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Alphabet soup, the three-syllable rule, and a bunch of new escapes

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaWhat's in a name? Everything, as these 2022 arrivals claw their way to the top. We look more closely at style and stodge.

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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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New 2022 luxury hotels review - LUX Chongzuo Guangxi

LUX Chongzuo Guangxi serves up scenic views of the river from most of its contemporary rooms that come with understated luxury trimmings. Beautiful seclusion.

WITH the arrival of The Fullerton, Ocean Park Hotel Hong Kong, an economy of words in the nomenclature of fine lodgings is back. This it to be applauded. There is nary a hint of spa, beach, resort, family, kids, wellness, holistic, or that infernal 'curated' — words that have come to be associated with the ho-hum scramble to mollycoddle roving bots that feast on search keywords.

The alphanumeric listing race has already been won hands down by chart-topper A1 Resort. In Seoul I had the chance to stay at the aFIRST Hotel in Myeongdong, which not only popped up right on top of the booking options but offered clean beds, amazingly low rates and a superb location. That just leaves emotive names.

Theorists believe that everything is in the name. Using ramrod straight first letters like an I, a T or an F, denote prudence, business, speed and efficiency, while rounded vowels like an O hint at comfort, leisure and decadence. Three syllable names roll off the tongue with ease and are much prized. Fullerton appears to have all the right credentials then.

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Some turn to name generators, leaving it to artificial intelligence to come up with the goods. This seems a recipe for inarticulate mayhem. We test ran 'Hong Kong hotel' on Business Name Generator, which spewed out some thought provoking names — Kongonus, Million Hong, Kongops, Goddess Hotel, Konglada and Opulent Kong.

Buahan Banyan Tree Escape, Ubud, Bali - the 'naked experience' - new Bali natural resorts

Buahan, A Banyan Tree Escape, Bali, is close to Ubud and offers an all-natural 'naked experience' sans walls and windows and doors. Not for the faint hearted. Romantic and heady.

These are fine choices I'm sure but they hew closer to the 'upside down' world of monsters and demogorgons in the Netflix series Stranger Things than a call to fine hospitality and gracious service. Konglada or Kongonus seem more appropriate for a summit between Big Foot, the Yeti, and King Kong.

{Despite its stylish offerings, The Standard has plumped for a zany red vibe sometimes bordering on Air-Asia-meets-McDonald's ...

But back to the aforementioned The Fullerton, Ocean Park Hotel Hong Kong (18 July 2022), whose unprepossessing contours fully occupy a curving oceanfront plot. It offers a sun-drenched pool and 425 light-filled rooms starting at 35sq m. A colourful Panda Party Room weighs in at 42sq m while the Mermaid Princess Room, of similar proportions, is packed with whimsy and marine motifs. Kids may prefer the Hong Kong Safari Room or perhaps the Rainbow Unicorn Room while dads pitch for a 121sq m Pool Suite. The business, conferences and weddings sets are wooed no less spectacularly with pillar-free ballrooms and function spaces that can accommodate from 200 to 550 persons for a cocktail. Spa till your shine, dine, and turn the family loose at Ocean Park next door.

The Fullerton Ocean Park Hong Kong - Mermaid Princess Room - new Hoong Kong family hotels review

Mermaid Princess Room at The Fullerton Ocean Park Hong Kong is a riot of marine motifs and colour. With Ocean Park next door this place is a treat for families and kids.

The Silveri Hong Kong MGallery employs the definite article 'The' to conjure some pride and poise for its bland modernist exterior (seemingly out of the '80s airport hotel design manual). The minimalist earth-tone interiors however are airy and functional. The hotel offers Luxury Rooms in beige at 30sq m with a bathtub and rainforest shower. Classic Rooms start at 26sq m. There are Family Rooms and a Pool Terrace Suite. Expect limited space for a board meeting, a gym, a 'yoga' garden, and an alfresco pool. Located in the new Lantau township of Tung Chung, this Accor offering (one of its 35 burgeoning brands) is close to the airport with complimentary shuttles. Expect competitive staycation deals.

Meanwhile on an idyllic Vietnam beach in the far south, the Regent Phu Quoc (19 April 2022) promises large airy suites and villas, some beachfront and a 308-capacity ballroom that will handle small corporate meetings with aplomb but may be a tad austere for weddings, which are normally rolled out seaside. Available are snorkelling, kayaking and windsurfing options galore and a spa for a "heightened state of consciousness". Before you panic, let us assure you there are fine backrubs too.

