Koh Samui: Part 4 – The Arrival (aka Yeah, we’re not leaving…)

This is the fourth post in a multiple part trip report of our long weekend trip to Koh Samui, Thailand.  Finally, I made it to the resort review.  Trust me, it was worth the wait.  The place is incredible.    

Koh Samui: Part 1 – Any Hilton in the World
Koh Samui: Part 2 – The Oryx Lounge Saves the Day
Koh Samui: Part 3 – Exploring Koh Samui
Koh Samui: Part 4 – The Arrival (aka Yeah, we’re not leaving…)

There had been quite a bit of discussion between Dawn and I before coming to Koh Samui about how much down time we’d actually be spending at the resort vs. out exploring the island.  With me working six days a week and having many other obligations on weeknights and on Fridays, there’s not too much down time for me in Doha.  Dawn saw this 5 day, 4 night trip as a great opportunity for us to completely unplug and relax.  I, on the other hand, was slightly concerned about all of this sitting around doing nothing.  It’s not really how I learned how to vacation growing up.  My dad was always up early, and was always trying to get us to see and do as much as we could each day.  While I’m not the early riser the idea of not doing much besides laying out at on the beach or by the pool didn’t appeal to me too much.  The Conrad Koh Samui changed that very quickly.  In fact, it may have altered my vacation philosophy from here on out.  As soon as we arrived at reception, Dawn, goes, “Yeah, we’re not leaving.”  And with less than 30 seconds spent at the resort I was already very much inclined to agree.

Conrad Koh Samui

Welcome to Paradise

Driving up to the Conrad Koh Samui is quite the experience.  As the resort is built on the side of a small mountain the drive to the top is switchback after switchback on a tiny one lane road.  Luckily, there are guards at both the bottom and the top that monitor cars going up and down.  If someone is driving down, they’ll shut the gate at the bottom to help avoid any head on crashes.

When you finally make it to the top where reception is located, you can see the drive was well worth it.  The reception area is hanging over the edge of the mountain and waist high walls made of glass surround the reception area, so it feels a bit as if you’re floating on the top of the world.  Looking down you see the villas, restaurants, and other resort buildings protruding out from the side of the mountain.  The view out over the Gulf of Thailand is of islands in the distance rising out of the sea.  If you just so happen to arrive in the early evening you might just be welcomed by what the resort seems to be famous for – their beautiful sunsets.

View from reception

View from reception

The view from above

The resort from above

While we arrived well before sunset, the view was no less stunning.  Upon pulling up to the circle driveway, there were attendants immediately ready to help us with our bags and to valet the car.  They usher you into the open air reception location, seat you on a couch or chairs overlooking your paradise for the next few days, and serve you a tropical drink while they check you in.  I had read quite a bit about the resort on FlyerTalk prior to arrival, and it said no matter how many pictures you’ve seen or what you’ve read, it will most certainly exceed your expectations.  I couldn’t agree more.

Conrad Koh Samui Entrance

Conrad Koh Samui Entrance

It’s extremely hard to do this place justice in words or pictures, and  to be honest, I was actually so impressed with my first impression of the place that I was so busy enjoying the view I did a fairly poor job of documenting it with my camera (which is a bit of a first for me).

The check in service was great, and our room was ready for us immediately.  As the villas are jutting out from the side of the mountain, and they’re somewhat stacked on top of each other, it’s not the easiest resort to walk.  Luckily, the Conrad Koh Samui has quite a fleet of golf carts willing to drive you wherever you want to go.  We hopped in a golf cart and were escorted to our villa.

Golf Cart

Resort Transportation

This property consists of one, two, and three bedroom villas.  The villas are numbered like hotel rooms with the 100s being the lowest level (closest to sea level and the small beach) and the 700s being the highest (and closest to the reception at the top of the resort).  The one bedroom villas are located in the 100s through the 300s while the two and three bedroom villas are located in the 400s through 700s.  With our free night certificates we were limited to a one bedroom villa.  I believe the two and three bedroom villas are available with points as well, but if I recall correctly the redemption rates were astronomical.

Koh Samui Property Map

Koh Samui Property Map

You’re welcome to request a particular villa prior to arrival, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get the one you request due to occupancy levels, etc.  There’s plenty of advice on Flyertalk on choosing the villa that’s right for you depending on what you’re looking for.  The one bedroom villa layouts are all the exact same, but the view differs slightly and the walk/ride time to the beach, restaurants, etc. is different depending on where you’re located on property.  You can’t really go wrong with any villa you get, but I did request a villa in the low 300s as we wanted the highest view possible, and as far as I could tell the low 300s were the most private.  We weren’t concerned with being farther away from the restaurants, the beach or the pool than most of the other villas.   All of that was just a golf cart ride away.

Villa 302

Our home for the next 4 nights.

As we stepped into the villa, again our expectations were surpassed.  Our host gave us a quick tour and left us to enjoy the place.  The room was beautifully decorated to fit the secluded, forested, island atmosphere.  I loved the dark wood floors and furniture.  While the room felt large, it didn’t feel ridiculous like I think some rooms can.  It was the perfect size for the two of us.

The bed was large, comfortable, and located beneath a large vaulted ceiling.  One of the more ridiculous services offered was a pillow menu, all complimentary.  There were about ten or twelve different types of pillows you could choose from, and housekeeping would deliver them.  You could request anything from a hypoallergenic pillow to a down feather pillow to different kinds of chiropractic pillows.  

The Bed

The bed, prior to the pillow order

Beside the bed there was a small desk, complete with a complementary iPad for use during the stay.  Dawn loved that they also provided a few board games to keep us entertained.  The resort was really set up for you to spend the majority of your time in the villa if you so chose.

