I’m such a banana. I really am. Once again I’m guilty of judging a book by its cover.
But what are we, as human beings, without our frailties and imperfections?
The good news is that this story that has a happy ending.
Mark my words, Hotel Indigo is up there with the best of the best! It is a click away from being on the dais sporting a gold medal. I just haven’t had time to experience the full property.
Months ago, I was sent an artist’s impression of the Hotel Indigo and it all looked fanciful and sun-setty and Balinesey. It was an artist’s rendition of what I absolutely hate: fake sunsets; chopped down forests; really good-looking people (looking better and thinner than me). In bikinis. Drinking cocktails. Blue sky. No clouds. Yeah, right! This is Bali.
At that particular, pin-pointed moment, I would have accepted deforestation and ecological devastation, just to escape onto another hotel brochure.
But I didn’t.
What I ultimately bore witness to was an unreal vision that became a reality. The story board gained lungs and life. It really happened.
And I was there to witness it.
I’ve written a lot of hotel reviews in three and a half decades, but let’s just say this: I have never enjoyed an arrival as much as I did at the Hotel Indigo.
It was not what I expected. There was no kerb-side flop, a disembowelment from a taxi into subservient hands. No big canopy guarding an entrance.
Here everything was Imperial. Majestic. Towering, non-descript, staggered and terraced walls. A giant courtyard of planned conformity. Striking trees glowing from the up-lighting. Something befitting of royalty. Even lowly subjects like me!
A short and broad staircase led upwards and into the bosom of the property. I saw nothing but a vertical escalation and into a glint of dangling ceiling lights. I was lured upwards with nervous trepidation. I knew something special was about to unravel. But I was flummoxed by what?
And then it happened.
I peaked and crested into the lobby. It was breathtaking. Staggering.
For one fleeting moment in my life, I had indeed become royalty.
THE LOBBY – THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
The lobby is an immense and prodigious testament to local design with artefacts clustered into lit alcoves, each one telling its own story. Furniture is tastefully thematic to its culture with dabs of colour breaking the norm of dark woods. Delicate wicker contrasting with heavy frames.
Sculpture, china, variety and humour is pervasive in the theme.
Even the ceiling is an incredible design of interlocking latticework, a disparate array of pendulous lights hanging from a puzzle of crafted woodwork.
And then there was the view, drawing your eyes over the enclosed resort and swimming pool below, onwards and outwards to the ocean. There was only one word for it: wow.
Every process at Hotel Indigo is effortless including the check-in. Before I blinked I had a room key in my hands. In fact, I nearly forgot to give them my credit card to guarantee my stay, even though I was there as a complimentary guest. I must have been all-absorbed by the moment.
Interestingly enough, the reception desk is not in plain view. You had to meander to the right and around a corner to find it. It’s as if the architect purposely wanted it and everyone to be out of sight and out of mind. To maintain the integrity of the impression, the “painting”, devoid of human clutter.
HOTEL ROOM #3225
Getting to my hotel room was another amazing experience. When the elevator doors opened on the third floor, I stared down into a vast courtyard of giant palms. The hotel rooms encircled it on all four sides. Walkways were al fresco, propped up by columns marked by grey volcanic stone colours. It felt almost industrial, yet incredibly quiet. I barely saw another soul. I only heard the echo of my own footsteps, as I approached my door, inserted my key and entered.
Bursts of colour and light suddenly greeted me again. Like a sandwich, I’d gone from the vibrancy of the lobby, to the solemnity of the walkways and now back into a gush of colour as I entered my room. A small foyer, more alcoves, more warm light. A Nespresso coffee machine, decorative coffee and tea mugs, fresh oranges, opulence, action. It was an interior decorator’s paradise with cutting edge accessories.
I plunged onto my bed, somewhat exhausted and sticky. I’d just reviewed three other hotels and my body was verging on shut down mode. I wanted the soft linen and pillows to envelope me and they did. I was in paradise. I even clicked on the widescreen TV (being an ex-political reporter, news is my staple diet, even on the road).
I loved the clever, really intelligent use of pictures and lights. The striking, bold colours were not lost on me. They predominance of blues and yellows worked and blended incredibly well from the stripy bed cover, to the damask-type carpet. Even the garish yellow message pad beside the phone felt at place.
BATHROOM BLISS AT HOTEL INDIGO BALI
Stepping into the bathroom was another journey of mystery and intrigue. It had an almost arabesque feel with black and white mosaics and this unusual, golden washbasin or chalice and hanging ladle in the middle of the shower.
“Wouldn’t this be decadent if filled with champagne,” I thought to myself.
And then you could step out onto your own private balcony with suspended sofa hammocks. Close and intimate.
My only negative was twofold: first having no one to share this moment with; secondly that the view was blighted by a derelict, unfinished construction site. Apparently, it was going to be a hotel, but the developer went broke. At least the hotel was growing creeper vines up the walls to somewhat blot out the horrible view.
