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contents june 2012 volume 06 : issue 06

features 88 New Life for oLd Siam What happens when a musician– actor teams up with a Harvardtrained landscape architect? A hotel that seeks to reinvent Bangkok’s image is born. jennifer chen reports. photographed by christopher wise

andrea wyner

94 The SiciLiaN coNNecTioN Can a rented villa help you gain entrée to a famously impenetrable place? After setting up house in Western Sicily, peter jon lindberg shares his findings. photographed by andrea wyner


strolling the grounds of la Favorita, in sicily.

102 2012 iT LiST For our annual editors’ choice awards, we considered hundreds of new hotels and major renovations—and traveled the world to put the top contenders to the test. The result: 50 properties that stand out for their destination-changing power. | june 2012 7


june 2012 volume 06 : issue 06 t+l southeast asia

2012 IT LIsT: 50 of the World’s Top New Hotels

the hotels issue / 2012 it list / bangkok / frequent-stay plans / hong kong / las vegas / istanbul

June 2012

SoutheaSt aSia

a bold beauty for bangkok

inside the city’s new urban resort

secrets of a vegas concierge malaysia’s east coast escape


hoTels issue

Jun e 2 012

Singapore S$7.90 ● Hong Kong HK$43 THailand THB175 ● indoneSia idr50,000 MalaySia Myr17 ● VieTnaM Vnd85,000 Macau Mop44 ● pHilippineS pHp240 BurMa MMK35 ● caMBodia KHr22,000 Brunei Bnd7.90 ● laoS laK52,000

06 JUNE Cover options.indd 1

15/05/2012 16:38

On the cOver

Getting ready for a night out at the siam Hotel, Bangkok. Photographed by christopher Wise. model jesica. styling by tawn chatchavalvong & nasit Wankhwan. make-up & hair by Phanom Phadipatkulchai.

newsflash 27 Mario Batali opens a trattoria in Hong Kong, a Japanese hotel blossoms in Bangkok and more.



33 PreServaTioN An old police station’s transformation into a nonprofit boutique hotel is drawing curious tourists to Hong Kong’s remote fishing village of Tai O. by hana alberts 36 Neighborhood In Istanbul, a historic district on the golden horn of this crossroads gets its second wind as a hipster haven of art, fashion and design. by robyn eckhardt 40 hoTeL arT The best hotel art programs think outside the frame. In France, a bipolar case in point. by peter webster

42 8 june 2012 |

42 ciTyScaPe Pulsing with energy and stylish design, the Thai capital of Bangkok is ready for the future. jennifer chen gets the inside scoop on all that’s new.

f r o m t o p : d av i d h a g e r m a n ; c o u r t e s y o f a u v i e u x pa n i e r ; c h r i s t o p h e r w i s e



june 2012 volume 06 : issue 06

50 TreNdS Fifteen of the world’s top chefs. Four days in Japan. Unlimited sake. It all adds up to the year’s biggest culinary dudefest, whose happy hangover may change the way you eat tomorrow. by adam sachs 53 2012 worLd’S beST Service The city hotels, resorts, airlines and cruise lines that have nabbed top honors for service in T+L’s annual World’s Best Awards survey.

stylish traveler 56 faShioN Abu Dhabi is developing into the hottest destination in the Middle East, with jaw-dropping hotels emerging from the sands seemingly overnight. by david kaufman

well as her top picks when it comes to Chinese fashion and style. by mark lean

journal 75 drive Peninsular Malaysia’s East Coast may seem reluctant to reveal itself, but john krich finds much to appreciate along this quiet path. photographed by austin bush 80 coNcierge For a week in Las Vegas, bruno maddox goes behind the scenes at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, learning the secrets, working the shifts, making dreams come true. photographed by jeff minton

departments 12 iN ThiS iSSue 14 ediTor’S NoTe 19 coNTribuTorS 20 maiL 22 beST deaLS 24 aSk T+L 65 STraTegieS 70 SmarT TraveLer 118 LaST Look

56 10 june 2012 |


f r o m fa r l e f t : h u g h s t e wa r t ; a u s t i n B u s h

62 SPoTLighT Designer Masha Ma reveals her creative influences as

in this issue

istanbul 36 Las vegas 80

Sicily 94

hong kong 22, 27, 29, 33, 102 bangkok 29, 42, 88

abu dhabi 56

trIp IDeAS

DeStInAtIOnS SOutheASt ASIA Bali 30 Bangkok 29, 42, 88 Chiang mai 102 Hong Kong 22, 27, 29, 33, 102 Khao lak, thailand 22 Koh samui 22 malaysia 22, 75 singapore 24 song saa, Cambodia 102

AfrIcA AnD the MIDDle eASt abu dhabi 56 istanbul 36 marrakesh, morocco 102 Windhoek, namibia 102 eurOpe amsterdam 102 marseilles 40 sicily 94 the AMerIcAS Chile 102 las vegas 80 miami 28 soufrière, st. lucia 102



Beaches + islands

22, 102


36, 42






56, 62


27, 50

Hotels + resorts

22, 28, 29, 30 40, 88, 94, 102



travel tips

30, 65, 70

service awards


Featured destination


just one kilometer from the city of Kuala terengganu, the reliably windy sky over the wide sands of Pantai Batu Buruk (“Beach of the ugly old stone”) fills with kites, including traditional wau in shapes of birds, cats, fish and the moon. if you didn’t bring your own kite you can buy one at the beach along with vintage clothes and local snacks. (For more on malaysia’s east coast, see page 75).

