The RuMa hotel, by Urban Resort Concepts, is the group’s first foray out of Mainland China. This urban resort lives up to its name, being a fantastic urban retreat right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, one of the most dynamic metropolises in Asia. A member of the Leading Hotels of the World (of which, I foresee me writing more about them), this hotel which recently opened in Q4 2018, is one of the most understated and most jaw dropping hotel openings in the region.
Up and Coming
When a mate told me that RuMa was opening in Kuala Lumpur, I did not hold my breath. For starters, I was not familiar with the group. That would, in due course, change. 2 years after I heard about it, they opened, and out of curiosity, I talked another mate in to doing a stay-cation. The location was just a short 10-minute walk from our respective pied-à-terre.
I have to admit, the lack of familiarity and the almost no expectations did me good. They price themselves at the same level as other luxury 5 star hotels in the city, and I must admit, with the knowledge that they cannot rely on brand recognition, they went all out to make sure you knew who they were.
Tucked away on Kia Peng, across the street from the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur, 5 minute walk from Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and KLCC/Petronas Twin Towers, with numerous embassies being next door neighbours, the RuMa Kuala Lumpur does well being nondescript and blending in.
The porte cochere feels at first underwhelming, but this is where the journey starts. As you get dropped off (or in my case, walk in) at the main entrance, you are led to an antechamber, one which changes in design and décor between day and night. From this small antechamber, the lobby beckons.
Once the doors to the lobby are open, you are transported to a world where no expense was spared to make it look as if no effort was made. A grand staircase is the first thing you see, with a golden kebaya at the landing. To your left, the lobby bar, a quiet, cosy corner, and to your right, the check-in desks, where they not only had a selection of tea to welcome me with, they told me the room was prepared within minutes of me booking.
Now, to put this in context, this trip was done literally at the last minute. I woke up at 7am, suddenly felt like doing a stay-cation and made a booking at 8am. I called the hotel at 8:30 asking if I could check in, and voila, by 9am, there I was, at the lobby. Call ahead and request, you can get an early check-in, and at 9am, this is one of the earliest check-in I have ever done without incurring that pesky extra night charge. My mate did the same thing, and he was impressed.
Now, they know they cannot compete with the likes of neighbouring Grand Hyatt, Banyan Tree or Traders Hotel when it comes with pools and views. However, they made up for it with a resort deck.
The resort deck is on the 5th floor, and has a cantilever pool that just out to the junction of Jalan Kia Peng and Jalan Pinang, with the urban canyon of glassy towers giving that unmistakable urban feel. While the deck chairs by the pool are limited, the room count is small, and the space in both the rooms and facilities done in such a way, you would hardly encounter other guests unless you are actively looking.
The gym, while small, is well equipped, with little fixtures and furnishings that add on to the feeling of understated luxury: look up and you will see instead of plaster, a natural weave of fibres that mimic the rattan mats in traditional Southeast Asian cultures.
Lounge and Dine
At last count, there are 3 food and beverage outlets in the hotel, but they are so interconnected and intertwined, they feel like appendages of each other. A menu from all-day dining can be used at the pool, and drinks from the pool deck can be had at the lobby lounge or in your room. Spoiled for choice, or a supply as and when?
The main restaurant, ‘Atas’ (which in local parlance can be translated as either ‘upstairs’ or ‘uppity’ or ‘posh’ depending on your context) is superb. The menu is a modern take on Malaysian cuisine, and while the ‘modern take’ has been done to death and can be underwhelming, they did pull it off perfectly here, with a Malaysian take on a hot dog being a particular favourite.
If an urban resort getaway to hide from the world has you itching to explore, then this tucked away place is a corner away from the hotspots of Kuala Lumpur. Pavilion Kuala Lumpur is a short 5 minute walk away, on the left of the hotel, if shopping and all kinds of dining is your thing. Kuala Lumpur City Centre/KLCC and the Petronas Twin Towers are just across the street behind the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, and at least 4 public transport stations and 3 urban rail networks are within reach: Bukit Bintang MRT Station, Bukit Bintang and Raja Chulan Monorail Stations and KLCC LRT Station.
And the Rooms?
