Impressions from Paris & South East Asia 2018

I’ve just returned to Toronto after two weeks of jetting around the world in some new business class cabins and relaxing at some phenomenal hotels and resorts along the way. In this post, I’ll share with you the initial impressions from the trip, before launching into the full trip report series in the coming weeks and months.

This was probably the most incredible trip so far in terms of pure and unadulterated luxury travel. The unified Marriott Bonvoy program now offers some truly world-class properties, and I even deployed some Suite Night Awards to ramp up the luxury factor even more. 

The end result? Each of the six hotel and resorts we tried blew our minds even more than the one before it, eventually culminating in an unforgettable two nights at the beachside paradise that is the St. Regis Bali.

The whole time, I was warning Jessica that we’d better not get used to this, since it may be quite hard to live up to these standards in the future!


TAP Air Portugal Business Class: Modest Beginnings 

We kicked off the trip with a very quick 6-hour overnight flight to Lisbon in TAP Air Portugal’s lie-flat business class seats.

TAP has a few “throne” seats on their A330s, and when you’re travelling as a couple, there’s always the question of whether to pick the throne seats and enjoy lots of privacy and surface space, or to actually sit together side-by-side. I opted for the former, but I actually don’t think Jessica appreciated it very much.

TAP Air Portugal business class

TAP Air Portugal business class

TAP Air Portugal’s business class is decent, in my mind. I certainly appreciate that the hard product is keeping up with the times, but the food was so-so and the service also felt a little flat at times. Plus, I find that these quick overnight flights make it impossible to get any decent rest, so I’m usually in a cranky mood when I disembark.

I can think of quite a few other airlines that I’d prefer to fly transatlantic business class over TAP Air Portugal, but given that they have convenient direct flights out of Toronto and don’t impose any fuel surcharges these days, this flight with TAP probably won’t be my last.


Hôtel de Berri Paris: Gorgeous Art-Deco Luxury

Modest beginnings, sure. But oh my, things escalated quickly when we arrived in Paris.

The Hôtel de Berri is located just a few minutes’ walk from George V metro station on the Champs-Elysées, and stepping out into the wintry night, with all the festive lights adorning the world-famous avenue and the Arc de Triomphe glistening in the distance – that was certainly a special way to be welcomed back to Paris.

Hôtel de Berri Paris

Hôtel de Berri Paris

The Hôtel de Berri has an unassuming exterior, but walk inside and you find yourself in one of the most ornate hotel lobbies you could ever imagine. Art, sculpture, leather, marble – it’s like you’re taking up residence in a museum instead of a hotel. 

Thanks to my Suite Night Awards, we were given the Berri Suite, the second-best suite in the house. I’ll let the pictures of the suite do most of the talking.

Berri Suite, Hôtel de Berri Paris

Berri Suite, Hôtel de Berri Paris

I loved the sitting area, the canopy bed, and the marble bathroom. The guest rooms and suites continue to play on the art-deco theme, and I almost felt a little intimidated by the amount of expensive-looking vessels and sculptures in our room. 

While the suite was excellent, I found the rest of the hotel’s offerings (breakfast, service, etc.) to be a little disappointing given the price point – stay tuned for the full review on that one. Nevertheless, for pure aesthetics alone, I’d have no qualms recommending the Berri to anyone looking for a hotel with plenty of Parisian character. 

During our four days on the ground in Paris, Jessica and I kept ourselves busy catching up on things we had missed out on doing together the last time we were here in 2015, such as visiting the Pompidou and climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower (I know, I know…)

And of course, we had a wonderful time spending New Year’s Eve in Paris. I’ve always wanted to see the New Year’s festivities in different major cities around the world, and the light and fireworks show on the Arc de Triomphe was something I’ll remember for a long time. 

New Year’s Eve in Paris!

New Year’s Eve in Paris!


Turkish Airlines Business Class: Worthy of the High Praise

From Paris to Singapore, we had over 24 hours in travel time. As I had mentioned, I only booked this Aeroplan Mini-RTW redemption about two months in advance, so award availability was quite finicky and we had to make do with quite a few sub-optimal outcomes.

Oh well, you make the most of what you have. We decided to take it easy during our 10-hour layover in Istanbul; instead of hurrying into the city and back (and paying extra for Turkish e-Visas), we relaxed in the magnificent Turkish CIP Lounge, and paid our last respects to the lounge before the move to the new Istanbul Airport takes place in March.

We tried out basically everything the lounge has to offer – the pool table, the golf simulator, the FIFA terminals, the home theatre, and the excellent baklava. 

Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge Istanbul

Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge Istanbul

Then came time to fly Turkish Airlines business class off to Hanoi. Believe it or not, but this was actually my first time ever on Turkish Airlines, and I was excited to try out their amazing DO&CO catering that I’ve heard so many great things about.

It completely lived up to the hype – I’ll remember one particularly heavenly serving of pistachio ice cream for a long, long time.

