Category Archives: Hotels

Vietnam #7: Welcome to Central Vietnam

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam
Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam #3: A Lesson in History and Propaganda
Vietnam #4: The Streets of HCMC
Vietnam #5: Is the Mekong Delta Worth It?
Vietnam #6: My First Overseas Doctor Visit

We chose the coastal city of Danang as our base for exploring central Vietnam. I used my Chase points and my free annual night to book three nights at the Hyatt Regency Danang Resort.

I don’t think I’ve seen Lisa happier in my life. She loved waking up to the sound of the waves and strolling along the beach every morning. Seriously, ecstatic does not begin to describe it. As an added bonus, we were only a 25 minute ride from the ancient city of Hoi An, and we enjoyed a complimentary shuttle thanks to my Hyatt gold status.

@2015-11-29 13.01.28

Lisa relaxing on our patio. She quickly deemed this couch “my chair.”

@@2015-11-29 19.41.50

Dipping my toes in the water and – what else? – taking pictures

@2015-11-29 07.36.10

Lisa. In. Heaven.

The resort is beautifully decorated with light and airy touches. There are multiple pools on the premises, a fitness center (we even squeezed in a yoga class), a spa, restaurants, a water slide, and a climbing wall.

*2015-11-28 13.05.24

*2015-11-28 13.05.30

*2015-11-28 13.05.53

*2015-11-28 13.09.43-1

*2015-11-28 15.51.23

*2015-11-28 15.58.25

*2015-11-28 16.58.43

And now the views. Be prepared to have your breath taken away.

*2015-11-28 13.08.41

*2015-11-29 07.42.17

*2015-11-30 07.32.41

**2015-11-30 07.32.48-cropped As a final touch, we came back to our hotel room Monday night and found this extra waiting for us in honor of Lisa’s birthday. Happy birthday Lisa! What a great way to celebrate the birth of you!

@2015-11-30 21.10.15

The Hyatt is about a 15 minute ride to central Danang. Despite overwhelming exhaustion, we grabbed a cab into town Sunday night to watch the big local attraction: Danang’s fire-breathing, water-spurting Dragon Bridge.

Danang map

Construction on the bridge started in 2009, and it opened to traffic in 2013. It quickly became something of an artistic and engineering marvel – a 2,185 feet long beauty with thousands of LED lights that come to life at night. Every weekend night at nine p.m., the dragon actually breathes fire and spurts water for half an hour in ten-minute increments. The weekly event is a hit with tourists, but even locals gather with their tiny plastic chairs and street food to enjoy the spectacle.

**2015-11-28 21.19.27

***2015-11-28 21.21.45

**2015-11-28 21.13.03

*2015-11-28 21.09.35

*2015-11-28 21.23.53

 

Tagged , ,

Vietnam #2: The Best Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam #1: It’s a Long Ass Flight to Vietnam

I am in love with the InterContinental Asiana in HCMC. Like head-over-heels, I-want-to-marry-this-hotel in love. Has anyone ever said that about an InterContinental hotel before? I don’t know, but I will explain.

The InterContinental Asiana has two buildings. The first is your standard InterContinental hotel. The second is the InterContinental Asiana Residences – which are apartment style hotel rooms. You get all the benefits of staying in a hotel, but you also get an apartment. Why anyone would book the regular hotel over the residences boggles the mind (the prices were the same when we booked).

Our apartment is 700 square feet – huge by hotel standards, and even large by New York City apartment standards. That includes a large bedroom, a lovely bathroom, a living room, a dining room, a small kitchen area, a terrace, and a washing machine. Yes, a WASHING MACHINE. In HCMC’s sweltering, unrelenting humidity, the washing machine has changed my life.

2015-11-24 00.29.58

Living room, dining room, and kitchen

2015-11-24 00.30.23

Living room

2015-11-24 00.30.30

Dining room and living room

2015-11-24 00.30.49

Bathtub

2015-11-24 00.31.13

Bedroom (before we figured out how to turn on the lights)

2015-11-24 00.32.00-2

WASHING MACHINE!!!

