nice to walk on the beach from the rooms to the restaurant in the evening.

On their neighbouring island the turtles are hatching. This is a popular excursion by boat, especially from May to September.

Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, Nha Trang

We flew from Con Dao via Saigon to Nha Trang; then an hour's drive to the pier and a 15 minute boat ride to the resort.

The car ride goes through the city and along the beachwalk of Nha Trang with neon lights and hotels, bars and restaurants, with wi-fi in the car. Looks like something between Patong, Costa del Sol and Cancun. A flamboyant, uninhibited fun place.

The pier has a Six Senses reception and the boat ride is very comfortable, fast with minimal rolling. Though we arrived late and in the dark, the resort still looked stunning.



I was met by Sarah from PR and Marketing, the GM Mr Ateeb Shrestha and staff from the SPA´s sleep enhancement team. I was told I had a full program the next day with Sleep Enhancement, Wellness Screening, Massage and Yoga.
So....time to get some food and some sleep.

Dining

We had dinner at the buffet restaurant Dining by the Bay and was surprised to see how huge it was. The day after we walked along the beautiful beach to the same restaurant and had a better experience – it fits breakfast better than dinner. Lunch was at Dining by the Pool – in the pleasant company of GM Ateer, excellent Vietnamese Seafood salad. 


View of the beautiful Ninh Van Bay beach from above

Dinner was at Dining by the Rocks – in a spectacular location above the Rock Villas. We climbed the stairs in the dark – up, up and up – could not see any view because it was so dark....but the food was good and the ambiance was excellent.

Rooms

The room we had was a Beachfront Pool Villa and it took me straight back to Soneva Fushi in the Maldives. Except that the bathroom was even more spectacular – could have fitted 3 double beds in the bathroom and the design was really nice.  Bathroom and bedroom downstairs – separated by the stairs going upstairs to the open air livingroom with the minibar and mini wine cellar. Outside shower in large ”back garden” – inside shower and beautiful handcrafted wooden bathtub.


Inside the bathroom - a handcrafted tub

Our beachfront pool villa

I also saw the Rock Villa where you have to climb stairs (156 steps) to get up there. Those rooms have spectacular location with view and privacy. Not for children or those with walking disabilities. The rooms are on one level, 2 small houses side by side. One with bedroom/bathroom and one with livingroom.


Rock Villa pool

Stairs to Rock Villas and By the Rocks dining

For closeness to the fine white sand beach and the reef, I recommend being close to Dining by the Bay restaurant.

 Facilities and activities   

Snorkeling, kayaking; tennis, spa with Tai Chi and yoga. Island Hopping, scuba diving, boat charter or join excursions to Nha Trang, Hon Ba Park Adventure and real Vietnam Discovery. And...quite new in this area .....you can do Jeep Tours with VJT Adventures to experience Nha Trang, nature and local villages in an exhilarating way – be a rebel for the day.

The Spa impressed me – very professional with good staff, excellent treatments and in-house doctor for wellness screening. All the treatment rooms are small huts with their own changing room. The yoga was excellent! And they have their signature programs with an innovative approach to wellness where in-house experts can measure and analyse key physiological biomarkers and provide guests with lifestyle and nutritional advice. 

 I tried it and it was an eye-opener indeed – and surprisingly enough – not a pathway to additional expenses. Very popular among professional athletes. 


Resident doctor checking my physiological biomarkers

Stepping stones to health and peace

Hanoi City and Sofitel Metropole Legend


This is my second visit to this stunning property. I had a Superior room in the Opera Wing (the new wing) and it was fine, although a little on the small side. The breakfast was very good and the service throughout friendly and good.

Hanoi has much to offer and we spent the day exploring....

We visited the interesting Military Museum and climbed the Flag Tower, then walked a bit in the atmospheric old quarter, enjoyed lunch at a small family restaurant and had drinks at a fun little bar. We later had dinner at a riverside local restaurant – a very pleasant experience. 

