Monday, April 17, 2017

If you are going to Sri Lanka, this hotel should be on top of your list

There are many pretty resorts dotted around Sri Lanka.  However, if you are looking for best of the best, the only one you should be considering is Amangalla in Galle.  Not only the resort is part of an Unesco world heritage site, but it also has the most luxurious room and best service on the island hands down.  The charming 18th century complex set within a 17th century Dutch fort used to be the New Orient Hotel.  It was taken over by Aman group in 2009 and it had never looked more ravishing since its existance.

Unfortunately, our experience at Amangalla started off on the wrong foot.  When we arrived, we expected staffs bring us fresh towels and welcome drinks like they do at pretty much every Aman we have ever been to.  Instead, we were made to wait at their lobby with no one to check us in.  Now if I was at Westin or Hilton, this would be fine.  However, we are at an Aman property and this is a very unusual reception from a brand that we love.  It was head scratching to say the least.

After 15-20 minutes or so, the temporary general manager (Pantelis) showed up and led us to our room.  He was friendly and we felt at ease after a long day of traveling from India.  Our butler then took over.  We had few requests including a question about air taxi on the island (its schedule and cost).  Our butler said that the air taxi is closed for the day so he won't have the answer until tomorrow.  Fair enough.  Then he proceed to ask me to remind him about the air taxi tomorrow as he may forget to check with them!  I thought that was the oddest request from a butler.  If he has hard time remembering (even though he looks like he's in his 20s NOT 60s), then shouldn't he be carrying a note pad so he can write down our requests?  I mean whatever happened to Aman topnotch service?

The room we were assigned to was absolutely beautiful.  It was a corner suite right on Church Street with gorgeous view of ocean from multiple windows.  The room essentially is divided into three parts: bathroom, bedroom area, and living room area.  The bedroom is not enclosed from rest of the suite so technically it's not a one bedroom.  We were able to tour quite a few of the guest rooms within Amangalla including spending a night at the Garden House Suite.  My personal preference is the Amangalla Suite on the 3rd floor as it has the best view not to mention lots of light.  The downside is that you have to climb 2 flights up and down everyday.  If you have knee problems, I would definitely not recommend this room as there is no elevator within the premise and the climbs can be quite steep (Modern risers are 7" high.  The ones here are higher and not uniformed due to age of the building).  There are plenty of ground floor rooms to be had and most have view of the lush garden if climbing stairs is an issue.

We decided to complaint to the new general manager Sean the following day about the shortcomings we experienced so far.  To Sean's credit, he made us feel at home right away.  We were assigned a new butler whom we love.  Had he been our butler the first night, I think I would had a very different assessment of this Aman.  We later found out that Sean just started managing Amangalla a day before we arrived!  Hence the lack of arrival reception and poor training of the first butler and the driver who picked us up at Colombo airport.  Sean came from Amanjiwo and Amanoi with twenty years of experience managing Aman properties and we literally saw him whip everyone into shape within 24 hours of our arrival.  It was a sight to be seen.  The guy definitely knows what he's doing.

All the food we had was well cooked and seasoned.  I would not say it's as good as one Michelin star restaurant but it was good.  Pasta was al dente and tea was yummy.  One night we had dinner with Sean and his beautiful lovely wife Lindsey.  Turned out that Sean used to be a chef before managing Aman properties.  They have wonderful stories to tell and just the loveliest couple to have dinner with.  Our waiter, on the other hand, doesn't understand the proper way to take care of his guests (our conversations were interrupted by him multiple times, etc.).  I can tell Sean knows he has his work cut out for him and I have every confidence that every staff at that restaurant had been retrained personally by Sean and is up to Aman standard within a month if not shorter!  One thing I like to mention is the Roti dinner.  If you have a chance, do it.  It's offsite and done in a traditional pavilion where they lit up the pathway with torches and candles from the main road.  You are surrounded by rice paddies and next to a lake.  It's very romantic and pretty.  You get a private chef and a waiter who are very professional and they serve you traditional Sri Lankan food which was quite delectable. 

