Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Round The World 2015


Hotel 1: Waldorf Astoria, Berlin
Tuesday 10 Nov to Thursday 12 Nov (2 nights)
Room 1119 (King Corner Deluxe)
In terms of hotel stays, the trip began with a touch of luxury, thanks to an appealing Hilton HHonors points+cash reward. The property's own website says that this is "a graceful urban oasis in the heart of Berlin", and I thought that summed it up quite nicely. This new hotel is very conveniently situated, next to the poignant sight of the Memorial Church and opposite both the Zoo Station and the terminus for the express bus to and from Tegel Airport. (I did wonder whether I might be the first guest to arrive at this elegant five-star hotel by bus, and to pop across the road to McDonalds for breakfast!)

Despite these two budget-conscious aberrations, this proved to be a comfortable and highly enjoyable short stay. I made use of the 1920s-themed Lang Bar on both evenings, greatly enjoying the ambience, expertly made cocktails, tasty food and friendly service. Other facilities on site included Germany's first Guerlain spa and a Michelin-starred restaurant, but I didn't sample either of those.

Hotel 2: Hilton Midtown, New York
Thursday 12 Nov to Friday 13 Nov (1 night)
Room 2429 (King Deluxe)
Situated at 6th & 54th, this huge Hilton certainly lives up to its name and is conveniently situated for many Midtown attractions. This was a fairly routine one-night stay following a long day of intercontinental flying, so I wasn't in the mood for exploring the property; the important point was that I got a comfortable and uninterrupted night's sleep, enabling a successful transition to the new time zone. Breakfast in the Executive Lounge was too busy to be genuinely enjoyable, but it gave me what I needed - albeit with any concept of finesse put on hold. Perhaps best of all, I was perfectly positioned to make a swift and productive start with my sightseeing programme after checking out. 

Hotel 3: Marriott East Side, New York
Friday 13 Nov to Sunday 15 Nov (2 nights)
Room 1703 (Double-Double Deluxe)
Located at Lexington Ave & 49th Street, this hotel has some illustrious chain properties as neighbours, including The Barclay (InterContinental) and the Waldorf Astoria (Hilton). It is well placed for access to any number of East Side attractions, including Grand Central, the United Nations and what I still can't get used to calling the MetLife Building, so many years after the demise of Pan Am. We only really intended the first jointly booked hotel of the trip to be a place to sleep, and with that limited (but important) objective in mind, it served its purpose well enough. 

Hotel 4: InterContinental The Willard, Washington DC
Sunday 15 Nov to Monday 16 Nov (1 night)
Room 924 (Twin 'Willard' Room)
How delightful to be back at this old haunt for my third stay, even if it was only for one night on this occasion! Situated on Pennsylvania Avenue just two blocks from the White House, this is not just a hotel; it's been a Washington institution since the middle of the 19th century. Having arrived here on two previous occasions as an InterContinental 'Royal Ambassador' (the group's highest level of status), on this occasion I rolled up as Mr Nobody. Luckily the room was booked by Bruce, who was an IHG 'Ambassador'. We had cocktails and nibbles in the fabulous Round Robin bar shortly after arrival; this is said to have been a lively meeting place of the city's political and social elite since the days of Abraham Lincoln. We seemed to fit in OK - nothing wrong with a mix of movers, shakers and frequent flyers!

Hotel 5: Marriott Springhill Suites, Alexandria
Monday 16 Nov to Friday 20 Nov (4 nights)
Room 413 (Twin Studio)
While clearly a big step down from The Willard, this all-suites property was reasonably pleasant, and more stylish than I thought it might be. It is aimed principally at the extended-stay market. Our twin studio featured a sleeping area, sitting area and work area, and was equipped with a fridge and microwave oven. The hotel is situated 2-3 miles south of Old Town Alexandria on Hwy 1, and is therefore best suited to guests with a car. While there is a shuttle bus to and from Huntington metro station, I will remember this hotel as the place that I gladly signed up for Uber! (Note: last two images from hotel website)

Hotel 6: Sheraton,  Chapel Hill
Tuesday 17 Nov to Wednesday 18 Nov (1 night)
Room 310 (Standard King)
This substantial, full-service hotel provided a pleasant and comfortable night stop on my little side trip to North Carolina. Situated in the old university town of Chapel Hill, it provides easy access to businesses and academic institutions in the so-called Research Triangle. I was happy with my experiences in using the in-house options for my evening meal and for breakfast the next morning.

