FOR MANY seasoned travellers, searching for a hotel or resort usually boils down to one or more of these idiosyncratic essentials - location, amenities, food, service, family friendliness, and bang for buck.
Although the information can be easily found from websites, magazines, and guidebooks, sieving through it remains a less than pleasant task.
Hotels and resorts enjoy boasting about how many stars they have and what awards they have garnered, and with an ample 'razzle-dazzle' of photographs and write-ups, every property can look like the definitive place to stay in.
Enter the 3rd edition of Insight Guides' Asia's Best Hotels & Resorts - a 384-page guide to the 350 top hotels in Asia, chosen and voted by none other than the consumers themselves.
And there is no shortcut to getting listed in this book.
Mr Ed Peters, the book's Project Editor, writes in the preface: "From time to time hotels contact the editorial team with delicately phrased enquiries as to how to get into this guide.
"The short answer is that they can't unless folks vote for them."
In exact, 89,000 votes were cast on a dedicated site at HotelClub.com, citing over 4,000 hotels across 22 countries in Asia. 330 hotels and resorts emerged from this stringent assessment and selection process, with another 20 specially chosen by the editors.
Insight Guides pays careful attention to distinguish between what is consumer-generated and what are actually "Editors' Picks", or accolades espoused by the properties themselves. "Editors' Picks", for example, have no ratings scores, and the guidebook clearly states that hotel star ratings, based on the customary one-to-five scale, are provided by the properties themselves.
The beginning is the end
The best part of Asia's Best Hotels & Resorts is actually found at the end of the book - the "Hotel ratings index".
More than just an alphabetical, country-by-country listing, the index shows a comparative table of all the properties featured in the earlier sections of the book, replete with ratings, facilities available and overall value.
The ratings, which are based on a one-to-ten scale, have the essential criteria of ambience, value, staff, location, cleanliness, facilities, restaurants and families. Hotel facilities are represented by neat, little icons that are easily understandable - for example, a milk bottle for babysitting services, and the end of a dumbbell for gymnasium facilities.
Narrowing down the list of hotels which fits your requirements could not be easier.
Need help keeping the kids entertained while you hit the treadmill and attend to work emails? Just check for the hotel which possesses the icons of a laptop (in-room computer ports), the end of a dumbbell (gymnasium), and a teddy bear (kids' club).
The only lament - the "Rates from:" criteria, which is present in the individual hotel reviews, is sorely missing from the tabulated index. Although room rates vary across seasonality, and the book uses a US$100 scale, having some level of comparison between hotels would be nice.
For those who take a more qualitative approach to selecting where to rest their heads, each hotel is individually reviewed with a brief write-up and well-selected pictures. Telephone and fax numbers, and the hotel's geographical and web address are conveniently positioned on the top for further inquiries.
The 20 "Editors' Picks" have "n/a" for their ratings, so the only way to uncover what the fuss is about them is to dig into the individual reviews. Kudos to the team for coming up with some pretty nifty choices, like the One Hotel Angkor, which as its name suggests, is a one-suite only establishment with luxurious private rooftop and Jacuzzi.
Singapore's Scarlet hotel also gets a feature, for her "avant-garde and theatrical get-up" which according to the writer, "definitely debunks the staid Lion City image".
The "Editors' Picks" throw the limelight on many of the smaller, easily-overlooked names in the industry, providing good contrast to the Hiltons, Shangri-Las, Four Seasons and Marriotts which reappear frequently throughout the book.
Not just a utilitarian guide
But Asia's Best Hotels & Resorts is more than just a utilitarian directory for choosing your hotel. Each section kicks off with an introduction of the country, containing a well balanced mix of socio-political, cultural, historical and geographical information.
With witty and sounding lines like "Brunei.. is home to some very charming natives, and - if it doesn't sound impolite - ever so slightly dull" - the introductions can make for some quite agreeable leisure reading.
If staying outdoors forms a major highlight of your holidays, then it would be ideal to avoid the monsoon seasons in Asia. Each country introduction also comes with an annual weather chart of temperatures and rainfall, which is especially handy for timing your trip, and deciding whether to pack the raincoat or the beach mat.
A book for the library
Whether you are someone who wants to quickly suss out your hotel to stay in, or a 'couch' traveller who likes to read and ogle over some of the best properties around the region, Asia's Best Hotels & Resorts makes for a worthy addition to any travel library.
Top picture: Lotte Hotel Jeju in South Korea, one of the hotels featured in the book. [Photo: Insight Guides]