12 june 2012 |

austin Bush (3)

travel tip

ASIA Beijing 22 india 24 japan 50 Kappil Beach, india 102 leh, india 118 nepal 24 shanghai 102 sri lanka 22 Wuhan, China 22

AuStrAlIA, new ZeAlAnD AnD the pAcIfIc sydney 102 Wanaka, new Zealand 102

editor’s note where To fiNd me )) )) @CKucway on Twitter


Sitting on a wooden deck next to my very own plunge pool, a sweep of Indian Ocean before me, I found myself filling out a 28-page questionnaire about the construction site of a tropical resort I was staying at. That was a few weeks and several flights ago, but the Sunday morning image at the Dusit Thani Maldives has stayed with me. The all-villa getaway is open now, but I was there with the room inspectors and electricians to learn first hand the ins and outs of what it takes to open for business in paradise. The short answer, in this, our annual Hotels Issue, is: more than you would ever expect. And if you happen to be perched on a coral atoll in the middle of the ocean, then you’d best be prepared to import everything from toothpicks to a topof-the-line desalination plant. Anchoring our hotel issue is this year’s It List (page 102), which sharp-eyed readers will note has been winnowed down to offer a better feel for each property. Whether you prefer to soar above the fast-paced streets of Hong Kong at the Ritz-Carlton or escape to a Cambodian island retreat by the name of Song Saa, which means “sweethearts” in

Khmer, this year’s list covers every style of memorable stay. Also, give our 2012 World’s Best Service Awards (page 53) a read. This year it covers everywhere from China and India to northern Thailand and Laos, not surprising in a region where service is king. When it comes to service, the tale of Gary Ring (“I Was a Las Vegas Concierge,” page 80) is a must read. Of course, the hotel world rarely stands still and Bangkok welcomes a spectacular new entry with the opening of The Siam on the Chao Phraya River. Jennifer Chen and photographer Christopher Wise report on an address (“New Life for Old Siam,” page 88) that is unlike anything else in the city. Finally, it’s the fine print that concerns Naomi Lindt as she examines the details of frequent-stay programs (“Stays That Pay,” page 65) to make your traveling dollar go further. It’s a can’t-miss read, one that will pay immediate dividends no matter where you next check-in.—c h r i s t o p h e r ku c way

PLaN oNLiNe check out the revamped website of shangri-la Hotels and resorts (, which features virtual journeys at each of the chain’s properties. there’s also a new booking engine on the site, one compatible with iPhones, androids and Blackberrys. it outlines any special offers. beST SeaT iN The houSe if you’re sitting in 31e on an a321, you’re in trouble. skyscanner, a website that studies such things, came to this conclusion after a survey of airline passengers, and the middle seat towards the back of the cabin was the leastpopular choice. the most popular seat, not surprisingly, is next to a window near the front of the aircraft, 6a to be exact. of course, different aircraft have different configurations but you get the gist.

travel + leisure 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.

14 june 2012 |

editor-in-CHieF art direCtor Features editors senior designer designer assistant editor—digital

christopher Kucway James nvathorn unkong richard hermes merritt gurley wannapha nawayon chotika sopitarchasak wasinee chantakorn

regular ContriButors / pHotograpHers cedric arnold, Jennifer chen, robyn eckhardt, tom hoops, philipp engelhorn, david hagerman, lauryn ishak, naomi lindt, Jen lin-liu, Brent madison, nat prakobsantisuk, aaron Joel santos, adam skolnick, darren soh, daven wu

CHairman president puBlisHing direCtor

puBlisHer direCtor singapore/assoCiate puBlisHer digital media manager Business development managers Consultant, Hong Kong/maCau Consultant, australia/neW Zealand CHieF FinanCial oFFiCer produCtion manager produCtion group CirCulation manager CirCulation assistant

J.s. uberoi egasith chotpakditrakul rasina uberoi-Bajaj

robert fernhout lucas w. Krump pichayanee Kitsanayothin michael K. hirsch Joey Kukielka shea stanley stuart singleton gaurav Kumar Kanda thanakornwongskul supalak Krewsasaen porames sirivejabandhu yupadee saebea

ameriCan eXpress puBlisHing Corporation president/CHieF eXeCutive oFFiCer senior viCe president/CHieF marKeting oFFiCer senior viCe president/CHieF FinanCial oFFiCer senior viCe president/editorial direCtor viCe president/puBlisHer, travel + leisure u.s. eXeCutive editor, international puBlisHing direCtor, international

ed Kelly mark v. stanich paul B. francis nancy novogrod Jean-paul Kyrillos mark orwoll thomas d. storms

travel+leisure soutHeast asia vol. 6, issue 6 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). while the editors do their utmost to verify information published, they do not accept responsibility for its absolute accuracy.

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t o p, f r o m l e f t : c o u r t e s y o f B r u n o m a d d o x ; c o u r t e s y o f J o h n K r i c h ; c o u r t e s y o f J e n n i f e r c h e n B ot to m , f r o m l e f t: J e f f m i n to n ; au st i n B u s h ; c h r i sto p h e r w i s e


bruno maddox writer

jennifer chen writer

aSSigNmeNT “i Was a las vegas concierge…” (page 80). coNcierge 101 one thing i learned during training—when giving directions, always point with your entire hand, not just your finger. think of your hand as your flipper. aNy caSiNo advice? the secret of gambling is to play roulette and put everything on 11. i don’t know how it works, but you lose almost every time. choice vegaS haNgouT tHelounge, in tHehotel at mandalay Bay—not to be confused with the hotel at mandalay Bay resort & casino, just across the street. greaT eScaPe the key to las vegas is the desert. You can drive out into eternity, have a shattering cosmic epiphany, and be back on the strip in half an hour.

aSSigNmeNT “our definitive Guide to Bangkok” (page 42), and “new life for old siam” (page 88). baNgkok iS for... omnivores with adventuresome palates. eating is Bangkok’s greatest pleasure. Newbie muST-do Have a meal at mandarin oriental Bangkok’s riverside terrace, then catch a long-tail boat at the adjacent pier. it’s Bangkok’s most romantic trip and gives you an idea of the city’s genesis. Neighborhood gem ruea thong, in thonglor—the staff start mixing the lime sodas when they see my husband and me walk through the door. your favoriTe LocaL acTiviTy iNvoLveS... Gluttony, preferably on the street, with friends and a couple of Beerlao.

