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I travel to Las Vegas almost every year, usually for work, and I may tack on an extra personal day or two, depending on what’s going on in my life that week. This trip was completely business with no add on days. I’ve stayed up and down the Strip on previous visits, including the Luxor, Aria, Planet Hollywood and even the Stratosphere (God help me). Once I even stayed off Strip at the Red Rock resort. This time, I decided to try something new, get away from the massive casinos and earn some night/stay credits at Starwood. After a little research, I settled on the SLS Las Vegas. I have never stayed at an SLS Property before, but these hotels are part of Starwood’s Tribute Collection and can be found in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and the Bahamas.
The rate was on par with the other hotels I found, but the SLS was offering a couple bonuses to the rate, including 20% off all food and beverage plus a $25/day credit to food and bev charged to the room. Easy enough as these credits would offset the $35 Resort Fee that was in addition to the rate (even including this fee the nightly cost was on par with other hotels of its quality during my stay).
I still had five Platinum Suite Night Upgrades on the books, so I decided to use them here. I have a hell of a time getting these upgrades to clear in the US and often a few will go to waste. Surprisingly the upgrades cleared pretty early and I was put into a World Tower suite.
I arrived around 20h00 and found no line at check-in. My previous experiences in Las Vegas always had at least a 30 minute wait – obviously I planned my arrival a little better this time. Check-in wasn’t a painless process however. My rate was right, but the man helping me didn’t see the two F&B benefits. He actually told me they didn’t offer things like that – I had to show him my emailed confirmation. Now whether the credits would have worked the same or not, I don’t know, but I wanted this confirmed. This took about 15 minutes. At the end of this discussion, he told me he had personally upgraded me to a World Tower Suite (the same category that the Platinum Upgrades got me). I mentioned that the “personal upgrade” he had given me was the same upgrade that was given to me a week prior. Of course I asked if he could kick the upgrade to a better room. He said he had done everything he could do (which was nothing). That’s fine, I got good use out only upgrades and if he thought he did something to get it for me, good for him.
After this interaction, my expectations had fallen pretty far. I got to my room, on the 28th floor and was really surprised. The had a fun and funky design – mostly white, with some garish silver accents. There was a ton of space in my living area, enough that they could have added some more seating or a larger bar area.
The bedroom was not only the sleeping area, but the work area. I would have liked the desk to be in the other room to give a more separated feel and allow for a more balanced use of the space.
To get to the bathroom, you had to walk though the closet, which wasn’t a problem for me. There was ample open storage in the closet, which unused immediately. On work trips, especially when I wear suits, I always unpack and hang my clothes.
The bathroom was very big, with a walk in shower, single sink vanity and the toilet. There wasn’t enough space to add a separate tub, but I think it could have been done if the shower had been a little smaller. That being said, I’m not taking a bath in a hotel room in Las Vegas. There is just something off about that to me.
The bathroom use to had two sinks, which you could see by the way the plumbing fixtures were laid out. I don’t think two sinks is necessary in a hotel – if you do have two, I like one to be separate from the main bathroom, so you can use the sink while your roommate is in the bathroom…doing….whatever.
The water pressure and temperature were perfect. Actually, the temperature got quite scalding in the sink, but I’d rather regulate that than shave with tepid water.
With the food and bev credits, I decided to dine on property quite a bit. The Monkey Bar, on the main floor between Registration and the Casino was fun. It is a small bar, open to the public spaces, but was adorned with photos of various apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, etc) in formal attire. Some making martinis, others waiting for your direction. A little garish, but I was digging it. I drank a variation of the cocktail Aviation, called Buzz the Tower, which I enjoyed.
The first night we ate at Katsuya, the sushi restaurant. It wasn’t inventive and the fish seemed a shade less than fresh. It wasn’t bad, but it did give us pause.
The next night we decided to splurge. Dinner was following a rough day as this was the day after the maniac opened fire on the concert at Mandalay Bay killing (at the time I write this) 59 people and injuring more than 500. We had some team members at that concert and luckily everyone from our group was safe. Suffice it to say, I took it upon myself to treat the team to a nice dinner.
