Tag Archives: hotel

Arrival in Kuching: first impressions

The Scoot flight from Singapore to Kuching landed a little after 9 pm on a Monday night. The money exchange bureau at the airport was closed  but a taxi driver accepted Singaporean dollars. Our journey to the Waterfront Hotel started. Everything looked much more developed than we had expected, and Kuching seemed like a big town. Everything felt very different from what we had seen on our previous trips. There seemed to be a balanced mixture of traditionalism (ancient temples etc) and modernity (fast-food chains etc). There is a French word “dépaysant”, which loosely translated means “exotic, unfamiliar”, and this is indeed how we felt. IMG_0369.JPGThe check-in at the Waterfront Hotel was friendly and professional. We were very hungry but the only way to eat was to order room service (overpriced, especially the beer, but tasty). Our room was clean, modern yet a bit bland. The room could have been in any of the world’s 4-star hotels.

Like often, everything looked brighter in the morning. We really liked our view.

There was the Indian neighborhood on the left, the 19th-century Old Court House Complex in front of our hotel, the old Chinatown on the right, and more hotels on the far right.  The majestic Sarawak river calmly flew in front of us.

Unfortunately after the breakfast we realized our daughter had fever. It kept coming and going during three days but stopped -as a doctor we had consulted had suggested- as abruptly as it had started after 72 hours. This however made us lose a few days so during her sick days we only walked around in different parts of Kuching and met our guide-to-be James to plan an efficient program for the rest of our stay. The elections that took place in Malaysia during our stay added an extra element of excitement to our already adventurous journey. The streets remained calm in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak but many places were closed and everyone we met was holding his breath while waiting for the results.  IMG_0478We ended up staying one full week in Kuching. During the first days we kept wondering whether we should move to another hotel or not. We usually like smaller hotels with a bit more charm combined with local touch, and the Waterfront Hotel just felt a bit dull. In the end we decided not to change: the staff was very friendly and the breakfast was great, but more about this in another post!

Kuching grew on us. We loved the fact that there was no tourist invasion. We were literally on the other side of the planet. A lot of the times it was only us and the locals. In retrospect I can say that Kuching was so different from anything else we had seen before that it took some time to get adjusted. On the other hand this is exactly what I love about traveling and why we travel –the goal for us is to find places that are “dépaysant” (exotic, unfamiliar, new, fresh, different…) and Kuching was all of that and beyond. We loved Kuching.

More detailed posts to come about accommodation, eating, sightseeing. Stay tuned!

Previous posts about our journey (in chronological order):

May travel dilemma

Borneo: Sarawak or Sabah?

Fabulous and stylish Indigo Hotel Singapore Katong

Fabulous and stylish Indigo Hotel Singapore Katong

This hotel review could be very short because one sentence could sum it all up: we absolutely adored Indigo Hotel Katong Singapore! It probably is the most stylish, originally decorated hotel I have ever stayed at. We slept there for three nights in the beginning of our journey and loved it so much that we returned for one last night on our way from Borneo to Paris. I would love to return to Singapore just for Indigo Hotel and I believe we will do so very soon!

***Click the photos to see captions***

LOCATION, NEIGHBORHOOD & GETTING AROUND

Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong is located in a charming neighborhood called Katong, home to fascinating and diverse Peranakan culture. The neighborhood is both residential and touristic, but we definitely felt that we were getting a very authentic experience. There are some really great (some very cheap) restaurants withing a walking distance but those looking for a more “Western experience” will also find what they need.

We loved Singapore because of Katong and our hotel, as simple as that.

 

The drive from the airport takes 10-15 minutes and costs 10-20 SGD (6-12€). If your taxi driver doesn’t know newly-opened Indigo Hotel Singapore Katong, tell him it is next to Holiday Inn Hotel.

There are many buses that take you from the hotel to the city center, i.e. number 31 and 32. The duration of the ride depends where you want to go but to give you an idea, Marina Bay Sands can be reached in 25 minutes. There is no metro near the hotel.