The spa at the resort was absolutely gorgeous.  There are hydrotherapy chambers where couples can go and enjoy sauna, sit in a steam room, relax in a whirlpool, or dive into a cold plunge pool.  I believe there are two of them and they are free to all the staying guests.  You just have to reserve them before hand.  The treatment rooms were calming and zen like.  Each room came with a bathroom with shower/ steam room.  The water pressure was very good in the treatment room.

The pool area is lush and beautiful.  There are five cabanas next to a large pool where you can stretch out and have lunch.  Or if you prefer to lie down in lounge chairs to catch some sun, there are rows of them for you to do that as well.  While I was there, I saw maybe four, five people total so it was nice and private.  There was no need to fight over lounge chairs.

Aman is known for their local cultural experience offerings.  Amangalla is no different.  We had several which we enjoyed very much.  One was going to a tea plantation where we learned the history and process of tea making (this country was called Ceylon after all).  Another one was going to a cinnamon plantation where we learned everything and anything you ever want to know about cinnamon.  We even had someone showed us how cinnamon was harvested and how it was put together as cinnamon sticks.  I now see them in a brand new light whenever I am at my local spice isle in Whole Foods.  We also visited several projects by Bawa brothers as well as their own homes.  Bawa brothers are the most famous architect and landscape architect in Sri Lanka.  They were born in early 1900s and past away about 20-30 years ago.  Bevis Bawa, the landscape architect, is the older of the two and had a magnificent garden as one would imagine.  Geoffrey Bawa, the architect, is the younger of the two and he was the original proponents of Tropical Modernism.  His estate Lunuganga is not only a shrine of Geoffrey Bawa that one can visit, but you can also stay in some of the guest houses on the property!  Definitely a treat for his architectural fans.  Last but not least, your butler will take you around the 17th century fort and tell you the history of this important site.  It's interesting to hear that the original fort was actually built by Portuguese before taken over by Dutch.  Today, while majority of the people in Sri Lanka are Buddhist, most of the land owners of this iconic Sri Lankan fort are Muslims.  The fort itself while touristy, is actually very charming and worth a visit if you are not staying at Amangalla.

If you are coming to visit Sri Lanka, I cannot recommend this place enough.  It had been over a month since I was there and I can assure you that any kinks that had not been worked out before Sean laid his hands on Amangalla, it had been worked out and then some by now.  Sean had told me his vision for this wonderful resort and I have no doubt Amangalla will become one of those must stops for Amanjunkies in near future like Amanjiwo (which we have been) and Amanoi (on the to go list).             

Friday, April 14, 2017

A hotel worthy of its name: Taj Mahal Palace

Not to be confused with the Taj Mahal, Taj Mahal Palace is located in Mumbai not in Agra.  However, this hotel is almost as iconic as the world famous mausoleum that it was named after.  The hotel is full of old world charm that one would think it was built in 18-19th century during colonial time when East India Company ruled India.  Legend has it that Jamsetji Tata built the hotel in early 20th century because he was refused entry into the Watson's Hotel which was restricted to whites only.  Whether the story is true or not, I am glad that this luxurious hotel was built as its imprint to the city of Mumbai is as important as the Gateway to India next to it.

Originally the hotel had multiple entrances.  In fact, its old entrances are where the pool is at right now.  Currently the hotel has two reception areas.  One is located at the Taj Mahal Tower which was a new wing that was added onto the hotel in 1973.  This is the first reception one sees these days right after passing through the security zone.  The other one is fairly close to the pool area which is the original reception of the hotel.  Personally I like the old reception area much better as it retained its old world charm.

If your room is in the old section of the hotel, you can take the elevators next to the central dome to reach your floor.  The floor plan of the building is basically in the shape of letter C or a square with one side missing.  The corridor of the hallway is extra wide as sky light from the roof distill day light down to hallways below.  I imagine this was an effective way for the hotel to save electricity back in the day and today as well!  There are a total of 5 floors plus ground floor or in the US it would be noted as the building has a total of 6 floors.  The ground floor (in US first floor) is consist of public areas such as reception entry hall, bar, retail shops, and restaurants.  The first floor (in US second floor) is mostly hotel rooms with one exception: the famous Sea Lounge facing the Arabian Sea!  I was told many men propose to their girlfriends inside this particular lounge!  The second floor and up are all hotel rooms.  The corner rooms under the smaller domes are suites as well as most of the rooms in the top two floors of the hotel.