We went to Bazaar Meat by José Andrés – the steakhouse, and enjoyed the tasting menu. The food was really phenomenal and when I mentioned I don’t care for salmon (which was one of the courses), the server swapped it out quickly and easily. The steak here was truly great- prepared perfectly and seasoned with a bit of big flake sea salt.
I also ate at the pizzeria one night, 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria. Here, you design your own pie (I had a traditional Margherita Pizza with pepperoni, pineapple, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes and artichoke hearts). Pairing with a beer made for a great dinner.
Finally, I grabbed a burger at Umami Burgers. This was the only place I had heard about before my visit to this property. A few colleagues commented that they truly loved the burgers here. I was excited…then after my first bite, I was disappointed. The burger patty itself seemed over processed, the taste and texture felt a bit off. If you are looking for a burger, skip Umami’s and head down to Bobby Flay’s Bobby’s Burger Palace at City Center, head and shoulders above this competitor.
I gambled a bit here too. While the Casino isn’t big, it wasn’t crowded either. The minimums were low, which surprised me when I saw the table occupancy. I also watched three Chinese men lose $15,000 each at baccarat within about 10 minutes of play. That was exciting and confusing. I left when they each pulled out a huge wad of cash to start the process over again.
I snagged a late check out, without a problem too.
I really enjoyed my stay at the SLS Las Vegas and am looking forward to my return…and I will definitely return. The property is a manageable size, but has all the amenities I’d want in a Las Vegas resort – great dining, accessible gambling, a cool looking pool (which I missed out on because I had to work) and it even had access to the monorail. It really was a win-win.
Have you stayed at the SLS Las Vegas? What about the other SLS Properties? What do you look for in a Las Vegas hotel?
Our final stop on our trip to Myanmar was the St. Regis Bangkok. We’ve stayed at this property at the end of our last two week trip through Southeast Asia (after we visited Vietnam and Cambodia). Staying in luxury hotels is very easy in Bangkok – there are a ton of them and they are so much more reasonably priced in this market than anywhere else I have seen in the world.
We figured it would be utterly foolish to book the St. Regis on points, as it goes for 30,000 Starpoints each night or we could pay cash for only 150USD per night. We opted for the latter and as an SPG Platinum member who stays 50+ nights annually, I am awarded 10-suite night upgrades, which I used two for our stay in Bangkok. We were only going to be there a single night, but our flight home (via Munich) was scheduled to leave around 01h00 and we didn’t want to deal with luggage handling or vacating our room at 16h00 then finding something to do for four or five hours, especially at this price point.
After ditching those Oregonians who wanted to split a cab into the City, we pulled up to the main door at the St. Regis, around 16h00 and were greeted by several doormen, all smiling, bowing and graciously taking our luggage. Reception is on the 12th floor of the hotel, while the first floor houses several seating areas, a chocolate retailer and a Concierge Desk and what appeared to be a Tour desk. Our luggage was whisked away and we were escorted to the main elevator and walked directly to a young German man who was waiting to check us in.
We did not catch this German’s name (I know he told us, but we forgot). We called him Rolf (from the Sound of Music…not because we thought he was a member of the National Socialist Party, but because he looked like the actor who played him in the film). He was young and seemed a bit confused during most of our interactions. He was clicking and typing away as he confirmed our stay details, scanned our passports and made small talk. He had been in Bangkok for a six month rotation with SPG and he was very excited to get out. He didn’t like the heat. He was heading off to Madrid and would do a six month rotation at the Westin Palace, which we had stayed a year or two prior to this visit to Bangkok.
Rolf welcomed me as a Gold member and informed me that he had personally upgraded us to a standard room with a better view because of my loyalty and before I could correct him, he began telling me all about the benefits of being a Gold Member. I let him finish. I then told him I was a Platinum member and that we were confirmed into a Suite. He suggested that SPG had downgraded me to Gold for some reason (perish the thought). It looks like the St. Regis wasn’t pulling all the current info on my record into their systems, but were just using the info from my most recent stay (Gold Status and old US address). It took some convincing – and asking him to check with someone else on our status and our room. He did and got it cleared up. He graciously personally upgraded us to the room that we had been confirmed into five days prior. We were happy with the result but the round about way to get there was frustrating.
