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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.

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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!

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!

Hotel mini-review: Conrad Bangkok (Executive Corner)


We stopped over in Bangkok and headed back to Conrad Bangkok, where we’d stayed last December. We didn’t manage to snag a suite mega-upgrade this time round, but were upgraded to an Executive Corner room, which isn’t too bad. If you compare floor plans, you’ll see that the room (at the bottom right of the floorplan below) takes up about the same amount of space as the living room in the Deluxe Suite. This is still extremely roomy – it actually also means you don’t spend quite as much time walking around unnecessarily in an overly large room. Or, at least, this is I told myself after failing to secure a suite upgrade.

Breakfast and lounge offerings are still pretty much the same (in a nutshell – good) so I’ll just focus on the room.

Upon entering the room you are still treated to a seemingly pointless corridor…

…which I assume is there mainly because of the shape of the building. The room itself is pretty spacious – I do think the extra space is well utilised.

Behind the work desk are the mini-bar and a walk-in closet.

The room came with the standard rice crackers, fruit and chocolates. The fruit platter seems somewhat less generous this time (just two bananas) – not sure if the suites come with more fruit or it’s just a seasonal thing.

The bathroom came with a bathtub, a single sink, a shower (and the toilet, of course); it was just (very much) more compact than the one in the deluxe suite, unsurprisingly.

The Executive Corner room is technically a three-step upgrade from the basic room, but it’s essentially the same as a Deluxe Corner room (one step up from basic room), only situated on a higher floor and with executive lounge access. That said, the extra space (570 sq ft vs. 441 sq ft) is certainly noticeable and not a trivial upgrade – Hilton Honors Gold or Diamond guests would do well to try to make sure they get at least a Corner upgrade, if available.

Orchid, Elephant, Turtle: Touring the Thai Conrads


When the (short-lived) Visa/Conrad promotion went live last year, I’d obsessed over how I could make the most of the deal. Having never been to Conrad Koh Samui (often mentioned as one of the aspirational properties in the Hilton Portfolio), I decided that March 2017 would be as good a time as any to check it out, swinging by Bangkok on the way while enjoying another 50% discounted Conrad stay there.

 

Thai Airways seemed like the logical option to get from SIN to USM with a BKK stopover; I enjoyed the experience (especially flying on the new A350) but looking back I kinda wish I had saved on the air ticket and got “a la carte” direct flights instead. For such short trips, flying business class is really rather unnecessary – especially if the hardware for regional flights is not particularly great.

Still, an enjoyable experience all in all – certainly worthy of cataloguing. Shall be doing so in the days ahead!

Hotel Review: Conrad London St. James (King Deluxe Room)

There are many Hilton properties in London, and though I’ve not actually stayed in many of them myself, the consensus (at least, on FlyerTalk) seems to be that Conrad London St. James, Hilton London Bankside, Hilton London Canary Wharf and Hilton London Tower Bridge all seem to be pretty well-regarded. With the fortuitous (and short-lived) Visa/Conrad promotion last year, I managed to net myself two free nights and stayed at the Conrad for a whopping five nights while in London, and found myself enjoying the stay immensely.

Location

The Conrad London St. James is located along Broadway, pretty much opposite the St. James Park underground station. It’s also round the corner from Westminster Abbey, which is very much a central location, as far as London goes.

The building itself looks pretty unassuming, blending in with all the other mid-rises in the area. The fancy dropoff area (and signage) are the only clues for what the building actually is.

Conrad London St James exterior

The hotel lobby has a very modern feel to it. This is perhaps due to the inclusion of modern art that I do not understand. Perhaps this sculpture represents the never-ending climb towards achieving and maintaining elite status?

Conrad London lobby

Slightly away from the main lobby is a sculpture comprising toys and action figures from across the decades, including stuff from various Pixar movies to franchises like Transformers. A geeky tribute, indeed.

