Hotel Review: The Majestic Yosemite Hotel


Majestic

I was pretty excited at the prospect of staying at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel – formerly known as the Ahwahnee Hotel, yet another National Historic Landmark. Located within Yosemite Valley itself, the place is far better situated than Big Trees Lodge for accessing the main attractions within the park.

It’s also a lot nicer – a (very brief) overview of the history of the place is that the first US Director of the National Parks Service, a businessman turned tree-hugger named Stephen Mather, thought up the idea of building a luxury hotel within the park to attract rich city folk over and fall in love with nature like he had, thus impressing upon these influential people the wonders of nature. Cue fund-raising.

I’m not quite the target audience he probably had in mind, but I was indeed impressed. The place is so iconic that the park rangers conduct (free) guided tours of the public areas. The Overlook Hotel from The Shining was also based on this property – it’s great knowing you’re staying at the hotel that inspired  the visual aesthetic of “Here’s Johnny!”.

A not-so-Majestic Entrance

When you first get to the vicinity of the hotel, you might start wondering where exactly the place is – it’s not particularly visible from the carpark (which is also near where the complimentary shuttle bus stops). As it turns out, the main entrance of the hotel was originally designed to be the side entrance – when siting the original main entrance, they hadn’t considered the pollution created by idling vehicles as passengers unloaded.

This design flaw was highlighted rather late, just days before the hotel opened, and thus a quick solution was effected by converting the existing side entrance and adding a long covered walkway to distance the rooms from vehicle-generated pollution.

The original main entrance thus opens instead to the property’s lawn, which is where the more impressive facade of the property can be viewed from.

Inside the Property

The heritage of the property is clearly a large part of its identity – old-looking plaques abound (even if they’re dated to the late 20th century, which isn’t really all that long ago…)

Upon reaching the property you step up to a really old-school lobby, decked with chandeliers (albeit electric ones) and all.

To the left, ye olde sweet shop for weary travellers to purchase sweet sugary pick-me-ups.

To the right, ye olde gift shop for refreshed travellers to part ways with more cash before heading home.

Somewhere behind the check-in counter is a dining reservations booth – I assume it’s manned at some part of the day, though I never noticed that happening during my stay. Apparently, this area was converted from old school bank counters – I’m guessing they once provided on-site banking services, before the day of the ATM?

Ye olde school post box, just opposite the dining reservations booth.

A large fireplace along the way… Not too sure if it’s still used during winter.

And a large indoor area where afternoon tea was served (we arrived too late to really enjoy it, unfortunately).

The (architectural) highlight for me was the magnificent dining room, with its intricate roof and grand scale. It’s what you might imagine an American (wild west) version of Harry Potter might look like, as opposed to the New York version that’s made it to the cinemas.

The Room

I was assigned to Room 601, one of the smallest rooms on the top floor of the property. Having booked the cheapest available class of room, that sounded about right.

The rooms on the sixth floor were all named – 601 was named after the property’s founder himself, and was a pretty nice room with a good view – wonder if it’s nicer than the average basic room? That’s the delusion I’m happy living with, anyway.

The king bed was large, clean and comfortable. No complaints from me.

It also came with a plush black bear, though unfortunately it cost extra to take home. Mine remained in the hotel room…

The room was equipped with a flat screen TV and all the technological wonders of the 20th century (read: crappy wifi).

Walk-in closet? Storeroom? Blurred lines.

The bathroom was, though a little on the small side, clean and functional.

I really enjoyed the provided Tarocco Sicilian Red Orange amenities, with its strong pleasant scent.

In one corner of the room was a small sitting area, right beside the room’s sole window. That window offered what was possibly the room’s best feature – the view.

It wasn’t perfect, but there was an almost-direct view of Half Dome – it was pretty awesome watching it turn orange around dusk right from the comfort of our own room. Too bad it was still partially obstructed!

 

Breakfast

Breakfast was, unfortunately, not included with the room rate. I was pretty keen to spend some time actually dining in the dining hall, so I made a reservation for breakfast (you can do this using OpenTable).

Breakfast was a full buffet affair, though it seemed somewhat unclassy to take pictures of the spread in a place like this, so I didn’t.

…or perhaps I simply forgot to document the full spread.

I’ve got some shots of sample plated offerings, though. The offerings aren’t too different from any typical western hotel buffet breakfast, but I did think the quality of the food was really good.

Ultimately, it’s still rather pricey, and ultimately you’re paying for the ambience; the delicious food serves as a pretty good consolation prize.

Around the Property

After breakfast we took a walk around the grounds. Just beside the lawn was the swimming pool – it’s rather small and not particularly conducive for swimming laps; probably better suited for families.

Walking further away from the main hotel towards the wooded areas brings you to the cottages, essentially the property’s private villas. They look pretty nice, but at an even higher price point I figured it made more sense to go for the cheaper option in the main (historical) building.

Still, looking at the beautiful scenery around the cottages, I kinda got the appeal.

After all, how often do you get to see wildlife scurrying around your backyard? It’s possibly quite a common for country-dwellers, but for the urbanites this property caters to, it’s a rather unique experience.

Conclusion

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (née Ahwahnee Hotel) is undoubtably the swishest hotel located within Yosemite Park. Very frankly, you’re paying for the historicity and location – though it doesn’t quite match up to modern luxury hotels in many ways, it’s still pretty decent and offers a unique experience to be had in the midst of awesome natural beauty.

Penny-pinchers should consider staying somewhere cheaper and just doing the complimentary guided tour. Unfortunately, it’s owned by the U.S. Government and (I think) there’s pretty much no way to access it on cheap, but if you value such experiences it could make a worthwhile treat.

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Hotel Review: Big Trees Lodge


Staying in Yosemite

When planning trips many months in advance, sometimes you make decisions without having done the full extent of research necessary for a well-informed decision. In this instance, it was initially planning to stay for only night in Yosemite National Park, sandwiching that between stays at the nearest Hilton property (Hampton Merced).

What my Singaporean brain failed to process was that a ‘park’ could be massively gigantic and that it was a 2h drive from Merced to Yosemite Valley (probably the most central part in Yosemite).

So, sometime closer to the actual trip, I started looking for a property within the park to stay in, focusing my search on national park properties and basically looking for whatever was available. I’m not the camping sort, and any of the properties book out months in advance (especially since I was visiting in summer), so my options were rather limited – I was probably looking for rooms made available through others’ cancellations.

