After my awesome stay at The Conrad Seoul, I took a thirty-minute cab ride straight to the Shilla. When I was planning my adventure, I was aware of the fact that the Shilla Hotel was known as the peak of Korean luxury: it’s housed famous U.S. presidents (i.e. Bill Clinton) and celebrities alike (like my all-time favorite: Michael Jackson). I’d heard and read many great things about it, too, so I knew I had to check it out at least once.
As the cab puttered up the hill leading to the property I was slightly overwhelmed by all of the sleek black cars–Hyundai, Benz, BMW alike–surrounding my little silver cab. Just from the sheer number of those cars I felt that the atmosphere will be different here than it was at the Conrad: this is a hotel where the super-rich and powerful in Korea congregrate. Only certain people are welcomed here.
“Whatever,” I thought to myself, “We’ll see about that.”
I never really paid attention to pictures of the hotel before, so my first glimpse of it was a surprise.
The building itself is a little intimidating at first sight (the sheer height of it plus the fact that it’s on top of a substantial hill): it’s narrow and taller than it should look (it has 23 floors to the Conrad’s 37). At second and third look, you’d shrug and say, “O.K….it’s a building,” until to see the porte-cochere.
The Shilla is an interesting mix of contemporary and traditional Korean architecture, harkening back to (IMO) the olden days of Korean royalty. There’s a “palace grounds” feel to the property which intrigued me.
I walked into the lobby and wow.
Pictures don’t really do this installation justice. It was just beautiful.
The check-in process was smooth and personable, which surprised me. The representative seemed sympathetic that I wasn’t going back to the States for the holidays, so “for Christmas, I can offer you an upgrade at a discounted price.” Yay, how nice of you! (/partial sarcasm) I went for the gusto and upgraded to the Executive Grand Deluxe room, mainly so I could get lounge access and take advantage of the sauna which was included in the executive level price. Sweet.
The room itself, for being Grand Deluxe, was clean and unremarkable. The Shilla is, in essence, a true business hotel: unless you’re gunning for a presidential suite, you’re not really mindful of any extravagantly decorative particulars of the room. It was still nice and spacious, and the bathroom was nicer than I thought it would be, and was stocked with Molten Brown products.
The best part of the room for me (that, woefully, I did not really take pictures of) was the TV and the entertainment hub. The TV was a state-of-the-art 60+” mounted Samsung that was beautiful just to watch. What made it so much better was the fact that the entertainment hub that was located at the desk provided a HDMI cable and HDMI-to-HDMI access, which meant…I could connect my computer to my TV and not have to unplug anything else (sort of pictured above). I was instantly in heaven…until I realized that I didn’t bring my phone charger and that I’d have to plug my phone up to the computer on the other side of the large room….but wait a minute…wait a minute!…OMG USB INPUT IN THE BEDSIDE TABLE DRAWERS (yeah, my priorities are sometimes not where they should be).
Oh yeah, and the view wasn’t so bad, either.
After I got settled I decided to explore. The lobby itself, like the exterior, followed the idea of the marriage of traditional and contemporary architecture:
So, I did upgrade to Executive Level, which means I had access to their executive lounge (read: all of my meals would be eaten there), which is on the top floor. My experience with the executive lounge was really nice in some ways…and really underwhelming in others.
There’s a sizable “check-in” desk just outside the entrance to the lounge, and there you scan your key card (you have to scan your key card to access anything here, which a good security measure). And then you feel like you’re walking into a library/meeting room type of place…if it was in a tremendous mansion, of course.
There was plenty of food and drink there, and, on the whole, the selection was more refined than the Conrad: the first night I had grilled salmon, a type of risotto, chicken that was braised in a delicious sauce that I can’t recall, and a delicious white wine. Oh, and brie. Lots of brie. The breakfast was tasty, too.
Really, that’s where my positives for the Executive Lounge end.
So, you see that there’s a lack of my own photos of the lounge (save for food), right? Well, it wasn’t that I couldn’t take pictures…but I was super uncomfortable taking them. Side note: the one thing about shopping in boutique stores–well, any clothing store–in Korea that I absolutely hate is how the associates follow two steps behind me the whole way. I don’t know if it’s because that’s the way associates are taught to appease customers (as one of said associates actually said to me) or if it’s because they think I might finger and nab something (which is what I sometimes suspect), but I hate it.
That’s how my first visit into the Executive Lounge went.
I’d just come in from taking pictures and just wanted a look at their afternoon tea before I came back to partake in their happy hour, and I told them this when I came. But one of the concierge associates followed me everywhere, like I was a spy. I felt like a spy, an outsider. Now, my mom used to tell me all the time that I belong anywhere I place myself, and I agree with this, of course. I’m a paying customer, I paid for executive level access, so I’m allowed to come in as I please. I told myself this. But the introvert in me panicked a little bit. I mean, I know that they might not see the brown skin often in those parts, but still!
This feeling was exacerbated (and pissed me off a bit) when I went back to the lounge for the happy hour (read: my dinner). I scanned my card, walked in, and wandered around to find a prime place to sit. One of the staff glanced my way, nodded discreetly, and let me do my thing. I wouldn’t have had a problem with that…if they didn’t make it a requirement to escort every customer after (and probably before) me to a table.
This is my opinion: It quickly became apparent to me that this was a higher-brow type of lounge, so to speak. There was pride and haughtiness imbedded in how the staff approached the management of this lounge. They expected the dismissive holier-than-thou customer, and remained detached, even a little cold, in return. So, I turned the cold-bougie feature on: I stared at staff who approached me a beat too long, I gave them cynical half-smiles…basically, I was polite but not nice. I was my mom. When my mom did stuff like that, it embarrassed the perpetual nice girl in me. It still does, but I’m getting older (and wiser), so…
I made sure to eat breakfast and dinner at the executive lounge for my entire two-day stay. I paid for it, after all.
So, I did take advantage of the facilities here (but I didn’t take a lot of photos; Mom was afraid of me taking an accidental picture of the wrong powerful person and getting “disappeared”): the fitness center, the pool (part of the Urban Garden), and the sauna. I’m not kidding when I say that I was the youngest guest in the gym by about 15-20 years. The compact gym was filled every time I went, and was mostly filled with much older Korean gentlemen. I’m not hating on it at all: I just found the situation amusing. But the gym felt totally cramped from all of the equipment: the space was definitely smaller than that of the Conrad’s gym.
The indoor pool was also a tad underwhelming: since the Urban Garden was, for the most part, closed for the winter, I had to contend with the small, short pool. Oh well.
Where the The Shilla shines in terms of facilities is the sauna. The sauna was gorgeous and spacious: it had two whirlpools, a cold dunking pool, two dry saunas and one (suffocatingly) wet sauna. I wished I could’ve taken pictures, but there were always too many ladies; also, see the note about my mom’s concern above.
Overall, my stay at the Shilla wasn’t all bad. I mainly miss the room and the sauna. Would I go back? Maybe someday. But for those prices, I think I’ll stick with the Conrad for now.
In my next Lux Staycation installment, I’ll take you to Busan’s Park Hyatt! Stay tuned!
Note: This was not a comped stay; I stayed here on my own dime and wrote this blog post for pleasure.