Where to stay in Jerusalem: Abraham Hostel

When it comes to hostels, I tend to think bigger isn’t better. Why? Well, in my experience, the more people crammed into hostels, the more chances of loud, obnoxiousness (although those travelers can be found everywhere, regardless), and a less safe vibe. Before arriving to Israel, I had planned on staying at Abraham Hostel, despite the 250 (!) bed count.

As far as hostels go, Abraham Hostel is one of the bigger hostels I have ever stayed at.

But, Abraham Hostel, located near the heart of the action and a 20-minute walk from the Old City of Jerusalem, isn’t like those other big-bed hostels. At all.

Hotel Israel Middle East Reviews

Budget digs in Tel Aviv: Gordon Inn

Gordon Inn, from the outside, is quite easy to miss. It’s just off of the major Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, and aside from a sign at the entrance and a little balcony, people can walk right by it.

I did.

However, while it may seem almost invisible from the outside, the inside of this hostel is another story. Sure, it is in an older building, which means no elevator and for those carrying anything but a backpack, it can be a pain in the ass (I had my Kelty, so this rang true), but that isn’t a reason to not book at this cozy hostel.

Hotel Reviews

Review: Kelty Ascender 22

I go through more pieces of luggage than I do shoes. Especially now, seeing as I really only have two pairs of shoes (but that’s another story). Anyway, as I was saying, I go through luggage like it is my job. And sometimes it kind of is. After all, how else can I tell you what luggage I love that rocks my world and what luggage isn’t worth the major moolah I put down on it?

Even though it has been awhile since I have traveled long-term, it doesn’t mean I don’t still travel. In fact, I pack up a bag pretty often for travel — whether it is nearby like the tropical paradise of Koh Samui, or as far as possible from Thailand (like Delaware).

Regardless of how far from “home” I am headed, or how long I am away, one thing remains true:  I need a good piece of luggage. No, I need an awesome piece of luggage.

Reviews

Rejuvenation at Breeze Spa

The Breeze Spa at Koh Samui's Amari

Joy, my massage therapist, rolls the hot rocks gently over the back of my legs, sending a jolt of electricity through my body.

I’m laying, face down, staring at a bowl full of flowers, breathing the aromatic scent of lavendar and other essential oils, as she slowly works the stones into my muscles, using them as a replacement for the kneading her hands would normally do.

Amari's Breeze Spa

Deciding to try the hot stone massage was easy. The day before my appointment at Amari’s Breeze Spa, I took a few minutes to sip a sugar-rimmed tropical drink, sit with a spa consultant and fill out a quick form to narrow down what treatment would be best for me.

After less than five minutes, it is decided: I want to relax (naturally, I’m on vacation) and come away from my treatment feeling rejuvenated. She gave me two choices for a massage, and I opted for this one.

Unwinding at Amari's Breeze Spa on Koh Samui

As an expat living in Thailand, I get massages all of the time. I’m not exaggerating. During lunch breaks at the office, I’m known to skip lunch and head to a local massage joint to get an hour-long head, neck, back, shoulder and arm pit stop. At night, you can find me at the open-air massage shop on Loi Kroh. I live for these massages.

Breeze isn’t like these though, it is a true spa versus a place where you go and lie down on a mat and put your head on a pillow.

As relaxing music fills the dimly lit room, I let myself go. I clear my mind of everything — elephants, Chiang Mai, America, you name it — and I give in to the overwhelming calm that begins to envelop my body.

The massage isn’t all hot stone. A good portion of it utilizes just Joy’s powerful hands.

Towards the end of my treatment, the stones go away and she begins to work on my head. Applying just enough pressure, she provides the best head massage I have ever gotten. To say it is the crowning glory of my treatment is an understatement. It is perfection.

The after-massage goodie at Amari's Breeze Spa

At the end of the treatment, I head back down to the reception area of the spa and am handed some hot water lilly tea and a marshmallow dipped in chocolate and covered in coconut.

A sweet ending to an even sweeter treatment.

Editor’s Note: My time stay was courtesy of Amari Palm Reef, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy

Reviews Spas

Ahh, Amari

I have a checklist for what constitutes my version of paradise:

1. A gorgeous location

2. Something gorgeous to view

3. Someplace gorgeous to stay

4. The ability to tune out the real world and relish all of the gorgeous

Amari Palm Reef in Koh Samui is one example of my paradise. Located in the town of Chewang, it is far enough from the main drag, yet close enough to get to where the action is.

After taking my 130 baht taxi — which really isn’t a taxi at all but a van that shoves as many bums in the vehicle as there are seats and then heads to whatever section of the island the group is going, dropping them off at their respective hotels — and arriving to Amari, I know immediately I am in for a true vacation.

Reception at Amari Palm Reef

The open-air reception and lobby is outfitted with comfortable, beach-y lounges  topped with fresh-cut flowers, and staff with smiles on their faces.

I sit and fill out my reservation form and am handed a sweet fruit drink and scented, cold towel to refresh before I am taken to my room.

And, what a room it is.

