Bulgari Milan, the 5 star experience

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Since we were arriving in Milan early in the morning after a red eye flight in economy class, we decided to treat ourselves to a nicer hotel to increase our chances of an early check-in. We ended up at the Bulgari Milan, which is unquestionably one of the best hotels in the city (though mostly it was because we found a really really special rate which was too good to pass up!).

Location: The Bulgari (pronounced “boo-gar-ri” according to cab drivers) is ideally situated in a quiet little street right next to where the new MO is being built (I am a FAN!), less than 10 minutes walk away from the Monte Napoleone (shopping!) and the Duomo (masterpiece!). Not quite as close to the Monte Napoleone as the Armani Hotel, but we are not complaining.

First impression: As our car got closer to the hotel we realised why we didn’t see anything when we Google mapped the hotel – the Google van couldn’t get pass the gates. Once we passed the gates and went up the driveway, we were welcomed by the sight of Ferraris etc. and an elegantly designed reception and lobby.

My boss (who previously stayed here) thinks the Bulgari Milan lacks character, but I personally think that it is minimalist and chic. 

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As we had hoped, they were able to let us check-in early, though they needed some time to prepare the rooms. So we went for a Bulgari breakfast. We were all famished after the airline food!

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A little pricey, but you get what you paid for in terms of quality (if not portion!). The most impressive were their fresh juices, especially their fresh orange juice (using blood oranges!) and their fresh strawberry juice (SO sweet). It’s a tough call which my favourite is. I wonder if they would still give me the bread basket (also excellent) if I just ordered juice.. cause really that’s all I need.

After breakfast,  we were given a quick tour of the hotel (mostly a minor detour to see the basement pool and spa) before being shown to our rooms. Each floor is key access only (you would be surprised how many hotels in Europe DON’T have this function).

Since we paid for the cheapest available rate, I can only assume that what we were given is the Deluxe Room. But man, our rooms were SPACIOUS. There was a little area at the entrance for the minibar (not pictured). There was space for a huge table in front of the TV (pictured above). There was the sleeping area with the king size bed (which was simply divine by the way with very high quality bedding – I slept like a baby!). AND there was a ginormous bathroom.

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So ginormous they had to separate the bathtub in a completely different room. But yes, as you can see the bathroom was super spacious (at this point, I realized that this may be a handicap room given all the hand rails and extra space).

I would also like to commend their hair conditioner. I realized belated that I’d forgotten  how hard the water in Europe was, and that the hair conditioner I brought was simply not strong enough to detangle my locks. So I proceeded to smother my hair with the hotel hair conditioner and it worked like a charm. I snagged it for the rest of the trip!

Oh and for ladies who groom – they have a LEGIT off the wall hair dryer, complete with a removable nozzle!

Service: Overall great before and during our stay. I was in touch previously by email to arrange for some museum ticktes, and they were prompt and professional. During our stay, we asked them to help buy train tickets. They did not get the buy one get one free promotion tickets available on Saturdays even though we reminded them of it on the phone.. but I guess cost is not a priority for the Bulgari staff. There was also a minor mishap with our bill at check out, but that was quickly resolved.

Conclusion:  Definitely our best hotel on this trip (also most expensive!). I thought it was everything a five star luxury hotel should be. Excellent service, high quality rooms and all the luxuries of modern amenities. Would I pay full price for it though? To be honest, probably not. If I were to go high end again in Milan I would probably go for the Armani Hotel down the road which is newer, closer to the shops and marginally cheaper. Armani can’t be that bad.

Incidentally if I were to come back to Milan again and I wanted something more affordable, I would probably look at the Westin Palace (older and further but safe and has Amex rates) or maybe the NH Collection Milano President (which looks quite decent).

Pros:

  • True 5 star quality service and modern hardware
  • Spacious rooms with super comfortable beds
  • Amazing fresh juice selection

Cons:

  • Location could be a bit closer to key sights
  • One of THE most expensive hotels in Milan (currently #2 most expensive on Tripadvisor), but it is the Bulgari.. that is to be expected
  • Surprisingly the shower strength was a bit weak and the temperature somewhat inconsistent, but not a huge dealbreaker
  • The lighting system was a bit too high tech for me, but maybe that is just me

Bulgari Milan 

Address: Via Privata Fratelli Gabba 7/b – 20121 Milano

Telephone: + 39 02 805 805 1

Email: milano@bulgarihotels.com

Website: http://www.bulgarihotels.com/en-us/milan/the-hotel/overview 

Tripadvisor Reviews

Read more about my trip to italy here!

My trip to Italy: Overview

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Just so we are on the same page, I would classify myself as a “spoilt but cost conscious traveller in her twenties”. I just came back from my trip to Italy (with a brief stop in Paris for obvious reasons), and I am now totally head over heels in love with Italy. The scenery is ridiculously gorgeous and the food is affordable and absolutely delicious.