Rolf escorted us to our room and showed us all the features. We didn’t have much Thai Baht on us at that time and we wanted to make sure the more local folks would get that, so we tipped Rolf in Euros which he seemed to appreciate (he had less than a week left in Bangkok).
Our room was stunning. The room was way too big for us, especially since we’d be spending little time in the room and only sleeping there one night, but it was very nice to have ample room to stretch out and enjoy the space.
As you open the main door you are greeted by a very long entry way, with an entry table and a beautiful orchid.
To left is the living area, which included a dining area with seating for four, a couch paired with a couple of club chairs facing the TV and closest to the hallway was a bar. The bar had a fancy Siemens Nespresso coffee machine, which was lost on us as we aren’t coffee drinkers. I did make a cup of tea though.
On the dining table the welcome amenity of fresh fruit was waiting our arrival. The fruit was very tasty and the Butler replenished the items we ate when we stepped out.
The room also include small half bath between the main hallway and the living space. Not really a necessity for us, but it was very nice to have.
To the right of the main hallway was the bedroom, which had a TV, a small writing desk and a king sized bed. I love the modern muted colors of the St. Regis. The bed was very comfortable, but during turn down service we were given only milk chocolate, which is pretty standard, but something I’d rather skip. Give me dark or nothing!
The bathroom was large and beautiful. The large shower with a view into the City was separated from the rest of the room and tucked away in the corner. The separate bathtub did not get used this time – last time I had the Butler fill me a bubble bath where I enjoyed champagne and read magazines that I’d schlepped half way around the world.
The water pressure and temperature were phenomenal. The Elemis products (from the spa on site) were perfectly acceptable. I wasn’t really digging the scent, but they did their job and each time we left the room the bathroom was reset with new products (old ones weren’t taken away, but anything that we had used, an additional one was brought in, so we had no fear of running out).
As a Platinum Member, we were welcomed each evening to the Bar on the 12th Floor where a special area was reserved for Platinum members – for a daily reception. This was part of our welcome amenity. Complimentary cocktails and snacks were offered, which I enjoyed both days I was there. I lounged by myself on our second day, as Mike didn’t want to fill up because we had the Thai Royal First Ground Experience plus Royal First on a Thai 747 to Munich too. I’m a glutton, so I had prosecco and snacks before we started our journey home.
I really enjoyed our stay at the St. Regis Bangkok – this stay ended on a much better note than the last time we stayed. No drama with checkout or extremely stressed, panicking staff. I would return to this property again in a heartbeat. We do a poor job of exploring Bangkok when we are here, at this point of our trips, we are usually ready for some luxury and the St. Regis property and the wonderful team who staff her provide exactly what we are looking for.
Where do you stay when in Bangkok? Do you jump in with both feet to the luxury hotels the city offers or do you prefer to save some travel money and visit the more normal hotels that go for as low as 50USD? When in this city, we like to splurge, but love to hear about other properties too. Where should we stay during our next visit to Bangkok?
Our third and final stop in Myanmar was in the Inle Lake Region. We flew from Bagan to Heho then drove 45 minutes through winding hilly roads and reach the hotel, which straddles the road and abuts the lake itself. Our rooms were across the road from the lake, near the reception area, the restaurant and the spa. Getting to the lake took just a couple minutes – the road you must cross is no more than 4 meters wide.
As we pulled into the circular drive, the bell staff were ready and waiting to help with luggage. We headed up to the reception area to collect our keys and we were given cold watermelon juice and cold towels to help us recover from the commute. The weather was much warmer at Inle Lake than we had experienced throughout the rest of the trip, but it was still cooler than we had anticipated. It was in the mid to high 30s (95F) and the sun was intense.
We were assigned room 2003, which was just a 2 minute walk from the he reception area. We were driven in a golf cart and our luggage was taken in a separate cart. Completely unnecessary, but a nice gesture.
