It felt like eight freight trains were riding towards me on a phosphorous crescent and I had no idea where to go but into the water. Eight of us sat suited and masked-up, hugging our knees. Silent. All of a sudden, the boat veered sharply to the left. My heart beat quickened. I nervously rechecked my gear. I was seconds away from being thrust into the fore of something so powerful that my own humanity was dwarfed into powerless insignificance. And then the engine tone dipped and the thud-thud died. For an eternity, I heard air… if that was possible. A horn sounded. The watching was over. The time was now. I had reached the point of no return. I was confronting the unknown. Fear of water, fear of sharks; my own insecurities. The sound was deafening: “Go, go, go!” As I pushed out from the marlin board, into the big blue, I had no time to go “fuck!” I just swam. For my life…and my pride. And then I met my destiny.
I could have been a trench soldier in World War I, waiting for that shrill whistle to jump over the top, helpless but hopeful. I had nowhere to go but forward, my meaningless and proverbial “bayonet” just useless for what I would face. A lot of thoughts cross your mind before you plunge into a vast ocean to meet a pod of humpback whales travelling towards you at 7 to 9 knots, and the first question is always, “Why?”. At 250 metres and closing, whales look like submarines barrelling towards you, not torpedoes. They are definitely going to hit you! I could have been all toasty and comfortable at home, sipping my coffee. Leading my same-old-same boring life. Swiping through Facebook. Checking emails. Or I could be out there in the wild: no phone, no electrics, no swiping. No personal challenges. A complete detachment from living and earning. Or I could push the envelope even wider and do something for myself, to tick that bucket list item, that sense of adventure that I gave up the moment I stopped being a kid. I can almost hear the voices now: “Don’t jump in the puddle!” Why? “You’ll get dirty!” So? “I mean it!” So do I! “I’m serious!” SPLASH! Life is judged by experiences and only you can make them happen. In my book, when you crawl up to the “Pearly Gates” it’s a one-way ticket. Click, punch, “Next!” I don’t want aimless chit-chat like, “Did you do this?” or “Did you do that?” I’m a person of adventure. I want to shout, “Hell yeah! That and more!” 15 years working in the charter boat world and owning four companies has taught me an awful lot about charter boats. And that is why I searched out one company in particular for my whale de-virgination: Kings Ningaloo.
If you’re not in the boating game, then the words “Brother Bill” mean nothing to you, but if you are, then they mean everything. Most skippers revere him. But the one thing I like about Kings Ningaloo is the “total experience”. Boat, food, humour, people. And I definitely like his marine biologists. (Shut up, Bill!). And this is why. I tried every avoidance tactic to not get in the water. I thought my excuses would work. To say I was tired, or sick. But they all ganged up on me, and my pathetic excuses were crushed with a “Bullshit! Shut up! Suit up! Now! In the water!” They were like my old sergeants, as a cadet. Only better looking. I wanted to kill you then Zoe, Jess and Sacha. But you made me step out of my comfort zone and I felt so safe and secure to be led by you. Thank you. I would never, ever, have done a humpback swim without you. When we plopped in the water, I just swam like a tagged Nemo on a sashimi menu. I followed the frantic kickings, preying no one was ever above me, drizzling my back with soy sauce and dollops of wasabi!
Swimming with humpback whales is completely unnerving and life-changing. When you launch into the great, bubbly yonder, you are no longer a human and master of the world. You become a guest in their environment. Vulnerable. Blind. They rule the roost, not you. You are the weakest link. You are part of the food chain, not the producer of it. Diving with humpback whales is also a game of tactics for the skipper. Laws of probability. Calculation. If “x” whale(s) are travelling south, at “y” speed, and I am “z” distance in front of them, will my clients “a” see a whale, or “b” have then dive below them. On our trip, I’d say the whales chose “b” about 40% of the time. The skipper is key to success. He is the ultimate reason why you have an encounter with a humpback whale. I’ve known Bill for a very long time and he just reads the water and animals like they are his best mates. He talks to me like he knows them. He can judge a bump or swell or ripple. I don’t know how. I really don’t. But he knows. He really does. Bill hates negativity. If you come on the boat with one negative thought, he doesn’t want you there. “The whales know it,” he says. I have to believe him now. “The whales aren’t going to hit you,” he chides. “They’re too smart. They know where you are!” A few times in my life I have faced something outside of my comfort zone: this was one of them. When the horn blared and the call to “Go!” sounded, yes, I followed everyone, but we all swam with purpose; a chance meeting with the leviathan of the ocean. I swam like a man on a mission. I was scared. But then something happened. The ocean was no longer my fear but my friend. I was in it and with it. Deep and dark blues, glinting rays and firing shards of light. I suddenly realised that I’d left my fears on the boat. I was among friends. The water was warm. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, when everyone was searching in the shallower, deep blue waters, missing everything, I had this stupid idea to duck-dive deep. I had this feeling that something was going to pass below me.