RESERVATION & PRICE

For the best price go here: https://www.ihg.com/hotelindigo/hotels/gb/en/singapore/sinki/hoteldetail

If you aren’t already, become a member of IHG Rewards Club, which by the way is the world’s largest hotel loyalty program. We compared prices and got a very good deal by booking directly. Breakfast was included. If you have any questions, click “Need help?” at the bottom of the website and you can chat with an assistant. We did this to get clarifications about taxes (10% + 7%), the cost of a child and the membership. The person who helped us was very professional and fast. Both of our reservations were very last minute (less than one week before arrival) and we paid around 130€ per night (2 adults and a child, breakfast and taxes included).

ROOMS

We stayed in two different rooms. We asked for a room with a view and on a higher floor and these photos are from our first room on the 12th floor (room number 1205).  All the rooms look pretty much the same but the main difference is that some have a view on the Peranakan houses (East Coast Road) and some look at Holiday Inn Hotel. We preferred the city view but the other one is not bad either.

 

There are many little well thought-through details. The drawing on the wall behind the bed. Beautiful cement tiles. Shower that looks right outside (you should use window shades while showering). Some rooms have a round bath tub. A feet-washing bowl with nice products. Traditional candies served in glass jars. The list goes on. There is a complimentary handy, a cellular phone guests can use during their stay. I used it for maps and making free phone calls to Borneo. Fantastic!

 

BREAKFAST

The breakfast was a delight. It consists of a buffet, fixed menu of classical dishes like eggs Florentine, but in addition there were three regional dishes every day. What a great way to discover Asian delicacies! We enjoyed exotic fruits, creative fresh juices like watermelon mixed with beetroot, and tasting laksa, nasi lemak and Singaporean signature snack kaya toast. Coffee selection was excellent.

 

Breakfast is served in the premises of Baba Chews restaurant that we never tried, but every time we walked by in the evening it was crowded. Hotel guests enjoy discount while dining and wining at Baba Chews (http://babachews.com.sg).

SERVICE

Impeccable. Once again, I do not have anything to add. We had questions about buses, restaurants, sites, shopping, medical care, Ramadan –you name it, and each time we were answered with patience and smile.

When we returned to Singapore for our last night, the flight landed really early making us arrive at Hotel Indigo before 11am. “No problem, we have a room for you and we won’t charge for the early check-in” the young man at the reception told us.

SWIMMING POOL

We used the pool a lot, morning, afternoon and evening. It was very pretty to watch sun sets from the infinity pool (the pool closes at 9pm). The music was cool, not too loud. Clientele was very discreet, young’ish and chic. Locals, Asians, French, Canadians… It felt like The Place To Be In.

There is a gym next to the pool but we didn’t try it.

 

CHILD-FRIENDLINESS

Very child friendly! Our three-year old daughter slept for free with us. She didn’t pay anything for breakfast. Every morning she was given a plastic plate with a mug and cutlery. They brought her black olives even when they were not part of the breakfast buffet. The chef customized her pancakes. High chairs were naturally available. Our daughter napped approximately from 1pm to 3pm and we were allowed to keep the room until she woke up, so instead of checking out at the midday we got extra three hours for free. They gave her an origami butterfly and always addressed her with kindness. The coffee table in the room was very practical and perfect for her size. She would sit on the sofa and draw, read or play. She loved Hotel Indigo and was inspired by atmosphere. And you know what they say? Happy child, happy parents!

PROS & CONS

+Close to the airport (10-15 minutes by taxi)

+Authentic, charming neighborhood called Katong

+Opened in 2016, everything is new and works like a dream including Internet

+Creative, cool and stylish decoration

+Awesome breakfast

+Beautiful infinity pool

+Superb service (reservation, reception, room service, breakfast, pool…)

+Room comes with a handy, a cellular phone you can use while staying at the hotel. Local and some international calls are free!