The room was large with two twin beds-again, our request as someone snores… There was also a lofted area with another bed, we didn’t use this one of course. Each bed had their own mosquito net and the room did have air conditioning, which worked quite well and cooled the room down quickly.
There was a sunken living areas with a somewhat uncomfortable couch and chair. The TV didn’t work, but the channel guide showed about a dozen news channels, just like we saw at Bagan Lodge. It would have been nice to watch the news as the Internet was excruciatingly slow and it would drop connection frequently. I just wanted to keep up on the ACA news back, the London Attack and the Russian Election Interference Probe. It is good to disconnect a bit though. I do wish, if the Internet was that slow, they just wouldn’t offer Internet, it just causes me frustration when it is exceedingly slow.
Off the living area there was a deck that looked towards the lake, but no lake view. On the deck there were two chairs which we used both days to do some writing and quiet reflection.
The four piece bathroom had a segregated WC, a single sink, a separate sunken tub and an open shower. The closet was also in the bathroom area.
The amenities were fine – mostly unneeded for us (toothbrush, hair dryer, sewing kit), but needed to check the boxes for the various hotel rating agencies. The shampoo, body wash and lotion were in ceramic vessels. I didn’t like this. One, it was hard to get the right amount of shampoo out – I felt I was wasting so much of it. Two, I was afraid it would fall, shattering when it hits the floor and then subsequently slicing my feet. I prefer individual plastic bottles. That’s my personal preference.
I took breakfast in the hotel one day, which was included in our rate. They opted not to set the buffet, but allowed us to choose from the a la carte menu. I had French Toast, which was a little bland and a bit under cooked- very eggy. The breads that were served were good and half the fruit was great. The watermelon was at the peak of ripeness, while the pineapple was mostly core and at least a week from being ripe.
We ate dinner at the restaurant once and it was awful. Like most of the trip, we ate family style. The chicken curry was flavorless, which was head and shoulders better than the beef. The beef tasted like it had turned. I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, but something was definitely wrong. I started with the Tom Yum Soup, which had great flavor, but the vegetables were so large, you couldn’t eat them – each vegetable was at least an inch and a half long, which makes it difficult to spoon. We left not hungry, but saddened.
We decided to visit the spa during our stay too. The hotel was running a special on a 60 minute Thai massage for 34USD. Yes, I know we could have schlepped into the neighboring town and got a cheaper massage, but about a fifty cents a minute, I’ll pay for the convenience.
I had a special massage (not like that!). I was escorted to the treatment room, which had a queen sized bed, no massage table, just a big bed. I was given thin sweatpants and a t-shirt that was at least 3 sizes too small. The massuese was very small, but she was strong and used every portion of that bed. She used physics to contort me into positions I hadn’t been in since I was in college! At one point as she’s holding both my legs straight up in the air, I thought she was trying to get better TV reception – I was her antenna and she couldn’t get Judge Judy to come in clearly. After about five minutes of playing human windmill, she got back to the traditional Thai massage techniques. She did a great job.
The hotel has a pool, which is across the street from the rest of the hotel amenities. We used the pool for a few minutes, but there weren’t enough umbrellas nor was there a bar, so it got hot and sober pretty quickly. We did spent a bit of time in the hot tub, which is filled daily from local hot springs. The first day they failed to fill it. The second day we spent about 45 minutes relaxing in the hot tub, with a cocktail. The hot tub is near a stagnant lagoon (at least when we were there), so it was very buggy.
The bar had a standard drink menu, with a focus on local fruit drinks as well as classic cocktails (Negroni, Old Fashioned, etc.) and we’re priced at standard Myanmar Hotel Bar prices – between 4-5USD each.
While we didn’t choose this hotel ourselves, it was selected by our tour operator, I would definitely stay here again. The rooms are nicely appointed and comfortable, the amenities are higher end and the service was a bit slow, but genuine. Just don’t eat at the restaurant for dinner.
Have you been to Inle Lake? Where did you stay? What do you look for in a hotel on a Trekking vacation, like this? What amenities and a must have?
Our tour guide had booked us for two nights at the Bagan Lodge without any real guidance from us. We were excited about this property when we first received the initial itinerary as the photos and reviews were stellar.
