Hotel Van Loi (Hoi An, Vietnam)
For our stay in the pretty, small town of Hoi An, in central Vietnam, our tour company had booked this hotel, which was one of my favourites of our trip. Hoi An is a small ancient town (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and is probably your best place for shopping in Vietnam. The hotel is based in Cam Nam village, just ... across the river from the Old Town - less than a mile to walk across the bridge. This is a three star hotel and when we arrived we walked up the large stone steps into a grand entrance foyer in dark wood with a Vietnamese style (plus some random left over Christmas decorations). We were greeted with a refreshing towel and a fruit drink. Check in was swift and we headed into the lift to our room on the 4th floor.
The room was a good size, with a double and single bed in it in heavy dark wood. The bathroom wasn't massive, the shower was over the bath (as is typical in Vietnam), but there was always hot water, and the shower was consistent. As usual there was a good range of assorted freebies such as shower caps, cotton buds, toothbrushes and soap. Overall, the room was smart, simply furnished and clean. There was a wardrobe, desk, mirror, fridge and TV in the room. The room was also air conditioned. The lights and air-con were key fob activated, but as the key was attached to the fob like a coventional key ring, we could just remove it - leaving the fob in its slot and taking the key with us. Thus we could keep the room cool whilst we were out.
The hotel is well designed with a large, round pool in the centre on the ground floor, with loungers, chairs and tables and a bar. The restaurant is on the 5th floor, just up the stairs from our room. It is a spacious, open sided restaurant area with good views of the area. The buffet selection area looked quite small but they had a good selection - an egg/omelette bar, toast, hot food - usually Vietnamese style dishes - pastries, juices and cereals. This was the first (and only) hotel I spotted Coco Pops. Staff members were usually available and kept things topped up nicely. I assume you could eat here at other times, but we never had the opportunity. The Restaurant area is L shaped, and across the other side was a bar area where we bought some reasonable cocktails on the first night, sadly it was closed when we returned on the second night at about 10pm. No one goes out late in Vietnam and if no one was sitting in the bar, then they closed it.
Other facilities the hotel offered included beauty treatments and meeting rooms but I had no need for either of these. We did do some laundry here and the standard was acceptable. I had some trousers with a mysterious mark on the front which didn't quite come out when they washed it, but has since come out in my home washing machine without any special treatment. Laundry prices were very reasonable with underwear being US$0.40, and even trousers only being a little over US$1. With the humidity it was nice to be able to freshen up our T-shirts etc. They offer a same day service if you hand your laundry to reception before 10am. I know someone who handed it in after lunch, and still got it back that evening though, but that may depend how busy they are. All laundered clothes were lightly pressed and neatly folded when returned. In reception you can keep your valuables stored behind the desk and they have a small selection of pretty gifts and some internet terminals. I never got a chance to try them though. Drinks in the fridge in the room were very cheap - small bottles of water were only VND10,000 (US$0.55 or UK£0.35). Outside the hotel, as you walked to town there were a few shops selling cigarettes, drinks and snacks and you could book tours or hire bicycles (you could probably do it inside the hotel too). We didn't do this activity ourselves, but a few of our group did and it is worth noting that suspension on these bikes isn't as good as you would get back home.
Overall we really enjoyed our stay here and in Hoi An. The rooms were clean and comfortable, and the food and facilities were very good. I didn't mind being just out of town, as it was such a short distance (and a small town) and I liked the décor and layout of the hotel very much. Although we paid for the hotel as part of our package, if I was return, I would definitely like to come back here again. We checked with reception and the rack rate is US$75 for a double and US$65 for a single, but hopefully you would be able to get better offers on the hotel online.
Van Loi Hotel
Cam Nam Village
Hoi An Town Quang Nam Province
Hoi An, Quang Nam VN 00000
Phone: 84 510 936 205
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Hotel Eastern & Oriental (Penang, Malaysia)
Eastern and oriental hotel. Georgetown Penang. The grand old dame is an old colonial hotel found on the waterfront of Georgetown, Penang. It is an absolutely superb and luxurious place to stay while in Georgetown living the life of a bygone age. It retains its old world charm maintaining an air of grace not found in many ... other hotels around the world.
The hotel was born through the entrepreneurialship of two brothers from Armenia called Martin and Tigrel Sarkie. The hotel was in fact two hotels initially,l one called the Eastern which opened in 1884 and the other the Oriental which opened in 1885 that were side by side taking up a sizeable part of the waterfront. They amalgamated both hotels which then provided 80 rooms for the discerning traveller. Many famous people have stayed here including Rudyard Kipling, Hermann Hess, Charlie Chaplin, and Somerset Maugham, Ava Gardner, Royalty and a long list of celebrities.