Since I spent months and months planning the trip (yes, I am a obssessive planner), I thought I would share my work here (with the benefit of hindsight) so that some likeminded souls can put it to good use. My boyfriend assures me that it is worth $$ to some busy bodies out there. It will also let me live through the process all over again and mentally extend the trip :)

The idea started forming about a year ago, when my friend A and I realized that there will be a long holiday in Hong Kong for Easter 2015 where we can take 3 days off and get 10 consecutive days off work (a huge consideration for us working gals!). So we started brainstorming long trip ideas from South Africa to Spain. We eventually decided on Italy because we wanted to go to Cinque Terre and Florence AND we love pizza and pasta.

We were originally only going to Milan, Cinque Terre and Florence, but we ended up visiting 9 different cities/towns in 11 days instead. It was most definitely ambitious and admittedly tiring, but it was also exhilarating and bundles of fun! Here is a summary of our itinerary:

Day Location Accomodations Activity
 Redeye flight from Hong Kong to Milan
1 Milan Bulgari Milano Duomo, The Last Supper
 Morning train from Milan Centrale to Torino Portoa Nuova
2 Turin NH Torino Piazza Carlina Juventus game, Gianduiotti
 Morning train from Torino Portoa Nuova to La Spezia
3
4
Cinque Terre NH La Spezia Hiking between the five villages
Morning drive from La Spezia to Parma to Modena
5 Parma + Modena Best Western Premier Milano Palace Hotel Parma ham, balsamic vinegar, Osteria Francescana
Morning train from Modena to Bologna Centrale
6 Bologna UNA Bologna Tuscan cooking class, tagliatelle bolognese
Morning train from Bologna Centrale to Firenze Santa Maria Novella
7
8
9.0
Florence + Tuscany Ponte Vecchio Suites Uffizi Museum, David, Siena, San Gimignana, Shopping
Afternoon flight from Florence to Paris
9.5
10
11
Paris Chess Hotel LVMH Foundation, Musee Rodin, Les Invalides, Pont Des Art, Bresse Chicken, Shopping
Evening flight from Paris to Hong Kong

Instead of putting everything down in exhaustive detail all at once, I will be writing separate posts in the coming days and weeks to make it more reader friendly and organized. Links will be added to this table (Yes, I just learnt how to make tables via HTML!) as I go along, so keep checking back!

We are Water

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I just finished reading We are Water by Wally Lamb. This is my first book by him, and I think he is a great storyteller. Kept my nose in my Kindle for days!

The story itself was unquestionably messed up. A middle age woman leaving her husband of 27 years to marry her lesbian girlfriend. Almost everything bad under the sun happens at some point in the book. Racism, poverty, rape, molestation, abortions, violence, murder, thief and paralysis. It will definitely make your own life feel much more orderly in comparison.

What strikes me about the book though is that for the most part, I get it. Even though I have obviously not been in such situations, I get why the characters feel the way they do and act the way they do (except for the part of the child molester.. I almost feel some sympathy for him, but not quite).

What stuck out the most for me was Annie and Orion’s relationship. When they flashed back to how their relationship started it sounded like a true love. Like this story will get a happy ending. They will all live happily ever after. How could it not? But then I recall all of Annie’s resentment during her years of marriage staying home with the kids, and especially as a woman myself I think, YES I totally get it. Why is Orion’s work always more important than Annie’s? And why does he feel that he shoud get an A* for taking care of the kids for 1 day, when that is Annie’s reality everyday? I am not even married (let alone have kids), but I totally get her angst!!!!

It makes me think that perhaps my mom is right (as she almost always is) – things really do change after marriage. Happily ever after isn’t quite what it is cut out to be. The real work actually does start after you say I do. It really gets one thinking..

The other thing worth mentioning is that the title of the book is genius. I didn’t get it at first. But when it was it explained it made so much sense. How in a way, we are all made of water. We can be gently floating along most of the time, but also strong and powerful when we need to be. And like water, we tend to take the road of least resistance. Another interesting point to think about.

I am eager to read some of his previous books!

Borei Angkor – Surprisingly Good Value

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Since both the Shinta Mani hotels were full (not surprising since they are well situated, reasonably priced and look very new and contemporary!), we ended up at the Borei Angkor during our trip to Siem Reap last December. While it may not be the nicest hotel in the area, we found it surprisingly good value and were quite happy with it!

The Borei Angor = Privilieged Floor: The important thing to note about the Borei Angkor is that it is the same hotel as the Priviliged Floor. This is not immediately obvious on Tripadvisor. The Priviliged Floor is ranked the #3 top hotel in Siem Reap with a price tag in the low US$200s. The Borei Angkor on the other hand is ranked #20 and costs a little less than US$100. But they are actually both in the same complex sharing the same facilities (very tricky marketing here!).

