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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review: Best Western Premier Dua Sentral, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

It had been raining daily ever since I arrived in Laos, so most of my planned activities went out the window. The internet connection was abysmal, too, so I wasn't able to work on my deliverables the whole time I was there, so I've made the decision to fly to KL two days earlier than my intended travel date. 

Thankfully, the guys at Best Western Premier Dua Sentral were able to accommodate my request to change dates on such short notice - even during peak season.

I arrived at the new and massive KLIA2 half past one, and took my sweet time wandering around the airport. And because I was so used to arriving at LCCT and taking the bus to KL Sentral, it didn't occur to me that I could have taken the KLIA Ekspress located within the complex. 

Well, at least now I know what to do next time I'm in KL.

photo from Best Western Premier Dua Sentral's Facebook page


Embarrassingly, I arrived a couple of hours late than the official check-in time, and found out that the front desk actually called AirAsia to check if my flight got delayed. 

So to avoid the same mistake I did (or if you're arriving early and are not in a hurry), here are a couple of options of getting to the hotel from KLIA/KLIA2: 
  • Take a cab - obviously expensive, but is the most convenient way;
  • Take the KLIA Ekspress (33 minutes, RM35.00) OR the Skybus (1 hour, RM10.00) then take the free hotel shuttle (depends on the schedule) at KL Sentral. If you miss the shuttle, you can hail a cab in front of Nu Sentral mall. 
The Assistant Front Office Manager, Maggie, immediately ushered me to my 1-bedroom Club Suite upon arrival

Meanwhile, the bellhop took care of my luggage.


I was pleasantly surprised with the welcome gift: an assortment of sweets like pralines, macarons, and petit cakes - all of which I really, really loved! 


My suite has a separate lounge equipped with flat screen TV - which you can control with your smartphone, by the way - a DVD player, and comfy couch.


There's also a writing desk complete with stationery supplies, and has plenty of power outlets. This, combined with the fast and complimentary WiFi will definitely make any business traveler happy. 


The writing desk faces the window with a view of KL's skyline. Immediately noticeable is the beautiful Moorish-style KL Railway Station and Menara KL. 


The suite is equipped with a kitchenette (sans cookware), and coffee and tea making facility. It even has a CBTL machine!

The mini bar is well-stocked, too.


***

The bedroom is separated from the lounge by a wooden sliding door.  

My gorgeous bed

My bed was just the right size and firmness, and I love the fresh and fluffy sheets. 

They were generous with the pillows, and even have a Pillow Menu so you can have it changed according to your preference.


The en suite bath is in an 'open concept' fashion with only a frosted glass separating the tub from the room. 

There's a separate shower stall with rainshower head, too. 

I also appreciate that they have a retractable clothes line in the shower stall because where else would you hang your wet swimsuit, right? Other hotels with pools haven't even thought about that. 

Plus points for the toilet with hand held bidet with adjustable pressure. 

Clean and simple, but classy bathroom
Hairdryer: check! Dual sided swivel vanity mirror: check! Premier toiletries and grooming kit: double check!

Their toiletries are some of the best I've used among all the hotels I've stayed at!

Bathrobes, plenty of plush towels, and slippers are provided. 

Inside the closet are plenty of hangers, iron and ironing board, and electronic safe.

But what I appreciate most are the small details - things I don't often see in other hotels like bath salt, sewing kit, shoehorn, and the potpourri in the lounge. 


***

In terms of food, there are plenty of dining options within the hotel.

TOP: Apple Quencher mocktail, teh tarik, stawberries & cream
BOTTOM: smoked salmon bruschetta, parfait, scones, and petit cakes (not pictured)

On my first night, I went to Punch Bar & Lounge, and tried their Apple Quencher mocktail. I rarely drink alcohol, so their mocktail selections were just perfect for me. I enjoyed it while chilling at one of their colorful art deco chairs. 

The following day, I also got the chance to try their English Afternoon Tea (only offered on weekends). I didn't know that the set was good for two people, so I had a hard time finishing it off. In fact, I was so full after that I had to skip dinner.


Also on my first night, I had dinner at Hugo's on 6 which is located at the pool area. 

The theme was BBQ Sensation so I gorged on chicken and beef satay, grilled lamb, shawarma, grilled corn on the cob, among others.

Fresh salads, seafood, paella, fruits, desserts etc. were also served.

There was even a saxophone player who performed that night, so guests enjoyed dinner while simultaneously entertained by the music and the view.

A quiet Kembali Kitchen at noon. Guests have either checked out or already wandering about in KL at this time.

Now, let's talk about one of my favorite hotel breakfasts ever served at Kembali Kitchen! 

Kembali Kitchen pays homage to Malaysia's multicultural society by highlighting Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian dishes. Western, and even Mediterranean fare are available as well. Additionally, there's live omelet, pancake and waffle, and noodle stations.  



I'll tell you a little secret: I pigged out on roti canai paired with either hummus or baba ganoush every breakfast. :p

My stay coincided with Hari Raya so you can just imagine how busy it was at the buffet breakfast, but the staff tried their best to manage the queue. They were also quick to 'bus out' tables, and food warmers were constantly replenished.