What I saw was beyond any photo or videographer’s dream. This huge, gentle giant rolled and slid past me, flashing the white of his belly. One chance in a lifetime. He stopped kicking for a second, looked me in the eye and I know we embraced before he slid past. Our eyes kissed. I took a memory back to the boat. I hope he took a memory back to the deep.
For more information on swimming with Humpback Whales or Whale Shark Tours: T: 1300 799 758.
Click here to view all humpback whale interaction swim tours:
This is the second time in my life (outside of being in Bali or Thailand) that I have plucked up the metrosexual courage to get my nails done and I wasn’t even dragged out screaming by the wife either. I was proud to tag along and show my support on an otherwise very non-manly excursion to a nail salon.
My first impression on entering Elite Nail Bar in Booragoon’s Garden City was confusion. A long “bar” stretches the length of the room like a giant….well….bar. I was the only man in a fairly packed room of ladies, which was….well….wonderful! I was ushered to a barstool by my prospective nail clipper and tried to look around without feeling like I was leering or perving at everyone. All the staff were Asian and decked out in official looking red uniforms. Except for the young male manager. He was allowed to wear jeans and a T-shirt. Obviously different rules apply to the different sexes.
My main concern was why were there rows of dusty wine glasses behind the bar, a few bottles of Johnny Walker, three loaves of bread and two bags of potato chips? Were we going to have a party?
When I entered the place, the staff gawked at me like I was a dollar bill ready to get up and run out the room. And now I know why.
For $30 I had a hatchet job done on my nails. It was appalling! How could anyone with scissors and a file do such an incredibly bad job. My beautician must have trained at a kindergarten class for origami! And if you think my nails were bad, the wife’s were even worse. Her varnish was applied with such pathetic amateurishness.
(For clarification purposes, I wish to add that the pink nails in this photo are not mine!)
With deja vu on my side, I actually recall asking my wife, “How do you know whether these people have trained or not?” Clearly it wasn’t such a dumb question. Yet my wife was more concerned about whether they sterilised the equipment. I forgot to tell her that at the end of my session, my lady picked the debris off her scissors with her own nails and then promptly put them back in a cover, presumably to be used on another unsuspecting victim!
When Complaining in English Never works
When my wife complained to the manager, they kept repeating, “But it is cream varnish. It’s cream varnish.”
Well I was buggered. It looked pink to me. And like a tractor had applied it.
“We can fix for you,” came the chorus from the red coated brigade.
That buggered me too. You’d need a spatula to fill in the divots!
Needless to say, “NO” I will never go back to this place again. In fact, it has put me off the whole concept of going into a nail salon at all. I’m keeping my metrosexuality in my pocket from now on.
My only consolation was when I got home and my 12-year old daughter gave me a pedicure after a really warm bath. We had a really long chat (which I never do) whilst I repaired my finger nails myself. Both were infinitely better results than anything Elite Nail Bar could produce.
This is what I love best about Perth: hidden gems like Julio’s.
The building has come a long way since completion in 1902. It was once was the proud residential home of the Walsh family, an iconic red brick corner site in West Perth that sides the intersection of Hay Street and Ventnor Avenue. It was an outstanding location in its prime and it still is today. A whisper away from Subiaco’s fashion district or a downhill ride to the city centre.
Today, the Walsh’s have long moved on and in their place stands the new Sage Hotel after a full renovation. The name Julio’s stays with the bar and restaurant, thanks to the vision of new owners, Adam Zorzi and Rod Hamersley.
The restoration project was mammoth. A story of contrasts. Old and new. A faithful nod to heritage, yet in keeping with a traveler’s modern needs. The exposed white-washed brickwork is rough, in stark contrast to the smooth, polished floors and sculptured fireplaces. Wooden tables add to the rustic feel, as do the heavy overhead beams. You could be in an old English country home with its large sash windows, were it not for the modern bar with hanging martini and wine glasses. And its Italian cuisine. Another contrast.
Julio’s is a truly enticing place where the affable Executive Chef Simone Ariano works his magic which borders on art. My breakfast was an experience and not just a meal. It kicked off with the Chef’s Best Muesli served in a small square topped bowl. The presentation was stunning, a homemade granola infused with coconut, almonds, walnuts, a dollop of yoghurt, a sliver of Julio’s embossed chocolate, a sprinkling of fresh blueberries and topped with a carefully placed strawberry. Colours and flavours were intense. The rewarding taste amazing.
