Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Need Miles? Think Hong Kong!

It's that time of year again, when people get frantic. Not with last minute gift shopping, mind you. I am talking about frequent flyers scrambling to figure out how they are going to get those last few thousand miles to push them up to the next level of elite status in their airline's frequent flyer program.

Elite status comes with all kinds of perks: complimentary upgrades on flights, no fees for checked luggage, increased weight allowances for luggage (necessary for the ladies who travel with large shoe wardrobes), special lines for priority check-in, pre-boarding and so on. Once you've attained premier status with an airline, and have enjoyed the additional perks, you will do anything to keep that status. Which is why, at the end of the year, people will suddenly find a need to fly to some far flung destination - just to make sure they have enough miles to be Gold, Platinum or whatever!

Hong Kong is a perfect city for that long weekend trip. Far enough to bump you up to the level, and plenty to see and do to keep you entertained for a few days. You don't need a visa, just a valid U.S. passport, so that part is easy if you're planning last minute.

The airport is very modern and user friendly. It takes less than 30 minutes to get to the city center if there's no traffic. There are so many wonderful places to stay, and the debate goes on: should I stay on the Kowloon side or the Hong Kong Island side? I don't think you can go wrong with either, because there are things to do on both sides of Hong Kong and you will no doubt be spending some time in both places.

Our picks of top choices to stay while in Hong Kong:
Intercontinental Hong Kong
Located in Kowloon, you must reserve a harbor-view room, for the most fabulous views looking across the harbor to Hong Kong island. Every night at 8:00pm there is a light show which you can watch from your room or from the lovely lobby lounge with its floor to ceiling windows. We recommend booking Club lounge access, which allows you privileged access to the lounge with food and beverages offered throughout the day, in addition to concierges and business services.

The Upper House

This chic hotel opened in 2009 and has a definite hip vibe. We love the minimalist decor and the huge bathrooms with striking city or harbor views. The Sky Lounge is a lovely retreat on the 49th floor, and is adjacent to the Cafe Gray Bar, THE place to see and be seen.

Landmark Mandarin Oriental
This hotel is centrally located on Hong Kong island, conveniently adjacent to a large indoor shopping mall. The deluxe rooms and suites have huge 7-foot round soaking bathtubs which would comfortably fit a family of four. A highlight of the hotel is the state-of-the-art spa and a complete yoga and pilates studio.

The Peninsula
This is definitely the Grande dame hotel of Hong Kong, creating memories for guests since 1928. We recommend the harbor view rooms and suites, which have all undergone a complete renovation in 2012. The technology in all rooms is unsurpassed, with ipads provided to do everything from controlling the lights and drapes, to ordering room service or extra towels from housekeeping. An added bonus is that you can make free phone calls from your room to anywhere in the world!

Book your next stay with us at any of these Virtuoso hotels and you will receive complimentary amenities such as breakfast daily, food/beverage or spa credits and free upgrades.

Contact the Travel Advisors at Bee Kalt Travel to reserve today!

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Friday, November 30, 2012

Best in Bali Beach resorts

There are so many fabulous beach resorts in Bali, it's hard to choose just where to stay. I had the opportunity to visit a few of the top luxury resorts and each one had something special to offer.
I highly recommend splitting your time on the island between the central region of Ubud and spending some time at the beach.

The Amankila resort has a spectacular cliffside location on the south eastern coast of Bali. Individual thatched roofed villa suites dot the hillside and are connected by a series of stone stairways. Being in good physical condition would be a bonus here, although they do have buggies to take you up and down the hill if you so desire. Our suite was located at the very top of the hill, which afforded some beautiful sea views and it was very private. We did have to negotiate the long stairways to get down to the pool area and dining rooms, so I just made sure I had everything with me before I left the room! The main pool area has a series of three tiered-pools with many comfy sun beds and several covered bales, great for lounging. All the way at the base of the cliff is the beach club. There is another restaurant adjacent to a large swimming pool, and several more individual bales on the black sand beach. Many different watersports are offered, including standup paddle-boarding, boogie boards, kayaks, windsurfing and hobie cats. I had a great sail on the hobie one afternoon - the wind was strong and it was a blast flying across the waves!

