Friday, August 30, 2019

The best beach resort in Vietnam

Amanoi is viewed as the best resort in Vietnam by the locals.  But is this 6 year old resort really that good or perhaps it's just better than other hotels in Vietnam?  Having just came from two other Amans in Southeast Asia, I can assure you Amanoi is as good as other Amans around.

In order to get to this Aman, you have to fly to Cam Ranh airport.  Once you are there, the ride is about hour and a half through mostly trafficless road.  The roads around the airport are newly paved and you can tell Vietnamese government is eager to promote Cam Ranh Bay as the next resort destination.

The arrival ritual at Amans is always perfect; someone from the management along with my butler come to greet me with warm/ cold towels and drinks.  Then they proceed to take me upstairs to the grand lobby where one takes in lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner.  I thought the architect did a great job at breaking up the stairs into two section so you don't feel like you are climbing forever before reaching the top.  Once you get there, the reveal is a magnificent view of the Vinh Hy Bay.  If you don't feel like to walk up the stairs, you can easily take a golf cart up to the lobby level as well.

The room I booked into was Amanoi Ocean Pool Villa which is the highest category suite.  The description online said Grand private wooden deck with infinity pool and breathtaking ocean views.  The view, as description promised, was truly breathtaking.  Basically this room has the ocean and mountain view all rolled into one with a very private pool; the kind that you can wear your birthday suit with no chance of anyone seeing you while you swim in the pool.  The bathroom shower is set up in such a way that you can access it from the swimming pool deck which is perfect.  This suite is set back from the golf cart path that there is no way you will hear people talking or sound of a golf cart passing by.  It really is a suite that one can spend all day and never leave.

If shopping is in your blood, then Amanoi has the shop for you.  While the shop isn't the biggest Aman gift shop I have ever seen, it does have a lot of interesting and good quality things that I would not mind having.  Obviously all can be charged to your account and yes, you don't need to tell them which room you are at.  You literally can just grab and go.

As I alluded earlier, on top of the hill is where the grand dinning room is at.  The dinning room is actually set up into several different sections; bar, enclosed dining area, open air dinning area, and outdoor dining area.  My understanding is sometimes it can get quite windy at Amanoi thus sitting outside or in the open air area while eating may not always be pleasant.  I did not encounter strong wind during my stay.  I had food at the dining room as well as at the beach club.  Both places served good high quality food that is tasty.  Everything was cooked perfectly; nothing was overdone or dried out.

Amanoi spa is absolutely beautiful!  The spa is in a separate area from the villas thus in order to get there, you just have to call up a golf cart. With that said, there is one spa villa that's available for rent.  This spa villa is exactly the same as other villas with exception that in it's lower floor facing the lake, there is a dedicated plunge pool, steam room, treatment room, etc.  My understanding is guests can also rent out the lower part of the villa for half a day if it's not occupied.  The treatment room is quite nice and comes with a large bathroom with soaking tubs.  I had an enjoyable massage while I was there.

For the suite I was in, I was afforded a personal butler who basically take cares of my stay.  I'm unsure if that's true for lower category suites.  I thought my butler was great.  She took care of everything and all my requests were met.  I have no cause for complaint!

In order to access the beach, you can have a golf cart come to pick you up as most of the villas are right up in the hills.  The wait is never long for these carts.  While all beaches are public, there really is no way to access Amanoi's beach unless you are staying there.  The water right off the beach has some decent snorkeling.  I was a bit surprised at how much fish there are!  While it's no Hanauma Bay in Oahu or the Maldives, there is decent amount of fish to see....much more than off the beach at Belmont La Samanna in St Martin in the Caribbean.

Overall this new(ish) Aman does not disappoint; the rooms are gorgeous; the food is delicious; the service is Aman good; and the beach is beautiful.  This place reminds me a bit of Amankila in Bali although the facility here is definitely newer/ better.  With that said, Amankila has better gift shop and better waves for bodyboard surfing.  In either case, you can't go wrong with either Aman.  This is definitely one of the Aman I will return to again.                    

Thursday, August 29, 2019

A little paradise in Luang Prabang

No doubt the best hotel to stay at in Luang Prabang is Amantaka.  This ten year old French colonial resort was originally built in 1923 for Prince Born Khong.  In 2009, it was transformed by Aman into 24 suites luxury resort.

