From skyscrapers to villa retreats, new developments keep popping up in Thailand’s capital city, giving travelers a more diverse set of options when it comes to hotels. New to the scene: The Siam Hotel, which intends to keep luxury exclusive and bring a bit of recluse back to the city.
The hotel is set to open in March 2012, but the build-up to this boutique Bangkok hotel is brimming. The owners, a famous Thai family of musicians and actors, conceived the notion of the Siam after being gifted the land. The Siam is privately owned and managed by Siam Hotels & Resorts, with input and financing from the Sukosol family.
The 39-suite luxury retreat in the city’s historic Dusit district features some typical hotel amenities—and some not-so-typical. Conceived by Thai rock star and film actor Krissada Sukosol Clapp and acclaimed architect and designer Bill Bensley, the urban luxury hotel includes pool villas, open-air rooftop terraces, four traditional Thai teak wood houses inspired by Thai silk designer Jim Thompson, a private art gallery, Thai boxing ring and a private screening room.
But can it lure luxury guests to Bangkok? Read more in my column on HotelNewsNow.com
This isn’t the Thailand you’ve read about in books or seen in movies. There are no rainbow-colored umbrellas lining Mai Khao Beach, no drug-selling monkeys or lace bra-clad women’s prisons. There are no Singha-induced benders and unrecognizable stinky street food that resembles something that might belong inside you, instead of on a stick. This is other side of Thailand – the quiet, peaceful, proud, and lush landscaped Phuket. Most travelers know Phuket as Bangkok’s little sister – not quite as sinister as Thailand’s capital city, but it has its own edge, which normally takes place late night along Patong Beach. On Mai Khao Beach, however, another side of Phuket shines — the quiet side. That’s the beauty of Phuket — its devastating perfect in its simplicity.
Mao Khao Beach is full of hotels and resorts, most that line the beach but have their own privacy about them. The hotels are separated by gardens, so you truly feel as if you’re on the only one on the island. Mai Khao Beach is only 10 minutes from the Phuket airport and Old Town Phuket, and 20 minutes from the chaos of Patong Beach. The Renaissance Phuket Resort & Spa‘s perfection lies in its exclusivity, which was precisely what I was looking for on this trip. The resort has 180 guest rooms with resort views; and 25 villas, each with their own private plunge pool, outdoor shower, and whirlpool spa bath. During the off-season, a regular guest room, which has a king-size bed, full bathroom with separate tub and shower, resort views with partial ocean and garden landscapes, rounds out to $98 USD a night. A poolside villa (where I indulged for a few days) was $250 USD a night. The resort has four restaurants, each with a different ‘theme’, and an infinity pool that overlooks Mai Khao Beach (the sight of many scenic photos during this trip).
Read more from my article on Phuket in Huffington Post
When the Ritz-Carlton approached me in December 2010 and asked if I wanted to cover their “Countdown” – the 10 days prior to opening a hotel – I enthusiastically said “yes!” Having followed the building of their Hong Kong hotel for nearly year, and fresh off a tour of the hotel (which was then just a construction site), I was beyond intrigued by the mystique of this hotel. Sure, it would be the highest hotel in the world, but there were so many questions I had about how it would all come together; the idea of being on the inside as the hotel opens would be a dream assignment. I had one condition: It was to be exclusive. Get all the media you want the day of the opening, but for 10 days prior to opening I wanted to be the only media inside the hotel. The deal was agreed upon and I was off to Hong Kong.
Of course, being an exclusive meant I was going to work overtime. And I did. My goal was to bring readers the inside details of how this luxury brand opens its hotels, and an iconic one at that. I’d share everything from employee communications and training sessions to food shows and cocktail tastings. I’d explore every aspect of the hotel – from the 102nd floor to the 118th – and report live from Hong Kong on how the hotel was literally coming to life. I watched as artwork was unveiled from its wrapping and murals were being strategically placed on the ceiling. I ate with the chefs, drank with the bartenders, cleaned with room service, greeted with front of the house, planned with concierge and more, and each night from Hong Kong I filed a story. Deadlines are deadlines, no matter what the time zone.
Below are the links to the series of stories that published from the 10 days inside the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong before it opened.
Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong: Live From The Highest Hotel in the World
Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong: 7 Days Until Opening
Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong: Sneak Peak at OZONE, The Highest Bar in the World
Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong: The Food
Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong: The Spa & Serenity
Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong: The Opening
Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong: Countdown to world’s tallest hotel opening
World’s highest hotel: Employee fashion show teaches ‘what not to wear’
Sneak peek: Dizzying views at world’s highest rooftop pool
World’s highest hotel: Fire drills part of opening sky-high hotel
Photo tour of world’s highest hotel: Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, which opens today
With one month into the new year, hotels have begun implementing their 2011 plans for growth and with good news: spending on luxury travel is on the rise, allowing luxury hotel groups to price out accordingly and recover from a few years of a less-than-ideal bottom lines.