john krich writer aSSigNmeNT “Quiet coasting” (page 75). TiP for roadTriPPerS iN maLaySia Brake for turtles. momeNT wheN you feLT moST LoST circling Kuala terengganu’s sultan mahmud airport for the third time. iTem you wiSh you’d broughT mosquito zapping racquet. PLace you waNTed To LiNger for LoNger duyong island—a good spot to molder for a month or three. NeXT big ProJecT a memoir of danger and romance in pretiananmen Beijing.


hot topics, rave reviews and sound advice

LeTTer of The moNTh OlD fAvOrIteS, new fInDS

Great mix of recommendations in your “Best of Bali” roundup [April 2012]. I thought I knew the island well, having originally gone there to surf in the 90’s and now for family vacations with my two kids. The article made me want to seek out some classics that I’ve never gotten around to trying like Ibu Oka and Naughty Nuri’s, as well as some places that are completely new to me, like the Bamboo Chocolate Factory and the kids’ stores on Jalan Laksmana. In a way it’s comforting to see how, as we grow up, Bali does too. —stephanie green, hong kong

GOInG wIth the flOw

Duangrit Bunnag’s description of the necessity of improvisation while navigating Bangkok [“Design by Duangrit,” April 2012] made for one of the best quotes I’ve heard about the city: “It’s not classical music; it’s a big jazz band.” As someone who regularly takes four modes of transportation in a day (thank goodness for my iPod), I think his description is really on the mark. It captures the way this urban chaos comes together into a (mostly) coherent whole. —melody mason, bangkok ASIAn AntheMS

I enjoyed Peter Jon Lindberg’s article about the music of L.A. “Listening to Los Angeles” [April 2012], and it made me wonder if I could come up with a similar collection of songs

(in English) about my favorite Asian cities. Sadly, all I can think of is that one-hit wonder “One Night in Bangkok.” Are there any that I’m missing? —tony liao, singapore eDItOr'S reply That's a tough one. There’s “Cambodia” (1981)

by Kim Wilde, “Tokyo Nights,” (1989) by the Bee Gees and “Hong Kong Garden” (1978) by Siouxsie and The Banshees, though we’re pretty sure that last one is about a Chinese takeaway restaurant in London. “Tiger Phone Card” (2008), by L.A. band Dengue Fever, is about a Phnom Penh–N.Y.C. romance. “Big in Japan” is the title of both Alphaville’s 1984 debut and also, our favorite, the first song on Tom Waits’ 1999 album Mule Variations. Apparently there was also a 2009 song by Mini Viva called “Left My Heart In Tokyo,” but we are too old to have ever heard it played in a dance club.

e-MAIl t+l send your letters to and let us know your thoughts on recent stories or new places to visit. letters chosen may be edited for clarity and space. the letter of the month receives a free one-year subscription to Travel + Leisure (southeast asia only). reader opinions expressed in letters do not necessarily reflect those of Travel + Leisure southeast asia, media transasia ltd., or american express publishing.

20 june 2012 |


budget-friendly tips for your travel planning

affordable asian trips dEAl Of tHE MONtH S N a P i T

poolside at maya villa, sri lanka.

Wuhan tianwaitian golf Club, China.


massages; a Thai cooking class; a traditional Sri Lankan dinner. COSt US$883 per night, double, year round. SAvINgS 15 percent.

two days of golfing at Santiburi Samui Country Club; daily breakfast; 10 percent off food and drink at the resort; two onehour Thai massage sessions; private dinner with sparkling wine on the beach; round-trip airport transfer. COSt Bt10,567 per night, double, year round. SAvINgS Up to 20 percent.

MAlAySIA Underwater Escapade package at tANJONg JARA RESORt (60-3/27831000; WHAt’S INClUdEd

thAIlAnD Jet Set Golf and Party package at NIKKI BEACH KOH SAMUI (66-85/ 345-557; WHAt’S INClUdEd Three nights at Nikki Beach;

chInA Hole in One golf package at NEW WORld WUHAN HOtEl (86-27/8380-8889; WHAt’S INClUdEd

A one-night stay in a Deluxe room; 18 holes of golf, including caddie, buggy, administrative fees and round-trip golf course transportation; buffet breakfast; late check-out till 2 p.m. COSt RMB4,760, double, Friday through Sunday till August 31. SAvINgS 25 percent.


SrI lAnKA Yoga package at MAYA vIllA

(94-852/2415-8919; mayatangallesrilanka. com) WHAt’S INClUdEd Six nights at the Maya Villa; one 1.5-hour yoga class; one 1.5-hour meditation class; one 1.5-hour tai-chi class; daily excursions; a trip to Udawalawe to see wild elephants; two 22 june 2012 |

A three-night stay; daily breakfast; two days of diving excursions; barbecue lunch each day of diving. COSt RM1,000 per night, double, with an additional 10 percent discount for Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia subscribers, through September 30. SAvINgS 25 Percent.


chInA Sidecar Package at tHE OPPOSItE HOUSE (86-10/6417-6688; theoppositehouse. com). WHAt’S INClUdEd One night in a

Studio 70 room; breakfast; a four-hour sidecar trip for two around Beijing. COSt RMB4,500, double, through December 31. SAvINgS Up to 8 percent. hOnG KOnG Summer for All package at tHE EXCElSIOR (852/2837-6840; WHAt’S INClUdEd One night in a Superior room; Big Bus Tour for two; The Excelsior shopping bag; breakfast; late checkout till 4 p.m. COSt HK$1,600, double, through August 31. SAvINgS 30 percent.

tHAIlANd Summer Passion promotion at Beyond Resort Khaolak (66-2/616-3140; WHAt’S INClUdEd A two-night stay; round-trip transfer from Phuket Airport; daily breakfast; 15 percent discount at the resort’s restaurants and spas. COSt Bt3,750 per night, double, through October 31. SAvINgS 50 percent.

villa bedroom, Beyond resort Khaolak.

c l o c K w i s e f r o m t o p l e f t : c o u r t e s y o f m a n d a r i n o r i e n ta l ; c o u r t e s y o f m aya v i l l a ; co u r t e sy o f n e w wo r l d w u h a n h ot e l ; co u r t e sy o f B e yo n d r e s o r t K h ao l a K

the excelsior Hotel, Hong Kong.

