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APRIL 2015

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO NEXT?

MAGAZINE

BEYOND BLUE DIVING IN THE PHILIPPINES

Java

THE ISLAND OF THE FIRE GODS

Vietnam

Saigon Soul

New York After Astoria


p u b l i s h e r ’s l e t t e r

W

elcome

to

another

issue

of Explorer, the eco-friendly digital

travel

magazine for true world wanderers. In this issue we explore destinations both remote and popular, busy and idyllic, starting off on the Indonesian island of Java, where Nick Walton is joined by his father and friends on an unforgettable motorbike journey up and around the active volcanoes of the island’s centre. From Indonesia it’s a short jump to the Vietnamese southern capital of Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City depending on who you talk to. This unashamedly cosmopolitan city is a fascinating marriage of heritage and modernity and offers travellers who don’t mind crowds a budget friendly option in Asia. From Vietnam we head to Astoria in the New York borough of Queens, the latest neighbourhood to come under the focus of the city’s tourism body as it promotes its Neighbourhood x Neighbourhood campaign. From the Big Apple we return to Asia to discover some of the best diving sites in the Philippines, a destination that’s on the bucket list of any scuba fan. Finally, we arrive with a touch of luxury in Mauritius, a former French colony that offers plenty of culture and sunshine in the heart of the Indian Ocean. Where ever you’re headed and for whatever reason, we hope Explorer continues to inspire and motivate you to explore well beyond the beaten path. Safe travels.

David Leung Publisher


World in Pics Kamchatka, in Russia’s Far East, in increasingly popular with travellers looking to get well off the beaten path.

Credit: Secret Compass

A Spitfire participates in a WWII re-enactment in the UK.

Credit: Royal Gunpowder Mills

A Thousand Words... The Spanish Region of Murcia is proving increasingly popular with European travellers on a budget.

Credit: Costa Calida

Mountain bikers tackle trails in the Oetztal Mountains of Austria.

Credit: Ă–tzta Tourismus

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World in Pics

Sri Lanka's cultural triangle is famed for its rock fortresses and cave temples.

Credit: OnThe Go Tours

Cuba promises to be one of the hottest destinations in 2015.

Credit: Rickshaw travel

From hiking in Russia to sipping rum A swing awaits the return cocktails in Cuba, of summer of Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand. travel the world through the lens with these hot holiday pics. The Melbourne Star Observation Wheel remains one of the city’s most popular attractions.

Credit: Melbourne Star

Tatra Photography will host a photographic adventure in Myanmar this November.

Credit: Tatra Photography

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W H AT’S H A P PE N I N G

Noosa International Food & Wine Festival

A Golden Age of China: Qianlong Emperor, 1736 – 1795

Noosa, Queensland, Australia May 14 – 17, 2015

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia March 27 – June 21, 2015

Australia’s Sunshine Coast will host its annual food and wine event during the southern hemisphere’s autumn, and visitors will get to enjoy sumptuous local produce in one of the country’s most scenic settings. Sample food from lauded local chefs like Matt Moran, Adriano Zumbo, Matt Golinski, Peter Conistis, and Matt Golinski; learn about wines from Torbrek’s Greg McGill and Virginia Willcock from Vasse Felix Wines; and enjoy musical interludes from bands like the Swingin’ Martinis and Relish. Themed dinners, cooking demonstrations, and a host of other activities will round out the program. www.noosafoodandwine.com.au

Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria tells the story of China’s foremost art collector, the Qianlong Emperor, in a rich exhibition of work from Beijing’s Palace Museum, which is built on the imperial collection from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The collection of more than 120 works includes silk and paper paintings, silk court robes, objets d’art inlaid with precious stones, portraits of the Qianlong emperor, empress and imperial concubines, and ceremonial weapons. www.ngv.vic.gov.au

French Open 2015

Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Roland-Garros Stadium, Paris, France May 19 – June 7, 2015

Chelthenham, United Kingdom April 29 – May 4, 2015

One of the hottest events on the tennis calendar, the French Open – called Roland-Garros – is the second Grand Slam tournament of the year, and the only one to be played on clay courts. This year, tennis fans the world over will be looking to see if Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, winners of the 2015 Australian Open, will be able to follow up their wins with a second trophy, and many will watch to see if ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal can once more claim victory. www.rolandgarros.com

Attracting more than 20,000 visitors each year, the Cheltenham Jazz Festival celebrates a wide range of jazz styles in the gorgeous alfresco setting of the town’s Montpellier Gardens. This year, British jazz favourite Jamie Cullum acts as guest director for the festival, curating a lineup of established international acts and local up-and-comers including Caro Emerald, Wilko Johnson, and Rumer. Don’t miss Friday Night is Music Night: The Sinatra Legacy, a tribute Rat Pack legend Frank Sinatra. www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz

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WHAT’S HAP P E NING

Andy Warhol: Campbell’s Soup Cans and Other Works, 1953 – 1967 Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA April 25 – 12 October, 2015 New York’s Museum of Modern Art is paying tribute to Pop Art icon Andy Warhol with a unique exhibition focusing on the artist’s most prolific years, between 1953 and 1967. The centre piece of the exhibition is Campbell’s Soup Cans – the 1962 series of 32 paintings is Warhol’s signature work. The showcase will also present drawings and illustrations from the 1950s, when Warhol began his career as a commercial artist, and other seminal prints and paintings from Warhol’s oeuvre, including his famous Marilyn Monroe images. www.moma.org

Dresden Music Festival

Björk The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA March 9 – June 7, 2015 Icelandic singer, composer, and musician Björk has long fascinated music and art aficionados with her complex, multifaceted work, and this spring, New York’s Museum of Modern Art will explore her innovative career in an all-new retrospective exhibition, simply titled Björk. The immersive experience begins with Björk’s 1993 album, Debut, which walks through more than 20 years of albums and multidisciplinary collaborations, and culminates with 2015’s Black Lake, a new video and music installation. www.moma.org

Barcelona FI Grand Prix

Dresden, Germany May 13 – June 7, 2015

Cuicuit De Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain May 8-10, 2015

Initiated by governmental decree during the Cold War, this three-week festival sees renowned orchestras, world-class soloists, and established ensembles perform in spectacular venues throughout the city’s historic centre and surrounds. This year’s theme of "Fire Ice" pays homage to Europe’s diverse climates and landscapes by exploring the differences between Northern composers like Sibelius and Southern composers such as Vivaldi. Expect performers like Christina Elba, the Dover Quartet, Lil Buck, and Maria Fesilier. www.musikfestspiele.com

With its high-and-low speed corners, an abrasive surface that causes high tire wear, and variable wind conditions Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya makes for a physically and mechanically challenging race. F1 fans will be watching to see if high-ranking favourites like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel will continue to dominate, or if lowerranked dark horses like Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso will turn in surprise performances. www.formula1.com

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Shark Week Fiji's South Sea Cruises has launched a new series of 'Ultimate Encounters' centered around a snorkelling with sharks experience. The 1, 2 or 3 day experience will transfer curious travellers from Port Denarau on Fiji's mainland to Kuata Island in the Yasawa Island group to snorkel with Black Tip and White Tip reef sharks up to 1.8m long. A unique encounter for any family, snorkelers dive on a shallow reef with excellent visibility. White Tip reef sharks are known to be inquisitive and will swim much closer to snorkelers, while black tippers tend to be more shy. All excursions are hosted by experienced guides who have spent hundreds of hours getting to know the resident sharks and who closely monitor their behavior. Kuata Island itself is a hidden gem in the Yasawa Island archipelago, a two hour scenic cruise from Port Denarau. With a picture postcard beach, transparent turquoise waters, and unusual tall rock formations, Kuata boasts the same warm hospitality synonymous with Fijian people. If no sharks are sighted, South Sea Cruises will offer a complimentary cruise within three days so guests can try again. From AU$188 (US$143) per adult. www.ssc.com.fj

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Ganges Journey with Uniworld Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has created an exciting new itinerary for travellers who have always wanted to explore India but with the comfort of a cruise. The India's Golden Triangle & the Sacred Ganges journey takes guests on a 13-day itinerary that delves deeply into the spirit of the country, including seven nights onboard the 56-passenger, all-suite Ganges Voyager II and five nights onshore at three award-winning Oberoi hotels and resorts in New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Guests experience the delicate juxtaposition of New Delhi, where the ruins of medieval bazaars are scattered between shopping malls and magnificent museums. No visit to India would be complete without a tour of the Taj Mahal, India's most iconic monument of love, and Uniworld guests visit this marble masterpiece twice – witnessing its majesty at both sunrise and sunset. Jaipur's sprawling City Palace, Mother Theresa's tomb and former home in Kolkata, an enormous Verdic temple in Mayapur, and five UNESCO sites are just a sampling of the architectural and spiritually significant marvels Uniworld guests visit on this captivating and enlightening journey. The new Ganges Voyager II features French balconies, cozy sitting areas, and flat-screen televisions in its staterooms. Roomy bathrooms have rain showers, robes, slippers, and Molton Brown bath products. Guests staying in the Maharaja and Viceroy Suites will enjoy daily butler service, laundry service, and one complimentary spa treatment per person. www.uniworld.com

In the Fields in Vietnam Explore the real Vietnam with a new Meet the Farmer experience from The Nam Hai in Hoi An. The full day excursion brings guests to experience long-forgotten and somewhat unfamiliar farming traditions from the remote countryside of Central Vietnam. Guests can explore the lives of local communities by cycling down the meandering roads of the quaint village of Tra Que. Aptly named after the sweetly scented vegetables that grow in this part of Vietnam (TraQue is also known as the vegetable village), TraQue is steeped in traditions, and foreign visitors are still a rarity. It is thanks to these uniquely flavoursome vegetables that the local specialties such as Cao Lau and Quang Noodles have become famous for their natural sweetness and delicate fragrance. To intensify the experience, guests can also enjoy a traditional culinary class and learn to replicate some of the area's most iconic dishes such as the Tam Huu spring roll made from TraQue vegetables or Banh Xeo, a sizzling pancake made with rice batter and a meat filling. An alternative for fish lovers, is to delve into A Day in the Life of a Fisherman, maneuvering a traditional round basket boat though in an impressive water coconut plantation at the Hoi An River Delta. Guests can also try their hand at catching local fish using traditional Vietnamese nets and will have the opportunity to cook and feast on their day's catch. www.thenamhaihoian.com

