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Elephantasm … Finding Elephants in Kandy

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Elephants are cool. Not just because they are these giant, lumbering beasts (kinda like me) but because they are just cool animals. Normally, they’re so decent and tame, but everyone knows that the last thing you ever want to see, is a rampaging elephant. Probably, the most popular tourist attraction in Kandy (2 hrs from Colombo), aside from Murali (he would be the most popular export) would be the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage.

This orphanage was built in 1975 with the purpose of preserving and protecting decreasing number of elephants in the region. It is definitely interactive and you can touch the elephants, see them being fed and you can actually feed them. You can also go see the elephants taking a bath, which happens twice daily.

As you can see from the video, while this is sold/advertised as an orphanage, the original purpose has obviously been lost and has become a money pot for Sri Lanka. Look at the prices for the foreign adult … 2000 rupees (~18$ CDN)

I have no problem with the ticket being expensive for foreigners because one would assume that this was all going to a good cause.

Good travel tip for non Indian brown people

This was the first time I learned about the SAARC discount – it was 1/4 the price @ 500 rupees. Of course, I had to use the brown people discount – because that is exactly what it is! So I paid 500 rupees, while D* had to pay 2000 rupees.

Finally once you get in, after a short line up, you see that the elephants are poked and prodded with sharp sticks. It seemed like some of the elephants were a bit scared of the the human caretakers. Watching the elephants lumber around is actually really nice, however I’m not kidding myself, this is not an orphanage it is a zoo.

My opinion aside, I thought that seeing the elephants was really fun, especially when you see the little baby elephants walking around with their mothers.
I think the saddest thing I saw though was the elephant that stepped on a land mine and had part of it’s foot blown off.  I couldn’t bring myself to take a close up of the elephant, but I’m sure that you can find the elephant in the picture below, if you visit the Elephants in Kandy.

The picture below captures my thoughts about the “Orphanage” … a lovely pregnant elephant with the caretaker – note the long sharp stick.

Note : Every single one of the elephant handlers is out to make some extra cash – usually with the excuse of offering to take a picture of you petting a mighty elephant. Take your own pictures or ask someone to take a picture of you. It’s always the principle – who really cares about giving away some rupees!

Monday Morning Consultant – Maldives Edition — Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa review

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Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa Review : Here are a couple questions for you …

  • Who doesn’t like a free night at a hotel?
  • Who doesn’t like a night at an expensive hotel?
  • Who doesn’t like a night at an expensive hotel in an idyllic paradise with a beachside bungalow to die for.

No one, right?!

This was the premise behind hotel hopping for weeks on end, moving and repacking bags every night in order to maxi. The goal was to use the “free nights” at extremely high end accommodations, using 6 nights at the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa would definitely classify as an optimal use of those nights. Here is the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa Review :

For most people within the Americas, going to the Maldives will be a pipe dream at best, even for honeymoons, as it is prohibitively expensive to get there. Getting there from Toronto will range from about 1700 to 3000 CDN with 21 days advance notice.

Then the hotel in a decent hotel or resort over there will range from 400 and upwards … we heard of suites at the W Retreat and Spa – Maldives starting from 850$ a night.

You get the idea … the Maldives isn’t really for your budget, all inclusive type of traveller and definitely was out of my price range, if it wasn’t for the SPG Free Nights promo.

Getting into Male is pretty easy from Colombo – a simple one hour commute from the island. Once you grab your luggage, you’re always met by a resort representative as you have to book your speedboat ride from the airport (which is on it’s own island and separate from the main island) to the resort. The ride itself on a sunny day, is pretty spectacular.

SPG Platinum Check In Experience
You’re greeted with a welcome drink at the landing dock and then you’re taken to your room. As SPG Plats, we were automatically upgraded to a Water Bungalow – no request needed. I don’t really need to explain more after the pictures

Unlike other hotels, where SPG Plats are given amenity packs, gifts, fruit etc, at the Sheraton Maldives, you won’t find this coming.

  • Plats get free Internet also (typical – but your mileage sometime varies on this one)
  • No Free Breakfast or Dinner for Plats.

Personally, I don’t mind the lack of swag , if everything else is excellent and the customer services is excellent. There is also no free breakfast or drinks for SPG Plats. You do however get unlimited amazing sunsets from the water.

