Category: Wiggins’s Words

This past weekend, we were in the East Bay of San Francisco for a wedding. No better time, we thought, to go ahead and add on an extra couple days in order to get back up to one of our favorite places on Earth… So, we decided to add an escape to wine country!

We organized our flights out to SFO so that we would be able to spend the afternoon on Thursday, as well as all day Friday in Napa with my parents-in-law. My wife (an IHG employee) was able to secure some great employee rates at the recently-renovated Hotel Indigo in Napa, a VERY convenient location for the majority of our planned activities. While the hotel seemed a bit dated from the outside, the inside was comfortable and clean. It falls very much in line with the other corporate hotel franchises in wine country which are somewhat limited on exterior design limitations (and typically are renovating an existing 3-4 story structure already in place), something that is governed by county regulations.

We visited Del Dotto on Thursday, and then went to Seavey, Chimney Rock, and Saintsbury on Friday. For dinners, we enjoyed meals at FARM for dinner on Thursday, Farmstead at Longmeadow Each for lunch on Friday, and Ad Hoc for dinner on Friday.

As far as the winery reviews:

  • Del Dotto – 7 out of 10. Very similar to our last visit, albeit somewhat less heavy on the volume of pours. This could be attributed to the fact we paid $60 instead of $75, but either way – it still felt like a hefty fee even though the experience is great. We all agreed that due to how unique it is to actually taste estate wines in a cellar, straight from the aging vessel. Interestingly, this time I was able to taste Missouri Oak barrel aged wine (and, being from Missouri – that’s cool!). They even had a cross-over barrel called “MO/FO” – because it was both Missouri Oak and French Oak.

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  • Seavey – 9 out of 10. Such a great experience! Although the drive was a bit out of the way, and took several miles off the beaten path on winding backroads, we did really enjoy the quaint secluded estate. We had a private tour, got a chance to see some of the local farm animals (goats and cows), and enjoyed a very personal tour of the bottling/aging facilities. It really simplified the overall process and helped us get a great sense of the care they take in their bottling process.

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  • Chimney Rock – 7 out of 10. This was a somewhat corporate tasting, standing at a tasting bar. What was nice about this place, though, was we got to see their indoor private event space, which doubles as an aging shed. My parents-in-law were so impressed, they decided they would do their 25th wedding anniversary there. They clearly enjoy Chimney Rock wine a bit more than we do, though, as we thought most of the varietals (besides the Cabernets) were just OK.

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  • Saintsbury – 10 out of 10. We are still so in love with this place. Now, as a member of their wine club, you can really tell how much they appreciate your business. We got a private tasting seated near the private library reserve tasting room. Our guide (Galen) is the same guy who runs all of their customer contact, so I had been in touch with him many times previously. He doesn’t generally do tastings anymore, so I could tell it was because we were members that we received such special treatment. We will definitely be back!

 

Til Next Time,

Michael

Ex Prisoner Massage Center

As I shared previously, 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 experiences we had were at all of the massage centers in Chiang Mai. Specifically, I’d like to elaborate on our time at the Women’s Massage Center.

This chain of massage studios is actually a concept developed to provide vocational opportunity for ex-prisoners (yes, you read that right!). Given that spas are so prominent in Asia, the skill and trade of providing great spa therapies is something that is highly-coveted. Once you get past the momentary pause that you are (gasp!) about to receive a foot massage or spa treatment from an ex-prisoner – this place is absolutely magical.

One of the most intriguing parts of this chain is the price. It’s simply unbeatable. At one point, I believe we paid 200 Baht (roughly $6 US) for a one hour foot massage. Given that these are in fact ex-prisoners, they intentionally keep the cost low because it is really a win-win. #1 – you, the consumer, win because who doesn’t like the idea of a $6 hour-long foot massage? #2 – they, the therapists, receive education, training, and a vocational opportunity to make some good (by Chiang Mai standards) money while learning an extremely valuable trade that can keep them gainfully employed for a long time.

And, I would be remiss if I did not mention how professional and incredible these women were. Whatever stigma one may have about “prisoners”, I can truly say these women were energetic, kind, and extremely proficient in their trade. Seeing how they interacted and chatted with each other really showed how much they enjoy the opportunity and the “new lease on life” they have when they get to work with such strong and positive peer influences.

Such a stark contrast from Naka Island. Maybe it’s partially the fact that I could get 50 hours of foot massage for what I paid for the Naka Spa treatment. Maybe it’s because the energy and vibe were so positive. Maybe it’s because it was less stuffy, a bit more rickety, but way more charming. Maybe it’s all the above.

Either way – I cannot recommend this place highly enough!

Til Next Time,

Michael

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


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