askt+l responsible tourism can help tigers threatened by dwindling habitat.

leave your phone at home on a trek in nepal.

visiting singapore is no walk in the park for dogs.

we’re visiting india this summer and i’m hoping to fulfill my lifelong dream of seeing a tiger in the wild. is it still possible to do that? —trong thanh toan, hanoi

Q: i’LL be TraveLiNg To SiNgaPore for SeveraL moNThS, aNd i’d Like To briNg my beagLe. caN you recommeNd Some comPaNieS ThaT caN heLP me wiTh ThiS? —art r. grasman, BangKoK A: Unless a dog is coming from

Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland or the U.K., the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore requires it to remain in quarantine for at least 30 days. The Pet hotel ( is the private managing operator of the country’s only quarantine kennel, and they can handle all aspects of the process, including paperwork and airconditioned transport from the airport. Companies such as Pet movers ( and Pet mobile ( can also help.

Q: i’m hikiNg To aNNaPurNa baSe camP iN NePaL iN ocTober. wiLL i have iNTerNeT or mobiLe PhoNe acceSS? —Janet liew, Kuala lumpur A: The last Internet access on the way

to A.B.C. is in Chomrong, a scenic village where you can also find tasty apple pie. Nepal Telecom has better mobile coverage than Ncell in the mountains. SIM cards can be purchased at the airport in Kathmandu and if you’re hiring a local guide he can show you where, exactly, the signal ends on the trail. whaT’S your TraveL queSTioN?

» e-mail us at

» post queries at

» follow us on twitter at

@travleisureasia (Questions may be edited for clarity and space.)

clocKWise From toP leFt: © arindom cHoWdHurY /; © BlasBiKe /; © damedeeso /

only about 3,600 tigers survive globally, with half of those animals living in india. originally founded by a group of concerned tour operators, india-based Travel operators for Tigers (, is a “collective action” campaign that tries to encourage sustainable ecotourism. toFt have developed a rating system for the size of the “footprint” left by nature lodges and hotels, and their website is a clearinghouse for information on how to see tigers (and other wildlife) responsibly, so you can do your part to help ensure the beautiful big cats continue to roam the jungles for generations to come.

newsflash your global guide to what’s happening right now...


c o u r t e sY o F l u Pa

BATALI hITS hONG KONG Renowned for TV appearances on shows like Iron Chef America as much as the bold Italian flavors that headline his 18 restaurants, celebrity New York chef Mario Batali has opened a faithful interpretation of his New York trattoria Lupa in Hong Kong. The launch represents the orange croc-wearing chef’s third Asian venture after Osteria Mozza and the more casual Pizzeria Mozza opened at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands last year. Situated in the upscale LHT Tower in Central, the look of the place stays true to the warm, homey feel of its mother restaurant—smart wooden furnishings, soft yellow lighting—as does the menu, with New York favorites such as ricotta gnocchi with sweet fennel sausage and crispy duck with salsify and saba among the stand-outs. What’s most striking about Batali’s latest venture, however, is its spacious 762-square-meter outdoor terrace, which provides well-heeled Hong Kongers with a new place to hang over Negronis and Peronis. Batali is so confident that his gutsy Italian cuisine will prove a hit in Hong Kong that he’s already signed up to open two more restaurants in the city over the coming months. First up is Carnevino, an Italian steakhouse located two floors above Lupa that follows the format of a Batali restaurant in Las Vegas. Another restaurant will open in Causeway Bay. Lupa, 3/F, LHT Tower, 31 Queens Road, Central; dinner for two from HK$450;—h e le n da lley

Much needed outdoor seating for Hong Kong at Lupa, top. Mario Batali; inside the restaurant; a beet, celery and fine herb salad, clockwise from left. | june 2012 27

newsflash So whaT doeS a rock STar kNow abouT hoTeL deSigN? I’ve been living in hotels for the past 25

years. When I have a day off on tour, I’ll say, “For twentyfour hours I’m not going to leave this room”—so it’s got to have a personal feeling. wheN did you diScover your Love for deSigN? My parents hung out with writers, artists, sculptors and musicians who had beautiful homes regardless of their income. In the eighties, I got into modern design; my style was very minimal. Then I was influenced by Art Nouveau. I’ve been through a lot of phases. aT The SLS SouTh beach, you worked wiTh owNer Sam NazariaN aNd PhiLiPPe STarck. whaT iNSPired your coNcePT? It’s based


lenny Kravitz

The musician, actor and founder of Kravitz Design lends his 1 where he1 created eclectic ethos to the SLS Hotel South Beach, the penthouse suite and a private bungalow. Here, he reveals his inspirations, his love for Miami and why he sometimes locks himself in hotel rooms.

on a world traveler who collects a lot of things. Trunks are used as drawers, and there’s an antique-style console stereo system that looks like something your grandmother might have had. why were you drawN To a ProJecT iN miami? I have family in the Bahamas, so I visited Miami as a child and ended up living there quite a bit. It’s grown so much. There’s this blend of Europe and South America. It’s really an international city. whaT kiNd of hoTeLS do you uSuaLLy STay iN? I have a very high-low lifestyle. Put a 12 me in a trailer 2 or a ghetto, 2 and I’m fine. 2.5Put me in 2.5 3 2.5 castle or an hôtel particulier in Paris, and I’m happy. Probably because I grew up between Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and the Upper East Side. SLS Hotel South Beach, 1701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; $$— a lexa ndr a wolf e




1 1


PiLLowS Karate-chop down the middle to fluff feathers. Fold in half 54lengthwise and insert into case. From the outside, pinch a corner of pillow; pull case down. set aside.



boTTom SheeT use a flat sheet (more durable than fitted). tuck in top 5 65 and bottom. at each corner, lift overhang to form a triangle. Pull and tuck sheet under.

28 june 2012 |



ToP SheeT tuck in bottom, leaving sides hanging. Fold top of sheet back six to eight inches.




duveT, ParT i Fold duvet cover in half, with opening facing headboard. Fold 6duvet6as mirror image, and place at foot of bed.