Hotel 7: DoubleTree Center City, Philadelphia
Friday 20 Nov to Sunday 22 Nov (2 nights)
Room 2123 (Standard Twin)
Notwithstanding its prime location on S Broad St (a.k.a. Avenue of the Arts) and a good initial impression given on entering the lobby, this hotel had some fairly serious issues. For starters, our room was crying out for refurbishment, the carpet looked far from clean, and the level of soundproofing was poor. The Executive Lounge, despite having a potentially interesting bi-level layout, was simply dire; for both Bruce and me, it represented the worst example of a lounge that either of us had ever seen. Finally, the main restaurant struggled to cope with the number of guests at breakfast on the Saturday morning, and the buffet food was barely warm. Overall, I have no hesitation in slapping an AVOID sticker on this one.  

Hotel 8: Crystal City Marriott at Reagan National Airport
Sunday 22 Nov to Wednesday 25 Nov (3 nights)
Room 1101 (Standard Twin)
This rather pleasant hotel is located just minutes away from Reagan National Airport, and the transfer can be made either by shuttle bus or using the Washington metro. The Crystal City development is known for its extensive use of underground passages between buildings, and this hotel is one of two Marriott properties that are joined by this means to each other, to an impressive array of shops and to the local metro station. We liked the in-house 'Bell20' lobby bar and restaurant.

Hotel 9: Sheraton, JF Kennedy Airport
Wednesday 25 Nov to Thursday 26 Nov (1 night)
Room 224 (Standard Twin)
We both knew from previous experience that the overall standard of airport hotels at JFK is fairly poor. With that background in mind, this one seemed relatively reasonable, but it was only ever going to be a convenient positioning move for a morning flight the next day.

Hotel 10: InterContinental, Phnom Penh
Friday 27 Nov to Monday 30 Nov (3 nights)
Room 2429 (Twin Deluxe Club)
This turned out to be a truly fabulous base for exploring Phnom Penh - and then recovering afterwards. The experience started at the airport, where we were met and whisked to the hotel in a swish, black Mercedes limo flying an IHG flag, diplomatic-style. (Many inquisitive motorcyclists peered in to see who was arriving in town!) On arrival, an array of staff members gave the Sampeah greeting. It was instantly apparent that this was a beautiful, traditionally designed hotel - but it did seem a tad empty. We were most impressed by the Executive Lounge (a wonderful example of its type and the polar opposite of Hotel 7 above), and by the spacious lobby bar. The only off-key note was struck by the Xiang Palace Chinese restaurant, which had no ambience at all, staff who freaked us out by scrutinising our every move, food that we thought was adequate rather than excellent, and an overpriced menu. Apart from that one disappointment, this would have been a flawless stay.

Hotel 11: Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor, Siem Reap
Monday 30 Nov to Wednesday 02 Dec (2 nights)
Room 4120 ('Landmark' Twin, Pool View)
And it's two stunning success stories in a row! Once again, the experience started with a comfortable and effortless airport transfer in a Mercedes limousine. The Grand Hotel d'Angkor has been around since 1932 and has been carefully restored to preserve its sense of style and elegance. Highlights of the stay included the sumptuous breakfast buffet (which included Mumm champagne), the excellent Elephant Bar, the beautifully maintained pool area and the wonderfully friendly and helpful staff. In the words of the song, memories are made of this.

Hotel 12: Le Bel Air, Luang Prabang
Wednesday 02 Nov to Saturday 05 Nov (3 nights)
Room B308 (Garden Bungalow, Twin)
This hotel consisted of a mixture of conventional rooms and 'garden bungalows', and we had one of the latter. It was a strange experience when the occasional monkey took to scampering around on the roof! Our accommodation was, perhaps almost inevitably, a little on the plain side after wallowing in the luxury of the InterContinental and Raffles, and a similar feeling applied to on-site facilities such as the bar and the restaurant. The property's greatest disadvantage, however, was its location on the 'wrong' bank of the river. In theory there should not have been a problem, as the hotel is situated adjacent to one of the bridges; in practice, this was a structure that - after sampling it twice - we labelled "The Death Bridge". Apart from the condition of the two pedestrian walkways, which were in a perilous state at the best of times and completely out of the question in rain or darkness, traffic was restricted to cycles and motorcycles. A consequence of this was that taxis were difficult to find in the local area and the journey then involved a lengthy detour.

Hotel 13: Novotel, Bangkok Airport
Saturday 05 Dec to Sunday 06 Dec (1 night)
Room 1525 (Standard Twin)
Having stayed at 'cookie-cutter' Novotel properties in the UK often enough, this came as a complete surprise. Built around a spectacular central atrium, this hotel is altogether more stylish and, in my opinion, it sits in solid 4-star territory. Our room was spacious and comfortable. We made good use of the lobby bar, and from the various in-house restaurants, we chose the Kinsen Japanese option for a most enjoyable dinner. Guests can arrive here at any time of day and leave within 24 hours.