The search yielded Big Trees Lodge, a property with a rather uninspiring-sounding name (though it’s formerly Wawona Hotel, a National Historic Landmark) with some rooms available. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I decided to just take whatever was available. It had the bonus advantage of being more moderately priced than the other hotel within the park I’d be staying at the next night.

Arriving

It was nearly dusk by the time we arrived at the property – at that time, there was a fair amount of parking available, mostly around the loop around a central fountain that leads up to the lodge’s main building.

This main building is where you check in, and it’s also where the dining room (essentially the restaurant) is located. We arrived pretty late and checked out quite early the next morning, so we never ate there. The building is also the only place on the property equipped with WiFi.

Upon checking in, we were given a map of the property – most of the rooms were actually located in cottages around the main building. Happily, we were assigned a room just a short walk away.

The Room

I’d mentioned earlier that this place is a National Historic Landmark – this becomes quite apparent when you step into the room.

I’d opted for a room with an ensuite bathroom – there were cheaper options where you had to go to a common toilet/shower. The bathroom wasn’t particularly large, but I thought it was worth the additional investment.

There’s also a walk-in closet with plenty of space for your luggage, should you be hauling trunks of stuff through Yosemite. Mine felt very empty in my one night there.

There’s also a door leading to an adjoining room, so it’s probably possible for families to request for two connected rooms with direct access.

It had been a relatively long drive up from San Francisco, so most of the stay was really spent catching up on rest.

The Grounds

After dawn broke, we spent some time taking a look around the property. We finally got to see Clark Cottage (where our room was) in the light of day.

There’re some chairs and a table just outside each room (on the porch) – it’s pretty relaxing just sitting there looking out at the trees. For awhile, anyway.

A short walk away from our cottage (also visible in the above image, actually) was the ‘swimming tank’, which looked pretty much like a normal swimming pool to me.

We ended up not exploring the property all that much since we’d wanted to explore the park instead, but I imagine that if you wanted an inexpensive property within the park to relax at over a few days, this one would do rather nicely.

 

Conclusion

I’m not usually a fan of quaint and old hotels, but I suppose the location of the property changes that attitude somewhat. When staying in the middle of all that nature, quaint old lodging with minimal internet connectivity becomes rather… well, natural.

The location is still a little far (almost an hour’s drive) from Yosemite Valley, though – if I had a choice I might go for the more centrally-located Yosemite Valley Lodge instead, especially if not that much time will actually be spent indoors.

Hotel Review: Parc 55 San Francisco


Location

I’d planned to stay a few nights (four, to optimise the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit) and was looking for a central location to base myself for the duration – it turned out that Hilton had not just one, but two properties in the Union Square area which fit my needs – Parc 55 and Hilton San Francisco Union Square.

The two properties seem to be under the same management, even, since their websites actually cross-referenced each other (referring potential customers over should one property be full, I imagine).

FlyerTalk seemed to lack consensus over which was superior so I ended up choosing the one with the fancier name. It’s also right across the street from a BART station which made it really easy to take the train directly from the airport.

FlyerTalk also made much about the number of homeless in the area (especially if you walk the wrong way), which could make staying here rather unpleasant – I found this to be somewhat true, but found this to be rather true of the city in general. All in all, it was centrally located and very well-situated for exploring the city.

The Room

I was given a corner room on level 25, which seemed to be slightly larger than the typical room (though still smaller than a suite).

On entering the room you’re greeted to a narrow corridor (toilet to the left, with a high window on the right).

The room’s relatively spacious; plenty of room to lay out multiple pieces of luggage.

I did rather like the large windows all around the room, offering a good semi-panoramic view of the city around the building.

I found it rather pleasant to be able to sit at the desk with views of the city right in front of me; if you happen to be trying to get some work done in the afternoon the brightness would be rather annoying, though.

The toilet was clean, a little old, but generally unremarkable.

Breakfast

Unfortunately, Parc 55 gets flak for offering really sucky breakfast options for Gold members. It seems that all you get is a coffee and a pastry at a cafe. As a Diamond you get it slightly better, since you get access to continental breakfast at the restaurant, with the option to top up US$10 per person to enjoy the hot food.

I thought the continental offerings were adequate,  especially since they had prosciutto wraps in that section.

 

I also enjoyed the range of fruit available – I particularly enjoyed having access to copious amounts of strawberries.

All in all, I found breakfast serviceable but rather lacklustre, especially if you’re used to what’s usually on offer at Asian Hilton properties.

Conclusion

A San Francisco property with a great central location, Parc 55’s breakfast offerings are rather disappointing for the Gold/Diamond Hilton guest. If I were to do this again I think I might opt for the Hilton San Francisco Financial District instead – it’s a little further off, but still central enough with better complimentary breakfast offerings (or so I’ve read). In the worst case, it’s right at the doorstep of Chinatown, so affordable breakfast options would be just a short walk away…

California Dreamin’: Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-SFO / SFO-SIN

  • California Dreamin’: A Tale of Going West
  • Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-SFO / SFO-SIN (A350)
  • Parc 55 San Francisco – A Hilton Hotel
  • Big Trees Lodge
  • The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Merced, or Just About Any Hampton in the States
  • Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel
  • Virgin Airlines Business Class SAN-SFO (A319)

SilverKris Lounge SIN T3

You would think that I’d have spent more time cataloguing the T3 business class lounge – however, perhaps because it’s my home city, I’m usually not too excited about using the lounges in Changi Airport. There’re also plenty of excellent reviews already out there, like this one on the Shutterwhale.

That said, I’m not too good for some free laksa. The one offered in the SilverKris lounge is pretty good – the ability to vary the ratio of ingredients is always welcome.

Overall, though, I find the food offerings to be rather lacklustre (sacrilege, I know!). Again, this might be a home city thing – why settle for dry, rubbery chwee kueh when I can get it cheaply at the coffee shops near home?

When situated in a foodie paradise, I think the lounge could afford to up its game when offering dining options to well-heeled premium travellers (also, by extension, undeserving travel hackers like myself). Case in point – why stock maple flavoured syrup? Is genuine maple syrup too pricey?

I’m not particularly bothered by it myself, but given SIA’s image and price point, I’d have thought there’d be greater investment into maintaining an image of using the very best.

