(NOTE: This is NOT a paid review)

If you are a frequent guest at Marriott, you would probably know that Marriott Bonvoy has several brands under their chain to cater to diverse range of travelers. Whether your purpose of travel is leisure or business, short-term or long-term stays, the chain has more than 30 hotel brands for everyone to meet whatever travel style all over the world. Their brands are categorized as Classic brands (Classic Luxury, Classic Premium, Classic Select and Classic Longer Stays) and for those looking for more distinctive experience, the Distinctive brands (Distinctive Luxury, Distinctive Premium, Distinctive Select and Distinctive Longer Stays). Then, there’s the ultimate category - Collections (Autograph Collections, Design Hotels and Tribute Portfolio).

As an avid traveler with a penchant for hotel staycations, I have had the opportunity to sample several of the brands under Marriott Bonvoy ranging from the lifestyle hotels such as Aloft KL and Westin KL, to resort stays at Marriott (Miri Marriott & Mulu Marriott), to the versatile business/leisure hotel namely Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu (where the best hospitality is), Renaissance KL, Four Points by Sheraton Kuching (which is now closed) and lastly the premium Autograph Collection (The Andaman Langkawi).

Naturally, when Marriott Bonvoy announced they are opening their first Fairfield brand in Malaysia close to home in Bintulu, I was looking forward to book a stay for a Fairfield experience. Online lookup reveals that the Fairfield brand promises comfort at great value, suitable for business or travelers looking for overnight stay with no-frills amenities.

The opportunity came earlier when my sister invited us to stay at Fairfield by Marriott Bintulu Paragon on the first night the hotel was officiated. Suffice to say, this is an chance not to be missed!

Dubbed by Marriott website as a business hotel, Fairfield by Marriott Bintulu Paragon is the first international 4-star hotel in Bintulu. The 9-storey hotel offers 238 rooms with modern designs and three room categories - Standard (King/Twin), Executive and Presidential Suite. 

Below are some of the room photos that I captured since the apps / website has yet to upload photos of the brand new hotel at the time of my stay:

The emblazoned signage at the hotel entrance
My kids excitedly looking for our room
Standard King room
The shower area separated from the toilet with glass doors

Open concept clothes rack

Being a new establishment, I know it is not fair to put a rating on this hotel. Nevertheless, I could share with readers some of my experience:

1. The room is very clean with contemporary design. Beige colors consistently applied throughout the hotel room design invites the feeling of relaxation where business travelers can look forward to peace of mind after a tiring day in meetings.
2. Minimalism is the new in-thing: Do expect basic amenities only provided in the bathroom (you can get cotton buds, shower cap, facial tissues, body lotion etc. from the adjacent Paragon Shopping Mall if you need those items) The hotel however provides toothbrush, while shower gels and shampoo are from dispensers installed on the wall in the shower area. Complimentary coffee and tea are also available.
3. Each room comes with iron/ironing board and a hairdryer.
4. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed with the major attraction of this hotel - the bed itself. For a 4-star hotel, the bed linen and the bed mattress fall short of expectations. I am not even comparing Fairfield with Westin (famous for their Heavenly® Bed), but I did not expect that hotels e.g. Plaza Premium Lounge to beat a Marriott brand when it comes to comfortable sleep experience (which is important for a business traveler).

As the hotel was newly launched, Marriott is launching a promotion for hotel stay at discounted rate and complimentary buffet breakfast for two at Kava, their all-day dining area. The breakfast options are decent too, suitable for time-pressed business guests to kick-off their day without being too overwhelming.

I sampled the local delicacy, Laksa Sarawak and noted that the laksa is well-seasoned and the spiciness is just right. The buffet breakfast also features other local cuisines such as nasi lemak, fried noodles, beef rendang, continental porridge and cut fruits, as well as international cuisine (salads, assortment of breads and jams, cereal and the popular egg station).

Bright and spacious dining area that can seat 173 guests comfortably

Salad, bread and jam station
Local fruits
My kids immediately made a beeline for the cereal counter

My verdict, the hotel is perfect for business travelers and for people like me who are looking to add more Marriott nights to maintain my Silver Marriott Bonvoy membership without having to go out of town. For honeymooners and staycationers? Better look elsewhere unless you are willing to pay the hefty price tag for the Presidential Suite.

Being in the O&G industry, I never dreamed that one day I would be privileged to attend a training for offshore personnels. So it was to my delight that I found myself nominated for BOSEIT training in Miri. For those who are not familiar, BOSEIT is a compulsory training for personnel working offshore. Not that I will be working in offshore platforms anytime soon (and leave my two princesses behind!), but nevertheless it is in preparation should I ever be required to go for a visit etc. 

