Teo Degas Sunday, 13 July 2014

Vismaya Suvarnabhumi Luxury Resort
98 Moo 15 Soi King Kaew 43,
Bang Phli, Samut Prakan,
10540 Thailand
Phone: 66 (2) 738 49 88

Vismaya Budget Transit Hotel is what the hotel should be called, because this what Vismaya is. You get what you pay and you cannot get luxury for 50 bucks the night, right? Still, the words work magic on you psyche especially if the hotel has flattering images of the rooms and a pool in them. 

This is a very convenient transit hotel, especially good if you just have to spend a few hours sleeping without any wanderings in Bangkok between your flights: the hotel is pleasant, has spacious rooms, a nice pool, bar/restaurant/cafe, free buffet breakfast, free hourly transfer to the airport, free Wi-Fi at awesome prices. All what you need.

If you are going to stay for a few days or for an extra day, you might want go elsewhere, as the location is not good to wander round but in taxi. On the other hand, if you decide to stay, you will find that place relaxing, and you will save a good deal of money you can spend the way you like.

I think the hotel is backpackers friendly, and an upgrade from a normal backpacker place, with many facilities you find in good hotels minus the price.    

 My "deluxe" room was very spacious and luminous, facing the pool, with lots of storage room, flat TV, with a very comfortable firm bed. There was a long benched table, an armchair and a desk chair. The bathroom was spotless clean and shiny with separate bathtub and shower. However, both areas were Spartan regarding everything else, bare concrete floors, run out furniture and appliances in need of an overhaul.

The staff were polite but a bit abrupt at times. This is due, mostly, to their poor English and difficulty at communicating properly. Lost in translation has a meaning here. I found that the ladies at reception softened with Thai greetings and thankyouses, and relaxed enough to be smiley and way friendlier. 

+ The hotel offers an hourly free shuttle to/from the airport. The transfer trakes about 10 minutes if the traffic is good.
+ Free Wifi all around the hotel, both in the rooms and lobby. Mine was fast and reliable, and it is remarkable in such a cheap hotel.
+ ATM in the premises.

+ Storage room for your luggage if you want to go to the city after check out.
+ Buffet breakfast is included.
+ The Lobby is an open space used as lobby, cafe, restaurant and bar. During the day is very luminous and relaxes, but it lives up once the night lights and music are on. They have a decent selection of Western and Thai favourites, and of soft and alcoholic drinks, at medium prices.
> Muggy room despite the air-con. You need the air-con to run for a while to get it right. The room was really hot and muggy when I arrived. The hotel gives guests one key card that is used both to open the door and operate the electric system; if you go out for a while, the room will be left without air-con and will be muggy at your return. It would cost little giving guests two key cards, especially to those staying more than a few hours overnight. 
> Air-con is noisy.
> The bedside tables were at floor level, way below the bed, so they were of no use! 
> Slow drainage in the shower. 
> Minimal toiletries.
>There are tons of TV channels to choose from. Most of them in Thai. Only Channel 896 *You2Play" had some music in English. This is a transit hotel full of Westerners, why not including a few channels at least in English?
The buffet breakfast was varied but a bit tasteless. There was a mix of cooked Asian and Western favourites, fruit and salad plates, plus coffee, tea, juice, fresh fruit, cereals, etc. I thought that the cold part of the breakfast should be covered as flies were binging on the fruit. It does not cost much placing the cold food in covered containers. 
> Several cabs at the door. They are not metered so you will paying about double than you would with a metered one. However, they are affordable for most Western main currencies, and they come handy to go to the city. The pricing chart for the main destinations is clearly visible and written in English at the reception desk.

> Minimal decoration. The paintings in my room were three empty frames, framing the crack on the wall (see photo). It made me smile, though. 
> The towels are old and ratty (see the photo).

> Repairs badly done in the bathtub base (see photos). 
> Check out was not extended for a late departure despite me checking at 5 pm the previous day. 
> Staff at the bar/cafe were polite but totally disinterested in attending to customers. I tried to get their attention 3 times, by hand gestures and "excuse me" without success and I had to get up and approach the bar to get my bill.
> The notepad had not been refilled, just one leaf left. No pen. 

> There are geckos everywhere, especially the corridors, in the evening and night. One of them welcomed me in my room (see photo). They eat insects and, in a way, they are a natural insecticide, but 1/ they are very noisy 2/ they move fast, 3/ they come out at night, 4/ you want to go to sleep without having to worry about closing your bags or your eyes.  I like geckos, but no hotel should have them around, especially in the rooms. Otherwise, market them as a charming environmental insecticide, tell customers that they aren't dangerous, so visitors are prepared.   

> The surroundings of the hotel are not inviting to have a walk. 
> The place is located away from the main road, in a lateral side street, not easy to find by taxi, unless you are familiar with the area and you can direct the driver or they have the hotel card in Thai.

Teo Degas

Corner of Wale St & Burg St,
Cape Town Central 8000
Phone:021 481 4000

Located in the very heart of the city, in front of the cathedral, by the local gardens, the always busy St George Mall, and many of the must-see sights of the city, the Three Cities Rhodes was a home away from home during my stay in Cape Town.

My apartment on the 7th floor was very quiet, huge! very luminous during the day with views of Table Mountain, with classy decoration, and very comfortable. It has a full kitchen, Vaddaboom!, with fridge, washing machine, dryer, stove, microwave and a basic set of cooking tools, crockery, cutlery and glasses and cups. The living area, despite being conjoined with the kitchen, was huge, with two couches, a big dining table, flat screen TV+DVD, three mini coffee tables with magazines, and what is not. The bedroom had a full closet (yes, a full separated closet!) with a big sized safe, plus several drawers and side tables in the room. The bathroom had separated shower and bathtub, a small selection of good quality toiletries and a hair drier.  