Turkish Airlines A330 business class

Turkish Airlines A330 business class

After that, Singapore Airlines’s regional business class on the A330 finally brought us to our destination. The seat itself is a bit behind the times (although Singapore is rolling out their new fleet of 787-10s to refresh their regional product), but the flight was still a great opportunity for Singapore’s onboard food and service to shine, and shine they did.

Singapore Airlines A330 business class

Singapore Airlines A330 business class


JW Marriott Singapore South Beach: An Unreal Breakfast Buffet

JW Marriott has to be my favourite hotel brand at the moment. Their hotels are luxurious without being overly concerned about glamour, and they always provide careful and reliable service. 

JW Marriott Singapore South Beach

JW Marriott Singapore South Beach

Best of all, their Executive Lounges are a class above the rest, and the one at the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach was only the latest example. I mean, look at this breakfast spread!

Executive Lounge, JW Marriott Singapore South Beach

Executive Lounge, JW Marriott Singapore South Beach

Marriott properties are only required to provide their elites with breakfast in the lounge, although this one allows you to opt for breakfast in the restaurant, the Beach Road Kitchen, as well.

And wow the breakfast buffet here is UNREAL, blowing even the Executive Lounge out of the water.

The sheer square footage of the buffet is astounding; you have to walk around virtually the entire restaurant to hit up all the stations. Asian food, Western food, eggs station, noodle station, pancake station, Hainan chicken rice station, pastries, cereal, charcuterie, fruits, juice… this was a breakfast for the ages.

Beach Road Kitchen breakfast, JW Marriott Singapore South Beach

Beach Road Kitchen breakfast, JW Marriott Singapore South Beach

After so much long-haul travel, we were very much afflicted by jet lag by the time we were in Singapore, so we mostly spent the mornings and early afternoons exploring the city, and the rest of the time relaxing (read: sleeping). It was awesome to wander around Marina Bay, Clarke Quay, and Chinatown, taking in the mesmerizing Singapore skyline and absorbing the city-state’s unique East-West cultural mix that I so strongly identify with. 

Singapore

Singapore


The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi: Infinity Pool Heaven

After three days in Singapore to acclimate to the time zone, it was time to jet off to Langkawi, Malaysia. The “Jewel of Kedah”, as its known, is an archipelago of 99 islands off the northwest of Malaysia near the border with Thailand.

We checked into the Ritz, where I was pleasantly surprised to have gotten an upgrade to a stunning Rainforest Suite, since Ritz-Carlton properties are generally quite stingy with elite benefits. There was an open-concept layout, a separate sitting area, and a bathroom that’s bigger than my entire bedroom back at home.

The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi

The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi

What I loved most about the Ritz, though, was no doubt the incredible infinity pool down by the beach, known as Horizon. They have a main pool that’s open to families with kids, and then they have Horizon, which is less of a swimming pool and more of a work of art.

The killer sunset view from the edge of the pool, as the water laps down into the ocean below… again, a lifelong memory. 

Horizon infinity pool, The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi

Horizon infinity pool, The Ritz-Carlton, Langkawi

I loved every minute we spent here, but I did notice that it was the type of luxury resort that felt extremely private and secluded. There weren’t too many other guests at the hotel, and with the hilly terrain, most guests used the complimentary buggy service to get around, so we didn’t get much in the way of human interaction. That stood in stark contrast to our next resort…


The Andaman Langkawi: Perfect for Nature Lovers

The Andaman Langkawi is truly one of the most unique resorts I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. It’s located all the way at the northern tip of the island, nestled within a 10-million-year-old rainforest, and accessible only via a single 5km road.

I redeemed Suite Night Awards here once again, and in doing so I managed to secure the best suite in the house. It had 1.5 bathrooms, a huge private pool, and direct access to the beach. We even had some of Langkawi’s mischievous monkeys visit us and drink out of our pool quite a few times! 

Executive suite private pool, the Andaman Langkawi

Executive suite private pool, the Andaman Langkawi

Besides the generous suite upgrade, there were several things I really loved about the Andaman. The resort takes its conservation efforts really seriously, and there are many opportunities for guests to interact with and learn more about the land and ocean ecosystems around them, such as free guided snorkelling tours and daily nature walks.

Coral nursery pond, the Andaman Langkawi

Coral nursery pond, the Andaman Langkawi

There’s also excellent elite recognition here, and we took full advantage of the daily elite appreciation drinks, the 20% discount at the resort’s restaurants and bars, and the complimentary snorkelling, kayaking, and paddle-boarding. 

Best of all, this is only a Category 5 hotel with Marriott Bonvoy, so only 35,000 points are required for a free night. I’d say that’s one hell of a deal, especially if you have elite status (even Gold Elite will give you plenty of perks!).

We spent one of our days on the island going up the Langkawi Cable Car and visiting the impressive Langkawi Sky Bridge, where you can get unbeatable views of the surrounding archipelago. I would’ve liked to see more of Langkawi – we were probably guilty of bumming it on the beach a little too much – but hey, that gives us a reason to return next time! 

Langkawi Sky Bridge

Langkawi Sky Bridge


Bambu Indah: Still Magical, But Not Like the First Time

Next stop, Bali. After thoroughly enjoying our trip there in Christmas of 2017, I certainly knew we’d be back soon enough, just maybe not this soon! 