The Hardware

Perhaps some of my disenchantment with the lounge came from my excitement to get onboard the aircraft. Having previously sat in (and been impressed by) economy class on an SQ A350, I was pretty eager to get in the air and enjoy business class on the 15h journey to SFO.

Welcome drinks were served shortly after boarding. I opted for champagne; since I know next to nothing about alcohol (oh hey I like fizzy drinks let’s get this expensive-sounding drink) I can’t comment too much beyond… err, it was nice, I guess. I assume it’s the same Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve that was listed in their menu.

The seat isn’t too different from any other recent SQ business class seat, which isn’t a bad thing. Plenty of space, pretty comfortable.

I’m not a big fan of the design of the foot rest (most likely requiring you to lie/sit diagonally), but it wasn’t too bad; still plenty comfy.

Plenty of storage space for your miscellaneous items throughout the flight. TV screen is great.

The SQ app now allows you to pair your mobile device to your in-flight entertainment system for use as an additional controller – it’s an interesting feature, though hardly necessary, I think.

What I found more impressive/useful was the ability to plug in your personal devices via HDMI and view media on the screen. Yes, the airline’s invested in building up a library of relatively current TV shows and movies for you to browse; but if you’ve got other stuff on hand you’d rather watch, why not do so in style? (particularly useful since it’s quite possible to get tired of the SQ library after 2x 15h flights.)

The seat is relatively easily converted into the lie-flat bed mode – I did struggle for awhile, but once I figured out the unlatching mechanism (which I’ve since forgotten, unfortunately) it was easy enough to handle on my own, which is great since I’m not really a fan of relying on (and waiting for) cabin crew to assist with setup, as is the case on Suites.

Amenities

I actually received one of those 70th anniversary amenity kits with Laundress products (mine was the black version) when flying out of Singapore. I thought it was an interesting concept, though it’s still not really stuff I’d really use. Make a nice gift, though.

Other than that, you do get the usual slippers, socks and eye mask as well.

The Food

The menu cover was branded for the 70th anniversary – despite the branding, I didn’t see all that much local fare like chicken rice that they were supposed to be offering (think the only item offered char siew rice on my outbound trip, which I didn’t get in the end).

I’ll be showcasing the meals from the return journey as well, so this section will probably just make me look like a glutton. We begin with cauliflower and smoked gouda soup, lobster thermidor (via Book the Cook) and a Meneghina doughnut.

For the mid-flight meal I tried the spice coated smoked egg (not a fan) and pan-seared salmon fillet.

Somewhere along the way (I can’t remember when) I got this prawn skewer. It was surprisingly large, although I did wonder why I was never offered the signature satay on both legs of the flight.

From SFO-SIN my first meal comprised the smoke duck, lamb biryani and two desserts (because YOLO) – Gotham “pineapple” (why the quote marks, SQ menu?) and petite patisserie.

Because I thought I should try out their mid-flight snack as well, I requested for chicken kway teow as well. It was surprisingly good.

Salt baked chicken for my final meal on the return flight – thought this one was rather meh.

Generally, I found the worst meal to be merely mediocre (as opposed to actually bad) but generally I was pleased with the offerings and didn’t feel like too much stomach space was being wasted on undeserving calories. That might not sound like much, but we’re talking airline food here and I think SQ offers pretty good in-flight catering on business class (at least, for the Singaporean palate).

Conclusion

As air travellers, we live in a rather privileged era – it was an absolutely surreal experience being able to step onto a plane in Singapore and alight at San Francisco just 15 hours later (and vice versa). It’s still a long flight (aside – I was reminded of a YouTube video I’d watched explaining why air travel hasn’t been getting any faster – essentially, lowering cost has been a bigger priority than increasing speed), and when you want to grab some shut-eye along the way you might start feeling grateful to be in a lie-flat business class seat (flying SQ, no less) and infinitely thankful that strategic credit card spend allows you to access such luxuries relatively affordably.

In my opinion, if you are interested in taking a trip to the US (non-stop flights to LA and NYC are supposed to be on the cards for 2018) this is possibly one of the best uses of airlines miles available, allowing you to simultaneously minimise travel time while enjoying a luxurious experience, enabling you to arrive at your destination fresh and ready to embark on your vacation.

Hotel Review: Conrad Bali (Conrad Suite Twin)

A brief interruption before resuming with that mega trip report I’ve got planned… (hopefully I can get that done before December rolls round!)

I recently had a short 2-night stay at Conrad Bali – recent posts at the FlyerTalk thread didn’t seem all that hot about the property, so my expectations were relatively low going in – this ended up perhaps a good thing, since the stay far exceeded my expectations and the property is now in the running for (my mental list of) best Conrad properties around – possibly the best if taking into account value, considering the relatively low cost of a stay there.

The property

Upon checking in, we were notified to some awesome news – we had been upgraded to the new(er) Conrad Suites wing. I got a welcome letter as a Diamond guest – I’m pretty sure the first three benefits listed would apply to any guest staying in a suite; I’m guessing that Diamond members would get to enjoy them (essentially lounge benefits) even if not upgraded.

It wasn’t all perfect – I’d originally booked a basic king room, but the upgraded room came with twin beds. Having said that, these are two queen beds we’re talking about – I wasn’t about to reject a suite upgrade just because of that.

Part of the welcome package includes a map of the property (it says a lot when you need one to help navigate yourself around the grounds). The Conrad Suites wing is at the top right of the map (IV), pretty much the opposite end from the main entrance (1). If this is your first time at the property, it probably makes sense to just let a porter help you with directions and your luggage – they don’t seem to necessarily expect tips, but given the exchange rate even tips of <$1 would probably be plenty.

Walking towards the Conrad Suites wing at night, we were led past the Conrad Suites pool area – it’s a rather stunning view; one that my mobile phone camera really fails to do justice to. Thankfully, the internet offers superior alternatives.


(Image from pic-travel.com.tw)

The room

(Floor plan from the Conrad Bali website – my room was essentially a mirror image of this with twin beds)

When you first step into the suite, you really only see about half of it. Already that’s pretty huge. At an advertised 110 sq. m./1184 sq. ft., the entire area is probably bigger than many homes in Singapore (keeping in mind that there are no bay windows, planters or bomb shelters in here)…

A welcome platter of fruit on the dining table near the entrance. This was changed daily – I felt pretty bad since I didn’t really touch any of it (little space left after stuffing myself at other parts of the property). Hopefully the staff get to feast on untouched items, rather than just disposing of it…

Power sockets at the dining table cleverly hidden away – this hiding thing is pretty common throughout the room. Given that there’s no dedicated work desk (who works while staying at a resort? Probably lots of people, sadly) this allows the area to function as one.