THE TREE BAR
I like to judge hotels by their bars. It gives you an arterial feel to the pulse of the place. And the Tree Bar should have been just that. But it wasn’t.
Set on the lower level, the sunken Tree Bar offers a stunning view of the resort across the verdant lawns and tropical gardens, towards the feature swimming pool and ocean. The interior is modern and in keeping with the pendant, hanging lights. The namesake “tree” is conspicuous and dominant, rising through the lattice framing. But the bar lacked soul.
I was with a group of 20 or so travel professionals and we were the only token imbibers in the evening. For a five-star hotel, this was odd, especially when the bar closed at 11pm! This left a few parched and upset travellers scratching their collective heads.
As far as I was concerned, The Pottery Café was the saving grace for Hotel Indigo even though I had a redeye flight to catch and never got more than a croissant and take away coffee before catching my flight.
The decoration is superb and stylish with mezzanine black and whites creating that upmarket café ambience. Kevala pottery fills the shelves injecting more colour and local flair back into the place. I loved the originality and the clever, modern design from the furnishing to the household accessories.
I love surprises and when the Hotel Indigo offered me a free massage I was not going to disappoint them.
The Spa is situated at the front of the property, in what they call a “calming oasis inspired by the rich culture of Seminyak.” Like the rest of the hotel, it is steeped in local tradition providing a wide range of unique wellness journeys. All-natural Asian lifestyle products are on offer too.
I opted for a one-hour massage and after signing away my medical questionnaire, I was led downstairs for my treatment.
I prefer a deep tissue massage to knead away my stresses. The old rugby and sports injuries never lurking far from resurfacing as my body ages.
My lovely masseuse hit the spot and I can hardly say that about my last few experiences around Asia. I left them with bruises and in more disrepair than I started with.
Not the case here. My treatment was one of the best I’ve ever had. The setting and mood was perfect, the staff incredibly professional and friendly. I actually walked out with a spring in my step.
Hotel Indigo is by far the best property I have stayed at in Bali. If the Mulia wins on class, then the Hotel Indigo wins on style. It is younger and more funkier in temperament and is truly an oasis right off Double Six Beach.
You have the ocean at the end of the resort and the local Seminyak neighbourhood to the rear. In between you simply have your own private bliss.
Mark my words, Hotel Indigo is going places.
HOTEL INDIGO DEALS
For the latest and best deals for staying at the Hotel Indigo in Seminyak, it is worth checking out BlueSun Travel. Often the Hotel Indigo is featured every month with fabulous travel packages.
Click here for more information: BlueSun Travel or call 1300 799 758.
HOTEL INDIGO FACILITIES
Number of Rooms: 289
Number of Suites: 23
Number of Non-Smoking rooms: 289
Number of rooms for the physically challenged: 3
Number of floors: 4
Total number of Rooms with One Bed: 249
I’d never been to Nusa Dua and now I have.
It only took me 50 years to get there.
Nusa Dua is a far departure from the frenetic pulse-beating bass of Bali’s Legian and Kuta bars. It is a world unto itself, vast swathes of greenness and manicured grasses dotted with fallen white frangipani petals. It is serene. Home to holiday resorts that are more like neighbouring Hollywood estates than hotel complexes. They sidle up next to each other without the blight of glowing neon billboards. They just blend beautifully into the background without being obtrusive, no matter how grand they are.
I wish the Western world would take notice of this. Even make laws. How to take your place in society without becoming a blot or blemish on your surroundings. Respect. That’s the word. Not foisting your beauty of ugliness on others. But that is Balinese culture. Spiritual. Understanding. Living as one with nature.
The approach to the Grand Hyatt Nusa Dua is akin to arriving at a fancy golf course. And yes, I notice the golf buggies tucked to the side. More on these later.
In true Balinese custom, you are greeted at the kerbside by smiling faces. Your bags are then ushered to the nether regions of “somewhere” else, only to pop up like a magician’s rabbit in your room, “sometime” later.
Everything is big here. Giant white columns, sweeping terracotta roof tiles, reflecting pools with lily pads and vertical, protruding reeds. A penetrating view leads your eyes over a bamboo floral piece and through more trees; your final focal point – the ocean.
And that’s before you get to the check in desk on your left!
My check-in was melancholic in some respects. An anticlimax. A great arrival diminished by the needless fuddling through bureaucracy and paperwork chaos. I was shown a seat (no, I was directed to find my own… which I achieved without help) whilst they did whatever they did with my passport. 15 minutes later I was back at the counter to do more paperwork.
It was an unnecessary digression that could have been handled better.
I was handed my key and a map of the hotel resort grounds (more on this later too) and off I went following my lovely guide. It was then that I realised just how huge the place was. Around the corner I went, into an elevator, up two floors, around more corners and bingo, into my room!
