That Time We Got Booted From Bali and Ended Up in the Maldives

 

St. Regis Maldives

As mentioned previously, my main man for life, XFE and I went to Sri Lanka for my birthday trip earlier this year, which was culturally enriching yet also challenging (for all the reasons I’ve gone over in previous posts). Which, since this wasn’t exactly our first Southeast Asian rodeo, we kind of figured it might be. And even though we had set aside a few days for some beach time in Sri Lanka, we knew we might want to go seriously luxe out somewhere else.

Plus, when Marriott merged with Starwood, we suddenly realized that our future loyalty perks such as free resort nights and suite upgrades might be in jeopardy, so we best use ‘em or risk losing them.

So, we put our little heads together and thought: “What was the most luxurious, most customer-centric island-retreat-type Starwood property we’ve ever stayed at?” It was actually a no-brainer – The St. Regis Bali. Not only were they very generous with the suite upgrade (an amazing little house with private pool) but the staff were just phenomenal. We could not have been treated better. We booked our room for a weeklong stay, fully confident that we’d have a similar experience again and went on planning the rest of our trip.

Fire dancers
St. Regis Bali fire dancers.

About a month before our trip, we got an email from the St. Regis Bali. XFE opened it, thinking that maybe it was the concierge wanting to see if we needed anything special or (even better) informing us of a suite upgrade. But no. The hotel was informing us that the Government of Bali had rented the whole place out so we could not stay there (nor could anybody else), but the St. Regis would be happy to put us up at any other hotel in Bali (including the W in Seminyak, which we’ve stayed at and really enjoyed).

I gotta admit: My spoilt butt was a little bit crushed. Sure, I liked Bali and maybe would even want to return there at some point in the future because, heck, it’s Bali! But the main reason we were going at this particular time was for that amazing St. Regis experience. I wasn’t even thinking about how we were going to Bali again….I was thinking about how we were going to the St. Regis Bali again.

St. Regis Bali bedroom
I can almost smell the frangipani.

Plus, how rude! Do they not remember that we stayed at the St. Regis back in 2014, literally a month after a very high-profile murder had been committed there? But did we cancel our reservation or bail? No. No we did not. We just looked around for clues and made sure all the heavy vases and fruit bowls were gathered up and stored in the butler’s pantry.

Time out room for rowdy girlfriends.
Butler’s room in our villa at the St. Regis Bali. Good place to hide potential murder weapons.

(Side note: My favorite headline for a TripAdvisor review ever “Everything is perfect, until the murder happened.”)

But then I realized just how awful it must be for the hotel to have to move and re-accommodate all those people, including wedding parties and people on their honeymoon. All because the late-to-the-party Balinese government couldn’t book a conference in advance.

While I shrugged and tried let go of my dreams of kite-flying on the beach, champagne sabering and releasing baby sea turtles back into the sea, XFE got creative and offered up an alternative suggestion that neither one of us thought the fine people at Starwood/the St. Regis would EVER take us up on.

Room 805 at the St. Regis Bali
Room 805, our little piece of Balinese paradise.

That trip-planning-genius-of-a-man kindly suggested to the fine people at the St. Regis that they book us a room using our Starwood loyalty points (ie: with us only paying taxes, basically) at the newly-opened, super luxurious St. Regis in the Maldives. Oh, and he wanted an overwater, sunset bungalow, pleaseandthankyou.

ST-REGIS-MALDIVES-VILLAS Points Guy.png
NOT my photo. The Points Guy gets the credit on this one.

Now, just for comparison, rooms at the St. Regis Bali (looking at March dates, since that was the time of year we were looking at) run about $469 to $2,092 per night – definitely a chunk of change and nothing to sneeze at. The lagoon villa (with private pool) we stayed in in 2014 currently retails for around $1,200 a night.

Meanwhile, rooms at the St. Regis Maldives in March START at $2,580 and go up to $4,500 for a family villa. The sunset water villa (with private pool) that we ended up slumming it in for the week retails for $3,500 a night.

swinging
At that price, I think you get to keep the slippers.

