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Hotel Istana is located on Jalan Raja Chulan within the shopping and entertainment precinct of Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur. Due to various one-way-street implementations in the city centre, careful attention is required to drive into the hotel. The most common driving instruction originates from Jalan Bukit Bintang into Jalan Sultan Ismail which you will find the entrance into the hotel building immediately to your left. Another main access point is through Jalan Raja Chulan itself but only from the western end of the street with a right-hand turn upon seeing the hotel building. Should you miss the turn, you will need to turn around via Jalan Bukit Bintang and then Jalan Sultan Ismail.

The hotel is served by a KL Monorel line from which you can disembark at the Raja Chulan station and make your way on foot.

Hotel Istana resides on a fairly old 23-storey building that dates back as early as 1985 for its construction stage. It was finally open to the mass in 1992 and became quite a hit back when, perhaps due to its regal connotation as an "istana" (royal palace), not to mention the business (and political) clout held by the Pernas International Holdings which owned the hotel. Fast forward some years later, the ailing Pernas International Holdings was taken over by Tradewinds Corporation Bhd, another politically connected conglomerate of property, trading and plantation concerns. Today, Tradewinds Corporation Bhd owns a number properties under the Hilton brand (except Hilton Hotel at KL Sentral), Mutiara hotels and resorts, one Pelangi resort in Langkawi and Crowne Plaza Mutiara Hotel which is located right across the street from Hotel Istana. The hotel is now managed by Mutiara TCB Hotel Management Sdn Bhd which was previously known as Pernas Hotel Management Sdn Bhd. Hotel Istana is affiliated under the Summit Hotels & Resorts to enhance its worldwide visibility.

As the hotel remained in existence for more than 10+ years, a refurbishment initiative was undertaken and was finally completed in late 2006 at a cost of RM25 million. In a sense, the renovation could not come at a better time to coincide with the growing tourism market and as more spanking new and stylish hotels sprouting all over Kuala Lumpur. In all honesty, the main lobby of Hotel Istana still looks a little dated with remnants of the 1980/90s architectural design. That being said, the hotel tries not to be overly chic as to differentiate itself somewhat, yet, it is hard not to be unimpressed with the overall jaded look of the main lobby. For example, the reception area still features granite-marble mixture that has seen the better days, although the look on the adjoining Songket Lounge is regally nice (more on that later).

In totality, there are 515 rooms and suites of varying categories at Hotel Istana which span across 23 floors. The room breakdown is as follows: 242 Superior rooms (38 sq-metre), 167 Deluxe rooms (38 sq-metre), 29 Club rooms (38 sq-metre) located on 19th-22nd floors, 69 Club suites (79 sq-metre), 4 Senior suites (313 sq-metre) and 4 Stateroom suites (313 sq-metre). In general, each room and suite is furnished with choices of twin- or king-bedding configuration, flatscreen colour TV with selected satellite channels, electronic safe, en-suite bath, broadband internet connectivity (complimentary to certain room categories), IDD telephones, clothing wardrobe, writing desk, coffee/tea making facilities, bedside control panel and others. This review will cater for the Deluxe room category.

The refurbished Deluxe room is acceptably decent on most aspects, exuding homely warmth and understated opulence. Clearly the room was only refurbished as opposed to being completely renovated as main elements of its previous look are still retained such as the leathery bed frame, glossy white wardrobe and bathroom tiling. The king bed is plush with usage of high-quality linens for the sheet and pillows. A matching runner bearing the motif of traditional Malaysian songket is spread across the king bed which adds some marks in the aesthetic department. Featured at one corner adjacent to the large glass window is a one-seater fabric sofa with leg extension which forms a personalised lounging space that opens out to the view of the Petronas twin towers (as it was in my case). True to its conventional design selection, the placements of 29" colour TV and writing desk are done to face the king bed. While a standard 32" LCD TV would have been nicer, its cost was probably still overbearing for a room refurbishment project circa 2006. The bathroom, on the other hand, is rather disappointing as it bears almost the exact resemblance to its dated design of pale marble-top wash basin and plain ceramic tiles. The bathroom features separate sections for a wash basin, water closet, standing shower and bath tub. In a nutshell, the refurbished Deluxe room retains its traditional look while fitted with modern amenities. It is nice and somewhat elegant but in a sense, nothing to shout about.

Suited for its 5-star category, Hotel Istana features a host of guest facilities. A swimming pool is located on the opposite side of the main entrance and is styled after Greco-Roman architecture. Hold that ooh-aahs as the pool area, truth be told, looks very pedestrian at least to my perspective. The Greco-Roman elements are pervasive throughout the pool area but aesthetic qualities are lost in translation somehow. A fairly expansive tropical garden is also featured in the pool area and it provides a soothing greenery view for the weary eyes. In term of health facilities, the hotel features a fitness centre that is equipped with steam rooms, sauna and whirl pool, while a Sompoton Spa centre is available, offering mostly local, Japanese and Swedish spa treatments. Other guest facilities in the hotel include a Club Lounge on the 20th floor, 14 meeting rooms of various configurations, Grand Mahkota Ballroom that can host up to 2,000 guests, a business centre and others.

As for F&B, the Taman Sari Brasserie is the main all-day dining outlet that is located on main lobby level and is adjacent to the tropical garden and pool area. Its interior has been tastefully renovated to feature an open-kitchen concept with numerous dining arrangements inclusive of the option alfresco dining amidst the outdoor greenery. Also on the main lobby is Urban, a fine dining outlet that has been fitted with contemporary interior decors that are impressive and fresh. Urban specialises in a mixture of Asian and international cuisines. One floor down from the main lobby at the basement level lies Sagar Restaurant, an outlet that specialises itself with North Indian cuisines with options for vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. Last but not least, the Songket Lounge is located right in the middle of the main lobby and in my opinion, is the most impressive feature in the main lobby itself. The lounge bears some traditional look of Malay-Arabic influence that is easy on the eyes. The Songket Lounge serves drinks, cocktails and light snacks with live musical entertainment on evenings.

Before I pen down this write-up, I wish to relate a trying experience while staying at the hotel that really tested my patience. The issue seemed trivial enough i.e. malfunctioned electronic key cards for my Deluxe room but it involved changing my key cards at least 5 times within 3 hours of me checking in. It was certainly a world record of some sort as a handful of return trips had to be made to the reception desk and dealing with one reception staff that became clueless by the minute. After a while, it involved some raised voices, some insinuations that I did not insert my key card correctly, tiring red LED lights and others. We often allow one-time incident of key card failure to happen to us, but having to go back and forth to switch or re-validate key card access is priceless in all sense of words. After a long day of traveling with your backpack, it is not much to ask for a key card that works on the very first time. In the end, I decided to cut short my stay to just one night as I was rather unsatisfied with the whole scheme of things.

Perhaps it was just Murphy's Law at work and I was the unlucky star of the day.

February 2008

The refurbishment manages to save Hotel Istana from further oblivion in the sea of fabulous new hotels in Kuala Lumpur. Disappointing and tired-looking main lobby. Unappealing swimming pool. Acceptable Deluxe room but very much ordinary. Good selections of F&B outlets. Extremely disappointed with how the key card issue was handled by the hotel personnel. Overall, it is a 5-star hotel that miserably falls short of expectation.


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