3.5 3.5 5


duveT, ParT ii Grab duvet at bottom right; pull into right corner of cover. repeat on left. Holding cover in place, pull it completely over duvet.




fiNiSh leave duvet untucked, smoothing out wrinkles and crisping corners. Place pillows on top and align patterns. add accents to taste.


m at h i e u B i t to n . i l l u s t r at i o n s B y l - d o pa

2 1

Ana Lissa Sison, director of housekeeping at the Peninsula New 2.5 2 York, 2 can make a3king-size 2.5bed 2.5in five minutes 3.5flat. 3 Her3method:


turning Japanese new to Bangkok is the 240-room okura Prestige, the first hotel in the japanese chain’s new collection. occupying the top floors of an energy efficient building near the city’s embassy row, the hotel offers a clean, modern design that incorporates thai artistic influences with japanese functionality. adjacent to the hotel’s small spa is an airy health club, but the real gem is an outdoor infinity pool that offers sweeping views of Bangkok’s changing landscape. a trio of food outlets—including elements, which offers a creative take on western cuisine; japanese fine dining restaurant Yamazato; and up & above, where the menu covers asian and Western dishes—all take advantage of the hotel’s views. 57 Wireless Rd.; 66-2/687-9000;; doubles from Bt5,800.

The Up & Above Bar at the Okura Prestige, above. Right: A club room at the hotel.


toP: courtesY oF oKura PrestiGe; Bottom: PHiliPP enGelHorn

hollywood rd.





’s r






st ra n


st .

and leather iPad cases, playful stationery and other products from emerging global designers. 50 Tung St.; 4 The collectives Started by a group of stylists and ex-buyers, the boutique showcases labels with cult followings, including Thailand’s Milin, whose pleated dresses are perfect for summer. 45 Gough St.; 5 doppio zero ItalianAmerican chef Jake Addeo (of New York’s Esca and Milan’s Due Spada) heads up the laid-back restaurant named after the finest grind of Italian flour. The handmade pasta dishes— ravioli stuffed with braised beets; bucatini with spicy octopus—are the stars. 22 Bonham Strand; doppiozero. $$$

1 des voeu x rd. w.


1 hotel de edge by rhombus Value-conscious jet-setters check in to the 32-story hotel for its streamlined rooms, free Wi-Fi and sweeping views of Victoria Harbour. For dinner, head to the onsite Glo restaurant, which attracts a stylish crowd. 94-95 Connaught Rd. W.; hk. $$ 2 Select 18 Discerning hipsters browse this petite spot for vintage eyeglass frames, from Moscot to Dior. It also stocks secondhand couture; look out for 1980’s Vivienne Westwood baubles and Chanel jackets. 18 Bridges St.; 852/9127-3657. 3 konzepp Part design shop, part café, this is a hangout for the local creative set. Browse the eclectic selection of wool

t rd. w.


Sheung Wan is abuzz with new restaurants and shops— plus a chic hotel that has solidified the area’s rebirth




blake garden




yw o







gh s t.



s st.

caine road garden

At Heirloom Eatery & More, above. Top right: Colorful shoes at The Collectives. Right: Secondhand couture is available at Select 18. 6 heirloom eatery & more The mismatched antique chairs here are usually filled with young artists getting their fill of Mexican, Indonesian and American comfort food. Try the pork tacos—and finish with a carrot cupcake. 226 Hollywood Rd.; heirloomhk. com. $$ —jennif er chen | june 2012 29

newsflash Lush landscape and the main pool at the U Agathis Pecatu. Below: A grand suite at the new resort in Bali. Right: Meditating by the outdoor pool.


all about u

Check-in policies often smart of injustice. Many hotels demand that a traveler who checks in at midnight must still be out the door by 10 a.m. the next day, leaving the road-weary wanderer with little time to enjoy the amenities and comforts of a hotel stay. U Hotels & Resorts bucks that model with its flexible 24-hour room use policy, which allows guests who check in at midnight one evening to leisurely linger until midnight the following night. “The purpose of the policy is to provide the utmost flexible and comfortable service to our guests,” explained Sorasa Phungsupan, senior public relations manager at U Hotels &

Resorts. Guests, it seems, appreciate the gesture and the resort is gaining momentum, with plans to open a new U resort in Bali. The property, U Agathis Pecatu, will be the group’s second foray into the Indonesian market, expanding on its current suite of hotels peppered across Thailand, Vietnam and India. U Agathis Pecatu is only a 20-minute drive from the Ngurah Rai International Airport. Set within a Balinese garden landscape, this 190-room resort focuses on simply giving people what they want. Guests can choose their own type of pillow, exactly how their minibar should be stocked and which soaps they’d like in the shower. There are no restaurant menus. Instead, guests just let the resort staff know what they want to eat and the chef will whip it up.—m er r it t g u r ley

luxury for less

It may seem like hotel rates are always on the rise, but if you know the right places to look, you’ll find value going up instead of the bill. Here, cities where average room prices have actually gotten more affordable in the past year. city

2011 us$

2010 us$

Percent change

Hanoi shanghai Kuching Phnom Penh langkawi chennai shenzhen Bali cebu

85 110 75 75 198 124 80 156 86

106 136 92 90 226 138 88 171 94

-22 -19 -17 -17 -13 -11 -10 -9 -9

30 june 2012 |

c o u r t e s Y o F u r e s o r t B a l i ; i l l u s t r at i o n B Y Wa s i n e e c H a n ta K o r n



destinations trends restaurants + more the view from tai o Heritage Hotel to the south China sea. Below: the eagle point room.


an old police station’s transformation into a nonprofit Boutique hotel is drawing curious tourists to hong Kong’s remote fishing village of tai o. by haNa r. aLberTS


olonial police officers once considered Tai O no man’s land. A fishing village on the western shores of Hong Kong’s Lantau Island, they would whine about being shipped out to the station there. In Old Tai O Police Station: The Evolution of a Centenary Monument, a book on the history of the village, one retired policeman recalled: “Being posted here [Tai O] was a form of punishment.” The outpost was so far from the city center that on a clear day you could see Macau and China. (A modern-day sign of its remoteness? Mobile phones start roaming.)