Just behind the dining table lies the kitchenette area, equipped with a sink and Nespresso-compatible (counterfeit?) coffee machine.

Complimentary Nespresso-compatible coffee pods and TWG teabags. They replenished these while tidying in the morning as well as during evening turndown service, so you know what to do if you’re aiming to maximise your souvenirs from a stay…

Tucked away from view are two mini-fridges (mini-bar plus an extra one with some extra bottles of water), the bin, cutlery, crockery, a kettle, a toaster, and even a juicer. I guess that was one thing I could have done with some of that complimentary fruit.

Adjoining the dining area is the living area, with plenty of sitting space and a flat screen TV. There’s a ceiling fan here for air circulation, in addition to the air-conditioning. This was the only TV with easy access to HDMI ports, and though they seemed to have disabled the input button on the remote, it was possible to switch to HDMI input using the physical button on the TV set.

Just outside the living area was a little balcony. Not pictured – a day bed. I was on the ground floor, though, so the balcony lacked privacy. It allowed quick access towards the pool, but since there’s no way to lock the door if you exit that way, it ended up not being used very much during the stay.

At this point we’re only halfway through the suite – here’s a quick video to give an idea of the scale of the place, unfortunately taken in that annoying vertical format that works better for mobile viewing (yes, it was meant for Instagram use).

The bedroom area is also equipped with a ceiling fan. When checking in, the front desk officer had offered to push the twin beds closer to each other to form a mega (faux super-king?) bed. We’d declined the offer, but given the default positioning of the twin beds, I’m not sure how much this would have changed anything!

(Not pictured – another flat screen TV for your in-bed viewing pleasure. This one is recessed more deeply in a fixture and doesn’t offer easy connectivity to personal devices.)

Conrad Bali offers a free monkey toy (presumably a reference to the Monkey Forest near Ubud). We initially thought it was a female monkey wearing a dress, but now we think that’s actually a sarong.

More stuff hidden at the bedside tables – apparently, a simple bottle of water is too unsightly to go uncovered.

The bedside radio offers support for mobile device connectivity, but it’s older equipment supporting older iOS devices. Better than nothing, I suppose?

Moving on towards the dressing area, there’s a dressing table opposite the closet.

Yet another hidden object – this time, a hairdryer.

Also a hidden power plug (presumably for the said hairdryer) and various miscellaneous kits.

Closet. Open; functional. There are nice, fluffy bathrobes provided – also more fanciful-looking (traditional?) robes.

 

It’s probably a worrying sign when a hotel provides bug spray in your room – I think you get mosquitos at the balcony area, but if you keep the doors closed you should be fine. They also provide a straw bag that comes in handy when going to the pool.

Finally, there’s the bathroom. Two sinks, a bathtub accompanied by a small TV, a toilet and shower. There’s a gigantic ottoman in the middle of the bathroom that looks pretty comfortable… but also rather unnecessary?

The default Aromatherapy Associates bath amenities, as with other Conrad properties, can be swapped upon request – I usually prefer the Shanghai Tang ones, but I think the default ones are fine too.

The grounds

The lagoon and main pool in the resort are less exclusive than the suites area (and thus more crowded), but still pretty nifty. I thought the lagoon in particular was pretty interesting since it sloped into sandy beach-like areas at certain parts, offering an area for kids to safely play with sand.


I saw some floats being used in the main pool, so I guess it’s cool to use them there. Plenty of opportunities for fun for kids, which is great since they’re not allowed at the Conrad Suites pool.

There’s a gym on the property – other than acknowledging its existence and providing these two pictures, I can’t really say much more about it.

There’s a general lounge area called Reflections that has some seating and a pool table. It was unattended when we walked past at night, but we were able to help ourselves to the pool equipment on our own. Unfortunately, there was only one proper cue stick, and the table was also in pretty poor state.

Near the Conrad Suites wing is a chapel – it seems like the property handles numerous weddings.

Beyond the chapel is the beach. It seems to be a public access area, since there were some hawkers walking around trying to sell their wares. Regardless, a very nice area. There are cabanas along the beach maintained by the property, though you’ll need to pay a fee to make use of them. No such charge for the beach chairs.

The beach faces east, making it a great place to enjoy the sunrise.

Once you get back to the Conrad Suites wing, you’ll see a sign reminding you that children are not allowed at the pool. It helps to maintain an exclusive feel, but given that the suits are so huge (and thus great for families), it can seem rather  counter-intuitive to make families travel further to the main pool and lagoon.

The (restricted) poolside cabanas here are free to use, unlike the beach-side ones around the rest of the property. They’re great for just spending a lazy afternoon, with the option of easily going in and out of the pool.

Hotel staff send you wet towels and ice water when using the cabanas, with a menu to make additional orders. They’re not pushy about it – we didn’t order any additional items, though they looked relatively affordable as far as resorts go.

Breakfast (RIN)

The Japanese restaurant at the Conrad Suites wing serves as a possible venue for breakfast. It’s the one recommended for Suites (and Diamond) guests. I also suspect that the quality of food is better here than at the other restaurants.

When having breakfast there, you can order a number of items off their a la carte menu. A special shout out to their French toast in particular – it’s done with thick-cut French loaf, which was remarkably soft and really quite delightful.

You could also head into the restaurant to help yourself to the buffet spread. Various options including hot food, pastries, cereal, salad and fruit. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

   

I was particularly impressed by the stir-fried (Japanese style) beef they had on offer. The chicken katsu was pretty good too (a little tough, but very tasty).

Breakfast (Suku)

On our second morning we tried out breakfast at the largest on-site restaurant.

You also get to order from an a la carte menu.

The spread here was even larger, at least partially by virtue of being a larger space catering to more people. Again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

I particularly enjoyed the wider range of fruit available (including mangosteens and passionfruit).

All in all, despite the larger spread available, I thought the quality of food was better at RIN. That said, it was still a very enjoyable meal.

