Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: The Evergreen Resort Hotel, Jiaoxi

Note: this is not a sponsored post - I'm just writing about my stay at Evergreen so others can get an idea of what it's like. I wouldn't do a sponsored post like this anyhow. I actually stayed here in December last year, less than one week before rushing to the US ahead of schedule and the difficult few months that followed.

The Evergreen Resort Hotel Jiaoxi

TEL: 03-910-9988
FAX: 03-987-6383 

No. 77, Jiankang Rd., Jiaoxi Township, Yilan County 26241, Taiwan 

If you have upper middle class Taiwanese friends, you have probably heard of the Evergreen Resort Hotel. Billed as a five star hot spring resort in a town famous for its hot springs (Jiaoxi, in Yilan County on the northeast coast), this is like the to-go place for a weekend away with a spouse, a family or an entire caravan of extended family or friends. (Not as uncommon as you might think: with apartments in Taiwan fairly small in size, when large groups want to get together they'll usually go to restaurants if they're in the same area, but if people are coming from all over, it's quite common to rent a block of hotel rooms in a resort-style hotel where kids have ample play spaces and adults can spend time together. These groups may never leave the hotel).

It's also popular for weddings, which is how we ended up there. I'd visit local friends and see Evergreen slippers near their doors, or just hear stories of weekends at this hotel, and that made me want to check it out. When a friend announced her engagement and chose it as her venue, we figured why not book a night there to see what all the fuss is about?

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My overall impressions are this: great if you have kids or want an easy weekend away, very comfortable and your needs certainly are looked after, but I'm not sure that the "five star" rating really translates. That's not to say we didn't enjoy it - we certainly did! Just that there may be some cultural differences implied in what is and is not a "five star" resort hotel.

The services definitely were high-end or at least very considerate of guests: we took a morning bus to Jiaoxi (you didn't think we drove, did you? Ha!) and called the hotel for a pickup. Although the bus station turned out to be walking distance from the hotel, they sent a car to come get us without implying that we could have walked (which we could have, although given that I was already wearing the shoes I wore to my friend's wedding, I'm happy we didn't). Wanting to avoid the weekend traffic to the coast, we took a very early bus and had a few hours to kill before the wedding. Our room wasn't ready yet but we were welcome to use all hotel facilities. All we really wanted, though, was a cup of coffee so we walked to Starbucks (not exactly next door but not far away). Once our room was available our bags were taken up without us having to ask.

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A good size private bath for a hot spring soak - don't worry, there's a remote that will bring down a screen curtain over that glass wall if you're staying with friends and want to bathe in private.

One thing that made me feel like "globally speaking this isn't really five star" was the lobby, which was sparse and frankly a little boring. Maybe as a Westerner I expect "five stars" to mean "ostentatious", decorated within an inch of its life, but the Evergreen lobby is almost entirely laid with plain neutral marble, basic seating, a very normal reception desk...nothing that took my breath away. Nice, but not memorable.

The wedding itself was lovely - pretty typically Taiwanese, which most of you are probably familiar with, so I won't go on at length about it (although I was a bit shocked that one person giving a speech said "as you all know, [friend] is almost 40. So this is proof that you can find love at any age!" ...uh, wow.) Wedding food, three dresses, big banquet hall, speeches, you know the deal. The huge Evergreen logos on either side of the wedding stage were a bit corporate and weird, but otherwise it was a fine venue for this sort of event. Being outside of Taipei one can get a better deal on high end wedding packages there.

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My friends Joyce and Stanley tie the knot

Our room was probably one of the most basic ones as we got it at a discount due to being wedding guests, but it faced the mountains - a good thing as there is construction going on in the building across the street so an ocean view room would also be a construction-site-view room. It came with a king-size bed with the most comfortable mattress in all of Taiwan and down-soft bedding (I still kind of dream about that mattress and comforter), a large private hot spring bath and separate shower, high-end toiletries in their own little cloth bags, Japanese-style cover-ups to wear to the hot springs, slippers, good towels, a full range of TV channels, a Japanese-style table and chairs with fresh fruit and candy, a full tea and coffee service and a massive picture window.

But, again, the decoration didn't wow me. It's very understated: light wood that frankly reminds me a little bit of IKEA, basic carpeting, a subtly colored cloth headboard. I researched the hotel a bit and found that that was the entire point of the aesthetic: to mimic Japanese simplicity, understatedness and minimalism. Rather than luxe upholstery and Western-style dark woods, they went with a Japanese hot spring look. The thing is, this could have really worked if it were really Japanese or at least more clearly Japanese-inspired. It didn't have some of the lovely aesthetic touches that make a minimally decorated Japanese space pop (eg. blue-and-white patterned cloth, shoji screens, tatami etc). Instead it was like applying Japanese minimalism to a Western aesthetic which doesn't really do it for me. It was nice. It just wasn't particularly memorable. I like memorable - I don't need my room to look like some crap out of Versailles (yuck!) - but I like to really feel that I got a unique experience.