Some of the heating buttons on the wall warm up the floor underneath the carpet and it is just wonderful walking barefoot! Not enough? All the apartment had plenty of power points, so recharging or plugging many gadgets at the same time was not a problem at all.

The apartment was spotless clean and fully serviced every day.  

All the staff were very helpful, welcoming and lovely, especially the ones at reception. My especial thanks to Moses, who dealt with many of my queries and issues and did always so with attentiveness and professionalism. 

++ Great gym, with plenty of machinery. It is not huge, but it has a great selection of cardio and lifting machines.
++ Great pool area
++ Great view of Table Mountain from the upper floors and the aviary. 
++ ATM in the premises
++ An office of Cape Town Tourism in the building, in front of reception. Most tour companies pick up and drop off this hotel.
++ Long opening hours good-quality South-African-made gift shop in the building with attentive staff.
++ Intelligent safe access to the lifts and floors.
++ Three different exits to the street.
++ Several supermarkets around, one of then in front of the hotel. The one opening till late is the Pick & Pay located at about 10 minutes walking distance from the hotel.  
++ Two cafes in the building. I just visited Motherland for some proper caffeine fix. The staff were great, the coffee OK, the price ridiculous. Five bucks for a medium takeaway pained me to the core on the second visit and I stopped visiting.
++ An in-house Spa, called Wellness Club Spa. The Spa has fabulous premises, a glamorous reception, a very welcoming and lovely lady owner, and great staff. They open long hours, are very accommodating about anything, and accept cash, credit or in-room bill. I had one of the best remedial massage ever by a Chinese experience masseur, and a lovely Thalgo facial by a local therapist. The body scrub was sub par, though. I loved their steam room (perfect temperature!) and rest rooms.

# The air-con and ventilation system were very noisy, especially the latter in the bathrooms, which keep going on non-stop.
# Free Wi-Fi limited to 100 MB per day (enough for emailing and browsing, not much else). If you want faster and bigger you have to pay for it.

-- I tried to make some phone calls from my room. The line was engaged all the time, probably because I forgot to introduce some of the local prefixes. Upon checking out, I was told that I had to pay 12 Rands because it showed that somebody had replied, perhaps a voice mail service. Nothing of that happened. The sum is very small, but paying for not speaking is never good. The guy at reception was lovely and sorted out things for me, so I did not have to pay anything.
-- My last hours at the hotel were quite upsetting. Checking out time is 11am. At 9am the lady at the tour desk called to tell me to be at the lobby at 10.45 to get my transfer to the airport ( I found it odd, as I had arranged things the previous day) A few minutes later, one of the ladies working at housekeeping tried to open the door; when I opened from inside, she apologised and said that she thought I have left... it was not 11am and I had not checked out, how on earth did she come with that idea? Ten minutes later a couple of guys rang the bell asking to enter the apartment to fix whatever; I told them NO, to come after I vacate the room. Ten minutes later, again!, a cleaner rang the bell and asked me when to come to do the apartment. I felt that they were trying to speed up my departure. This sort of behaviour is unprofessional and unacceptable in a four star hotel, as this is not a charity shelter. I don't want to feel pushed out of my room, one I paid, because housekeeping wants to hurry up. As they pushed me, I did stay until I needed it. :)

>> Provide customers with disposable sleepers and wardrobe. This is a four-star hotel and one expects these things to be there. 
>> I would have a scourer and better quality dish-washing liquid in the kitchen.
>> I would add a lamp in the living room area, as the light is dim in the evenings and not good for people with poor sight.
>> I would live up the decoration of the apartment, which is a bit outdated regarding style, by adding some splash of colour on the bedroom and living room.  
>> I would make sure that I have adaptors for Australian guests. This is a problem throughout Southern Africa, as many of the Universal adaptors would fit the two-pin Australian plugs, but not the three-pin ones, which are standard in Australia.
>> I would provide a return shuttle to the Waterfront. At the moment is just one way, and guests have to return by taxi. It would be great if the hotel had its own van, at scheduled times, even if they charged a few Rands per head. 
>> I would place the safe mid level in the shelves not in on the floor one! It is just annoying and not practical! The batteries that run the program had to be changed and the guy who did the job had it not easy.
>> I would give strict instructions to housekeeping not to disturb customers until they check out and reception has the keys of the apartment-room.  

There is an ample cabinet behind the toilet mirrors.

This is a great hotel, in the heart of the city, with many services and facilities for customers. One of the few hotels that I can say that you get value for money!

Teo Degas Monday, 7 July 2014

Protea Hotel Livingstone
Plot 2110, Mosi-O-Tunya Road
PO Box 60286
Phone: +260 213 324 630

The hotel is located in a quiet safe area, in the outskirts of the city, at about 20 minutes walking distance from the Museum. Nobody will annoy you while waking around, actually people will be very friendly to you if you just smile.

The common areas are just beautiful with a colonial style and plenty of water ponds and fountains, great furniture and paintings, which contrasts with the dryness of the hotel surroundings. The pool is small but lovely, next to the restaurant, which also operates as a bar.

My room had classic colonial style, and it was lovely, comfortable, very spacious with a huge bathroom and wall mirror, and a basic selection of good quality toiletries (citronella repellent moisturiser included). Both the room and the toilet were super-clean and there was an electric anti-repellent in the room. The room had a flat screen TV with a varied selection of channels, 3 movies channels, BBC, Aljazeera and National Geographic, among others.

The restaurant was open long hours and offer a varied selection of Zambian and international dishes. The restaurant is a bit pricey for Zambia standards, but it is very pleasant, stylish, and offers small buffet dinners and lunches at 150 Kwatcha (about 24$ Au). I had the breakfast included in the price of my room, and it was also buffet style with plenty of sweet and savoury, hot and cold options, and also Zambian and International dishes. Request your breakfast pack if you have to leave the room before the restaurant opens (7am) and collect it from reception; this pack includes just cold stuff.

