Honeymoon Trip Report: Westin Siray Bay Phuket

Megan and I took a two-week tour of Southeast Asia during our honeymoon in August/September of last year. Now it’s time to wrap up the trip report after a holiday break. Here’s the Trip Report Index:

We arranged transportation in advance after receiving an email from the Westin Siray Bay and were greeted at the airport by a porter who led us to the curb. The wait was a good 10 minutes for the car, wherever it was waiting, but given the traffic in the area I am not too surprised. Our ride to the hotel on the other side of the island was also long but uneventful. We requested a sedan instead of the more expensive town car and didn’t notice the difference.

It was at check-in that events turned south.

When I originally booked this stay, every paid rate I could find included a full breakfast buffet. So while it wasn’t explicitly included in the terms of the award nor was it listed as a standard benefit on the hotel website, I mistakenly assumed it was provided for all guests.

That’s fine. Mistakes happen. What I didn’t appreciate was the hard sell I received from the front desk. Instead of simply informing me that breakfast would be an additional charge, I was told that I could pay up front for the entire stay, or I could pay roughly 50% more at check-out for the days I chose to eat. I have never faced such an offer at any hotel before, and I consider it inappropriate at an isolated resort where alternative dining options aren’t available (shuttles to the nearby town are provided, for a fee, but only on alternating days).

The second shock was finding that we had been upgraded. Actually, that wasn’t so bad. But upon arriving at our room we found that our “upgrade” included a couple of large trees blocking the view of the ocean. Our original room type clearly specified an unobstructed ocean view. The new room type did not. And an extended tour of the rest of the resort suggested ours was one a very few rooms with this problem.

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I could let this one go except for the rather disgusting appearance of the patio, which was encrusted thick salt deposits, some parts of which were almost an inch thick. The glass balcony walls were dirty. There was at least one dead bug on the bed. Clearly no one had maintained this part of the hotel. We decided to leave the drapes closed for the duration of our stay to avoid the anti-view.

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I suppose I could have called the front desk and asked to be reassigned, but it was at that point the power went out. It came back on, went out again, and did so four times in the course of 20 minutes. Our phones provided only a dial tone but wouldn’t connect us to any active line. Keep in mind that on this hilly property, the phone is the only means to call the front desk and ask for a golf cart for assistance with transportation.

Fortunately we are still young and athletic, but that phone was never repaired despite two visits to the front desk. (On the day we checked out, I had to first walk to the lobby and ask them to send a bellman back for the luggage.)

We were still within two hours of landing and I was already considering hiring a taxi to take us back to the airport so we could catch the first flight to Hong Kong. It actually isn’t as crazy as it sounds. The rate we paid was not that expensive. United’s award rules are extremely lenient about allowing changes to a reservation after travel has commenced (plus there would be no fees as a Premier 1K). And we always have plenty of points to arrange a last-minute stay. Megan would be glad to see the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong again.

Instead we soldiered on, both of us raised on family vacations at roadside motels that barely registered a single star, let alone five. We were not expecting another St. Regis, and surely we hadn’t become too spoiled. These issues were on the outside, where we didn’t have to go if we didn’t want to. The interior of the room was tired, with scuffs and dings everywhere, yet satisfactory considering the usual rate of about $120 a night.

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But standards are standards. Between power outages I was able to connect to the Internet and get a tweet out to @SPG summarizing these issues, and they promised the hotel would contact me. No one did. I followed up at the front desk after dinner and was told, “Oh, the power station sometimes has issues. There’s nothing we can do about that.” I was really more concerned about the condition of the room than the power….

The activities desk captured our attention after dinner with an all-day excursion to the Phi Phi islands. Three thousand baht sounds like a big number, but it was only about $100 each for a day’s worth of activities away from our room.

On our second evening, we returned from the boat trip to find the rooms director running about looking for me, saying she’d left a message on my phone (remember, it doesn’t work). We sat down for a chat during which I accepted responsibility for the confusion over the breakfast benefit but explained that I thought it poor form to make a hard sell at check-in. I also pointed out that while some issues like the power may not be the hotel’s responsibility, basic maintenance issues are definitely manageable. If the hotel drops the ball during first impressions, guests like me begin their stay in a bad mood and start to blame the hotel even for things outside their control.

I was tired and had no interest in moving to an upgraded room for the remaining two nights of our stay. I even passed on a free cocktail during our conversation. Instead we settled on waiving the breakfast charges. I probably should have asked for more, but I dislike negotiations.

I was all prepared to write a ho-hum review of this property. Not my favorite, but if you go in knowing what to expect you’d probably have a better experience than we did. The pool was actually pretty nice when there was sun. The beach… well, it looks awful when the tide goes out, and even when the tide is in it is so rocky you probably don’t want to go in. I made a point of taking an hour to walk around and look at the rest of the property and thought the rest of it was okay. Maybe we were just really unlucky.

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It wasn’t until our third day that I signed the death warrant on this hotel. One thing I’ve learned about food poisoning is that it can invoke some really amazing instinctive responses.

(Prior to staying at the Westin Siray Bay, my most serious food poisoning episode involved a beef tenderloin roast, and I didn’t eat red meat for three weeks. After this trip, the memory of Thailand was so strongly associated with three days of severe stomach cramps that for a while I considered writing off the whole country. I’ve since softened my opinion, but I’ll probably stay at the new Hyatt Regency Phuket when I return to Phuket.)