I wasn’t expecting the older looking room that greeted me with old paintings and old furniture. When I contemplate the brand “Hyatt”, I tend to think modern. Often convention-styled. But this room was darker than I had anticipated, lots of neutral marble colours and dark woods. Yellow light.
The space was definitely large. Even the furniture looked small and therefore dwarfed by the vastness of open areas. The desk was more of a side table than a working area. But this was contrasted by a huge bed with a runner across it.
To the right side was a nook or day bed. I wondered why. I already had a bed.
The saving grace was a glorious balcony overlooking a coy carp pond edged with grey volcanic rock. Giant pam tree reached to the skies. Manicured lawns filled small spaces.
The bathroom was really an extended room with faux slated windows that filtered in the light from the bedroom. These too were framed by more dark wood. It kept the space airy and well-lit and more open-planned. I can’t remember if you had the option of a blind to cordon off the sleeping and bathroom areas for more privacy. I was on my own and comfortable with my own nakedness and toilet habits.
The bath tub was massive too and I did use it once to rest my weary limbs. And then there was a separate shower with heavy glass doors. Even the toilet had its own self-contained room with a diffused glass slide door.
For cupboard space there was plenty from the hallway. More wood: more wooden shelves and frames, wooden hangars, wooden doors. But this was traditional Balinese décor. It grew on me.
A small safe was on offer. I used it out of habit, not through fear.
GRAND HYATT NUSA DUA RESORT GROUNDS
I had arrived on the Jetstar “red eye” to inspect hotels for four days….16 hotels to be precise! This was to be my home for two nights and I was keen to just chill and grab a beer with one of our cohorts. Well that was the mission. Of course, being “Mr Know-It-All” I left my hotel room without the map, after all, who needs a tourist map at a hotel?
Clearly, I did!
The Grand Hyatt Nusa Dua is like a warren. A short walk to meet a colleague became an episode of Lost in Space. I ended up completely going in the wrong direction, on the wrong floor. And it didn’t end there. Once I found him, we both got lost hunting down a bar!
Which brings me to another point. Why were so many bars at the hotel closed during the day? It’s meant to be a resort, right? Thankfully the Poolside Bar was open for business and that first Bintang beer hit the spot first time.
It did take me two days and lots of walking to get my bearings. To find the beach, the umpteen swimming pools, the many dining areas. Mind you, I spent most of the daylight hours away from the resort. No time for sunbathing and relaxing.
DINING & DRINKS
The Garden Café was my preferred breakfast spot, directly in front of the main lobby area. I was early enough to enjoy eating outside, before the heat and humid smashes and saps you. It is meant to be “international” in flavour offering Asian and European dishes and the setting is pretty decent with decent waterfall and lagoon views. The only let down was the its raison d’etre: its food! It was average in selection, presentation and ultimately delivery and taste.
Breakfast: 6:30 AM – 11:00 AM
Lunch: 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Dinner: 6:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Directly off the main lobby Grand Hyatt Bali overlooking gardens and lagoons
Min (Wet): 152 People
Max (Dry): 180 People
Salsa Verde has all the right ingredients for greatness: location, pool, space, ambience. It is Italian by design with Californian décor and a pretty decent buffet breakfast selection. I will say this: the coffee was excellent, but there was nothing “wow” about the food. It was churning out convention quantities without Italian qualities.
Breakfast: 7:00 AM – 11:00 AM
Lunch: 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Dinner: 6:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Beachfront of Grand Hyatt Bali
Pasar Senggol was the dining highlight of my stay, designed to be like a Balinese night market with scattered stalls, authentic dishes and a smattering of artisans creating local handicrafts. The buffet selection was amazing. I can recount going back (often) for the satay sticks and other delicacies that I then brushed with more chili to spice up the night. A big thumbs up. You also get a live performance with Balinese music and dancing; not my thing but entertaining.
Dinner: 6:30 PM – 10:00 PM
Cultural show: 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Directly off the main lobby Grand Hyatt Bali
VERANDA LOUNGE & BAR
Definitely my favourite spot. Secluded, sophisticated and modern with amazing views and fabulous service. Live entertainment was awesome playing great foot-tapping tunes, modern and old. Gin and tonics hit the spot.
Open Daily 10:00 AM – 12:00 Midnight
Morning Menu: 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
Afternoon Tea: 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Evening Menu: 5:00 PM – Midnight
FINAL THOUGHTS – GRAND HYATT BALI NUSA DUA HOTEL REVIEW
This may be a 5-star resort but the food is definitely far from it (except for the Indonesian Pasar Songgol restaurant on site). I travel extensively throughout Asia and this place pales in comparison to other buffet breakfasts I’ve had in the last three years. They are not all bad. They just lack variety….particularly if you are calorie counting and want a healthier chioce. But if it’s any consolation, many Balinese hotels are the same.