This was my first visit to Zambia and the staff made my visit really enjoyable and unforgettable, and most of them were very polite, friendly and attentive. Some of them were extremely helpful and went out of their way to help me in anything I requested.

+ The hotel has one of the best complimentary high speed wifi I have found in my African trips!
+ Most tour operators drop buy and pick up from the hotel, so it is very convenient to visit Victoria Falls. 
+ Wakeup call available and they called on the clock.
+ There is a small gift and tour shop at the lobby.
+ Huge selection of food and drinks at the restaurant and bar. 

== The towels racks in the toilet were too high for me!
== The storage room for storage was limited despite the room being quite large.
== There was no bathrobe or sleepers, no pen or pencil in my room.
== The hotel has no room service.
== All the power points in my room were used, so one needs to unplug things (fridge, TV, or lamp) to plug anything else.
==  I was told twice that I could not get an international adaptor valid for my Australian plug. The excuse, "we have it for African plugs" is a bit lame, Livingstone is a place massively visited by non-African tourists. It was my persistence in asking for a solution and the kindness of one of the guys at the hotel that provided me with an international switchboard to recharge my laptop. I have been in very remote countries in the world, way more remote than Zambia, and they had International adaptors and no excuses.
== The lunch and dinner buffet were pricey (about 24$ Au) and the beef used in the dishes was really poor quality, with plenty of bones and tendons, not much meat in it.
== The only fitness centre I saw on my floor was a lonely cross-trainer/bicycle placed in a corridor..  
== The Breakfast pack I got one of the days was poor, not even a hard boiled egg in it.
==  In general, I found the hotel pricey for the services you get.

-- I would try to enlarge the number of power points in the rooms. We all travel with gadgets, and recharging three gadgets having just a power point is never convenient.
-- There is a NEED to have universal electricity adaptors available at reception for International visitors.
-- I would provide customers with pen/pencil, disposable sleepers and a bathrobe, after all this is supposed to be a posh-ish hotel and you charge customers as such.
-- I would place an extra towel rack in the bathroom for "shorties" like me. Otherwise, a small stool in the bathroom would do the job.
-- I would open the restaurant for breakfast at 6am instead of 7am, and  I would include a boiled egg or some sort of protein in the breakfast takeaway packs.
-- I would change the beef provider and get some good quality beef.  
-- I would provide a complimentary shuttle to the city centre.

> Insects will visit you in your room. Plug your electric anti-repellent (blue flat repellent bar is provided by the hotel, so you just introduce it in the little plug and switch on the power).

+ If you want to bring down your food costs, you have several food joints at a walking distance. Otherwise, you can walk about 12 minutes and go to the Mosi-ao-Tunya Gateway Shopping Mall, on the way to the Museum, where there are several cafes and fast food places.
+ The same shopping mall has two banks, one of which accepts international Visa cards. Mind the timing, because it seems that the ATM is not functional until the bank offices close (that was my case, anyway). There is another small shopping mall and a petrol station on the left hand side of the hotel, at about 4 minutes walking distance, with a few shops and a Barkley's Bank ATM there, but, like in other cases, it was not working when I visited.
+ Get some Kachwa (Zambia's currency) on arrival and you will save money. Otherwise, you will be (over)paying in USA Dollars, especially if the American Dollar is not your currency. 

Teo Degas

Batoka Sky
Livingstone, Zambia
+ (260) (3) 320 058

I had a 15 minutes micro-light flight early in the morning with these guys and I had a ball - truly, an unforgettable experience.

The company is very well organised. They pick you up and drop off from your hotel and take you to the aerodrome. You can pay at their office there if you haven't booked online, and cue for your turn to ride the micro-light. There is an outside seating area, really lovely, facing the take off area. Before getting on the flight, you are provided with a padded overall to protect you from the cold up there, and a helmet once you board the machine. You have to remove any scarf and should not wear loose shoes. 

The young hot sweet pilot who took me to the sky was great. The take off and landing were extremely smooth, nothing compared to any other flying adventure activity I have done. No bumps, no noise. Just posing the machine lightly on the ground as a bird would do. 

The flight itself was amazing. Seeing Victoria Falls is a experience difficult to forget, but doing so from a medium distance and above them, up in the air, is just awesome. One enjoys the splendour of the Zambezi River and the Falls themselves, and the canyons that the Zambezi created after the Falls, which are equally spectacular. Not only that, you can easily spot hippos, elephants and other big animals on the river shore or just inside it. The pilot will give you a tour around and across the falls, an point to you anything noticeable. 

I love this sort of flights. If you have height freight, this might make your guts churn a bit, but it is really worth the churning!

Bad news - you cannot take your camera with you. Good news - your flight is photographically recorded, and you can purchase the photos after the flight, for about 20$. You are provided with a set of photos in two folders. One contains photos of the Low and High Falls, and the other photos of you, awesome traveller, being photographed up there. To be honest, not taking your camera allows you to enjoy the flight to the fullest, so it is a great idea. The photos in this entry provide all from the CD I got.

I think the 15-minute flight is enough to see Victoria Falls in winter. Things change in summer and the Zimbabwean side of the Falls has more water, so you might like extending your flight 15 minutes more and crossing to the other side, or just going to Zimbabwe and do the flight there. Still, there is a huge difference in price.

The offices are also a shop, and they sell cool souvenirs and postcards. The buildings at the aerodrome are beautiful, made in traditional architecture style.

All the staff were lovely and very helpful.

> Book this activity as part of a pack including other activities (like the sunset Zambezi cruise and the tour of the Falls) and you will save tons of money.
> If you are doing the activity in the Zambian winter in the morning, take warm clothes with you, as the wait can be long and it is freezing cold there.
Amazingly enough, the weather was warmer in the air than in the ground, where we were all freezing.

Teo Degas

Calle Veronica de la Virgen, 1
18005 Granada
+34 958 536 811

I had a terrible experience with these guys. To be fair, the guys at the office were lovely, but the service and information was not.