New Vietnam luxury resorts review - Regent Phu Quoc

The Regent Phu Quoc is a formulaic mega hotel in a straightline grid format that still manages to toss up some unexpected views and excitement.

This is an unabashed muscle megaresort combining big hotel blocks with white cubist constructs by the beach. The overall scheme is frumpy and lacking in imagination but is saved by some nice interior work. It will be familiar to many road warriors with its functional grid layout.

Regent was founded in Hong Kong by the visionary hotelier Adrian Zecha (who went on to start Aman Resorts) along with Georg Rafael and Robert Burns, an idea well ahead of its times. Perched on a promontory on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, Regent Hong Kong became a marque brand with its vast glass lobby frontage for unobstructed Victoria Harbour views and elegant burgundy stone interiors. It returns after a long refit under the InterContinental Hotels Group in late 2022. Its acquisition as a luxe brand by IHG raised eyebrows among many purists who felt the Regent DNA would not survive this corporate gestation. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Meanwhile, food boffins will be pleased to learn the excellent Michelin star Yan Toh Heen lives on serving up Cantonese treats though the Alain Ducasse offering has vanished.

The Standard Bangkok, Mahanakhon

The Standard Bangkok, Mahanakhon pierces the sky like some futuristic frantically undressing skyscraper tossing off clothes - as in the missing elements that disappear into the sky. Long in the making.

In Thailand's City of Angels, right across from the Chong Nonsi station is the much touted and long-delayed Bangkok luxury addition, The Standard Bangkok, Mahanakhon (11 May 2022). This vertiginous eyrie with Cinemascope views and a glass-floor deck, the Mahanakhon Skywalk, started out as The Bangkok EDITION. This chest-out Marriott iteration folded by mid 2018 to be supplanted by the Orient Express Hotel at King Power Mahanakhon — from Accor. Over the course of a few months, shockingly expensive objets d'art came and went along with dejected management companies carting their assorted impedimenta. Among the disappeared was a US$2m Jaume Plensa sculpture that once guarded the entrance. The art work was considered a bad omen by some.

A storied start then for The Standard, which is housed in a 78-storey mixed-use reflective blue-glass tower that soars into the skies with its signature cutaway design that appears from some angles like boxes stacked up at random. The hotel serves up 155 keys with bundles of space for a big corporate conference carouse. Pick the Penthouse if you need space. Or the Bigger Penthouse. Nibble at The Standard Grill, Mott 32 (serving arty and aromatic Cantonese morsels from Hong Kong) or the Mexican Ojo.

Park Hyatt Jakarta - new lucury hotel review

Park Hyatt Jakarta ticks all the boxes without making waves in its usual understated manner. Expect vertiginous views and pastel woody interiors.

The group boasts a colourful beach property two hours from Bangkok, The Standard Hua Hin. Its Singapore property arrives 2023 on buttoned-down Orange Grove Road. Despite its stylish offerings, The Standard has a zesty vibe sometimes bordering on Air-Asia-meets-McDonald's as it strives to entertain. Its websites are splashed with lipstick red and feature an inverted logo.

The arrival of the 220-room Park Hyatt Jakarta (July 2022) finally sees all the group's major flagships domiciled in the country. An Andaz arrived a year ago on Bali's Sanur Beach. Housed in a modern glass tower the hotel is a tad reminiscent of its Seoul sibling with understated style, soft lighting, and pastel greys mixed with rich woody tones.

A Park Suite King weighs in at 87sq m while a Park Suite Deluxe is a whopping 127sq m. Think board meetings, innovative Japanese dining, stylish weddings, corporate events, product launches, and grand views. The property occupies the top floors of the Park Tower in Menteng, Central Jakarta.

New Chiang Mai resorts review - Melia Chiang Mai

Melia Chiang Mai offers space for everything from wellness treatments to weddings and conferences. This is a high-rise construct with open views in the heart of the city.

In the far north of Thailand, all the way from Spain, comes the soaring Meliá Chiang Mai, smack in the city centre with views best savoured from the rooftop Mai The Sky Bar looking over the Ping River.