I felt a bit like Bruce Wayne (a.k.a. Batman) when my phone rang and the filtered message went out like this: “Solo Pasta. Mount Lawley. 3pm.”
I love surprises and this was not one I expected but it did make me go WTF!
Solo Pasta is the brain-child of Chef Gil Lewkowicz whose worldwide CV is not just interesting, it is notable. I had been primed through the grapevine that something was in the offing. I’d been drip fed tit-bits: pasta by the metre; new look; not Italian; international; a medley of flavours; freshly made. But it never dawned on me how brilliant his concept was until I was half way through my meal.
I’d ordered the tender chicken lime and coconut curry with coriander, peanut and caramelised chili without a second thought, because it had “Thai” emblazoned all over it. I was on autopilot. I love Thai food. But when my meal arrived, it was devoid of the usual culprits rice noodles. In fact, there was nothing very “Thai” about it at all on the outside. The whole meal was encapsulated in a plate of pappardelle pasta served by the metre, not a noodle or rice grain in sight.And that was the point.
Solo Pasta is all about flavours intertwined with freshly made pappardelle pasta. I could read the signature undertows of kaffir lime on the nose and tongue, the taste of coconut cream (not too overpowering) and appreciate the braised tender chicken because that’s what I do at home in my kitchen.
It was an instant winner.
Pasta is not owned by the Italians. It is owned by every household in the world: Italian, French, English, Chinese, Arab, Israeli, Spanish, Portuguese and keep going. What we do with pasta on our own patch is what Solo Pasta has tapped into and made Jamie Oliver millions. It is called comfort food, only this time, by the metre.
Solo Pasta is Gil in his element, unconstrained and homely. A massive homage to comfort food that has deservedly sunk so many pseudo celebrity chefs and the trawl of writers that kow-towed to them. What Gil gives you is naked and raw. There are no pretensions of grandeur. What he trots out is what we want. For a meal, our friends and family.
Solo Pasta delivers 30 stunning meals, every one of which is made from pappardelle, flat ribboned pasta that is either a classic, beetroot, or spinach consistency. You can pick what kind of pasta base you want: tomato, creamy or olive oil/jus based. And you can pick the length (I recommend the standard 4 metres…don’t let your eyes, overrule your tummy!) although I did go for the amazing Asian cabbage salad as a buffer too.
Buried in that huge selection is pretty much anything you could ever want from pork and kale meatballs, to basil pesto, Norwegian smoked salmon, chilli mussels and the old kiddie favourite, like my favourite classic, spaghetti Bolognese.
There is nothing simple about Solo Pasta. Every pappardelle strip is hand-rolled fresh each day. I was privileged to be there as the paint was drying on the old Monte Fiore site and the “new look” of Solo Pasta evolving. It was young and invigorating. I could see the Mount Lawley set warming to the place before the paint had dried. This was the “wine bar” I would have died for when I was 20-something. Trendy, happening and above all else, a place to hang out. With great affordable food. But if there was one thing I wished the genie could have brought me, apart from my youth again, was a take away tub and a fork. I could see myself traipsing down Beaufort Street with the best fix in town.
628 Beaufort Street
Mt Lawley, WA
T: 08 9227 9898
I rolled the dice and got a double six!
Yes, yes….I can hear your sarcastic groans, as you writhe over my awful cliché comment. But then, that’s the prerogative of a writer sitting on his side of the screen. He has artistic licence to lob literary hand grenades at the mooing crowds!
The first time I visited the Double-Six Luxury Hotel in Seminyak was on a whirlwind site inspection with 20 or so fellow travel experts. We were on the downward slope of a somewhat tortuous schedule and this one was at the “nether” end of the line and week.
I went through the property around 9pm with nodding motions that culminated in a mild, aching disdain and indifferent thoughts. My focus had not been on the hotel, but my weary body and hunger pains.
My second visit was five months later and voluntary. I happened to be staying a few kilometres away at the Downtown Villas near the Bintang Market. I wanted to see the Double-Six in a real light and without tired and aching blinkers.
On that lunchtime trip I experienced the token zing and pizzazz of the restaurants and bars. I saw the rooms…again. They looked so much better. I was in my personal mode, wearing an off-duty hat, not a professional one. I walked away with an incomplete feeling and an impulsive urge to stay there.
On my return to Perth, I booked a stay.