Due to my long trip, I had to post a big box with clothes from Perth to my parents, as I was travelling with little luggage due do the requirements of the trips before and after.

As I was not heading home directly, I thought that it would be better using a courier. I saw the UPS sign at the door of this franchised office, and a few days after my arrival I went in to ask for info.

I talked to the manager directly, and I told him about sending the parcel back to Australia, the contents being mostly clothes and personal items that I could not fit in my luggage, and I asked for a quote, timing, packing requirements, if they were working with Australia, etc. The guy told me that no problem, yes, they work with Australia, yes, they could pick up the parcel from my parents in case of need, yes I could delay the delivery until I was  back in Perth and so forth. I left with his card and a quote at the back.

That very day, I checked the company's website. There, it is clearly stated that you can send your suitcase, if you want or need, around the world. The website looks serious and professional.

To make sure that I was right re the packaging, I visited this office for a second time. I spoke to another guy, who made the same questions as the manager did, and with whom I discussed the packaging of my parcel/s.

The day before my departure, I took a taxi to carry the two parcels myself, as one of them was +10 Kgs. I arrived there, and as soon as I said Australia, the manager told me that unless the contents were new with the shop sale's target attached, I could not send the parcel to Australia due to the Australian Customs requirements and limitations. I told him that I do live in Australia, that I have sent things back and forth many times and that there is no problem unless you pack some illegal items or products in the no list. I told him about their website. He said that this for the rest of the world, not for Australia. He told me that I should have asked him in advance. I told him that yes, I DID CHECK WITH HIM SPECIFICALLY, IN ADVANCE and that he had said yes to everything, he was arrogant enough to say that he did not remember the conversation. Unfortunately, I do. I had to take another taxi to my parents' and leave the parcel with one of my brothers so he could post it to my place.

I cannot forget the trouble and money of taking my parcel back and forth to my parents, mostly because this was my third visit to the office, and I had clearly mentioned everything during my first visit, The apology the manager gave me was so lame and unapologetic that I have decided to post this review.

Teo Degas Sunday, 6 July 2014

Best Western Premier Amaranth
Suvarnabhumi Airport
68 Moo 2 Kingkaew Road,
Bang Phli, Samut Prakan,
10540 Thailand
Phone: 66 (23) 159393

I stayed a couple of days at the Best Western Amaranth to have a rest between my busy flying schedule, and I am was happy with its convenient location, great facilities, good price and great service. The hotel is located in a quiet area, with not much happening around beyond the traffic, a fact that turns it into an oasis of peace in the middle of the always busy Bangkok.

The hotel is located at about 10-15 minutes drive from the airport. It is very spacious, with a shiny uber-clean lobby and common toilets, a restaurant, a spa, and a pool with bar included. There are separate premises for conferences and business meetings, as well. The common gardened areas are beautiful, with lovely ponds full of water lilies and the Amaranth dragon sculptures. The hotel is by a big road, and there isn't much to see around. However, this is a transit hotel and if you are coming on holidays, you would probably want to go elsewhere. However, the concierge and tour desk have a nice selection of day and half day tours around Bangkok.

My room was huge, with a wonderfully firm King Size bed, work and rest areas, plenty of storage room and natural light, a decently sized flat screen with plenty of local and international channels, coffee/tea making facilities, and an alarm clock. The toilet was rather average regarding size and facilities, but spotless clean, and with a complete set of toiletries, as it used to be before hotels decided that the less is more. For most travellers, the more toiletries the better, and the Amaranth understands that, so you can fin anything you might need, from a toothbrush to a mini-sewing kit.

All the staff at the hotel are just wonderful. My special thanks to the people at the reception desk, shuttle transfer van and to the Spa ladies, who are the quintessence of what Thai people are: serviceable, chilled out, kind, competent and smiley.

The restaurant has a huge selection of classic favourites of the European, Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines, the last being my favourite while in Thailand (and good in this hotel). Buffet breakfast, included in my room price, was varied and satisfying with plenty of cold and hot, sweet and savoury options, but a bit bland in taste. They have also a huge selection of International wines, mocktails (I loved the ginger one) and smoothies. Prices are high according to Thai standards or high for what you pay in the city eateries and posh restaurants for better food, but it comes handy if you are staying just for a few days or in transit.  

The pool area is located at the back of the hotel, behind the gym area, and it is wonderfully relaxing, very clean and good looking, with plenty of lying seats, and a small bar-cafe attached to it.

The in-hotel spa Amaspa is just awesome. Despite its small size, the place is wonderfully stylish and relaxing, with Thai classy style decor and a very attentive staff. You are welcomed in the place with a bell flower cold tea (a stunning herbal tea that I would have bought if it had been for sale) and farewelled with a hot tea; their tea pottery is gorgeous. The pots they use, the flowers, the mini-pond, the lighting, everything is soothing and beautiful. But it not just the looks. Amaspa delivers. Thai massage therapists are among my favourite in the world because of their technique and ability to read your body and fulminate your pains and aches with their tiny hands and broad smile. The masseuses here apply a medium-strong pressure, which I found extremely hard, as they are stronger than any of my physiotherapist or remedial masseuses in Australia! You better tell them in advance which sort of pressure you want. I had the Ama Sampler package done, and it is just fabulous regarding the quality of the products they use, the mastery of the therapists, and the state of your skin when you leave Amaspa's premises. The foot massage was also amazing. Prices are not cheap, but nothing comparable to what we would pay in Australia for such a quality package.

  •  Free shuttle to the airport running every half an hour and, in the wee hours of the night, every hour. If you have breakfast prepaid and are departing before the restaurant opens, you will be provided with a breakfast pack, one of the best I have had to take away in my last travels! 
  • 24/7 Room Service.
  • Two bottles of complimentary drinking water per day.
  • Free Wi-Fi. User name and password are provided when you check in.
  • Complimentary non-alcoholic drink at the bar. 
  • There is a 7eleven supermarket at five minutes walking distance. They sell a bit of everything (from packed meals to batteries, snacks, toiletries, etc.), it is extremely clean, well organised and has wonderful staff. If you bother to say anything in Thai, they will display their best smile.
  • Several street eateries are located at a few minutes from the hotel, too, the nicest one by the 7eleven.  