After my first impression of the hotel room, I warmed to it really well. In fact I loved it. This includes the day bed or nook that I panned earlier. I sat every day there with my laptop doing some work and just chilling.
The Grand Hyatt Bali Nusa Dua is best described as a tired resort in desperate need of room makeovers and food improvement. The location is stunning and the facilities perfect for anyone want a less crazy pace and family escape.
Oh, my god, “Come to Papa!” Those were literally my first thoughts, as my taxi pulled up to the front of W Bangkok. I just knew I had arrived somewhere in the vicinity of heaven and all the angels were going to fawn over my bags and swallow me up into their air-conditioned abyss-of-a-lobby. Which they did. I have never been so pleasantly shocked as I was, walking through those slide doors and into one of those classic Hanna Barbera cartoon moments, when Tom gets smacked in the face by Jerry with a frying pan. Let’s just say that it was eye-opening!
The lobby was a vast swathe of real estate that was barely occupied by small smatterings of perfectly clad people, that somehow paled into the background, like accessories to a fashion show. I couldn’t tell if I was in the shoot, or on the set. Of part of a flash mob. To my left was a courtesy stand with rose-scented water (I’ll come back to that later). On my right was a long reach of tables and computers and immaculately groomed bowing employees, attending to the few and mostly querulous travellers. At the fore was a massive black marble mural, encrusted with thousands of tiny crystals. I believe it portrayed the tussle between a swooping dragon and a pugnacious tiger. It was a modern take on traditional Thai art. The check-in desks were topped with black marble too, yet their facias were lit up with glaring, neon purple. A small “Welcome” sign beckons me. I focused on the first letter: “W”. Was that intended? Of all the 40 or 50 hotels that I’ve visited in the last 6 months, none have made me stop in my tracks, before checking in. This was a first time. Ever. Zero, zip, have made me meander and snoop around before going through the necessary sign in process. I was captivated by the moment. Kind of enmeshed in my own private awe. I felt like blotting paper (for those that can remember such ancient necessities). I was really, truly, amazed. Absorbed.
Behind and to the left (of the “rose scented” water stand) was the WOOBAR. Another neon, electric place; too early for people to chill at 10am, except the tired and industrious. Both were there. One guy was sprawled over a white leather arm chair. He was either asleep. Or dead. I had barely parted with my credentials and I was already getting the gist and flavour of W Bangkok. I loved it. I didn’t want my bubble to be burst by the perfunctory and mundane informalities of give-me-your-money-and-passport. But like all good stories, it had to end. “Is Mastercard okay?” I mumbled, breaking the ice.
I relented and “did my bit”, grabbed my very cool room key (it was embossed with a pug dog wearing red sunglasses), and then followed my guide, past the huge windows and merchandise stands, before turning sharply to the left and the elevator doors.
If you’d asked me two months ago about W Hotels, I would have spat up a cat fur ball of “what-ness?” A big dollop of “huh?” And a lot more, “Seriously!” But now that I’ve passed my apprenticeship, I’m a fully-fledged and badged convert that is fleet of foot and carrying secrets, learnt en route.
And here is one. An elevator (or lift) may be the arterial vein and spine of a hotel property, but I also know that W Hotels values it. It is not just a conveyance between two points, but an integral part of the W experience. In my very own surgical way of analysing hotels, I now smile, knowing that it is cutting-edge marketing. Leading from the front. Management dexterity. Proving that all details in a hotel matter, not just a few. Every aspect of hotel living has been considered and every step managed. From concept to implementation. Rest assured, nothing is boring in a W hotel.
Every W property has its own signature theme and generally this is when the light-bulb-in-the-head goes off and you go “Oooohh!” or “Wowww!” As I pivoted on my heels and turned the corner to the left, I was met by a dark, purplish cove that lit up with an ever-intensifying crescendo of glinting car brake lights. I felt like Dougal, my old black Labrador, when he was confounded by the unknown. He would cock his head to one side and raise his ears. As if I would have an answer to his WTF problem! And then the flashes and glinting started to quicken and fill the void, until the entire wall was a mass of seething, flashing, rush-hour madness. I was transfixed until my lovely guide interrupted. “These are tuk tuk lights.” I totally got it. Clever! We’re in Bangkok! For the first time, I chuckled. Warmly. To myself. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when infatuation kicked in, or later when the warm, fuzzy feelings of syrupy love filled the void. But it must have been somewhere then. As I was about to be “run over”! I was picking up on subliminal messages. Nuances. Themes. Purple. Dark. Moody. Sexy. Fun. I had no idea what I was in for, but whatever metamorphosis was happening, I didn’t want it to end. Even if I was about to be flattened by 100 tuk tuks!