-Honestly I cannot think of anything negative. Some people could argue that the location is not ideal (metro is quite far away), but being in between the city center and the airport was ideal for us. And as you now know, we love Katong and would not stay elsewhere. However, a shuttle bus (maybe in partnership with the next door Holiday Inn Hotel?) to the city center would be a nice gesture!

TIP! Ask for a room with a view on the Peranakan houses (East Coast Road side).

Previous posts (in chronological order):

May travel dilemma

Borneo: Sarawak or Sabah?

Blue Turtle Hotel in Tissamaharama: Stylish and comfortable boutique hotel in lush surroundings

The ride from Dalawella to Tissamaharama was long. We left Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service before the noon, stopped briefly at Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka, did one more stop near Tangalle to check out a hotel and arrived in Tissamaharama just before the sunset. About 150 km of driving took us almost six hours. The road and traffic were ok, but things just take unusually long when traveling with a small child…

Anyway, we had shortlisted several hotels in Tissamaharama: Kithala Resort, Diyadahara Resort, The Rain Tree Hotel, Thaulle Resort, Chandrika Hotel and Blue Turtle Hotel. We chose Blue Turtle Hotel mainly for two reasons: it holds the Tripadvisor number one position, which usually means one cannot go too wrong, and they were very fast and professional in their communication (text messages).

We were more than pleased with our choice. The quality we got for approximately 50USD per night (including breakfast) was great. Rooms were very clean, simple yet stylish, came with a mosquito net and service was friendly. There was a wonderful pool we never got to use because we were the unlucky ones to get some rain (unlucky because apparently rain is not good for animal watching).  Blue Turtle opened in 2015 and everything is still very new.

Upon arrival we chatted with the Sri lankan owner who had  lived in Paris for thirty years. Being a former restaurant(s) owner means that he is serious about food, something that was proved to us at the dinner. The menu is limited (grilled meat and kottu roti), but the fact that most people only stay 1-2 nights in Tissamaharama explains it. Moreover, everything is so delicious that we didn’t mind eating the same thing twice! The only thing we regret is that breakfast was not Sri Lankan. Upon leaving I made a remark about this to the owner who explained that the reception should have asked whether we want European or local breakfast. Oh well, next time we know better!

We highly recommend staying at Blue Turtle. Most people arrive in Tissamaharama, sleep one night, go for a safari in Yala National Park in the morning and leave in the afternoon, but I would strongly suggest you stay two nights like we did and include a fascinating religious town called Kataragama in your itinerary. More about these two destinations in my next posts, so stay tuned.

PS There were surprisingly few mosquitoes wherever we visited in Sri Lanka, but most of them seem to be living in Tissamaharama, so do not forget your mosquito repellent.

Blue Turtle Hotel:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blueturtlehotel/
Website: http://www.blueturtlehotel.com
Cell.phone: +94 77 5486836 (Text messages are most likely answered by the owner’s son Oliver who will help you in whatever you may need. He speaks French as well.)

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Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service

Kataluwa Purwarama Temple: one of the finest temples in the southern Sri Lanka

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: stunning location with friendly service

If you read my previous post Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming, you already have a pretty good idea about the area. We chose Sri Gemunu Beach Resort as our base in Dalawella beach, located on the northern end of this wonderful beach (where the big rock is). IMG_4424.JPG

We could choose between a downstairs room overlooking the garden (where the restaurant is) and the ocean (just behind the garden), and an upstairs room (comes with a proper sea view). Had we been just two of us, we would have probably chosen the upstairs room (around 95€/night including breakfast and dinner) but we took the downstairs room. It was very convenient for our daughter to be able to run straight from the room to the garden. The downstairs room -number 22, a nice one as it is on the far end of the building so very quiet- cost us just above 80€/ night (half board also).

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Our room 22 is located downstairs on the right. It had more privacy than many other downstairs rooms.  

