Brunch: The Rug (Beijing, China)

This spot is regularly rated as one of the city’s best, and it was pretty solid. Didn’t have the biggest meal or take advantage of the bottomless mimosas, but I’d go back again. The space is huge, airy and contemporary - and the food is darn good too. It’s located in the Sanlitun area, a popular expat neighborhood, and is surrounded by tons of popular bars and restaurants. With reasonable prices, it’s good for a lengthy brunch or a starting point before hitting the nearby night scene (De Refter across the street is great for cocktails. And on visiting, there were no white tourists, so it hasn’t, at least yet, become a tourist trap or craphole ignored by the locals.

Verdict: Good but not great (6.5 / 10)

Location: Courtyard No 4. Sanlitun, Gongti North Road, Chaoyang

Luxury Hotels: Ritz-Carlton (Beijing, China)

Ritz-Carlton is a leading name in luxury travel and you have to be a dumb dumb to not enjoy a stay at one of their properties. While this one wasn’t the best, it still was a pleasant stay made all the better by a Marriott Pointsaver deal - a rarity for Ritz - that only set me back 80,000 points for five nights.

In this high-end brand in the Marriott portfolio, hotels are either super classy or super modern/sleek. This falls into the former. Everything is nice and ornate, if a bit dated. The facilities are top notch, especially the breakfast, which has a huge selection of Chinese and global cuisine that really makes your day start off right.

The real downside to this trip was a conference that had taken over the hotel and forced military-style security precautions. While going through a metal detector on every entry to the hotel can get annoying, the tiny lobby felt a bit oppressive with all the security guards and hotel staff. And with the constant redirection (“go this way, sir”) and holding of elevators for others, it really didn’t feel like this Platinum member mattered much.

More disturbingly, we arrived to our room 15 minutes before our 4pm late checkout to find three staffers inside moving items around and getting ready to pull our stuff out. It’s not cool to plan on ejecting guests like this and jumping the gun on the agreed upon 4pm checkout time. Fortunately, we were mostly packed and we walked in before they could rifle through things.

That mishap at the end and the eerie security-state atmosphere were obnoxious but not worth raising a ruckus over. More importantly, the hotel just seemed to be living off its name, which is more than evident when you check out the St. Regis closer into the Forbidden City. That hotel is far cheaper, far nicer and better in virtually every way…that review is up next.

Verdict: Acceptable but overpriced (6.5 / 10)

Fun with Numbers: Sporting Event Travel to MLB Ballparks (28 and counting)

Catching a sporting event when you travel is a great way to experience the local community and be inside an amazing piece of architecture.  Even if you don't care for baseball, it's well worth the price of admission (usually not much more than $25 to nearly any stadium for most games).  I've always tried to catch games when I travel and have been fortunate to see professional MLB games played in nearly 30 stadiums, some of which are no long standing.  Here's the list, as of Spring 2018.

Arizona Diamondbacks - Chase Field

Baltimore Orioles - Camden Yards

Boston Red Sox - Fenway Park

Chicago Cubs - Wrigley Field

Chicago White Sox - US Cellular Park

Cincinnati Reds - Great American Ball Park

Colorado Rockies - Coors Field

Detroit Tigers - Tiger Stadium (kaput)

Houston Astros - Minute Maid Park

Kansas City Royals - Kauffman Stadium

Los Angeles Angels - Angels Stadium

Los Angeles Dodgers - Dodger Stadium

Los Angeles Dodgers - L.A. Coliseum (old)

Montreal Expos - Olympic Stadium (kaput)

New York Yankees - Yankee Stadium (old, kaput)

New York Yankees - Yankee Stadium (new)

New York Mets - Shea Stadium (kaput)

Oakland Athletics - Coliseum (should be kaput)

Philadelphia Phillies - Veterans Stadium (kaput)

Pittsburgh Pirates - PNC Park

Pittsburgh Pirates - Three Rivers Stadium (kaput)

San Diego Padres - Petco Park

San Francisco Giants - AT&T Park

Seattle Mariners - Safeco Field

St. Louis Cardinals - Busch Stadium (old, kaput)

Tampa Bay Rays - Tropicana Field

Texas Rangers - Globe Life Park at Arlington

Washington Nationals - Nationals Park

Airport Lounges: Honolulu's Admirals Club (HNL)

