Melia Resort, Da Nang (Vietnam) 2015

After a 5 year hiatus from this blog, I decided to write about a really fantastic experience in central Vietnam, Da Nang.

After searching quite a while for a destination for a family holiday in South East Asia, I stumbled upon Da Nang.  I always heard of it in old Vietnam war films but never been there.  Given the haze situation we had to suffer from, I decided to black list Indonesia from my holiday spot for this year.  Luckily I did, too, because while Bali came recommended, there was a volcano that erupted near Bali causing delays in flights to and from Bali.  Guess there goes Tourism Indonesia, huh.

There was no direct budget flight from Singapore to Da Nang at the time I was searching for tickets.  So, I had to stop over in Ho Chi Minh City on my way there.  Luckily the direct flight (Jetstar) commenced 2 days prior to my return.

From the long list of local and international hotels, I found this gem.  Melia Resort in Non Nuoc beach near marble mountain.  The resort had just started business not too long ago and every thing was brand new.  This may not be a blessing, though.  There was only 1 restaurant open in the resort but everything you’d need from 2 pools, bars, gym, kids club were there.

The rooms were simply amazing!  Even the smallest room was comfortable and had enough living space for 2 large guests (with separate wash basins).

Breakfast was included in my package and it was a good balance of local and international fare.  The Banh Beo (steamed rice cakes with crispy shrimps) was very good.

Happy hour stretches from 3pm to 5pm (pool bar) and 5pm to 7pm (blue bar, next to restaurant).

 

My ratings

Location: 8.5 (Taxi ride from Da Nang City was about US$8-10 and from airport was about US$12-15).  The resort sits right on the beach and has a landscaped garden.  There is little in the way of activities outside the resort but great for quiet and relaxation.  Marble mountain, which is about 1km away, is within walking distance (saving me the US$1-2 in cab fare).

Hoi An, half an hour’s ride away, would cost about US$15-18.  The video below on Hoi An is dated but the general feel is still there.

Other than Marble Mountains and Hoi An, the rest of Da Nang is pretty much a more laid back version of Ho Chi Minh City.

Ambience: 9.5.  Quiet beach, earth, wind, sand, sea and sun.  Couldn’t asked for more.

Room: 9.5.  I got 2 rooms, adjoining.  The larger room was almost a mini suit and the smaller room was still spacious, nonetheless.  spread over 5 floors in the shape of a ship/sail, the views are to die for.

Value for money: 9.5 (~S$180 per room per night averaged, excluding tax and other stuff. Includes breakfast for 4.)

Service: 9.5 (I did not see a room service menu but I think the staff do accommodate).  A special shout out to the reception staff, room staff, kids club staff and especially the expat hotel manageress at Melia.  You gals and guys are the best I had experienced in a long time.  Very attentive and helpful!

Return to stay: Definitely!  A great time was had in and outside the resort!  Coming back to a clean, neat and comfortable room is always a plus.  Coupled with great staff!

Note: October to December is supposedly the monsoon season.  Yes, it does rain almost daily but when I was there in late November, the rain did not bother us.  It was heavy for about 10 mins and followed by light drizzle for another 30 mins or so.  Being the low seasons, you could get good rates during this season if you don’t mind the rain.

 

 

 

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Hard Rock Hotel Bali

Ever since my last visit to Festive Hotel at Sentosa, my family and me were intrigued by the artificial beach at Hard Rock Hotel. So, for the December holidays in 2010, we made arrangements, packed our bags and made our way to Bali’s Hard Rock Hotel at Kuta Beach.

Now, we’ve heard of the infamous Kuta Beach and the rowdy nightlife. Equally infamous was HRH’s smallish rooms and noisy ambience. However, we must say that we were pleasantly surprised by the space and quietness of our room.