The room we stayed in is called Elephanta Suites #361(category: Grand Luxury Suites) which is named after the famous Elephanta Caves not too far from Mumbai.  The suite was quite spacious with a large bathroom with a free standing tub and a separate shower area, a bedroom, a living room, a vanity bathroom, a kitchenette, a dining room, and a sitting room.  The decor style juxtapositions old world charm with modern furniture.  I thought the suite was nicely done with the exception of sitting room area as there was a hodgepodge of furniture from many eras that crammed into a circular space.  It felt disjointed and off.  I get that the designer is trying to balance the space with modern and bygone era furniture but it just didn't work for me.  I thought making that room as a yoga room, or a library makes much more sense.  The best part of the room was the unrivaled view of the Gateway to India and Arabian Sea.  It was magnificent.  The Gateway to India looked stunning during the day as well as under a full moon.  The suite also comes with the largest exterior balcony of the hotel facing Gateway to India which adds to its allure.

Given how large the hotel is, I have to assume the service standard can't be that high.  Well, I was wrong.  The service standard at this particular Taj was as good as the Oberoi hotel in Agra.  What this means is the service standard is higher than most Four Seasons hotel and Mandarin Oriental hotel you will ever come across.  We were assigned a butler and he was fantastic.  Upon returning after a day of traversing through the city of Mumabi, our room was spotless and shirts were pressed to perfection.  Not to mention the last minute private heritage walk I requested and given by one of the hotel manager, I am thoroughly impressed by this hotel.  They even brought us two bowls of rose pedal foot baths without us requesting.  Knowing that our feet was tired after long day of walking.  It was a lovely gesture.

Food at the hotel was also delicious.  I particularly liked the Masala Kraft restaurant which replaced their French restaurant.  Their signature Indian restaurant has northern and southern Indian cuisine.  I thought my chicken curry was delectable as well as naan bread which I could eat all day long.  The weak link was the complimentary afternoon tea at the Palace Lounge which was only open to guests who stayed at suites.  I thought the scones was a bit dry and I wish they have more selection of sweets as well as salty food.  But the complaint is minor given how well I felt I was treated.

Overall I would not hesitate to stay here again.  I had thought about staying at the Oberoi Trident in Mumbai but I'm glad I stayed at the Taj Mahal Palace as location just can't be beat.  I love the view of the Gateway to India and the Arabian Sea.  I love that the private boat to Elephanta Island is literally across the street.  And lastly, I love the architecture of the hotel; it absolutely magnificent.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Camping is never so glamorous

When I think of camping, I think of going to bathroom in bushes, jumping in a river to take a shower, huddling in a sleeping bag, and eating out of a can for dinner.  Well, if all camps look like Amanikhas, I can get use to camping very fast!  My stay at Amanikhas was extraordinary.

The camp is about 3.5 hours away from Jaipur.  While it's only about 100 miles away which normally would take you hour and a half in the US, but in India, you have to deal with cows sleeping on streets, goats frolicking along the side of roads, camels pulling carts, and slow trucks moving at glacier speed not to mention most of the roads are about 1.5 car wide so half of the time you are not fully on a paved roads that are full of potholes.  Sounds like I'm complaining.  I think at first it was fascinating.  Then it got old fast.  But later I got so used to it that it became somewhat charming.

Anyway, once you arrive at Amanikhas, GM and other staff as well as your personal butler will come to greet you with towels and drinks.  Your butler will take you to your tent and we took tent #1 because it's the most private and it didn't hurt to stay in the same tent as Katy Perry and Russell Brand when they had their honeymoon at Amanikhas.

