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Vietnam The Perfect Trip to

WIN! A trip for two to Dublin for St Patrick’s Day!

THE REINVENTION OF DOHA Qatar’s capital packs a cultural punch

HONG KONG VINTAGE INDIA All aboard the Maharajas’ Express

Take your tastebuds on a city tour


Go swimming with whale sharks!

ON THE COVER Boats ply the waters of Halong Bay in northern Vietnam

Dhs 15




Publisher Dominic De Sousa GROUP COO Nadeem Hood ASSOCIATE PUBLISHERS Carol Owen Georgina Wilson-Powell

EDITORIAL EDITOR: Georgina Wilson-Powell / +97150 574 2884 CONTRIBUTORS: Joseph Alcantara, Mike MacEacheran, Nicola Monteath, Tahir Shah, Oliver Smith ART DIRECTOR: Kamil Roxas ADVERTISING SALES MANAGER: Tim Calladine /+971 50 458 7752 MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS Marizel Salvador ONLINE Louie Alma PRODUCTION Devaprakash DISTRIBUTION Rochelle Almeida SUBSCRIPTIONS PRINTED BY Emirates Printing Press LLC, Dubai PUBLISHED BY

Head Office, PO Box 13700, Dubai, UAE Tel: +971 4 440 9100, Fax: +971 4 447 2409 Group Office, Dubai Media City Building 4, Office G08, Dubai, UAE A publication licensed by IMPZ © Copyright 2013 CPI. All rights reserved. While the publishers have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of all information in this magazine, they will not be held responsible for any errors therein.

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It began in Africa February is traditionally the month of love, and we can’t think of anything more romantic than whisking your favourite person away on a once in a lifetime holiday! If that’s what you’re thinking g too then turn straight to our cover feature on sultry, enchanting Vietnam, for ourr unique lowdown of everywhere you should go and everything you should see (page 32). If you’re after a spot of adventure more than romance, then you’ll love our Djibouti adventure (page 58). This tiny country offers once in a lifetime experiences like swimming with the biggest fish on earth, the whale shark. I won’t forget jumping into a choppy sea with something the same size as a truck in a hurry, but it was one of the most memorable mornings I’ve ever had. If you’re looking to explore a little closer to home and only have a couple of days, try out Doha (page 64), the maligned Qatari capital is undergoing something of a cultural reinvention. Also this month, we check out a heady way to ‘do’ India, on a vintage railway, with the Marharja’s Express (page 52) and take our taste buds for a whirl of Hong Kong (page 44). Elsewhere we have 10 ‘Easy Trips’ for you to book now, all the latest travel gadgets reviewed and of course our essential Mini Guides. Enjoy!

FROM TOP Be captivated by Vietnam's rich landscape (page 32); enjoy a leisurely dive off Mousha Island (page 58) or see India in style from a luxury train (page 52)

Chairman: Stephen Alexander Deputy Chairman: Peter Phippen CEO: Tom Bureau Head of Licensing and Syndication: Joanna Marshall International Partners Manager: Aleksandra Nowacka

Georgina Wilson-Powell, Editor Editor: Peter Grunert Art Director: Hayley Ward Publishing Director: Alfie Lewis Publisher: Simon Carrington Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East is published by CPI under licence from BBC Worldwide Limited, Media Centre, 201 Wood Lane, London W12 7TQ. The BBC logo is a trade mark of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Lonely Planet is a trade mark of BBC Worldwide; both are used under licence by Immediate Media Company London Limited. Copyright © Immediate Media Company London Limited All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part prohibited without permission.

February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East


Our promise to you Lonely Planet Traveller provides trusted, independent travel advice and information that has been gathered without fear or favour. We aim to provide you with options that cover a range of budgets and we reveal the positive and negative of all locations we visit. Because we believe it is important that our journalists experience first-hand what they’re writing about and because you require comprehensive information from every corner of the world, at times it may be necessary for us to seek assistance from travel providers such as tourist boards, airlines, hotels, national parks and so forth. However, when receiving such assistance, we ensure our editorial integrity and independence are not compromised through the following measures: by publishing information on all appropriate travel suppliers and not just those who provided us with assistance, and by never promising to offer anything in return, such as positive coverage.

All prices correct at time of going to press. Prices for hotel rooms are for double, en suite rooms with breakfast in low season, unless otherwise stated. Flight prices are for the cheapest return fares, including one piece of hold baggage, unless otherwise stated. Lonely Planet Traveller is owned by BBC Worldwide and produced on its behalf by Immediate Media Company London Limited, Vineyard House, 44 Brook Green, Hammersmith, London W6 7BT. ISSN 2050-635X. Printed by Polestar Group. BBC Worldwide’s profits are returned to the BBC for the benefit of the licence-fee payer. Immediate Media Company is working to ensure that all of its paper is sourced from well-managed forests. This magazine can be recycled for use in newspapers and packaging. Please remove any gifts, samples or wrapping and dispose of the magazine at your local collection point.


The Lonely Planet story In 1972, two years after meeting on a bench in London’s Regent’s Park, newlyweds Tony and Maureen Wheeler went on an unforgettable honeymoon. With only a shabby car and a few dollars to their name, they travelled overland across Europe and Asia to Australia. At the end, broke but inspired, they sat at their kitchen table to write their first travel guide, Across Asia on the Cheap. Within a week of its publication in 1973 they’d sold 1,500 copies, and Lonely Planet was born. The Wheelers began publishing books on Southeast Asia, India and beyond. Over the years, coverage extended to most countries, and on BBC Worldwide became the sole shareholder in 2011, and Lonely Planet now makes books, ebooks, apps, TV shows and, of course, this magazine. Turn to page 20 for Tony Wheeler’s column, The Road Less Travelled.

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February sees the release of updated guides Australia Not for Parents (Dhs58), Britain Not for Parents (Dhs58), Central Europe Phrasebook (Dhs28), China Not for Parents (Dhs58), Eastern Europe Phrasebook (Dhs54), Istanbul (Dhs86.50), Korea (Dhs98), Malta & Gozo (Dhs69), Mediterranean Europe Phrasebook (Dhs34.50), Pocket Istanbul (Dhs46), USA Not for Parents (Dhs58) and Western Europe Phrasebook (Dhs38).

Nowhere is the road trip such a part of the culture as the USA – Lonely Planet’s Best Trip series now has updated editions of California’s Best Trips (Dhs92), New England’s Best Trips (Dhs92) and Pacific Northwest’s Best Trips (Dhs92) with more than 30 fantastic trip suggestions in each guide.

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

Contents February 2013




The Perfect Trip to Vietnam p32

Your travel photos and the stories behind them

Donkeys in the Hatta mountains, the Taj Mahal and more

OUR PLANET This month’s travel news, views and openings

15 Ben Fogle talks souvenirs, get chilly at Harbin Ice Festival; the best of Hong Kong for free and a David Bowie retrospective hits London

10 EASY TRIPS Short breaks to take now

23 VALENCIA, SPAIN Las Fallas is the biggest carnival of the year 24 MALDIVES Get romantic on a private atoll 26 KOCHI, INDIA Have an art attack at the first biennial 26 GARNI, ARMENIA Picnics at Pagan temples in this tiny Eastern European destination 27 CHANOD, RAJASTHAN Saddle up for a two week ride across country 28 MAYRHOFEN, AUSTRIA Apres-ski takes on a whole new meaning at Snowbombing festival 28 PARIS, FRANCE Fall in love with the city of love 29 LONDON, ENGLAND Take in the views of the city from The Shard 30 NANYUKI, KENYA Camp-chic has never been so luxurious 31 MUSANDAM, OMAN Take a wooden dhow up the coast of this otherworldly peninsula

Keep up with the nightlife in Kowloon p48

FEATURES 32 ON THE COVER VIETNAM Our Perfect Trip to Vietnam takes in the food, the culture, the islands and this country’s fascinating past 44 HONG KONG Take your taste buds on a trip of Asian delights with our foodie tour 52 MAHARAJAS’ EXPRESS Explore India’s past from this luxury train as it pulls across the country


Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013


Discover the world with these cool in depth experiences

Make friends with a whale shark p58 58 DJIBOUTI This tiny African country packs a punch. Swim with whale sharks, discover volcanoes and lakes saltier than the Dead Sea 64 DOHA The Middle East’s newest cultural hub is undergoing something of a reinvention. We sample for ourselves the high end music, art and food on offer

ARMCHAIR TRAVELLER Books, apps and websites that will feed your passion for travel

70 We review the UAE’s best off-road book, uncover new websites for finding quirky houses to stay in and bring you a new live translation app

MINI GUIDES Themed guides to pull out and take with you Discover Doha p64 Saddle up in Rajasthan p27

75 COASTAL GOA It’s beaches galore in Goa but are you after a chilled one or a party scene? 77 CAFES IN KRAKOW Taste the delicious cakes, pastries and hot chocolate in Poland 79 CULTURAL SINGAPORE There’s more to do in tiny Singapore than shop and go to theme parks. 81 WINTER IN ASPEN Home to the late Hunter S Thompson, America’s premier ski town has plenty to offer 83 EATING OUT IN ROME How many excuses do you need to eat pizza, pasta and gelato? Not many 85 THAILAND’S ISLANDS Southern Thailand is a holiday lover’s paradise but where should you head? 74 SUBSCRIBE AT ONLY DHS120 FOR 12 ISSUES A year’s subscription is a steal for all your travelling inspiration


87 WIN A TRIP TO DUBLIN, IRELAND! Go for St Patrick’s Day in March with Tourism Ireland 88 WIN A TRIP TO ANANTARA AL YAMM VILLAS Stay on Sir Bani Yas in style, flights included!

February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



Where you’ve been and what you’ve seen

Send us your pictures, the stories behind them and a photograph of yourself;  email


Send us your pictures, the stories behind them and a photograph of yourself: email

BARCELONA, SPAIN Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in the urban centres of Europe. In terms of public art space, Barcelona has its fair share. It is a city that incubates creativity with loads of hidden gems from independent galleries, and public squares that are being turned into art institutions. Barcelona has many neighbourhoods, each with its own distinct texture, and if you are a lover of design and the underground culture -- you will feel right at home. Kamil Roxas is an art director and avid filmmaker living in Dubai.

April 2012


February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



A taste of India This picture was taken during a photographic expedition I organise yearly with another photographer. We had been there since dawn to take picture of the Taj Mahal and this was one of the last shots I took when this lady walked past us. Ideally I would have loved to have caught her on the left of the Taj... but I missed that! Ivana Maglione is an Italian photographer living in Dubai.


Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

Send us your pictures, the stories behind them and a photograph of yourself;  email


Send us your pictures, the stories behind them and a photograph of yourself: email

April 2012

January 2013




Lonely road It was a cold dry day last December when I saw a group of wild donkeys on top of the beautiful rocky Hajar mountains in Fujairah. Surrounded by the natural amber-coloured rocky view, I decided to stop and climb a bit to take a snap of this friendly creature and its fascinating background. Celso II Beringuel Creer is a senior architect and interior designer in Abu Dhabi and Baghdad.


Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

Send us your pictures, the stories behind them and a photograph of yourself;  email


Our Planet

This month’s travel news, views and discoveries A LOCAL’S VIEW


Truong Nam, iced tea entrepreneur, Hanoi, Vietnam In Hanoi, people live their lives on the street – my family have been selling tea here for hundreds of years. One day, my father thought that if he added lime, ice, sugar and jasmine to our tea it might cure sore throats. We started selling his drink at our shop, and recently people have started coming from miles around to drink it – we don’t even need to advertise! It has something for everyone: it’s not too sweet and not too sour. Some stalls have been copying it using chemicals, but we prefer fresh ingredients. The big secret is how to add the jasmine to the tea. You can only find out the recipe when you marry into our family!

February 2013Month Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East Lonely Planet Traveller

15 

OUR PLANET CHINESE WOMEN BELIEVE the way to finding love is through their artistic skills. Craftiness is said to be the essential element of a successful family, so they pray to the goddess Zhi Nu to enhance their skills and spend Valentine’s Day crafting melons, or ox’s horns (in some provinces) for good luck.


Peter Jackson Director Peter Jackson filmed The Lord of the Rings trilogy in his native New Zealand. The country is also the location for his new film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The fresh greens of the Riwaka Valley seen from Hawkes Lookout near Motueka, on New Zealand’s South Island

How you can visit Middle-earth I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was 17. Ever since, the landscape of New Zealand has been closely tied to Middle-earth in my mind. You can’t help but relate what you read to the places that you know. The North Island was what I was familiar with, so when I was reading the books, I imagined landscapes that I’d seen and had driven through. The landscapes where I’ve shot the Tolkien films – The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – are as spectacular as I could ever want. Tolkien saw landscapes as an important part of his stories. He describes them in great detail in his books, so we had a pretty amazing guide for what we had to look for when making The Hobbit, from the plants, and flowers to the landscapes. One of the great joys of working on these films is getting in a helicopter and flying around scouting for locations. I’ve seen the country in a way I never would have otherwise. New Zealand may be small but the landscape varies a lot, certainly in the South Island. You can fly over a ridge and the land on the other side is completely different. Tolkien was writing a mythology for a Europe which, in his mind,


Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

was around 7,000 years ago. As a primitive landscape with a European feel, New Zealand is perfect for Middle-earth. You can shoot somewhere where there’s no power lines, no houses, no farms, no roads – just fantastically wild landscapes as far as the eye can see. My favourite location is an old gold mining area called Central Otago on the South Island. It’s a very dry and barren landscape with huge rock formations, plains and valleys. It’s where we shot Rohan in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and we also shot a fairly major sequence in The Hobbit there. If had to retire to a small house in the country somewhere, I’d probably choose Otago. When you’re on location, there’s an element of unpredictability. For the most part we decided that if it rains, we film in the rain. Again, that’s part of Tolkien. He didn’t write about places that had continuous sun, he wrote about places that had wind and rain and storms. At the same time, I’m a little bit of a hobbit. I don’t want to go anywhere too extreme and struggle to make the film! One thing we’ve done with these films is enhance the landscape with CGI. If we’re shooting somewhere and we want a waterfall over here or a mountain over there, then we can always add that

OUR PLANET WHEN VALENTINE’S DAY was first introduced in Japan in 1936 it was instantly popular, but it was the men receiving the gifts, bought for them by women. A translation error had been made by the chocolate company who brought over the Western idea! 14 February remains a day to give men gifts, while men return the favour on White Day a month later.

EV EVERY FEBRUARY VERONA (home to Sh Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) holds a sseries of events called ‘Verona in Lo Love’ which includes a tour to Juliet’s sta statue for good luck, an award for the be best love letter, poetry readings and ca candle-lit dinners.


Ben Fogle

in later. But no matter how good CGI is, you inherently know if you’re looking at something real or something that has been created on a computer. You can just feel it. There’s an authenticity you get in a real landscape that helps ground the story. What you want in the film – in any film – is to get people to absolutely believe in the story, not to be wondering what is real or what is fake. In the Tolkien films that we’ve made, we’ve come to the realisation that if you use real landscapes as much as you can, it allows people to feel that these are real people; their stories are real. You want people to enter into the spirit of the story – to forget that they’re actors on location and to feel like you’re in Middle-earth with these people. The beauty of the Tolkien films that we’ve made is that people want to come and visit the places they’ve seen in the films. You can stand in the places that the characters did, they’re just a plane flight away. It took these films for me to explore these amazing landscapes. You live somewhere but you don’t really explore your country the way that you should – you stick to your particular part of it. You drive to work and you drive back from work. You go the shops. These films were a joy to make because I got to go to parts of New Zealand I would never have otherwise visited.


Ben Fogle is an adventurer, presenter and best-selling author. His travel memoir The Accidental Adventurer is out now (Dhs119; Bantam Press)

The best things I’ve brought back from my travels are my antique ponchos from Bolivia. Some are 100 years old, so they’ve been worn but they’re still very bright and exquisitely beautiful. A few are just one colour, very faded and weathered, and some are rainbow-coloured or have many vibrant colours – it’s a real mix. I first went to Bolivia when I was 19. It was the first developing country I’d been to. I travelled all the way through South America and along the Andes, but there was something about Bolivia in particular that swept me away; I think part of it was the national costume. I love fabrics and textures and I became obsessed with ponchos on my trip. I bought my collection in a few places: Potosí, which is a big mine area, Sucre, the constitutional capital of Bolivia, and La Paz. Even back in the early ’90s, they weren’t cheap. I brought back about 10 with me, in a big sack, like Father Christmas. At university I was that typical slightly ethnic

gap-year student – there I was in the middle of Birmingham, under Spaghetti Junction, and my room was covered in these. But it was my way of staying in Bolivia. Now my wife and I have them in our front room. I’d like to frame them one day. Not only do they take me back to my own time there, they’re like a little window onto another era. And that’s what I love: these were woven by hand and used by hardworking people in a harsh landscape. For me, that’s what a souvenir should be.

February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East




Xinjiang, China

WHY NOW? To see Uighur culture before it disappears. The Chinese authorities are determined to integrate this western province into the rest of China. The Uighur people were the majority in the region, but in some Uighur areas they’ve gone from 90 per cent to less than 50 per cent of the population.

WHAT CAN I SEE? Historic sites from the days when the British and Russian empires were vying for control of Asia: in Kashgar, their consulate buildings are still standing. There are also plenty of reminders that you’re in an Islamic place, including Kashgar’s yellow Id Kah Mosque, China’s largest mosque.

HOW SAFE IS IT? Recently, protests have been less of a problem than in Tibet – but if trouble does flare up between the Uighur population and the authorities, don’t get caught between the two sides.

WHERE’S TRULY OFF THE BEATEN TRACK? The route south along the Karakoram Highway across the 4,700m-high Khunjerab Pass into Pakistan is one of the world’s great road trips. And the oasis town of Turpan is the third lowest place on Earth and the hottest place in China.

WHAT SHOULD I EAT? You’re in Central Asia so this is the land of kebabs, flat breads and the Uighur speciality ‘pulled noodles’ (laghman).

WHAT SHOULD I PACK? Pack for extremes: when it’s hot it’s really hot, and when it’s cold it’s bloody freezing. And don’t forget you’re in the Muslim world, so a little covered-up sensitivity is required.

TONY WHEELER, Lonely Planet’s co-founder, never stops exploring unusual places.


Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

Harbin Ice Festival, China The Chinese show the rest of the world just what can be done with a block of ice The Harbin Ice Festival in Heilongjiang Province, China is arguably the most impressive winter festival going. Intricate, towering sculptures line the Songhua River as temperatures plunge to -30C during January and February. Over 15,000 carvers battle to out-do each other with icy replicas of everything from Notre Dame Catherdral to traditional Chinese monsters and pagados, all lit with stunning, out-of-this-world lasers after dark. Having started in 1963 as a festival with only a domestic following, Harbin now attracts over one million visitors who can also visit the Siberian Tiger Park or go skiing at the nearby Yabuli Ski Resort, which has some of China’s best slopes.