Photographed by Philipp Engelhorn

Since the old police station was rechristened as a boutique hotel in February, it’s evident there’s been quite a change in its reputation. Though it has just nine rooms, in the few months it’s been open tens of thousands have turned out to tour the historic building, eat in its small restaurant and enjoy its bucolic surroundings. The 110-year-old police station’s new lease on life, though, is also an experiment in unusual hotel management. “This is a nonprofit social enterprise, which is probably unheard of in Hong Kong—a boutique hotel that you can’t make a profit off of?” says Winnie Yeung, assistant » | june 2012 33

insider preservation

how To geT There

a TaSTe of Tai o Clockwise from left: the outdoor lounge at tai o Heritage Hotel; fried pork chop marinated with the local shrimp paste on a crispy bun; a slice of cheesecake at the hotel’s rooftop tai o lookout restaurant.

manager of the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation. Following an open call for proposals in 2008, the government awarded the foundation the rights to renovate the police station, in part because it promised to honor the area’s past. True to their word, preservationists remained staunchly faithful to the site’s origins—down to the tiniest details. The room where criminals reported to register their wrongdoings now houses the check-in desk. On the sea-facing outdoor deck, they’ve even recreated a tiny fishpond that a cheeky officer had to build as punishment for disrespecting a superior. The hotel was constructed along the border between British-controlled Hong Kong and China back when the boundary was habitually breached. Today, refurbished cannons, lookout towers and a searchlight remain, and one pair 34 june 2012 |

From central, take the mtr to tung chung and exit toward the bus terminus. take no. 11 (every 15–20 minutes) about 45 minutes to the end of the line. then walk 20 minutes through tai o, following the marked signs, to get to the hotel, or pay one of the boats docked near the village entrance HK$10 to shuttle you across the bay. total travel time: about two hours. Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O, Lantau Island; 852/2985-8383; taioheritagehotel. com; double rooms from HK$1,380 per night.

of freshly painted thick gray shutters still sports dents left by bullets. Even the hotel rooms and suites are named after nearby sights, police rankings and retired police boats. Arched colonial verandahs and a Chinese-style tiled roof define the façade, while French doors lead to airy accommodations decorated in mild blues and yellows, with fireplaces and wooden furniture. The hotel isn’t just the domain of those who can shell out for a room; free guided tours are offered to the public twice a day. Part of the foundation’s mission is not only to involve the community in the hotel— hiring villagers as staff, selling works by local artists, incorporating iconic local items like shrimp paste and the begonia flower into the food and drink offerings—but also to give back. Though it numbered 30,000 in the 60’s

and 70’s, Tai O’s population has shrunk to just 2,000. Many adults have abandoned the stilt houses and Hakka dialect of their childhood and moved downtown to work, leaving behind a community of kids and elderly who lack the resources to maintain local traditions and perform festival rites. So the hotel helps support frequent colorful celebrations such as dragon boat races, deities’ birthdays and Chinese opera performances. Lantau island as a whole is a refreshing change of pace; instead of skyscrapers there are verdant hills, beaches and the chance to spot the rare pink dolphin. The old Tai O Police Station saw more than its share of misadventures, from pirates to a mysterious murdersuicide, from cross-border smugglers to Vietnamese refugees and Chinese illegal immigrants. In a city often berated for sacrificing historic sites to the wrecking ball to make room for revenue-generating high-rises, the hotel offers a chance to experience a rare remnant of old Hong Kong, albeit one with an updated mission. “It’s not just about preserving the fabric, but more about introducing new uses,” Yeung says. “We are driving a new interpretation of the fishing village,” adds her colleague Iris Wong. “That’s Hong Kong, in a way.” ✚

insider neighBorhood

ARTSY ISTANBUL. a historic district on

the golden horn of this crossroads gets its second wind as a hipster haven of art, fashion and design. by robyN eckhardT


GettInG tO KnOw GAlAtA From top: neighborhood ceramics

retailer sir, on serdar-ı ekrem sokak; the cobbled serdar-ı ekrem Caddesi, outside the lilipud boutique; a traditional grocery and its colorful offerings in galata.

36 june 2012 |

neighborhood of brick-paved lanes spoking from a 14th-century stone watchtower, Galata was Istanbul’s most cosmopolitan enclave during the Ottoman Empire. In the 1950’s an exodus of its mostly Greek population left many buildings unoccupied and by the end of the century the district was crumbling. A decade ago artists lured by drop-dead Bosphorus views and rockbottom rents began moving in, and in recent years serious investors have followed. Now Galata’s neo-classical apartment buildings and turn-of-the-century row houses are home to cozy bars and cafés, fashion-forward boutiques, quirky design ateliers and sleek boutique hotels. Meanwhile traditional merchants—butchers, produce sellers, craftsmen and instrument dealers—have stayed put, helping ground this revived hipster hotspot. Photographed by David Hagerman


the fruItS Of fAShIOn Clockwise

from top left: lilipud offers fashions from nilüfer giritlioğlu; a lemon seller on a galata backstreet; ceramics at sir; wearable art for sale at janset Bilgin; the modish showroom at stok 60/70.


