Wherever we go, we have to stay somewhere. And we're picky about our hotels. So in addition to all of our user reviews, we provide staff reviews to help you find the best (and avoid the worst) places to stay. We sneak in advice about tourist attractions and restaurants too. But we save advice on frequent flyer miles and hotel points, among other travel tips and news, for our Travel Tips blog
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When a surprise change in plans left us unexpectedly with New Years Eve in Hong Kong, I fired up the computer and booked us into the W Hong Kong. The pictures looked great; the reviews, even better. But I wanted to experience it for myself. So I booked us a “Fabulous Room” and 2 days later we were checking in.
W Hong Kong bathroom
The first thing you notice about the W Hong Kong is that it has all the “design elements” you’d expect in a W, plus about 100 more. The artwork in the lobby, the electronic Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening mats in the elevator, the faux bookcase theme by the elevator banks and in the hallways. I was in a good mood before even seeing the room, or the pool – don’t even get me started on the pool!
The room was gorgeous. A large living space, tremendous ocean views, and a bathroom I wanted to bring home with me. Large shower, deep soaking tub with a flat screen TV built in, large sink area, and two large sliding doors that could either open the space up or seal the whole space off for privacy. That tub was great after spending a day walking all over HK.
But my favorite part of the hotel was the pool and jacuzzi on the 76th floor rooftop. AMAZING. The view was
W Hong Kong Infinity Pool
just gorgeous and the pool area itself was beautifully done. You could bathe while looking at sweeping views of the ocean or the skyscape. There’s a very nice gym as well.
The location is both a pro and a con. It sits right atop the Kowloon Airport Express station, so coming and going from HKIA is a breeze. This is also a large shopping mall (Elements) with tons of shops, an elegant Starbucks (wood carved logo!), several nice restaurants (quick serve and nicer), and a subway station. The only drag about that subway station is that it isn’t on the main Kowloon side lines. So you’ll need to transfer to get anywhere you want to go (except for the Big Buddha – the train line actually goes there directly).
It’s also NOT walking distance to anything – simply because of just how far it is set back from the main road. A cab to the main road, though, would only set you back $20HKD (about USD$2.25) so that shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
Overall, the W Hong Kong is an excellent choice for those that generally like the boutique hotel feel – as long as you are OK with not being situated right in the hustle and bustle of the city.
For my first-ever trip to Asia, and given the winter temperatures at home in New York, the Le Meridien Khao Lak in southern Thailand (1-2 hours north of Phuket) was the perfect choice. Boasting temperatures in the mid to upper 80’s (F) and past the rainy season, I was anxiously awaiting my 5 days and 5 nights at the Le Meridien Khao Lak.
I left New York at 7pm on a Friday and arrived Sunday at 2pm local time – just about 31 hours later. Talk about needing some paradise! Happily, our first impression was that we had indeed arrived in paradise. We were handed some iced teas while they readied our room paperwork and we were soon off to our room and off to explore the resort. We initially had booked a deluxe room, which was quite nice, but after seeing the villas, I inquired about upgrading. After being quoted an acceptable price, we moved the next day into the “Pool Villa” that is pictured within this review. There is no doubt, you want, no, NEED, a Pool Villa at this resort. It is likely the nicest room you have ever had and because it’s Thailand, it may well be your most affordable chance to stay in anything like it.
Le Meridien Khao Lak – Pool Villa – main room
The Pool Villas are beautiful mini-houses, with a large flat screen TV, comfortable bed, enormous bathroom with two sinks, a soaking tub, an indoor shower AND an outdoor shower. Complimentary bottled water is all over the place – by the mini-fridge, on the night stands on the desks, and by each sink.
But the highlight of the villa is the private backyard with a long pool (much bigger than the plunge pool I expected) with a Jacuzzi at the back. There is also a daybed, two lounge chairs, and a table with two chairs. It really felt like we had our own private upscale hideaway for our stay – and it was just what the doctor ordered to start our holiday.
