During my last business trip to KL, I decided to find check in a hotel which is in close proximity to KL Sentral as I had an early morning flight to catch on my last day of the trip. My friend recommended me to try Aloft KL Sentral, which is part of the Starwood brand. The hotel is situated across the street from KLIA Express departure entrance, which is super convenient for early morning travellers.

I was looking forward to try out SPG Keyless feature which is available at Aloft KL Sentral. Instead of access card, guests can use their smartphone to unlock their door.

Checking in took some time due to long queue of people checking in / checking out. I noted that the reception desk's circular layout was not very systematic and something the hotel management could look into.

There were some hiccups at the reception counter i.e. registering my mobile device as the access card which took some time for the staff to do so. Similarly, when I decided to settle my bill the night before I checked out so that I could leave early in the morning, I found myself locked out of my room and had to approach the counter again to get my keys re-activated. Hope the hotel management could look into smoothing the entire customer experience during my next visit.

Going back to the access card, as soon as I reached my room, I wasted no time to test the apps to unlock my room. Perhaps I was not familiar with it, or genuinely due to technical inefficiency, the system could not recognize my iPhone and I had to unlock using the access card given to me. However when I tried it several hours later, I was able to unlock my door using my phone only to find that it didn't work the next time I tried. So it was a hit-and-miss experience for me.

I was assigned a 355-square feet Loft Twin Room, which featured urban and casual contemporary design. Sassy Lat-inspired art depicting Malaysian character adorned the wall, while natural lighting is a-plenty in the room thanks to an extra-large window on one side of the room. I spent some time gazing down at the wide road below my room, at the bustling traffic and hurried people going about their lives not knowing a stranger watching them from their room.

To summarize, these are the plus points of the hotel from my own experience:

1. The location - very close to KL Sentral, save the hassle of waking up too early unnecessarily to catch the first ERL train to KLIA.
2. Non-smoking room policy - since the hotel is family-friendly, all the rooms are smoking-free.
3. Breakfast - They have menu to cater to even the fussiest little eater. I was sorry my kids were not travelling with me to enjoy their buffet spread.
4. Kids' amenities - They do provide things like baby bathtub, Camp Aloft (Ikea tent) and other things to cater to the young guests.
5. Wifi - Internet connection is excellent.

The not-so-good experiences which I felt that the hotel management could easily resolve through proper training / developing standard operating procedures:
1. Housekeeping - Shampoo / shower gel does not come in those tiny bottles, but in those wall-mounted container. However, body shampoo was not re-stocked after the last guest left so I was forced to use shampoo instead :(
2. Reception - could be faster.
3. Laundry services - they returned my laundry quite late that I had to call to check the status.

As for the rest, you could refer to the captions beneath the photos that I took of the hotel room that I stayed in:

The room can accommodate 2 adults and 2 kids but it would be a bit cramp at full capacity.

The room decor is ultra-urban, with only practical fittings furnished. 

Guests can stock up on their snacks of choice from re:fuel station at ground floor (no, it's not free).

Don't fret if you forgot to bring your phone / power bank charger. You can borrow from the hotel, but a deposit is required which will be returned to you upon checking out.

Thankfully, we are not required to go downstairs to get a cup of coffee / tea

The spacious bathroom with separate shower / toilet on one side, and the cloth cabinet on the other side

Guests are encouraged to sing in the shower (love the purple tiles on the wall)

The cabinet's mirror sliding door hides amenities such as a mini-safe, hairdryer and towels

Standard toiletries are provided in the room

The sink has plenty of space to put your own toiletries / makeup kits

Rating: 7/10
Have you ever wondered where did all the Time in the world go? I have. I ponder at the fact that Time is unique - in the sense that it can never happened twice. Oh sure. 3pm will arrive daily, but it's only a concept to measure Time so we won't lose track of life. The truth is it's always a different Time that arrives each day and it rushes and never return.

Time. It is something so precious yet always taken for granted. The first thing that I checked when I woke up is time. What time is it? It's time to go to work. It's time to take my bath. It's time to wake up. But it is only recently that it occured to me that I look at Time so incorrectly. The question that i should ask is - how much Time do I have today?