I also had the privilege of trying out Bhuvana Spa Luxe. It was a real treat for my weary body. Imagine the torture my back and shoulders suffered after lugging my bags for 2 weeks through Thailand and Laos.

I had a one-hour aromatherapy massage which started with gentle stroking, kneading and rubbing of tight muscles using essential oils to release tension.   

My therapist, Yana, was really really good. Even without telling her, she started with my back, and I think I actually heard my spine pop as if it was suddenly properly aligned. haha I immediately felt the tension went away and my muscles started to relax. 

It was a really blissful experience.


***

Everyone at Best Western Premier Dua Sentral was really nice, courteous, attentive, and were dedicated in ensuring that guests have a pleasurable stay that I didn't go out the whole time I was there.


K

~~ I was hosted by Best Western Premier Dua Sentral for 2 nights, but all opinions in this review are my own. ~~


8 Jalan Tun Sambanthan
50470 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +60 (3) 2272 8888
Twitter: @bwp2sentral
Instagram: @bwpduasentral


For real time travel updates and more photos, please 'Like' my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram. Happy travels!

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review: Siripanna Villa Resort & Spa, Chiang Mai

After two days of exploring the temples of Chiang Mai, the night market, and a whole day of elephant mahout training, my body craved for some rest, and Siripanna Villa Resort & Spa provided the perfect respite.

photo courtesy of Siripanna Villa Resort & Spa
The beautifully decorated lobby with distinct Lanna design will greet you upon arrival at Siripanna. 
Bright Lanna lanterns adorn the ceiling and were the perfect contrast against the dark wood.

The staff warmly welcomed me with a smile, and I was immediately served rice juice and cold towel while they proceed with the check in procedure. 

After handing my room keycard and WiFi login details, the bellhop took care of my bags, and another staff ushered me to my Deluxe Lanna Room.

Beautiful Lanna art!

At 42 square meters (excluding balcony space), to say that the room is huge is an understatement. I think my bed can even comfortably sleep 3 people! 

There's also a daybed where I sometimes do some of my online work.

All rooms have a 32"/40" LCD TV with cable channels; WiFi/internet access*; bathrobes, slippers, and umbrella; electronic safe; well-stocked mini bar; coffee and tea making facility; 4 complimentary bottled water per day; and hairdryer.  

Bathroom photo taken with the AEE MagicCam

Undoubtedly, my favorite part of the room was the bathroom. 

It has a separate shower room and bathtub, which had sliding window panels, so I can still watch TV while soaking in a hot bubble bath. They provide plenty of towels, and huge bottles of shampoo and shower gel, too. Don't you just hate it when hotels expect you to have a bubble bath with just 2 tiny tubes of shower gel/bath foam? Ridiculous!

The turndown service was also lovely. Aside from the usual turning down the linens and drawing the curtains, they would also turn on the electronic mosquito repellent and would even leave Thai rice crispies on my bed.

Royal Lanna Villa

There are 74 well-appointed guestrooms that guests can choose from including the Royal Lanna Villa pictured above. With 60 square meters of floor space excluding the outdoor terrace (15 square meters), each villa has a spacious bathroom with jacuzzi, separate shower area, and a Thai sala plus all the same amenities as my Deluxe Lana Room's.

The Royal Lanna Villas are within close proximity to the swimming pool, but the lush foliage ensures guests still get to enjoy their privacy.


Breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner are served at Slee Banyan. 

Guests and non-guests can enjoy themed buffets from Monday to Sunday as follows:

Business Lunch, Monday-Saturday, 12:00-15:00 at THB189** per person 
- fresh salad bar, warm soup of the day, pasta station, pizza, Kao-Soi and local noodles, northern Thai food corner, and dessert

Slee Banyan Night Buffet, Monday-Saturday, 18:30-22:30 (with live music every Thursday to Saturday) at THB389** per person 
- salad, spicy Thai food, sushi and sashimi, homemade Thai desserts, homemade pastries and ice cream plus a live cooking station featuring Chinese noodles served with red roasted pork, authentic Vietnamese steak, Mexican nachos and tacos, French roasted meat, homemade Italian pizza and more.

Slee Banyan Sunday Lunch, 12:00-15:00 at THB589 per person (with live jazz music)
- menu options include international fare, comfort foods, Asian and Japanese selections and fresh seafood.

Slee Banyan High Tea, Everyday, 14:00-18:00, THB450 per person
- enjoy special selections of Ronnefeldt tea and freshly brewed organic coffee accompanied with choice of sandwiches, homemade scones, macaron, cake and cookies 

Some of my personal favorites are the creamy pumpkin soup, assorted canape, chicken satay, mango lassi, homemade ice cream, and matcha macaron. 

A la carte option is also available.

**inclusive of drinking water

Slee Banyan outdoor garden

The resort offers a number of relaxing and educational activities. 

You can just lounge by the pool area if you're feeling lazy or have a luxurious treatment at Panna Spa. 

Guests can also enroll in a Thai cooking class or try the paddy sprouts planting at their Panna Field. I tried this activity, and it was a fun and nice experience! I saw some kids enjoying themselves, too. 