As for the room – I cannot say that this was the W Bali in terms of room, but to be honest – it shouldn’t be. It is clean and spartan in many ways, as island rooms tend to be. One aspect of the bungalow that should be improved, is the bathroom. It gets hot in the daytime, because it’s entirely closed off from any cool air from the rest of the room and really doesn’t get cooler even with the bathroom windows opened. There is nothing that can really be done, unless the bungalow/bathroom is redesigned and/or a larger A/C unit is placed to thoroughly cool the entire bungalow.

We also had an issue with the bungalow temperature. In our original bungalow, the A/C was not working optimally, hence the room was quite hot. We had two visits by maintenance engineers to resolve the issue, and nothing worked. However, the staff switched us to another water bungalow and all was resolved. This is an important point to note : Issues will always arise, how the staff resolves it, makes all the difference.

From your room, you walk down the steps directly into the ocean and start snorkeling. Chances are that you will have the ocean all to yourself from the room. Seriously!

As for drinking and food – here are a couple notes on those

– The buffets won’t please everyone. There is enough variety for everyone, but for a high end visitor, I can understand a couple complaints. Personally, I was happy with the morning and lunch buffets, but I also didn’t spend two weeks at the resort. If I did, I think the buffets would have gotten “old” for me
– The restaurants are great at night, in particular – Maldivian night at Sea Salt was fantastic. Do make a special date to go there and enjoy the excellent seafood – including some superb spicy tuna steaks!

The drinking here is expensive relative to anywhere else in the world, except Scandinavia. My advice – get over it! See tips below – if you want super cheap drinks – go to Thailand/Vietnam.

5+1 tips to enhance your Sheraton Maldives stay even further
The resort has you as a captive audience and by definition, can charge whatever they like for food and alcohol. Everything (except fish) must also be imported into the Maldives. Combine these two factors and your pocketbook will be in for a bit of a shock.

  1. Do a 3 hour “day tour” from the resort to main island (Male). This will run about 60$ per person. You can accomplish two things on the “day tour”
    • You can see the highlights of the main island
    • You can go to the grocery and stock up on snacks and soda. (Diet Coke/Pepsi is next to impossible to find in the groceries)
  2. Shopping for snacks will save you a lot of money, especially if you get the munchies a lot.
  3. Do not attempt to bring alcohol into the Maldives in a regular bottle. If you buy duty free, they will seize the alcohol, if it is in a regular vodka/liquor bottle. However, if you choose to bring alcohol in soda bottles or smaller bottles, there is a very high probability that you will not lose the alcohol. (Note : I am not condoning alcohol smuggling into an Islamic Republic)
  4. Do not expect to get wasted on the resort, unless you have a lot of money. Drinks are expensive – with good reason. Alcohol is illegal in the Maldives – but of course, through some “quirk”, the private resort islands are not considered under general law.
    • Prices to expect :
    • Expect 7-10$ beer
    • 10$+ for a vodka/tonic
    • 75$+ for regular $12 bottle of Californian wine.
  5. If you can afford one of the water bungalows, then spend the money and upgrade – you will remember it forever.
  6. Don’t expect to party hard as there is no significant nightlife to be found on the resort. This is a resort to relax and recharge. Enjoy the snorkelling and scuba diving … water this perfect is difficult to imagine anywhere else in the world.

If you have any issues – do seek out the staff, as they are extremely accessible, even the GM Ursula Schoefl. She runs a tight ship here and is focused on great customer service and ensuring that every guest has the best experience there – SPG Plat or not. She is extremely active on the review forums like TripAdvisor so you know that your feedback will be “actioned”, but do engage the staff if anything isn’t perfect for you. BTW Ursula is Austrian, not German 😛

Overall :