Other than enjoying the fabulous meals at Amankila, I had one other indulgence during my stay. It was a signature spa treatment called  Cita Ening. It is described as a full body purification process to provide clarity of thought and a sense of well-being. Sounded good to me! I wasn't sure if I was going to a cooking class or having a spa treatment. The ingredients for the service called for rice, yogurt, ginger, honey, milk, cucumber and coconut cream.   The two and a half hour treatment started with a fresh lime and salt foot scrub (margarita anyone?), followed by a full body exfoliation with rice and ginger. The therapist then applied yogurt and honey to my chest, and a mixture of red ginger and cajeput to my stomach. I was wrapped with warm towels while slices of cucumber were placed over my eyes and face. Next came a soothing head and scalp massage with coconut hair cream.  If this wasn't enough, the finale was a relaxing massage. After it was all over, I floated back to my suite at the top of the hill, sense of well-being fully restored!

It was sad to leave Amankila, but the smile returned to my face upon arrival at the St. Regis Bali resort.  This beautiful property is located on a golden sand beach in Nusa Dua. The entrance opens to a very grand open-air lobby, with smaller seating areas placed around.  The St. Regis features butler service for all of its suites and villas. Our butler created a very special welcome for us, since we were celebrating a special occasion. The bathtub was filled with rose petals in the shape of a heart - a fun surprise! The suite itself was very spacious, including a sitting area with sofa and chairs, large walk-in closet, entrance foyer, marble bathroom and a private balcony. The resort is only a few years old, and the suites feature all of the latest technology: 42-inch screen tv, ipod docking station and wifi.

If you prefer more space than the 900-square foot entry level suite provides, you can opt for one of the villas on property. There are gorgeous one, two and three-bedroom villas, some of which are centered around a huge salt water lagoon swimming pool.

Dining at the St. Regis Bali can be from grabbing a bite at the casual Gourmand Deli to fine dining at the elegant and romantic, beachfront Kayuputi restaurant.  The breakfasts served at the Boneka restaurant are among the best I've ever had. There is an elaborate buffet with every western breakfast food you can think of, plus salads, sushi, soups AND ala carte items you can order off the menu. I personally recommend the lobster omelette. Why not, you're on vacation?!  While you're enjoying your breakfast, the servers come around with small bites of the chef's specialties for the day. These were tastings of Indonesian beef and noodles, fruit smoothies, etc. Needless to say, I had to taste it all, and I pretty much rolled out of the restaurant each morning. The best part is, when you book your stay at the St. Regis with us, this fabulous breakfast is included in your stay!

To reserve your Bali beach vacation, contact the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Being a Billionaire in Bali

It was a little disconcerting to receive the restaurant dinner bill with the tab totalling over 1,000,000. It wasn't quite as bad as I thought once I realized that the exchange rate was 9600 Indonesian rupiah to one U.S. dollar. You feel very rich when your pockets are full of 10,000 bills.

Bali is a relatively small island in the Indonesian archipelago, surrounded by the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean.

It attracts all kinds of travelers from backpackers and surfers to those looking for a more luxurious experience. I fell into the latter category (as I was celebrating my birthday) along with many honeymooners and retirees we met during our journey.

Bali is not just palm trees and beaches, but it has a lot to offer in the way of culture, arts, crafts and dance. There are beautiful rivers you can raft on, volcanoes you can climb, and terraced rice fields you can bike beside.

The first thing I learned upon landing in Bali is that the rules of the road are: there are no rules of the road. I'm sure there must be, but there are motorbikes everywhere. They weave in and out of the cars, fully loaded with packages, groceries or families of four. You can pass on the left, right or drive right down the center! I was very glad we had excellent drivers taking care of us during our stay.

First stop Ubud.
Ubud is centrally located and the perfect spot from which to explore the culture and history of the island. The majority of Balinese practice the Hindu religion while the rest of Indonesia is predominately Muslim. With our guide, Kichen, we were able to see the important Temples, temple ceremonies, beautiful scenery, view of volcanoes and we even crashed a wedding. Luckily, the Balinese people are very welcoming and were even invited to stay.