So what is the difference? From what I can tell the Privileged Floor is essentially the equivalent of a club floor. You get access to a special lounge as well as 24/7 personal butler and a car service. According to the reviews, the service is top notch and even a little bit over attentive. But the hardware for both “hotels” are more or less the same. Since we had already arranged our own driver/tour guide and don’t have much use for more personal attention the cheaper Borei Angkor was the obvious choice for us.

Location: The Borei Angkor is not quite as ideally situated as one would like within walking distance to the Old Market and the Pub Street Area (where all the action is). But it is not far. About 5-10 minutes away by tuk tuk (~US$4 for 4 people). Since we spent most of the day at the temples and only went to town for dinner and shopping, we thought the distant was reasonable. Otherwise there is really nothing of interest near the hotel.

It was also only about a 15-20 minute drive from the airport and about 20 minutes to Angkor Wat. But I’m guessing you can say that for pretty much everywhere, since the whole town seems to have been built around Angkor Wat.

Airpor transfer: Our package included airport transfer (which seems to be the norm in Siem Reap). I read about cases where the hotel forgot to pick guests up from the airport, but we reconfirmed twice and was duly picked up at arrivals. But we did have to share our ride with another guest. It seems that they have a free airport shuttle service that just goes around and around, and you sign up for a specific timeslot in advance. We actually missed our scheduled time going back to the airport, and caught the ride half a hour later. TIP: The airport is so close by and so small we had more than an hour to spare after immigration. Do NOT go to the airport too early. Leaving the hotel 2 hours ahead of flight time is fine.

The hotel: When we went, the entrance of the hotel was marked by a somewhat tacky large red ball (which can double as Christmas and Chinese New Year decor I supposed). But it was a welcome sight compared to the surroundings (very local and industrial).

From an international traveler perspective however, the hotel is definitely dated with some wear and tear here and there. It felt a little bit like I walked into a time capsule. The lobby was probably grand a few decades ago. But it was clean (with maybe only a few mosquito looking insects flying around the lobby), the check-in process was smooth and we were quickly shown to our third floor rooms.

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The Rooms: Having read the reviews about tired looking rooms, we went for the Landmark rooms hoping for a better experience (it is supposed to be part of the “newer” wing). The price difference was very small. And since my expectations were not that high to begin with, we were actually pleasantly surprised!/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/044/6299064/files/2015/01/img_4126.jpg

Despite the unfortunately colored curtains, the room was clean, spacious and (most importantly) insect free. The air conditioning, lighting and the plumbings worked. There wasn’t any weird smell. We sighed a breathe of relief./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/044/6299064/files/2015/01/img_4127.jpg

If one were to be picky, the bed was a bit hard for my liking. It felt a little like they wrapped feather around a plank of wood. The slippers looked re-used, so definitely bring your own! The internet was weak. Our doorbell rang for no reason on a few occasions. There weren’t enough electric sockets. And they indeed only provide you with 2 bottles of water everyday (BYO water!).

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The most impressive thing about the bathroom was definitely the fact that they had an anti-fog glass mirror. Who would have thought?

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The shower area was a little bit dark. We didn’t use the bathtube. But everything else worked fine!

Breakfast: Even though I typically only like to eat eggs, bacon, hashbrown and toast for breakfast, the quality can vary a lot from place to place. The Borei Angkor was surprisingly good./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/044/6299064/files/2015/01/img_4141.jpg

The egg was large and the bacon was just right (not too fat and not too fried)!

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The variety of food was also quite extensive. Fresh fruits, western food, local food and lots of made-to-order stations.

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They even had TWO egg stations (less waiting!), one noodle station and one crepe station (though they typically reheat crepes vs. make fresh ones). Impressed!

Culture Night: The hotel offers a Khmer Apsara Dance Show a few nights a week at their outdoor Pavilion. We knew it would be a tourist trap and that the food would probably be awful, but we figured that we should see an Apsara dance while we were in Cambodia. It is like how one should see belly dancing in Turkey or caberat in France.

At US$45/night (?) it was our most expensive meal in Siem Reap. But I guess it IS in a hotel. We did each get a traditional khmer scarf as a souvineer. The Pavilion was also quite beautifully decorated (yes, it is outdoors – remember to wear mosquito repellent!). The food could be better, but was not too bad. The whole show was not too long.

Outdoor Pavilion, Apsara Dance Show

Outdoor Pavilion, Apsara Dance Show

And the dances itself were pretty good. The 5-6 dances were well spread out in between courses, sufficiently different and most of all, I loved the outfits! It is so rich in color and detail!

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Conclusion: While the hardware was decidedly dated, given the price point it was surprisingly good value. Would I recommend it to friends? Yes, if they are looking for a good value stay in Siem Reap while they go temple-ing. No, if they are looking for somewhere to chill and relax. For that, I personally prefer somewhere more modern.