Hong Kong Lonely Planet’s Piera Chen shares her pick of Hong Kong for free this month T’AI CHI BY THE HARBOUR Get rid of winter blues by learning t’ai chi from a spritely master against the backdrop of Victoria Harbour – the famous body of water that separates Hong Kong Island from the peninsula of Kowloon. The ancient martial art promotes blood circulation and bone health. Hour-long classes are offered three times a week, courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board (

TAI PO FARMERS’ MARKET Every Sunday, a corner of the leafy Tai Po district plays host to a charming farmers’ market. Trawl the 20-odd stalls for winter harvest, fairtrade chocolates, organic wine and green cosmetics, while being sure to enjoy a free sample of Merlot – or perhaps pineapple chutney. Don’t miss the local favourite, fresh roselle – a variety of hibiscus whose flowers are used to make a tart tea (

MUSEUM OF COASTAL DEFENCE All of Hong Kong’s public museums are open for free on Wednesdays. Among them is the Museum of Coastal Defence, housed in a century-old fort that was a battleground during WWII. Its latest exhibition is ‘Paper Weapons: Wartime Japanese Propaganda Publications’, recounting one episode in a long rivalry between Japan and China that continues to this today (lcsd.

BOTANICAL GARDENS The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical gardens is always free and has over 500 animals and birds and over 1,000 plant species to look at. Take a walk through the Bamboo Garden or lose yourself in the heady scents of the Magnolia Garden. One of the oldest such set ups in the world, it has been open for over 200 years and sits on the slope of Victoria Peak.

Hong Kong native PIERA CHEN is currently researching the city for the next edition of Lonely Planet’s China guide.

February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



From here to there... From London retrospectives to Danish city festivals and caves in Croatia we bring you the latest need-to-know travel info

Viva 500 It’s 500 years since the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon first set foot in Florida in 1513 and the sunshine state is celebrating with a series of events all year, kicking off with one of its favourites, the Daytona 500 stock car race on 24 February (from Dhs117; daytonainternationalspeedway. com). The rest of the year will include Spanish music, food and wine festivals, a re-enactment of the landing in St Augustine in April, rodeos and restaurant festivals in Miami.

Jazz in the Alps The Dolomiti Ski Jazz festival kicks off next month (9-16 March) with the most swinging cats from New York, New Orleans and Europe making their way onto the slopes, bars and theatres around the picturesque and infamous landscape of Val di Fiemme for concerts and jam sessions (from Dhs50;

Music man

Film in Qatar

From Heroes to Space Oddity, a huge David Bowie exhibition will hit London next month

Tasmeem Doha, a two day international art and design conference will take place on 16-17 March in Doha, Qatar. The theme of this biennial is hybrid making and it will be explored through workshops, seminars and film screenings as scholars, students and the local community come together (Free;

To coincide with his new album 'The Next Day' the V&A museum in London will be home to the first international retrospective of the Thin White Duke’s multifaceted career and looks at his considerable influence over the worlds of music, fashion and film. Over 300 exhibits will include handwritten lyrics,


costumes including the original Ziggy Stardust, set designs, instruments as well as music and film videos in this interactive collection, a real treat must for any music lover. The exhibition will run from 23 March-28 July 2013 (Free for V&A members; Dhs90 for nonmembers;

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

And elsewhere in the world... Geek’s paradise in Eindhoven. STRP Biennial in Eindhoven, The Netherlands is one of Europe’s biggest celebrations of advances in everything from robotics to film. From DJs to interactive art, live cinema, g g events and workshops, STRP cements gaming Eindhoven’s reputation as one of the most progressive cit European cities. 1-10 March (tickets various strp.n Hike in Hell’s Gorge. The prices; deepest gorge in the Canary Islands, g based on Tenerife, has reopened to visitors. Barranco Ba del Infierno (Hell’s Gorge) is a natural trail which offers eager explorers lush greenery, waterfalls and a number of burial wat caves to explore. Go caving in ca Croatia. Another re-opening C tthis month sees the Lokvarka Cave, the deepest in Croatia C welcome visitors once again, who can descend to 120 metres with new staircases and walkways. Stay in Kuta, Bali in style. Sheraton Bali Kuta Resort looks over Kuta Beach, a paradise for surfers who now can crash out in five star luxury. Until 30 June 2013 get a deluxe room, breakfast for two, one way airport transfer and daily resort credit of $25 for Dhs827++ per night; sherat Wondercool in Cop Copenhagen. We love the idea of Won Wondercool, running all February, which treats visitors to a new look at Denmark’s capital. The best restaurant in the world, Noma, will hold debates, you can hear top Danish acts play the Zoological museum and winter jazz at the National Gallery and go on ‘secret’ walks with the city’s top architects. Meditate on the roof of the world. Really want to clear your head? Check into Ananda in the Himalayas between 24-31 March for a seven day programme teaching Vedic Meditation which can help deal with stress, increase energy levels and aid clear thinking. anandasp vedic.asp. Ice, ice baby. If Harbin Ice baby Festival F (see more on page 18) has inspired you to embrace the chilly winter weather, you can learn how to sculpt your own ice at Romania’s Ice Hotel. Built every year, the hotel sits 2,000m above sea level and is only accessible by a cable car. You can also explore the spooky historica castles that still inhabit this ancient country.


Find romance this month in a European capital. Or forget it with Indian art, snowy festivals, rhinos or a horseback adventure

February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



The Maldives Romance and reefs WHY GO NOW? What kind of an excuse do you need to visit the Maldives? We have two! It’s the month of love and there’s nowhere more romantic than waking up to breakfast on a deserted coral atoll. Plus flydubai is now operating a five times weekly service to the popular destination. Only 20 minutes from Male is Jumeriah’s Vittaveli resort where you can choose between direct

Valencia, Spain Burn baby burn The traditional festival of Las Fallas, which kicks off on 1 March, sees the Spanish city of Valencia at its most riotous, chaotic and above all, fun. The annual event includes massive parades, firework displays and parties which culminate with a burning of more than 400 huge paper mache puppets and effigies on 19 March. During the three weeks leading up to this, the city doesn’t sleep with art, cultural and music events all shoehorned into the medieval quarter’s tiny outdoor bars and restaurants.

MAKE IT HAPPEN 4Get around the medieval city with ease with the VLC Tourist Card. Buy one for 24-72 hours and get free public travel, free museum entry and discounts on shopping and restaurants (from Dhs65; 4Don’t miss the weirdly skeletal and wonderfully futuristic City of Arts and Sciences that is set on the old medieval riverbed. It includes an IMAX, aquarium museum and arts space (from Dhs42; 4Air France fly to Valencia (Dhs3,000; 4Hospes Palau de la Mar hotel is a chic option with an gourmet restaurant and is walking distance from the wonderfully medieval Barrio del Carmen, the City of Arts and Sciences and the city’s finest shopping (Dhs678; free Wi-fi;


Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

beach or lagoon access from your private villa set over the water, which also is home to its own infinity pool. Explore the coral reefs, hire a canoe or a speed boat and let the slow rhythm of the islands seep into every pore.

MAKE IT HAPPEN 4Enjoy a Valentine’s Day package at Jumeirah Vittaveli which includes four nights in a beach villa,

breakfast, a candlelit lobster and Champagne dinner and a two hour couples massage with lunch at the Talise Spa (Dhs23,432; free Wi-fi; 4Flydubai flies from Dubai’s Terminal 2 every day except Wednesdays and Fridays (from Dhs1,740; 4You’re best off taking US dollars rather than the local currency, as these are preferred at most resorts.


Garni, Armenia Pagan picnics WHY GO NOW? Experience the beauty of a real East and West juxtaposition in an accessible Eurasian country. Armenia ticks all the boxes for a practical traveller in search of intriguing history, rich culture, a wide variety of recreational activities, buzzing nightlife and warm locals within a compact destination. It is also home to one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, Garni Temple – the last pagan temple in Armenia,

which follows the Greek architectural template. The site not only brings to life ancient history but you can take a picnic and enjoy the views. Armenia’s an interesting option if you are cash or time-poor, as it’s affordable, especially from January-March, the traditional low season.

MAKE IT HAPPEN 4Armenia is bordered by Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

4flydubai flies to the capital Yerevan four times a week (from Dhs1,250; 4Most visitors can buy a visa on arrival. Check for a complete list. 4Hotel Meg is a smart little city centre boutique hotel, only minutes walk from the main sights (Dhs293; free Wi-fi; 4Garni is around a 40 minute taxi ride from Yerevan.

Kochi, India Art attack WHY GO NOW? The Kochi-Muziris Biennale kicked off in December 2012, and this is your last chance to catch the arts and culture exhibition (it runs until 13 March 2013). It has the distinction of being the first ever Indian biennale, and the largest modern art event the country has ever held. Venues include a 150 year old hall, restored dock warehouses and a Dutch bungalow and artists are coming from as far afield as Afghanistan and Argentina to join Indian artists in a forward thinking and exciting celebration of the arts. Expect installations, multi-media, workshops and be prepared to meet a modern India.

4Fly to Kochi on Air India (from Dhs1,910; 4Kochi sits on India’s west coast, in Kerala, and you can still taste elements of its colonial and Portuguese past. Try Fry’s Village Restaurant for authentic curries (Veekshanam Rd, Kochi). 4Old Harbour Hotel is a boutique hotel with a 300 year old history, and the place to stay in Fort Cochin. It has 13 rooms, an Ayurvedic spa and pool (from Dhs631; free Wi-fi;


Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013





Chanod, Rajasthan Saddle up WHY GO NOW? International relief project, Relief Riders are running a two week horse ride across the stunning terrain of Rajasthan. Over the two weeks you’ll combine seeing this wonderful territory in all its natural beauty with helping out on their outreach programmes to bring dental and optical care to remote villagers. Each

day you’ll be in the saddle for several hours, camping under the stars at night and be able to experience real Indian village life with a series of activities. Rajasthan is the largest state in India, sitting in the northwest and you’ll spend time in the capital Jaipur before heading out to see the stunning mountains, deserts and temples of this ancient land.

MAKE IT HAPPEN 4The Rajasthan ride will take place from 25 February-10 March. It costs Dhs27,360 which includes everything apart from flights. To book a place on the ride email 4Fly to Delhi on Gulf Air (from

Dhs830; 4Beginner riders can be accommodated as well as experienced ones, and if a partner doesn’t wish to ride, they can ride along in a Jeep. 4Indian visas can be applied for at

February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



Paris, France City of love WHY GO NOW?

Mayrhofen, Austria Piste party

Ah Paris, there’s nothing like your magnificent boulevards, bridges, bistros and more to make the heart sing. Valentine’s Day comes but once a year so make it a special one and book a trip to the city where everyone falls in love (with the food, the architecture and the atmosphere, if not with each other). For first timers, get a real feel for France’s beating heart by booking a walking tour with the highly recommended Paris Walks. The

WHY GO NOW? What do you get if you cross some of the finest powder in Europe with a dance festival? Piste by day, beats by night, Snowbombing has been rocking mountain tops for over a decade now and it keeps on getting better. Even if you can’t ski or snowboard, there’s plenty to do. Want to dance in an igloo to some of the UK’s hottest DJs? Or how about an 80’s fancy dress street party? Then there’s the ‘backcountry parties’ where old school legends take over deserted forest lodges for some Arctic merriment. Snowbombing is where you can let it all hang out, in the picturesque town of Mayrhofen, which is completely given over for the week for a healthy dose of hillside hedonism.

MAKE IT HAPPEN 4Snowbombing takes place from 1-6 April 2013. There’s a range of accommodation available from shared dorms and hotel rooms to your own private chalets. All ticket prices include accommodation and festival entry (from Dhs1,825; 4This year’s musical line up includes Kasabian, Carl Cox, Example, Katy B, The Cuban Brothers, DJ Yoda, Stanton Warriors, Terri Chandler, Toddla T and many more. 4Emirates fly direct to Munich, where you can pick up a coach transfer to Mayrhofen (from Dhs3,441;


Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

engaging English language tours last around two hours or if you want something more specific, they also offer chocolate or fashion tours (Dhs60;

MAKE IT HAPPEN 4Mövenpick Hotel Paris Neuilly opened last month and it’s only three Metro stops away from the Champs Élysées. Book now for a special introductory rate (Dhs1,101 including breakfast; Wi-fi Dhs85/day

4The Metro is the easiest way to get around the city. Tickets cost Dhs8 for one or Dhs60 for a book of 12. Download Metro maps from 4You can’t not go up the 324 metre Eiffel Tower. Treat yourselves to a romantic glass of bubbly on floor 3 of the iconic structure (From Dhs67.5; 4Emirates fly daily to Paris direct from Dubai (Dhs2,950; emirates. com).

Quote LPT Middle East when you book and get upgraded to a suite, during February

10 EASY TRIPS The Shard was briefly the tallest building in the whole of Europe, but has just been pipped at the post by Moscow’s Mercury City Tower, which is 29 metres taller

London, England Hit the city heights WHY GO NOW? The gleaming arrowhead of the Shard has been slicing its way higher and higher through the London skyline for the past couple of years, splitting public opinion in the process. Now the time has finally arrived to head for the heights and see what all the fuss is about as the building opens this month. It’s the tallest building in Western Europe at 310 metres (66 metres higher than London’s previous tallest building, One Canada Square), and

its public viewing platform opens in February. The View From The Shard is accessed by high-speed lifts, and occupies the 68th, 69th and 72nd floors of this 95-storey building. Two floors are glass-walled, the other open to the elements. All promise vertigo-inducing views that will make the UK capital look like Toy Town, and the building’s central position right by the river means that it offers a full 360° view unmatched by any other tower in the city.

MAKE IT HAPPEN 4 The View From The Shard will be accessible from 9am10pm. Tickets are timed, so pre-booking is advised if you want to miss the lengthy queues. Advance adult tickets are Dhs149, children Dhs110 ( 4 The Shard is a stone’s throw from Borough Market, the oldest fruit and vegetable market in

London, now selling all kinds of produce. Pick up some oysters from Wright Brothers or a pint of real ale at the Market Porter (from Dhs24;; 4 First Capital Connect, Southern and Southeastern trains all arrive into London Bridge (nationalrail. London Bridge Underground station is on the Northern and Jubilee lines.

February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East




Nanyuki, Kenya Spot the rhino WHY GO NOW? As most safari tourists get caught in traffic jams in white, open-top vans on the world-famous grasslands of the Maasai Mara in the south of the country, this leaves you free to travel to the secluded plains of Solio Private Reserve, located outside the town of Nanyuki and the best place in Africa to see white and black rhino in the wild. With only one safari lodge on the 45,000-acre reserve, it’s near impossible to bump into another safari vehicle or hear a


tooting horn as you take in one of the lodge’s highly recommended day or night drives which uncover a bounty of wildlife. Back at the lodge, take your pick from one of six luxurious cottages, each with a private lounge, and floor-to-ceiling wilderness views framed by the mighty Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa. Oh and did we mention the weather? February is the dry season (the rains start falling in March through to late May), so it’s your last chance to see a

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

herd of rhino roaming the wide open plains, rather than sheltering en masse beneath an over-sized emerald bush. This, of course, makes them a near impossibility to spot.

MAKE IT HAPPEN 4Take a one hour flight with efficient and comfortable Kenyan carrier Safarilink from Nairobi’s domestic terminal, Wilson Airport, or by private charter to Solio Ranch air strip. The flight offers

stunning views of Mount Kenya and Aberdares National Park. (Dhs500; 4Fly Emirates direct from Dubai to Nairobi (from Dhs1,400; 4As one of the most romantic lodges anywhere in Africa, why look anywhere other than Solio Lodge (pictured above)? (from Dhs2,000; free Wi-fi; 4Kenyan visas can be bought on arrival for Dhs180.

Make your adventure count

Musandam, Oman Dhows and dolphins WHY GO NOW? The weather’s perfect now to head up to Musandam and get out on a dhow. The craggy Omani fjords are home to mirror-pond like clear waters, where you can find schools of tuna, friendly dolphins, and even perhaps a whale shark. The Omani peninsula offers up stunning coastline and the boat will slowly make its way north stopping by shallow reefs where you can snorkel, dive, kayak or just take in the lunar style scenery. This is as north as you can go within the UAE and Oman and the desolate scenery is captivating. An overnight

trip includes a barbeque dinner on a deserted beach, with freshly caught seafood before you bunk down back on the dhow under the stars. The

MAKE IT HAPPEN 4Sheesha cruises offer self catering and catered overnight trips, based on a private charter only. (Dhs4,450 for up to 10 people; 4You will need to take sleeping bags and pillows for an overnight stay, while water sports

next day take part in some early morning fishing or a refreshing dip in the Arabian Sea before slowly making your way back down to Dibba.

equipment is usually provided. And pack sunscreen! 4Remember to pack your passport – Dibba is in Oman, and you will go through a checkpoint. 4If you’re driving (often overnight trips will offer transport included) it’s also worth checking your car insurance covers Oman.

Times Square Center Dubai, UAE TEL +97143466824 800 ADVENTURE

T h e P e r f e c t Tr i p


From the island-studded seas of the north to the meandering waterways of the south, Vietnam is a country deďŹ ned by the diversity of its land and the resilience and generosity of its people WORDS OLIVER SMITH l PHOTOGRAPHS MATT MUNRO

The mystical landscape of Halong Bay, where over 2,000 limestone islets rise from the piercing blue waters of the Gulf of Tonkin


Your trip mapped out Vietnam is a country that is always on the move, from speeding scooters in its crowded cities to the gently cruising junks in Halong Bay. Follow our adventure by boat, bus and plane – and, if you’re feeling brave, hop on a scooter taxi too HANOI Best for city life HALONG BAY Best for coast

From its noisy markets to its food stalls, the Vietnamese capital is a place where the street doubles up as one big communal living room.

Sail around Halong Bay to witness Asia’s most staggering coastal scenery, and to hear talk of fearsome monsters lurking in the waters below.

SAPA Best for walking HOI AN Best for food With cascading rice paddies and misty peaks, these dramatic mountain landscapes are home to an ethnic mosaic of hill tribes.

Not just a pretty face, Vietnam’s most attractive town is also its culinary epicentre, with outstanding street food and restaurants.

Vietnam’s answer to the Norfolk Broads, the Mekong Delta is the place where the land, the sea and one of Asia’s greatest rivers all intersect. 34

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MEKONG DELTA Best for river life

THE PERFECT TRIP destination


Best for coast MILES INTO YOUR TRIP: 0










Once upon a time, a friendly dragon lived in the heavens above Halong Bay. With invaders from the seas threatening Vietnam, the gods asked the dragon to create a natural barrier to protect its people. The dragon kindly obliged, performing a spectacular crash landing along the coast – digging up chunks of rock with its flailing tail and spitting out pearls – before grinding to a halt. This scene of devastation is now known as Halong Bay – Halong literally translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’. Less exciting explanations of this landscape involve eons of erosion by winds and waves – but nobody disputes the splendour of the end result. Rising from the shallows of the Gulf of Tonkin are thousands of limestone islands – towering monoliths lined up like dominoes, some teetering at worrying angles. ‘In Vietnamese culture, dragons are the protectors of people,’ explains Vo Tan, a

guide who has been bringing people to Halong Bay for two decades. ‘I once saw a picture of Halong Bay taken from above, and it even looked a bit like a dragon.’ Sailing into Halong Bay, it’s easy to understand the hallucinatory effect these strange shapes can have. The islands’ names testify to the overactive imaginations of sailors who’ve spent too long at sea – Fighting Cock Island, Finger Island, Virgin Grotto (which is said to contain a rock the shape of a beautiful woman). Having largely resisted human settlement, the islands have become home to other creatures. From above, sea eagles swoop down to pluck fish from the waters, carrying their prey – still flapping – high into the air, and squawking congratulations to each other from their nests. Down below, countless jellyfish drift about the hollows that run beneath the cliffs. A local legend tells of another, altogether more sinister creature lurking in the waters of Halong Bay. A gigantic sea snake and close cousin of the Loch Ness Monster, the Tarasque was seen on three occasions by 19th-century French sailors, with sightings sporadically reported in Vietnam’s tabloids since. I ask Tan who would win in a battle between the Tarasque and Halong Bay’s famous dragon. ‘Of course the dragon would win,’ he grins. ‘In Vietnamese stories, the good guys are never allowed to lose.’