A highlight for me was a visit to the John Hardy workshop. If you've never heard of him, he creates a line of beautiful, handcrafted jewelry. You can visit the workshop, where they employ almost 700 workers, and see just how these intricate pieces are made. It is painstaking work and takes hours to create one silver bracelet or necklace. I've been a fan of John Hardy for a long time and I have a new appreciation for the bracelets I wear every day! If you'd like to visit and have a tour, please note that you do need an advance reservation.

Where to stay? We recommend:
This resort is comprised of 30 individual thatched-roof suites, designed like a traditional Balinese village. Stone walkways connect the suites to the rest of the resort. The service is impeccable and what you come to expect when staying at an Aman resort. For a really special stay, choose one of the suites with private pool, overlooking the river.

Four Seasons Resort at Sayan
Built into the hillside over the Ayung river, the resort offers duplex suites with beautiful views of the lush gardens or larger, private villas with one or two-bedrooms. The restaurant has a nice selection of local and continental cuisine. A fabulous spa, fitness center and outdoor yoga pavilion round out the amenities offered.

Ubud Hanging Gardens
This one is a little further afield, about a 30-minute drive to the town of Ubud, but it offers the most spectacular setting in a hillside jungle. Each of the spacious villa suites has its own private pool. The romantic atmosphere makes this resort perfect for a honeymoon or for celebrating a special anniversary.

Book your stay at any of these resorts with us and receive complimentary Virtuoso amenities such as: Upgrade upon arrival based on availability, Breakfast for two daily, Complimentary lunch, dinner or spa credits

For more information or to reserve your Bali vacation, contact the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Yogyakarta and the creation of an Aman-junkie

The journey continued as we left our little cabin in the Indonesian rainforest and flew from Pangkalan Bun to Solo airport in Central Java. A driver drove us almost three hours to Yogyakarta, and the Amanjiwo resort. Amanjiwo is perfectly situated for a visit to Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

We knew we arrived to someplace special as we were showered with rose petals by two young local girls at the entrance to the resort. We were ushered to our suite which had beautiful views of Borobudur and the surrounding valley. After the jungle lodge, this felt like a palace! The huge suite had separate dressing areas, outdoor bathtub and a private terrace with chaise lounges and a covered daybed for alfresco dining or relaxation.  The luxurious suite was only surpassed by the service we received from the gracious staff. I think our room was serviced every time we left it. I couldn't use a towel more than once before it was replaced with a fresh one! The most amazing part was that we never saw anyone ever come or go, it was just magically cleaned.

Many of the suites have their own private plunge pools, but for those that prefer swimming laps, there is a beautiful pool central to the resort. They also have a fitness suite and spa. I did do some damage in their very well-stocked boutique. They offer some logo items, but the majority of things for sale include high quality local crafts, carvings, art, jewelry and clothing. You can find some great treasures here as mementos of your stay.

We found the meals to be spectacular at Amanjiwo - excellent quality and wonderfully prepared. The menu changes nightly and they offer both Western and Indonesian cuisine.
Indonesian specialties at Amanjiwo
Amanjiwo offers many activities and excursions. We opted to do the Sunrise tour to Borobudur. We received a wake-up call at 4:15am and grabbed a coffee and a pastry in the lobby before we left. Borobudur is a quick 10 minute drive from the resort. We had our own private guide escort us up the steep stone steps to the top of the monument. Once at the top, we enjoyed the peace and serenity of the moment. Unfortunately, the morning sky was filled with clouds so it wasn't the perfect sunrise, but it was a beautiful way to visit the temple. The main dome at the center is surrounded by 72 seated buddha statues enclosed in stupas. There are elaborately carved stone panels which depict stories, teachings or show the daily life from 9th century Java.

You can also hike, bike or tour the local villages and temples in the area. Or, it's a great place to relax, unwind and read a good book in the comfort of your own suite.

I have to say that I have never experienced service at quite this level before, and I've stayed at some very upscale hotels and resorts over the years. I can tell you how great it is, but you really don't understand the difference until you experience it yourself. The Amanresorts have their own name for their guests who "have seen the light" and converted to only wanting to stay at Aman properties for their vacations: Aman-junkies. Well, I've seen the light, and I told my husband he'd better keep working!