Conrad London lobby toy sculpture

(Minutes after writing the above, I found out that the Conrad’s website has an Art Collection page that lists and explains the meaning behind several of its art pieces, including many pieces I hadn’t noticed, clearly proving my inability to appreciate art.)

The Room

I was assigned a King Deluxe room, which is just one step above the basic Superior Room. I got the sense that the property isn’t too generous with suite upgrades, though I didn’t try all that hard to get upgraded this time round.


King Deluxe Rm floorplan
(Image from Conrad London St. James website)

Anyway, I thought the room was more than adequate. It managed to feel sufficiently roomy, and was decked out with rather pleasant modern decor.

King Deluxe Rm

The king bed was sufficiently comfortable, and the desk was functional, I suppose. The inclusion of a media port for connecting devices (e.g. a laptop) to the TV was appreciated.

bed desk

The minibar area was pretty well-stocked, though I can’t say I’m an expert since I don’t usually take anything other than the complimentary items, which included Nespresso coffee capsules and a fair number of tea bags.

minibar-tea minibar

The bathroom was adequately large, with clear sections for the toilet, bathtub, shower (not pictured) and sink area, all nicely laid out in marble.

toilet bathroom

The TV was interestingly embedded into a flat mirror-like surface; when switched off, it’s not immediately obvious that there is a television set. Functionally it doesn’t really make much of a difference, but it’s interesting to note the attempt at integrating/hiding the television set within the room.

TV

The Extras

The room came with the fairly typical complimentary fruit platter; I’m not too sure if this is targeted at elite guests or is standard issue.

Conrad London welcome fruit

Many Conrad properties come with complimentary stuffed toys – we were lucky enough to arrive quite shortly after the launch of their new Mascot, Monty (the bulldog). Monty is a rather large (and higher cost, I imagine) toy and only comes upon request.

A very warm welcome to Monty! This handsome chap is our new mascot #MeetMonty #StayInspired

A post shared by Conrad London St James (@conradlondonsj) on

We requested for one, of course, and got a complimentary plush bulldog delivered to our room.

Monty

The availability of plush toys gave us the chance to create various dioramas within the room.

Monty Griffles fight Monty Griffles ride

Over the Christmas period, the hotel also delivered a special seasonal platter of chocolates to the room. A nice touch, I must say!

Conrad London Xmas chocolates

Breakfast

We had our breakfast at the hotel’s Blue Boar restaurant.

Blue Boar entrance Blue Boar interior

For hot food, they had the standard English breakfast items (eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc.). You could also order cooked eggs – they didn’t have a live station you could order from. Also on offer – fruits, salad, bread, cereals, juices… a pretty wide range of stuff to choose from.

Hot food Fruit and salad

Bread Juice

FlyerTalk makes a big deal of the honey-roasted granola, which I must concede is pretty tasty. I believe it’s the same recipe as the one at the Hilton London Bankside.

Granola

All in all, a great place to stuff yourself with a proper English breakfast, fresh fruit, cereal, or all of the above. I was very much satisfied with the breakfast offerings.

Breakfast on plate

Lounge breakfast

I generally opt for the restaurant breakfast when able to since the lounge usually serves a more limited range of the same food, and it wasn’t any different at this property. Would suggest going for the restaurant breakfast unless you really would prefer the comparative privacy in the lounge, for some reason.

Lounge breakfast 1 Lounge breakfast 2

The Lounge

Lounge hours

Other than breakfast, the lounge offered afternoon treats and evening canapés (with drinks). The space itself was quite well-designed – there aren’t actually that many seats available, but each segment is styled differently and gives each area a distinct feel, making the lounge feel larger than it really is.

Lounge interior

Lounge 1 Lounge 2

Lounge 3 Lounge 4

There’s also a little meeting room that’s available for rental (first hour complimentary). Didn’t see any meetings going on in there during my stay, so I guess it’s not that popular an option. There were also showers available in the lounge, though I’m not too sure why anyone would choose to shower here instead of in their own room (in a really big hurry, I suppose?).