Signature Suites at the Langham Hong Kong Pamper yourself on your next visit to the Fragrant Harbour with one of two stylish new signature suites that have recently opened at the Langham Hong Kong. Part of an extensive US$30 million facelift, the two new suites have been created by international award-winning G.A. Design and each boasts its own distinctive look. The 125sqm Penthouse Suite recalls the fashion houses of Europe; the opulent two-bedroom suite features a palate of cream, silver with touches of red and violet, and incorporates a living room with a decorative fireplace and a dining room that can accommodate up to six people. Styled with hand-crafted furniture, the Penthouse Suite is embellished with one-of-a-kind art pieces, diamond-cut mirror panelling, crystal chandeliers and lifestyle furnishings. The design journey for the 89sqm Director Suite was initially influenced by the nearby Avenue of Stars. Exuding warmer colours of black, grey and sepia, this spacious one-bedroom suite features an oversized 46-inch high-definition smart television, an extensive library collection and living and dining spaces. Later this year, the hotel will begin the second phase of its transformation with additional room refurbishment, including one more signature suite. www.langhamhotels.com

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The Land of Ice & Wolves Explore remote Greenland, the hottest new polar destination, with an exciting new itinerary from Macs Adventures. The South Greenland Adventure is a once in a lifetime trip to one of the most dramatic and isolated landscapes in the world, and includes hiking across the country's glaciers and tundra; exploring fjords and icebergs by RIB, kayak and helicopter excursions; and chances to learn about the Inuit culture. The trip will take the form of a small, guided group for up to 12 people and will have just one 25 August departure in 2015 for seven nights.While the natural wilderness of towering icebergs, deep fjords and calving glaciers are breathtaking, no less fascinating is the Inuit culture and the people, who over the ages, have learned to live at one with nature. Guests will have time to understand the indigenous way of life by exploring the city of Qaquortoq, visiting Narsaq's local market, fur shops and hunters harbour as well as experiencing Greenlandic hospitality at the family-run Sillisit farm. The trip will be guided by a hiking expert and will be accompanied by Nikki Rickett, who has a unique and extensive knowledge of Iceland and Alaska and several seasons

New Walking Tours of Macau The Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) has added four new routes to its “Step Out, Experience Macau's Communities” walking tours, to encourage visitors to explore Macau's lesser-known districts and unlock the secrets of this fascinating East-meets-West pocket of Asia. The short and easy-to-follow routes offer visitors a glimpse into local life and take in hidden gardens, magical temples and stunning Chinese and Portuguese architecture and monuments.The new routes join four existing tours, which have been redesigned, and together cover all corners of the total 11 square miles of Macau, which is made up of the Macau Peninsula and the islands of Taipa and Coloane.The four new walking routes include the Enchanting Stories of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, a 25 minute journey through a traditional parish where Portuguese and Chinese cultures coexist harmoniously; and the Bygone Days of Taipa Village, a look into the villages of one of Macau’s most traditional enclaves. All eight route maps are available to download via mobile apps for Andriod and iOS devices and can be viewed on www.macautourism.gov.mo

in Antarctica under her belt. www.macsadventure.com

Epic Two Wheel Adventure SpiceRoads has launched a new 14-day tour – Remote Vietnam and Laos by Bike – from bustling Hanoi to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Luang Prabang. This off-the-beaten-track tour leads cyclists through traditional local communities nestled in stunning landscapes and explores fascinating historical sites. The tour has been designed for people who want to get away from the main tourist thoroughfare, stay in authentic guest houses, and eat local. Highlights of the tour include riding through remote regions of Vietnam and Laos; travelling by boat on the Ngo Dong River to Bich Dong Pagoda; staying in Vietnam's largest national park; visiting the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre, where a wide variety of native monkeys and gibbons are saved from wildlife smugglers; and discovering the serene Mai Chau valley surrounded by rice fields and stilt houses. From US$2,950 per person.www.spiceroads.com/tours/vietnam_laos

Buddha Bar Reaches Mykonos Travellers bound for a Greek summer will love the new Buddha Bar Beach at Mykonos’ Santa Marina Hotel. The only resort on the island with its own private beach, the new Buddha Bar concept offers visitors a rotating set of menus created by the acclaimed club’s culinary teams, laced with locally sourced ingredients, and backdropped by the beauty of the Aegean Sea. Santa Marina Resort & Villas, Mykonos' collaboration with Buddha Bar follows a total redesign of the hotel's 75 waterfront rooms and suites, its restaurant, and its stunning beach, which were unveiled last summer. Located on a secluded peninsula overlooking Ornos Bay, the Santa Marina is only a short 3km speedboat or shuttle ride to Mykonos Town. The resort boasts its own 150-meter private beach, a private bay for guests and visitors to moor their boats, and the best yacht servicing facilities in Mykonos. www.theluxurycollection.com/santamarina

