And finally dessert – The Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay

5DF6B91F-8EBC-4CCD-B947-A065232DF915You never know if you have saved the best till last – until you get to the end.  But on this occasion – I think we can safely say that we did….just.

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The Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay is about as close to perfect as any resort, we have ever stayed in, anywhere.

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That is a big call for this trip, let alone when you add it to all the other amazing places we have been lucky enough to stay in.

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The hotel is on a hillside just at the end of Jimbaran Bay.  Close enough to walk to other restaurants or hotels, but far enough away for it to feel quiet and secluded.  The hotel itself was busy with the IMF annual meeting so lots of extra security and people, but you really didn’t notice.  There are only pool villa’s in the resort and 3 main pools, so you can always get a seat and they never feel crowded.

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Sundura is the beach club pool, so it is shared with the public (who pay of course), but other than late in the afternoon, we never struggled to get a seat.  It is clearly very popular and it is stunning, with its Olympic sized beach front lap pool.  It is amazing to sit there at sunset with live music and cocktail in hand.  The meals served are reasonably priced and lovely.  The usual fare during the day but come night time it becomes Asian fusion with lots of tasting platters to share.

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We preferred the terrace pool, located in the middle of the resort, partly because it was almost always empty, it had stunning views and it was close to our room. The small person  also was decidedly happy to have a really deep pool to swim in – 2.4 metres in parts.  Simon loved watching the planes take off and land across the bay and I had the delight of swallows ducking and diving between chapters in my book.

C5852223-E06C-41AB-AD51-8D2A7D9711E2Below is a more kid friendly pool and a series of plunge pools, with a waterfall backdrop.

My only gripe is that the pool terrace was often used for events so on at least 2 occasions the terrace pool was closed.  There were other options, but if its your favourite pool – you might feel a little cheated.

The resort grounds are lovely.  Full of colour and manicured gardens, all lit at night with lanterns.  It really is the stuff of dreams.

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The flowers in the gardens are amazing and the colours at sunset, spectacular.  There are many choices for where you can have sundowners or dinner – but the resort could really do with one more restaurant.  We ate at the next door Intercontinental on one evening.  Their Italian restaurant is reasonably priced and you can sit outside under candle light and eat beautifully prepared Italian dishes.

Otherwise we had 3 good evening meals at the Four Seasons, one at Sundura (the beach club), one at the main buffet restaurant and one in our room.   All were good and what you would expect at a resort.

The buffet breakfast was fantastic, lots of choice from healthy to waffles and French crepes.

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The villas themselves are spread out across the vast park like grounds.  Laid out like a Balinese village -they are traditional on the outside and modern on the inside.  Equiped with outdoor showers and plunge pools, day beds and sun loungers.  They really are perfect.

Ours came with its own birds nest and baby bird next to the outdoor shower.

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We were upgraded to a deluxe Villa with a partial view of the ocean and – more importantly from the husbands perspective a view of the steady stream of planes taking off and landing in the distance.  The airport is close enough to see but not so close you hear anything.  I could imagine that view might put some people off, but given the nightmare that traffic is here, I am really happy we are close enough to get to the airport easily, given we fly home late tonight.

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Our pool was warm, if a little on the small side.  (I think we have been spoilt by the size of the Villa pool at the Four Seasons Nam Hai) It was private but we didn’t use it all that much.  That may have had more to do with the alternatives rather than the villa pool itself.

The entry level villas here are not cheap but if you can stretch the budget – then this place is well worth it.   I doubt there is a bad room – it is just great, greater or greatest.  If you like the beach, request a room low down on the club side.  If you want peace and views – the higher the better.  If you like to walk to most things then you want to be somewhere in the middle.

085A4F21-7403-434D-863E-028C6BF8E006Children are always catered for well at the Four Seasons, from special amenities, to treats, to a take home beach bag and swim top.  They genuinely love kids and are happy  to wisk them away to feed fish, hunt for water lizards and be entertained.

DC0E8704-BC7D-4353-BFAD-A09A741EEAA4As you would expect from a Four Seasons the service was impeccable.  They have a great iPhone app from which you can text for a buggy, make a restaurant reservation or order up room service.  It is prompt and easy and made a big difference.  It was too easy to be at the beach and just magically text for a buggy to deliver you back to the room, or to track down the flip flops your small person left at the other end of the property.

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Our days were spent poolside reading, playing outdoor table tennis, cards or just hanging but had we wanted to engage in any activities there were plenty on offer.  You can head to coconut grove and take a surf lesson, ride a water bike, sail a catamaran, head to the spa, take a cooking lesson, watch a cultural dance, visit a temple….  the list is endless.

We chose not to do much of anything and I feel completely relaxed.  Moving villas every few days might sound crazy to some people, but not to us.  We like new hotels, we like new places and it meant that really made the most of  each villa and hotel we were in.  Sightseeing took a back seat.  I don’t regret that at all – we will be back in Bali soon enough and the small person has exams to go home to, so she diligently studied every day before breakfast – while Mum and Dad worked.  I have always wondered who used hotel desks – now I know!

We saw a lot of the island and definitely know where we’d come back to and what we would avoid next time without traipsing to temples in the heat.

9F689FFA-A58E-43FC-B746-8AEEA4B5CF0FConcluding this degustation tour here, at this resort was the right call.  There was no better place to finish up our last day.

Like all good reviewers we have assessed each hotel against certain criteria and that will be published next week – watch out for it!

Meanwhile I have a few hours left in paradise, so I’m off to get my last cocktail and watch my final sunset.  The journey home begins…

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Highlights from small heights

Awesome. No more needs to be said.

Rating: 10\10

Top two tips: Go there. Go there again.