Bloggers Don’t Do This
My return visit was less of a gamble than a need. At itch that needed scratching. I had been particularly compelled by some friends who had raved about the Double-Six. “This may be the best hotel we’ve stayed in” was their conclusion.
This was totally contrary to my own, preconceived notions. And very soon I would be eating my own humble apple pie.
Arriving at the Double-Six Luxury Hotel
There’s no grand façade awaiting you or giant Corinthian columns dripping in acanthus leaves. Your arrival is quite surgical after the customary security bomb check and short, winding twist to the drop off zone.
“Mind the step,” I’m reminded, as I move out of my car and into the dark and massive el fresco lobby.
I take note of the staff. Cool. Very cool. Love the outfits. Guys in sort of 1920’s grey and white styled culottes, linen waist coats, plain tweed caps. Girls in light flowing, breezy outfits. Immaculate. They match. Colour, contrast and texture.
You scoot across a massive, shining, white marbled floor with the odd, inset butterfly. The lobby area is surprisingly dark. And then you are greeted by what I can only describe as nymphs: more super-beautiful people only this time, ones want your money!
I part with it…willingly. I’ve arrived in heaven.
This is my silent epiphany. A wiggle through the door and waggle past a corner and then into the most amazing space. It is hard to describe the moment when your eyes go from Ferrari, to snail. But trust me, it happens.
First impressions are everything, even when you’re downright sweaty, tired and desperate to unwind. You don’t really soak up the nuances and twists. But I did. And the funny thing is that I had actually been in this room two times before. As a kind of lemming being rushed through a semi-arduous industry process to “experience” it. As a travel guru that might bring business through the door.
Up until that moment, I’d never stayed at the Double-Six Luxury Hotel. And up until that moment, I had never wanted to either.
The Lounge & Bathroom
Two areas are clearly defined in the enormity of the suite: the bathroom to left; the bedroom and lounge to the right. The entire space is long and leading. It smacks of modernity. The pool and ocean views are compelling. The entire feel is soothing and rewarding.
As you turn towards the living space, a dark banquette creates delineation. It is a big dollop of space that is almost less interesting than the bathroom. But it is there. Bed and all. Staring at the ocean view.
The banquette is massive, but not functional. It is like a restaurant serving station but I’m not in a kitchen. But I like the simplicity and clean lines.
I look for the plugs. I always do. There aren’t enough. Where do I charge things? Phone? Computer? Camera? Such a big working area and so few outlets.
I’m annoyed. I see only one plug. In my mathematics one plug equals one device. The place is out-of-date. As for decoration, spartan springs to mind. A clever use of nothingness and yet everything. The sheer curtains are faux, yet they add body and volume to the carriage-like room. They may have no function. But they add style. The concept works especially at night when the touch of soft lighting adds a tinge of sexiness to the room.
And then there’s the bed. The view from the bed. Wow. Zzzzzzz.
If there was ever an award for bathroom space, this hotel would be nominated.
The contrasting dark mosaic wall tiles are countered by large swathes of white floor tiles and an imposing, rectangular ceramic bath tub. “His and her” washbasins are separated by a recessed and padded two-seater bench. A rain forest shower has no doors. The toilet has floor to ceiling clouded glass for privacy.
Everything in the bathroom seems to glint, but never too bright to be offensive: mirrors, down lights, wall tiles, chrome taps and towel rails.
The space may be angular and moody, yet it was neutral in tone and soft in outcome.
The pool wraps around the ocean side of the hotel, cut at intervals by two foot bridges giving access to the beach and road below. A smattering of umbrellas provide perfect shade, with comfy lounges. Troops of attentive staff bustle too and fro between the bar and restaurant. You want for very little, at any one time.
There is almost no noise or traffic emanating from the road; in fact I barely remembered it was there. And for the little relaxation time I did have to myself, I did choose to be by the swimming pool mostly. The beach is fabulous in the morning, prior to 9.30am, and then the sun and noise kicks in.
I’m never one to sit on my hands when I’m bugged by something and such was the case with the Double-Six Luxury Hotel. It had nothing to do with the hotel itself. It had everything to do with its surroundings. I was fearful that guests would be blighted by noise because of neighbouring bars and beach entertainment.
I know you don’t expect travel writers or bloggers to say this kind of thing, but I take my job very seriously. My comments and opinions carry enormous weight especially when they are read by over 20,000 people. My readers and clients expect the truth and not a fluffy fill for staying somewhere free.
My booking at the Double-Six was driven by a quest for knowledge. It was not a holiday for me. I was on a mission of discovery. I needed to know if noise was an issue. I did not book the hotel to sit by the pool and sup on fine food and cocktails. Unwittingly, my hotel room was a prime location to determine this. Thankfully, I have good news to report.