They were later joined by another brother Arshak who installed a massive ballroom to the hotel. The hotel affectionately became known as the E & O. At the time it was 'The' place to stay out in the Far East. The brothers also went on to open another famous hotel in the Far East in 1887, namely Raffles in Singapore.
However over the years and particularly during the depression the hotel sadly ended up being sold to several companies and became run down through lack of investment. However that all changed and it has now been restored to its former glory.
The hotel has a large courtyard at the front of the building planted with palm trees and you come to the entrance where you are met by safari suited doormen and escorted into the reception area. You are greeted by one of the butlers who are available 24/7 who complete the checking in process in a comfortable lounge type area whilst being offered iced cold towels and a tropical fruit juice. In the reception area there is a large domed ceiling which echos to the sound of voices but not in a disturbing way. The door keys to the hotel room are on a brass keyring with E&O on one side and the suite number or name on the other.
The hotel has 110 suites which include a very large marble bathroom, his and hers vanity units, a shower and toilet with a telephone inside. There was a plethora of toiletries and other stuff available for your use including toothbrushes, combs, vanity box, razor, tissues, sewing kit etc etc.
Walking through to the bedroom you pass an inbuilt wardrobe which contains bedding an iron and ironing board. The bedroom is quite large with a massive bed and a menu of pillows that you can choose from including anti allergy pillows, memory foam pillows, hard, soft etc etc. There is an armoire that contains a large television and the fridge bar. Beside the bed are small bedside cabinets with lamps and an old fashioned type phone and an alarm clock. As we were there for some very important family events that entailed very early morning starts we also used the alarm call service as we did not want to rely just on the clock. On the wall is the butler call button.
The lounge area is separated by a wall partition with coloured glass in the art deco style. The lounge is quite large with a sofa and chairs coffee table another armoire with a television, safe and drawers a writing desk with broadband connection and another telephone. There is a floor to ceiling set of sliding wooden shutters and French windows which which open out to the balcony where there are two wicker chairs and a small table. On our balcony there were two lights one of which was part of the ornamental structure of the hotel that looked a bit like a lighthouse. Although all the rooms are suites there are some with either one two or three ensuite bedrooms either with a balcony or a garden room which leads straight out to the lawns and swimming pool. Some of the suites are named after famous authors such as Kipling, Coward or Hess. The majority of rooms do not have balconies.
Throughout the hotel the flooring is either marble, polished granite or wooden parquet flooring.
There are three main areas where you can eat in the hotel.
Sarkies including the veranda and the bakery.
1885 restaurant for fine dining and afternoon tea.
Farquhars bar including the deck by the swimming pool.
There is of course room service available 24 hours a day which was very good indeed.
Breakfast is served in Sarkies restaurant which also includes eating breakfast on the veranda if you wish. It has a very extensive buffet with a fast cook section for waffles, pancakes, omelettes and chapattis. It also has a wok station here. The standards of cooking are excellent. The array of food on offer is amazing with a large bakery area where freshly baked breads and pastries are on offer. There is a large Japanese section which included some very colourful things which I have never come across before and fish, meats and vegetables. There is a juice station with four varieties of chilled juices and fresh vegetable and fruit press. Hams cheeses and cereals. The final station includes noodle rice and curry station. Coffee or tea is served by the waiters.
This is the fine dining restaurant with quite an extensive menu and good quality wines. It is quite expensive to eat here but the service is very good and it is quite a peaceful and well appointed dining room. Coffee can be had in a sitting room area off the dining room. Afternoon tea is served here too which was absolutely brilliant with freshly baked tiny cakes there were about 12 varieties scones and jam and a good selection of teas. The only downside which was disappointing was that the cream was not clotted cream but looked more like aerosol cream.
This serves a mixture of western food including red snapper fish and chips, pies and curries which can be eaten inside the bar or out on the deck area beside the pool. It can be a bit noisy in here as there are large flat panel television screens showing football matches which can make it a bit rowdy.
The bakery and coffee shop sells beautiful patisserie and handmade chocolates all made in house by the catering team.
Other facilities in the hotel include:-
Massage area by the pool.
The hotel often hosts large wedding receptions in the ball room and weddings on the promenade especially at weekends.
All the staff were absolutely fantastic and nothing was too much trouble. There seemed to be ample staff available who all looked really cheerful, happy and very hospitable. Every member of staff greeted you no matter what and some actively went out of their way to talk to you especially the doormen who were extremely nice and very helpful especially when we took taxis or trishaws out. They would tell the drivers where we wanted to go and negotiate the price for us. All of the staff looked after us extremely well and greeted you like long lost friends without being over familiar or too intrusive.
Would I recommend a stay here?