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Towering Achievement Travellers bound for the Big Apple looking for the best view in town should head for the new Observatory at Top of One World Trade Center, which officially opens this month. Positioned on top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere – on levels 100, 101, and 102 of the One World Trade Center building – One World Observatory will provide guests with unique, panoramic views of New York City, its most iconic sites, and surrounding waters from above 1,250 feet. More than just an observatory, the encounter also includes a presentation in the Global Welcome Center, where a large video board features salutations in an array of languages, and a dynamically generated world map highlights the hometowns of visitors. The Voices presentation tells the personal stories of the men and women who built One World Trade Centre, while Foundations displays facts about the very bedrock on which the building stands. Visitors will then board one of five dedicated elevators, termed Sky Pods, to ascend to the 102nd floor in under 60 seconds. Immersive, floor-to-ceiling LED technology in each cab invites guests to experience a virtual time-lapse that recreates the development of New York City's skyline from the 1600s to present day. The Sky Pod elevators, among the fastest in the world, will bring passengers directly to the See Forever Theater on the 102nd floor, which presents a two-minute video combining bird's etc imagery and time-lapse shotes with abstract textures and patterns to illustrate the unique rhythm and pulse of New York City. The Main Observatory space on the 100th floor includes an interactive skyline “concierge” - City Pulse – that allows guests to deeply connect with the landmarks and neighborhoods they observe from above. At City Pulse, global ambassadors will be stationed under a ring of HD video monitors and outfitted in gesture recognition technology, summoning imagery to the screens and providing guests with close-up views and personalized recommendations. The Main Observatory also features the Sky Portal where guests are invited to step onto a 14-foot wide circular disc that will deliver an unforgettable view, using real-time, high-definition footage of the streets below.From US$32 for adults and US$26 for children. www.OneWorldObservatory.com

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In do n e s i a

THE ISLAND OF THE FIRE GODS Nick Walton takes to two wheels to explore the volcanic peaks of central Java, Indonesia.

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I nd one sia

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In do n e s i a

I

t’s one thing to drink organic, single origin tea from some far off exotic land. But it’s another to drink the brew of freshly plucked leaves, only feet from the plantation in which they grew. But this is one of the little perks of exploring the volcanic peaks of central Java on a truly unique motorbike adventure. We’ve stopped for a cuppa on the long road up the steep flanks of Mt Lawu, one of three volcanic peaks that our seven day five night itinerary includes. The climb has been refreshing after the busy highways that connect Java’s chaotic cities far below. The air up in the highlands is fresh and clear, the view across the fertile tea plantations mesmerizing in a patchwork of greens and earthy browns, the hills undulating like a rippling quilt. The tea shack is perched on the edge of paradise. Our little group of five met in the university town of Yogyakarta two days earlier, after arriving from both sides of the Pacific. For my friends Marco Cortesi, Ben Smith, Will Theirbach, and my father Rob Walton it had been a while since they’d ridden a motorcycle, but the idea of exploring Java on two wheels was seduction enough to draw them all the way to autumn in Indonesia. There was excitement and trepidation as we mounted up on our fleet of 200cc bikes and followed our ever-smiling, ever-smoking guide Sugiat (another guide, Andy, drove a support vehicle with our luggage onboard) out of the city towards our

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I nd one sia first stop, the Dieng Plateau. After an hour the heavy city traffic gave way to narrow, winding mountain roads as we climbed through valley villages, abundant with fruit crops and rice terraces, towards the heavens. The Dieng Plateau is the floor of a volcanic crater that sits some 2,000 meters above sea level. In fact its name comes from Di Hyang, which means Above the Gods, which seemed fitting as the road steepened and we climbed ever higher towards the clouds. At a viewpoint near the top of the peak, we paused to gauge our progress, and gazed across terraced tobacco and tea plantations, which tumbled down the mountain side into Sumbing Valley, the summit above lost in cloud cover. It’s easy to see why this volcanic plateau, with its wreathing cloud-covered peaks and bubbling sulphur-infused lakes, was once considered religiously auspicious. Of the more than 400 Hindu temples that thrived here between the seventh and eighth centuries, only eight are left, but those that remain have been beautifully preserved. After a lunch of fried chicken and freshly ground sambal at a tiny hole-in-thewall restaurant, we explored the temple ruins, running our fingers across the ancient faces that stared out from the stone reliefs. It was clearly low season when we visited nearby Kawah Sikidang, a boiling mud and water lake constantly enveloped in pluming clouds. The site around this eye into the fiery centre of the earth is moon-like in its desolation, the air thick with sulphur and the day was getting late so we mounted up again, passing through thick forests before reaching the steep road down the mountain side again, bound for the lowlands and the Borobudur temple. And then we lost our guide – or more correctly, our guide lost us. Sugiat, on his zippy little white motorbike, isn’t the most attentive guide in the world, and after our group was slowly split apart between trucks and buses on the narrow road down from the mountain, we turned off the highway onto quieter roads for a chance to regroup. Sugiat, despite our calls and horn tooting, rode off into the sunset, oblivious that he had lost his charges. Of course, what do five foreigners in a www.explorer-magazine.com 15