This was a desperate purchase, which fortunately could be used towards an airline credit on an AMEX card's annual benefits.  The local cuisine was surprisingly unique and tasty, but it was not well stocked and it was hard to fight through other visitors to get any food.  Views and seats are unspectacular.  It's branded as an American Airlines Admirals Club, but is really run by Japan Airlines (JAL) as a Sakura Lounge. Go if you can get a discount but don't pay full freight

Verdict: Definitely not worth the price (5 / 10)

Airport Lounges: Sydney's Qantas Club (SYD)

As a Platinum member with American Airlines, I hold Oneworld Sapphire status and get into Qantas awesome lounge in Terminal 3 at SYD.  The breakfast food is so-so, but there is tons of space and strong wifi.  At the end of the day, having space and better chairs is about all you ask for at airport lounges with the trend towards lounges being packed to the gills.  It's bright and well-staffed too.

You may not get quite the same luxury as the AMEX Centurion lounges, but it's a step up from the Priority Pass "lounges" that are just restaurants here, and I'll take the space and comfort over amenities every time.

Verdict:  Solid (6 / 10)

Airport Lounges: Honolulu's IASS Lounge (HNL)

It's hard to look a gift horse in the mouth when you get free access to an airport lounge and don't have to sit outside in ripped, unclean and nasty chairs with no access to power cords or basic amenities.  But this one is hard to get to and doesn't have one bit of charm or extras to make it worthwhile.  It's part of Priority Pass, so go if you refuse to spend a dime to get away from the airport cattle.  But don't expect anything more than a quiet space.

Verdict:  Hilariously Bad (2 / 10)

Airport Lounges: Edinburgh's Aspire Lounge (EDI)

It's always nice to get into a lounge and get a better seat and more room than amongst the commoners.  So you won't hear a true complaint out of me.  But the food was uninspired and you had to go outside just to find the toilets.  It was kinda drab.  Nothing special.  Don't show up early to the airport expecting to enjoy your wait like you might in other lounges.

Verdict:  Weak (2.5 / 10)

Don’t Do This, Do That: Costa Rica

Don’t stay a single night in San Jose.  If you’re going to nearly anywhere in Costa Rica, you’re almost certain to fly into this airport hub before going elsewhere.  From the volcanoes to the beaches to the rainforests, there’s no doubt that you’re coming to the region for the quieter spots.  But it’s still tempting to see the capital of the country.  How bad could it be?

It’s the asscrack of Central America.  Some of the cities in the far less wealthy countries of Nicaragua and Honduras are said to be worse, mostly due to their exorbitant crime rates.  But you’re not going there anyway.  San Jose is right there on your way in.  Skip it.  It’s a charmless hole with no good public spaces, uninspiring architecture, no form of cultural or historical appeal, craptastic restaurants and no avenues to stroll.

If going to Central America, go straight to your first destination.  Try Fortuna to see the volcano and take a dip in the hot springs.  Or Tamarindo for the beach and surf scene.  Out of 30 capital cities visited across the globe, San Jose ranks dead last in nearly every category.  It’s even behind Vientiane, Laos.  And that says a lot.

Costa Rica is a cool place, so don't take the criticism to harshly, just resist the temptation to try San Jose.

Random Thoughts: Bali, Indonesia

Kuta sucks hard.  That is, unless you’re an angry Australian who likes chain smoking, pounding beers, surfing, vomiting and cursing repeatedly, all before noon. Kuta is a well-known beach destination that is supposed to have some of the best breaks in the world for surfing. But the town is a filthy hole full of downscale hostels, nightclubs and restaurants that only cater to young, poor farang. Kuta’s night scene was also the site of one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in recent memory; a disco was blown up in 2003 and killed 100+ young tourists. It’s totally safe to visit, but it’s the least inspiring part of an amazing island. Go for the day to the beach, but don’t stay overnight.

Photo-0005 (2).jpg

Top 25 Bars in the World: Skybar (Bangkok, Thailand) 

Featured in the final climax of The Hangover Part II, Skybar is an open-air rooftop bar in the heart of the Silom District.

The view is beautiful and it’s a classy spot to start or end a trip with a drink, but beware that the prices are insanely expensive.  Forget your high-priced cocktail in London, New York or Los Angeles.  There are few bars with a higher markup than this one, with the cheapest glass of wine costing you nearly $20 USD.  It’s especially surreal in a place like Bangkok, where every beer is one buck or less, and you can get a great meal on the street for less.  But it’s geared towards the farang who wants a great view and it does deliver.

Get one drink, soak up the view and take some pictures with the friends.  Just don’t bring a date and expect to have any money left at the end of the night.