Wood-heavy, with leather and dark tones that give it a very understated masculine feel. The rooms are on the larger side by Kuala Lumpur (or even regional) luxury 5 star standards, with comfortable beds, day beds and brass trimmings in the bathroom, from the shower fixtures down to the sinks.
An urban resort in Kuala Lumpur, or in fact the major Southeast Asian cities have been tried and on occasion faltered. This is among the few instances where it works, and works well. The service is top notch and super attentive without being overbearing. The rooms are well-appointed without feeling too over the top.
Like her affiliate property in the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio, the Datai Langkawi, the RuMa is a very understated, and well-deserving hotel, for those who want to hide away and be pampered with utter privacy. While not as well known as the other luxury 5 stars such as the Four Seasons, like the Datai, the RuMa, and other affiliates in the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio, they cater to a different market segment.
Booking?: I booked online on the RuMa website. If you are a Leading Hotels of the World member, check out their rates there too.
Nearest Station: Bukit Bintang MRT Station/KLCC LRT Station/Bukit Bintang or Raja Chulan Monorail Station
Peak Season?: Hard to say for a city like Kuala Lumpur, but the major public holidays tends to attract higher rates.
I must admit, at first glance, I was not aware of the Okura brand, but along the course of my travels and familiarity with the industry, I got to know them more and more, and in very much a good way. During one of my Bangkok trips in 2018, I thought I would give it a go, especially considering I have stayed in properties nearby, and I always find myself gravitating towards the Wireless Road/Witthayu area of Bangkok.
The first thing that will strike you about the Okura Prestige Bangkok is not the excellent location but the building it is housed in. Located in the upper half of the Park Ventures building, connected to Ploen Chit BTS Station, look up towards he building and you will see a sculpted building rising up from the towers that canyon Sukhumvit Road. From the braces to the oval-esque design, from the clean lines to the cantilever pool jutting out of the northern faced of the building, it is designed to make you go ‘oooooh.’
Inside, in true Japanese hospitality fashion, there is a rotating display of floral arrangements, suited and timed to the seasons. The public areas are well appointed in a minimalist fashion, with clean lines, brass highlights and elegant dark tones that accentuate a certain zen-ness, balancing the sculpture of a building outside.
I usually try and book a hotel with a pool. This pool delivers, from an acceptable length of 25m (which is generous given the small-ish sized pools in Bangkok) to the stunning realization that you are swimming suspended in the air on a cantilever structure, this pool is a good spot to relax or do cool-down laps after a good session in the gym. That the pool is an infinity pool with stunning views of Sukhumvit Road eastwards and westwards is a given.
The gym is well appointed and has a good array of machines, from up-to-date cardio machines, to a full complement of free weights and weight machines. While the gym is open to non-guests on a membership scheme, it does not get too crowded in the mornings during the morning gym rush hour before work.
Lounge and Dine
The two restaurants and bar are located at the lobby level and are pretty good. The Up and Above bar has a nice perch, with an indoor and outdoor lounge area, and serves pretty good cocktails and seasonal promotions. Rule of thumb: if there is a change of floral arrangement, expect a change in cocktail promotions.
The all-day dining is pretty decent, and is known for its Weekend Brunches. Breakfast is well appointed, with a generous buffet spread that can go on for a while. If a light breakfast is more your thing, then breakfast at the Michelin Guide-listed Japanese restaurant, Yamazato, on the left of the lobby provides good Japanese breakfast bento sets.
If you do get lounge access, then the Executive Lounge pairs a stunning view down Wireless Road/Witthayu towards Silom with pretty good lounge items. From light eats with Japanese options for breakfast, to generous evening canapes and cocktail hour for sundowners, sometimes a little privacy balances out the mass spread downstairs.
This is a business hotel, with a focus on corporate guests, so naturally all the big offices and banks are located not too far away, or within easy reach from Ploen Chit BTS station. For the more leisurely minded, the Michelin Guide listed restaurant Sanguan Sri is a short 5 minute walk away, perfect for breakfast, with Lumphini Park a good extra 1km away, perfect for a warm-up before the full-on laps around the lake.
Central Embassy is just across the road, with the great foodcourt downstairs and designer shopping upstairs, and through the skywalk and link bridges (and a stint through the paid area of Chidlom BTS Station), you get walking access to Central World and Siam Paragon within 15 minutes.
