The Resource team has returned safely from an extended sojourn, savouring the sights, sounds and flavours of Dubai, Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. While our cold, damp bones can’t say they’re happy to be back, we’re actually rather excited about being home: we have reams of notes to go through and hundreds of photographs to edit in order to put together our city guides, hotel recommendations and restaurant reviews. While we’re tapping away at our keyboards, and huddling around any and every available heat source, recalling some fond memories (as well as the odd service nightmare!) here’s a little taster of our favourite moments on our epic journey.
1. MOST STEALABLE HOTEL BATHROOM PRODUCTS:
The Metropolitan, Bangkok
The COMO Hotel and Resort’s own brand of toiletries, COMO Shambhala, found us hunting down the housekeeping trolley and risking excess baggage (and charges of theft) on our onward journey as we stuffed every available corner, washbag and sock with bottles of this divine product. The Invigorating range, found in abundance in our stunning minimalist marble-clad bathroom, is the signature blend in a range of seven, infused with geranium, lavender and peppermint. One sniff and we’re right back to the serenity of our room at The Metropolitan in the heart of frantic Bangkok.
2. BEST BREAKFAST BUFFET:
The Address Downtown Burj Dubai
Hotels in Asia and the Middle East sure know how to throw together a breakfast buffet. This was, bizarrely, the most hotly contested category in our round-up, with the first hotel that we stayed in, The Address Downtown Burj Dubai vying against the last, Jumeirah Beach, also in Dubai. Sukhothai in Bangkok gave them both a good run for their money. Those deemed the best in class had several notable additions: live cooking stations; constantly replenished areas meaning that whatever time you drag yourself down to the breakfast, it looks like it’s just been set up; an excellent array of fresh fruits and healthy options; a few left-field additions to keep things interesting; generous breakfast serving times, making sure things open up at an ungodly hour for those of us jumping onto early flights. Absolute no-nos included bread and pastries not baked in-house; empty trays with mere crumbs to suggest what was once there; no healthy options for those of us who can’t face a Full English every morning; juices straight from a carton.
The Address’s freshly-squeezed juices, smoothies and fruit selection was the winner for us – a veritable cocktail of healthy juices meant we started our day off as we didn’t go on. The addition of freshly-cooked Indian curries, Thai options and a range of breads that would send the wheat-intolerant into a frenzy landed The Address its crown.
3. BEST HOTEL BAR:
The Met Bar at The Metropolitan Bangkok for urban chic and The Bamboo Bar (pictured) at The Oriental, Bangkok for traditional old time elegance
The Met Bar: The Met Bar cocktail list at Bangkok prices is a thing of beauty to behold. Urban, sleek and staffed with Bangkok’s most beautiful, it’s certainly not the kind of hotel bar you’d slouch down to for a cheeky G&T without having first done hair and make-up. Attracting BKK’s hottest young things, this place gets hot and busy at the weekends and as a hotel guest, you can swish past the velvet rope.
The Bamboo Bar: From another era entirely, but equally as fabulous, is The Oriental’s Bamboo Bar. Head there after dinner and hope that there’s a jazz singer crooning while you partake in some perfectly mixed cocktails. The only thing that’s missing is the cigar smoke (although you can pop next door to the humidor if you’re that way inclined).
4. BEST VIEW FROM OUR ROOM:
The Address Downtown Burj Dubai, Dubai
As well as the sweeping panorama from our ample balcony, which became the perfect viewing platform for the water show performed by the world’s largest fountain below, towering above us was the newly-opened Burj Khalifa. An extraordinary sight in the winter sunshine, by day it loomed and caught the sun while at night its lights twinkled its enormity to passing jumbo jets.
5. BEST COCKTAIL:
Zeavola Resort, Koh Phi Phi
Zeavola’s Tom Yum cocktail needs to be rolled out all across Thailand and embraced as the country’s signature drink. A refreshing, citrus-y Martini with just the right level of sweetness, this lip-smacking beauty is finished with generous amounts of lime, lemongrass and enough chilli to make your lips tingle.