THE LIFT DOORS OPEN
When the lift doors opened on the 24th floor, it was a solemn moment. There was no sense of “arrival” like at the W Hong Kong. Nor was it clinical, like at W San Francisco. No, it was sort of middle-of-the-road. In between. It was actually quite refreshing, after my metaphorical episode of lobby road rage. I turned right into the seeming darkness and ambled a few metres towards my room. The number was clearly lit up and hard to miss. Music was playing in the background. Softly.
SPECTACULAR ROOM 2415
As unlikely as this sounds, I rarely research a hotel before reviewing it, because I like my first impressions to be precisely that: untainted, unclouded and uncluttered by marketing hype. But I did unearth one little mystery before booking into the W Bangkok. I had been forewarned that my room would be unique and triangular in shape. This vision had taxed my over-active imagination for the entire flight from Perth to Hong Kong and then Bangkok. Even as I walked those final paces down the corridor, I had delusions of Toblerone chocolate and cheese wedges. But all that dissipated when I prised open the door to a very different setting. I had another private “wow” moment to myself.
There was nothing overtly triangular or pointy about the room at all. In fact, the shape was kind of lost in the immensity of open planned space, where bursts of colour leapt from the backdrop of black and white monochromes. Little accents blended with bold patterns and modern furnishings. Ingenious and fun cameos of Thai boxing leapt out from the bed cover print, with sparing dragons. And then there was the folly of oversized muay thai boxing gloves. Big, fat, gold ones. I think they were supposed to be used as DO NOT DISTURB signs that you hung outside the door. A bit more fun. Another chuckle. For the first time in my W experiences, I actually understood the W concept. This really was a “Spectacular Room” in every sense of the meaning. From the joie de vivre of hotel living, to the creature comforts of a king size bed.
A wide glass desk was a luxury that straddled the window. The view was nothing special but that was immaterial, as the functionality of the work space mattered most to me. I spend a lot of time on the road and the bank of plugs, with built-in adaptors, was much appreciated. An instant solution for the plethora of camera gear and computers that traipse around the world beside me. Innovation and high technology are synonymous with W Hotels and indeed, my Spectacular Room. Master lighting controls are wall-mounted beside the bed, though I did notice how the stickers (WAKE UP, READING LEFT, SLEEP MY LOVE, MASTER OFF) had all been stuck to the original chrome plate, by someone that must have warmed up in the cocktail cabinet beforehand! Clearly they didn’t care how askew or straight the labels were affixed!
Joking apart, the tags like “SLEEP MY LOVE” are fun and gimmicky, but not when you are tired or waking up, or when your brain is less engaged. Clearly the original concept failed, because no one could read the embossed plates, hence the new, bigger white stickers. Even then, I had issues in the morning trying to figure out what switch did what. I just pressed every button until the right one worked. I would call it bedside Russian Roulette! There was an iPad on the other side of the bed, which had swipe and touch controls too. But you needed a visa to get to it, as it was so far away! Yet the one image, that still sticks in my mind the most, is the sheer volume of space. 43 square metres of it. I never felt trapped or confined. To the contrary, I felt liberated and relaxed. At no time did I have to tip-toe around bags or furniture. It was like the perfect bachelor pad.
SPECTACULAR CUPBOARD SPACE
Smooth finishes define the texture in the Spectacular Room and this includes the white hallway cupboards that run flush to the walls. When you open the doors, the interior is brightly lit, revealing two chrome hanging racks and a plethora of black wooden hangars. A low level 3-drawer chest sits in the corner. The top drawer conceals a deep electric safe deposit box. Deep enough to take a camera or two! Of course, the W Signature Bathrobe was a welcome sight, as were the white slippers and luggage rack. I put the fold-out rack by the window and left my suitcase on it for the entire three days.
Beyond the cupboard was a dark, recessed wall of faux black leather, that housed a giant flat screen TV and a mini bar with glasses, chrome ice bucket and cocktail shaker. There was enough alcohol to comatose you in one session, if you were so inclined.
I reflected how most hotels hide their alcohol from sight, but not the case with W Bangkok. Here they champion consumption as part of modern living, not something to bury in political correctness and banish from view. Of course, part of that openness has a lot to do with “add-on sales” and very little to do with being “cool”. There is a price list beside every temptation and nothing that says “On the House,” except for branded water bottles! And then I remembered my cluster of colourful Post It Note coupons, that I had been given upon check-in. A quick scan reinforced the same thoughts. Spend more money and you’ll get a bonus! But I really didn’t mind. I was having a great time. And in fairness to W Bangkok, it was part of the experience. Like being woken up from a jet-lagged induced coma to answer the door from housekeeping.
I was really in no mood for a turn down service, but almost instantly, my “F***ing hell,” turned into “F***ing great!” A smiling face pushed past me and placed a complimentary tray on the coffee table. It had instructions on how to make my own Iron Balls G&T. I smiled all over. I felt like a kid doing his first cooking class. Like I’d never been angry. This was my new toy and no one else was going to play with it! Or drink it!