The placement of the building on the hotel formed an U shape.  Every single suite faces interior courtyard.  The center courtyard closest to the public area has a large swimming pool as well as lounge chairs dotted along the edge.  Along the edge of the pool, you can also find spa rooms as well as a gym.  Where the pool ends is where the suites starts.  The suite closest to the pool is Amantaka suite which is the largest suite available.

I stayed in the Amantaka suite and it was quite lovely.  I'll let the video do the talking.  The room is pretty quiet.  In no time was I ever woken up by noise outside of the resort.  If you look at surrounding of Amantaka, it is actually in a residential neighborhood thus there could be potential traffic/ people noise.  The pool in the backyard is great if you want some private swimming time.  The huge shower room is fantastic; the tile floor is heated.  As with any Aman, you can customize your bed to super hard or super soft or anything in between.

The food is delectable.  The chef hails from Montenegro although you wouldn't know it as he's very adapt at cooking local cuisine.  However, I asked him to whip up something I had at Aman Sveti Stefan and he was happy to oblige!  As with many Amans, Amantaka had someone playing traditional Laotian instruments nightly while I take in delicious dinner.  For the less adventurous eaters, chef's pasta is on point and al dente.

The spa at Amantaka is gorgeous.  Each spa room is as big as any of the suites!  I had several very good massages and would definitely recommend spa addicts to book a treatment or two.

Aman has a large and well stocked gift shop.  There are lots of selections from clothes to local antiques as well as lots of well made crafts by local artisan.  Shopping addicts will have a field day!  For those looking for night market type of experience, it's within walking distance from the hotel too.  

Aman excels at their exclusive activity menu.  Essentially instead of hiring a guide, Amantaka puts together activities you can do in Luang Prabang. All you have to do is tell anyone at the hotel when and what activity you want to do and everything will be planned out for you.  No fuss no muss.  There are two activities that I highly recommend.  One is take the private Amantaka boat out on Mekong River for few hours.  You will have a great time.  Scenery along the river is beautiful and you can go into a cave call Pak Ou Caves to explore.  The other activity is go to Kuang Si Falls.  The color of the water is unreal!  It's neon blue/green... kinda similar to what you see in Maldives/ Bora Bora except it's more green than blue.  Bring your bathing suit as you can swim in parts of the river.  

The only regretful thing I did at Amantaka is not staying longer.  While the temperature is slightly hotter and more humid than I typically liked, but temperature in February is quite tolerable.  I look forward to coming back to Luang Prabang again... specifically Amantaka.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Aman divided by five in Bhutan

Amankora is an interesting concept.  Typically one associate Aman with one single resort but in Bhutan, Amankora actually spans five different lodges in five different locations.  You have a choice to go to all five or just stay in one depending on the length of your trip.

Regrettably I only had time for four nights five days trip.  This means two lodges; one at Thimphu and the other one at Paro.  On Aman's website, there are options of 3,4,7,8,9,11,12 night journey.  Everything is planned out to the T although I'm sure you can stay for 5,6,10 days easily if you want to.  From my personal experience, I would say four nights is really the minimum you should do if you decide to go to Amankora.

The international airport is at Paro so your guide for your whole stay will come to pick you up.  My first night was at Thimphu lodge.  It's about an hour and a half away from Paro airport.  I would say the lodge feels minimalist as most Amans do.  The lodge was built to look like a Dzong which is fortress like architecture that's prevalent in this part of the world.  As luck would have it, I had a choice of first or second floor room.  I decided first floor was better as I didn't want to bother with stairs daily.  The rooms are adequately good sized.  In lieu of a couch, a built in window banquet is there for gazing out the window.  There is a large double vanity area where they pump heat throughout the day which makes washing hands nice and toasty every time.  One thing to note is that the bathroom is wide open to rest of the room thus if you are shy, you can request folding screens to gain privacy.  There is one large tub for soaking as well as in room fireplace to fragrant the room when you burn wood at night for warmth.  With that said, there is central air to warm the room thus fireplace is really more for atmosphere.