The cherry on top for jazz lovers could be a visit to Binh Minh Jazz Club – walking distance from Sofitel Metropole – in the heart of the Old Quarter. Mr Quyen Van Minh is the owner and a locally celebrated Saxophonist.  We were lucky enough to see him play in person.

 In this city there are new experiences around every corner, and something for everyone.

Binh Minh Jazz Club

(c) Select Collection. Words & images by Ada Størmer Papatheocharis, a senior travel advisor at Select Collection Oslo.

An itinerary in Vietnam including several of these hotels can be found HERE 

Monday, September 4, 2017

INDONESIA IN STYLE

If Java and Bali are on your bucket list, consider these four hotels and these remarkable rooms…
  

Java

Amanjiwo - Borobodur

The ultimate attraction on Java is Borobodur, the world’s largest Buddhist monument. From hotel Amanjiwo you can see the monument in the distance and get there via a complimentary 10 minute car ride.

Entrance to the amazing Amanjiwo
The hotel has fantastic and completely unique architecture, true to its place. This is Aman, alternative luxury, with high service ideals, and reverence for the authentic. Nothing is overwhelming, interiors are old and toned down but not worn – when they renovate they are true to the original.

Breakfast is a la carte with an extensive menu, including some unique items. Other meals are also quality, but not over the top. Some staff members struggle with English but there is always a more experienced member at hand.  A nice example of service: when you play tennis at the court surrounded by beautiful stone walls, you get cold towels, pitcher of ice tea, water and fruits, plus a staff member to help with the balls (all complimentary).

Part of the special atmosphere at Amanjiwo is that in the afternoon, evening and early mornings there are prayers broadcast on speakers that can be clearly heard all over the hotel. We found it exotic rather than disturbing.

The swimming pool at Amanjiwo

The best room: For the best view and undoubtedly the best suite, the Dalem Jiwo Suite. This consists of two suites, a large outdoor rotunda style living room, and a 15m pool. It is completely separated from all the other areas of the hotel and has a private road, security guard and two butlers who sleep in the suite. If that really seems too much for two people, we recommend a Garden Pool Suite – as we think a pool is a must. Some of these suites don’t see the monument – but you will see it from other parts of the hotel.  

Dalem Jiwo Suite

The monument: The monument is built around 800 AD and a UNESCO world heritage. The hotel organizes a visit with or without guide. The normal entrance is 350 000 IDR which can be paid at the hotel. You can buy more expensive tickets to be there at sunrise or sunset, but sunrise can prove difficult for those with jetlag as you leave the hotel at 4.30 am. The hotel recommends 2 hours at the monument. The experience around the monument is commercialized as it sees around 10 000 visitors per day. There are least crowds at around 16.00 (it closes at 17.00). You can walk all the way up to the top of the monument – up many high steps, so a bit challenging.

Other suggested activities: Javanese massage, sunset martinis in the rice fields, hike in the Menoreh Hills, meditation in Mendut Temple or village tour by andong.

Getting there: Yogyakarta intl apt (JOG) is 90 mins by car from Amanjiwo.  If combining Java with Bali, book your first night on Bali near the airport.

More about Amanjiwo HERE.

Bali

On Bali it’s a very good idea to stay at a combination of hotels. The island may seem small but it is simply packed with sights, from temples to stone carvers, from ricefields to art and craft studios.  Moreover there is traffic congestion and getting around can take some time.

Amankila - East Bali

The most stunning location in all Bali, away from all other tourists. You come here for the famous pool, the heady views, the food and the peaceful and traditional surroundings, which are a pleasure to explore, cycling and hiking amidst ricefields and villages with views of the volcano.

Dreamy views from Amankila's famed pool
Out of all 10 Aman properties we have stayed at this is the most rustic. The interiors of the huts are beautiful and original under their thatched roofs, and you can hear nature noises beyond the traditionally built walls. Food is of fantastic quality with wonderful flavours and stunning presentation. Service is really fast and runs like a well-oiled machine. Due to hillside location you will be climbing stairs constantly. It’s 10 mins down stairs to the black sand beach, watersports and  beach club lap pool.