Meeting room Lounge shower toilets

At one end of the lounge is a relatively interesting centrepiece…

Lounge setting

…on the other side of which is where the action lies. The beverage offerings lie directly opposite.

Lounge alcohol

Cheese and cold cut spreads were available every evening.

Cheese platter Cold cuts

The specific hot food and desserts available differed daily, but generally I found them all to be rather enjoyable – it’s possible to substitute dinner with these, if you really want to.

Evening canapés (1)

Evening 1 menu

Evening 1 hot food Evening 1 dessert

Evening canapés (2)

Evening 2 menu Evening 2 hot food

Evening canapés (3)

Evening 3 menu Evening 3 hot food

Afternoon treats

I was exploring the city most afternoons, but got the chance to check out the tea time selections on Christmas day, when most of the city was closed anyway. Wasn’t that impressed with the savoury offerings, but the desserts were pretty good.

Afternoon tea menu

Tea dessert Tea scones

Tea plated

Assuming it’s like this every day, I think it’s a pretty good place to grab a bite, if you happen to be in the hotel in the afternoon.

Conclusion

All in all, I really enjoyed my stay here. You can get rooms here at about £240 per night without discount, although since properties like the Hilton London Bankside are available at 2/3 the price, I find it hard to justify paying the premium for this place. Still, if you’d like to pamper yourself, or are able to make a booking at a discounted rate, it’s definitely a great place to stay!

Via Istanbul (Not Constantinople): A trip planned around promotional rates

TLDR version: you can access some really remarkable deals if you keep your eye out for them, but it takes some effort to monitor, some luck for the deals to coincide with what you actually want to do, and possibly some sacrifices in terms of convenience in order to fully utilise them. It’s great if you find that enjoying the journey is part of the joy of vacations; but if not, it’s probably better to stick to using miles to get to where you want to as quickly and comfortably as possible.

While playing the miles game is probably the main focus of travel hacking, promotional rates for air travel and hotel fares pop up every now and then, and if you are able to capitalise on them you might find yourself positioned to enjoy (relatively) affordable rates for premium travel.

I was lucky enough to make use of three such deals on a recent trip of mine, and for me it really helped to make the voyage even more enjoyable (and memorable).

Highlights of itinerary

Planning process

I’d been intending to revisit the UK and had actually already redeemed SQ award tickets for the trip when I spotted this amazing offer for KUL-MAN on Turkish business class – I’d previously bookmarked this forum on FlyerTalk in the hope that something usable would crop up, and so this effort was finally paying off.

Having been intrigued for some time by what some have deemed as the best business class lounge in the world, I jumped at this opportunity to secure business class return tickets at less than S$1,900 per person.

turkish istanbul business lounge

Along the way, there came the amazing (and short-lived) offer allowing 2-night Conrad stays for the price of 1. I immediately cancelled my 4n booking for the (very nice) Hilton London Bankside and made two bookings (under two different guests) for the Conrad London St. James instead.

conrad london st james

The original plan had been to stay 1n at the Conrad and 4 at the (much more affordable) Hilton using the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit, but once again the siren song of promotional rates proved irresistible to me.

The final offer that came my way was a relatively minor one, but (for me) it was still a new experience that I wouldn’t have tried without the promotional rate. I had booked advance train tickets from York to London, and a week before the day of travel I received an email offering an upgrade to first class at £15 per person.

Virgin Trains first class

First class rail tickets are not something I’d usually bother with (2 hours in a standard carriage is hardly an ordeal), but since I’d never tried it before, I figured… why not?

Filling the gaps

Unfortunately, it wasn’t totally smooth-sailing. Since some cancellations were made, there were some (relatively minor) penalties involved. The biggest hiccup for me, however, was with regard to the addition of the initial journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.