Are you ready to book your luxury stay at an Aman property? Book with us and you will receive complimentary amenities such as upgrades and breakfast daily.
Call the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel today!

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hangin' with the Orangutans

Did you know that orangutans share 97 percent of their DNA with humans? The word Orangutan is derived from the Indonesian words: Orang, meaning human and Utan, meaning forest. I wanted to meet our tree-dwelling cousins in the wild and the best place to do this is on the island of Borneo. Borneo consists of three nations: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. The Malaysian side has better infrastructure and nicer hotels, but I was most interested in visiting Camp Leakey. This is where Dr. Birute Galdikas, the well-known primatologist, pioneered her studies of orangutans in the wild and has worked tirelessly for their conservation for over 40 years.

So, off to Kalimantan, Indonesia we went for our adventure in the rainforest.
We flew from Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, to Pangkalan Bun, a small city in central Kalimantan, in the southern part of Borneo. We transferred to a wooden boat, called a klotok, which would be our means of transport for the next three days. Some travelers opt to actually stay on the boats, where they set up mattresses for sleeping on the open air deck.  We chose to stay in the jungle at the Rimba Lodge. Accommodations are very basic, but provided a comfortable respite after long days on the river. We were very happy with our little cabin that provided a hot shower, air conditioning and the staff tried very hard to be helpful.

Each morning we woke up early, had breakfast, and were on the boat by 7:33am. Our guide, Erwin, was a former ranger so he knew the forest and all of its inhabitants very well. Indeed, he identified my first glimpse of wildlife when I almost sat on a bronzeback snake.

There are three different feeding stations you can visit in the Tanjung Puting National Park. Many of the orangutans living here were former orphans, their mothers having been killed by loggers or poachers. They have been rehabilitated and returned to the wild, to live on their own in the forest. As their habitat has been diminished by logging and other human activities, food can sometimes be scarce. This is why the National Park Service provides supplemental fruit and milk for the animals in case they are in need.

It was a magical experience encountering our first orangutan in the wild! We could spot young males hanging from trees, moving effortlessly from branch to branch. Their flexibility and strength is amazing - they can do yoga poses I can only dream of! We saw mothers with babies, and we got to see the King. He was one big fellow! He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. If he is at the feeding platform, the other females can approach, but the younger males wouldn't dare to.

We could stay and watch them for as long as we liked. In order to reach the various feeding stations, we usually had a short walk on a wooden-plank boardwalk and down the trails in the forest. It wasn't too strenuous and the longest walk was no further than 2 kilometers.
Along the way, we also saw monkeys, gibbons and wild boar.

While leisurely cruising on the river, we were able to see lots of other wildlife: many species of birds, crocodiles, monitor lizards, and the very odd-looking proboscis monkey. These monkeys only live in the rainforests of Borneo. Not only are they funny to look at, but they make a very funny honking sound as well. We felt very fortunate to see these unusual and endangered creatures in the wild.

Our expert guide, Erwin
If you would like to plan your own adventure in the rainforest, contact the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel!

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Raffles hotel, Singapore

Raffles Hotel in Singapore celebrated its125th anniversary this year, in 2012. Throughout history it has hosted Presidents, Celebrities and Royalty, most recently, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate to you and me)!


This stately hotel has just 103 suites and 14 restaurants and bars. The rooms are decorated in the original colonial style with dark woods and rich fabrics. It is located in the heart of the business and historical district.

Even if you don't stay here, you must at least make a visit to the Long Bar and sample a world famous Singapore Sling. The pink, fruity concoction  was invented here in the early 1900's, consisting mainly of gin, cherry heering, Cointreau, pineapple juice, lime juice and a few other ingredients. I thought it might be too sweet but I was pleasantly surprised and it was quite delicious. The Long Bar serves over 800 Singapore Slings per day at a cost of around $28 apiece! 

Reserve your stay at Raffles with us and you will receive these complimentary Virtuoso amenities:
• Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
• Daily breakfast
• Complimentary non-alcoholic mini-bar replenished daily

Contact the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel today!
Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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