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J. W. Marriott in Bangkok

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I travel to Bangkok a lot. From one of the dirtiest cities in the world 12-13 years ago, it’s cleaned up become fancier, more welcoming, more modern and just a wonderful shopping destination and a quick flight from Mumbai! I have therefore shifted a lot of hotels- hotels close to the malls, hotels out of the city… My new favourite however has to be the J.W. Marriott Bangkok.

Two MTR Stops away from Siam and a single stop away from central, this wonderful hotel gives me a bit of sanity from the frenetic mall culture of Bangkok! Towering gloriously above the fashionable Sukhumvit district, this hotel has a good mix of clientele ranging from long staying guests, businessmen to shopaholics like me!

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If you do want to stay at the J.W. – I suggest you stay in the Executive Level rooms. For a very small additional charge you get to use the Lounge.The Lounge in the J.W. is tastefully decorated, spacious and has an indoor and out door sitting area as well as an internet area with a Tv and couches for a more relaxed coffee/ tea. Check-in is done on the 16th floor for Executive Level guests and the check-in is quick and efficient and over a cup of coffee and something to eat.

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The Executive Level rooms are nice,though a tad small. You have free internet access everywhere in the hotel and the speeds are wonderful. For a super-connected social networking geek like me…that’s always a big plus!

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Why do I like the lounge? Well firstly it’s large and the food is amazing! Unlike usual Hotel Lounges the tapas and hot meals vary every day!You have an incredible breakfast with a live egg station, japanese counter, cereal, cheese and bread counters and of course your customary cold cuts , sausages etc. If there’s something missing and you want it- they’ll make it for you! After breakfast , in casephoto 1-1 you get hungry by about 11:30 am or so…there’s always some muffins in the oven or some sandwiches and peanuts for you to grab and go with- along with a takeaway coffee or chilled soft drink/ juice. In the evening The Lounge has an array of drinks and wines. It also has salads, hot and cold tapas and wonderful live stations where burgers are flipped, fish is seared, rolls are made and sushi is rolled. Every night is usually a different theme – so after an American burger night with fries and onion rings (from their New York Steak house downstairs), don’t be surprised to go Japanese (from Tsu the Japanese restaurant) the following evening or Italian… The food is tasty, filling and perfect and after a long day on the streets of Bangkok or in the malls- it’s wonderful to unwind over a drink and fabulous food before you let the Bangkok nightlife draw you in!

Cost-: $260 a night approximately for the Executive Level room!

Best Times To Travel-:  For me …any weekend I need to escape… but generally October to Jan are peak months with the weather being significantly cooler…else Bangkok is perfect for those like me who love the heat!

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God’s Own Country!

It was the first birthday I started the ‘kidnapping!’ Well in this case the ‘husband-napping!’I told Aditya to take off from work, didn’t tell him where we were going and made all the bookings and payments myself and told him to pack ‘comfortable’ and whisked him away. Luckily airports have just 2 Premiere desks and none with flight destinations attached, and I kept the tickets in my hand so it was all the way till we boarded the bus taking us to the plane that the secret was safe. I was taking him for a quick birthday spa break to Kovalam!

My Father’s family is the Royal family of Cochin and Aditya had never been to Kerala with me. This was our first visit together! My family knows Captain Nair’s family well and Vivek Nair (his son) had helped me create the perfect birthday surprise for Aditya! We were staying at the fabulous Leela Kovalam. We arrived and were met at the runway. 5 suited men escorted my very shocked husband and me through to a car waiting for us! Now my husband who was dressed in shorts suddenly felt very overwhelmed- but Kerala hospitality is legendary and my Father’s family is very beloved and news had traveled- a Palat (me!) was coming home!

The hotel was a short drive away and esconced in palm trees and open space , it was a refreshing change to hear the waves instead of horns and honking and to be slowed down by a cart and people crossing and enjoy the change of pace. That’s what Kerala does. It calms you. In moments, you are allowed to forget the noise and stresses, the deadlines and worries and it allows you to breathe. And when you do breathe all that beautiful, rich, unspoiled air clears away years of pollution and hate and you just automatically relax. The Leela was beautiful. After a wonderfully warm welcome we were shown to our suite. Away from all the rest of the rooms, this little piece of heaven had little gifts for Aditya stashed everywhere!

While Aditya searched for his gifts , I booked some traditional Kerala massages and organised a romantic candle lit dinner for us. We were planning to eat at the beach but after a consultation with the chef and a visit to a very windy, very rainy beach; we decided to do the dinner in our dining area in our suite!

After the most relaxing of massages to have a dinner of traditional Malyalee food, a multi-course degustation menu and to sleep listening to the sound of the waves- it was the best birthday ever for my husband.It also started a tradition of surprising each other on birthdays!

The next few days involved breakfasts in bed, swimming in the eternity pool, quick dips in the sea and more massages- after our short escape to God’s Own Country and Aditya’s personal heaven- it took both of us a while to get our feet back to Ground Earth again!

Best Times to Travel-: September to March… else you might be caught in the very hot summers or the very rainy, but incredibly romantic rainy season!