Pros:

  • It is cheap (especially compared to the other Meridiens and Anantara’s of Siem Reap)
  • It offers many types of rooms: Doubles, triples, connecting rooms etc. (especially compared to some hotels *ahem* Heritage *ahem* which only offers King beds)
  • Clean rooms
  • Good breakfast

Cons:

  • The whole Pavilion and Borei Angkor thing is a sham
  • The hardware is very dated
  • The beds are too hard
  • Location not quite central
  • Stingy on water – only 2 bottles/room/day

Tips: Definitely get a Landmark room!!

Borei Angkor, Siem Reap

Address: National Road 6, Banteay Chas, Siem Reap, Kingdom of Cambodia

Telephone: + 855­ 63 964 406

Email: info@boreiangkor.com

Website: http://boreiangkor.com/

Tripadvisor Reviews

Hotel La Casa, Seoul – the definition of a hidden gem

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The Hotel La Casa in Seoul is the definition of a hidden gem. I first heard about it from the TV program, Unique Hotels and Restaurants, and remember thinking that it looked incredibly chic. So when my friend recommended this hotel for my recent visit to Seoul because it happens to be super close to where she lives, I (uncharacteristically) did very little research and went for it. And I was duly impressed!

Location: Located south of the river, it is in the Gangnam district (yes a la Gangnam Style!) and only a few blocks from the super trendy Garosugil area. We were able to a) enjoy super cute local cafes and coffee shops b) eat delicious local cuisine (i.e. korean bbq and fried chicken) c) drink in trendy wine bars or local joints and d) shop in a range of adorable boutiques without even taking a cab! It’s just such a fun and buzzing area to wander about in!

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La Casa also happens to be only a few blocks from the bus 6006 bus stop – which makes it super easy to get to and from the airport for only 10,000KRW. Since cabs are so cheap in Seoul I would usually not hesitate to take a cab, but given how easy taking the bus is it is almost silly not to take it, especially if you are travelling light and its not raining!

From the airport: Take the 6006 and get off on the first stop. Turn right (backwards) and take the second left. It is part of the Casa furniture/cafe etc. complex. Go around. The hotel entrance is slightly inconspicious.

To the airport: Go back to where you got off the bus (think TomTom’s) and cross the road. It comes every 10-20 minutes, and is quite on time.

The one caveat is that I find the metro entrance a bit far away, probably a 10 minute walk. But then, as I was saying, cabs are relatively cheap and quite readily available in Seoul. As a back up, UBER is also available.

The design and rooms: I hereby confirm that you basically get what you see. It is indeed as modern, minimalistic and chic as it looks. Very Scandinavian.

The lobby resembles a cosy library/work station. A welcoming sight after a long day of travelling.

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And the rooms are spacious, chic and comfortable. We upgraded ourselves to a Business Double because they ran out of Deluxe Doubles.

Hotel La Casa, Seoul - Business Double Room

I love the dashes of red. It makes the room more fun and chic, instead of just cool and functional. There were also red pillows and throws at the end of the bed, but I removed it before I remembered to take a picture because I suspect that no one ever washes these things… in any hotels!

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The bathroom was also modern, clean and functional. My only complaint is that the sink seemed slow to drain… and the weak blow dryer.

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Service: I thought the service in general was good. The staff spoke good English and had no trouble understanding me. They had umbrellas and adapters to borrow as well as complimentary wifi and breakfast (though I never woke up early enough to enjoy it). But most importantly for me they were generous with their complimentary bottled water. I am a water hog when I travel because I am always dehydrated. One bottle per person a night is not nearly enough. This really stood out for me.

Other things of note: Being a boutique hotel, it is smaller in scale than I am used to. There is only one elevator (though I personally never encountered any elevator traffic ). There doesn’t seem to be much security measures. Technically anyone can come and go to whichever floor they want. Perhaps the hotel is so small the staff keeps track? And finally the entrance is very inconspicuous. Most of the time cab drivers just leave us on the other side of the building and we have to walk around in the cold and rain.

Value: I took advantage of a US$100 off promotion and made the booking. From what I can tell though, their regular price range is in line with other boutique hotels in Seoul at around ~US$130/night. It’s not the cheapest and perhaps you can find similar hotels for even cheaper, but I think the price is fair for what you get.

Conclusion: I’m actually surprise that the hotel is only ranked only #97 on Tripadvisor. It is well situated, superbly designed in a modern and chic way with comfortably sized rooms (though I’m from Hong Kong, my sense of space maybe distorted) and helpful English speaking staff. Perhaps all Seoul boutique hotels are like this? My only comparison is the Grand Hyatt in Seoul (which is a different type of hotel), so I cannot comment. But I would definitely recommend this hotel to friends visiting Seoul!