Being new to Kuta (we had stayed at Nusa Dua in an earlier trip), we found the hotel within easy walk to a few nice places to shop. Brands such as Surfer Girl, A&W and Polo were replicated in every turn of the street. Food was easy enough to find in Kuta but for really good quality food, you have to make an effort. We found this wonderful Balinese and Western restaurant tucked away in the most unlikely of places – Jalan (Gang) Poppies 2.

http://www.korirestaurant.co.id/

Jalan Poppies is typical of any flea market streets, filled with shops offering imitation watches, cheezy T-shirts, DVDs, luggage bags and phallic shaped bottle-cap openers. Oh, and dispite the No Entry sign for Jalan Poppies 2 to cars, our taxi driver was kind enough to make the short cut through Jalan Poppies 2 anyways.

After Kori, other affordable and good places to eat are the Hard Rock Cafe and Flapjaks. Though less exotic, the food are great and portions are good sized. Expect to pay a bit more in Bali (more in Kuta) than elsewhere in Indonesia. It’s crowded with Auzzies so the locals are taking advantage of the fact to charge more.

Kuta Beach is to Bali what Patong Beach is to Phuket. Crowded with hawkers selling all sorts of services and stuff, noisy and brownish. The excuse was that Bali, being a volcanic island, throws out greyish-brown pumice instead of the silicone white sand that one finds in Phuket. For surfers, it’s pretty decent but the undertow may be less pleasant for weak swimmers and children.

My ratings (10 being world-class):
Location: 8 (Taxi ride from hotel to airprot would have to make a short trip around Jalan Melasti, resulting in wasted time and cab fare).

Ambience: 6.5 – 8.5 depending on your age and priority (the younger your are, the higher the points for ambience)

Room: 7.5 (Rock and Roll themed room but the shower heads seems rusted/caked with calcium. The cheap looking doors somehow spoils the nicely furnished room – time to change to nice solid timbre doors)

Value for money: 8.5 (~S$290 per night, excluding tax and other stuff. Includes breakfast for 4.)

Service: 7.5 (room service may be a bit slow and cooks at Starz restaurant may not understand what a half-boiled or soft boiled egg is)

Value added services/amenities: A Rocking good time! Babysitter, baby pool, largest free form pool in Kuta, bar, spa and business office.  There is even a radio station in the hotel!

Return to stay: Definitely if I’m under 40 or seeking some Rock and Roll good times with the many single ladies who are there for work and leisure.  If travelling with kids, there are other options which is wrth considering.

Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel

I guess sooner or later, everyone visits Disneyland. Now with Disneyland being so close to home, there’s really no reason not to visit Mickey.

So, there I was, in Hong Kong with my wife and kids in tow. Technically, we were in Lantau Island. Actually, I hardly saw much of Hong Kong island on this trip, except for the 2 quick trips to Yung Kee (http://www.yungkee.com.hk), Sogo and the Noon Day Gun.

Disneyland is actually quite close to the airport without seeming so. From the airport, it is a 3-4 station ride on the MTR to Disney Station. From there, one can take a feeder bus from the theme park to the hotels. Newbies to Hong Kong should take the MTR (subway) as it is fast, efficient and environmentally friendly.

Check-in at Disneyland Hollywood Hotel was fuss-free. Now, there’s 2 hotels in Disneyland but I stayed at the Disneyland Hollywood Hotel. It’s slightly cheaper and more ‘modern’. Of course, it’s modelled after the Hollywood genre/design back in the early 20th Century.

There’s plenty of restaurants (maybe because the hotels are so far from the nearest village) – there was a total of 4 eating holes in the Hollywood Hotel (but the poolside was closed on my visit) offering various types of cruisine to suit various budgets. Breakfast, sadly, was not included in the package (but 2 days of tickets to Disneyland was).

The buffet was the most expensive – it offers some interestingly designed food, like the green 3-eyed little green men (LGM) dumplings. For some ala carte food, try the Studio Lounge. The kids will love dinner there. Even the tomato ketschup gets in the act and took the shape of Mickey’s profile. The burgers were nice and my kids lapped up their sandwiches and pasta while watching cartoons on the big screen. The pool was so so but Goofy makes an appearance occasionally.