We thought they would laugh in his face. We thought they’d say, “Ummmm, yeah, nice try. Now, may I direct your attention back to the list of luxury Balinese properties we’ve offered up to you, including a Bulgari and a Four Seasons? Surely one of those would do, no?”

But no. The exceptionally fine people at the St. Regis Bali just said, “Sure. We can make that happen. We’ll talk to the property and make sure they can accommodate your request.” And then THEY DID. Which is just another reason to add to the list of why the St. Regis Bali is amazing and wonderful and all of the great things. All of them.

St. Regis Welcome.JPG
Popping bottles, St. Regis Maldives style.

We had to change our flights from Sri Lanka, obviously. And book and pay for the prop plane to take us to from the Velana International Airport in Maldives to Vommuli, which was $645 roundtrip per person for a 45-minute flight to and from the resort, and yikes, that’s a lot of money but still.

prop plane.jpg
You don’t even get snacks on this expensive flight.

And that’s how we accidentally, unintentionally, and maybe undeservedly got to go to Maldives. THE MALDIVES. Without even planning to. All because of those conference-planning slackers, aka the Government of Bali.

self portrait
Me in the Maldives, where I do not at all belong. Literally, everybody there was rich. Like, really REALLY rich. It was crazy.
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Flying Fancy: Review of Emirates First Class

And we’re back! Actually, we’ve been back from Africa over a week, but I’ve been in post-vacation mourning.

post-vacation-cat
I remember when I was on vacation. That was nice.

That coupled with the fact that as a self-employed person, I made $0.00 during my little three-week break, and yet, my bills still came in during that very same three-week period and—quite rudely—those not-so-nice credit corporations and utility providers still expect to be paid. Which led to a flurry of “Hey, remember me? Can I do some work for you this week?” full-on panic-work activity and therefore, no blogging.

I’ve got TONS to say about South Africa and Tanzania and different safari styles and small little islands north of Zanzibar and Great Migrations and artisan gins and hot air balloon flights over the Serengeti (yes, that happened and wow), but before I get to all of that, I have to start at the end—with our flight home.

Because we flew in the rarefied air of Hollywood royalty in Emirates First Class.

anistonemirates-20151009110626719

I’m sure we’re all familiar with Emirates First Class at this point. It’s pretty ridiculous. And I say this as someone who has flown in Singapore First Class, which I also deem….pretty damn ridiculous.

Once again, lest anyone think we’re secret millionaires who won the lottery, we used airline miles to fly Emirates, this time in the form of 200,000 Alaskan Airline miles and $65.46 per person in fees and taxes (FYI, Alaskan Airlines has already caught on to schlubs like us using their miles to book Emirates First Class and has doubled the miles now needed to book the same ticket we booked. Womp. Womp.).

Similar to our Singapore flight, we were facing more than 21 hours of time in the air plus layovers, so for us, upgrading to such comfortable accommodations made total sense. Here’s how our return flights home broke down:

  • Pemba to Zanzibar: 30 minute flight on a Cessna that held 12 other people with questionable hygiene and no air conditioning.
  • Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam: 30 minute flight on the same Cessna with a group of new people with questionable hygiene and no air conditioning. Actually, I have no further questions on the hygiene of my fellow passengers. It was abundantly, nose-stingingly clear.
  • Dar Es Salaam to Dubai: 5 hours, 40 minutes.
  • Dubai to Dulles in D.C.: 14 hours, 20 minutes.

It was, to put it mildly, a haul, even in First Class. Which, I know, sounds a bit like complaining that my diamond shoes are hurting my feet.

Continue reading Flying Fancy: Review of Emirates First Class

Flying Fancy: Review of Singapore Airlines Suites

I think I’m generally pretty spoiled. And I’ve had some pretty spectacular flying experiences.

But our trip in the Singapore Airlines Suites was so over-the-top, it almost made this girl (formerly from the trailer parks of West Texas) downright uncomfortable.