The Desk

Very little work was done here

Beyond the foot of the bed there was a small loveseat and coffee table complete with a fruit plate and a bag of macaroons as a welcome gift.  If I recall correctly, the fruit plate was replenished daily which was quite appreciated as we were doing our best to avoid frequenting the restaurants at the resort.  If only they provided unlimited macaroons.  Across from the loveseat was a big screen TV which could be adjusted to be viewed from either the loveseat or the bed.  Below the TV was a full mini bar.  We called and asked reception to have someone remove the contents so we could stock it with our Tesco purchases, but no one ever did.  We just packed the fridge full anyway.

Welcome Gift

The macaroons went fast. The fruit, even as good as it was, did not.

Loveseat and coffee table

Loveseats inside and out

Big screen TV

Perfect for Movie Night

As it seems with most high end resorts, they went over the top when designing the bathroom.  It was roughly the same size as the bedroom, maybe a tad smaller.  It had an enormous half spherical tub, a walk in shower with enough room for 3-4 people inside, a dual sink vanity, and a separate toilet room.  The closet was just off the bathroom and seems to be quite standard for the Conrad brand, complete with robes and slippers.


Rub a dub dub, it’s sized for three men in a tub


More amenities for my stockpile


A shower with a view

Toilet room

Will high end hotels ever get rid of phones next to the toilet?

The focus of the entire room is the spectacular view.  The bed is arranged so that as you’re lying there you’re looking directly out over the sea.  The bathtub and vanity are set up in the same way, so whether your brushing your teeth or taking a bubble bath you won’t miss that sunset.  About the only places you can’t enjoy the view from are the closet and toilet room (well, maybe if you left the door open).

The View

The star of the show, the view.

The View

I could sit here for weeks

With the view being the focus, of course, the highlight of the villa is the patio and private infinity plunge pool.  The patio runs the entire length of the villa and is accessible via floor to ceiling sliding glass doors from both the bedroom and bathroom.  As you walk out from the bedroom there’s a small table with an outdoor couch on one side and a chair on the other.  On the other side of the patio there are 2 lounge chairs covered by an umbrella.  We’ve never stayed in a villa with our own personal pool before, and so that was the feature of the villa we were most excited about.  The infinity pool appears to drop right off into the Gulf of Thailand, and being that we were up so high, enjoying the view from the pool was the highlight of the villa for me.  

View from the patio

View from the patio

View from the pool

View from the pool

The Pool and Patio

It doesn’t get much more luxurious than this.

While you’re not really that far away from the neighboring villas on each side of you, the place felt quite private, especially while inside the villa.  With the shades completely open, no one would be able to see in as it was only the sea out in front of you.  While out on the patio you might hear noises or voices coming from next door, the villas were separated by walls at the edge of the patio and pool.  Looking down, however, you could see into some of the patios and pools of the villas beneath you.

As I said, the place had me rethinking my entire vacationing philosophy almost immediately up on arrival, so you know it had to be special.  It really was the perfect place to keep busy doing nothing all day long.

Beautiful sunsets

The sunset on our first night there welcoming us to Koh Samui

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Koh Samui: Part 3 – Exploring Koh Samui

This is the third post in a multiple part trip report of our long weekend trip to Koh Samui, Thailand.  Trust me, I’m getting to the Conrad Koh Samui.  Just be patient.  

Koh Samui: Part 1 – Any Hilton in the World
Koh Samui: Part 2 – The Oryx Lounge Saves the Day
Koh Samui: Part 3 – Exploring Koh Samui

We arrived at the Koh Samui airport around 7:30 in the morning and headed straight for the Avis rental car counter.  Not surprisingly, no one was to be found there that early in the morning.  Soon enough though, someone noticed a few of us hanging around and made a phone call.  An agent showed up, and we quickly got the rental process started.  We were soon taken to our ride and started to check out the car.  As I started to survey for dents and scratches I took a look inside.  Turns out it was a manual.  I don’t do manuals.  I never learned how to drive a manual, and I was about to try to learn while driving in a foreign country on the opposite side of the road.  Eventually they brought out an automatic and we were on our way.

Koh Samui Airport

The entire airport is pretty much outdoors.

They'd know we were high rollers when we arrived in style.

They’d know we were high rollers when we arrived in style.

We knew our villa at the Conrad wouldn’t be ready for us at 8:30 in the morning, so we decided to explore the island a little bit.  It was probably a good thing that it was a lazy Friday morning as it took me a little bit of time to get used to driving on the right side of the road again.  I think the last time I had driven on the opposite side of the road was on our honeymoon to Ireland in May 2010.  As we knew the resort was somewhat remote and the restaurant prices would be quite high there we wanted to stock up on snack foods and drinks before arriving.  I had done a fair bit of reading on the Conrad Koh Samui on Flyertalk and learned that Tesco is basically Thailand’s version of Wal-Mart.  We soon found one, and stocked up on crazy flavored chips, exotic fruits, and root beer.  I’m not a fan of grocery shopping in general, but shopping in a foreign country always makes for a good time.  It’s always interesting to see what kinds of interesting things are on the shelf.

We passed on the fried seaweed.

We passed on the fried seaweed.

After killing a decent amount of time at Tesco we headed out to see what there was to explore on the island.  There honestly wasn’t too much that I thought looked interesting, but there were a couple of waterfalls and a giant Buddha to see.  I really enjoy waterfalls, and Dawn loves being around water in general, so we decided to head to the Na Muang Waterfall.  The place was a bit of a tourist trap with offers of elephant rides and jungle treks.  We originally passed on all of that, and started walking towards the hiking path to the waterfall.  As we were about to begin our hike, the option of a ride up to the waterfall on the top of a truck was offered.  The hike looked fairly steep, and as we had just arrived on an overnight flight we were pretty worn out.  We decided to take them up on their 100 Baht roundtrip offer (about $3/person).  It turns out that it was probably worth about $3, but not much more.  They drove us up a pretty steep hill, but we still had quite a hike to go to get to the waterfall. Being buckled into a seat on the roof of a truck was quite an interesting experience.