> The room was a bit run down, with one of the power boards a bit detached from the wall and with not enough power to feed my computer, but OK for my tablet.
> There were just two power points in the whole room, and one of them wasn't in good condition, with those sparks that you get when you plug something to a defective socket.
> Tap water in the room is NOT drinkable. You won't notice or know unless you ask the staff or read the hotel booklet in the room. It might be too late by then.
> The body wash smelled of laundry soap!
>  The air-conditioning was very noisy.
> The walls aren't that thick, so you can listen to your next-door neighbour's conversation easily. 

# I would revamp a bit the rooms furniture.
# I would include channels in French, Italian and Spanish and Thailand receives plenty of tourists from these three countries. 
# I would provide a few more sachets of coffee and creamer. The cleaning ladies gave me a few spare ones when I requested  them, but it is just natural to expect a person staying more than six hours to have more than two coffees, no?
# I would add a box of tissues in the main room area.
# A must. If the tap water is not drinkable, a sign should be placed in the toilet saying so.
# I would show the pricing of the spa treatments in net prices, taxes included.
# I would revamp the restaurant, making the breakfast area and the night dinning areas clearly distinct in decoration and settings. At the moment, everything is one space, too dark until the artificial lighting is on.

-- There are plenty of mosquitoes around, especially around the pool in the late hours of the day, but also in most outside areas and some of the common areas as well. These mosquitoes like you, guaranteed.  The staff work hard to get rid of them in the indoor areas with some super-duper electric racquets, but they are still around everywhere outside the air-conditioned indoor areas, especially around the pond and pool. 
-- Prices showed in the spa brochure do not include taxes, and 500 bath were added to my final bill.

Good hotel, close to the airport, with lots of features or guests, and with great staff. This not a flashy posh place, but very welcoming and comfortable, decently priced and with great service. 

Teo Degas

Head photo courtesy of Bankok.com 

39 Moo 6 Bangna-Trad Rd. Km.8
Bangkaew, Bangplee,

Bangkok 10540, 

Phone: 2-105-1000
Facebook (mostly in Thai)

I spent one of my transit days in Bangkok at this shopping mall after a lady at reception in my hotel told me that, "if you like shopping, you have to go there".

The shopping mall is massive, and you will need a big amount of time to visit all the shops you are interested in advance, and those that will captivate your attention. Despite the size, the mall does not feel overwhelmingly big or unmanageable.The place is very spacious, trendy, luminous, with ample corridors, fancy toilets, shiny and squeaky clean. It has harmony and style, and mix of fashion, home and, electronics, electric and health shops, stunning jewellers and jewel stands, gym, cinema, Ikea and what is not. 

That day, I had a simple plan, that turned out better than expected:
1/ Finding a Thai place to eat. To my surprise there is a Food Walk, like a outdoors food hall around the building, with a considerable number of restaurants with different world cuisines. I did choose an authentic Thai restaurant, though, very cheap and yummy, and I was enchanted by the conversation of the lady owner, the yummy dishes that the chef cooked for me, and the pop arty cool decoration on the walls. 

2/ Visiting some of my medium priced favourite brands to check my fav  products, like Yves Rocher, Body Shop, Zara, New, Mango, and places of that sort. These and many more were all there.
3/ Checking out the shops in general. I was gladly surprised at finding a mix of medium brands and very posh ones, designer shops included, elegantly blended together without a sense of mismatch.
3/ Looking for a beauty salon and a massage salon. I was gladly surprised at finding an humongous number (I mean, many...) of beauty salons, some of them very exclusive, offering treatments that were affordable for foreigners but very posh, as they use the latest technologies and the poshest of the poshest of products. The parlours of some of them were fabulous. There were also several hair and nail salons, and several Thai massage places. I had a great experience at the place I visited for manicure-pedicure, and at the massage place where I had my foot massage done.

Everyone I found in the shopping mall and I asked for help (directions, prices, or whatever) was mega-lovely! Really, they treated me  like a queen
(despite me wearing unflattering backpacker clothing), with the kindness and class that Thai people are known for.

There is a taxi stop (metered taxis, thank Gosh!) at one of the exits of the building, which comes handy to return to your hotel or to the airport. Most of them do not speak English or just several words, so have your hotel card at hand - in Thai!

The Free Shuttle Bus from the BTS Sky train Udomsuk station stops at one of the sides of the mall, and you can get from/to the airport from here, easily at a fraction of the price you will pay if you take a taxi. The shuttle passes by many hotels in the area, so check at your hotel if you can benefit from it.

The day flew by fast and I had to leave in a hurry because I was late for my airport transfer. My only regret at leaving the shopping mall was not having gone there earlier in the day, and not having an extra day to continue my bangnaning! I take note. Next time I visit Bangkok, I will expend a bit of time at this shopping mall, this is a promise I make to myself, as I have visited the city and Thailand several times and I'm done with sightseeing. 

Most recommended, especially if you are lady.

Teo Degas

Tafelberg Road
 Lower Cable Station, 
Cape Town Central 8001, South Africa
Phone: +27 021-424-8181

There are cable cars and then there is "the" Table Mountain cable car - one of the most spectacular cable cars I have ever seen. Just the engineering of the cable car is amazing due to the roughness and remoteness of the area. The cars are perched in the sky, and seeing the cable car from afar is an spectacle of its own.

