Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Amazing Conrad Bali

We arrived at Denpasar (Bali) airport in the evening around 9:00pm. We had the Conrad book the VIP arrival service at the airport in which a person meets you when you enter the arrival hall and escorts you through passport control and handles everything with the visa-on-arrival for you. It is money well spent especially if you know that your flight will arrive at a busy time. The airport is brand new which is nice. We also had the Conrad arrange our transportation to the hotel. The agent that helped us through the arrival process handed us off to our driver and within minutes of arriving and stopping at the ATM to get some cash, we were off to the Conrad. That whole arrival process was a harbinger of things to come with our experience with the Conrad. 

The entire resort is beautifully appointed. It's quite sprawling but it doesn't have a crowded feel to it. There are 3 separate wings and a completely separate Suites wing, which is pictured above. That wing looks out onto the wedding chapel, which looks a lot like Awesome Mountain from the Hulu show The Awesomes

When we checked in they gave us an ocean view room on the top floor (4th) in the center wing. I asked about an upgrade since we are Hilton Diamond members and the agent said that they were at full capacity for the next 2 nights, but that on the last 2 nights he could get us a suite. So that's what we did. The original room was nice with a huge bathroom, but it was nothing spectacular. Since we arrived at nighttime, it was difficult to tell what we actually had a view of. The next morning we awoke to a great view overlooking the giant pool and main restaurant and an ocean view. My guess is that only the rooms on the top floor have views of the ocean. We had breakfast at the restaurant that is located in the Suites wing because our bellmen told us that it was the most secluded and uncrowded. It's only allowed for guests in the Suites or Diamond members. The restaurant is called Rin and is a Japanese restaurant for dinner only. They have outdoor seating right next to the Suites pool that we utilized every day we were there. Below is the gorgeous exclusive Suites pool.

The hotel was offering a "deal" that was called "Unwind and Dine" that included an hour spa treatment and 2 nights of dinners for 2 people for less than $200, so we booked it. Their spa is really nice and super relaxing with water features, steam room, and jacuzzi. After our spa treatment we dressed for dinner and ate at the beach-front restaurant called Eight Degrees South. The ocean breeze and ambiance were wonderful and I could eat there every day. Since we had the "deal" we had a separate 3-course set menu. It offered lots of choices for each course. Drinks weren't included and they had some good wine choices and cocktails.

One morning we ate at a small dining area called Spice, which seems like it's only used for breakfast. It was basically the same food items as Rin just in a different location with an ocean view.

On our third day, we had an all-day tour and when we returned to the hotel that night, we had been given our suite upgrade. We had packed up all of our things before we left for our day tour and they were all moved to the new room for us. This suite was amazing. There was a half-bath powder room at the entrance and a wet bar area in the dining room. There were three separate balconies and way too much room for us.

Since it was dark, I didn't realize it at first, but I noticed that the side balcony off the living room was quite large. I turned the light on and saw that it was really large. I went out there and saw that there was a private plunge pool. What a surprise. Our room was on the top floor and I looked below us to see if the other corner rooms like ours had a pool on the balcony, but they didn't. My guess is that there are two of these in each wing on the top floors in the corners.

On our last night we ate at Eight Degrees South again. It was a great meal and we tried different things. They had this truffled mashed potatoes that were amazing. Their desserts were terrific too. Everything was great both nights.

I really hope to return to the Conrad Bali some day because it was truly a perfect experience from beginning to end. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hanoi to Denpasar (Bali) on Singapore Airlines Business Class

After three nights in Hanoi our time in Vietnam was over. Again we had the Hilton's car take us to the airport. This time our car was a Mercedes Benz. After about an hour drive to the airport we were dropped off at the international terminal. We had business class tickets on Singapore Airlines and I was very excited to be flying on their newest business class product on the A330-300, which is the smallest jet Singapore has in its fleet. This is a shot of our plane as it arrived from Singapore. 

The Hanoi airport is actually quite small for being a capital city. It is super old and decrepit. The business class lounge that Singapore uses is shared by many other airlines and it's pretty gross. It's right out of the 60s/70s and is barely air conditioned. The food on the buffet was gross and I think I only had coffee and water.  

We did a little bit of shopping in the terminal and headed to the gate. Since the terminal is small the gate area is quite tight. We boarded first with business class and found our seats right in the first row. 

The seats were amazing and super comfortable. They lie flat or just about flat, but I never put the seat in that position. The entertainment system on this plane was superb. Since the flight was about 3 hours long, I was able to watch an entire movie. I saw August Osage County.  The service was impeccable and I will never get used to flight attendants calling me by name. Singapore Airlines is such a class act.

Of course while the rest of the passengers boarded I was able to relax with my glass of champagne, which was free-flowing. 

The meal service was excellent too. There were 3 courses and this was the appetizer course consisting of a smoked salmon salad with bread and cracker.