FURTHER INFORMATION l ABOVE LEFT A fishing boat sails through Halong Bay at dusk, as seen from the summit of Titop Island. ABOVE RIGHT Vo Tan, a guide, sits on the bow of a junk anchored in the bay


Bien Ngoc Cruises Most visitors to Halong Bay arrive as part of an organised tour sailing from Halong City. Bien Ngoc offers a spectrum of day trips and overnight tours, with many itineraries including Titop – an island with outstanding views of the bay (two days from Dhs348 per person;

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It’s rush hour in Hanoi, and the streets of the city’s Old Quarter throng with hundreds of scooters. The pavement and the central reservation are fair game in the chaos; zebra crossings exist more as a personal challenge than a guarantee of safe passage. These are streets where Evel Knievel might have written the highway code; where a grandma on a scooter will think nothing of driving headlong into a tidal wave of oncoming traffic. Hanoi is a city that refuses to grow old gracefully – a millennium-old capital of crumbling pagodas and labyrinthine streets, now undergoing a werewolf-like

transformation into a 21st-century Asian metropolis. In the Old Quarter, ancient temples now neighbour karaoke joints, and dynasties of artisans ply their trade next to shops selling cuddly toys the size of grizzly bears. Hanoi is a city that muddles up its past with its present – where a statue of Lenin raises a clenched fist to teenagers who skateboard past him every afternoon. Few have studied the changing face of the city as closely as Do Hien, an artist who has spent a lifetime painting Hanoi’s streets. He welcomes me to his studio, and idly leafs through sketches of city life – couples waltzing beside the willows of Hoan Kiem Lake, and alleyways where hawkers prepare steaming bowls of pho. ‘Hanoi is a place that runs in your blood,’ Hien says thoughtfully, sitting cross-legged among stubs of incense sticks and paintbrushes strewn across his studio floor. ‘Had I not lived in this city I might not be able to paint like I do.’ There are reminders of darker chapters in Hanoi’s past among Hien’s collection. He began his career as a Viet Cong

propaganda artist – applying brushstrokes in between dashing off to fight the Americans during the Vietnam War – and witnessed the bombing of his home town during Christmas 1972. He shows me propaganda prints of anti-aircraft guns firing into skies above the city, and a giant Vietnamese soldier grabbing an American B-52 bomber from the air with his bare hands, King Kong style. Today, posters like these are in much demand among collectors – yet Hien struggles to paint with the ferocity of his younger years. ‘I can copy these posters technically, but I don’t have the right kind of spirit,’ he says. ‘I try to remember what I was feeling, but I don’t have the same anger any more.’ Like Hien’s artwork, Hanoi too has moved on. Hanging beside his front door is an oil painting of Long Bien Bridge – to many locals, the enduring symbol of Hanoi’s resilience. Blown to pieces by American bombs forty years ago, the bridge has long since been patched up and repaired. It now creaks under the weight of so many scooters passing through. WHERE TO EAT l Little Hanoi offers good-value noodle and rice dishes in an atmospheric dining room where birdcages dangle from the ceiling (main courses from Dhs18; 9 Ta Hien Street). Commuters cross Hanoi’s Long Bien Bridge in the morning rush hour. OPPOSITE, Harvesting has begun on the terraced rice paddies in a valley close to Sapa, the main market town of northwest Vietnam LEFT


Sofitel Legend Metropole The Metropole dates back to French colonial rule over Vietnam, with interiors that feature smoky wooden floors, glittering chandeliers and whirring ceiling fans. Guests can also explore a rediscovered bunker, where staff and residents sheltered during the bombing of Hanoi in 1972 (from Dhs807;


Lonely Planet Traveller Month 













An evening fog hangs over Sapa – a dense, B-movie fog, mingling with smoke rising from bonfires on the valley floor. The clouds sporadically open up a bit to reveal a village, a chunk of a mountain, a patch of jungle, before obscuring them from view again, like stage scenery sliding into the wings. Eventually the clouds lift, and the Hoang Lien mountain range emerges. It is a landscape of extraordinary beauty – the Asian highlands half-remembered from childhood picture books and martial-arts films. Above are peaks thick to their

summits with greenery. Below, rice terraces run down the hillsides at right angles, as neatly as the folds in origami paper. Here and there, water buffalo stumble about rice paddies, chomping on foliage and occasionally looking up to offer gormless looks to passers by. Sapa is a town where the weather seems to operate on random rotation – switching between brilliant sunshine, thick fog, driving rain and occasionally a dusting of snow, before coming full circle to brilliant sunshine, often all within the space of a few minutes. A hill station settled by Vietnam’s French colonists, Sapa now serves as a trailhead for hikers happy to run the meteorological lottery of a walk in these mountains. ‘We have four seasons in one day here,’ explains Giang Thi Mo, my guide, shimmying along the edge of a rice paddy as a rain cloud approaches. ‘There’s no way to

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Rice harvesting near the village of Bo Lu; Lu people chew black betel. BELOW Ripening paddies near Sapa LEFT

trickles down the hillsides and into rice pounders that see-saw with the current. ‘There’s a Hmong saying that “we flow with the water”,’ she explains. ‘It means we don’t worry too much, and take things easy.’ Dusk begins to settle on the mountains – bonfires are extinguished and water buffalo herded homewards. The villagers around Sapa all plump for an early bedtime. Very soon the valleys are engulfed in a profound stillness. The blinking lights of fireflies cartwheel about in the gloom for a short while, before disappearing from view, presumably lost in another thick fog. FURTHER INFORMATION l


Hmong Mountain Retreat Set over rice terraces a short drive outside Sapa, the Hmong Mountain Retreat has small guest bungalows made from bamboo and thatched with palm. Set dinners (which are often vegetarian) are served in a traditional Hmong house nearby. The owners also offer trekking itineraries in the surrounding hills (from Dhs214 per bungalow;


predict the weather – just be lucky!’ Mo may live in Vietnam, but she considers herself first and foremost a member of the Black Hmong – a hill-tribe originally from southern China who sought refuge in these mountains centuries ago. Black Hmong is just one of 53 minority groups in Vietnam – many of whom inhabit the country’s highlands. Walking in these valleys entails packing a different phrasebook for every hour of the trek. Close by are communities of Red Dzao, White Thai, Lu and Giay – all tribes with cultures, languages and dress distinct from those of lowland Vietnam, all equally well-practised at life lived on steep gradients. We pass through a village, and Mo points to bamboo irrigation systems that send

tropical almond trees – pet pigeons, grackles and turtledoves cooing and trilling inside. It looks like the Orient as imagined in Graham Greene novels – a backdrop to period dramas involving khaki suits and grim telegrams from London. The merchants who brought Hoi An its fortune have long since departed, but their presence lingers on in the town’s gastronomy. Hanh reaches for a plate of cao lau – a noodle dish thought to have been inherited from Japanese and Chinese merchants, but which purists insist should only be made using water from a particular well in a backstreet of Hoi An. ‘In Hoi An, we cook food from all over the world,’ says Hanh. ‘We just make it better.’ FURTHER INFORMATION l Hanh teaches at Gioan cooking school – her students learn to cook the likes of seafood hotpots, spring rolls, beef curries and banana pancakes (courses from Dhs104; WHERE TO EAT l Set in a French colonial building with an ornate












Hoi An is a small town that likes a big breakfast. As dawn musters strength on the horizon, a small army of chefs sets to work on Thai Phien street – firing up gas cookers and arranging plastic furniture on the pavements. Soon, the city awakes to sweet porridges; coffee that sends a lightning bolt of caffeine to sleepy heads; sizzling steaks; broths that swim with turmeric, chilli and ginger. In Vietnam, street food is a serious business – a single dish prepared day after day by the same cook, perfected and honed by a lifetime’s craft. ‘Food in Hoi An is about yin and yang,’ explains Le Hanh, a young female chef scrutinising vegetables at the morning market. ‘It’s about balancing hot with cool, sweet with sour, salty with spicy.’

Carrying bags full of shopping, Le Hanh leads me to her cooking school in a quiet backstreet of Hoi An, where she quickly sets about chopping up green papayas and grilling fish in banana leaves. True to Hanh’s philosophy, cooking in Hoi An goes big on contrasting flavours; food that plays good cop/bad cop with the palate. The sharpness of fish sauce blends with the subtlety of fresh herbs; cool lemongrass makes way for the eye-watering panic of accidentally chomping on a red chilli. Food tourism is nothing new to Hoi An. Japanese, Chinese and European merchants sailed here in the 17th and 18th centuries, trading in silks and ceramics and making off with sacks of spices, tea and sugar. Still standing in the centre of the town is a Chinese temple to Thien Hau – the Goddess of the Sea – with murals of her guiding cargo ships homeward through stormy seas. The port’s fortunes waned, and Hoi An has long since slipped into a state of graceful dishevelment. Today, purple bougainvillea springs from mustardcoloured warehouses where merchants once kept their goods, and the teak and mahogany shutters creak on their hinges. Wire birdcages hang from the branches of

façade, Lantern Town serves up numerous local specialities. The upstairs balcony has waterfront views (from Dhs18; LEFT Le

Hanh gives a demonstration at her cooking school, Gioan.


GOLF HOI AN HOTEL Actually nothing to do with the sport, the Golf Hoi An Hotel offers large rooms with dark-wood furniture, air conditioning and balconies overlooking a central swimming pool. From the hotel it’s roughly a fifteen-minute walk to downtown Hoi An (from Dhs120;

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THE PERFECT TRIP Destination name


Lonely Planet Traveller November 



Best for river life MILES INTO YOUR TRIP: 1,310










A heavy rain is falling on the Mekong Delta, flooding the footpaths, swilling in the gutters, turning riverbank mud from light tan to a rich coffee colour. In the villages, everybody runs for cover – men, women, infants, enough animals to fill Old MacDonald’s Farm: chickens, geese, dogs and cats, all scurrying under iron sheet roofs and looking hopefully up at a slate-grey sky. It is the rainy season, and ‘water, water everywhere’ might be the job description for the Mekong Delta. A tangled network of rivers, tributaries and canals, the waters of the delta criss-cross the lowlands of southern Vietnam, before emptying out into the South China Sea through mighty, yawning estuaries. For centuries, life here has ebbed and flowed in tandem with the current of the Mekong – an all-in-one launderette, bathtub, highway, toilet, dishwasher, larder, social club and workplace for the communities surrounded by its waters. ‘If you live on a river island with twenty other people you have to learn to get along with everyone,’ explains Mrs Bui Nguyen, beckoning strangers to shelter in her bungalow beside the Cai Chanh canal. ‘That’s the reason why people in the Mekong are so friendly!’ A 77-year-old who attributes her longevity to a lifetime avoiding doctors, Mrs Nguyen wistfully reflects on the delta of old – in days when the only artificial light came from peanut oil lamps dotted along the riverbanks; an age long before roads had reached the villages. Times have changed. However, human life still instinctively congregates on the water’s edge. Lining the riverbank nearby are grocers’ shops, cafés, a gym, a billiards club and a blacksmith’s, whose owner makes kitchen utensils from helicopter parts left over from the Vietnam War. Floating markets, too, are still held every morning at nearby Cai Rang – with creaking barges from across the delta bashing into each other as they offload cargoes of watermelons, pineapples and turnips.

The rain eases, and the rhythm of delta life slowly begins to gather pace – sampans cast free of their moorings, children arrive home from school on ferry boats and mud skippers hop along the riverbanks. Setting out downstream, the Mekong seems a place of Eden-like abundance. Rafts of water hyacinth drift along in the current, spinning in the eddies. Skirting the riverbank are shady papaya groves, banana trees bent double under the weight of their fruit and palms that seem to bow deferentially to the boats that pass by. Swollen with rainwater, the river seems to quicken as we round a bend. The current tugs at boats tethered to wonky jetties – seemingly inviting them to join the river in its procession onward through the delta and into the sea. CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT Mrs Nguyen brews a herbal medicine at home; watermelons being offloaded at Cai Rang floating market; a boatyard; Chau Ty, a boat builder at Cai Rang; a ferry crosses the Cai Chanh canal


Hung homestay A popular option for travellers in the Mekong Delta, homestays see guests staying with local families and helping them cook dinner. One of the best is the Hung family homestay, close to Can Tho, which offers hearty food and simple bungalows set along a quiet riverbank. Excursions to the floating market nearby at Cai Rang are also available (00 84 90 384 9881; stay from £7 per person, including dinner, excursion £5 per person).

NEXT MONTH: 20 SHORT BREAKS YOU CANNOT MISS OLIVER SMITH is staff writer at Lonely Planet Traveller. The highlight of his trip was eating approximately one billion spring rolls. )HEUXDU\΂ Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East




From the island-studded seas of the north to the meandering waterways of the south, Vietnam is a country defined by the diversity of its land and the resilience and generosity of its people WORDS OLIVER SMITH O PHOTOGRAPHS MATT MUNRO


November 2012 Lonely Planet Traveller

Lonely Planet Traveller November 2012


Scooter riders on parade in Ho Chi Minh City


Getting around


Bamboo on sale in the Old Quarter of Hanoi


Getting there

Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International airport is Vietnam’s principal hub, which can be accessed from Dubai directly, via Emirates (from Dhs4,530;, by Qatar Airways via Doha (from Dhs2,050;, and from Abu Dhabi by Etihad Airways (Dhs3,910;

Flights can be taken easily between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City with Vietnam Airlines (singles from Dhs285; and JetStar (singles from Dhs170; jetstar. com). Trains also run between the two cities (singles from Dhs200;

Further reading

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Climate mm









0 -10 J F M A M J J A S O N D Temp max/min Rainfall


Bewildered by Ho Chi Minh City’s street food? Nha hang Ngon has the antidote – a leafy courtyard garden ringed by stalls where cooks conjure up traditional street dishes: pho, spring rolls, pancakes and vermicelli noodles (from Dhs8; 160 Pasteur St; 00 84 8 3827 7131).

With noisy tables, buzzing fans and few airs, Pho 10 is one of the best places in the capital to scoff pho noodle soup with fistfuls of chilli and lime. The short menu centres on beef, with dishes arriving at lightning pace. Be prepared to queue at busy times (pho from around Dhs4; 10 Ly Quoc Su St).


With French savoir-faire, Ma Maison offers comfortable rooms with rustic décor: wooden shutters, painted provincial-style furniture and wrought-iron balustrades. Its restaurant combines Asian and European traditions (from Dhs313; 656/52 Cach Mang Thang Tam St;

Hanoi Elite in the Old Quarter offers compact rooms that go beyond their price tag, with elegant décor, comfy beds, blonde-wood floors and views across the city. Faultlessly friendly staff happily offer directions to disorientated guests (from Dhs160; 5032 Dao Duy Tu;


The War Remnants Museum exhibits US military hardware seized by the Viet Cong following the Vietnam War. Helicopters, planes and artillery are on display, along with thought-provoking exhibits on POW camps (admission Dhs3; 28 Ð Vo Van Tan; 00 84 8 3930 5587).

Ngoc Son Temple is located on an island at the northern edge of Hoan Kiem Lake, connected to the city by the scarlet-coloured Huc Bridge (above). Dedicated to 13th-century general Tran Hung Dao, it includes ancient bells and a stuffed turtle (admission Dhs3; Hang Trong; 8am–5pm).


Motorbikes and scooters are part of Vietnam’s DNA – Vietnam Vespa Adventure offers guided tours on classic scooters, with architectural, historical and street food-themed itineraries available. Tours operate from Café Zoom downtown (tours from Dhs200;

Northern Vietnam’s equivalent of Punch and Judy is the 1,000-year-old art form of water puppetry. The Municipal Water Puppet Theatre is the place to catch a show, with performances throughout the afternoon and evening (admission from Dhs4; camera fee Dhs3; 57b P Dinh Tien Hoang).




Hoan Kiem Lake’s Huc Bridge, or Rising Sun Bridge


Try Lonely Planet’s Vietnam (Dhs91), and read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, set in the murky underworld of 1950s Saigon (Dhs45; Vintage).



Busy Ho Chi Minh City and old-world Hanoi are two cities that together show how Vietnam has changed from communist backwater to 21stcentury Asian tiger cub – both serve as great gateways to a perfect trip

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013


VIETNAM: MAKE IT HAPPEN The legacy of the Vietnam war

Vietnam is synonymous with one of the bitterest wars of the 20th century – despite the fact that the majority of today’s Vietnamese population aren’t actually old enough to remember this 20-year conflict lasting from 1955 to 1975. Nonetheless, the war casts a huge shadow over public life here, and still forms part of the national mindset.

Pho bo, as served in Pho  in Hanoi

Many of the most infamous places from the war are in central Vietnam, near the so-called Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) either side of the Ben Hai River. Khe Sanh Combat Base, the site of a brutal battle, is now home to a small museum (Dhs6; 7am–5pm), while the US bunkers at the Con Thien Firebase – the location of another deadly siege – make for a sobering visit. Arguably the most impressive remnants of the war are the Vinh Moc Tunnels – the remains of a Vietnamese village on the coast that decided to go underground in order to survive relentless American bombing. English-speaking guides shepherd visitors through this claustrophobic complex (admission Dhs6; 7am–4.30pm). Never stray from marked paths when you’re out walking in central Vietnam: unexploded bombs still blight its countryside, and claim hundreds of lives each year. The Mines Advisory Group ( is one of the NGOs involved in the clear-up operation.


Vietnamese food glossary Vietnam enjoys some of the most diverse cooking in Asia, from the Chinese influences of the north to the spicy, generous flavours of the south:

The path from Sapa to the village of Cat Cat in northern Vietnam

Pho bo One of northern Vietnam’s most exported dishes, pho bo is beef noodle soup with a broth containing shallots, ginger, fish sauce and black cardamom.

Bun cha A northern street food staple, bun cha consists of barbecued sliced pork in a flavoursome soup, served alongside white rice vermicelli.

Banh khoai Often found in central Vietnam, these small rice-flour crêpes usually contain shrimp, pork, egg and bean sprouts.