 

Four Season’s Sayan – the 4th course in the Bali Villa degustation tour

F3641FEF-ECC5-4250-8EE1-681ADAA4DEABAs we head towards the end of this Bali Villa degustation tour I am starting to feel hungry rather than full!  There are so many resorts to explore and so much possibility.  The great thing about Bali is the variety and how well they do it.  I can see why it is a favourite for many people.

Each place has offered something different, but the https://www.fourseasons.com/sayan/ is something else again.

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Located in the Sayan valley, with the Ayung river weaving through it, this is a mystical setting for a unique hotel.

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You arrive to an ordinary entrance – just off an ordinary road, in what appears to be the middle of nowhere and wind your way down a steep drive way.  Once there access to the hotel itself is by walking across a large wooden bridge to a stunning huge lily pond suspended above a valley of trees.  The entrance is a staircase that descends from the middle of the pond to a lobby below.

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It is gob smacking.  I have never arrived at a hotel like it.  You are skimming above the trees, at least 4 stories high with a stunning outlook over water lilies, across the valley.

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Under the lily pond is the main building.  Here you will find a treetop bar, restaurant and the spa.  All the hotel rooms are also located in this building.  The villas are scattered around the rest of the resorts park like gardens.  More on those later.

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You can meander through rice paddies to the main pool area and River Side cafe, or visit the outdoor cooking school or one of the many yoga platforms.

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The main pool is spilt across two levels as the river flows below.  It is not a large space but it was never crowded, even though the hotel was full when we stayed.  All villa’s have their own pool so I suspect many people choose to stay there and use them instead.

Whilst the villa pool we had was lovely,  the riverside pool is defiantely worth visiting.  You can swim up to the edge and watch river rafting groups squeal and splash through the gentle rapids directly below you.

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At first this hotel seems like a perfectly pleasant, green jungle type place, but within an hour or so, you feel an incredible sense of calm.  The jungle noises, the gently running water feeding the gardens, the river sounds, the bird and insect life, the stunning flowers, the terraced rice paddies, all start to culminate and you realise you are in a sacred and special place.

 

608317BC-D8AF-4C18-9817-97DAB7D4C2FFA complimentary guided walk, takes you through the jungle to a local house, where you are welcomed inside and can see close up how the Balinese people in the area live.  They were incredibly welcoming and kind.  It also gives you an insight into how the hotel has helped its community, paying rent, providing jobs and supporting their way of life.

CC99CF07-A21B-42AE-86EA-4C4BDED0DC34Along with the guided walk there are also numerous complimentary yoga classes, cycle tours and paid activities on offer every day – like river rafting, secret temple tours and a Balinese cooking school.  In the evenings there is traditional music and dance in the lobby bar.

A complimentary shuttle every two hours means accessing Ubud is easy and pain free.  Having just had two treatments at the previous hotel, I didn’t used the spa itself, but we did enjoy the various hot and cold plunge pools located next to the gym (which I didn’t use either – I was too busy eating breakfast and getting fat!)

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Speaking of breakfast – the food is world class – exactly what you would expect from the Four Seasons brand.  Served al la carte in the main restaurant, there was no end to options, from healthy chai and berry smoothy bowls to chocolate pancakes and ice-cream.  It was beautifully done and a highlight.

Lunch and dinner at the Riverside cafe was also stunning.   Room service was quick and good.

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The pool villas themselves are incredible.  You access each via a lotus pond on the roof top, where you can sit and read, do yoga or meditate.  Then you descend the spiral staircase into your new home.  This is not a hotel for the disabled, although they do have a couple of rooms that you can access without stairs.

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The lounge area is outside, kept cool by fans and gives you direct access to your pool and outdoor shower.  Butterflies dance across the water, birds bathe on its edge and the jungle comes right in close.  Cleverly built into the cascading hillside, the outdoor room is cool and the indoor bedroom air-conditioned, so we spent more time outside in this villa than in any other.

I loved watching the day end, by candlelight, with incense burning from the deck.

The villas are 20 years old but they don’t feel tired.  They feel like a tree house should, with lots of wood and windows.

4C055FA9-F19E-4620-8977-5C5EBD4107B6The villa pool is deep and perfectly big enough, but the riverside main pool was outstanding so we swam there each day.  The villa pool was perfect for a quick dip to cool off if you needed to.  Once again it is incredibly private.

B3980EA8-79C0-41FA-95AA-E65FD4D6F3F8It has been a very different experience and one I would absolutely recommend.  No visit to Bali is complete without some time spent in Ubud.   It is worth the hassle to get here and if budget allows, definitely worth staying a few nights at this resort.

The hotel rooms (as opposed to the villas) are very reasonably priced and you would experience almost everything that the hotel offers.  It is the one hotel so far, where I would say the Pool Villa – while amazing, is not necessary, if your budget won’t stretch that far.

The Four Seasons service was, as expected, flawless.  They know your name, the General Manager went out of his way to welcome us, and followed up during our stay to ensure we were happy.  Nothing is a problem, service is excellent and requests are a followed up on promptly.

It is a hotel I would come back to with friends, family or even on my own.  Each would offer up different experiences and a different feel.

451C9099-FD8B-49B9-BBDA-0B3455E6AD5AIs it worthy of the travel and leisure magazine award – best hotel in the world?

I’m not sure – there are so many wonderful places to stay – but this one is right up there and it is certainly unique.

I will leave a piece of my heart behind in this very special place.

So today we head for the last course – the Four Seasons in Jimbaran Bay.  I have high hopes for dessert!

 

Highlights from Small Heights

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A tip to all hotels: If you cannot check people in at promised time, give them a free lunch. It worked perfectly for these guys.

