Hansar Samui, a new beachfront hotel and spa in Koh Samui, Thailand

Article and photos by Elena del Valle

Hansar Samui Hotel

The Hansar Samui

After a difficult flight to the island of Koh Samui in Thailand, I exited the airport to discover it was necessary to follow what felt like a long, partly on an incline, path to the passenger pick up area. It was hot and humid and by the time I made it there I was sweating and desperate to leave the airport.

Room at the Hansar Sumai

My room at the hotel

As I pushed my luggage cart up the last part of the incline I spotted a friendly looking man with a turquoise polo short at the head of the line of people waiting for passengers. Later I learned his name, Sin Samney “Sam,” the Hansar Samui front desk manager and concierge. Sam held a sign with my name on it and a radiant smile that melted my sour mood instantly. “Pop,” the hotel driver was with him and while Sam greeted me Pop went to fetch the car from the parking lot in front of us. A moment later I was comfortably seated inside the air conditioned hotel car holding a refresher towel and drinking chilled water.

Beach View from the Hansar Sumai

The beach view from the lounge

That set the tone for my stay at the Hansar Samui. I thoroughly enjoyed my beach front handsome room with a covered balcony as well as the hotel spa, fitness center, restaurant, and saltwater infinity edge swimming pool. I will remember the hotel for the staff’s friendliness and thoughtful touches like the constant supply of mangoosteens in my room fruit bowl when they found out it was a favorite (I bought some at the village market), and amenities like the nightly home baked sweets and chocolates.

Hansar Bistro Sweets

Sweets from H-Bistro

While I was there I had an opportunity to sample the new H-Bistro Tasting Menu. The first course was perfectly cooked Seared Hokaido scallops with celeriac, cherry tomato compote and Riesling foam. Then there was a delightful Pan fried foie gras liver with rapberry yogurt and rapberry essence followed by a delicious Linguini pasta with, garlic, red chili, tiger prawn, Dutch Mussels and fresh dill. For the next course we could select one from the following three: Pan seared Arctic Char with ratatouille, eggplant and lobster foam or Slow cooked Bresse baby chicken with white asparagus, crispy guanciale and Black summer truffle sauce or Grilled Canadian Lobster with garlic butter and rocket salad. I was able to sample the chicken (a favorite) and the lobster. Although dessert was not part of the set menu we had saved room to sample Warm melted chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and Pineapple ravioli both of which provided a satisfying completion the lovingly prepared and artfully presented meal.

H-Bistro Foie Gras

Foie gras at H-Bistro

Chicken at H-Bistro

The chicken was a favorite

From Indra Budiman the affable general manager, to Stephen Jean Dion, Hansar’s executive chef, the restaurant staff who I met the day I sampled the H-Bistro Tasting Menu; to the front desk staff, the room service staff, the ladies at the spa, the young men in the pool area and nearly every staff member I had a chance to meet I felt welcome, even when our communication was limited by language.

Hansar Chef

Hansar Chef Stephen Jean Dion

You can read more about my stay at the Hansar Samui and the Luxsa Spa in Koh Samui, Thailand at the Simon & Baker Travel Review.

The Breakers, a Florida icon

By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox

The Breakers Hotel

The Breakers Palm Beach

This family owned and family friendly resort in tony Palm Beach Island in Florida’s east coast made fans out of us. There are many reasons to like the 140-acre property such as its handsome Italian design interiors and pretty rooms, beachfront location, two 18-hole championship golf courses, ocean facing swimming pools, spacious spa, boutiques and multiple restaurants. Our favorites: the manicured look pervasive throughout the resort including uniformed staff and the high level of service, often friendly and helpful, wherever we went.

Fountain at the Breakers

There were many comfortable areas to relax and enjoy the property

We enjoyed a midweek stay just as the season was closing and although the weather did not cooperate as much as we would have liked (there was a constant lifeguard red flag during our stay) we appreciated the calm environs. We particularly enjoyed massages at the resort spa, a sunset dinner at the The Flagler Steakhouse and a molecular gastronomy tasting menu dinner at L’Escalier, the resort’s gourmet restaurant.

Elaborate cuisine at L'Escalier

Cuisine as art at L’Escalier

Another favorite was a day at Beach Bungalow 17, one of several day rental cabanas fronting the adult relaxation infinity pool and facing the beach beyond. The bungalow provided quiet space aside from the crowded pool area and the private area with a concierge made our time under the sun especially relaxing. The 150-square foot indoor area plus a segregated patio was stocked with some complimentary amenities and plenty of pool towels. For sun time the patio had three outdoor lounge chairs and an umbrella.