It is these little details, that turn into big moments, that define a modern day 5-star hotel. It tells the paying punter that he matters. That he exists. That he’s noticed. As I cherished my new creation, having loved the process of making and then imbibing this gift, I couldn’t help feeling that this surreal moment was better suited for W Hong Kong. At that hotel, it is all about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Yet oddly, the colours, the cocktails, the potions, the affectations and foibles, the eccentricities were in greater abundance in Bangkok. Here you lived the story all the time, not some of the time.
The bathroom is the first sight you encounter when entering the room. It’s a vast open-planned area that is partially segregated from the lounge by a giant wall of thick purple glass. It is stunning. It breathes life into the space, breaking the monotony of corridor monochromes with a flash of bold colour. It’s a statement in its own right and part of W’s colour branding.
Almost simultaneously, your eyes are drawn to a white, kidney shaped, free-standing bathtub in front of the same glass wall. It is inviting. Designed for two people. Another stand-out feature that breaks the hotel industry norm. A thin gold curtain can be drawn across the face of the bathroom for further privacy, separating the bathroom from the passageway.
The toilet has its own enclosure encased by dark, smoky glass and lined with black tiles throughout. It is not totally transparent. A wall mounted mirror hangs above the vanity and sink. The entire frame has a sort of theatrical feel, with strong backlighting. Even the shower curtain plays on the theme of drama, with a silvery shimmer. I get the feeling that W Bangkok wants everyone to feel like a movie star. My only negative is storage space. I’m use to big bathroom counter tops in hotel rooms, but at W Bangkok, there is no room for a wash bag next to the sink. Mine’s not that big, but my goodness, a woman would be in serious trouble with all her travel lotions and potions!
What limited space you are offered is taken up with a sprinkling of Bliss bathroom goodies on one side and W-branded water bottles on the other. Yet it is not all doom and gloom. Butting up against the sink is a tall shelving ladder. Like old English library steps. I shunted the complimentary items to one side and squashed my trusty wash bag there. It stayed there for the entire duration of my stay. It just took a little while to get used to that spot.
COCKTAIL & CUISINE
I’m going to go on a limb here, because of all 50 or more hotels that I’ve visited this year, W Bangkok takes top honours. Without exception. W Bangkok consistently and unquestionably delivered excellence throughout my stay. Its food was not just good. It was great. Something that I never expected before my stay, but hey ho, surprises abound and I welcome them. Breaking with my own tradition, I am going to review all the bars and restaurants at W Bangkok separately and in greater detail. They deserve their own plug. But for now, here is is a brief summary to chew over.
The variety and choice of meals here was outstanding. Take THE KITCHEN TABLE for instance, where breakfast is a medley of Western and Asian offerings. I visited here every morning and it was heaving with conference attendees and families and people like me. But when it came to lunch, it was a more sedate affair that unravels its gourmet secrets and triumphs in the process.
My second hero is THE HOUSE ON SATHORN which achieves another pinnacle of culinary and cocktail genius. It is detached in its own world, despite being part of the bigger hotel complex that overshadows it. Originally built in 1899, this colonial, neoclassical mansion has become a Thai national heritage home. It sits within the hotel’s courtyard. It is the perfect complement to W Bangkok’s modernity, a reminder that style and panache has its roots in history somewhere. W Hotels shape that past and carries the torch forward for today’s traveller. For me, I see the light too. It is not about staying at a hotel. It is about living in one.
Within THE HOUSE ON SATHORN is THE COURTYARD, which as the name suggests is precisely that: a courtyard. It is flanked by the taller and colourful surrounds of colonnades and arched windows. The terracotta roof tiles It’s an informal and open-air dining area situated on wooden decking. Umbrellas provide shade and shelter from all the elements, though little use for the stifling humidity.
And then there is THE BAR inside THE HOUSE ON SATHORN. THE BAR is beautifully faithful to its colonial past and another era when it was the Russian Embassy (1948-1999). I’ve had the good fortune to be in a real Russian embassy before, where everything was an overstatement of machismo-grandeur and one-upmanship. Today, stripped of its diplomatic pomp, THE BAR takes on a whole new air of excitement. It is not a contrived cover for national insecurities, even though there are trickles of past over-exaggeration: giant Corinthian columns and heavily vaulted ceilings; panelled walls and parquet floors. And it’s definitely a wood carver’s paradise. But no, the transformation into THE BAR is stunning, a trifecta of Thai, Russian and modern revival rolled into one. The interior design has been brilliantly executed balancing dark and chunky leather seating with soft cushions and smooth wall colours. The space is immensely inviting especially the bar which beckons like a glowing and colourful LED altar.
The cocktail choices were both alluring and inspiring. I left not just with an impression, but a lasting memory.