8233D105-0664-4701-91EA-FCDCB329FB8AVilla: Huge and wonderfully so. Good value for money (but who cares I don’t pay) and a garden of our own, not to mention a huge deck complete with three seating areas. Bliss. Villa Pool: Finally, a deep pool! I have been dealing with 1.2 and 1.3M this entire holiday. How wonderful this feels with an amazing 1.56M deep private pool. I have high hopes for the next place.

Food: Four Seasons are the holy grail. Food in Bali that isn’t horrible half the time. From chocolate pancakes to fries and pizza in a Pizza Hut style pizza box (the almighty luxurious Four Seasons using takeaway equipment, hilarious), this place proves that the rest of Bali has no excuse (they never had an excuse, anyway.)

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Grounds: We’re in a jungle! What could be better? Well, a snake-free jungle could! Picture this terror, people. Your second night in the middle of a jungle and outside your front door: a grass snake lies in wait! Whilst my mother says they have no teeth, I am highly doubtful. I was petrified for the rest of the stay. When there is one snake, there is always more… (Mum: I may have lied about the no teeth thing….)

Rating: 9.5\10 (.5 deducted for Health and Safety Snake Issues.)

Two top tips: Get rid of snakes and be consistent with meal presentation. I didn’t get my beloved pizza box the second time.

 

3rd Course – Hotel Indigo Seminyak

2D443266-7B77-4925-BEBB-2194B47952C3Hands down the https://seminyak.hotelindigo.com is the best value for money pool villa yet.

This little gem of a place, down one end of the beach is just about perfect.  The hotel is still in soft opening stage but just days away from the full opening.

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They have nailed the modern vibe without loosing the authentic balinese feel.

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Our pool villa is once again tucked away behind the main resort and beach, but rather than the cell like feel of the W villa’s, these villas feel like a neat little village with shared garden spaces and places to sit and smell the flowers.

According to our butler, the concept is based on a traditional village where they rise early and sit with their coffee in the square as the sun rises.  It is a ritual around friendship, family and calmness before the day starts in earnest.  Then it is breakfast and out to the fields for work.  So, in that spirit, we rose in the morning and rather than head to the beach front and soaked up the feeling in the shared garden with a cup of tea.  It was stunning.

 

Choosing 3 nights here, meant we got some neat little extra’s.  High tea in the pottery cafe and two massages (thanks to the husband for letting me take both!). The villa’s come equiped with beach towels and bags (including sunscreen), complimentary non alcoholic mini bar, snacks, bubbles on arrival, fresh oranges and limes and a juicer.  All little things that made the stay special.  And after the vast amount of litter on the beaches, I appreciated the glass water bottles, metal straws and the pottery shampoo dispensers.

Not only that but they provide lovely mugs and tea cups, replenish teabags used – every time and the room is kept beautifully clean.  There is a full kitchen, large fridge and freezer and plenty of space – so you could really settle in for a while if you wanted to.  Anything amiss and the butlers are here in a heartbeat to fix it.  They hover about in the village square ready to shuttle you anywhere you need to go, even though it is all within easy walking distance.

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The villas also have a really lovely outdoor space.

AFF14BB6-902C-45AC-BED7-55A4EF02C7AEYou enter via a stunning gilded door into a courtyard that has the pool, a day bed, loungers and an outdoor writing desk.  The small person has made great use of the desk especially.   There is an outdoor shower and access from the lounge, indoor shower or bathroom.  It is well thought out and the spaces is beautiful.

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Bunches of fresh cut fragrant flowers placed are inside the huge bathroom and outside on the desk, so there is always the smell of the tropics wafting through.  It is like they have thought of everything.

It is a room you would happily have decorated yourself – so much so that I asked where I could by various things to take home.  Needless to say the Butlers quickly found the source, located the shop and arranged for transport so I could go shopping.  Now I just have to work out how I get my wire chicken home!

There was only one small issue with the villa but I will leave that story to the small person!

The Spa is located near the villas and offers an extensive range of treatments. The two Balinese massages I had, were both fantastic.  The rituals and refreshments were beautifully presented and the experience left me wanting more.  Competitively priced to similar hotel offerings, a 90 minute massage experience will set you back $100NZD.  To be fair, they are much cheaper off resort, but compared to other hotels, they were very reasonable.

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The hotel itself is set back from the beach and while there are views of the sea, you do need to leave the property to touch sand.  It is just across a scooter only road, that has a steady stream of pedestrians meandering its length.  Having said that – this end of Seminyak offers a much softer, whiter sand and better swimming.  The beach is stunning at sunset as people arrive in their hundreds to sit on brightly coloured bean bags to take in the last rays.  It looks amazing.

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Sugarsand is the newest outlet in the hotel and is basically a beach bar, with stunning views, a great swimming pool.

Villa guests can choose to breakfast there or in the main restaurant.  Both offer great food, but my choice is Sugarsand. It is neat to watch the day begin from a seat that is quite literally in the pool.

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During the day the beach club fills up and getting a seat poolside gets harder, but by 6pm the place calms down and they do a great evening cocktails.

Cocktails and people watching anyone?

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The cocktail list is extensive and the vibe is very laid back, authentic and very modern.  They achieve the feeling of being part of the neighbourhood.  The sense that you are immersed in the local surrounds, part of the action and able to participate as much or as little as you want.  The food at Sugarsand was excellent one night but a little disappointing the 2nd.  Breakfast was al la carte and provided a very different experience from the main restaurant.  Less variety and harder for the small person to eat there, meant we ate at the main buffet restaurant twice, but had that not been the case – it would have been my first choice.  The main restaurant called Makase, offered a good breakfast, with lots of choice. Our evening meal there was also very good.

Like the spa, the meals are priced very well.  Our meals were less than $50NZD (for 3 of us) in total and with drinks it may have set us back another $30NZD.  Great value in my book for a hotel of this quality.