I love open air hotel experiences. Being in an area where the weather allows for a reception and dining area open to the elements just amazes me. I’ve never lived in and place like this, so I still get excited whenever I can experience it.
As we pull into the driveway, we are greeted by several hotel staff members welcoming us. Some grab our bags, others hand us cold towels to help refresh us after our travels, another brings out a tray of watermelon juice and the rest stand off to the side with enormous smiles.
We don’t check in. Our guide tells us that our rooms are ready but we need to wait a moment for the hotels driver to pick us up in the golf cart. I wasn’t too keen on staying at such a sprawling property where a golf cart is really the best option to get around. We loaded ourselves into the cart (sans luggage) and got a bit of a tour of the grounds. We drove past the spa that was adjacent to the reception area. We saw two pools, one of which is next to the restaurant, bar and reception area, while the second was area little farther afield. Both were beautiful and were definitely calling my name. As we continued our tour the driver tells us not to worry that our rooms are are nearby…we arrive at our rooms (57 & 58), which were less than a minute walk from the reception desk. We were given a tour of the property while our luggage was delivered to our rooms, which was a nice surprise.
The rooms are separated into a couple dozen buildings, each building housing two rooms. As we toured the property by cart, I thought the rooms had tent like canvas roofs, which can be quaint, but it can also be an utter pain. The tent roofs are not the main roof for the rooms, a proper ceiling and roof is under the white tent. Sometimes with tent roofs you can run into heating/cooling issues and more bugs that you’d expect. Neither of those were issues here.
The rooms do have a connecting door, which is a pet peeve of mine, but we heard no noise from our friends who were in the room next door.
We opted for two twin beds this time (Mike can snore and I am and light sleeper, so a little space can allow me to get some better rest). Our room was really well appointed. I likes the dark wood finishes – although the floor was polished to the extreme and was very slippery in sock feet.
There was a small TV in the corner that had about a dozen news channels (France24, DW, BBC, CNN, MiTV and a couple others). The small seating area wasn’t all that comfortable, but it was nice to have a spot to sit and chat that wasn’t the bed. The desk was under the TV and while on the small side, would allow you to get a bit of work done. Speaking of work, the hotel’s WiFi was very fast – surprisingly fast, especially considering what we had heard before we left and what we were expecting.
We ate dinner at the restaurant the first night and the food was perfectly fine. The Myanmar selection tasted like the other Myanmar food we had eaten. Not spicy, not a wide range of flavors, nothing outstanding, but perfectly acceptable food, which met our needs. The restaurant closed at 22h00 and we popped over at 21h15 for dinner to find that most of the tables had been reset for breakfast and the staff was a little put off that we wanted to have dinner at that hour. They got over their initial shock and frustration pretty quickly and provided good service throughout that dining process.
We used the pool bar a couple of times. The service reminded me of EVA Airlines. You didn’t really see the servers, but once you asked for help they leapt into service. I ended up spending a few hours in the pool our last night as Mike was a bit sick and I had been looking forward to the pool since I first laid eyes on it. Our first day, we tested out the water and it was warm and utterly luxurious. The next day, the water was quite frigid – it was a big shock getting into the pool.
We decided to visit the spa one day and of all things at the Bagan Lodge, this is the one that needs some work. We were able to get on-demand massages (no need to book ahead) at all the places we stayed in Myanmar. This property was a little strange – there was no spa music, so you’d hear the staff members chatting, you’d hear other guests getting their massages and sounds from the nearby bar. It wasn’t all that relaxing of an experience. We were required to put on the disposable spa underwear, which burst into thousands of small underwear pieces as I brought it up to my knees. Evidently my 6′ 185lbs frame is too much for the disposable underoos. My friend had the exact same experience – except he was given just a couple of seconds to change before the masseuse came back into the room – catching him in all his glory as he loudly proclaims ‘I’m not ready…not ready…NOT READY.” I heard this interaction loud and clear, since there was no music in the facility – and I nearly died laughing.
The Bagan Lodge was a great base for all of our exploring in and around Bagan. The hotel staff provided better than expected service. The property was stunning and I wouldn’t hesitate to return again.