And the Rooms?
Minimalist luxe. Walnut-coloured panelling, lush amenities, and a great bed make for a comfortable room. The yukata adds a nice Japanese touch instead of the usual bathrobes. The beds are well appointed (and super comfortable), with an in-room Bluetooth home sound system if you are bored of the usual stuff on TV.
The minibar is tucked away nicely behind a lacquer cabinet tucked away in one corner of the room, with a Japanese tea set (naturally) ready just in case you feel like donning the yukata and making a small tea ceremony in the room.
Evening turndown is very well done, with the usual chocolates and the very welcomed addition of a paper crane on the bed. With your yukata neatly folded and a courtesy pack of origami paper with instructions if you want to make your own paper crane, its little touches like this that give a minimalist room a super luxe feel.
If you want to pamper yourself with Japanese hospitality, enjoy a unique swimming pool that juts out towards the busy city below, and savour what minimalist luxury can be like, then the Okura Prestige is a good option. Highly recommended if only for the location itself, and when compared to the Park Hyatt across the street, or Athenee Hotel next door, it has a certain appeal if the large Marriott or Hyatt brands feel a bit generic after a while. Just be aware of ‘peak hours’ by the pool. Who doesn’t want a picture in an infinity pool in this age of FOMO?
Booking?: I booked online on the Okura website. Look out for deals!
Address?: 57 Park Ventures, Witthayu Road, Lumphini, Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330 Thailand
Nearest Station: Ploen Chit BTS Station
Peak Season?: Hard to say for a major destination like Bangkok, but the rainy season around June to August would see a slight dip in prices.
Accor Group has the Mgallery by Sofitel. Marriott-Starwood has Tribute Portfolio and Design Hotels, Hyatt has The Unbound Collection. Hilton on the other hand, has Curio Collection by Hilton. While Mgallery is very well represented in the Asia Pacific, and the select few I have stayed in have been very good, these small, independent boutique hotels supported by the behemoths that are the big chains are somewhat rare in the Asia Pacific.
During my trip to Sydney earlier in 2018, I was curious on this new brand, and perfect timing too. Having just opened in December 2017, the West Hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton got me, well, curious. This curious cat was well pleased by what he found.
Up and Coming
The West Hotel is located in Barangaroo, a new up and coming urban renewal district adjacent to King’s Street Wharf, Darling Harbour and the western side of Sydney’s Central Business District. With convenient access to the airport via the Airport Link at Wynyard Station, and a new pedestrian link and tunnel between Barangaroo and Wynyard Station towards Martin Place and the CBD, you will be hard pressed not to tap in to your curious side in exploring Sydney.
This medium-rise new build blends seamlessly with the office blocks, residences and hotels nearby, and despite it being next to the Eastern Distributor Expressway, it does not feel too crowded, busy or chaotic. Being next to the nightlife, restaurants and bars of trendy Barangaroo makes up for it if the peace and quiet needs a bit of social hustle and bustle.
Trendy without being Trend-ick
The one thing that does get to me about these fancy design-focused boutique hotels is how they the design brief is focused on the word ‘trending.’ While being hip and trendy and fancy is fun, it can at times feel overwhelming, too much and just all over the place (the one that starts with ‘S’ and ends with ‘O’ and is linked to S*****L, I am looking at you).
However, the West Hotel Sydney avoids this trap by toning down the trendiness while not sacrificing the hipness. The room is elegantly appointed, but with tasteful chrome finishings and details carefully tucked away but adding to the feel.
The public areas make full use of the limited space, with the bar feeling like a chilled oasis, the winter garden a good atrium centre-piece, the light dimmed just nice without being too dark and the colour scheme cool and muted.
I usually try and book a hotel with a pool. However, the West Hotel Sydney does not have a pool. At first I was a little bummed out by the lack of it, but the 24 hour access gym with good equipment made up for it and my need to get active. That, and Sydney’s beaches and rock pools are the perfect swimming facilities as it is!