If you are not in a villa, or if you want to swim elsewhere, there are two main pool areas.  The cave pool – a private adults only pool, that was almost always empty and the main swimming pool, with views of the beach and neat caves, with day beds.  It was busier, but then it is the school holidays.  Both areas are well set out and there is plenty of shade.    We chose to stick with our little (actually quite big) pool.

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Seminyak central is a quick shuttle ride away.  These run during the day, but a taxi will set you back $2NZD or you could walk it in 20 minutes.  Close enough to visit, but far enough away from the chaos if you want to avoid it.  We braved it once, and the small person discovered her favourite place – you guessed it a book store.

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The hotel’s shared spaces are lush and the gardens beautiful.  Again,  although lots of concrete, the spaces feel authentic.  The merging of modern chic and Balinese culture is everywhere.  It is new and I am looking forward to returning when the concrete has softened and the gardens grown more lush.  I suspect this place will improve with age.

They are opening two bedroom villas in the next few weeks, along with suites that offer expansive views of the sea.  Then the place will be complete.  If it is not on your radar for your next trip to Bali – it should be.  Best value for money by far!

So, today we head inland and into the mountains near Ubud.  I am looking forward to a different pace and the Worlds Best Hotel as voted by Travel and Leisure magazine this year.  Lets see if the Four Seasons Sayan lives up to the hype!

 

Highlights from Small Heights

I quite like the Purple Hotel. Indigo ….. get it?

4D0EECF0-E04C-49DF-9ED6-B3AF3E91920ASt. Regis still wins, but probably because I don’t pay any of the money for these places. Advantages of childhood. Personally, I believe the villa is great. Though the swimming pool is only 1.2m deep, a little chilly, and there is a serious lack of a garden, the villa is amazing and thank goodness, it doesn’t look like a cell! Unfortunately several tiles fell off the roof during our stay onto the floor and into the pool.  Unbelievable.  The people we phoned didn’t believe us either.

The food is an upgrade, but an unreliable one. Two amazing dinners, one failure, and three average breakfasts. Food in Bali is hit-and-miss at best.

4678D861-0CBC-4F7B-9FF1-7429B70B7530My personal favourite thing in the Purple Hotel is the shared space outside our villa with the hammock. It’s wonderful. And I only fell off once, despite what my mother will tell you…

Rating: 8\10-Marks lost for falling tiles, people who don’t believe us when we tell them about aforementioned falling tiles, and a few failed meals.

Two top tips: Believe your guests, not your builders and improve the food. We know it’s possible after those first dinners.

Bali Villa Degustation Tour – 2nd course W Seminyek

E8E27AC9-F9E8-490F-8620-A82FAAD43EFCTo say that arriving at the W after the St Regis was a culture shock, was a bit of an understatement!C8F6BF0B-AF53-4CA5-9863-688B7A60E632

From the real jungle to the concrete jungle.  From understated and regal to screaming pop and brash as hell.  The W is an acquired taste.  Somewhere between a nightclub and an adventure playground with it is loud colours and trendy people.  Think pink cocktails and flamingos.  Definitely modern and rock n roll.

It looks better at night, when the dark hides some of the wear and tear and the subtle lights hide the fine lines (mine included!).  Then it becomes dazzling and very cool and like the trendy grown up space it’s designed to be.

It has definitely grown on us over the 2 night stay.  The staff are wonderful and very helpful.  Its a fun place but not an authentic place.  You could be anywhere in the world rather than in Bali and I guess for me, that is the missing piece.

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The hotel offers rooms that overlook the sea or private pool villas tucked away in a complex at the back of the property.  We chose a Wow villa, a little box of private paradise with a fantastic plunge pool.  An oasis from the heat and the crazy Katy Perry pop star world beyond its walls.  The villas are set behind the hotel, so no views but peaceful, sunny and sheltered.  Also very private.  The pool was a seriously good size and laid out so there was always an outdoor shaded area to escape the sun.  Choose one close to the front if you want to be able to easily walk to the hotel and the facilities without calling a golf buggy.  While they are all lined up like little cells in a block, once you are inside it is truely lovely.

B43E6E9D-0292-4C9B-9BE5-C27ECCCBB2B5The hotel was fully booked with a summer music festival and concert in a few days.  That meant  the main pool was a construction site as they built a stage covering half of it.  A little frustrating as on line they advised that construction would start on the 4th, a day after we checked out.  Because of that I suspect we missed the full glory of what the shared pool spaces should be.  Still we were fairly happy to hang in our villa pool rather than fight the hoards for a pink bean bag in the sun.

E50E06D7-483F-44FB-AD1D-38795E39FBE2The views across the beach to the sunset are spectacular and there are two bars to choose from to have you sundowner offering happy hour discounts.

Seminyak itself is fun and busy.  The town is all narrow streets and neat boutiques and cafes, bars and restaurants.  It has a cool vibe but really comes to like after dark.

We had friends who had hired a grand villa in the heart of it all and I think next time we would look to do that.  For what you got, it was well priced and although set back from the beach, the huge pool and private chef, 3 bedrooms and complete privacy would be hard to beat, especially if you were a larger group and all for about the same price as a hotel villa that sleeps 3.

E7FA3A00-ECF1-468C-B84A-C3A0A1C91948The beach is full of sunset seekers, surfers and families. But it is far from a beautiful pristine beach, littered with rubbish and plastic.  Swimming was not advised when we were there as the surf was pounding and currents strong.  The sand is course and brown, so not as pretty as  where we were in Nusa Dua.   If you had young children and swimming in the sea was important to you- Seminyak is not the beach for you.  But every hotel or beach club has a great pool area.

70738988-1163-417A-B10C-F1F2B3880BFFDotted along the surf are hotel after hotel with beach clubs interspersed between, so you are never far from a cold dip or a drink at a bar.  The Legian a short stroll down the beach front offered spectacular sunset views across the pool.