This was a lifetime experience – not just for a jaded traveller for me, but for anyone. The resort is spectacular, the water is breathtaking and the food/service are stellar. From a service perspective, as Platinum SPG guest, we definitely got royal treatment. Other members on frequent flyer forums complained about the service, but personally I felt that the staff bent over backwards to ensure that as a SPG Platinum guest – I had THE BEST POSSIBLE experience. While I had issues with the air-conditioning at the hotel, what makes the difference between hotels, is the resolution and they performed phenomenally.
This was one hotel where I didn’t expect reliable internet service, and I was extremely surprised that they had VERY reliable and consistent wired internet coverage in my room, and there is free WiFi in the main lobby.
So overall, yet another “home run” for the the “SPG Free Nights” promotion … and the Maldives is really a paradise – if only everyone could get there to see it. When I come back, I’m only staying here – points, promo or not 😀

Want an epic Saturday night in Stockholm? Look no further …

In every new city, I try to figure out the best way to spend my time in the most effective way possible. Here in Stockholm, I realized that finding a good night out wouldn’t be that difficult, but trying to make an epic night requires a bit of luck along with having circumstances and people go in the right way.

So to make this easier, here is a list of all the restaurants and bars that were visited

It’s incredibly easy to go bar hopping in Stockholm.

  • The city is extremely walkable
  • The weather is nice this time of the year
  • Crowds are moving with you, so you’re safe

It’s also incredibly expensive to go bar hopping, especially if you’re drinking hard liquor. So the night started at the hotel bar, where we tried Sav. Sav is this Swedish sparkling wine drink that is made in the same manner as Champagne, but of course tastes nothing like it. How could it? It’s made from Birch sap … yeah the the wood you use for your house.

This was the reaction in the bar after the first vodka/tonic, but not really the Sav.

After the first set of pre-drinking at the hotel, we were all obviously dressed up, so it was time for dinner. The vote was for Och Himlen Därtill.

Loosely translated, the name means “And Heaven as Well” and is a reference to their location at the top of a 104 meter high building with great 360 degree views of Stockholm. This is one of the taller buildings and there are no others in the vicinity to block the view.  The restaurant takes up the top two floors… the Sky Bar on the top floor and the dining room one floor down.

We had dinner in the Sky Bar and the view was spectacular on a clear night. As for the food, the menu concentrates mainly on Swedish cuisine using a lot of local produce like reindeer, buckthorn, bleak roe and truffles from Gotland. We ordered the Reindeer sashimi along with the Artic Char for dinner. It wasn’t the worst choice in the world.

Dinner was good, but the best part of dinner was the ringing of the fire alarm, since we all had to walk down 25 flights of stairs. Of course, why would all those stairs be nice, because dinner was free!! The restaurant basically accepted that they would lose money and everyone would walk out!!

So after our awesome view and free dinner, it was on to drinks at the Scandic Malmen hotel bar. The bar aims for the late 20’s market, with DJs in the bar areas and a modern design. It’s in a great area of town and was definitely a decent place to stop for a drink, even with all the non talking Swedes. One note of warning … there are these tiny bathrooms that are completely impractical.

After the Scandic Malmen, it’s on to some other random bars like Dabaser Medis, but we ended up at the Medusa Rock Bar. If you’re into old school hard rock, this is the bar for you. This place was definitely the best rock bar I’ve been to in years! Young crowd, crammed into a tiny cavelike cellar, churning out popular rock classics. Of course, in my suit in a cave didn’t make sense, but it didn’t matter!

Medusa serves many roles for its’ patrons: a nightclub, café, casino and restaurant, you can always expect there to be action here. As per music, the name pretty much says it all: expect rock, rock and more rock, plus an alternative crowd. There are completely random elements for North Americans like a stripper pole. Note all the smoke in the air 😀

Did I also mention Casino earlier?? Yeah seriously. This is a thing in Sweden, that you can go to random bars and play roulette or black jack.

My Bengali dealer explained the whole rationale for Casinos or Casino games in bars. The rules go something like this :

  • 6 deck shoe
  • No hole card
  • Only Double Down on 9-11,
  • 1 Split only
  • Most shockingly – the dealer wins ties 17-19 in Sweden. Complete suckers game with house edge of nearly 9%

Of course, I played for the fun of it and promptly lost 270kr (45$ CDN), then went back to partying with the rockers!! Just EPIC! Once the bar closes at three, then you’re heading for more dancing and partying at Patricia.

Patricia is pretty much a ghetto boat party in Downtown Stockholm, but it’s a great place to bring up the sunrise! Then head back with your new friends to have breakfast at the hotel 😀

There you have an EPIC Saturday night in Stockholm .. simple and easy – although your pocket book could really feel a pinch! Questions?!?