The room

A junior suite at Amari Palm Reef

With 188 rooms, split between two areas (the main road intersects the property), I have the prime spot — an airy 45 meter junior suite on the second floor.The wall-to-wall sliding glass door opens out to a magical view of the pool, and beyond that the soft, white sand beach and glistening water.

The view from my junior suite at Amari

Of course, the first thing I ever do when I check into a hotel is try out the bed. Living in Thailand, the beds tend to be a bit harder than I am used to (or would like), but the bed in my room is about as perfect as they come. It’s soft, covered in lush sheets, topped with a crisp blanket and four pillows. I snuggle my head into the pillow.

Yeah.

It’s the best pillow I’ve ever rested my head on.

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The decorations in the room are quiet, but evoke an Asian vibe, and its the little details that really bring the room to life — fresh flowers in a sleek glass vase, a sculpture above the bed, decoration pillows on the couch.

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And then, there is the bathroom. A nice-sized tub is situated next to the vanity (which is stocked with my absolute favorite line, Elemis), and then a separate shower and private bathroom on the other side.

My favorite product, Elemis, in the room at Amari

In the closet, there is a beach bag, an amazingly plush robe, slippers and an umbrella for when it rains in paradise.

I glimpse out the window and look at the clear blue sky as the sun begins to cast that warming golden our glow, then head down to the Bar@C for a quick cocktail before heading out for the night.

When I return home to my room, and for the next two days, I struggle with the choice of staying in my room or heading down to the pool and beach.

I swear, it is actually a hard choice given how in love I am with the bright room, and, of course, my delicious bed.

My last night at Amari, I don’t do anything but relish the calm the room is able to evoke from me. I tuck myself into the soft robe and sit out on my balcony, watching as lanterns float into the sky, stars twinkle, and in the distance, a lightening storm erupts, casting blue streaks through the clouds.

The pool

There are two pools at Amari — one on each side of the road. Because my room is beachside, I stick to that pool. Here, there are plenty of lounge chairs and quick poolside service. One corner of the pool has a whirlpool to sit and relax in the sun. There is also a “water fall” of sorts separating the two main areas of the pool.

 The pool at Amari

The crowd is diverse — kids, couples, friends — and a few balls float in the pool, beckoning vacationers for a quick game.

I spend most of my time at the pool, but that’s only because the water in the pool is far cooler than that of the beach.

The beach

It’s beautiful.

The beach at Amari

It’s got incredibly soft sand, heaps of lounge chairs to lay on, but it’s the water that’s the problem.

The shore at Amari Palm Reef

Because it is so shallow in this part of Chewang, the water is warmer than a bath. I walk out a good distance, and it still doesn’t come up to my calves. The sea isn’t the best for swimming, but the view truly is spectacular.

Bar@C

Beds, couches and cozy tables create an idea of an alternative reality. While the booze is a bit pricey for my Chiang Mai standards, the luxurious lounge immediately gives way to a relaxation I haven’t felt in a long time. Sitting, sipping a cocktail and looking out as the sky turns to night over the water is a fantastic way to start my first night in Koh Samui, and more important, my first vacation in ages.

Beds at bar@c at Amari

During the day, I snack on fish and chips (OK, not fantastic), and by night I meet one of my closest friends in Thailand for a cold, albeit pricey by Chiang Mai standards, beer.

Prego

Chiang Mai has ruined me in regards to wine. The typical wine I can order up north is the Mont Clare box crap. So, when I sit down to dinner and see a multi-page wine list boasting wines from all over the world (hand selected by the hotel’s general manager, Martin Kunzmann), my eyes nearly pop out of my head. Wine! Sweet! Delicious! Wine! In bottles!

The extensive wine selection at Amari's Prego

That’s enough to make me fall in love.

The atmosphere at Amari's Prego on Koh Samui

But, there is more to Prego than just the wine. The open air restaurant situated across the street from the beachside half of Amari, has a chill vibe. And, gorgeous menu packed with Italian selections.

Sure, when in Thailand, eat Thai food. But, when there’s an Italian restaurant with items like Waygu on the menu, damn. Order. It. Up.

Even as a non-meat-eater, there are plenty of options. For my main course, the chef actually whips up a sensational sea bass served with grilled veggies and truffled, yes, truffled mashed potatoes. I haven’t had anything this divine since my Vegas days.

Since I’m so stuffed on the mashed potatoes (plus the smoked salmon app and main course), I can’t try any of the desserts, like the limoncello sorbet — even if my tastebuds say yes. Instead, I get a little glass of grappa to wash everything down.

I walk out feeling delighted, stuffed and blissfully happy.

Pizza at Amari's Prego on Koh Samui

The next day, I return to Prego to try one of the wood-fired pizzas. Perfectly crisp and delicious.

The breakfast buffet

Most breakfast buffets I encounter tend to lack veggie options. Not Amari.

The selection is huge and includes fresh-baked breads, an omelette station, cheese, fruit, pancakes, french toast and more — all served on the second floor of the resort’s other restaurant, Merante. With a view of the pool and sea, it is a great place to sip a morning cup of coffee, nosh on better-than-normal buffet items and prepare for a day in Koh Samui.