First of all, the balcony doors are thick glass and almost nothing penetrates through them. Sure, the beach is a hive of activity as the sun sets and the crowds dig into their bean bags and cocktails. Live music is pervasive and generally awful (in that the musicians cannot sing in tune). But it is not offensively loud. The double-glazed balcony doors filter out the music so effectively that you are only left with muted vocals. The bad news is that if they cannot sing in tune, you left with a free comedy show that sounds like muffled out-takes from the worst X-Factor auditions! The good news is that the live music does not last long.
I’m no longer the spritely teenager that parties late into the night. I tend to hit the hay early and at no time was I woken by anything more than the sound of waves crushing on the beach. Even that was mildly disturbing, despite the fact that I have my own beach house that is closer to the water and that too, wakes me up sometimes.
The loudest noise comes from the Coccoon Bar to the left, but you almost have to be there to experience the worst of it. You are generally shielded by the Double-Six Luxury Hotel as the Coccoon is recessed back from the road. Here they have a happy hour, two-for-one session, that is abrasively loud but does not last long into the night. But if you want to watch the odd drunk person wallowing by the water’s edge, knock yourself out. It’s not very inviting and I actually never heard the bar again during my stay. That being said, I still have this haunting image of a large, braided Irish woman, double fisting cocktails into her mouth and smoking at the same time!
Food & Dining
The Double-Six offers a good choice of dining venues. On this visit, I mostly stuck to the poolside for my early morning breakfast, as I had to film before guests woke up. I had the choice of eating on the level above, at the Seminyak Italian Food, but I did that before. What I can say is how good the food is at both locations. I’m a bit of a food snob when it comes to breakfasts and I rate the Double-Six in the top 10 places in Seminyak. The coffee was excellent, service impeccable, bread choices wonderful and every time, my eggs benedict cooked to perfection. Juices were ripe and fresh. What more could I ask for but a perfect setting which I got.
Rooftop Sunset Bar
I have mixed thoughts about the Rooftop Sunset Bar and that’s because I have been to so many great rooftop bars in the world. This, however, is not one of them.
Sure, the view is impressive, covering 1700 square meters, but where are the people?
The measure of a good rooftop bar is the crowd. This is the real litmus test.
On the three occasions I visited, the patrons would have dwindled into about 20 square meters. Even the ‘pods’ or circular seated areas (that you pay a premium) for were only 50% full. Mind you, I was always early (around 9 o’clock). At that time, the music was daggy and 80ish, and in some ways, so was the disco décor. The dance floor was always empty. Yet I could not help feeling that this was a good thing. Too many people would mean too much bustle and probably, excessive noise. I think I’ll sit on the fence on this one. May be next time I visit I’ll stay away longer to experience the night life.
I did visit the beach every night and I have to say I loved the chilled out, laid back vibe there. Colours fill the sands everywhere from the bean bags to bamboo poles and flags. But buyers beware, service is slow and you do get the token beach hawkers constantly trying to flog you trinkets or substandard paintings or neon, flashing toys.
I have learnt again, never to judge a book by its cover. If I ever had a negative thought before my stay, or preconceived judgement, they have all been dispelled now.
The Double-Six Luxury Hotel is a truly wonderful location both for privacy, exclusivity and access.
The beachfront offers tranquillity and calm and you never lose the feeling of privacy. It kind of sits in its own enclave, slightly raised above the road and you barely see or hear anyone approaching from the beach. I spent most of my limited time by the swimming pool, using the beach only for morning or evening walks.
The rooms are stunning and truly spacious. Bar the absence of electrical plugs catering for modern travellers, I found nothing to fault.The staff deserve significant and standout praise. From the front desk check-in and bellhops, to waiters, waitresses and pool staff, everyone was impeccably dressed, kind and courteous.
Double-Six offers free golf cart shuttle rides to Seminyak Square or further towards the Bintang Market (Downtown Villas). I advocate using them to experience more of the Seminyak area and to enhance your hotel stay.
I had big expectations going to the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, after all, it does stand out from the crowd as one of the true icons of the Singapore skyline. And that is where (unfortunately) the good news ends. I had already been to the Pan Pacific and the Raffles Hotel. And if these two forebears were a litmus test, then the Marina Bay Sands crashed and burned on impact. It was a slap-in-the-face to my understanding of customer service and it began as soon as I entered the giant foyer.
