Kuala Lumpur (KL) - a city I am intimately familiar with.
Over the years I've flown into and out of KL over thirty times as I found it is an excellent base from which you can explore Southeast Asia. It's a hub airport for the largest low cost carrier in the region (AirAsia) and hotel costs, even at five star hotels, are almost always extremely low when compared to cities of similar size across the globe. Because of these two factors, I selected it as the final destination point on our outbound award ticket for our adventure through Southeast Asia that I detailed in my review of Japan Airlines First class recently.
We wanted to start our adventure in Laos, though we could not get there with the award ticket since we booked through American Airlines and none of their airline partners fly to Laos. KL's role as a hub for travel around the region worked in our favor as we had booked tickets on AirAsia to Vientiane the day after our arrival. This, of course, meant we needed to find a place to sleep for the night. KL is a great hotel destination, as I mentioned above, because in many cases you can take whatever you'd expect to pay for a hotel of a certain quality and slice 30-60% off the nightly cost. One of the best places to enjoy a luxury hotel property at minimal cost. Even though I had been to KL many times in the past, this would be Zach's first arrival in Malaysia's largest city. We only had the evening and I wanted to get a hotel next to one of KL's most iconic site - the Petronas Towers.
There are many hotels in the vicinity of the Petronas Towers, but none seemed as close or as highly rated as the Mandarin Oriental. With a nightly rate on our arrival date listed at $140, I thought it was a good bet for us and booked it - if we only had an hour to do any sightseeing in KL before heading to bed, the Petronas Tower's being directly outside was what I wanted.
Typically when I stay in KL I end up staying at one of four hotel properties - the Sama Sama, the Hilton, the Le Meridien
, or the Aloft. The Sama Sama is connected to the airport, so it's my preferred location when I arrive late into KL and am leaving the next day early in the morning. If I have a longer stop in KL, I look to the other three properties because they are located right next to KL Sentral station. KL Sentral is the terminus of the KLIA Ekspres service from the airport, so a traveler can get directly from the airport to this central train station (hence Sentral, clever eh?) in under 30 minutes for about $25 USD round trip. Then it's only a 5 minutes walk to any of the above hotel properties, all of which are generally under $100/night. These four hotels are very convenient for my needs when overnighting on my way to somewhere else, though they all lack quick a bit in terms of the location as in my very humble opinion there isn't actually much to do around this area.
Mandarin Oriental, on the other hand, is "poppin'". It's right smack in the middle of the hustle and bustle of KL with the Petronas Towers and the KLCC Suria shopping center directly adjacent. There's quite a few things to do and sights to see in the area, whereas the airport and KL Sentral neighborhoods are less likely to capture a traveler's attention. This is the trade off you get when you move away from the more accessible options. It was a trade off that meant we were slightly inconvenienced getting to the hotel that night as we took the KL Ekspres to KL Sentral and then a short taxi ride to the hotel. Lugging our bags onto the local trains with the teeming masses seemed less than fun, so the taxi was necessary. On the return to the airport, we took a taxi the whole way as we needed to be at the airport very early to catch our flight to Vientiane and the hassle on the reverse journey was more than I wanted to deal with at 5AM.
By the time we pulled up to the hotel in our taxi the sun had set quite awhile ago, which meant we could see the building illuminated against the night sky. Quite a few expensive luxury cars were parked in the hotel's drive way, so many and so expensive that when our taxi came barreling in I got a bit nervous the driver was going to hit something and cause a commotion. He managed to not do that and we hopped out with our luggage and made our way into the rather spacious and expansive lobby.
The lobby was filled with quite a bit of glossy marble, black and gold accents abound. The ceiling was high and a few crystal chandeliers dotted the horizon line. The check-in desks were off in an alcove to the right when we walked in, with a roped off queue prominently featured for guests to presumably keep law and order during busy times. Fortunately for us there was no line at all and we were able to waltz right up to the counter to begin our check-in process. Being half-Japanese, I instinctively walked through the empty queue line in a confident zigzag which caused Zach to shake his head as he simply skipped the ropes and walked up to the desk.