A pool bungalow at the Breakers

Beach Bungalow 17

Inside the open air space had a ceiling fan and a tower fan, lanai, armchair, rectangular wood table, private outdoor shower, water closet and sink, binoculars, house brand toiletries (body lotion, bathing gel, shampoo, conditioner, liquid soap), blow dryer, tissue paper, WiFi connection, LG flatscreen television with satellite connection, Zenith DVD player, fruit bowl, ice bucket and mini refrigerator stocked with house brand purified complimentary water. There were also four types sodas and snacks in our bungalow for purchase (Snickers, Skittles, Reese’s, M & M and PowerBar).

A private getaway at the Breakers pool

Our view of the pool and ocean beyond from inside the bungalow

Krissy, our concierge

Krissy, our Bungalo concierge, made sure we had everything we needed with a smile

Although the resort facilities and amenities were within easy reach it was nice to know we did not have to do anything or go anywhere if we did not care to. Even lunch was easy.

We selected Florida Fish Tacos, Turkey Club Wrap and a side order of Avocado Fries from the Ocean Grill menu in our bungalow and placed our order with Krissy, a uniformed concierge who checked on us regularly. Within minutes our food arrived. In case we were still peckish around 3:30 p.m. she brought a styrofoam plate of frozen grapes. We wrapped up our day feeling lazy and relaxed and ready for dinner at Echo, the resort’s offsite Asian eatery a short shuttle ride away in downtown Palm Beach. Click here to read about our experience at The Breakers Palm Beach, The Spa at The Breakers and L’Escalier.

Duck wraps from Echo

The duck at Echo was served with flour wraps and crisp vegetables

PBS documentary explores forgotten Tibetan corner

Mustang: Journey of Transformation

Photo: SSA Public Relations

In Mustang: Journey of Transformation, a DVD documentary (PBS Distribution, $14.99) released earlier this year, PBS takes viewers on a 30-minute trip across time to the Kingdom of Mustang, a forgotten corner of Tibet. The Kingdom of Mustang is one of few places that maintain close ties to the original Tibetan culture. Actor Richard Gere narrates the short film about the history, traditions and Buddhist religion that define the Tibetan people of the little-known region east of the Himalayas.

“Because our land is filled with untouched monasteries from the 15th century and our government is based on Buddhist teachings, some say we are the last remaining Tibetan kingdom,” said Jigme Palbar Bista, King of Mustang.

Described as one of few remaining homes of authentic Tibetan Buddhist culture the Himalayan Kingdom of Mustang was isolated by geography and politics for many years. Its inhabitants struggled to survive, and the 15th century monasteries that defined their culture in the past had nearly disappeared from neglect. Outside funding and expert support are helping Mustang and its people reconnect with their ancient past by providing the financial means and training to restore the country’s collapsing temples and sacred sites and inspiring a new found cultural renaissance, according to the documentary.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the King of Mustang, and Luigi Fieni, the chief art conservator of Mustang’s ancient Buddhist masterpieces are among those interviewed in Mustang.

PBS Distribution is the leading United States media distributor for the public television community domestically and internationally.  Jointly owned by PBS (Arlington, Virginia) and WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts), the company extends the reach of public television programs beyond broadcast, generating revenue for the public television system and its production partners.

Click here to buy Mustang: Journey to Transformation

Totem, the new Cirque du Soleil show, more spectacular than ever

By Andrea de Gosztonyi and Douglas McRae, photos by Andrea de Gosztonyi

Cirque Totem

Cirque Totem in Montreal

The Montreal based Cirque du Soleil has come out with a new show for 2010 . This new touring show started in Montreal Quebec, Canada from April 22 to July 11, 2010, where we saw it. It then moved to Quebec City, Canada from July 22 to August 9, 2010. From there the show is scheduled to travel to Amsterdam, Netherlands, from October 7 to November 21, 2010 and then on to London England January 6 to 30, 2011.

Totem Cirque

The show was designed to trace the journey of the human species from its original amphibian state to its desire to fly. The stage evokes a giant turtle an important symbol of origin for many ancient civilizations. The costume designer researched nature including real animals, plants and birds and focused much attention on the human body and the seasons, according to promotional materials.

Totem Tents

Montreal was the backdrop for the Cirque tents

To read other Cirque du Soleil related articles see Inspria, a Boucheron, Cirque du Soleil jewelry exhibit at Montreal museum, Cirque du Soleil Beatles ‘Vegas show fun, and Italian clown themed show delightful. Click here to read more about our impression of Totem.