2015-11-25 08.58.30-1

The view from our terrace

2015-11-25 08.58.55

The view from our terrace – you can catch a glimpse of Notre Dame Cathedral in the bottom left hand corner

2015-11-25 09.14.23

The restaurant located in the lobby of the residences

2015-11-25 09.14.31

The front desk

2015-11-25 09.14.43

The lobby

2015-11-28 14.19.11

The outdoor swimming pool

The hotel is centrally located on the border between District 1 and District 3 – the two main tourist areas. We are a 10-15 minute walk to the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum in one direction and a 10-15 minute walk to the Saigon River in the other direction. We are a stone’s throw away from at least two malls, and our building houses a small grocery store on the ground floor, which has proved abundantly useful.

Tagged , ,

12 Nights of Vietnam Hotels for $92.50

I hope you’re not tired of listening to me gush about the  power of miles and points. WARNING: There is more gushing to come. We leave for Vietnam in one week (!!!!!), and we’ve been busy planning.

The short story is we booked 12 nights at pretty nice hotels for $92.50 a person. Here’s the breakdown:

Ho Chi Minh City: Five nights at Intercontinental Asiana Residences for 95,000 IHG points, one free night, and $40.

Da Nang: Three nights at the Hyatt Regency for 18,000 Hyatt points, one free night, and $75.

Hue: One night at the Eldora Hotel for $70.

Hanoi: Three nights at the Sheraton Hanoi for 10,000 SPG points.

The long story is, well, much longer.

As soon as Lisa and I booked our flights to Vietnam, I made a map and chart of all the possible hotel options. I did an audit of my hotel points and asked Lisa to do the same. I had spent many of my points in Scotland, so I need to figure out which points I needed to restock.

We started with Lisa. I had convinced her to get the IHG credit card for a bonus of 70,000 points. A couple of months later, Lisa was sitting on 75,000 IHG points. That was enough for three nights at the Intercontinental Asiana Saigon Residences in Ho Chi Minh City at 25,000 points a night. Ho Chi Minh has a number of nice hotels – from Hyatt, to SPG, to IHG, to Marriott – but the Asiana Residences offered apartment sized rooms with an actual living room and kitchen. That was a no-brainer. I just had to cobble together points for two additional nights. Luckily, the anniversary on my own IHG credit card reset on October 1, granting me another free annual night. Four nights down, one to go. Thanks to IHG’s 10 percent rebate on redemptions and my Chase points, I managed to accrue 20,000 points. That plus $40 gave us our fifth night.

Next up is the coastal city of Da Nang. This was a simple process of elimination. Da Nang has two points hotels: The swanky Intercontinental and the Hyatt Regency. We were fresh out of IHG points so I needed to cobble together three nights’ worth of Hyatt points. My Hyatt credit card give me a free annual night at a category 1 – 4 hotel. That’s one night. I transferred 12,000 Chase ultimate reward points and booked our second night. For our third night, I used 6,000 Hyatt points and $75. Three nights – done.

Our next stay is in the ancient city of Hue. There are no points hotels, but plenty of great, affordable options. You can book a motel for as low as $15, but we splurged on the four-star Eldora Hotel for $70.

Our last hotel stay is in Hanoi. We decided to stay in the ultra-bargain Sheraton (where my SPG credit card will get us access to the lounge!) for 3,000 – 3,500 points a night.

And that’s how we booked 12 nights of hotels for $185. Split between two people, that’s only $92.50 a person!

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Scotland #18: Where to Stay in Scotland

Scotland #1: Welcome to Edinburgh!
Scotland #2: The View from Arthur’s Seat
Scotland #3: The View from Scott Monument
Scotland #4: Going Forth to Forth
Scotland #5: The Beauty of Fife
Scotland #6: Whisky Fail
Scotland #7: Defeat at Culloden
Scotland #8: Cawdor’s Not-So-Secret Garden
Scotland #9: The Loch Ness Loop
Scotland #10: The Road to Skye
Scotland #11: Old Man of Storr
Scotland #12: Pieces of Skye
Scotland #13: Rubha Hunish AKA The Hike from Hell
Scotland #14: Losing my Phone in Scotland and Other Adventures
Scotland #15: The Road to Glasgow
Scotland #16: Welcome to Glasgow!
Scotland #17: Street Art Scavenger Hunt in Glasgow

The goal of picking hotels for our Scotland trip was to spend as little money as possible while maintaining a basic standard of quality. I wasn’t expecting anything grand – I just wanted to stretch my points as far as they would go.

