Horrible service, dodgy check out, overpriced, eerie and grotty.
I generally take lots of time to research and review my hotels, through a combination of tripadvisor, online reviews on various hotel booking sites and if at all possible through locals telling me if the locations are worthwhile. Hence, it is rare that I rate a hotel poorly because I like to do my research thoroughly, but in this case, it is my first time giving any hotel a one-star rating and I believe it is well-deserved. I have waited a few weeks to write this detailed review so that I could calm down after the experience we had, but still the feelings remain: I regret passing over my hard-earned money to the Straits Collection and wish over and over again that I had listened to the average and negative reviews on Tripadvisor. Let me list out everything, as I remember it.
A prior booking fell through unexpectedly and so I had to book the Straits Collection last minute. They popped up on 'hotels.com' amidst a range of other properties that looked less desirable (though the others were considerably cheaper). I spent an hour or two reading reviews and found SC to be suitable to our standards. We love heritage hotels, we love Georgetown, but more importantly.. we love local experiences and good service. Boutique hotels in Penang are KNOWN for their service, and we've always experienced wonderful hospitality on previous trips. So, we were excited to stay at Straits Collection despite the RM661 pricetag which we felt was hefty given that we have stayed at places like the E&O and Golden Sands, for less.
After a long 20-hour flight to Malaysia, our connecting flight was delayed by a few hours. I called ahead to Bon Ton (where you 'check in') during my transit wait from KL to Penang and was told that were I to arrive anytime after 7pm, we were to head to China House instead of Bon Ton. Upon our arrival at Penang, I had developed massive stomach pains and we were simply dying to put our bags down somewhere safe (as we had various laptops with us and a LOT of foreign currency) and then head off to see a doctor.
We arrived at China House just a few minutes past 7pm and upon asking the cashier where to get our key, we were promptly ignored as they busied themselves with doing up the bills of restaurant patrons. A few minutes later, we were finally greeted rather crudely - as if the staff had more important things to do - and told that the key was not at China House, that we would have to walk to get it. We weren't told where to go. We were confused and asked if we could get our taxi to take us there but were told again rather crudely, like we were stupid, that no, it would be faster to walk and it was a MERE two minute walk away. In the hot, humid Malaysian weather after a gruelling 26 hours spent on planes and in airports? Yes, walking to get a key for our five-star priced property sounded delightful. Not. We also had to explain to our driver - arranged by a friend and who, charged us by the hour, that he would have to wait a bit longer. And yes, it is extremely hard to get LEGAL parking around China house, so no, our driver wasn't happy that he had to wait even longer in an illegal waiting spot near China House with traffic zooming right by the sides of his car.
Admittedly, I was in a lot of pain and after having been made to wait (and considering the amount of money paid), I expressed my frustration that they could not do something as simple as get a key for us only to be told, extremely extremely rudely by the lady, "RELAX!" after which we were told to "sit down first!" and then ignored. Wonderful customer service, in all its glory, right there.
After a while, one of the staff led my husband out to get the key. He obliged, without thinking, but a bit into his walk realized that since we had gone to the place we were told to go, he would rather the key be brought to China House as opposed to him walking while he was tired. He came back while the staff continued on to get our key as he requested.
The key, though, took a very long time to be brought over.
Given that we had been told that the other property was a 'TWO MINUTE' walk away, we were of course very surprised at how long it took for the key to be brought over to China House.
In between, we found out there was a spare key kept at China House but could the staff there find it? Of course not. Twenty minutes more, and finally the papers and the key were brought over - and then a scuffle ensued because the staff insisted we had booked two nights, when we'd only booked one. My husband gave up arguing, desperate to get me to a doctor as I was now doubled over in pain and not wanting to rack up a hefty driver's rate, we left to our property with the hopes that staff in the morning would be a tiny bit more competent. Only a tiny bit. We weren't asking for much. Nevertheless, by this time, I realized that this was an overpriced, over-rated property with terrible service. Had we decided to take the normal, non-heritage route - our levels of anger and frustration would have sent the staff of similarly-priced hotels scrambling to get us comfortable again.