For those of you who forgot to buy something at the theme park, no worries. There’s a gift shop in the hotel that offers everything you’d want! One thing I must say about Hong Kong Disneyland – every single gift shop in the theme park sell 99.9% the same things as the other shops! Unlike Universal Studios where each shop carries somethings different so it was like a treasure hunt.

The rooms are comfortable with a large picture of Mickey and Minnire above the two queen-sized beds. The toilet is a bit small, though. One interesting thing about the room is the telephone. There’s a function where the kids can opt for a bedtime story (but more often than not, they end up starring at the speakerphone and LCD screen at the pictures from the bedtime story).

Other than Disneyland theme park and the hotel, there’s pretty much nothing else for kids on Lantau Island. For the grownups, its worthwhile making the trip to Ngong Ping to climb the bronze Buddha. One of the better known landmarks of Hong Kong (or Lantau Island), it’s short trip by MTR and then a shorter trip by cable car or bus. For the bus, please have exact change or risk paying more than you’d have to. While at Ngong Ping, it is worthwhile to get the tickets up to the statue and the VIP vegetarian lunch package. The food is amazingly good (for vegetables) and the soya bean drink stall next to the temple dinning hall is very nice. However, if you want to use the facilities, be warned it does smell quite a bit.

My ratings (10 being world-class):

Location: 6 (It’s near to nowhere, which is just left to somewhere but right next to ‘where-the-heck’).

Ambience: 7.5

Room: 7 (like all hotels in Hong Kong, rooms are economised and miniturised)

Value for money: 8 (Breakfast wasn’t included, not that the food was that great in the first place) – it scored a 8 for throwing in 4 tickets to the theme park free.

Service: 8 (pretty decent for Hong Kong standard)

Value added services/amenities: Gift shop and 3 restaurants, 1 pool and a playground. Ho hum.

Return to stay: Only if its on a promotion package.

Holiday Inn Phuket

 

I couldn’t get last minute tickets to Bali, so we decided to revisit an old vacation destination.  One that most Singaporeans might have overlooked.  Phuket.

And in Phuket, no better place for a family holiday other than on Patong Beach.  Easily the most developed place in Phuket.  It even has a ‘new’ mall called Jungceylon, which is the old name for Phuket.

Holiday Inn Phuket is easy to find.  But it is actually 2 hotels merged into 1.  The Bukasorn Wing, where I stayed, seems to have be the more exclusive side of the hotel.  Actually, Holiday Inn Phuket is more of a resort than a hotel.  There’s even private villas (although villas by the beach would have been nice but in Patong, no hotel is really ‘by’ the beach).  Pity.

The check in was fast and friendly.  The rooms were clean and comfortable.  Only grouse was that the WC and the shower was in seperate rooms.  A longbath would have been nice, though.  View from the room was nothing to shout about.

There are a total of 6 swimming pools in Holiday Inn Phuket but not all guests can use them all .  The villa guests can use all the pools while having a nicely landscaped pool to their own use.  The kids loved the Bukasorn Wing pool with its immersed pool bar, water fountains and jacuzzis.

The best thing about the Holiday Inn Phuket is the location.  Some 10 min walk to the Jungceylon and 5 mins walk to my ‘must eat’ place – Savoy seafood.

Just outside the Bukasorn Wing entrance is the OTOP nightmarket complete with beer gardens (more like booths) where local beer ladies chat up Auzzie or men of any nationalities.  Tips are very much appreciated by these beer ladies.

The Marriot Courtyard is located next to the OTOP nightmarket and Holiday Inn.  Located next to it is the Hard Rock Cafe Phuket, where they serve really good food.

Pictures from Patong Beach

My ratings (10 being world-class):

Location: 9 (It’s easy-street).

Ambience: 8.5

Room: 8.5 (really nice rooms but no bath tub and the WC and shower is not in the same room.)