In fairness to the Marina Bay Sands, this venue is one giant throng of heaving flesh…everywhere. There is zero room for the personal touch, as almost everyone and everything scurries from taxi to elevator dragging suitcases on un-oiled, squeaky wheels. Yet the whole place unquestionably runs like a well-greased machine, best suited to the convention fraternity, or the Willy Wonka factory. Bodies are designed to be cranked out, farmed into bedrooms and then harvested like a cash crop.
I too was a victim.
I felt like a number. An insignificant one. The whole of my stay.
Peace reigned and a sense of normality and quietness returned when I entered my room, which though small, was diametrically pricey and fabulous. I was lucky enough to have a floor-to-ceiling view overlooking the CBD, from where I could watch the sun go up (and down) with the shimmer of boat wakes amusing me as they shuttled across the bay drawing white lines. I kicked off my shoes, placed my outstretched feet across the glass coffee table, photographed them like all women do on beaches, and then sucked up the mesmerising urban scenery before me.
It was a perfect moment of reflection from 40 floors up.
The bed was snug and comfortable; a tiny writing desk provided a compact work area for my laptop. It was pretty much a room for short term convenience and probably designed as such. The bathroom was likewise modern with neutral tones and marble finishes. Nothing too lavish or over the top.
THE ROOF TOP – WHERE THE ACTION IS AT THE MARINA BAY SANDS
I’m not a big fan of public swimming pools. For obvious reasons, I refer to them as “pee soup” since most kids (and probably adults) have a penchant for relieving themselves in the water.
As a consequence, I am a marred man.
I have experienced two unforgettable episodes in my life when I have ended up with an ear infection from swimming in floating guano. Once was in Nassau, the Bahamas, when (by the way) both my ears were squeezed completely closed by exceptionally painful swellings (abscesses) They took five days to burst. The other (second torture) was at Cap d’Antibes in the South of France. That episode I will never forget as long as I live. I was eight years old.
It was an emergency, or as the French would have said, “Un urgence“. And now that I’m older, and wiser, I’ve just figured out that the english stole the word “emergency” from the French for their inability to say “urgency!”
At that time I didn’t care. I was reeling in pain.
Le docteur appeared and diagnosed my agony with my first ever prescribed suppository. As you can imagine, that image is still etched into the interior of my scalp.
I remember having to clutch my ankles in the shower as my mother inserted a conically shaped, greased pill into my rectum. It was an inordinately uncomfortably “cure” and totally alien to my 8-year-old understanding of modern medicine and “oh la la!”
I remember asking my mum, “If I have an ear ache, why do you have to shove something up my bum?”
THE ELEVATOR RIDE
The Marina Bay Sands is famous for its rooftop infinity pool and despite my reservations of climbing into the water, I was resigned to having a swim there. I wanted to tick another square on my ill-informed bucket list. To not do so, would be like going to Paris for the first time and avoiding the Eiffel Tower! But getting there is the fun part. You simply follow the trail of (mostly Asian tourists), bedecked in white bathrobes as they squeeze into the elevator. Everyone is quiet. No one speaks. It is awkward. Like they’ve just had sex. Or are about to.
I so wanted to break the ice and ask ,“So-where-are-you-going-today” but I didn’t have the time to explain such a dumb question.
The main part of the pool is for hotel guests only and you can’t access it unless you have an electronic key card with you or a Colt 45. This is rigorously checked by officious-looking ladies in white polo shirts that are clearly taught never to smile which is why a Colt 45 would be so much fun.
The infinity pool is stunning and every guest in the hotel knows it, which is why you’ll never be there alone to savour the moment. It’s not a very spiritual or romantic place to be at, especially when you are surrounded by a million selfie sticks that look like snorkels. But the view is stunning and the water comfortingly warm (I’m not referring to urine). Not wishing to be left out, even I waded to the pool’s edge with my (cough) neon green selfie stick. The photo outcome was another story. I looked like a blubbery, glutenous mass of body fat bobbing in the water before being strained through muslin cloth.
I think that holiday snap will stay in the drawer forever!
GROUND FLOOR & BELOW
Everything at the Marina Bay Sands is big. Giant flower pots with towering ficus trees. Long, snaking check-out lines. Three towers and three elevators to suit. A jumbo Christmas tree. A large invoice. With the double-whammy VAT added after the fact.
The shops within the Marina Bay Sands are world class with barely a fashion house or label missing from between the lines of Gucci and Cartier. This was very impressive. Immensely clean, totally modern and fully undercover. It is a shopper’s paradise and not small either.
And if gambling is your bent, then there is a casino on the lower lever. I would have gone in for a quick look, but they have a strict policy in Singapore that you must to carry your passport to enter a casino. I didn’t. So I kept on walking.