Today’s luxury traveler is back in the game, but with a new set of expectations, and luxury hotels are responding in a positive, and profitable, way.
As the traveler puts plans into place to hit the road this year, hotels are making changes to their approach in an effort to attract new guests.
The luxury hotel trends for 2011 are nothing short of a powerful re-emergence into an always evolving space…
Read more from my column on 4Hoteliers.com.
As a new year begins, so do new travel plans. I crisscrossed the globe in 2010 – from Shanghai to Sydney and Manhattan to Miami – and visited many hotels that left a lasting impression. Now that 2010 is over and 2011 has begun, I’ve put together my list of the must-see luxury hotels to visit in 2011. As you start planning your travels for this year, consider one of these locations and don’t miss these places to stay:
Four Seasons Los Angeles, Beverly Hills lobby
- Canyon Ranch Miami: For those who like staying stateside, a trip to the Canyon Ranch Miami is a must. The a la carte version of its Lenox and Tucson all-inclusive resorts, Canyon Ranch Miami Beach offers guests the tranquility and rejuvenation aspects you expect with a Canyon Ranch, without all the seclusion that comes with the bigger properties. You can dine where you want, drink what you want and partake in all the mind/body activities that you want, or you can just lay by the beach and indulge in some of the freshest food from the Canyon Ranch kitchen.
- Costa d’Este Resort, Vero Beach: Gloria Estefan’s luxury Florida resort is located oceanside on the private Vero Beach. The 94-room luxury hotel resort offers its own restaurant, bar, spa and fitness center and is only a short distance away from shopping and activities in Vero Beach. The best part? Thanks to its private-by-nature owners, you can truly escape in this luxury hideaway and forget you’re in Florida.
- Four Seasons Los Angeles, Beverly Hills: This Four Seasons continues to be my favorite of the Four Seasons family. The Four Seasons Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, is an opulent property tucked away in the lush gardens of Beverly Hills. It’s hidden location means everyone maintains their privacy, from business guests to Academy Award winners. The hotel’s newly opened restaurant, Culina, offers some of the best crudo you’ll find in California.
- Blantyre, Lenox, Mass.: This Relais & Chateaux property quickly became my new favorite New England getaway after I spent one night in hotel’s Corner Room. The resort itself is reminiscent of an old Scottish castle and the intimacy the resort exudes is unlike anything you’ll find in Massachusetts. What makes Blantyre so special is its owner, Anne, who welcomes everyone through the doors as if they’re family. For wine lovers, you won’t find a better wine cellar anywhere. Blantyre houses everything from Oregon Pinot Noirs to a $48,000 bottle of Château Petrus.
View from Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong
- Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong: If you’ve been following my travels you’re well aware of the time I’ve spent in Hong Kong working my way up to the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong. I encourage everyone else to get to the top of the tallest hotel in the world, which will open in March 2011. The views from the top are mesmerizing and whether you choose to swim in the infinity pool or sip cocktails on floor 118, you won’t be disappointed in your stay. Business travelers will love the hotel thanks to its proximity to Kowloon’s financial district and ease of access via the Hong Kong public transportation. Leisure travelers will love staying on top of one of Hong Kong’s luxury malls and taking the ferry to Hong Kong island for sightseeing.
- Culloden House, Scottland: There’s nothing as special as driving down a windy road and coming to an end at a private castle. The Culloden House was founded more than two centuries and today, this Inverness luxury hotel welcomes guests to stroll its nearly 40 acres lawns, dine in its divine restaurant or indulge in the onsite spa.
- Upper House, Hong Kong: At the risk of throwing competition to the wind, The Upper House might be one of Hong Kong’s best kept secrets (until now). It’s elegant decor infuses sophistication with sex appeal. Whether or not you stay in the hotel is irrelevant, actually. Simply spending an evening at the hotel’s bar will provide you with all the best the hotel has to offer, including panoramic views of Hong Kong.
- The Savoy, London: The iconic hotel reopened its doors in Covent Garden earlier this year and reclaims its title as a British icon, which its held since 1889. After a £100 million restoration, the hotel’s 268 guestrooms and suites are stylish, luxurious and offer the best in technology with great views of London. The Savoy welcomes Gordon Ramsay to the Savoy Grill and legendary bartender Harry Craddock still mixes up the city’s best cocktails.