Bambu Indah, a luxury eco-lodge in Ubud featuring standalone Javanese bridal houses, is a very special place for me and Jessica. When we arrived back at the resort, we were greeted with “welcome back to your home away from home”, and flower petals had been arranged on our floor spelling out “Welcome Home” – it’s that sort of place.

A warm welcome back to Bambu Indah

A warm welcome back to Bambu Indah

But you know how a second-time visit is often not quite as special as the first? That’s sort of how we felt. Bambu Indah, with its cascading natural pools and the sweeping views over the ridge, still had the same magical vibes that we remember so fondly. But a few things had changed here and there, and Jessica and I agreed that it wasn’t quite like coming here last year and experiencing it all for the first time.

Jessica and I agreed that we wouldn’t have to return for a long while – perhaps not until we’re rolling in the dough and can shell out for one of their spectacular villas!

Bambu Indah Ubud

Bambu Indah Ubud


St. Regis Bali: WOW! 

After a gruelling 2am hike up to Mount Batur to watch the sun rise over Bali, it was time to head down to Nusa Dua, where we’d spend the final two nights of our trip at the St. Regis Bali.

As someone who’s been collecting points with SPG and Marriott for many years now, I’ve been eagerly anticipating staying at this resort for a very long time. And I’m happy to say that it was everything I had hoped for. 

I once again dropped Suite Night Awards to get ourselves a one-category upgrade to a St. Regis Pool Suite, which came with its own private plunge pool, garden, gazebo, and outdoor access.

St. Regis Pool Suite, St. Regis Bali

St. Regis Pool Suite, St. Regis Bali

In terms of pure square footage, some of the other suites I had gotten on this trip probably had this one beat, but this is the St. Regis after all, so the furniture, decor, and overall ambience simply exuded luxury. 

Beyond the room, everything on the premises is designed to optimize for pure relaxation. We started our days off with quite simply THE best hotel breakfast I have ever had, thanks to the extensive à la carte menu filled with lavish dishes like caviar, lobster omelette, steak and eggs, and foie gras…

You know it…

You know it…

Then it’s off to the main pool to take a dip, post up in a cabana, and sip on young coconuts as you perfect your suntan. If you get bored of the pool, you can also jump in the huge saltwater lagoon that spans most of the resort, and you could float through here for hours and hours. 

And if you get bored of that, you can head for the beach, where hard-working attendants will set you up with a spot under the umbrellas, and you can leisurely lounge the day away. 

Beachside, St. Regis Bali

Beachside, St. Regis Bali

The St. Regis brand is known for its strong service principles; combine that with traditional Balinese hospitality, and you have a winning combination. Service at the resort was outstanding – from the on-call butler service, to the complimentary airport transfer, to the St. Regis representative waiting to meet you at the airport and guide you through to security, the level of attention is quite unlike any other hotel I’ve ever stayed at. 

If you can swing it, do not hesitate to book the St. Regis Bali for 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points a night before the rates go up in March. You won’t regret it. 


Air China Business Class: Modest Endings

Truth be told, I had set ExpertFlyer alerts for EVA Air business class seats, and I would’ve paid the change fee to switch over to EVA if I hadn’t already told my parents that I’d meet them in Beijing during my quick 6-hour layover.

Instead, we stuck to the original plan, and we caught Singapore Airlines to Beijing before carrying on with Air China. We had a lovely local breakfast in Beijing – the sort of hearty breakfast foods I can’t find anywhere in Canada – and it was great to catch up with Mum and Dad, however briefly. 

After that, we boarded Air China business class en route to Montreal. There aren’t many positive reviews of this product out there, although I actually didn’t think it was too bad. 

Air China 787 business class

Air China 787 business class

Sure, the 2-2-2 hard product isn’t exactly cutting-edge, but they’re still relatively comfortable lie-flat seats. As a Mandarin speaker, the service was attentive and friendly, if a little rough around the edges compared to something like ANA or Japan Airlines (I suspect non-Mandarin speakers might have a different experience, since the crew’s command of English wasn’t exactly the strongest).

And I actually thought the food was pretty decent as well, until I ate the second meal, fell asleep, and woke up with a nightmarish bout of food poisoning – oh no! 

I’m not 100% certain it was Air China’s food that caused it, but it’s the most likely suspect. If I were to chalk off the sudden illness (which could happen anywhere), it wasn’t a bad flight on the Air China Dreamliner; however, there are just so many better choices for transpacific travel, so I won’t be in a hurry to fly this product again anytime soon.


Conclusion

My St. Regis Bali withdrawal is in full flow these days. I’m eating the eggs I made myself for breakfast, and I’m like, where’s my foie gras on the side? 😄

Encompassing six luxury hotels and resorts around the world, this was quite a special and memorable trip, and it’ll definitely take some beating in the future. Now I’ve got a week to recuperate in Toronto before embarking on another round-the-world next week, the Crazy Aeroplan Trip that I’ve booked for Chinese New Year. Oh well, it’s the life I’ve chosen…