Singapore Suites check in
I’m ready to check in, dorky grin included

First of all…let me just stop you right there. I’m sure you know, or suspect, that a ticket on such a flight from New York to Frankfort to Singapore costs about the equivalent of a nice car–or even, a West Texas trailer. But we didn’t pay that. We paid about $375 per person all told, thanks to miles we got last year through a LifeLock deal (the deal’s no longer available, guys. Sorry.)

Ticket for Singapore Airlines

So, we cashed in those miles for a true first class adventure on an airline that consistently gets rave reviews for its customer service. And, since the total flight time was around 19 hours (7.35 from New York to Frankfurt, 11.25 from Frankfurt to Singapore) PLUS a two-hour layover in Frankfurt, it’s worth using the miles to have a truly relaxing and pampered experience.

We started at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK. It was my first time there and it was a freaking awesome lounge! So coolly designed, yet cozy at the same time. Amazing (and free!) food and drinks, and they even had a spa featuring Dr. Hauschka products. I got a $20 15-minute moisturizing facial and then settled into a giant lounging couch with a blackberry bramble and a flatbread pizza for a snack. I almost wanted to just stay in the lounge. (Still, it’s no Turkish Airlines Istanbul Departure Lounge, which has to be the most amazing lounge I’ve ever been to, hands down, bar none).

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse interior
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse interior

Back to Singapore Airlines: Soon, it was time to board the gigantic A380 aircraft. We went down a separate, dedicated bridge to get to the front part of the plane, where our flight crew was waiting with champagne and newspapers to greet us (no trashy magazines, alas. I had to bring those myself.)

Singapore Airlines A380
The behmoth

Now on to the star of the show-–the much talked about suites: The whole set up reminded me of the old train berths.

Singapore Airlines Suites
Those stairs on the right go up to the Business Class section.

There are 12 suites, and on our first flight from New York to Frankfort, there were only two other people in the suites section.

Singapore Airlines Suites

We had picked the middle two seats, which can be folded down and combined into a double bed. Your seat is surrounded by private walls and your “pod” even includes a door. But the walls don’t go all the way up to the ceiling, so a very curious tall person walking by could still crane their neck and look down into your “pod.” And there were a lot of people (flight crew, mostly) walking around throughout the flight. Nevertheless, you did feel completely private and blocked from the view of those sitting around you.

Singapore Airlines Suite 3D

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The tan leather seats were like recliners, huge and wide and with lots of leg and back settings. Across from me, in another tiny seating/footrest alcove was the entertainment system and the Givenchy bedding. Soon after boarding, we received our pajamas and a Salvatore Ferragamo amenities kit, including a full-sized perfume.

Givenchy bedding on Singapore Airlines Suites

Ferragamo amenities kit on Singapore Airline

Ferragamo perfume from amenities kit

The fold-down bed is just awesome. There’s no denying that the best amenity on any first class flight is the ability to change into some pajamas, get completely prone on nice comfy pillows and sheets, and get some sleep. That, and all the new movie releases they have on board, which can keep you from getting any sleep at all (on our Cathay Pacific flight home, I made this mistake, watching “Foxcatcher,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Horrible Bosses II,” and something called “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” I was very cranky by the time we landed in Chicago. And I still had a flight to DC to look forward to.)

Double bed on Singapore Airlines

Double bed on Singapore Airlines

The food on the Singapore flights was, of course, good. I’m not sure it measures up to my favorite – Lufthansa, and it certainly couldn’t compete with the meal we’d had the night before at Le Bernardin! XFE had pre-ordered his meals using their Book the Cook option online, including a delicious pork cooked in beer (!) for the flight from Frankfort to Singapore. I don’t remember much of what either of us ate–I think I had some beef brisket on the first flight and a duck confit on the second, both off the menu–but I’m sure it was better than whatever food box I might have had the option to purchase on a United flight.

Wonton soup on Singapore Airlines
My favorite meal of the flight was a wonton soup I had before we landed in Singapore.
Givenchy plates on Singapore Airlines
I was, however, very impressed with the Givenchy plateware.