Upon check in at the Straits Collection, you are given a bunch of documents - articles more or less advertising Straits Collection and a map that is terrible at actually telling you where your booked property is. We circled the place twice before we spotted the shophouse - and we spotted it only due to looking at previous pictures of the Straits Collection doors on Tripadvisor.
The property we stayed at was no. 93 and we had the whole shophouse to ourselves. This was a plus. When being dropped off by a taxi, note that parking in front of the shophouses is sparse and your driver may have to block the road while you heave your luggage from the car trunk like ours had to - Malaysian drivers are not particularly kind and will not be pleased, honking as you lug big bags into the property.
The property itself had a weird design. You open the doors (with one thick padlock as the entry) and the doors are painted a wonderful turquoise hue. The living room looks grand upon entry but really it was stupid - one whole shophouse for two people, and the downstairs living room doesn't even have a couch that fits two people. Merely an uncomfortable arm chair that fits one and faces the TV and some other flat things that don't deserve to be put in front of a TV or in a living room. Having friends over? They aren't going to want to sit on these or stay for long.
What the pictures on the Straits Collection show is a massive bathroom with a wooden tub that looks beautiful. This is indeed the case - but what the website doesn't tell you is that this beautiful bathroom is on the ground floor and the bathtub doesn't have a door or even a wall partition separating the tub from the living room to make you feel comfortable while you take a bath; leaving you to expose your naked bits to anyone in the living room foyer should you want to take a bath. The toilet nearby the tub does have a door, but overall the space in the bathroom, while open feels thoroughly uncomfortable (you can see the window directly from the tub and it is not unreasonable to expect that people walking by can see you taking a bath). This space with the tub would have been better used as a kitchen or something other than a room with a tub that is open for all to see. Given that the tub looked dirty and had wet patches all over it (despite the place being vacant for a whole day), neither of us really felt like using it, anyway. There is also a lounge chair in the bathroom, which really, looked out of place. In the foyer, bottled water is provided in the fridge as are moths and one big cockroach that likes to run across the floor as and when it feels like it. They advertise this place as a 'living' museum. Living bugs, perhaps.
To be fair, there is a bathroom and a bedroom upstairs. You have to climb up a stairs - albeit a steep, open staircase with narrow steps that would make for a terrifying climb (up AND down) for those of you with rickety joints and a fear of heights. It felt more like an unsafe ladder with steep rungs, really. The upstairs bathroom is smaller, less beautiful with a rain shower, toilet and sink in a room with no partitions. Outside of the bathroom, there is a semi-dressing area with some towels on a bench and a shelf with a hairdryer and some useless decorations above and below. Thankfully, very thankfully, soap is provided as is cheap-to-the-touch toilet paper, the kind you find in public highway restrooms. Beside the semi-dressing area is a skylight and pulley contraption that doesn't work therefore making it a broken roof rather than a skylight. The toilet had stains and the floor was partially wet.
The bedroom looks as it does in the pictures, though beds are hard & uncomfortable, and plug points sparse. You enter this property with the expectation that it is a heritage property with "all the modern amenities" but really, besides a hairdryer and rain shower, the entire place just feels grotty and unsanitary and not very modern. There is a zinc roof upstairs (fully renovated eh?); the cement floor in the semi-dressing area was cold as heck for the feet. One pair of slippers is provided - though these slippers were rubber (therefore used by guests before you and after you) and are far too big for someone like me with size 5 feet. We didn't really like walking around the shophouse with our shoes on but we found ourselves with not much choice in this case - there isn't a housekeeping number provided to ask for slippers but even if there were I'm not sure how good the 'service' would be.
