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Singapore • Hong Kong • Thailand • Indonesia • Malaysia • Vietnam • Macau • Philippines • Burma • Cambodia • Brunei • Laos



green issue


Bangkok Inside Thailand’s glittering party city




Traveling with a conscience: tips, solutions, destination guides SINGAPORE SG$6.90 ● HONG KONG HK$39 THAILAND THB160 ● INDONESIA IDR45,000 MALAYSIA MYR15 ● VIETNAM VND80,000 MACAU MOP40 ● PHILIPPINES PHP220 BURMA MMK32 ● CAMBODIA KHR20,000 BRUNEI BND6.90 ● LAOS LAK48,000

OC TOBER 200 8

Sustainable stays Handpicked hotels for guilt-free getaways


Los Angeles 72

Tel Aviv 148 Sichuan 75 Laos 56, 95, 100

Bangkok 38, 116 Kenya 136

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Issue Index

ASIA China 26, 42, 75 India 136 Sichuan 75

THE PACIFIC Australia 68 New Zealand 158

EUROPE London 40, 64 Norway 40

THE AMERICAS Jackson Hole 62 Los Angeles 72 Portland, Oregon 72

MIDDLE EAST Tel Aviv 148 AFRICA Kenya 136

Currency Converter Singapore Hong Kong Thailand Indonesia Malaysia Vietnam Macau Philippines Burma Cambodia Brunei Laos US ($1)

























Source: (exchange rates at press time).


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Nepal 100 Philippines 38, 133 Singapore 41, 68 Thailand 100, 131

SOUTHEAST ASIA Bangkok 38, 116 Burma 40 Cambodia 95, 100, 135 Hong Kong 68 Indonesia 135 Jakarta 38, 55, 100 Laos 56, 95, 100 Malaysia 56, 80, 132





































115-148 Features 116 Bangkok Nights Summer heat, red curry and disco balls: GARY SHTEYNGART finds the white-hot center of the capital. Photographed by CEDRIC ANGELES. GUIDE AND MAP 126 128 Going for the Green Explore five national parks in Southeast Asia 10

that offer a natural break from modern life. By ANTHONY MECIR, GREG LOWE, FLOYD WHALEY, ADAM SKOLNICK and JENNIFER CHEN 136 Women at Work Traveling to Kenya and India, SHANE MITCHELL visits four collectives that keep traditions alive while offering new opportunities to the women who belong to them. Photographed by DITTE ISAGER

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148 Tel Aviv Modern An influx of wealth, culture and cuisine reshapes this metropolis. MICHAEL Z. WISE reports. Photographed by MARTIN MORRELL. GUIDE AND MAP 157


â—? 20 Trips That Will Change Your World > 106 Dream journeys guaranteed to make a difference in your life.

A R O O N T H A E W C H AT T U R AT / O N A S I A . C O M

>128 Church ruins in Preah Monivong National Park.





green issue


Bangkok Inside Thailand’s glittering party city




Traveling with a conscience: tips, solutions, destination guides SINGAPORE SG$6.90 ● HONG KONG HK$39 THAILAND THB160 ● INDONESIA IDR45,000 MALAYSIA MYR15 ● VIETNAM VND80,000 MACAU MOP40 ● PHILIPPINES PHP220 BURMA MMK32 ● CAMBODIA KHR20,000 BRUNEI BND6.90 ● LAOS LAK48,000

Departments 16 20 24 26 28 31 158

Editor’s Note Contributors Letters Best Deals Ask T+L Strategies My Favorite Place

Sustainable stays Handpicked hotels for guilt-free getaways 04241 M8 Cover#OCT V5 1

9/11/08 3:40:14 AM

Cover > 68

Hidden in the dense greenery along the Mekong River, Luang Say Lodge in Laos. Photographed by R. Ian Lloyd.

> 95 > 43

37–64 Insider 38 NewsFlash Green cities, green Britannia, helping Burma and more. 43 Hotels Our 20 favorite eco-friendly hotels. BY YOLANDA CROUS 55 Eat Two organic restaurants to please locavores. BY ROBYN ECKHARDT 56 Check-in Three Lao lodges that give back to their communities. BY JANET FORMAN 62 Hotel A guide to the latest in eco-hotel design. BY DARRELL HARTMAN 64 Food Keeping the menu local in London. BY SUSAN WELSH 12

67 Beauty Organic products that make you look good, naturally. 68 Shopping HUI FANG profiles four designers in Asia looking to make a difference. 70 Must-Haves Say no to disposable bags. Here, a selection of stylish, reusable totes. 72 Spotlight Two visionary labels that define style with a conscience. > 86

75-100 T+L Journal 75 Dispatch Sichuan’s devastating earthquake in May proved its population resilient. BY LARA DAY 80 Adventure Endau-Rompin National Park has many secretive animals and few tourists. BY MAT OAKLEY 86 Hotels Southeast Asian hotels are catching onto the worldwide ecomovement. BY JENNIFER CHEN 95 Conservation River dolphins could prove to be key to ecological tourism. BY RON GLUCKMAN 100 Quick Study “Voluntourism” is fast becoming the next big thing in holiday travel. BY CHRIS KUCWAY

C L O C K W I S E F R O M FA R L E F T : C O U R T E SY O F T E N U TA D I S PA N N O C C H I A ; C O U R T E SY O F D I A L O G ; V I R G I N I E N O Ë L ; WA S I N E E C H A N TA K O R N

67-72 Stylish Traveler

(Editor’s Note) 10.08


T MIGHT COME AS SOME SURPRISE that I have a background in

environmental science. It was a series of twists, turns, serendipitous good fortune and hard work that led me to Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia. But I digress. When I

was studying at university, the “green” movement had really begun to gain momentum, at least in the U.K., so my degree focused on global warming, species extinction and habitat destruction. But at that time—in the late 1980’s— environmentalists didn’t focus at all on the effects that travel can have on both the environment, and on communities and cultures. Since then, the burgeoning travel industry has faced some serious questions posed by green advocacy groups, governments and, of course, consumers, who have become increasingly environmentally aware. But the whole idea of green travel is clouded with confusion over terminology, facts and figures, and whether the service industry is trying to make a difference—or simply paying lip service to lure environmentally conscious visitors. This is where our special Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia issue comes in—to

help guide you through the environmental maze. It starts with our Ask T+L section (page 28), which actually defines ecotourism and presents practical ways of working out your carbon footprint, while Strategies (page 31) entertains and educates with a quiz and hands-on tips for sustainable travel. I am also proud of our T+L Journal story, “Seeds of Change” (page 86), written by Jennifer Chen, which poses the question: just how green are hotels in Southeast Asia? The story highlights the growing number of eco-visionaries pushing for change in this sector, as well as those hotels that really do boast green credentials. Of course, the one this issue informs and inspires your greener travels.—MATT LEPPARD TRAVEL + L EISURE EDITORS, WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS ARE THE INDUSTRY’S MOST RELIABLE SOURCES. WHILE ON ASSIGNMENT, THEY TRAVEL INCOGNITO WHENEVER POSSIBLE AND DO NOT TAKE PRESS TRIPS OR ACCEPT FREE TRAVEL OF ANY KIND. 16

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factor that can really effect change in any sphere is you, the consumer. So I hope


Matt Leppard Paul Ehrlich Fah Sakharet Jennifer Chen Chris Kucway Ellie Brannan Wannapha Nawayon Napamon Roongwitoo Wasinee Chantakorn

REGULAR CONTRIBUTORS / PHOTOGRAPHERS Dave Wong, Joe Yogerst, Adam Skolnick, Robyn Eckhardt, Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Lara Day, Cedric Arnold, Steve McCurry, Peter Steinhauer, Nat Prakobsantisuk, Graham Uden, Josef Polleross



J.S. Uberoi Egasith Chotpakditrakul Rasina Uberoi-Bajaj

Robert Fernhout Lucas W. Krump Michael K. Hirsch Kin Kamarulzaman Shea Stanley Gaurav Kumar Kanda Thanakornwongskul Supalak Krewsasaen Porames Chinwongs


Ed Kelly Mark V. Stanich Paul B. Francis Nancy Novogrod Jean-Paul Kyrillos Cara S. David Mark Orwoll Thomas D. Storms Lawrence Chesler

TRAVEL+LEISURE SOUTHEAST ASIA VOL. 2, ISSUE 10 Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia is published monthly by Media Transasia Limited, Room 1205-06, 12/F, Hollywood Centre, 233 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2851-6963; Fax: +852 2851-1933; under license from American Express Publishing Corporation, 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage or retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the Publisher. Produced and distributed by Media Transasia Thailand Ltd., 14th Floor, Ocean Tower II, 75/8 Soi Sukhumvit 19, Sukhumvit Road, Klongtoeynue, Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand. Tel: +66 2 204-2370. Printed by Comform Co., Ltd. (+66 2 368-2942–7). Color separation by Classic Scan Co., Ltd. (+66 2 291-7575).

This edition is published by permission of AMERICAN EXPRESS PUBLISHING CORPORATION 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, United States of America. Reproduction in whole or in part without the consent of the copyright owner is prohibited. © Media Transasia Thailand Ltd. in respect of the published edition.

SUBSCRIPTIONS Subscription enquiries:

ADVERTISING Advertising enquiries: e-mail

(Contributors) 10.08 Top: Cedric Angeles at work in Asia. Below: The modern look of the Thai capital.

Shane Mitchell “I first heard about female-run cooperatives from a friend, and I was intrigued,” the T+L special correspondent says, describing what prompted her to travel to India and Kenya for a glimpse into the lives of weavers and beaders (“Women at Work,” page 136). “These individuals are able to sustain local traditions, because by beading and embroidering they can better provide for their families.”

I feel at home in Asia,” says New York-based photographer Cedric Angeles (“Bangkok Nights,” page 116), who first experienced a good taste of Thailand when he spent two months in the Thai capital in 2005. “In Bangkok, I head outdoors when the sun goes down. Early evening is the ideal time to capture the city’s frenetic energy.” Originally from the Philippines, Angeles moved to the Los Angeles as a child, where his love of telling stories through photography took hold. In 2000, Photo District News named him one of the 30 Under 30 Photographers to Watch in its prestigious annual poll. When not spending time shooting in Travel+Leisure readers’ favorite city in the world, Angeles also works for Bon Appetit, Glamour and GQ.


Aviv Modern,” page 148) and says the city of progressive culture and world-class cuisine has changed dramatically in the past decade. “On the eve of Israel’s 60th birthday, the city is boisterous and exuberant, yet there are still a lot of rough edges.” Wise, seen atop Masada in Israel, writes about culture and foreign affairs for The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly. Lara Day came away from her most recent trip to China, to the earthquake-ravaged Sichuan (“After the Shock,” page 75), in a positive mood. “Even amid the destruction, there were signs of hope, love and grace,” she says of her visit one month after the May earthquake. “I was amazed by people’s resilience and by how quickly they were moving towards recovery.” A Hong Kong native, Day has traveled extensively across Asia.

Mat Oakley After four years in Singapore, Oakley

says the three days he spent in the wilds of EndauRompin National Park (“Rumbles in the Jungle,” page 80) were a welcome relief in his quest for open space. “It was a losing battle with the leeches,” he admits, “and I had a close encounter with what I’m still convinced was a tiger.” Oakley has spent the past 15 years working in Laos, Thailand, the South Pacific, Australia and Singapore.

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L E F T C O LU M N , F R O M TO P : B R O W N W. C A N N O N I I I ; C E D R I C A N G E L E S . R I G H T C O LU M N , F R O M TO P : C O U R T E S Y O F S H A N E M I T C H E L L ; S O L O M O N W I S E ; C O U R T E S Y O F L A R A D AY ; C O U R T E S Y O F M AT O A K L E Y

Michael Z. Wise visits Tel Aviv every year (“Tel


(Letters)10.08 LETTER OF THE MONTH Government officials say they want a modern and civilized city, but will it be at the expense of its innate beauty and multilayered street life? By MATT STEINGLASS. Photographed by PETER STEINHAUER

Hanoi’s Ho Hanoi’s Chi Minh Ho Mausoleum Chi Minh Mausoleum at night. at nigh


Sidestepping Scooters



In your story on Hanoi [“Hanoi’s Heart,” July 2008] you captured the city’s changes in a nutshell with photographs of Hang Dao Street in 1993 and again today. The traffic alone has changed the city’s calm nature, but it’s still a great place to visit for its shopping streets and small restaurants. — S T E WA RT


Asia’s Other Cities I’m a big fan of Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia. But lately, I’ve found the magazine—especially the Insider pages—mostly covers Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok. The last two issues, for instance, featured new restaurants from these countries. Where are Jakarta, Manila, Hanoi and the other exciting cities with a lot of new hotspots to talk about? —RIO


Cost Controls I understand that Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia focuses on the luxury end of the market, but can I suggest you do a story on how travelers in Asia can save money? Especially when it comes to flying—I’m tired of falling for “special” airfares, only to come away with a ticket that ends up being more expensive because of hidden taxes and surcharges. —MICHAEL

Iconic Choices I finally bought Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia and have to say that I was impressed. I would have chosen exactly the same five dishes that you picked for “Five Filipino Icons” [July 2008], although Milky Way Café and Café Adriatico are old-school choices, and you should have made room for newer places where you can get pansit and tsokolate, respectively (Buddy’s for pansit and Café Mary Grace in Serendra for tsokolate). Anyway, more power to you and I’m already looking forward to the next issue. — C AT H Y


PA R A S - L A R A , M A N I L A

L E Y TO N , S I N G A P O R E

A Newbie Writes... I admit that I’m a newbie when it comes to travel magazines. But all that changed when I saw Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia. I must say, you’re different from the other magazines out there. You suggest so many great sights to visit. Rest assured that I’ll be reading T+L SEA every issue from now on. —ALLAN


CORRECTION In our September issue, in Ask T+L (page 30), we referred to the legendary pre-party bar in Bali as Ku Te Da. It should, of course, have been Ku De Ta. We regret the error.


(Best Deals) 10.08

Angsana Velavaru, Maldives.

Plan your holidays now. Here, seven amazing packages in Asia ■ MALDIVES Anniversary rates at Angsana Velavaru (960/676-0028; What’s Included Two free nights; return seaplane transfers; and all meals on paid nights. Cost From US$160 per night, five-night minimum stay, through November 30. Savings Up to 50 percent. ■ HONG KONG High Season BizStay package at Hotel Jen (852/2974-1234; What’s Included Daily breakfast; daily HK$100 minibar voucher; daily pressing service for one suit; and 20 percent discounts on food and beverage, laundry, the business center, and phone calls. Cost HK$1,288 per night, through November 20. Savings Up to 40 percent. ■ INDONESIA Wellness Experience package at The Laguna Resort & Spa, Nusa Dua, Bali (62-361/ 771-327; What’s Included Accommodation in a deluxe studio; round-trip airport transfers; a yoga–spa package for two; a massage for two; daily breakfast; and late check-out until 2 P.M. Cost From US$275 per night, three-night minimum stay, through December 23. Savings Up to 27 percent. 26

■ THAILAND T+L Southeast Asia offer at SALA Phuket and SALA Samui (66-2/231-2588; salaresorts. com). What’s Included Round-trip airport transfers; daily breakfast; an island tour; and late check-out. Cost From US$260 per night in Samui, three-night minimum stay, through December 20; from US$390 per night in Phuket, three-night minimum stay, November 1–December 20. Savings Up to 20 percent. Romance package at The Barai (66-32/521234; in Hua Hin. What’s Included Accommodation in a spa suite; daily breakfast; a dinner; an aromatherapy milk bath; a reflexology session; and 20 percent off any spa treatment. Cost Bt14,400 per night, two-night minimum stay, through November 15. Savings Up to 25 percent. T+L Southeast Asia offer at The Tongsai Bay (66-2/381-8774; on Samui. What’s Included Accommodation in a cottage suite; round-trip airport transfers; daily breakfast; a dinner; a bottle of sparkling wine; a massage; and a cloth bag. Cost Bt9,800 per night, two-night minimum stay, from November 6–December 20. Savings Up to 39 percent.

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CHINA Family package at the Grand Hyatt Beijing (86-10/8518-1234; beijing. What’s Included Accommodation in a grand deluxe two-bedroom room; daily breakfast; amenities including ice cream, children’s movies on DVD and popcorn; 25 percent discount on pedicures, manicures and massages; complimentary tour for one child under 12 with each purchase of a city tour; and late check-out until 4:00 P.M. Cost RMB2,200 per night, through January 4, 2009. Savings Up to 40 percent. The lobby at the Grand Hyatt Beijing.

F R O M T O P : C O U R T E S Y O F A N G S A N A ; C O U R T E S Y O F G R A N D H YAT T B E I J I N G



(Ask T+L)10.08 I’ve seen a lot of articles about environmental travel and sightseeing in Asia, but does anyone seriously expect it to work?



Mobius Loop (Worldwide)

This product can be recycled.

European Ecolabel (EU)

This product has been made according to EU eco-standards.

Green Dot (Some European countries)

The company that made a product with this label supports recycling.

Plastic Recycling (Japan)

Look for this sign to recycle plastic in Japan.

Enclosed Mobius Loop (Worldwide)

This product was made in an eco-friendly manner. 28


As with all aspects of sustainable travel, every little bit helps. For starters, take one long-haul vacation a year instead of several. On shorter breaks, explore nearby locales. Plan your own trips as much as possible and do this online. If you do use a tour operator, make sure they are environmentally responsible. Remember that smaller groups tend to make less of an impact. Once at a destination, locally led tours are preferable; ditto for tours that give back to a community; and stays at ecofriendly resorts are always a plus. Buy local souvenirs to support the community you are visiting and, obviously, avoid buying anything made from endangered plants or animals. Most likely, these will be illegal in your own country anyway. Finally, get your children to participate in planning your eco-trip. They might even teach you a thing or two.

and rail. For instance, a Bangkok to Tokyo, non-stop, return flight would result in a carbon footprint of nearly 3 tons. To offset this, you could send US$41.25 to the Clear Energy Fund, which promotes renewable energy, or donate US$64.95 towards a reforestation project in Kenya. While geared towards to those in the United Kingdom, the Climate Care calculator is useful when it comes to flights, which can be listed by departing and arrival airports. What exactly is ecotourism? —BELINDA REYES, MANILA

“Ecotourism” is a word that’s been bandied about a lot lately. But it does have a specific meaning: according to The International Ecotourism Society, it’s “responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local people.” So a rafting a trip in Borneo doesn’t necessarily qualify as ecotourism unless it benefits the community somehow or raises environmental awareness. It takes some homework to figure out if a company deserves the ecotourism badge. Pose these questions to a tour operator or hotel that’s billing My family and I travel a lot around itself as eco: Do they have a policy Asia. How can we figure out our own about the environment? What kind of carbon footprint? contributions do they make to local —GEORGINA TSUI, SINGAPORE communities and conservation? Are There are several methods online to figure out what your carbon footprint is locals involved? What specifically have when traveling and how to offset it. Most they done to protect the environment? Where are all their goods and services notable are calculator.aspx and The sourced? Do they educate guests about local customs and cultures? To find tour former asks you where you live so that companies and lodges that have been you can compare yourself with the vetted, log onto or average person in your country. It also ✚ categorizes journeys by plane, car, bus


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To minimize your carbon footprint before leaving for vacation, you should: A. Unplug battery chargers and use a programmable thermostat B. Open the shades to let in the sun: who needs solar panels? C. Turn off all indoor lights, but keep the porch light on


Should you order Chilean sea bass, Atlantic cod or orange roughy at a restaurant? A. No, these species have been overfished—and they’ll soon be off the menu B. Yes, if they were caught within 32 kilometers of the restaurant C. Yes, because fishing of these species controls overpopulation


To limit your carbon footprint on flights, you should: A. Fly at night, because emissions are lower B. Take a direct route and bring minimal baggage C. When you fly, there’s nothing you can do to reduce your CO2

The High Road When it comes to travel, are you being driven by ethics or coasting along without a care? Take this quiz to find out. By SUZANNE MOZES. Illustrated by RYAN HESHKA


When buying a carpet in an Istanbul bazaar, should you bargain? A. Yes, push for the absolute lowest price, to prevent vendors from inflating costs for future tourists B. Yes, engage in friendly haggling, but come to a fair price—even if it is slightly higher than what a local would pay C. No, accept the higher “tourist” rate—the extra money will help the local economy » 31

strategies | travel

solutions 5 WAYS TO GIVE BACK


A child on the streets of Mumbai asks you for change. You should: A. Offer him half of your lunch, because you don’t know how he will spend the money you give him B. Hand him a couple of coins—and some candy C. Say no, walk away and donate to a local charity instead


Is it wrong to travel to a country with a poor human rights record, such as Burma? A. No, boycotting such a nation will deprive it of exposure to more humane and democratic ideals B. It depends on how you travel and where you spend your money C. Yes, because you would be supporting an oppressive regime with your vacation spending


You’re going to Jamaica and want to stay in a hotel with responsible environmental practices. You should choose: A. A local boutique property B. The newest hotel, because it will be the most energy-efficient C. A hotel that advertises its eco-creds, such as solar panels and hydroelectricity D. None, until you’ve contacted the properties personally and asked about their green initiatives


You want to hike the Inca Trail in Peru. You should: A. Carry your bags yourself, because it’s demeaning to hire porters B. Not go, because the porters are exploited and the trail is overrun with tourists C. Pick a responsible outfitter that compensates its staff appropriately A N S W E R S O N PA G E 3 4


You don’t have to sign up for a volunteer vacation to do good while you travel. We asked social activist Michael Norton, author of 365 Ways to Change the World, for five simple steps to give back to the communities you visit. ENGAGE IN SOCIAL TOURISM In addition to visiting cathedrals and museums, drop by a rural development project, an artists’ cooperative or a school. Sit in a classroom with children; you’ll remember that for the rest of your life. Forging this connection may also inspire you to send a check. PACK SCHOOL SUPPLIES AND SMALL GIFTS “Education is key to development,” Norton says. “If you’re going to Kenya, take along a box of paper, pens and pencils.” Make sure to give to local institutions or village leaders rather than directly to individuals, since gifts can create jealousy in poor communities. BUY LOCAL CRAFTS Tourist shops often mark up prices without passing on the profits to the artists themselves, so Norton recommends seeking

out artisan villages or cooperatives. “The best thing you can do is buy a bunch of saris or ceramic pots directly from the people who produce them. You’ll be investing in the local economy as you pick a souvenir.” ADOPT A LIBRARY, SCHOOL OR VILLAGE Though this may sound extreme, you don’t have to be Jeffrey Sachs to take on such a challenge. While financing a school for 130 students could cost as much as US$50,000 annually, establishing a 1,000-volume library in an existing building requires as little as US$3,000 (constructing a stand-alone library is closer to US$10,000). To find a local organization that you can get passionate about, look online before you travel. ( lists library projects in seven developing countries.) THROW A FUND-RAISING DINNER Maybe you visited a hospital in Laos or a cooperative of weavers in Guatemala. Impart your enthusiasm by organizing a slide show for friends and family when you get home. Once they see images of the people you met — and hear your stories — they’re more likely to donate. —H A N N A H W A L L A C E

Click to Save the Planet

O GREEN WITH A FEW TAPS OF YOUR MOUSE at MyGreenTravels. com—a website devoted to eco-friendly travel planning. Whether you’re headed to the Caribbean or Africa, the site has a host of useful tools, from a carbon calculator that helps you track your personal CO2 emissions to a comprehensive list of endangered seafood. Launched by Arlington, Virginia–based nonprofit Conservation International, which works to preserve the diversity of land and marine ecosystems in more than 40 countries, the website also links to award-winning eco-lodges and reputable tour companies across the globe that are committed to responsible travel.—T A N V I C H H E D A


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CARBON EMISSIONS FROM PARIS TO ROME Ever wonder about the emissions produced by traveling round-trip from Paris to Rome by train, plane and automobile? Here’s how the three forms of transportation stack up. —B R E E S P O S A T O

The Truth About Carbon Offsetting By STEPHAN FARIS



Coldplay became concerned that the production and distribution of its CD’s were contributing to global warming, it didn’t switch to solar-powered studios. Instead, the group planted 10,000 mango trees in southern India to offset its carbon emissions. Coldplay’s calculation was part of a growing market in voluntary carbon offsets—when environmentally concerned consumers pay for steps that theoretically should remove an amount of carbon from the atmosphere equal to that which the consumers emit. Airlines, hotels and online booking sites are making it easier for passengers and guests to participate. British Airways and other airlines give travelers the option to purchase offsets for flights on its home page. Guests at the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino can choose to pay an extra dollar each night. Travelocity users need only click a button: a US$10 donation can offset a quick weekend trip, including air travel, a one-night hotel stay and a rental car.


But as Coldplay found out, carbon trading doesn’t necessarily result in a reduction in greenhouse gases. When journalists visited the band’s trees in 2006, they found that two out of every five had died without any extra carbon in their trunks. What’s a concerned traveler to do? Many environmentalists argue that offsets are just a cheap fix that puts off real reform and that the ultimate goal should be to reduce emissions. When possible, stick to public transport (buses, trains and ferries are the most ecofriendly, in that order). If you purchase credits, make sure that they come from a reputable vendor, audited by independent third parties, and choose plans that invest in renewable energy and were created for the sole purpose of carbon trading. See the websites below for a list of top companies.

Chief Environmental Officer Tom Arnold of TerraPass (, a San Francisco–based organization dedicated to helping individuals decrease their carbon footprint, calculated the emissions produced by traveling roundtrip from Paris to Rome by train, plane and automobile.

TRAIN DISTANCE 2,873 kilometers (Paris–Milan–Rome) CARBON EMISSIONS 35 kilograms VERDICT The clear winner, since the train runs on electric power, not diesel fuel, for the entire trip.

PLANE DISTANCE 2,236 kilometers (direct) CARBON EMISSIONS 284 kilograms VERDICT A plane produces CO2 emissions eight times greater than those from a train and releases other harmful gases, such as nitrogen oxide.




DISTANCE 2,772 kilometers CARBON EMISSIONS 327 kilograms VERDICT Surprised that driving is worse than flying? It is. This calculation is based on a small diesel car with a 2-liter engine.