The main dish was some kind of fish with even more garlic bread. The bread basket was flowing and so was the vino.

The dessert was a jackfruit cake, I think. It was some kind of tropical fruit cake followed by some really good coffee and chocolates.

After about 3 hours of flying we arrived into Singapore's Terminal 2. I was a little disappointed that we didn't arrive into the newest terminal, Terminal 3, which has the nicest and newest business class lounge. We made our way to the Silverkris Lounge in Terminal 2 for a very short layover. It was less than 2 hours long and we didn't have much time there. The lounge doesn't have any windows and it was actually quite dark, but still modern and nice. 

We had a long walk to the end of the terminal to our connecting flight to Bali. Our plane was an old 777-200 with very old recliner seats. I checked the registration and it's actually the same plane we flew a few years back from Bangkok to Singapore. This cabin was fairly empty in business class and the entertainment system was so old and terrible. Nothing was "on demand" as is pretty much the standard these days. The flight to Denpasar (Bali) was about 2 hours long and so the service was a little bit abbreviated too.

The meal was served all on one tray and didn't have the multiple courses like the previous flight did. They did have the same cracker bread, which was good. The service was perfect again and unfortunately the flight went by very quickly.

By the time we landed in Bali it was dark and I couldn't take any pictures of the brand new terminal building. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hanoi and the Hilton Hanoi Opera

Our stay in Hué was much too short, but it was time to head to Hanoi. We took a taxi from our hotel and the ride took maybe 30 minutes. The traffic in Hue is much more manageable than in the larger cities of Vietnam. We checked in at the tiny airport and made our way up to the departure area, which was barely air conditioned and I was sweating to death. This is a picture of our plane, which was 1 of 2 planes parked out there that day.

Before long our flight was called and they had a bus to take us to the plane again. I took a picture of this new-ish airline in Vietnam called Vietjet Air.

This is the A321 that would take us on the very short flight to Hanoi. As it turned out, we were the only 2 people in the business class cabin. Oddly enough, that wasn't the first time that has happened to us. The other time was on a flight from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines in 2009.

They put us in row 3 again with 14 out of the 16 seats empty in this cabin. We had really good service with our own dedicated flight attendant.

The legroom was standard for business class but the seats were a little worn out. There was a small footrest, which was nice.

One of the strange things I noticed about our flight was all the bombed out areas surrounding Hue. The city is just south of the DMZ and saw some of the heaviest bombing in the Vietnam/American War. It's so strange that after 40 years a lot of areas have not grown back. It's a very sad reminder of that horrible time in our respective countries' pasts.

They served a small snack which was not so great. I ate the bread and the meat. I didn't touch anything else. I think the Star stuff was yogurt.

When we arrived in Hanoi I noticed that we were parking at a remote stand again and had to be bussed to the terminal. We were the only people on the short brown bus.

This is a shot from the bus toward the main terminal with a Qatar Airways 777-300ER visible. That plane comes from Bangkok and then back again and on to Doha. The terminal is tiny and they are building a completely new terminal beside it which probably won't open for a few years.

The Hanoi airport is a good hour away from the city. We arranged to have the Hilton car get us. Our driver met us in baggage claim and we were whisked away in our black BMW 5 series. The sun was just about setting when we arrived at the Hanoi Hilton Opera, which is a really nice hotel but has very dated decor in the rooms. The rest of the hotel is fairly nice. 

We had a welcome fruit platter waiting for us in the room, which was a nice touch. My favorite, dragon fruit, is the pink one in the middle.

The outside of the hotel reminds me of the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas and it is located right across the street from the Opera house.

The next day we had a guide meet us at the hotel from Hanoi Free guides. They are a group of students and young people who take people around the city for free. It's a really great idea and our guide was really nice. He took us to the Ho Chi Minh museum and mausoleum, but we only went to the museum. The line to see his body was wrapped around the block and was easily a 2-hour wait. In that heat and humidity, it was not an option.

Our guide also took us to the famous pagoda at the West Lake called Tran Quoc. It is really beautiful and the lake area is quite nice. He also took us to the Temple of Literature, which was the original university in Hanoi.

That evening we found a restaurant just around the corner from the Hilton called Cafe Le Bon. Of course I made a Duran Duran joke about it on Facebook. We were one of the only people in the restaurant. The food was good if not a little expensive for upscale Vietnamese food.

This is a shot of the opera house right next to the Hilton hotel. It is located in a really nice part of the city that is walking distance to a small lake and many markets including the weekend night market.

On our last night, we ate dinner at Cafe Lautrec located in the Hotel de l'Opera which was about 1.5 blocks from our hotel. This was probably one of the best meals I've ever had and definitely the best meal we had in Hanoi. The best part was that it was a set menu of 3 courses for about $20USD. It was a bargain and the service was excellent. The restaurant had a modern yet retro elegance to it and I still think about that meal.