In do n e s i a to a total of 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The story goes that if you read the reliefs, in order, from the base to the top, you’ll reach Nirvana. We did things in reverse, starting at the top as the sun cast the sky a dark indigo, followed by rose and finally a ripe tangerine hue. There were more than 50 travellers watching the dawn, and the arrival of the sun was mesmerizing. Once the day had begun, we wound our way down, fascinated by the ancient faces that peered out from the stone work, as the sun sprinted into the sky and the temperature climbed. Back on the motorbikes we headed back towards Yogjakarta, this time to visit the Kraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat, the expansive palace of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, and then on to the ancient Prambanan Temple, where we dressed up in traditional sarongs to tour the 9th century Hindu stone temple complex, dedicated to the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, in dazzling afternoon heat. The largest Hindu temple in Indonesia, this Unesco-listed complex is best known for its towering 47-meter central building and attracts travellers from across the globe. After a night in a rather run down hotel in the rather run down city of Solo, we were back on the road again, leaving the dusty highways of the city behind and climbing up strange land, without direction, do in such a situation? We decided to navigate our own way to Borobudur, which Sugiat had hinted was close by (throughout the trip his estimates of the distance to our next destination would vary wildly, until it became an on-going joke). With a little help from some sympathetic locals, and a refreshed sense of adventure in the air, we set off in the direction of Borobudur and our hotel at its base. However, night comes quickly in the mountains of central Java and with it disorientation; the roads are bumpy at the best of times, the traffic copious, but under the veil of night it became even harder to stay the course and we were forced to pull over, make some calls and finally direct Sugiat to us. It was a valuable early lesson 16 www.explorer-magazine.com

that we needed to keep an eye on both each other and our guide. It was an early start the next morning, a little after 4am, when we rose to explore Borobudur by first light. We carried torches and cameras up the dark, tree-lined path from the little Borobudur Hotel at the Unescolisted temple’s base, and climbed the steep steps towards the summit. A 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple, Borobudur had been an important place of pilgrimage during the reign of the Sailendra dynasty before being mysteriously abandoned and buried with volcanic ash, only to be ‘rediscovered’ and unearthed again in the early 1800s. The complex consists of six square platforms topped with three circular platforms, home


I nd one sia into the tea plantations in time for a fresh brew. Our young brew master can’t stop staring and giggling; they don’t get many tourists up here, let alone five dusty and sunburnt motorcyclists, but she makes the strong tea for us in stout glass cups, the brew steaming in the shade of the simple bamboo shack. Below we spy the conical hats of the tea pickers as they harvest leaves in a neighbouring plot, and across the road the dark silhouette of Lawu rises out of the morning haze. It’s a long steep climb up to the Ceto Temple,

a 15th century Javanese Hindu shrine hidden away high on the flanks of Mt Lawu. With bikes straining in first gear, we climb the pot holed road into the tiny village which wreaths the ancient temple, before climbing up the stairs to the gates. The view down across Java is spectacular and well worth the journey up the mountainside. We slowly make our way down the mountain again, stopping in at a local restaurant for chicken roasted with wild bumble bee honey gathered by local farmers, before arriving at the impressive 81-meter high Tawangmangu Falls, where we pretend not to be intimidated by the wild monkeys that reign supreme at its

After a day’s ride across a plateau dusted with fresh volcanic ash from Mt Kelud’s latest tantrum, we reach Mt Bromo, climbing to the rim of the Tengger massif before crossing the Sea of Sand, a vast, protected sea of volcanic ash that curls around the base of the active volcano. My bike’s clutch gives in after days of hard riding, but fortunately a friendly local in an ancient bright red Land Cruiser offers a hand and I meet the rest of the group at one of the small hotels that cater to Bromo-bound travellers. At 2,329 meters Mt tallest active volcano, best known and most hotels which perch on up weeks in advance.

Bromo isn’t Java’s but it’s certainly its visited and the tiny the crater’s edge fill

It’s pitch dark and remarkably cool at 3.30am the next morning when we mount up again, temporarily exchanging bikes for seats in a long convoy of boxy short wheel base Land Cruisers that wind their way through the night, around the crater’s edge, to a viewing point on the higher Mt Penanjakan in time for sunrise. The sun kisses the volcano’s slope with golden light, casting its rocky ravines in shadow, a steady plume of smoke at its summit a warning that the peak is still very much active, having erupted last in 2012. Behind, another active peak, Mt Semeru, broods.

base. By dusk we’ve crossed the plains and made good time up modern, quiet highways into another mountain range, to the border between Central Java and East Java. At a trucker’s coffee shack we take a break and sip thick, black Javanese coffee and watch clouds roll down the mountain side, a troop of crab-eating macaques calling to each other across the valley, a weathered Chinese gateway the only sign that we’re passing from one province to another. Within an hour we’re checked in at the beautifullymaintained, 1950s Thunderbird-esque Sarangan Lake Hotel, sipping chilled Bintang on a terrace overlooking the water and waited on by two old gents in impeccable traditional Javanese suits and peaked caps.