T+L TIP Green Living (Plume; US$16) has car trip advice: cruise control saves up to 10 percent of fuel usage...



C O M| O C T O B E R



strategies | travel



1. Answer: A. Unplug all battery chargers and laptops, and invest in a programmable thermostat so you aren’t heating or cooling your house when you’re not there. Also, a bulb that burns all day wastes energy. Buy a timer for the light, instead. 2. Answer: A. Avoid these depopulated species at all costs, says Seafood Watch, a conservation group run by California’s nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium. Local fishermen, too, use unsustainable methods like longlines and bottomtrawling gear, which damage seafloor habitats and kill other fish. Print out a responsible-seafood guide at

don’t bargain at all, you will encourage vendors to raise prices for other tourists. 5. Answer: C. While nothing is wrong with giving children money, there are consequences. By handing them cash, candy or lunch, you encourage them to depend on tourists. Instead, donate to a reputable charity in that location. 6. Answer: B. Some of your money will inevitably wind up in government coffers, but choosing a responsible tour operator is one way to make sure your money flows in the right direction. Ask your operator about its compliance with fair-trade principles, which guarantees that a significant portion of proceeds returns to the country’s people.

3. Answer: B. When you must fly, lighten your load: according to Tom Arnold, chief environmental officer at TerraPass, each 7 kilograms of luggage on a 8,000-kilometer flight adds up to 22 kilograms of CO2. Go nonstop: takeoffs and landings burn more fuel than the flight. And avoid the red-eye: the warming effect of emissions is twice as pronounced at night. As for carbon offsetting, while it’s commendable, it’s no substitute for conservation. Besides, you can’t always be sure where your money is going.

7. Answer: D. Call the property beforehand (ask for the concierge) and play sleuth with these questions: Do they hire locals? Pay fair wages? Source food locally? Implement environmental programs? Don’t assume that because a hotel is locally owned that it’s any greener or treats its employees better than one owned by a multinational hotel group. And newer constructions aren’t always more eco-friendly.

4. Answer: B. Vendors are used to tourists on the hunt for bargains, but there’s a limit. Don’t battle it out for the absolute lowest price; just pay what something is worth to you. Countering with one-half to onethird below the quoted price is a good rule of thumb in much of the world. Yelling won’t get you far, especially in Asia and South America, where public displays of anger are frowned upon. But if you

8. Answer: C. The best way to help porters is by working with an ethical tour operator, which ensures everyone’s safety. Check that the company pays the guides fair wages, provides medical care on the trail, and gives them appropriate shelter. Don’t think that you can trek this mountain by yourself, and though it’s certainly riddled with tourists, that shouldn’t hold you back from seeing Machu Picchu, for now, at least. ✚

Perfect plate. A London restaurant’s take on dining locally <(page 64)

Eat for life. Organic cafés in Jakarta and KL (page 55) >

Back to the land. Three lovely country lodges in Laos <(page 56)


• How green is your city? • Our top 20 eco-friendly hotels • Lending a hand to Burma

(Insider) Photo credit by tktktk


Minimal impact: Take a look inside a green hotel room in the United States <(page 62)

Where to GoWhat to EatWhere to StayWhat to Buy

FEB MROUNATRHY 2 0 0 7 | T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E . C O M



| newsflash

How Green Is Your City? Asian cities aren’t usually associated with environmentalism, but these metropolises are trying to clean up their acts. By JENNIFER CHEN

✪ SEOUL A voluntary no-driving day encourages residents to keep their cars at home in exchange for lower auto taxes and congestion charges, and discounts on parking fees. The plan reduces the city’s carbon emissions by 10 percent a year, or 243,000 tons of CO2.

✪ SHANGHAI The Chinese financial capital has added more bike lanes, made car ownership expensive and invested heavily in public transportation. It’s now planning to certify green buildings and to increase its use of renewable energy.


✪ JAKARTA With its constant gridlock, the city is considering a congestion charge and expanding its rapid bus system to 10 routes. Construction on a subway is expected to start next year.


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✪ MANILA Three electric-powered jeepneys ply routes in the business district of Makati; the electricity comes from a power plant that takes biodegradable waste from wet markets and turns it into energy.


✪ BANGKOK Plans to expand the SkyTrain and subway, as well as introduce bus-only lanes, should ease congestion. In August, the city launched the Green Bangkok Bike project, which lends up to 300 bicycles, free of charge, to tourists who want to cycle around the old city heart of Rattanakosin.

✪ TAIPEI Taiwan’s capital has banned lightweight plastic bags and disposable cutlery. Over the coming years, all traffic signals will be replaced with LED lights and many of the city’s taxis will run on LPG.


| newsflash Green Britannia


NATURAL HIGHS Attention adrenaline junkies: veteran travel outfitter Abercrombie & Kent just launched 15 extremeadventure itineraries around the globe, including dogsledding in Norway and crossing the Sahara by camel (1-800/554-7016;; 9- to 18-day trips from US$4,750 per person, double). “Seasoned travelers are looking to test themselves,” company vice president Peter Boese says. “They’re getting serious about their conditioning.” On one excursion, Masai warriors lead hikers through northern Kenya to spot black rhinos, eland and Grevy’s zebras. Another takes thrill-seekers through a set of spine-tingling activities in Cape Town and Namibia. For example, you’ll fly across the Indian Ocean aboard a World War II Hawker Hunter fighter jet (an experienced pilot shares the cockpit, of course). The luxury level varies for each trip, ranging from plush tented camps with high-threadcount linens to thermal sleeping bags under the stars. “Our goal is to give risk-takers something new to write home about,” Boese says. Mission accomplished.—S T I R L I N G K E L S O

Interested in seeing an unexpected side of London? Then sign up for Insider London’s tour of the city’s green hotspots (; 44/788-689-3518; from £10.50). Focused around Shoreditch and along the South Bank, the three-hour tour includes stops at a vegan restaurant housed in a red London bus, boutiques stocked with recycled clothing, and some of the city’s most environmentally friendly buildings, such as Norman Foster’s City Hall. “There are a lot of tours that show the historical side of London, but there’s not a lot showing modern London and all the cool things that are happening here,” says Cate Trotter, the company’s founder. TOURS

Left: On the café/bus. Right: Shoreditch in London.

HELP YOUR NEIGHBOR After Cyclone Nargis wreaked its destruction in Burma in May, some of the first groups to mobilize aid were travel companies such as Abercrombie & Kent and Balloons over Bagan. The tourism industry also raised tens of thousands of dollars from private donors, channeling it directly into communities or GOOD international nonprofits with extensive networks in Burma. Though TO the headlines are gone, relief is still needed, now that the hard GO work of recovery has begun. If you want to help, check out these websites:;; and There’s another way conscientious travelers can help, says Brett Melzer, the owner of Balloons over Bagan and Malika Lodge: come to Burma. “Tourists should continue to come,” he says. “The tourism industry was hit hard last season, and if this season is just as poor, there will be more lay-offs.”


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R I G H T: CO U RT ESY O F I N S I D E R LO N D O N ( 2 )

The cyclone‘s devastation.

Charlie Trotter

We quiz the famed chef, in Singapore this month for the Sun Festival, about his travel habits


■ Do you eat airplane food?

“Of course, I eat plane food. I might run a high-end restaurant, but every single day when I go home, I eat sandwiches, pastas, rice prepared with spices. I’m not a food snob.”

■ What do you make of the dining scene in Singapore? “I’ve been to Singapore five times. It’s

unbelievable. There are chefs who are local in a way, such as the hawker markets, and then there are chefs that bring an international flavor.… I would say Singapore is one of the top five or six cities in the world for food and wine.” ■ Any favorite stops in Singapore?

“I love street food, the hawker markets.… My good friend Iggy [Ignatius Chan]—I love his restaurant at The Regent. He’s always pushing the envelope, it’s always exciting.”

E S C A P E T O H AV E N AT T H E C L U B AT T H E S A U J A N A One-night stay in an Executive Club Room including breakfast at The Restaurant, one full-body massage spa treatment for two and a dinner for two at The Restaurant to the value of MYR 180 MYR 540 per person based on double occupancy

■ Any dream destinations in Asia?

“It’s a big landscape. I guess two stops where my fiancée and I want to visit are Vietnam and Bangkok.”

■ Any plans to expand out here in this region?


“To be honest, I’m looking closely at a project in Singapore that looks like it’s going to happen. I love Singapore, I love the people, love the mood and the atmosphere and I love the different interpretations of cuisine there.”

TERMS & CONDITIONS Offer includes the following benefits: Complimentary mini-bar, laundry, cocktails and canapés in the evening, free Wi-Fi connection and usage of boardrooms, and many more • Extension nights available starting at MYR 782 per room • Beverages charged on consumption • Prior reservation subject to availability Package valid from 1st September to 31st December 2008 • Above rates are inclusive of 10% service charge and 5% government tax Commissionable at 10% on room-only basis to bonafide travel agents

■ What’s your all-time favorite food memory from your travels? “I was in Singapore two years

ago with my fiancée and we walked into a simple hawker place, I don’t know which one, but we had stingray cooked in banana leaves with some spices, and it was the most amazing thing I ever tasted.” —J E N N I F E R C H E N


check-in | insider Spice Island resort: the Caribbean with a conscience.

ECO-CHIC ICONS Hotels that hold to the highest standards of sustainability— without sacrificing an ounce of style.


Our 20 Favorite Green Hotels. Looking for the ultimate green hotel, but finding it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff? We partnered with Conservation International to develop a comprehensive green-hotel assessment test to learn what properties around the world are doing to conserve water and energy, eliminate waste, and support their local habitats and communities. Here, our picks among the hotels with the highest environmental standards. Written and reported by YOLANDA CROUS. Edited by AMY FARLEY

• GRENADA SPICE ISLAND BEACH RESORT With its whitewashed walls and modern graphic-print fabrics, this 64-room beachfront resort isn’t your typical Caribbean allinclusive, though you’ll still be able to order a rum punch without hauling out your wallet. You’ll sip your cocktail with a clear conscience, knowing that the property’s water is solarheated, the bulbs are energysaving compact fluorescents, and the pool is treated with salt instead of chlorine. Another point in the eco column: recycling is de rigueur, with food scraps composted and guest soaps ground for use as laundry detergent for hotel uniforms. Grand Anse Beach, St. George’s; 473/444-4258; spicebeachresort. com; doubles from US$805, including meals. • MALDIVES SONEVA FUSHI RESORT & SIX SENSES SPA Most of its reef-rimmed islands rise less than a meter above the ocean, which makes the Maldives particularly vulnerable to climate change. No surprise, then, that Soneva Fushi, a »



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| check-in

Sri Lanka’s Heritance Kandalama is set into the local topography, an environmentally conscious touch.

• SRI LANKA HERITANCE KANDALAMA Carpeted in vegetation and hugging the side of a jungle hill, 44


Heritance Kandalama, when viewed from afar, resembles an ancient temple grown wild with disuse. In fact, the vegetation and location have nothing to do with neglect (note the handwoven tapestries and stunning floor-to-ceiling windows in each room) and everything to do with ensuring that rainwater flowing from the hills collects in the hotel’s reservoir below. Such environmentally conscious touches made Kandalama a shoo-in for LEED certification. They also make the area a favorite for a multitude of monkeys (including toque macaques and purple-faced langurs) and 170 species of birds. Dambulla; 94-66/5555000;; doubles from US$177, including breakfast.

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OFF-THE-GRID OUTPOSTS Properties that tread lightly in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. • AUSTRALIA VOYAGES LONGITUDE 131° Flanking a sand dune near the border of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in central Australia, Voyages Longitude 131º is like no campground you’ve ever seen. The retreat’s elevated canopy tents have solar-heated showers, a switch that lets guests control the floorto-ceiling window blinds from the comfort of their king-size beds, and expansive views of Ayers Rock. Natural landscaping helps limit water consumption, while Aborigineled tours to the 20,000-year-old


collection of refined, castawaystyle villas, has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by this year and achieve carbon neutrality by 2010. To meet this goal, it’s capturing waste heat from power generators, encouraging guests to offset the emissions of their long-haul flights and transitioning to renewable energy sources. Last year, they introduced a deep-sea airconditioning system that circulates cold water pumped up from 300 meters under the sea. Kunfunadhoo Island, Baa Atoll; 960/660-0304;; doubles from US$670.

ASIA’S NEW ECO-STAYS Here, six regional hotels seeking to make a difference in the world.

C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P : C O U R T E S Y O F C A M P I YA K A N Z I ; C O U R T E S Y O F W H I T E P O D ; C O U R T E S Y O F B A M B U I N D A H

Global Concerns Clockwise from above: In the Swiss Alps, Whitepods can be booked in summer or winter; a view of rice paddies at Bambu Indah, in Bali; conservation is a local enterprise at the Masaiowned Campi ya Kanzi.

rock paintings at Cave Hill help boost local development. Yulara, Northern Territory; 61-2/82968010;; doubles from US$1,980, including meals and activities. • BAHAMAS TIAMO This solar-powered 11bungalow hideaway, set alongside a stretch of perfect alabaster sand on the largely undeveloped South Andros Island, uses less electricity per month than one average American household. It manages this feat with a host of ingenious touches, like wraparound porches that shield the cottages’ interiors from the sun, and a bank of small refrigerators instead of an energy-hungry walk-in. Other eco efforts include a ban on unsustainably harvested seafood and a program to host visiting biologists. South Andros Island; 954/889-7076;; doubles from

US$630, including meals; closed until December 31 for renovations. • SWITZERLAND WHITEPOD Set in the Swiss Alps near Aigle, the nine Buckminster Fuller– inspired geodesic domes at Whitepod’s camp, which doubles as a base for both winter skiing and summer hiking, may be electricity-free, but they keep things cozy with plush organic bedding, sheepskin throws and fireplaces fueled with sustainably harvested wood. A few steps away lies the main lodge, complete with dining room and spa. Since no roads lead to the camp, guests must walk or ski to get here. The reward for this exertion: a private ski run, kilometers of hiking and snowshoe trails, and nothing but oil lamps to interrupt the stars. Les Cerniers; 41-24/4713838;; doubles from US$462, including some meals. »

■ Alila Villas Hadahaa Mark Edleson, the CEO of Alila Hotels & Resorts, believes luxury and ecofriendliness go hand-in-hand, and the company’s new property in the Maldives proves his point. Opening in March 2009, the all-villa resort was built according to stringent guidelines set by green hotel watchdog Green Globe. Among the steps taken were using locally sourced building materials, designing the villas to fit around existing trees, and constructing the jetty during low tide in order to minimize disturbance to the silt. Meanwhile, the resort plans to launch several initiatives for locals on Hadahaa island, located 400 kilometers south of Male in the North Huvadhoo atolls, including hospitality-training programs for youth. Alila Villas Hadahaa, Hadahaa, Gaafu Alifu (North Huvadhoo) Atoll; ■ Bambu Indah Jeweler John Hardy and his wife Cynthia have long been passionate about sustainability, and this jewel of a resort embodies their deep commitment to the earth. The four bungalows are actually antique teak houses from Java, while the public lounge is a Sumatran-style house made of bamboo, an easy-to-grow resource that’s finding favor among green-minded architects. Even the swimming pool strives for ecofriendliness: made mostly of recyclable plastic, it relies on lava rock, rather than chlorine, to kill bacteria. Just down the road, the Hardys are hoping to inspire the next generation of eco-warriors with a new international school that focuses on environmental responsibility. 333 Jln. Raya Sayan, Ubud; 62-36/975-124; bambuindah. com; villas from US$195. ■ Crowne Plaza Changi Like the new Terminal 3, this 320-room property also cleaves closely to green design principles. Certified by the government’s Green Mark system, the hotel capitalizes on natural light, recycles the energy used in water coolers and utilizes


continued on page 46


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| check-in

Conservation programs abound at El Nido Miniloc.

COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS Where people and place are equally important, and helping local communities develop is the guiding principle. • EGYPT ADRÈRE AMELLAL With walls built using rock salt and mud, doors and windows placed to catch the desert breeze, and oil lamps and candles lighting the corridors each night, the Adrère Amellal gives guests a taste of life in Siwa Oasis, a traditional Berber community in the Egyptian desert. But the hotel offers more than a romantic escape for

travelers. As part of the Siwa Sustainable Development Initiative, it helps to fund and support numerous community projects. The gift shop carries jewelry handcrafted by local artisans. Meals, meanwhile, are prepared using organic ingredients purchased from farmers at fair market value—a measure designed to encourage sustainable farming in the area. Siwa Oasis; 20-2/2736-7879;; doubles from US$493, including meals. • KENYA CAMPI YA KANZI The brainchild of an Italian expat with an economics degree, the Masai-owned Campi ya Kanzi is a brilliant model of how conservation can be a profitable local enterprise. Set on Masai land in southern Kenya, the lodge and its foundation employ 160 tribespeople and make a daily US$40-per-guest donation to support new schools, merit scholarships and compensation payments to Masai who’ve lost cattle to lions. Guests benefit, too. Not only do they get to stay in stylish solar-powered

cottages, complete with oriental rugs and brass fi xtures, but they can also take a walking safari with a Masai guide in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Chyulu Hills; 254-45/622-516;; doubles from US$980, including meals. • NICARAGUA MORGAN’S ROCK HACIENDA & ECOLODGE Most guests heading to this charming jungle lodge pack hiking boots and swimsuits, anticipating the area’s tropical forests and spectacular Pacific Coast beach. Many also bring Spanish-language textbooks to donate to one of five neighboring schools. Whether buying furniture (handcrafted by area artisans) or training employees (in plant identification and wildlife conservation), Morgan’s Rock works in tandem with the local community. The resort also serves as a role model for the country’s incipient ecotourism industry, by building a recycling plant and planting more than 1.5 million trees. Playa Ocotal, San Juan del Sur; 506/232-6449; »

continued from page 45

■ The Quay Located along Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh, this 16-suite property heats its water with solar power, recycles wastewater and uses energy-efficient lighting. The hotel — by the team behind the Foreign Correspondents’ Club — also backs a fuel-saving, cooking-stove project that reduces demand for kindling from the



country’s forests. Sisowath Quay, 85523/224-894;; suites from US$80. ■ Urbn Housed in a former factory and post office, this hotel in central Shanghai disproves the notion that eco equals rural. Built with floorboards and bricks taken from demolished buildings, the 26-room property employs energy-efficient air-conditioning and bamboo solar shades. And in a country where environmental degradation is reaching crisis levels, the hotel — which funds green initiatives in China — offers guests the chance to purchase carbon credits to offset their flights. Over the next three years, look

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out for Urbn hotels in Dalian, Beijing, Suzhou and Hangzhou. 183 Jiao Zhou Lu; 8621/5153-4600;; doubles from US$286. ■ Gayana Eco Resort Just 20 minutes’ away from Kota Kinabalu, Gayana Eco Resort is home to a marine ecology research center that focuses on rehabilitating nearby coral reef. The owners also use stored rainwater, compost kitchen scraps and source seafood from farms (to counter overfishing) Malohom Bay, Gaya Island, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park;; 60-88/442-233; doubles from US$20.—JENNIFER CHEN


recycled wood in its pool deck. The elaborate screen that covers the façade isn’t just decorative: it shields the building from the hot tropical sun, cutting down on the hotel’s energy bill. No. 01-01, 75 Airport Blvd.; 65/6823-5300;; doubles from S$315.

| check-in; doubles from US$414, including meals. NATURAL WONDERS Conservation-minded places that are on a mission to protect the local environment.

Into the Wild From above: Tanzania’s Chumbe Island Coral Park; on the road in Italy with a flock of sheep; African comfort at Campi ya Kanzi.

• COLORADO DEVIL’S THUMB RANCH Across the American West, rising land prices and falling cattle profits are driving ranchers to sell their property to developers. Luckily, Devil’s Thumb’s current owners swooped in just in time to save its 2,020 hectares. Instead of high-density (and -profit) singlefamily houses, they built only 16 airy timber cabins and a lodge—all of them heated and cooled entirely with fireplaces (the wood is harvested on the property, often from beetleinfested pine trees) and geothermal energy. Best yet, the owners have limited their development to only 1 percent of the land, leaving the rest free for guests—and elk, moose, bears and beavers—to roam. Tabernash; 1-800/933-4339;; doubles from US$210. • PHILIPPINES EL NIDO RESORTS Surrounded by 49,800 hectares of protected forests, jagged

limestone cliffs and hidden lagoons, travelers to sister resorts El Nido Lagen Island and El Nido Miniloc Island can take their pick of daily activities: bird-watching, kayaking, rock climbing, or simply taking it easy and watching fish swim below one of the guest-cottageson-stilts, which are set above the crystalline ocean. The resorts are also active in both reef and island conservation, helping to protect giant-clam gardens and supporting the reintroduction of endangered Philippine cockatoos. El Nido, Palawan; 63-2/894-5644;; doubles from US$210 (Miniloc Island resort) and US$280 (Lagen Island resort). • ZANZIBAR, TANZANIA CHUMBE ISLAND CORAL PARK In the 13 years since Chumbe Island Coral Park was designated Tanzania’s first managed marine protected area, it has earned a reputation as one of Zanzibar’s most diverse reefs. Thank the island’s park rangers, who educate locals about marine ecology and prevent illegal fishing—and its sole resort, which helps to fund the ranger program. Chumbe’s rooftop rainwater-collection system and solar-powered lights keep the resort in harmony with its surroundings, while its seven open-air bungalows, with their cavernous living rooms and African artwork, make it a favorite among honeymooners. 255-24/223-1040; chumbeisland. com; doubles from US$400, including meals. SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL Exemplary inns that have a big social impact, but leave a light environmental footprint. »


F R O M T O P : © G U I D O C O Z Z I / C H U M B E I S L A N D . C O M ; C O U R T E S Y O F T E N U TA D I S P A N N O C C H I A ; C O U R T E S Y O F C A M P I YA K A N Z



| check-in • JAMAICA HOTEL MOCKING BIRD HILL Set on a hill between Port Antonio and the Blue Mountains, this welcoming 10room inn has made some giant strides, despite its diminutive size. The hotel relies almost exclusively on local suppliers, such as the women’s group that transforms discarded paper into stationery for guests. Water is collected in rain tanks, laundry is dried in the sun, and the resort’s enough program raises money and supplies for island schools. Port Antonio; 876/9937134;; doubles from US$125. • SIENA, ITALY TENUTA DI SPANNOCCHIA Part of Tuscany’s Riserva Naturale Alto Merse, this 445hectare organic estate of

managed forests, vegetable gardens and hiking trails is dedicated to nothing less than preserving the region’s cultural and agricultural legacy. Call it a kind of pastoral demonstration project: parts of the property are used to raise endangered breeds of livestock, while others yield sustainably harvested wood for heating. Guest rooms are tucked into original stone farmhouses, restored with an authentic rustic simplicity (wood-beamed ceilings, wrought-iron bed frames) that epitomizes the farm’s philosophy. 39-0577/75211;; doubles from US$118, including breakfast. • NORFOLK, UNITED KINGDOM STRATTONS HOTEL The owners of Strattons have a

passion for art, community and the environment, a trio of obsessions that reveal themselves over and over again in this quirky country inn set among the dramatic Breckland heaths. Witness the recyclediron stag statue on the lawn, the restaurant menu that pays homage to the kitchen’s favorite local suppliers, and the owners’ zeal for waste reduction. (Between 2001 and 2006, Strattons managed to cut its garbage in half.) Upstairs, the energy-efficient guest rooms range in theme from the cleanlined Linen Room to the romantic Red Room. Swaffham; 44-1760/723-845; strattonshotel. com; doubles from US$275. ✚ A U.S.-based writer, Yolanda Crous has a Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Management.


During Sri Lanka’s dry season, elephants frequent the lake at Kandalama, a resort that aims to blend into its natural setting.



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Carried by the Global Elite, the world over.

By invitation only. For expression of interest call Singapore: + (65) 6295 6293 Hong Kong: + (852) 2277 2233 Thailand: + (66) 2273 5445







green issue


Bangkok Inside Thailand’s glittering party city





Traveling with a conscience: tips, solutions, destination guides SINGAPORE SG$6.90 ● HONG KONG HK$39 THAILAND THB160 ● INDONESIA IDR45,000 MALAYSIA MYR15 ● VIETNAM VND80,000 MACAU MOP40 ● PHILIPPINES PHP220 BURMA MMK32 ● CAMBODIA KHR20,000 BRUNEI BND6.90 ● LAOS LAK48,000

Sustainable stays Handpicked hotels for guilt-free getaways

To subscribe visit For more information e-mail Contact us at Circulation Department, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, Media Transasia (Thailand) Ltd., 14th Floor, Ocean Tower II, 75/8 Soi Sukhumvit 19, Klong Toey Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand

eat | insider

Organic in Your Backyard. Locavores rejoice. Here, two new restaurants that source locally grown, good-for-you ingredients. By ROBYN ECKHARDT

T+L TIP Most Southeast Asian countries don’t have strict rules regulating organic food. So always look for some kind of certification to guarantee that what you’re eating – and paying for – really is organic.

PURE JAKARTA Ladies who lunch and college students alike head to Pure for dishes made with non-GMO, pesticide-free ingredients. With its soaring ceiling and expanses of blond wood complemented by upholstery in shades of sage and mushroom, the upscale café— Jakarta’s first devoted to organic cuisine—is both modish and evocative of the great outdoors. • Feel Good Factor Sourcing its fruits, vegetables and eggs from organic farms outside of Jakarta (other certified organic ingredients are imported), Pure offers a menu that travels East to West with dishes like fish and chips, salade Niçoise and laksa à la Pure, a soy-based curry soup with brown rice vermicelli, tofu and fish. The Javanese favorite rawon buntut, a rich and comforting oxtail stew, is a

standout. Bring your meal to a sweet but healthy close with the plush bitter-carob cake or one of the café’s signature smoothies, such as sunset-hued Berry Red (a combination of apple, carrot, orange and cranberry). Pacific Place, No. 12, fi fth floor; Sudirman Central Business District; 62-21/5797-3119; lunch for two Rp200,000. JUSTLIFE KUALA LUMPUR Exposed brick walls and recycled wood accents signal “down to earth” at this cozy café that’s next door to the Mutiara Damansara branch of justlife™, a Malaysia-based chain focused on healthy living. The organic designation extends from the vegetables supplied by Cameron Highlands and Bukit Tinggi farmers to the organic breads made in a wood-fired oven.