Cost-: Approximately $300 a night but spend on the massages and definitely spend on the romantic dinner… They will be memories you’ll treasure forever!

Breathing Underwater – the Maldives

It was an anniversary and yet another excuse to take off! The husband loves the sea and the surf and I love him so it was off to Maldives (my second trip) …his first!

The most amazing thing about Maldives is the landing. Surrounded by water on both sides , the runway is this narrow strip of land surrounded by an ocean of the mostbrilliant blue you will ever see! Despite the fact that the flight took off at an unearthly hour and I was almost running on no sleep for 2 days..when you see that beautiful blue…everything seems to look a whole lot brighter to you!

For this trip we were staying at the Taj Coral Reef. The General Manager of the Taj Exotica in Goa had moved there and was a friend and in in true Taj fashion promised us a fabulously romantic anniversary and we’d always had a wonderful time at the Exotica…so we  thought …why not! That’s the thing with the Taj…employees are never just merely employees! They become friends and confidantes. They know your family. They remember their tastes. They remember birthdays and anniversaries. For a true taste of home even when you’re far away…there’s always the fabulous Taj and so there we went!

The Taj Coral Reef is just one among tens of superb luxury resorts in the Maldives and the next time I return, I will probably shift between the islands. I’d love to do the Banyan Tree, Six Senses , One and Only and for a taste of home try the Taj Exotica Maldives!

This was our quick break and one island would be more than sufficient , I was sure to give my husband the beach break that he needed and me the Anniversary celebrations that I loved!

We arrived at Male airport and within minutes we were whisked away by Luxury speedboat to the the Taj Coral reef! The speedboat takes approximately 45 minutes and on the way there we were both exhausted. We lay down on the sun bed and my next memory is arriving at the Island!

I had always wanted to stay in a water bungalow…one that is above water and so that is what we chose! My dream had always been to sit out at night and gaze in to the expanse of the ocean or venture out bravely for a moonlit swim or wake up and roll over into the ocean! I must confess I DID THEM ALL!

The bungalow was exquisite and the ladder from our room taking us into the lagoon which lead into the ocean was a wonderful idea and one that excited me the minute I reached!

Traveling most of the night, we quickly ordered some food at the beautiful and very comfortable Reef Bar and went back to our room to sleep!

After our first dip in the ocean and a quick cup of coffee in the evening we headed to the beach where much to our amazement Stingrays are hand fed by staff and guests everyevening as the sun sets at about 6 p.m.! Wearing plastic gloves, I nervously joined Aditya as he  fed the great beats with ease! I approached my first stingray who eagerly gobbled the food off the palm of my hand and even allowed me to pat it on the head as if thanking me for my efforts before it swam away! There were tens of them, all hungry, all greedy, all eager and this was an absolute treat! This was a once in a life time experience and I will always treasure it!

Dinner was at Open-The Grill with a fabulous Japanese chef showing off his incredible knife skills while we treated to the best Teppenyaki grill specialities- meats and vegetables alike! A wonderful evening with the GM and his family almost became a wonderful morning as we talked, caught up and just relaxed!

The Anniversary was special. The morning started with a knock on the door and a champagne breakfast in bed! The entire outside of our bungalow had been decorated with flowers and balloons and it seemed like everywhere we went on the island, they wished us on our special day! A fabulous start gave both of us the energy to once again ‘Take the Plunge’ and so we did! From the pier we jumped off into the ocean! Running on the pier and taking a leap into the clear blue water felt fabulous, freeing and incredible!

The thing with Maldives is fish are everywhere! When we jumped off the pier we often displaced entire schools of tiny fish on their way to feeding or shocked a big fish who was just swimming around! In the Maldives and at Coral Reef you are surrounded by the most beautiful fish- of varied colours and sizes and you can see them through the water which almost serves as a sheet of glass! You don’t need to snorkel to see the incredible marine life…it’s right there in front of you!

We are both avid snorkelers and divers and so by mid afternoon we headed to a nearby shipwreck to see more marine life and more coral! The coral in Maldives is every imaginable colour. The pinks are so pink. The yellows are cheerful and the blues and greens are subtle and melt in to the aquamarine waters! The ship wreck was fabulous,fantastic and fun but completely exhausting! For sunset we had a wonderful surprise. We were dropped on a sand patch/ small island that only reveals it self during low tide and so for a few hours in  a day you can sit in this small strip of land surrounded by water on all sides and just ‘BE.’

And at night it was a private moonlit dinner at a table set at the edge of the pier where during dessert we were able to spot a reef shark on it’s nightly hunt! Exhilarating, exciting and yet gloriously calm- that for me will always be Maldives!

Price Factor-: Maldives is expensive with Luxury Hotel rates looking to be between 500-800 dollars a night. Worth it? YES DEFINITELY especially if you’d like to explore the water… A kingdom more beautiful than earth by far , more colorful and infinitely quieter 😉

Best times to travel-: It is traditionally warm throughout the year.  But it may rain a bit between May and October….! The best time to travel, I believe however…is whenever you’d like to go!

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