6. BEST MEAL:
The Oriental, Bangkok
The words ‘banquet’ and ‘buffet’ generally turn us cold when it comes to meal options, but having embraced the breakfast buffet we were open to having our minds changed – it helped that this would be taking place as Bangkok’s Grande Dame, The Oriental. Location wise, this is the perfect spot: as drinks are poured and course after course arrives, it’s the most wonderful spot from which to watch the hustle of the river traffic going by. Plate after bowl after plate arrived on our table, which yawned under the weight of a beautifully constructed menu. This was our first night in Bangkok and we truly felt that we’d arrived. Stand-out dishes included the green curry (to beat all green curries) and the beef and grape salad.
7. BEST SERVICE:
Anantara Phuket and Emirates Business Class
Anantara: At every single turn there was a member of staff preening and pruning Anantara’s tropical slice of heaven. Not so that you felt you were always being watched or observed or that your peace was being intruded upon, but enough to know that at every single level the staff at Anantara care. From the delightful staff who greeted and chatted to us at breakfast, to cheeky bartenders who shared a joke over a cocktail; from the shy gardeners who kept Anantara lush and green and manicured at every turn, to the helpful concierge and check-in staff. Wherever we were, whether returning hot and sweaty from an early morning game of tennis, or weaving ever-so slightly after post-prandrial drinkies, a “sa-wat dee” would greet us.
Striking the perfect balance between warmth and super-professionalism, the crew inEmirates’ business class cabin on the way to Dubai made us feel that nothing was too much trouble. And they seemed to be as excited about the trip as we were – adding a real sense of occasion to the journey.
Even the most hardened long-haulers amongst us raised a smile (and several glasses) on the Dubai to Bangkok leg on the new Airbus A380 – the excitement from all was palpable, despite over an hour’s delay. Shining like a new pin, the staff practically showed off with their new toy, letting us slip behind the bar to serve drinks and whisking us through First Class to check out the in-flight shower rooms. (Pictured above is Resource’s Editorial Director, Lisa Richards, jumping behind the bar and serving her fellow travellers a round of drinks).
8. BEST ROOM:
Another hard-fought contest, Anantara’s room-with-wow won out. It wasn’t just the privacy and the villa’s own private pool that made this our favourite room on our entire trip (OK, so the pool really did help), but God was in the details and the designer of this stunning hotel certainly had fun when putting the finishing touches to place: from a launch-pad in the bedroom so that in one stride you were in the pool, to a bowl of goldfish next to bed; from an abundant supply of free mosquito repellant, to the al fresco bath in the pool; from the capacious walk-in wardrobe to the outdoor shower; from the outdoor sala to the drawing pad and sharpened pencils in case creativity struck. And what better place for creativity to strike?
9. BEST IN-ROOM ENTERTAINMENT/TECHNOLOGY SYSTEM:
You can put all manner of whistles, bells and automated nonsenses into a room, but if they don’t work, why bother? A month of hotel rooms equalled endless frustrations with over-complicated TVs, DVD players that weren’t connected properly to TVs, iPod docks that didn’t charge our iPod or let out such a tremendous hum that our carefully prepared playlist could barely be heard above the racket, electronic curtains that had to be yanked open and shut and such a constellation of glowing lights from a room packed with technology that we ended up draping the contents of our suitcase over every shining light before retiring to bed.
Sukhothai’s newly-refurbished rooms are packed with technology – and great technology at that, because everything worked. And better still, even the non-geeky amongst us could work it out. Mirrored surfaces became flat-screen TVs when operated, LED lights transformed the bathroom into the most perfectly lit space, dimmer controls at the side of the bed meant we didn’t have to get up to get down to sleep, and the loo was even complete with a Japanese bottom-washing toilet (which we tested for research purposes, naturally). Brilliant.
10 .BEST CHAUFFEUR SERVICE:
Banyan Tree, Bangkok
There’s nothing as lovely, after a long-haul flight, to see your name splashed across a piece of card with the logo of a world-renowned five-star hotel just above it. But, perhaps better still, is being whisked to the airport, having spent a wonderful afternoon, evening and morning at the aforementioned five-star hotel, and not only having your suitcases lifted onto a trolley for you, but that trolley being pushed all the way to check-in for you (and a new desk miraculously opens before you – a coincidence, perhaps, but we like to think our lovely chauffeur had something to do with it), your passports being handed across for you and your suitcases transferred without you ever lifting a finger (apart from to sup at your complimentary in-car bottle of perfectly chilled mineral water). Now that’s how we like to travel.