Hotel La Casa, Seoul

Address: 527-2 Sinsa-Dong Gangnam-Gu Seoul

Telephone: +82-2-546-0088

Website: http://www.hotellacasa.kr/eng/index.asp

Tripadvisor Reviews

The white collared black shift dress

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You know which one I am talking about. I saw it at Zara the other day and was super tempted to get it, but decided in the end that I am just not cool enough to carry it off. People will probably just think I am dressing up for Halloween… a la Wednesday Addams, the original wearer of this dress.

WednesdayThough I have seen some recent iterations of it which have been inspiring. There was Kate Middleton’s ladylike and demure version:

The Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge Visit Child Bereavement UKAnd then there was my girl crush Cindiddy’s super stylish take on it.

Cindiddy in white collared black dress at Prada.  www.cindiddy.com

Cindiddy in white collared black dress at Prada.
http://www.cindiddy.com

Neither of which I think I can achieve. But it is always nice to look, admire and wonder. Which look do you like best?

A super memorable birthday

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Unlike last year, this year I did not have a vision of exactly what I wanted to do for my birthday months and months ahead. We even had a hard time coming up with a fancy Michelin starred restaurants in Hong Kong we wanted to try and almost repeated. But ideas started to pop up here and there, and in the end everything came together perfectly.

Definitely a super memorable (and eventful) birthday complete with awesome company, lots of chocolates and sparkles, balloons as well as sweat, some blood and one popped knee and torn ligament. May every birthday be better than the last!

The best pools at the Rimba Jimbaran/Ayana? Part 3

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One of the reasons why we decided on the Rimba Jimbaran back in Easter was because it had access to the Ayana facilities as well which means access to LOTS of pools and dining options. Not that the Rimba does not already have enough pools as it is (it has 6!), but no one has ever complained about too many pools (10 in total!). Besides who knows how crowded it will be over Easter? So in order to make the most of our stay, we went pool hopping looking for the best places to chill. Here is our conclusion:

Best for chilling and reading by the pool side: Three Monkeys at the Rimba

The Three Monkey Pool, Rimba Jimbaran

Yes, those are the legendary three monkeys!

This was the first pool we encountered at the resort, and ironically turned out to be our favourite (and the last one we ended up in). While there isn’t any particularly special feature to the pool, there is a magically tranquil and peaceful atmosphere to it that makes it perfect for chilling and reading. When we were there, there were only a handful of people at any given time and it was relatively quiet compared to the other pools (there’s just something in the air!).

The Three Monkey Pool, Rimba Jimbaran

We spent our last morning there (on these super comfortable lounge chairs under the shade), just chilling and reading, occasionally taking a dip when it got too hot (can you see how crystal clear the water is?). It was absolutely perfect and we could’ve stayed there all day!

Most amazing view: Ocean Beach Pool at the Ayana

Ocean Beach Pool at the Ayana

This is hands down the pool with the most amazing view. Located on the cliffs, this infinity pool is literally right next to the ocean. If you look down, you can see the waves crashing against the cliff. And if you time it right you can even see the sunset from here! I can just lie there and stare into the ocean all day… unfortunately we were not the only ones who thought so. By the time we got there around noon (it is quite a trek to get down to the cliffs!), it was already packed – and no one looked like they were going to move anytime soon!

The pool itself, sandwiched between the infamous Rock Bar and the Kisik restaurant, is actually very small and the water somewhat murky. Also because of the cliff, it does not get much sunlight earlier on in the day. I reckon that the best time to enjoy the pool is probably around sunset. That is if you are lucky enough to snag a place then. Come early!

For those who came down via the side of the Kisik, leave via the Rock Bar. There is an elevator that takes you up back to the main pool area!

HOT TIP: The best place to catch the sunset by the ocean at the Ayana is probably the Kisik Restaurant. But it gets packed fast. So book a place for dinner around the time of sunset on ARRIVAL at the resort (or earlier!). We tried to book on the day but was unsuccessful. In fact, book ALL your restaurants. You would think that it is a hotel and there will definitely be space. But it gets booked our very early on, and they are very stringent about it. One night we ended up sitting at the bar, even though there were a lot of empty tables around!

Most Atmospheric: Infitnity Edges Pool/Main Pool at the Ayana

Infinity Edged Pool/ Main Pool, Ayana

The good thing about the main pool at the Ayana is that it is an infinity pool with an ocean view AND it is much larger than the Ocean Beach Pool. My favourite thing about this pool though is the live traditional Balinese music they play on the side. It makes for the best lullaby for a nap. Sometimes I still dream about it…

On the other hand, this pool is also a very popular pool. Children are allowed, and they let them jump into the pool even though it says clearly that it is not allowed. But I guess children will be children. At least they are family friendly? Oh and the pool water at the Ayana in general is most definitely murkier than at the Rimba. I’m not sure if it is because there is more people here, or because the Rimba has a newer filter system.

But anyway, this is another pool which you need to come early to snag a place for!

 Most privacy: Cabana Pool at the RimbaThe Cabana Pool at the Rimba

A relatively quiet and good sized pool. For those who want extra privacy and are super shy of the sun, they have these very cool niche/cabanas on the side under the Upper Pool for you to relax in.