Our tent was absolutely gorgeous.  First there is actually a foyer area where there is a table with chairs where you can eat your breakfast, lunch, and dinner on one side and a lounge chair with floor lamp on the other.  The foyer and rest of the tent is separated by canvas drapes to give you privacy in case you have foyer area's canvas rolled up.  Yes.  They thought of everything.  You can roll up the "wall" and just have bug netting separate you from outside.  This allow you to feel like you are outside without bugs flying all over you.  Once you pass through drapes, there is a huge leather cushion square sitting area where you can lounge or sleep on.  I suspect a lot of the mechanics are hidden under this huge ottoman.  The interior is basically separated into four areas once you pass the foyer.  The middle is a huge seating area/ daybed.  On the right is your bathroom with a working toilet behind canvas draping, a concrete tub that's set into ground, and a shower.  On the left is your closet plus two vanities where you can pretty yourself up.  It also has a hamper where you can throw all your clothes in and they will wash it and return it the very next day.  You can ask your butler to press anything you want so you can look dapper on your way into the safari park!  If you go forward pass the daybed, you will see a soft comfy king size bed.  The tent has several cleverly disguised air vents on the floor that regulate temperature inside your tent; so you are never too hot or too cold.  If not for the canvas wall, I would think I'm actually in a house not a tent!

Outside these amazing tents (and there are 10 total), there is a spa, a beautiful pond, an organic vegetable garden, an indoor dining room, a library with a shop, a fire pit, and a flower garden.  Let's just say even though I am in a tent camp, I can be pampered to the Nth degree if I choose to.  Make no mistake about it.

But let's face it, people don't come to Amanikhas so they can experience glamping.  They come because of the tigers in the Ranthambore Park.  Amanikhas is only few minutes away from the entrance.  You are required to reserve a guide, a driver, and a jeep to enter the park.  You are not allowed to drive your own car.  We were given an option of private or shared jeep outing before we arrive at Amanikhas.  We opted for two private and one shared outing during our stay.  Essentially you are paying for 6 seats if you opted for private or you paid for 2 seats as a couple if you decide to share.  You may get one other couple or two other couples.  It's random.  The park has 8 separate routes and you are assigned a route that morning.  If you had been to that route the day before, your safari guide can ask for a different route.  Besides the smaller jeeps, there is also 20 seater jeep which is obviously cheaper way to do safari.  The upside is you are higher up so presumably you can see further.  Downside to them is you are sharing a car with 19 other people plus some of the route only allow smaller jeeps as larger jeeps are just too big for some roads.  Furthermore, large jeep is less nimble so usually once someone spot a tiger, all other jeeps will magically know and rush over.  Big jeeps always ended up being the last ones to get to where tiger is and always stuck further back so harder to see tiger.  So if you can swing it, I would pick smaller jeep.  Outings are divided into mornings and afternoons.  When we were there, the morning outing was between 6:30-10:00 and afternoon outing was between 2:30-6:00.  Your guide as well as driver will not be allowed to come back to the park for several days if they don't leave by 10AM in the morning or 6PM in the afternoon.  Thus you usually see jeeps running for exit 15-20 minutes before 10AM and 6PM.     

We were woken up very early by our butler.  He brought coffee as well as some pastries and off we went to our private jeep safari.  All the jeeps at Ranthambore is open air jeep.  We didn't bring thick jackets as it didn't occur to us it would be cold in India in late February.  We were a bit unprepared for how nippy morning temperature would be. Luckily Aman gave each of us a warm pack and a blanket so we don't freeze to death.  It's the touches like this that really separates Aman from other resorts.  I doubt other resorts in town give their guests blankets and warm packs when they go on these safari trips in mornings.  In addition, Aman also give us some snacks and bottle water.