What I do distinctly remember is how ridiculously nice everyone was on both legs of our flights. The Singapore Airlines flight crews were incredible and so attentive. They consistently address you by name, your champagne glass is never empty. They’re attentive without being annoying. They made a super big deal out of my birthday, offered up suggestions on things to do in Singapore and where to get the best chili crab, and just really made the whole trip special.

My second birthday cake
My second birthday cake

When I didn’t finish my duck at dinner on the Frankfurt-to-Singapore leg (hard to cut duck with nothing more than a butter knife), they were pretty upset and concerned that it wasn’t prepared properly (it was) or that I hadn’t gotten enough to eat. Which is crazy when you consider that we basically ate something every few hours, and my main course had been proceeded by an appetizer, a soup, and a salad.

Birthday bear with a Singapore sling.
Birthday bear with a Singapore sling.

Overall, it was an amazing experience, and a great start to my birthday trip. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to use that option again, but I’m extremely grateful for having had the chance to roll around and relish all of it.

Friday Links: Sea Turtles and Legos Edition

Keep your head above water, little dude.
Keep your head above water, little dude.

I did not include enough turtle pictures in my post the other day. Here’s some additional ones, supplied by the ever patient XFE:

Turtle release in Bali
You can just see two little dark spots in this photo. Those are our boys.

Turtles at the St. Regis BaliTurtle release in BaliTurtle release in BaliTurtle release in BaliTurtle release Bali

Unflattering photo aside, I am essentially a giver of freedom, basically. A hero of nature, some might even say.
Unflattering photo aside, I am essentially a giver of freedom, basically. A hero of nature, some might even say.

Croatia: Sometimes Getting There is Half the Fun*

(*OK, maybe not half. Maybe more like, a third of the fun. Or even a smaller fraction. If I were good at math, I’d be able to tell you what a smaller fraction would be. But I’m not. Back to the blogging.)

First, let me clarify: it does not take 20 hours to get to Croatia. Unless. Unless you are travelling using your United Airlines miles, which automatically puts you at a direct-flight disadvantage, particularly if you’re going overseas.

And, if you want to go on a specific airline because they have a new product, like, for example, they’ve upgraded their business class (like Austrian Airlines just did) or, you already know and like the existing product (like Lufthansa first class).

Let’s review — the options are: get to Croatia relatively quickly (7.5 hours to London, 2 hours to Dubrovnik), but crushed back in coach, OR take the long way in first class and eat mountains of caviar and sample wines and champagne from around the world for hours on end while wearing Lufthansa-provided pajamas. That you get to KEEP. Caviar on first class Lufthansa flight to Croatia

We went with the second option. And today, Lufthansa is low on their monthly caviar supply.

Croatia has long been on my bucket list of places to visit. I heard about it pretty much the same way everyone else did – on the news because of the Balkan Wars and the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Later on, when I lived in London in 1997, I remember British people telling me about how beautiful Croatia was before the war and how it had been such a popular vacation destination. They talked about all the beautiful coastline, and how it was like Italy but cheaper (that’s still true, by the way).

And, it just sounded so exotic and different. I certainly didn’t know anyone who’d been there (other than the nostalgic British people I came across). I just kept reading about it on travel lists.

Then suddenly, we were going to Croatia. The right deal at the right time just came along.

croatia - map

After my embarrassment over my ignorance of Peru’s recent political upheavals (“wait, is there a Peruvian version of ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians?’ No? Oh, well then I’m not really invested”), I decided to actually read a bit about Croatia’s history.

I read two books: one bodice ripper “Croatia: A Nation Forged in War.” Let me tell you, it was a laugh a minute. It was a very dense book, but it definitely covered everything. And what I learned is Croatia has been a country that’s been kinda screwed. It had been occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Venetians, the Austrians, the Hungarians, and even the French before being consolidated into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which was then invaded by Germany during World War II.

That’s another thing – I also learned about Croatia’s own ethnic cleansing and genocide against Jews, Serbs and gypsies during World War II. I was totally unaware of the Ustashe before I read this book.

The other book was called “They Would Never Hurt a Fly: War Criminals on Trial in The Hague,” by Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulic. This cheerful tome was actually a much easier, if grim, read. I whipped through it pretty quickly, although the subject matter was chilling.