The Marina Bay Sands Hotel Review Singapore are the sole opinon of me, The Walking Critic.
The Intercontinental Singapore was an afterthought and I’m kicking myself, because it should have been elevated to a “must stay” list.
How could I have stuffed up my planning so badly?
Well it was tagged onto the end of a stupidly hectic 16-day tour of South East Asia. And no, I did not book the hotel myself. My PA did that for me.
I’m a sucker for big things and “grand entrances”. My stint as a style reporter for the Washington Times newspaper blemished me in that way, thanks to my very noble and wonderful editor, Kevin Chaffee. Yet my arrival here seemed dismal and ignoble compared to my previous fanfare at the Raffles. My driver kind of slid across the cobbled paving to the front door, made more magnificent by the crescendo and reverberations of the courtyard confines. Everything echoed.
Yet, you know what, I arrived with gusto! A large entrance, for a person of indifferent significance and stature.
So, this is my take on the Intercontinental Singapore. And it began with the best and warmest welcome possible, which was good, because I was sad. This was my last stop on a whirlwind tour. I was checking into the hotel late and then leaving by 7am the next morning. Hardly time to know my “date”.
I was met with smiles and led to my room down the newly carpeted corridors. Everything felt and looked pristine. Soothing.
Intercontinental Singapore – Reception
Where many Intercontinental hotels have vast sweeping reception areas, this is not the case here. Instead, you have a more refined boutique feel that is alive with colour and bright lights. The marbled floor is a network of angular and square patterns infilled with green, white, grey and burnt gold textures.
The small concierge lounge looks onto the front courtyard through French doors. It is a vibrant palette of colours too, dominated by tub chairs and couches with velvet purples and brown tones. A large modern painting hangs above a dark lattice console table, on which rests a pair of Chinese ceramic urn lights, with pleated silk shades. Even the drum side and coffee tables reflect the same theme that is mirrored throughout the hotel on carpet designs and carved wood work.
The Lobby Lounge
I find that whenever I’m tired and hungry, I kind of gravitate towards the nearest lounge or bar and the Intercontinental Singapore was no exception. I can barely remember my sort of dirge-like march as I floor-scraped towards where the signs told me to go, but I do remember my shock when I entered the Lobby Lounge. If you think the reception area is an understatement, then wait until you see this place. A towering atrium fit for a train station or a New York trading floor or a press room. The only thing missing was a giant railway clock and the throng of people.
The lobby lounge was more of a giant tea room, than a bar lounge, even though there was a silver bucket teeming with Perrier-Jouet. All around one, vast columns rose two stories high, flanked by onlooking wooden louvre shutters and dangling glass lanterns. Square and round tables were interspersed, affording one privacy as well as comfort. And the seating choice varied from the modern looking dining chairs, to leather tub chairs or tall winged arm chairs. It oozed tranquillity and formality at the same time. The perfect place for quite reflection or a more intimate business meeting.
I ordered a gin and tonic (I’d overdosed on sampling Singapore Slings) and just as I was settling into my laptop to bash out some work, I noticed the unmistakable curly locks of celebrity chef Marco Pierre White sitting to my left. Close up, he looked big and prostrate. Inclining and sober.
He was locked in a slow, pensive discussion with a colleague, may be a contestant. I’d forgotten that they were filming Master Chef Singapore at the the hotel the next day. He was sipping water from a wine glass. I wanted to nudge my way into their chat, to eavesdrop or intrude, yet I have this “thing” about not annoying celebrities.
They get enough attention from fleeting onlookers. Why contribute to their public discomfort?
Yet Marco had me baffled. He seemed at ease, slouching in the corner with one arm hanging over the side of the arm chair. A complete contradiction to his infamous, firebrand personality from within the kitchen. Mind you, he had me in awe, after all, he was the youngest chef to ever be awarded three Michelin stars. And he has been rightly dubbed the first ever celebrity chef too.
I looked on him with great respect, knowing how he’d trained such notables as Mario Batali, Gordon Ramsay, Curtis Stone and Sharon Bennett. I wanted to thank him. Not just for the food, but my memories that went with them: the Six Bells pub in my old stomping ground of Wandsworth; The Restaurant Marco Pierre White; and the Oak Room at the Le Meridien Piccadilly Hotel. I’d eaten at all of them. I remember every instance with un-aged clarity.
The Intercontinental Singapore has just been brilliantly revamped and I tip my hat to the designers for how well they incorporated the Straits Chinese, Peranakan heritage into the building. It draws much influence from the once teeming shop houses of the Bugis District though a big departure from the screaming 50s when they were in full swing.
