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Spa Naka

I didn’t originally plan to review spas individually, but we had two such stark contrasts in experience (and price) that I felt compelled to post separately and call out the good (and the bad/ugly). The great experience we had were at all of the massage centers in Chiang Mai. Our awful experience was at Naka Island, and I’ll elaborate here.

The following are excerpts from a review I offered the property and the staff following our traditional 90 Minute Indigenous Naka treatment on our first full day at the island.

(BEGIN EXCERPT)

I wanted to write you a note to explain my dissatisfaction with the Spa Naka which we visited during our stay on Naka Island. As an SPG Platinum member who was enjoying a Reward stay, I was very excited to have some additional disposable funds to enjoy these types of amenities. Unfortunately, the service and experience left a poor taste for such a high price. I left comments in the Spa Folio itself, and trust that their management will be in touch with some kind of apology – but I felt it necessary to contact Starwood and the local management team itself…

Here is a brief list of the things I found (unsettling) with our experience at Naka Spa:
-The “EZ Bake Oven” timer that buzzed annoyingly twice during the treatment. The team can surely figure out a way to get the proper level of heat for the towel portions in some other less dramatic fashion.
-The lack of music, which made for a less serene environment and caused added distraction when you could hear nearby banging from ongoing facility maintenance and construction.
-The price. It was simply too expensive, even after a “special” that grants SPG members 30% off. The retail price for the treatment we selected was nearly 10x what we had paid for any other treatment in Thailand (6 in total). I have been to much nicer spas in shopping centers back home that are less than 1/4 the price.
-The menu description (for tracking purposes, my wife and I did the 90 Minute Indigenous Naka package). When I hear “Start with facial drainage soothing with our Signature Indigenous Aroma scent”, I (perhaps irrationally) expected actual drainage and a real scent… not just to be laid face down on a table with a small bucket of tap water, a leaf and two orchids in it. Let me be clear, there was no “facial drainage” and the lack of any focus on the face during this treatment was appalling.
-The blatant lies within the description. Additionally, “A heated compress invites back muscles to relax and ease before your choice of distinct essential oil blends is massaged into the body” would imply to me at least that I should get a chance to choose my essential oil. Was that a lie? We had no choice.
-Small details within the facility. While the grounds were well kept and some of the added amenities made for a great experience, there we many little things that made for an unpleasant experience. For instance, the scrapes, scratches, and discoloration of the wooden floors was a bit of an eyesore, especially when half of your treatment is spent face down with nothing to look at besides the aforementioned “facial drainage” station and said floors.
-The wrap up tea and relaxation. Please let me enjoy the kind and delicious post-treatment tea for at least one minute before you shove a black folio in my face expecting me to sign the tab. This in unprofessional and not something you should have your staff doing as part of the routine.

On the bright side, the staff was very friendly and delivered on what they were trained to do. I feel as though their management team set them up to fail though with so many flaws alongside the (what should have been a wonderful) experience.

For a spa that likes to claim itself as one of the top spas in the region, I expected far more. The affiliation with the Luxury Collection (and Starwood) makes people have higher standards. It is your duty to deliver on that. For such a premium price, consumers need a premium product…

(END EXCERPT)

Within a matter of hours upon receiving this feedback, the resort staff found us near the pool and began to apologize. They offered us a free treatment of our choice the following day, which we did take (and selected a Facial). That treatment, although far from our best ever, was significantly better. Still, though, it wasn’t anything to write home about (so I wrote it here instead).

All in all, MAJOR disappointment and I think the property should be ashamed. A true low point on an otherwise magical journey for us.

Til Next Time,

Michael

Indigo Bangkok

Rooftop Pool/View at Indigo Bangkok

We ended our trip in Bangkok and by this point knew we would probably need to be saving some cash. Hence – we ended up at Hotel Indigo Bangkok – where we could use Katy’s employee rate. Understanding we would only have just over 48 hours in Bangkok, we wanted somewhere convenient, but clean, and this hotel definitely met the mark.

Here is what I would say about the Hotel Indigo Bangkok:

  • Overall: 8/10 – The hotel is in a great location (actually just across the street and one block down from the US Embassy – which is something you should always be glad not to have to use – but nice to know it’s there!) and was very clean and updated.
  • Notes:
    • Very reminiscent of some of the nicer/trendier Indigos we have been to stateside (Indigo Lower East Side NYC for instance)
    • The one HUGE surprise that we were so impressed with was the rooftop bar/pool combo
    • Hotel Indigo Bangkok Rooftop Pool View
    • We ended up going both during daylight as well as at nighttime and each view had its own reasons to make your jaw drop
    • Otherwise, the room was well-appointed and had everything we needed
    • We ended up cashing in on Katy’s IHG employee rate, as well, so we couldn’t beat the price even if we tried!

