Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi

Wasn’t able to get off a dispatch yesterday because my hotel, which was charging me $625/night, had an $18 internet charge and I refused to pay it (well at least the $18 was more reasonable than the proposed $6 breakfast charge, which I also declined).

The institution which was trying to assess these usurious charges was the Dhara Dhevi Mandarin Oriental, a rather astounding 60-acre Disneyesque recreation of a Thai royal village, complete with a palace, various temples, rice fields. Colonial-style buildings and 68 two-story Thai-style villas, each of which features upper and lower decks, all kinds of frou-frou decorating touches, a hot tub and a private pool. I know all this since I arrived with my Colonial room reservation and was advised that I had been upgraded to Villa 1. It was the one time when I sort of wished I had a camera to take a few pictures.

More to tell, but my time on my computer is running out. Will continue tomorrow.

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So…was the opulent “most ambitious hotel ever built in Asia” the greatest experience of Joe’s life? Not exactly. Sure the Thai house villa was remarkable for both its authenticity and luxury, and the ceremonial buildings throughout the site were awesomely impressive, etc., but it wasn’t a comfortable place. Knowing as you do how I like to case a place and move around, imagine how frustrated I was to see how ridiculously spread out the complex was (e.g., some villas more than a quarter mile from the lobby) and then to learn that the only ways to get around the labirynth were (a) to call for a buggy and driver…15-20 minutes wait, (b) to walk around this massve facility in 100 degree heat, or (c) to ride a bike around the property in the same 100 degree heat. I of course chose Door No. 3 and heated every minute of it, invariable arriving at the lobby or the shops or the snack bar or the pool area dripping with perspiration. After which I’d have to bike back to my villa and take a half hour or more to cool down. Compounding the problem was the the rearot was many miles out of town, which meant you could either pony up for a taxi or wait for the every-three-hour shuttle. All in all, not the ideal scenario for Joe.

Yesterday (Saturday here) I flew down from Chaing Mai to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where, for a definite change of pace, I’m staying at a B&B that I heard about through Wendy Perring in Conde Nast Traveler. Went into town last night. Downtown SR is a steamy, dusty, smoky, tacky, honky-tonk place packed with Westerners frequenting the bars and downtown restaurants, as well as having foot massages performed by fishes in huge tanks and other similarly refined activities. My B&B landlords Andrea and Brandon Ross sent me to their favorite in-town place, the Khmer Kitchen, where the food was good and the prices incredibly low ($3.00 entrees, accompanied by $.75 and $1.00 beers all over town). After being in Japan where I saw hardly any Westerners, even at historic temples and palaces in Kyoto, Siem Reap is teeming with tourists. Went out this morning with a private driver and guide arranged by Andrea to see the first batch of temples on the must-see list (where I was given waaaaaay too much information) and the crowds reminded me of the ones at the Pyramids and Taj Mahal. I’m about to leave for the second half of the Grand Tour and am having dinner tonight in town with Andrea and Brandon…no, it’s not that they think I’m the most fascinating guest they’ve ever had, it’s because I offered to pay.

Oooops, my driver Mr. Lieng and my guide Mr. Sina have arrived and I’m off to Ankhor Wat, which Mr. Sina insists is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I must say, the temples I’ve seen are very, very good, but we’ll have to wait and see whether it attains that accolade. More when I get a chance.

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