Thursday, 30 April 2009

All about hotels

In the world of hotel
We are only temporary guests

When we check into a hotel, we never bother to dress up the room simply because we know it's no point decorating it, we know we will leave the room the very next day.

Likewise, we will not be attached to the beauty of the room. We know they don't belong to us therefore we cannot bring them along with us when checking out.

If we can see the earth as a hotel room, and we are only its temporary guests, suddenly we feel that we are just filling up some of its space. 

The hotel will always be there, only its guests come and go. Same for the earth we live in, one day we will also depart from it.

Of all my journeys embarked, the hotel room has become my contemplating ground. Small or big, luxury or budget, they have in a way taught me something about this samsaric life.

I do not own the world. And nothing I have is truly mine.

Never take your hotel room for granted.

Cool hotels 10

East meets West

What if you were seeing a girl and your father was strongly against it? To complicate things further, you were the Prince and your father was the well respected King Chulalongkorn of Siam, and the girl you were dating was Russian.

Now imagine yourself staying in this palace and reading fanciful stories from a published hard bound book with vivid details of the Prince's love stories.

You have to be, of course, in the villa of the Chakrabongse Palace on Maharaj road near Tatien pier.

Criss-crossed with historical detail of the Chakrabongse family, the villa provides an insightful glimpse into the royal residence, also within the compound and open to the public once in a blue moon. I visited the palace late last year, which prompted me to come back for a stay at the villa.

My room faces the Chao Phraya river, with Wat Arun in the foreground, and Wat Phra Kaew in the background, I felt as if I was tucked between pages of the Siamese history. The spot where I stood on the balcony, overlooking the water once infested with floods, might well be the rendezvous the Prince used to greet his Russian wife.

The villa is a typical wooden Thai house, more so especially seen from the exterior. Its aged old interior, though classic, is well facilitated with ipod player, wifi and plasma tv. I figured a bit of creature comfort wouldn't hurt a guest's stay.

The public has zero access to the villas. Gate entrance is strictly watched by the 24-hour security guard who can recognize every guest's face. After 9 in the evening the villa staff is officially off duty, leaving the whole royal legacy of the Chakrabongse to its guests and the murmuring inserts in the garden.

In the late hours before I retreated to my bed, I came across a note Prince Chakrabongse wrote to his beloved wife, Mom Katherine Desnitsky. Even he had to give up kingship, he would never give up his love. 

How amazing love can sometimes be!

Their first meeting place, St Petersburg.

Cool hotels 9

Come, see and stay

I told Koravit, the hotel owner of Ma Du Zi, that those images on her hotel website didn’t quite do justice to the actual place itself. 

She smiled, admitted it, but was pleased that I was impressed with the room facilities.

What made me like about her instantly was her open frankness and readiness to accept advices and suggestions. There was almost an air of friendliness between us.

Having Persian blood running in her body, Koravit instinctively applies middle eastern patterns to the once-masculine French outlet. Her introduction of floral designs on the walls and doors helps soften the atmosphere by giving the right balance of Yin into the dominant Yang setup.

The evidence was subtle but I could feel her play of meticulous detail, here and there, within the hotel area. Say, for instance, a bar of soap wrapped around by a leaf or a few heart-printed chocolates on the bed, an arty-designed laundry bag or a cool set of postcards and bookmark.

These are not all that made me wow.

The Kohler branded infinity soak bath, in every room, is rewarding after a hard day’s work. You can call the maid to prepare the bath for you on your way back to the hotel. Trust me, heaven can wait while you are soothing yourself in the tub.

The extra huge bed, 8 by 6.5 foot to be exact, lets you roll around without the fear of slipping out of it. Good for a guest like me who can’t sleep “still”.

The intelligent lighting in the room lobby automatically switches off when your presence is not felt by the sensor system. It saves plenty of energy for the world, as well as for yourself. 

Ma Du Zi, in Thai, literally means “Come and see”.

And yes, you should come and see it yourself, better still, experience it yourself too!

Plenty of room to sleep on this bed 

Cool hotels 8

Hidden but smitten

Forgive me if you disagree, that I think most 5-star hotels in the Twin Tower vicinity are no match for the Maya hotel.

It rarely gets mentioned in the travel magazines or websites because it's quietly hidden in an old building which travelers tend to pass by unnoticed.

It does not get rated among the top ten hotels in Kuala Lumpur because it doesn't have the right connection in the industry perhaps.