Afternoon tea (RIN)

Afternoon tea is served at RIN from 3-5pm. You get to order drinks off a menu and they serve a tray of snacks and pastries for tea. We generally found these all to be enjoyable.

 

Evening cocktails (Club lounge)

From 5-7pm you can go to the club lounge (just one storey above RIN) for evening cocktails. Again, you get to order off a menu – quite similar to the tea drinks menu, but with alcoholic options as well. We didn’t realise food would be provided as well; these were also quite enjoyable.

Conclusion

Given that it’s an Asian beach resort, an immediate comparison with Conrad Koh Samui jumps to mind. When I’d stayed there earlier this year, I was pretty much blown away by the experience. Conrad Bali hasn’t dethroned that experience, but given the price difference I’ll have to say this place offers a lot more bang for buck (I’d paid about S$180 per night including taxes for this; it was a sale rate, but if you manage to catch it a 50% flash sale it’ll be even cheaper). Imagine pairing this with the Citi Prestige 4th night free offer – 4 nights here at less than S$600 would be pretty sweet!

Even if you don’t get upgraded to a suite (I suspect it’s rare for Golds or lower), I’d say that there’s enough on the property to make for a very pleasant stay. The suite experience might be worth an additional investment, though it would severely erode the bang-for-buck advantage.

Conrad Koh Samui was kinda a bucket list item of sorts for me, but I personally find it too pricey (even if paid in points) to justify a return visit anytime soon. An affordable alternative, Conrad Bali has sufficiently impressed me to to displace it as the go-to option for a nearby beach resort.

California Dreamin’: A Tale of Going West

  • California Dreamin’: A Tale of Going West
  • Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-SFO / SFO-SIN (A350)
  • Parc 55 San Francisco – A Hilton Hotel
  • Big Trees Lodge
  • The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Merced, or Just About Any Hampton in the States
  • Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel
  • Virgin Airlines Business Class SAN-SFO (A319)
  • Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge SFO

Prologue

Once upon a time, an amateur travel hacker heard about a new non-stop flight operating from Singapore to San Francisco. “Well,” he thought, “this seems like an awesome way to make use of those miles I’ve been gathering. I’ve never been to San Francisco, the flight is long (and thus premium seats are much-desired) and it sure would be swell to check out the new hardware!”

Excited by the idea, he sought concept approval from his immediate superior. “Oh hey,” replied The Wife, “maybe we can go to Comic-Con!”

Having previously been unable to make the pilgrimage to San Diego in July, the amateur travel hacker agreed with the suggested course of action and got down to planning the trip.

The remainder of this series will focus on the usual flight and hotel reviews, but since this was such an experience I thought I’d just briefly go through some of the highlights alongside the planning process. 

Transport & Accommodation Plans

Plans began about a year in advance, beginning with the conversion of credit card point to KrisFlyer miles followed by the booking of award business tickets as soon as they were made available. In a tremendous stroke of luck, room inventory at the Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel had not been totally locked at the time (San Diego hotels usually block them out during Comic-Con) and so accommodation for the duration of the convention was settled really early.

Accommodation was generally secured on cancellable Hilton MVP rates with searches set up on tripBAM to generate notifications should prices drop along the way. We decided to fly in and out of San Diego, in a bid to avoid traffic jams that were likely to appear around the time. Before then, we mostly drove around the west coast of California, and we rented a car for a week.

Comic-Con

The trickiest thing about making plans to visit California and do Comic-Con a year in advance is that you don’t actually get to confirm your convention tickets (badges) until about three months before. This led to the crazy situation of making the plans without knowing if we’d actually get badges for the convention. In the end, we decided to just go ahead with the planning and just visit San Diego anyway, regardless of whether we got badges. There’d be plenty to do outside the convention centre then, we reasoned.

Getting badges was a nightmare. Essentially, it’s down to online balloting – each (registered) person can purchase three badges, even if not actually attending. Someone’s calculated the odds of a first-timer scoring a badge at about 6%, and even with the help of some friends entering the ballot for us, we initially didn’t get anything.

Thankfully, a mutual friend managed to get us hooked up with some other Singaporeans who were balloting as a group and we managed to get badges for two of the four days.

It was an experience. Ultimately I didn’t love it all that much due to the insane crowds (and queues) over there, but I’m glad to have managed to attend it.

Yosemite National Park

Somewhere along the way, the decision was made to visit Yosemite National Park. I didn’t expect it then, but this turned out to be highlight of the trip for me.

This was made even more enjoyable by our one-night stay at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (aka the Ahwahnee Hotel). I was rather enticed by the idea of a heritage luxury hotel in the middle of the valley and decided to splurge to stay just one night –  I ended up booking the cheaper Big Trees Lodge for another night in an attempt to strike a balance between (comfortably) maximising my time in the park while not bankrupting myself.

Hilton Synergy

As it turns out, Hilton was offering triple points to Diamond members during this trip so I’m now in a pretty good position to redeem some high-value hotel stays. I’d also tried my luck requesting for a status challenge earlier in the year and managed to re-qualify for Diamond until Mar 2019.

I doubt I’ll be able to stretch it beyond that, but three years as a comped Diamond isn’t half bad!

All in all, this trip offered great experiences both in the realm of flight/accom as well as elsewhere; the following posts shall, of course, focus on the former travelgeeky topics.

(Addendum – Singapore Airlines Lounge SFO)

When I’d initially started this trip report, I’d planned to include a review of the SQ lounge at SFO. As it turns out, it’s a good thing I took so long to do up this report, since I later realised that I could save myself the effort as the lounge would be permanently closed from 1 Oct 2017.

Which is just as well, since I was distinctly unimpressed with the lounge.

Whoever said procrastination didn’t pay off?

Hotel Review: Hilton Garden Inn Singapore Serangoon (King Deluxe)

When I’d first heard that a Hilton Garden Inn would be opening in Singapore, I was rather intrigued that cheaper accommodation in the Hilton family would finally be available here. When award stays became available at 10,000 points (about US$50 value), I quickly made a reservation to check it out for myself.

(Unfortunately, award stays have since been repriced to 20,000 points closer to the opening, in case you were thinking of doing the same…)

The initial few posts in the FlyerTalk thread make a big deal of its supposedly unfavourable location – without tackling the probably racist sentiment (though there’s much to be said there) it’s worth noting that the property is located in Little India, making it easy to check out the ethnic enclave’s wares and food options. It also has many migrant workers in the area, especially over the weekend when crowds will likely make claustrophobics uncomfortable. Overall, it’s still relatively centrally located, with Little India MRT just a short walk away.