The ride up to the waterfall

The safe way to ride on the roof of a truck. Buckled in.

The hike was hot, but the waterfall was quite nice when we finally reached the top.  It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was certainly a worthy detour on our way to the resort.   I really enjoy climbing around as much possible in these types of places, so I had a pretty good time.  The waterfall was busy with tourists, but it wasn’t overly crowded.

The trail was marked with clear signage so we wouldn't get lost.

The trail was marked with clear signage so we wouldn’t get lost.

Bridge to waterfall

Sure, that looks safe…


Apparently, they realize its not safe…

Na Muang Waterfall

The view was worth the ‘dangerous’ hike.

Na Muang Waterfall

I’m a bit more of a climber than Dawn is.

We spent maybe 30 minutes near the waterfall, and then headed back down.At this point we were pretty hungry and were looking forward to finding some of that great, authentic Thai street food.  We found a street market not too far from the waterfall entrance and stopped.  There were plenty of options of what appeared to be mostly take home type food, but there was at least one ‘restaurant’ type place.  I ordered the red pork fried rice and Dawn had the chicken Pad Thai.  Both were excellent, and I almost went back for a second serving.  After lunch we spent some time shopping at the clothes and food stalls.  While the quality of the stuff was quite good, the prices were not as ridiculously low as I had hoped.  It was cheap, but not quite as cheap as I had expected in Thailand.  I’m sure better deals are to be had in Bangkok instead of a tourist island.

Pork Fried Rice

My meal of pork fried rice.

Chicken Pad Thai

Dawn’s chicken Pad Thai.

The Market

All kinds of fruits and vegetables for sale at the market

The Market

Plenty of fish and many other unrecognizable foods for sale as well

After shopping we figured that it was late enough that there was a good possibility that our room would be ready for us.  We were also pretty worn out, so we were hoping that the resort was close by.  Even with only one main road around the island we managed to have some slight difficulties in finding our way around.  While I had printed out Google maps of directions to the Conrad, they weren’t the most detailed, and we struggled a bit to find it.  Actually, we struggled a lot.  We ended up driving the entire loop of the island only to discover that the road leading to the resort was less than a mile from where we had stopped for lunch.  The loop around the island was only about 45 minutes, but the combination of jet lag from the overnight flight and thinking that we’d find the place any minute the 45 minutes was torture for me.  I felt like I was going to fall asleep at the wheel at any moment.  Eventually we found the correct turn off and made it to the Conrad Koh Samui.

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Koh Samui: Part 2 – The Oryx Lounge Saves the Day

This is the second post in a multiple part trip report of our long weekend trip to Koh Samui, Thailand.  If you just want to see pics of the lounge scroll to the bottom.  

Koh Samui: Part 1 – Any Hilton in the World
Koh Samui: Part 2 – The Oryx Lounge Saves the Day

Once we had our Hilton booked, all we had to do was get there.  Seems easy, right?  Doha to Bangkok is just a short little 6 hour flight, and then you take a quick little hour and fifteen minute flight to the island of Samui.  Well, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

First off, I think I have learned that booking day flights is a very poor idea.  I’m a most talented procrastinator, and so trying to pry myself away from the office to get to the airport seems to be difficult for me.  I know I have enough time to get just one more little thing done…  That one more thing turns into 3 more things, and before I know it, Dawn’s sitting in a taxi in the site parking lot waiting on me for 15 minutes.  I should mention the parking lot has very little space, strong rules against idling taxis, and is heavily guarded by at least three men (about two too many).  The guards were lenient with Dawn (she brings them baked goods), but I doubt they were happy about it.

By the time I finally shutdown my computer and hopped in the taxi I realized that, this being Doha and it being the middle of the day, traffic was going to suck.  I hadn’t eaten lunch yet (see procrastination noted above), but luckily for me, my wife had the forethought to bring me lunch (including a much needed Coke) to eat on the way.  We certainly weren’t going to have time to grab something at the airport.  So, I’ve got lunch, but traffic is not looking good.  Then the driver pulls out of the parking lot headed in the opposite direction of where I knew the airport to be.  I wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, but he was headed in the exact direction that we try to avoid every day when going out for lunch.  And there was a long line of cars in front of him.  And they weren’t moving.  I had finished my pizza, coke, and cookies by the time we had moved about two car lengths.  Apparently, this guy was not working for a tip.  Nothing we could really do now, though, but wait it out.  Once he made the commitment to head in that direction there was no going back.  We just had to hope for the best.

It turned out that after inching our way along for about 20 minutes, the floodgates opened ahead, and we were on our way at a much more reasonable pace.  We got to the airport with ‘enough’ time to spare.  Although I had checked in online and printed our boarding passes out, we needed to visit the counter.  There are a few things we like about Qatar Airways, and there are a few things we hate about Qatar Airways.  One of the things that Dawn and I are not big fans of is how far the chairs lean back.  You’d think this was a great benefit, right?  Having almost the equivalent of an angled lie flat seat in economy?  Score!  Yeah, it’s totally awesome until the guy in front of you realizes how awesome it is, leans his chair back as far as it’ll go and all of a sudden you’re resting your chin on his bald spot.  Not my idea of a great way to spend six hours on a plane.  Not to mention trying to get out of your seat if you have to get up to go to the restroom.  It makes me think of the scene from Dumb and Dumber where Lloyd and Harry are riding on the motorscooter and Harry has to go to the bathroom.  Just go man.  Yeah, that’s how close you are with your neighbor in front of you when he/she leans his/her seat back.