• Feel Good Factor The café’s vegetarian menu changes often to take advantage of what’s in season. Savory veggie burgers, made with tofu, herbs and mushrooms, share space on the menu with dishes like fragrant herbal olive fried rice and Asian noodles made with gluten-free pasta. Desserts are a mix of cakes, soothing tong sui (Chinese warm sweet soups) such as pumpkin with brown rice, and Malaysian cendol, a mound of shaved ice on a bed of mung bean pasta and doused with coconut milk and smoky palm sugar syrup. After your meal, browse justlife™’s aisles, where you’ll find everything from organic olive oil to all-natural body care products. Ikano Power Center, Lot LG26, 2 Jalan PJU 7/2; 60-3/7728-5503; justlifeshop. com; lunch for two RM55. ✚


Nutritious and Delicious From left: A healthy drink from Pure café in Jakarta; the storefront of justlife™, an organic food shop and café in Kuala Lumpur; a vegetarian pasta dish with mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes at Pure café.




O CTO BE R| 2008



| inns of the month Nature and comfort at Kingfisher Ecolodge.


Country Getaways in Laos. Set amid unspoiled scenery, these three lodges give back to the communities they’re in. By JANET FORMAN

Thousands of plant and animal species make their home in Laos, including 172 mammal species. A new mammal — the saola deer — was recently discovered in forests near Vietnam. The country is also home to numerous ethnic minorities, and a total of 82 languages are spoken.



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residents of the neighboring village of Khiet Ngong, which has a long tradition of using elephants to help with heavy work in the fields and forests. The elephants and their mahouts now work with the lodge to ferry guests to nearby Wat Phu Asa or on jungle treks. A portion of the proceeds from the lodge’s activities is donated to the local primary school. There’s plenty to cheer about at the restaurant, too. The menu features dishes with organic ingredients and items such as homemade cake with wild honey from Lao Farmers Products, an organization that promotes artisanal foods. T+L Tip Wake up around dawn for a memorable sight: the mahouts readying their elephants for the day’s treks. Ban Kiet Ngong; 856-30/534-5016; king fisherecolodge. com; bungalows from US$65. ■ LA FOLIE The Lodge Lao design mingles with a touch of the Riviera at this 24-room boutique hotel on Dong Daeng Island, an hour’s journey south of Pakse, with French market »


Laos has established 20 National Protected Areas, covering nearly 14 percent of the country. Seventy percent of Laos is covered in forest, but deforestation is still a problem.

■ KINGFISHER ECOLODGE The Lodge Located on the edge of the Xe Pian protected area in the southern province of Champasak, this 7-hectare property features comforts that belie its strict eco standards. The six stilted bamboo bungalows are outfitted with room-sized glass-walled showers, from which guests can enjoy expansive views. For more budgetconscious travelers, the lodge also has four spotless rooms with shared bathrooms. The restaurant turns out a pleasantly surprising mix of local dishes, such as a green papaya salad, and homey favorites from owner Massimo Mera’s native Italy (think handmade tagliatelle with ragù) as well as high-octane espresso pressed from Laoscultivated beans. Eco Points To minimize their carbon footprint, Mera and his wife Bangon have installed solar panels to heat water and power the lights. The bungalows and rooms were also designed using traditional building methods and materials. In addition, the couple works closely with the


| inns of the month

Interested in responsible tourism in Laos? Check out ecotourismlaos. com, which has listings for ecofriendly accommodations and tour operators as well as information on the country’s natural riches.

Back to the Land From above: The bungalows at La Folie; an elephant and mahout on the trail at Kingfisher Ecolodge; a plate of spicy laab at Rivertime Ecolodge.



umbrellas shading the infinity pool and stone elephants gazing up at vintage absinthe posters in the open-air restaurant. Inside the 12 peaked-roof wooden cottages, handwoven silk tapestries are draped across the beds’ creamy linens. The menu exhibits a similar Lao–French blend: Lao classics like minty fish laab (toned down for a Continental palate) share space on the bill of fare with French mainstays such as oeufs en cocotte and homemade bread. Eco Points Most of the staff are from the surrounding areas, and general manager Axel Wolkenhauer has taken pains to train

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■ RIVERTIME ECOLODGE The Lodge About 45 minutes outside of Vientiane, this bend in the Nam Ngum River is so ravishing it “called out to be shared,” says British expat Philip Gibson, who left his long-time academic post at a nearby agricultural college to build 12 balconied cottages on a crest above its banks. After erecting chalets in a ragged formation to preserve the surrounding forest, he cut a nature trail through the bamboo stands and agar trees so visitors could inhale the local eucalyptus and marvel at tiny indigenous pineapple plants. Gibson and his wife Chanthone are equally passionate about local ingredients, and established two eateries on the property: the Floating Restaurant, where freshly caught barbecued fish comes with bountiful platters of lettuce, peanuts, ginger and noodles, and the Thai Garden Restaurant, whose ingredients are plucked from the adjacent organic garden. Eco Points On the resort grounds is the Rivertime Community School, which holds courses on agriculture and community development for adults as well as evening English classes for Hmong villagers. The resort is also working with villagers to protect part of an old-growth forest from illegal loggers and poachers. T+L Tip Guests are welcomed at the community school, or they can visit the local primary schools where Rivertime lends a hand. Ban Thadokkham; 856/205-513-672;; bungalows from US$28. ✚

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employees in white-glove service. The artwork that graces the hotel’s walls and grounds was created in neighboring villages. T+L Tip A 30-minute raft and tuk tuk journey across the Mekong is the UNESCO World Heritage Khmer temple complex Wat Phu, where a challenging climb reveals sprawling views that are nearly as rewarding as watching the sun set from a wicker armchair at La Folie with a perfectly poured Ricard. Dong Daeng, Pathoumphone district; 856-30/534-7603 or 856/205-532-004;; doubles from US$70.


| hotel

Inside the Green Room. A behind-the-scenes tour of the latest in eco-hotel design. By DARRELL HARTMAN

Organic bathroom amenities are in refillable containers made of recycled glass Towels, bath mats and robes are made from fair-trade organic cotton grown in India Dual-flush toilets and lowflow sink fixtures reduce water use by 35 to 40 percent

* 62



should seem to be right out of Robinson Crusoe? Or that sustainability needs to be written on the (leaf-patterned) wall? Not the Terra Resort Group, a sustainable-hotel brand that opened its first eco-boutique property last December. At a glance, the standard room at Hotel Terra Jackson Hole (1-800/801-6615;; doubles from US$395) resembles your typical luxury setup. But take a closer look—the green is in the details. ✚

Natural-latex mattress is encased in unbleached, undyed cotton and also has recycledsteel springs Low-VOC carpeting emits the fewest harmful chemicals of any standard flooring

Compact fluorescent bulbs use 75 percent less energy and produce 75 percent less heat than standard incandescent light bulbs Concrete walls are made with 20 to 50 percent fly ash, a coal-burning by-product that uses less water than cement

Desktop, wastebasket, bedside and TV console tables, and hangers are made with renewable bamboo Desk notepad is 100 percent recycled paper

Oversize windows admit abundant natural light, saving electricity; low-emittance (LowE) coating reflects radiant heat, reducing heat flow

FAST FACT A typical hotel room uses 825 liters of water daily. With a “low-flow” showerhead, a 10-minute shower uses less water than a full bath...


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| food

Dining Light. The secret to eating with a conscience? Keep the menu local. Here, T+L calculates the carbon footprint of a dish at one of London’s most resourceful restaurants. By SUSAN WELSH House-Made Crème Fraîche

Milk, cream and buttermilk sourced from Harefield FOOD KILOMETERS: 34 CO2 EMITTED: 4.6 KG

Wild Pigeon

Sourced from Amersham FOOD KILOMETERS*: 13

*Number of kilometers traveled for the ingredients to reach the plate.

English Garden Peas


Sourced from Denham FOOD KILOMETERS: 10 CO2 EMITTED: 2.72 KG

Tender Pea Shoots

Sourced from Barnet FOOD KILOMETERS: 17 CO2 EMITTED: 1.75 KG


Compare this to a direct flight from JFK to Heathrow, which emits 600 kg of CO2 per passenger.

House-Cured Bacon

Pork belly sourced from Amersham FOOD KILOMETERS: 0* CO2 EMITTED: 0 KG

*Transported with the pigeon above. ● Add up your own CO2 emissions at, where you can also purchase offsets.

LICE WATERS, OF BERKELEY’S CHEZ PANISSE, made sourcing regional ingredients de rigueur in the Seventies, but her efforts were eclipsed in the 1980’s by stagy chefs who outdid one another with exotic fare supplied by far-ung purveyors. (Who knew an entrée could rack up more mileage than Air Force One?) Today, a renewed interest in eating close-to-homegrown has started a trend—the rise of the locavore. Pioneering restaurants are leading the way with menus based entirely on cutting food kilometers (the distance ingredients travel to reach the plate), which minimizes greenhouse-gas emissions from fuel-




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hungry trucks and trains—and helps microeconomies, to boot. Oliver Rowe, the chef and owner of Konstam (2 Acton St., Prince Albert; 44-207/833-5040; dinner for two US$122), has set himself the task of cooking whenever possible with products grown in Greater London. His dishes use honey from Barnes, button mushrooms from a farm under the A406 (North Ring Road) and carrots from a garden in Brick Lane, in the East End. Most of his meals clock in at under 160 food kilometers—2 percent of the distance that the average piece of produce travels in Britain. Now that’s a guilt-free dinner. ✚


The Local Dish Konstam’s charcoal-grilled pigeon with braised peas, pea shoots, bacon and crème fraîche. All ingredients were sourced from Greater London.


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- H AV E S . . . 7 0 |



StylishTraveler NATURAL BEAUTY


Here, six treatments based on organic ingredients to help you look and feel good. Photographed by SITTIPUN CHAITERDSIRI. Styled by ATINAN NITISUNTHONKUL



rganic cosmetics are slipping into the mainstream in Asia. Using organic olive oil and Provençal tomatoes, this liquid soap by L’Occitane en Provence (1) doesn’t dry out your skin. Treat your hair to Origins’ Conditioning Hair Oil (2), which combines certified organic sesame, sunflower and olive oils. The Biodynamic Beauty Eye Cream from Jurlique (3) uses Arnica flower extract to reduce puffiness and dark circles. Olives, which are rich in vitamins and good-for-you fatty acids, play a starring role in the Exfoliating Body Cream by Durance (4): olive oil, olive wax and even ground olive kernels are used. Giving the Japanese tea ceremony a twist, The Way of the Bath™ Matcha Tea Body Soak – part of Origins’ (5) line by holistic guru Dr. Andrew Weil – mixes antioxidant-loaded green tea with Japanese sea salts. Before your bath, exfoliate with The Way of the Bath™ Matcha Tea Body Scrub (6). —G E N E V I E V E T S A I







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stylish traveler

| shopping Bird by Rachel Bending ●

debuted Slingings, a collection of bags and home wares made out of eco-friendly materials, in 2002. Four years later, she launched Bird—a line of funky women’s wear. Now, there’s also a agship store in the trendy Surrey Hills neighborhood of Sydney. ● The Products Bending looks to the 1950’s for inspiration, though her striking, abstract graphic prints also borrow freely from Scandinavian and Japanese design. Expect demure, lady-like skirts and boxy jackets, updated by the freewheeling, colorful prints. ● The G Factor A climate-neutral fashion brand, Bird uses water-based dyes and organic cotton, powers its manufacturing with solar energy, and funds renewable energy and watersaving projects. ● Where to Buy Bird Emporium (80 Cleveland St., Sydney; 61-2/6680-8633;


YOLO by Angelynn Tan

● The Concept The Singaporean textile designer, who already had a penchant for eco-friendly design, HUI FANG spotlights four designers in Asia-Pacic who launched her YOLO (You Only Live prove that eco-clothing can be functional and fashionable Once) collection, a bamboo ber range, at the 2008 Singapore Fashion ● Festival. The Products Tan admits she was initially surprised by the soft, ne texture of bamboo ber. To give it an edgier twist, Tan rips and burns the material; she even pours melted plastic on it. The result, though, is an eminently wearable range of simple, feminine tops and Vneck blouses. ● The G Factor Bamboo ber is not only biodegradable, it also breathes easily. The highly absorbent material doesn’t crease easily, making it perfect for travel. Finally, bamboo grows quickly and easily, so you won’t feel guilty about wearing something that requires a lot of resources. ● Where to Buy Curiocity Gallery (No. A1-02, 38 Bencoolen St., Singapore; 65/6334-6022).

Dialog The Concept Founded by two graduates of London’s Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, this Hong Kong–based line of clothes, handbags, accessories and home wares melds traditional Asian techniques with a sophisticated, urbane sensibility. Dialog’s designs are easy to spot: they all have a four-fold, origami-like trim made out of recycled fabric that’s created by using an age-old method from Malaysia. ● The Products Many of the items are fashioned out of old blankets, curtains and clothes. But don’t expect Salvation Army ●



Clothing with a Conscience Clockwise from above: Rachel Bending, Bird’s founder and designer; her shop in Sydney; an organic-cotton onesie by Belle & Dean.

The Concept Initially a textile designer, Bending

cast-offs—these bohemian designs are denitely ofthe-minute. The duo is looking to expand the line to include dresses, cushions and even pieces of furniture. ● The G Factor Ardent believers of fair trade, founders Cassandra Postema and Dong Shing Chiu work with Southeast Asian charities to produce their goods. The pair trains seamstresses in an effort to impart new skills. They also run a Tshirt line, Hopetees, born out the 2004 tsunami. The proceeds from the limited edition T-shirts go to different causes, from helping victims of the Sichuan earthquake to aiding Vietnamese orphans. ● Where to Buy Fang Fong (67A Peel St., Central, Hong Kong; 852/3105-5557;

Belle & Dean The Concept Founders Dean O’Sullivan and Issy Richardson keep it clean and simple with this line of T-shirts for babies, toddlers and women. ● The Products Mostly unbleached organic cotton T-shirts that feature pen-and-ink zoological or botanical drawings by Richardson. Dyes, when used, are chemical-free or natural vegetable dyes. The label also has baby accessories, such as blankets and bibs. ● The G Factor Belle & Dean uses only organic cotton, which doesn’t rely on pesticides (normal cotton uses a staggering one-quarter of the world’s insecticides and pesticides). O’Sullivan and Richardson also based their operations in Singapore, knowing that their family-run manufacturer pays and treats its employees properly. ● Where to Buy Antipodean (27A Lorong, Holland Village, Singapore; 65/6463-7336; 


Guilt-Free Consumption From top: A look by Bird; a top from YOLO by Angelynn Tan; change purses from Dialog; a tot sporting one of Belle & Dean’s designs.



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stylish traveler

| must-haves


Paper or plastic? Neither, we say, not with these stylish —and reusable—bags. Photographed by SITTIPUN CHAITERDSIRI. Styled by ATINAN NITISUNTHONKUL

3 2





(1) Waterproof, lightweight polyester grocery bag, Envirosax,; (2) foldable, PVCcoated nylon tote with leather straps, Longchamp, longchamp. com; (3) lightweight nylon case, Muji,; (4) canvas tote with leather straps, Hermès, hermes. com; (5) leather tote with nylon straps, Comme des Garçons,; (6) PVCcoated canvas tote with graphic print and leather trim, Emilio Pucci


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stylish traveler

| spotlight

LEADING THE WAY A look at two visionary labels that are dening style with a conscience. By NIC SCREWS and JOYCE CHANG

LUXURY-ECO BY LINDA LOUDERMILK ■ THE CONCEPT A pioneer in sustainable fashion, Los

Forward Thinker Right: Eco-friendly designer Linda Loudermilk. Left: A dress from her most recent collection.

NAU ■ THE CONCEPT This Portland, Oregon– based outdoor clothing company uses innovative online retailing to create a pioneering shopping concept. ■ THE PRODUCTS Adventure gear made from organic cotton; polyester; or PLA. ■ FEEL-GOOD FACTOR Some of the clothes also feature recycled materials such as soda bottles, while 5 percent of each sale goes to a green organization of your choice. ■ WHERE TO BUY After shuttering in May, Nau recently announced it was teaming up with Horny Toad, a California-based maker of outdoor apparel. Nau 2.0 will launch this month, and the line will be sold at Lizard Lounge, a boutique/hangout in Portland, and other like-minded retailers. ✚ 72

In the Nau Clockwise from left: Nau jacket and gloves, made with recycled polyester, and merino wool hat; Lizard Lounge boutique in Portland, Oregon; the company’s designer Peter Kallen.

T O P : C O U R T E S Y O F L I N D A L O U D E R M I L K ( 2 ) . B O T T O M , C L O C K W I S E F R O M L E F T : D AV I E S + S TA R R ( 3 ) ; CO U RT ESY O F L I ZA R D LO U N G E ; CO U RT ESY O F P E T E R K A L L E N


Angeles–based Linda Loudermilk mixes couturier skills with forward-looking, plant-based fabrics. ■ THE PRODUCTS Sexy dresses and jackets in materials such as bamboo, seaweed, PLA (polylactic acid, which is from corn), cruelty-free wool and organic cotton. ■ FEEL-GOOD FACTOR Besides following ethical business practices, Loudermilk also sells Water is a Human Right™ necklaces, T-shirts, tank tops and scarves through her website ( A portion of the proceeds goes to NGO’s working to provide wells and water systems in Africa. ■ WHERE TO BUY Check out Loudermilk’s designs at Kaight, an eco-friendly boutique in New York City (83 Orchard St.; 1-212/680-5630), or San Francisco’s Ecocitizen (1488 Vallejo St.; 1-415/614-0100).



MAY 2008

16 Dream trips

Where to get away from it all



Haute Hanoi



7 stunning style ideas for spring

Airport Survival Guide

Trends, maps, shopping: what you need to know SINGAPORE SG$6.90 ● HONG KONG HK$39 THAILAND THB160 ● INDONESIA IDR45,000 MALAYSIA MYR15 ● VIETNAM VND80,000 MACAU MOP40 ● PHILIPPINES PHP220 BURMA MMK32 ● CAMBODIA KHR20,000 BRUNEI BND6.90 ● LAOS LAK48,000

NOW IN SOUTHEAST ASIA THE WORLD’S LEADING TRAVEL MAGAZINE To subscribe visit For more information e-mail Contact us at Circulation Department, Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, Media Transasia (Thailand) Ltd., 14th Floor, Ocean Tower II, 75/8 Soi Sukhumvit 19, Klong Toey Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand

~ T R E N D S ,

C U L T U R E ,




M O R E ~


After the Shock


Sichuan’s devastating earthquake in May proved that, in this region, not only is the food fiery—so too is the spirit of its population. Story and photographs by LARA DAY


Local tourists in Huanglongxin.



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t+l journal

| dispatch Sichuan Days From left: A temporary shelter above Dujiangyan; kids in Huanglongxin; the devastating aftermath; a newly opened restaurant serves traditional dishes such as dandan mian.

things to different people. Gourmets value its legendary cuisine, born of an alchemic melding of fiery chilis and pungent peppercorns. Animal-lovers associate the region with the giant panda, China’s national symbol. Culture buffs laud Sichuan’s writers, poets and artists for their subtle lyricism and expressiveness, offering, as they do, a welcome antidote to the cynicism of some of their more politicized counterparts. Meanwhile, fans of the outdoors prize the province’s valleys, lakes and mountains, preternaturally sublime in their raw, rugged beauty. All that changed earlier this year. On May 12, Sichuan’s name became synonymous with the Wenchuan earthquake, China’s deadliest natural disaster in more than three decades. By now, the aftermath should be familiar: among the 30 million people directly affected, almost 70,000 were confirmed dead and 4.8 million left homeless; countless had lost jobs, families, livelihoods. The quake’s magnitude released enough energy to equal that of 500 Hiroshima atomic bombs, leading to the world’s costliest natural disaster following Hurricane Katrina in the United States and the Kobe earthquake in Japan. And then there were the aftershocks: more than 12,000 of them within three months, most too minor to notice, but some as mercilessly deadly as those first terrible jolts. One month later, on the inauspicious date of Friday, June 13, I find myself on a plane bound for Chengdu, Sichuan’s provincial capital. The morning flight is full, packed not with tourists but with large groups of aid workers. Two women squeezed next to me are poring over official-looking manuals and speaking to each other in hushed tones. “We don’t know what to expect,” says one. She and her friend are child




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psychologists from Taiwan, and would be spending the next three weeks scoping out the disaster zone. “We’re just here to help, if we can.” I’m here for a travel assignment. By the time I arrive, the quake’s reported death toll had already risen to more than 10,000, and later, to several times that number. In light of the gravity of the humanitarian losses, the state of the travel industry may not seem the most pressing of concerns. Yet with the rescue operations complete and the province looking towards the future, the ailing sector, which accounts for 10 percent of the province’s GDP, holds an important key to helping the region find its feet. Losses from tourism alone are projected at RMB50 billion. The lack of tourists comes as no surprise. As with any high-profile catastrophe, travelers understandably associate the area with high emotional stress and great personal risk. What does come as a revelation is stepping off the plane at Chengdu’s international airport and finding the glass-andsteel building strangely undamaged and reminiscent of Hong Kong’s ultra-modern airport, where I began my journey. It is hard to believe that just a few weeks earlier, the ground beneath it shook from an epicenter only 80 kilometers away. Chengdu itself is also disconcerting in its apparent

The ATMOSPHERE was brimming with renao, best described as a palatable, positive charge

normality. During the drive from the airport, I scan the city for signs of quake damage but see only a sprawling industrial metropolis going about its daily business. The only thing missing is tourists: now that rescue workers are clearing out, hotels are recording less than half their usual occupancy rates, leaving thousands of travel-industry professionals without jobs. “People think the whole of Sichuan is affected by the earthquake,” Kate Chang, China director of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, explains to me over coffee downtown. “In fact only a third is affected, around [the epicenter of] Wenchuan in the northwest. The other twothirds are fine.” In theory, then, many parts of Sichuan are ready for visitors. Officials state that the province is very much a suitable travel destination: 80 percent of its tourism sites are unspoiled, they say, including the Juzhaigou Valley, a UN Biosphere Reserve, despite being inaccessible by its usual access roads. Visitors can still easily visit the Grand Buddha at Lenshan Mountain, Emeishan Mountain and panda habitats such as Ya’an Baoxing, all south of the quake zone. And yet for many, the question remains as to whether it is still too early to visit. “My major concern wasn’t for my own safety, but about whether … people would be too distraught,” says Bob Carter, an American from Oregon,

who went ahead with a business trip to Chengdu after consulting his associates in Beijing. “It’s important to come now, to help the region move on.” You only need to go out to see how the province is making headway. All around, the atmosphere is brimming with renao, a quintessentially Chinese concept that’s perhaps best described as a palpable, positive charge, suffused with humanity and energy and life. In the provincial capital, bars buzz with young people watching football’s Euro 2008, while teahouses teem with elderly folk playing raucous rounds of mahjong. Restaurants cater to crowds hungry for tonguenumbing malatang hotpot and roadside vendors trade in walnuts and watermelons, fresh eggs and deep-fried rice cakes. In towns such as Huanglongxin, people relax by the river, while back at Chengdu’s Kuai and Zhai alleys, a newly revamped hutong district, crowds brave the pouring rain to attend its symbolic opening ceremony. It is the first new tourist site to open since the earthquake, and an ocean of umbrellas testify to the resilience of the locals in the face of an obstacle as trifling as rainfall. Even if the disaster isn’t always readily apparent, its impact is nonetheless percolating psychologically. The dizhen, or earthquake, is still a constant topic of conversation; people are even beginning to make jokes. “It’s as if the earth is on » T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A


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t+l journal

| dispatch

Ceramic eaves CURLED upwards like petals out of the verdant mountainside

vibration mode,” quips one woman over dinner one night, causing the table to burst into laughter. The humor seems surreal and oddly misplaced, but perhaps it is a sign of processing, a necessary stage towards recovery. Though the lightheartedness is one facet of acceptance or coming to terms, many view the earthquake in terms of a maturing national consciousness, and of an evolving, improved relationship with the central government in Beijing, which was seen as acting swiftly and decisively. “The Chinese people have learned a lot. We’ve had to grow up, just like children,” Li Shuanke tells me over a lunch of spicy dandan noodles and fish steeped in chili oil. The editor of Chinese National Geography, a monthly magazine similar to National Geographic, Li sees the earthquake as a rite of passage. “Before we valued education, ideas, the collective good. Now we care about the individual.” “People seem to think of the government as parents now, ” confirms Xue Bing, a PhD student in economics at the University of Oklahoma, who has been volunteering in the quake-wrecked town of Hanwang during a trip to visit his Chengdu-based girlfriend. “They’re not scared any more, because even if another aftershock happens, they now know they will be taken care of,” he says. Xue tells me about a friend, who had quit his job to become a full-time volunteer, 78

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and who had encouraged him to come to Hanwang to get his head out of his books and “experience real life.” A smile on his face, Xue says, “He was really ‘cool’ before, almost too cool. I never expected him to change like this, and devote all his time to helping others.” Of course, for those living within the disaster zone, exposure to “real life” doesn’t happen by choice. Dujiangyan, 48 kilometers north of Chengdu, is one of the cities hardest hit by the earthquake. Famous for its 2,300year-old irrigation system, a UNESCO World Heritage site that to this day continues to water the Sichuan basin, the town is now notorious as the location where hundreds of children died as a result of negligently constructed school buildings. IKE MOST PEOPLE, I’d seen pictures of the disaster zones, but nothing had prepared me for the desolation of an entire town laid to waste. Roads, awash with disinfectant, cut through mountains of collapsed concrete. Waves of shattered glass lap at caved-in facades. Though some structures are still standing, many are torn apart, punctured or lopsided. Still others are barely recognizable as buildings, only as heaps of jagged concrete entangled with twisted, sharp metal rods and teeth. Between piles of rubble, people are struggling to pick up the pieces of


What Lies Ahead From opposite: A guard at the historic Kuan and Zhai alleys; the Erwang Temple complex, still beautiful despite the earthquake; a statue of Li Bing in the damaged temple; tourists brave the elements.

their lives. Some scavenge for bricks to use for rebuilding, while others forge ahead with the Herculean task of clearing up the wreckage. Astonishingly, the Dujiangyan Irrigation System had escaped significant damage. I meet one of the site’s guardians, Huang Hao, on a tilted, cracked mountain road, and he leads me down a path of winding stone steps, deep into the expansive Taoist complex overlooking it. Despite its ruinous state, it is breathtaking. The rooftop’s ceramic eaves curl upwards like petals carved out of the verdant green mountainside, even as parts of the structures beneath them sag into tumbling rubble. At the base, close to the swirling eddies of the Min river, lies Erwang Temple, named after Li Bing, a legendary engineer and administrator from the third century who initiated and oversaw the construction of the vital irrigation system, and his son, Li Erlang, who assisted his father. There, joss sticks stand half-burned within the giant bronze burner, and the air still hangs with the musky, otherworldly aroma of incense. Just as I am beginning to contemplate the question of immortality—and how many people here, in this province, might qualify for it within the framework of this ancient, nature-oriented philosophy—Huang describes an emotional ceremony from the previous day, which marked the official

reopening of the site. He tells me he isn’t sure when Dujiangyan would truly be ready for tourists again— “Three months? Four? There’s still so much to do”—but says that the day before, 4,000 visitors from across China had traveled to show their support, both for the people of Dujiangyan and for all the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of those who had already helped, in whatever way, to ease the province’s burden. I then ask him what he thought Sichuan needs most urgently now, as it looks at what lies ahead. I’d assumed that he would cite housing or funds or any number of the countless practical necessities that the province will undoubtedly need to rebuild itself in the time to come. But his response takes me aback in its firmness and decisively non-material nature. “Spirit,” he answers, without hesitation.  T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A


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t+l journal

| adventure of someone who’s been asked the same question too many times. “Bigfoot? I don’t want to talk about this. If people come here and we tell them it’s real, we are cheating them.” I was glad to get that out of the way, and Long’s manner suggested he would be happier if I didn’t bring it up again. Having grown up in the Jakon village of Kampung Peta just inside peninsular Malaysia’s Endau-Rompin National Park border, he felt there should be enough interest in the real animals inhabiting this precious environment without fussing over a mythical hominid. The media have been getting flustered over bigfoot “sightings” and “footprints” here in recent years, yet surely there were enough rare creatures to get excited about. The Jakon, one of the indigenous tribes given the blanket label orang asli, have been living here for centuries. If there were bigfoot here, they’d know about it. Endau-Rompin is one of peninsular Malaysia’s last surviving lowland forests. Covering 870 square kilometers, this ancient volcanic landscape, one fed by multiple rivers, is the »



Rumbles in the Jungle Endau-Rompin National Park in Malaysia is home to many secretive animals, few tourists and maybe, just maybe, a mythical beast. Story and photographs by MAT OAKLEY


Seasonal Solitude Clockwise from above: Upriver by boat; the Tasik Air Biru pool; Upeh Guling’s unearthly formations.