This is not the most interesting post, but in case anyone is planning a trip to Scotland and wants to see some options, I’m happy to be of service.

Edinburgh: Radisson Blu Hotel Edinburgh

I booked this hotel back when Club Carlson offered an insane deal to anyone who held the Club Carlson credit card: Last night free when you book a hotel with points. Our three nights in Edinburgh, in the heart of Old Town, was only 80,000 points (40,000 points per night).

Dundee: Double Tree by Hilton Dundee

For a mere, 20,000 points, we got a free stay at the Double Tree en route to the Highlands. The room was nice, but on the small side.

*HIMG_1393

*HIMG_1394

Inverness: Holiday Inn Express Inverness

There was only one points option here: The Holiday Inn, and probably not the best points value, but better than paying $200 a night. We stayed three nights here. Nothing to write home about, but it got the job done.

IMG_3253

Isle of Skye: The Bosville Hotel

This was the nicest hotel we stayed in, and the only one we paid for. There are no points options on the Isle of Skye, and the hotels can get pricey here. We chose a mid-level boutique hotel at about $250 a night, and it was quite lovely with a very large space and complimentary breakfast.

*HIMG_4337

*HIMG_4336

Glasgow: Radisson Blu Hotel Glasgow

We barely spent any time in the hotel. We just wanted a place centrally located, so I unloaded another 40,000 Club Carlson points and booked a room at the Radisson Blu Glasgow.

H - Rad Blue - Glasgow1

2015-08-12 21.32.08

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Living Large in Cancun

For the record, I’m not a beach person. I get antsy. I want to see and do things. But I had two free Hyatt nights I needed to use and the idea of relaxing in the lap of unadulterated luxury appealed to me. So my friend Eliana and I hopped a direct Southwest flight from Baltimore to Cancun for a four-day weekend.

This review needs to be prefaced by the fact that I was pretty sick most of the trip. Being the stubborn overachiever that I am, when I get sick, I go all the way – boxes of tissues, endless sniffling and sneezing — the works. Needless to say, I was fairly miserable. But that is not the hotel’s fault.

The hotel is beautiful. The rooms are large (though not as large as I have seen in some descriptions) and all have lovely views of the Caribbean Sea. The massive Jacuzzi is kind of hysterical, and I caused a mild flood in our room when I gave it a whirl. Oops.

IMG_8162

IMG_8155

IMG_8164

IMG_8321

IMG_8325

IMG_8181

IMG_8187

IMG_8233

IMG_8202

My friend Eliana relaxing on the hammock on our balcony.

The hotel is all-inclusive so once you get your bracelet, everything (except for the spa) is free. The hotel boasts five restaurants, a cafe, and a 24-hour club room. The thrill of drinking as many diet cokes as I liked was intoxicating.

IMG_8172

photo 2 (3)

photo 3

The weather was hot and humid, hitting a consistent high 80s each day. We spent the majority of our time in the pool (Eliana) or lounging by the pool (me) and sleeping (both of us). I had big plans to go to the gym and try out the yoga classes, but the persistent congestion killed those plans. I made it to the gym on the last morning, and while small, it is modern and stocked with everything you might need – including excellent wifi. (P.S. Netflix works in Cancun!)

**IMG_8290

As many people have reported, the cabanas and lounge chairs get snapped up at a ridiculous hour of the morning that I refuse to get up at on vacation, but we managed to find adequate spots to rest our lazy butts.

IMG_8225

There is nightly entertainment in the main lobby and a lovely spa where we enjoyed deep tissue massages (thanks Eliana!).

photo 1 (4)

Dancers doing something exotic.

photo 5

The spa

All in all, it was a very relaxing and luxurious weekend. It’s not something I feel a need to do again, but if you are a beach person, I highly recommend the Hyatt Zillara.