The agent checking us in was very friendly and efficient. We were offered two chilled glasses of citrus juice, which in KL is always a needed refresher as the humidity and heat is constantly hanging over you, even on a short walk from a taxi. We were allocated a room and given key cards, and then we took some time to arrange for a driver to the airport the following morning.
Keys in hand we made our way into an elevator alcove directly across from where the check-in desks were located, the gold and black marble continuing into this area of the lobby. A giant black and gold fan, iconic as the Mandarin Oriental's logo, hung on the wall near the elevator bank. As we stepped off our lift and into the hallway on our floor, I can't help but say that the overarching feeling I had was that everything felt rather dated.
Not dirty. Not dismal. Just ... dated. Or maybe that's the overall look that Mandarin goes for? A more austere, old school hotel feeling. Either way, the ambiance wasn't working for me.
Once inside the room, we found a standard layout that is common amongst most hotels in the world - a large living area with a bed and other lounging amenities while a bathroom lies just off the entrance hallway. The only change to the layout in this room from the standard was that two walls in the room featured windows, vs. just one in most hotels.
The bathroom had a separate bathtub and shower stall. Towels with the Mandarin's signature fan logo were laid out all over. Space was excellent inside the shower stall, though it's size did cut into the overall space for movement in the room. It felt slightly cramped with so much jammed into it. Water pressure and heat was excellent in the shower. Neither of us used the tub so no comment on that.
The toilet was separated from the bathroom area in an enclosed space off to the side, so theoretically one could use the restroom while someone else brushed their teeth, etc. The vanity was a wide, black marble affair with a large mirror.
Even the tissue box on the counter was black with gold paint. Noticing a trend here?
Bath amenities were from a brand called "Senses" that I had never heard of, have not heard of since, nor even thought about. Standard issue fragrance and nothing too memorable in my mind. On to the living space!
A small cabinet with drawers for storage was pushed up against the wall, a decent sized television sitting on top of it just past the small hallway marking the entryway into the room. To the left in a small alcove was a nice little set up with glasses, a tea/coffee maker and accessories, and a small mini-bar with snacks and liquor.
Just past the television was a relatively small desk with two chairs. Having two chairs on such a small desk was a bit awkward, as realistically two people couldn't use the space at the same time. It was tucked into the corner between two windows. One window was along the wall between the television and desk and the other one was behind the desk. Though having two windows was nice for letting light into the room (theoretically since I was only inside the room when it was dark the entire stay), it was the window between the television and desk that provided the best view as this was the one facing the Petronas Towers.
Across from the good window was the bed, giving anyone laying down a good view out to the Towers. It was a queen sized affair, with a very soft/plush mattress and firm pillows - pretty much my ideal bed. My boyfriend, on the other hand, prefers a firm mattress with soft pillows, so he slept less comfortably than I did. Rather non-descript end tables rounded out the offering in the sleeping area.
In the corner between the bed and the not-great window was a small loveseat couch and a glass-top coffee table with two oranges on a plate. A comfortable area to relax if you have a longer stay in KL but we didn't use it at all since we were there for just one night.
The view out the window was good but not excellent. The location of the hotel means that no matter how high your room, you're going to be looking at the towers with a slightly blocked view. If you want one that is unobstructed, you're gonna have to go down into the lobby and exit the hotel. A quick 3 minute walk to the fountain outside of the Suria shopping mall and the Petronas Towers and ... voila! One of the most iconic sights in Asia.
My overall thoughts on the Mandarin Oriental? A nice property in an excellent location which is a bit too stuffy and dated for my tastes. Service was friendly and efficient, while the rooms were furnished comfortably with a bit too much stuff crammed into the space provided. While the location is pretty good if you're actually staying in KL for a few days, as a transit hotel it's not a good fit and I would recommend another property. A nice stay at Mandarin Oriental KL on the whole, though the ambiance of the property wasn't really fitting for a 30-something gay couple on vacation.