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t+l journal

| adventure

final refuge of the peninsula’s Sumatran rhino population. The shy, secretive animals live in the reserve’s western reaches, which are, like 90 percent of the park, off-limits to visitors. Nobody is completely sure how many remain. Long and our guide, Hamdan, put the figure at only two or three. The rhino, like the park’s tigers and the spin-doctored bigfoot stories, have earned the reserve a measure of fame, but not yet the kind of large-scale tourism experienced by the more famous Taman Negara reserve to the north. Accessibility may be one reason. It’s a mildly arduous 58kilometer, two-hour journey to Endau-Rompin from the small town of Kahang. The road switches from tarmac to dirt and back again, bumping past the oil palm plantations that cover much of Johor State. Long stretches are paved, but devastating floods in 2006 and 2007 have left them savagely cracked and pitted, as if by cluster bombs. At one stage we cross an improvised bamboo pontoon bridge,

lashed to the skeletal supports of the original bridge, which had been washed away and never rebuilt. An hour into the bone-shaking journey, the plantations end abruptly and piles of elephant dung begin to appear, signposts telling us the jungle has begun. The riverside Nature Research and Education Camp where we are staying has ample dormitories, a research lab, a small wildlife information display and a communal dining area, but we are the only guests. Our 40-bed longhouse dorm is empty and unexpectedly free of mosquitoes, which means we can fling open the big shutters and lie back in our bunks, listening to the chorus of rasps, clicks, rattles and hums emanating from the forest. We left Singapore just a few hours earlier, but we could be on another planet. Perhaps it was because we arrived on a Tuesday, rather than a weekend, but aside from a party of Malaysian rafters preparing to take on the trickling rapids of the dry season

A light mist CLINGS to the trees and the clouds have begun to clear

Stepping into the Forest Clockwise from above left: A rope bridge across the Jasin River; elephant impressions; crossing a cool river. Opposite: Upeh Guling waterfall.


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Endau River, in two days we only saw our guide and an orang asli fisherman who had set up camp on a sandbank, cooking his catch on a fire as his dog stood by patiently, eyes moving eagerly from fish to man and back again. we are awoken by gibbons, the jungle version of the wayward car alarms that go off outside my Singapore flat, but infinitely more welcome. After a breakfast of black, unsweetened coffee and bread, we set off upstream in a puttering longboat. A light mist clings to the trees and the clouds that obscured the park’s twin plateaus have begun to clear. Birds circle and swoop over the river. After 30 minutes the boat drops us on a stretch of dried mud on the riverbank, 100 meters below a small set of rapids, and we start our walk through tall grass, thickets of bamboo and rattan vine, trying to pick out areas of shade away from the harsh sun. We veer into thick forest and the temperature drops. “Watch out,” Hamdan says, pointing to a spot behind him where two twig-like objects are sticking up from the path, swivelling like periscopes. Leeches.



Suddenly, instead of scanning the forest for animals and birds, I’m walking along examining the ground with the intensity of someone who’s dropped a contact lens. It’s a futile effort. Every few minutes I feel a slight prick or itch, and just a kilometer later when we stop at the Kuala Jasin camp, I have to prise off half a dozen bloated leeches that have slithered into my boots. Endau-Rompin is rich in other wildlife that is not so keen for your companionship. We are told mammal sightings are relatively rare, and hardly anyone ever sees the rhino or the tigers that inhabit the park. Our guide tells of one research party that spent 20 days camping out in the forest but found only tiger footprints. The most likely sightings are sambar deer, tapir, boar or, most common of all, wild elephants, which are often found at the river’s edge early in the morning during the dry season. Indeed, it’s evident the tracks we are walking along double as elephant thoroughfares. Piles of dung litter the path, and we come across one well-formed footprint, but no actual elephants. Late one afternoon, a crash high up in the trees draws our attention, but all we see is the retreating »

t+l journal

| adventure

silhouette of a primate. Wild animals are not naturally drawn to human company and when they are, the consequences are rarely positive. It feels like a privilege just to be here, even more so when you consider how quickly Southeast Asia’s forests have vanished. There is something comforting about the idea that there are places close to our teeming cities where people do not go. Inevitably, there are also tales of illegal poachers here decimating wildlife populations. The Jakon themselves have always hunted, but usually only to feed themselves. Hamdan shows us a large, elaborate, cage-like trap designed to ensnare larger mammals like sambar deer, and other ingenious smaller traps that capture wild birds and other smaller creatures like binturong, though he insists they are hardly used nowadays. I’d banished even the thought of seeing any mammals when, a few minutes after leaving the Upeh Guling waterfall, there is a sudden, loud bellow from the trees on the opposite riverbank. We stop dead. It happens again, a deeper, more guttural rumbling this time. My pulse quickens and my veins ice over. Hamdan peers intently into the trees, looking concerned. There’s another rumble, then a rustle of undergrowth. For a few seconds I wonder if something is going to emerge from the trees, but there’s nothing. A half-minute of frozen silence and Hamdan beckons us on, only to stop after 10 meters to scrutinise the forest again. I tiptoe up behind him. “Err … was that a tiger?” “I think boar,” he says, after a pause, but the concentrated frown and the backward glances continue after we start walking, and I’m not convinced. I ask him again, then again later over dinner back at the camp, but he won’t bow to my vastly inferior knowledge. At lunch, I’m still watchful but the allure of the turquoise pool where we’ve stopped is too strong. Called Tasik Air Biru, this natural swimming hole is blissfully cool and extraordinarily clear, the result of the filtering action of the volcanic rocks. Though there’s about 4 meters of water at its deepest point, you can make out each stone and boulder at the bottom. These are the clearest waters in Malaysia. The Upeh Guling waterfall is no less picturesque. In the dry season the falls themselves are not as impressive, but the retreating water exposes a beautiful, unearthly landscape of what the orang asli call gulung gulung, deep circular depressions gouged out of the rock over thousands of years by trapped stones and boulders. I scramble up the bank up to where some fruit and water

wait, checking my feet every 60 seconds for leeches. Dripping wet, cool and content, I wonder how long it has been since I was so far from other people. In Kampung Peta on the third day, waiting for a car to take us to Kluang and the train back to Singapore, we sit on the porch of a house and eat chicken cooked in bamboo and a delicious river plant called selawat in coconut milk. With the plateaus of Bukit Peta and Bukit Janing looming on either side, Kampung Peta has an unhurried, contented air. People meander around, a fruit and vegetable van does the rounds on one of its thrice-weekly visits, men roll a new fishing boat to the river. Though floods all but swallowed the village in 2007, there is no sense of decay. It was hot, lunch was over and we were sitting around in silence, too tired from the long walks for conversation. I coughed. Hamdan looked up. “Are you sure that wasn’t a tiger?” I asked him. He raised his eyes. “Maybe,” I suggest, “it was bigfoot.” “Your car is here,” was his only reply. 

Dripping wet, COOL and content, I wonder how long it has been since I was so far from others


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GUIDE TO ENDAU-ROMPIN WHEN TO GO During the driest months between June and September, the paths are in the best condition and you have the best chance of spotting wild animals. The park is closed during the November to February wet season. GETTING THERE Endau-Rompin National Park is a five-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and four hours from Singapore. Independent travel is tricky, requiring your own vehicle and numerous surcharges, so most opt for an arranged tour through a travel agent. Entry permits (RM20) are a must and visitors have to provide two passport-sized photos and a photocopy of their passport. WHERE TO STAY There are dorms and chalets at the park entrance at Kampung Peta, dorms at the Nature Education and Research Center, and chalets deeper inside the

park at Kuala Jasin. For longer treks, camping is possible at several spots. Endau-Rompin National Park, Johor; 60-7/7021100; two-night packages from RM640 per person. WHAT TO DO Journey Malaysia 9 Lorong San Ah Wing, Jln. Semarak, Kuala Lumpur; 60-3/2692-8049;; two-night packages from RM470 per person for groups of four or more. Jungle Survival Course 603/2070-8667; my/endau.htm; three-night courses from RM1,200 per person for two or three.

An orang asli bird trap.

t+l journal

| hotels

Seeds of Change A growing number of Southeast Asian hotels are catching onto the worldwide eco-movement, but for many, it’s still just a sales pitch. JENNIFER CHEN reports on the region’s true green visionaries. Illustrated by WASINEE CHANTAKORN

SK THEM WHAT THEY MIGHT NOTICE FIRST about a hotel or resort, and most people might remark upon the swimming pool or whether the wait staff is attentive or not. Not Chirapol Sintunawa. The thing that catches his eye is waste. “Look at this,” he says, picking up a coaster with a hotel’s name printed on it. “You shouldn’t have this. You shouldn’t have anything with your name on it that might end up in a landfill. And you should definitely not be given a straw automatically.” »

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| hotels

For many hotels in Asia, being GREEN just isn’t a priority, partly because of the perception that it costs too much money

Chirapol, a trim 52-year-old, isn’t a pennypinching hotel guest or a profit-conscious management consultant. He’s the founder of GreenLeaf Foundation, a Bangkok-based nonprofit organization that has developed a certification system for environmentally friendly hotels, and he’s part of a slow but growing movement of environmentalists and hoteliers trying to raise green awareness in Southeast Asia’s hospitality industry. Elsewhere in the world, the movement has already caught fire. With concerns about climate change entering the mainstream, a cavalcade of hotels in Europe, Australia and the United States—from multinational heavyweights to family-run properties—have rallied around the environment over the past two years. International hotel chains such as IHG, Accor, Hilton and Marriott have pledged to embrace sustainable design—which means tapping into renewable energy sources, recycling wastewater, and using only certified, farmed wood or recycled building materials—and to reduce the carbon footprints at their existing properties. This past July, Starwood 88

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unveiled its first property under its new ecofriendly brand, Element, in Massachusetts; Brøchner, which owns four properties in Denmark, declared in April that it was the first hotel group to become carbon-neutral. While it’s hard not to raise a skeptical eyebrow over such claims, they can actually be put to the test because many of these hotels are in countries where there are common standards and benchmarks. That’s not the case in much of Asia. Although the more developed markets—Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan—have certification systems for green buildings and stricter building codes in general, these rarely apply in the countries where tourism is booming—Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia. But that hasn’t stopped some developers and operators from flagging “carbonfriendly,” “sustainable” and other eco buzzwords in their brochures and websites in an effort to paint themselves green. Dig a bit deeper and ask a few questions, and you might discover that the only thing sustainable about that new “eco” hotel is that they ask guests to use towels more than once—by now, a standard at most properties—or they buy some carbon credits to offset their emissions (which, for eco-warriors, is tantamount to cheating). That’s why the GreenLeaf Foundation—as well as other certification systems around the world such as Australia’s Green Globe and the U.S.-based Sustainable Tourism Initiative—are valuable: they help ensure that customers aren’t being taken for a ride. But for many hotels in Asia, being green just isn’t a priority, partly because the public isn’t

demanding accountability and partly because of the perception that being environmentally friendly costs too much money. It’s especially costly when it comes to upgrading older properties. “Within the Asian context, there are some people out there who’ve taken the mantle and are running with it. But the critical mass of awareness [among hotels] isn’t there,” says John Koldowski, who heads up the research department at the Pacific and Asia Travel Association. That’s worrying, given the sheer number of new hotels being built in this region. According to property analyst Jones Lang LaSalle, Asia’s stock of hotel rooms is expected to grow by 8 percent annually over the next three years—adding up to a total of 140,000 rooms. Indeed, because they’re based on plans among the top 10 hotel operators in the region, those figures don’t capture the entire picture. Moreover, it’s not the big chains that are cause for concern—they have to answer to bigger audiences as well as investors, and provide consistent standards—but the smaller, less scrupulous operators. When I ask him whether he’s engaged in a Sisyphean task in a region where unbridled construction and lax laws have already spoiled so many paradises, Chirapol admits, “I’m working behind the speed of development, but it’s better than nothing.” when I travel to Phuket to meet with the environmental team at the Evason resort. Though it’s been less than a year since my last visit, there are new resorts, retail complexes and condominiums



—or billboards for apartment and villa projects— seemingly everywhere, with names such as “Billion Plaza” or “Villa Zolîtude.” Between the airport and Rawai beach, where the Evason is located, I count 10 building-related stores before I stop and gaze at the jungle-clad mountains in the distance and wonder if they, too, will be covered in condominiums in five years. Later, I ask Juergen Seidel, the group director of property maintenance, engineering and innovation at Six Senses, which owns the Evason Phuket, about Phuket’s ongoing construction frenzy. “There will always be cheap Charlies out there,” he says dismissively. Seidel also holds the lofty title of the Conscience of Six Senses, which has rightfully earned a reputation as one of Asia’s most environmentally committed companies (all its resorts are members of Green Globe). »

How Green Is Your Hotel? Questions you can ask to gauge your hotel’s social and environmental credentials:


Is it certified by a recognized green hotel program? Does it use renewable energy such as solar, wind or geothermal power? Does it use recycled building materials, farmed wood, or organic, fair-trade fabrics? Does it avoid using hazardous cleaning materials? Does it support any programs to help the local community?



Does it employ mostly locals and does the staff go through ongoing training to help them in their careers? Is there a waste treatment plant? Does it utilize energy- and watersaving technologies? Does it sell local handicrafts in its gift store? Does the restaurant feature locally available, seasonal produce, organic meat and sustainable seafood? Does it recycle and compost? Does it use refillable shampoo and lotion containers?




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t+l journal

| hotels DIY Green Even if you’re not staying at an eco-lodge, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your footprint:

É Unplug all the appliances you’re not using. É Hang up your towel so it doesn’t get washed. É Just use one bar of soap. É Take short showers. É Leave the freebies behind. É Turn off your air-conditioning when you leave.

Turning a RESORT green doesn’t necessarily begin with installing solar panels. It often requires less showy steps

Impassioned though he is about the hotel company being green, Seidel, a plain-spoken German expatriate, is no tree-hugger. “I’m an engineer. What do I have to do with the environment?” he asks. “But being energy-efficient and if you do it really right, according to the book, you’re actually an environmentalist because anything you waste has a hazardous effect on nature and the environment.” It was this desire to be efficient—and, in turn, save money—that drove Seidel’s first initiatives at the Evason Phuket, which was the environmental guinea pig for Six Senses. Turning a resort green doesn’t necessarily begin with installing solar 90

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panels or planting an organic garden. It often requires less showy, more utilitarian steps, such as measuring how much water and electricity are used. That’s what Seidel did, and he discovered the resort was gobbling up astronomical amounts of resources. A day of water consumption at the resort, for instance, equaled the total amount used by three households in three years. So Seidel installed timers and sensors to slash water and electricity consumption, and spread out housekeeping chores over the course of a day so the kitchen and laundry room weren’t kicking into high gear at the same time. He also enlarged the reservoir on the property. These efforts paid off: currently, the reservoir provides water for the entire resort (including drinking water), while the property runs on less than half the electricity it had used before. An array of other initiatives— from wastewater recycling to a near-ban on plastic bottles to the use of organic, fair-trade cotton— have since been introduced, setting the standard for its sister properties worldwide. That’s familiar thinking to Chirapol. In the early 1990’s, just as Thailand’s tourism industry began to flourish, Chirapol—a medical doctor by training who switched over to environmental management—turned his attention to hotels. “There are two kinds of buildings that are open 24 hours: hospitals and hotels … I didn’t have the time or strength to do both,” he says, only halfjokingly. His first client was the Dusit Thani hotel in Bangkok. Initially suspicious of his motives, the management refused to let him on the premises. But Chirapol persuaded them to hear him out by promising to show them how to save Bt600,000 for free. From there, Chirapol eventually established the foundation and in 1994, he started the benchmarking system. Today, around 100 hotels are certified under the system, and Chirapol

and his small team are starting to field calls from Laos, Vietnam and Burma. to be done across the region—a fact, again, made all the more urgent by the pace of development in many areas. “Corporate social responsibility theories won’t be worth the paper they’re written on until they are demonstrated in Asia. This is the testing ground,” declares Michael Kwee, who leads the corporate social responsibility team at the Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, a Singaporean hospitality group also noted for its environmental and social conscience. But there are signs that the tide is turning. Earlier this year, the Thai government stipulated that all officials had to stay in GreenLeaf-certified hotels, resulting in a spike in interest, according to Chirapol. Other hotel groups in Asia are also following Six Senses’ lead, especially as rising fuel prices underscore the need for efficiency. Some are even starting to absorb a lesson about keeping your environment clean that goes beyond saving money on their water and electricity bills. “We’re



in the business of resorts, which is predicated on being in pristine environments,” Mark Edleson, the CEO of Alila, a Singapore-based resort management company, says. “So sustainability is fundamental to the business success of our properties.” To that effect, all resorts under the group’s new Alila Villas brand—the first will be launched in the Maldives next year—have to be certified by LEED, a program set up by the U.S. Green Building Council. Edleson himself is a convert: he’s building a private vacation home in Bali that will have green elements. Six Senses will also require its new properties to be LEED-certified; its new eco-brand, EVA, will have to receive top LEED rankings. Eva Shivdasani, one half of the husband-and-wife team that founded Six Senses, wants to go a step further. A fervent environmentalist who readily acknowledges the paradox of being green and developing hotels, Shivdasani says she dreams about setting up a foundation to invest in renewable energy research. “We must find alternatives all the time. We can’t make a mistake. The stakes are too big,” she says. 

The new Executive Nikko Club at Hotel Nikko Kuala Lumpur . . . . . where hospitality soars above the norm and service is perfected specially for the elite few. Hotel Nikko Kuala Lumpur . . . . . make it your preferred hotel. Always.

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Impiana KLCC Hotel & Spa in Kuala Lumpur is nestled in the heart of the city, adjacent to such landmarks as the Petronas Twin Towers and the ultramodern Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. With exciting entertainment and shopping areas close by, and just steps away from the city’s main business section, this 15-story, four-star business-class hotel is an ideal venue to host seminars, conferences, private functions and parties. The 335-room hotel features great dining, spa, innity pool, gymnasium, banquet and meeting halls.

Impiana Casuarina Hotel, Ipoh is located about two hours north of Kuala Lumpur. Limestone hills provide breathtaking views from every guest room, and each of the modern 200 rooms provides rst-class amenities. For dining, the Garden Terrace offers the best in local/international cuisine, The Bistro serves lunch and dinner with live entertainment, and the the Lobby Lounge is the perfect venue for socializing. Other facilities include a swimming pool, health center, 24-hour room service, a ballroom and several function rooms.

Impiana Cherating Resort, with its ocean views and tropical setting, is the ideal place for a break. Located off the shores of Cherating, the 121-room resort captures traditional Malay culture. Each room has a warm décor, with wooden oors, a four-poster bed and a private balcony. For those who thrill at exotic sealife, you will be fascinated watching turtles make their way up the beaches during hatching periods. Great dining, a swimming pool, children’s facilities, tennis courts and 24-hour service add to your holiday experience. Impiana Phuket Cabana Resort & Spa is situated along Phuket’s famous Patong Beach, which puts you within walking distance of restaurants, shopping, nightclubs and other entertainment. The 70 modern units have direct access to the beach. Restaurants and bars include the award-winning Sala Bua Restaurant and La Salsa, probably the only Latin venue in Phuket with live entertainment from South America. Other facilities include a spa, swimming pool, Internet and two function rooms.

Impiana Samui Resort & Spa is on one of the world’s most beautiful shores, Chaweng Noi. The resort overlooks tropical gardens, a lagoon and a soft white-sand beach. The 98 newly renovated guest rooms reect contemporary Thai architecture, and each comes with a private balcony overlooking a fantastic ocean view. The Tamarind restaurant offers “East meets West” cuisine, while the Sabai restaurant offers beachside dining serving local Thai specialities and international dishes. There is also a beach bar, pool, car and motorcycle rental, and complimentary unlimited wireless Internet access in case you want to stay in touch with the world outside this paradise setting.

Clockwise from top left: Tonka Bean restaurant at Impiana KLCC; Impiana Samui; a superior deluxe room at Impiana Cherating; Sala Bua restaurant at Impiana Cabana Phuket; an executive suite at Impiana Casuarina Ipoh; a newly renovated deluxe room at Impiana Samui.

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conservation | t+l journal

Magic in the

Mekong Endangered river dolphins could be a key to ecological tourism around Southeast Asia. By RON GLUCKMAN. ¨ Photographed by VIRGINIE NOEL ERHAPS IT’S THE STILLNESS in this gorgeous stretch of the Mekong River, a remote corner of Cambodia. Or maybe it’s the heightened anticipation after a long wait. Whatever the case, when a pair of slick heads finally breaks surface in the distance, you can almost hear a sigh of relief echo from the scattering of nearby boats. Briefly visible, far away, are two freshwater dolphins that live in this scenic waterway between Kratie and the Lao border. Fewer than 100 of the rare mammals likely survive in a series of ponds along the Mekong. These dolphins, and related subspecies, once thrived throughout southern Asia and around the globe. Adaptation over the eons moved them from oceans to brackish waters of river basins, then upriver. Now these amazingly resilient creatures are extinct almost everywhere, and threatened in final refuges, from the Yangtze River near Shanghai to the Pearl River Delta between Hong Kong and Macau, and across the rivers of Burma and India. Simply seeing the freshwater dolphins in the wild is a precious thrill. There is an added buzz these days: the Mekong dolphins could become a model for other endangered species. Protected for the first time, these rare river dwellers have become pegged to the prosperity of the river region. They are both the mascots and driving force of the newly branded Mekong Discovery Trail, which promotes low-impact, ecological tourism on a nearly 200-kilometer stretch of the river in Cambodia and Laos. The launch of the trail this year follows seven years of planning, linking not only governments along the river to donor nations, but also fishermen and conservation groups. »




Mekong Moments An endangered and elusive river dolphin. Above: Children off to their playground.