Another feature which I love at the West Hotel Sydney is their hospitality room, a.k.a. freshen-up room, or as I like to call it, “I have a late flight but I need to shower before going to the airport” room. Unlike most other hotels where they ‘invite you to use the fitness facilities to freshen up,’ the West Hotel Sydney has a very spacious ‘powder room,’ just in case the late check-out does not cut it.
Lounge and Dine
The Solander Bar at the West Hotel Sydney is, to put it simply, chilled. It knows it cannot be the next fancy nightclub, so it becomes the next chilled cocktail bar with chilled house music on. Facing Sussex Street on the ground floor, watch the world go by over a nice little drink.
Or perhaps chill in the winter garden that opens out from the bar with your nice little drink and a little nibble from Solander Dining before an evening out on the town, a fancy dinner at King Street Wharf, or just because. A bit apt to wine and dine in a venue named after a botanist that somehow feels like a green house.
Readers will know my love affair with Sydney. Interestingly enough, I used to live down the road on Liverpool Street, and after that across the harbour in Pyrmont, and having to pass the neighbourhood the West Hotel is in. I can say, without a doubt, it is a funky little neighbourhood.
While the rest of the CBD is primarily a 9 to 5 spot, and gets quiet after office hours, adjoining Barangaroo, King Street Wharf and Darling Harbour are among the CDB’s entertainment hotspots. As Barangaroo continues to develop, with more space opening up as more urban development comes to completion, expect more entertainment life here, and little gems amidst this ‘fancy office park.’
And the Rooms?
The rooms are very well appointed and spacious, among the larger ones in the CBD. The double-glazed windows will make the Eastern Distributor Expressway next to you seem almost non-existent, as you see the traffic but do not hear it.
The bed is spacious and comfortable, with a cosy seating area in a corner, with an adequate work space. The wardrobe is open, could be better but the finishing and detail is really nice. Try and spot the bird as you hang your dress shirts.
The bathroom is adequate, with polished counter tops, tasteful mirror décor, good lighting and a very responsive rainforest shower. I want to say it is as generic as it comes, but it is a good middle ground between the otherwise bland standard hotel bathroom and over-the-top design-inspired throne of a toilet. The Bluetooth in-room sound system is an added plus, and very powerful!
If you want a smaller property in a quiet yet not too quiet part of Sydney that does not cost a ludicrous amount, be close to public transport and airport connections, and be within decent walking distance to the sights, sounds and smells of Sydney, I would put a hand up for the West Hotel Sydney. While it is not as close as the Four Seasons to the Royal Botanic Gardens for my morning run, the warm-up through Martin Place makes up for it!
Booking?: I booked online on the Hilton website. Look out for deals!
Address?: West Hotel Sydney, Curio Collection by Hilton,
65 Sussex Street, Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia
Nearest Station: Wynyard Station
Peak Season?: Hard to say for a major destination like Sydney, but year end and late February-early March around Sydney Pride would definitely be packed
It is not often that a major hotel chain, particularly a renowned luxury business-standard hotel, would advertise its lack of connectivity. That is, however, how the Mulu Marriott promotes itself, with its ‘Unplug at the Mulu Marriott’ tagline.
Sounds a little ludicrous, shocking maybe? Well, it has its fans, me being one of them. How often can you go away to a fancy resort and legitimately say ‘I did not open any work-related communications’? Plus, it is the perfect base to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mulu.
Unplug and Unwind
You will be constantly reminded that you are in a secluded place while at the Mulu Marriott. A secluded, private, quiet place. The only place you can ‘plug in’ if you really need the internet is in the public areas around the lobby.
Connectivity, both cellular and internet, is temperamental, and subject to the weather. Due to Mulu’s remote, mountainous and densely jungled location, only certain spots get decent connections, and the Mulu Marriott just happens to be one of them.
But look at the bright side: little to no distractions from those pesky emails, social media is kept to a minimu and a lot of time can be devoted to inward reflections and actual, physical socializing…with real people! Time spent by the pool reading a book, without needing to check your phone, is severely underrated in our constantly connected world.
Basecamp for Adventure
With a private jetty just outside the lobby, you really do not need to head out to the Gunong Mulu National Park HQ to catch any of the day trips to the caves and treks beyond the Park HQ main compound. That is what my agency took full advantage of when I did my trek to the Pinnacles: my guide and boat picked me up after breakfast, and we headed straight to the start of the Camp 5 Trek without me needing to go to the Park HQ to get to the main jetty.