Sunrise, and the drive back across the Sea of Sand, past the weathered remains of a Hindu Temple and herds of stout ponies that carry tourists up to the crater’s edge, is a brilliant climax to our journey. We return to the hotel for breakfast and to pack, exhausted and elated in equal measure. For five sometimeriders, this has been a challenge that we faced head on; a test of resilience, rewarded with superb landscapes and welcoming people.

Travel Essentials Fly: Indonesia's national carrier flies to many destinations in Asia and beyond. It also has an extensive domestic network including Yogyakarta and Surabaya. www.garuda-indonesia.com Travel: LintangBuana Tourism Services offer a host of guided motorbike itineraries through Java. www.lintangbuanatours.com www.explorer-magazine.com 17


V i e tn a m

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V i etnam

SAIGON Soul Arguably Vietnam's most vibrant and cosmopolitan city, Ho Chi Minh has embraced its exposure to Americana, blending it with traditional architecture and plenty of French flavour into a brash, rough-and-ready persona that's proven hard to beat.

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o Chi Minh City is a metropolis that never sleeps; one full of colour and a zest for life, and a walking tour of the city's downtown district is the best way to capture some of Saigon's addictive character through its beautiful, and historic, buildings. Take the roof garden of the Rex Hotel for instance. Located in the heart of downtown Saigon, overlooking leafy Le Loi Boulevard and the city's Opera House, this iconic hotel started life in 1912 as a French-owned garage and auto dealership. By the late 50s it had tripled in size to its present six stories, and as the Rex Hotel became home to the U.S. Information Services (USIS), as well as its fair share of generals, journalists and spooks. In fact, during the Vietnam War the CIA would give briefings – the famed Five O'Clock Follies - to the press corps on the hotel's rooftop, where a garden bar filled with brightly coloured tables, cheap locals beer and singing, caged birds remains. www.explorer-magazine.com 19


V i e tn a m

Across the street, the Hotel Continental was famed as a home away from home for journalists and foreign correspondents. Its iconic street side bar – a place to see and be seen - became known as the 'Continental Shelf'. Despite its historic legacy and prominent roles in both the book and movie renditions of Graham Greene's Quiet American, it is only now emerging after more than 30 years of being hidden away behind renovation signs and local government red tape. Another iconic structure at the city's heart is the Opera House, a stout reminder of the city's French colonial period. Built in 1897 by French architect Ferret Eugene, the 800seat theatre was formerly used by the lower house of the city legislator, but was beautifully restored in 1995 and remains one of the most photographed buildings in the city. 20 www.explorer-magazine.com


V i etnam Nearby, the spires of Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica till reach for the heavens, even though they have a lot more competition from commercial towers then they did when they were first erected in 1880. Designer J. Bourad used a revised Roman style with distinctive Gothic elements and with the basilica's two bell towers reaching 58 metres into the air, it remains the largest cathedral in the country. Across the square, have a peak inside the city's Central Post Office, another beautifully preserved colonial-era buildings, where journalists would yell their copy down phone lines and mail home film during the conflict. The post office also shares the church's Gothic design roots and was built by famed architect Gustave Eiffel. Finally, visit the Reunification Palace for a step back in time. It was here that a North Vietnamese tank rammed its way through the gates, symbolically declaring an end to the Vietnam War; the tank remains as a monument to the battles which raged through the city. The Palace, now one of the city's many museums, is also a symbol of the decadence of the country's former colonial powers. Covering 12 hectares, it could accommodate more than 800 guests and housed French Governors and later puppet presidents.

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Ne w YO RK

GOING AFTER

ASTORIA

The Queens neighbourhood is the latest precinct to come under the spotlight during NYC & Company’s Neighbourhood x Neighbourhood campaign.

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quintessential melting pot that’s easily accessible from across New York City, Astoria is home to world-class ethnic restaurants, impressive cultural institutions and the enviable green space far from the crowds of Manhattan that is Astoria Park. Here are some of the essential highlights. Head for Socrates Sculpture Park, which exhibits large-scale sculptures and multimedia installations in its unique outdoor environment. The park also offers family activities, a place to picnic or jog along the East River and panoramic skyline views. Established in 1988, the Museum of the Moving Image offers visitors an understanding and appreciation of the art, technique and history of film, television and digital media. In 2015, the Museum

