The Ham Yard, London: one of the most chic & quirky hotels in the world . . .

THIS is a hotel with so many elements of surprise it just keeps giving and giving.

From the heaving and buzzy bar to a smartypants and elegant library bar to an hypoxic gym and a theatrette, the Ham Yard hotel is a self-contained community right in the middle of what is the coolest part of London: Soho.

But the one thing that really got me going? The bowling alley.

Yup. I’ve seen some pretty interesting hotel additions in my travels but this is certainly one of the quirkiest. And cutest.

The Ham Yard is all cool, quirk and more.

It’s been over 20 years since first Firmdale hotel group, owned by designer Kit Kemp and her husband Tim, have opened the likes of the Charlotte Street Hotel in Fitzrovia in 2000, followed by a handful of other hautey haunts including the cult-like Covent Garden hotel, also in London.

The Pelham hotel popped up in London from the Kemps years ago and now the design and art-fuelled luxury boutique hotel chain has become world-renowned for its quirky, bespoke and simply stylish decor in each of its London and New York inns.

Exquisite interiors aside, the piece de resistance must be the Croc bowling alley. The alley was actually bought over from Texas by the Kemps and the walls that surround it are adorned with Howard Hodgkin paintings; there’s a very chic bar and there’s a dance floor complete with crocodile artworks on the walls.

You’ve got it. This in no ‘normal’ hotel, a mix of meeting place, sleeping place, shopping, eating and art gallery.

OK, so aside from the bowling alley, the attention to detail at this place is extraordinary.

There is not one room that is the same as the other and unlike some of the more minimal ‘boutique’ hotels dotted around the world, a Kemp hotel is anything but stark.

The actual Ham Yard is like a U-shaped community enclave that, aside from the 91 hotel rooms, there are short-term and long-term apartments available (that have proved very popular with entertainment industry folk) as well as shops like Australia’s Dinosaur Designs and Jac & Jack.

The thing about this hotel is it doesn’t feel like a hotel. The staff aren’t scurrying around looking too formal and stitched up but they will suddenly appear out of nowhere and are there to cater to any whim.

Whether you need to know the best place to eat, drink, go to the theatre or shop, the concierge, just like *that* have it sorted and booked for you.

If the weather is ‘good’, the view from the rooftop garden and bar (they grow their own veggies up there too) is sensational and overlooks Soho’s chimneys, churches, streets, buildings and clocktowers.

Once you go down a flight of stairs from the lobby level, there is another huge bar that then darts off into other event spaces and even a theatrette that seats nearly 200 people.

Corporates often use that entire ground floor space for product or entertainment unveilings. Oh, and did I mention there is a spa? It’s a marble and wood space called the Soholistic Spa that even features an hypoxic gym for those who need their altitude training for their next trip to the Himalayas!

But back to the bowling alley …

The beauty of the alley is that it is not a mad owners whim or a feature just for hotel guests but a fully functional and bookable event area where people can host a full-on party.

The beauty of the Ham Yard is that it is full of (great) and continual surprises and let’s face it, that is exactly what every traveller wants.

The Ham Yard Hotel in Soho, London +44 20 3642 2000 or at

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The word 'upgrade' has a certain ring to it: thanks Etihad!

Have just headed to London to check out the James Bond ‘Bond In Motion’ exhibition (and also to drive some of the infamous Aston Martins that have featured in the films over many decades.) Not a bad gig, thank you 20th Century Fox.

But this business trip got off to a great start when the upgrade fairy came calling when I checked in at Sydney airport to fly Etihad to London, via Abu Dhabi.

So, I just thought I’d give you a taste of just a few of the ‘moments’ on the flight.

Best part: when I arrived in Abu Dhabi, I was escorted to the VVIP, roped off area, where I was given absolute super duper treatment.

I mean, maybe they thought I was somehow related Nicole Kidman afterall she did star in the recent Etihad ‘reimagined’ advertising campaign.

Maybe I’m just imagining, ok, dreaming, to live a flying life like this.