Before going to sleep, we discovered that the lack of insect screens around the property made for lots of insect bites (my legs were red and splotchy by the end of our stay) and that the only thing separating you from the outside world was one thick wooden bar slid across two doors. Is this asking for trouble? Indeed, it is. We felt uncomfortable with four laptops and a wad of foreign currency. Should one decide to break in, it wouldn't be particularly hard - there are two windows right nearby the door and some measly wooden bars stopping people from climbing in and pushing the bar away to open the doors. We were also horrified to see that in the bedroom upstairs, the a/c was dripping drops and drops of water onto the bench below it, making for a very wet bench with an equally wet floor surrounding it. Blankets on the bed and ones provided in the closet are thin and not very suitable (similar to the thin kind you find in budget hotels) considering the a/c blows right onto the bed and the whole place just had an eerie feel that left us lacking sleep and scratching due to insect bites with a gross fear that the large roach would make its way upstairs.
The next morning, we woke up to a loud call by the mosque (very) nearby for morning muslim prayers at the crack of dawn, and couldn't go back to sleep afterwards. About an hour or two later, another loud morning call ensued. We went downstairs to chill in the living room - uncomfortable seating aside - only to discover that wifi around the Straits Collection was pitifully slow and had to be reset multiple times and it still remained pitifully slow; thank God for unlimited data roaming. People walked by and had a tendency to peek into the shophouse, with someone knocking on the door asking us if we were a restaurant about to open and someone else knocking to ask for directions.
We crossed our fingers and went to check out, hoping that the staff at Bon Ton were marginally more competent than the staff at China House. We opened no. 93's door to be greeted by a floor that was wet and slippery from the cleaner either cleaning or watering plants (unsure) and of course almost slipped and fell due to lack of warning/signage.
Indeed, the staff at Bon Ton seemed to have an understanding that we were staying there and needed to check out (they said one night instead of the supposed two that the staff at China House had insisted we booked). After paying for the hotel, I saw one of the staff take my card, write down not only the card's particulars but also the three-digit security number from its back - note that this was on some scattered bits of paper in a shop that is open to the public and can easily be ransacked. In the various hotels that I have stayed in around the world, I have NEVER seen a hotel take down the back of my card's numbers and if they have, it is done through a secure online system. This puzzled me, and not in a good way.
As I walked out, I told my husband what had happened, and he was indignant, then went in to Bon Ton to query why the three-digit security number had been taken down. Again, the 'excellent' service came out to play and one of the staff got impatient and asked him why he had so many questions. In the hospitality industry, a customer WILL have questions and are not front desk staff there to ANSWER? Is it so hard to answer when a customer wants to know why their card details may be compromised and used for online shopping?
Thankfully the other lady was a little nicer, and told my husband that it was nothing, that it was part of their security system. If you count handwritten notes of credit card details on loose sheets of paper that looked like they could easily fly away in a shop that is open to the public as a security system, then by all means.... To us, it just looked intensely dodgy. Given that the minibar was empty save for two bottles of water and that we had already paid for the room in full, what security is needed??
We left the Straits Collection to our other hotel, and had never felt so relieved to see a check-in desk and a doorman.
Perhaps we aren't suited to heritage living, but we have stayed in heritage properties before and found ourselves enthralled and happy. Perhaps we expected too much but given that we have stayed in famous properties like the E&O (with infinitely better service) for cheaper, we don't think we expected that much.
Overall, the level of service here would be rated -10 in my opinion, while the properties themselves are at best 3 stars. The rudeness at check-in, the sketchiness of check out and the lack of instruction as to where to go/what to do combined with a high price all made for a very bad start to our Asia trip. If you want a rustic place that has 'heritage' and no check in desk then stay here but, be prepared to pay five-star prices, be jolted out of your senses five times a day by the mosque nearby and to have to do everything yourself should you need service or buy everything yourself due to lack of housekeeping amenities.
I beg of you though - please, please take your money elsewhere until they choose to either lower their prices or improve their ability to give tourists the warm and loving welcome & stay that their hefty pricing deserves.
Couples - Jan 30, 2015