Monday, May 27, 2013

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO THAILAND, part 2

Our product manager Neil Bedford continues his two-week tour of Thailand, assessing old charms and new developments. The country still has everything to offer the luxury customer...

Last blog he focused on less visited areas: Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and the paradise island of Koh Kood. This week's blog looks at the more established destinations...

Phuket

Phuket is perhaps not the most in-vogue destination right now. However, fashion goes in cycles, and when a hotel gets it right it can be a permanent classic.


Classic beachside luxury - Amanpuri.
More to follow in a later blog
Bearing in mind that many Select Collection hotels lie in romantic and secluded spots far from all development, there is magic to be found on this popular island...

And enchantment does not always have to be right on the beach...

On Thailand’s third largest island many of the newer properties are built on the hills (as there is no longer any beachfront land available to buy) above beautiful coves. This means incredible views and (because the land is considerably cheaper) more money to spend on the hotel itself. The trade-off is that beach access can be a little arduous with short transfers or a hilly walk required.


Banyan Tree Spa Sanctuary - spa pool villa
Some properties are located along the beach area of Sirinath Marine National Park in the northwest of the island. A stunning natural beach with no building that can be seen and turquoise waters lapping at your feet...idyllic…but you need to bear in mind that as it is a protected area you cannot take sun loungers onto the beach. There is no beach bar and the beach itself is not the perfectly manicured and driftwood free strip that you might see elsewhere. It is more Crusoe beach...nature and wreckage can drift up...


The lovely beach at JW Marriott Phuket
part of Sirinath National Park
Finally, you have the hotels that arrived ‘first’. They got the pick of best beaches and invariably are the most expensive as they happily charge a premium for the location. In many hotels you will find a mixture of entertainment options nearby, whether it is from other hotels or simple beach bars. If you like to be able to walk out along the beach for these options or are happy to take a taxi then that will also play a factor in your hotel choice.

Your own pool and privacy above the secluded
sandy beach - Trisara

Trisara - down at the beach

So there is more to Phuket than you may have thought, and your choice of hotel is extremely important in getting the kind of experience that you are after. We suggest you share with your expert travel consultant what you expect from your holiday.

In the Thailand HOTEL CHECK blogs coming soon, we will take a quick look at some of the hotels.


Need to know

Getting there - 1 hour flight from Bangkok. Over 27 other cities have direct flights to Phuket including Stockholm (twice a week November – March).
Best time to travel - November to April sees very little rainfall and temperatures around 28c. Dec-March average only 4 days with rain per month.

Time to avoid - There is a significantly higher volume of rain in our summer months as well as rough seas causing many beaches close or swimming to be prohibited.

Why go - You can be as confident in good weather in Phuket Dec-March as any other beach destination in the world and you know you will experience great service from your hotel.


Bangkok

In some respect’s Bangkok is a city on the move and in others it is a city where everything stands still (a bit like it’s roads). The classic riverfront properties of Mandarin Oriental and The Peninsula still have iconic boats ferrying well-heeled guests back and forth across the Chao Phraya river…often as not to eat in each others restaurants!



View of the Chao Phraya river - highway for
boats - from a balcony room at the Peninsula

Meanwhile the city’s (woefully inadequate) monorail is being expanded to cover more of the city, new hotels and restaurants are popping up all the time, and the ‘new’ airport has now been in operation for several years.

Some new properties have caught our eye for the detail and feeling that has gone into their boutique accommodation. Wait and see what we choose for our Select Collection.

Need to know

Getting there - Direct flights from almost all major cities in Europe and great links across Southeast Asia, Australasia, Middle East…

Best time to travel - November to April sees very little rainfall. Temperatures stay around 30c year round.

Time to avoid - There is a significantly higher volume of rain in our summer months and you will need to borrow a hotel umbrella if you wander out. March-May are the hottest and most humid months which can be unpleasant for dining out and sightseeing.

Why go - Great shopping (whether it is markets or malls), amazing food and memorable riverfront drinking and dining.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO THAILAND, part 1, Where and Why

Product manager Neil Bedford has been to Thailand many times. After his recent two week tour he looks at how the country is bearing up against all the new competition in Southeast Asia and has some very happy findings for the luxury traveler…


Neil on a hotel inspection at Soneva Kiri

Once Thailand was the first choice for those travelling East. But in recent years The Maldives has attracted many of our regular Thailand clients. An improved flight network in Southeast Asia has also seen an increase in visitors to Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and even the previously avoided Burma has become a magnet…

Nevertheless,Neil reports that the luxury traveler to Thailand will not be disappointed.

Still amazing...

The beaches are still golden, the seas still turquoise and the service still impeccable. What has changed is that the top hotels have upped their game and are offering better value and more unique experiences.

Such things as a private cooking/dining experience at Four Seasons Chiang Mai where for around US$120 per person you can join a team of 4 expert Thai chefs for the Four Seasons kitchen and help (with as much or as little hands on involvement as you wish) cook a sumptuous Thai feast.

Cooking course at Four Seasons Chiang Mai
With drinks, food, expert private tuition and dining in a gorgeous Lanna building (now the hotel’s signature cooking school) included in the price, this type of experience would be hard to better (and pricewise impossible to beat).

More about Four Seasons next blog
At Soneva Kiri on the island of Koh Kood they take the concept of uniqueness one step further - dining in a bamboo pod hoisted six metres into the jungle while an acrobatic waiter swings between the trees on a zip line ...

...to deliver baskets of gourmet delights…
just one of many special offerings

Koh Kood


Situated close to the Thailand-Cambodia border in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Kood is actually the 4th largest of Thailand’s 1400+ islands but has a population of just 2000 and has kept itself largely hidden from the mainstream. Of the few properties on the island there is only one that has the Select Collection seal of approval, Soneva Kiri….