There is a central courtyard at this lodge.  This is the place where you can watch traditional Bhutanese dance.  I have to say the dance numbers are absolutely mesmerizing.  Again, Aman excels at bringing cultural experience to your front door.  It was nice to enjoy the dance with staff serving you hot drinks and cookies.  Another bonus is I had the front row seat as the dance viewing was only available to staying guests and I think there were maybe 6 people total watching a whole troupe of dancers.                

The food at this Aman lodge was very good.  I would say the pastry was definitely the highlight.  There is only one central restaurant for this lodge and it's actually quite grand.  The ceiling is double height which means the space feels very large.  Amankora had someone playing a Bhutanese traditional instrument while I ate (similar to the time when Amanbagh had someone playing flute when I was eating).  The instrument he played was called Chiwang which is a type of fiddle.  As you can see, Aman is excellent at creating mood and giving you a sense of place through sight, sound, taste, and smell.

The gift shop here is quite nice.  There is a large selection of high quality items you can buy for remembrance of your trip.  The decision at these Aman shops always come down to what can I fit in my luggage!  Of course Aman is also happy to send anything that don't fit in your luggage.

The spa is probably the weakest point in this lodge.  It is in the basement of the lodge and feels a bit like an after thought in terms of space and decor.

After spending two nights at Thimphu, I moved to Paro lodge.  Paro lodge is most likely the largest lodge compare to other ones as this is the place that typically where Aman guests end their Bhutan trip.  This is because typically you have adjusted to the altitude in Bhutan in order to climb the iconic Tiger's Nest which also happen to located at Paro.

The room set up is different in Paro.  The bathroom while still open to rest of the room, once you put a screen in front of the bathtub, it feels quite enclosed.  Again, there is no stand alone sofa but there is a large window banquet for gazing out the window.  My room had a lovely view of a 17th century Dzong in a distance.  

The dining area is much smaller compare to the one at Thimphu.  It almost feel like you are in a student cafeteria as there is no individual tables but several large long tables with chairs.  I have to say this eating space feels like a left over space where architect have to squeeze in a place for people to dine.  Sure you can eat outside with individual table and chairs but that's only doable depending on the weather.  The food is on par with what was provided at Thimphu but pastry was not as good.

The gift shop here is tiny.  Again, it feels like they figure they need to put a gift shop in so they squeeze it into this tiny space.  Given how much open space is available at this property, surely they can build a separate gift shop?  But then again, maybe they can't due to zoning law.

The spa is where this lodge shine.  Unlike the Thimphu lodge, Paro lodge has a separate large spa building.  There are two floors in this building.  The upper floor is locker rooms and reception.  The lower floors are treatment rooms.  If you come here don't forget to sign up for a hot-stone bath.  Your feet will thank you especially if you just went on the Tiger's Nest hike!

While I don't regret that I only signed up for four night stay at Amankora as I have another Aman to go to, this short five days had given me a good taste of this beautiful country.  My suggestion is come to Amankora but spend more than four nights if your wallet and time allow.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Where to stay in Kathmandu

Since there are no Amans and Four Seasons, or even St Regis and Park Hyatts, where does one stay in Kathmandu?  Frankly speaking there aren't many choices to be had.  With some trepidation, I ended up staying at Dwarika's hotel.  It was recommend to me by a friend of mine who had stayed there before.

There are actually two Dwarika's hotels.  One is inside Kathmandu and the other about an hour outside of Kathmandu.  I stayed at both but this review will concentrate on the one inside Kathmandu.

Because there is barely any paved road in Kathmandu with one street light that doesn't work, getting around Kathmandu is very chaotic not to mention dusty.  Thus location of your hotel is important as it would mean getting to the attraction quickly or sit in a dusty traffic hours on end.  While I don't know the traffic pattern of Kathmandu, it seems to me Dwarika, more or less, sits right at the juncture of major tourist sites.  I find each time we go out, we would usually get stuck in traffic initially but then quickly reach our destination after passing the main thoroughfare.  When we hit few destinations in one day, we would ended up passing by the hotel multiple times.  This tells me Dwarika is actually centrally located to all these tourist sites from my multi-day experience.