If you like adventure, but still need your creature comforts, this property would be a good staging post for your little treks out. The Resort Car provides complimentary shuttle services between the Gunong Mulu National Park HQ and the property, so after a sweaty day of caving, hiking and spelunking, always be rest assured that a super comfy daybed by the River Terrace is ready for you to lounge on.
If one looks through my Instagram account, one would notice I have a thing for places to lounge in. Granted, it usually includes sky-high views, or an iconic vantage point, of which the Mulu Marriott has, at least at the latter point.
With the Melinau Paku river meandering by the ‘beach’ and landscaped gardens fronting the riverfront, the Terrace is an absolutely perfect spot to lounge, especially with the sheer abundance of day beds, sofas and, if you are so inclined, proper seating. The daybeds are extremely comfortable, so do not be surprised if you end up sleeping with a book while enjoying your tipple.
The pool is small, but after a day hiking and trekking, the daybeds by the pool will just beckon you to chill. The River Terrace, as I mentioned above, will just encourage you to do absolutely nothing. The spa? Well, they do call it the Mulu Marriott Resort and Spa for a reason: it’s nice, it’s bright, and it’s open to nature outside.
So, after a long hike, or caving adventure, or for the more adventurous, 1 night at Camp 5 after reaching the Pinnacles, the creature comforts at the Mulu Marriott will make you want to do just absolutely nothing. After all, you are meant to unwind!
Lounge and Dine
This may be the third time I talked about the River Terrace but….RIVER TERRACE! The All-Day Dining is pretty decent at the Marriott Cafe, but if you want something other than hotel food, there is a small restaurant just outside the hotel, at the end of the iron bridge which serves decent food. For something more local, there is a small restaurant called ‘Good Day’ suspended above the river just outside the National Park HQ entrance.
For nightlife? Well, there is ‘Good Day’, which seems to be popular with guests from the National Park HQ who just want to chill and enjoy cheap beer. Otherwise, chill at the River Terrace. Yes, all guests will congregate here for WiFi and drinks. Ask Bibi for suggestions on wine. She always gives me a nice carafe of Merlot to end my evening.
To be honest, the main reason people come to the Mulu Marriott is to both enjoy the quiet solitude amidst creature comforts while exploring the unique sights and sounds that is the Mulu UNESCO World Heritage Site.
(Posts on the caves are here and here, the Pinnacles here and a 24 hour trip here.)
The resort itself is at the edge of the Gunong Mulu National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the endless sights, from the Deer Cave and Lang’s Cave close to the Park HQ to the Clearwater Cave and Wind Cave a boat ride away, to the majestic Pinnacles close to the summit of Mt Api are all stunning sites within easy reach of the Mulu Marriott.
And the Rooms?
Somehow I managed to talk about the Mulu Marriott and not touch about the rooms. Personally, go for the Riverside Rooms: those rooms are really nice, and front the Melinau River. The jungle view rooms are basically the same as the river view rooms, no difference there but you only see trees.
The rooms are in ‘blocks’ and are raised on stilts, all of which are connected to a walkway that links the entire resort together. The construction and layout is made in such a way to minimise environmental impact and avoid any untoward incidences in the event the Melinau River decides to burst its banks.
Agency: I used Borneo Rainforest Trekking as my agency. They provide bespoke services and can easily pick you up from the Resort Jetty.
For hotel bookings, I went direct to Marriott.com
Peak Season?: Ah yes. June until September, and December until January can be peak season for Mulu. While it would not be that crowded, it can get a bit…’congested.’
Imagine a quiet, secluded bay, hidden from the hustle and bustle of a major tourist destination, set back amidst cliffs, crystal clear seas and green foliage, yet close enough to (personally) one of the best beach bars in the region and options for equestrian sports. Imagine this spot as the perfect luxury getaway, where things will be prepared before you even want it prepared but welcome it all together. Imagine this palace of peace, within easy reach.
That basically spells out the Amanpuri for you: decadent luxe without being over the top, where you have to know where you’re going if you’re looking for this spot. This hidden appeal is pretty much the standard modus operandi for all Amans I’ve been to.