Here’s a tour of the Pool Villa:
The difference between a room and a pool villa is enormous. If you can afford the pool villa (not the lagoon villa which lacks a private pool), it is a must-book. The highest room type is the oceanfront pool villa which has the amazing beachfront view and access, but lacks the privacy of the pool villa.
Le Meridien Khao Lak Beach
The resort itself is set on a fantastically long stretch of beach on the Andaman Sea. Not the softest sand, but the water is warm and relaxing. The resort is set in two “wings” – the family wing and the spa wing. To be sure, the family wing is full of families so if you are a couple looking for a child free stay, definitely ask to be placed in the spa wing. That said, our villa was in the family side and we were not bothered at all. The main pool and beachside snack area are both in the “family area”. This would certainly not be a place to unwind on your own as there is no singles scene, nor bar scene or activities at night and the town, 20 minutes away by taxi, also lacks nightlife.
Throughout the trip, we marveled at the service. No request was ever met with a sign or shrug. Everything was handled expediently and with a smile. As a team, the staff at LMKL were some of the friendliest I’ve seen
The onsite tour companies can help you arrange excursions – dive trips and snorkeling are popular in the nearby Similan Islands and snorkeling is now available off the pristine beaches
Le Meridien Khao Lak Pool
of Tachai Island (opened to the public for the first time in 2010). We also booked an excursion north to Khao Sok National Park where we took a 1 hour journey on a longboat to an array of caves accessible only by boat. Many people stay overnight at Khao Sok and go deeper into the park and caves.
The Le Meridien is one of the priciest options around – only the nearby Saraojan competes in this price point. In our opinion, the price is completely worth it, although it would be nice if there weren’t extra charges for everything like breakfast and Internet access.
Located approximately 1.25 hours north of Phuket Airport (HKT), it’s not convenient to Phuket nightlife (almost a 2 hour drive from the resort) but it is very convenient to attractions north, such as Khao Sok National Park where you can do elephant trekking and even take long boat rides to several choices of caves (you’ll need a guide for this).
Le Meridien Khao Lak – Villas by Baan Thai
Dining Notes: We ate three times within the resort. Twice at Bann Thai – one breakfast and one dinner, and once for breakfast at the big buffet below the lobby. While the breakfasts were good in both locations, they were certainly overpriced for Thailand at 740 Baht (approx. $25USD). The dinner in Bann Thai produced so-so Chicken Satay and a much more laudable Beef Massaman curry. We passed on a buffet dinner one night at the Italian restaurant as it did not at all seem worth the hefty >$60 USD per person price tag. Unfortunately food in nearby Khao Lak was lackluster as well. Dinner in town at a hotel recommendation was solid for Khao Lak – but horrendously touristy in the menu serving everything from down-home Thai food to sandwiches, steaks, and pizza. Another few attempts to eat in town were all similar and less impressive. Rimlay on the beach just north of the resort is a local cheap option as well. You can get a 1 hr massage for 300 baht (~$10USD) as well. One last possible option we were told of was a place called Yim Yim, serving Thai/Chinese food. Not in town and not near anything else, feel free to inquire about a taxi if you want to give it a try and report back here!
Internet Notes: Internet was free in the lobby but a pricey $10 an hour / $20 a day in the rooms. Wired only in the regular rooms, WiFi (fee) is available in the villas. Personally, I believe that there should be free WiFI resort-wide at these price points, but the fee isn’t as unusual as I’d like it to be.
SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) notes: They are good about upgrades based on the requirements of the program but do not expect more than that. As a Gold member we were originally upgraded from a Deluxe to a Premium room (higher floor). We were advised, however, that the free internet and 2 free daily drinks standard with the Premium room were not part of the upgrade – so it is literally just a higher floor. Platinum level guests have reported upgrades to suites. On our second day, we paid cash to upgrade to the Pool Villa you see in this review. It was less expensive than booking a villa outright – but the risk was that there would have been none available. We were lucky. Our request for the 4pm checkout was graciously granted – especially important since our flight was in the evening and this afforded us the villa and facilities the entire last day.
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