Where did you stay in Bagan? Did you go higher end like our guides picked out for us, or did you choose to stay in a more modest traveler hotel?
Our trip to Myanmar started in Yangon with a couple days of touring, eating and meeting people. We were picked up at the Sule Shangri-La Hotel and headed immediately to the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT). The YHT is an independent organization that advocates and promotes understanding and appreciation of Yangon’s historic architecture with a focus on integrating these buildings into the 21st century vision of Yangon. While the YHT has no policy making authority, they do put forth recommendations, educational sessions, tours and even help in the restoration of historic buildings.
The YHT wasn’t technically open during our visit, but they were kind enough to provide a special tour for our small group. The tour started at the YHT offices and then headed out into the street to see the buildings and explore the work done throughout the area by YHT. We even saw some new buildings that were being built recently and much to the chagrin of both YHT and us, some of these buildings are just awful, devoid of any real architectural character.
Our final stop with the YHT was at the Ministers’ Building – formerly known as the Secretariat. This building was the former Administrative Building of the Colonial British Government. We weren’t able to enter the gates nor could we get a tour. This property opens to the public just once a year — or if you provide substantial donations to the renovation process, you can get private tours too — we weren’t here during the public opening nor did we write a big check to get in. Both the buildings and grounds need some repair work, but luckily this building is actually getting renovated and is not slated to be torn down. It is a beautiful building and if you happen to get the opportunity to walk the grounds or get a tour inside the building, please let me know – I’d love to hear the details and see you photos!
As the YHT has a plan for the future of Yangon – blending ancient temples and pagodas, the colonial building and modern structures, they put together a vision of the future. Take a look at this vision of a blending Yangon — does anything look familiar? For those of you not from the Windy City — the skyline in the background is actually Chicago. You can see the Willis (f/k/a Sears) Tower, the Aon Center and the red CNA Tower.
We visited the Reclining Buddha in Yangon, which is the largest in Yangon and one of the largest in the world. There weren’t many tourists when we visited, but we did see many monks and what I presume to be locals at the Buddha praying.
We visited a Buddhist convent shortly after their lunch. At the convent these nuns eat just two meals a day. Breakfast is served before sunrise and lunch is served between 10h30-11h30 each day. We arrived around 11h00 and found the nuns and the novices cleaning up from their lunch. This cute young novice had just finished doing the lunch dishes during our tour.
We took a break from touring in Yangon and visited the historic hotel, The Strand. This beautifully renovated hotel was a wonderful place to relax, cool off and enjoy a cocktail.
After a cocktail break, we continued on exploring the two main temples in Yangon. We were pleased we opted to hire a guide for our trek not only through Yangon but Myanmar in general. While we were stuck in traffic, the vehicle we were in was comfortable and we didn’t have to worry about trying to provide proper directions or ensuring that our driver really knew were we were trying to go.
The Sule Pagoda was just a couple hundred meters from the Sule Shangri-La Hotel, our home base while in Yangon. The Sule Pagoda is the center of the city with the roads radiating from the Pagoda itself. We didn’t enter the Pagoda, as we were told the interior had just a bunch of low quality tourist shops.
Our final major site in Yangon was the Shwedagon Pagoda. We decided to visit this site at dusk and spent about an hour walking around the Pagoda, watching Buddhists praying, dodging children running wild and even jumping out of the way of a small rat scurrying across our path
We decided to splurge on dinner and visited a French restaurant which was about a 30 minute drive from our hotel. Le Planteur has a beautiful outdoor dining area right on a small lake and near the US Embassy. It was too dark to take any real photos of our food, but we enjoyed our selections. The beef was a little gamey and despite the fact that there were a few ducks walking around our feet, the duck was removed from the menu. The meal was quite expensive for Yangon — actually it was pretty expensive period. The space itself was stunning and I spent more time than I should just imagining the old parties held at that property during British Colonial Rule.
What were your favorite parts of Yangon? Did you find a small, off the beaten path, place that just made your trip? What must see places did you visit, but realize weren’t must see?