Tagged , ,

Part #17: Loving the Indigo in Shanghai

Part #1: Off to China
Part #2: The Joys of Hilton Gold
Part #3: Getting a Chinese Visa
Part #4: Exploring the Hutongs
Part #5: A Walk in the Park
Part #6: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Part #7: The Great Wall is Truly Great
Part #8: Beijing’s Art District
Part #9: Bulletting Toward Shanghai
Part #10: Radisson Blue Shanghai – A Review
Part #11: Family History in Shanghai
Part #12: Breaking News: I Did Not Find a Husband in Shanghai
Part #13: Traveling Like a Local to Zhijiajiao
Part #14: Traveling Solo and the Great Tea Festival Scam
Part #15: Ancient Shanghai
Part #16: The Perfect Night in Shanghai

I LOVED – yes capital L-O-V-E-D – the Indigo hotel in Shanghai. The Indigo brand is part of the IHG hotel group, offering a boutique, modern hotel experience. Thanks to my IHG credit card, I used my free annual night at the Indigo for my last night in Shanghai, and fell deeply and irrevocably in love. Sure, there are other hotels that offer better free perks. And the location, while stunning, is not ideal for sightseeing in Shanghai. The Indigo is located in a newly developing area on the riverfront, at least a 17-20 minute walk from the closest metro station. It would not have been ideal for a long stay, but for my last night in Shanghai, it was perfect.

Indigo hotel map

Why? Because the views were stunning and the decor was to die for. I am moderately obsessed with modern, funky furniture and design. And if I could, I would have happily taken every piece of furniture for my own home.

HIMG_4710

The entrance to the Indigo Hotel

The funky decor hits you as soon as you walk in: Modern art with an Asian twist.

HIMG_4704

HIMG_4708

The hallway:

HIMG_4688

And my room – did I mention I’m in love?

HIMG_4657

HIMG_4658

HIMG_4661

Oh, and check out that view.

HIMG_4684

And that view:

HIMG_4671

Is it weird that the bathroom was my favorite room? It was huge, with a separate area for a super large bathtub and stunning views of the Pudong. You know, just in case I wanted to leave the blinds open while I took a bath.

HIMG_4665

And a TV in the bathroom!

HIMG_4667

And one of those new-fangled toilets that prepared me for my trip to Japan. Peeing was never so complicated.

HIMG_4678

Even the slippers made me smile.

photo 1

The rest of the hotel was just as beautiful, including a library, a lounge area with computers and massage chairs, an uber-modern restaurant and a penthouse bar.

HIMG_4692

HIMG_4693

HIMG_4698

HIMG_4699

HIMG_4701

HIMG_4703

HIMG_4793

I wandered outside and walked along the water for a bit. It is hard to beat this view.

**IMG_4398

When I came back at night, I was surprised to find a present waiting for me. I’m not much of a wine drinker, but it was a nice touch.

*IMG_4796

I was excited to hang out at the rooftop bar, taking picture after picture, but the weather had turned rainy and painfully frigid. I snapped this mediocre shot before I relented and ran indoors. It must be amazing to sit outside on a warm night, nursing a diet coke and watching the lights of the Pudong come to life.

HIMG_4789

 

Tagged , ,

Part #2: The Joys of Hilton Gold

In case you missed it…

Part #1: Off to China

After arriving in Beijing, we took a cab to our hotel, the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing. At 40,000 points a night, it was not exactly a steal but I had the points and it turned out to be the best hotel of the trip. While Hilton has dramatically devalued it’s award system, it is one of the best hotel programs for gold status, which I have thanks to my Hilton Reserve credit card. Specifically, we were updated to a gorgeous, large suite-like room, had access to the lounge, and enjoyed free wifi.

First the room. It was amazing. It was very spacious with a massive walk-in closet which was itself the size of some hotel rooms. We had the largest bathtub I have ever seen in my life, and plenty of space for our stuff.