3 of the best tour operators INTREPID TRAVEL offers over 40 Vietnam tours, covering everywhere from the beaches of Nha Trang to the mountains of Sapa. The 10-day Vietnam Express Southbound tour takes in Hanoi, Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An. Accommodation is in simple hotels; local transport and a guide are included (from Dhs3,190, excl flights;

Luxury tour operator COX & KINGS offers a Spirit of Vietnam tour from north to south. Highlights include cyclo (cycle rickshaw) rides round the imperial city of Hue, sailing in a traditional junk around Halong Bay and water puppetry in Hanoi. There’s an emphasis on restaurants that help support local charities (from Dhs14,800, incl flights;

For a different perspective on northern Vietnam, EXPLORE INDOCHINA offers five-day to two-week tours (at different levels of riding experience) on vintage Russian motorbikes. Tours focus on highland country, with visits to hill tribes and the remains of the Ho Chi Minh trail used by the Viet Cong (from Dhs2,565, excl flights;

Banh mi Banh mi – baguettes with fillings including paté, grilled meat and spicy sausage – are part of France’s colonial legacy to Vietnam.

Canh chau A popular dish in the Mekong Delta, varieties of this soup can contain abundant fish (often snakehead), fruit, vegetables and plenty of tamarind.


Com hen A speciality from the city of Hue, com hen consists of small mussels served with rice and garnished with pork crackling and sesame seeds.

February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East


Asian delights

Hong Kong’s heady mix of cultures means its food is as diverse as its population


Victoria harbour separates Kowloon from Hong Kong island

Victoria Harbour is a riot of vibrant neon lights and colour at night


ONG KONG IS often seen as a gateway to Asia and to the Chinese mainland it perches on the edge of, but it has its own distinct personality. The city buzzes with a fusion of Western styles and Eastern customs, a heady mix of nocturnal decadence, vibrant traditions and a quirky history. Held by the British after the First Opium War ended in 1842, Hong Kong was handed back to the People’s Republic of China in 1997. The city state now operates under the ‘one country, two systems’ process, which sees both British and Chinese law used. Hong Kong is more Western than ‘mainland’ China, and as a result, is seeing a huge rise in tourism from ‘mainlanders’ (the Chinese). As much as Hong Kong is a fusion of cultures, cuisines and flavours, the sprawling city is home to several distinct areas, all of which have their own captivating atmosphere. They each offer up a different foodie experience from British and Australian infused modern cuisine to local Cantonese kitchens rich with the aromas of family recipes. As of 2012 the city had 62 Michelin stars, with four three star awards, making it fifth in the global list. Clearly then, this is a place that takes its


food seriously. And of course where ever there are restaurants, there are markets. Hong Kong isn’t backward about coming forward about its love of shopping – from food to electronics. From the queues outside the Hermes and Prada shops to quirky boutiques and independent stores, Hong Kong has a variety of shopping experiences, as rich as its menus, the individual styles you’ll see on the streets are like bold and beautiful amuse bouche.

Kowloon Sprawling along one side of Victoria harbour sits Kowloon. Here you don’t have to walk very far to find a decent dim sum restaurant. The city really comes alive after dark so don’t be afraid to delve down tiny busy streets, futuristically lit with cheap neon signs, where you’ll stumble over fresh food markets, bustling canteen style restaurants and a city that that is on the go, all hours of the day. Head to Nathan Road, one of the main thoroughfares, then pick a direction and venture forth. Nothing sums up Hong Kong food more than dim sum. Dim sum originated in Southern China, which is responsible for Cantonese food, and it was originally meant as a light snack with tea for travellers on the Silk Road. Baskets of baked and fried dumplings, steamed buns

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and spring rolls alongside portions of steamed and spiced greens can now be found served everywhere in Hong Kong but are still often called ‘yum cha’ – which means to drink tea. Traditional dishes are given a Hong Kong makeover at many restaurants and they can be found at all price brackets. Michelin star restaurant Yan Toh Heen in the Intercontinental Kowloon takes dim sum to seriously fine dining levels. It’s Cantonese mouth-watering morsels include traditional dishes like turnip cakes and steamed pork buns alongside more unique dishes such as frogs legs with spicy salt and duck’s tongue marinated with hua diao and soy sauce. Head here at lunchtime and enjoy a lengthy menu, whilst Asian businessmen combine intense meetings with flowering teas (+852 2313 2323; Kowloon is also home to one of the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurants. Nanhai No.1 is perched at the top of a shopping centre and has unrivalled views over the harbour to Hong Kong Island. Along with the delicious dim sum the modern, vibrant restaurant’s floor to ceiling windows offer a great vantage point of the ‘Symphony of Lights’; the world’s largest permanent light and sound show and a tourist attraction collaboration between city’s skyscrapers.


Hong Kong's Central island mixes colonial and modern architecture

LEFT The coastal road to Stanley RIGHT Kowloon's busy streets are a riot of colour, traffic and restaurants

Once the light show is over turn your attention back to the food, and it’s the seafood that steals the show here. From grilled giant prawns to the wonton soup with lobster bisque, the restaurant is packed out every night, and rightly so. We’d recommend booking (30/F, iSquare, 63 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, +852 2487 3688). For a really authentic Cantonese experience, try Aunty’s Restaurant (Kimberly Road). A former street stall turned basement eaterie, this is no frills, traditional dining. The menu’s all in Chinese but be persistent, staff do speak basic English and there are picture menus to aid with the pointing but every dish that comes out of the kitchen is delicious. From safe lemon chicken to more daring oysters, turnip cakes and roasted pork with ginger, the nerve-wrecking ordering is worth it. Wash it all down with bottles of Harbin beer (a Chinese product that isn’t exported), and drunk out of delicate porcelain bowls. Once you’ve emerged full to bursting, head to Temple Street night market to spend your dollars on tourist knick knacks, technology fakes and fortune tellers.

The city’s cosmopolitan professionals are reflected in the area’s diversity. Asian fusion bar lounges sit next to British themed pubs and delicate delicatessens, while hungry diners who want fine dining aren’t short of options. One of the busiest non-Cantonese eateries is Cecconi’s Italian. The small, family run restaurant is packed after about 8pm, offering up modern takes on traditional favourites. (Staunton Street, Central; +852 2147 5500). WHERE TO STAY

Intercontinental Kowloon For the best views from Kowloon over Victoria harbour, overlooking the iconic neon crowned skyline of the Central district on Hong Kong island, the Intercontinental Kowloon cannot be beaten. Built over the water, the hotel features a restaurant from both Nobu and Alain Ducasse as well as its own Michelin starred options. The hotel also has an infinity pool and Jacuzzis, a spa, Executive Lounge and features some of the most friendly hotel staff we’ve ever come across! (+852 2721 1211; free Wi-fi; hongkong-ic.

Soho & Central Soho (South Of Hollywood Road) is Hong Kong Island’s beating heart. The network of small hilly streets can be easily got around by a clever series of escalators, which go to make up the longest escalator in the world. More like London’s Tube in rush hour, this 48

busy public transport concept has fuelled the development of street after street of individual bars, restaurants and boutiques, where you can get off, stop, have a bite to eat and a bar hop.

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Stanley For a completely different side to Hong Kong, head half an hour east past Repulse Bay (where the seriously wealthy live and hit the seriously exclusive fairway) and on over to Stanley. The beachside promenade is more like one found on the English south coast with the exception of the dramatic tree covered hills rising steeply from the gentle coves. Stop for a leisurely lunch at Rocksalt (25 Stanley Market Road, Stanley +852 2899 0818) where large open windows allow you to people watch along the promenade and gaze lustfully at the old fashioned ice cream van parked outside. The Australian owned restaurant serves massive portions of interesting salads as well as delicious pots of mussels, prawns and clams. For anyone who’s over indulged in the city’s more traditional Cantonese delights, the restaurants in Stanley are a reminder that the city’s culinary history is far more global than first imagined.


A Star Ferry ride across the harbour is the only way to go



Hong Kong Hong Kong was built for pedestrians to explore. Its little streets hide foodie surprises whilst the outlying islands give it a hint of the tropics. Efficient public transport makes getting around a piece of cake, so what are you waiting for?


ESSENTIALS Getting there



Cathay Pacific flies direct every day to Hong Kong (From Dhs2,320 return;

Getting around Hong Kong has a fantastic public transport network. The MTR underground comprises seven lines. Use an Octopus card to get the best fares, which also covers the overground trains (from Dhs2; If you just want to cross the harbour, the Star Ferry is quicker and cheaper and a must do when in town. There are four routes (from Dhs.85; Download the HKe Transport app for Apple and Android for an integrated journey planner (buses, MTR, ferries, tram) in Honkers.

Take the steep funicular up to The Peak, 396 metres above sea level, it offers you a 360 degree view of the city from an open air viewing platform, restaurants and shops. (Dhs19; hk/en/)


People watch at the Temple Street market. Grab a plastic chair, a bottle of beer and take in the hustle and bustle at one of the city’s most famous markets. Also buy your souvenirs here. (Daily from 2pm; Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon).

Visit the Stanley market. Half an hour by bus from Central, this colonial style coastal town has a bustling market full of silks, jade and Honkers souvenirs (


Ride the rollercoasters at Ocean Park. This local theme park holds a place in many locals’ hearts plus it’s also home to rare red pandas and the world’s largest aquarium dome (Dhs132; oceanpark.


Explore 1881 Heritage. A former Marine Police headquarters, this beautiful colonial estate slap bang in the middle of Central is full of luxury stores, restaurants and bars (Canton Road, 1881heritage. com).

Further reading Buy the Lonely Planet Hong Kong City guide (Dhs64;

Climate 40













-10 J F M A M J J A S O N D Rainfall Temp max/min

The tram to the Peak


Take a tour of the Victoria harbour on a traditional tall ship. Host the sails and take a perch on deck, whilst sipping a cocktail and taking in the impressive skyline (from Dh71;


Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013


Take a trip to Lantau, Hong Kong’s largest island for a 5.7km cable car ride, plenty o seafood, pristine beaches and to get up close with a 34 metre Buddha (New World First Ferry;


See the Symphony of the Stars. By night the Central Island’s iconic skyline undertakes a city-wide sound and laser light show. The best view is from the Avenue of the Stars in Kowloon for free (daily 8pm; Promenade Kowloon).


Inhale the swirling coils of incense hanging at Man Mo Temple. Dedicated to the gods of literature and war, this is the largest such temple in Hong Kong, built in 1847. (Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan;

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The Maharajas’ Express waits by the station platform at Varanasi, on its loop through the greatest sights of northern India

King of the rails Follow in the footsteps of princes and explore India from the comfort of a palace on wheels. All aboard the country’s most luxurious train, the Maharajas’ Express WORDS TAHIR SHAH | PHOTOGRAPHS MARK READ

ith the mid-morning sun searing down, Lucknow Junction is a frenetic stew of humanity. There are legions of red-shirted porters laden with battered trunks and worn-out sacks, street hawkers touting hot samosas from their carts, blind beggars and sacred cows, wild dogs and barefoot godmen, pickpockets, sweepers, boys selling paan and thousands of commuters hurrying off to work. Although India’s railway system may be low on frills, in many ways it’s the envy of the world – a network nearly 40,000 miles in length covering every part of this vast country. Affordable, reliable and mostly safe, each year it shuttles 10 billion passengers to outlying suburbs and distant cities alike. The Maharajas’ Express, pulling into Lucknow’s Platform 5 as rush hour reaches its crescendo, offers something rather different. This gleaming red train is part-locomotive, part-time machine: taking passengers both to some of India’s most extraordinary locations and back to the all-but-vanished world of the maharajas, the erstwhile princes of India. Between the two world wars, these rulers dreamed up profligate expressions of their wealth, squandering millions on palaces, bespoke Rolls-Royces and gems. Yet it was the idea of palaces on wheels that really caught on, and the advantages were manifold. At a time when widespread drought meant that their minions were all but starving, railway construction provided mass employment. At the same time, it gave the maharajas a way of surveying their dominions in supreme luxury.

Best of all, it was a way to show off to their peers. Vying with each other to design the most luxurious carriages imaginable, they installed billiard tables and smoking parlours, music rooms with grand pianos, libraries and sumptuous private apartments. Electric fans blew air over blocks of ice in a primitive form of air-conditioning that was then cutting-edge technology. Rated as the richest man on Earth, the Nizam of Hyderabad had his carriages gold-plated and overlaid in ivory. Only the Maharaja of Baroda matched him. He had a throne room installed on his royal train, allowing him to watch his territories pass with an unequalled sense of majesty. Launched in 2010, the Maharajas’ Express – India’s most luxurious train – recaptures the old world decadence that the princes brought to rail travel. Each of its four itineraries links with Delhi, where I had begun my journey five days earlier. At the city’s Safdarjung Station, guests are given a traditional welcome, garlanded with flowers and daubed with vermilion by dancing girls, before being escorted by liveried staff up a red carpet and on board the train. Its 14 carriages contain 43 en suite cabins, two restaurants, a bar and several miles of polished brass, leather and silk. Persian rugs and soft lighting complete the atmosphere of opulent serenity. I had been assigned to a carriage called Hakik, and as I approached my cabin a valet appeared as if from nowhere, like a genie. Dressed in a tan salwar kameez with a matching waistcoat and turban, he announced his name as Nickinson. Appealing me to demand of him my most fanciful request, he blinked nervously and motioned to little more than a broom cupboard just outside my room. ‘I live in there, Sir,’ he said. ‘And I am always at your service, day or night.’ When I asked about his life aboard India’s most lavish train, Nickinson’s eyes widened. ‘For the first time I am seeing my

‘Rated as the richest man on Earth, the Nizam of Hyderabad had his carriages gold-plated and overlaid in ivory’


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February 2013


Crowds come to bathe in the Ganges river


An early morning fog shrouds the Taj Mahal, the world’s greatest monument to a husband’s love

country,’ he said, ‘and I am liking it very much. When I’m at home, I tell my family about this world, the Maharajas’ Express.’ Unlike the valet accommodation, my quarters exuded the kind of comfort that’s rarely experienced on the Indian railway network. Festooned in fine woven fabrics, brass fittings and dark stained mahogany, the room didn’t feel over the top so much as just right. Plush but not ostentatious, it was the railway cabin that I’d longed for all my travelling life. As the train glided silently out of Safdarjung Station, I watched through the window as Delhi’s suburbs slipped by. rom those first moments of movement, it felt as though we were in a bubble conjured by fantasy, one that was traversing the stark realities of India. On the other side of the glass were wild dogs, rag pickers and half-naked children squatting outside ramshackle slums. Gradually the landscape changed to one of open countryside: paddy fields of rice, oxen hauling ploughs, water buffalo basking in shallow pools with egrets perched nimbly on their backs. Soon the rhythm of train on track slowed to a halt and we arrived in Agra, former capital of the Mughal dynasty and home to the Taj Mahal. Celebrated as the setting for the world’s greatest architectural expression of love, it’s easy to forget that the city was once an unmatched focal point of South Asian power. Today it is cacophonous, vibrant, jarring and unceasing. The clamour of the traffic, the pungent scent of Mughlai food grilling on open street stalls and the sheer scale of the well-practised mayhem make it one of India’s great sensory experiences. Set on the banks of the Yamuna River, Agra Fort, a walled city in itself carved from blocks of red sandstone, is an indomitable expression of dynastic power. Dating back to the 16th century, it was here that the Koh-i-Noor diamond was once housed in treasure vaults, and where the wickedly ambitious Aurangzeb imprisoned his father, Emperor Shah Jahan. The aged ruler was kept in an apartment with a view over the river to the Taj Mahal, in which his beloved wife had been laid to rest. For all the severity of the fort, the mausoleum is a balance, an

ethereal poem in carved marble, once inset with precious gems. The Taj Mahal is one of those buildings you can visit a thousand times and each time it’s different. On this day it was lost in fog, the white marble dome, the minarets and the exquisite calligraphies fading in and out of view. It was like discovering an enchanted palace in a child’s dream. On the afternoon of the second day, the train arrived at Gwalior, in Madhya Pradesh, once capital of the Scindia dynasty, which ruled from the 18th century onwards. Home to more than a million people, Gwalior abounds in forts, temples and palaces – many of them a match for more famous Indian sites. Built by Raja Man Singh Tomar in the 15th century on much earlier foundations, Gwalior Fort is one of the largest citadels in all India, with a commanding view over the surrounding plateau. With its rounded watchtowers, the main fortress is constructed from yellow sandstone, adorned with lovely blue ceramics. Yet, curiously, it’s scholars of mathematics who cherish the citadel most of all. For, inscribed in Sanskrit on a tablet at a little ninth-century temple within the compound, is the earliest known use of the term ‘zero’. In the city below lies a far more recent testament to power and wealth – the Jai Vilas Mahal, a 140-year-old Tuscan-Corinthian hybrid, supposedly inspired by the Palace of Versailles. Inside, around the central dining table, runs a solid silver train, the wagons packed with cut crystal decanters for after-dinner drinks. And, hanging from the vaulted ceiling of the vast Durbar Hall are a pair of the largest Belgian chandeliers ever created. They are so heavy that before they were hung, 10 elephants were hauled up onto the roof to ensure that the ceiling could take their colossal weight. ack on the train, head chef Sanaj Madhavan was busy preparing the evening meal with his team of sous chefs. A burly South Indian, he had worked at the American Embassy in Moscow and on cruise liners. ‘I am used to cooking on choppy seas,’ he said with a grin, ‘so the rocking of the train isn’t much of a problem. We work in a pretty confined space, but we have a remarkable team. Half the time I swear that we

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‘It felt as though we were in a bubble conjured by fantasy’

communicate telepathically – there’s no need to speak.’ Sanaj paused to check the menu. ‘We bring on fresh produce every day. It takes a lot of organisation, but the passengers riding with us expect the very best of the best.’ Seated in the Safari Bar, Kari Litzmann, a successful young American designer, thumbed through a coffee table book on the maharajas, taking occasional sips from her glass of chilled white wine. ‘This train is something more usually confined to the pages of a book like this,’ she said thoughtfully, ‘or the kind of thing you see in the movies. Being on it, living it, is like stepping into a far-flung fantasy. It’s almost too much to take in.’ Working in India with local designers, Kari has come to appreciate the style patronised by India’s princely states. ‘The maharajas had the funds to make their wildest dreams reality, but what always surprises me is how jaw-droppingly good most of their creations were. You can’t say the same for the rich today.’ When I returned to my cabin after dinner, I found chocolates on the bed’s goose-feather pillow. Then gentle jolting in the night as the leisurely ‘Express’ rumbled quietly southeast. It was only my second night of being rocked to sleep, but I wondered how I would ever again get used to a bedroom that doesn’t move. After breakfast the next day, we descended through fog for an early start at the small town of Orchha. Founded 500 years ago on the banks of the Betwa River, this former princely state is peppered with palaces, fortresses and historical sites. The most extraordinary is a vast palace of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir – 22 years in the making, he spent only a single night there. Orchha was followed by Khajuraho, with its elaborate thousandyear-old erotic carvings, rediscovered all overgrown and deserted in the 19th century by an English engineer, TS Burt. A capital to the Chandel Rajputs, a powerful dynasty that ruled the surrounding region a millennium ago, there are no fortresses here because it was dedicated to culture rather than war. It is said that the celebrated carved sandstone temples at Khajuraho, constructed over the course