The return ticket is about 20 Au/USA Dollars (if purchased at the window), but well worth it the price. Why?
>> Because you get to Table Mountain, one of the natural wonders of the world (tick)
>> The cable car revolves around itself, so all passengers have a view of the spectacular surroundings (tick).
>> One of the window panels has no glass, so passengers can take a picture or enjoy the scenery without barriers (tick).
>> The guys driving the car are very welcoming, lovely and informative (tick).
>> There are cars going up and down every five minutes (tick).
>> You can buy the tickets online so you don't have to cue (tick)

If you go to Cape Town you MUST a) take the car. b) see the car from afar and take the very sought photo with the the two cards crossing in space. Just saying.

The main downside is that the cable car is subject to weather conditions, which are quite unpredictable in Cape Town, and change from day to day and from hour to hour at the top. There is an electronic board before entering the lower part of the ticketing area informing whether the cablecar is open or not. To avoid any disappointment, check their website on your smartphone before heading that way.

Prices are reduced for children, South African senior citizens, students and for SANPARKS pass holders.

The cable car closes annually for maintenance works. This year 2014, it will be closed from the 28th July to the 10th August.

Teo Degas Friday, 4 July 2014

 Phone: 0800 428 87 246

I have used the Gautrain train a lot during my stay in Johannesburg and I just love it. 

The Gautrain (pronounced Hah-ooh- train) is a fantastic first-class train service that take you to major destinations in Johannesburg.

The stations are well organised and signalled, with plenty of ticket machines and ticket and info booths, and electronic boards informing of time and platform departures. The trains run frequently, every 10-15 minutes, and they are fast, reliable, uber-clean, pleasant to the eye, and comfortable. They have a very efficient information system on the train: voice information is given along the trip regarding the different stops, connections and destinations, while the electronic boards provide the same info in English, Afrikaans and Zulu (?) languages. There is lot of space to park your baggage while travelling, but they get filled up quickly and a suitcase landscape is part of the Gautrain experience.  

At the moment, the Gautrain has two train lines. The first one goes from Park to Hartfied (Park, Rosebank, Sandton -change line here if you go to the airport- Malrboro, Midrand, Centurion, Pretoria, and Hartfied) and the second one from Sandton to the Airport (Sandton, Malrboro, Rhodesfield, and O. R. Tambo International Airport). 

If you are the distracted type or your brain is off during your holidays, no worries, you don't have to remember anything about these lines. Once you get your train gold card (the one you use to add value and use as a ticket pass), you turn it over, look at the back side, and voila, the route of both lines is shown there. How mindful is that?!!!

Prices are OK for foreigners, but a bit high for most working class locals; however, discounts are available by purchasing weekly and monthly passes. The ticket to the airport is around 135-155 Rands, depending on which station you jump on the train; nothing compared to the rip-off prices that taxis charge foreigners from/to the airport.

I hope the train adds some more stations or lines in the future.

More ticket windows, or at least two vendors per window, are needed at certain stations and times when cues are normal and you can easily spend more than 10 minutes waiting. No kidding.

Teo Degas

Park Inn Sandton Hotel
118 Katherine street
2196 – Johannesburg
South Africa
Phone: + 27 (11) 303 1000

Park Inn is one of those 3-star hotels whose number of stars should be upgraded because of their location, service and value. 

Although the hotel is used by many business people and flight companies to host their staff, this is also a good place to stay for tourist purposes and if you want to be in a safe central area in Johannesburg as many tour companies pick up and drop off from this hotel.

The hotel is very modern, functional and sleek, with a great contemporary mix of furniture, decoration and lighting. Urban and cool are the two adjectives that define it better. The waiting area in the lobby and the smokers outdoors area are trendy, stylish, colourful, welcoming and very comfortable. 

The rooms are spotless clean and shiny, very spacious, with plenty of room for your luggage, a desk, and a spacious bathroom. The room is covered by a cool reproduction of the an old B&W photo, and the  blinders have the same photo printed on them, so the room looks great.  If you open the blinders you will have plenty of natural light during the day, but the room is well illuminated and has a good set of artificial lights. The toilet has separate shower, toilet and basin with two huge mirrors, but the set of toiletries was disappointly poor and average quality. The TV in the room has messaging and wake up in-built services, and a nice selection of channels, several devoted to sports and movies.  The room has a set of complimentary coffee and tea making facilities.

The hotel is very safe and secure. They have an intelligent lifts system, which works with your key card. You introduce it in the slot, press your floor number and the indicator shows which one of the three lifts is lifting you up. This allows just customers and staff to get access to the rooms, and also makes difficult for possible intruders to get to any floor by the lift.  During the early hours of the morning and late of the afternoon the lifts are heated, which feels like heaven in the freezing Jozi winter.

There are conference and meetings rooms, in an area in front of the main entrance, an outdoor pool that I avoided due to the weather being so cold.  There is a shoe cleaning position by the reception with and old groovy shoe polishing chair. I thought it was old-fashioned and unnecessary until I noticed that most business men were wearing leather shoes, and this service was a brilliant idea!
The hotel has a complimentary shuttle to the Sandton City Shopping Mall, which is attached to Nelson Mandela Square, leaving on the hour every hour. The same shuttle will take you and pick you up any time, on request, to the nearest Gautrain Train Station (Sandton Station) to take the train to the International Airport or Pretoria, among other destinations. You can walk if you want, as the shopping mall and the train station are at about 15 minutes walking distance.

The hotel has  free Wi-Fi, but it is temperamental and you are limited to a certain number of MB per day, so you can't do much beyond emailing and browsing. If you are on a business visit or just want to upload tons of photos and files, you will need to pay for a better connection.