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The W is a place that is vibrant and crazy.  And the food and choices are plentiful.  If food, music and cocktails are your thing, then this is definitely the hotel for you.  If you are a young couple who want to meet others while on a romantic break or a couple of 20 somethings out for a party, you’ll have found nirvana.

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It definitely grew on us and by the 2nd day we were well used to the crazy pink sofa’s and bright purple towels.  The breakfast and food generally was good a a slight step up on the St Regis.  We had a meal at Star Fish Bloo that was beautiful, fresh and really well priced.

34E38A44-50E4-4283-AC65-FC3B54FC26CDThe W is definitely fun, tongue in check and just a little bit naughty.

As we head south 5 kms to a quieter part of Seminyak and hotel Indigo, I am left feeling like a parent at a 21st party.  Just a little frumpy and past my prime in a world of the beautiful young next generation.

Like any good degustation tour – you always have that one course that was interesting but you wouldn’t necessarily want too much of.  For me that sums up the W to perfection.

Highlights from Small Heights

49AB6152-C160-48F9-A5B0-8D100D6A7FFCThis was a step-down. The only step-up was dinner and the private pool. The main pool was half gone because of some construction for a music festival, the food at breakfast was worse, the villa was smaller (though the villa is quite nice) there was too many people on the beach and around the hotel and…it really wasn’t our type of place.

Not its fault, but unfortunately we were not the W’s target market.

Now as to the dinner. The dinner was delicious and proved that the St.Regis and the W breakfast had no excuse. The dinner was, I will repeat, a masterpiece. Perhaps the W would make a better restaurant…

4219C2CC-5E6C-4E1F-8CE8-494D87B635ECThe entrance to the hotel was pretty cool.

The villa, despite appearing like a prison on the outside was lovely.  Indeed, the pool was better, if the rest of it was lesser in comparison to the St. Regis, and it was excellent value for money. (Better than the St Regis. Way better.)

E410C5FA-3CF3-41F7-8555-87806DA2F601I still dislike the service, because I suspect they are the reason for the disappearance of my pretzel sticks…that, or my father. He didn’t disappear – unfortunately.

Rating: 6\10 You lost marks for everything being pig pink!

Top tips: Kick out a bunch of people (the place was a bit of a zoo), kick out all the outrageous pink, kick out the music festival, and make the breakfast match up to dinner and you’ll have a winner!

 

Bali Villa Degustation Tour – First course St Regis Nusa Dua

DA04828C-E108-493E-B51A-B1462EB5CAC3This trip was meant to be a sneaky 10 day bonus holiday to use up some air miles that were expiring.  For all sorts of reasons (floods, rebuilds, work, and  cheap airfares) it took on a life of its own.  For a while there it seemed like a complete extravagance. To be fair – it was and still is.  But by the time we boarded the flight, I really needed a break.

On the day of departure I learned 4 really important lessons.

  1.  The date of expiry on your passport is irrelevant.  We arrived at the airport only to find that with just five and a half months to go, my passport was not valid for the trip.  I was about 5 days short.
  2. Panicking solves nothing.  Jumping in a cab and racing to the passport office, while applying on line, pleading and begging for help, bursting into tears and smiling hopefully, is very much more effective.  Leaving the husband and small person at the airport liaising with the wonderful team at AirNZ,  I jumped in a cab with the lovely Gerry, high tailed it to the Manukau internal affairs office, applied online with their help, then raced into the CBD with the same lovely cab driver to collect my brand new passport and race back to the airport.  All that during rush hour was great for the adrenaline junky that I most definitely am not.
  3. It is possible to get a passport and get back to the airport in an hour and a half – but it  is not recommended. I literally made it with 3 minutes to spare.  Everyone’s advice had been re book your flights – but with the start of the school holidays that would have meant waiting 3 days to get a new flight – not to mention a lot of extra cash.  Gerry said “we can do this” and so it turned out – we could.  The passport team at Manukau called ahead and pulled some strings, so that when I arrived in the CBD 25 minutes later, the passport was in production and I was headed back out to the airport 20 minutes later.
  4. If you want an upgrade, do something stupid – they might just take pity on you as they did us and upgrade you.  I am sure the traumatised small person helped immensely.   To be fair, premium economy on an Air NZ Dreamliner would totally be worth it next time.

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Anyway – here we are in Bali and the first stop is the St Regis in Nusa Dua.

A last minute flight change several weeks ago saw us with an additional 3 nights at the start of the trip.  Now normally I am all for saving the best till last but as we had prepaid all the other hotels, there was no moving those dates.  So for our first stop we chose the St Regis in Nusa Dua.  Partly to add another location to the degustation menu and partly because it just looked so amazing.

It did not disappoint.

8D25D921-C338-4281-97A8-B920AC59CF57First, when you step off the plane, they are there to greet you and whisk you through customs and immigration.  While we sat in a lounge, they grabbed our bags and a car.  It was incredibly easy and complimentary when staying at the hotel.

After a quick trip from the airport we arrived to a spectacular lobby and were informed that we had upgraded to a beach front mansion. Ok they called it a Strand Villa but as it is larger than our home in Auckland – I’m calling it a mansion.  Seriously, it was stunning.  All 630 square metres of it. Private pool, secluded garden, private deck chairs on the beach, security shooing away anyone who chose to lie on the beach in front of those chairs….

9681E8EA-0703-4C5E-8C0D-A6E3BFA2E765Now, to be fair, we could not afford a room like this.  It was an eye watering $4,000 NZD a night plus taxes.  But if you wanted to mark a special occasion, a wedding, a 50th – this is the place.  It is not unlike theThe Four Season’s Nam Hai for luxury and attention to detail.