The best room:  Amankila Suite has spectacular ocean views, large pool and two bedrooms.  But if that seems too much space, go for an Ocean suite. For once we don’t insist you get one with a pool, as the three-tiered common pool and the lap pool are experiences you don’t want to miss.

Amankila suite - top suite and best view
Another suite at the top - Indrakila suite

Some suggested activities: Poolside dreaming, mountain biking tour, breakfast in a bale on the mountain side, bale sojourns at the beach (bale: raised kingsize beds with grass roofs).

Mt Agung volcano - rearing up behind Amankila - a magical part of the views when you explore the peaceful countryside

Getting there
:  Bali intl apt. There is a VIP service at 80 USD/p on arrival. Transfer takes anything from 90 mins to 2h – which goes by happily with drinks and cookies in the car, and wifi.

More about Amankila HERE.

Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve - Ubud

Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali – with Bali’s traditional art forms of painting, batik, woodwork, stone work, silverwork and more represented within and around it. You don’t want to be right in Ubud, which has become hectically commercialized – but towards the periphery where upmarket stores and cafes thrive in more peaceful surroundings, among ricefields and tropical greenery. Tranquil Mandapa lies 15 mins by car from the town centre fronting the Ayung river.


A ricefield on the property - Mandapa
Mandapa at just 18 months old has it all. Everything is top luxury – but the villa accommodation is probably the best in the whole of Indonesia. There are three restaurants all offering quality and value. Higher quality at a lower price, that's a rarity. Service by a young and enthusiastic team is fast and correct – and will gain natural ease given time. The spa is magnificent opening out to the Ayung River, and though massages in the town may cost 5% of the Mandapa price, those at the hotel spa are definitely worth it because of expertise, setting and luxurious treatment rooms. Definitely worth staying longer just for the spa...

Worthy as a spa destination

The large main pool offers a continuous flow of treats. Ice water, young coconut water, fruits, ice cream, spring rolls and more.  In the middle of the resort is an original temple and a rice paddy.


A living temple on the property

The best room: River View Villas. The villa experience is fantastic with a large infinity pool, lush greenery and top luxury interiors, and you are walking distance from the hotel facilities. You have a butler and a relaxed check in is in your villa.

Riverfront pool villa
Total romance - riverside dining

Some suggested activities: A shuttle goes into Ubud, but a good idea is to cycle to the trendy outskirts, or take one of the cool 1970s Volkswagens they have vamped up for  a private temple tour.


Getting there: Bali intl apt 1h 20 mins by car.

More about Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, HERE.

Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay - southern Bali

It’s good to start or end your Bali journey near the airport to avoid stress because of the congested roads. A perfect choice here is Four Seasons Jimbaran, which has just completed a renovation of all its 147 villas, with new floors, new ceilings and new furniture. They feel old school but very fresh. There is absolutely no sound of aircraft coming and going though you can see the runway.

It is an all villa resort, traditional luxury and perfect for families. Our favourite watering spot at the hotel is the Sandara Beach Club – lovely cosmopolitan feel, live music, expat guests and creative Asian menu. During the day it offers cabanas and sunloungers for inhouse guests who want to lounge by the beach. Service functions well, but is perhaps not ultra-personal due to the size of the resort.

Sundara Beach Club

The best room: Ocean front villa with 1 bedroom  – which has 30% larger pool, larger living room area and no buildings in front. There are also larger villas with 2 and 3 bedrooms.

Premier ocean villa

Some suggested activities: Enjoy freshly caught seafood and beautiful water views at Jimbaran Bay’s waterfront Menega Café, which serves some of the best traditional food on Bali. Walk at sunrise along the pristine beaches of Jimbaran Bay. Rest at Coconut Grove. Try surfing in the gentle waves.

Coconut Grove

Getting there: Bali intl apt 20 mins depending on traffic/road works. 



Images Select Collection

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

ROMANCE & SNORKELLING AT BAROS MALDIVES


Baros has been a best kept secret since 1973.  Only 25 minutes from the airport by boat, and yet this luscious, verdant island remains pristine, with a colourful living house reef, radiant turquoise lagoon and serene, romantic atmosphere. 