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t+l journal

| conservation

Rather than DISTURB the dolphins, nowadays shermen bring tourists to observe them Saving dolphins is just one facet of an ambitious povertyreduction program designed to spread the ow of tourism from established corridors in both countries to remote regions rich in scenery and cultural attractions. The decline of the dolphins has been blamed largely on the loss of habitat and on shing nets. Conservationists long advocated a ban on boats in the main ponds. Local long-tail boats still clatter around Kampie, outside of Kratie, which claims the largest population of Mekong dolphins, but with a difference. Rather than disturb the dolphins, nowadays they bring tourists to observe them. Former shermen operate many boats, a force of river guards who began patrols of these waters last year. Funding comes from a consortium of donors in a novel World Tourism Organization project, which provides training for guides and money for maps. Boasting spiffy dolphin logos, booths stand alongside stalls selling dolphin souvenirs, 96

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dispensing information on homestays, bike trips and other ecological activities. “This is a big change for the people of Kratie,” says Suniya, a former policeman, as he huddles in the shade at Kampie, where he now heads the special tourist police. “Local people like to sh, but they realize the benet of this change. They are all excited about the dolphin project and the tourists it will bring here.” Change comes slowly to this part of Cambodia, which has some of the poorest provinces in a country long lodged in the lower tiers of the world’s most impoverished. Yet Kratie has a thriving, if rundown, marketplace and a smattering of old colonial buildings, reminders of its role as a provincial capital under the French. Kratie is also the largest city along the Mekong Trail, and the most developed, with modest hotels and restaurants offering tourist-friendly food. Outside Kratie, the lodging is basic at best, transportation and services scant. That’s part of the attraction, according to Daniel De Gruiter, who knows the area well. Working in Cambodia for four years, he was a consultant for the project, riding motorbikes or boats throughout the Mekong area. “The dolphins get the most attention, but there is so much more to see along the trail.” He notes spectacular birding areas and the abundance of soft-shell turtles. The Mekong is also home

Take Me to the River From far left: A school boy in Cambodia; overlooking the Mekong and a small Cambodian village; Wat Rokakandal in Kratie; slowly down the river by longboat.

to some of the world’s biggest and rarest river creatures, including Giant River Carp, which can grow to 1.5 meters and weigh 70 kilograms. The Siamese Giant Carp and the Mekong Giant Catfish can grow twice as long and often tip the scales at 300 kilograms. De Gruiter is especially enthusiastic about the ecotourism potential of a largely pristine stretch of river. “This is some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Cambodia,” he says. Si Phan Don, just over the border in Laos, translates as “Four Thousand Islands.” Counts are impossible, since small pitches of sand vanish or appear as the river rises or falls. One nearby is 45 kilometers long. Based in Phnom Penh, De Gruiter adds: “I’ve been all over Asia, and this is really a special area, largely undeveloped. You really need to see for yourself.” Not needing much persuasion, I do. Traffic on the Mekong Trail moves downriver, more due to bureaucracy than the water’s flow. So I join a growing number of travelers making the river trek south from Pakse, in southern Laos.


HERE IS THIS UNUSUAL landscape. This is really off-

track,” says Jean-Yves Paille, who is constantly appraising new routes in the region as product manager for Exotissimo, a travel operator in Laos. “You can learn about village life, see locals in a genuine setting. It’s the

kind of experience few tourists get.” He adds, “In the past it was hard to go, and so much trouble with the border.” In September, the company started offering cross-border trips, including bike journeys from Laos to the Angkor temples in Cambodia and boat-bike trips all the way to Phnom Penh. That special magic is evident in Si Phan Don, where I visit a few of the islands and revel in the tranquility. Still basic—generators provide power a few hours per night— this is the kind of place where you do little and love it. I rent a clunky bike and ride to spellbinding waterfalls, some of the largest in Southeast Asia. Two of the main islands are linked not only by bridge, but the only railroad in Laos—a tiny, ancient line put in by the French for deliveries, since navigating the waterfalls was too dangerous. Otherwise, I look, linger and savor encounters that modern travel often obliterates. Monks sweep us into temples; locals welcome us into their homes. The pace is chilled out, even by Lao standards. You feel like you could stay for weeks, with a big bag of books. It reminds me of Laos from a decade-and-a-half ago. Over a sunset dinner in one of the many riverfront restaurants, I feel privileged to be traveling in Laos. This is the beauty of taking tourists off-track, and the positive side of the Mekong Trail project. But there are pitfalls. One becomes apparent downriver, after I » O CTO BER 2008| T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A . C O M


t+l journal

| conservation Ecotourism Trail Crossing the river. Left: A forest that floods during the dry season. Below left: Colonial architecture.

cross into Cambodia, making a stop in Stung Treng, exactly as the project hopes more travelers will do in the future. On the back of a motorbike, I plunge into that spectacular scenery pictured on the company’s website, bound for the little town of Osvay, buried in jungle. Osvay is near another pond of dolphins, perhaps the most picturesque location on the entire trail. Several rivers run together in a spot reached only by boat. De Gruiter described it in euphoric, must-see terms. Indeed, even though the dolphins fail to show this day, just riding a boat for hours, through flooded forests, provides views that would be highlights of any trip. Along the way, I spot eagles, herons and hawks. Yet, another vivid memory is roaring by motorbike along dirt roads and stopping at the shout of “Help!” At a rustic building that serves as Osvay town hall are two irritated foreigners. They left Si Phan Don by boat, as I did, but took motorbikes to the border. After crossing, they wanted to continue to Stung Treng, but the bike drivers brought them here instead, insisting they stay the night. Talking to the villagers, we quickly sort things out, and send the foreigners to Stung Treng by car. As part of the project, consultants had told villagers to prepare for homestays and the windfall of ecotourism. Just a little ahead of the curve, a bit too enthusiastic, they inadvertently pioneered eco-terrorism. 98

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Such is the treacherous tightrope between helpful development and hard impact. The challenge along the Mekong, as everywhere else, is to bring tourists and their cash to remote communities, without altering the rustic charm that mesmerizes visitors. As trips along the Mekong Development Trail become more prominent, attention should be paid to Si Phan Don, a charming tourist area growing at a sustainable pace. Using tourist dollars and sentiment to save the dolphins is a marvelous aim, but let’s hope they also manage to retain the magic that flows along the Mekong River. 

GUIDE TO DOLPHIN WATCHING WHEN TO GO The best time to visit is between November and February, when both the rain and the heat do not predominate. From March to May, southern Laos in particular can be extremely hot.

WHAT TO DO Exotissimo The company offers custom tours of the Mekong Discovery Trail. 044 Pangkham St., Vientiane; 856-21/241-861;; three-night private tours from US$605.

GETTING THERE Lao Aviation flies to Pakse from Vientiane four times a week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Mekong River Discovery Trail For downloadable maps, tour itineraries and more information on highlights of the region.

| quick study

Volunteers From archaeological digs to building houses, “voluntourism” is fast becoming the next big thing in Asian holidays. By CHRIS KUCWAY

Lending a Hand Above: Cycling and teaching in rural Cambodia with PEPY Tours. Right: A RitzCarlton volunteer. Opposite from top: Piecing together the Thai past; on the trail in Nepal; an Open Mind Projects school in southern Laos.


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on Vacation to January each year, the dry, dusty landscape of northeastern Thailand hides its secrets well. It’s in this setting that archaeologist Charles Higham stares out across a dig that he’s spent six seasons working on. “Once you’ve tasted archaeology here, it’s hard to go anywhere else,” he says. Talk quickly turns to the people around him, as Higham points out a simple, salient fact about the dig: it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of volunteers. Over six years, that’s meant dozens of people working for a week or two over each of the three-month seasons. Volunteers from the nonprofit Earthwatch Institute help with manual labor. But in the case of this dig at Ban Non Wat, in the province of Nakhon Ratchasima, they also spend hours poring over shards of pottery, piecing them and their history back together. The dig begun by Higham has already put together a Bronze Age burial ground that dates back to 1200 B.C., uncovering human remains and pottery that help explain how a collection of small farming villages became Southeast Asia’s empires. Volunteers work in excavation; curating, cleaning and processing finds; reconstructing ceramics; inputting data; and mapping the site for future work. At any given time there are 15 volunteers, an equal number of staff and 40 villagers. While Higham is more than happy with the help he receives from volunteers, what he might not recognize is that it’s part of a growing trend in what’s been dubbed “voluntourism.” Based in the United States, Earthwatch Institute alone offers 120 projects in more than 40 countries, all with the aim of promoting a sustainable environment. It’s only one of dozens of organizations offering the chance to give something back while on vacation. Aside from archaeological digs, there are trips with educational, medical, environmental



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and anti-poverty components. Some last only a few hours, others extend into several months, but there is something for everyone. It’s important to remember that these trips aren’t a day at the beach. Partly because of that, would-be participants should ask many questions about a potential program starting with what the long-term goals of the group are, but also more basic queries such as what gear should you bring, exactly what the price of a trip includes—most cover lodging and meals—and as much as you can about the destination. The more you know about a trip, the more you’ll gain from it and, most importantly, the more beneficial it will be to those you’re helping. almost be considered a fallback option for travelers looking to scrounge up some extra cash on an extended trip in Asia. These days, there are more structured variations on the idea such as teaching English to park rangers and tour guides in Laos. That’s what a group called Open Mind Projects does in the far south of the country in the Xe Pian National Protected Area. Within this park are at least 13 endangered mammals, along with ongoing problems of poaching and logging. So Open Minds Projects combines education and environmentalism, aiming to teach the advantages of protecting wildlife and the environment, in essence promoting sustainable tourism to provide revenue for locals. In addition to teaching English, which is then used to guide tourists through the area, volunteers help survey flora and fauna in the park, passing on this knowledge to the local population as well. Last year, the program saw five villages take part along with the Laotian government and the WWF. The project is geared towards those able to contribute at least two weeks of their time, with a three-day orientation and two or three days of preparation taking place at the start.



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Ask what gear you should bring, what the PRICE of a trip includes and as much as you can about the destination

PEPY Tours specializes in fostering literacy by building rural schools and teaching. A cycling journey down the Mekong—the next one is in December—is typical of what’s on offer. Participants spend three quarters of their time touring, while the rest of the journey is spent working on literacy projects. A hint: find out how much time is devoted to volunteer work and how much is vacation. Some trips consist entirely of volunteering, others very little. The PEPY (Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself) plan starts in advance of any trip. In addition to the US$975 for the 11-day vacation, participants are expected to raise at least US$750 before the first push of a pedal. Most get well beyond this benchmark: one raised more than US$13,000. »





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Giving Back From top: Open Mind Projects works with five Lao villages; the long way to Cambodia’s capital; along a Nepalese trail with medical staff from Mountain Fund.

You REALLY could find yourself raking leaves in Central Park

That brings about a key question: how much of the money actually gets to the charity? In the PEPY case, all of it. “This year, our funding will go to support a community in [Cambodia’s] Chanleas Dai commune,” explains Daniela Ruby Papi, who heads the outfit, “where we are expanding our educational programs to include Khmer reading classes for students, adding an additional staff member for the library and expanding our support to include secondary school as well this year.” That plan will cost more than US$50,000 by the time it’s completed. Ruby Papi says volunteering with a program that is behind an ongoing project, rather than simply visiting the work of any given program, should be a key goal. She describes PEPY volunteers as short-term participants in a long-term project. “We also have a focus on education during our tours, not just in the areas we work, but for the participants themselves,” she says. Learning the lay of the land is just as relevant as the teaching, and it could help explain why one out of 10 participants returns within two years. For the most part, the more time a volunteer spends on a project, the more both sides benefit. OU KNOW IT’S a travel trend once a well-known hotel chain gets involved. That’s what Ritz-Carlton has done with a program called Give Back Getaways, which is related to the environment, poverty relief or working with disadvantaged children. While the half-day volunteer plans are available around the world—one program has you working with the Central Park Conservancy, so you really could find yourself raking leaves in Manhattan’s great green space—there are many options around Asia. In Jakarta, the hotel chain has teamed up with Habitat for Humanity Indonesia to build homes for the underprivileged. Participants also contribute US$70 each to take part in the project, a fee that goes towards the program itself. The hotel sponsors transportation and meals. In Singapore is a chance to help restore St. Theresa’s Home, a residence for the elderly. Adults contribute US$100 to participate in tasks such as simple carpentry, furniture restoration or gardening.


HERE MOST VOLUNTEER VACATIONS are open to anyone, some require expertise in a specific area. So always ask how a volunteer group will be able to use your specific skills. This month, for instance, the Mountain Fund is offering a two-week trek to a remote corner of Nepal


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where medical professionals are required at clinics. The focus for doctors, nurses and paramedics is on disease prevention and public health training in this region that is susceptible to acute respiratory infections and intestinal problems. Aside from a free day in Kathmandu both at the beginning and end of the trip, day clinics are interspersed with treks between villages in the Annapurna region of the country, camping in tents at night. The US$1,900 cost of this program covers all in-country expenses. Organizers are quick to point out that non-medical volunteers sign on with this plan, working on logistics—on the last trip, up to 150 patients a day showed up at the makeshift clinics. “I think the bottom line is a chance to take a trip of a lifetime, while at the same time helping the people living in Nepal,” says Mountain Fund’s founder Scott MacLennan. “It’s an opportunity to be more close and personal than the average trekker would be.” In addition to paying for the logistics of any trek, Mountain Fund also uses the money raised to pay for medicine and medical supplies, US$3,000 worth on the last trip. After that, the remaining funds are funneled into a project, the latest being a new health clinic in Thulo Syabru, a village of about 70 homes north of Kathmandu near Tibet, something that took three years to become reality. MacLennan says the ongoing connection with the same people and villages in Nepal is what makes the Mountain Fund stand apart from other volunteer plans. “It’s a family affair and by the time you leave, they are your friends too,” he says. Volunteers often keep in touch with their newfound friends via a newsletter. As with any worthwhile trip, it’s not just the destination that is memorable, but also the chance to meet local people and learn about their lives. ✚

Life Lessons From top: Nepal’s majestic scenery; Nepalese at a medical clinic; a pottery shard from the Thai archaeological dig; green thumbs at work with Ritz-Carlton.

GUIDE TO VOLUNTEERING Earthwatch Institute The group’s archaeological work in Northeastern Thailand next takes place from November 24, 2008 to February 1, 2009. 3 Clock Tower Place, Suite 100, Maynard, Maine, U.S.; 1-978/461-0081;; one- and twoweek volunteer plans cost US$1,946 and US$3,146 respectively, including lodging, transport and meals. Open Minds Projects The Laotian program is geared towards those who have time on their hands. 1039/3 Keawworawut Rd., Nong Khai, Thailand; 6687/233-5734; openmindsprojects. org; a two- or three-week stay US$938, eight weeks US$1,554, 24 weeks US$3,243.

PEPY TOURS The 11-day Mekong cycling trip requires participants to raise US$750. Anyone interested should be capable of cycling 60 kilometers in a day. P.O. Box 1235, Phnom Penh, Cambodia; 855/92-361-849;; US$975. Mountain Fund The next twoweek trek in Nepal takes place in November. 27 Sumption, Sundia Park, New Mexico, U.S.; 1505/980-4520; mountainfund. org; all in-country costs US$1,900. Ritz-Carlton Give Back Getaways The Jakarta Habitat for Humanity project costs US$70 per person for a half day, with the next scheduled program on November 29.







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20 trips to change your world

Sustainable travel. Ecotourism. Fund-raising expeditions. Educational tour. Voluntourism. The lexicon of travel is expanding as quickly as the world is shrinking. For many, it is no longer enough to return home with a Turkish carpet or tales of an exquisite atoll. Travelers still want to explore Chile or the Loire in style, but they also want a deeper experience, and one that doesn’t leave a footprint, carbon or otherwise. In today’s world, travelers want to make transformations of their own. A range of organizations are answering that need, including luxury outtters like Buttereld & Robinson, environmental watchdogs such as the U.S.-based Sierra Club and new groups like Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS), which places volunteers in 12 countries. As with other vacation packages, there is staff to take care of the details—arranging airport transfers, setting up accommodations (a converted riad, a Maori lodge, a stateroom on an Amazon sloop) and coordinating work assignments. Whatever these trips might cost, all of them give back—to the travelers themselves as well as to the communities they visit. Debby and Tom Glassanos of Pleasanton, California, spent three weeks in Morocco with CCS where Tom, a Silicon Valley executive, worked with local women to increase their computer skills. Now, long after the couple’s return to the United States, he continues to share his expertise with his old students in a stream of e-mail exchanges. And interior designer Joe Naham and his partner, Jeffrey Fields, carried away from their trip to Costa Rica a lasting impression of the camaraderie that can develop between “voluntour” travelers of disparate backgrounds. Their group—including a nancier, a CNN anchor and a coffeehouse owner— discovered shared interests along with the new bond of their shared experience abroad. Volunteers also describe the rewards of contributing beyond writing a check, although the dollars these programs provide to communities and causes are signicant and often crucial. The itineraries that follow have the potential to make a difference in both your world, and the world. —A N N A R M B RU S T E R





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Explore the 26,000-hectare reserve around the lower Kinabatangan River oodplain, a strip of ancient jungle teeming with wildlife that’s being slowly squeezed by loggers and oil palm plantations. You’ll track and monitor orangutans and Borneo pygmy elephants, and plant trees as part of an effort to create safe corridors for animals around areas of human settlement. Trip Tip Tuck into high tea and then play a spot of croquet at the English Tea House & Restaurant (200 Jln. Istana; 60-89/222-544; RM18), located in a restored colonial villa on the grounds of the Agnes Keith House museum in Sandakan. Luxury Level Guests bunk down in dorm-style accommodations in Kota Kinabalu and Sepilok for a night each, before moving onto the Sukau Rainforest Lodge (, which has 20 simple but comfortable rooms on stilts.




the sofas on the main lodge’s veranda above the Diphlu River, and watch the park’s abundant bird-life, including storks,  sh eagles and hornbills. Luxury Level Nights are spent in some of India’s loveliest accommodations, including Singinawa Jungle Lodge (, the recently opened Diphlu River Lodge ( and The Oberoi in New Delhi (


On the road in Hoi An.

made silk shirts from the celebrated tailors of Hoi An. Luxury Level You’ll wind down at ve-star hotels, including the beach-side Evason Hideaway (, in Nha Trang.

* Natural Habitat Adventures; 1-800/543-8917;; 14-day trips from US$9,795, all-inclusive; February 16–March 1, 2009; March 5–18; November 20–December 3.



Skip the car and carbon emissions by biking through Vietnam. Cycle past banana plantations, rice paddies and villages, with stops at rice-paper craft shops and dragon-fruit farms. Trip Tip Bring home custom-


Butterfield & Robinson; 1866/551-9090; butterfi; 11-day itineraries from US$6,995 per person; various dates throughout the year.


step further and immerse yourself in rural life. Volunteers plant rice, build community centers and schools, and teach English to villagers. During your downtime, explore the waterfalls, temples and tea plantations nearby. Trip Tip Bring along some old clothes, which you can drop off at the Intrepid eld ofce. Luxury Level You’ll stay with families from the village, providing you an up-close view of village life in Thailand.

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Plenty of tourists visit the picturesque villages around northern Chiang Rai province for the day. Go a

Intrepid Travel; 61-3/9473-2673;; 14-day trips from US$1,240, all-inclusive; various

The Great Orangutan Project; 603/7724-2272;; two-week trips from US$1,998 per person, all-inclusive; various dates throughout the year.



Journey to the remote northeastern state of Assam and search for rare Indian rhinoceroses in Kaziranga National Park, where you might also spot otters, wild elephants and gibbons. Then y down to Kanha National Park—prime tiger country—and look for the endangered big cat from an elephant’s back. Trip Tip After a day’s safari in Kaziranga, settle into one of




Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort.


Anyone can hike through the rain forests and dive along the coral reefs of Fiji’s Vanua Levu Island, but participants in a Seacology expedition can preserve them. The nonprot helps conserve the island’s biodiversity by funding the building of schools and community centers for locals, who in exchange, create no-sh zones and forest reserves.


Trip Tip Seacology’s weekly diving trips to Namena Island are a must. The kilometers of unspoiled coral reefs make it one of the top diving spots in the world.

* Luxury Level

Accommodations are at the lovely Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort ( fi, where 25 private, traditional thatched bungalows overlook Savusavu Bay. »

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20 trips to change your world

BUFFALO TOURS Founded by a doctor, this Vietnam-based operator lists a range of volunteer vacations, from working with disabled children to medical treks in the country’s tribal hinterlands. It also works closely with the local communities where it operates, making sure they benefit from tourism. 84-4/828-0702 or 848/827-9170;; trips from US$765 per person.

Seacolog y; 1-510/559-3505; seacolog; eight-day trips from US$2,360 per person, all-inclusive; August 11–18, 2009.

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ANDAMAN DISCOVERIES This nonprofit assists villages in southern Thailand that were devastated by the 2004 tsunami. Participants can teach English, replant mangroves or run arts workshops for children. Short eco-tours are also available. 66/879-177-165;; trips from Bt2,800 per person. GRASS ROUTES Operating in the coastal Indian state of Orissa, this outfit runs cultural and wildlife tours that closely follow the standards of sustainable tourism (i.e., using local transportation, employing local guides). 91-675/225-0560;; trips from US$800 per person. —J E N N I F E R C H E N 110

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Get to know this lush South Pacic archipelago while lending a hand. Volunteers give children reading lessons; clear trails in the bird sanctuary; or assist scientists at the local Whale Research Center. Rarotonga island’s crystal-blue waters are ideal for snorkeling, and its volcano is a good hiking spot, as long as you have a seasoned guide. Trip Tip Don’t miss the

GRASSHOPPER ADVENTURES Based in Bangkok, this small company offers bicycling and trekking tours throughout Asia as well as several volunteer trips in Laos. Along the way, guides point out local charities and projects that travelers can donate their money or time to. 66/879-295-208;; trips from US$430 per person.


Westland National Park— a World Heritage Area covered by vast iceelds. Trip Tip Watch the waves from the Tasman Sea exploding through Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks at high tide. Luxury Level Guests stay at the stylish George Hotel ( in Christchurch and the intimate Old Convent Bed & Breakfast (theoldconvent. in Kaikoura.

Global Volunteers; 1-800/487-1074;; two-week trips from US$2,595 per person, allinclusive; departures year-round.



Spend two weeks in a rugged, but ecologically diverse landscape. Led by a seasoned naturalist, search for the elusive Brown Kiwi on Stewart Island and trek to

Natural Habitat Adventures; 1-800/543-8917;; from US$7,495, all-inclusive; January 26–February 8, 2009; February 16–March 1; March 16–29; November 2–15.



Colonial arches in Antigua.


Luxury Level Local families host volunteers in homes around Antigua; you’re guaranteed a safe and comfortable stay, since Global Vision screens all host families.

Spend nine days migrating with native monarch butter ies. Head west to Parque Nacional Eduardo Ruiz in the city of Uruapan. The highlight of the trip is the climb to El Rosario, a thriving buttery sanctuary where millions of the delicate creatures inhabit a 3,000meter-high protected forest. Trip Tip On your free day in Mexico City, arrange a visit to the ancient pyramids at Teotihuacán, 48 kilometers northeast, and, en route, the Basilica of Guadalupe. Luxury Level Although the hotels are simple, most are family-run and located in colorful colonial houses from the 1800’s.

Global Vision International; 1-888/653-6028;; from US$650 per person, allinclusive; trips year-round, starting every Saturday.

G.A.P Adventures; 1-800/7087761;; US$845 per person, meals not included; trips scheduled January–February 2009, departing every Thursday.




Get a dose of colonial culture in Antigua and teach children how to read in nearby villages. Every morning, Global Vision staff takes participants to these towns, where the company has helped more than 450 kids. Trip Tip Swing by Frida’s (5 Avda. Norte 29; 502-9/7820504; dinner for two US$25), for taquitos and burros.


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Responsible Tour Operators in Asia

Saturday morning Punanganui market, where stands overow with tropical fruits. Luxury Level The KiiKii Motel has simple yet clean rooms, with kitchenettes and a pool outside.

Trunk Bay, St John’s.




Explore America’s last frontier with a lowimpact excursion into Denali National Park. Cruise through Kenai’s fjords on a small ship, followed by a raft trip down the Kenai River, teeming with salmon, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Alaska Wildland Adventures donates 10

percent of its earnings to wildlife organizations such as the Alaska Conservation Association. Trip Tip Opt for the safarilike bus ride (instead of a  ight) on the 153-kilometer road into Denali, where wolverines and moose roam. Luxury Level After an evening at Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge (, on a

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private island, guests stay at the Kenai Back-Country Lodge, a former 1930’s hunting outpost with a lakeside wood-red sauna.

Alaska Wildland Adventures; 1800/334-8730; alaskawildland. com; eight days from US$4,295 per person, all-inclusive; June–September.



Kayak the Great Northern Peninsula’s shores and hike the 1,000-year-old Viking settlement L’Anse aux Meadows. Along the way, you’ll dine on wild caribou and native lobster. Buttereld & Robinson gives a percentage of its prots to local environmental groups. Trip Tip Take a trek to the abandoned  shing villages of Ireland’s Eye and Curley’s Harbour, left untouched since the 1960’s. Luxury Level You’ll spend an evening at the secluded 1865 lighthouse overlooking Iceberg Alley, then three nights at the soon-to-be-wind-powered Fishers’ Loft Inn ( fi

The 1922 Bonavista Lighthouse, on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland.

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Butterfield & Robinson; 1-866/ 551-9090; butterfi; US$7,995 per person, all-inclusive; July 19–25 and August 23–29, 2009.




The Sierra Club organizes weeklong eco-immersion trips to St. John. Amid the rain forests of the Virgin Islands National Park, volunteers assist archaeologists in restoring trails and 18th-century plantations. Trip Tip Bring your snorkeling gear to explore Trunk Bay, which has a 226meter underwater route marked with plaques identifying the different  sh species. Luxury Level Although the cabins are rustic, volunteers have a stretch of white sand practically to themselves.



Sierra Club; 415/977-5522;; US$1,295 per person; February 14–21, 2009. »

4 Top Websites for Traveling Responsibly GLOBALGIVING This nonprofit coordinates online donations for more than 520 charity projects worldwide. Visitors can search by region or topic. Eighty-five to 90 percent of your contribution is put to use within two months ( RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL RT created a socially sensitive directory of trips — organized by

location, activity and users’ reviews. The site’s staff regularly reevaluates all destinations ( THE TRAVEL FOUNDATION Though you can’t book eco-trips through the company’s website, visitors can download destination-specific guides addressing environmental concerns, and tips on how to maximize your experience while

minimizing your footprint when you travel ( SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL INTERNATIONAL Check out the company’s Eco-Directory for 250 tour operators, hoteliers and transport services, all dedicated to making the travel industry more socially effective (sustainabletravelinternational. org).—JULIA HOULIHAN

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20 trips to change your world Riding elephants at Abu Camp, in the heart of Botswana’s Okavango Delta.




Ride the world’s largest land mammals at Abu Camp, a 180,000-hectare reserve that was established in 1990 to help once captive animals return to the wild. Led by Wilderness Safaris, you’ll meet the camp’s elephant family—the newest addition is Baby Abu. Trip Tip Make sure to ask for the wine list with its many African options. Luxury Level Guests sleep in antique mahogany beds in raised tents with their own private balconies, complete with comfortable loungers.