10 thoughts about Stockholm

Having grown up in Trinidad in the 90’s, I came to know two things about Sweden

  • Abba
  • Roxette

I thought that all Swedes rocked out hard to Dancing Queen. In fact, I pictured Socialists dancing the night away in glorious free hospitals all revelling in how wonderful their lives are, while smoking Gauloises and drinking Sav (which btw – tastes like utter “kaka” initially, but could possibly grow on you).

Anyway, here’s 10 bullet thoughts on Stockholm

  1. This is a city of attractive people – straight up! There are some fantastically good looking women and men here – just roaming around, it is tough not to stare at some of these people.
  2. I’ve never been to a place with more men with black rectangular glasses and women wearing leggings/skinny jeans with converse shoes
  3. I don’t think that Stockholm has any fat people … ok wait, I did see a couple of overweight people, but that would also be like playing “find the Indian” in Scandinavia (it’s possible but not worth the effort :P)
  4. Swedes also don’t talk to you first … EVER!
    • Reserved
    • Shy
    • Socially retarded – you pick your phrase here.
  5. If you want to meet anyone in Sweden, you have to be willing to do the drinking … like seriously it’s the only way they can interact. Take away alcohol and outside of work, this would be a totally silent society. It’s actually kinda creepy; for instance I was in a crowded bar, 6 people lined up to order drinks and no one smiled or talked to each other or mentioned how shitty the service was.
  6. I couldn’t possibly ever get over the level of CONFORMITY here. The people seem to be willing to conform at all costs and they apologize for everything. However, any culture where there is so much “forced” conformity will always bring resentment and passive aggression. And the Swedes are masters of passive aggression!
  7. I don’t think these people could go for a walk alone, it’s doesn’t seem like is much individuality here at all.I think many people in Sweden have lost any sense of purpose and free choice. They were born into a system that is about denial of a sense of self.
  8. People are surprised by kindness and openness here, I mean like genuinely shocked by random niceness. Going out drinking with completely random people and buying a round for one or two people and they almost didn’t know how to just say thanks and move on 😛
  9. The city is supremely picturesque
  10. Living in Canada is a blessing; I can truly say that pure Socialism sucks donkey stones – people are completely paralyzed to do anything. Example of insanity I’ve picked up here
    • You kill someone, maximum life sentence is 12 years … WAAATT???
    • You cannot fire anyone
    • Alcohol is controlled by a monopoly and you’re ass raped every time you buy a drink in a bar.
    • Success is not socially acceptable. I learned the word “Lagom” – Swedes use this word to describe “just right” or “enough”. You’re allowed one potato only … and never two 😛

Bonus observations

  1. People in Stockholm will barge into you – I kinda like that, since I can just walk right through people also.
  2. How could I forget … this city is FUCKING EXPENSIVE. Not like regular expensive, but like “fuck me down with a pogo stick expensive” … drinking in Sweden can bankrupt you … for instance at a bar, expect prices like
    • Regular beer = 8$ Can
    • Vodka/Tonic = 13$ Can
    • Bottle of Coke = 6$ Can
  3. Customer service in Stockholm is just as bad as in Trinidad – or actually even worse, which is shocking!

Did you notice, you had hooks in your back? Stumbling into Thaipusam in Colombo!!!

Getting into Sri Lanka, is pretty easy although the airport is definitely nothing to write home about. So the following conversation occurs while getting into the Hilton Colombo

  • <Rishi> I can’t wait to get to the hotel, but slumming it, is the Hilton … bleck
  • <D*> Oh stop complaining, it will be fine. We’re not going to be here for very long.
  • <Rishi> I guess the drive wasn’t too bad and there isn’t much traffic here at 1AM
  • <D*> Yeah, it will be nice to take off my shoes, it’s been a long flight.
    <Driver turns on some side road>
  • <Rishi> What’s that crowd on the road?
  • <D*> … <Locks doors> I think it’s some type ceremony
  • <Rishi> This late? Ah well, let’s just be safe … wait … Does that guy have something in his bare back???
  • <D*> Holy shits roos … that guy is hanging off the ground only with hooks in his back!!!
  • <Rishi> Did we wander off into some National Geographic moment by chance … <mutters> how do we stop the car
  • <D*> It might not be safe and although you look like the “everyman”, you don’t speak Sinhalese/Tamil
  • <Rishi> Ok fine, but I’m coming back after we drop you off!!!