RGB Bar and Grill (Breakfast 6:30-10:30, lunch & dinner 12:00-22:30) is the restaurant catering for the hotel guests. Breakfast was included in my booking. The buffet breakfast was just fabulous, one of the best ones I have ever had.  I was wowed by the large and varied selection of sweet and savoury, hot and cold options they have. You can have your eggs done, on the spot, the way you like, and add the ingredients you want from the many available in your omelette. Among the hot dishes, there were noodles, congee, spicy minced meat, baked beans, sauteed mushrooms and potatoes, chicken, pork and beef sausages, crispy bacon and so on. They have a huge selection of gourmet breads to choose from, wonderful pastries, and natural juices. American coffee is served by default on each table, but if you want a "proper" coffee, you can tell any of the waiters and request your espresso or cappuccino. People with early departures can also order a breakfast pack (only cold food inside) the previous evening, and you will get it from reception next morning. The lunch and diner menus are set and include a mix of international favourite dishes, but the options available are limited, the dishes average in taste, and not worth the price. The restaurants at the Atholl Square are a better option and the price is similar.  
The bar opens from 10:00 to 2:00 daily.

All the staff were shy at the beginning, but as soon as you talk twice with them they warm up and let their smile shine. All the staff were lovely, but the guys at the reception desk were all fabulous and helped me with anything I needed, from tours booking, breaky packs, transfers and what's not.  

In my room, I missed a good set of toiletries (not even cotton buds were provided), a bathrobe and disposable sleepers, and a mini-fridge! No mineral drinking water was provided either as, according to a sign, the water from the tap is drinkable. 

-- If you forget your key card in the room, you won't be able to use the lift, so find your way through the stairs.
-- The set menu in the restaurant is the same menu you have for the room service, which goes from 6.30am-11pm, and there is a surcharge of 30 Rands per tray.
--  You have Atholl Square around the corner, literally, and there you find a fine selection of restaurants, two supermarkets, a beauty salon and hairdresser, and some fashions shops. There is also an ATM (operational from 8am). Some of the restaurants and cafes are terrific. 
-- I got my room, breakfast included, from Expedia at terrific prices, better prices than the ones you get by booking directly via an Agent or via the hotel's website. 

  • I would improve the selection and quality of toiletries and add an extra tissue box in the room, so one does not have to move the one in the bathroom up and down. I would also provide customers with disposable sleepers and a bathrobe. 
  • I would improve the ventilation system and the air-conditioning. The latter wasn't good at heating the room, which was quite cold in the mornings and evenings, while the ventilation system in the bathroom brought a strong smoke odour from other floors (mine was non smoker), while the sewage in the shower had a strong stink the day I arrived, just in that cubicle.
  • I would bring in a tour desk into the hotel. At the moment, the hotel provides info and help you booking, but you cannot pay directly, and the staff at reception are super-busy most days. 
  • I would improve the dining options. The breakfast is awesome, why not providing similar awesome lunch and/or dinner buffets? Also, a more sophisticated cuisine would attract customers instead of bringing them to the restaurants in Athol Square.  
  • I would enlarge the number and variety of TV channels, with additions in other languages.

    Overall, this is a great hotel. I was pleasantly surprised by everything and I would certainly use it again if I ever return to Jozi. 

Teo Degas

Tasha's Cafe 
Shop 16, Atholl Square Shopping Centre
Cnr Katherine and Wierda Road East
Sandton, Johannesburg
South Africa
Phone: 011 884 03 65
   Mon-Sat 6.30-18
   Sun 7.30-16:

 What a great cafe!

The girls at the beauty salon next door recommended it to me while having a pedicure, and I am glad that I visited. The owner happened to be seating next to me that day, too!

Located in Atholl Square, this small European-like cafe and restaurant is simply wonderful. 

The selection of food and sweets is fabulous. I have one of their Spanish Quesadillas and it was fresh, tasty and filling. Truly delicious. The Pear and elderflower granita was simply fabulous, prepared on the spot, with the right amount of sugar, the right thickness and a wonderful refreshing distinctive flavour. I finished my meal with a coffee, which was just average, and a lovely Red Velvet Cupcake that was yummy and fluffy. 

The ambiance is warm, classy, trendy and welcoming, with plenty of wonderful decoration elements on the counter, walls and even the ceiling. I just loved it. Even the uniform of the staff is classy and elegant!   

The place has plenty of staff, and you won't feel that you have been forgotten or nobody is paying attention to you. Quite the contrary, everybody will be around you, perhaps too much around you, and you will have a personal waiter attending to your needs. In my case, a tall lovely guy called Anthony. Mind you, if your personal waiter is busy, any other will run to your feet to make your food wish come true. Seriously! There are plenty of newspapers for customers to browse. I always love this.

Tasha's welcomes people from all ages, locals and foreigners, which says a lot about any cafe or restaurant, and there is a constant flow of customers.

The place can be pricey for locals, I think, but it is OK for most foreigners and if you happen to live or stay in any of the hotels in Katherine St, you must visit!

Teo Degas Thursday, 3 July 2014

Denarau Island,  Nadi,  Viti Levu, Fiji
TEL: 679-675-6800
FAX: 679-675-6801

I spent a week in this hotel last Australian summer, during the Christmas period, and I had an unforgettable time.

Denarau Island is just Paradise, all green and posh with lovely beaches, palm trees and the care and attention of the always welcoming Fijean people.

The location was fantastic, the apartments were huge and very classy. The room had a big bedroom with a large firm comfy bed, flat TV and plenty of storage room, alarm clock and nice views of the ocean. There bathroom was also huge (shower+bathtub) with a good selection of good quality toiletries. The living room was also huge, with sofa, TV, an eating area and some cupboards. My apartment supposed to have a kitchenette, but it only have some plates, cutlery, a kettle, and a mini-fridge, so it was impossible to cook some of my meals on my own as I intended initially.

The infinity pool was one of my favourite spots. They provide you with free towels, you can order drinks from the side bar, and choose the pool that suits you best: families, children or adults only. They are not deep, so even bad swimmers can enjoy a swim without being afraid of drowning, especially not having a life saver program in place. The spot is wonderful as it is by the beach and the chairs and big umbrellas are stupendous. Heaven!