Just a short introduction to BOSEIT training. There a few types of BOSEIT courses and the one that I signed up is Tropical BOSEIT or T-BOSEIT. In my class, there's another student who was taking BOSEIT, of which the difference is those taking BOSEIT will be taught how to survive in below 0 degrees ocean environment and wearing a thermal suit. Other than that, the content of the training is quite similar to T-BOSEIT (where we are taught survival skills in tropical environment).

Before going for this training, I had the impression that it would be a tough experience when it comes to applying the sea survival skills in the swimming pool especially during helicopter crash scenario.  The one practical training that everybody seemed to dread of is the simulation of the helicopter turning 180 degrees in the water while you are still on board and strapped to your seat!

Many of my friends shared their experience of being stuck to their seat (unable to remove the seat buckle), or float to the heli's floor (coz the ceiling is now below foot) unable to leave the aircraft and had to be helped by divers on standby. Some got so nervous and knocked their heads on their way out, and many other scary moments when undergoing the training.

Those who are unable to go through this exercise most likely won't be able to pass the course because it's important only those who can demonstrate their ability to escape from a sinking helicopter and save themselves are deemed fit to go to offshore.

The training is offered over a 3-day course. The first day was spent in a classroom environment where we learnt about what are the hazards and risks on an offshore platforms / floaters, theories of sea survival skills, types of signals, etc. The trainer also demonstrated techniques of putting on life jackets - the ordinary life jackets and the one issued if we are flying in a helicopter. 

The second day was the most awaited but dreaded part of the training - the practical part. We came early, signed our attendance and then were issued a locker key to put our stuffs, coverall and rubber boots each. After we changed into the given attire, we were given a briefing on what we are expected to do in the pool. Then we put on our life jacket. Our trainer went around explaining what we did wrong and showing the correct way to put and tighten our life jacket (now I know I have been doing it wrong all this while!). Note to all: always make sure the life jacket is really tighten until it's a little bit uncomfortable and the front straps pulled until the jacket front is right below our chin as loose jacket will cause discomfort and even choke us in the water.

So once we have been briefed, one by one we descended into the swimming pool. The first task was to swim on our back across the pool and then get out of the pool. The next task was to jump off the 1m ledge into the pool with our hands over our mouth and nose and ankles crossed. These I did with ease.

The next part was to go into HELP position (heat escape lessening position) which is similar to fetal position. As its name implies, the position will lessen body temperature from dropping and reduce / slow down our body from going into hypothermia. Note to all: there are 6 points on our body where heat can easily escapes - head, neck, chest, armpits, behind our knees and foot soles. 

The next practical demo is 'huddling'. This is where two or more people grab on each other to perform a tight circle in order to keep warm. We were also taught how to link arms, connect from small huddling groups to make one big human chain and then human circle, and then how to signal our location by kicking vigorously on water to attract rescuers from above.

Next, we practiced how to tow an unconscious person, how to line up in the water and move (swim backwards) in a team. We then were taught what to do when we reach the lifeboat, how to climb aboard the boat (seriously, the life jacket can be quite heavy and makes it difficult to lift yourself out of the water!). Next, we were asked the 9 procedures once we are on a life boat and some survival skills e.g. how to collect drinking water during dry season.

After that, we were asked to tip ourselves from the boat (similar to jumping of the ledge, only this time sitting on the boat edge and leaning backwards). Just as I thought we were done for the morning session, there was the last part - winching. It is a procedure of being rescued by a helicopter by looping a winch / loop under our armpits and then being lifted up. Again, I find this no big deal and before I knew it, the morning practical session is over. So far, no scary part whatsoever 😂

After break, we continued our pool session with the helicopter crash scenario. The first challenge was to put on the special life jacket, coz it's not as straightforward as putting on the ordinary life jacket! After securing everything, we were showed how to use the breathing apparatus that comes with the jacket. At first I struggled with the unlocking/locking mechanism (to let the air go through and allow us to breathe underwater). But I soon got the hang of it. Then we tried the breathing apparatus under water (with much hesitation on my side coz I was really worried that I will end up swallowing water into my lungs guys!). But when it worked like charm, I lost my anxiety and looked forward to the helicopter practice! Until I learnt that we will also need to hold our breath while escaping during this drill!

Let me tell you what happened next - turned out I was worried over nothing! It was as easy as the first part of the practical that morning. Sure, it was no fun being submerged in the cold water repeatedly, but I found putting on the seat belts in the chopper's seat even more challenging than escaping a submerged chopper (no kidding!). Luckily we were not judged based on how proficient we are at buckling up!