Anyway, we’re not big fans of sitting behind people if we can help it.  Luckily, Qatar Airways usually blocks off the exit rows and bulkheads during seat selection on the computer, but you can request them for free when checking in at the airport.  Knock on wood, but I think that every time we’ve requested them, we’ve gotten a bulkhead or exit row.  So, it was well worth our time to check in at the desk, even with being on a somewhat tight schedule.  As expected we scored the exit row seats for our flight to Bangkok.

We were off and through customs headed to our gate in no time (E-Gate, which allows you to skip the customs nonsense, both when leaving the country and arriving, is a must have for any Doha based traveler).  Once we got to our gate, there were quite a few people standing around the gate as if some announcement had just been made.  We asked someone what was going on, and he let us know that the flight was delayed.  Approximately four and a half hours.  Four and a half hours?  What’d they have to do?  Fly in a new plane?  Yeah, pretty much.  Some mechanical failure was causing them to switch planes.  I know how these things tend to go (or at least seem to go).  There’s a mechanical problem.  The flight’s going to be delayed 30 minutes.  Thirty minutes turns into an hour, and an hour turns into two.  Pretty soon you’re looking at six hours, and there’s no end in sight.  At least they were starting off with a delay of four and a half hours instead of teasing us with a 30 minute delay.  Whatever it was, they knew it was a big enough issue to get a whole other plane.

So, there we were.  I had hurried (as much as a procrastinator can hurry) off to the airport only to find out I could have crawled to the airport and still made my flight.  There are many reasons I’m not a fan of the existing Doha airport (and will be very excited if the new one ever opens – I think we’re on year four of the delayed opening of the new one), and a few of those reasons are the seating setup is lousy and there’s not much in the way of shops or restaurants.  To be honest, I like airports.  I like both people and plane watching, but the Doha airport is good for neither of those.  Luckily, I had qualified for Executive Platinum on American Airlines last year thanks to an incredible American Airlines promotion, my Thanksgiving pseudo mileage run, and my trip back to the States over Christmas.  One of the perks of having the top status level on American is access to OneWorld first class lounges when flying on a OneWorld carrier.  I knew that perk was going to come in handy as we fly Qatar Airways quite a bit.  I wouldn’t have guessed I was going to get four and a half hours use out of it for our first visit though.

The Doha airport has two lounges the Oryx Lounge and the Privilege Club Silver Lounge (edit – now I’m thinking it might actually have three with a Privilege Club Gold Lounge in there as well separate from the Oryx Lounge).  I’ve been told the Oryx Lounge is the nicer of the two, but I’ll probably check out the Silver Lounge sometime just to see the differences.  When travel problems arise, I’ve learned that the first thing you need to do is to figure out your backup plan. To be honest, I had little faith in the new plane coming in on time and maybe even at all.  I’ve also learned that the best place to get the quickest service is typically the airline’s lounge.  The lines are shorter, and they put their best people there.  Originally I thought the Oryx Lounge was a Qatar Airways branded lounge that was contracted out to other airlines, but now I don’t think that’s the case.  When I asked the lounge workers about the flight situation they directed me to the transfer desk out in the main portion of the terminal.  They had no power other than to tell me the same information I could get from checking a departure board.

The Oryx Lounge

The Oryx Lounge – full of not so helpful agents

Dawn went into the lounge to get comfy, and after dropping off my luggage I headed to the transfer desk.  The lines for the transfer desk were a mess like any other line in the Middle East.  There were separate lines for passengers with and without status, but they didn’t mean much, and most people just crowded towards the desk asking questions at random people who appeared to be working there.  I waited patiently as I had no where to go.  I had plenty of time to kill.  Eventually, my turn came, and I asked about getting waitlisted or on the standby list for the 9:00 pm flight to Bangkok.  Our originally scheduled 2:00 pm flight was supposed to leave at 6:20, but like I said, I didn’t completely trust it.  Plus, a backup plan is never a bad thing to have.  It turns out they can’t put a passenger on a single itinerary on two different flights.  The lady had complete confidence in the 6:20 flight (that’s her job, right?), and since there was nothing else I could do other than buy a ticket for the 9:00 flight I left it alone and went to wait it out in the lounge.

Now, lounges typically charge around $50 if a regular, economy class passenger wants to visit (the Oryx actually only costs $40), and since I won’t even pay $50 for a meal in a nice restaurant I would almost never pay that kind of money to visit even the nicest lounges.  When it’s free, though, that’s another story.  It really is a pretty nice perk to be able to have a place with a little more comfortable place to sit, food to snack on, and all the Coke you can drink.  Especially when you’ve got 4.5 hours to kill.  Luckily, the Oryx Lounge is one of the nicer lounges that I’ve visited.

Seating Area

The seating area before the evening crowd arrived

It was quite a large lounge, and it was way busier than I would have expected.  The seating areas were adequate, but nothing special.  As it was the middle of the day I had pulled out my laptop to try continue to work a bit.  I’m not a big fan of actually working on my laptop while it’s on my lap.  It would have been nice if they had some seating with actual desk type areas for laptop users.  I guess I could have used the tables in the little cafe areas, but those were pretty full, and there would have been nowhere to plug in the laptop.  In one of the seating areas they had an Eddie Murphy movie playing on a TV.  While it probably kept some people entertained, it was quite loud, and so we moved into another room.

Seating Area

All play and no work – TV blasting and no desks to be found

There were two distinct areas of the lounge separated by doors, but anyone was free to be in either area.  Each space had a buffet and dining area.  Most drinks were self serve in see through refrigerators, but if you wanted something alcoholic you had to request it from a server.  The beer, wine, liquor was only advertised on a small 8.5×11 sheet near the kitchens.  With Qatar being a mostly dry country, it made sense.  Thinking about it now, though, I’m not sure how they pull that off as I thought only hotels were allowed to serve alcohol.  Maybe it’s a travel thing?  Who knows.