- The Carlyle Hotel, New York: There’s no shortage of hotels in Manhattan, which is why it was so hard to pick just one. But after multiple visits to New York City this year I found myself retreating back to an old favorite, not to sleep but for nostalgia. I have to give shout-outs to great hotels including Trump Towers & Exclusive Resorts, The Roosevelt, The Waldorf, The Benjamin, and The Plaza – all with whom I’ve stayed and would recommend to any traveler. But in 2011, I suggest returning to a classic and enjoying an evening at my favorite hotel in the city, The Carlyle. Located on Madison Avenue in Manhattan’s Upper East Side overlooking Central Park, the New York City landmark is a sanctuary of luxury and elegance. Don’t miss a trip to Bemelmans Bar, where they still serve the best Manhattan’s in the city.
Sonora Resort, British Columbia
- Sonora Resort, Vancouver: There’s luxury travel, and then there’s extreme luxury travel. My choice for those looking for a getaway where absolutely no one can reach you? Head to Sonora Resort in British Columbia and hide out among some of Mother Nature’s best landscapes. The only way to get here is via private helicopter and the resort is only open during the spring and summer. While you’re here, go on a bear trek, fish, raft, hike the beautiful trails or just lounge in bed with the beauty of British Columbia in your view. Sonora Resort truly feels like a private island devoted only to you.
Maybe the Ritz-Carlton saw the Armani Hotel Dubai in the Burj Khalifa–the current tallest building in the world–as a challenge. Or, maybe the hotel group just wanted to create some local competition with the Park Hyatt Shanghai (to date the highest rooftop observation deck in Asia). Or, maybe still, the pending opening of the tallest hotel in the world was just another way for the legendary hotel group to make an unforgettable impression. Whatever the case, the Ritz-Carlton’s re-entry into Hong Kong is prepped to be one of the biggest and grandest events in hotel history, and we got a sneak peak at what’s to come.
View of Victoria Harbour from The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong
Set to open in December, the 312 guest room hotel will feature an indoor infinity pool, spa, gym, rooftop restaurant and restaurants on lower floors. The hotel’s guest rooms will occupy floors 106-117. The other floors will house the spa (116); the gym, pool and rooftop restaurant (118); additional restaurants (102); and the hotel lobby will be on floor 103. The International Commerce Centre below floor 102 features office and residential space, an Observation Deck on the 100th floor, a shopping mall and is a transport hub to both Mainland China and Hong Kong Island.
Read more from my exclusive article on The Huffington Post
Shanghai is a city of complications and successes. It’s one of the most modern cities in China, yet still holds sacred its roots in China’s history. It’s lived in the shadows of Beijing and Hong Kong for centuries but today offers travelers a new experience, thanks in part to its hosting the World Expo Shanghai. Shanghai is a juxtaposition of old and new on every street. A five minute walk from the world’s largest Louis Vuitton store is one of Shanghai’s oldest parks, where locals converge to practice the art of Tai Chi and take part in morning dance rituals as a form of expression and exercise.
Imagine you have exactly 24 hours to explore one of the world’s most historical and modernized cities. What do you do first? Whether you’re heading to Shanghai as a stopover to somewhere else in China, or your spending your vacation in the Expo City, make sure to save a day for the following:
Early morning in Renmin Park 7 – 8 a.m.
Only a short walk from The Portman Ritz-Carlton at Shanghai Center (where I stayed during my trip to Shanghai), Renmin Park at People’s Square of Puxi offers a unique glance at the life of old Shanghainese. Early Sunday mornings are filled with generations of Shanghainese taking part in familiar rituals including Tai Chi and ‘disco’ – their version of what Americans would consider “line dancing.” Join the dance or just stop and take it all in. Everyone is wonderfully friendly in the park and welcome tourists to join the dance or take part in Tai Chi.
Read more and see photos from my column on Gadling.com
The fog settled heavily on this particular night in Shanghai. I was told the view from the 58th floor of the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong was of The Bund, but the dense fog provided a different view. I thought, this is what heaven must be like — surrounded by clouds, with just a saxophonist, a glass of red wine and a comfortable lounge chair.
A saxophonist played on the rooftop bar
Located across the Huangpu River and offering (on a clear night) spectacular views of the famous Bund, the hotel opens June 21 to the world. I got a sneak peak at the luxury digs, including a cocktail on the open terrace of the tallest rooftop bar in Shanghai.
I stepped into the soon-to-be-open second Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong and felt like I had crossed the threshold into another universe. Flanked on either side by luxury retailers including Giorgio Armani and Louis Vuitton, the hotel accentuates luxury in a modern Mandarin-style shell. While the exterior of the hotel looks like another Shanghai skyscraper, the interior is a feast for the senses.