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of 200 years, were once surrounded by water, each a little island of its own. On my fourth day aboard the train I was woken with ginger tea and biscuits baked in the night by the on-board pâtissier. Alarmed, I realised that this pampered existence felt normal to me now – quite justified. Was that how it was to be a maharaja? The journey had reached Bandhavgarh, a small national park with a high density of wild tigers. In an open Jeep, swaddled by woolen blankets, we zigzagged through a forest of slender sal trees until the car eased to a halt. A pair of elephants were led from the undergrowth, howdah carriages strapped to their backs. We climbed aboard and moved sedately towards a thorny bamboo thicket, where a clutch of tigers came into sight through the mist – a mother and two young, at first no more than silhouettes. With each elephant stride they came sharper into focus, until we were metres from the cubs, watching them cavorting in the dew from our regal viewpoint. Later, as the train set off for Varanasi, I took dinner in the Rang Mahal dining car, where passengers were in quiet conversation. Sat around the carefully laid tables was a mixture of retired Americans, Russian oligarchs, trust-fund Europeans and selfmade financiers. I found myself drawn into conversation with a honeymooning young couple from Rajasthan. Jairaj and Anchal had been married only days before. Himself the heir of a princely state, Jairaj radiated good breeding and solid old-fashioned sophistication. Wearing a tweed jacket and jodhpurs, he had been brought up at the family’s ancestral palace-fortress of Chattar Sagar. ‘This train is a snapshot into another time,’ he said deliberately. ‘My grandfather and his father would have slipped into all this so comfortably – but times have changed.’ That night, I jerked up the window blind and took a glimpse at the real world. India never stops and, as the Express traversed a small portion of it in darkness, we swept through one station after the next. There were rows of people trussed up in blankets, slumbering on ghostly platforms, gaunt-faced labourers guarding giant sackcloth parcels, soup sellers and station managers. And so many other trains. Long snaking repositories of people on the move, there were carriages heading in all directions, a subculture of life that itself defies description. In a great choreographed dance, the carriages keep


ABOVE FROM LEFT A pair of enormous chandeliers hang in the Durbar Hall of the Jai Vilas Mahal, a 19th-century palace built in a European style; the 500-year-old Man Singh Palace, inside Gwalior Fort, is also known as the Painted Palace; fine dining on the Maharajas’ Express; chef Sanaj Madhavan. OPPOSITE The Sasbahu Temples, within the walls of Gwalior Fort, date back to between the 9th and the 11th centuries

moving as if orchestrated by a higher power, a backbone to a billion lives. ne of the final stops on this journey, Varanasi is, for many devout Indians, the end of the road. Perched on the banks of the Ganges, Hinduism’s most sacred city is a place that changes the way you regard the world, a celebration of both life and death. To die in Varanasi is to be released from the endless cycle of reincarnation, and to have one’s ashes immersed in the holy river is the wish of most Hindus. Varanasi is a place of intense humanity. Weaving down to the river, I passed every form of life in a pageant that’s been enacted for millennia. There are temples bathed in incense and packed with devotees, street stalls wrapped in swirling smoke, sacred cows ambling through the ferocious traffic, tourists, and the newly

dead carried through towards the water’s edge. Here we struck out in frail rowing boats, a pall of smoke streaming over the water from the fires burning at the ghats (steps) at the river’s edge. The boatman’s oars jolting us forward, we caught sight of logs heaped up, clusters of relatives in mourning, and bodies laid out for cremation, each adorned in bright cloth. There was a palpable sense of relief as the passengers climbed aboard the train that night, as if coming back to a moving palace of their own. Next morning, Nickinson arrived with coffee. ‘Lucknow Junction is approaching, Sir,’ he said, straightening his turban. ‘The City of Nawabs, of the Muslim maharajas.’ Peering out at the multitudes of people, the chaos and the rush, it was tempting to stay in bed. Nickinson, reading my thoughts, pressed a clutch of fingertips to his mouth in a kiss. ‘We have saved the best until last. Lucknow – it’s a magical doorway. Step inside and all your dreams will come true!’

A sadhu (Hindu holy man) sits by the banks of the Ganges in the sacred city of Varanasi

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of a

Djibouti is a small country with some big adventures. Whether it’s swimming with whale sharks or floating in an ancient lake more salty than the Dead Sea, a visit here is like going back in time WORDS & IMAGES GEORGINA WILSON-POWELL

The biggest fish in the world, the whale shark, is a gentle giant


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JIBOUTI MIGHT sound like something West Coast rappers make number one hits about, but its African east coast location, close enough to the Arabian Peninsula that you can see Yemen 30 kilometres away across the Bab Al Mandab (Mandab Straight) on a clear day, has meant that it has developed as a safe haven for Arabic traders, military and adventurers looking to get a toehold into Africa. It always has been a central trading post (see page 63 for a potted history of Djibouti), today, 80 per cent of the world’s oil passes Djibouti’s doorstep, and its port has seen massive investment by both Dubai and more recently the Chinese. Looking down on the east coast of Africa from the plane, it’s like being able to see into the past. Deep frown lines of land, highlighted by rust coloured sand, sit within huge cracked plains. It looks like the Djiboutian seashore when the tide goes out, but on a continental scale. Dried up river beds twist and turn like snail trails across the ancient land that has been criss-crossed with historical scars. These plains might have seen the first exodus of humans from Africa to Arabia, when the straight’s sea levels were much lower, and even though there is not much to see that has been built


by humankind, the entire land gives off a sense of history that is captivating. Sandwiched between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, Djibouti is a country of arid extremes and unforgiving landscapes that makes life here harsh but local Djiboutians have a friendly gentleness that will put travellers at ease. Djibouti city, a town of around 100,000 people, is laid back and languid in its layout, all low lying buildings and ramschackle streets where the normal signs of modern life sit slightly ajar to the surroundings. A group of goats gather in the road in front of a sign for Colgate and French cheese. At a set of traffic lights there is chaos, our taxi driver tells us these were only introduced recently, ‘but no one pays any attention to them, we don’t need them,’ he laughs. While no one would come to Djibouti for the city itself, (it’s practical and safe enough but hardly picturesque), it’s the out of this world African experiences (that don’t involve a safari) that attracts people. Swimming with whale sharks is one of those experiences. Whale sharks misleadingly are neither whale nor shark, they are in fact the world’s biggest fish. At five metres or more these plankton-eating spotty fish gather every year for a few months off the coast of Djibouti, close to the shore. It’s one of the only places on earth

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you can snorkel and see these gentle giants. An hour by boat up the coast from Djibouti early one morning sees me about to leap into the sea. Our captain gestures wildly in French as he spots the floppy fin of the whale shark. Just as I’m about to leap in, one swims under our boat, just under the surface – it is huge, like watching a train carriage go past. Reassured that they have no interest in me, in fact whale sharks’ eyesight is so bad it’s debatable whether they even notice the snorkellers paddling around trying to keep them within sight, I leap and almost come face to face with yet another truck sized fish. The water visibility is not perfect, so the whale sharks appear out of nowhere, only a metre or so below the surface, content doing swim-bys for us intruders of the sea. They are magnificent, magical and awe inspiring – any notion of danger disappears as one glides by within arm’s reach, their grey and white spotty backs give an impression of them being some sort of huge domesticated underwater dog. They’re not the only underwater creatures spending time in Djibouti. Sea turtles circle in the depths of the water, reefs hide colourful fish and sting rays can be seen gliding along the bottom of the sea. It is mesmerising. Water sports are big news for anyone stationed or living in Djibouti and you’ll


OPPOSITE The salt deposits at Lac Assal. THIS PAGE Locals sell salt encrusted animal skulls from the shores of the lake

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP Mooring up at Mousha Island. Salt souvenirs at Lac Assal. The view winding down to the lake. The dive centre at Mousha Island is popular with local military

find most people enjoying their R&R at Mousha Island. A slightly decrepit 70s style beach club sits on this, one of the largest islands off the coast, complete with dive centre, bar and restaurant. Kite surfers whirl in the straight between land and island, divers explore the local reefs and you’ll find a number of sun-weathered soldiers propping up the bar happy to share stories of their time in Djibouti, as the afternoon disappears and you start to forget the 21st century entirely. If whale sharks are a remnant of a previous time, when dinosaurs walked the earth and Africa was a lush paradise, a trip to Lac Assal also offers a feeling of time travel. Djibouti has an active volcano in the north of the country. It last went off in the early 1970s covering a huge widespread of land with black volcanic rock. A two hour drive north from the city sees us wind through rubble and rock that looks like someone has taken a blowtorch to the top layer of the country. The natural orange of the land stands out against this burnt top layer, giving an otherworldly feel to the landscape. It’s no surprise that this area was used to film the original Planet of the Apes movie. This path north leads to Lac Assal, a lake that contains largest salt deposit in the world, it is has a higher salt content than the Dead Sea, and is the third lowest place on earth, at 155 metres below sea level. The salt gives the water a shiny, light green tint, while the built up deposits on the ground 62

deep, I try out the buoyancy. It’s incredible, being able to sit in water, which feels slightly oil-like and coats your skin with a thin layer of salt. It’s hard to stand upright again but the water is thought to have cleansing and restoring properties. As much as it might appear desolated, locals do live up here, where you’ll see nothing but the odd goat clattering over rocks. Tiny stalls are set out by the lake selling salt pearls, and various rock formations carved out of salt. Goat or camel skulls dot the shanty stands crusted in WHERE TO STAY glittering salt and the moment you approach these stalls, people emerge ready to show you everything they’ve made. Barter or not, the friendly people aren’t pushy. Lac Assal sits at the very western tip of the The go to place for staying in town, this Gulf of Tadjoura and we follow a coastal sprawling complex offers two pools, a casino, road back to Djibouti, winding along the plenty of restaurants (including the city’s only edge of this sea, glimpsing odd volcanic beachside seafood eaterie) and often has events islands rumoured to full of demons. on. The hotel can also arrange whale shark trips After all the diving into nature’s past, and excursions to Lac Assal. (From Dhs1,303; Djibouti does offer a dose of more modern free Wi-fi; pursuits. The city is full of bars and clubs, mostly grouped around Palace Menelik Square, and while they’re populated by sailors, soldiers and everything that comes reflect the sun and surrounded by dusty mountains, it is, I think, what like bathing on with being home to a huge military presence, locals are happy to see a new face. For drinks the moon might feel like. and a dance try Club Menelik (menelikhotel. The lake is mostly very shallow, with sharp craggy salt rocks on the bed (you need com) – a favourite amongst the city’s hotel to take some form of waterproof shoes or flip staff – but do be careful when eating and drinking outside of the five star hotels, flops to avoid cutting your feet) and after sanitary conditions can be basic. wading out to where the water sits thigh

Djibouti Palace, Kempinski

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013



Djibouti This tiny African nation sits opposite Yemen and between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, only a few hours from the UAE, yet it has its own distinct feel. A real adventure for outside types or diving or snokelling lovers, the arid landscape was the location for the original Planet of the Apes movie



While Djibouti is a safe country, visitors still need to be aware of their belongings and take a sensible approach to personal safety. Be vigilant about personal hygiene, use bottled water for everything and be careful what you eat and drink.

Getting there Flydubai flies to Djibouti three times a week (Sunday, Monday and Thursday), the flight time is 3.5 hours (from Dhs1,700; You will need Dhs293 for a visa on entry.

Getting around The city is full of greenroofed taxis, which can come in all shapes, sizes and states from new cars to motors held together with gaffa tape and goodwill.

Further reading You can download the chapter on Djibouti from the Ethiopia & Eritrea guidebook (Dhs12;

Sandwiched between Ethiopia and Somalia, Djibouti originally was a part of the Aksumite kingdom in the 1st century AD, which sprawled over Ethiopia, Eritrea and even parts of southern Arabia. It was this close proximity to the Arabian peninsula, a short sail over the Bab al Mandab Strait from Yemen, that introduced Islam to the country in around 825 AD. By 1285 Djibouti was part of the

Ifat Sultanate and the area changed hands several times as African Islamic sultans sought to consolidate or divide various nations. By 19th century, the French had a strong toehold in Eastern Africa, to counteract the British presence in the Arabian peninsula and in 1894 Djibouti was renamed French Somaliland. In 1958 it had the option to join the Somali Republic but chose to remain a French territory. It became

officially known as the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas after a second referendum in 1967. Ten years later another vote saw it break for independence and become Djibouti, after its capital city. Even though the country has officially not been French for 36 years, French is still spoken throughout (as well as Arabic), and around 6,000 French military and civilians remain in Djibouti.

February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East


The Museum of Islamic Art lights up the Corniche at night

The reinvention of Doha For frustrated culture vultures, the Qatari capital should ďŹ nally take a place on your to do list WORDS AND IMAGES GEORGINA WILSON-POWELL

Dusk falls on the Corniche. OPPOSITE PAGE CLOCKWISE FROM TOP The ampitheatre at Katara; camels look over the developments at Souq Waqif; one of the tiny streets at Souq Waqif; modern sculptures from artist Sarah Lucas at Katara


HERE DUBAI is a heaving city, Doha is an intimate town. The former goes for quantity – bigger, bolder, brightest, biggest – the latter seems more concerned with quality. This goes for art and culture as well as for fine dining food. Over the last few years the notion of culture has undergone a quiet revolution in Doha. Kickstarted by the opening of the stunning, wonderful Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in 2008, this tiny city has opened an al fresco arts district in Katara Cultural Village, welcomed in free form daily jazz concerts and lavished attention on not just Qatari artists, but engaged in the development of an art scene as something not just to be bought and sold rather something to be savoured and cherished by the city’s burgeoning population. The recent opening of French maestro Alain Ducasse’s first Middle Eastern restaurant, IDAM at the Musuem of Islamic Art, complete with its edible flower salads and molecular mocktails, shows how far Doha has come and how lofty its aims are. In Doha there is a feel that the city is on the cusp of creating something unique to 66

attract tourists as well as intrigue locals. Replicating something that already exists, but making it bigger or taller (Dubai developers take note), is no real feat of the imagination, but to create something of note, from scratch, that can appeal to a cynical Western market and a monied local one is a challenging journey. But it’s one the cultural authorities have embarked on in Doha, and one that deserves more recognition. The Qatar Museum Authority (QMA) are keen to create their own brand of art in Doha, there will be no outposts of international museums here, rather a slow building local one bent on celebrating not just Qatari history but that of the wider Arab world. On our visit the MIA was hosting an exhibit examining the Arabic world’s influence on Western enlightenment, a fascinating topic for anyone more familiar with European arts, history and scientific achievement. Doha is not afraid to make you think, reassess and challenge stereotypes with its arts initiatives – which really should be the nexus of any arts or cultural authority. So we’ve established Doha’s investing in high end cultural attractions and its credentials seem genuine, but what is there to actually do and see? Katara Cultural Village lies just beyond West Bay, before the new Pearl

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

development and is Qatar’s largest cultural project the country has ever undertaken. A space where different cultures can meet and interact, the al fresco area includes theatres, art galleries, a vast and beautiful amphitheatre and plenty of restaurants. Backing onto the coast, it offers residents and visitors a space to walk, think and view everything from photography to pottery, to see visiting singers or bands or learn a new craft. Catara was the Roman name for what is now Qatar and the development has a touch of the ancient world about it. While modern art sculptures dot the open squares, the amphitheatre and winding back streets anchor Doha into a historical tradition of giving over public spaces to let the arts flourish. Best visited during the evenings you can find out what’s on at Katara from their website (Free; The cubic puzzle pile that is the Museum of Islamic Art (designed by IM Pei) and its surrounding park have come to redefine Doha's commitment to the arts. Despite this leap into modernity, culturally and architecturally, the rest of the Corniche has remained resolutely the same. Wooden dhows bob up and down at anchor, riding high waiting for their cargo, just as they have done for hundreds of years and it’s


February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



Qatari residents shop in Souq Waqif; A vintage motor sits pride of place in the pedestrainised streets LEFT


this juxtaposition that really makes Doha’s efforts seem genuine. There’s been no bulldozing the past and erasing all humble beginnings to make way for glamorous international brands, Doha has managed to incorporate its new aspirations more gently. Museum geeks will find plenty to keep them happy at the Museum of Islamic Art from the permanent exhibitions that encompass the entire Arabian peninsula’s creative output to travelling exhibitions that are often international in focus. 2013 will see a number of tie ups with the UK, including a visit from the Royal Shakespeare company and a Damien Hirst retrospective towards the end of the year – the first time his work has been shown in the Middle East. (Free; It’s not all about the art…there’s music too. Jazz at Lincoln Centre is unlike anything seen so far in the GCC. An upmarket supper club with a small stage, booths and tables remain in shadow as an orange glow bounces off the trumpets, trombones, cymbals and grins of the musicians. Flown over every two weeks from the original Lincoln Centre in New York, the city’s premier music venue for jazz, the quintets, quartets and artists perform every night for free, bringing the residents of Doha nearly private concerts from some of the best jazz performers in the world. Ok, so jazz isn’t the first musical genre you would connect to a country whose total inhabitants number less than a million but when St Regis Doha debuted its Jazz at Lincoln Centre concept last year, and where in Dubai it might be met with derision or cynicism, in Qatar it’s been 68

Dates for your diary 4 10-17 March Tasmeem Film Festival See page 22 for more on this. 4 April Al Jazeera International Documentary film festival The best short and feature docs get an airing. 4 November Doha Tribeca Film Festival The most extensive film festival in the GCC. 4 18 December National Day

embraced by people who previously had little concept of this interpretative, intuitive and impressionistic art form. It’s this openness and willingness to experiment with art forms that’s seen Doha overtake Abu Dhabi as the cultural hotspot to watch in the GCC. (Free, For a less high brow but no means less enjoyable distraction, head to Souq Waqif. Tucked into the middle of the city, ten minutes by cab behind the Corniche, the name means ‘standing market’. No longer a market, and more a intricate network of shops, passageways, cafes and restaurants, the area was recently restored to offer residents a ‘traditional’ experience with a few mod-cons (like A/C in the restaurants). What Doha has ended up with is a charming, pretty area that shows off the best of the Middle East. Down sparsely lit passageways, tiny shops sell pearls and locally made jewellery, while others are filled with old men sitting crossed legged smoking shisha and drinking Arabic coffee. Outside a handmade pottery store two local

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

guys are engrossed in a game of backgammon. What makes Souq Waqif so enjoyable is it’s not a put on for tourists. Doha’s locals interact with the souq the way they always have done – using it as a social community, to do business, enjoy company and share food, despite the rather tacky Qatari football scarves hanging from a street corner or obligatory camel shaped mugs on sale. (Open 10am-12pm, 4pm-10pm; Near Abdullah bin Jassim Street). Doha’s food scene is also exploding. With chefs like Gordon Ramsey returning to the region at the St Regis Doha and a local appetite that is expanding, fine dining is becoming big business. None lights the way more than IDAM, Alain Ducasse’s French meets Arabic restaurant high up at the top of the MIA. Opened without fanfare in December 2012, the intimate setting was designed by Philip Starck and manages to feel secretive, like you’ve discovered a private club by accidentally using the wrong lift, but at the same time, the staff (who trained for six months before opening) will make even a single diner feel comfortable. Magical concoctions of local ingredients grace the heavy white linen covered tables and while IDAM is dry, the food, service and atmosphere will numb any desire for a drink. Make sure you leave room though for the handmade traditional sweets like nougat and marshmallows! (Open Sun-Weds dinner only; So Doha. It’s time to reassess those preconceptions as this tiny city reinvents itself as the Middle East’s newest and most interesting cultural hotspot. The slow and sleepy Qatari caterpillar might just become a fascinating butterfly after all.