Whether these factors make it a desirable location to you or not, I leave to your personal judgement. Personally, I rather enjoyed exploring the area, something I usually don’t.

Checking in

Check in took forever (about 30min, perhaps?). I’m not sure if it was because it was still around the first week of operation, but the front desk staff didn’t seem that certain of how to navigate the system.

On the plus side, the check in area was relatively bright and cheery.

Just round the corner from the front desk was a little unmanned shop – I’m guessing you take what you want and get it charged to your room at the front desk.

 

Perhaps because of how long the process took, I got a one-class upgrade to a King Deluxe room (from the basic King Guest room) – the front desk officer was quick to remind that it was not standard policy for HGIs to give status upgrades. As far as I can tell, they aren’t really all that different – the only difference in the descriptions on the website seems to be that the Deluxe room has a racecourse view. Yay?

Even the floorplan doesn’t seem to indicate much difference in room size; I wouldn’t be surprised if the bulk of the rooms are pretty much identical (though the 16th floor rooms are supposed to come with balconies).

The Room

The room itself is nice enough, especially being a new property. Everything looked spick and span – I’d have been surprised (and displeased) if it was anything else after just a few days of operation. The bed was pretty comfortable. Approved.

Other than that, it was equipped as a mid-priced non-luxury hotel might be. Here’s complimentary bottles water (something I wish more hotels provided) and a Hilton Honors welcome card..

The room was equipped with an open closet, safe, mini-fridge and a rather basic pantry (no Nespresso machines here).

Bedroom slippers were provided, but with almost laughably thin soles.

New hotels also come with new toilets. New, clean toilets. It’s pretty functional, with a small single sink and a shower. But it was clean.

You might have noticed that I enjoy clean toilets. Hope they’re able to maintain that state of cleanliness for some years to come, at least!

A number of seating options with a small work desk, cushioned bay window and another window-side seat.

 

…also allowing you to comfortably take in that apparently deluxe racecourse view.

 

Connectivity was pretty good. Having the modern traveller in mind, the rooms come equipped with plenty of electrical points – the wall plugs even allow you to plug USB cables in directly.

Wonder what will happen as USB-C becomes more common, though?

I also appreciated how easy it was to connect personal devices via HDMI to the room TV.

Breakfast

Breakfast is complimentary for Gold/Diamond members if you select it as a MyWay benefit (as opposed to getting points for the stay). Do remember to select it before checking in, if that’s your preference.

It’s served at the poolside restaurant, so we got to check out the pool despite it not being open yet, at the time of the stay.

There’s a rather large range of food available for breakfast, especially considering that it wasn’t quite a full-service hotel. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, starting with the coffee machines…

Pastry selection…

Fruits and cereal…

Juices…

Indian hot food…

Noodle station (and dim sum)…

Salad and cold cuts…

Omelette station…

Pancakes, waffles and the usual wester breakfast fare…

All in all, it makes for a pretty tasty breakfast.

Other facilities

On the way out I snapped a picture of the hotel gym located on the ground floor. I can’t say I have personal experience, but it looks perfectly pleasant and functional.

Conclusion

A very respectable low/mid-range property if you don’t have any reservations about the location (personally, I don’t think you should), especially if you qualify for complimentary breakfast with Hilton Gold/Diamond.

I probably wouldn’t stay again (20,000 points is still very affordable, but I’d rather save up for other purposes), but would consider for mattress runs or recommending to foreign friends, should the need ever arise.

Hotel review: Conrad Centennial Singapore (Executive King)

(Better late than never? This stay was done in Oct 2016, but nothing much has changed in the past few years, so until they’re done with their rejuvenation works around Jan 2018 or so, this is probably still reflective of the property!)

The Conrad Centennial Singapore has been one of my favourite staycation options for a few years now, and has always provided a consistent experience. That consistency may not necessarily have been a good thing, though, as it seems to have fallen behind its competition in recent years. For reference, the lowest price I’ve ever managed to get for the basic room is about S$300 with taxes.

New Year Getaway

When you get into the Conrad, you are greeted by this odd red sculpture. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it looks pretty imposing.

Conrad Centennal Lobby

As a Gold member you usually just get a one-class upgrade – if you want access to the executive lounge, it’s better to book a business room (one class below executive room) to (almost) guarantee it. I’ve never been upgraded to a suite from a basic room, though perhaps it’s possible if you’re more insistent.

As a Diamond member (or if you’re in an executive room) there’s the option to check in at the lounge, which is a nice option if the lines are long. Just ask one of their staff standing in front of the check in desks. There wasn’t much of a queue when we got there, so we opted to just proceed with standard check in even though we’d been upgraded to an executive room.

The room

The bed is comfortable (firm, but not too hard). Somewhat on the high side, but once you’re up there it’s easy to stay there. Such is the nature of comfortable beds.

In the other corners of the room there’s the very typical armchair / work desk setup. Kinda old school, and not exactly that comfortable.

 

There’s also a large flatscreen TV. I don’t like that it’s recessed into built-in shelving like this – there’s no easy access to the ports and you’ll have to call for an engineer to come in to help if you want to plug in your own HDMI cables. It’s possible, but troublesome.

To be fair, they actually support connectivity via a panel below the TV, but you can tell that it was set up quite some time ago as they only have older RGB, S-Video and VGA ports (i.e. no HD capability). Beside the panel is what used to be the room’s sole accessible power socket – they’ve more recently added a second one in a bedstand drawer (this one comes with a USB port as well), but overall connectivity for electronics is definitely rather weak.

The Conrad used to give out these plush bears, pictured below in a tree they had set up around Christmas 2015 as part of a fund-raising campaign

In early 2016 they’d decided to switch to a new design, with a slimmer bear that comes in oriental and batik colouring.

So on this particular stay, I got a batik bear. Also, a complimentary hazelnut crunch cake because it was my birthday. =D

Other than the cake, the room came with the standard fruit platter and a box of four chocolates.

The bathroom is nice enough, with lots of marble tiling – it’s also starting to show its age, though. One thing to take note of is that the basic room does not come with a bathtub, so do take note of that when booking your rooms! They also provide a complimentary Conrad rubber duck, which is a nice touch.