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Savvy fashionistas flock to designer Nilüfer Giritlioğlu’s shop 1 Lilipud for smart, well-priced frocks, pants and tops made from organic silk and wool. Downstairs in her garden-level atelier, jewelry designer Janset bilgin transforms semi-precious stones, silver and gold and inexpensive materials like fabric and plexiglass into wearable contemporary art. Serdar-ı Ekrem Caddesi 26A; 90-212/252-7173;; 2 Lunapark showcases a curated collection of homeware, books and odds and ends. Metal filigreed lanterns that collapse flat for easy packing make stylish souvenirs and an Istanbul public transport map printed on heavy gray stock is both indispensable and suitable for framing. Serdar-ı Ekrem Caddesi 17/B; 90-212/245-9414; Architect and painter Hüseyin Turgut crafted all of the beautifully sculptural floor, table and hanging lamps in tiny brick-walled 3 Lightwork by hand. Purchases can be packed to ship. 20/C Ali Hoca Sokak; 90-212/245-7826; Working at the back of his shop 4 Sir, ceramic artist Sadullah Cekmece crafts tableware bearing traditional Ottoman motifs in turquoise blue, black, white and red. Those with a more modern bent will gravitate to tiles and bowls bearing contemporary graphic designs. 38/1 Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak; 90-212/293-3661; no website. 5 Stok 60/70 overflows with mid-century furniture and houseware sourced from Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Designer Fulya Ballı’s modish new desks and sideboards, made from wood salvaged on Turkey’s Black Sea coast, are especially covetable. 38/A Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak; 90-212/2526870; 6 Lale Plak has been a Galata fixture for more than fifty years. Boasting everything from the latest pop to sixties psychedelia and a friendly, mostly English-speaking staff, it’s a must for Turcophile music lovers. Galipdede Caddesi 1; 90-212/293-7739; no website. » | june 2012 37

insider neighBorhood

eaT aNd driNk

At her cozy whitewashed café 7 açık mutfak, Esra Şener recreates her grandmother’s comfort foods for her daily menus based on what’s good at the market. Try Şener’s carrot and cheese borek, seasoned artfully with cinnamon. Call ahead as hours are inconsistent. Timarci Sokak 6B (off Galipdede Caddesi); 90-212/293-7433; no website. Regional specialties and a Turkish wine list with tasting notes lure tourists and locals alike to 8 kiva, sited on Galata Square. If the weather is fine, duck inside first to survey the meze, salads, mains and tatli (sweets) of the day, then snag a table out in the shadow of the historic tower. Meydani 4; 90-212/292-0047; With its hefty wooden bar, unpretentious crowd and twice-weekly live jazz, you’ll want to linger at 9 atölye kuledibi. In the kitchen, the San Francisco Bay Area– trained chef turns out Mediterranean-inflected fare, and there’s a great selection of Turkish, Italian and Spanish wines by the glass. Don’t miss the punchy fruit liquors made in-house by owner Zixa Çelebiler. Galata Kulesi Sokak 4/1; 90-212/243-7656; no website. 10 mavra began life as ceramicist Yonca Akçay Yücel’s private salon. Now hipsters come to the airy café-cumboutique to eat Yucel’s famous kofte (lamb and bulgur patties with tomato sauce) and freshly baked cakes and pies, and sip a perfect espresso while lounging on sofas in the comfy mezzanine. Serdar-ı Ekrem Caddesi 31/A; 90-212/252-7488; no website.


Occupying a refurbished structure from the late 1800’s, 11 georges offers unbeatable amenities (Nespresso machines, iPod docking stations, L’Occitane toiletries and, from most rooms, Bosphorus views) and a beautiful marriage of architectural heritage and contemporary design. Serdar-ı Ekrem Sokak No:24; 90-212/244 2423;; doubles from TL457. ✚ 38 june 2012 |

turKISh DelIGhtS

Clockwise from top left: the service bar at açik mutfak; a nighttime view of the galata tower and surrounding cafés; a turkish coffee at Kiva Han; inside mavra; rice and lamb kofte at Kiva Han.

insider hotel art

GREAT dIvIdE. the Best hotel

art programs thinK outside the frame. in france, a Bipolar case in point. by PeTer webSTer

40 june 2012 |

c o u r t e sY o F a u v i e u x Pa n i e r


he six rooms at Au Vieux Panier, in Marseilles’ oldest quarter, aren’t just rooms: they’re immersive experiences, reconceived annually by guest artists. This year’s standout is the Panic Room by French tagger Tilt, who slathered half the space in dense, psychedelic graffiti, leaving the rest stark white—the visual equivalent of switching radio stations from floor-shaking hip-hop to ambient trance. So, which side of the bed would you choose? 13 Rue du Panier; ✚

insider cityscape


pulsing with energy and stylish design, thailand’s capital is ready for the future. JeNNifer cheN has the scoop. PhoTograPhed by chriSToPher wiSe


hat isn’t happening in Bangkok this year? A serious hotel boom, along with the arrival of innovative restaurants, one-of-a-kind boutiques and edgy art galleries, has transformed the city into one of Asia’s most exciting metropolises. Take Silom, a downtown business district, now home to Bangkok’s most buzzed-about new hotel, Sofitel So. Or the historic Rattanakosin neighborhood, filled with just-opened colonial-chic inns. Upscale Thonglor is still the playground of choice for movers and shakers, but foodies are making the pilgrimage to the up-andcoming Ari borough, where the culinary scene is coming into its own.

42 june 2012 |

staff uniforms by Christian lacroix at the sofitel so hotel. opposite: sofitel so’s red oven restaurant. | june 2012 43

insider cityscape

hAute hOtelS

Clockwise from above: garden courtyard, the sukhothai; Hotel muse lobby; the pool at the mandarin oriental Bangkok.


trAvel tOOlBOx whAt tO KnOw BefOre yOur trIp

six enticing hotels, for every type of traveler. hOtel MuSe

Crystal chandeliers and black-and-white marble floors evoke a fin de siècle French château at this chic property in the leafy Langsuan neighborhood. At night, head to the hotel’s Medici Kitchen & Bar, one of the city’s hottest tables. BeSt fOr Scenesters looking for stylish affordability. 55/555 Langsuan Rd.; $ MAnDArIn OrIentAl

This grande dame on the Chao Phraya River just got a face-lift. Tech amenities such as iPod docking stations and flat-screen TV’s were added, along with such delicate touches as hand-tufted rugs and teak writing desks. BeSt fOr Traditionalists and sophisticates. 48 Oriental Ave.; $$$ the penInSulA

The W-shaped design of this landmark tower ensures uninterrupted vistas of the river and city skyline beyond. Its rooms—some of the largest in Bangkok—are accented with Thai 44 june 2012 |

silk fabrics and plush carpets. BeSt fOr Those who covet space and knockout views. 333 Charoennakorn Rd.; $$$ SOfItel SO