Til Next Time,

Michael

Panoramic Pool View at Koyao Resort

Panoramic view at the infinity pool at Koyao Resort

After we wrapped up at Santhiya, we caught a Tuk Tuk over to one of the piers on the North side of the island to take a longboat transfer (costing a couple hundred Baht) to the pier on the South side of Koh Yao Noi. From there, we caught a public Tuk Tuk to Koyao Resort, and felt much more at ease almost instantly as we saw the surroundings on the short ride (10-15 minutes) to our resort property. This property was called the Koyao Island Resort, and was the #2 ranked hotel on the island (besides, no real surprise here, the Six Senses resort just up the road).

Here is what I would say about the Koyao Island Resort:

  • Overall: 8/10 – Very nice (and refreshingly quaint/quiet) resort with a lot of “free” amenities that are actually fairly valuable
  • Notes:
    • The island itself was a big shift from Koh Yao Yai; it was much friendlier, much more energetic, with a lot more character and small “hole-in-the-wall” type shops and restaurants
    • Reminded us a lot more of Tulum, which is what we thought we were signing up for in the first place (so, expectations came close to meeting reality!)
    • The staff at this resort were much more accommodating, perhaps because it is maybe only 10% the size of Santhiya (I would guess there are 20-30 rooms total at this resort, instead of the 200+ at Santhiya)
    • Daily activities are offered free of charge, and we ended up lucking out with a 4 hour longboat tour of several surrounding islands with a few of our fellow guests. The fact that the resort puts this together once a week is such a great amenity because, otherwise, you’d have to shell out at least $100 to do that as a couple anywhere else. The time was right, too, we decided we couldn’t do a full day on a boat (especially if the sun was out and it was hot). So this was the perfect way to quench that thirst for boat excursion without having to give up a full day (and a full stack of Thai Baht)
    • The infinity pool was great, and we enjoyed cooling off in it after we got too hot
    • Rooms were very well-appointed, and the biggest hidden gem from my perspective was the insect zapper tennis racket (I had WAY too much fun with this)
    • The food was a bit better than Santhiya, especially the quality/freshness/selection at breakfast buffet (side note: you could tell the head chef took pride in his work as he would stand out and greet guests and help prepare specific selections that were requested by guests). Katy could live off of the pancakes here!
    • Overall, we felt much more at home and at peace/relaxed here than we had previously

Til Next Time,

Michael

Room View at Santhiya

Stunning panoramic views from our room at Santhiya

For our first stop in the islands off of Phuket, we chose to stay at a place we found online that had stunning views. This place was called Santhiya, and it was on the island of Koh Yao Yai.

The one thing I will say leading into this was that the airport>hotel transfer was a blatantly miserable experience. From the time we got off the plane, it took probably the better part of three hours to get settled into our room. We first met someone outside baggage claim, only to have to wait in a staging area. Then, we were walked over to a secondary staging area, where we waited on a private shuttle (with two other couples also staying Santhiya). Not so bad, yet… Then, once we got over to the marina, we had to wait (yet again) while the team checked us in and scanned our passports. Nearly one hour later, we were loaded onto a boat and brought over to the island. Then, upon disembarking the ferry (which took around 20 minutes), we had to yet again (you guessed it) wait some more to get formally checked in. At this point, I think I had to provide my physical credit card for a third time (side note/pet peeve: you already have my card on file – just ask me if you can use that instead of continuing to shake me down for my card; I’m not trying to dine and ditch on the tab!), and we soon thereafter began the trek up to our room (which, we found out later, was much more than a hop, skip, and a jump). Exhausting, right??

As far as the review… Here is what I would say about Santhiya:

  • Overall: 6/10 – Stunning views, very cool architecture, but then the resort (and the surrounding town for that matter) fall short
  • Notes:
    • The architecture and resort itself as awesome – so much hand carved wood abounds, and even the fact that it’s literally built into the side of a small mountain/cliff setting is incredible
    • Having the get around the property on wood-wrapped trucks or tuk-tuks was a bit of a pain, but since our room was near the middle of the resort, we also had the option of short 5-10 minute walks (when the weather cooperated)
    • Views were especially incredible the further “up” into the resort you went; the views from the top pool and the breakfast area were amazing
    • Service was good, not great, but we can attribute most of that to being an Asian culture (whereby you will not be bothered for things like additional drinks, the check, etc); you simply had to ask for things and then they were very efficient about it
    • Food on property was, again, good-not-great; the breakfast was pretty typical for buffet style, the lunch was great depending on where you went and what you got (although it seemed a bit pricey – but we later realized this is just the island/resort effect and having recently adjusted from a much cheaper place like Chiang Mai)
    • The village itself, beyond the resort, is an odd town; it has heavy muslim influence and a severe lack of other dining or drinking options
    • Checkout was somewhat non-eventful, although it’s always fun to see just how much money you had shelled out in a short three days at a property like this; there’s always a momentary sink in your stomach after you do the high level conversion in your head (if you know what I’m talking about, isn’t that the worst?)
    • We did find one hidden gem in the town though: Odys Cafe. Cannot recommend this place highly enough if you ever find yourself on this island! The owner shared his life story, we spent several hours there one day (due to a rain storm), and even went back again for dinner