The view from the room was really quite lovely, offering direct line of sight to the nearby Fountain of Wealth, as well as the renovated National Stadium.

Executive Lounge

Interestingly enough, executive floor benefits include complimentary pressing of up to three items. I keep forgetting to do so, but if you really wanted to maximise your freebies you can bring along some articles of clothing to be ironed.

The executive lounge is on the 31st floor and gets pretty crowded, especially when the complimentary F&B is being served.

The drinks selection is decent enough, with red, white and sparkling (also, some hard liquor not pictured to the right).

The food selection is not really all that extensive. Cheese, salads, pasta in the middle, with about three hot items at the side. You could replace dinner with it, but it’s probably not all that satisfying.

It also offers pretty good views in multiple directions. On one side you have the floating platform (pretty good for viewing fireworks, though it is an obstructed view)…

…and on the other side, you get to see the same Fountain of Wealth that was visible from my room, albeit from a higher vantage point.

Breakfast @ Oscar’s

As a Gold member you get complimentary breakfast at the restaurant, though if you have lounge access you get to choose between the lounge and the restaurant. I usually opt for the latter due the wider range of food available.

There’s really a wide range of stuff available – pastries, cheese, and cold cuts…

 

Eastern and western hot breakfast items, and also a congee station…

 

Healthy(?) dessert items – fruit and yoghurt…

And finally, the good (unhealthy) stuff – pancakes, waffles and ice cream. Mmm.

Conclusion

I’ve been staying at the Conrad for a number of years now, so I have a special fondness for it, but for its price point I find the dated furnishings and inadequate electronics support to be very disappointing. Additionally, upgrades are hard to come by here – even as a Diamond member with multiple stays under the belt, I’ve never managed to secure a suite upgrade from a basic room. Breakfast is a highlight, though!

A few years back, I’d thought that the property was very nice, but right now it’s just kinda nice, and not particularly good value for money (unless you manage to get it on sale), so I find it hard to recommend to people at the moment. Based on the previews of what’s to come, (good) changes are a-coming and I expect I’ll be back again come 2018!

Orchid, Elephant, Turtle: Thai Airways Business Class USM-BKK-SIN


So it was when flying back from Ko Samui to Singapore that I started regretting doing the entire journey on Thai Airways – since Ko Samui is located pretty much between Bangkok and Singapore, having to transit at Bangkok effectively quadrupled the travel time required.

Still, an interesting experience, even if one I’m unlikely to repeat in the future, and I’ve captured some highlights below.

Samui Airport

Being rather used to flying through air-conditioned city airports, Samui Airport was a bit of an eye-opener for me. There’s something quaint and charming about an airport that decides to place aquariums in the toilet to entertain you while you… go.

Most of the airport was very much open, with not an air-conditioner in sight. There’s something about walking within the airport towards your departure gate without a roof over your head.

I’d hate to be there when it’s raining, though.

When you finally get to the gate, there are some trams to bring you to the plane. Since we had some time to kill, we decided to check out the lounge first.

Blue Ribbon Club (Bangkok Airways Lounge) USM

The Thai Airways business ticket granted me access to the Blue Ribbon Club, which appeared to be the only lounge(s) in the airport (according to an old FlyerTalk thread, there’re an international and domestic one, and I’d visited the rather lacklustre international lounge).

It’s essentially just a small room with a rather limited range of items you can order off the menu.

There’s also a bunch of snacks – nothing particularly appealing, really.

I did enjoy being able to get a whole coconut while in the lounge.

All in all, a rather skippable experience. Think I’d rather have spent more time walking around the airport!

USM-BKK (Boeing 737)

The flight back to Bangkok was on the same Boeing 737 hardware that I took from BKK.

Again, no in-flight menu was provided for the domestic trip, though the meal looked rather less offensive/bewildering to non-Asians.

Royal Silk Lounge BKK

Unfortunately, due to lack of foresight, the 1h transit time in BKK did not really offer much time in the lounge, other than to snap some quick pictures before running off to the departure gate.

All in all, it seemed like a rather serviceable place. Wish I’d had more time to stay there!



BKK-SIN (Boeing 777)

The flight back was on a Boeing 777. Though not the swanky A350, as an international (albeit short-haul) flight the hardware was pretty decent, with a good amount of legroom.


There were in-flight menus again! After the regional flights I was getting used to life without them. I ordered the green curry with fishballs – it was tasty enough, though nothing fantastic.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, while I enjoyed the A350 experience, the bulk of Thai’s hardware for short-haul flights fails to impress. Unless you’re flying long-haul on newer hardware, I’d suggest saving your miles/money for better usage!

Hotel Review: Conrad Koh Samui (Oceanview Pool Villa)


Our flight was scheduled to land at 8.30am and so we anticipated arriving at the property around 10am. I had indicated this when doing online check-in the night before and requested they email me if able to accommodate an early check-in. Thankfully they were, so we were able to check in about 5h early – definitely a win for us!

After clearing immigration, we picked up our rental car from Hertz and started heading over to the hotel, about an hour’s drive away. There were a number of small roads, especially towards the end, but if you’re an experienced driver I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough – we really appreciated having the freedom to explore the island (and nearby eateries – more on that later).

So, about an hour of driving later, we had arrived at Conrad Koh Samui.

Checking in

The arrivals area is essentially an open air lounge where you’re served some iced drinks while waiting for logistics to be settled. It also features a stunning bird’s-eye view of the grounds. It’s beautiful. I spent minutes just looking at it.

(There’s also not that much else to do while waiting for stuff to be settled, but really, it’s beautiful.)

We were issued some vouchers (I only redeemed the four complimentary drinks; the others required a certain levels of spending that I wasn’t quite prepared for) as well as (for the Diamond member) the chance to win something in a lucky draw.

Prizes apparently range from ice cream to complimentary spa treatments. Being the lucky people we are, we won for ourselves… a complimentary piece of soap. Wonderful.

Another check-in gift (actually delivered later to the room) – an amenities gift set. Given that it’s the exact same stuff they have lying around in the bathroom, I’m not particularly enthused about getting a complete set like this – could make a nice gift for some people, I suppose.

Diamond members usually get upgraded, but unfortunately for us the property was fully booked. Having effectively received an extra 5h on the property though we weren’t too fussed, especially since the villas are essentially identical other than proximity to the beach (for one-level upgrades) or additional electronics in the room (for two-level upgrades).