Value for money: 7.5 (S$250, excluding tax and other stuff. Includes breakfast and kids eat free.)

Service: 8.5

Value added services/amenities: The works!  Babysitter, baby pool, bar, spa and business office.

Return to stay: Yes!  Undoubtably yes.

Festive Hotel and Universal Studios Singapore

Because of work, I had to miss out on taking my kids on a holiday last week (which was a school holiday). So, to make up for it, I booked a room at Festive Hotel on 26 March 2010 and bought tickets for the family to Universal Studios Singapore (USS).

Driving into Sentosa, the signs are clearly marked as is the directions to the car park. However, be warned that the signs do not tell you where is the nearest parking to the hotel entrances. Asking the car park security was not helpful. Apparently, everywhere IS near the hotel entrance. For the uninitiated, go for the RED zone. That’s nearest to the bus and taxi points, which is also the entrance to the Casino. There is a small tunnel on the right hand side of the Casino entrance (if you are facing the entrance) that will lead to an escalator to the hotels. Personally, I think it’s quite evil to make families on holiday walk past the Casino entrance to get to the hotel…kids in tow.

Check-in at the Festive Hotel was SLOW. OK, there is a long wait and then there is S-L-O-W. Had to wait for 10 minutes at the reception (and I was the first in line) before someone actually bothered to look up from their computer screens. A receptionist was counting brochures, another counting money and the third one just tried to look busy. I see all staff believe that it’s “show-time”!

Once I got the card keys, we made our way to our room on level 6. The decor of the hotel was refreshingly different. Colourful and very eye-catching. Even the lifts were pasted with pictures of frangipani, orchids and all sorts of flowers. I really love this hotel…..they even have built-in saunas in the lift (‘cos it’s like 42 degrees Celsius in them).

Upon entering the room, there was more of the flower and colourful theme. The ceiling board directly on top of my bed has a circular cut out with a picture of orchids. Nice!

The kid’s bunk was a folding bed cum sofa and a bunk bed set on top of the cupboard. My kids loved it.

But for those who want to really enjoy the hotel facilities, wait until end of 2010 or something before making your way there. The pool on level 3 isn’t open to the house guests yet. Neither was the room service (even though there was a room service speed dial button on the one phone in the entire room). I thought it was standard practice to have a phone in the toilet but apparently this hotel don’t see the need.

Those wanting to relax by the pool, try the Hard Rock Hotel pool. There’s a fake beach area (seems to be the in-thing these days), a childrens’ playground water area, a beach ball area and a general swimming area. There’s even small mini pools (but lacking the jacuzzi) around the main pool.

Checking out was not as slow as the check-in. It was S-L-O-W-E-R.  After 15 – 20 minutes wait time in line, I went up to the next available receptionist. Only to find out that the checkout counter is on the other side…..hmm……why wasn’t it marked as such I wonder……

Asking the receptionist to call me in my room when the checkout receptionist is available, I was about to go back up to my room via the lift-sauna. Then the receptionist called out to me. Apparently, it was easier to grudgingly ask a receptionist from behind the back office to help check me out then it is to call my room. OK……and after 5 more minutes, I’m done! Yippee!

My ratings (10 being world-class):

Location: 7.5 (It’s not really near USS or anywhere else but it’s a pleasant walk nonetheless).

Ambience: 6.5 (I guess it’s not that rest-and-relax sorta hotel.)

Room: 8.5 (really nice rooms but the bath tub is a doozy – the edge is sharp, slippery and potential slip-to-your-death trap for the elderly….but then again, if you’re traveling with oldies, maybe this isn’t your sorta hotel.)

Value for money: 6.5 (S$350, excluding tax and other stuff. And this does not include breakfast, pool or other stuff.)

Service: 5.5 (Well, to be fair, they’re just starting….so it might be a while before the full-time staff reports for work.)

Value added services/amenities: None – zilch, zippo. But they have an ice machine and junk food dispenser on each floor.

Return to stay: Try Hard Rock Hotel, they actually have a pool…and probably breakfast, too.