C8C6D48A-CD59-469A-847D-F543BB9F216AThe beach is immaculate, the hotel beautiful, the grounds lovingly tended and the staff warm and friendly.  Nothing was an issue.  Extra tea bags, no problem madam.  Another towel? Ice cold water?  How about complimentary hats and beach bags? Magically tending to the pool, garden or room when you go to breakfast?  They are just waiting to help. So alongside the stunning gardens, the stunning location, the incredible pools, the service was second to none.

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The beach is spectacular.  With a large reef protecting you from the surf, the water is a safe warm and inviting.  Great for a dip before breakfast.  But you also have a large fresh water pool or huge meandering salt water lagoon pool to choose from.  Not to mention a very private plunge pool.  Skinny dipping anyone?

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The lagoon pool was the real highlight.  Nestled in the middle, it is a huge expansive space that feels like you are trapped in the jungle.  The room we originally had booked allowed you to step from your villa straight into the lagoon and were we not upgraded that would have been perfect.  When (not if) we come back, that will be our choice.  Less private, but certainly great value – unless of course they want to upgrade us again.

266E20AE-3B6B-406B-8002-101E903D29DAOne of the things I love most on a holiday is the sunrise.  It’s completely peaceful, no one is around.  There is nothing I enjoy more than a cup of tea, watching the world wake up.  When you can just step outside your walled garden onto the beach, to your private deck chair, in your fluffy bathrobe – it doesn’t get much better in my book.  The sun rises on this side of Bali.  A nice way to start a holiday – we’ll be enjoying sunsets by the end.

My one niggle was not having milk in my tea.  The powdered stuff just doesn’t cut it in my opinion.  I am certain if I had asked, the butler would have happily delivered fresh milk, but it would have been nice if it had been there and at 5.45am I didn’t want to wake the house.

3C537B49-1B31-45F6-A052-021AF3577FF0The breakfast was vast – lots of choice and friendly attentive staff.  Other meals were a little hit and miss.  I think partly it is the quality of the ingredients that can be sourced locally.  However the cakes and pastries are perfection.  Any any hotel that offers ice cream and pancakes for breakfast gets the vote of the small person.

There are lots of dinner options, from fine dining to a grand buffet, local Indonesian or the deli.  Room service is quick and hot.  Just perfect if you want to soak up the atmosphere in your garden or villa.  While we weren’t blown away by the food, the portions were large and it was just what you would expect on a resort.  Not overly expensive, but certainly more expensive than choosing a local restaurant.  We didn’t venture off resort much so I can’t make any recommendations.

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Overall the St Regis is wonderful and definitely 5 star.  So after the first course of this Villa Degustation tour, I am feeling pretty damn good.  We would absolutely come back here.  It is traditional, a little old fashioned, but a good mix of authentic Balinese and modern luxury.  I doubt the pools will be beaten.  With a late check out later today – we are off to the W in Seminyak  Not that I want to leave here – but I am looking forward to a totally different vibe.  Lets see how the W stacks up.

Highlights from small heights

Mum thinks she was worried about the passport thing? Please, I was the one worse off.  I was facing spending a whole plane trip, not to mention the time it would have taken for Mum to get to Bali with my father! She understands nothing of true pain and fear.

0B1DE149-A883-4788-8AE8-42BD72F8113DAnd yes, our room is lovely. The private pool is a little cold, but once you’re in, you’re in. The garden is probably the best part. I’ve never had so much outdoor space. It’s amazing, though the room we were upgraded from is pretty amazing too. I agree with Mum on the whole mansion part…. Yes, for once I agree with her.

3EC4DA03-AB32-4F13-BB18-A6301011B1EAThe pool is probably the second-best part in the resort, after our room. Personally the whole salt-water part of a salt-water lagoon irritates me – I’d prefer it to be freshwater for when I’m swimming and accidentally inhale some. It burns.

If there’s one flaw in the St. Regis it’s food. Sure, the vanilla ice cream is better than back home – definitely try it and the chocolate-chip pancakes are divine, but some of the stuff is frighteningly tasteless and don’t get me started on the pretzels – no salt, are you kidding? What is the world coming to????????????

Rating: 8\10 (2 marks deducted for food and saltwater)

Top tips

Transfer the salt from lagoons to pretzels and improve the food – I’m thinking more pancakes and less yellow watermelon (whatever that is) and healthy dragonfruit and vegetable ice-cream? There’s nothing wrong with chocolate and strawberry, people.

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Hoi An and Danang Vietnam

A77B2C65-4609-4122-966C-733264DEB20BWe have loved every one of the 13 nights we spent in the Danang/HoiAn area of central Vietnam.

It has so much to offer.  Much more than the 2 or 3 days most people allow.

As we say goodbye and head via Hong Kong home, I have to say that we will leave a piece of our hearts in this very special part of the country.

We chose to spend a chunk of time in one area rather than race the length of the country and tick the boxes.  It has meant that Hue, Hoian and Halong Bay are left for next time – but there will be a next time for sure.

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If you are only here for a few days then the must do’s are obviously visiting UNESCO sites, Hoi An (best seen at night and if possible on the 14th day of the lunar month) and My Son Sanctuary.  While there is a lot more to see you can not leave with out doing those two things.

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Hoi An is a stunning old Fishing village on the river, just a small way inland from the sea.

It is incredibly warm during the day at this time of the year and if you are travelling with kids no amount of ice cream will enable much more than an hour or so of wandering in this heat.  While there are attractions you can pay to go into, museums and tea houses, the best thing about Hoi An is the narrow streets and lopsided old buildings.  Stop at a coffee shop that spills onto the street, ideally near the Japanese bridge and sip on a Vietnamese coffee and just watch.  It will all unfold before your eyes.