We stayed in Villa 217, which ended up being a pretty good location due to its (relative) proximity to the breakfast restaurant and unobstructed view from the villa (as listed on FlyerTalk).

The room

It’s a villa. It’s large. It’s roomy. It’s nice.

The fruit bowl is more substantial than most hotels I’ve been in. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of a mango. I suppose that actually makes me rather easy to impress – just throw in a mango and I’m good.

Also, free macarons.

There’s also a rather large walk-in closet space…

A rather large bathroom…

A rather large bowl-shaped bathtub (you feel kinda like a wonton in soup, soaking in this thing)…

A shower, and the commode.

Essentially, everything’s large. There’s a great sense of space, especially for the average Singaporean used to living in apartments.

There’s also your private outdoor area (well, as private as it can be – the row of villas above us probably could see us quite clearly if they’d wanted to) with deck chairs and that awesome private pool.

It’s actually a pretty standard (small) private pool, actually – what really made it awesome was the view. There is an almost indescribable sense of wonder that comes upon you when staring out into the vast, boundless ocean. Very calming; almost therapeutic. The fact that you could do so while dipping in your own private strip of water is pretty amazing.

I also made the mistake of not bringing a float to the property – lounging in the pool would probably have been even more enjoyable with one of these things.

I was somewhat bummed that I wasn’t able to catch an awesome sunset while on the property (it was rather cloudy the evening I attempted to do so), but c’est la vie!

The grounds

So a large roomy villa is all very well and good, but at some point you are likely to want to go out and explore the rest of the property. In case you want to get into a larger pool, the communal one does offer the same breathtaking oceanic view.

There’s also the gym, which we used primarily as a bypass to get to the beach deck level.

You can probably tell that we are sporty types.

At the beach deck you get access to some hammocks. Fun stuff.

There’s also an area with umbrella-like shelters and outdoor seating furniture. Also, hammock-like webbing suspended over rocks. I was too chicken to stay on those for long (visions of falling to my death danced in my head), but if you are confident enough of the structural integrity of those things it is rather comfortable to just lie there.

There’re also the floating platforms and hammocks suspended over the sea, but we didn’t really want to get wet at that point in time, so this is as close as we got to them:

Breakfast

Breakfast is served at Zest, the restaurant pretty much at the centre of the property (marked #4 on this map). Happily enough, it was a short walk away from my villa.

We opted to be seated outside, with front-row seats to the the ocean view. Seriously, I couldn’t get enough of that stuff.

Upon being seated you get to order an egg dish. I have no idea if you’re allowed to get a second – one was sufficient for me. I ordered the Thai Egg Benedict, which was rather unique and pretty enjoyable.

Aside from that, there’s the buffet spread, which though not earth-shaking did offer more than sufficient food to fill you up. Interestingly enough, they had a dedicated section for Korean (breakfast?) foods, suggesting that they form a significant proportion of guests at the property.

Alternative eats

We did eat at the property a few times, and though decent enough and not priced as extortionately as you might expect, failed to impress. This is where having the car came in really handy – being able to easily access cheaper tastier food around the island was a luxury in itself.

Sabienglae

This was probably my favourite of the places we’d tried. The downside was that it was located pretty much across the island, about half an hour away by car.

Still, the combination of tasty food and scenic view can’t be beat. I suppose it could be cheaper, but it was already very affordable by Singaporean standards.

Green Talay

About a 10min drive from the hotel, also recommended on the FlyerTalk thread for the property, this place was pretty good and affordable. No complaints!

Hemingway’s on the Beach

This place was really near the hotel (about 10min by car) and was ranked in the top 10 of Tripadvisor’s listings for Ko Samui, so we decided to give it a go.

My main impression of the place was that it offered a pretty good view of the sunset.

The food was decent enough, if rather home-style (in a good way). However, the dishes really took rather long to prepare (further accentuating the home-style feel, in a bad way). It was also more expensive than the other restaurants we tried.

After settling our bill the owner asked us to rate them on TripAdvisor, which is probably how they ended up there. It’s not bad, but probably not my first recommendation!

Activities

The property offered some complimentary recreation activities – the schedule was accessible via TV menu. We tried out yoga, which was attended by a grand total of 4 hotel guests, that day.

Waking up early to contort my body into various unnatural positions was interesting, but I decided it was not something I was really keen on doing more of in the future.

They also offered ‘luxury boat excursions’ to a nearby island, which we tried out on our last day at the property.

Boat Excursion

The boat excursion is essentially a ride to nearby (smaller) island Koh Mat Sum. There are generally mixed reviews on this – the island is not a particularly exciting place, so I can see why some might not like it. For us, we found it the experience a nice enough change from just relaxing at the property.

For the excursion, a buggy picks you up from your villa and brings you to the arrivals area, where you are loaded onto a minivan and brought to a jetty. Then it’s onto the boat and off you go!

Towels and water are provided, so there’s no real need to bring anything. They also sell picnic sets, but if that’s what you’re looking for it’s probably far cheaper to prepare your own.

At some point along the way, they stopped the boat and announced that we would be stopping for about half an hour for some snorkelling. No one in the boat seemed interested, though, so we proceeded towards Koh Mat Sum.

If I was better prepared for the snorkelling option I probably would have liked to do it, although it could be pretty daunting to indicate an interest in doing it and having the entire boat wait for you to finish having your fun in the water.

I think the snorkelling point was near Tean Island – I took the screenshot only a little later, so the location’s not completely accurate.

After awhile more, we arrived at Koh Mat Sum.

We didn’t really explore the place very much, but what we had access to was a strip of beach and some shops selling exorbitantly-priced food and drinks.

Also, the chance to get up close and personal with some weird-looking chickens.

You’re able to borrow the snorkelling gear and do it off the beach, but there was really nothing much to see near the island, which made us regret not insisting on snorkelling at the earlier stop.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty nice beach to just relax and chill on. Bring a book or some picnic items and it can make an enjoyable short excursion.

The Souvenir

Many Conrad properties throughout the world offer some sort of stuffed animal and I’ve started becoming a bit of a collector. Conrad Koh Samui’s is a turtle, which they present to you when you check out.

All in all, I consider this to have been almost a bucket list experience – so much so that I’ve already made plans to return before my Diamond status expires next March!