The Buffet

One of the two buffets from afar

All You Can Drink

Plenty of drink options, you just have to ask for anything alcoholic

The food was quite good, and I wish I hadn’t just eaten lunch as there was plenty there to have an excellent meal.  It was a lot of traditional arabic food along with sandwiches and breads.  From now on, I think I’ll plan on grabbing lunch or dinner there before my flights.

The Buffet

Salads and Meze

The Buffet

Sandwiches, Dates, and Bread

The lounge also features these napping chairs located in front of floor to ceiling windows.  Since the place was busy those were all filled up, but it’s quite a nice little feature – especially since the lounge is open 24 hours/day and Doha hosts plenty of overnight transfer passengers.

Napping Chairs

More seating and napping chairs along the windows

As with most international lounges, it also boasts showers.  While I love taking showers in lounges after a long flight (or sometimes a short flight), as this was my departure airport I held off.  Plus, it didn’t seem like that nice of a shower.  The lounge also had a Smoking Room in the lounge which was a first for me.  The Arabs love their cigarettes, even more so than Europeans I’m pretty sure.

Killing four hours in the Oryx Lounge wasn’t ideal, but it certainly made the delay much better than it would have been without lounge access.  As our delayed departure time came closer we headed to our gate.  Minus the typical line issues I mentioned above that are prevalent in the Middle East, boarding was uneventful, and the plane eventually departed on time (the second time).  Thanks to the long layover we had scheduled in Bangkok, we just barely made our original connecting flight in Bangkok, and were quite ready to explore Koh Samui.


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Koh Samui: Part 1 – Any Hilton in the World

This is the first post in a multiple part trip report of our long weekend trip to Koh Samui, Thailand. 

Koh Samui: Part 1 – Any Hilton in the World

I’m a sucker for a deal.  I really am.  And I’m all about maximizing value.  So, knowing that I had a soon to expire certificate for a free weekend night at any Hilton in the world, I wanted to find the most expensive Hiltons in the world to choose from.  As plenty of other people have earned these same certificates from the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, there is a lot of information out there on where to use them.  Conrads are Hilton’s top hotel brand, and so that’s where the search began.  While they are certainly a minority in the family of Hilton properties, there are plenty of Conrads in great locations to choose from.

Of all the Hiltons in the world, the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island seems to get top rating among bloggers and miles and points enthusiasts.  It seems that the Maldives is the Mecca of that crowd.  It’s the absolute dream beach vacation – top notch resorts only reachable by sea plane with nothing but crystal clear water and white sandy beaches.  It’s the ultimate vacation that only the richest of the rich can afford, but it can be done somewhat easily with miles and points.  The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is one of the places that miles and points enthusiasts flock to.  If Dawn and I weren’t already headed there next month on points, the Conrad Maldives would have been the easy choice for spending these Hilton certificates.  

Besides the Maldives, there are Conrads in Tokyo, Bangkok, Bali, Hong Kong, Istanbul, and plenty of other places.  Besides the Conrads, some other incredibly beautiful and expensive Hiltons are located in London, Rome, and Bora Bora.  Bora Bora is way too far away from us here in Doha for a short trip, so that wasn’t even really considered.  Dawn and I would both love to visit Bali at some point, but I’m pretty sure there are other inexpensive lodging options there that we could choose from.  Istanbul is in the same situation.  At this point in my life, I’m not extremely interested in returning to Western Europe because I’ve already visited many of the cities there (including both Rome and London); plus it’s an easy trip from the States.  Tokyo is on my travel list for sure, but Dawn isn’t as interested.  Plus, again, with cities there are always more options to find cheaper accommodations.

When choosing where to use our certificates I considered all of the things mentioned above, but it really was a pretty easy decision.  After our trip to Cambodia last fall we both fell in love with Southeast Asia.  Thailand was high on our list of countries to visit, and so the Conrad Koh Samui came in easily as the next best Hilton behind the Conrad Maldives.  The property just looked absolutely gorgeous.  Instead of the rooms being just rooms, each ‘room’ is actually an individual villa built up on the side of a mountain overlooking the Gulf of Thailand.  Each villa comes with it’s own infinity pool.  Of course there is a main pool where you can hang out, as well as a a small ‘real’ beach that goes out into the sea and a small ‘fake’ beach with lounge chairs in sand that overlook the water.  Plenty of bloggers had made the pilgrimage to the Conrad Koh Samui, and none had been disappointed.  The place seemed to exceed everyone’s expectations.  It didn’t hurt that the weekend I was looking at visiting, rates were around $700-$800 per night, so I was pretty excited about the value I’d be getting from the free night certificates.

Conrad Koh Samui Nightly Rates

Squeezing as much value out of those free weekend night certificates as possible

The only hesitation I had in booking it was that in all the reports I had read they mentioned how far away it was from everything.  Most people recommended staying at the resort the whole time.  I’m really not a resort kind of guy.  I’d much rather be out hiking in a forest or checking out a local market than lounging in front of a pool with a book.  I like the beach, but I like beaches where there is a lot of activity.  I want to be in the water swimming or walking up and down the beach to see what’s going on.  We were going to be there for 3 nights and most of 4 days.  I didn’t know if I was going to be able to sit still and do nothing for four days.  Dawn was very good with doing a whole lot of nothing except relaxing at the pool though.  Our own personal pool and the free breakfasts were more than enough to sell Dawn on the place.  I figured a good compromise was to book a rental car so that we had the option of leaving the resort to check out more of Koh Samui if we wanted.  Plus, I didn’t really want to pay resort prices on all of our meals, and I wanted an easy way to get out to those famous Thai street food vendors.  