I had (foolishly?) booked the cheapest available return tickets on Singapore Air for the SIN-KUL route, guess-timating the time required for transit (I’d budgeted 3h to be on the safe side). These were the non-refundable tickets, with no changes permitted, and of course, as luck would have it, that later came back to haunt me.

As it turned out, the KUL-IST flight out of Kuala Lumpur was rescheduled and I was suddenly left with a 12h stopover at KUL, with no way to change the SIN-KUL flight other than to forfeit the existing booking altogether.

I ended up biting the bullet and enduring the 12h stopover, and that resulted in an ordeal involving waking earlier than necessary, some time spent exploring a rather uninteresting airport, a grumpy wife, and a much longer journey than initially planned for.

turkish business lie flat
(Image from Turkish Airlines website)

Thankfully, the comfortable full-flat seats on the KUL-IST leg of the journey allowed for some recuperation along the way!

Evaluation

The biggest savings this trip was probably from the Turkish airlines promotional fare. A business class saver redemption for SIN-MAN on Singapore Airlines costs 136,000 miles and S$817 (slightly more if flying to London instead) in additional surcharges. Valuating each mile at 2¢ each (a rather conservative value), that puts my personal price for the ticket at about S$3,500. Even factoring in the cancellation fees and additional price of the SIN-KUL ticket, I consider the ~$2,100 spent on airfare to be a steal for what I got.

The Conrad offer, even with two nights free, did result in me paying more than initially planned – but given the superior location and convenience of not having to switch hotels, it was still an experience I relished. As for the first class train experience, I found it surprisingly enjoyable – I wouldn’t mind doing it again, though I wouldn’t be particularly upset if I never received the offer again.

All in all, as a travel geek I found myself enjoying the journey as much (if not more) as the destination this trip, and am glad to have been able to make good use of one promotional fare in my lifetime!

Hotel Review: Conrad Bangkok (Deluxe Suite)

So I recently stayed at Conrad Bangkok, booked during one of the Hilton 40% flash sales earlier in the year. The rate worked out to be about S$150 per night, which though pricier than many other places in the city, works out to be a pretty good deal for what you get.

The jury’s still out on which of the Hilton properties in Bangkok is the best to stay in, but the general consensus on the Conrad is that it offers a solid service soft product and a central location, though it’s a bit of a walk (about 10min) from the nearest BTS station, and is starting to show signs of age. I generally agree with this assessment, but still rather enjoyed my previous stay and was hoping I would be rewarded for my loyalty in this repeat visit. Boy, was I ever!

The hotel lobby was all decked out for the festive season, with a gigantic Christmas tree and a Christmas market-themed booth selling holiday snacks.

1-lobby 1-lobby-market

Perhaps the decor had made an impact on the generosity of the hotel staff as well – I had originally been upgraded to a Executive King room (from my basic King room) and decided to try my luck by asking if any better room was available. The agent clicked around on her terminal for a bit and proceeded to inform me that though they would usually only upgrade a Diamond member up to an Executive Suite, since those were already full they’d decided to give me a taste of the Deluxe Suite instead.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was akin to hitting the hotel upgrade jackpot. To give an idea of how large the room was, I’ve highlighted (and labelled) it in the floor plan below:

1-room-layout

The Room

It started becoming clear to me that this wasn’t quite an ordinary room when, upon entering, I was greeted by a decorative piece immediately to the right of the corridor. To the left was a toilet. Without any shower or bath facilities…

So apparently the room came with its very own guest toilet.

2-entrance 2-guest-toilet

The living area was as large as many hotel rooms (if you refer to the floor plan you’ll see I’m not exaggerating), sporting a sofa set, a dining table and a work desk.

3-living-rm-a

3-living-rm-b

Welcome amenities comprised some fruits (dragonfruit and oranges), chocolates and some rice crackers.

7-welcome

Interestingly enough, it also came with a PS3 which I fiddled with for a few minutes before figuring that I hadn’t come all the way to Bangkok to play console games.