Palace of Peace
Located on Pansea Beach, a small, hidden cove between Surin and Bangtao Beaches, this hidden spot is, well, hidden: you need to enter through the boom of The Surin Hotel to get to the Amanpuri. The low-rise setting, amidst tall trees, soaring high roofs and clustered pavilions greet you suddenly, as you make a left turn down the hill, to be greeted by a great main pool terrace and the dramatic steps to the beach and sea below.
The hidden setting and its location tucked well away from prying eyes will guarantee you utter privacy in this palace of peace. Staff in crisp uniforms shuffle about discreetly, as well-dressed guests in elegant Resort Wear glide around the grounds, enjoying this oasis of tranquillity.
Pavilions on pavilions
The rooms in the Amanpuri are well appointed, with well-appointed wooden features, well positioned mirrors and doors that open dramatically to the view of the sea outside. In the pool villas, you can enjoy a nice, quiet private dip away from the environs of the main pool, not that its crowded, and in the larger private villas, there are villa staff ready to assist you.
At times, you feel as if your privacy is intruded with the thought of staff on-call, but they have a way of appearing and disappearing just as you need them and when you want privacy. On one morning swim, I decided on a private swim in the private pool, not expecting any staff to be up, but just as I was finishing my laps as dawn broke, the deck chair was prepared, my towel laid out properly and a glass of water on the ready, and I did not even notice it being done.
One of the welcomed features at the Amanpuri is the daily afternoon tea in the tea pavilion, by the main hotel area, fronting the pool. At around 4pm, small Thai snacks are prepared by the staff, who helpfully explain what the items are, and prepare you a variety of local tea infusions.
Bottles of water are always prepared by your deck chair, be it by the beach, or in one of the three pools around the main hotel area. Fruits or ice cream might make their rounds depending on the time and day, and staff regularly spruce up your spot if you decide to go for a swim in the pool or the sea.
Sea Sports Suggested
Among the many things I like about the Amanpuri are the options of sea sports available: from water bicycles to kayaks. The cove is well protected from large waves and the sea is crystal clear, enabling you to see the fish just under the surface.
The staff are always ready on hand to assist, and I am proud to say that I learned how to stand-up paddle at the Amanpuri after a quick lesson from the sea sports personnel and his 2 suggested YouTube videos.
If you feel like lazing around, there are 2 sides of the beach to choose from: the beach by the grand sea stairs or the restaurant beach, tucked away under lush, tall trees (and neighbouring the Surin Hotel).
Lounge and Dine
Now, I did not take the opportunity to dine in the Amanpuri’s three restaurants, but I did, naturally, try out the bars. There are 3 lounge bars to choose from, all against the sea terrace, leading down to the beach. The drinks are well made, the lounges have great views out to the Andaman Sea, all in all, the perfect spot to relax and do almost nothing.
While the bustling beach bar area at Surin Beach is now, sadly, gone, they have moved to the next beach up along Bangtao Beach. One of my all-time favourite bars, Catch Beach Club, has relocated from its Surin perch to lounge along the wide expanse of Bangtao. Drinks are good, lounge area super comfortable, beach frontage unrivalled and it has a good spot to watch the sunset, as the DJ spins beach house chill.
The Phuket International Horse Riding Club is further along Bangtao Beach, in the Laguna district, and has good horse riding facilities and options if you feel like going on a trot. One of my regular haunts in Phuket, the horses are well tended, and the handlers very skilled. Be prepared to be part of a wedding photoshoot as you trot along the beach, and wear white, just to fit with the resort setting.
Now, Phuket is a fairly large island, and you will eventually have to make a decision between lounging in the resort and its immediate vicinity or exploring the island. If you have to go somewhere, Promthep Cape, at the southern tip of Phuket is an option, as the drive down along the western coast is one of the most dramatic seaside drives.
There are options, from rowdy nightlife in Patong to family-friendly settings in Kata-Karon to jet-set luxe in Bangtao. Personally, I would stick with Bangtao and anything within a 30 minute drive away: the Amanpuri just makes you want to stay in one spot, and only occasionally head out if the need arises.
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.