Like all vain humans in this world, I think of Time as an Asset - something that I own and control. Yet it is not. Time is my Liability. I borrowed Time to live this life. From who? I borrowed Time from the Time Creator.

That is why live life frivolously. I hardly stop to think - what will I justify for using that Time? I work mindlessly, spending my time outside working hours still working. I think the Time as MY Time - I can choose to continue work if I want to. But if I had taken a step back and reflect - this hour, who does it belong to? The answer would be - my loved ones. Then I would think twice before robbing Time for something as trivial as work.
We had the opportunity to sample a hotel in Sibu during Le Hubby's business trip a couple of weeks ago.

While Sibu has thrived in many ways, one aspect of Sibu that has yet to catch up is their hotel establishments.

Most of the hotels in Sibu are still hanging on to the dated decor and facilities from my observation of the hotel room photos in booking websites. Therefore, it is not surprising to me upon seeing the room in Paramount Hotel.

Dated furniture are still the main theme of the room

There is a slight upgrade in the room - the flat TV instead of the bulky TV

The bathroom

The kids take pleasure in this bathtub

The carpet looks new and perhaps save the day

But what the hotel lacks in terms of aesthetics, it made up in terms of its cleanliness. Nothing is more dreadful than an old, mouldy hotel. However, Paramount Hotel while is yet to spot the modern contemporary design one should hope, it is very clean and well-maintained.

There is also ample parking space in front of the hotel, however it is not free on weekdays as the parking lot does not belong to the hotel. Since we stayed during weekend, we need not pay for the parking.

The generous portion of its special fried rice

Overall, it is an average hotel which will perhaps do better if the hotel management is willing to invest in modernising the hotel look.

Rating: 5/10
We happened to be in Kuching, Sarawak for our Merdeka (Malaysia's Independence Day)/Aidiladha break. In conjunction with the Merdeka break, we decided to bring our kids to Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV) to get them acquainted to their own grassroot traditions of being Sarawakians.  

In front of SCV entrance

Entrance price for non-Sarawakians are RM60++ for adults (++ inclusive of 6% GST). Kids above the age of 7 are charged at 50% of adult's price. However, being local Sarawakians, we got the privilege of getting special prices (RM25++ for adults). 

We were issued with these tickets that are valid for only one day. The downside is we didn't get the passport to stamp each time we completed a tour at the traditional houses
We were issued tickets as well as wrist band that we had to wear at all times, yet allowed us to enter and leave the premise freely without being charged twice. The first building we saw on our right housed a restaurant that features local delicacies, a souvenir shop as well as the cultural theater. Our first stop was at the restaurant first to have our lunch. 

The main building that housed the cultural performance theater, a souvenir shop and  Sarawak Ethnic Kitchen that served authentic Sarawakian cuisine

We opted for a meal set consisting of a combination of Sarawak various ethnic food - manok pansoh (chicken cooked in bamboo),  umai (Melanau's version of sashimi seasoned with lime, chillies and onions), ikan asam pedas (fish cooked in sour and spicy style), daging tepus (meat), squashed tapioca leaves, wild ginger fern, fruits and complimentary drinks.

From top clock-wise: Umai, manok pansoh, ikan asam pedas and squashed tapioca leaves

Interesting colourful motifs adorn the restaurant ceiling

Sarawak Ethnic Kitchen has two dining area - air-conditioned and open air

Although the food served was delicious, we couldn't help but notice that the service was quite slow (we were made to wait for half an hour to wait for our meal set to arrive, although it presumably it is best-selling item. On the other hand, perhaps they wanted to prepare the meals fresh). A couple of foreign tourists with young children had to go to the counter to check on their order as it took a long time as well. I felt that this is something they definitely need to improve to preserve a good image of the SCV.

After lunch, our first pit stop was at the Chinese Farmhouse. Chinese in Sarawak descended from the Hakka or Foochow clan, who came to Sarawak in the early 1900s as farmers. That is why we saw many farming tools on display inside the house. According to SCV's website, the house itself is divided into two main parts; the family room which contains the kitchen, eating and living area as well as a storage area for valuables such as bicycles or agricultural machinery, and the bedroom.