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My favorite part of the room was this amazing bed. I want this bed in my life again.

So, I guess I would say: five star amenities and service, but the look just didn't say "five star".

We were stuffed after the banquet, so before dinner we availed ourselves of the hot spring spa in the hotel. This is where I felt a little annoyance: I knew that the women's spa cover-up wouldn't fit me because nothing in Taiwan fits me. The slippers didn't fit me either. I called to ask for a 2nd pair of men's slippers but they never came, so Brendan let me wear his and he just put his shoes in a locker when he got down there (I eventually took his and still have them: it's not stealing if you're allowed to keep it). I felt like - calling at all drew attention I didn't really want to my giantess feet. Not bringing the slippers? Come on guys. Five stars.

I could have also asked for a men's cover-up but instead just wore my own casual outfit - I had already had to ask for accommodation for my Hulk feet, I didn't want to have to call to ask for bigger clothing, too. It's not that they would have had a problem with it, it's that I didn't also want to spend any extra time thinking about how "one size fits all" in Taiwan actually means "one size fits petite women and if you are not petite, you are conspicuously huge". Fee, fi, fo, fum! If you want your five star hot spring resort to really attract international visitors, you should provide spa clothing that will actually fit the varying body types of those international visitors.

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My second favorite part of the hotel was the Japanese-style seating area with a view to the mountains.

But the hot spring spa itself was again very nice. I would have liked less cement and more stone and wood, and more natural scents in the scented baths, but there were a variety of hot spring pools to choose from. I tried the "tiny fish eat your skin" foot-bathing pool, which was a first for me as I don't normally go to spas where you pay for that sort of thing. But being a free amenity here, why not? The verdict? Do not try if you are ticklish in any way. It's, uh...very tickly and weird. But kind of fun. The scented pools (kumquat, Chinese herb and orchid) were nice, but I saw them adding the bath salts that created the scents and they looked chemical-y and fake. I'm not sure what they were made of, but actual herbs, dried orchids or kumquats etc. would have provided a more upscale experience. I quite liked the super hot bath and the more natural bath surrounded by plants, paved with stones and jets that pummel your back. The outside pools were also nice on a pleasantly cool December evening. There was free barley tea which was refreshing.

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Pretty typical wedding banquet food presented on a super fancy platter

What I did not like: the music piped into the hot spring area. Elevator music mixed with Christmas songs (at least it was appropriate for December). Also, the large number of children crowding the pools. I get that this is a family-friendly resort, but I didn't feel it was, in that case, a very good place for adults without kids to relax.

We went out for dinner, not really wanting to pay hotel prices for hotel food, and also to get out into Jiaoxi town a little. When we came back there was a children's Christmas concert and a guy in a costume making balloon animals. That reinforced my feeling that this is a great hotel for a hot spring vacation...if you have kids. Rather than go to the bar/cafe, which didn't look particularly interesting (I would expect a more unique bar/cafe area at a five star hotel) we ordered drinks to the room and sat in the awesome Japanese-style chairs drinking and eating wedding cookies for dessert. I liked that we really got the chance to use the space (also that I could order a glass of Macallan, neat, to my room and it would come with free Doritos), but I would have preferred a more inviting bar.

I did appreciate a free Taipei Times in the morning (you can choose a newspaper in English, Japanese or Chinese), and I thought it was sweet that as we were coming back from dinner a girl on our floor got a visit from Santa Claus. Around Christmas if you stay at Evergreen with kids and ask for it from the staff, Santa will visit your kids in your room and bring a small gift. It was really sweet, but the parents (snapping lots of pictures) seemed more excited than the kid (who looked kind of confused and scared of the guy in the fake beard and red velour suit - it's not that Santa is unheard-of here, it's that the kid was probably just too young).

Breakfast was included in the room and it was definitely of five-star size: a huge buffet of Western and Chinese style breakfast foods, all of which were perfectly good but none of which were anything to write home about. Guests are notified that they're more likely to avoid a wait if they have breakfast at non-peak times (basically not between 8:30 and 9:30am), but we felt like - this is when we want to eat, so this is when we're going to go. We did have to wait but not long.

Since the food was perfectly fine, my only real complaint about breakfast was that, again, there were kids running around everywhere (one almost made me spill my coffee as I was walking back to the table). It's not that I don't like kids, it's that when I think "five star resort hotel", I think "place for adults to relax without screaming children". Family-style resorts are something entirely different to me. I guess, rather like the "minimalist Japanese-inspired" decorating, the idea of "five star hot spring resort" and "bring the whole family!" are just not disparate concepts in Taiwanese culture.

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The venue was fine, but the corporate logos were a bit odd. 

All in all I would recommend going if you have the opportunity - if anything to get your foot skin eaten by tiny fish and to sleep on those heavenly mattresses as well as take a nice, scalding private hot spring soak. If you have kids it's definitely a good choice for a comfortable weekend away. If you're a couple looking to relax in a grown-up setting with other adults it's still pretty good, but probably not what you're looking for. But it's a great choice for a wedding!

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