Conrad Koh Samui

View from our patio

As the certificates were only good for weekend nights you can only use them on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights no matter where you are in the world.  I actually found that a little strange as the weekend here in the Middle East is actually Friday and Saturday instead of Saturday and Sunday.  While Dawn and I had each earned two certificates, due to the weekend night requirement, we could only string three certificates together for a single stay.  Knowing we’d want to use 3 of the certificates together, Dawn and I used one of my certificates back in November for a single night stay at the Conrad Dubai.  For this trip we could have used some of our Hilton points to tack on an additional night, but I needed to make this a short trip due to work obligations so I kept it to a three night stay.  I also didn’t feel much like burning 95,000 HHonors points for just an additional night.

Our 3 night, 4 day stay would allow us plenty of time to enjoy both the resort and whatever else the island had to offer.  While it was just a long weekend, we were certainly excited about staying at a place we would never be able to afford if we had to pay cash for the stay.  


Filed under Travel Planning, Trip Reports

Our Year in Travel, 2013

Yes, I realize it’s a little late to be looking back at 2013, but I’m a procrastinator, so this is how I roll.  Better late than never, right?

64,373 miles.  That’s the number of miles I flew last year (Dawn’s number is a bit less thanks to my extra trip back to the States).  I’m a numbers and a list kind of guy, so it’s probably no surprise that I know how many miles I flew.  Granted, the only reason I know that number is thanks to Tripit (for keeping track of all my flights throughout the year) and OpenFlights.org (for taking all of my TripIt data and sorting it out).  Half of those miles (right at 32,000 actually) came from my Thanksgiving and Christmas flights back to the States, and another 8,000 miles came from the flights I took to move to Doha.  With only a solitary work trip from Kansas City to Minneapolis and back (about 800 miles), that leaves me with about 23,000 miles that I flew for ‘fun’.  Even without all of those flights back and forth to the States, that is a pretty decent amount of flying.  I’d love to bump that number up even farther this year, but I don’t really see that happening.  Two and a half trips back to the States is some pretty serious mileage, and I don’t foresee that many trips back to the States this year.  Even if I was to make that RTW flight in business class that I want to take at some point happen in 2014 I still don’t think I’d get up to 64k  again.  It’s amazing to think that there are business flyers that put in over 100,000 BIS (butt in seat) miles a year, year after year.  Even I might get a little sick of flying at that rate.  Well, maybe, maybe not.

Ok, enough boring you with the numbers.  Let’s take a look at where we went.

My US routes courtesy of openflights.org

My North American routes courtesy of openflights.org

Prior to moving to Doha, Dawn and I got in some really great weekend trips.  The first trip of the year was a single day turnaround in January to meet up with some friends for shopping on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.  It was the first time I’ve ever flown in and out of my destination on the same day.  To be honest, it was a little ridiculous, but when it comes to flying and trips, the more ridiculous, the better in my opinion (typically not Dawn’s opinion, although, in this particular case she was completely on board due to the friends we were visiting).  The fact that the flights were free (maybe $10 each in fees) thanks to my British Avios stash made it completely worthwhile.

Our second trip of the year was a long weekend to San Antonio.  Neither Dawn nor I had been to San Antonio before, and it just seems like everyone should see the Alamo at some point in their life.  The Alamo was pretty commercialized, but we did really enjoy visiting the other forts in the area.  Flights were courtesy of my Southwest Airlines credit card sign up bonuses and the Southwest Companion Pass that I had earned in early 2012.  Thanks to SPG points we stayed on the Riverwalk at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel for free.  The property was beautiful, the location was perfect, and we even got upgraded to the lounge floor where we had access to free breakfast, snacks, and drinks thanks to the $20 trick.  Money well spent.

In March we took a pilgrimage down to Florida to enjoy the warm(er) weather, outlet shopping, and, of course, spring training.  We planned this trip as our delayed Valentine’s Day present to each other.  We much prefer travel experiences to gifts, and this trip was a lot of fun.  We only saw two spring training games – Rays vs. Orioles in Port Charlotte and Phillies vs. Blue Jays in Clearwater – but it was a very relaxing trip knowing that I was about to move to Doha in a few short weeks.  Thanks to a blog giveaway I won, we stayed one free night at the Westin Tampa Bay.  We stayed the other 2 nights in a Fairfield Inn & Suites in Brandon, Florida that was somewhat convenient to the ball parks.  While I love staying in luxury hotels on points, I’m a sucker for a deal.  And, at 7,500 Marriott points/night, that was too good of a deal to pass up.  My Southwest Rapid Rewards account and the companion pass picked up the flights again.

It doesn’t get much better than hot dogs and baseball.

Just before moving to Doha, we flew to Indianapolis for Dawn’s brother’s wedding.  The wedding was a lot of fun, and it was great to spend some time with family right before my flight overseas.  Once again Southwest took care of our flights, and I think we stayed at a Comfort Inn.  I can’t remember if we used points or paid cash, but I know we chose it due to convenience as it was close and some family and friends were staying there.

Looking back, it’s pretty amazing how much traveling we did in the first three months of the year, and it’s even more amazing that we didn’t pay cash for any of the flights, and we only paid for two of our eight hotel nights on those trips.  Certainly, there were airline taxes ($5-$10/each per flight), rental car expenses, meals, and other miscellaneous costs, but if you’re not paying for flights or hotels, traveling really isn’t that much more expensive than staying home.

My Europe, Asia, and Africa routes courtesy of OpenFlights.org

My Europe, Asia, and Africa routes courtesy of OpenFlights.org

While I mentioned the majority of my traveling (at least in terms of mileage flown) was done on my flights back and forth to the States, Dawn and I did a decent amount of exploring this half of the world as well.  While I’ll always think we should be traveling more (I’ll probably never be satisfied unless we’re traveling full time), we were able to visit quite a variety of different places.