The first impression of the hotel is it's quite lovely.  Apparently the original owner, Dwarika Das Shrestha, picked up a bunch of architectural carvings in 1950s as people were sawing them off for firewood.  He decided to collect these ancient carvings and constructed a hotel around these architectural elements as people discard them.  Thus the hotel architecturally is a mixture of various styles which can look a bit messy but charming at the same time.

Every night around sunset, the hotel has a dancer who would do traditional dance in central courtyard.  I really enjoyed seeing that as it not only reenforced the local culture upon its guests, but also this is a nice way to calm its guests from the hectic Kathmandu right outside the entrance.

I stayed in the Heritage Executive Suite which faces the beautiful interior courtyard.  The room obviously can't be compared to Amans or Four Seasons.  It's very rustic.  But everything in the room feels very authentic and not put on.  Everything you need is there; the bed was comfortable; the room is large; the bathroom is almost the same size as the bedroom.  The only complaint I have is I wish bathroom is brighter.  It felt a bit dark especially in the shower area.  I typically like to hang up everything when I check into a hotel room.  Unfortunately the existing clothes rod couldn't take on the weight and fell.  It was quite funny actually.  I ended up requesting clothing racks as I'm sure those will hold weight of several heavy jackets and pants.

There are several restaurants available within the Dwarika hotel/ compound.  The Krishnarpan restaurant is a must for someone who's curious about Nepalese food.  From my understanding is that Krishnarpan is one of the best Nepalese restaurant in the city.  In addition, there is a Japanese restaurant called Mako's.  It felt like a neighborhood Japanese restaurant here in the SF Bay Area.  I would say the food is fine. Furthermore, there is a restaurant called Toran.  It basically has some Nepalese food plus other western cuisines.  Among these three restaurants, my favorite is Mako's as it reminded me of typical Japanese food I have at home.  I didn't get a chance to try the Fusion Bar or Kaiser Cafe.

I didn't use the pool as it was end of January in Kathmandu.  While I didn't test the water, I assume it's not heated.  I also didn't try the spa.  Although if the spa here is similar to the one at Dwarika's Resort, I would  recommend it.  There is a conglomerate of shops towards the back of the compound.  I think it's probably rented out by the hotel to individual shop owners.  I would say lots of interesting stuff and most look like they have been curated and not junky stuff you find around tourist attraction sites.    

One thing I was not happy about was I had asked the concierge for a taxi to take me to a monastery outside of Kathmandu. The name of the monastery is quite long and I had assumed there is only one monastery with such name.  Unbeknown to me, there is two monastery with same name.  The concierge failed to tell me and luck would have it I was sent to east side of the town instead of west side.  Because I had an appointment with a monk, I ended up being two plus hours late.  Later on I found out the concierge knew there were more than one monastery with the same name.  I'm not sure why he didn't notify me before I hop into the taxi the hotel found for me.  Later the owner (Dwarika Das Shrestha's daughter) came to apologize to me and paid for my dinner at Mako's.  I obviously would much rather be at the monastery at the appointed time than a free meal but I appreciate the owner took responsibility for her staff's failing.

Even with the concierge mixed up, I would still recommend this hotel.  Don't expect this place to be luxurious (as in Aman or Four Seasons' way) because it is not.  However, the service standard is as high as any Amans I've been to and I would gladly return to this hotel next time I come back to Kathmandu.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Is Four Seasons in Mexico City North American or South American standard?

While Four Seasons in general has a very high standard, I find the ones in South America not as polished as Four Seasons in rest of the world.  Technically Mexico City's Four Season hotel is not in South America, but given the Mexican culture is more similar to South America than United States, I had my hesitations.

At first glance, hotel lobby is quite lovely.  Clearly it was renovated not too long ago.  All the decoration feels very current yet referencing the past.  The rooms itself is also very nice.  I had a higher floor executive suite facing the beautiful interior courtyard.  I stayed here in December which is Christmas season.  Courtyard had a gigantic Christmas tree with beautiful decorations.  It was very festive looking.  The living room had a comfortable couch and a large desk.  There is also a round table with two seats which is perfect for in room breakfast.  The bathroom was clad in white marble with a separate toilet room.  Hotel provides bottle water daily for brushing teeth which is much appreciated.  It's not safe to drink off the tap water in Mexico City.