I know food poisoning is hard to pin down to a specific cause. But I woke up feeling queasy on our last morning and had only eaten at the hotel for the previous 36 hours, spending most of our day by the pool. It was very unlikely to be anything else that caused my illness. Megan and I also share most of the food on our plates, but she didn’t get sick. The one thing that I ate and she didn’t was the horseradish aioli that came with our hamburger by the pool. I should have been smarter than that.

What resulted was a case of food poisoning so severe I visited a hospital at our final stop in Hong Kong. (Just the fact I asked Megan for a Tylenol earlier in the day was enough to set off alarm bells.) I couldn’t walk for more than 30 minutes without resting from the pain and fatigue. Fortunately, I had an excellent view of Victoria Harbor from our bed at the Conrad.

Even this experience I might be willing to write off as a traveler’s lesson learned except that I found the hotel’s response to my complaint wholly insufficient. All I got was a matter-of-fact email from the property’s general manager listing the exact meals I ate and stating no other guest had reported similar issues. No concern for my well-being, and despite maintaining such detailed records of my dining selections, they failed to realize I likely didn’t eat anywhere else. My response indicating as much did not produce any further comment.

So what we have here is a hotel that (1) attempted to gouge me at check-in, (2) ignored basic maintenance, (3) casually excused issues like loss of power and malfunctioning phones, and (4) passed off my food poisoning report as the ramblings of just another annoying farang.

The Andaman Sea is a beautiful destination. I hope to return to Phuket in the future. But I will never, ever stay at the Westin Siray Bay again.

Correction: EQMs on AA and US will NOT be Combined for 2015 Elite Status
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Scott created Travel Codex after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • anita b

    did you brush your teeth with their tap water? i avoid that (I made the mistake in Phuket) and got super sick.

    • Scottrick

      We used bottled water for most of the trip. Megan insisted.

  • Trevor

    Ouch…. If you do go back and decide not to stay at the Hyatt (not to say you wouldn’t), I’d definitely recommend that you check out the JW Marriott Khao Lak; its a ~2 hour drive north and is actually not on Phuket Island, but it is great, have been there 3 times, and very much enjoy it. Nicer beach too.

    • Scottrick

      Thanks for the suggestion!

  • doublejade

    Things like that happen when you travel. When you get tired and your body is vulnerable to any little germ. Sorry about that but it may not be the hotel’s fault.

    • Scottrick

      As I said in the post, I was more upset with the hotel’s indifferent attitude to this and almost every other issue.

  • JTP

    I was at the hilton arcadia a few weeks back… amazing property!!!

    • Scottrick

      Good to know there are other options. It looks like a nice hotel!

    • Alvin | Hong Kong Airline News

      Apart from the Hyatt Regency which has a crappy beach (in Phuket that’s not acceptable, sorry Hyatt), the Westin is hands down the worst property in Phuket. I stayed at the Sheraton Grand Laguna back before it closed and it was phenomenal. The Naka Island, a Luxury Collection Hotel doesn’t look half bad, is available on (lots and lots of) SPG points and I’m looking forward to my February stay.

  • steve

    I always use bottled water for everything including brushing and rinsing the brush. This has always worked for me including at least 25 trips to Mexico. The one time I had severe food poisoning was in Bangkok and it must have either been the hotel breakfast or lunch at the airport. I’ve had less serious cases when travelling internationally and without exception they were at places that should have had acceptable standards of hygiene (ie higher end restaurants, resorts). I’ve never been sick from street food, food cooked in jungle camps, etc.

    • Scottrick

      The original draft of this review including a recommendation that people avoid eating “American” food in foreign countries, advice I didn’t follow. Of course, foreign chefs are trained to prepare safe food, regardless of the cuisine, but that’s not the same as growing up with that experience.

  • Darth Chocolate

    I would definitely follow up with Starwood; the whole episode was beyond the worst I have seen in other parts of Asia (like China). Be factual, and if possible, send them the pictures and a link to the blog post. Also, be professional and do not do any snark. If someone gave you good service, be sure to tell them the good as well.

    Then, tell us what they said/did for you.

    • Scottrick

      Ah, but I did. As I said in the post, the only response I got from the hotel ignored the cleanliness and maintenance issues and the hard sell on breakfast. It focused on the food poisoning and did little else except list the meals I ordered, and said no other guest reported an issue. My response to that was ignored.

      • Darth Chocolate

        I think you misunderstood me. I meant to say, go to Starwood corporate in the US and file a complaint. The home office will have something to say, especially if you make a good case.

        On a trip to China, my corporate agent booked an overnight in a Starwood property in far western China, but did it as a prepay, no changes. I could not make a change through my Chinese colleague (no language barrier). I e-mailed SPG and explained the issue. SPG contacted the hotel and convinced them to cancel the reservation with no penalty. It helped that I was a Gold (through AMEX Platinum).

        • Scottrick

          Yes, I know. My email was to SPG corporate, which passed it on to the GM, who then emailed me and said, effectively “not our problem.”

          Since I didn’t ask for compensation, there’s no particular reason to go back to corporate except to say that the GM doesn’t seem to take customer complaints seriously. I can do that just as well with this blog post.

  • FlyingDoctorWu

    Sounds like the sell for breakfast should have been save 50% by prepaying vs pay 50% more at checkout… that’s the way the offer should be pitched; I wonder if a language barrier was the problem…

    Food poisoning does suck… I usually try to stick with the hotel but sounds like that that did you in….