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Since 2001, Habitat for Humanity has sent volunteers to three villages in Jordan for two weeks of building houses, with stops at Roman ruins, grand mosques and age-old souks. Expect six days of hard work rewarded by delicious traditional meals shared with locals. Trip Tip Brush up on basic Arabic with ArabicPod (available on iTunes). Luxury Level Teams eat and sleep in villagers’ houses, giving them an insight into their lives.

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Habitat for Humanity; 1-229/9246935;; 10-day trips from US$1,000 per person, all-inclusive; year-round. 112




Tour the country’s capital, Yerevan, and see the Matenadaran archives, one of the world’s richest collections of ancient manuscripts. Then travel by minibus to Gyumri, about 97 kilometers northwest, for language lessons and a stint documenting buildings damaged in the devastating 1988 earthquake. Trip Tip Yerevan’s Vernissage market (Republic Square) is an ideal place to pick up some intricate handmade tablecloths. Luxury Level Guests stay at the modern Hotel Europe ( in Yerevan, and at Gyumri’s simple, intimate 11-room Hotel Berlin (berlinhotel-g

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Earthwatch; 1-800/776-0188;; five-day trips from US$2,946 per person, double, allinclusive; check website for 2009 dates.

Green Visions; 387/3371-7290;; five days from 350 euros per person; June–September.


Tread softly through Europe by traveling via train. A guide will map out local secrets, from St. Denis’s market near Paris to the 377-year-old Eggenberg brewery in the Czech Republic. Trip Tip Donate to local charities through the Intrepid Foundation and it will match every dollar. Luxury Level Think apartments in Prague and homestays in Bled, Slovenia.


Hike the 1,950-meter Bjelašnica Mountain and visit three historic villages—Stanari, Dubocani and Lukomir—that were temporarily abandoned during the Bosnian war. Locals show travelers how to cook tasty Bosnian meals and weave traditional rugs. Trip Tip In Lukomir, trek through the 800-meter Rakitnica Canyon. Luxury Level You can choose to sleep in locals’ houses or camp in tents.

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Intrepid Travel; 1-866/847-8192;; 34 days from US$3,845 per person, all-inclusive except meals; Sunday departures year-round.


Wilderness Safaris; 267-11/8071800;; threeday trips from US$2,352 per person per night, all-inclusive; year-round.




With its 14-day itinerary to Antarctica, Abercrombie & Kent gives the climate-conscious an opportunity to assist with global-warming research as passengers deliver equipment to scientists at the Palmer Station. Explore the South Shetland Islands along the way, including remote Penguin Island. The only prerequisite: a US$500 donation to the Climate Change Challenge, an A&K initiative in partnership with Friends of Conservation. Trip Tip Make sure to pack your swimsuit for a soak in the thermal waters of Deception Island’s Pendulum Cove. Luxury Level There are 108 double cabins aboard the 133meter Minerva, each with a private bathroom and climate control. (Make sure to request a walk-out balcony.) The vessel also has a 93-square-meter health club and spa.

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Abercrombie & Kent; 1-800/5547016;; US$7,795 per person, all-inclusive; trips scheduled December 2008– February 2009.



G.A.P Adventures takes up to 106 passengers on its lowimpact M/S Expedition from Edinburgh to the Norwegian coast—stopping at the Orkneys, Shetland Islands, Bear Island and Svalbard. Spot enough puffi ns, minke whales, kittiwakes, reindeer and walruses—and, if you’re lucky, an elusive polar bear or two—to fi ll your camera’s memory card. You’ll also benefit from the knowledge of the ship’s team of naturalists during shore excursions. G.A.P asks that travelers donate to the trip-long Dollar-A-Day Program to assist the communities visited during the cruise; it will also match funds generated from on-board auctions (items include vintage watercolor sea charts) to support research on preserving the endangered polar bears. Trip Tip Take a plunge off the main deck before a trip to the sauna. It’s as invigorating as it is cold. Luxury Level The Expedition’s modest cabins include some triples and large suites, each with a private bathroom and windows overlooking ice floes and glaciers.

G.A.P Adventures; 1-800/7087761;; US$4,195 per person; May 25–June 8, 2009.



Explore these biologically diverse islands, still a hub for groundbreaking biological research nearly two centuries after Darwin’s first visit. Sign up for a Lindblad Expeditions trip and board either the 80passenger Polaris or the 48-guest Islander. Watch giant tortoises

foraging, swim with penguins and sea lions, and tour the Charles Darwin Research Center in Santa Cruz. Trip Tip The best time for snorkeling is from February through to March, when marine turtles emerge. Luxury Level Cabins on the Islander and Polaris are relatively spacious, with private bathrooms. Bonuses: yoga classes and a spa. 

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Lindblad Expeditions; 1-800/3973348;; US$4,740 per person; operating weekly.

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Travelers trek through the snow in Antarctica.

Cruise with a Conscience With 70 percent of cruises traveling to biodiversity hotspots, from Galápagos to Molokai, there are concerns about the ships’ impact on fragile environments. As an estimated 14.2 million passengers are expected on board in 2010 (a 49 percent jump since 1998), the cruise industry is working to become more eco-friendly. According to Steve Collins, director of environmental programs for the Cruise Lines International Association, the U.S. Coast Guard routinely monitors ships’ discharges and emissions, but now cruise lines are going further than the law requires. Many lines are switching to gas turbine engines to reduce emissions, and others are adopting dockside electric shore

power, which allows ships to plug into an outside source of electricity while in port, reducing pollution from onboard generators. When the technology was first introduced in Seattle, emissions from docked ships were reduced by 30 percent. Some vessels have installed advanced wastewater-treatment systems and are rerouting their itineraries to avoid eco-sensitive areas such as coral reefs. Still, these efforts are not universal, so it’s up to travelers to do their research. Collins recommends checking out each company’s ecological policies on its Web site or contacting its environmental department. — W I N G S Z E TA N G O CTO BER 2008| T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A . C O M




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Finding BANGKOK’S white-hot center Southeast Asia’s top NATIONAL PARKS Collectives that keep TRADITIONS alive TEL AVIV: reshaping a resilient center 115

Bangkok nights

Summer heat, red curry and disco balls: GARY SHTEYNGART finds the white-hot center of Thailand’s booming capital city. Photographed by CEDRIC ANGELES

Bangkok’s Grand Palace at night. Opposite: A local couple at the Siam Paragon mall.


oe to a hairy man in the world’s hottest city.

Bangkok: where the three so-called seasons—Hot, Wet and Why are you doing this to me?—are a fur ball’s primordial nightmare. Here I am on a busy street (is there another kind in Bangkok?), my eyes blinded shut with perspiration, my shirt a monsoon of salt and desperation, my ne arm hairs thick and clumped and ragged, a halo of condensed humidity following me around like the rainy cloud in a child’s drawing. Everywhere food vendors smile at the drenched, staggering, hairy farang. With great cunning and a little Thai sing-along, each one liberates me from about Bt50. A drunk guy points out his gap-toothed comrade, who gives me a sublime pork sausage on a stick. An old woman sells me a tentacle tasting of sweetness and the sea. A still older woman feeds me pigeon-egg omelets charged with soy sauce. By a wobbly ferry pier I munch on chicken and oyster mushrooms tossed with Thai ginger from an overworked chef who, in the U.S., would win a James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award, but in Bangkok is just another grandma with a wok. She slings some red curry into a plastic bag. Leaving a wet trail behind me, I make my way to Lak Muang, Bangkok’s golden municipal phallus, where young women, their pretty features rendered prettier by sadness and hope, pray for fertility. I open my plastic curry bag and let the smell of chili peppers wend their way into my giant white nose, so that I may surrender completely to the basic nature of the city around me. The average human being is composed of 62 percent water. But here in Bangkok, both from within and without, I am nothing but pure heat. “I’m hot! I speak Wall Street English,” a young woman informs me from a billboard advertising a language school, in one of Bangkok’s SkyTrain stations. Most cities in the developing world are at least several cities at once: palimpsests of colonialist remnants jutting up against past stabs at modernity and gleaming attempts at wholesale globalism. But with the opening of the SkyTrain in 1999, and the even-more-futuristic Singapore-style underground system in 2004, Bangkok can now be handily divided into two cities. To paraphrase Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters: “You’re either on the train, or you’re off the train.” »


Siam Paragon mallâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s glass exterior.

I feast royally on grilled blackened shrimp that cry

A Tale of Two Cities Clockwise from top left: Fried ďŹ&#x201A;owers at Ruen Mallika, a restaurant located in a traditional teak house; fried frog with chilies outdoors at Arharn Pa Lerd Rod; Kingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Castle, a Patpong go-go bar; the interior of Siam Paragon, an ultra-modern shopping mall.


out for a turn in the Christmas-colored spice bath

City Escapes Clockwise from top left: Crowds on Khao San Road, long a lively haunt for the young at heart; Am, a friend of the author’s, flanked by naval officers at the Royal Thai Navy Institute; the city’s SkyTrain lines are a great way around town; a doorman at Bed Supperclub.


I’m a simple man from a difficult place, so when a sweet woman washes my feet with rose petals I almost cry

The fare, between Bt15 and Bt40, is beyond the reach of many locals, so taking the SkyTrain puts you into an air-conditioned middle-class cocoon far from the Technicolor madness of a typical Bangkok street, yet infused with a Thai sense of reverence and hierarchy: a monitor showing Christina Aguilera’s latest video hangs over a sign admonishing, PLEASE OFFER THIS SEAT TO MONKS. Bangkok, as seen from the SkyTrain, appears a jumble of oxidized hovels, clotheslines and satellite dishes, above which gathers a typically ruined Third World sky, while in the far and middle distances, a new postmodern cityscape of luxurious condominiums has seemingly been airlifted from Miami’s Brickell Avenue. “The Residence. The Lifestyle. The Address,” boasts the tagline for a 71-story Gargantua to be called The River. The SkyTrain is certainly a part of that lifestyle. Running along the seemingly endless restaurant-, club- and mall-studded Sukhumvit Road, it dangles the fantasy of an arctic-cool future Bangkok. After the gaudy 1990’s investment boom covered the skyline with gilded schlock, a recent design frenzy has left parts of the city looking like one vast boutique hotel, all teak and matte and clean white surfaces that barely acknowledge your reection. The Dubai-class opulence of the Siam Paragon mall off Siam Square left me as befuddled as the sweltering streets of the city’s center. Here, golf carts whiz across oceanic expanses of marble, and a silent Lamborghini dealership sits above a crowded KFC. Glazed-eyed Thai youngsters ash by, looking like they’ve spent days wandering the premises in search of their new selves. I know how they feel. It took me hours to get out of Siam Paragon, too. I kept getting shunted into lesser malls, and during one anxious moment almost drowned in a koi pond. Somewhere along the way a new kind of Zen saying plastered to an elevator explained the reality of today’s Asia: “The more you shop,” it read in English, “the more you get.” I meet Am, the lovely daughter of a Thai admiral and an employee of a Western oil company, who epitomizes the new Bangkok. Her nickname (Thais go by nicknames instead of their complicated full names) stands for Ambition. She takes me to a mall (since closed) where the main restaurant features a dish that has conquered the aspirational classes from Russia to Peru: miso-crusted salmon on braised fennel. As I digest the ho-hum salmon, my belly aching for an assault of local chilies, I am endlessly charmed by the elegance of Am and her friend Oh. They’re not doing anything special, just passing around the plates, dishing out the food, making jokes at the expense of my friend Gabe, a hefty American ex-marine and quietly bril122

liant novelist. But it’s their economy of movement, the perfect wattage of their toothy smiles, and the good spirits of the Thai dining table that make me want to understand the complex country around me, not to mention deposit Oh and Am at the next Brooklyn dinner party, which awaits my return. Like all Bangkok residents, Am is a foodie (“Tom yum goong tastes better with coconut milk,” she declares in a way that will brook no dissent), so I happily follow her to one of her favorite restaurants, Som Tam Nua, on one of the sois, or side streets, that branch off from Siam Square. This humble place, with a fast-food sheen that could be at home in any L.A. strip mall, features Isaan food, from Thailand’s northeast. From raw mango to spicy pork salad, the dinner is a esta of strong chili and onions, everything moist and perfect, waiting to be sopped up with sticky rice. Every color, save violet, seems to be represented on our table. The natural acidity of Isaan cuisine will help you digest the baskets of fried chicken, which are a must. It takes two to three hours to prepare poultry of this magnitude. The crisp goodness of the chicken is the result of an overnight marinade in sh sauce and pepper, as well as a skinny-dip in pineapple juice, which, Am joyfully informs me, tenderizes the bird. That detail does not surprise as much as the Isaan version of chitterlings—as thick and deadly and glorious as anything the American South has ever produced—which crackle in the mouth and are perfect with a drop of jaew sh sauce, a riot of coriander, red onion and lime.


it’s hard to turn back. The next day my stomach demands more. I nd myself sweating along a tiny soi off Sukhumvit Road in pursuit of the Arharn Pa Lerd Rod outdoor restaurant (no English sign, but it’s opposite the My Beauty spa). It’s a dump, with wash hung out to dry and stray cats in the background, but I feast royally on grilled blackened shrimp that cry out for a turn in the attendant Christmas-colored spice bath, and the nd of a lifetime, fried frog with hot chilis (they seem to be out of the cobra today). Luxuriating in a mess of holy basil, born in the rivers and canals of the Thai capital, this is the most sophisticated amphibian I have tasted in my life. Unfortunately, it’s also full of toxins that nearly kill me—as I leave the restaurant my hand swells up to the size of an American turkey. But, as the Thais say, mai pen rai, or “never mind.” The tussle with death is well worth it, the spice producing a heat that spreads quickly down my mandibles and pulses into the temples, reminding me, ironically enough, of the » NCE YOU START DOWN THE SPICE ROAD

Katoeys performing at the Asia Hotelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Calypso Cabaret.

The futuristic Rama VIII Bridge across the Chao Phraya River; delicious, Isaan-style dishes at Som Tam Nua. Opposite: Bed Supperclub’s sleek flashlight interior; a manager at Tapas Room Club.

The people here, it must be said, are truly beautiful, slogan the municipality has hung from every street lamp— “Bangkok, city of life.”


S MY HAND DEFLATES A LITTLE, I rush over to the an-

nual Miss AC/DC pageant. Thais, elegant and subtle when needed, can be natural showboats as well, and none more than the katoey “ladyboy” population. The all-Thai cast of the show lampoons the Miss Universe contest, with Miss Romania as the vampiest Dracula in the Far East, Miss Italy as a giant soccer ball, Miss France as the Mona Lisa (complete with canvas) and Miss Philippines as Imelda Marcos. The katoey are hardly outcasts in this tolerant society. Many participants are students and nurses, and one is a professor at a prestigious local university. “Welcome, ladies and handsome mans,” one adorably shy performer croons to us. “My name is La Toya Jackson,” shouts a katoey in an African loincloth, “and I am from the Con-go!” A Buddhist spirit of compassion prevails, mixed in with the never-ending Thai need of sanuk, or fun. Garlanded boys hand out condoms. Snacks of tiny live crabs are cheerfully conked on the head by one robust-looking ladyboy. Miss Japan is a dwarf who charges down the stage on a tiny motorcycle. Miss Egypt is unpacked from an elaborate pyramid. And Miss America, in her star-spangled cheerleader’s outfit—she will later win the crown—arrives onstage in a tank holding aloft a globe 124

plastered with dollar bills. I sigh, wondering if I will ever enjoy a transvestite cabaret in a tropical country without being reminded of American foreign policy. Fortunately, Am is here to guide me to a nearby stand dispensing kanom krok, little morsels of coconut milk heated with sugar and a dash of salt, a combination of melting and crisp, and everything good besides. The next day, with the frog nearly out of my system, I follow Am’s recommendation and head for Divana Massage & Spa, off Sukhumvit Road. In a quiet garden abode, with hi-so maidens chirping quietly on their mobile phones while waiting for their appointments, I gulp down green tea with ginger and an ingredient the staff claims to be pandan leaf, which makes me goofy and relaxed. I’m a simple man from a difficult place, so when a sweet young woman washes my feet with rose petals I almost start to cry. Seventy minutes later, my hirsute self duly rubbed, anointed with fragrance, and restored to humanity, I leave the room completely high and ready to suffer again.


VENING HAS GRADUALLY ENVELOPED the relentless megalopolis, the temperature plunging into the low 30’s, and I am anxious to experience Southeast Asia’s most fabled nightlife. Lately the city’s “Hello there, sailor!” reputation has taken a hit after the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration began enforcing a 1 A.M. closing

if in a monied way, from clubby expats to hi-so girls time for the city’s clubs and bars, part of its paternalistic Social Order campaign. But then came the September 2006 coup (“a sweet coup,” according to Am), which sent the prime minister into exile in London, and the city’s party-mad denizens are hoping for a reversal of fortune. Tapas Room Club, with its friendly vibe, is a nice introduction to the lay of the land. Here, a disco ball is still a disco ball, and Bt160 will buy you a whiskey, although one can only guess at the unknown variables circulating behind the smiles. But the place of the moment, for about the time it will take you to finish this article, is Bed Supperclub, located on yet another soi off the all-purpose Sukhumvit Road. A tubular wonder seemingly composed of some kind of advanced polymer that may yet help us win the war on terror, Bed resembles, from different angles, a sleek flashlight, a robotic eye or the beginning of a Martian invasion. Once past the bouncers, you are in a painfully minimalist white barn headed for outer space. The people here, it must be said, are truly beautiful, if in a coarse, monied way, running the gamut from clubby expatriates and showy hi-so girls in late-model jeans to women for sale with those patented US$200 smiles and expensive orthodontia. True to the club’s name, you can lie down on a series of white, oddly comfy beds to watch a man giving a woman’s bottom a deeptissue massage on the dance floor while a 136-kilogram lothario

slaps his own butt in a frenzy of movement and sweat. “This is so Miami,” says Adrienne, on loan from Manhattan for a few weeks, as she sips her “Gay-a-licious Ice Tea,” heavy on rum and Fanta. She’s unimpressed, to be sure, but also unwilling to look away. It’s hard to look away in a city swathed in spectacle, sexuality, tight duds and fake gold, the color of denial. A smile will always be returned here. And then some.


HIS STORY HAS A HAPPY ENDING. On one of the most revered days of the Thai calendar—the birthday of His Majesty King Bhumibol, much beloved by his subjects—my friend Adrienne and I dine at Ruen Mallika, which, with a menu as thick as the Talmud, is as much a restaurant as a veritable encyclopedia of Thai food. A traditional nobleman’s teak house, where overweight carp make the rounds of a peaceful outdoor pond, Ruen Mallika graces a povertystricken stretch of the Asoke neighborhood, which is being handed over to a spate of high-rises, a fragment of what’s been lost to development and questionable taste. We order deep-fried pagoda flowers, roses, Chinese chives, flowering cabbage—as crisp and light as anything in an Italian fritto misto. The tiny omelets floating in the fish stock of the spicy and sour shrimp curry prove that fish and eggs could indeed be kindred. It is the Thai Father’s Day as well as HM the King’s »


birthday, and the beautiful sarong-clad waitress hands us a holiday card after our meal. It is an image of two elderly parents, who, she tells us, are begging their children to forgive them. “We’re old,” the card reads in Thai. “We’re in the house now but soon we will be leaving you. We won’t be around for much longer.” The waitress starts to tear up as she reads it to us. “I’m sorry,” she says, overcome by the card’s universal portent, abandoning us to our flowering cabbage. Meanwhile, the royal motorcade speeds down the city’s ceremonial avenues. Trees are shot through with golden light. Searchlights ll the sky above the oodlit palaces. Hundreds of thousands are lining the road, chanting “Long live the King!” and weeping openly, a sea of yellow shirts with the royal insignia over the heart.

Earlier I was at Wat Suthat, one of Bangkok’s most serene temples. An 8-meter-high Buddha image sits surrounded by murals that depict his life, murals as complex and elaborate as the city outside the temple’s walls. The image’s gigantism is something out of myth; it amplies and claries our place in the world. One focuses on less and less. A young man praying. Incense from joss sticks wafting over the fans. Tired workingmen who have fallen asleep. The aerials of the city peeking through the windows. And then, as the eyes will themselves shut, a foretaste of the nal destination of the Buddhist cycle, the one element missing from Bangkok’s kaleidoscopic swirl. Nothingness.  Gary Shteyngart is a T+L contributing editor.

GUIDE TO BANGKOK 2/659-9000; mandarinoriental. com; doubles from US$389. The Peninsula Bangkok A city standard for luxury. 333 Charoen Nakorn Rd.; 66-2/8612888;; doubles from Bt9,600. The Sukhothai Tasteful atmosphere in the heart of Bangkok. 13/3 South Sathorn Rd.; 66-2/344-8888; sukhothai. com; doubles from Bt7,600.

WHEN TO GO The ideal time to visit is from November to February. Avoid the sweltering summer rainy season. GETTING THERE Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport is one of the region’s main hubs, with multiple daily connections from all of Asia’s major centers. GETTING AROUND Skip city traffic by using the SkyTrain, or BTS, which runs through Bangkok on two lines. The MRT, an underground rail system, also makes central downtown stops. WHERE TO STAY The Eugenia Housed in a fauxcolonial mansion, this 12-suite inn has copper-plated bathtubs and numerous antiques. 267


Sukhumvit Soi 31; 66-2/25990179;; doubles from Bt5,800. Four Seasons Hotel A sophisticated property with details like hand-painted silk ceilings. 155 Rajadamri Rd.; 662/250-1000;; doubles from Bt10,000. Grand Millennium Sukhumvit Bangkok A new five-star property with sweeping skyline views. 30 Sukhumvit Soi 21; 662/204-4000; millenniumhotels. com; doubles from Bt4,600. Ma Du Zi A 41-room hotel with attentive service and airy, high-design rooms. 9/1 Ratchadapisek Rd.; 66-2/6156400;; doubles from Bt17,250. The Oriental The riverside grande dame of Bangkok hotels. 48 Oriental Ave.; 66-

WHERE TO EAT Arharn Pa Lerd Rod 595/22 Sukhumvit Soi 33/1; 66-2/2585070; dinner for two Bt257. China House At The Oriental; renovated in the style of a 1930’s Shanghai dance hall. 48 Oriental Ave.; 66-2/659-9000; dinner for two Bt2,945. ISAO This pocket-size sushi bar prides itself on ultrafresh ingredients. 5 Sukhumvit Soi 31; 66-2/258-0645–6; lunch for two Bt925. Long Table A Sukhumvit favorite, serving Western dishes accented with Eastern spices. Column Tower, 48 Sukhumvit Soi 16, 25th floor; 66-2/302-2557–9; dinner for two Bt3,200. Restaurant at Ma Du Zi One of the best French restaurants in Bangkok. 9/1 Ratchadapisek Rd.; 66-2/615-6400; dinner for two Bt3,400. Ruen Mallika 189 Sukhumvit Soi 22; 66-2/663-3211–2; dinner for two Bt1,320. Som Tam Nua For Isaan favorites. 392/14 Siam Square Soi 5, off Rama I Rd.; 66-2/2514880; lunch for two Bt150.

WHERE TO SHOP Geo Household accessories, clothes and jewelry from upand-coming local designers. 998 Sukhumvit Soi 55, Room 6; 66-2/381-4324. Siam Paragon 991/1 Rama I Rd.; 66-2/690-1000. THANNnative For handicrafts and natural Thai beauty products from brands such as Harnn and Thann. Gaysorn Plaza, third floor, 999 Ploenchit Rd.; 66-2/656-1399. WHERE TO GO OUT Bed Supperclub 26 Sukhumvit Soi 11; 66-2/651-3537; Nest Le Fenix hotel’s rooftop bar has hammocks and tables in a garden setting. 33/33 Sukhumvit Soi 11; 66-2/305-4000. Tapas Room Club 114/17-18 Silom Soi 4; 66-2/234-4737. Winter An outdoor bar that attracts a hi-so crowd. 199 Sukhumvit Soi 49; 66-2/392-2747. WHAT TO SEE AND DO Divana Massage & Spa 7 Sukhumvit Soi 25; 66-2/6616784–5;; spa packages from Bt2,350. Lak Muang (City Pillar Shrine) Sanam Chai Rd. at Lak Muang Rd.; no phone. Thailand Cultural Center A top venue for dance and classical music performances. Ratchadapisek Rd.; 66-2/2470028; Wat Suthat 146 Bamrung Muang Rd.; 66-2/224-9845. —J E N N I F E R C H E N

Tapas Room Club, a friendly intro to the Thai capital.


Kinabalu National Park is one of the world’s densest biodiversity sites.


Dive in and around some of the world’s finest coral reefs, raft into a primeval forest, come face-to-face with your red-haired distant cousin or take a whiff, if you dare, of the planet’s largest flower. These—and a great deal more—are all there in the green treasure chests that are Southeast Asia’s many national parks. Covering some 15 percent of the region and found across 10 countries, these sanctuaries form islands of astonishing biodiversity, often ringed by escalating development. They offer visitors a sense of wonder, open-air classrooms and a chance at sheer fun.


Kaeng Krachan Kinabalu


OUTHEAST ASIA’S NATIONAL PARKS and other government-protected areas are among the earth’s finest, 11 of them having been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Given their variety, dramatic contrasts and possibilities for a range of experiences, a lifetime of exploration would not be enough to do them all justice. Interested in wildlife? The Komodo National Park of Indonesia protects the largest living species of lizard on the planet, the Komodo dragon, which grows to between 2 and 3 meters long. Burma has established the world’s most extensive tiger reserve in the Hukawng Valley in its far north. Elephants send shivers down the spines of car drivers as they lumber along the road in Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park. And few are those not totally enchanted after meeting up with orangutans—the highly intelligent and human-like creatures—in Borneo’s Tanjung Puting National Park. Need a dose of adventure? Dive with sharks in Tubbataha Reef Marine National Park off the Philippines, a magic coral kingdom. Or climb Mount Kinabalu and, en route, smell the Rafflesia arnoldii, the world’s largest flower but one with the odor of rotting meat to attract pollen-spreading carrion flies. Although magnificent, Kinabalu is often erroneously billed as Southeast Asia’s highest mountain, an honor that goes to Hkakabo Razi, a 5,881-meter, snow-capped peak embedded within a national park in the north of Burma. Conservationists hope that these marvels will convert visitors into staunch defenders of the irreplaceable sanctuaries— repositories for still-undiscovered species, life-giving watersheds, fighters against climate change, places of beauty. What would happen, they say, if we lost Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, within sight of Singapore’s high-rises yet endowed with more species of trees than the North American continent? Or Vietnam’s Vu Quang Nature Reserve, a “lost world” where scientists first documented the saola, a strange goat-like wild ox, only in 1992, and new plants that may one day cure a disease?