Well-prepared, I luxuriated in Lufthansa first class, finally tearing myself away from the caviar just in time to get my first glimpses of Croatia’s more than one thousand islands (no, seriously, there are over 1,000 islands). They were little dollops of greenery edged in tan and turquoise dropped into the cerulean blue Adriatic waters.

Yep, it was that inspiring and poetic. And romantic.

heart shaped Croatian island

We eventually waddled off the plane in Dubrovnik and picked up our rental car. This was actually done outside the airport at these portable buildings like they used to have at school, which gave the whole thing a slight air of delinquency. I kept looking around to see if any scholastic authorities were about to pounce and ask me what I was doing hanging outside the portable classrooms.

But no, my only companions were a bunch of mildly Mediterranean dudes smoking cigarettes and dealing with other clueless tourists, primarily very young people from England and Japan.

After securing our Volkswagon, we were off, driving about 35 minutes of twisty hillside roads from the airport to our hotel in Dubrovnik, the pearl of the Adriatic.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you all about that hotel. It’s worthy of its’ own post.

Sleeping on first class Lufthansa flight to CroatiaThat’s not a picture of our hotel, by the way. That’s me, bedding down in first class.

Rioja Part Two: Do Great Architects Make Good Wine?

“This Gehry guy really seems to know what he’s doing,” I said out loud, albeit, a bit breathlessly. I’m pretty sure the bellhop heard me on that one.

The swirling riot of metallic ribbons of fuschia, gold and silver that make up the roof of the Hotel Marques de Riscal will do that to a girl.

You would think after seeing Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, I’d have been a bit more jaded, a bit more prepared for the impact of a Gehry-designed building. I mean, how many times can one swoon at the site of some curved titanium?

Apparently, in my case at least, there is no cap on being awe-stricken by a building. And as the Spanish sun reflected the colors of the roof onto the ground beneath my feet, I was again amazed by architecture.

Marques de Riscal hotel and winery

The Hotel Marques de Riscal was the whole crazy origins of this trip to Spain. As a Starwood Luxury Property, we would stumble across pictures of it on Starwood’s website. It seemed incongruous to see this crazy modern property nestled in the center of a tiny old Spanish town.

It went into the “maybe someday” file.

But as we started talking about our trip to Spain, we decided we wanted to go somewhere off the beaten path. Someplace neither of us had been and that we would see together for the first time.

And then, of course, there was the wine.

Continue reading Rioja Part Two: Do Great Architects Make Good Wine?

Spain Does Not Suck

Hola chicas (y, un solo chico, possiblimente)! Como estamos? I’m great! And back from a fabulous vacation in Northern Spain.

Toons wants to go

Petunia really wanted to go. She’s Calico, which is kinda close to Catalonian, so she thinks she should go to Spain. In the photo above, she is sitting on my travel binder.

Oh, do you not know about the travel binder? This is a binder with all the emails exchanged with hotels and all the reservations and hotel and restaurant information we might need. Also, multiple maps for getting from point a to point b. Yes, it’s a bit anal. But it has come in handy. For example, the scuba outfitter in Australia had waived our guide fees because they had to move us to a different boat. Of course, the people actually on the boat had no record of this. So, out came the travel binder with all the emails. Done.

We had no problems whatsoever in Spain and we did not need the travel binder. And, since we had GPS, everything went smoothly.

Guggenheim. Bilbao.
Guggenheim. Bilbao.

The whole trip was pretty perfect. Even the weather cooperated. I had looked up the weather report for the week (and included it in the itinerary in the travel binder – my anal-abilities really do have no limits). The reports said it was supposed to be rainy and kinda cold every day. Highs only in the mid-50s, supposedly. The only time it rained was the first couple of days in Bilbao. Other than that, perfect weather.

Some highlights:

Discovering two new (to me) clothing stores called Cortefiel and Sfera. I picked up a few cute things at each of them. Shopping was how XFE kept me from falling down asleep on my first jet-lagged evening in Bilbao.