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Each one is designed to be super comfy and welcoming. The only potential downside is that it is a bit too much in the shade, so you cannot see the sky and it makes us think that this is where the mosquitos are hiding.

Most fun: Lower pool at the Rimba

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This is the main pool of the Rimba and it is super family friendly. It is huge, there is a water bar for food/drinks under the bridge, there are half submerged lounge chairs in the pool, it is very sunny and….

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… there is a waterslide! Who doesn’t love waterslides? My only complaint is that I think the turn is a bit too sharp, and during my two times down the slide I inevitably hit my head/arm trying to complete the turn.

Best for tanning: Upper Pool at the Rimba

Upper Pool at the Rimba

As the name implies this pool is located in the upper areas of the Rimba, so it generally gets a lot of sunlight. But what makes it best for tanning is the row of half submerged lounge chairs they have in the pool, which lets you tan without ever getting too hot! Genius! Of course I am hypothizing all this because I am of that camp that one should avoid the sun whenever possible.

More pictures of the Rimba Jimbaran/ Ayana Resort:

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NOTE: This list does not include the Kubu beach, the River Pool and the Children’s pool at the Ayana, and the Lagoon pool at the Rimba, as we never made it there. Pool hopping is tiring business.

Rimba Jimbaran/ Ayana Resort series

Part 1: Find out what the Rimba Jimbaran is really like here.

Part 2: Find out whether the Ayana spa resort is worth it here.

Part 3: Find out which are the best pools at the Rimba/Ayana here.

Rimba Jimbaran Bali by Ayana

Address: Karang Mas Estate, Jalan Karang Mas Sejahtera Jimbaran, Bali 80364, Indonesia

Telephone: +62 (361) 8468468

Website: http://www.rimbajimbaran.com/en/home

Tripadvisor reviews

 

Is the Ayana Resort Spa worth it? Part 2

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The quick answer is a resounding YES. The prices are not exactly cheap, but for the quality of service and the overall experience, the Ayana spa it was most definitely worth it! We didn’t know it before we went, but apparently the Ayana spa is world famous, frequently listed on top spa lists globally. Indeed, we actually met a couple during our treatment who lived in another hotel an hour away, who came especially for the spa.  We were so lucky that the spa is part of the Rimba/Ayana complex!

The Ayana Spa is a standalone complex, located between the Rimba and the Ayana only a couple of minutes away by hotel tram. Despite being decorated in the more traditional Balianese style and being around for a long time (similar to the Ayana), it did not have as much wear and tear as we expected. We were actually pleasantly surprised to note that it was actually very clean and well maintained!

The Ayana Spa has an extensive spa menu (be sure to check out the Special Offers section too). After much contemplation, we decided to go with the Exotic Balinese Experience, because we thought it was most comprehensive for the price (and also we were feeling especially generous after finding cheaper last minute air tickets!). It is a 6-hour package and includes 5 sessions, so we started right after breakfast at 10:30am.

  1. Traditional Lular: The first part of the spa takes place in a large private room, complete with a balcony, a shower a tub and of course a heated massage table. Mine even had a glimpse of the ocean! The traditional lular includes “a Javanese body masque and scrub, yogurt splash, flower bath, and a Balinese massage”. Basically they scrub you, lather you with yoghurt, let you wash off in the shower, and soak in the rose petal tub before giving you an amazing massage. The whole process takes about 2 hours, and it was absolutely divine. My only complain is that the massage part is too short. I could have used more of that massage.
  2. Jamu tea break: After the massage, they lead you to a tea house sort of area within the spa complex where you are reunited with your friends to enjoy a cup of Jamu tea. What is Jamu tea? Well according to google, it is a traditioanal Indonesian tea with healing properties. I personally didn’t try it, but it looked orangey with a lot of spices. A little like curry. A choice of tea would have been nice. At this point, we were also confused as to where we are supposed to go next. Even though they handed us a schedule, a little more guidance would have been appreciated. It’s a good thing we are so proactive!
  3. Indonesian cooking class: After tea, we changed and were driven to the Padi (Ayana’s Thai restaurant) for our cooking class. We were greeted with fresh guava juice and our very our own packages, which includes a chef’s hat, an apron and a booklet of the recipe we were going to follow. To be honest, participation is optional and is entirely up to how much you want to actually cook( i.e. from none like me to super hands on). The chef and his assistants were super nice and friendly, and went out of their ways to make us feel comfortable. We really appreciated the fans they brought out for instance, cause even though it is an open kitchen it was still super hot! It was a fun side activity from spa-ing. Though to be honest, this is probably something I would skip next time. I’d much rather be lounging somewhere.
  4. Aquatonic Seawater Therapy Pool: Located within the spa complex, the Aquatonic Therapy Pool is a semi outdoor pool (under a thatched roof) with a distant view of the ocean. When I first read about it, I thought it was just some Balinese type of hot spring, but it is actually a 2 hour water pressure massage session (the water is actually comfortably warm). To warm up, you walk through a pebbled path and swim across countercurrents. You then start a series of water pressure massage aimed at different parts of the body, starting with the leg and moving towards the rest of the body (it is incredibly thorough). Every 2 minutes, guests are then asked by staff to rotate to the next spot (like musical chairs). All the while, you can chat with your partner/friends and enjoy the ocean view. It is not all dandy though. The pressure of the water varies, and some of it can be downright painful – my friend ended up with bruises on her back (though she really enjoyed it!)! I personally skipped a few of them, but overall it was definitely an awesome experience.
  5. 25-minute Aqua Relaxation Massage: Once our skin was properly pruned, we were led to the other heated pool on the side for our aqua massage. I had no idea what to expect. Turns out they use 2 pool noodles – one under the head and one under the knees- to float you face up (obviously) in the water. The masseuse then takes your hands and legs and gently moves you around the water, letting the water pressure do the work. The feeling is quite surreal. I felt like I was a water nymph dancing in the water world and I loved it!!!! I highly recommend it. But remember to relax and not move around on your own, otherwise you’ll disturb the equilibrium and drown yourself!