Guests who wish to experience tak bat or the monks alms giving ceremony may also book this activity.

Please take note, though, that you may need to reserve a slot a day in advance for some of these activities.

Signature Siripanna Pool

Siripanna's U-shaped pool is actually designed to symbolize the ancient Mae Ping River in the center of the lost city of Wiang Kum Kam. 

Panna Spa

Guests who wish to pamper themselves will be pleased with Panna Spa's huge treatment rooms decked in jewel-toned Lanna fabrics and decor, and fitted with private showers, steam bath and changing rooms to ensure utmost comfort and relaxation.

All products are conceived and developed by Panna Spa ranging from the natural ingredients grown in their garden to the essential oils used for aromatherapy. They even have a whole product range made from pure gold!

They also have a Kids' Spa for the little ones. :)

Traditional Thai Lanna house

The Thai house is a multi-purpose venue where Siripanna's very own chefs conduct Thai cooking classes. Its expansive lawn is also a favorite venue for special events like weddings.

Paddy sprouts planting!

Paddy sprouts planting is probably the most unique activity you can do in the resort - especially if you're a Westerner. 

Don't worry about getting dirty because a 'farmer's uniform' and towels are provided. Refreshments are served, too.

Chinese family trying out the paddy sprout planting activity

Even though the resort is located outside the Old City, getting to the temples or the night market is not a problem because the resort offers complimentary shuttle service scheduled throughout the day. And if the schedule is not convenient for you, you can easily hire a tuk-tuk across the street. These attractions are only a few minutes away anyway.

More than the amenities and facilities, I had a relaxing and enjoyable stay at Siripanna because of the hospitable staff and excellent service. They were always ready to attend to my needs, and were genuinely interested to know how my day was, so I'm not surprised they had lots of returning guests during my 3-day stay with them.

K

*rates apply

~~ I was hosted by Siripanna for 2 nights, but all opinions in this review are my own. ~~


36 Rat Uthit Road, Tambon Wat Ket, Amphoe Muang
Chiang Mai 50000 Thailand
Tel: +66 (0) 5337 1999
Twitter: @siripanna


For real time travel updates and more photos, please 'Like' my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram. Happy travels!

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Product Review: AEE MagicCam S51

If there's one thing I can't travel without, it would be my camera because I need it to document my trips. (duh!) However, there are times when a DSLR just ain't fit for the job. 

During my recent month-long solo trip around Southeast Asia, I did activities that required me to use both hands or be in or around water, and using my bulky camera was just not an option. 

Thankfully, the guys at Visiontec Marketing lent me an AEE MagicCam S51 unit for this trip.

(L) The AEE S51 unit with detachable TFT screen (R) AEE with waterproof casing (up to 100m)

I started my trip in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I signed up for a one-day elephant mahout training.

The 'training' involved feeding the elephants, riding them bare-back through the jungle, and bathing them in the river.

Although the package includes a CD containing photos and video of the training, I still wanted to record the experience from a first-person perspective. 

AEE S51 in action with the waterproof casing + head strap

Before we started the activities, I removed the detachable TFT screen from the S51 unit, turned the G-sensor on (auto start/stop function), placed it in the waterproof casing, and finally attached it to the head strap. 

The elephant mahout training was such a wonderful and memorable experience for me, so I was very happy that the S51 captured it perfectly.

Here's a short compilation of the videos during the training; the slow boat ride from Chiang Khong, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos; and the trip to Kuang Si Waterfalls (also in Luang Prabang). 


                                   Thailand-Laos 2014 from Kat Torres 
Video edited by my nephew, JC Abellar.

Please take note that no color correction/grading was applied during editing. You can watch the HD version on Vimeo.


Aside from outdoor activities, I also worked on some hotel and resort reviews during the trip.
  
With the S51's wide angle lens (and used with a monopod), I was able to get the shots/angles I want especially when in enclosed/small spaces that I wouldn't have captured otherwise with my DSLR.

And yeah, it's perfect for the solo traveler because it's very easy to take selfies. No need to bother other tourists for such triviality. :p

(Clockwise) Petronas Twin Towers as seen from my room at Traders Hotel KL | Selfie at Seminyak Beach, Bali, Indonesia | My bathroom at Villa Maydou, Luang Prabang, Laos | Courtyard by Marriott Seminyak's pool, Bali, Indonesia

AEE App

I'm no technophile, so I really appreciate the straightforward push-button functions on the S51. It's even easier to use with the AEE App.

Simply download the AEE App from the Apple or Play store onto your smartphone or tablet to have real-time control and operation of the S51 through the built-in WiFi. You can then easily download and share/upload your pictures and/or videos to social media.      




Admittedly, I was not able to fully exploit the capabilities of this camera. I'm sure it can do so much more. 

Now that I'm starting to find lugging around the DSLR inconvenient, especially on longer trips, I am seriously looking at investing on an action cam like the AEE S51 because it's compact and would be a better companion on the road for a variety of activities.

***

For pricing and other inquiries, please contact Johannes Yu of Visiontec Marketing at 781-6731 or visiontec.inc@gmail.com.


K


For real time travel updates and more photos, please 'Like' my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram. Happy travels!

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