Pintxos. Holy tiny deliciousness. These are little bite-sized appetizers, like little open sandwiches and yummy little fried balls of awesomeness. And these things are just laying out at all the bars and you just help yourself. They’re these little works of art. So, so inventive. We pretty much ate them everyday, the entire trip. The very best, in our estimation, were at a place in San Sebastian called La Cuchara de San Telmo. We ate there twice our last day and it was unbelievable.

Pintxos in Bilbao, Spain
Our first night in Bilbao and the first of many, many pintxos.

Two Michelin-star dinners, including a very, very odd one at Miramon Arbelaitz in San Sebastian. It was in a very industrial type area (sorta like Reston), so they do a pretty brisk lunch business. We found the restaurant and went in for our 9 pm reservation. The place was entirely empty. And it stayed that way through our entire tasting dinner. They basically opened the restaurant for us. It was fantastic food at a really good value, but so, so awkward. I just kept wondering why they didn’t just tell us they weren’t taking bookings for that night.

Marques de Riscal with Elciego
At Marques de Riscal with Elciego in the background.

I’ll have some more posts in the coming days, including a description of some of the wine tours in Rioja, the hotels we luxuriated in, and probably some more pintxos.

Hotel Crashing: St. Regis Bangkok

I’m having caviar withdrawals. And my butler hasn’t brought me my morning cappuccino or left marzipan by my bed during turndown service in over a week. And I love my marzipan. This is wholly unacceptable.

Marzipan at the St. Regis, Bangkok
I especially like them when they’re shaped like little miniature fruit.

Such is life after a first-class vacation.

Yes, we used airline miles and flew first class the entire way to and from Australia, stopping in Munich and Bangkok along the way. The DC-Munich flights were on Lufthansa. The Munich-Bangkok-Sydney portion (and reverse flight) was on Thai Airways. I’ll go into more details about the first class section on those two airlines a bit later in the week. Let’s suffice it to say, we ate a Petunia-sized amount of caviar.

Petunia loaf
“I’m not sure what you’re thinking about, but please put the mini toasts down.”

But let me first talk about the St. Regis in Bangkok. While yesterday I said I wasn’t that fond of Bangkok, they do have a lot of very luxurious hotels. In fact, the St. Regis was right next to the Four Seasons. And, while I was very, very depressed by the poverty in Bangkok, my white man’s guilt was washed away in the marble soaking tub before I was lulled to sleep every night on 300 count Egyptian cotton sheets and plush pillows that practically cradled my head. No insomnia in Bangkok.

The St. Regis Bangkok opened a year ago, and from the moment you get there, its’ pure class. Huge ornate front doors open onto a cool white marble lobby. (Fun fact: it was like Bangkok Fashion Week or something while we were there and the Karen Millen show was held in the St. Regis lobby. No celebrity sightings though.)

Lobby at the St. Regis, Bangkok

You’re not allowed to lift a finger, not even to punch the elevator button to take you up to the fourth floor reception desk. Seriously, there are two hotel employees standing by the elevator to push the up button.

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We stayed two nights in one of the 15  Caroline Astor suites (not the one on the website, however, but still very nice, but we had normal windows, not those amazing panoramic ones on the website).

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

A long entry hallway had an entry table and a powder room before you entered the living room.

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The room was of course gorgeously decorated with beautiful Thai artwork and furniture mixed in with more modern, traditional furnishings. Everything was so plush and padded, especially the carpets and area rugs.

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Oh, and of course there were fresh flowers throughout.

Flowers in the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Flowers in the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The bedroom was similarly stunning, with a large king bed and luxurious linens and tasteful accents, including the glass base lamps and the adorable silver end tables .

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The bathroom was ridiculous – from the engraved mirrors above the double sinks to the rainshower/steamer. I am a bathroom girl and I think I could have happily lived in this one. There really was no reason to leave it, except to grab some more marzipan. The tub had a pillow for crying out loud.

Bathroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Even more ridiculous was the swimming pool, which was a gorgeous black infinity pool surrounded by tropical plants and sweeping views of The Royal Bangkok Sports Club and the Bangkok skyline. Near the pool was their Elemis Spa, which smelled divine.