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The market is bustling and busy and well worth visit.  Be ready to bargain!  There are no supermarkets here.  This is where the locals do the daily shop and you can get everything from a duckling, to herbs, to a side of beef or a silk lantern.

But there is no doubt that the best way to view Hoi An is after dark.   At night, there are no cars or vehicles, the lanterns are everywhere and there are literally hundreds of boats, offering river rides to see the show.  It is magic and there are great options for eating out.  Choose one with a view and sit back with a cheap beer (Beer is about 70 cents a can at a local mini mart) and watch the magic unfold.

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On the 14th day of the lunar month you are treated to a spectacular sight at around 8pm, when all the lights are turned off and floating candles are placed on the river.  It is magical and if you are at the planning stage of a trip – try and fit that in.

 

My Son Sanctuary is another one of those must see places.

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During the 4th to 13th centuries there was a unique culture on the coast of contemporary Vietnam, owing its spiritual origins to the Hinduism of India. Left behind are the remains of a series of impressive tower temples in a dramatic site that was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence.

 

My Son Sanctuary dates from the 4th to the 13th centuries CE. The property is located in the mountainous border Duy Xuyen District of Quang Nam Province, in central Vietnam.

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The tower temples were constructed over ten centuries of continuous development in what was the heart of the ancestral homeland of the ruling Dua Clan.  Many temples were built to the Hindu divinities such as Krishna and Vishnu, but above all Shiva.

In various state of ruin, the site is peaceful and magical.  We saw it as it opened at 7am.  Yes an early start but well worth it – during the heat of the day it is unbearably hot and crowded.  In the early morning, the mist swirls and the silence is stunning.

 

IMG_4078We went with a guide who was able to unearth the site’s secrets.  The sign posts and information generally is lacking so you gain a lot more if you have someone who can explain the history.IMG_4118

For me one of the most heartbreaking things was the craters left when the American’s bombed the site during the Vietnam war.  You can see the devastation and hear the hearts of the Vietnamese breaking.  As they try to rebuild it, the difference in the brick work is obvious.   They can not work out how the original builders “stuck” the bricks together and the old brick doesn’t grow black, while the new brick does.

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For accomodation you can not go past either the Four Seasons Nam Hai (reviewed here) or the Intercontinental Danang We have stayed at both now and it is impossible to choose between them.   The Intercontinental has the advantage of monkeys which when travelling with a child is a massive plus.  The thrill of monkeys in the trees, on the terrace, playing in the pools is pretty magical.  While the Four Seasons beach front location and private pool villas makes for a wonderful relaxing time.

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As for other activities,  don’t forget to take a basket boat trip to do a spot of fishing.  These unique round boats are special to Vietnam.   There is little official documentation about their origin however, it is said that during the French Colonial Era, a variety of new taxes were introduced; one of these being a tax on owning a boat.

The poor regional fisherman couldn’t pay this tax, and risked losing their livelyhoods. They came up with a plan to circumvent the tax.  Creating a sea-worthy vessel that would not be considered a boat was no easy task, but the ingenious fishermen successfully argued that these were not boats at all, but baskets – and therefore couldn’t be taxed.

Their crafty plan actually worked, and every since, these iconic crafts have become a mainstay in coastal Vietnam. You can take a tour of coconut plantations in one of these in Hoi An, or take a fishing trip in one when staying at the Intercontinental in Danang.

Top tips

Do not be in hurry to race through Hoi An and Danang.  Invest in some downtime in two of the best hotels in the world.  4 nights in each would be perfect.  Take a cooking course at the Nam Hai Cooking Academy  Visit a tailor and get some clothes made to fit in Hoi An, Visit Monkey mountain and delight in the magic of the mountains, visit My Son Sanctuary with a local guide, explore the rice paddy’s, learn about the farming life and the struggles of the people throughout the Vietnam War, visit the lotus ponds and marvel at the beauty of the national flower, swim in the sea along China Beach, take a basket boat ride, sip on an ice cold Vietnamese coffee \ and take time to enjoy the warmth and hospitality of the Vietnamese people.

Vietnam, we’ll be back…

 

Highlights from small heights

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Personally, I thought that the most interesting sight was our hotel swimming pool, but alas, my mother does not have such good taste.

The city is very interesting and pretty, sure. In my opinion, we only needed 20 minutes there to enjoy its wonders.

To be honest, I prefer Europe. There were bats in that temple.

Rating: 6

Top two tips: Spend 20 minutes in the city place. Spend 10 years in the pool.

The Four Season’s Nam Hai

It is not often I write a whole post on one hotel.  But then it is not often that we stay in one place that is as perfect as this one.

BE0837DD-AD1B-4DD6-A8AE-1C429FE6E94FBefore coming on this trip I researched the hotels in the area thoroughly and I kept coming back to the Four Seasons near Hoi An.  Near enough to the action (10 minutes by free shuttle bus) but far enough away that it feels like you can truly relax.

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Hoi An seems to be one of those places in Vietnam that many people sweep past, check out the town, stay a night or two and move on.  But it deserves so much more than that.  A number of people who had been to Vietnam expressed surprise that we have devoted so much of our trip to this region.  This hotel was a big part of the reason why.

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At this time of year, while hot, the weather is actually pretty settled.  There is an afternoon rain shower on most days, but it passes quickly and leaves the hotel, green, cooler and refreshed.  Other parts of Vietnam are either extremely hot (40 degrees in the North) or raining fairly constantly (In the South) in July.  In the middle of the country, where we are, the weather is perfect.

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We selected a pool villa for this stay and decided to stay for 8 nights.  Partly because there was a special deal (stay 4, pay 3), but also because when travelling with a small person in the heat, you just can’t constantly race from one thing to the next and we always like to add a chunk of downtime in any trip.  It had been a busy start to the year and we all needed some rest and relaxation as well as some adventure.