Our session ended in the late afternoon, and we all felt completely refreshed and at peace afterwards. The only thing that could have made the session even better was to skip the tea, and shorten the cooking class, and extend the massage instead. I highly recommend the Ayana spa and cannot wait to be back!

Pictures from our cooking class:

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Rimba Jimbaran/ Ayana Resort series

Part 1: Find out what the Rimba Jimbaran is really like here.

Part 2: Find out whether the Ayana spa resort is worth it here.

Part 3: Find out which are the best pools at the Rimba/Ayana here.

Rimba Jimbaran Bali by Ayana

Address: Karang Mas Estate, Jalan Karang Mas Sejahtera Jimbaran, Bali 80364, Indonesia

Telephone: +62 (361) 8468468

Website: http://www.rimbajimbaran.com/en/home

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What is the Aranwa at Sacred Valley really like?

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We stayed at the Aranwa Sacred Valley as part of our 10 day Peru trip back in mid-July 2014. It was first recommended to us by our tour operator as a place to stay while we were at Sacred Valley. After much research on Tripadvisor, my top choice was actually the Tambo Del Inka (it came highly recommended by a friend and it is a Starwood!). But when we found out the price difference, we figured we will just stick with the Aranwa. It doesn’t look that bad -and we were right. While it was decidedly not a 5* luxury hotel (as they try to advertise it as), for that area it was comfortable and made for a pleasant stay. The grounds kind of reminded me of an upscale school camp site. Definitely a solid 4*.

Location:

A view of Sacred Valley and Urubamba from the lookout spot

A view of Sacred Valley and Urubamba from the lookout spot

After a 2 hour car ride from Cusco, you will eventually reach the little town of Urubamba, which literally spans the valley as you wound your way down the mountain. Remember to get your driver to stop at the look out spot for a picture. But don’t worry if you don’t the first time, you will be going past this spot many times throughout your stay.  The main reason for staying in Urubamba (and why there are so many resorts in the area) are:

  1. It is only 2800m above sea level (vs. 3400m in Cusco), which makes it an excellent place for tourists to acclimatize to the high altitudes.
  2. It is ideally located within a hour or so of key attractions in the region including Morays, Ollantaytambo, Pisac Market etc. To be specific, it is only about 1 hour or so to Morays and Pisac, and 20 minutes to Ollantaytambo. And from Ollantaytambo, it is only another hour or so train ride to Aguas Caliente (the base town of Machu Picchu). In comparison, on our way back from Machu Picchu to Cusco it was 4+ hour by train and another 20 minute ride back to the city.

We didn’t exactly spend any time exploring the town of Urubamba, but besides some hidden gems of restaurants which served pretty decent food behind some very unsuspecting facades, there did not seem to be much to write home about.

Hotel grounds and facilities:

As many people have commented on, the hotel is welcome sight after a long journey there. But that is just because of the sharp contrast between what is outside the gates (absolutely nothing) and behind it. The entrance and the lobby are actually quite basic and a frankly a bit dated. For example, we suspect that the circular thing on the driveway was once a fountain (perhaps it was just turned off because it is dry season?). On the bright side, there is coca tea in the lobby, and the check-in process was relatively smooth.

The authentically ancient church

The authentically ancient church

The centerpiece of the hotel is most definitely the grounds. It is beautifully landscaped centered around an authentically ancient church (it definitely smelt old!) surrounded by a pond/pool (and the Andes mountains on either side!), with 3 llamas and a couple of peacocks running around paths lined with gorgeous flowers. The outdoor pool and jacuzzi is one of the best places to enjoy the view. Too bad it was too cold to swim when we went. The jacuzzi is heated for those brave souls who want to test the Andes winter and enjoy the view. There is even a fully functioning horse carriage to complete the picture. Definitely take the time to explore and enjoy the grounds. For photographers, the best light is in the morning. It is actually somewhat gloomy in the afternoon as the sunlight is blocked by the mountains.