Doha, Qatar Qatar’s capital is more bustling that people give it credit for. Explore the modern West Bay skyscrapers, take a walk at dusk along the Corniche and delve down the back streets of the local souks for a bargain



Getting there Qatar Airways have recently launched their new Dreamliner planes to Doha. Business class passengers can enjoy a separate terminal complete with a la carte restaurants, a spa, bedrooms and business centre (from Dhs900;


Holiday feel

No nonsense

Getting around Unfortunately the only way around is by taxi. Sadly drivers will try every trick in the book to not turn on the meter and charge you through the nose. Also be conscious that hotels are unwilling to call regular taxis, and will offer ‘executive’ taxis which cost almost double. Be prepared to argue and stand your ground. Your fare should also be free if the taxi cannot give you a receipt.


Think Doha’s a sleepy town? Check out Crystal at the chic W Hotel Doha to view the city’s party people in action. House DJs, Champagne and more bling than most US rappers wear on a night out. (

Locals flock to Pearl Lounge at the Doha Marriott for a decent cocktail or two. The smart, slick two level bar/cub also has popular theme nights and a ladies’ night on Mondays (marriott-doha. com/).

For a pint and a decent round of chips, Belgian Cafe certainly has its place. The UAE home brand has found a much needed niche and the weekend sees this place packed out ( gb/en/doha).


Fine dining comfort food? Yup, Opal by Gordon Ramsey dishes up the best burgers, pizzas and chicken wings in the Middle East, we reckon. Grab a seat on the terrace, overlooking the Pearl and dig in (from Dhs50;

Get away from the five star hotels and discover Qatar’s ‘street’ food with Thai Snack, an independent Thai place with a little garden. It’s a local favourite and often wins awards for its authentic food and chilled atmosphere (from Dhs50; Al Nasr Street).

Grand Hyatt’s Thai restaurant, Isaan, serves up traditional cuisine tapas style so it’s perfect for sharing and dipping into new dishes. It’s licensed but don’t miss the mocktails which are truly delicious (from Dhs350;


St Regis Doha recently won the accolade for being the ‘World’s Leading New Hotel’ at the World Travel Awards and it's deserved. Designed with a light Arabic touch, the ihotel is walking distance from Katara (from Dhs1,805; free Wi-fi;

Grand Hyatt Doha has a palatial, airy feel and is one of the only hotels in town with lush landscaped gardens and indoor and outdoor pools. It sits opposite a luxury mall and is also close to Katara (from Dhs848; Wi-fi Dhs30 per hour;

Recently brought into the Radisson Blu fold, Radisson Blu Doha is a large scale property that is home to 19 bars and restaurants, and it won’t break the bank. Around 15 minutes from the Corniche and Souq Waqif (Dhs680; free Wi-fi;

Further reading You can download the Qatar chapter of Lonely Planet’s Oman, UAE & the Arabian Peninsula (Dhs12;

Climate 50














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February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East


Traveller Armchair

Can’t get away? Check out the latest websites, apps and books to keep you exploring PICTURE OF THE MONTH A Day In The World Jeppe Wikström (Dhs180; Max Ström Publishing) Vehicles in Pakistan are often decorated at great expense and this driver in Karachi spent a whopping Dhs18,000 customising his ‘jingle bus’ – named after the intricate canopy of colourful chains and chimes, which all make a jingling sound when the bus moves. The photo is one of 1,000 featured in this fascinating coffee table book. All were taken on 15 May 2012 and submitted from more than 165 countries. It's a wonderful look at everyday life from all corners of the globe, and fantastic inspiration for all of our armchair travellers.


THE LONGEST WAY HOME Andrew McCarthy (Dhs66; Free Press)


Some of America’s finest travel writers leave no cobblestone in Europe unturned in this collection of The New York Times’s 36-hour city guides. The writing is evocative and full of colourful anecdotes, from the thousands of fully dressed mummies in Palermo’s catacombs to the hotel in Tallinn that housed a KGB office on its penthouse floor. 36 Hours is more of a coffee-table book than a practical travel guide – it’s a hefty tome, and you might incur an excess baggage fee if you packed it – but is a great read nonetheless. BEST FOR Vivid vignettes of Europe’s most colourful cities.

If there were an award for the most patient woman on the planet, it might just go to Andrew McCarthy’s wife. In this candid tale, the travel writer (and former actor, known for his roles in flicks such as Pretty in Pink and Mannequin) describes his quest to overcome commitment phobia by travelling the world in search of himself. While some might find his constant introspection self-indulgent, the book is laced with enough colourful tales to make his story compelling. It is filled with musings about the meaning of travel and its soul-renewing potential. Through experiences as varied as climbing a Patagonian glacier and inspiring others to fund the recovery of a dying Peruvian girl, McCarthy resolves his internal struggles and ultimately finds the courage to marry the woman he loves. BEST FOR A travel memoir-cum-self-help book – basically the male version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.

Possibly the best UAE off road book we’ve ever seen. From the rolling dunes of the Liwa Desert in the south to the rocky terrain on the north east UAE and Omani coast, this book really opens up our country to everyone. Each route comes with detailed descriptions, step by step directions and photos, advice on duration and high quality aerial maps for every step of the way. The comprehensive navigation section includes how to read the stars and the sun, all trips come with GPS coordinates on a CD and objects of interest that will keep you on the right track. Covering everything from a casual day trip to the never been completed Tropic of Cancer route which runs through Saudi Arabia. BEST FOR Anyone who owns a 4x4. You now have no excuse not to use it properly. Get those tyres dirty.




THE NEW YORK TIMES: 36 HOURS, 125 WEEKENDS IN EUROPE Barbara Ireland (Dhs150; Taschen)


Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013



BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0


The Blackberry’s tablet is quick and sleek to use and its different platforms soon become second nature, even for those used to Apple. It’s a light little gadget and is easily carried or packed into a bag and it comes with a high quality carry sleeve to stop those annoying scratches. Its frame is sturdy and durable and could probably withstand a decent knock or drop. However the battery life isn’t long and there’s no memory slot upgrade so you are stuck with the 16GB. The only other issue is the lack of apps. If Blackberry can create a decent library of apps then this toy can compete with Apple, but at the moment they have a long way to go.

InspireMyCase If the usual boring phone cases aren’t for you, and you don’t want to cover your phone in cheap bling, then how about using it to inspire your next adventure? InspireMyCase enables you to custom print your own travel inspired case, using an easy upload feature on the website. 20% of profits go to AngelMule, a charity which buys music and sports equipment that is delivered by travellers to needy kids across the world. The bespoke cases can be bought for iPhones, iPads, Samsung and Blackberry phones and start at Dhs147 (shipping is free).


Scrubba washbag Meet the world’s smallest washing machine. It’s a pouch that’s no bigger than a paperback book and weighs less. Australian backpacker Ashley Newland came up with the idea on his travels, it incorporates a high-tech version of the old washboard, inside a resilient dry bag. Scrubba only needs two-three litres of water for the wash and rinse and a small amount of detergent. Add water to the clothes inside the bag, close and scrub against the in-built board and repeat to rinse. The Scrubba passed the 3x3 test with flying colours – three weeks, three countries, three kilos of luggage.

Addicted to the iPad? Take it everywhere you go, including your travels? Now you don’t need to worry about water, sand, snow or anything else wrecking the precious screen. Lifedge is a purpose built waterproof case, made by the people who create marine technology. It’s shockproof, dustproof and has an anti-glare screen, and despite the case, the touchscreen, Wi-fi and camera all work perfectly. For those who don’t want to stop an adventure to protect a gadget, this case is essential. Now your iPad will be as tough as you are.

There are times in the Middle East when speaking English isn’t enough. And no amount of ‘inshallahs’ or ‘yallas’ are going to get you what you need. I-interpret4u is a unique translation service featuring real translators in real time. Download the free app, choose your language that includes Arabic, Farsi, Turkish and many more local dialects and it will connect you to an experienced interpreter. The service covers 85 languages and the on-call experts will speak to the person you need information from for you. For on the spot translation, for when you’re in a fix – stuck in a sand dune, lost in a wadi or simply want to understand what someone is trying to tell you, this is a pretty cool new service. There’s even an in-language on-screen message to explain what you’re trying to do. There are various pay plan options available and you pay per second for the time the interpreter is on the phone. An entry fee of Dhs58 will get you basic access to the service. Available on Android and Apple.

ONE MORE TO TRY Languages Sleek, smart and sophisticated, this offline translator makes you want to learn. It covers most European languages like French, English, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish and more. You can download the individual dictionaries and add them to your virtual shelf, use the voice recognition software on your phone to translate and the conversion is super fast. Well worth the minimal cost. Never be lost for words again. Dhs3. Available on Apple.

February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East




LE RÊVE (THE DREAM) is a characteristically bold painting by French artist Henri Matisse, dating from 1940. It is one of the works displayed in a special exhibition of his art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum’s online collections include images of more than 150 paintings, drawings and sculptures by Matisse, most of which are not on regular display. Explore more at


WOMENTRAVELINGTHEWORLD. COM As a woman, you may not want to trek halfway across the world on your own, or not feel safe enough to do so. This boutique travel agency organises tours all over the world for groups of women (they have upcoming trips to China, Rome, Vietnam and Costa Rica) with an emphasis on culture, yoga, organic food and enjoying nature pursuits. The agency can also arrange individual trips and assist with travel planning. If you think you’d have more fun in a group than going it alone, there are options out there for you. This is a great one for those who want a once in a lifetime adventure without any of the organising hassle or safety worries.


QUINTESSENTIALBEDAND BREAKFAST.COM B&Bs can go one of two ways. They can either be amazingly intimate stays where you get snippets of local knowledge, home cooked food and a sense of comfort that is missing in most hotels or they can end up being like Fawlty Towers. Avoid the latter with luxury concierge brand Quintessentially’s guide to the UK’s best B&Bs. Postcard pretty thatched cottages with roaring fires, smart Georgian townhouses, rambling country piles for shooting or fishing and luxury boltholes exclusive to this website can all be booked. If you want a UK holiday like you’ve seen in the movies, this is the place to start.

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

HOUSETRIP.COM Don’t want to stay in a hotel? You don’t have to! Search for a house or apartment anywhere in the world; you can read other guests’ reviews and the booking process is simple and your money is secure. If you’re heading somewhere for more than a weekend, or want to cook up a storm with local ingredients, have young children or want to get a load of friends together, renting your own space is a much better idea than a rigid hotel. The site has just under 4,000 options in Paris for example, and a one bedroom apartment on Pont Neuf, five minutes from the Louvre would cost Dhs936 per night for two.

AURORAEXPEDITIONS. COM.AU Go cruising with a difference with Aurora Expeditions who organise trips to some of the most remote regions in the world such as the Antarctic, the Arctic and Papua New Guinea. Their boats only take 54 passengers, are as environmentally friendly as possible and are run by people with an absolute passion for what they do. Intrepid voyagers might be treated to onboard lectures or be able to go camping or kayaking. Their ‘bucket list’ adventures identify particular experiences such as seeing a polar bear or following in Shackleton’s footsteps and builds trips around them for those that want to fulfill a dream.


MINI GUIDES Six themed guides to take on the perfect short break

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Bath bun sweet or savoury toppings. France. It’s served toasted with Bath is said to have come from bun (it’s bread not a cake) from The recipe for this 17th-century

region of Exmoor. in the Badgworthy Water fictional romantic tale based of 1869, Lorna Doone, is a Doddridge Blackmore’s novel Richard information on Somerset, try For tourist chapter (£2.99) from Bristol, Bath & Somerset can also download the and surrounding areas – you best overview of the region England (£12.99) offers the Cornwall & Southwest Lonely Planet’s Devon,


withered apple.; Sadler St; from £124). Norbins Rd, from £55). and quilted fabrics (swanhotel ‘Scrump’ means a (; 25 furnishings, heritage wallpaper breakfast on sunny mornings 25 cider producers. alone has more than styled and feature antique orchard where you can take Country – Somerset 48 bedrooms are individually rooms and there’s a small apple made in the West the shadow of the cathedral. The Abstract artwork features in the A strong, cloudy cider former coaching inn in Wells, in had a contemporary refit. Scrumpy cider Swan Hotel is a 15th-century Glastonbury, which has recently brick Victorian townhouse in West England. Green, Bath; from £90). Apple is a traditional redmust be produced in South (; 3 Abbey Country Farmhouse Cheddar WHERE TO STAY a stylish en-suite bathroom worldwide, though West traditional sofa or armchairs and now produced and eaten subtle décor and each has a Cheddar, this hard cheese is its seven spacious rooms have Originating in the village of Green has retained period style – Cheddar cheese Grade II-listed Three Abbey dried fruit and peel. bottom, and usually filled with look out over Wells Cathedral lump of sugar baked into the Some rooms at the Swan Hotel A small, sweet bun with a

£2.70; Devon and Cornwall (day tickets region and neighbouring Bristol, group operate throughout the Regular bus services from the First Bristol (Manchester from £90; services connect to Bath via uk). For the rest of the country, from £30; Waterloo in London (Paddington Cardiff, and Paddington and rail services can be taken from from the north. For Bath, direct southern England and the M5 reached via the M4 from By road, Somerset can be


2012 Traveller August

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TEAR the guide out along the perforations…


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TOP SOUVENIR CITY the tag looks on souvenirs – If the price on NYC isn’t short true, that’s obvious ideas. too good to be TRANSPORT here’s some less probably is. New York’s JFK because it most Direct flights to VAT to pay leave from While there’s no and Newark airports Glasgow places levy a in the US, most Heathrow, Manchester, include it’s almost Carriers sales tax: in NYC, the and Birmingham. However, and Virgin nine per cent. BA, United, Delta rarely include £480; city’s retailers Atlantic (from around York prices, so in New this in advertised Once pay a bit to use be prepared to City itself, it’s easiest subway There are – the extra at the till. public transport are Coffee cups: clothes and to-go Americano these simple to use of exceptions: Rooms at Hôtel down Ceramic versions system is relatively less than with ‘We shoes selling for seven-day passes fashionably pared city icons emblazoned are now (singles £1.50, tax-free. you’ $110 (£70) are are happy to serve £19; £10). play on in the available (; piano for you to library Sauce: WHERE TO STAY Coffee is lounge, plus a Victorian room Blue Smoke Barbecue from FURTHER READING New and flavours a breakfast Discover East Village Bed New York loves that doubles as Lonely Planet’s offbeat, for an from £170). New York far and wide, but a family home turned rooms and (; York (£14.99) and try taking of Hôtel both Sleeping in one all-American classic, Smoke arty b&b with themedas free cycle (£14.99) city guides polished such of Blue coverage of home a bottle Americano’s perfectly your great amenities, have excellent £5). floor has laying your dollars. (; rooms is a bit like hire and wi-fi. Each where to spend and kitchen box, but with the head in a bento shared common Graphic T-shirts: authentic Alternatively, download of rather than free to come and (£2.99) Get that gritty minimalist furniture space, with guests from New York chapter (brooklyn (£18.99) at Williamsburg look £15). food. It offers everything and go as they please the USA guide from £90). from Japanese The Shop; Turkish towels to (; set in a with controls a good guide Inn on 23rd Street, washing cloths, Messenger bags:couriers, now Gotham blog is iPads. You in Chelsea, As used by NYC’s activated via personal Chelsea five-story townhouse big, ( (manhattan with fashion must-haves can explore surrounding is a 14-room b&b £30). (hotelfancy fabrics; from on a free guest bike £215). welcoming rooms, from huge armoires.; and TVs held in bar and a There’s an honesty


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Best for relaxing BENAULIM

Arambol’s Kalacha Beach is backed by a sweetwater lake


COASTAL GOA The swaying palms, white sands and warm waters of this Indian state justifiably draw plenty of visitors, but on its less-beaten paths you’ll discover an altogether different side to Goan life.


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CALANGUTE Former hippy hangout Calangute arguably provides the greatest concentration of dining options in Goa, with everything from stalls selling bhelpuri – a Mumbai snack of puffed rice and mango – to restaurants dishing up bhindi jaipuri (crispy fried okra). Try the main beach strip, which is thick with vendors serving breakfast favourite pav bhaji (a buttery bread roll dipped in curry). The market area is filled with local chai and thali joints that do veg lunches (thalis around Dhs3).


West-facing beaches such as Arambol enjoy beautiful sunsets


Goa’s southernmost beach is set around a small bay by the village of Polem. It’s a wonderfully isolated and distraction-free area that’s escaped development – so there’s little else to do but stroll the seashore, have a picnic on the sand and enjoy the sound of the waves. Fishermen return to shore at the northern end of the beach; enjoy their catches for lunch among the palms at the Kamaxi shack bar (Nov–May; fish curry Dhs11; 00 91 934 136 7429).

This former 1960s hangout still has a laidback traveller vibe, with a curved beach that’s great for swimming. Best of all is the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre by the sand dunes. In the winter months it’s the base of the Iyengar yoga school, offering five-day courses in hatha vida as well as shorter courses combining yoga with ayurvedic treatments (mid-Nov–mid-Mar; five-day courses Dhs202;

Best for local culture

Best for food Slung along the banks of the Mandovi River, the easy-going state capital is the base for Holiday on the Menu, which offers a range of Goan cooking holidays. Try a morning session and learn the art of creating a sofiani biryani and a Goan fish curry, or sign up for a full-week programme, with a trip to a spice plantation (morning courses from Dhs347;

Much of the accommodation is in family guesthouses in this peaceful village in southern Goa, which gives on to a long stretch of largely empty beach. Benaulim is the location for the very plush Taj Exotica hotel, set in 56 acres of tranquil gardens, with a Jiva spa offering traditional Indian holistic treatments by qualified Ayurveda doctors and therapists (rooms from Dhs1,040;

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Fresh ingredients laid out in the market in Goa’s capital Panaji

SIOLIM This village is often overlooked by travellers, due to its riverside location some way from the nearest beach. It makes for a pleasant stay if you’re seeking a break from the sea and sand, and is home to a daily fish market near the ferry landing on the banks of the Chapora River. Tours of the market are available as part of classes operated by the Siolim Cooking School, which offer an insight into Goan culture and faith (classes Dhs115;

On the banks of the Mandovi River in northern Goa lies the old ‘Rome of the East’ – the former principal city of Portugal’s eastern empire. A handful of its imposing churches and convents remain from its glory days, the highlight of which is the Sé Cathedral – Asia’s biggest church. Visit on a weekday morning, when you can join locals in attending Mass and explore the cathedral.


Old Goa was largely abandoned in the late 18th century


Wednesday’s flea market is as much a part of the Goan experience as a day on a deserted beach. The market sprawls on and on, hawking so many mirrored bedspreads and floaty Indiancotton dresses that’ll you never want to see one again. It’s a great place for people watching, and if you trawl carefully you can find some interesting one-offs. Bargain hard and take plenty of stamina and patience.

Ferries leave from Old Goa to this beautiful riverine island, which feels like a land that time forgot. Piedade is the largest settlement, filled with old Portuguese palaces and ladies gossiping at the roadside. In January, the men who have left the island to work elsewhere return for the Festa das Bandeiras, or Flag Festival, taking to the streets for singing, dancing and, bizarrely, firing peashooters at one another.


February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East


MINI GUIDE Coastal Goa


TRANSPORT Dabolim in central Goa has the state’s only airport, with direct flights departing from Dubai with carriers such as Air India (from Dhs1,495; Alternatively, travel to Mumbai with Emirates (from Dhs1,315;, and fly on to Goa with domestic airlines such as GoAir and Indigo (from Dhs375; Goa is ideal for cycling: rent or buy a good-quality bike (rentals from Dhs4.50, secondhand cycles Dhs63). It also has a bus network serving most towns and villages (singles from Dhs2).

WHERE TO STAY Palolem Beach was largely undiscovered 15 years ago, and although that’s no longer the case, it is still a good base for exploring southern Goa, including Polem. Sevas is one of the better beach hut hotels here, with wellmaintained cottages set in pretty gardens, and it also offers daily yoga classes (huts from Dhs58; Palolem;


Reis Magos Festival The journey of the three wise men to Bethlehem is re-enacted every 6 January.

Shigmotsav (Shigmo)

Within an atmospheric 19th-century mansion, Panjim Peoples has elegant rooms with mosaic-covered bathrooms, deep bath tubs, and lots of antiques. There’s also a luxury tent and self-contained cottage (from Dhs693; Panaji; Noi Varo is an understated, luxurious Portuguese mansion. Hang out in its river-view treehouse, consult its gourmet chef and float the afternoon away in the water lounge (villa rental Dhs1,732, two-night minimum; Siolim;

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

Where to stay

The know-how CAUSES FOR CELEBRATION Goa plays host to religious and cultural events all year round:

Panjim Peoples is typical of Goa’s Portuguese colonial architecture


Spring is ushered in around March with parades and revellers flinging huge quantities of water and coloured tikka powder at one another (pictured below).

Feast of St Anthony On 13 June, if the monsoon has yet to appear, Goan families will lower a statue of the saint into their well to bring it about.

Easter Churches fill up statewide for High Mass and family feasting.

TOP TIP In non-Western restaurants in Goa, eat only with your right hand; the left is considered unclean and for the purposes of ablution only. If you’re invited to dine with a family, always take off your shoes and wash your hands before eating.

FURTHER READING Lonely Planet’s Goa & Mumbai (Dhs80) contains everything you could possibly wish to know about the state. Individual chapters from the guide are available to download (Dhs17) from lonelyplanet. com. The official state tourism website is at Goan TV chef and cookery writer Odette Mascarenhas can be found blogging about Goa’s distinctive cuisine at


Goan essentials

Sights & Activities

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Literary BONA

There’s more than one round table at Café Camelot


CAFÉS IN KRAKÓW Café culture is celebrated on a grand scale in the beautiful and historic Polish city of Kraków – the opportunity to relax with a cup of strong black coffee, or kawa, served with cheesecake or apple cake, is never far away.


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CAFÉ CAMELOT Hidden away on a corner in the Old Town behind St John’s Church, this tiny, white-walled café feels like a time-warp. Its snug, low-arched rooms are cluttered with candlelit tables and offbeat folklore figurines. The place has a colourful history: it was a brothel in the early 20th century, popular with local artists. Be sure to try the delicious szarlotka – Polish apple cake – and sweet cherry wine (espresso Dhs8.70; szarlotka Dhs15.50; ul w Tomasza 17; 00 48 12 421 01 23).

MASSOLIT BOOKS & CAFÉ You could easily spend an entire afternoon browsing through the city’s best English-language bookstore-cum-café, which sells secondhand books in Polish and English. Its library-like interior makes it an ideal spot for slowing down and escaping for a few hours – grab a homemade brownie and a latte, find a corner and enjoy one of the city’s most intellectual hangouts (coffee from Dhs6; ul Felicjanek 4;

No translation is needed at Massolit Books & Café

CHEDER CAFÉ Many cafés in the Kazimierz district take their cue from the area’s Jewish roots, but this one aims to both entertain and educate. Named after a traditional Hebrew school, the café offers access to a decent library in Polish and English, regular readings and film screenings, as well as real Israeli coffee, brewed in a Turkish copper pot with cinnamon and cardamom (Israeli coffee from Dhs10.40; ul Józefa 36; cheder. pl).


Historic Louche hangout of choice among the cognoscenti of the Kazimierz district, this café bar is filled with old Singer sewing machines which double as tables. By day, it’s an atmospheric, low-key place. By night, they turn up the music and the place hums until dawn to an energetic mix of gypsy, Jewishstyle klezmer and other ethnic music (espresso Dhs7; ul Estery 20; 00 48 12 292 0622).

This pleasant combination of café and bookshop, with its bookshelves sandwiched between the interior and the outdoor seating, lies just a few hundred yards from Wawel Castle. Sip a coffee with a view of the Church of SS Peter & Paul and the medieval square in front of it (coffee from Dhs7; ul Kanonicza 11; ksiegarnia.

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Singer Café’s building was once used to produce sewing machines

JAMA MICHALIKA Established in 1895, Jama Michalika in the Old Town is famous as the birthplace of Modernist visual arts movement Młoda Polska (Young Poland) – the café was a magnet for writers, painters and other young creatives between 1890 and 1918. The grand Art Nouveau interior and art works retain a historic charm, and its kawa z alkoholem (coffees with various alcohol) are delicious on a nippy afternoon (kawa Hennessy Dhs17;; ul Floriaska 45).

The smell of fresh-brewed Java and the sounds of jazz music entice you into this sweet sanctuary, across the river Vistula from Kazimierz in the newer Podgórze district. It’s a funny mismatch of burlap coffee bags, lace curtains and leafy plants, creating the perfect atmosphere to sink into a comfy chair (coffee from Dhs5.77; ul Kazimierza Brodzinskiego; 00 48 12 296 2002).

NOWA PROWINCJA The old Prowincja café is gone, but nextdoor ‘New Prowincja’ has an arty feel, with low ceilings, birds in birdcages and an upstairs gallery space. People come from all over town for its Spanish-style hot chocolate, which is so thick and rich, it can be eaten with a spoon. And don’t leave without trying the lemon meringue cake (hot chocolate Dhs9, lemon meringue cake Dhs10; ul Bracka 3-5’

Nowa Provincja – just yards from the Old Town’s main square

CAFÉ BUNKIER When it’s chilly outside, grab a seat in Café Bunkier with a mug of coffee. This local favourite, attached to the contemporary art gallery, Bunkier Sztuki, is a covered terrace resembling an enormous greenhouse. Situated beside the Planty park, which encircles Kraków’s Old Town, it makes the perfect peoplewatching spot (coffee from Dhs9, cake from Dhs9; Plac Szczepanski 3a;


February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



Cafés in Kraków Drinking

TRANSPORT John Paul II International airport, almost seven miles west of Kraków’s centre,can be accessed by Air Berlin from Dubai, with a layover in Abu Dhabi and Berlin before reaching Krakow (from Dhs3,467; and via Lufthansa from Abu Dhabi with a stop over in Frankfurt (Dhs3,746; lufthansa. com). An express train links the airport with the main Kraków Główny station on the outskirts of the Old Town in 20 minutes (singles Dhs17; Bus and taxi details can also be found on the airport website. Most of Kraków’s centre is within a four-square-mile area, which makes walking your best bet.

WHERE TO STAY The Hotel Pod Wawelem, at the foot of Wawel Royal Castle, has a crisp and up-to-date feel. The 91 rooms and apartments are minimally styled, with art on the walls and river or castle views (from Dhs231; Plac Na Groblach 22;


The know-how TAKE IT HOME The best Polish souvenirs and where to find them:

Linen jacket The tiny boutique store Lniane Marzenie, south of the Old Town, is a good choice for women’s handmade linens (

Handmade jewellery The largest luxury suite at Hotel Stary features a Jacuzzi tub

The Grand Hotel is exactly that – a palace built in the 19th century and now one of the city’s finest hotels. Its 56 rooms feature antique furnishings, fine artwork and tapestries, and fantastic high ceilings (from Dhs462; ul Sławkowska 5–7; Hotel Stary is housed in an 18th-century Old Town residence that exudes opulent charm, with natural fabrics, Italian marble bathroom surfaces, and silk and Oriental carpets throughout (from Dhs1,040; Szczepanska 5;

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

My Gallery in the Old Town is a prime location for discovering eclectic, dramatic jewellery and gifts (

Propaganda poster Dig out wartime memorabilia bearing headlines such as ‘Clear the way!’ and ‘Buy more liberty bonds’ at Galeria Plakatu Kraków in the Old Town (cracowpostergallery. com).

Flavoured vodka Local concoctions flavoured with fruit, berries and honey are available at Szambelan in the Old Town (

TOP TIP To experience high Polish culture, book tickets for the Opera Krakowska (opera. or the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra ( Tickets are rarely available on the night, so try to book at least a week beforehand.

FURTHER READING Take a look at Lonely Planet’s Kraków Encounter (Dhs46) for short trips, or Poland (Dhs92) for trips beyond the city. You can also download the Kraków chapter (Dhs17.20) of the Poland guide at Find more information at the city’s official site, or try English-language for the latest on what’s new in politics, food, fashion and culture in Kraków.


Kraków essentials

Where to stay

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The double-domed Esplanade stands out on Marina Bay


CULTURE IN SINGAPORE Singapore is small in size but huge in ambition, developing at a breakneck pace. Its arts and music scenes are similarly on the up, and its mix of colonial architecture and colourful traditional buildings has never looked better.

Best for architecture BABA HOUSE This resplendent, blue-painted mansion is one of Chinatown’s best-preserved heritage homes, and offers a glimpse into the hybrid culture of Singapore’s Peranakan (Chinese-Malay) minority as it would have been circa 1928. Entertaining, hourlong tours run four times a week: they’re free, but need to be booked in advance (157 Neil Rd;

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RAFFLES HOTEL This colonial edifice, first opened in 1887, is one of the most famous hotels in the world: it’s known for the Singapore sling cocktail – invented here around 1915 – and remains a byword for Oriental luxury. Its lobby, bars, outdoor areas and museum, open to the public, are among Singapore’s major tourist attractions, and rightly so. Dress standards apply, so don’t come in shorts and sandals (admission free to lobby and museum; 1 Beach Rd;

The grand old Empress Place Building, built in 1865, houses galleries which explore culture, religion and civilisation from across Asia. Artefacts include a red sandstone Buddha from India, calligraphy and decorative art, and a display of krisses – daggers said to have spiritual powers ( sg; 1 Empress Pl; closed Mon morning; admission £4).

IKKAN ART GALLERY This is the biggest hitter among a clutch of excellent art galleries in the Tanjong Pagar Distripark complex, a short walk southwest of Chinatown. Ikkan Art displays the work of international artists in four or five exhibitions a year. Recent ones have focused on new media art from Beijing-based artist and photographer Miao Xiaochun and Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei (; 39 Keppel Road 01–05; closed Sun & Mon; admission free).

Ikkan Art Gallery brings works from East and West together

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE This grand dame of a museum occupies a 19th-century building, and its multimedia exhibits focus on the city’s history, culture and achievements. Visitors can see the natural history drawings of William Farquhar, an early colonial commandant, and a gallery that celebrates the city’s street food culture through artefacts and sound installations (; 93 Stamford Rd; admission £5).

Best for music & theatre

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Singapore’s Raffles is one of the most historic hotels in Asia

SULTAN MOSQUE The Kampong Glam district’s gold-domed epicentre is the Sultan Mosque (Masjid Sultan). First built in 1825, it was replaced 100 years later with the current structure. The prayer hall can fit 5,000 worshippers; a red digital clock spoils the atmosphere a little, but at least everybody knows when to pray. Visitors are shown around most parts of the mosque and tours in English are available (admission free; 3 Muscat St; closed to visitors Fri morning;

The Esplanade is the poster-boy for contemporary Singapore: the building has been compared to flies’ eyes, a melting honeycomb and two upturned durian fruit. Its 1,800-capacity hall serves as a venue for concerts, recitals and performances from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (orchestra tickets from Dhs59; 1 Esplanade Dr;

THEATREWORKS This is one of the country’s more experimental and interesting theatre companies. Artistic director Ong Keng Sen has helped to establish Theatreworks as a champion of intercultural theatre – Singaporean creatives work together with Western and international contemporaries in dance, performance art and drama (tickets from around Dhs41; 72–13 Mohamed Sultan Rd;

The acoustics are superb at the Esplanade’s main concert hall

TAB Unlike many of Singapore’s live music venues, Tab doesn’t rely on covers bands to keep the punters happy: the focus of this mid-sized venue is on local talent and songwriters, plus nightly club features and live concerts from wandering foreign performers. Expect blues, gospel, funk and an audience as diverse as the music policy (admission free or around Dhs30; 2–29 Orchard Hotel, 442 Orchard Rd;


February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



Culture in Singapore Entertainment

TRANSPORT Singapore Airlines fly from Dubai to Singapore Changi airport (from Dhs2,100; Singapore Airlines also flies from Manchester with a one-hour layover in Munich. Shuttle buses to the city centre take around 40 minutes (singles Dhs26; Taxis make the trip in around 30 minutes, charging in the region of Dhs60-120. Public transport, in the form of buses and MRT (subway) trains, is run by two companies, SBS and SMRT, with a consolidated guide at The MRT network also serves the airport (singles from Dhs6).

WHERE TO STAY The newly opened Mayo Inn provides good-sized, IKEA-fitted rooms in a converted 1930s shop-house on the edge of the Little India district. More expensive rooms come with their own roof terrace (from Dhs360; 9 Jalan Besar;


The know-how EVOLVING SINGAPORE Recent openings and future developments in the city:

Gardens by the Bay This 249-acre botanic garden opened in 2012. Its impressive structures include the indoor Cloud Forest section (

Redot Fine Art Gallery Behind the bright façade, Naumi Liora goes for a Minimalist look

At Naumi Liora (formerly the Saff), three beautifully renovated 1920s shophouses in Chinatown combine to create an affordable boutique hotel. Some of the rooms have outdoor terraces (from Dhs720; 55 Keong Saik Rd; The New Majestic Hotel is arguably the best of Chinatown’s boutique hotels. The place offers 30 individually styled rooms done up with a mix of vintage and designer furniture (from Dhs960; 31-37 Bukit Pasoh Rd;

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

Where to stay

Tanjong Pagar Distripark is home to the only gallery in the city specialising in indigenous Australian art, pictured below (

Indian Heritage Centre An ultra-modern centre that will showcase Indian culture, set to open in Little India by 2014 (

National Art Gallery Southeast Asian art will occupy the old Supreme Court and City Hall buildings from 2015 (national

TOP TIP The Original Singapore Walks runs tours led by informed and enthusiastic guides. Daily themed walks show different facets of the city’s many cultures and provide an insight into the country’s past (from Dhs90;

FURTHER READING Lonely Planet’s Singapore (Dhs84) and Pocket Singapore (Dhs48) offer extensive coverage, with the latter ideally suited to shorter visits. Find out more from the Singapore Tourism Board at Learn about Singapore’s acclaimed hawker food and its place in the city with food blogger Leslie Tay’s book The End of Char Kway Teow and Other Hawker Mysteries (Dhs84; Epigram Books). Leslie blogs at


Singapore essentials

Sights & Activities

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Majestic Rocky Mountain scenery around Aspen


WINTER IN ASPEN As ski towns go, the resort of Aspen is one of America’s best, combining panoramic scenery with jet-setting glamour. Here, take snowshoe tours, learn about the local ecology and climb a frozen waterfall.

ASHCROFT SNOWSHOE TOURS On these half-day snowshoe tours to the pristine Castle Creek Valley, naturalists share expertise on tracking animals and studying the sub-alpine ecosystem. Trail walks will take you through serene spruce and fir forests, and peaceful groves with stellar views. The tour concludes with a gourmet lunch at Pine Creek Cookhouse – lunch, snowshoe rental and trail pass are included (tours Dhs390;

Clear nights offer unrivalled star gazing in valleys around Aspen

GET INTO WINTER Basic winter ecology day classes, hosted by ACES, are great introductions to the nature and geology of Aspen and its surrounding area. Classes are limited to eight people. Days begin at Aspen’s Hallam Lake Nature Preserve and Learning Center, with a snowshoe trek to Hunter Creek. This focuses on tracking animals in winter, and animal and plant survival strategies (classes Dhs78;100 Puppy Smith St;


Other activities



Local outdoor outfitter Ute Mountaineer has operated this centre for more than 25 years. The centre is a good base from which to head out on cross-country skis onto the 60-mile Aspen Snowmass Nordic Trail System (Nov-Mar; ski rentals Dhs84, group lessons Dhs132; Aspen Golf Course, Hwy 82; utemountaineer. com/aspenxc.html).

Aspen is home to three ice rinks, but only one that’s outdoors. At the foot of Aspen Mountain, this small but scenic ice rink is a joy to skate on, especially in the evening, when downtown Aspen and the mountains provide a wonderfully pretty backdrop (Nov–Mar; admission Dhs26, skate rentals Dhs13; 433 E Durant Ave; 12pm–9pm

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Aspen is a prime spot for seeing meteor showers, and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) holds monthly Winter Star Gazing nature trail walks at Rock Bottom Ranch, which allow you to experience the solitude of Aspen’s skies on cold winter nights. Hot drinks are provided (donations of Dhs36 advised; 2001 Hooks Spur Rd advised

One of four ski mountains near Aspen, the 3,417m peak of Aspen Mountain is accessible from town via the free Silver Queen Gondola On the way up, take in views of the Elk Mountains – their sculpted peaks shine in the late afternoon sun – before skiing down Ruthie’s, a wide-open run with even more sweeping views. The Sundeck restaurant, at the top of the mountain, cooks up lunchtime grills, sandwiches and homemade pizzas (day passes Dhs90

The Silver Queen Gondola is the main link to Aspen Mountain

ASHCROFT SKI TOURING This local Nordic ski outfitter serves 20 miles of groomed ski trails through 600 acres of sub-alpine countryside. The mountain backdrop is astonishing, and in addition to classic cross-country ski equipment, snowshoes are also available for hire. Individual and group lessons as well as group tours are offered daily (full-day passes Dhs54, lessons Dhs270; 11399 Castle Creek Rd; pinecreekcookhouse. com).