H2014-11-23 10.43.49

H2014-11-23 08.30.16

H2014-11-23 08.28.37

H2014-11-23 08.28.15

H2014-11-23 08.28.24

H2014-11-23 08.30.50

The lounge on the sixteenth floor was a treat, stocked round the clock with food and drinks, which for me, meant endless diet coke.

photo 1

photo 2

photo 5

Concierge spoke a passable English and were extremely helpful, especially with booking our train tickets to Shanghai.

Finally, the location was perfect. Beijing is massive, so we had to travel to most sights, but we were located near two subway lines in the center of town, within walking distance of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. There was also a mall just down the block with a supermarket in the basement when we need to restock on snacks and other paraphernalia.

*2014-11-23 11.03.58

The super convenient APM mall.

I have been down on the Hilton program since it was massively devalued, but this stay made me appreciate the good parts of Hilton HHonors. Yes, some hotel rooms will cost an exorbitant 80,000 points a night, but you can find cheaper options and Hilton points are relatively easy to earn. There are several Hilton branded credit cards, and there is a Hampton Inn in nearly every podunk town in America. And since I travel to a lot of podunk towns, I end up staying in a lot of Hampton Inns.

Tagged , ,

How Much Does It Cost to See China and Japan in Style?

I have finally booked all the pieces of my trip to Asia this fall. I will start off in China with my sister where we will see Beijing and Shanghai. After my sister flies home, I will spend a couple of days in Kyoto, Japan by myself. Here is the route.

Flight Map

Weirdly, the most expensive part of this trip has been my visa application to enter China. I could have applied for the visa myself, but I have limited time and even more limited patience, so I mailed everything to Allied Visa & Passport which was recommended by The Points Guy.

Here is the breakdown of all the costs:

  • Flight: Washington D.C. – Beijing (business class): 75,000 Aeroplan miles + $65.70 in fees.
  • Hotel: Four nights at the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing: 184,560 Hilton points + $99.91. I booked three nights with points and one night with cash plus points.
  • Hotel: Five nights at the Raddison Blu Shanghai New World: 88,000 Club Carlson points + $163.87. (I booked four nights using points and paid in full for one night, which I will split with my sister.)
  • Flight: Shanghai – Osaka, Japan (economy): 7,500 British Airways miles + $91.82 in fees
  • Hotel: One night at Indigo on the Bund: Free. I used my annual IHG free hotel certificate.
  • Hotel: Five nights at the Westin Kyoto: 40,000 SPG points
  • Flight: Osaka – Washington D.C. (business/first class): 80,000 United miles + $61.40 in fees. I will be flying business class to Beijing and then first class to Washington D.C. First class was only an additional 5,000 miles, so I said, why the hell not?
  • Chinese visa application: $140
  • Visa Service: $40 (normally it costs $45 but I should get a $5 discount for referencing The Points Guy) + $41 in FedEx fees.

Total out of pocket costs: $571.82 after my sister and I split the two hotel rooms I had to pay for. Not too bad. Not too bad at all.

Tagged , , ,

The Ultimate Challenge: Booking our China Hotels

Booking our China hotels was simultaneously a challenge and an obsession. I love investigating hotels and figuring out the best options for my points. If that makes me something of a travel geek, well, I’m perfectly okay with that. And China is a travel geek’s heaven because there are so many chain hotels and so many options.

In Beijing, I knew I wanted to be close to the main attractions – The Forbidden Temple and Tiananmen Square — and also close to a convenient subway stop. This meant some terrific hotels were struck from the list: The Conrad and the Park Hyatt for starters.

So I made this awesome map:

Beijing hotel map

Key: The red pins are hotels. The purple pins are tourist attractions. The yellow heart is our hotel. And the circles and stars are subway stops.

Once my lovely map was complete, we had a couple of options: The Grand Hyatt, the new W hotel which doesn’t open until late September, the Hilton Beijing, and the Park Plaza. I have gold status with Hilton and Club Carlson (Park Plaza), and platinum status with Hyatt thanks to my new Hyatt credit card.