Its sky bar commands the best city view on the 13th floor but its Cantonese locals probably don't like number 13.

Its location is within walking distance to the KLCC and Ampang entertainment spots but it's also close enough to the Malay cemetery.

Its interior decor won a design award for its sheer simplicity but not many hotel guests prefer to walk into an empty space.

For all these reasons above plus a few of my preference, such as the warm jacuzzi swimming pool, the ala carte breakfast, the fabulous toiletries set and a really cool adjustable writing desk.

I personally think the Maya hotel is such a rare find.

I have come back to stay here over and over again whenever I go shooting in Malaysia. Put all the nights together I have since stayed, it might well be over 3 months. 

Enough to prove that this is my kind of hotel.

Bamboo forest, empty space and minimal decor

Cool hotels 7

Room with a view

Few hotel rooms in Bangkok command such an unfolding panoramic view of Temple of the Dawn, where I woke up to the sounds of river boats every morning, and to my astonishment, my hotel neighbors had been living in the old quarter since decades ago.

With only 7 rooms to choose from, you are almost guaranteed of privacy. Checking in or out is smooth as the river breeze.

Nestled on the Ratanakosin island, Arun Residence is literally steps away from Wat Pho, which houses the world's largest reclining buddha, the Grand Palace, Museum Siam and Pakorn Flower market, one of the busiest in Asia.

If you rise early enough, you can make merit by giving morning alms to the monks who walk past the shop lots. Or if Thai delicacies are your bet, a stroll along the pavement provides you with an array of local tastes. 

The Sino-Portuguese river house faces the west side of the Chao Phraya river, so sunset is a great time to unwind and to observe Temple of the Dawn with its glittering lights.

I had a great therapeutic massage in the comfort of my room. The masseur was from the respected Wat Pho traditional medical and massage school. 

Ask the staff to arrange one for you, as the hotel is built on the land owned by Wat Pho, they have a special deal to work things out.

Temple of the Dawn, seen from my viewfinder.

Cool hotels 6

The city of sleep and relax

The hotel name, Phranakorn-Nornlen,  is a bit of a mouthful to spell or pronounce. Its location, hidden deep in a soi off Thewet, can be a pretty daunting task for the first timer. Nevertheless, it is well worth the effort when you finally find your way to this hidden gem.

Rose, the host of the hotel, greeted me with her genuine Thai smile. She showed me a few room layouts, each with its own hand-painted walled mural, and it was tough to make a choice among them. 

The next early morning, I made a swift visit to Thewet market, where the Royal household used to frequent 100 years ago. Rumors had it that they arrived in big empty boats, and left full of fresh produce enough for a week. I stood by the pier, now in need of repair, took a long glance at the river and imagined its hey days.

When I returned to the hotel, Rose had already made my organic breakfast, with freshly squeezed juice and vegetables grown on the hotel's rooftop. 

"We grow some of our ingredients here without chemical fertilizers. Or we buy them from the royal agricultural projects by HRH King Bhumiphol." She beamed again, "We support only farmers who live in good moral codes and use ingredients according to the season."

It is hard to believe that Rose was once a well known Thai celebrity. She didn't act like a snob at all as most local celebrities do. 

Perhaps she was too exhausted having to put on an act in the entertainment industry.

Phranakorn-Nornlen, in Thai, means "the city of sleep and relax". Judging from its neighborhood address, you would be grateful for where it is situated.

Sustainable living can be pretty cool and chic too.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Cool hotels 4

Sleep at Seven

How about a small boutique hotel with only seven rooms in seven colours? 

And all you have to do is select one of the seven days to suit your mood. Sound like a dream? No, welcome to Seven on Sukhumvit 31.

Each of the seven rooms is inspired by the deep-rooted Thai tradition of relating each day of the week to a specific god of the planets found in ancient Indian astrology.

Sunday is red for the Sun god Phra Arthit.
Monday is yellow for the Moon god Phra Charn.
Tuesday is pink for the Mars god Phra Angkarn.
Wednesday is green for the Mercury god Phra Phut.
Thursday is orange for the Jupiter god Phra Pareuhat.
Friday is blue for the Venus god Phra Suk.
Saturday is purple for the Saturn god Phra Sao.

I had the fortune to stay here for three nights, changing my room from Pink to Orange to Blue. And without fail, its ceiling to floor coloured murals affected me emotionally. When I was embraced in a sea of orange, I started feeling sunny too. Likewise in a blue atmosphere, I became more melancholy and less inclined to be agitated. 