Crystal chandeliers set against gold and black walls create the mood as you walk into the lobby. After the guest services member greets you at the lobby-floor level, you’ll head to the 52nd floor for check-in (the hotel occupies the top 14 floors of the building). But there’s something enchanting about the scene as you ascend. Soft lighting against the dark walls of the interior compel you to touch just about anything in your reach. The “old-world glamour” interior in the modern building is enchanting and enticing, and it doesn’t disappoint. With interior designs by Richard Farnell, the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong, sets a new standard in hotel decor: sensory enlightenment. If you steal a feel of the walls on your way up, you’ll be surprised at the textures that set the mood – from marble to velvet, the hotel is sleek and sexy (and somehow makes its guests feel the same way).
I arrived on the 52nd floor and was lured into the bright reception area by the sultry sounds of the saxophonist playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. White marble walls offset by deep red sofas and a black marble check-in desk officially welcome guests to the hotel. On the reception level are two restaurants: the Lobby Lounge and an open-kitchen full-service Italian restaurant, designed by the famous Super Potato Group. Both restaurants offer stunning views of Shanghai, but guests would be remiss if they missed an opportunity to sit at the ‘bartender’s table’ – a section of the Lobby Lounge set behind the bar in close proximity to all the action.
See more photos from Shanghai
- The 258 guest rooms offer standard rooms and suites ranging in size from 538-square-feet to 4,413-square-feet. Each deluxe room comes with Club Lounge access on the 49th floor and the amenities you’d expect from a luxury hotel including:
- LCD-TV and Blu-ray disc player
- The Ritz-Carlton signature linens and featherbeds
- Electronic room control touch panels for controlling lighting, air conditioning, curtains and music/alarm clock preferences
- Walk-in closet
- High speed wireless and wired Internet access
- Computer and fax hook-ups and dataport
- iPod docking stations
- In-room safe
- Fully stocked honor bar
If you were tempted to touch the textured surfaces on your way to the room, now’s your chance to indulge in a sensory treat. The multi-textured theme carries on to the rooms, with simple wood furniture accented by geometric print carpet, pillows and throws. Standing wood murals representing old Shanghai are positioned perfectly behind modern chairs or love seats. The pièce de résistance of each bedroom, however, is the bathroom.
Each guest room bathroom features a designer copper bath tub built for two, set against a dark mirrored wall and hidden by a thin curtain. While you can grab a quick shower before a day of touring or business, the decadent tubs are worthy of at least one soak during your stay. Each bathroom features premium bath essentials and TV screens (so you can relax while catching up on the day’s events), a lighted makeup mirror, hair dryer and terry robes.
In addition to the Lobby Lounge and Scena Italian restaurant on the 52nd floor, the hotel also offers Jin Xuan, Cantonese traditional cuisine on level 53. There’s also a cigar lounge, exclusive champagne library, walk-in wine cellar and outdoor seating with grill. On the 58th floor, guests can take in the mesmerizing views or cuddle up near the fire at Flair Rooftop Restaurant and Bar (read on for more on Flair).
Located on the 55th floor, the hotel’s spa will offer 11 treatments, and includes a VIP and doubles suite. The treatments range from standard massages to centuries-old healing techniques and relaxation methods. Even if you don’t opt for a treatment, it’s worth taking advantage of the spa’s serenity.
Designed wall-to-wall in shell and marble, the interior of the spa is a world away from the guestrooms. The white and gold walls set a tranquil mood – the most inviting of which is the seashell-shaped shower, which is the perfect hideaway for anyone needing a few moments of peace. A 24-hour fitness studio is adjacent to the spa for those wanting a work-out.
The top floor of the hotel in the IFC Tower is Flair Rooftop Restaurant and Bar. Located on the 58th level, the outside terrace is unequivocally the grande dame of this 58-story prize. On the inside, a restaurant and lounge area dressed in dark lights is accentuated by a fireplace and wine bar. The smaller upper level offers seating and sofas for a more intimate setting, while the main floor is perfect for groups. Take two steps past the bar through the sliding glass doors and you’ll enter an entirely other world.
The outdoor terrace is poised to become, in my opinion, one of the best rooftop bars in the world. As you walk toward the bar you’re surrounded by tall trees and ivy lit through soft lighting set inside the pathway. The white and taupe sofas in wicker and bamboo provide an elegant touch to an outdoor affair. Electric candles provide the ambiance on a dark night and in the midst of the fog, which was the scene on the night I was there, there’s a certain mystery in the air. You can’t see out or over the terrace, but you know somewhere past the dense condensation that hovers there is an entire city buzzing around you.
I settled back into my chair and sipped my Merlot as I watched the fog move around the bar. Even with a slight fear of heights, I felt perfectly content on top of the world. Just as I came to grip with my senses and the reality of sitting in the clouds, the fog started to dissipate and the iconic Pearl Tower glowed in the distance. For a few seconds the city’s color and life showed through, and then, just as quickly, the fog reappeared – a sign, I suspected, that my journey in the clouds wasn’t quite over.
This article originally appeared in Gadling in 2010 Gadling.com