Hotel has several restaurants but I only had food at Zanaya which basically is a patio restaurant bordering central garden.  It was very nice to sit there because Mexico City doesn't get very cold in December thus outdoor seating is my preference.  The seafood I ordered was on point.  Everything tasted fresh and cooked perfectly.  I would definitely return to this restaurant next time I come back to Mexico City.

While I was there, Moet & Chandon had a soiree in the courtyard.  You can tell Mexico City society turned up at this party.  The dessert and drinks were free floating.  They had clowns there to entertain kids.  There was also a small chorus singing Christmas songs.  It was really festive and fun.  I didn't know anyone but definitely had a good time.

The service standard is mostly up to par with what one would expect of Four Seasons.  The only mixed up I had was the guide I booked through concierge who came several hours earlier than I requested.  Luckily it's Four Seasons and they were able to find another guide with a car in no time. So all is fine in the end.  Besides this minor snafu, everyone was very friendly.  My flight was going to leave later at night and I had requested to have a late check out.  Unfortunately I had to move because someone else had reserved my room.  But Four Seasons was able to move me to another room and let me stay until I leave for the airport around 4PM.  All of this without extra charge which I greatly appreciate.

Overall this is a polished Four Seasons that I would not hesitate to recommend people to stay here.  In fact, I've already planned to return here myself in the future as Mexico City is just too wonderful to come only once in my lifetime.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Does Connaught lives up to its reputation?

This hotel has been around since early 1800s but it really came into forefront of the hotel scene when French President Charles de Gaulle temporarily stayed at the hotel in 1940s.  If it's good enough for a president, a French one at that, then it's definitely good enough for me!

When I first entered the hotel, I had a deja vu experience... something just looks awfully familiar.  Later I found out that Ralph Lauren's flagship store on Madison Avenue in NYC replicated of the staircase at the Connaught for their own shop!  Kinda crazy if you ask me.  But understandable as the stairway is quite gorgeous.

The suite I stayed at is called Sutherland Suite which is divided into three spaces: drawing room, bathroom, and bedroom.  This suite is designed by fame interior designer Guy Oliver who clearly knows what he's doing; everything looked just right.  From the beautiful Adam-esque gilded plaster work on the ceiling to sumptuous furniture; there is no single details that was overlooked by this master interior designer.  The bookcases is really pretty and the gorgeous antique Chinoiserie cocktail cabinet tops off the room.  A minor complaint is the size of the shower which is somewhat compact.  I wish it's bigger.

The Sutherland Suite came with its 24 hour butler.  Given I just left the North Island, the butler service at Connaught, while very good, doesn't compare to my favorite butler in the world: Kiki.  But I am being unfair here... Kiki only had to take care of my villa whereas Connaught's butlers are assigned to take care of more than just one room.  I would say the service standard at Connaught is as good as any Four Seasons/ Mandarin Orientals you will find anywhere although being in England, the butlers here are definitely more formal.

Connaught has a Aman spa which I didn't get to try.  I believe this is the only offsite Aman spa anywhere in the world.  Given every Aman spa I have been to always provide excellent service, I have no doubt this one is as good as the ones at actual Aman resorts.

Restaurants at the Connaught are excellent.  I tried both Jean-Georges as well as Helen Darroze which has two Michelin stars.  At Helen Darroze, they bring out a set of marble balls where you can pick the ingredients you like and this set of marble balls informs the chef which dishes you want.  It's a very interesting idea that I have never seen any restaurant done before.  Since there is no menu, everything is a bit of a surprise which is fun.  I highly recommend it.  The Jean-Georges restaurant is more casual.  The highlight for me was definitely the strawberry dessert.  It is possibly one of the prettiest dessert I ever encountered!  I don't remember the Jean-Georges restaurant in NYC has a dessert as pretty as this one in the Connaught!

I thought the location of the hotel is quite ideal.  You are within walking distance to many landmarks in London not to mention close to all the shops one wants to visit while in this mega metropolis.  For all the Goyard fans out there, the boutique is literally diagonally across from entrance of the hotel!