So of course, in 15 mins, I organize the following things once we arrive at the hotel

  • Checks into the hotel
  • Finds ATM that will give me a couple Sri Lankan rupees
  • Negotiate a price with the driver to take me back to Thaipusam
  • Figure out a reasonable price for a whole day trip to Kandy … to see Elephants and Murali’s home stadium

So I get back to the scene of the festival, meanwhile my driver is completely confused and doesn’t really want to go back – since he thinks it’s unsafe. <Note to any traveller – normally you should follow such advice at 2am in a city, you have never been before, but life is short and when you have the opportunity to see and experience something amazing … take it!!!)

So I’m the road and explosions from huge firecrackers are going off and there is tons of smoke in the air. The combination of the smoke, moisture in the air and coming from an air conditioned car plays havoc with my cameras and I am going “apeshit”, since I can’t photograph this all (I should have just been calmer, but too much adrenaline at that point)

So I start walking with the procession and my camera isn’t really cooperating with the zoom lens.

As I learned later on Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community when the Pusam Constellation is in its ascendancy, in the 10th month of the Hindu calendar (Thai) – it’s usually towards the end of January or the beginning of February. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. Murugan is the youngest son of Shiva and his wife Parvati.

At it’s most basic, the festival can be considered as a series of devotees carrying Kavadis (or burdens) to seek the favor of a god. Many of the participents can be seen doing just this, carrying offerings of milk on their heads along the procession route. It is a sort of penance, not unlike other forms of penance in other religions.

  • Carrying of the cross
  • Crucifixation reenactments

However many of the devotees take matters much further and carry highly intricate kavadi’s and many also practice temporary self mutilation by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers. Hence in the videos below, the guys are hanging by hooks in their backs (thankfully they are supported by cloth to holder their full body weight)

Then I’m trying to figure how to follow the procession and not get killed on the other side of the roadway.

Honestly, Thaipusam wins hands down as the most fascinating, spectacular and colourful Hindu festival I’ve ever seen. Devotees perform amazing acts of physical resilience by skewering their bodies with an obscene amount of body piercings and unless I’m back in Malaysia or Singapore for the festival, I’ll probably never see this again.

Here are a couple other great posts on Thaipusam

Monday Morning Consultant – Phuket Edition – Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort Review

Frequent Flyers love the change of new places and countries, but they like consistency in hotels and service just as much as the change in locale – this tends to be a paradox of sorts. It with the search for consistency in mind, that I booked another “Free night” award at the Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort. I chose this hotel because I had stayed here 4 years ago and was really pleased with the hotel and service.

One should note that this is an older hotel that is currently going through some renovations. This shows on the reception area. This is not a knock on the hotel, it’s just a reflection that this isn’t a newer hotel.

SPG Platinum Check In Experience

Checking into the hotel was as pleasant as I remembered it. Typical mid level “wais” and welcome drink were presented. They had my room waiting for us and my upgrade was waiting, unlike some SPG hotels on this trip where I had to ask for the upgrade.

Additionally, they had researched the fact that I had been there 4 years ago, and recognized the fact. (This is one of those small touches, that doesn’t show up in reviews but really does add up to an overall difference). We were escorted to the room by the Guest Services Manager, who apologized for the walk around the corner to the room.

The lobby and check in area had not changed over the past 4 years … so I’ll just include a 4 yr old picture of the area.

Once we checked in, the staff came by with more welcome gifts

  • Le Meridien boutique bag with 2 Le Meridien polo shirts, gift certificates and area information.
  • Fruit basket with local fruit and description of each fruit in the basket. (Yet another great touch – my GF for instance had never eaten Mangosteen before and the pamphlet included was a really good idea). They also refreshed the fruit basket daily!
  • Plats also get free daily Buffet Breakfast for two at the main restaurant. This is easily a $50 daily benefit and sets up your day perfectly. Definitely an awesome Plat perk at this hotel and yet another “differentiator” with this hotel.
  • Plats get free Internet also (typical – but your mileage sometime varies on this one)

As a SPG Plat, we were upgraded us to one of the Terrace Suites in the corner of the hotel. The room is exactly as shown on the website … it’s just too bad it was a rainy day on check in.