Aranwa pool and jacuzzi

Aranwa pool and jacuzzi

Besides the grounds, there are also:

  • a basic gym for those who want to work out at this altitude
  • a spa, though we did not try it out since the prices were US like!
  • a photography museum, not that impressive
  • an indoor orchid garden behind the museum which was even less impressive – where were the orchids?
  • a couple of souvineer shops which screams overpriced
  • a library, which was actually really cool, as it comes complete with excellent wifi, a warm sitting area and a mini cinema. This turned out to be an excellent place to watch the World Cup with a bottle of Peruvian beer!

The hotel also claim to have free activities like fishing on the river, which we thought was really cool. But when we asked about it, the reception didn’t seem to know what we were talking about, and on further inquiry claimed that the fishing equipment was broken….. if it is broken, don’t advertise it!

Hotel dining:

Because the hotel is so isolated, unless you are driving, be prepared to eat many meals here. In general, we thought the food was decent. Since breakfast was included, and our tour guide suggested that we take a light dinner in order to adjust to the altitude (and our lunch was so huge), we didn’t eat much and dinner wasn’t too expensive. On average I would say it is around US$10-20/head.

  • Breakfast: While the buffet-style spread looked extensive, I personally only found a few things I wanted to eat (I’m a very picky eater). My go-to was the toast and the egg station (egg stations are the best!). The meat both cold and warm frankly did not look that appetizing.
  • Dinner at the bar: The bar actually serves food from both room service and the main dining room, offering a variety of local and international cuisine (so if you are like me, you can enjoy pasta and a club sandwich). For our first night, the concierge somehow suggested we go to the bar. So we did. And while there wasn’t that many people there, it took our food 1 hour to reach us!! And this is only after we complained and threatened to leave (this was our first night, and after days of travelling we just wanted to go to bed)!! Over all the food was decent, though I would say that my chicken soup did contain way too much MSG.
  • Main dining room: The service at the restaurant was much better. And we enjoyed a good meal there.
  • Room service: The service was surprisingly quick, and the food when it arrived was still piping hot.

Hotel rooms:

The Aranwa is horizontally spread out, with a lot of outdoor space. Good thing it never rained when we were there. Hotel rooms are located in 2 storey blocks, a couple of minutes walk from the main buildings. As I mentioned, an upscale school camp.

2 storey hotel room blocks

2 storey hotel room blocks

Our Deluxe Rooms were on the second floor and are supposedly already more modern than the regular rooms. But to be honest it was still very dated.

Deluxe Aranwa rooms

Deluxe Aranwa rooms

Pros:

  • The rooms are very spacious, lots of space to put suitcases and move around etc.
  • It was clean enough
  • It includes a big balcony (great if one likes to stare into bushes)
  • The separate design of the bathroom, sink and shower is kind of weird (would’ve preferred a door or wall to separate it from the main room), but great for room sharing
  • The bath area comes with a humongous tub/private jacuzzi

Cons:

  • The room is obviously dated
  • They are still using those old, heavy, ugly brown fleece blankets between sheets to keep you warm- I consider this a feature of the days gone by and shudder to come into direct contact with it
  • If you don’t close your door fast enough, lots of little flies will come in. But they don’t bite and are very slow moving. I killed over 10 of them hovering over my bedside lamp. Not exactly their fault, but its winter. You’d think that they can grow some sort of plants to deter these insects.
  • Wifi reception was poor, good thing we had 3G!
  • The shower was weak, and the tub took almost a hour to fill up. The bath area was also freezing!
  • The hotel provided products… let’s just say it’s a good thing I always carry my own products.
  • Takes 3 steps to open the TV, and awkwardly hangs on the ceiling (perfect for bed time TV watching I guess)
  • The heating was also extremely drying
  • Oh and most importantly, they are EXTREMELY STINGY about bottled water. Each room is only provided 2 complimentary bottles per night. You can’t drink tap water in Peru. They charge you an arm and a leg for bottled water at the restaurant. The hotel is in the middle of nowhere. BRING WATER!
The sink area

The sink area

Conclusion:

Taking everything into account, despite its age and little kinks, we think that the Aranwa Sacred Valley is a solid 4* hotel. It could definitely use a renovation, but regardless, it makes for a decent place to stay if you are looking for somewhere in Sacred Valley with a mid-range price tag.

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Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness

Address: Antigua Hacienda Yaravilca, Huayllabamba-Urubamaba, Cusco Peru

Telephone: +51 (84) 58-1900

Website: http://www.aranwahotels.com/sacred_valley_hotel.php

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