...rustic and luxurious - Soneva Kiri
As you will see from your flight (a custom-fitted 16 seater operated by Soneva Kiri), Koh Kood is almost entirely covered with thick ancient jungle; occasional coconut rubber tree plantations are the only real industry here. For those that get itchy feet even in luxury hotels there are several small mountains which aren’t too arduous to trek up and views are well worth the effort.

There are also waterfalls hidden in the jungle, with the three-tiered Klong Chao Waterfall particularly spectacular and a popular place to swim and cool off. Off the beaches on the island, there are some good ones but only one that is spectacular and this is of course the one that you will enjoy while staying at Soneva Kiri.

Adventure in paradise at Soneva Kiri - 
see also a coming blog

Need to know

Getting there - 1 hour flight from Bangkok for those staying at Soneva Kiri. Other travelers need to drive from Bangkok to the coast and then take a ferry.

Best time to travel - October to April sees very little rainfall and temperatures around 27 deg C. March and April are the hottest and most humid months.

Time to avoid - Koh Kood can experience severe weather in our summer months with the onset of the monsoon. Heaviest rainfall normally occurs Jun-Sep and we would not recommend travelling in these months.
Why go - One of Thailand’s best kept secrets. No ATMs, 7Eleven shops or busy bar filled streets…just one luxurious property in the most stunning natural surrounds.

Chiang Mai


The capital of northern Thailand is full of history and tradition. Founded more than seven centuries ago as the capital of the Lanna kingdom, Chiang Mai is home to some of the country’s most ornate structures and striking monuments. But it is not all about the architecture, the city also has some bite. The food here in Chiang Mai is considered to be the best in the country and there is no better way to discover it than a tour of the city’s street stalls and shophouses who sell incredible dishes that are delicious enough to lure Bangkokians 700 kilometers north for a meal.


Mandarin Oriental Chiang Mai - in the right spirit

Select Collection’s two featured properties are located a short car journey from the city but we would definitely recommend a half or full day trip into the city to experience the bustling atmosphere and sights.


Four Seasons Chiang Mai - luxury amidst nature

Need to know


Getting there - 1 hour flight from Bangkok, 2 hour flight from Phuket and Koh Samui. Direct flights to many other cities in Southeast Asia.

Best time to travel - Oct to Apr sees very little rainfall and temperatures around 23c in the day time, dropping to as low as 15c at night.

Time to avoid - Mar and Apr are the hottest and most humid months and can be quite oppressive if you are sightseeing. There is a significantly higher volume of rain in our summer months but generally this just means when the rain arrives it falls in heavier bursts.

Why go - Experience Bangkok in miniature – enjoy amazing food, ancient temples and markets (both western for shopping and local for the experience) but without the traffic. A very easy combination with a classic Bangkok and beach holiday.

Next week we look at individual hotels at the above destinations, and then Neil gives his overview on Bangkok and Phuket

Friday, May 10, 2013

HOTEL CHECK FRANCE, Four Seasons Paris

We looked down from our AMAZING private terrace at Four Seasons on spring trees lining avenue George V, and across to the glittering white of Sacre Coeur. Paris called, but it was hard to leave this mesmerizing spot....





On the L-shaped terrace of Premier room 801 you have it all.

Round table with four chairs, two sunbeds -
and the views in all directions.


You can even see the Eiffel tower above the roof of the facing wing.

Premier room

Like all Premier rooms ours was very spacious, and the decor fresh and shimmering with pale and delicate pastels. The bathrooms as you expect - full marble - and Bulgari amenities designed to turn the roughest skin to silk.

Not all the 244 rooms have terraces - many have narrow French balconies or French windows - but the rooms are always spacious and always fresh. The views vary from room to room. So it is a matter of asking for what you want: Eiffel Tower? Montmartre? Inner courtyard?

Superior room


Four Seasons Suite


Four Seasons Suite - plenty space for entertaining



View down of the courtyard from a room

The inner courtyard was being decorated most expensively with tree orchids, hung in their dozens, with their roots dangling as they do when the plants nest in tropical trees, drawing moisture from the air - in this case coming from the courtyard's decorative waterfall. This is a great place to hang socially. So is the lounge-style restaurant adjoining the more formal Michelin 2-star restaurant Le Cinq. Most perfect place for lingering over an "American breakfast".



Then if you think about lingering exqusitely in this enclave of exclusivity - don't leave out the Spa. It's done in Versailles style. And here you can really enjoy a swim (free for guests) in another extraordinary world.





WHO TO STAY
Of course - discerning couples and families. This hotel is built 1928 and the walls themselves give a feel of the rich heritage of Paris - with tapestries, paintings, etchings ... and plenty more art out there...


WHAT TO DO...
The whole world of Paris is at your feet when you can leave this enclave. The avenue George V is lined with designer shops, and you are steps from the grand sweep of the Champs Elysees. A mere stroll to the Seine. You can walk (half an hour) to the Louvre along the legendary river.

There is a little competition to get space by the famous smile

It  is an easy taxi ride from Four Seasons up to Bohemian Montmartre and a climb or funicular up to the landmark ... we walked back from here to the hotel (50 min).

Magical in and out -  Sacre Coeur

It is only 10 min by taxi to Blvd Saint Germaine (45 min walk) for shopping and dining. Away from the crowds and city heat, a heart lifting excursion is to Auvers-sur-Oise - the charming village where Vincent van Gogh spent his last days. About an hour by train. Here you see many scenes that inspired his last paintings ...