So this was what happened during this exercise. The first round, we 'landed' on upright position on the water surface. As the chopper was slowly filled with water, we were supposed to launch a lifeboat, then calmly release the buckles, and step out of the aircraft. Note: The passenger sitting furthest to the exit door is the first one to leave the aircraft in that order. Once all of us exit the chopper, we were supposed to cut the shorter rope that anchors us to the chopper so that we could move out of harm's way from the chopper's rotor blades which might still be moving. The longer tie is supposed to be left intact unless the chopper is sinking fast. Note:  Because the aircraft still has radar signal, we were supposed to anchor on to the chopper for as long as possible to prolong the chance of being located and rescued.

Next, as the chopper sunk, we were told to hold our breath as water reached our chest, and once our heads were fully submerged in the water, then we unbuckled and quickly escaped from the nearest window.  We repeated this with the window on for the third round, where we were supposed to push the window out in order to escape. The fourth round, we repeated the drill this time using the breathing apparatus.

The fifth to seventh rounds were slightly challenging. As the chopper sunk, it turned 180 degrees. We were first asked to hold our breath and hold on tight to the window with one hand and another hand on the buckle ready to escape once the chopper stopped moving. 

As soon as it stopped turning, I quickly unbuckled and swam to the opposite window (where gravity pulled me). Never had I felt more relieved to reach the water surface as I did during these practices 😆

We then repeated this with a breathing apparatus on this time, and finally apparatus on and window intact. For the final round, we were instructed to pull on a tab to inflate the jacket and then swim to the life boat nearby. And that was it! Nothing so nerve-wracking at all 😉

Yes, it was exhausting but exhilarating at the same time. I was so exhausted and my arms hurt from all the swimming, clinging, pulling myself out of the water and hanging onto a capsized chopper. So much so that I immediately fell asleep after the training.

Finally, on the last day, we had a refresher on first aid basics and demonstrated how to perform CPR. In the afternoon, we put on fire-retardant coverall and learned how to put out fire and escaped from smoke-filled room in a group. Lastly, we had a practice on boat transfer to platform (I was more nervous of doing this as compared to the overturned helicopter exercise!) and then going into a lifeboat to escape a burning platform.

And that was the end of the BOSEIT training. We got our certificate and could now go to offshore platforms if required (though after hearing that the only mode of transport to go to offshore is via boat since it's cheaper than going by heli, I was glad that I didn't have to visit offshore anytime soon).

Going to T-BOSEIT soon? My tips - just enjoy the experience and not let others' experiences scare you!
Guys, I found my piece of heavens in this part of NZ. Could God's creation be any more beautiful than this? Surely there is, but at that point of time, I was just deeply, madly in love with Canterbury region:

'OK, next I need to find Legolas somewhere in Middle Earth...'

After driving for almost one whole day, we finally arrived at Lake Tekapo. Straightaway we went searching for our rented studio apartment. The name itself is catchy enough to us - Simply Stunning:

I am going back here someday. I promise you this.

If there is something I love other than the beautiful scenery in NZ, that is their rented accommodation. Most of the ones that we stayed have been renovated and decorated with modern furniture and tasteful design. Our accommodation at Lake Tekapo was amongst the most charming that we stayed in during our road trip:

The small studio apartment is thoughtfully designed to appear spacious without sacrificing the functionality of the space

Apart from a queen-sized bed overlooking a gorgeous view outside, there is also a bunk-bed, each equipped with its own flat TV at the foot of the bed
Although everything is tiny, the house is quite comfortable for four pax

The hosts are kind enough to stock complimentary beverages including this delicious hot chocolate to drink during the cold weather at night
Don't be fooled by this small kitchen - it comes complete with electric stove, microwave, dishwasher, cutleries, plates, fridge etc.
The view we get to enjoy whilst on the bed overlooking the snow-covered mountains that is the heavenly backdrop of Lake Tekapo
Although we were pretty tired after the long drive from Christchurch, we didn't want to waste time resting. Instead, we had a quick prayer, then prepared a quick lunch before we set out to explore the lake's surrounding.

The sisterhood of Lake Tekapo

Although our apartment is slightly far from Lake Tekapo, it is still within walking distance. On our way down, we encountered wild hares that scampered away into the bushes / their holes as soon as we approached them. 

Tips: Wear appropriate footwear if you are going down to the lake as the shore is full of rocks.
Rocks everywhere

Posing in front of the majestic view of clear turquoise lake against snow-capped mountain backdrop

Lake Tekapo is also famous for one activity - stargazing. Being part of UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, it is the perfect spot to gaze at the stars and trying to figure out the Milky Way from Earth. Unfortunately, we were not able to book a tour to the observatory where it is said where the Earth Meets Sky.