Absolutely and should I ever go back to Penang it would be my hotel of choice. I cannot praise it highly enough as it is quite a character hotel full of history, nostalgia, charm and grace. Well worth its five star rating.
Prices range from £138- £183 per night depending on the suite you choose.
Eastern and Oriental hotel.
10, Farquhar Street,
Pulau Penang 10200,
Tel: +604 222 2000 ext. 3169
Fax : +604 261 6333
Web site :- http://www.e-o-hotel.com/
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Divine Resort (Rishikesh, India)
~Why Rishikesh~ I've been rude in the past about the DVD and TV series 'India with Sanjeev Bhaskar' but despite my reservations about the show it did introduce one useful and interesting idea - that we should take a trip to the city of Rishikesh. Prior to watching his show I hadn't heard of the place at all even though it's ... probably most famous as the city where the Beatles hung out during their mystical Eastern phase with their Yogi. Doing my research when planning our recent trip, I discovered it was a bit of a cult destination - much loved by locals as a place of religious pilgrimage and ritual cleansing and by foreign tourists of a particularly hippy yoga-loving bent. If you want to go and spruce up your yoga skills or find a guru, chances are you'll head to Rishikesh, a sublime place nestling in the crook of a bend in the Ganges. Rishikesh is actually less 'holy' than it's sister city, Haridwar, but it's a lot cleaner, prettier and more manageable if you're not ready for full on lepers, beggars and weird chaps covered in ash with beards down to their bellies. In terms of all-out holiness, Rishikesh is 'Haridwar Light'.
We travelled to the city by car from the noisy and unholy mess of Dehradun and we were less in search of enlightenment and much more in search of peace and quiet. Our journey was a bit of an adventure but not for the normal 'pot hole/police roadblock/land slide/monkey mugging' sort of reasons. Instead we had a driver under extreme stress. As our bags were being loaded into the lovely big four wheel drive jeepy-thing that the Doon Castle hotel in Dehradun had arranged for us, my husband spotted that the driver wasn't happy. He kept moving the bags around and Tony assumed that he didn't like the way the bags were loaded. He helped the driver rearrange the bags and we all hopped in to set off. The driver turned to Tony and started jabbering away in who-knows-what language. We all shouted at Tony to not agree or nod or appear to go along with anything since he hadn't the first idea what was going on. After a stop at a petrol station to find someone who could translate, it turned out that the driver had lost his driving license and was scared about getting arrested. The man in the garage told him to get a grip and if he was too worried he'd better take us back to the hotel and find someone else to drive us. Yes, we were all very relaxed after that!
The roads were excellent by Indian standards and we were there in less than an hour, even allowing for the driver getting lost and having to ask for help. We paid around £20 for the journey in a luxurious air con vehicle that didn't look as if it would fall apart in a strong breeze but if you're watching your pennies there are public bus services available if you can be bothered. With four of us in the car it wasn't a major expense.
I had been a bit worried about access to the hotel after reading some reviews that said the only way to get there was by walking up a steep hill for 15 to 20 minutes but we didn't need to worry, you just need to get across the river at the right point. However if you arrived by train and had no transport and were too mean to pay for an auto-rickshaw you would indeed have a lung-busting walk. Fortunately we were dropped right outside the reception and arrived without raising a sweat.
The hotel is clean, old and a bit worn and much as I liked it, it's only fair to say that it looks nothing like the pictures on the website, especially the rooms. Admittedly we booked 'deluxe' rooms which are the cheapest grade, but there was absolutely no similarity between our rather charming and slightly shabby rooms and the elegant rooms on the website. We didn't mind as we liked the rooms we were given but if you're inclined to gripe about anything that's not 100% as promised, it could well wind you up. It's also misleadingly far from the main suspension bridge and the website is very evasive about how to actually find it. I can imagine that anyone rolling up on the train and thinking it was 'just the other side of the bridge' might be justifiably peeved to find it's rather a long up-hill walk after crossing a pedestrian bridge. The staff on the front desk were helpful and spoke good English and were happy to offer advice on what to see and do and they also let us keep one of the rooms for a couple of extra hours without charging for the late check-out. They also arranged a car to take us on to Haridwar the next day so we were more than happy with their quiet, unpushy efficiency. Getting advice on what to see anywhere in India is always tricky as most people seem extremely reluctant to recommend things, perhaps for fear that you'll hate them. The receptionist said we absolutely had to go the Aarti ceremony and that was recommendation enough for us.
~Room to Unwind~
We had two rooms off a small balcony that wasn't on the way to anywhere so it was very private. The rooms were quite old fashioned but rather endearingly so. Aside from the slippery cream tiled floors that were deadly when wet, we liked our rooms but mostly for the fabulous views and the quietness of the location. It's great to have the background noise of the mighty river Ganges and the occasional sounds of a temple next door instead of non-stop road noise.