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New YORK

will debut a new Jim Henson gallery that will include nearly 400 puppets, props and costumes donated by The Jim Henson Company and Henson's family. Founded and designed by the internationally renowned Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi, The Noguchi Museum complex is an open-air sculpture garden tucked away inside a converted industrial building that houses a collection of the artist's life work. Extending from south of the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly the Triborough) to north of the Hell Gate Bridge, Astoria Park offers visitors panoramic views of Midtown Manhattan. The 60-acre park is equipped with playgrounds, tennis courts, athletic fields, baseball diamonds, pedestrian trails and the largest swimming pool in NYC. Home to a prominent Greek culture, Astoria offers visitors a wealth of Greek cuisine that can be found at Ovelia, Taverna Kyclades, Telly's Taverna, BZ Grill, MP Taverna and Artopolis Bakery. Astoria's restaurant scene offers foodies the opportunity to savor international cuisine from around the world. Stop by Malagueta for a taste of Brazil, Mombar for traditional Egyptian fare, Le Gamin Astoria for French delicacies, Piccola Venezia or Trattoria L'Incontro for Italian specialties or Arepas Cafe to tap into the lively atmosphere and delicious treats of Venezuela. Finally, at the heart of Astoria's social scene, microbreweries and beer gardens welcome everyone to taste the city's best tap selections and enjoy live bands in an open-air, casual environment. Whether you are looking for a bit of history (try the 100-year-old Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden), seeking out a brand-new watering hole (The Garden at Studio Square is a good choice) or just looking for the biggest space to fit all your friends (check out SingleCutBeersmiths), you can find a good time year-round in Astoria. www.nycgo.com/nxn www.explorer-magazine.com 23


D i vi n g

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D iving

BEYOND BLUE Photographer Jerome Kim gives his take on the top diving spots in the Philippines, increasingly the most popular diving destination in Asia.

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D i vi n g

T

he Philippines, dubbed the 'Pearl of the Orient Seas', is fortunate to form part of the Coral Triangle, an area considered to be the global center of tropical marine diversity supporting the highest number of species of coral reef fish and turtles. From the old wrecks in Subic, Zambales and Coron, Palawan, all the way down south to the “Tubbataha Reefs”, the Jewel of the Sulu Sea, the Philippines offers some of the most spectacular diversity in the world. Sablayan’s Apo Reef, near Mindoro, has 34 square kilometers of coral gardens and is on the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It

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is the second largest contiguous coral reef in the world and the largest coral reef system in the Philippines. It is also a ‘natural park’ and a must for any Calamian region itinerary. The reef has a dual lagoon system divided by a narrow channel that runs west to east. The surrounding waters of the reef are characterized by rich and diverse marine flora and fauna. Schools of tuna, jacks, trevallies, barracudas, mantas, sharks and large pelagics are common sights. Huge drop-offs with 400 metre walls teem with colourful soft corals, while big gorgonians and barrel sponges surround Apo Island (not to be confused with Apo Island, Dumaguete).

Apo Island has an area of about 22 hectares, including healthy stands of mangroves which harbor birds and other coastal and marine wildlife species. A stretch of white sand beach at the southeastern side of the island serves as a nesting site for turtles. A white lighthouse which stands at 110 feet and a ranger station are among the few man made elements. Off the west coast of the island where strong currents are present, there is the increased chance of sighting mantas, barracudas and sharks, especially during mating season from June to July. Diving in Apo Reef is spectacular allyear round, especially by live-aboard


D iving boats (boats that divers sleep on during dive trips) which are highly recommended for the hard-core diver who wants to see as much as possible of the Philippines’ underwater world. Like Tubbataha, this is a reef system that offers many dive sites and is good for anywhere from two to five day excursions. Contrastingly, Mindoro is the 4th largest island in all of the Philippines and Puerto Galera (PG) in Mindoro and Anilao in Batangas are two popular destinations situated in the Verde Island Passage Marine Corridor. Anilao can simply be called a “paradise for macro-photographers”. It’s home to nudibranchs and rare critters and it contains over 90 percent of the world’s coral species. My colleague Robert Suntay, who is a well-known underwater photographer and videographer in the Philippines, has been visiting Anilao almost every other weekend for more than ten years, since it’s only about a two-hour drive from Manila. Cathedral Rock is a longtime favorite and a cannot-miss dive site, featuring two soft coral-covered pinnacles that meet in the center. At this point, a crucifix has been placed and when then sun shines through the water the area takes on its namesake cathedral appearance. Schools of butterfly fish gather to welcome divers and colourful reef fish surround the pinnacles. Bahura, Cepok Wall and Beatrice are just a few of the offshore dive sites that are easily accessible through a quick boat ride. Clear blue waters topside quickly give way to a colourful display of coral covered reefs and reef fish below. Walls with giant sea fans, sponges and macro life are waiting to be explored. Puerto Galera is legendary for its vibrant nightlife and exciting dive sites and is just a quick ferry ride from Batangas, making it one of the most frequented dive destinations in all of the Philippines. In 2005, UNESCO included PG in the “Club of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World”. It has a natural harbor, sandy beaches, sheltered coves and green scenery. It is a popular destination with more than 30 dive

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D i vi n g

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D iving

sites for underwater photography, caves, drift diving and technical dive training due to excellent visibility and abundant and diverse marine life. Currents can be quite strong at some sites so dives are usually conducted under the supervision of experienced dive masters. In 2012, CNNG listed the Canyons in Puerto Galera as one of the most popular dive destinations in Southeast Asia. Go underwater and you’ll discover an amazing world as interesting as everything above ground. Please keep responsible practices while diving: watch your buoyancy so you don’t break things with your fins or kick up a lot of sand, don’t touch anything (gloves are not allowed), don’t take home souvenirs, keep a respectful distance from the free-swimming animals, such as turtles, whales, and sea snakes so they aren’t stressed, and don’t leave any trash anywhere near the ocean. Plastic, in particular, can kill animals if they swallow it. Respect for local cultures, laws and regulations. Take only photos. Leave only bubbles. www.explorer-magazine.com 29