We were lucky with our sightings during our first private jeep outing; we literally saw a tiger napping 40 minutes before 10AM.  We thought we weren't going to see any tigers... just monkeys, deers, birds, and crocodiles.  So we were definitely very happy to see a tiger in the wild even though it was for a short time and tiger was fairly far away.  Our second outing was in the afternoon.  This time we decided to share a jeep.  Luckily it was just two guests from the Sherbagh resort next door.  The lady of the couple actually was at Ranthambore over a decade ago and went on several of these outings but did not see any tigers.  Luckily, this time was different.  We actually saw two tigers.  One was far away and the other was up close.  She literally shed some tears as she finally saw them in the wild after all these years.  We were feeling quite lucky.  2 for 2.  Should we continue another safari outing?  Well, we decided why not.  We are here and when will be the next time for us come to see a wild tiger on the other side of the world?  We decided to go private again.  This time, we were extremely lucky.  I would say 20-30 minutes in and we spotted a female tiger napping next to a road!!  We were literally less than 10 feet away from this majestic tiger.  It was absolutely amazing.  The feeling of seeing a wild tiger in their habitat is exhilarating.  I don't quite know how to explaining it.  You just have to experience it for yourself.

Between safari trips, we spent rest of the time inside the tent camp.  The site itself is very pretty.  The pond in the middle shimmers during the day and there is a hammock where you can lay in it and read a book.  Or you can get a massage which is what I did.  The spa is also in a tent... well, a very nice luxurious large tent with multiple rooms.  Each room comes with a treatment room and a ensuite bathroom.  There is an organic vegetable garden one can visit.  Apparently that's where all the restaurant vegetable came from.

Speaking of restaurant... food at Amanikhas is just as good as food at Amanbagh.  While I was there, I did not see anyone ate inside the dining tent.  Everyone ate outside or in their tent.  One time we ate next to a pool while musicians played Indian music which was quite nice.  Another time we had lunch next to the beautiful pond.  With birds chirping in the background; it was heavenly.

A minute away from the resort, you will come across a women cooperative shop.  I loved this shop as everything was priced very reasonably, empowers village women, and some of the stuff are actually nice.  If you go to Ranthambore, I highly recommend you patronize them.

Overall, I was very happy with Amanikhas.  Their service standard is typical Aman (meaning very high) and food was tasty.  The only thing they can improve upon is their souvenir shop.  I wish it is bigger with more stuff in it.  The ones at Amankila and Amanjiwo are huge comparatively speaking.  I particularly like the store at Amankila.  I want to buy everything in there.  Given that Amanikhas is close to Jaipur which is known for their gem stones and jewelry, they should definitely sell lots of necklaces and rings.  Also it would be nice if they sell traditional Indian clothes.  I got some when I stayed at Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai.         

Monday, April 10, 2017

My favorite pieces from Spring and Summer this year

As we start to go into spring season, it's time to add to our existing wardrobe so that it will look fresh and new.  Here are few of my favorite pieces from the spring/ summer collection this year.


This spring and summer season, Pierpaolo Piccioli brings us few themes: panther, stars with camo, ID camo, cuban cigar box embroidery, and rockstud.  I'm not a fan of the panther.  He found the pattern from Valentino archive.  I just find the whole panther look unappealing.  Stars with camo was a them he had for this past fall/ winter collection.  Personally I'm not fan of the combo.  ID camo is interesting as you can go into Valentino and have them print your initials onto bags, clothes etc.  A good way to ensure people buy your clothes at full retail!  My favorite from this season by far is the cuban cigar box embroidery collection.  I find the color combo on the embroideries very pretty.   Unfortunately this is also the most expensive among the spring offering from Valentino.  Last but not least is the rockstud collection which had been going on for awhile now.  Still looks good.


Ever since Jonathan Anderson became its head designer, I thought it would give the brand a huge boost.  I thought the first season's clothes few seasons ago was very interesting and showed lots of promise.  The design proportion was new and just seem different from every other designers out there.  But since then, the proportion and design just gets weirder and weirder.  Luckily, the accessories are still quite charming.  I love the Anton backpack and various animal charm/ coin purse.


If there was ever a maximist, Alessandro Michele has to be it.  While I love the new direction where Gucci is going to, sometimes it can just get too busy. With that said, I love the embroideries they do on all of their polo shirts.  The tiger, bee, snake motifs all look very charming and new.  I also love his souvenir jackets.  I would love to get one from Gucci every season.