While the new W hotel looks amazing, I have limited SPG points, and the combination of my lack of status and the desire to use my SPG points elsewhere knocked it out of the running. My sister and I both recently applied and received our Hyatt credit cards which gives us two free nights each, but again, I decided to save that perk for a more expensive Hyatt property. The Park Plaza’s reviews were just okay, so that left the Hilton, where my gold status will get us lounge access, free wifi, and hopefully, an upgrade.

Here are some pictures:

Choosing our hotel in Shanghai was even more of a challenge. Shanghai’s tourist attractions are spread across several neighborhoods. Despite the allure of staying in one of the sky-high (literally) Hyatts in Pudong, we will probably spend more time across the river in Puxi, and I don’t want to bother with the constant commute.

This left us with a couple of options in central Puxi: Waldorf Astoria on the Bund (too expensive and used all my Hilton points in Beijing); Hotel Indigo on the Bund; Hyatt on the Bund; Radisson Blu Shanghai New World; Le Royal Meridian Shanghai; the Westin Bund; Shanghai Andaz Hotel.

It was time to make another beautiful map:

Shanghai map

Key: The red pins are hotels. The purple pins are tourist attractions. The yellow heart is our hotel. The gift boxes are shopping centers. And the circles and stars are subway stops.

My sister will be with me in Shanghai for four nights, and I will probably stay another two. The Hyatt on the Bund got amazing reviews, but it is a little out of the way. The SPG properties are similarly amazing but I have decided to go to Kyoto for a couple of days after my sister abandons me and want to save my SPG points for my limited hotel options in Japan. So I took a second look at the Radisson Blu New World and really liked what I saw. It is not as glamorous or modern as the sky-high Hyatts, but it is pretty nice. Thanks to my Club Carlson credit card, I get the last night of every reservation free, and my gold status should get us lounge access, free internet and possibly, an upgrade. Plus, the Radisson Blu is in a great location, overlooking the People’s Park, near the intersection of three subway lines.

Some pictures to whet your (and my) appetite:

I saw a little trick on one of the blogs that I will be putting to the test. When you redeem your Club Carlson points, the credit card gives you the last night of the reservation free. But I wanted to get at least two free nights out of our stay. So I booked one reservation for our first two nights using 44,000 Club Carlson points. I paid in full ($170) for the third night. And then I booked the fourth and fifth nights using another 44,000 points.

For my last night in Shanghai, I am using my free IHG night (I get one free night certificate a year thanks to my IHG credit card) at the rave-reviewed Indigo on the Bund. I’ve stayed at plenty of IHG properties over the years from Holiday Inn Express to the Intercontinental in Paris. But I’ve never stayed at the boutique Indigo brand and am very much looking forward to it. Its modern, artsy decor is totally up my alley and the views of the Pudong skyline look amazing.

More pictures:

 

Tagged , ,

Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)

Hotel points allow me to stay in hotels I never would be able to stay in otherwise. For some people, a bed is a bed no matter where they are. But I confess: I like luxury. I like being updated to a suite. Correction: I love being updated to a suite. I love sitting in a beautiful lobby, enjoying free wifi that actually works and relaxing on a sumptuous couch.

I loved our hotel in Cusco. Especially after the damp, dank excuse for a hotel we stayed at in Aguas Calientes.

After our visit to Machu Picchu, we made our way to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incas, located at a breathtaking 11,500 feet. Cusco overflows with its Inca and colonial past. And our hotel in Cusco was no different.

SPG’s Palacio del Inka is located in central Cusco, a seven minute walk from the Plaza de Armas, in an old monastery. The entire hotel reaks of colonial elegance – medieval columns, rich, dark colors, velvet upholstery, ornate decorations, and stone floors.

Cusco map

*IMG_5219

*IMG_5202

*IMG_5205

*IMG_5208

When we checked in, I was pleasantly surprised to find out we had been upgraded to a suite despite my lack of status. The suite consisted of two separate rooms — a separate living room area with a couch, desk, chairs and a television, and the bedroom — which had its own television. And get this — we had two bathrooms!

*IMG_5181

The living room part of our suite

*IMG_5185

The bedroom

*IMG_5189

The master bathroom

*IMG_5194

The view of Cusco from our window

Needless to say, we had an amazing stay. Thank you Starwood!

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: