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SEPT- OCT 2019

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO NEXT?

MAGAZINE

Ethiopian airlinEs BElmond napasai thE man saving thE World’s tigErs

AvAni+ SAmui

The mounTAin Conqueror

new hoTelS To explore


PUBLISHER'S LETTER

W

elcome to another issue of Explorer, the ecoconscious magazine for true world wanderers. In this issue we visit both the familiar and the exotic, delving off the beaten path (for some) and also enjoying a spot

of pampering in some of the world’s favourite playgrounds. We begin in Thailand, where Belmond Napasai has set the benchmark for luxury on the idyllic island of Samui. We also visit a newer hotspot, Avani+ Samui, which is bringing new levels of service and innovation to one of Thailand’s favourite destinations. From Asia, we jet north and west to Uzbekistan, one of the fastest emerging destinations in Central Asia. A land of ancient history and stunning architecture, if Uzbekistan isn’t on your list yet, it soon will be. We return to Asia to talk with Simon Clinton, founder of Save Wild Tigers, the conservation charity that recently benefited from Belmond’s newest Art in Motion campaign, which saw acclaimed British Chinese artist Jacky Tsai adorn two of the carriages of the iconic Eastern & Oriental Express with his signature bold and colourful style to raise awareness of the plight of tigers around the world. We also fly with Ethiopian Airlines, an African aviation powerhouse, talk with dare devil mountaineer Monique Forestier, help you with your Christmas shopping with our Travel Essentials section, and update you on the latest happenings in the travel world, from new resorts to new experiences. Wherever you’re travelling this season, we hope Explorer continues to be your guide and your inspiration.

Safe Travels

David Leung Publisher


WORD IN PICS

Colours & Spaces From the urban magic of the Caribbean to the remote beauty of the northern Atlantic, these are the travel images inspiring our adventures this season. 1.Vivid in Sydney remains one of the world’s most awe-inspiring light festivals. Credit: Destination NSW 2.Costa Rica’s Envision Festival showcases natural healing and yoga set against a magnificent beachfront. Credit: Essential Costa Rica 3.Guided Horseback Ride, Mormon Lake. Credit: Arizona Office of Tourism 4.In Iceland ice cave adventures are increasingly popular components to an offroad day trip. Credit: New Scientist Tours 5.A polar bear makes a fateful leap in Svalbard. Credit: Best Served Scandinavia 6.Sealions remain a major drawcard to the Galapagos Islands. Credit: Tucan Travel 7.Participants from across the globe tackle the uneven terrain, steep ascents and descents, and exposed mountain ridges of the Faroe Islands as part of the new five-day Átjan Wild Islands event. 8.The colours of Cuba. Credit: Journey Latin America

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What’s Happening Seoul Lantern Festival November 1-17, 2019 Seoul, South Korea

Promoting creativity and cultural diversity, the Seoul Lantern Festival attracts millions of visitors to Cheonggyecheon in downtown Seoul each year. Crafted by passionate light artists as well as local and overseas organisations, hundreds of themed lanterns, from the depiction of historical scenes to modern cartoon characters, turn the streets and Supyogyo Bridge into an illuminous canvas. Don’t forget to make a New Year wish with floating lanterns or hanging notes.

Jungala Festival November 10-12, 2019 Tulbagh, South Africa

Set amidst the jungle surrounding Tulbagh’s Buffalo Drift lodge, near Klein Berg River, the sensational Jungala Festival offers holidaymakers the remoteness of a riverside retreat and the beautiful scenery of a South African farm. Enjoy three days of electrifying vibes elevated by the beats of international music by Reality Test; Tron; Abra; LS Dork; and Changa Manga. Recharge at the venue’s food vendors and explore the local culture at trade stalls.

Loi Krathong November 13, 2019 Chiang Mai, Thailand Journey to northern Thailand to celebrate Loi Krathong, a Siamese festival marked annually throughout the Kingdom but centred on Chiang Mai. Taking place on the evening of the full moon on the 12th moon of the traditional Thai Lunar Calendar, the festival typically lasts three days and sees revellers making and decorating baskets that are then floated on rivers such as the Mae Ping River.

Amsterdam Light Festival November 29, 2019 – January 20, 2020 Amsterdam, The Netherlands A 55-day winter event featuring light and art installations all over the streets and canals of the capital of the Netherlands, the Amsterdam Light Festival provides artists a city-size stage for a spectacular themed light art exhibition. The event’s Water Colours boat route showcases giant floating artworks, while visitors will be surrounded by beautifully lit buildings and tunnels on the Illuminade walking route, complemented by an open-air light museum featuring a range of interactive art pieces.

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What’s Happening Burning the Clocks December 21, 2019 Brighton, England

An annual community event held in the English town of Brighton every winter solstice, Burning the Clocks turns the longest night of the year into a warm celebration filled with ignited lanterns. Drawing tens of thousands of visitors, the festival features a lantern parade to the seashore, along with fire shows and live music, and ends with a massive bonfire on Brighton beach and spectacular fireworks.

Woodford Folk Festival

December 27, 2019 – January 1, 2020 Brisbane, Australia Imagine the world as you wish it could be. That’s the driving force behind the Woodford Folk Festival, held annually over six blissful days and nights. Drawing more than 2,000 performers and showcasing more than 400 events across 25 venues to an estimated audience of 120,000 people, the festival is like stepping into another world. Set on 200 hectares of land behind Woodford in Greater Brisbane, expect everything from concerts by national and international acts, to writers’ panels, a film festival, comedy sessions, acoustic jams, and a children’s festival.

Hogmanay

December 31, 2019 Edinburgh, Scotland Countdown to the end of the year at the world-famous New Year’s Party, the Hogmanay Celebration in Edinburgh, where, for three days revellers can enjoy exciting festivities and great music from around the world. Kicking off with a torchlight procession in Old Town, the festival will include a garden party hosted by Mark Ronson, live music acts and midnight fireworks that mark the start of the new year.

Harbin International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival January 5-17, 2020 Harbin, China Founded in 1963, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, held in northern China’s Heilongjiang province, is a themed winter playground where the world's largest ice sculptures are exhibited. Featuring coloured, glowing sculptures made with ice from the Songhua River, complemented by fireworks, ice lanterns, and Chinese New Year carnival activities, the festival is a visually mesmerising experience that’s complemented by a range of winter sports, such as dog-sledging and snowmobiling.

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news

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NEW LUXURY YACHT ADVENTURES IN THE MALDIVES

ou can now glide across the Indian Ocean on-board a floating yacht villa with the arrival of the spectacular 85ft MY Vittaveli at the luxurious Jumeirah Vittaveli resort. The new Azimut superyacht, which accommodates up to

eight guests for overnight stays, or up to 20 guests for leisurely day-time cruises, offers travellers the chance to stay on both land and at sea and is especially well suited to families and friends exploring paradise together.

The new yacht’s sophisticated exterior design conveys the comfort and style experienced when staying on-board, with modern noise suppression technology guaranteeing a relaxing journey. The three decks invite you to spend leisurely mornings gazing out at the infinite ocean, or to enjoy balmy evenings soaking in the four-person Jacuzzi on the top deck. Beautifully crafted wood joinery, cherry wood panels and Italian marble inlays decorate the superyacht’s two master cabins and two twin cabins, with each twin cabin offering the option to accommodate a third guest through a retractable extra bed. All en-suite bathrooms include hydrosonic massage bathtubs and full-sized Hermes amenities. During your sea adventure, you can snorkel with whale sharks or enjoy a cruise to deserted islands, thanks to an experienced crew and guide. The yacht’s swim platform allows for comfortable entry and exit for water sports, or for more adrenaline fuelled fun, jet tender out or take a jet ski, choose a more relaxing activity like fishing the Maldivian way, and enjoy the spoils of your catch with a fresh seafood meal on the aft deck dining area.

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news

NEW FOUR POINTS FOR BALI

M

arriott has opened Four Points by Sheraton Bali Ungasan, the third Four

Points hotel to open on the island. Situated in the hills of Jimbaran, and offering breathtaking views of Jimbaran Bay, Mount Batukaru and Mount

F

SPA PLEASURES IN SONOMA ollowing a 21-month closure, the Spa at Sonoma Valley's Kenwood Inn has reopened, unveiling a long-

awaited and extensive renovation by Carissa Duncan of SALT + BONES studio. The new-look wellness enclave includes three individual treatment rooms, one couple's treatment room, a private, outdoor terrace for couple's treatments or lounging, and a luxurious, private tub for bath treatments, with glorious vineyard views. Also new are separate men's and women's locker rooms and a poolside relaxation room, while two semi-private outdoor cabanas, a swimming pool and hot tub are located adjacent to the Spa. For the ultimate pampering in wine country, couples may now reserve the entire Spa for a three-hour, exclusive evening session. The “Rendezvous Under the Stars” option includes exfoliating shower scrubs, side-by-side massages either on the rooftop Terrazzo or fireside in the couple's treatment room, a soak together in the oversized spa tub, and rooftop relaxation with chocolates and sparkling wine.    

Agung, the new hotel features 270 contemporary rooms and suites, designed with the Four Points ethos in mind – modern and practical. Each of the hotel's guest rooms feature a 49-inch TV and complimentary Wi-Fi. The hotel also features rooms with private balconies, private terraces and garden and pool access for those looking to unwind in the comfort of their own room. Evolution, the hotel's all-day dining restaurant, boasts modern interiors and lively indoor and outdoor seating areas where guests can savour both local and international favourites while the Garden Pool Bar is the perfect place to unwind at the end of the day, serving wine and refreshing drinks, as well as Stark IPA as part of the brand's signature Best Brews programme.   Other facilities include an infinity pool, a state-ofthe-art fitness centre, a modest spa and a family pool and kids' club which guarantee to keep children entertained throughout their stay with fun and educational programming.

The new Spa menu features a full array of face and body treatments, from the Rebalancing Facial to the Cielo Bliss Detox CBD Massage. Skincare product lines at Kenwood Inn's Spa include Intraceuticals, IS Clinical, Naturopathica and Vital Body Therapeutics. Several treatments may also be done in most guest rooms at the inn, such as the Ti Amo Massage for Two. Two treatments -- the Moonlight Massage and Gravitas Massage & Rest Bath Cure – are specifically designed to encourage a restful night's sleep, so are always performed in guest rooms. Guests who don't want to leave the pool area may opt for the Spa's Mimosas & Mini-Massage; sip your mimosa poolside while an expert therapist kneads your feet and hands for 20 minutes. SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

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news

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THE TIGER EXPRESS

elmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express train has been given a vibrant new look as part of the brand’s latest Art in Motion campaign. The train was converted

into the ‘Tiger Express’ between September 7-12, with brilliant tiger-themed murals by acclaimed British Chinese artist Jacky Tsai adorning two of the iconic train’s carriages in support of conservation charity Save Wild Tigers. On its journeys between Bangkok and Singapore, the Eastern & Oriental Express travels through historic wild tiger territories in both Thailand and Malaysia, making the collaboration with Save Wild Tigers a fitting cause. A launch party at Bangkok’s The Siam hotel and later at the city’s central train station was attended by Kim Jones, global artistic director, Dior Men; All Saints singer Melanie Blatt; actress Jaime Winstone; Victoria Tang-Owen, creative director, Shanghai Tang; and Master Chef winner and Save Wild Tigers ambassador Ping Coombes. This is the third year that Belmond’s trains have participated in the Art in Motion campaign, and the Belmond Andean Explorer in Peru will be the next to receive a new look as part of the initiative. “If no action is taken wild tigers could be extinct in just 10 years,” says Save Wild Tigers founder Simon Clinton. “The ‘Tiger Express’ is set to raise awareness of this tiger crisis – generating support for wild tigers from such high-profile personalities reminds us all how special wild tigers are and why it’s essential we collectively all do our best to protect them from extinction.” Read more about Save Wild Tiger’s efforts on pg 26.

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news NEW URBAN HIDEAWAYS IN MUNICH AND ANTWERP

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H Hotels Group has added two breathtaking new hotels to its NH Collection. The NH

Collection München Bavaria is the premium brand's eighth hotel in Germany, whilst the NH Collection Antwerp Centre is the group's first in the city and the third NH Collection property in Belgium. One of Munich's oldest skyscrapers is now home to the NH Collection München Bavaria, which offers unique and extraordinary views of Germany's third largest city and the Alps. Previously known as the NH Deutscher Kaiser, the hotel's new look was

NEW VIRTUAL REALITY PRODUCTION FOR PRINCESS CRUISES

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devised by the interior designers at Spain's TBC Interiorismo, inspired by the city's identity, giving way to a fusion of elegance and industrial style, with a welcoming and modern interior in which the transparent materials and candid colours form

rincess Cruises has revealed details of '5-SKIES', its newest

a delicate balance echoing the city itself. The hotel

production, which will debut on-board the line's newest

boasts 219 rooms and is located in the heart of the

ships, Sky Princess and Enchanted Princess. Created exclusively for

city near to the central train station, from where it

Princess Cruises, the show will transport guests into a virtual reality

is a short walk to the old part of town crossing the

gaming world through a series of digital effects, acrobatics, elaborate

Karlsplatz and Karlstor, the gate that used to serve as

sets and unique costumes. The show follows main character 'Gamer

the entrance to the walled city from the thirteenth

1', who attempts to complete a series of five increasingly difficult

until eighteenth century.

levels, meeting different personalities along the way in an attempt to reach Sky Princess.

Antwerp, the world's diamond capital, welcomes the new NH Collection Antwerp Centre, a modern

The 5-SKIES will open on the 3,660-guest Sky Princess on November

and elegant hotel in which guests are transported

15, 2019 as it sails the Caribbean. The vessel will then head to

from the Flemish city's bustling centre to an oasis

Northern Europe and sail round trip from Copenhagen on a number

in which exuberant vegetation, subtle use of colour,

of Russia and Scandinavia voyages between April and August.

brass finishes and natural shades create a soft and relaxing atmosphere. The real attraction, however,

After the show premieres aboard Sky Princess it will feature

is the inner garden, an urban jungle in the heart of

on Enchanted Princess when the ship launches in June 2020 in

the hotel which can be enjoyed from every corner of

Southampton and then sails a season in the Mediterranean.

the property thanks to its tall windows. The new NH Collection Antwerp Centre is the group's first hotel in this city and its third in Belgium. It has 186 rooms and a well-rounded culinary offering that includes a modern Spanish tapas bar with seasonal produce and a selection of wines and cavas. The hotel is located close to the city's central train station within the Diamantenbuurt (diamond district), from where it is easy to access Brussels and the charming cities of Bruges and Ghent, as well as destinations in neighbouring countries such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and even Disneyland Paris.

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AIRLINES

When the Stars Align

Despite experiencing more turbulence on the ground in Hong Kong than in the skies of late, Cathay Pacific thrills on a recent flight from Bangkok. By Nick Walton

Check-in/The Lounge

jasmine rice; pan-fried pork fillet with snap peas, Lyonnaise potatoes,

I used the Cathay Pacific app to check-in and select my seat. Of the

and a Pommery mustard sauce; and stir-fried chicken with garlic,

many airline apps, I have always found the CX one to be the most

chilli, and basil, as well as seasonal vegetables and steamed rice.

user-friendly and intuitive.

By the time the crew reached our little mini cabin the chicken option was off the menu. However, the pork was perfectly cooked

I’m a fan of the CX lounge in Bangkok, mainly because it’s small

and reasonably proportioned, although it could have done with

and rarely very busy, unlike some of the lounges at Hong Kong

a little more seasoning. I matched my lunch with the Helderberg

International. The airline opened the lounge in 2015 as part of its

Winery Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa’s Stellenbosch region.

signature style roll-out, ensuring the lounge experience is on par with what you’ll find in-flight. There’s a noodle bar that serves both Thai

Service

and Cantonese noodle dishes, a self-service area, and a bar where

This is where CX shone particularly bright on this all-too-short hop

the bartender makes great pina coladas.

across Southeast Asia. During the meal service, we encountered light turbulence; it was enough to have us all strapped in but the beaming

Before long we were boarding the three-class CX Airbus A330-300

crew were unphased and served the meal and subsequent drinks

aircraft, which featured 39 lie-flat reverse herringbone business class

with professionalism and genuine warmth, something that has been

seats across two cabins.

a little amiss on previous flights we’ve done with Cathay. One of the youngest crew members, named Isabelle, was particularly impressive,

The Seat

helping passengers with their luggage, serving drinks and hot towels,

I’ve long been a fan of Cathay Pacific’s present generation business

handling PA announcements and clearing trays in the flash of an eye,

class seat, which I consider the best in the world. The seat offers the

always with a shy but genuine smile on her face. If this is the face of

perfect balance of ergonomics, privacy, and technology; it’s a seat

the Cathay Pacific crew of the future, then the airline will have no

made for travellers, not for accountants looking at loading statistics,

trouble holding its position among the world’s leading players.

and not for designers looking for aesthetics while rarely leaving their offices. There’s direct aisle access, which really should become the

Summary

standard (although a few carriers like Emirates, Air France, and Korean

Short flights like the Cathay Pacific Bangkok – Hong Kong service,

Air are yet to pick up on that) and room enough to work, to rest and

which is only two and a half hours, puts pressure on the crew to

to relax, thanks to an oversized tray, easy-to-reach AC and USB ports

deliver a full service. However, the airline continues to impress in its

and seat and entertainment controls, and two metres of heavenly

business class, with a world-class seat, great entertainment, and crew

bed when required.

that genuinely want you to have the best possible experience.

Dining After an on-time departure, the crew began the late lunch service.

Cathay Pacific Business Class, Hong Kong-Bangkok return, from US$874 per person.

I opted for a gin and tonic and a coconut water, which was followed by a Thai beef salad, and a choice of steamed kapong fillet with superior soy sauce, broccoli, mushroom, ginkgo nuts and steamed 12 WWW.EXPLORER-MAGAZINE.COM

Note: The author travelled on a full-fare business class ticket without the airline’s knowledge


AIRLINES

GATEWAY to Africa

Despite issues faced by the grounding of the 737 MAX, Ethiopian Airlines continues to be a powerhouse of African aviation, with a modern fleet, great service and an ever-expanding network, discovers Nick Walton on a recent flight from Hong Kong to Addis Ababa. Check-in After selecting our seats via Ethiopian Airlines’ app, we checked in at Hong Kong International Airport and quickly arrived at Hong Kong Airlines’ Club Bauhinia, near gate 23. After a brief visit we boarded the Star Alliance member’s 787-10, which featured 24 seats in business class in a 2-2-2 configuration, of which just over half were occupied.

The Seat You have to love the 787, with its mood lighting and oversized windows with electric blinds. Ethiopian Airlines operate an extensive 787 fleet, some of which boast the old business class product, and some the new – this was the older version. My 22-inch lie-flat seat, 2A, was still very comfortable and featured a 15.4-inch private monitor, controlled by a remote in the arm rest, AC and USB ports, and a grey and red colour palate. There’s plenty of storage, which is a must on longhaul flights, and bottles of water and practical little amenity kits in a bright green washbag style were already in place. When in bed mode, the seat was perfectly comfortable, with plenty of room at shoulder level and comfortable pillows and blankets offered by the crew.

Dining After take-off, many passengers decided to sleep as it was midnight

chicken sausage and cherry tomatoes; pancakes with blueberry compote; or vegetarian congee with shitake mushroom, fresh spinach, ginger, spring onion and shallots. Like many passengers, I had an onward flight and decided to get a little more sleep rather than have breakfast.

Entertainment While it’s not quite Emirates’ ICE system or Cathay Pacific’s CX Studio, the inflight entertainment system on the Ethiopian Airlines 787 was perfectly adequate, with a broad selection of television shows and movies, and an easy-to-use interface. I opted to use my own Bose QuietComfort 35II headphones rather than the airline pair. The aircraft didn’t offer Wi-Fi.

with an 11-hour flight ahead of us. Deciding that by delaying sleep a

Service

little while I would better handle the jetlag, I decided to have dinner

While many carriers at the top of the ranking spots are struggling with ser-

while watching a movie. Crew, who served hot towels and glasses of

vice standards, Ethiopian excelled. Crew were charming, welcoming and

Champagne Lallier Brut before take-off, quickly began the dinner ser-

diligent, serving meals in a professional yet unhurried style, and checking

vice, which started with pan-fried Maguro tuna with pearl barley; and

up on passengers throughout the flight. Always quick with a smile and

a fresh seasonal salad. Choices for the main included sweet and sour

always happy to meet any requests, the human factor – as we have found

chicken with capsicums and steamed rice; stir-fried beef with dried

in many other reviews – was touching and made the whole experience all

bean curd, black bean chilli and jade melon; and braised Chinese win-

the better.

ter melon with mixed mushrooms in fish sauce, and stir-fried noodles. The chicken was tangy and crispy and well-proportioned, with

Summary

the fare served on a proper plate rather than the bento-style dishes

With new 787s now entering the fleet, as well as new A350s; warm, au-

still found in many business class cabins. For dessert I opted for a sip

thentic hospitality and cuisine inspired by the destination, Ethiopian will

of Ethiopian honey wine, a local speciality.

continue to be a warm welcome to Africa for travellers from Asia.

For breakfast, served 90 minutes out from Addis Ababa, we were of-

Hong Kong-Addis Ababa return in business class from US$3,030 per person. www.ethiopianairlines.com

fered a choice of mushroom egg souffle with corned beef potato rosti,

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thailand

Samui’s Breathtaking

Writer’s Retreat Nick Walton escapes from

the world at one of Thailand’s most esteemed beachfront resorts, Belmond Napasai.

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thailand

W

ith the dawn comes the silence. In the darkness of night in the expansive Gulf of Thailand, winds

had whipped the northern coast of Koh Samui, sending waves crashing into the seawall beneath my room while tall, slender palm trees swayed rhythmically behind closed curtains. But with first light, the tempest has been replaced by vibrantly blue skies, mellow golden sunshine and the tranquility that comes with being alone in the world. If there’s any place on Samui that lets the imagination stretch its legs, it has to be Belmond Napasai, a breathtaking estate hidden away down a meandering lane on the island’s northern cusp. Just 30 minutes from the airport and boasting panoramic views towards Koh Phangan and Angthong Marine Park, Belmond Napasai has the timeless refinement of a grande dame hotel, where solitude is encouraged, and where serenity rules supreme. This is a place where travellers can collect themselves, rediscover themselves and then lose themselves all over again. The first thing you’ll notice about Belmond Napasai is the

However, there is a different side to Belmond Napasai, one that

scale. At almost nine hectares, the resort is expansive

seduces the city-weary traveller. From the resort’s colonial-styled

to say the least, and in many ways, the size allows for

lobby, two lines of villas extend down the length of the coastline.

two different resort personas. At one end is a pristine

Belmond Napasai is home to 45 Villas, 10 One-Bedroom Villas and

beach wreathed by sun loungers shaded by driftwood

13 stunning Oceanfront Private Pool Residences, the latter each a little

salas dressed in brilliantly white linen that flutters in the

larger as you trace the narrow garden path along the cliff face.

breeze. Beyond, an infinity pool captures the reflection of palm trees that march up towards the Thai-styled resort

My three-bedroom Ocean Pool Residence clings to a steep incline

building. Ranks of bicycles wait for the actively inclined

that tumbles down to the lagoon; stairs straight out of a Penrose

while beyond, a pair of sunbaked tennis courts probably

dreamscape descend past a pair of stand-alone cottages to a master

inspire more than they motivate. There’s a yoga sala, a

suite and separate living room and kitchen with an expansive terrace.

Thai boxing ring and a modern fitness centre, as well as a

More stairs lead down to a garden and ocean-fronted swimming pool,

host of themed dinners and events, cooking classes, and

backed by a shaded sala and another living room and kitchen located

spa treatments to keep guests as busy as they please.

below the main building. The villa has a welcoming, residential vibe and instantly becomes home, a simple rope on the door high above all

This is the Napasai of families and beach lovers, where

that’s needed to keep the modern world at bay.

guests sun worship or try their hand at windsurfing or paddle boarding during the day, and then congregate

Despite showing signs of the weathering that comes with tropical

at the chic Infinity bar for sunset cocktails before dining

living (and with whispered rumours of a refresh in her near future),

under the stars at the al fresco Beach Restaurant.

Belmond Napasai still retains her grandeur. Residences range from

SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

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thailand

one to five bedrooms and are dressed in dark polished

my paperback when they passed my alfresco breakfast

timber, with cavernous stone bathrooms, vaulted roofs,

table at the beautiful little Lai Thai restaurant, but

teak ceiling fans and staggering views over turquoise

would ultimately retreat to my spacious, isolated villa,

seas from almost every angle. While there are flatscreen

perfectly content with my own company. In a world where

televisions, modern appliances in the lower kitchen, and

tranquility is a rarity, Belmond Napasai offers the ultimate

Wi-Fi that seems to come and go like monsoon sunshine,

escape, where afternoon naps are de rigueur, and where

the Napasai doesn’t try to compete with the newer resorts

procrastination is the new religion.

of Samui. Instead, she gives an undeniable sense of place, of respite and seclusion - almost like a Thai Bali-ha’i,

Despite all the space afforded me at my new home-away-

where everything is lush, and overgrown, and settled, and

from-home, I find myself spending hours on the day bed

perfect.

that lines the wrap-around terrace’s dining table, watching the speed boats zipping back and forward to Koh Phangan

It feels like it’s been some time since the last guest checked

and Koh Tao, blissfully unplugged and unhindered. Each

out of my residence. While it’s immaculately clean, there’s

day the terrace offers shelter from the relentless sun,

a sense of emptiness, like a summer house at the end of

its orange terracotta tiles baking and creaking, and each

the winter. The kitchen has a microwave and stove but no

evening, as clouds gather into mountains on the darkening

cutlery, pots or pans. The cupboards are bare of glasses

horizon, it offers sanctuary from brilliant thunderstorms,

and plates and the coffee machine does little more than

as fat raindrops cool the electrified air and an algid breeze

flicker a solitary LED bulb. This is a resort that was built

gathers momentum.

before the first thing guests would do after checking in was ask for the Wi-Fi password and look for a wall outlet.

It’s moments like this that I descend through thickets of fragrant jasmine and hibiscus to the garden and the

However, once I settle in, I fling open French doors (plural)

swimming pool, to soak as lightning ripples across the sky,

and let the warm sea air engulf the living room with its

setting the peaks of distant Koh Phangan in momentary

ornate writing desk, intricately embroidered couch pillows

silhouette. Here in the garden, a pair of sunloungers sit,

in faded pink silk, and lingering perfume of fresh fruit and

side by side, at the sea’s edge, begging for moments of

frangipanis.

whimsical contemplation. A refugium from the modern world, they simply don’t make resorts like this any more.

If I was a novelist, the Belmond Napasai is where I would maroon myself, crafting turns of phrase while soaking in

Yes, there are as many activities as you could possibly want

the oversized circular bathtub, musing over plot twists

at the Belmond Napasai, and travellers from around the

in the shade of coconut palms and bougainvillea bushes,

world with whom to share them. However, the resort’s

and conjuring up colourful characters as my heels cooled

true beauty is in its timeless elegance, it’s unhurried

in the ocean. I’d wave to fellow guests as they sailed past

nature, and its ability to embosom travellers looking to

on resort hobbie cats and paddleboards, and smile over

reacquaint themselves with the simplicity of tranquility.

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Hotel Review

A NEW STYLE OF HOSPITALITY

Nestled on the south-west coast of one of Thailand’s most popular holiday destinations, Avani+ Samui is a taste of the future of hospitality, discovers Nick Walton

L

et me tell you about a little hideaway where couples can be seduced, where families can frolic, and where the bustle of the modern world is kept at bay. This is an intimate little enclave where check-in and check-out times are as flexible as the coconut palms that line the walkways leading to modern guest rooms sequestered behind walls and private balconies. It’s a

place that’s trying to break the mould of tropical resorts, one that’s putting the power back in the hands of the guest while embracing the beauty of its locale. This is the Avani+ Samui.

A NEW STYLE OF RESORT First impressions of the Avani+ Samui don’t tell much of the new resort’s story. Guests arrive into an intimate lobby of polished concrete walls. There’s beaming staff in immaculate white uniforms and walkways that lead off in different directions. But then you see the Pantry, the resort’s answer to a minibar, where guests can buy anything from sunscreen and Moet Chandon champagne to kale chips and fresh fruit, and you start to get a sense that this is a hotel that’s doing things a little differently. Avani is operated by Minor, a global hospitality group best known for its luxurious  Anantara  hotels and resorts. Within the Avani brand, some properties have been designated “+”, meaning they offer a little more than the average hideaway. The Samui property, with just 52 rooms and villas, opened in December 2018 on Phang Ka Bay and offers a more intimate approach to this island playground, complete with nature-inspired interiors, innovative dining, verdant gardens, and intelligent service.

TIME TO DISAPPEAR… I make for my room, down cool, quiet paths, past an adults-only

You’ll spend that extra time with a raft of activities, ranging

pool where a solitary couple gossip on sun loungers, and past

from complimentary long-tail boat excursions to neighbouring

the resort’s restaurant, a blissfully al fresco affair overlooking an

islands Koh Tan and Koh Madsum, where the snorkelling is world-

estuary, with a Volkswagen Kombi van that’s been converted into

class; to beach yoga sessions and kayaking excursions to local

a cocktail bar to one side. The set-up tells of a new era in affordable

mangrove forests.

luxury, of intelligent design for design-savvy travellers looking for experience as well as seclusion.

INTIMATE WELLNESS For me, the only excursion I have in mind is to the Avani SPA, where

My Avani Pool Villa  is hidden behind tall walls and timber gates.

therapist Meow soothes my skin with coconut oil during the spa’s

There’s a private plunge pool and a double-sized sun lounger,

soul-soothing, muscle-melting signature massage. The experience

overlooked by a master bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows, a

is nothing short of bliss and I float back to my villa, ethereal, to

wall-mounted flat-screen television, a deep-set couch, and a king-

change for dinner.

sized bed. There’s a walk-in wardrobe-cum-dressing room, and a shower you could fit a football team in, as well as high-speed Wi-

The resort’s restaurant is called Essence and is sublimely laid back,

Fi, a Bluetooth speaker, and a noticeboard with my name posted

with a handful of tables set under a broad awning and overlooking

above notifications of speciality dining events and daily cocktail

a family swimming pool and a tidal inlet. At Essence, chef Kian

specials.

Wagner prepared Thai and International dishes in accordance with

NEW RULES FOR NEW TRAVELLERS

the Avani Honest Food concept, one which utilises local producers and produce as much as possible. From duck confit in red curry to

The shy porter tells me there’s no set check-in or check-out time,

delectable fish cakes with mango chilli salsa, the cuisine is bright,

all you need to do is give the resort 48 hours’ notice so it can

fresh and modern, just like the Avani+ approach to hospitality in

ensure you get as much holiday bang for your buck as possible.

paradise. SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

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Uzbekistan

Once the centre of the ancient silk road, Uzbekistan is welcoming a new era of prosperity, discovers Nick Walton.

T

ime seems to stand still at the

Hazrat

Imam

in

Tashkent,

mosque

Uzbekistan’s

otherwise bustling capital city,

as if weary by its own complexity, taking respite from its own epic journey. Minarets 50 metres high reach like arms towards moody skies filled with brooding clouds. There’s been rain with the promise of more to come, and the viridian green domes of this ancient house of worship are captured in reflections in the puddles that punctuate the vast square that lies before it. Yet Hazrat Imam is the contemporary face of an ancient religion that found a home here in Central Asia in the 8th century; one that has survived the onslaught of time, the ideology of Communism, and the never-tiring march of modernity. Built in 2007 in record time, the mosque is a marvel of Indian sandalwood, Turkish marble and Iranian ceramics and is now home to the administrative home of the Mufti of Uzbekistan, the former Soviet state’s Islamic authority. I’ve journeyed to Uzbekistan to discover its rich history but also to see how that history is being shaped and preserved for the future. Landlocked and the heart of Central Asia, Uzbekistan – as it is now known – was once an important trading hub on the ancient Silk Road, which weaved through cultures and kingdoms from China and Japan to the

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Uzbekistan

SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

19


Uzbekistan

markets of Western Europe and the Middle East. Heavily influenced by Iran thanks to its rule of the region during the Parthian and Sasanian empires, Uzbekistan was swallowed up during the Muslim conquest of the 7th century, and later by the Mongol invasion, and it was under Amir Timur, a warlord and leader said to be a grandchild of Genghis Khan, that cities like Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva flourished. After a stint as the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, Uzbekistan earned its independence in 1991. However, the country has been relatively slow to embrace this new chapter, preferring instead to draw an increasingly modern world back in time, to its heyday as a vital Silk Road way station. Part of that history can be found at Hazrat, home to the oldest Quran in the world, a hefty holy book weathered by time and stained with the blood of the third Caliph Uthman, who was murdered whilst reading it in the year 655AD, or so the legend goes. This book is said to have passed from hand to hand, from Qufa and Basra to Mecca and Baghdad to Kazan and St Petersburg, and now finds a home in Hazrat’s Muyi Mubarak Library, along with other ancient religious relics.

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Uzbekistan

I leave the serenity of Hazrat Imam for Kukeldash, a former madrassah from the 16th century. Travellers visiting this ancient university, which was only accessible by the sons of the wealthy and influential, first pass through a spectacular portal decorated with majolica and mesmerising glazed tile mosaics, before entering a series of courtyards with manicured gardens overlooked by arched verandahs. The school, which has played roles as a fortress, a traveller’s inn or caravanserai, and a museum, is one of the few buildings to survive the 1966 Tashkent earthquake, which destroyed much of the city and left 300,000 homeless. A moving, Sovietstyled memorial to the quake and its aftermath, known as the Monument to Courage, can be found in Tashkent’s city centre, but the true legacy of this catastrophic event can be found in the faces and buildings of the city that emerged from the rubble. Workers from across the Soviet Union descended on Tashkent during the rebuilding, many choosing to remain afterwards, adding colour and depth to Uzbekistan’s already eclectic cultural make up, while Soviet architectural styles from across the

my way for Independence Square, winding my way

CCCP dominated the new skyline. The quake also

around another square, this one dedicated to Amir

reignited the country’s religious spirit and led to an

Timur, who has become symbolic of Uzbekistan’s

Islamic renaissance that impacted both culture and

national identity in the post-Soviet era, and past the

infrastructure for decades to come.

historic Hotel Uzbekistan, a Soviet edifice in which, it was said, every single room was bugged by the

As the sun begins to grow heavy in the sky, I make

Soviet secret police. Independence

Square

comes

alive

during

Uzbekistan’s spring and summer months, when families and couples walk its many garden-lined paths. Located on a site in the government precinct that was once a fortress, and across the road from the historic palace of Prince Nikolay Konstantinovich Romanov, who was exiled to Tashkent in 1877, the entrance to the square is framed by a towering arch on which a fascinating sculpture of storks in flight overlooks the low-rise city centre. Beyond, a formidable bronze ball set atop a granite pedestal represents Uzbekistan’s independence. At the monument’s base, the image of a seated mother with a baby in her arms symbolises Uzbekistan’s revival as a brave new state.

SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

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Uzbekistan

This new identity can be experienced at Sal-Sal, where travellers can delve into the contemporary Uzbek dining scene, at the centre of which is bread. It’s no surprise really; with its expansive grain farming, Uzbekistan was bread bowl of the Soviet Union, and bread and noodles continue to play a major part in any Uzbek feast, the former always displayed prominently at local markets where the sun shimmers off large polished wheels of dense, flat obi non bread. In addition to grains, Uzbek cuisine, the food of the Turkic people, has been influenced by its neighbours and its visitors, with hearty nomadic favourites like shurpa, mutton and vegetable soup; and chuchvara dumplings joined at the table with pots of green tea, salads of pickled vegetables and fermented leaves, lagman, a noodle dish inspired by China, and

The next stop on my silk road adventure is the ancient

beshbarmak, a dish of lamb or horse meat and noodles

city of Samarkand, an hour’s flight to the south-west.

first popularised in Kyrgyzstan.

A true jewel of the ancient trading routes that wound their way through the region, Samarkand was once the

However, if you try any dish in Uzbekistan it must be

greatest trading city in Central Asia, no doubt thanks to

plov, a dish of rice, vegetables and meat spiced to

the influence of Timur, who made the city his capital

perfection, and to try the best plov in the country I

and a hub for Islamic study. Today, the city is one at

make for Tashkent’s Central Asia Plov Centre, a rather

odds with itself; the old city remains, with its teal-tipped

formal name for a blissfully informal setting, where

monuments and mosques, as does the ‘new city’, which

cooks strain over dinner table-sized cauldrons called

is still dominated by Soviet-era architecture.

Kazans, great billowing clouds of steam rising around them as they stir mounds of rice and braised meat

At the The Gūr-i Amir, the  mausoleum  of Timur, the

simmering in stock and spices.

air is alive with sing-song dialects. The tomb’s Persian-

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Uzbekistan

SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

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Uzbekistan

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Uzbekistan

Mongolian architecture is a major drawcard for both

goods from the length of the silk road would be traded.

Uzbeks and visitors from across Central Asia, and women in brightly-coloured dresses and head scarfs gather for

Even in ancient times Registan was the centre of the

photos before its towering dome, which is wreathed by

city’s social scene and it remains so today; beyond the

archaeological dig sites. Relaxed visa restrictions and a

gaggles of camera-toting tourists, brides linger among

growing economy has meant Uzbekistan is now firmly

the mulberry trees as they pose for pre-wedding photos,

on the destination list for many intrepid travellers in Asia

nervous tuxedo-clad grooms-to-be never far away. Young

and Air Astana’s growing network have made reaching

students gossip at the stone stairs that lead down to the

the likes of Samarkand far easier than before.

main square and as the sun begins to sink low behind the vast dome of Tilla-Kori Madrassah, it’s very easy

I encounter more visitors as I arrive at possibly

to imagine this place as it once was, the centre of the

Uzbekistan’s most iconic site, Registan Square. Located at

world, and it’s that history, that legacy, that is shaping

the heart of the ancient city, this massive public space

Uzbekistan’s exciting next chapter.

is framed on three sides by three madrasahs, each with towering lancet-arch pishtaq or portals in blue and green tile mosaics. Built in stages between 1417 and 1660, Registan started off life as a public meeting place (the Uzbek word means ‘sandy place’) where armies would assemble, where laws would be decreed and where

Travel Essentials Fly from Hong Kong to Tashkent via Almaty on Air Astana from HK$28,000 (US$3,500) per person in business class. www.airastana.com

SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

25


The Interview The global population of tigers recently rose for the first time in a century but there are still more tigers in captivity than in the wild. How severe is the threat tigers are facing and are some tiger populations more at threat than others? Yes, in the latest census surveys we have seen an increase in wild tiger numbers in India. It may seem great on face value, but they still endure significant pressure in India from poaching and habitat fragmentation. However, the issue facing Vietnam, Laos and China is far more severe, with tigers recently becoming extinct in Cambodia. On current trends, without government support, we could see wild tigers becoming extinct in Laos, Vietnam and China in the next five to ten years.

Save Wild Tigers recently continued its collaboration with Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express luxury train to raise awareness of tiger poaching. The charity’s founder Simon Clinton talks with Nick Walton about the plight of tigers in Asia, and the role we all need to play to ensure these great cats are not lost forever.

I

f you happen to be travelling through Thailand or Malaysia in the coming months, keep an eye out for the Tiger Express, an innovative new chapter in luxury travel company Belmond’s Art in Motion series. With carriages painted in bold tiger-themed murals by artist Jacky Tsai, the insightful collaboration between train operator and conservation charity Save Wild Tigers hopes to raise awareness of the plight of tiger populations around the world, with the train travelling through threatened tiger habitats as it plies the rails between Bangkok and Singapore.

What first inspired your passion for tiger conservation? Having been brought up as a child in Malaysia for 15 years, I was very aware of Malaysia’s national symbol, the Malayan Tiger. I have always had a keen interest in conservation issues and was shocked a few years ago when I discovered how critical the wild tiger population had become, so I decided to set up  Save Wild Tigers  with a strong marketing and creative orientation.  The corporate and branding world (including myself) “borrowed” the values and symbolism of tigers for decades – think Maybank, Tiger Beer, Tiger Fashion, Tiger airlines,  Esso/Exon’s “tiger in your tank” – and it is now time to give back.

26 WWW.EXPLORER-MAGAZINE.COM

In Southeast Asia and Indonesia, the status of tigers is also critical, although not quite as dramatic as in the Indo-China region. Nevertheless, within the wider context of the poaching crisis globally (the worst we have seen in the conservation world for 50 years), urgent action is needed and only with strong political will can we hope to see the situation improve. At the same time, we cannot underestimate the dual threat of habitat destruction and fragmentation due to ongoing development projects and  palm oil plantations. By saving the Malayan Tiger, we can save its habitat, which is the oldest rainforest in the world!

What are the major threats to the species? The two main threats are illegal wildlife crime and poaching as well as habitat destruction and fragmentation.

Your recent short film brought to light the threat from poaching and the production of tiger bone wine. How serious is this issue and what is being done to halt the trade in tiger body parts? Illegal wildlife crime is our overriding immediate issue and of course this often also has a knock-on effect to other endangered species. The [perpetrators] are often highly organised criminal networks trading in ivory, rhino horn and tigers. To ultimately stop this multi-billion dollar trade will involve a multi-tier strategy including government support in countries in which tigers habitat; more globalised criminal investigations and prosecutions with more sharing of intelligence; consumer awareness and behaviour campaigns; and an increase in short to medium term anti-poaching and deterrent programmes, with increased prosecution rates in tiger range countries.

Save Wild Tigers educates populations, including children, about the plight; what impact do you hope your work with children will have and will it be in time?


The Interview

While we don’t overtly target children, wherever possible we do try and engage them. It is important, as I did as a child, to become aware sooner rather than later.

You’ve once again collaborated with Belmond, who has tasked artist Jacky Tsai to create tigerthemed art on the iconic Eastern & Oriental Express train. What impact do you think the Art in Motion 2020 campaign will have on your on-going conservation efforts? Belmond has been the perfect partner and a pleasure to work with; it is an enduring relationship. I think to have a renowned Chinese artist from Shanghai on a train which has a tiger as its logo, travelling through critical tiger habitats, really makes for the perfect “canvas” to communicate and inspire all. Our strategy is to inspire rather than shock and the linkage to Belmond’s “Art in Motion” campaign makes for the perfect collaboration.

Save Wild Tigers also counts among its ambassadors Jacky Tsai and Chef Ping Coombes; what impact do such collaborations

have on your conservation efforts? Influencers and ambassadors are an important part of the communications mix, often with large influential followings themselves. However, we would only work with ambassadors and influencers who are passionate and true believers in the cause and wider issues.

What can we as travellers do to help bring a halt to tiger poaching and bolster conservation efforts? Get involved and help spread the word, be that in person and or on social media. Apply pressure to your local elected politicians and ensure governments are honouring global commitments agreed under the UN CITES agreements. Very importantly, please always be on the lookout for anyone trying to promote and or sell any illegal wildlife products or animal parts, whether that’s ivory, tiger skin or anything else illegal, and report them to a credible conservation group as well as to local police. Of course, you can also support Save Wild Tigers (www.savewildtigers.org) and help fund our conservation partners, which include anti-poaching patrols.

SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

27


the Explorer

THE MOUNTAIN CONQUEROR

The first Australian woman to climb routes graded 31 through 34, rockclimber Monique Forestier has been challenging herself to some of the world’s most dangerous climbing destinations for over 20 years. She talks with Isabelle Lui about her past and upcoming adventures, and how she combines the climbs with her travel experiences. You started rock climbing 20 years ago; how did it begin?

fascinates you?

I got a free pass to an indoor climbing gym and I was hooked

I’m like a kid in a candy store, spoilt for choice. There is

from the first time. I started going to the gym once a week,

certainly no shortage of hard and interesting routes to

then twice, and so on, then I met some climbers who took

challenge myself on here. I love how I can work in the office

me outdoors on rock, and that’s when the real fascination

for half the day and then race out and trash myself climbing.

kicked in.

You’ve conquered numerous challenging routes including climbs in China, Madagascar, France, and Spain; which are the most remarkable?

The Blueys have thousands of rock climbs all in my backyard.

What are the travel essentials we’ll always find in your carry-on? Baby wipes – ever since my daughter Coco came along on a trip I don’t leave home without them; a book of cryptic crossword puzzles; lip balm with sand paper wrapped

A standout for me was a 55-metre high route I climbed in

around it so that I can sand the dead skin off my fingers;

Spain, called Mind Control (grade 34). It’s the hardest route I

a water bottle and harness; and shoes and a chalk bag,

have ever climbed and it took me three separate trips before

because if my main luggage doesn’t arrive I can still go

I succeeded. Failure is part of the process and it taught me

climbing.

to remain true to myself. One of my favourite routes is Tom et je Ris (grade 32), located in the spectacular Verdon Gorge in France. This one really appealed to me because it was such a beautiful line; it follows two vertical columns up the rock for nearly 60 metres. I climbed this route after having a child and it showed me that it was possible to still climb hard and I could do so overseas.

How do you take advantage of climbing to expand your travel experiences?

You and your husband Simon Carter led the ‘Sicily on the Rocks’ climbing trip with World Expeditions last October, and will be leading the eight-day ‘New Zealand on the Rocks’ trip next February; how do you see these trips benefiting today’s travellers and sport climbers? World Expeditions now offers a greater variety of trips which help facilitate people to travel in pursuit of their

Before climbing I backpacked my way around Europe and

special interests. They make travelling easy as everything

hiked in Nepal, thinking these were adventurous trips.

is arranged and they have extraordinary people leading

Now it’s the climbing destinations that set the bearing of

their trips. We’re honoured to be hosting their climbing

my compass and that has meant I have visited some pretty

trips, and offer a unique experience for climbers to learn

remote and beautiful places, like Madagascar. I really love

new skills, improve their climbing, and along the way have

how climbing has taken me to some random places that I

a great time in an appealing destination.

would not have visited otherwise.

You live in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney; what about the region

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What places are on your bucket list? Waterval Boven in South Africa and Smith Rocks in Oregon, USA are the next places on my list.


the Explorer

SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

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Travel Essentials

STREET STYLE

FOR THE AIRPORT

T

here’s nothing worse than arriving back from a trip, only to wait at the luggage carousel trying to figure out which of the plain vanilla suitcases is yours. A new collaboration

between Globe-Trotter and neighbourhood will ensure this never happens again. In Globe-Trotter’s latest collaboration, luggage company and Japanese streetwear brand (which has previously worked with Burton on travel accessories) have created a line of striking Aero suitcases, available in three sizes, that are black, bold and unmissable. Crafted from jet black vulcanised fiberboard for a distinctly retro feel, and boasting brown top handles in timber and closures in chrome, each Globe-Trotter x Neighborhood case is adorned with the street label’s insignia, and offers an urban panache that’s sure to turn all the right heads on the airport concourse.

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Travel Essentials

WORK

& PLAY

A

backpack is an essential for every traveller, especially now that you can ensure chic office-appropriate style to your street look. The Bellroy Duo Tote Bag has an

impressive 15-litre capacity when expanded, and securely holds laptops of up to 15-inches in a central padded sleeve. Constructed with water-resistant fabric and environmentally certified leather, this stylish travel essential features multiple pockets for life’s smaller items and can be folded up to be as compact as a briefcase. This means your look can transition as quickly as you do, from a meeting to the airport to a day exploring. SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

31


Travel Essentials

A TINY

DIGITAL DIVA

L

ooking for a compact camera that packs a performance punch? Sony’s new mirrorless Alpha 6100 digital might be the shooter for

you. The newest addition to Sony’s Alpha line up, the new camera features a compact and lightweight body, leadingedge autofocus performance, superb image quality and the very latest video technologies. Designed for entry-level travellers, the A6100 boasts a 24.2MP Exmor CMOS image sensor, the latest BIONZ X image processor and the frontend LSI implemented in Sony’s full-frame cameras. This powerful trio combines to deliver all-round enhancements in image quality and performance across all areas of photo and video capture. There’s an ISO range of 100-32,000 (expandable to 102,400), lightning-fast autofocus acquisition and a razor-sharp AF system, ensuring reliable focusing in even the most challenging light conditions, while the touch panel on the rear screen makes both shooting and navigation a breeze.

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