Our AC room was clean and came with a four-poster bed with a mosquito net (that had some holes in it but the housekeeping fixed it very fast). The safe and fridge didn’t exist but we didn’t miss them (valuable can be left at the reception). The bathroom -again- was the weakest part of the room, but it was clean. There was a baby cot that however wasn’t in its best condition. The room was nothing fancy but it had a traditional design, and we were very comfortable and loved the fact that the ocean was just a few steps away.

The hotel staff was very welcoming. They let me use the reception telephone for local phone calls free of charge. The chefs was particularly kind and always prepared something special and extra for our daughter. He made sure we always had enough coconut and honey pancakes. One of the owners brought his little granddaughter to plays with ours. Small things maybe but all of our questions and requests were promptly responded with a sincere smile.

We ate at the hotel restaurant every night. There was a buffet, a mixture of Sri Lankan and Western food (this applied to breakfast too). After a few days the food got a bit boring but I guess buffets often do? We enjoyed Sri Lankan dishes but everything was a bit too westernized to our taste and we kept adding chili. Our daughter further extended her palate but pappadum and pumpkin curry remained her favorites. IMG_4367.JPG

The clientele of the hotel was mainly European: northern Europeans, Germans, English, Italians and French. The average age must have been around 60, but we did see some other families. The only thing that really bothered me was smoking as it is allowed in the outdoor restaurant. So when the wind blows from the right direction and you get a neighbor who loves smoking (regardless of smoke getting in your child’s face…), it is annoying, but not really a hotel’s fault (even if I would love to see all hotels in the world turn smoke free lol).

Would we return to Sri Gemunu Beach Resort? Definitely, any time! It is a great base to discover some important sites including Galle or just unwind at the beach.

Sri Gemunu Beach Resort: http://www.sri-lanka-resort.com

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Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Dalawella Beach: Picture perfect and safe for swimming

Sri Lanka is famous for surfing but if you want to find beaches safe for swimming, it gets trickier. When you read guide books that are full of warnings about dangerous currents, you start to wonder if swimming is safe anywhere -especially for small children. We did a considerable amount of research prior to our trip and I have to say that information I found was not very helpful. What people call “safe” seems to be very vague to…

After four nights -just enough time to recover not only from jetlag but also from Paris fatigue- we left Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food. Time to start exploring! We hired a car with a driver (more about this in another post) for the rest of our trip and decided to head towards Unawatuna, one of the most famous southern coast beach destinations. We decided to stay away from hustle and bustle and chose Dalawella beach because it was close to Unawatuna in case we suddenly felt like visiting the action center.

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We visited Unawatuna one afternoon and walked for an hour on the beach. That was sufficient for us. It was far too busy for us, not as clean as Dalawella, waves were strong and tourism in general very developed (sign boards were also in Russian!). If you want something quiet, stay at Dalawella like we did, or Thalpe.

We had been in contact with Wijaya Beach hotel, located on Dalawella beach, by email and telephone and were pretty sure we would choose to stay there (we usually like to see the place before making the final decision). Despite Wijaya Beach hotel probably being the most cool place to hang out in Dalawella, we decided not to say there. Instead we chose a more low-key, not as fancy but equally perfectly located Sri Gemunu Beach Resort.

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Wonderful Dalawella Beach, our favorite beach in Sri Lanka. Peaceful, very clean and oh-so-pretty. The beach is small as you can see, and there are many hotels along it. Sri Gemunu Beach Resort is located in the northern end of the beach (right where the big rock is). Right next to it is Rathna Guesthouse (the hut on the beach). The building on the right end of the photo with sun beds is Wijaya Beach. 

Every morning we extended our stay at Sri Gemunu Beach Resort. We developed a very good routine: breakfast, beach time, lunch & nap, visiting & beach, dinner. The hotel was nothing fancy, but it was clean, staff very friendly and we felt comfortable. Buffet food was good at most of the time. The hotel overlooks the beach and we had to walk about thirty steps from our room to reach the beach.