ASPEN EXPEDITIONS Based in the Aspen Highlands ski area, this place organises adventurous itineraries, including outstanding winter ice-climbing day expeditions at a frozen waterfall 10 minutes down the valley from central Aspen. No experience is necessary for these expeditions – boots, hardware and ice-climbing tools are all provided for you, so get out there! (Dec– Mar only; from Dhs660

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Get to grips with an ice wall courtesy of Aspen Expeditions

ASPEN PARAGLIDING If you fancy a bird’s-eye view of Aspen and the glistening peaks of the Rocky Mountains on a bright day, this paragliding outfitter operates tandem flights year round. In winter, flights lift off from Snowmass Village. Four sessions operate each morning, and private instruction and group courses are available (flights Dhs840; 426 S Spring St;


February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



Winter in Aspen Sights & Activities

TRANSPORT There are no direct flights to Aspen from the UAE, but you can fly via major US cities to AspenPitkin County airport, four miles north of town. United and American Airlines fly from Heathrow (from Dhs4,451; Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) runs a free, twice-hourly bus service to and from the airport ( and RFTA also operates free ski shuttles between Aspen, Snowmass and Buttermilk.

WHERE TO STAY One of Aspen’s few centrally located and affordable lodges, the family-owned Tyrolean Lodge resembles a Native American version of an Austrian ski lodge. The rooms here are spacious, with nifty accents including stone fireplaces and dark-wood panelling behind queen-sized beds (from Dhs360 in winter; 200 W Main St; There’s a certain b&b intimacy at the Hotel Lenado, set in a


The know-how FAMOUS FACES Aspen has long been a playground for the rich and famous. Here’s a few who have called this outpost home:

Hunter S Thompson Gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson settled in town in the early 1960s, even running for county sheriff in 1970. Oversized chairs add a theatrical touch to the Sky Hotel’s lobby

modern farmhouse-style building. Rooms have old wood-burning stoves and high ceilings. There’s a hot tub on the roof deck and gourmet breakfasts every morning (from Dhs660; 200 S Aspen St; The Sky Hotel is one of the town’s most elegant resorts. Rooms are playful with Southwestern-style wooden beams, white linen, down duvets, and faux-fur throws. The hot tub and slick 39 Bar are further plus points (from Dhs1,350; 709 E Durant Ave;

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

John Denver The singer-songwriter and humanitarian wrote two songs in Aspen’s honour. He was named poet laureate of the state of Colorado in 1974.

Lance Armstrong The controversial pro-road racing cyclist owns a home in Aspen. He was recently banned for life from competitive cycling.

Kevin Costnerr The Dances With Wolves actor settled on a 165-acre Aspen ranch in the early 1990s.

TOP TIP Aspen locals are keen to avoid visitors getting behind the wheel after partaking in its glamorous après-ski scene. Tipsy Taxi offers a free ride home to those who really need it. If in doubt, ask a bartender to make the call (

FURTHER READING Lonely Planet’s Colorado (Dhs90) features good recommendations on winter accommodation and activities in Aspen. You can download the Vail, Aspen & Central Mountains chapter (Dhs18) at lonelyplanet. com. For local and regional news and events, try the online edition of the Aspen Times (, while Aspen Magazine has event listings and local interest articles (


Aspen essentials

Where to stay

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The Pantheon has watched over Romans as they eat for 1,800 years


EATING OUT IN ROME A visit to the Eternal City is as much about food as it is about art and history. There’s no better way to feel like a Roman than by eating and drinking well at the city’s many trattorias, pizzerias, ristorantes and gelaterias. Dig in!


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DINO & TONI At this simple spot north of the Vatican City, Toni stirs the pots while Dino delivers the songs, punchlines and mammoth portions of Roman soul food. It’s famous for its pasta alla gricia (pasta with cured pork and cheese), if you get past the mighty antipasti. Belt loosened, you might be able to finish with the signature granita di caffè (coffee with crushed ice). Note: it’s cash only here (mains from Dhs84; Via Leone IV 60; closed Mon and Aug; 00 39 06 397 33 284).

IL GELATO DI SAN CRISPINO Two streets away from the Trevi Fountain, you’ll find a truly world-beating gelateria (ice-cream parlour). Flavours are seasonal, all-natural and sensational – it’ll be a long time before you forget the piquant fig or zesty ginger and cinnamon, which are so good that you can forgive the relatively stingy size of the portions (two scoops for Dhs13.80; Via della Panetteria 42;

Find top-notch ice cream a short walk from the Trevi Fountain

GINA Around the corner from the Spanish Steps, this little café has comfy white seats strewn with powder-blue cushions, and at busier times it fills with a Prada-clad crowd. Pick up a picnic hamper for two, complete with fresh sandwiches, fruit salad, signature desserts, a bottle of wine and a flask of Italian coffee, for lunch alfresco in nearby Villa Borghese gardens (picnic hampers from Dhs180; Via di San Sebastianello 7a;

Contemporary dining

Trattorias The Camerucci family runs this brick-arched place, offering top-notch cooking from the Marche region. Expect delicate pastas including egg-yolk tortelli and ingredients such as pecorino di fossa (sheep’s cheese aged in caves), goose, swordfish, sultanas, mushrooms and truffles (mains from Dhs66; Via di San Vito 13a; closed Sun eve & Mon, and Aug; 00 39 06 446 65 73).

This small place in a nondescript part of town is a firm contender for Rome’s best pizza al taglio – pizza by the slice. Superbly fluffy bases and crisp crusts are topped with seasonal ingredients, such as beetroot and spinach, onion and rosemary, and ricotta and green beans. Eat standing up, and wash it down with a chilled beer (pizza slices from Dhs12; Via della Meloria 43; 00 39 06 397 45 416).

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Trattoria Monti is an outpost of Marchigiana cooking in Rome

ARMANDO AL PANTHEON A family-run trattoria in business since 1961, Armando’s is an inviting institution within sight of the Pantheon. Constantly busy, it’s fed the likes of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and footballer Pelé. It specialises in classic Roman food, including baccalà alla pizzaiola (salt cod with tomatoes), and ravioli with black truffle. Try the homemade cakes as well (mains from Dhs66; closed Sat eve, Sun and Aug; Salita dei Crescenzi 31;

Set at the back of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, this restaurant sits beneath a sweeping glass roof. The cuisine is new Roman, with innovative takes on traditional dishes, including ‘carbonara inside out’. There’s a more basic fixed lunch menu too (two-course lunches Dhs78, dinner mains from Dhs132; closed Sun eve, Mon, and Aug; Scalinata di via Milano 9a;

GLASS HOSTARIA In the quaint Trastevere district, the Modernist-styled white walls, clean lines and stainless steel lighting of this ristorante really stand out. And it’s about content as well as style. The wine list and creative Italian cuisine are impressive, including dishes such as sangriamarinated beef with smoked watermelon (mains from Dhs10; closed Mon; Vicolo del Cinque 58;

Refined local cuisine has won a star for Il Convivio Troiani

IL CONVIVIO TROIANI Hidden away in a 16th-century palazzo in the historic centre, this Michelin-starred gastronomic heavyweight – with modest yet elegant Art Deco style – offers Roman-with-a-twist dishes such as zucchini flowers with buffalo mozzarella and sweet-and-sour red pepper sorbet. Early booking is pretty much essential here (mains from Dhs132; Vicolo dei Soldati 31;


February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



Eating out in Rome Eating

TRANSPORT Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino airport, 15 miles from central Rome, is served by Emirates (from Dhs2,990; who fly direct. If you don’t mind a stop Pegasus Air, (from Dhs2,371; Egypt Air (from Dhs2,19; and Royal Jordanian (from Dhs2,394; all fly into Rome as well. The Leonardo Express trains connect Fiumicino with Rome’s Stazione Termini (singles Dhs66;, while buses serve Ciampino (singles from Dhs19; Rome’s centre is walkable, but the Metro can be useful for longer trips (day passes Dhs28.20; atac.

WHERE TO STAY Hotel Panda boldly flies the flag for the budget traveller in the pricey Tridente district. Its rooms are small and simply decorated, but good value this close to the Spanish Steps (from Dhs420, no breakfast; Via della Croce 35;


The know-how ROMAN CLASSICS Some local favourites to try:

Trippa alla Romana Tender tripe in a creamy, spicy tomato sauce, sprinkled with pecorino cheese.

Gnocchi alla Romana (right)

There are few hotels in Rome smarter than the Hotel de Russie

Casa Montani is a lovely, upmarket guesthouse overlooking the ancient gate of the Porta del Popolo, with high-quality fittings, custom-made furniture and contemporary art throughout (from Dhs750; Piazzale Flaminio 9; A favourite of Hollywood A-listers, the Hotel de Russie has exquisite terraced gardens. Inside, the décor is luxurious in many shades of grey, and the rooms have massive mosaic-tiled bathrooms (from Dhs2,850; Via del Babuino 9;

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

Dumplings made with semolina and baked with butter, cheese and nutmeg.

Coda alla Vaccinara Oxtail stewed until tender and buttery, in a savoury tomato sauce.

Rigatoni con la pajata Baby calves’ intestines cooked in tomato sauce, served as a topping for pasta.

Costata di ricotta A kind of cheesecake made with fresh ricotta and candied fruits. Raisins, pine nuts and other flavourings can also be added.

Filetti di baccalà A well-known appetiser consisting of deep-fried, salted cod fillets.

TOP TIP Cookery writer Diane Seed has lived in Rome for 30 years, and runs frequent classes on classic Roman cuisine from her kitchen in the Palazzo Doria Pamphili (one-day course with market visit £160 per person;

FURTHER READING Lonely Planet’s Rome (Dhs90) and Discover Rome (Dhs84) are extensive guides to the city, while Pocket Rome (Dhs48) offers more concise coverage. Chapters of the Rome guide are available to download from (Dhs18). For updates on the city’s cultural goings-on, visit And read The Food of Love, Anthony Capella’s 2004 comedy of errors set in Trastevere (Dhs42; Sphere).


Rome essentials

Where to stay

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Andaman Coast KO MUK

A long-tail boat on the beach at Hat Farang on Ko Muk


THAILAND’S ISLANDS ‘Ko’ means island in Thai – the very word conjures up dreamy beaches, huts in the shade of a coconut palm, fantastic rock formations and undersea gardens. Hop in a long-tail boat and cast off the moorings.


Tear out page here then fold along dotted lines

KO SAMUI Fairly large and multi-faceted enough to fit in luxury yoga retreats as well as backpacker shanties, Ko Samui is particularly blessed with places to eat, not least the many kow gaang (rice and curry) roadside stalls. The town of Hat Chaweng meanwhile is home to the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts, which has daily cooking courses and classes in the arts of carving fruit and vegetables into intricate floral designs (three-hour courses Dhs231; Hat Chaweng ;

KO TARUTAO MARINE NATIONAL PARK One of the most unspoiled regions in all of Thailand, this park encompasses 51 islands, including Ko Tarutao itself, covered in old-growth jungle. Long-tail boat tours take in islands home to hornbills, langur monkeys and fishing cats. Ko Lipe is the most developed island, but also has the widest choice of accommodation and beautiful beaches ( parkreserve,

Jewel-blue sea and the palest of sand at Sunrise Beach on Ko Lipe

KO LANTA Ko Lanta is a crucible of cultures, mixing Buddhist temples, slender minarets and chow lair (sea gypsy) villages. Northern beaches are busy but fun, with more mellow ones to the south. The cave complex of Tham Khao Maikaeo conceals a subterranean pool and chambers as large as cathedrals – local guides can arrange treks (around Dhs23), and resort hotels can arrange transport and motorcycle hire (,

Northeast Gulf

Southern Gulf A scuba-diving honeypot off the crystalline Gulf Coast, Ko Tao is the easiest and cheapest spot around to learn dive basics. The Japanese Gardens, to the island’s northwest, is an ideal dive site, with plenty of coral, turtles and pufferfish. Big Blue Diving is a recommended mid-sized local diving school (four-day beginner courses Dhs1,068; Hat Sai Ri;

The impressive limestone karst coast of Trang Province shelters several sublime islands. The isle of Ko Muk is home to spectacular Hat Farang (aka Hat Sai Yao) – a calming stretch of sand where jade water kisses a perfect beach. Further north, Tham Morakot (Emerald Cave) is a rock tunnel leading – at low tide – to a small beach surrounded by cliffs on all sides (

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Typical market stall offerings in Ban Bo Phut on Ko Samui

KO PHA-NGAN Things are changing on Ko Pha-ngan. Parties still take place on the beach at Hat Rin every full moon, but the island as a whole is creeping upmarket. The beaches of the north and east are still relatively secluded (Hat Khuat, or Bottle Beach, is a top choice), and the jungle interior rewards exploration with four, year-round waterfalls. Change out of beach clothes to visit one of the 20 wat (temples) – Wat Pho, near Ban Tai, offers a herbal sauna for about Dhs6 (

Within weekending distance of Bangkok, Ko Samet is popular with Thais and visitors alike, but is surprisingly underdeveloped all the same. A coastal footpath runs the four-mile length of this skinny island, skirting one lovely cove after another. Sunset at the northern end brings late-night parties and karaoke sessions; things get quieter the further south you go (

KO CHANG With steep, jungle-covered peaks erupting from the sea, Ko Chang retains a rugged spirit despite its package-holiday reputation. This is largely down to its accessible wilderness: island treks allow you to explore forests filled with birds, monkeys, lizards and beautiful flowers. Evolution Tours offers one-day trips that include a waterfall swim and a stop at an elephant camp (treks from Dhs162;

Take a jungle trek on Ko Chang to the Ban Kwan Elephant Camp

KO KUT Coconut palms outnumber buildings on the easternmost island in Thailand, just 20 miles by sea from Cambodia, where a secluded, unhurried atmosphere pervades everything. There’s not much nightlife or even dining, but the beaches of the western side, Hat Khlong Chao above all, are among Thailand’s finest. Two inland waterfalls are good short hiking destinations, with pools to cool off in (


February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



Thailand’s islands Sights & Activities

TRANSPORT Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport is served by Emirates from Dubai (from Dhs3,170; Air-hopping around the country remains an affordable option, with operators including Bangkok Airways and Air Asia. Most routes originate from Bangkok (Ko Samui from Dhs808; Ko Samui is the only island in this guide you can fly to. Ferries serve the other islands from mainland transport hubs, including Trat, Surat Thani, Chumphon, Krabi and Trang, often with a dedicated bus service to the relevant pier. It’s best to check your guidebook for specific details and providers.

THAI TALK Basic traveller speak to help you on your way

Hello Sa-wat-dee

Excuse me (to get past) Kor a-pai

Thank you Korp kun

How are you? Sa-bai dee mai The Library brings an unfussy aesthetic to Ko Samui

Sri Lanta is a decadent yet ecologically responsible resort on Ko Lanta where wooden villas dot wild gardens stretching from the beach to a landscaped jungle hillside (from Dhs722; 111 Moo 6, Hat Khlong Nin;

WHERE TO STAY Lemon yellow bungalows sit peacefully beside the sea at Ko Chang’s KB Resort. Listen to the lapping of the surf while kids construct mega-cities in the sand. Go for an air-conditioned villa if possible (from Dhs173; 10/16 Moo 4;


The know-how

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East February 2013

Thais set great store by politeness. If you’re tempted to try out a few phrases, one way to add a polite touch and soften your speech is to end a question or statement with the word ‘krap’ (if you’re a man) or ‘ka’ (if you’re a woman).

Fine. And you? Sa-bai dee (krap/ka) laa-ou kun la (male/female speaker)

Do you speak English? Kun poot pah-sah ang-grit dai mai

I don’t understand (Pom/di-chan) mai kow jai (male/female speaker)

Goodbye Lah gorn

The Library, by Chaweng beach on Ko Samui, is decorated in sparkling white – except for the dramatic red-tiled pool. The resort is a study in pared-back and contemplative design, with iMacs in every room (from Dhs1,558; 14/1 Moo 2;


FURTHER READING Lonely Planet’s Thailand (Dhs104) offers thorough coverage and insights into the whole country, while Thailand’s Islands & Beaches (Dhs104) focuses on coastal regions. You can download individual chapters from both guides at lonelyplanet. com (Dhs17). The Tourism Authority of Thailand ( has information and lists events, and is a good source for insights into the country.


Thailand essentials

Where to stay


Win a two night holiday at Anantara Al Yamm villas on Sir Bani Yas! Worth Dhs8,500

Anantara Desert Islands has expanded to offer private villas on the beautiful island of Sir Bani Yas, a 20 minute flight from Abu Dhabi. And you could be one of the first to stay! The new one and two bedroom villas, which have been developed on the eastern shore of the island, come with private pools and are influenced by the original barasti huts, lived in by the local Emirati fishermen. This super prize includes return flights on Rotana Jet, two nights in a one bedroom villa, breakfast for both days and a wildlife drive per person. If you missed our feature on all the activities that can be found at Anantara Desert Islands last issue, then you’re in for a treat. Kayaking, mountain biking, horse riding, wildlife walks and of course relaxing spa treatments can all be booked on the island. Send the answer of the question below to before 10 March What city in the UAE is Sir Bani Yas a 20 minute flight from? a.) Dubai b.) Abu Dhabi c.) Al Ain

CONDITIONS OF ENTRY  Entrants must be over 21 years old  Stay is valid from 10 April to 15 October 2013.  Not to be used in conjunction with any other offer Employees of CPI or Anantara may not apply The winner will be selected at random from the correct entries.

February 2013 Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East



Win the ultimate St Patrick’s Day experience in Ireland! Worth


How would you like to celebrate the ultimate Irish holiday, St Patrick’s Day? We have partnered up with Tourism Ireland, The Merrion Hotel and Emirates Airlines to give one lucky winner the chance to win a trip to Ireland. Win a three night’s stay for two at one of Ireland’s top 5-star hotels, The Merrion Hotel, Dublin and make history by taking part in Dublin’s ďŹ rst ever St Patrick’s Day People’s Parade. This is one opportunity you don’t want to miss! You and a friend will take your place alongside 8,000 others on St. Patrick’s Day (17 March), and walk through the streets of this mystical, vibrant city passing some of Dublin’s most famous landmarks. After the party relax with a three night’s stay at at the luxurious Merrion Hotel Dublin (inclusive of breakfast). Situated in the heart of Dublin, this ďŹ ve-star hotel boasts Ireland’s only 2-Michelin star restaurant and spa, making it the perfect place to relax after a day of sightseeing. The prize: t5XP4U1BUSJDLT%BZ1FPQMFT1BSBEFUJDLFUT t3FUVSOFDPOPNZnJHIUTGPSUXPQFPQMFXJUI&NJSBUFT GSPN %VCBJ to Dublin, Ireland. t5ISFFOJHIUTUBZBU5IF.FSSJPO)PUFM%VCMJOCBTFEPOUXPTIBSJOH  including breakfast. To be in with a chance of winning, send your answer, name and contact details to before 28 February. What is the date of St Patrick’s Day? a.) 7 March b.) 17 March c.) 31 March 88

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February 2013

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Lonely Planet Traveller ME - Issue 2, 2013 Feb  

Lonely Planet Traveller Middle East is the first international travel brand to invest in a locally based travel publication, and will cover...