Pool at St. Regis, Bangkok

Bangkok Sports Club

We also took full advantage of the free wine hour, which was held in a small dark library-type bar called the Decanter.  It was quite cozy, the pours were pretty generous and there were yummy meats and cheeses.

The suites come with the St. Regis’ world class butler service, who are renowned for their packing skills. However, since we had no luggage and basically three outfits apiece, our butler Jo could only help us with reservations and directions. Jo was impeccably dressed in a three piece suit and tie each time we saw him, which is insane when you consider how unbearably hot Bangkok was. All I could think about the whole time was “how does he get to work? Does he bring his clothes separately and then change?”

And Jo staged the suite each evening, turning down the lights, putting on soft music, putting slippers by the bed, laying out robes, replacing all the towels, and putting out the above-mentioned marzipan.

Turndown at the St. Regis, Bangkok

It was all pretty surreal at first, but its’ amazing how fast you can get used to having people push the elevator button for you.  Ever since we’ve gotten back, I often find myself just standing in the elevator at work, perplexed that no one has stepped forward to take on this heavy task for me.

Now if I could just train Petunia to put my slippers by the bed for me……

One Night In Bangkok Probably is Actually Sufficient

Oh Bangkok. I wanted to love you. I adore Thai food. You have such pretty architecture. And, one of my absolute favorite songs of the 1980’s extols your, erm, seedier aspects, shall we say?

A song, which Wikipedia tells me, has been covered by a Norwegian singer, a Swedish pop group, a Swiss DJ and a Danish boy band, so you have the Scandinavian vote on lockdown, so don’t worry about that.

But overall, I liked Bangkok, but did not love it, and while I’d be interested in exploring other parts of Thailand, I would probably skip Bangkok. Here are a few of my reasons:

  • It was hotter than blazes. Like sweating in places you didn’t know had sweat glands hot. Unrelentingly so.
  • It was very, very crowded. There are 12 million people in this densely populated metropolis. Compare that to the 22 million in the entire country of Australia.  And as a result…
  • It’s very, very stinky. Honestly, it gave New Orleans a run for its money. And so many different stenches. Especially along the docks by the river. As this blogger put it so well:

“Eau de Bangkok was a memorable odor. Combining the very worse Asia has to offer, it attacked the senses, an onslaught bloody enough to make a grown man cry, or at least foul enough to make a grown man’s eyes water. There was no escaping the city’s divergent odors; the sweet perfume of plumeria, the heady scent of incense from the thousands of shrines and temples, the reek of the river and canals that form an important part of the city’s transportation system (as well as a major part of its sewer system), the aroma of street side cooking on every block, weird tropical fruit that smelled as if someone had died beneath its skin, and the fragrance typical of a bustling Asian City overflowing with humanity and its offal. The aroma of Bangkok was a physical presence. It lodged in your throat like a pig wallowing in yesterday’s slop.”

  • And the poverty was nothing less than heartbreaking. Whereas we hardly saw any homeless people in Australia, in Bangkok, they were everywhere you looked. It was very humbling.

Mostly Bangkok gave me the same disoriented feeling I’ve experienced in Asian cities before: nothing looks right, even things I recognize seem off-kilter and unfamiliar. I always feel like I stumble through Asian cities in a sleepwalk state. Plus, as tall Americans, you really feel like you stick out and tower above most people, even though there were gobs of other tourists (Bangkok is a very, very inexpensive place, which makes it particularly attractive, I think).

Boat ride in Bangkok
An early morning boat ride down the river.

There’s always this aspect of sensory overload I get in Asian cities, much like what I experience in the bright lights and loud noises of Vegas. In Bangkok, there was just so much to see in such a small, tight space and so many unfamiliar noises all crashing on top of each other. This was particularly true when we were at the night market where there was just a crush of people (including tons of tourists) and stalls all crammed with cheap trinkets and fake designer goods.

We weren’t looking for anything, but if we had been, I don’t know how we ever would have found it.