If you are thinking of staying at any of the hotels located on Dalawella beach, and if you want to be able to swim then continue reading (nobody on Internet tells you this!) : there is a coral reef in from of Dalawella Beach and during the low tide the reef appears, creating a sort of a natural lagoon. During our stay (January 2017) the swimming was best in late afternoons. Some people also snorkeled in the lagoon but you can see small fish even without the gear.

PS I read somewhere that it is common to see turtles on Dalawella Beach.  Maybe we just didn’t get lucky, maybe January was not an ideal month, maybe the moon should have been in a different position.. who knows! If you visit or have visited this beach and have seen turtles, let me know please 🙂

Previous Sri Lanka trip posts (in the order of appearance):

Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Sea Shine Guesthouse in Dodanduwa: spotless seafront rooms that come with a smile and delicious food

Due to some last minute cancellations, we had no taxi reserved upon landing at the Bandaranaike International Airport at 4 a.m. We prepared ourselves for some serious negotiating but that was not necessary: as soon as we walked into the arrival hall, there were several companies offering taxi services with prices written on sign boards. We used the Bandaranaike International Airport Taxi Service (when you arrive, the first company on your right) and the fixed price to Dodanduwa was 8740 Sri Lankan rupees (about 55€/58USD) for an AC van. In addition we paid 300 and 400 rupees for the use of two highways: Colombo-Katunayake Expressway and Southern Expressway. Plus some tip.

My husband and our daughter fell asleep very soon while I watched the night turn into morning. Black became pink, moist air created fog and I could see silhouettes of birds against a rising sun. It was all very pretty and I wondered if this is what the depiction of Garden of Eden looks like.

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Depiction of Garden of Eden? No, just a typical image taken on the Southern Expressway on the way to Dodanduwa.

Sea Shine Guesthouse, where we arrived three hours later, turned out to be exactly or even better than we had imagined. Our room was very clean, came with a mosquito net and direct sea view. Like often in Sri Lanka (based on what we saw during our 15-day trip), the bathroom was the weakest part of the room, but it was clean and that was the main thing. We had reserved a non-AC room and as the house was built according to traditional Sri Lankan style, there was natural ventilation (but very few mosquitoes!) making it very nice to fall asleep while listening to the ocean.

Breakfast options were either Western or Sri Lankan and we opted for the latter (but it had to be ordered the night before). Delicious! We moved very little from our hotel, just wanted to relax, so we had lunch and dinner every day at the hotel. Mr. Sunil’s (the owner of the guesthouse) son Roshan took care of the cooking together with his mother, and everything was fresh, tasty and copious. We ate everything and never had any problem… Our daughter became a big fan of pappadums and expanded her palate to devilled chicken, fried noodles, grilled lobster, octopus, stringhoppers, dal, pumpkin curry and sambar.

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Missing this breakfast! Chef Roshan’s dal was particularly delicious!  

In overall, we had a relaxing and lovely stay at Sea Shine Guesthouse. Of course it is a homestay, do not expect 5-star service, but we felt that the family went out of their way to make our stay comfortable. They played with our daughter, they taught her how to feed aquarium fish and always made sure she had what she needs for meals. There is no high chair but we had ours.  In terms of sightseeing, there are a turtle hatchery nearby in Kosgoda (we didn’t visit),  Galle (we visited from our next destination) and Hikkaduwa (we took a tuk tuk and returned by the beach). We appreciated the fact that there are some activities and towns nearby, but that the location of our guesthouse was very quiet (Hikkaduwa beach is very busy!). The beach was super clean, there were no beach boys and at night we only heard waves. Perfect! My husband went for a swim but I didn’t dare. I don’t estimate that the beach is safe for children to swim in, but most of the beaches in Sri Lanka aren’t. One should always ask locals what the sea condition is that specific day (sadly, a tourist drowned during our stay in Dodanduwa).