Hote l Pr o f i l e

REGAL REVIVAL One of the most exclusive and luxurious resorts of the Indian Ocean, Constance Le Prince Maurice has recently emerged from an extensive makeover, leaving this Mauritian Grand Dame more beautiful than ever. 30 www.explorer-magazine.com


Hotel P r ofile

A

s soon as you turn off the main road and follow the narrow lane that passes through shoulder-high sugar cane into 60-hectares of manicured tropical gardens, you know you've arrived somewhere truly special. The age old adage goes 'they don't make them like they used to' and the lucky souls who have stayed at Mauritius' idyllic Constance Le Prince Maurice in the past could be forgiven for thinking the mold had been well and truly broken. But even a classic can do with an equally sophisticated update from time to time, and Constance Le Prince Maurice has emerged from its extensive makeover as a new herald of six star luxury, ready to woo new legions of the romantically-inclined. Located on the island's north-east coast, an hour's easy drive from the airport, through the swaying sugar cane that's the lifeblood of this Indian Ocean isle, Constance Le Prince Maurice epitomizes the Mauritian experience perfectly; from the gleaming timber and vaulted ceilings of its colonial-esque architecture, to its mesmerizing white sand beach and turquoise coral-wreathed lagoon, the resort offers a sophisticated retreat like no other, making it popular with celebrities and the world's in-the-know travellers. With a chic new persona and the addition of a few choice amenities, the resort's position as the island's leading hideaway is assured.

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Hote l Pr o f i l e Guests arrive at a gleaming lobby dressed in locally-sourced timber which opens up to the resort's iconic infinity pool. The epicentre of the resort, the pool is lined by sun loungers, where guests are waited on by white gloved pool attendants. Unlike its sister property Belle Mare Plage, Constance Le Prince Maurice is a thoroughly grown up affair, and while children are more than welcome, there is an ambiance of intimacy and luxury from the beach to the bar that's proven popular with couples. From the lobby it's an easy stroll to each of Le Prince Maurice's 64 Junior Suites and 12 Family Suites, each of which feature large furnished terraces or balconies and lavish bathrooms. However, for the romantic at heart, there is no place quite like the resort's nine beachfront pool villas, or three coveted overlagoon villas. The beach villas offer guests access to private pools, whirlpool baths and outdoor bathrooms, while the unique lagoon villas are perched above a natural fish reserve and come complete with spacious bathrooms and living areas and 24 hour butler service. For a true splurge, Constance le Prince Maurice also boasts one of the island's most regal presidential retreats, the Princely Suite, which is located overlooking its own stretch of sand and boasts three bedrooms, two heated pools and three private terraces. For families, the superb Les Petits Princes children's club is just the ticket to keep the little ones entertained why mum and dad retreat to the new Spa de Constance by Sisley, the latest addition to the Le Prince Maurice's wellness haven. The concept

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and philosophy of the Sisley brand, best known for its use of essential oils and plant extracts, transports guests to an exotic and sensorial world, with phyto-aromatic treatments combining massage rituals from around the world with the power of aromatherapy to reunify body and mind. The resort's spa complex also boasts a thermal swimming pool, jacuzzis, steam suites and saunas for guests' enjoyment. Wellness isn't the only aspect that's had a revamp. Dining plays an important role at Constance Le Prince Maurice, with visitors from across the island journeying to the resort to sample the fare of Chef Scioli. Archipel, an elegant poolside restaurant overlooking the lagoon, serves lingering breakfasts as well as a


Hotel P r ofile

sumptuous selection of Asian dishes at lunch and dinner. Meals are now complimented by a new state-of-the-art wine cellar measuring 175msq and with a capacity of 15,000 bottles from both New and Old World producers. Adjacent to Achipel, the Lotus Lounge Bar serves up innovative cocktails laced with locally-sourced Mauritian agricole rum. Asian cuisine continues to thrill at the Laguna Bar, where the Sushi Corner, a new Japanesethemed restaurant, has opened specializing in delicious sushi, fresh catch sashimi and Asian nibbles, making for the perfect retreat from the afternoon sun. Alternatively, for an unforgettable dining experience, walk the gangplanks that wind through a mangrove forest to the utterly-romantic La Barachois, where five floating pontoons wreathed by lanterns introduce new sensations in seafood dining in a truly unique setting. For guests looking to stay active, the new heated lap pool at Constance Le Prince Maurice will be popular, as will the resort's comprehensive menu of diving and snorkelling excursions, helicopter charters, and water sports, including deep sea fishing, fly fishing and glass bottom boat excursions. You can even hone your skills in everything from wind surfing to golf and tennis with the resort's list of private coaching sessions. Constance Le Prince Maurice, Choisy Road, Poste de Flacq, Mauritius, Tel: +230 402 36 36; www.princemaurice.com www.explorer-magazine.com 33

Profile for Don Pierre Riosa

Explorer April2015  

Explorer April2015  

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