Coming out of the room, you’re treated to the full terrace view. Personally, I felt that the terrace was a waste of space, but if you have tons of friends staying with you, then this is an awesome party space overlooking the resort. This space would be phenomenal if optimized with some sort of jacuzzi or pool.

5+1 tips to enhance your Le Meridien stay even further

A couple tips to get the best out of your Le Meridien Phuket Beach resort experience

  1. This resort isn’t in the main area in Phuket, so you will need to find some transportation into town. It is about a 6-9 minute ride into Beach Road, but you have at least 5 options of getting into town.
    • Using the hotel shuttle, which leaves every 30 mins (7am – 9pm) will cost 100 baht per person.
    • Using the hotel private taxi will cost you 300 baht in total with no waiting.
    • Walking into the parking lot, outside the main area are local taxi drivers. It will cost between 150 – 200 baht total (all depends on your negotiating skills) for their car.
    • You can walk outside the main gate (3 min walk) and there are a couple locals who have setup businesses right outside the hotel compound. You can find a taxi service there – negotiate the same ride and you can spend between 100 – 150 baht to get into town.
    • Finally, you can walk to the main road and flag down a “tuk tuk“. Expect to pay between 100-150 baht to get into town. Don’t expect the local price unless you’ve been around Thailand a while and know a little bit of Thai.
  2. All your shopping, massages and eating should be done in town. Booking any tours (Phi Phi Island, Phang Nha/James Bond Island /Krabi) should be down in town. For instance:
    • Using the extremely convenient tour service desk at the hotel, will cost between 2200 – 2800 baht per person for a Phi Phi Islands tour
    • Going into town and find a random tour desk/hawkers (located all along Beach Road) will cost you between 1000 – 1300 a person with the one hour taxi ride to the Marina thrown in. (We paid 2200 for two people for the exact same tour). I’m sure, if you’re super price sensitive – you can haggle even further – if you so choose.
  3. Look for the baby elephant that walks through the hotel every day at 10:30am and 3pm. Kids and adults go bonkers for the baby elephant!But these are wild animals and will behave as they please … 😛

  4. This hotel has some great pools and one large enough for doing laps. Use it!
  5. If you want to get some suits made (I highly recommend making some of them in Phuket) – use the hotel tailor to get an idea of prices, then walk outside the compound to find out more prices from the tailor outside the hotel and then finally head into town and get your suits made for a reasonable price. (I had three suits, 11 shirts and ties made for about 1000$ CDN – your price will vary based on the cloth you use – but it is ALWAYS an excellent value compared to anything in North America)

Overall :

This hotel is like an old girlfriend – it might not have the perkiest facilities and sexy artsy nuances, but it is reliable and more than makes up for any comparative short comings with attention to detail, extremely good customer service and an over arching commitment to please their Platinum guests.

This hotel is a family type hotel, so expect the rugrats roaming around in the pool. However, it is an oasis from the nonsense that Beach and Bangla Roads tend to be. You will definitely relax away from all that hustle and bustle, unless you’re looking to be in the heat of the action. If you’re looking for the action, then this is not the hotel for you and there are a million other well positioned alternatives in another Cancun of Asia.

There is no business lounge and little Wi-Fi connectivity – yet again … my signature pet peeve with all the Starwood hotels in this side of the world.

So overall, this is hotel is another awesome value for the the “SPG Free Nights” promotion … and I’ll definitely want to stay here again, when I come back to Phuket.

Don’t forget to enjoy the sunsets in Phuket

Three things to do for a full night in Phuket: #3 – Get your drink and maybe “U C Ping Pong Show”

Phuket nightlife is pretty legendary and is known internationally for the all night partying. There are many similarities between Cancun and Phuket – so you can do the following.

The final part of the night would be getting the drink. There are a number of bars off Bangla Road … some of course, will have more people than others.