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The cost while expensive, is worth it, when you arrive at your villa.  From the lotus pond entry to the freestanding sleeping villa, to the day villa and the private pool – it is 250 square meters of private paradise all looking out across white sand to a picture perfect view.

The Four Season’s brand delivers.  With our own private butler there to take care of anything, to the staff across the resort who quickly know your name and greet you with a smile, you feel welcomed from the get go.  The service is warm, hospitable and delivered with a smile, even if the English is not the best, you get there in the end.

DF7BE38F-11E4-4E4C-81E4-E0F3D1E04EFDThe Villa’s themselves are built in a traditional Vietnamese style.  They have raised platform beds, steps internally, high studs and lots of outdoor space.  On Trip Advisor, some people have raised concerns regarding the layout of the villa’s.  We had no issues.  They were authentic and a big part of the experience.  No it is not a traditional hotel room layout.  But when you wake up you look straight out at a stunning view and sensor lights came on at night to ensure you don’t trip on any steps.  (Of course after a few cocktails, I may have tripped on one occasion but that was not the fault of the room!)

It is one of the few hotels I have stayed in, where the pictures on the website match up to the room you get on arrival.

Having the private pool has been brilliant.  While it opens to the sea, our one in particular, had a huge amount of privacy.  Having a pool on your doorstep, it is easy to dive in and cool off anytime without trekking to the main pools and with a child who would be a mermaid if she could only work out how to read underwater, it meant we could be in the cool of the room and still keep an eye on her while she swam for hours on end.

Late night skinny dipping is also possible and may have occurred on at least one occasion but I can neither confirm or deny that.

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The resort itself is huge, so big in fact that they provide bicycles for each guest to use during their stay.   Bikes are delivered to your room and are fit for all ages from kids bikes with trainer wheels to full size and little bike buggies are available for infants.

The resort covers 35 hectares and has just 100 villa’s – 40 with private pools, all of them looking out to a view or partial view of the sea, rather than another villa.  We loved cycling to the spa, or around the resort but were close enough to the action that we could walk most places as well.  Some villa’s are literally a kilometre from the main restaurant, but buggies are quick when you don’t want the fun of taking your bike.  If you are booking here – request a room near the beach for views or hilltop for privacy.   If you want to be close to the main hub, simply ask.

The food is stunning and while you do pay hotel prices for it, Hoi An is just a quick complimentary shuttle ride away and taxi’s are cheap, so there are plenty of dinner options.  It is great to be able to go into town and then escape it again and return to the sanctuary of the Nam Hai.

 

Each day there are a plethora of activities you can engage in.  You can take a bike ride into the local rice fields, you can make a traditional silk lantern, you can do yoga, meditation or stand up paddle boarding.

The resort is culturally very connected to the region.  Paper straws, disposable paper cups, limited use of plastics.  You can tell they are conscious of protecting their environment, whilst ensuring a 5 star stay.

There is a shuttle several times a day to Hoi An and the team are always happy to refer you to the best tailors in town.  Yaly Couture  was their recommendation and we came away with lots of purchases and kept going back for more.  There is a kids club, a youth centre, tennis and basketball courts, a cooking academy  and my absolute favourite – the kiss goodnight to Mother Earth at 6pm every day at the Spa.

The Spa is set on a lily pond with lotus flowers and spa rooms that push gently off the banks into float into the pond.  At 6pm every day, they conduct a ceremony where you write prayers to Mother Earth and gently cast them into the pond on a candlelit paper boat while crystal bowls are played and a stunning song sung by one of the attendants.  It is completely magical and the small person and I made a commitment to do it as many times as we could.   Taking moment at the end of each day to pause and be thankful was a wonderful tradition and if you ever come here – one you should not miss. During our stay the rescue of the 12 Thai boys trapped in the cave with their coach was unfolding, so we prayed for their safe return.  Mother Earth was listening.

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The 8 days here have been completely magical and  something I will never forget.  Hoi An is beautiful and well worth a visit and I write about that soon – but the Four Season’s takes the magic of the region and turns it into the holiday of a lifetime.

We’ll be back!

Top tips

Book a pool villa room if you can.  Ask for one near the beach or close to the main buildings. Stay at least 5 nights. Get involved in the complimentary activities that happen every day.  Ride your bike into the rice paddies. Do a cooking course at the Academy (even if you are not a guest here you can book in to do it). Do the Kiss Mother Earth goodnight ceremony at least once during your stay.  Get up early at least once to watch the sunrise.  Relax and know that everyone is determined to make your stay wonderful, but English is a second language and the resort is in Vietnam, so it won’t always be perfect first time, but that is not from lack of trying….

Highlights from small heights

Hello. Miss me? Of course you did. I’m brilliant.

The Four Seasons is pretty amazing. I mean, private pool, anyone? The pool was definitely one of the reasons for the room’s success. It allowed ridiculously easy access, and had a nice view. A good depth, good size…yep the pool gets a tick from me. If you don’t happen to have one of your own, the family pool is huge. Like, big enough to go kayaking in (which I did.)

03FDE0B2-B694-4ABA-8E2C-4EDA07A9B2D2The room is quite cool too, and the fact we have our own little garden is great. The Kid’s Menu is everything a child could possibly want, and available in every restaurant, as well as for room service. Burgers, pizza, pasta, chicken or fish fingers, some with sides of fries…well it’s perfect.

There are lots of activities, like coffee and fan and lantern-making, which give you an insight into Vietnamese culture. Not really the most interesting to kids, but well…goats are hard to accommodate. (seriously is that the best you can do Charlotte? – Mum)

Two top tips: Get somewhere with a private pool, and order off kid’s menu only (they let Dad eat from it.)

Rating: 9\10.