THE HOUSE ON SATHORN DINING ROOM
One of my greatest pleasures being a travel writer and reviewer is when I run across unsung heroes and heroines in the hotel world. I call them stars. And such was the case meeting Natcha Booncharoen, Assistant Marketing Communications Manager, W Bangkok. Natcha invited me to dinner at THE DINING ROOM. I normally accept dinner appointments without flinching, but what is really weird, is that it was on my last night in Bangkok and I really didn’t want to go anywhere, let alone to dinner. My gut was saying, “Go!” and my heart was saying, “To bed!” I was tired and overdosing on W. I’d been tarred and feathered with a punishing schedule and the lure of any other “letter”, in the alphabet, was infinitely more attractive than the “double V”. Or W. But she persisted and nudged. Nicely. And I accepted. My deference to socialising that evening mutated into one of the best experiences of my life, not just in Bangkok, but in all my professional wanderings. Natcha had booked us a prime perch at the bar at 6.30pm. The place was empty which was perfect in my calendar of do-nothingness. And the fact that we were at the bar, peering into the kitchen woke me up instantly. For those that know me really well, this is where and when I’m most at home. The Bar and the kitchen. As I said before, I will review this separately and later, but I cannot pass over this point now without comment, because I was entertained, tantalised, treated to a medley of extreme culinary skills that rendered me completely mute. It wasn’t just the food, the taste, the inspirations that excited me. Those were just chapters in my W saga. It was the whole story. Eating food was just part of that journey.
Natcha’s company, knowledge and energy got me through the door and for that reason, she gets gold star number one. She got me eating, drinking and learning. Another trifecta. Star number two goes to Chef Fatih Tutak and this needs some explaining. I did a kind of double take when I discovered he was Turkish, not out or prejudice but out of respect. And a degree of humour. Proof to the hoity-toity institutions (French) that think they own cooking (English) that anything is possible with talent (Turkish). Chef Fatih was groomed at the Bolu Mengen cooking school in Istanbul and then climbed the ranks with stints in Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Demark and Hong Kong. One of his most notable ranks was as the Chief Sous Chef at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. I love how he’s taken his globetrotting experience to THE HOUSE OF SATHORN with flair. It is almost rude to call his talent “cooking”, because his creations are masterpieces of art. A fusion of the senses: taste, sight, touch, smell.
With Chef Fatih at the helm, THE HOUSE ON SATHORN has been acknowledged as one of the top 50 restaurants in Asia, not just in Thailand. And this is where I love W Hotels: always two steps ahead. Winning. Another “W”. Which brings me to my third and final gold star, Volker Burth, Director – Food & Beverage. This was not a planned encounter. It was an off-the-cuff, per-chance meeting. At the bar. My favourite board room venue. It was fascinating. After twenty minutes chatting to Volker everything made sense. I knew why the food was so good at W Bangkok. It came to passion as well as craftsmanship. Pushing the boundaries of excellence. Giving people not just food but a total experience. I had reached the end of my Thai trail, my magnum opus, my piece de resistance. It was like grouting tiles. The perfect smooth finish. It has opened my eyes to a whole new world of W Hotels that I want to experience. Like collecting rate coins or gems.
This is the third WOOBAR I’ve been to in a year and W Bangkok is definitely the most glamorous to date, yet I have to say, not the most fun. W San Francisco wins the fun gong, so far. However, I have to take that opinion with a modicum of salt since I am just passing by for a fleeting moment. The bar stretches the length of the room and is a continuum of the lobby theme: black marble, studded crystals, glowing neon purple. It is ultra-modern with contrasting monochromes of white leather arm chairs dotted with black throw cushions, as well as white modular cubes and bar stools. Even the floor is a heavy contrast of linear tiles in various hues of white and grey, counterpointed by a deep, dark black carpet. The centre of the bar breathes life and soul into the place. A single shelf runs the full course of the wall which is a silvery-white shimmer. It is host to a giant row of liqueurs and spirits that beckon you. I visited the WOOBAR quite a few times, outside of regular drinking hours and I was not alone with my laptop. It was a very soothing and professional feel. On another occasion, I took refuge there in the air-conditioned space trying to recover from walking up to the Banyan Tree hotel (about 2kms away). Not a good idea in the sweltering humidity. I was overheating. And there, like an epiphany, was the rose flavoured water stand (I promised earlier I would return to this subject). Now I know why it was there. I recharged my body several times with this elixir, using cocktail napkins to wipe my brow. The WOOBAR became my saviour. And then there was the time when my lovely masseuse at the AWAY SPA said, “We have a men’s night here.” The conversation went along the lines of, “Why should there only by a Ladies Night in hotels?” I nodded agreement. What a clever marketing idea. Another win for W Bangkok. This would pull the single ladies in. The bar would be packed. What a fun night! No. Not a fun night if you are straight! She forgot to use the word “gay” man’s night! Luckily for me, I had somewhere else to go for dinner. I decided, after one too many flirtatious moments and pursed lips, to slide carefully into the nether regions of the lobby and into Sathorn Road. My metrosexuality had reached its finality.