We did however make the time (and effort!) to walk along the lake to visit Church of the Good Shepherd, the most photographed building in NZ:

After a  long drive, stretching my legs along NZ's road in the chilly weather seemed like a good idea

Us against the Church of the Good Shepherd in the background

A good spot for photographers

We then took a long way back to go back to our studio. Although we were exhausted, we couldn't help admiring the beautiful architecture and interior of the houses in the neighbourhood that we passed (some houses had floor to ceiling glass windows to perhaps showcase their beautiful home). 

Once we reached our place, we were chilled to the bones and had hot chocolate before retiring to bed.

Trying our hand to catch a glimpse of the stars using the telescope

The next day, we were up early to go to our next destination. We did stop to take photos at Lake Pukaki, which is another stunning lake within those area:

Lake Pukaki

Whoever did this is probably a talented artist.

Will cover more on Lake Pukaki in my next entry =) Stay tuned!
After we have stocked up our food ration, we set off on the 7-hour journey to Lake Tekapo, our first pit stop. We decided to embark on a scenic adventure and took the longer route through Darfield on State Highway No. 77.

Road trip journey begins...

Although it was a long journey, we hardly felt the time passed by as we simply couldn't stop gushing and admiring the breathtaking scenery along the way! We stopped several times to capture our memories here and enjoyed the crisp fresh air by the roadside:

Yup, we just started the trip but we've already captured by the view of the snow-capped mountain in the far distance

The snow-capped mountain is perfectly captured in my background here

Sisters in shades

The view is extremely beautiful along the way

This is how I imagined Heidi lived 


Tips: Speed limit in NZ is 50km/h (cities) and 100km/h (open road). Occasionally drivers will come across bridges, and depending on the signage, one party will have to give way to the other as the bridges normally allow for only one way crossing.

Along the way we also stopped by Rakaia Gorge to admire the gorgeous turquoise blue river which is a photographer's dream comes true.

Subhanallah! The view is magnificent!

One more with the snow-capped mountain

From here onwards, we passed by wide open grasslands with unrestricted views of the magnificent Southern Alps.

It was extremely windy but we loved it anyway

Will continue in my next posting on our accommodation at Lake Tekapo and the Lake Tekapo itself :)
We had to wake up really early the next day since we had to catch an early morning flight to Christchurch. Our choice of airline was Air New Zealand, that introduced us to the most delicious cookies that they served on board.

Can't help taking loads of selfies once we hit the road because NZ is such a beautiful country!

It is not easy to locate a prayer room at the domestic terminal in Auckland Airport as it is really remote that even some staff had no clue of its whereabout. Eventually we managed to find the place to perform our Subuh prayer before we boarded our flight to Christchurch, phew!

The prayer area is just a small enclosure with no separate section for men and women so it's advisable to go there in a group

Alhamdulillah for the nikmat to perform prayers in a comfortable and private place
Tips: The prayer area is located just across the baggage drop off on the first floor. Walk past the public shower and then turn left until you reach the end of the corridor 

My sisters taking advantage of the free but limited airport WiFi to check on our travel arrangement once we reach Christchurch

While waiting for our flight to take off, we managed to cam-whore LOL!

Mom also want a photo of her boarding Air New Zealand flight

Vomit is vomit, no matter how you say it.

Landed at Christchurch Airport to be greeted by this really nice lighting that mimics starlights (coz stargazing is one of the things you must do in NZ)

Welcome to Christchurch!

In my brand new leather jacket, bought specifically for this adventure!

Another family photo outside Christchurch Airport

Selfie again while waiting for our shuttle van to Apex Car Rental. Loved the weather even though it's a bit chilly

When we reached Christchurch, we called the car rental company to pick us up at the airport. For our road trip in NZ, we decided to rent a sedan car (Toyota Corolla) from Apex Car Rentals. It was easy dealing with the car rental staff as they were all friendly and very helpful (they even changed our GPS navigation because it was lagging).
Useful info: For 8 days hire period in South Island only, the total cost is NZ$527.20 inclusive of GPS Navigation ($55.68), which includes Zero Excess, Unlimited KMs, Roadside Cover and 3 extra drivers for free. Minimum age of drivers is 21 years old. Drivers are not required to have international driving license but driving license issued by country must have English translation.
Before we hit the road, we stopped by PAK'nSAVE supermarket at Hornby to buy some food rations as we intended to prepare our own food (partly to save cost, and partly because we didn't know if we will come across halal eateries along the way).

Can't help getting ga-ga over fresh fruit and veggies in NZ (and they are cheap too!)

More fresh vegetables...

We went crazy and bought, like 3 packs of these strawberries and the chocolate dipping sauce. It was the best snack during our long car trip

Tips: There are a few brands selling halal chicken meat like Tegel, Brinks and Best Bird. Do browse their website to find out more. We tried Tegel chicken during our stay in NZ.

Will blog more about our road trip on our 2nd day in a second entry. Stay tuned!