C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P L E F T : © G AV R I E L J E C A N / O N A S I A . C O M ; © S U N H E Y Y / D R E A M S T I M E . C O M ; © YA H L I O N G / D R E A M S T I M E . C O M ; © P I N D I TA H 1 0 0 / D R E A M S T I M E . C O M

Kaeng Krachan National Park Thailand WHEN TO GO The best time to visit the park is during the cooler and drier winter months, from November to February. GETTING THERE The park is an easy three-hour drive southwest of Bangkok along good roads. The friendly staff at headquarters provide English-language information and guides, who are essential for longer treks. WHERE TO STAY Private bungalows, tents and lodges are available around the park boundaries, including the Kaeng Krachan Country Club and Resort (66-32/459-260;; bungalows from US$45). Three camp sites are located within the park itself (66-32/459-293, k.krachan_np@; from US$36). T+L TIP Some excellent restaurants, with local freshwater fish as their specialty, are set on the shore of the reservoir.

Natural Beauty Opposite, clockwise from top left: Sunset in Kaeng Krachan; a Great Hornbill; Kinabalu’s beauty is also found away from the summit; a pitcher plant in Sabah.

THAILAND’S LARGEST AND possibly finest national park offers everything from a morn-

ing of superb bird-watching to strenuous, weeks-long treks deep into a wilderness where tigers, elephants and the nearly extinct Siamese crocodiles call home. Some visitors to Kaeng Krachan National Park never get past the park’s vast reservoir, studded with forested islands and framed by hills rising to distant peaks. But even greater beauties lie further on as one navigates up a rough 35-kilometer road into the sanctuary’s heart, which borders an extensive, sparsely populated area of Burma at the northern end of the Malay Peninsula. The park’s rewards are many. Visitors can trek through some of the most pristine tracts of forest left in Thailand, which shelter 58 mammal species, including the Asian elephant, gaur, leopard, bear and tiger. Scientists have even found the Siamese crocodile, previously thought extinct, capturing its image with a remote camera trap. Near the park’s 1,207-meter Phanoen Thung peak lies a campsite from which early risers can enjoy one of the area’s highlights—a “sea of fog” that gathers almost every morning in the surrounding valleys. The tough trail to the park’s second highest peak, more than 6 kilometers long, requires five to six hours of hiking. Some of the park’s 350 species of birds, which include six species of hornbill, can be spotted along and off the road. A network of trails leads into remote reaches of the 2,915-square-kilometer reserve. The going can be tough, since more than three-quarters of the park consists of slopes greater than 30 degrees. The nine-level Thorthip Waterfall is accessible along a steep, 4-kilometer trail, while visiting the Tharntip and Hinlad waterfalls, both located on a tributary of the Phetchaburi River, is best left to a three- or four-day loop through the park. For those who only have time for a one-day hike, Pranburi Waterfall is easily accessible and spreads itself out, flowing across three scenic tiers.—A N T H O N Y M E C I R 131

Kinabalu National Park Malaysia



main draw is obvious. The cloud-shrouded peak of Mount Kinabalu is omnipresent, rising to 4,095 meters, one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia. Each year, this mesmerizing granite massif inspires some 20,000 visitors to endure the trek to its summit and back. Sunrise at Low’s Peak is well worth the thigh-burning, knee-jarring, ankle-straining experience. Along the way, rough-hewn steps hamper getting into a good walking rhythm, while rain and moisture make the path slippery, and altitude saps much of what remaining energy is left. Rest houses are spaced every kilometer or so along the trails. Guides are mandatory, and optional porters are well worth the cash. The climb can be accomplished in a day, but most extend it overnight, stopping at the 3,273-meter point, Laban Rata, and making a painfully early start, around 3 A.M., to reach the summit for sunrise. Ascending via the longer, but less severe, Mesilau trail and descending on the Timpohon trail is also an option. Ironically, many visitors miss the park’s full beauty by focusing on the frantic rush up and down the mountain. Kinabalu National Park’s 750 square kilometers is one of the world’s densest biodiversity sites. Its staggering flora and fauna, and almost unparalleled endemism, made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. It boasts more than 700 varieties of orchids, 500-plus types of fern, with combined plant species totaling more than 6,000. These include insect-eating pitcher plants, and the Rafflesia arnoldii, the world’s largest single flower. There are pygmy squirrels, Borneon gibbons, leaf monkeys, orangutan, slow loris and tarsier among more than 100 species of mammals. Add to that more than 600 species of butterflies, and you begin to get a good picture of this park.—G R E G L O W E


WHEN TO GO April offers the best weather, while November and December are the wettest and best avoided. GETTING THERE The park is two hours by road from Kota Kinabalu. Fly direct to Kota Kinabalu from key Asian destinations, or take one of the many daily connecting flights from Kuala Lumpur. WHERE TO STAY On the mountain at Laban Rata (6088/871-454; rooms from RM546); it’s advisable to book three months in advance. In the park, Mesilau Nature Resort (60-88/871-733; rooms from US$800). T+L TIP Be aware of additional costs when climbing Mount Kinabalu: the park-entry fee is RM15; a climbing permit is RM100; guide fees are priced from RM70 per climb and porter fees are RM100 for a summit climb.

Rice terraces near Mount Arayat. Left: The view from atop Mount Kinabalu. Opposite page from left: Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world; an orangutan in the wilds of Mount Kinabalu National Park.


Mount Arayat National Park Philippines DEEP IN THE FORESTS OF Mount Arayat, legend has it that an angry goddess lurks. Mariang Sinukuan was at one time a generous spirit, keeping watch over the nearby villagers, but once spurred by their greedy plunder of her mountain home, she became a menacing presence. Today, stories of this mystical creature are an added benefit to visiting the Philippines’ most accessible park, Mount Arayat National Park. The park, which is just 45 minutes north of Manila by car, offers an inactive volcano as a dramatic landmark that rises more than 1,000 meters from the surrounding landscape, which is as flat as a pancake. Visitors start at a small ranger station, where guides are available for hire and background information on the park is readily at hand. At times, there has been unrest on the mountain so solo hiking is not recommended unless it is coordinated through the ranger station. That said, the park has clearly marked trails and spectacular views of the rice fields and rapidly developing Central Luzon area. The hike starts off on a dirt road, which quickly narrows through lush foliage, passing waterfalls and pools of cool water that are perfect for a quick dip. The hike to the summit and back will take an entire day, three or four hours each way, so plan to leave at dawn. While there is little wildlife on the mountain, the views and proximity to services make this national park stand out. A shorter hike to view the formation called White Rock takes about an hour and includes a stop at what locals refer to as “7-11,” a small store and the last chance to stock up on supplies. Once past this point, there is no water on the mountain, except that which the goddess Mariang Sinukuan provides for you.—F L OY D W H A L E Y

WHEN TO GO Slightly cooler and drier conditions prevail in the north of the Philippines from December to early May. GETTING THERE The national park is a short drive from Manila, with most hotels located near the Clark Freeport Zone a short drive away. WHERE TO STAY Nearby Clark Field is home to a Holiday Inn Resort (Mimosa Drive, Clark Field; 63-2/845-1888; hircf@comclark. com; doubles from P5,848). T+L TIP A two-day visit starting in Manila, with a visit to the ranger station on arrival and a tour of the national park on the second day, is the best itinerary for most.


Bunaken Preah Monivong

Bunaken National Marine Park Indonesia Bunaken National Park

C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P L E F T: A D A M PA P E ; © C O R N E L I S O P S TA L / D R E A M S T I M E . C O M ; A R O O N T H A E W C H AT T U R AT / O N A S I A . C O M

WHEN TO GO The dry season lasts from May to October. Northern Sulawesi’s wet season lasts from November to March but is not a serious concern. GETTING THERE Silkair flies four times weekly from Singapore to Manado, while Garuda Indonesia has three daily flights out of Jakarta to the city. Most resorts shuttle guests to and from Manado. WHERE TO STAY In Pangalising, Living Colours (62/81-2430-6401;; doubles from US$90) is a barefoot chic collection of bungalows with thick wood floors, stylish stone bathrooms, coconut wood beds and ample deck space. It’s an allinclusive resort run by a Finnish couple who double as dive photographers. T+L TIP Pay for your national park fee at your resort. It costs Rp50,000 per day but an annual pass is normally a better option, costing only Rp150,000.

Preah Monivong National Park WHEN TO GO November and December are the best months to visit; avoid going in July to October, when heavy rains make the paths treacherous. Nights on Bokor can be chilly, so dress appropriately. GETTING THERE The sleepy riverside town of Kampot — a three-hour drive south of Phnom Penh — is the gateway to Bokor. Expect to pay US$15 per person for tours, while the park’s entry fee is US$5. WHERE TO STAY Most accommodations in Kampot are still on the modest side. One standout is Rikitkitavi (855/12235-101;; doubles from US$30), an immaculate guesthouse, with six comfortable rooms and a lovely rooftop restaurant. T+L TIP Before your journey, pick up some provisions at Epic Arts Café (near the old market; 855/12-350-824).

Exploring Asia Opposite, clockwise from top left: Anemone fish in Sulawesi; gorgone coral in Bunaken National Marine Park; church ruins in Preah Monivong National Park.

of tropical, Technicolor dream. The coral wall popped with color and swarmed with thousands of fish. It was a gentle feeding frenzy and, from a global perspective, a beautiful anomaly. In an era when vibrant reefs all over the world are becoming bleached ghosts at an alarming rate, I was a witness to something all too rare, an intact marine ecosystem. Plus, for the first time in my relatively young diving life, I didn’t have to work to keep my buoyancy or kick to move forward. I was flying. Hands out front like Superman, soaring forward and back in a joyously shifting current. And when I bubbled to the surface after 45 minutes of diving bliss, there was Ole, the septuagenarian Norwegian backpacker, swirling on the surface as if in a vast washing machine. Soon my dive buddies and I joined him in the spin cycle, and all of us were laughing like mad when the boat came to bring us back to our stylish bamboo huts overlooking the Celebes Sea. That’s Pulau Bunaken for you. It’s nestled just off of Sulawesi, an hour from Manado. Most who land here come to explore Bunaken National Marine Park, a cluster of five islands and pristine coral reefs. The majority stay on the island of Bunaken, dive at least twice a day, spotting the park’s 300 varieties of coral, and 3,000 species of fish. Given Bunaken’s growing popularity some resorts refuse non-divers, but there’s a place for those here too with white sand beaches, crumbling cliffs and thick mangroves to explore.—A DA M S KO L N I C K


Preah Monivong National Park Cambodia ENCOMPASSING 1,400 SQUARE kilometers along the Elephant Mountain range, Preah

Monivong National Park—better known as Bokor, after its highest peak—isn’t famed for its spectacular waterfalls, rich biodiversity or even the lone tiger rumored to be living in its perimeters. Instead, its distinction lies in something entirely manmade: a hill station built by French colonialists in the 1920’s. Home to the onceglamorous Bokor Palace casino, the resort was abandoned in the early 1970’s, before the region fell to the Khmer Rouge. For more than two decades, the hill station was off-limits, and was left to decay. Until the beginning of this year, curious tourists could either hike to the hill station, perched at 1,080 meters, or endure a bone-rattling, two-hour drive along the road the French had carved into the mountain. But major change lies ahead for Bokor. Early this year, a Cambodian conglomerate launched a US$1 billion redevelopment plan. The old buildings, which include a church, hotel and post office, will be restored. But there’s also talk of motels, a golf course and condos. Understandably, conservationists and rangers fret about the impact the development will have on the park and its inhabitants. Whatever lies in store for Bokor, the trip—a one-day hike through sometimes tricky terrain—still promises rewards such as dense, primordial jungle, gnarled trees stunted by the wind and the mildewed skeleton of Bokor Palace.—JENNIFER CHEN  135


Traveling to Kenya and India, SHANE MITCHELL visits four collectives that are keeping handicraft traditions aliveâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and entire cultures thrivingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;while offering new opportunities to the women who belong to them. Photographed by DITTE ISAGER

Sharing a meal at Vijay Khanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s workshop, in Mahmudabad, India. Opposite: Pashmina scarves adorned with feathers and African beads at Anna Trzebinskiâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s studio, in Kenya.




airstrip is excusable in the chartless desert of Kenya’s Northern Frontier. After banking steeply around Ol Donyo Sabachi, a sandstone peak where wild elephants roam, Rick the bush pilot drops his Cessna 210 from the dry blue sky, kicking up clouds of pink dust on the short runway. I begin to worry when no vehicle appears to be waiting for us. Climbing out of the cockpit, my friend Anna Mason, a safari guide and equine therapist, looks around at the vacant hills and decides we should probably be elsewhere. The pilot radios for directions. Sure enough, we are just shy of Sereolipi, one degree north of the equator between the trading post of Isiolo and the Ethiopian border. Our journey into the Kenyan bush will begin there, as Mason and I head off to meet a collective of Samburu tribeswomen. I credit my fascination with handicrafts to faulty DNA: I belong to a creative gene pool but can’t draw a straight line. (Imagine being the child of artist parents with a studio full of supplies, and having no clue what to do with tubes of Winsor & Newton oils.) To compensate, I collect. My taste tends to wearable trophies, and I also am interested in supporting female artisans in Kenya, India and elsewhere. Think of women’s collectives as a global quilting bee. In remote societies that share no obvious cultural »

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Out of Africa Clockwise from above: A Samburu woman creating a beaded lamp; a Masai woman at work; butterflies on display at Trzebinski’s house; Lemarti’s main tent; guest room No. 1 at the camp; traditional Samburu jewelry.

Women in traditional dress at Anna Trzebinskiâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Nairobi workshop.


denominators, women are gathering together and employing traditional craft skills to sustain their communities’ welfare. Whenever other tasks—herding goats, fetching water, nursing babies—can be set aside, the women in these collectives create one-of-a-kind baskets, rugs, bracelets, shawls, pottery, anything that can be made by hand, for small sums that offset daily expenses such as medicine, food, clothing and school fees. The only drawback when a family’s breadwinner happens to be a woman, rather than a husband, brother or son, is surmounting—or circumventing—hidebound conceptions about who holds the purse strings. These self-improvement initiatives have also started to afford some members certain freedoms that women in the West largely take for granted, such as choosing their own husbands. second time, at the correct airstrip, we spot our contact, Chief George Ilpaliwan Lemerketo, in a pickup. The local government administrator, he invites us to ride in the truck, which belongs to Jane Newman, a retired ad executive from Britain who worked in New York. She first visited this settlement eight years ago, when a friend’s Land Rover broke down during an expedition to Addis Ababa. Since then, Newman has adopted Sereolipi as her personal mission, badgering her friends and former colleagues to sponsor dormitories, libraries and solar-powered computers for the area’s primary schools. She also convinces me to visit neighboring Ndonyo Wasin, near the Matthews Range, where the locals living in mud-hut manyattas (villages) produce colorful bracelets made of glass beads and recycled tire rubber. Lemerketo climbs into the cab and Mason and I sit down on an improvised cushion under a canvas canopy in the back. Two Samburu home guards sit behind us. One clutches an AK-47, necessary protection on this frontier. They begin a call-and-response journey song that wavers whenever we hit ruts in the unpaved road. In Swahili, Mason politely asks them to point the gun outside the truck. Scraping past thorn trees, we turn off the main track to bump over rocks in dry creek beds. Spotted guinea fowls and their chicks scurry out of our way. Spindly dik-diks, deer the size of newborn lambs, rest under dusty shrubs. It takes almost two hours of rough driving to reach Ndonyo Wasin. Soon, I hear a welcome song from beyond a screen of bushes. Tightly bunched, a dozen women walk toward the



twig shelter where we are resting. They wear printed orange, turquoise and lime-green cotton shukas (cloth, or coats) knotted underneath layered chest plates of wire and beads, an ensemble that demands elegantly erect posture. A tarp is spread in the shade and they sit solemnly, with passive faces, as we are formally introduced. Jacob, who purchases their trade beads, translates our conversation. In a society where wealth still grazes on four hooves, Newman has been encouraging this group to earn a little hard currency using techniques and patterns that are unique to the Samburu aesthetic. Two of the women, Peneten and Narika, nurse babies bundled close to their breasts. I am transfixed by the sayen enkwe (headdresses), stitched with leather and plastic buttons, on their shaved heads. The workmanship is exceptional, so I praise it. Overcoming their shyness, they unpack a pile of bracelets, rings and neckbands. Our visit is unhurried. We talk about husbands, milking cows, schooling for the children. Most of the women are in their late twenties, although they don’t keep track of years the way I do. Only Veronica, who wears intricate braids, has been as far as Nairobi; most have barely ventured to Sereolipi. The sun drops down over the mountains, softening the harsh foliage to a tangled silhouette against the pale silver and rose sky. Mason admires a pair of tanned goatskin bags and asks the price. That’s when the negotiating kicks into high gear and we find a stack of jewelry and bags in our laps. All the women clap their approval. At this point, I bring up the headdresses again and ask whether anyone would be willing to sell one. After I offer to pay whatever price is named, four ladies add theirs to the pile. Then, a woman called Priscilla surprises me. She proffers one of her own layered chest plates, requests 1,500 Kenyan shillings (the price of a goat, or about US$22), but seems willing to settle for less. However, she grabs up her headdress and resolutely jams it back on her cropped hair. Not paying attention, I look at other work on the tarp until Mason leans over and whispers that Priscilla has become very quiet, her body shaking slightly. Facing her, I ask if it would help to pay the original amount for her necklace and she brightens. Mason and I are careful to pick something from everyone in the group, even though the skill levels vary, as there is no singling out of talent in Samburu culture. We settle up with Jacob while the women of Ndonyo Wasin gather, chatting and giving us gifts of little rings and singlestrand necklaces. Peneten rubs her bald head and wants to see what she looks like without her sayen enkwe. Using my digital camera, I extol her shorn beauty. She has a lovely smile. A full moon is rising and the women disperse, striding on »


recycled-tire sandals into the distance. Lemerketo, Mason and I sit on folding camp chairs as his warriors grill a freshly slaughtered goat over wood. It tastes like wild herbs. Curiously, another headdress arrives by courier. It belongs to Priscilla. Afterwards, as I lie on the ground, covered in a thin wool shuka, the moonlight shines on my face. I can’t stop wondering why she decided to relinquish her headdress after all. Sereolipi, Mason departs for Nanyuki and I fly to the highlands, where I will soon learn the significance of beads for the Samburu and for their cousins, the Laikipiak Masai. On a bluff facing south toward Mount Kenya, I look down at an ocher plain bisected by the muddy, rock-tumbled rivers that allow these tribes to sustain a way of life that has changed little for centuries. As Kenyan-born Julia Francombe and I walk toward a beading workshop called Sampiripiri (Samburu for “butterfly”), at Ol Malo, her family’s farm on the edge of the Laikipia Plateau, she remarks, “Endangered animals get more funding than people here.” An Oxford grad, Francombe started a charitable trust during a severe drought in 2000 as a way of supporting her neighbors, who were starving as their livestock died of thirst. She is blunt about how austere the lives of women can be in this environment, lacking such basics as medicine and primary education. When I bring up female circumcision, a rite of passage still practiced by the Samburu, she says, “I’m here to assist, not to change.” As we observe stragglers hurrying toward the workshop with red plaid shukas flying, Francombe tells me their jewelry is “like a diary.” Pointing to a woman wearing a harlequin collar, she continues, “There is a language to the beads. I can tell how many suitors she has had, how long she has been married, the sex of her children. Westerners have nothing like it.” Bead colors and shapes have significance: green for grass or infants, red for blood or young women, white for purity. Clued in to the visual messages of their jewelry, I can now read these women’s lives. It makes me feel guilty to think that I treated their headdresses, redolent of woodsmoke and perspiration, as mere objects. The earliest known African beads, discs fashioned from ostrich eggshells, date to 10,000 B.C. The first glass beads were apparently imported from India around 200 B.C. Subsequently, European and Arab traders bartered beads for



ivory, gold and slaves. In many African societies, beads are still highly prized for both everyday and ceremonial ornamentation. For nomads like the Samburu there is little point in decorating their households, so they concentrate on personal adornment. And, it seems, the men are just as vain about their appearance as the women. When I meet Kandari Leparsulan, a Laikipiak Masai who was given the saintly name of Boniface when he was at missionary school, he is wearing an ndarasha headdress of plastic flowers. His friend Dominic has an equally flashy bead necklace with a bow-tie motif. Both work for Nairobi-based designer Anna Trzebinski, who operates Lemarti’s Camp on the Uaso Nyiro River, a two-hour drive south of Ol Malo, where it’s verdant enough for scented acacia and fig trees to bloom. The men escort me to a gathering of warriors and unwed girls who dance for hours in the midday sun. I want to watch the spectacle, but the married women have laid out an equally attractive display of beaded baskets, walking sticks and jewelry. They ask me questions about how they should deal with wily traders from the Kikuyu tribe. Back in Nairobi, I visit Trzebinski’s studio. She adopts African motifs in her clothing line that uses materials from around the world (suede from Germany, pashmina from Nepal, Kenyan ostrich and flamingo feathers). Her second marriage, to Samburu tribesman Loyapan Lemarti, has raised eyebrows among the uptight “Happy Valley crowd,” the descendants of the European whites who settled in the Great Rift Valley. She couldn’t care less. Trzebinski allays my concern about Priscilla’s change of heart. Standing among leather samples and art supplies, the designer insists, “It’s no blunder. They find it easy to refuse unless they really want to sell. And they will always make new ones.” She employs 45 women who earn between US$200 and US$400 a month on beaded piecework. They wear Western clothes, carry mobile phones and speak English. Sitting at one of the tables, I ask these big-city women to show me how to bead. One, a softspoken, fine-featured young woman named Kerubo, is decorating a leather bag strap with a handsome woven pattern. About five years ago, when she dropped out of secondary school, she learned beading from her mother, who also works for Trzebinski occasionally. Now she is a mother herself, with a five-year-old daughter to raise. Kerubo hands me a hole punch for piercing the cowhide and a bowl filled with purple beads. Capturing precisely 10 of these on a needle takes a ridiculous amount of time. I can barely see the holes. The others duck their heads, trying to hide broad grins at my lack of dexterity. »


Stitches in Time Clockwise from above: Lucknowâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Chota Imambara mosque; embroidery detail at the Qilasaaz workshop; members of the collective; scarves with gold and silver stitching, produced at the workshop; a woman dons her veil.


Vijay Khan, the founder of the Qilasaaz collective.


and on the threshold of a society the diametric opposite of Kenya’s nomads, I climb into the backseat of a cream-colored Birla Ambassador car where Vijay Khan sits, shielded by silk curtains from her driver, Waseem. He closes the door and gets behind the wheel to navigate the congested streets of Lucknow, the 18th-century capital of Uttar Pradesh, in northern India. We drive out of the city across the broad Gangetic Plain, passing fields planted with wheat and lentils, drying dung heaps shaped like stupas, and faded brick temples. The dusty road is shaded by exhausted mango and eucalyptus trees waiting for the late-summer rains to revive them. At mid morning, it is already 32 degrees. A petite woman with amber eyes and expressive hands that emphasize her points, Khan self-consciously crosses out the title of rani on her calling card. She is married to Mohammad Amir Mohammad Khan, known to his family as Sulaiman, the Raja of Mahmudabad, a city in the Sitapur district. His ancestral holdings include a massive 600-year-old fortress, where the family continues to observe purdah. As practiced by both Hindus and Muslims in India, purdah requires women to remain modestly veiled in public and to maintain separate living quarters from the adult male members of their household. Unless her two sons find wives interested in adopting the custom, she may be the last rani in the family to practice the “protocol of the unseen.” Being a “purdah lady” in the 21st century, especially after attending Smith College and Cambridge, means Khan is adhering to a doctrine established 1,400 years ago while she wrestles with modern issues such as e-commerce and trunk shows in London and Manhattan. “I am deeply privileged,” she says to me, as Waseem leans on the klaxon to urge along a Brahma bull blocking the road. “I can cross worlds. Others can’t.” Khan has invited me to visit her embroidery collective, called Qilasaaz (“the fort and its wherewithal,” in Farsi), to meet those who belong to this partitioned world. We talk about her motivation for founding Qilasaaz. “My purpose is to contribute to their life, not to give them a lecture,” she explains. “They are employed with the full knowledge of their husbands, so it has not been subversive.” As we drive through rural villages, I catch tantalizing glimpses of life on the street through a slit in the curtains—a barber tending his customer, roti on the griddle in a cook stall, a stray dog dodging a rickshaw loaded with bundles. We arrive at the weathered fort’s main gate, big enough for elephants to enter. (They once did.) Inside the main courtyard, pink and butter-yellow plastered brick walls are punctuated by scalloped windows and wooden balconies. At the entrance to the women’s quarters, Waseem shuts off the engine as



attendants draw a folding qanaat (protective shield) around the car. Khan’s maid Shameem signals that we can enter a hallway unobserved. Less grand than the public rooms where Sulaiman Khan greets guests, the women’s side of the house has its own central courtyard, flanked by whitewashed columns and inner gardens. In a shaded chamber with heavy green doors left open to catch any slight breeze, the Qilasaaz ladies are seated on a white canvas–covered floor, bent over their stitching. Like the women of Ndonyo Wasin, they also wear vibrant colors: shell pink, parrot green, lavender. Their hair is drawn back in thick braids. Shoes are piled at the entrance. Noise from a political rally in the streets scarcely penetrates, although somewhere bells chime the passing hours distinctly. Part of Khan’s mission is to preserve a Lucknowi embroidery technique called chikan. Plopping down against a bolster, I take a closer look at their threadwork. As someone who accidentally sewed a Girl Scout sampler to her uniform, I am envious of the adroit, miniature patterns. Circles, whorls, raised knots, running stitches, piercings, shadow fish, curled flowers and silver leaves grace the exquisite clothing. Even the seams are hand-stitched. Qilasaaz uses tissue-thin khadi (homespun cotton), silk, chiffon and broadcloth made from pulped bark, which Khan sources from hand-weavers and dyers who know she is interested in sustaining their crafts as well. A ruby red crêpe de chine jacket with gold edging hangs on a dressmaker’s dummy. Samana and Bibi unfurl an intricately embroidered sari. They teach me the Urdu words for each type of stitch: phanda (raised knots), jaali (pierced), and hath-kati (drawnthread work). Samana, who has a solemn face and graying hair, supervises Qilasaaz when Khan is away. She makes notes on a new sleeve style for some beach tunics I want sewn from brightly striped cottons. The workshop breaks for lunch in a side veranda as the soaring heat whitens the sky. Seated on a raised platform, the women unpack steel tiffin boxes of curry, chapati and rice. Gesturing to the quarters, Khan tells me, “This space is bigger than their houses. Qilasaaz gives them regular work, and some sense of independence.” Khan emphasizes that all proceeds go directly to the younger members. “They can spend their wages however they wish, buy gold or pay school fees, but I also encourage saving,” she adds. One of the unintended consequences is that the younger women seem to be having fewer children as their families recognize the earning potential of their skills. Khan’s mother, Rama Mehta, was a noted diplomat and author of Inside the Haveli, a fictionalized account set within the women’s quarters of an aristocratic Hindu household. The novel emphasizes community and respect for elders rather than what Westerners would perceive as oppression. (A lecture series on women’s issues at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study was named for Mehta by her friends » 145


Kenyan Kaleidoscope Clockwise from above: Julia Francombe, founder of the Sampiripiri collective, on the edge of the Laikipiak Plateau; beaded baskets at Francombe’s workshop; an archway at the Ol Malo ranch; Ol Malo’s pool; details of Samburu beading work. Opposite: A daybed at Lemarti’s in Kenya.