Every bar has tons of dancing girls … all dancing around pointlessly, but it does get the people into the bars; and by people I mean men *lol*.

Even something for Trinis … since FBI in Trinidad means “Flat Bottom Indian” …

What we don’t have on Port of Spain streets, would be the walking “trannies” and “cross dressers” … In Toronto, we usually see this on Church Street, but not as flamboyant either.

Walking through the bars at night in Phuket will generally look like the following clip.

Drinking in Phuket should be fairly cheap, if you’re drinking beer. Getting your beer in the mini marts around will set you back about 100 baht (3$ CDN) for a 750ml beer, while drinking hard drinks (vodka, rum, tequila) will usually end up between 150 and 200 baht per drink, which is pretty expensive for Thailand.

3+1 tips of Ping Pong Shows – How not to get ripped off or at least know what you’re getting.

While walking along Bangla Road, you will see many guys standing along the road holding laminated A4 paper with a list of shows available – it’s similar to the hispanic people in Vegas who flick the stripper business cards to draw your attention.  If you decide to come in for a “Ping Pong” show, the bars are usually off the main strip. When you enter, there will probably be a mix of locals and tourists and there will be a few girls were performing completely naked on stage – like any other strip club.

Personally, I’ve one version of this in Bangkok and it was enough for me, to never want to see it again. However, if you do want to see a Ping Pong Show, especially if you have heard the stunts those girls could do with their PC muscles, then there are a couple things you should be aware of

  • It’s an extreme strip show (XXX), no young kids are allowed. Some of the stunts you would see are
    • Blowing a dart from a straw to burst a balloon.
    • Pulling a string of razor blades out from it
    • Shooting a ball into the air (hence the Ping Pong)
    • Smoking a cigarette
  • Entry fees are expensive and there are two variations – but either way, you’re going to pay a lot, if you go in.
    • Free entry and you have to buy at least one drink. Each drink will be around 600 – 800 baht (20$ – 27$ CDN)
    • Paid entry and usually the fee is 800 baht (27$ CDN)
  • Don’t volunteer to go on stage. You might have to touch it. They don’t make disinfectant readily available. Think. About. It.
  • Don’t tip. You’ve paid enough to be traumatized … no need to feel pressured to “tip”

Personally, I’m always game for something the first time, but the whole thing is a bit miserable and sad. As mentioned, once in your life is enough. The girls just look miserable swinging around on poles, with no hope in their eyes – and it definitely is not the most erotic thing.

Culture Warning : You will see many Westerners with very young boys and girls. I find it best not to think about any of it. That is a completely different sociological phenomenon and is the subject of blogs, magazines, documentaries and books.  The sight of these mismatches in age and attractiveness can be a little sickening, but it’s not my personal choice – so look on and accept that it is part of the scene. These girls and boys were obviously there in hope of being given a better life than the one they were living. It’s alarming to see what some people will do for money and what money can buy – but this is anywhere else in the world.

Monday Morning Consultant – Bali Edition II – W Hotel Bali Review

I like the W concept … it’s funky, stylish and edgy. I’ve stayed at a couple W hotels and to me, this is now the shining beacon of the Starwood chain. St. Regis is obviously the high end of luxury, but I think they cater to the older, monied crowd, while the W brand caters to the hipper traveller, who doesn’t want to be stuck with a set of “old farts”.

From Nusa Dua, we were told that the W Bali “was just as nice” as the Lagoon Nusa Dua. This I can confirm is absolute rubbish – the W Bali is a significantly SUPERIOR experience in every way possible.

Your first experience of entering into the W Bali compound along a thin nondescript alley, creates a surprise of the visual treat coming into the hotel, whether in the day or night. Checking into the lobby has the feel of a posh nightclub, complete with lighting, DJ and welcome bar. Typical Platinum upgrade success having booked the room using “Free nights” and we were moved to one of the “Spectacular Ocean Facing Retreats“, we didn’t get a suite upgrade and I put off forcing the issue until I saw the room.

The room they showed us was simply grand … I can only imagine what the suite actually look like in this hotel. Coming into the room, you pass through the bathroom on the side into the bedroom/living room that opens into the balcony.

While the bedroom is great, the highlight of the room is definitely the bathroom.