THE FIT GYM
Living on the road, in and out of hotels, consuming vast amount of liquid and solid calories needs a counterbalance. The Fit Gym is where you start that process. The gym at W Bangkok is clean and modern and by the pool. The equipment and running machines are perfectly adequate and I have to say, I really enjoyed going there. The hotel offers complimentary towels and water and pretty much everything needed to shed a tiny bit of that fat build up. The staff could not have been friendlier and more helpful. More into customer service than “look how big my muscles are”!
I had been instructed by the cavalcade of women in my life that I was not allowed to come home unless I had experienced the AWAY SPA at W Bangkok. Part of this was a jealous wish to experience the treatments themselves. The other part was to see me squirm. I think they had a morbid fascination with my total lack of spa lingo. Words like facials, body scrubs, wraps, Espa products, Style Lab Beauty Salon, unisex Hammam….all these fall outside my vernacular. I related to them about, as much as I would reading road maps in Cantonese! But this is where my metro-sexuality kicks in. I quite like a bit of pampering. I just wonder why I don’t do more outside of international travel. I’ll have to redress that some time. I looked at the 6-page AWAY SPA meu and found this: AWAY MASSAGE METAMORPHOSIS OUR UNIQUE SIGNATURE MASSAGE, METAMORPHOSIS WILL SEND WAVES OF RIPPLING ENERGY THROUGHOUT YOUR BODY’S ENERGY SYSTEMS UNLEASHING A RENEWED YOU. THIS TREATMENT IS DESIGNED TO CREATE A METAMORPHOSIS EFFECT BEGINNING WITH A NURTURING WELCOME, COCOONING YOU TO A PLACE OF ESCAPE WHERE YOU CAN RETREAT FROM THE WORLD AND UNDERGO YOUR OWN PERSONAL DETOXIFICATION. RELEASE TENSION AND TOXINS FROM THE BODY, FOCUSING ON THOSE TIGHT AREAS THAT ACCUMULATE DAILY STRESSORS OF LIFE, THE HEAD, NECK, BACK AND SHOULDER AREAS. WITH OUR SIGNATURE ESSENTIAL OILS, REFUEL AND UNFURL YOUR WINGS WITH A FULL BODY MASSAGE LIKE NO OTHER YOU HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED.WITH RHYTHMIC AND DYNAMIC FLOWS, STROKES, STRETCHES AND TECHNIQUES TO EMERGE FROM YOUR COCOON INTO A BEAUTIFUL SOCIAL BUTTERFLY READY TO SPREAD YOUR WINGS AND TAKE FLIGHT. “This is a massage right?” I asked the giggling girls. “What’s with the wings and butterflies bit?” I booked in for a 90-minute session costing 3,500 BHT (or about AUD $135). This part I could understand on the extensive 6-page menu! And then I was lead off through the doors to metamorphose into an insect. The inside of the AWAY SPA is amazing. I have done my fair share of treatments around the world and in hotels but this was noticeably more soothing, calm and clean. My masseuse spoke really good English and was excellent. I don’t like soft or hard massages. I like them in between and she nailed it. She was also fun to talk to and really informative when I wasn’t drifting off into nirvana. After an hour and a half, I was indeed recharged. I’d been promised a hot and soothing ginger tea at the end of my session which I got. I felt immensely at peace. Collecting my thoughts. Purged of stress. I was indeed ready to spread my wings.
Before I left, I rebooked for a nail treatment the following morning. She nailed it again.
FINAL THOUGHTS – W BANGKOK HOTEL REVIEW
I am so glad that I listened to my inner instincts and embarked on my own journey of discovery with W Hotels, because it has allowed me to understand who they are and where they are going to. In doing this W Bangkok hotel review, I have sat up to take notice of things that I would otherwise have missed before. And I feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of what is out there in W World. I love their innovation and sensory excitement. It’s welcome change from the monotony and routine of other hotel chains. And I cherish the individuality of each property, whilst recognising the threads and colours of the W brand. It makes me want to experience more. To see what secrets each W Hotel holds, at every spot and exotic destination. Just to say “I’ve been there!” W Bangkok has set a benchmark that I will judge other hotels by. The inculcation of local culture, the infusion of quality dining, cutting edge interior design, attention to detail, personality, energy, innovation. And for me, humour. Fun. W Bangkok is inordinately sexy. The people, the food, the cocktails, the architecture, the interior design, the vibe. All the ingredients point towards excellence and what should be a litmus test for other 5-star hotels.
W Bangkok 106 North Sathorn Road Bangkok, 10500 Thailand Telephone: +66 (0) 2 344 4000
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