Created: 05 March 2012
A few months ago, our vice president, Allie Almario, headed over to Asia to do some research and development and check out some of the newest hotel properties there. Here, she shares some notes from her trip, as well as some tips for travelers visiting the region.
If you are going to spend 15 hours in a plane hurtling over the vast Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Hong Kong, I highly recommend doing it in Business Class if you can. I'm not usually an elitist, but when Cathay Pacific puts me on standby for a complimentary business class upgrade, I'm not going to say no. And I'm not going to lie - it was very, very nice.
Once in Asia, my trip was a whirlwind combination of early-morning wake-up calls, incessant jet lag, nonstop hotel inspections, and cramming in quick visits to some of Hong Kong and Thailand's highlights.
It was my first time in Hong Kong, and the first thing that struck me was how vertical a city it is. Much of my time was spent going up and down a lot of elevators as I hopped around the city. I lucked out with perfect weather - perfect blue skies and no humidity, typical for November and December.
Taking the tram up to the Peak is a must for anyone, and the dizzying views overlooking Victoria Harbour will blow you away. Shoppers will need extra-strength willpower to resist the myriad of bargains available - from street-market knock-offs to mind-blowing price tags on glittery luxury items. Another must is enjoying dim sum, a culinary treat that is unparalleled anywhere in this world for its variety and freshness. Watch chopsticks fly in action as dish after dish after dish is presented and one variety of steamed dumpling after another parades onto your table. By the way, if you burp - no worries! Perfectly acceptable here.
The flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok is a quick three-hour jump (make sure you change your watch though - Bangkok is an hour ahead). Just weeks before my visit, Bangkok was devastated by high flood waters. Over time, waters have receded and the city has slowly begun to return to normal. I saw a few sandbags scattered about, and cars still abandoned on elevated highways (the driest and highest ground in the city), but for the most part, it's business as usual in Thailand. In Bangkok, I hopped on tuk-tuks, learned how to make gorgeous orchid arrangements from giggling old ladies in the flower market, and thoroughly enjoyed a flavorful 18-course gourmet dinner in one of the city's most beautiful upscale hotels.
After braving Chiang Mai's narrow streets by bike, I tried a different form of transportation. I don't care how jaded a world traveler you are, spending a couple of hours on top of an elephant going through the jungle is FUN. It's like riding a gentle hairy-backed roller coaster. I loved feeding the ridiculously cute baby elephants bananas (make sure you peel them for the babies since they haven't quite mastered full use of their trunks yet) and meeting friendly members of the Akha and Karen tribes (famous for the ladies having long, giraffe-like necks) who showed us how they made their beautiful jewelry and handicrafts.
I ended my stay in Chiang Mai at one of the most beautiful and luxurious properties in all of Thailand - the Mandarin Oriental's Dhara Devi. This fairytale hotel offers everything from romantic Colonial-style suites to jaw-dropping $950-a-night villas complete with your very own private outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking a rice paddy. If five-star opulence is your thing, this is the hotel that will set the bar for future experiences.
Did you know? Most hotels in Hong Kong and Thailand now feature built-in plug adapters for foreign visitors. No more need to bring bulky and expensive voltage converters for your electrical gear.