The hotel shares a private beach with the Sheraton and other hotels and it is wonderful having the option of walking around or having a swim if you want so. Mind the sharks. You can also do water sports, paragliding among other things, in this beach.

The inner part of the hotel, is covered by gardens, tastefully laid out, and decorated with traditional Fijian elements of pottery and wood. Really beautiful! 

There are three restaurants at the hotel, all very expensive, but the food is good, the settings excellent, and the staff very charming and attentive, although a bit distracted at times. If these options were not enough, the restaurants organise nights devoted to Fijian cuisine, Spanish cuisine, etc. also at very expensive prices. For example, a Spanish cuisine night was 130 US$ and the wines were not included!  If you have a kitchenette, you can buy your groceries at the supermarket at Denarau Port and cook yourself.

The staff were uber-friendly and helpful: cleaners, porters, waiters and waitresses, gardeners, towels booth people -  almost everybody. They would always say Bullah to you with a big smile, and treat you like a king/queen, so customers can enjoy the Fijian hospitality and have Fiji Time the way it should be enjoyed.

There is a Tour Desk at the Lobby and the people working there are fantastic, caring and very helpful. My especial thanks to Sereana, who made possible the impossible for me and did always everything with a big smile and a chillout Fiji Time. Most tour operators pick up /drop off from hotel, but most of them require a minimum number of people to operate.

Golf cars to take you and your luggage around, to move people around if the weather is bad,  or just have mobility problems, or just if you are feeling a bit lazy to walk to your apartment.

These a family friendly place, and there are tons of activities planned for the kids and the whole family, and the staff really enjoys dealing with kids as Fijeans are also family minded. Having said this, there are set activities organised every day at set times that are targeted to everybody in the hotel, not just families. 

There is a small gym at the hotel, for those who mind their fitness during their holidays, but don't expect too much..

-- My room was door to door with another apartment. I could see through the space between the two panels of the door. Even worse, the place is surely used as a family apartment when needed, so there is not noise insulation, and I could hear, word by word my neighbour's high-in-swearing phone calls to his partner after a break-up. 
-- I booked for a room-apartment with kitchenette facilities (so it was NOT an studio), but I was placed in one that has none. I had to request cutlery and croquery. I realised that there was a mixed up with my room type when I had unpacked everything, so I did not want to make any fuss and pack and unpack again, but the type of room was clearly shown in the voucher I provided with my online booking details.
-- No free Wi-Fi in the hotel!! Hello Hello Mr Hilton, are you in the 21st century YET? Paid Wi-Fi is so very last century.
-- Denarau Island is a wonderful place, but it is isolated from Nady and real Fiji. Perhaps you are not interested in real Fiji or Fijians, so this might not be a problem for you.
--  Everything is ridiculously expensive. The restaurants, the mini-shop and the coffee shop. Prices we pay in Australia or more. One wonders whether the locals benefit from this prices and the profits that the hotel makes.
-- There is nothing more annoying that having people drinking for hours in groups inside the pool when they could easily do so on the side chairs or at the bar. If you want to swim you have to deal with these people. I have no problem with people having a good time during their holidays but not at my cost. I love swimming, so I think it is not too much to ask to being able to enjoy the wonderful pools that this hotel has for swimming or bathing. But the hotel cashes in with the sale of alcohol, so the drunkards win.
-- Unlike most of the staff and the two big restaurants, some of the staff at the Spices small cafe were rude, unwelcoming and/or treated customers as they were making us a favour. This is not a charity shelter. We pay a lot of money to be there, and we have to work hard to get the money, so please remember this. :)))  


== The cyclone season around Christmas Time can be nasty. Check your period of holidays when visiting Fiji. I went during this season and I had gorgeous weather except for the first day.
== There are tons of mosquitoes in the evening and night if you seat outdoors, they will certainly like you. Use repellent.
== Port Denarau Shopping Mall is a 20 minute walk from the hotel, and you can find a bit of everything, restaurants, supermarkets, bottle shops, chemist, souvenir shops and pubs. The place and the prices are for foreigners so you will pay a lot for everything, but way less than you will pay in your hotel of selection. If you stay for a week or more in the hotel you will certainly want to buy some snacks and food items to have in your room. There is a beauty salon, nails place and hairdresser, too!
== The city of Nady (pronounced Nandy) is 30 minutes away by car.

-- I would make sure that you provide the room you say you would.
-- I would provide a free shuttle to Port Denarau or give customers vouchers to take the Bullah Bus.
-- I would provide free Internet not just at the Spices Cafe, everywhere. If Wi-Fi is a problem, high speed LAN would make wonders for guests!
-- Create an Fiji traditional restaurant. This is Fiji, no?
-- I would reduce the pricing of most things at the little shop, as they are ridiculously expensive.  No tourist likes feeling squeezed as a lemon just because he/she is on holidays.
-- I would request a drinking etiquette and ban drinkers from the pools like right now. Can we keep some etiquette at a posh hotel or is this too much to ask?

# If you don't want to take the Bullah Bus to Port Denarau, you can easily walk to the mall. It takes about 20 minutes. Still, the weather is humid and hot, so carry an umbrella and drinking water. Another option is taking one of the minivan buses that the locals take, which costs a fraction of the price and take you there the same. Ask at reception for details. The buses stop at few metres from the lobby.
# Learn to say hello and thank you in Fijian language to the staff as they really appreciate this. After all this is their country.
 # If you want to enjoy a spa without paying the prices you have at the hotel spa, go to the Pure Fiji spa at Port Denarau. There is also a hairdresser and nails salon next door at a fraction of the price.
# There are a couple of supermarkets and bottle shops in Port  Denarau, so you can buy your groceries from there if you want to cook some of your meals.  
#  If you don't want to use strong DDT repellents, buy Reniu lemon grass spray repellent from the hotel mini shop. They are environmentally friendly and keep the mosquitoes at bay without infusing with chemicals the people around you while you spray it...