Thom Browne

His clothes doesn't vary a lot.  It's either so out there that you can't really wear them unless you are going to a Halloween party... think big spikes on super wide shoulder blazers that make you look like a Frankenstein, or they look like a normal suit that's slightly shrunken.  Then of course he pulls a rabbit out of a bag and give you tote bags that look like a dog, a shark, or a steamboat!  I mean what can you do with those tote bags?  Can you really carry them down 5th avenue?  Well, minimally I think they are at least interesting to look at in your office.       

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The place to stay on the island of St Martin

There are many islands to visit in the Caribbeans.  If you do go to St Martin, there is only one hotel you should consider: Belmond La Samanna.  This hotel has a gorgeous beach, delicious food, and good service.

The hotel is actually not that far from the airport.  The airport itself is on the Dutch side of the island.  The hotel is on the French side.  Even though it's on the French side, it's very close to the Dutch side which makes getting to the airport rather convenient... not that island is that big....

Once you arrive, you are greeted by a gorgeous hallway that frames the aqua blue water.  Staff brings you wet towels and drinks.  Once you check in, they bring a buggy to take you to your room.  If you are in the ocean looking back to the hotel, you will see the check in area actually sits on the highest point of property.  The hotel consist of clusters of villas.  The villas are usually two to a building.  One unit is upstairs and one unit is downstairs.  The upstairs one tend to have a large outdoor area and downstairs one is bigger but the downside is you have someone right on top of you.  Because I stayed in one of the upper unit, I'm not sure about sound insulation if you stay in downstairs unit.  We had someone stayed downstairs and I didn't hear a thing from them.  I would say the best ones to stay are B,C, D, E.  A is consists of several units.  Almost like an apartment building so less private.  All A to E units are literally right in front of the beach so very convenient if you want to go back to use restrooms, take showers, and what nots.

The finishes inside the room is nice.  I thought the bathroom was especially lovely despite the open shower.  I don't particularly care for open showers (seems like the concept is prevalent throughout Caribbeans) as water gets splashed everywhere but luckily bathroom is large enough that I don't feel like I'm drenching the whole bathroom each time I take a shower.

I remember reading some negative comments on Tripadvisor about the food at the restaurants so for several nights I went into town to eat at their local French restaurants.  The lunch I had at the beach restaurant was good.  I had a grilled fish which was cooked to perfection.  I was quite impressed as grilled fish can easily dry out.  The last night at the hotel, I went to their Trellis restaurant with trepidation.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  Having ate at multiple one, two, three Michelin star restaurants several time a year for decades, I would say the quality of food at this restaurant is on par with one Michelin star which is not an easy feat since we are in the middle of nowhere.  I'm a bit confounded by all the complaints.  The food wasn't cheap but it wasn't outrageously priced....I would say same with any other one Michelin star restaurants in San Francisco or New York City.

One of the biggest plus about this particular beach is that you can snorkel locally.  In fact, sometimes you have boats from other establishments that send people to snorkel near the beach.  While I did enjoy snorkeling at La Samanna, it didn't compare to Hanauma Bay in Hawaii or the Maldives.

Because St Martin is close to equator, you can really feel the sun rays beating down onto you.  I have been to other places that are hotter but sun wasn't nearly as strong.  So definitely make sure you wear lots of sunscreen. 

On the beach, there is a water sports center where they let you use snorkel gears for free.  If you are looking for motorized activities, those will cost you money.  They also have boats that can take you island hopping.  You can also rent beach cabana from them.  They have a few of them that looks fairly fancy and elaborate.  I'm guessing if you are not a guest of the hotel, this will be the next best thing to have a station on the beach.  Hotel also have several tennis courts which during my stay, I did not see anyone using them.      
Overall it was a lovely hotel.  Not the best hotel service I ever had but I would say it's good.  One minor complaint though, I do think they need to hire more beach staff as it takes awhile to get service when you are on the beach as there seems to be only two beach staff servicing the whole beach. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The only place you want to stay at when you visit Taj Mahal

That place is Oberoi Amarvilas.  This is my first time staying with Oberoi resort group and definitely won't be the last.  This hotel is the closest hotel to Taj Mahal among all the hotels in Agra.  In fact, it is so close that you literally can see the Taj Mahal from one's window!  Not only the view was magnificent, but the service was just as fantastic.