Yes, you only live once, but this experience – all last 18 hours of it so far – have been seriously sensational!

*Follow Melissa on Instagram & Twitter @melissahoyer

An extraordinary hotel, The President from Akaryn to open in Laos

Discover an Indulgent Retreat in the Heart of Vientiane at The President Hotel by AKARYN, Launching Q3 2016

The award-winning AKARYN Hotel Group announces the launch of The President by AKARYN, opening in Q3 2016 in the centre of Vientiane, Laos.

Inspired by its setting, the hotel is located between the House of Parliament, the Presidential Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha. With only 30 spacious rooms, including two grand presidential suites with private butler service around the clock, the calming colour palate and elegant fittings will provide guests with a sanctuary from the city outside.

Originally built for the Laotians by the Chinese government as a “gift”, The President by AKARYN will blend original Laotians design with colonial influence to reflect the heritage of Laos and its bright future.

Fine dining with an ever-evolving menu of delicacies both locally and globally inspired will be served in a choice of seven dining options. High tea will be created daily by celebrated pastry chefs from around the world. All manner of private events will be hosted in grand style with intimate dining rooms and an impressive stately ballroom for up to 1000 guests.

The President by AKARYN will also house an exclusive private member’s club, with access to a cigar lounge, humidor and whisky cellar that will present one of the finest and largest selection of cigars found in this region of Asia, with tutored whisky tastings held on a monthly basis. Perfectly situated for business travellers to the capital, the location of the hotel sets it apart as a leading venue for state visits, dignitaries, UN, NGO and corporate meetings. The hotel will provide state of the art business facilities and expert concierge services.

The revolutionary Ayurah Wellness Centre will deliver an entirely new approach to fitness and healing for Laos. With treatments and bespoke programmes based on the four pillars of Ayurah Wellness – Weight Optimisation, Anti-Aging, Mind Balance and Detoxification – guests will benefit from both Eastern and Western philosophies to nurture the mind, body and spirit.

The intricately landscaped gardens offer a flow of manicured spaces and lush tropical gardens to explore. Embracing theAKARYN concept of outside-living, guests can cool off in the pool, dine under the stars, or take in a classical music concert in the private gardens every Sunday. Venturing out during a stay, guests may stroll directly to the Vientiane’s Central Park and the beautiful Mekong River.

Anchalika Kijkanakorn, visionary managing director and founder of AKARYN Hotel Group said: “Vientiane has long been a favourite destination of mine, and we are proud to offer a wonderfully unique hotel both for guests wishing to enjoy the city and the region and for business travellers as well as play host to weddings and other celebratory events on an intimate or grand scale. We are very excited to be able to preserve the heritage of this stunning building and re-instate it as one of the most spectacular landmarks in Laos.”

Aussie Mars hopeful heads into HAB to promote The Martian

AUSTRALIAN ‘Mars One’ candidate Josh Richards has entered a solitary, purpose-built ‘HAB’ at Sydney’s Circular Quay.

He has been selected as one of only 100 astronaut candidates who will potentially leave earth forever and travel to Mars in 2025 to colonise the planet.

A physicist, explosives engineer and a soldier, when a major film distributor in Australia went looking for someone to be part of a marketing initiative, they could not have found a better and more legitimate participant than Mr Richards.

Mr Richards isn’t just some actor who has been dumped into a Mars-like HAB (habitat) for five days in the hope of flogging DVDs of the Matt Damon starring movie, The Martian.

Quite possibly, he will also be Australia’s first legitimate ‘Martian’ as he is already on the short list of names that is being put through paces. Soon enough he may be part of the very serious and ambitious $6 billion Mars One mission.

The mission hopes to send a group of men and women to Mars by 2025.

While some people still think it is pie-in-the-sky stuff, Mr Richards is absolutely confident human life will eventually exist on Mars.

“I wouldn’t have put my hand up if I didn’t think it wasn’t going to work,” a confident Mr Richards told

“I have learnt, among many things, that we can GET people to Mars but we just can’t get them back at this stage.”