Scientists have proved that certain colours can invoke a part of our hidden memory from our sixth consciousness. I suspect it may go even deeper into our eighth Alaya consciousness.

The day I left happened to be on sunday, I discovered upon checking out that the red lobby/public room which I have breakfast everyday was actually its seventh.

The Sun God was there in the room, greeting me at my departure.

The Orange room, with its hip murals.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Cool hotels 3

Arriving home

The Eugenia is named after the hotel owner's 83 year-old Vietnamese friend, who inspired the creation of this chic property.

It is hard to believe that the 12-suite Eugenia was built anew according to master plan. Every single detail in the house is meticulously conceived, so much so that it truly evokes the opulence of an authentic 17-century chateau.

Indeed, when I arrived here, I felt more like arriving home than at a hotel.

The suite I stayed was appointed with antique copper bathtub, metal switch boxes, old reading lamps, and a Victorian bed with Belgium-imported white linen. And if you are a vintage car fan, a nostalgic ride in Jaguar MK VII or Mercedes Ponton 220 S around the town is highly recommended.

Room amenities are standard but its unlimited free overseas call certainly sounds tempting . Calling home or friends abroad has become part of the activities here.

On the nights I was there, the hotel owner, a Taiwanese architect, was not in town. I didn't have a chance to ask him why he decided to use an old lady's name as its hotel signature.

Needless to say, it will be another fascinating story to hear.

The emerald pool is a great spot to read and write.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Cool hotels 2

Number Sixteen

I stayed at Number Sixteen for three simple reasons. 

First, most five-star hotels in London easily cost over 300 Pounds per room. I paid 200 Pounds for a 55 sqm, much spacious than the usual hotel rooms.

Second, nothing can really beat this stylish mid-Victorian white stucco terrace on 16 Sumner place, I truly felt like living the life of an English man.

Third, it's right in the heart of a bustling neighborhood, steps away from Victoria & Albert and Natural History museums, Harrod's and Knightsbridge. Plus a mere five minutes' walk to South Kensington tube station.

Last note to add. Though not important to some, I had been mesmerized by the weather forecast stickers stuck on the paper every morning. It might not help save the notorious climate reputation, but it certainly left a mark on my heart.

When you are mindful enough, people can notice the difference you make.

Instyle magazine called it a temple of sophistication

Cool hotels 1

A letter to Kurt

Dear Kurt,

Legendary is a word I hardly use in my daily vocabularies. A word I probably will not relate to the service industry, unless of course, the establishment really deserves it.

This is my first stay with the Oriental Bangkok, and undoubtedly one of the most memorable hotel stays I have so far in the land of smiles.

The Sukhothai may be known for its imported buckwheat pillows. The Four Seasons for its 24-hour fitness centre with free flow of fresh juices and coffee. The Peninsula, diagonally opposite from the Oriental, is thoughtful for its digitalized weather forecast in every room.

But none comes close to the Oriental for its impeccable personal service.

Daisann McLane once said when hotel rooms are perfect, she often forgets the details. Here I will not go into detail on the d├ęcor of the rooms. But allow me a few words on the pleasant staff at the Oriental, who is well mannered in every sense of the word, and who makes me feel both welcome and comfortable all the time.

The butler on my floor, Khun Rinrada, is a charming lady who goes all her ways to meet my needs. She will always press the lift button for me every time she sees me leaving my room. She gave me a vase of fragrant flowers for my bathroom. And she even offered me a bar of lemongrass soap when she learnt that I liked the smell of this Thai spice.

My room is well maintained by her meticulous inspections. She feels more like an old friend to me than a staff at the Oriental. And giving more than what the guests expect has indeed become a motto here.

Another important person worth mentioning who makes my stay possible is Khun Santichai, director of sales. Within my tight budget he managed to work out a good deal for me to experience the Oriental stay. I was particularly impressed by the view of my room. He even called to wish me well during my stay.

Needless to say, no one can whistle a symphony alone. It takes a whole orchestra to play it. Over the past few days I observed the staffs at various departments, and my conclusion is, they all love working for the Oriental and feel proud being part of it. From their bright smiling faces I see loving kindness and friendliness. And it reminds me of a beautiful saying: you cannot always have happiness, but you can always give happiness.

We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future. George Bernard Shaw knew it. And you knew it too by saying about the Oriental: our history is also our future.

I wish the Oriental the very best in the coming years.


Vancelee Teng

Where renowned writers sat and sipped...