Breeze Spa

The Breeze Spa at Koh Samui's Amari

The spa offers a wide-range of treatments, including massage (naturally), scrubs and wraps, facials and more. While staying at Amari, I got a hot stone massage and loved it. Consultants meet with each person individually to determine what treatment would suit them best based on their needs, and then from there, it’s game on.

The customer service

I mentioned that everyone at reception had smiles. But, the customer service at Amari goes beyond that. When I want to book a trip off the island, the GM is the one to whip out a map and suggest places to check out. When I decided I want to head to a little island for the morning, his staff actually book me the trip, arrange a private car for me to explore other island goodies, and then slip an itinerary under my door that night with all of the details.

And, when my friend loses her phone, the front desk is the one to get on the phone and speak Thai to places she could have left it. Above and beyond the normal call of customer service, and something we are both grateful for, even if the phone never turns up.

The bottom line

Amari is luxurious without being pretentious; posh without being exclusive.  It’s a place where couples, families and friends can all feel comfortable. The spa, with specials during the low season, is great value for the treatments. Prego is a fantastic spot for a fancy dinner, laid back lunch or just to sip wine (my favorite!). The property is close enough to the party of Chewang without being in the party, and given that transportation on the island can cost a good bit, its nice to know you don’t have to hop in a cab to experience something other than the property. For those in need of wifi, it is fast and log-in is easy. Plus, the entire resort is outfitted with it so you can make all of your friends jealous with those feet-in-the-sand pics on Facebook. Would I stay here again? Absolutely.

Editor’s Note: My time stay was courtesy of Amari Palm Reef, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy

Resorts Reviews

Life is a dream at Dream Hotel

For someone that has only stayed in one hotel in Bangkok, and no idea where anything is, deciding on a hotel to find in the massive city can be … oh … just a tad overwhelming.

So, I simply go to Agoda to research hotels.

Given that this trip to BKK — and my escaping Chiang Mai —  is a must for my sanity, I decide my sanity is also in need of some posh indulgence.

That’s when I see the listing for Dream Hotel. Five stars. Excellent reviews. In the neighborhood I want.

Sold. Booked.

And, what a dream the hotel is.

Bangkok's Dream Hotel

The room

After breezing into Bangkok and hopping into a cab, my driver turns down Soi 15 in Sukhumvit and immediately I know Dream isn’t going to let me down. The sparkly, spin-y disco ball cube spinning in the middle of the driveway makes me smile. And, in this moment, I need to smile.

The lobby is swank, sleek … hip. And then, there’s the room.

My oh-so gorgeous room with blue mood lighting under the bed and on the wall. It oozes sexy.

Then, there’s the bed.

It speaks to me.

“D,” the fluffy white duvet whispers, “don’t I look amazing?”

“Put your head on me,” tease the pillows.

Compared to my apartment at Smith, this bed simply looks like heaven.

I toss my carry-on onto the little stand and immediately jump into the bed.

Holyshitmarshmallowgoodnessinasleepingapparatus.

This bed is heaven. Soft. Perfect. If I didn’t have a hair cut/color in two hours, and work to get done, I’d skip the entire day and just pass out.

Which I do later that night after dinner with friends.

Needless to say, the sleep I have is incredibly restful … and incredibly comfortable.

Dtravelsround at Dream Hotel in Bangkok

In the morning, I head down to breakfast in the restaurant and grab some food. While it’s lacking in vegetarian options, what I do manage to grab is good.

Then, it is off to the spa for some more ahhhh.

The spa

Because I book in early (before noon), I get a 1000 baht discount, which means the honey body scrub, oil massage and facial is only around 2000 baht AKA highway robbery in America.

In the spa, I disrobe and let my practitioner work the scrub into my dull skin. While it is super sticky (it is honey), the shower at the end of it leaves my skin feeling softer than a baby’s. Super soft. And, yeah, glowing.

Then, time for the massage.

I love massages in Thailand. LOVE. But, this? This isn’t a Thai massage. It is akin to my treatment in Bali at Grand Mirage … gorgeous.

I lay there as she rubs my muscles and try to get over my funk. To get over my rut. I repeat a mantra in my head for more than an hour as she massages my body and gives me a facial.

When the treatment is over, I feel like a new person. And, far happier than I was before. There’s something to be said for just letting yourself breathe.

The pool

Relaxed, I head across the street to Dream’s other location and up to the top floor to get some pool time on the roof deck. Immediately, I head to the bar and grab a white wine and sit back, getting lost in my own thoughts for a bit before I jump into the chilly waters. Once the initial shock of the cold subsides, I refuse to move another inch and just soak as I sit and laugh with my friends.

The bottom line

For the $74 I paid for a king bed each night, this place is perfect. Staff are great. Facilities are nice. Restaurant is a bit overpriced, but I didn’t even mind. This was my mini-vacation. As I leave back to Chiang Mai, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I’m ready to go back home. At least for now.

Asia Blog Hotel Reviews Spas Thailand