Mr Richards says there are many challenges to make the Mars One project work, from political and technological but the biggest one is physiology.

“The biggest issue is about coming back,’’ he says.

“Bones break down due to the reduced gravity environment, as you have zero ‘g’s’ when travelling through space so your body is adapting to reduced gravity. Once it is coming back it is going through upwards of 9gs of gravity, so you just wouldn’t survive it.

“With going one way, you have the chance to land and stay on land on the planet and research and discover new things and you never have to worry about experiencing the risk of what could be coming back.”

Hence, any of the team eventually chosen in the next 12 months and who commit to going to Mars have to reconcile the fact that Mars, potentially in 10 years’ time, will be their home. Forever.

“It’s really been an extension of where I was already going,’’ says the Perth-born former military man.

“I know what it is like to live with a backpack and rather than focusing on owning a home and having that kind of very traditional 1950s image of what success in life is, I have become a nomad and just keep moving and go where I need to be.

“My hope is you’ll be able to go outside in 10 years’ time and point out to kids outside that ‘look up there, there are people now living there, on Mars’.”

The public ‘HAB’ he has entered is very similar to what Matt Damon’s character ‘lived’ in, in the movie, The Martian.

“It is very clean and quite similar to what is in the film and what is going on inside will be very similar,’’ he says.

Mr Reynolds is taking part in a five-day public challenge that will require him to use his ingenuity, tenacity and skill to survive in a simulated Martian base.

He will be required to undertake up to three survival challenges a day, set by a team of experts and scientists.

The challenges have been designed to emulate those faced by Mark Watney (Matt Damon) in the Oscar-nominated movie, The Martian.

“I’m not fussed about people watching into the HAB over the next few days as you basically have to forget that the cameras are on and that people are staring,’’ he laughs.

But hang on, if he was to suddenly meet someone who he fell madly in love with, how would the 10-years-on-earth timeline go.

“I have faced those challenges already,” says Josh.

“I was with someone when I found out about all of this and I sat down with my partner and had an in-depth discussion. I realised that I want to eventually change the way all humans live and if this happens, this will definitely be part of that.”

“It’s difficult and very challenging and it means I don’t have those kind of relationships that most people do as I am committed to going to Mars.”

At this point, there are 100 candidates worldwide for the Mars One mission and there are seven Aussies in the mix.

“The next phase is September when they get us all together somewhere in the world and will put us through more testing and we would eventually become full time employees hoping on a launch date of 2026 with a landing date of March 2027.

“The cost of all of this is the cost of a major stadium or it is three times of what Australian would spend on beer in a year.”

* The public can observe Josh 24-hrs a day, directly through the glass exterior or via a live camera feed at

The Martian is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD on February 10

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Bluesmart: the clever carry-on suitcase with digi connectivity. Cool.

Introducing Bluesmart: the world’s first carry on suitcase that connects to your Smartphone, exclusively available at Strandbags.

Bluesmart is a high quality cabin suitcase with revolutionary technology to improve your travel experience.

Features include:
– Digital locking system
– Proximity sensors
– Location tracking
– Trip tracking information – Built in digital scale
– Built in battery

The Bluesmart case is powered by 3G connectivity with Bluetooth technology which enables a remote locking system, allowing users to lock and unlock the suitcase from their smartphone. The location-tracking feature on Bluesmart will automatically lock the case when it’s separated from its user. Trip tracking information means that users can track their miles travelled and also receive smart trip notifications when they arrive at their destination. The built in scale communicates the exact weight of the suitcase to the companion app, helping users avoid paying extra baggage fees or being forced to check for extra weight. Finally, the built in battery, which allows users to re-charge their smartphone or other device up to 6 times over.

Designed to make life easier for those constantly on the go, the innovative technology behind Bluesmart represents a quantum leap for the luggage industry.

Available exclusively at Strandbags Stores (distribution limited to 70 stores) & Price $599