My kids posing in front of an agricultural machinery (I believed to process white pepper)

Posing in front of the house exterior - the wall is made of whitewashed sawn timber while the roof is thatched with leaf attap 

Next house we stopped by was the Malay house. Unlike the Chinese Farmhouse, Malay house is built on stilts, and the staircase will lead visitors to a verandah before coming to the front door. The windows are cut to floor level to allow breeze for the seated people (I just found this out from SCV's website LOL). The first room that visitors will see is the living area. Rooms are separated by curtains to maintain the modesty of the females living in the house whenever visitors come by. At the back of the house is a spacious kitchen area.

Le Hubby is teaching Khadeeja to play a traditional Malay game called 'congkak'

Malay house (Rumah Melayu)

The most interesting (and challenging) house to visit in our opinion is the Melanau Tall House (Rumah Melanau). It is built very high above the ground (forty feet high) to protect the house dwellers from enemy attacks (traditionally, Melanau people lived near the sea within reach of pirates). We once were told that whenever enemies attacked, the people on the house will pull up the log staircase to prevent enemies from climbing up to the house and pour hot water on the enemies that tried to climb the poles. The most interesting architectural design of the house is the thatched roof, which is woven in such a way that if enemies threw fire on the roof, they can easily detached the particular patch of the roof and reveal a second layer of the roof (if I understood the story correctly).  

Rumah Melanau from the front

My kids attempting to climb the log staircase

Inside the Melanau tall house

The house is double storey and to reach the top floor, one has to climb up another log staircase
Our next stop was the Orang Ulu Longhouse where we even get to enjoy a traditional musical performance by an Orang Ulu at their spacious verandah.

Orang Ulu Longhouse in the background

Gongs, porcelain jars of all sizes were among valuable items on display in the longhouse

Historical factsheet on display told us that body tattoos symbolized a lady's social standing - the more tattoos she can afford to get, the more affluent is her family

Perhaps the simplest structure at the SCV is the Penan Hut. Penan people were (are) a nomadic tribe who lived deep in the heart of the Borneo jungle. Their shelters are quick to be constructed to last for several weeks to several months nearby area with abundant food supply, only to be abandoned once the supply has dwindled to search for new areas. They also hunted for wild animals using blowpipes which Le Hubby and Khayla had had a try at during this visit, for a nominal fee.

Khayla taking a rest in front of the Penan Hut

Having a go at the blowpipe (although her lungs were not able to generate enough force to shoot at far targets!)

Lastly, before we ended our tour at the Cultural Theater, we visited the Iban's and Bidayuh's (collectively known as the Dayaks) longhouses, where our girls had fun donning on traditional costumes and posing in front of cameras (even other tourists were taking their photos!)

Khayla donning on a Bidayuh ethnic costume complete with headgear

Khadeeja opted for the Kayan ethnic costume with colorful beads on black cloth, complete with feathers accessories

The girls posing with a SCV guide in Iban costume
Our visit ended with a splendid dance performances of various Sarawak ethnics which never failed to mesmerize me. The girls also were as spellbound as they watched an Iban warrior lifted a heavy 'lesung' using his teeth, and a Melanau man propelled on a long pole by the sheer power of his core muscle!

The opening dance was enough to capture my girls' attention

A Melanau performance

Overall it was both an educational and entertaining visit, which is suitable for families and first-time tourists alike. I think the tour would be more interesting if the management could organize a guided tour with knowledgable tour guides who can tell the origins, facts and trivias (such as the wonderful engineering design of the Melanau Tall House roof) to tourists such as done in cultural places in Europe. I would not mind paying premium for a guided tour in exchange for a rich information on Sarawak's history. In fact they can also play historical movies (e.g. Warkah Terakhir on the story of Rosly Dhoby, or even that movie potraying Jessica Alba as an Iban lass!). There are a lot of potentials that the management can explore to provide a better experience to visitors.

If you are in Kuching and haven't visited Sarawak Cultural Village, I highly recommend this place for a crash course of Sarawak culture.