    Universal Studios

Although $66 per adult sounds expensive, I was given a $10 meal voucher and a $5 retail voucher. So, it’s actually $51 per ticket.

The rides were so-so. On a scale of 1 (yawn) to 10 (rip your hair out exciting), they ranked a 7 (okay, where did I leave the car keys fun). And Battlestar Galactica rides were closed on 26 March 2010. Heck, even the Madagascar rides were ‘not ready’. Hmm…are you getting the feeling that this entire place is like a work-in-progress? Well, I guess they needed to recover some of that money they put into the place…..

The Shrek 4D movies was actually fun (rated a 8.5 OMG it’s funny). The Waterworld show was excitingly funny. OK, the actors overact but the bod on that blonde – pssst! Hot, baby, hot! I wish I had her biceps!

Now, here’s the best thing about USS. The food is amazingly delicious. I ate at Friar’s at Shrek (a really nice hawker centre ‘cos you got to queue and pay for your own food before you get served) and Mel’s at Hollywood. Nice! That is the best thing about USS – Food, food, food. Even if they are carbo enriched.

Lost World is where most of the better rides are located. But the queue can get up to 45 mins. I kid you not.

The Egypt section is actually quite nicely done. If only USS offers dinner by candle-light in a Revenge of the Mummy setting, it’d be perfect for Valentine’s Day! Especially if you have a Nubian princess for a girlfriend!

The only draw back was the long waiting time for rides, the sweltering heat (everyone will be in the gift shops enjoying the air-con by 3pm…which makes the place smell ripe) and the not-very-smiley staff.

The last stop was the movie magic show where we got a video welcome by Steven Spielberg. The special effects was awesome!

The gift shops were well stocked and I bought a tonne of stuff back. Yeay, I suppose I can claim to have single-handedly rescued the ailing Singapore economy from its woes…even if it’s for one day.

I suspect I would return shortly this year…..USS should consider family packaged tickets like they have in Gold Coast. Or special rated weekend passes.

Holiday Inn Batam

Before I left for Batam, I did some researching….this hotel is famous for its polite and obliging staff but also famous (or infamous) for their inability to understand the guests.  Well, they try, I guess.

Upon arriving by BatamFast Ferry, we were picked up by a hotel minibus.  Not bad…the ride took 1 minute….the hotel being walking distance past some turns.

Upon arrival, there was a long line at the check-in.  Staff was pleasant but they double booked me!  I got 2 family rooms (and only 1 family…unless they were thinking I had an ‘alternate’ family, complete with mistress and all).  Anyways, after a few back and forth, I manage to clarify things and only got 1 room.  But breakfast wasn’t included.  Bummer!

I must say, this hotel reminds me more of a upclass condo than a resort.  Still, the room was clean (but they could have turned on the air con before I got there) and the amenities were nicely landscaped (though not exactly Bali, it has a nice ambience).

Although breakfast wasn’t provided in my S$200+ room rate, we did order room service for the 3 nights, afternoon and mornings we were there.   Service was, sadly, slow.  You got to call an hour or 30 mins ahead (depending on the availability and sense of urgency of staff).

Food was delicious!  But any guest will have to try their sambal balachan.  That is a chili shrimp paste that is made in heaven!  It was so good that we bought (yes, we bought) 2 big plastic tubs of it back.  Luckily home was just a short boat ride back.

This hotel does have 1 other thing that is worth mentioning….there is a Polo apparel shop at the lobby and they were having sales up to 50% off!  No kidding.  How cool is that.

On the second day, we took a hotel minibus to Nagoya Hill.  Yes, it does cost a few bucks but it’s an experience on its own!  Nagoya Hill Plaza seem to be the place where most tourist to Batam goes.  Got myself a Mont Blanc wallet and had a fun time rumbling around the mall.

While swimming, I nearly got cut by a jutting pool tile…it’s made by Guocera…no wonder.