I was very happy with my stay at the Connaught.  I thought my suite was gorgeous and service standard is high not to mention delicious food.  This hotel is one of those place where you can recommend to friends and family and know that they will have a wonderful stay.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The resort where William and Kate/ George and Amal Clooney had their honeymoon

No doubt in top 5 as one the most expensive private island resort on earth is North Island.  But how does it stack up against other cheaper places that are a fraction of its cost?  I will present the facts and you can be the judge.

In order to arrive at North Island, you will have to take a helicopter.  You can possibly take a boat but why would you do that when flying allows you to take the aerial view of the Seychelles islands in?  Taking a boat will be cheaper but at this price range, I'm guessing the only reason one wouldn't take the helicopter is because of the weather not of cost.  The helicopter takes off not far from the international airport.  However, it will only fly if it can make it to North Island and back to hanger before sunset.  So if you arrive at 5PM, you are out of luck unless sunset is at 7PM.  Before booking, definitely take this into consideration as you don't want to pay for a night for a place you can't get to.  Also remember there is only two lane street between airport and helipad.  If you land during the traffic hour (ie. 4PM) at the airport, it may take awhile to get to the helipad even though technically it's not that far of a drive. 

Once you arrive at the North Island, you will be greeted by the management team as well as your butler.  Our butler was Kiki who hales from Indonesia.  He's no doubt the best butler we ever had.  If you can, request Kiki as your butler.  You will not regret it.  But more on that later.  Once you arrive at the Island, you will be whisk away to see rest of the resort or directly to your villa whichever you choose to.

We opted for going to the villa.  The villa we stayed in was actually the villa that William and Kate stayed in.  Although my understanding is that all the villa is exactly the same except their "presidential villa" which is couple villas away from the one we stayed in.  The difference it that one is bigger and higher up from the beach.  And because it is at the end, it is the most secluded villa.  With that said, I believe there is only 11 villas total and most of the time not all 10 are occupied so chances of you rubbing shoulders with anyone else is not likely.  This is the villa that George and Amal Clooney stayed at for their honeymoon.  In order to get in and out of the presidential villa, there are some steps one will have to trek.  Although I wouldn't say steps are arduous, I prefer no steps to get in and out of our villa.  

The villa is pretty much open air except sleeping room.  There is actually two rooms that are enclosed.  One is what they called library.  This can also double as your kids' room.  In this room there is a sink, a desk, and sofa area which can easily turn into a bed.  This place also act as a movie/ TV room.  Right next to the library there is open air shower and toilet room.  So yes, if you have your kids with you, they have their own bathroom facility.  The living room area is basically a big thatch roof with minimal walls with sofa and tables.  It is where you can lounge and read or take a nap.  This is also where the dining table is at.  Next to the living room area, there is a small hut with a stove, fridge, and pantry.  This is where you butler will heat up food for you, get snacks, and drinks.  Next to living room you can access your bedroom pod.  The bedroom is enclosed complete with a vanity area.  It's quite large and besides the library, is the only place where there is air condition 24/7.  I love air condition spaces so I prefer to lounge inside vs outdoor living room.  The master bathroom is completely open with no walls and a thatched roof.  There are two areas for you to take shower.  one is open air and the other one is under the giant thatched roof.  Both are quite lovely.  The sink countertop is gigantic complete with two large mirrors.  You can tell the faucets are very expensive as well as the mirrors.  In fact, because the design of the whole villa is freeform that everything had to be custom built onsite which makes it very costly.  The biggest complaint I have of the design is that because bathroom is open air, you get bugs coming in.  Every morning when I went to brush my teeth, I would see tons of dead bugs lying on top of the countertop.  Yeah, not my cup of tea to be honest at any price point especially at this nightly rate.  The villa also comes with a large circular dipping pool.  They really should have a proper pool build for each villa.  I get the concept of circular pool for each villa as everything in the villa is designed as free flowing thus circular pool would go better with the design concept.  But the pool is too small to swim in it thus you pretty much can just sit in the pool and that's it.  Sure there is ocean just steps away which is actually my preference anyway but it would be nice to swim in a pool during the time when waves are strong.