In times of old, Bugis had a thriving nightlife, a draw card for visiting sailors and military personnel, not to mention the less savoury and nefarious folk that lurked in the shadows. It became an internationally renowned hub for a bizarre and colourful transgender sex culture. Tourists and gawkers alike flocked there to see (and sometimes dabble in) the Asian exotic, until quashed in the 1980s by more conservative elements in the Singaporean government. I still love the banter amongst Westerners, that you could easily tell who was a real female and who was not – the transvestites were drop-dead gorgeous, while the rest were real women!
The Intercontinental Singapore is a far cry from its once wild and notorious neighbourhood. Today she stands as a symbol of modernity in the heart of a go-to shopping area filled with hip stores and fine dining restaurants. Hints of the Peranakan culture are everywhere; tiles, screen print patterns, wood mouldings, Chinese ornaments, marble flooring, bed throws, paintings, carpets, cushions, furniture, lamps, ceilings. It just has a really comfortable feel of where classic Asia meets contemporary living.
I love it when I enter a hotel room and get this overwhelming sense to scream, “Yes!” and my Executive room was just like that. A really clever design job that managed colours and contours in a relatively constricted space to achieve a sense of grandeur. It was historically sensitive to the building, thematic to its cultural surroundings which were played out with the patterned print above the bed and the busy, latticed lines of the carpet. Both were borrowed ideas from Peranakan culture, yet counter-balanced by the softer, flatter colours of the furniture and fabrics.
The formula worked. It was serene.
And then you have the little touches and nuances that go a long way. The welcome plate of pastries served on a grey slate; the personalised welcome card; the Nespresso coffee machine; the courtesy bottles of water; the digital safe; the ample provision of electrical sockets, both for normal plugs and USB chargers; the built-in luggage rack. As a seasoned traveller, I felt the guest had been given priority, not housekeeping.
As with all Intercontinental hotels, the bathroom is bright and spacious with marbled floor and their signature bathroom toiletries from well-known luxury American fragrance house, Agraria.
Club Intercontinental – Singapore Style
This was my 5th Club Intercontinental experience in over two weeks, covering thousands of flying miles and four countries. And I have to say that I’ve become more than just a vagrant traveller passing by. I’ve become an expert on Intercontinental, and indeed hotel clubs.
The Club Intercontinental is located on the second floor and worthy of the long walk to get there, as you cover immaculately polished wooden floors and passing alcoves of wonderfully painted modern art. Even the eagle eye’s view of the Lobby Lounge is impressive from on high, before you traverse through the doors and into the Club.
The interior is another testament to the influences of the Chinese-Malay Peranakan people, a mish-mash of areas to sit, each defined by bright colours and furnishings of a mixed colonial origin. Even the vaulted ceiling light commands attention with its unusual square panels.
It definitely scored highly for the cultural experience, friendly staff and cleanliness. And like all the Intercontinental hotels, it was well designed and free flowing. However, I did have a niggling feeling that the buffet was more Spartan than others I’d experienced, but then I was in a rush for the airport; I literally had seconds to quaff two coffees and wolf down a pastry. I barely had time to enjoy my breakfast with President Obama.
As a Club InterContinental guest, you get to enjoy a host of complimentary bespoke services and privileges:
- Personalised arrival and check-in /-out at the exclusive InterContinental Club Lounge
- Access to dedicated Club InterContinental Concierge team
- Culinary indulgences including:
– A la carte breakfast from 6.30am to 10.30am
– Afternoon tea from 2.30pm to 5.00pm
– Evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres from 6.00pm to 8.00pm
- A premium selection of coffee and loose-leaf tea throughout the day
- A private library featuring Peranakan literature and reference books
- Professional secretarial services
- Clothes pressing for two pieces of garments upon arrival
- 25% savings on all laundry services
- High-speed wi-fi throughout the hotel
- One smartphone per guestroom with 4G data and local/IDD calls to up to 10 countries during stay
- A private InterContinental Club boardroom for up to 10 guests for one hour with state-of-art audio-visual capabilities, high-speed wi-fi and a projector
- Guided two-hour heritage walking trail in the Bugis precinct (Saturdays only)
Parting Comments on the Intercontinental Singapore
I never got to inspect the other rooms at the Intercontinental Singapore, which was a real shame, since I left feeling like I’d only scraped the surface of an amazing experience.
The InterContinental Singapore places you minutes from Marina Bay and the Central Business District, and it’s a short stroll from the National Museum, the Singapore Art Museum and other cultural institutions. Direct access to Bugis train station connects you to the city’s many shopping and entertainment precincts.
80 Middle Road
+65 6 3387 600