ON THE PALMS OF BRIDES John Kenneth and Catherine Galbraith.) While we eat chickpea pakoras, Khan expresses nostalgia for an era when the Mahmudabad qila swarmed with aunts, grandmothers, in-laws and cousins. “There’s nobody left,” she acknowledges, “to tell me off.” Toward the end of our day, when I show the Qilasaaz women photos from Ndonyo Wasin and Ol Malo, Khan translates their shock. Despite its Bollywood image, India remains a deeply conservative country when it comes to deportment and dress. Still, seeing photos of women from another continent in unusual dress clearly fascinates the sheltered group. Unfinished tasks are folded away, and three women draw veils across their faces while others simply cover their heads. Suddenly, the riot of color is subdued, but definitely not the women’s sense of humor. While two tie imam zamin safety charms (rupee coins knotted inside a strip of fabric) to Khan’s peach-colored sleeve, I admire the decorative henna swirls on the palms of several recent brides. Despite the language barrier, I discover common ties as they prepare to depart. Pantomiming, I want to know where else temporary tattoos are drawn. Pointing to my upper arms, hands and feet, the group nods yes each time. At the risk of being provocative, I point to my derrière. It takes a split second for the absurdity to sink in. Then they crack up, laughing uproariously. 

GUIDE TO WOMEN’S COLLECTIVES WHEN TO GO In Kenya, avoid the rainy seasons from March to May and October to December. For Uttar Pradesh, the cooler months between October and March are best. GETTING AROUND Journeys by Design This East Africa safari expert can organize transportation, guides and accommodations in Kenya. 44-1273/623-790; Cox & Kings The company is an invaluable resource if you’re planning a trip to India. 1-800/ 999-1758; WHERE TO STAY KENYA Lemarti’s Camp At this fivetent campsite, hosts Anna Trzebinski and her Samburu husband, Loyapan Lemarti, arrange visits with beadworkers. Koija, Laikipia, Kenya; 441273/623-790; journeysbydesign.; doubles from US$1,340, including all meals. Ol Malo Four guest cottages and a six-bedroom villa sit on a 1,200-hectare ranch. 441273/623-790; journeysbydesign.; doubles from US$1,060, including all meals. INDIA Taj Residency Lucknow A modern 110-room hotel near the Chowk street market for chikan embroidery. Vipin Khand, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh; 1-866/969-1825;; doubles from US$185. GREAT VALUE

COLLECTIVES Arzu The name means “hope” in the Afghan Dari dialect; this NGO sources exquisite tribal and modern rug designs from female hand-loom weavers. Lao Textiles Founded by textile expert Carol Cassidy, this

collective in Vientiane creates tribally inspired, tapestry-weave silk scarves and fabrics. Retailers include Asia Society (asiasociety. org), Museum of Craft & Folk Art ( 856-21/212-123; Qilasaaz The cooperative’s clothing is carried at Ensemble (36 Santushti Shopping Arcade, New Delhi; 91-11/2688-2207), Livingstone Studio (36 New End Square, London; 44-20/74359586), and Liwan, (8 Rue St. Sulpice, Paris; 33-1/43-26-07-40). Custom orders for Qilasaaz clothing, pillows and napkins can be placed at Sampiripiri The gift shop at Ol Malo in Laikipia carries bead and leather crafts made by Julia Francombe’s Sampiripiri collective. In the United States, order nesting baskets either through Economic Development Imports (1-917/520-7290; or One World

Projects (1-585/343.4490; Thea (Thread of Hope for Economic Advancement) Founded by clinical social worker Marie de la Soudiere, this sewing cooperative in Manila’s Penafrancia barrio makes cotton nightgowns, children’s clothing, and a collection of resort wear sold at COMO Hotels and Resorts. Thorn Tree Project Interior designer Clodagh sells bracelets made by the women of Sereolipi and Ndonyo Wasin. 1-212/7805300; WHAT TO READ The History of Beads, by Lois Sherr Dubin (Beadwork Books), is a comprehensive illustrated account of beads, while Inside the Haveli, by Rama Mehta (Penguin), explores life in the women’s quarters of an aristocratic Hindu household.


Tel Aviv Modern

An inďŹ&#x201A;ux of wealth, progressive culture and world-class cuisine is reshaping this resilient Mediterranean metropolis. Michael Z. Wise reports. Photographed by Martin Morrell

Frishman Beach, part of the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 5-kilometer stretch of sand. Opposite: Air Force cadets take a break at Azrieli Center, home to one of the largest malls in Tel Aviv.


Quality Life Singer Ivri Lider and filmmaker Gal Uchovsky document Tel Aviv’s “bubble” lifestyle. Opposite, clockwise from top left: Revelers in Tel Aviv Port; Mul Yam, a seafood restaurant in Tel Aviv; Hotel Cinema, a former movie theater known for its after-hours scene; Tel Aviv’s diamond district.


N THE AFTERNOON I ARRIVE in Tel Aviv, Palestinian militants step up their protracted barrage of missiles on the town of Sderot, a mere 64 kilometers to the south, this time killing a civilian. Amid such disturbing news, it seems appropriate that my first evening’s plans involve dinner with writer and film producer Gal Uchovsky, whose latest movie, The Bubble, is a drama about the way Tel Aviv’s pleasure-seeking residents cope with the surrounding turbulence by focusing on their personal lives. “It’s in the back of your mind that you live in a war zone,” Uchovsky tells me as we settle in on the terrace of Cantina, an Italian restaurant on vibrant Rothschild Boulevard. “But look around. Many people want to live apolitically and have a modern, Western life, as if this is London or Paris.” From our seats we enjoy a view of the boulevard’s central allée of graceful ficus trees. Hipsters clutching mobile phones saunter by, new parents push Mercedes-like strollers and so many yoga-mat–toting beauties appear that I can see why at least eight modeling agencies have opened here in recent years. A trendy young crowd clusters at an open-air espresso bar, one of dozens dotting the city. Uchovsky points out a few local celebrities at Cantina, which is frequented by television anchors, film directors, authors and athletes. “People here are similar to the average New Yorker—the average American city person—in their interests, what they care about,” he says. Indeed, increased affluence and sophistication are enabling a great many Tel Avivans to take refuge in the bubble, or what Israelis call habuah. “What Mideast crisis?” the first-time visitor might ask after surveying the lively scene. »


Sunny Days Taking in the Mediterranean sun in the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s rehabilitated port district. Below: The Opera Tower apartments on the former site of the Tel Aviv Opera House.


“We all have this idea of Israel as a heaven with perfect weather and beaches, and in Tel Aviv, people feel that the situation around them is interfering with the idea of heaven.”


ESPITE THE TURMOIL around it, Tel Aviv has enjoyed a boost in quality of life over the past decade. Jerusalem is Israel’s political and religious capital, but this, the nation’s second-largest city, is its hub of culture, finance and media. The city’s Europeanstyle shopping streets and ebullient nightlife have long been a refuge from the ethos of self-sacrifice that characterized the Jewish state’s first settlers, and the infusion of wealth is adding a glossy surface. After completing their mandatory military service, an eager cadre of young Israelis has opted for a less onerous tour of duty: training as sous-chefs in France, then returning home to lead a culinary renaissance. Innovative new restaurants, patisseries and fine chocolatiers are commonplace. Recognizing Tel Aviv’s appetite and appreciation for superior cuisine, star Parisian chef Joël Robuchon plans to open here. As a result of a high-tech boom (Israel has more companies on the NASDAQ than any other nation after the United States), many founders of start-ups live and work here. Glittering towers designed by Philippe Starck, I. M. Pei, Richard Meier and Ron Arad are on the rise, and Donald Trump is said to be building a 70-story luxury apartment complex in the suburb of Ramat Gan. Alongside its laissezfaire attitude, beautiful beaches and balmy Mediterranean climate, Tel Aviv has plenty of verve and style. “This is one of the best-kept secrets in the world,” says Dov Alfon, editor-in-chief of Israel’s leading newspaper, Haaretz, when we meet the next day. “But still, in the hotels here you’ll find some Australians, French and Canadians who are not Jewish, who have heard about Tel Aviv as a fun place, a place where people are generally very nice.” While politics in Jerusalem skew toward the right, Tel Aviv’s voters are overwhelmingly liberal, with a greater proportion against continued construction of settlements in the occupied territories and in favor of an independent Palestinian state. Locals pride themselves on inhabiting “an island of progress and sanity in an ocean of irrationality and backwardness,” conservative Israeli academic Maoz Azaryahu writes with a hint of irony in his book, Tel Aviv: Mythography of a City. The rainbow flag of gay liberation flies alongside Israel’s blue-and-white national banner on streets here; for the past seven years the Tel Aviv municipality has been the official sponsor of the annual gay pride parade. “Tel Aviv is one of

the gayest cities I know of,” says Ivri Lider, one of Israel’s top pop singers, who came out a few years ago in a front-page interview for a leading tabloid. “You live your life and I live mine,” he says, “and we respect each other.” Lider created the sound track for The Bubble and he knows intimately the psychological phenomenon the film chronicles. “We want to be Tel Aviv, and we want to try to live as if there were nothing around us,” he says. “Everybody agrees about the importance of Israel for the Jewish people, but a lot of us are really depressed about going through so many phases of war and wishing for peace for so long. We all have this idea of Israel as a heaven with perfect weather and beaches, and especially in Tel Aviv, people feel that the situation around them is interfering with the idea of becoming heaven.” Yael Hedaya, an acclaimed writer whose tragicomic novel Accidents is set in Tel Aviv’s bohemian milieu, sees residents sharing a “desire to be normal. Some may look at the city with disdain and say, ‘How, with all this going on, can you sit there asking if you want this pasta dish or another?’ But I think it’s healthy.” She adds wryly: “It’s very exhausting to be politically involved all the time. It’s a terrible responsibility to have to be informed all the time.” Although Tel Aviv has been periodically rocked by suicide bomb attacks, violence has tapered off dramatically of late, and the city has become increasingly safe since the construction of the controversial security barrier walling off Israel from the Palestinian territories it has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War. “Yesh l’chah neshek? ”—Hebrew for “Do you have a weapon?”—is the question guards ask as they inspect bags at the entries of restaurants, cafés, shops, museums and just about every other public building in town. The nonchalant query is but one of Tel Aviv’s vivid, sometimes unsettling contrasts and incongruities. During my stay, Israeli restaurants and wineries set up booths in Hayarkon Park to showcase delicacies in the annual Taste of Tel Aviv festival; the same park acts as a shelter for hundreds of evacuees from missile-plagued Sderot, who live in a tent city. Khakiuniformed, machine-gun–toting off-duty soldiers windowshop along Sheinkin Street, where a kabbalah center sits next to the flashy Menz underwear shop. Hanging from an apartment just above a fashion boutique called Bullets are large Hebrew letters spelling out a mantra based on a » 153

revered Hasidic rabbi’s name, meant as a rallying cry for a return to traditional Judaism. Tel Aviv, founded in 1909, also features the largest concentration of Bauhaus architecture in the world. Long stretches are decrepit and begrimed, but many buildings have been pristinely restored since 2003, when the city’s extraordinary architectural legacy earned it the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Bauhaus Foundation Museum, housing original furniture and other designs by the likes of Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer, opened in April on Bialik Street. Gentrification is polishing the rough edges of the city center, where tranquil side streets of crisp white buildings, inspired by the work of Le Corbusier and Erich Mendelsohn, overflow with palms and banana and orange trees.


YELET BITAN-SHLONSKY, A CURATOR setting up a new museum of municipal history to mark Tel Aviv’s coming centennial, tries to put the city’s juxtapositions in perspective. “Tel Aviv has conflicts, but they live beautifully together,” she says. She recalls sitting on her balcony on Rosh Hashanah and simultaneously hearing one neighbor playing the shofar, the ram’s horn blown to mark the High Holy Days; another playing a Chopin melody on the piano; and a third listening to a soulful recording of Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. “All this within 83 square meters, and it’s lovely,” she says. I experience the urban cacophony myself when I check out the boisterous nightlife. Accompanied by my Israeli cousin Shira, a costume designer, I settle in first at a supper club called Nanouchka, where high-spirited women in their twenties (paying customers) dance atop the U-shaped bar. Later we drop in at a more subdued spot with the decidedly ironic name of Jewish Princess, where a medieval-looking portal leads to an invitingly gloomy space. The following day I wander the famous beach, eventually happening upon a secluded swimming area near the Hilton Hotel that is encircled by high walls. Here, Orthodox Jewish men and women bathe on alternating days. In typical Tel Avivan fashion, this enclave of modesty is near the gay beach, where a gym-chiseled crowd in Speedos lounges in the afternoon sun. By this point I’m starting to wonder if Tel Aviv is simply ground zero for escapism. Has Judaism’s prophetic tradition been jettisoned in favor of Dionysian revels in what Zionist leaders proclaimed the first Hebrew city? “There is escapism,” says Dov Alfon. “But it’s not exactly escapism. It’s a real will to live. It’s a hymn to life. Happiness is important for most Tel Aviv inhabitants. Not the American perception of finding happiness, but happiness on a daily basis—a good cup of coffee, a nice girl or a day at the beach.” The beach, of course, is central to the Tel Avivan ideal. “Every Jew, myself included,” wrote Yiddish-language author Sholem Asch in 1937, “has two requests from God: a place in paradise in the afterlife and a place on Tel Aviv’s beach in this


world.” I get his drift as I stretch out on one of the many chaises longues lining the sand. A masseuse sets up shop under a nearby umbrella. A middle-aged Israeli puts himself in her hands while his wife goes for a swim in the warm, generally placid water. Tel Aviv’s proponents claim it’s easier to get a proper espresso here than in Milan, so I order up a cup from one of the halter-topped waitresses who ply beachgoers with snacks and drinks. (Tel Aviv is one of the few foreign markets that Starbucks unsuccessfully tried to conquer.) Properly caffeinated, I get up for a walk along the promenade that runs the entire 5-kilometer beach, from Jaffa in the south to the old port in the north. “Five years ago this was a desert,” says city council member Zohar Shavit, who meets me in the port area, where warehouses have been converted into stylish, bustling restaurants and shops. One of the most popular is Shalvata, an open-air waterfront bar and restaurant named after a well-known Israeli psychiatric hospital. Tel Avivans throng here on weekends under an expansive canopy of woven palm fronds; the setting could just as well be Santa Monica. They sip the Israeli beer Goldstar as their children play in the restaurant’s sandbox. Next door, at a chic retail and gallery space called Comme il faut, I’ve arranged to meet artist Ricki Puch, who takes me around a group exhibition installed in the atrium, which is surrounded by an emporium selling clothing made exclusively from natural fibers, an organic-food café and a spa. The show, for which Puch created silicon breasts and a sculpture made of bras, has a feminist theme and includes works by provocative Palestinian artist Hanan Abu Hussein, who is displaying rubber molds of certain anatomical regions, adorned with razor blades. Cultural experimentation has been on the agenda since Tel Aviv’s founding. Writers and musicians flocked here from Europe to help establish a new center of Jewish culture, liberated from the confines of shtetl, or village, life. By 1926, the city had built an opera house, where Verdi’s La Traviata was performed in the newly revived language of the Bible. Today Tel Aviv is inarguably one of the most culturally vital centers on the Mediterranean. The local weekly entertainment guide City Mouse out during my visit weighs in at 162 pages. It brims with listings for movies, art exhibitions, theater, cabaret, concerts by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and smaller classical music ensembles, jazz clubs, stand-up comedy and scholarly lectures—an impressive array for a city of 380,000 people. (The metropolitan area population totals 3 million.) Still, it’s not hard to detect the anxiety that lurks beneath the appearance of conviviality. Throughout my 10-day stay, local newspapers report extensively on Tehran’s advancing nuclear-enrichment program, amid ongoing threatening rhetoric from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “The incredible intensity of Tel Aviv is due to the combination of celebrating life and a strong awareness that all this »

“Happiness is most important for Tel Aviv inhabitants. Not the American perception of finding happiness, but happiness on a daily basis — a good cup of coffee, a nice girl, a day at the beach.”

Diners at Coffee Bar, a bistro on Yad Harutzim Street, home to many bars and clubs.


Changing Faces Right: Estee Cohen in the newly opened Bauhaus museum. Opposite: A guard in the Azrieli mall.

is really very brittle,” says Tel Aviv University professor of psychology Carlo Strenger. Since I’m in Tel Aviv on Shavuot, the holiday marking God’s gift of the Torah to the Jewish people, I’m eager to experience how it’s celebrated here. The most traditional Jews observe Shavuot by staying up all night studying the Five Books of Moses. I attend an updated version of this marathon study session at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Several thousand people, many dressed in white as is customary during the festival, mob the sold-out event, which begins at 9:30 P.M. and continues until sunrise. Lectures on the Bible, contemporary literature, the environment, photography and art—interspersed with jam sessions by popular Israeli musicians—are held in Modernist galleries filled with Bonnards, Rothkos and Picassos. The following day in the Bauhaus historical district I witness a young man putting handouts on car windshields advertising a Shavuot feast at the city’s only S&M club. A “white, sexy dress code” is mandated, coyly retaining an element of tradition for this walk on the wild side. Not for nothing have observant Jews been denouncing Tel Aviv as a new Sodom and Gomorrah since Israel was created in 1948. Two years ago, newspaper columnist Ari Shavit accused Tel Aviv of embodying the demise of communitarian values, and the loss of political will and direction on the part of the country’s elite. “They deceived themselves and those around them that Tel Aviv is in fact Manhattan,” he wrote in Haaretz. Orni Petruschka, an alternative-energy entrepreneur who sold the optic communications company he cofounded to Lucent Technologies for US$5 billion in 2000, takes exception to the accusation. “There are many people in Tel Aviv who are doing sacred work,” he says when we talk in his office. “Things that are in line with the traditional Israeli ethos—people who work in all sorts of NGO’s, or volunteering. Society is thriving because of these sectors, which take responsibility for issues where the government has abdicated it.” Petruschka is a cofounder of an Arab–Israeli peace initiative and a director of the Abraham Fund, which strives for greater civic equality between Jews and Arabs within Israel. “Despite the somewhat negative outlook regarding Iran, the never-ending conflict and the dysfunctionality of the government,” he says, “there’s an excitement about what’s being created, materially, socially and culturally.” 156

Political activist and award-winning graphic designer David Tartakover is also striving to make a contribution. Tartakover, who has created iconic posters opposing the occupation of the West Bank, moved into the then-dilapidated neighborhood of Neve Zedek 28 years ago. Now it is full of shops and cafés and is home as well to the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre, where the celebrated Inbal and Batsheva dance companies are based. Tartakover takes me to see a brilliantly colored mural he designed for the building, illustrating the neighborhood’s early history. Tartakover also designed the memorial to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 by a right-wing fanatic following a peace rally held at City Hall, and I decide to visit it with activist and curator Ami Steinitz on my last afternoon in Tel Aviv. The memorial consists of nine bronze CD-size discs affixed to the pavement where the murderer, the premier and his entourage stood. Arrows on each disc indicate the direction each figure was looking at the fateful moment; the bodyguards were all facing away from the leader they were charged to protect. As Steinitz and I arrive at the site, a street musician is playing Puttin’ on the Ritz on a clarinet, and half a dozen youths brandish placards offering free hugs. The unexpectedly exuberant scene at a spot commemorating a national tragedy indicates that the bubble isn’t about to burst anytime soon. 

GUIDE TO TEL AVIV GETTING THERE Two major Asian hubs, Bangkok and Hong Kong, offer nonstop flights to Tel Aviv aboard El Al. WHERE TO STAY Cinema Hotel Housed in a Bauhaus-style building that was one of the first movie theaters in the city. 1 Zamenhoff St.; 9723/520-7100;; doubles from US$182. Dan Tel Aviv A shorefront hotel built in the late 1950’s, recently renovated to preserve its original Modernist design. 99 Hayarkon St.; 1-800/223-6800 or 9723/520-2525;; doubles from US$320. WHEN TO GO For mild, sunny weather, the best times to visit are midMarch through June, and September through midNovember. Temperatures above 38 degrees are not uncommon in July and August.

Hotel Montefiore The city’s latest boutique property was opened by two restaurateurs. Eight of the 12 rooms have private balconies, while all come with staff on call 24 hours. 36 Montefiore St.; 972-3/564-6100; doubles from US$450.

WHERE TO EAT Boya A busy spot in the old port, with a deck overlooking the water. Tel Aviv Port; 972-3/5446166; dinner for two US$87. Cantina 71 Rothschild Blvd.; 972-3/620-5051; dinner for two US$70. Coffee Bar Despite the name, actually a lively bistro. 13 Yad Harutzim St.; 972-3/688-9696; lunch for two US$58. Forelin Chargrilled seafood of all types. 10 Frishman St.; 972-3/522-2664; dinner for two US$88. Manta Ray A wide variety of Middle Eastern–inflected seafood, served on a terrace steps from the Mediterranean. Almah Beach; 972-3/517-4773; dinner for two US$88. Margaret Tayar Overlooks the water in Jaffa and serves simple, yet beautifully prepared Mediterranean and Israeli dishes.

8 Retsif Haaliya Hashniya St.; 9723/682-4741; dinner for two US$76. Mul Yam Tel Aviv Port; 9723/546-9920; dinner for two US$200. Raphael A modern take on Mediterranean staples. 87 Hayarkon St.; 972-3/522-6464; dinner for two US$145. Shalvata Tel Aviv Port; 972-3/ 544-1279; dinner for two US$70. WHAT TO DO Bauhaus Foundation Museum 21 Bialik St.; 972-3/620-4664. Comme il faut Bait Banamal, Hangar 26, Tel Aviv Port; 972-3/604-1025. Jewish Princess 67 Yehuda Halevi St.; 972-3/681-8863. Tel Aviv Museum of Art 27 Shaul Hamelech Blvd.; 972-3/607-7020; Nanouchka 28 Lilenblum St.; 972-3/516-2254.


(My Favorite Place) NEW ZEALAND HIT LIST Three of de Rothschild’s local favorites.


STAY Blanket Bay A lodge on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, 45 minutes from Glenorchy, Otago. 64-3/441-0115; EAT French Farm This Akaroa winery has a full-service restaurant and a pizzeria. French Farm Valley Rd.; 64-3/304-5784;

Go Climb a Tree Right: David de Rothschild aloft on his farm in Akaroa, on New Zealand’s South Island.

SEE Hokitika Wildfoods Festival On the South Island, a showcase of the west coast’s most novel and tasty natural food. It kicks off on March 14, 2009.

f ir st f el l in l ove wit h new zeal and eight or nine years ago. I was doing a lot of riding at the time, and the place has amazing horses. I had started out that trip in Sydney, where I damaged my knee messing around in the ocean; it was as big as my head and obviously I couldn’t ride, so I got a camper van and drove around with a friend. New Zealand’s landmass is a bit larger than that of the U.K., but with only 4.2 million people. You can drive for hours and not see anyone. When you’re in school, you learn about mountain ranges, lakes, glaciers, rivers, valleys—but in New Zealand, you see such places as you had imagined them. It’s like a picture book. I have a farm now in Akaroa, the oldest colonial town

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on South Island. It’s built around a harbor formed by the back-to-back eruptions of two volcanoes. The climate is good for wine and one of the first wineries in the region is there. The town has a real charm to it. Hickory Bay, on the Banks Peninsula, is a piercing aquamarine blue, and green mountains go right to the water’s edge. You have to ask yourself, Is this real? I’m slowly turning my place into an organic farm. My vision is to slowly regenerate the flora and fauna, and to do it myself. To mix the cement. To understand the farm’s rhythm, and what it’s all about. ✚ Learn more about David de Rothschild’s nonprofit, educational expedition outfitters, Adventure Ecology, at


David de Rothschild, the ardent environmentalist, stages high-profile expeditions to endangered places, but off-duty, as DANI SHAPIRO discovers, he bolts for his farm in New Zealand

October 2008  

October 2008

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