Expect a pool, gym, kids’ club, and an inviting YHI Spa. The rooms are neat if standard, perhaps needing a pinch of colour, with wood underfoot, while the lobby is suitably marbled. Family Rooms offer 54sq m of rumpus space. The hotel is pitched as a spot for weddings and conferences.

In Bali, a 40-minute drive from Ubud, is the Buahan, a Banyan Tree Escape (14 June 2022), an upscale rustic construct with lashings of gleaming timber and gauzy white curtains draped across its open frontage. Nestled in a less travelled valley it features the startlingly termed "naked experience" that thankfully translates as no doors, windows or walls.

You are open to the elements in a sultry communion with nature and perhaps suddenly colonies of panting hikers on a neighbouring ridge, peering through powerful binoculars. Find 16 balés (villas) at this adults-only bolthole with its signature spa and locavore cuisine.

La Reserve 1785 Bali - four poster beds and privacy

La Reserve 1785 Bali at Canggu offers plenty of room with an old-world feel, four poster beds and French design. It is a few hundred yards from the beach and its La Brisa Beach Club.

Closer to the beach but not on it, is the La Reserve 1785 Bali at Canggu (August 2022) a French designed all-villa escape with a an old world feel, roomy interiors, four-poster beds, woody floors, thatch roofs and ample natural light. French flair and mystique is evident in its directions for its Secret Spa, set in the Jardins des Moines... A buggy shuttles guests a few hundred yards to the rustic and canopied La Brisa Beach Club facing thundering breakers. A spot for wind in the hair. Or you might walk to the beach. Set away from the beach bustle this hideaway is a bit more private. Brush up on your French. You may have occasion for a C'est Magnifique!

The Aramness Gir safari lodge at the very edge of the Sasan Gir National Park, Gujarat, India, is all about seclusion, jungle exploration, organic food, spa menus, and a kids' programme that includes fun and messy cooking classes. Expect just 18 villas and a pool without eye-stinging chlorine. Gir is home to the Asiatic lion and offers plenty of birdlife with leopard sightings, antelope, deer, and crocodiles. Efforts are underway to reintroduce to India the closest siblings of the Asiatic cheetahs (that became extinct around 1950) from Namibia. If that project succeeds, perhaps some of these spotted Ferrari cats may be eyeing your breakfast here.

Aramness Gir - India safari lodge review, Gujarat safari holidays

Aramness Gir is an unusually relaxed yet upscale Indian safari lodge at the edge of a lion sanctuary in Gujarat. There are just 18 villas here and food is grown locally.

Also set in the wilds, but this time right out of a Chinese painting, is the stylish and serene LUX Chongzuo Guangxi, on the Mingshi River. This escape in Southern China, close to the Vietnam border, is a modernist construct, if unobtrusively so, perched on the edge of a meandering river and surrounded by stunning karst outcrops that will have cameras snapping incessantly. The architecture is thoughtful and welcoming of light with wraparound views, stylish rooms and pampering amenities.

Though its already been around over a year, the stately and understated 46-key beachfront Azerai Ke Ga Bay — that took over and refreshed the former Princess D’Annam Resort & Spa — a three-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City, is a standout worthy of any willing wallet. This is an alluring white-and-pastel colonial Gone With The Wind escape. Enjoy surf, a vast beach, sand dunes and an old lighthouse.

The 130sq m Villas are spacious and uncluttered, some with private pools. The newish PGA NovaWorld Phan Thiet Golf Course is a manageable 20km half-hour drive from here. The Phan Thiet and Mui Ne resort area itself is about an hour's drive north.

Elsewhere, watch for The Singapore EDITION (2024); the Mondrian Singapore Duxton (2023); a second Raffles in Singapore on Sentosa (and the Raffles Udaipur on Udai Sagar Lake); Six Senses Fort Barwara, Rajasthan; the Covid delayed Mandarin Oriental Saigon in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City; and the 146-key Fusion Original Saigon Centre, a new brand by the fun and feisty Fusion group.

But what happened to those alphabetical listings and the aFIRST Hotel?

Azerai Ke Ga Bay by Adrian Zecha, a new Vietnam luxury resort reviewed

Azerai Ke Ga Bay - from Aman-founder Adrian Zecha - is the remodelled Princess D’Annam Resort & Spa. This beachfront colonial getaway is about a three-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City and an hour from Phan Thiet.

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