11. BEST SPA TREATMENT & BEST BEAUTY TREATMENT:
When visiting Thailand, you know you’re going to get some world-class spa treatments. And if you don’t, you’ve been staying at the wrong hotels because even if you wander into a formica-clad “spa” in a shopping centre in the heart of the city, you’ll experience an excellent foot massage or manicure.
Treatments are so personal: while some of us love being bent over backwards and pummeled until we’re lean and tender, others prefer to be lulled into a catatonic, dribbling state. Mine’s the latter, although my Thai massage at The Oriental in Bangkok left me energised and utterly amazed that my ageing body after a long-haul flight could bend itself into such wonderful shapes and angles.
A full body massage at Anantara’s spa, with a requested light-to-medium pressure (I was still feeling tender after my Thai massage at The Oriental), took 90 minutes and by the end I was feeling what could only be described as euphoric: the spa epiphany had been reached, at long last. A higher state of physical and mental being that I thought I’d never reach, especially after so many massages. When my masseuse carefully led me out to the main spa area and poured me tea and casually asked how my massage was, I almost burst into tears. The massage by which all massages are now rated.
The Address Downtown Burj Dubai: The Address’s ESPA spa with its stunning views was, quite literally, a high point of our stay in Dubai. ESPA’s products are always a winner with us, and the facials we experienced were sublime: friendly (but not overly so) therapists analysed our skin types before launching into a nourishing, relaxing facial that not only left us looking fabulous, but feeling pretty damn good too.
Notable mentions: Despite an embarrassing spa faux-pas (there always has to be one and it’s pretty much always created by us – we can’t talk about it, it’s just too awful to recount) the Banyan Tree’s spa experience was memorable for all the right reasons. Excellent products and really wonderful staff.
12. BEST SPORTS FACILITIES:
For tennis fiends, there are not only excellent courts at Amanpuri, but the best players in Phuket to challenge you to a game if you’re feeling like more than just a laid-back knock up. And if your six-pack isn’t quite up to the standards of Amanpuri’s well-honed guests, then head to the hotel’s gym located on quite possibly the most prime piece of real estate on the whole of Phuket. Perched on high, with views out to sea and of the coastline, we can’t think of anywhere more inspiring in which to work off a few cocktail calories.
Notable mention: The addition of a PowerPlate at The Metropolitan Bangkok made this small but perfectly formed gym a great all-rounder.
13. BEST BEACH/POOL LOUNGER:
Zeavola, Koh Phi Phi
Rather than the traditional lounger, Zeavola’s beach is strewn with huge leather beanbags. An intriguing sight at first, but once you’ve got the knack, have covered the searingly hot leather with a couple of beach towels and positioned it firmly in the sunshine, you realise you’ve got the most comfortable lounger known to man. Whether propped into the reading/cocktail-drinking position, or bashed out into snooze position, apart from the need to cool off in the clear waters, there was nothing else to tempt us away from the sand. If only – if only, Zeavola – you had a member of staff to take drinks orders on the beach and then we wouldn’t have had to leave our beanbag at all. (A cute touch is the table strewn with used paperbacks and back issues of glossy mags that you can help yourself to).
14. BEST HOTEL BEACH:
Basking on one side of us was the prince of an African country and his entourage (great for snippets of gossip when you’re in that blissful state between sleep and consciousness) and to the other a chiseled American couple who were most probably related to the Kennedys. Amanpuri equals discreet superluxe and its beach is where its beautifully turned out guests come to read, sunbathe, swim and eye each other up. At one end of a secluded beach and with its own roped-off swimming area, complete with pontoon and fishy feeding area (bread is left on the pontoon in a chill box so you can encourage the kaleidoscope of fish to swim nearby), this stretch of white, soft sand and clear, clear waters is as a perfect beach idyll as you’ll find the world over.
15. BEST HOTEL MANAGEMENT:
And not just because we were upgraded to a villa with our own private full-size, black slate clad pool (pictured above). No. Sometimes, quality of management shines through. General Manager Fred Varnier and his team were always out and about, chatting to guests at breakfast, saying ‘hi’ on the beach, introducing their amazing chef to your table at dinner and were there again to wish you a fond farewell when you left. We don’t know how they ever get any work done. We could have chatted for hours with the GM about the Amanresorts brand and the intricacies of running a hotel of this calibre. Fascinating stuff. Clearly a man who very much loves his job. And who can blame him?