Wat Po temple, Bangkok
Pretty sure I’m melting in this picture. This was at the Wat Po, which I think was named after thePoeLog.

Even when you escape the street stalls for the sidewalks, you’re assaulted with neon signs trying to lure you into the various bars and loads of people sitting on the sidewalks eating, talking to each other or on the phone, calling out to you, trying to show you a price list.

Added to that is the sense of debauchery I’ve basically coated the whole place with in my mind. I felt like everyone was hustling, or was on the make. In Bangkok, where prostitution is not only legal, but practically a sector of its tourism industry, I eyed every tourist suspiciously, sure that they were up to no good whether it was buying sex or fake Louboutins.

Gold buddhas at Wat Po temple, Bangkok
No fake Loutoutins here, just gold Buddhas here.

When we ducked outof the night market to grab a beer at a beer garden, a European couple sitting next to us were charming one of the Thai waitresses, taking pictures of her in cutesy poses on their camera phone. They didn’t know her, but sure wanted a lot of pictures of her. What in the hell would they want her photo for, I wondered. I couldn’t think of any good reason.

I’m not a puritan or anything. In fact, I came very close to buying several vibrators on chains at the night market  as party favors for Sorta Running Buddy Amy’s bachelorette party this weekend, but I know that Amy’s not into penis se toys, so me, the model of restraint, held back and did not buy those things. So that proves I”m not just not a puritan, but I’m actually quite considerate as well.

No, it’s not a sex-puritan thing. It’s more about the fact that more than anything I hate when people who have power and money take advantage of those who are weak or poor. My sense of justice and fairness runs pretty strong.

Statues in Bangkok
You have to love any place that has pink elephant statues in the median of busy roads.

I was also nervous about safety and scams, which there apparently there are plenty of in Thailand. On the day we went to the Grand Palace, they were closed for the afternoon. There were several “official” looking gentlemen out front directing us to some of the other tourists’ sites and trying to get us to use a tuk tuk. Apparently, these tuk tuks don’t actually take you to other city highlights, but instead take you to a whole bunch of jewelry and tailoring shops.

We did, however, visit a jewelry shop on our own, one that had been recommended by family friends. We spent a very cool and lovely afternoon at Johnny’s Gems, an institution among the diplomat and embassy circles in Bangkok. They even had a picture of Hilary Clinton shopping there, but I have to confess, I did not notice a single picture on the wall. I was too busy looking at the trays of gorgeous jewelry. They were quite accommodating at Johnny’s, even running next door to get you some of the best fried rice you’ve ever tasted.

fried rice at Johny's Gems, Bangkok
A really unflattering picture, but I was more interested in eating my rice than posing for photos.

We also had dinner on top of a skyscraper. The Vertigo restaurant on top of the Banyan Tree hotel was stunning, overlooking the entire city. It was an unforgettable dinner on a beautiful night.

So between the whole eating fried rice in a jewelry store and dinner on top of a skyscraper, I guess I liked Bangkok maybe more than I initially thought. It’s a pretty interesting place for sure.

Hotel Crashing: W Retreat and Spa, Vieques

The W Retreat and Spa in Vieques is like the hipster, musician boyfriend you dated way back in the day: uber-cool, way too sexy and smart for a nerd like you. Your street cred is instantly bumped up just by telling people that you are staying at such a cool, unique, and awesome “retreat.” But just like that no-good boyfriend, the W will let you down in a million different ways.

The W Vieques isn’t a bad hotel: there are a lot of great things about it. Like I said, it’s pretty hot to look at. The rooms, the grounds, the lobby, the restaurants and communal spaces are stunning.

The rooms and public areas were designed by Spanish-born Patricia Urquiola of Milan-based Studio Urquiola, and they incorporate a lot of Spanish touches like macramé lamp shades and large colorful murals. They also used a lot of reclaimed wood and local artwork, which is a nice touch. And they had some interesting unique touches like a pool table, acoustic guitars on stands, and a huge outdoor firepit that folks could sit around every night and listen to the ocean.

W Hotel, Vieques, Puerto Rico

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