  • A huge granite tub
  • Rainfall shower
  • Recessed lighting with a skylight
  • His & Her bathroom sinks
  • Powder mirrors and toilet makes this one of the best bathrooms I’ve ever seen in a hotel.
  • Amenities are the typical Canadian Bliss products offered in the rooms at all W hotels. They’re some of my favorite amenities to take home : )

As for the view from the room, simply spectacular!!

During the day …

5+1 tips to enhance your W Bali stay even further

To set expectations correctly, one has to understand the concepts, so a couple tips to get the best out of your W experience

  1. The food is definitely good at the hotel, but far too overpriced in comparison to what is easily available on the main road outside the hotel. Do yourself a favour (and your wallet) and take a walk along the main road and try a local restaurant.E.g. – Food outside the hotel … Nasi Goreng with well done egg  … $1.20USD … in the hotel 15USD
  2. Alcohol is prohibitively expensive in the resort and finding hard liquor is tough … so in Bali … so bring your own.
  3. Don’t expect to swim anywhere on the resort or on the beach. The waves on this side of the island are rough and rocky, as for the pools, they’re basically cosmetic (no laps, no deep end), and mostly unusable because there is no adults-only area.
  4. Hit the pools and day beds early and drop your towel to prevent any disappointments. Get the tented day beds, early as these are the first to go ..
  5. Don’t bother walking anywhere outside the hotel. They have a golf cart shuttle from the front of the hotel. Once you’re at the front of the hotel, taxis are ridiculously cheap – use them!
  6. Again, forget the massages at the hotel, use the tons of massage places outside Seminyak … save your money for other experiences

Overall :

A phenomenal hotel – the W Bali is a completely immersive experience – with the attention to the tiniest details. I will admit that this hotel is not for everyone, since there tends to be music from the club booming at 4am, and the club type feel to the hotel might not appeal to the more conservative guest. That shouldn’t be an issue as there are a million alternatives in the Cancun of Asia, however if you’re on your honeymoon, then this is an excellent choice of hotel.

From a service perspective, as Platinum SPG guest, you definitely get great treatment – but personally I felt that the service level didn’t match the attention to the other details. This is a training/teething issue and I am confident that this will be worked out over the next couple months.

W’s do not have business lounges, and there is little Wi-Fi connectivity – again my signature pet peeve with all the Starwood hotels in this side of the world.

So overall, this is another home run for the the “SPG Free Nights” promotion … and I’ll definitely want to stay here again, if I come to Bali.

Getting into Full Moon Resort – Maldives (6 thoughts about the Maldives)

I’m about three countries and 10 blog posts behind but after an entirely super relaxing day here in the Maldives – here are the quick hit thoughts.

  1. The water is truly some of the most spectacular I have ever seen in my life – this is after seeing some great water in the Caribbean, Central America and Asia (Nothing yet convinces me of anything decent in Europe, North America/South America)
  2. I cannot live in a truly Muslim country – there is no alcohol, and they confiscated my vodka from my bag – seriously! More on that after I leave the country.
  3. Male is small. 110,000 people on the island and you can go see everything of note in 90 mins or less.
  4. The Maldives is EXPENSIVE for tourists! I thought that Iceland was the most expensive place in the world, I had been to. Well the new place is the Maldives. If you don’t have money or can’t drop at least 7-10 G’s to come here without a hotel promotion/flight on airmiles, then look somewhere more reasonably priced.
    1. Save for a year to afford the flight
    2. Save for a year to afford the hotels here
    3. Then once you’ve saved for two years to get here and sleep here; save for another two years to afford to eat and drink here.
  5. 95% of tourism in the Maldives is upmarket tourism … it clearly shows around these parts.
  6. If keeping a place in the upmarket category will keep it from turning into another Bali … then I’m all for that.

As for getting into the resort … the usual story. We were picked up at the airport and came by speedboat into the resort’s private island. After the check-in, it was off to our waterside villa … on stilts, on the water. Pictures don’t do justice to the room.

Some more still pictures of the room

The water and the resort are top notch. The Full Moon resort is one of the upscale resorts in the Maldives, in the likes of the Shangri La, Four Seasons and W Resort, where a standard room starts from $750 USD a night with breakfast.

As for the water …