(Well, not old pixelated console games, anyway – it was hooked up to the TV via old-school RGB cables.)

7-ps3

The bedroom, yet another standard-hotel-sized room, offers a spacious non-claustrophobia-inducing area with a king bed, even more seating options, and yet another TV set. If you so desired, it’s probably possible to stick to this area for the bulk of your stay without really making use of the living area.

4-bedroom-a

4-bedroom-b

As is common in many Conrad properties worldwide, Conrad Bangkok provides guests with a complimentary stuffed animal – an elephant, in this case. There are a number of colour variants, so you can have fun collecting them all if you like (or you can also try requesting for them).

6-elephant-toy(Gryphon not included)

I found it rather interesting to see that other than the standard (for Western hotels) copy of the Bible, the bedside drawer was also stocked with a copy of Conrad Hilton’s Be My Guest. Didn’t really think to take a look, but Amazon reviews are actually pretty good!

7-books

Moving on, you would pass a walk-in closet…

5-closet

…with remarkably thin-soled bedroom slippers. A little disappointing, those.

7-slippers

Next up, the washing area, decked with dual sinks…

5-sinks

…and finally, the bathroom.

6-bathroom

The bathtub is designed such that you can enjoy your bath with full access to the view of the outside world, should you so desire. That’s great on the top floor of a tall building, but I’m not sure how practical that is on lower levels – but hey, whatever floats your boat, yah?

6-bathtub

Yet another Conrad toy – a rubber bath elephant (kinda like a rubber duckie, only elephantine). Again, there’re a few colour variants – gotta catch them all, am I right?

6-elephant-bath

Being on the top (32nd) floor, the view is pretty impressive – although not being particularly familiar with Bangkok, it kinda became a blur of miscellaneous buildings after awhile…

7-room-view

Looking down, you can see a balcony on the floor below. I’m guessing it belongs to one of the terrace suites?

7-room-view-terrace

Breakfast

I opted to have breakfast at Café@2, the restaurant on the second level, rather than the executive lounge. I’d tried breakfast at the lounge the last time round, and (as is typical) the lounge offerings are more limited as compared to the restaurant, though you do get to eat in greater privacy.

9-breakfast-a

The spread’s pretty good, and the fare’s rather tasty, too. I was particularly impressed that they had a carving station (albeit for roast ham, which I’m not really a big fan of).

9-breakfast-b 9-breakfast-c

Suffice to say, there’s enough food to be had so you won’t get sick of it all that quickly.

9-breakfast-d 9-breakfast-e

Executive lounge

The Executive lounge on the 29th floor offered a large pleasant environment to relax and grab some free food.

8-lounge-a

There’s evening cocktail with canapés…

8-lounge-b

…where you can help yourself to hot food, snacks, cheese…

8-snacks-a 8-snacks-b 8-cheese

…which make for a pretty good pre-dinner snack.

8-snacks-c

There’s also afternoon tea…

8-lounge-tea-b

…with more snacks and desserts on offer.

8-lounge-tea-a 8-lounge-tea-c

I actually preferred the view from the lounge over what I saw from my room – I guess it just faces a more interesting direction?

8-lounge-view

I really enjoy the complimentary food offerings at Conrad Bangkok, but I’ve found that a common problem with nice hotel food is that it usually means there’s even nicer food outside the hotel – Bangkok fits this pattern pretty well. It’s possible to subsist on just breakfast, tea and evening canapés, but… why would you want to, really?

Afterthoughts

The Conrad website states the Deluxe Suite as occupying 1127 sq. ft., which is already larger than many residences back in Singapore, so for two nights it kinda felt like I was in a new home. It’s also the second-priciest room available (after the 2561 sq. ft. Presidential Suite), so I definitely lucked out with my 6-level upgrade.

This certainly makes me want to go back to try my luck once more with the room upgrade lottery, though even if I don’t manage to score a suite, I’ll still be pretty satisfied with the food, lounge and level of service available at this property.