Til Next Time,

Michael

Intercon Hong Kong

Lobby Bar views out towards Hong Kong Island

As I said before, while Katy calls it our “Honeymoon”, I can’t bring myself to call our trip that – since I know we went on a proper (albeit shorter), very nice trip just after our wedding. Given that it was just over one year later, I considered calling it the “Anniversamoon”, but just came up with Asiaversary for our trip’s title instead.

Our first stop on the expedition was Hong Kong, and we knew we wanted to stay at one of the region’s (if not the world’s) most iconic hotels – the Intercontinental Hong Kong. We got to use Katy’s IHG employee rate, which saved us quite a bit, although it did not get us a harbor view. They apparently charge quite a bit on the upsell to get you in a room with the Hong Kong Island view. Oh well!

As far as the review… Here is what I would say about Intercontinental Hong Kong:

  • Overall: 8/10 – Great hotel as long as you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg
  • Notes:
    • Phenomenal location, stunning views, and a great price (through Katy’s employee rate discount)
    • Views are possibly going to be obstructed soon by a new mixed use complex next door
    • Proximity to helpful public transit stations is an advantage, and leaves this hotel very closely situated to quickly get onto and off of Hong Kong Island (if you, like us, want to tour around SoHo or Lan Kwai Fong (the Bourbon Street of Hong Kong)
    • Pool area is very nice, and has several extremely helpful staff members (who will legit help you plan your visit and suggest places that are in your strike zone of interest)

Til Next Time,

Michael

I figured I could cover the intra-Asia legs in one post because those flights were much shorter (and, sadly, in basic economy/coach and nothing too “over the top”).

AirAsia (Hong Kong to Chiang Mai)

  • Overall, this was MUCH less of a headache than I ever imagined
  • Upon arrival to airport, we waited in a check-in line of 10 people max, and while the gate agent was slow at first, it seemed to be because he was checking a large group (~6 people) all in at once
  • The food was not good, but for the price (I pre-paid and pre-selected the meals, and they were around $2-3 apiece) it was nice to have something to have a few bites of, along with a drink
  • Interestingly, Exit Row seats are unable to drink alcohol (not sure if this is just an Asian airline thing or not, but it was definitely consistent), as well as have any luggage beneath the seat in front of them (both different quirks than FAA regulates for American travel)

ThaiSmile (Chiang Mai to Phuket)

  • Given that I paid a bit more for these fares than some of the more low-budget operator equivalents (AirAsia, Lion, etc), I did have higher expectations for these flights
  • The service itself along with the flight were both of great quality (more than meeting my expectations)
  • We ended up getting a (complimentary) Chicken Ragout Stromboli which may on the surface sound like something to stay away from – but was in fact DELICIOUS
  • The snack service is something that ThaiSmile does that, while you pay for it, is still nice to know it’s there
  • I would liken this to the Asian equivalent of Southwest airlines, with perhaps even a bit more polish and professionalism
  • Chiang Mai was a fairly easy airport to fly out of
  • Phuket on the other hand, was a bit of a disaster upon arrival; it reminded me a bit of a smaller, muggier, more chaotic Cancun
  • Deplaning happened via a passenger staircase, and then onto a quick bus shuttle over to the arrivals/baggage claim area for domestic gates

ThaiSmile (Phuket to Bangkok)

  • Same as above, but I would note that the Phuket departure experience isn’t quite as bad as our arrival experience; yes – it’s crowded and seemingly unorganized (I imagine their international terminal is better), but it got the job done
  • The snack service on this flight was actually a bit more of an odd combo than the prior leg (i.e. half of a creamed corn sandwich and half of a chicken sandwich doused in mayo); as such, neither of us really ate it and so I wouldn’t say it was a slam dunk
  • As far as arrival into Bangkok, the arrival itself was fine, and included another bus shuttle from the plane to the arrivals area

Til Next Time,

Michael


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