Saturday, May 22, 2010

My Impression on Accomodation & the Beitou Lotus-Spa Hot Spring

We took the Howard Plaza Hotel and China Airlines package (Leofoo theme park tickets included), and extended the nights (i.e. prolonging my misery, as you will see why later).

We also stayed at Wonstar and Beitou Lotus-Spa Hot Spring. Due to some weird scheduling issue and hotel inavailability, we were not able to stay at Grandee hotel, which would have put us in Shilin (we ended up missing some Shilin sights, most notably the National Palace Museum, which I was aiming to go). So we stayed one night at Wonstar, two nights at Beitou and then moved back to Wonstar, to the high amusement of the Wonstar staff who are not very professional (they like to exaggerate patience) though they are friendly. The breakfast was not bad, albeit repetitive (nothing surprising if you stay too long at one place). I liked the pipping hot meat with preserved veggies and egg they served one of the mornings.

I do note here that budget hotels in Taipei are very strict on their checkout time policy, Wonstar being blasted in tripadvisor by . B1 asked the lady at the counter what time do we check out. She said 12. He asked if we could extend it to 1pm. She replied firmly, checkout time is 12. What a way to make a point.

On the other hand, Beitou Lotus-Spa is very much let-down by its unappealing photo on websites, where we booked it. We actually wanted to delete our booking after we saw some of the photos online, but I am glad that we didn't.

We got lost on our way to the hotel, wandering up on the hill on a wrong street thanks to bad advice from the hotel booking website, and were frustrated and hot when we finally reached. The staff rushed to open the door for us, took us to a table in the adjoining restaurant and brought us ginger tea, even before checking in. We were checked in at our table itself and advised that while we could not check in until 5pm, they would hold our bags and their driver service would take us the Beitou MRT station whenever we booked (note the hotel is near the Xin Beitou MRT station). Which they did, multiple times to and fro over the two days we stayed there. They were always professional, even the driver and auntie at the breakfast buffet. The driver offered to take us to the Beitou night market at his own suggestion when we were conversing in the car. Every time the driver (or the counter staff) would help us out of the car then run before us to open the door, which is overwhelmingly impressive at times.

The hotel is quite elegant on the exterior, and equally so in the interior. Surroundings lesser so, as it is surrounded by dilapidated-looking apartment buildings as most of the hotels there were. We found a sitting room on floor with linux-OS pcs, traditional Chinese furniture and hot water with tea bags at the side. There is a hot spring bath in every room, though not very well-scrubbed (the rest of the room was, everyday). There is no safe in the room, but there are yukatas (replaced every night) to wear after your bath, a fridge and a TV with a lot of Chinese channels (and some English channels). The water is a friendly pH4-5, as mentioned by the driver, unlike the public Millennium Hot Spring which is a pH1-2.

Breakfast is repetitive with few items changed. Mostly Chinese fare, the only English items being the same scrambled eggs and sausages on both days, with a brief concession of cereal (with hot milk?). One of the notable bizarre breakfast items is the melon salad with sprinkles...

If I were to complain about anything, the walls are really thin. On the two nights we stayed, we could hear the sounds of the taps being turned out in next room (we suspect that their bathroom is located next to our room) late at night.

We did not test the staff's ability to converse in English, as we conversed in Mandarin with them. Together with the largely Chinese fare, not sure if Western visitors will enjoy the same quality of experience as Asian visitors will. But still recommended all the same, because the service makes up for the relative inaccessibility. To reach, you should walk up the road from Xin Beitou station, past the environmentally friendly and pretty Beitou library, the Hot Spring Museum and the Millennium Hot Springs then turn left to Wenquan Road.

As for Howard Plaza? Supposedly five star accommodation, service was largely three maybe four star, breakfast spread is wide but repeated (we stayed four nights). English breakfast is bearable but Chinese breakfast is yucky. Don't waste your time there. If I had to pay for my stay, I would never stay there. Why? The hotel is geared towards businessmen, with half of its pathetic 40 channels being news channels. It has Al Jazeera but it does not have anything worth watching. Its HBO and AXN channels are crap, and I ended up watching Hallmark? Fucking Hallmark!!! I was watching old The Nanny reruns like it was the freaking mirage in the desert I am trapped in. After being spoiled by the hundred over channels at Beitou and Wonstar (the latter even has free porn), I was flabbergasted at the terrible channels they have at Howard. Even the Channel 41 which is actually the security camera directed at the first floor lobby was more exciting than the TV. I felt like Marie Antoinette eating bread in my freaking palace while all the peasants are eating cake in their nearby miserable homes. I was bitching to B1 while I came out from the lift at the first floor lobby that I could not understand how anyone could stand watching the TV at Howard, when I came upon a bunch of businessmen staring slackjawed at the Bloomberg channel at the lobby. It was almost as if it were porn.

I later realized that the Euro fell past NT40 that day.

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