Rating: 7/10
The Le Meridien brand needs no introduction. The latest addition to their chain in Kuala Lumpur is Le Meridien Putrajaya which is adjacent to IOI Mall Putrajaya.

I had stayed in this hotel before and reviewed their ultra modern Signature room. However, our latest stay at this hotel was a lucky one as we were upgraded to their suite room at no extra cost (we checked the price later and noted that the price is more than RM1000 per night).

I have mentioned most of the amenities available in this hotel before, so I would not waste your time to go through them again. So enjoy photos of the elegant suite room at Le Meridien Putrajaya below:

Ample space in the bedroom which probably can accommodate two other king beds. Love the oversized standing mirror next to the bed

The sitting room provides some privacy to the bedroom should there be visitors coming over. A four-seat dining table sits next to the sitting area

Bathroom in the suite room is bigger than the signature room, but offers same amenities as the latter

Ultra modern bathroom

Ok, perhaps the suite room has more toiletries than the signature room's bathroom. I think the mouth wash is not available in the signature room

So much space in the suite room which makes my kids super happy (and reluctant to leave afterwards)

So how do you stand a chance to get free upgrades like us? Simply sign up as SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) to enjoy amazing benefits including free night awards and room upgrades at any of Starwood Hotels:

Courtesy of starwoodhotels.com
I have to say that Le Meridien sure knows how to reward their guests :)

Rating: 10/10
Finding a hotel within walking distance from KLCC need not be agonizing on your wallet if you know where to find such hotel. Our recent trip to KL brought us to Le Apple Boutique Hotel's doorstep, which is just across the street from K Avenue mall (opposite KLCC). To get to the hotel, we took LRT and stopped at KLCC LRT Station, and then walked to the hotel.

Le Apple Boutique Hotel KLCC nailed the boutique hotel definition of being a small stylish hotel situated in a fashionable urban location. An independent hotel brand, the hotel opened its door in recent years to guests ranging from business travellers coming to KLCC for meetings to out-of-town guests looking for entertainment and shopping excursions in the heart of KL. There are 78 superior rooms and 144 deluxe rooms fitted with a choice of King, Queen and Twin beds. All rooms have individual-controlled air conditioning, complimentary in-room WiFi, 40" LCD TV, in-room safe, hair-dryer, tea-making facilities and iron with ironing board.

We received warm welcome at the check-in counter situated at the first floor, where the dim lighting and dark yet classy decor offered cool comfort to guests like us who had spent the entire day out in the sun from visiting the zoo earlier. Guests are free to take green apples in a fruit basket placed on the reception counter, perhaps as a tribute to the hotel's name.

The guest check-in floor

To our delight, we were offered complimentary room upgrade as it was our first time checking in at the hotel. How many hotels have offered such privilege before? None, in my experience! Having taken Marketing course before, I knew that this is another level of service to delight a customer above and beyond a customer's expectation, so kudos to the hotel management for coming up with this marketing strategy! 

After checking in, we proceeded to our room to rest before going out in the evening. Again, we were impressed with the size of the room. For the price that we paid and considering its vicinity to world-renowned location, our room is spacious and comes complete with all the amenities that you can think of.

Our Superior room fitted with King bed

View of the entrance
As far as first impression go, the interior of the room gives me mixed feelings. While the room itself offers modern contemporary design with an unusual massive black pillar at one corner, the bathroom looks like it belongs to another era. 

The black pillar drew our attention as we stepped into the room
If there was one thing that I disliked about the hotel room, it would probably be the bathroom as the design was too bare, the lighting too dim and the overall concept doesn't fit the concept of a boutique hotel. 

Probably comes second, is the noise from outside of the hotel as the hotel is not sound-proof. Thankfully, we managed to get a good night's sleep as everyone was tired from our day's activities.

The shower area is spacious but bare of any fancy fittings

Toilet area

The room doesn't come with breakfast package but guests are given a discount coupon if they dined at ROKKO Japanese Grill Restaurant which is located on the ground floor of the hotel.

Overall, I feel the hotel offers a satisfactory stay at a price that is affordable considering its prime location. This is a hotel that I would recommend my friends from East Malaysia to book if they are thinking to stay nearby KLCC.

Verdict: 7/10