A small island with a high level of service, Baros is much loved by honeymooners, foodies and those who want to snorkel right off the beach...






Everything is close together on Baros, including three excellent restaurants and two bars, reached by a picturesque path that curves under the shade of the palms, flanked by flowering shrubs.



You can stay in a villa enclosed by garden a few steps from the soft white beach or hide away in one of the 30 new water villas, built over the lagoon. Both are thatched options with a stylish Maldivian décor encompassing wood, stone and thatch; and come with or without a pool.

Baros pool villa.

Baros Residence
Water villa interior - elegant decor and vast windows giving views from bed, bath and shower cabinet, as well as from the glassed in WC.
The pools of the water villas are spectacular with a curved infinity edge where the water seems to flow into the lagoon. 




Time on your deck is private and wonderfully watery – gazing out over different shades of blue. At high tide you can descend metal steps into the shallow lagoon to snorkel. Many of the water villas offer sunset views as you lounge in the covered daybed with a pile of cushions and your glass of bubbly or a luscious bowl of fruit.

Pool in the  foreground, the evening sea and the setting sun


At night your pool is lit with little lights, to match the stars in the sky.

More little lights stud the infinity pool – a truly spectacular pool that wraps round the deck of Lime restaurant.

The magical Lime pool by day

On this side of the island, the lights of Male are a glow on the horizon at night, but this does not distract from the pure romance of dining on that beautiful deck by candlelight – or the taste of the food.

We enjoyed our meals at Lime and at the fabled Lighthouse Restaurant. The food at the Lighthouse is exquisite – but you do need to book in advance.

The Lighthouse taken during a yoga session on deck - hence the lumps...

Lisa, one of Select Collection's avid Maldives enthusiasts, recalls her Lighthouse Restaurant experience:
I mostly had tuna dishes cooked in different ways and it was always perfect. The menu is pure gourmet, and very extensive, but what impressed me the most was the chef’s knowledge about my food allergies (lactose and gluten). So when they took my order, the chef himself came out and informed me that I couldn’t have certain things of what I had ordered, and “re-designed” the menu of my choice just for me. 
Cayenne was under renovation when three of our staff visited at different times in July, but remembering it from a visit two years ago, we can vouch that it is also a good foodie hangout.

When breakfasting or lunching on the decks at Lime, the lagoon and pool cast a spell with a blaze of blue and turquoise.


Breakfast on the deck with a view of the lagoon, arrival pier and Baros' fancy fleet of boats

At night a different magic.

Local bands play often at the Sails Bar in the evenings. Very relaxing with daybeds and hammocks under tall palm trees right on the sand, perfect for kicking off your shoes and enjoying the lush surroundings with a cocktail.  Another superb spot for your mojito or glass of champagne is the bar above in the Lighthouse.

With no children under 8, the resort has an adult feel.

Underwater wonderland

But back to the house reef. Select Collection staff have been wowed by the snorkelling at Baros.



The above images were taken by Select Collection travel advisor Tommy, who as one of our most enthusiastic underwater explorers has snorkelled and dived at many resorts in the Maldives. He gives Baros top points. 
In July Tommy saw shoals of colourful fish varieties, along with turtles and sharks. Despite the wide scale coral bleaching in the Maldives, a lot of the colour remains on this reef.
Our Lisa enjoyed a snorkelling excursion to two reefs nearby.



It was like being inside an aquarium - Lisa's comment

For a dry or semi dry way to see the underwater world,  borrow a glass bottomed kayak. The dive centre enthusiastically welcomes all those who want to see the underwater treasures. The marine centre, and the resort as a whole, are very conscious about preserving the environment.

Baros is owned by a Maldivian family, who have taken their long expertise out to the Baa Atoll with a stunning new water villa resort Milaidhoo (another honeymoon idyll with no children under 9).


Read more about Baros HERE, and more about Milaidhoo HERE.

Images are informal snapshots by Select Collection, Tommy Ebbeståhl, Lisa Moheim and Gillian Stanbridge.