Each room had a double bed that was less rock-hard than in most Indian hotels. At some point between check in and going to sleep our two pillows on the bed underwent some miraculous transformation into four pillows. That's the magical mystical power of Rishikesh. The bed had clean white sheets and a thick warm blanket which came in handy despite the high temperatures and humidity since we needed air-con in order to get to sleep. I seriously underestimated how hot the foothills of the Himalaya could be in the second half of October.
The walls were painted cream and showed signs of water leaks or mould in the past but whatever the problem had once been it had long been solved and we couldn't smell anything so it wasn't a problem. There was a lot of lighting both over the bed and on the walls. Brown curtains pulled back to show a large picture window that was filled with tree-covered mountain sides. I could have happily just sat and looked all day - and there were a couple of chairs out on the balcony so we could do just that.
There was a wooden wall-mounted platform with the TV on it that seemed to be leaning slightly to one side. The small fridge underneath was stocked with water, red bull and lychee juice drink. To the side of the bed were two comfy arm chairs and a large glass coffee table jammed up against a large old wardobe in the corner. Bedside tables were found on each side of the bed.
The bathroom was a bit old and unloved but was clean. It was just a bit scruffy and horribly badly grouted especially around the bath which was full length with a powerful shower over it and no problems with hot water supply. There was no shower curtain but surprisingly it didn't spray much and I didn't flood the room. The loo was unique and seemed to have been designed so that you could use it as both a western or a squat toilet if you preferred. The sink had no surround unit so everything had to be squeezed into a small space.
The Divine has a number of additional facilities available. There's a small bakery cafe on the front of the hotel with donuts, strudels and cheap savoury snacks. However, this is a bit wasted since the best part of the hotel is the view from the back and sitting next to a scruffy road seems a waste of a good view. The main restaurant is downstairs and has picture windows offering spectacular views over the Ganges and towards the suspension bridge. As a final option, you can eat outside on the main level or upstairs on a higher platform, but that seemed a bit cruel after we watched a waiter attempt to negotiate the circular staircase one-handed without dropping his pizzas.
We had breakfast in the main restaurant which was a buffet arrangement and was - sorry to say - distinctly uninteresting. The coffee was cold and the choice was omelette or omelette (or porridge which in a high temperature/high humidity setting seems a bit incongruous) Thank goodness the review compensated for the food. On the evening we arrived we ate down in the city but went to the hotel restaurant for lassi and banana pancakes on our return. Yes, Rishikesh is a bit of a banana pancake type of place - if you've done your share of backpacking, you'll know what I mean by that.
Massage and beauty treatments are available in a rather scruffy treatment centre which seemed to double up as a staff dorm based on the number of people we saw flaked out in there. There's a small internet cafe in an annexe building but no wi-fi inside the hotel. The travel agency next door can arrange rafting, trekking and visits to wildlife parks but we were there for such a short time that our options were very limited. The main lower bridge is a pleasant walk down the hill and an inexpensive auto-rickshaw ride back up. The other bridge across the Ganges is even closer - turn left out of the hotel and past the temple - but if you want to see the Aarti (the nightly worship at the river) you'll need to go down the hill to the main bridge.
I believe we paid about £35 per room for this hotel - I got a discount of 300 rupees because I booked it through the same website as our train tickets and received a couple of vouchers. This caused some complications since I wanted to book two rooms and I had two vouchers but didn't want to risk making two separate bookings and then having the hotel cancel one of them thinking it was a mistake. Consequently one room was booked in my room and the other in my husband's and the hotel didn't mind at all how we then distributed the four of us between the two rooms.
Of all the hotels on our trip this was everyone's stand-out favourite. The location was idyllic and it was so quiet and peaceful that it was hard to believe you were actually in India. This was the place that my sister and her girlfriend most wanted to go back to. The next hotel in Haridwar didn't really stand a chance of shining when we practically had to drag them away.
I couldn't give a hoot for yoga and meditation but I still really enjoyed our 24 hour visit to Rishikesh. We loved being out of the centre in such a quiet hillside position and were glad we'd chosen the Divine. I'd originally selected a much cheaper and more central hotel that wanted payment by an expensive money transfer system which meant it was just too much trouble. The Divine isn't as plush as it would like to imply but it's beautifully calm and relaxing with the best views in the city.
Laxman Jhula Divine Resort
Tapovan Laxman Jhula
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Asia Hotel International
Address 585 Heng Feng Road / Hotel International / Shanghai / 200070 / China - The 4 star hotel is within walking distance to the Shanghai Railway Station and subway station.
Address: South Male Atoll / Hotel International / Maldives - An exclusive and private resort.
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