We felt the legendary Indian hospitality right as we exit our car.  We arrived around 7PM after enduring over 5 hours of car ride from Amanikhas near Jaipur.   The lobby of the hotel was just stunning.  The central oval dome is painted in zigzag pattern in gold with a massive traditional chandelier hung in the middle.  It was just beautiful.  Once you pass the central dome, there is a gorgeously decorated lounge area on the right hand side or if you want a drink, bar is on the left side.  Everything was in pristine condition.  I was just amazed how well they take care of the property... thinking the place used to be a palace that was converted by Oberoi.  Later I found out the hotel was built in 2000!  LOL.  Well, in any case, the decor give you an impression that this place used to be a palace.

Our room was beautifully decorated.  I love the peacock blue in the bathroom.  I'm sure Kelly Wearstler had been to this hotel a time or two.  Unfortunately they don't lit Taj Mahal at night so one can barely make out Taj Mahal  from Oberoi.  Nonetheless, the garden at Oberoi was lit up like Christmas tree (in a good way).

Following morning Oberoi drove us on a golf cart to Taj Mahal.  Yes, the hotel is that close to the famous Tomb.  Once we soaked in the gigantic white marble building, we head back to the hotel to check out rest of the facility.  I have to say I have never ever seen a manicured garden as pretty as Oberoi Amarvilas'.  It's the most stunning formal garden in a hotel/ resort I have ever seen.  The colors were just incredible and with a backdrop of Taj Mahal to boot!  The pool in the middle of the garden had been painted in azure blue which popped among the most gorgeous patio umbrellas I have ever seen.  I need one of that STAT!

Inside the hotel, there are several boutiques where you can buy stuff to take home.  Luckily most of stuff were of good quality.  Nothing I hate more is buying tacky souvenirs.  One of the shop I like quite a bit is a store that sells paper mache boxes.  All the boxes and pen holders are hand painted.  The work on them are very detailed and definitely don't scream tacky.  Some of them are quite cheap too.  Tiny boxes started around $10.  I know I would charge a lot more if I have to sit down and painted these boxes myself... Not that I can paint as well as these people.  There is also a store that sells stone inlaid objects.  In fact, there are many such stores dot around Agra because Taj Mahal is covered by inlaid stones if you look closely.  The skill trade had been past down since Taj Mahal time.  The way Indian does it is very similar to Italian's.  In Italy the work is call pietra dura.  In fact, I saw some table top stone slabs that could easily be passed off as made in Italy.  Anyway, the store inside Oberoi has some fabulous pieces with price to match.  The price corresponded to number of inlaid pieces and how intricate the pieces were.  The smaller the inlaid work pattern, the more expensive the object is.  Some large boxes can be had for few hundred dollars while a tiny little box with intricate work can cost over a thousand.  The store in Oberoi had objects under a hundred dollar to stuff well into tens of thousands dollars.  So a little bit of something for every budget.      

Hotel food was also yummy.  We didn't feel like to do the formal Indian restaurant and opted for the casual one.  The service in the casual one rivals any one Michelin star restaurant in the US; attentive but not obtrusive.  There were plenty of Indian dish as well as European style food.  I had an Italian pasta that was cooked perfectly.  I was surprised and at the same time not surprised.  It's Oberoi after all. 

Following morning we checked out early as we had a plane to catch in Delhi.  The hotel manager came by and asked if we need a to go lunch box on our way to the airport.  The only hotel/resort group that I can recall with this kind of service is Aman and Aman is a much smaller operation.  For something as big as Oberoi Amarvilas, I don't know how they are able to personalize this kind of experience.  They come off as they really care about you and want to make sure every single detail is taken care of.  I highly recommend this hotel to anyone trekking to Taj Mahal.  They will treat you like a royalty.