I stayed in Doha for four months straight before traveling, and I’m really hoping that’s my longest streak of not leaving Qatar.  While Greece in July was Dawn’s first trip from Doha, my first trip wasn’t until we headed to Scandinavia in August.  It was just what I needed as it was cool, green, and the exact opposite of Doha in the summer.  While I posted about our 24 hours in Copenhagen, I had hoped to eventually catch up with posts on both Stockholm and our Norway in a Nutshell tour.  Getting back to it will take a little extra motivation as we lost almost all of our pictures from that trip due to an external hard drive failure.  The fjords of Norway were certainly the highlight of that trip, but I really enjoyed our short time in Copenhagen more than I expected.  We didn’t stay in any hotel more than two nights as our trip consisted of six different hotel stays in nine days.  It was quite a fast paced trip, but I was pretty excited about how much we got to see.  Thanks to a combination of Club Carlson points, Hilton points, and a certificate for a free Marriott night we only paid cash for half a night (using Hilton cash and points in Denmark) out of our nine hotel nights.  Flights were bought with cash.


Yeah, that’s us with our arms up in the air on Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) 1982 feet above Lysefjord below.

In October my parents and aunt headed over to visit for a few weeks before we all headed to Kenya for our nine day African safari.  Traveling to my seventh continent with my dad was a pretty cool experience, and it was even better that most of the family was there to enjoy the trip with us.  The camps were crazy luxurious, and seeing the sheer quantity and variety of animals in their own environment was an experience that I won’t ever forget.  Africa is high on the revisit list as Victoria Falls and Cape Town are both calling my name.  All lodging and flights were paid with cash (thanks, Dad).

Lake Nakuru National Park

The whole country was this beautiful.

You can’t live in the Middle East without visiting Dubai.  It’s a world renowned city, and as it’s only a 50 minute flight away it was a no-brainer for a short weekend trip.  We spent two days and a single night there, and I actually enjoyed the city a lot more than I thought I would.  The highlight for me, of course, was getting to visit the observation deck of the tallest building in the world (for now at least), the Burj Khalifa.  It’s amazing what men can build these days, and I thoroughly enjoyed the videos and exhibits on the design and construction process.  Watching people snow ski in a mall in the middle of the desert is so ridiculous that it was quite entertaining.  For our one night in the city we stayed at the newly opened Conrad Dubai, a beautiful hotel right on the main street of Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road.  As this hotel typically runs for about $300/night we burned one of our Hilton weekend night certificates.  As it was my first stay at a Conrad I had pretty high expectations that weren’t quite met.  It might have been that it had only been opened a few months or maybe my expectations were too high for this particular property.  I’m glad I only used one of our weekend certificates on this hotel.  Again, our pictures from Dubai were a victim of the fried hard drive, so most likely no post on our short stay.

The weekend after Dubai we took a 4 day trip to Cambodia and fell in love with Southeast Asia.  Beautiful countryside, kind people, and cheap food and lodging.  Angkor Wat has been on my bucket list for quite some time, and we were able to spend 3 days visiting the temples all around Siem Reap.  Our final day was spent visiting a floating village far away from city life.  A post to come on that incredible trip in the future.

Angkor Wat

Exploring Angkor Wat

Dawn headed back to the States for the holidays the weekend after we got back from Cambodia.  I joined her the following weekend on my Thanksgiving pseudo mileage run and actually didn’t hate myself afterward for booking such a short trip.  As much as I tried to plan a quick solo trip between Thanksgiving and Christmas while Dawn was in the States it just didn’t happen.  Working six days a week makes it difficult to take weekend trips.  I rejoined Dawn back in the States for 10 days over Christmas.  Doing nothing but relaxing at my parents house for the majority of the trip was just what I needed.

It was an incredible year in travel for both of us, and I’m hoping 2014 brings more of the same.  We’ve already got a couple of big trips lined up for January and February, and I hope to share those with you soon.


Filed under Travel Inspiration, Trip Reports

My First Pseudo Mileage Run

I started writing this post a couple of days ago just before departing Doha

I’m currently sitting in the airport about ready to board my first flight on what many people (including myself) might call a stupid trip.  I’m about to embark on a trip halfway across the world and back in less than 4 days.  I’ll be traveling a total of  53 hrs, about 37 hours of that in the air, and about 16 hours in layovers on 3 different continents.  That doesn’t even count the time I’ll wait at the airport prior to boarding my flights to the States and back.  Like I said, a stupid trip.  I’ve got my reasons, and I’ll get to those in just a minute, but first, here are the details (all times local):

Thurs Nov 28      Depart DOH 11:45 PM                   Arrive BAH 12:35 AM +1 Day
Fri Nov 29           Depart BAH 02:10 AM                   Arrive LHR 06:25 AM
Fri Nov 29           Depart LHR 09:45 AM                   Arrive DFW 02:05 PM
Fri Nov 29           Depart DFW 04:25 PM                  Arrive ICT 05:40 PM

Sun Dec 1             Depart ICT 10:35 AM                    Arrive ORD 12:25 PM
Sun Dec 1             Depart ORD 06:00 PM                 Arrive LHR 07:45 AM +1 Day
Mon Dec 2           Depart LHR 10:35 AM                  Arrive BAH 07:55 PM
Mon Dec 2           Depart BAH 08:55 PM                  Arrive DOH 09:45 PM

It's not pretty, but I'm looking forward to it.

It’s not pretty, but I’m looking forward to it.

It’s not pretty.  I’m quite interested to see how this goes for me.  I love to fly.  I really do.  Airports and planes are relaxing to me.  But at the same time, that’s a heckuva lot of flying in a very short time.  And the last time I flew from the States to the Middle East I was pretty much done with flying for a while.  And that was in business class.  This trip is all economy and there is even an extra layover.  There are really no signs that this is going to end up well except for… wait, there really are none.  I guess we’ll see.

So, when thought through logically, if this just seems like I’m punishing myself, why am I doing it?  Well there are 3 reasons, none of which alone makes this trip worthwhile, even in my slightly delusional mind.  Put them all together though, and it made enough sense (to me) to book that ticket.