This brings in another complaint of mine besides the small pool/ hot tub: the ocean.  I get that there is nothing staff can do about the condition of the ocean.  Sadly when we went, snorkeling wasn't available anywhere off the beach of the island.  The only snorkeling spot is only accessible during November/ December.  I tried to get into the ocean right off my villa.  I would say wave was pretty strong and I was knocked over a few times.  After that, I opted to swim in the hotel's elevated gorgeous public swimming pool.  Although frankly speaking it might as well be a private pool since I never seen anyone up there when I went.  When I'm on a beach vacation, I like to go snorkeling/ swimming in the ocean.  Sadly I feel North Island in July/ August probably isn't suitable for that.  The calmest water is the bay right by the dining area but sadly there is maybe one fish in the entire area.

The shop can definitely use some improvement.  There is very little effort putting into the shop display.  The way they display things reminds me of some shops off the street in Bangkok.  It's very surprising given how beautifully all the facilities on the island are.  Go figure.

Given how far we are from civilization, food is good.  However, not nearly as good as say Cheval Blanc Randheli's Le 1947 which is on an equally remote island.  With that said, CB has a lot more villas and most likely have more resources (LVMH) and manpower compare to North Island.  The chef came from Test Kitchen and I would say the food was quite competent as long as you tell him you want him to cook Test Kitchen-esque type of food.  Otherwise you are going to get the Four Seasons good enough level type of food.

The island has tons of giant tortoise walking everywhere.  They are just a delight to see and pet.  My favorites are Brutus and Patrick which if I remember correctly are around 80 years old.  They also have a lot of turtles that would come up to the beach to lay eggs.  In fact, the night I arrived a turtle came up to the beach in front of my villa to lay eggs and you can clearly see the track from ocean to right outside of my villa then back to ocean.  It was very cool to see this.  Staff would come and mark where the eggs were laid.

North Island has a nice spa.  You can walk up a hill or drive your own buggy up the hill.  It's next to the stunning free form public swimming pool.  The spa is essentially a huge room with massage beds and a enclosed area where you can take shower, etc.  The interior decor is very similar to the villa but the view of the ocean is better since you are elevated.

North Island has two bars.  One is next to the main dining area.  The other one is on the opposite end of the island.  It's a cute little bar.  Sadly the larger one that was there before got burned down sometimes last year so the one I saw was a temporary one.  Still, I think they did a pretty good job with the temporary bar.  The best part of this side of the beach is the sunset.  The villas are all on the sunrise part of the island.  So in order to see the sunset, you have to drive your buggy and come to the opposite side of the island to see sunset.  The sunset here is spectacular.  The color of the sunset is perhaps the best I have ever seen and I've been to pretty much all the Polynesian islands in the Pacific.  I will let the #nofilter photo do the talking.

The very best part of the North Island is undoubtedly Kiki.  He's my butler and he's always around to take care of every last detail.  For example he knows I am going to the private beach one afternoon, so he went and did some scouting to make sure it is accessible couple hours before hand (sometimes it's not due to tide).  Because it wasn't accessible from the normal route, one has to do some climbing and he personally recorded the route using his cellphone and showed it to me to see if I'm ok with trekking to this private beach.  Another example would be I wanted to gift a stuff animal to another couple's kid I met on the island.  Unfortunately the boutique on North Island did not sell such thing.  One mention to the management, a stuff turtle magically appeared the very next day.  It was flown in via helicopter.  The only charge on my bill was the stuff animal.  Now if that's not above and beyond personal service, I don't know what is.  In a nutshell, this resort has the highest service standard I have ever received from any resort hands down.  

I think this is a perfect place for someone who wants anonymity especially people from Europe given it's really not that far.  I didn't see any movie stars or politicians here but I did meet a guy who was the CFO of a well known Fortune 500 company.  I'm sure it's better to vacation on a very private island out of probing eyes of public for these type of people.  With most vacationers though, I'm not sure if this kind of extreme privacy is needed.  

Sadly, I read that North Island is now being managed by Marriott.  Enough said.  I feel bad for the staff there.  I'm sure in no time Marriott will think of ways to maximize the return by building many more structures on the island and getting loads more vacationers onto this paradise.  Glad I get to experience it before it is ruined.  Needless to say I will not return to this place now that it is being managed by Marriott.  Just about everyone I spoke to whom has been here was aghast that Marriott is taking over.