My ratings (10 being world class): 

Location: 6.5 (Waterfront City is more like a outpost, City being used liberally here.  There are 3 landmarks – Holiday Inn, Harris hotel and the jetty.)

Ambience: 7.5 (Don’t expect sandy beaches or idyllic padi fields, just enjoy the pool and 4 mini restaurants.)

Room: 8 (Reminds me more of a condo than a hotel/resort)

Value for money: 8 (I paid over S$200+ per room and they won’t even throw in breakfast)

Service: 7.5 (Acceptable, I guess, they try but it could be better.)

Value added services/amenities: Gym, pool, jacuzzi pool, kids pool and playground, pseudo Bali spa, own vegetable garden.

Return to stay: Hmm….tough call.

Holiday Inn Melaka

Before starting on my new job, I wanted a quick getaway for a few days.  No beach resort but somewhere comfortable yet exotic.  Melaka has long been neglected since it’s heydays back in the 1500’s.  As one of those early emporiums of the East in the good old colonial days, it was THE reason why the Portuguese, Dutch and eventually the British came to the East.  This was the Singapore before there was a Singapore.

After a 3.5 hour Grasslands coach ride from Singapore, I arrived at the ancient Pearl of the Orient.  My stop this holiday would be the newly refurbished Holiday Inn (last refurbished in 2007).

On arrival, the hotel next door (Mahkota Resort) captures the attention but once you step into the spacious lobby of the Holiday Inn, you feel like you’re home.  A nice touch is the water dispenser dispatching cool, life giving ice water with a few lemon slices chilling inside.

Then, the kids spot the children’s playground!  It was bliss!  Why more hotels aren’t having these corners is a wonder to me. 

Check-in was warm and quick but the room wasn’t ready for another hour or so.  So, we had to go across the road to Mahkota Parade for a lunch of Nando’s.  They have a killer garlic chilli sauce although the local speciality would seem to be flies….an army of them was stationed along the tables and chairs.

When we got into our room (children’s room with double-decker bed en suite), the room was clean and neat.  But perhaps they should have left a rubber anti-slip matt, disposable shavers and more towels without our asking.  Over providing is always welcomed for a family getaway.

They almost got it right – except the kids’ bedspreads had a funny smell and the whiteboard had a marker that is dried and housecleaning doesn’t have a replacement – had to go down to reception to change a new one.

The in-house Italian restaurant is a real gem and is sparsely patronized in the evening.  Their mushroom soup is awesome and so is their pastas.  Pizzas are nice although I’m not sure if it really is wood burnt stove or a wood burnt-type stove powered by gas.

Swimming inside in the cool waters of the eternity pool, one gets the feeling that this hotel is styled after Miami skyscrapers.  White, spacious and simple clear lines.  Their spa is style after classical, local Malay architecture.

Breakfast was on the second floor cafe and while the menu doesn’t change, the variety was sufficient although not the best I had.  At the egg counter, try the half boiled egg.  While it looks undercooked, a little HP or Worcester sauce makes it glide down easily.

While at Melaka, you have to visit the San Shu Kong (Third Grand-Uncle) store along Jonker Street.  They sell baked goods that are simply out of this world.  Also a must try is the Formosa Chicken Rice Ball. 

My ratings (10 being world class): 

Location: 8.2 (someone should do something about that killer mini-highway separating the hotel and Mahkota Parade)

Ambience: 8.5 (nice quiet area but the Jetty, an extension of the hotel that is actually a jetty, is just too sparsely retailed with restaurants, snack shops and meeting rooms)

Room: 9 (Nice clean, no nonsense room with a good view of the Menara Taming Sari Tower and Melaka Megamall)

Value for money: 9 (I paid S$200 per room on university staff special)

Service: 9 (good but not perfect)

Value added services/amenities: Eternity swimming pool (albeit a bit too small) has an awesome view, gym, meeting rooms, business office, car parking and Italian restaurant (Sirocco – fantastic mushroom soup).

Return to stay: Yes, my kids say so.