First, American Airlines ran this somewhat ridiculous promotion that was supposed to be targeted to certain customers.  Somehow it was accidentally available to anyone who didn’t already hold status on American Airlines.  Anyone who signed up before they pulled the promotion got in on it.  It’s one of those things you sign up for whether you know if you’re going to use it or not, just in case.  The promotion allowed you to fly a greatly discounted number of miles to obtain status on American Airlines if you flew those miles between September 1st and December 31st.  As it turned out I had already booked both Dawn and my tickets to come home for the Holidays on American Airlines as it was the cheapest flight.  With that roundtrip ticket booked we’d already be flying over 16,000 miles which would give each of us Platinum status.  Usually you have to fly 50,000 miles in a year to earn that status.  There are some great benefits that come with Platinum status including 100% redeemable mileage bonuses, lounge access, extra baggage, priority boarding, etc.  So, all we have to do is take our holiday flights as planned – Dawn flying home for a little over a month over Thanksgiving and Christmas and me flying home for 10 days over Christmas – and all of a sudden we’ve got Platinum status.

American Airlines Promotion Table

Turns out this AA promotion was just too good to pass up

But then again if I flew another 14,000 miles over those 3 months, I could go from being a Platinum member to an Executive Platinum member.  There are some small advantages to being an Executive Platinum over a Platinum member, but the big one is that you earn 8 System Wide Upgrades (SWUs).  These certificates allow you to buy any economy ticket on American Airlines, and then upgrade yourself to a business class ticket.  All it would take to make Executive Platinum would be one more simple little trip back to the States.  Actually, it could be to any number of different places, but it had to be on American Airlines or a couple of their OneWorld partners per the promotion fine print.  As I knew I was headed home for Christmas I searched for a flight to Hong Kong, Australia, and all kinds of other places that would get me those miles at a decent price.  I soon realized that the best option to fly those miles at a decent price in a short amount of time would be to head back to the States.

So I began to search.  I stumbled upon almost the same exact routing that I’d be taking home for Christmas over the weekend after Thanksgiving for only $885 roundtrip.  It’s not a great true mileage run price in terms of cents per mile, but for this particular situation it really couldn’t have gotten any better.  Typically, I’ve seen flights back to the States from Doha anywhere from $1200 – $1800, so this was really an incredible price.  The fare was only available for flying over that weekend after Thanksgiving.

At this point I loved the idea of buying the ticket, but I still couldn’t totally justify it.  $885 to be home for only 40 hours?  Yeah, I’d get the upgrades to use next year, but would I actually be able to use them?  Hopefully, but maybe not since they have to be used on AA metal.  By buying the ticket I’d already be Platinum by the time I took the December flight.  With the 100% mileage bonus on that flight and the miles from this flight I’d earn $640 worth of AA miles back (if I value AA miles at 2 cents per mile), maybe more depending on when my Gold status shows up.  So, if I wanted to, I could justify it that way.  But, then again, who knows when I’ll be using those AA miles and if I’ll really get that value out of them (especially now with an impending devaluation coming – which I didn’t know about at the time).

The real kicker would be that I’d be able to surprise my parents for Thanksgiving dinner.  Sure it’d be the Saturday after, but we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving on that Saturday plenty of times in the past.  Being able to get the entire family together for Thanksgiving while I’m living so far away was too good of an opportunity to pass up.  Plus, Dawn thought it was a good idea.  If she was buying into my madness I pretty much had to book that ticket.  After kicking the idea around for about a day (slightly risky as the flights might not have still been there the next day) I booked it.

Once booked, I let my brothers know I was headed home.  I got them to set up a Thanksgiving dinner with my parents for the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Stephen was already working on Thanksgiving, so it was a pretty easy to get them to bump back the family dinner until Saturday.  As long as they had my parents all booked up I didn’t have to worry about them making other plans for the day.  Dawn was going to be in Iowa with her family for Thanksgiving, so she is planning to drive back on Friday to pick me up from the Airport and then drive to my parent’s house to surprise them there.  It’s a pretty epic trip in a lot of ways, and I’m quite excited about it.

Now in Chicago

I’m now sitting in an American Airlines Admirals club in Chicago a little halfway through my trip.  So far, the trip has certainly been more than worth it.  The flights in weren’t too rough, and I got a decent amount of sleep on my BAH – LHR leg.  Thanks to the new American planes in flight entertainment (IFE) I was able to catch up on 4 or 5 movies, plus a couple of TV shows.  My goal of staying on Qatar time throughout the trip hasn’t panned out so much, but I’m not hurting too bad yet.  I hear flying East is tougher than flying West, so we’ll see how it goes when I get back to Doha tomorrow night.

Surprising my parents was great, and their reactions alone were worth the trip.  To say they were shocked would be a bit of an understatement.  Getting to spend the holiday hanging out with my brothers, my brother’s wife, and my nephew, when we live so far away is priceless.  Being able to split up the time my wife and I are apart over her thirty some days in the States certainly made the trip even more worthwhile.  It’s pretty incredible to think what we can do these days in terms of travel, and I’m so blessed I’m able to take full advantage of it by spending valuable time with my family.

Well worth the miles flown

So far, it seems that my pseudo mileage run has been quite successful in multiple ways.  Lets hope these last couple of segments go well.


Filed under Uncategorized

Amboseli National Park – A Photo Essay

African safaris are all about the animals. We certainly saw our fair share of them at Amboseli National Park.  There’s only so much one can say about the beautiful animals we were able to witness in their natural habitat, so I figured I’d just share a few of my pictures with you.  If you’d like to see a larger view of the picture, just click on it, and it’ll take you to the Flickr link.  Enjoy.


































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Filed under Travel Inspiration, Trip Reports