Should you be interested in Sea Shine Guesthouse, I recommend you to contact them directly. I didn’t get response to my email, so the best is to contact them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Sea-shine-Hikka-1548810175394587/ (type “Sea shine Hikka” on Facebook if the link doesn’t work)  or by WhatsApp / cellular phone +94-71-9725703. Facebook and WhatsApp messages are responded by Mr. Sunil’s friendly daughter Dily (say hello from me 🙂 ). We (2 adults and a toddler) paid 5500 Sri Lankan rupees per night for a nice non-AC room (number 2), including breakfast, and in the end we were given the room for 5000 rupees. Websites like Booking.com etc have higher prices, so contact the guesthouse directly!

Sea Shine Guesthouse: http://www.seashinehikkaduwa.com

To read the first post about our Sri Lanka trip, see Planning Sri Lanka: Itinerary

 

Palermo with a baby?

Prior to booking tickets to Sicily we were hesitating between the western and the eastern part of the island. We would not be able to do everything Sicily has to offer, so better stick with just one side of the island we thought. After a brief (read: shallow) consideration, we bought tickets to Palermo. Delicious, distinctive street food and a bit of history, here we come! So we thought.

Palermo

Antica Focacceria San Francesco, a Palermitano institution, is a wonderful place to taste local delicacies.

In total, our trip in Sicily was going to last 12 days. We reserved two first nights at Grand Hotel et Des Palmes (a local institution, right in the center of Palermo), assuming that we will definitely want to stay longer. The plan was to eventually continue by a rental car from Palermo to one or two other destinations, preferably by the sea. After we had seen “everything” in Palermo…..

Palermo is a city full of history and art. Be prepared for a lot of walking!

Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is full of history and art. Be prepared for a lot of walking!

One week later (am writing this from San Vito Lo Capo) I am sorry to acknowledge that our two-night stay in Palermo was more than enough. We are very happy that we hadn’t reserved more nights. In fact we could not wait to leave Palermo behind us. Why? Do not get me wrong, Palermo surely offers a zillion things to do and see, but it was not the right choice for us traveling with a five month old baby. Below is a list of my/our impressions!

Only crazy tourists in Palermo with an ultra-Parisian stroller? (ok, we had a baby carrier too)

Only crazy tourists in Palermo with an ultra-Parisian stroller? (ok, we had a baby carrier too)

  1. Palermo is much bigger (and chaotic) than I expected. The greater Palermo has over one million inhabitants, making it the fifth most populated city (with its surroundings) in Italy. My fault, didn’t do my research well enough. I expected more small streets leading to cute piazzas, but streets we saw were big, noisy and very polluted. The potential of the seaside in Palermo is not used as it could be argues the urban architect in me.
Streets of Palermo are busy. Humidity combined with pollution makes walking quite unpleasant...

Streets of Palermo are busy. Humidity combined with pollution makes walking quite unpleasant…

2. In order to really understand and enjoy Palermo one needs to visit museums, churches, historical monuments etc., but how many museums do parents with a (crying) small baby usually visit…? Trying to get a feel of this fascinatingly multicultural city just by looking at the walls didn’t make us much more knowledgeable about Palermo’s rich past.

See the names? Signs like this show the rich and complex history of Palermo.

See the names? Signs like this show the rich and complex history of Palermo.

3. Our hotel choice was a big mistake. More about that later, but we should have searched outside the city, for example in Mondello, a nearby beach town, and just do day trips to Palermo.

This said, our stay in Palermo was not a great success. I am still beating myself up while asking “what did you think of bringing a small baby (with precious lungs) into a big city like Palermo?”. One week later I am still wondering how much of this feeling comes from the fact that we are very tired (accumulation of months’ fatigue…) and how much of it really is because of Palermo. Would I have liked Palermo more should I have gone there before the baby? Who knows. I think someone once called Palermo a rough diamond and I could not agree more. Just that when traveling with a baby one normally looks for smooth and not rough places (lol).