In Southeast Asia, bargains in luxury hotels are not hard to find
When newly married Marissa, 28, and Sean Cavenagh, 31, of Chicago decided to honeymoon in Southeast Asia this summer, they planned to stay in Airbnbs and modest hotels while crossing Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. But when they discovered the incredible deals to be had at some of the most luxurious properties in these destinations, they improved dramatically.
“We were going to Airbnb a place in Singapore when we saw the Marina Bay Sands was offering a special two-for-one night, so we stayed there instead,” said Ms. Cavenagh, who ended up paying $300 per night per room, a far cry from the $600-plus rooms normally in 2019, before Covid. “They then upgraded us to an amazing suite on the 35th floor.” Their suite is connected to the Sands’ famous rooftop pool that straddles the resort’s three skyscrapers like a flying saucer.
On the Thai island of Koh Samui, they spent 11 days in a beachfront villa next to the clear waters of the Crystal Bay Yacht Club Beach Resort for a total of $280, which is about half the daily rate for a hotel room. “It’s crazy,” Mr Cavenagh said. “We pay less for the best luxury hotels in the world than for a Red Roof Inn in the United States”
While inflation has made travel to the United States sky-high, the dollar is king in Southeast Asia. For example, the US dollar is currently worth around 35 Thai baht, which is 17% more than in January 2020, before the pandemic.
Tourism-dependent countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia are emerging from Covid lockdown to find that their biggest market, China, is still in semi-lockdown, and the rest of the world is not doing only become aware of the fact that these countries are welcoming visitors again. Despite easy e-visas and the lifting of quarantines and Covid testing requirements, airports like Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok look empty as planes are parked nose to tail on unused runways. To attract returning tourists, many of Southeast Asia’s top hotels, resorts and restaurants have slashed their prices dramatically from an already strong dollar.
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“We were only going to stay in hostels,” said Julie Jones, 34, who left her consulting job in Dallas to travel to Asia over the summer with two friends. “But when we see how cheap some of these famous hotels are, we’ll be happy to splurge for a bit of history and luxury.”
Mrs. Jones and her friends had just spent two days in the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, the gleaming Art Deco hotel anchored in the Vietnamese city’s French Quarter, where Charlie Chaplin spent his honeymoon with Paulette Goddard, and former President Donald J. Trump had his second summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It’s a glamorous place filled with bejeweled Hanoians and employees in sharp dark suits. Did they mind Mrs. Jones and her friends showing up in sandals and beach shorts? “They upgraded us to a suite,” Ms Jones said. Price: $185 a night, about half the price of rooms before the pandemic.
Unlike hotels, air fares have not stayed low. While it was easy to find round-trip flights from Los Angeles and New York to Bangkok for less than $1,000 in May, prices have now soared above $2,000, although Japanese carrier ANA, which shares codes with United Airlines, recently offered such cheap flights. like $1,489 from Los Angeles and $1,734 from New York.
Current visitors to Southeast Asia may feel less like tourists given that most of the people they are likely to meet in their hotels and restaurants are locals who, just like in the United States, have started to travel within their own country rather than abroad. During a recent visit to BKK social club in the new Four Seasons‘ resort on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, I was clinking glasses not with other tourists, but with a crowd of decidedly chic and sociable Thais. Earlier, across the terrace by the river at the bakery Cafe Madeleine, Thai schoolchildren and their mothers enjoyed afternoon tea and a bun; there was not another westerner to spot in the adjacent Michelin starred Yu Ting Yuan restaurant.
Across the river, to the opulent Bangkok Peninsularooms were $135 a night while the oriental mandarinthe original grand hotel in Thailand where Joseph Conrad and the future Tsar Nicholas II stayed was $345 a night, about 30% less than two years ago.
“It’s like Paris in the 1920s, when people like Hemingway and Fitzgerald left their middle-class lives in the United States to hang out at the Ritz in Paris,” Ms Jones said. She and her friends were about to leave for Bali. They were trying to decide between a $147-a-night yoga retreat at the five-star outback Komaneka in Ubud or a surfing holiday for $51 a night at Montigo Resorts in Seminyak, until it was pointed out that the seemingly permanently stalled traffic crippling the entire island was currently moving so they could probably fit in with the two.
“It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Ms Jones said. “We’re going to enjoy it while we can.”