High design meets cutting-edge technology at the Asian debut of Sofitel’s contemporary brand, So. A colorful mobile of fantastical animals created by fashion designer Christian Lacroix dominates the slatecolored lobby. The rooms are themed around the Chinese elements and decorated by local designers. BeSt fOr Business travelers with an interest in pioneering design. 2 N. Sathorn Rd.; $ the SuKhOthAI

Looking for a hidden sanctuary in the heart of Bangkok? This is it. Housed on 2.4 hectares of lush gardens, the property is done up in an earth-toned palette with chenille canvas wall fabrics. BeSt fOr Privacy seekers who still like to be close to the action. 13/3 S. Sathorn Rd.; $$$

GettInG ArOunD Bangkok can seem daunting at first. the traffic is endless, and few neighborhoods are pedestrian-friendly. luckily, much of what you’ll want to see is accessible via the skytrain ( and subway systems ( taxis are plentiful and can be hailed on the street; just make sure to take your hotel’s card with the address on it in case you get lost. although they’re fun once in a while, the motorized rickshaws, known as tuk-tuks, usually aren’t worth the hassle. if you’re sightseeing along the chao Phraya river, take the ferry (chaophrayaexpressboat. com; 6 a.m.–7 p.m. daily) from the saphan taksin skytrain stop. Water taxis also ply Bangkok’s canals. one caveat: tolerance for unpleasant smells is required.


our picks of Bangkok’s best tables and stands. ISSAyA SIAMeSe cluB

In a green-walled 1920’s villa on the edge of the Sathorn district, native son Ian Kittichai is expanding his culinary empire. Updated Thai classics are the staple, and the lamb massaman curry is some of the finest you’ll find anywhere. 4 Soi Sri Aksorn, Chua Ploeng Rd.; $$ rueA thOnG

Chili-glazed baby back ribs at issaya siamese Club.

Don’t be put off by the no-frills shopfront—behind the door you’ll find a neighborhood spot in Thonglor that specializes in mouthwatering Thai comfort food. Order the

staples: yum khai dao (fried-egg salad) and gaeng som cha-om tod (sour curry with acacia-leaf omelette). 351/2 Soi 55, Sukhumvit Rd.; 66-2/185-2610. $ wAter lIBrAry

At this eight-month-old eatery, Singapore-born chef Haikal Johari executes a 12-course menu for 10 at a long wooden counter. Expect seriously ambitious fusion plates such as sous vide Dover sole with a miso sabayon. The Grass, Thonglor Soi 12, Sukhumvit Rd.; $$$$

Street fOOD 101 For pad thai and egg-noodle soup with crabmeat and roast pork, head to Sukhumvit road’s Soi 38 (8 p.m.–3 a.m.). • locals love or To kor market (Kamphaeng Phet Rd.; 8 a.m.–6 p.m.) for spicy sausages and classic curries. • look for more chinese-thai specialties, including rice dumplings, in Yaowarat, Bangkok’s chinatown.

insider cityscape

DeSIGn AnD Style project 1.1’s colorful

men’s-wear line, below. right: the alexander lamont shop at the Four seasons Hotel Bangkok.

Shop Where to find fashionable designs, funky housewares, vintage accessories and more.


On the ground floor of the Four Seasons Hotel, British designer alexander Lamont’s namesake boutique is an Aladdin’s cave of Asian home accessories and furnishings created in his Bangkok studio. We love the packable treasures such as bronze bud vases and lacquered teacups. 155 Rajadamri Rd.;


Minimalist code 10 is a one-stop

shop for style-setters. On the racks: Thai custom labels, including Nagara and T-Ra, and collections by up-and-coming local designers such as Vatit Itthi and Pravit Sawadviphachai. Look for leather and python handbags by Tu’I. Siam Paragon, first floor, 991 Rama I Rd.; 66-2/610-8312.

46 june 2012 |


The justlaunched, slick-but-casual men’s line Project 1.1 by Greyhound specializes in razor-sharp cotton suits, 1980’s-style skinny ties, stovepipe trousers and tailored Bermudas. Siam Paragon, second floor, 991 Rama I Rd., 66-2/610-8312.


If you’re looking for one-of-akind, retro gifts, spend an evening at Talad rot fai market, filled with 1970’s Thai rock records, old-school cameras and occasional finds like an original Hans Wegner chair from the 1950’s. Kamphaeng Phet Rd.; open weekends, 6 p.m. to midnight.


At the light-filled

urban Tree organics, owners

Adisak Kaewrakmuk and Jirasuda Areepunth stock beauty products made with indigenous ingredients—the coconut and Kaffirlime shampoos and honey-scented body wash are your best bets. 934 Samsen Rd.;


See Do a five-part tour of the city’s emerging contemporary art scene. Start at 1 v64 art Studio (143/19 Soi 1, Chengwattana Rd.;, a warehouse-like space with 35 working studios featuring more than 70 Thai designers. Next, head to 2 gallery ver (200/1 Ko Dang;, run by the country’s best-known artist, Rirkrit Tiravanija, who showcases works by rising talents. Downtown, the 3 Jim Thompson art center (6 Soi Kasemsan 2; stages rotating modern art and textile exhibitions. 4 100 Tonson gallery (100 Soi Tonson; brings big-name shows to Bangkok, and 5 bkk arthouse (283/1, Home Place, BF1, Thonglor Soi 15, Sukhumvit Rd.; is the latest avant-garde gallery to open.


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From top: the owners of BKK artHouse; an exhibit at BKK artHouse; v64 art studio.


1 take a guided bike tour of Bangkok’s bang krachao peninsula with aBc amazing Bangkok cyclist (; tours from Bt993). 2 spot elephants on a hike through khao yai National Park, a three-hour train ride from downtown ( 3 don’t miss a thai massage at chi, the Spa at Shangri-La (89 Soi Wat Suan Plu New Rd.; massages from Bt2,390).

insider cityscape hIp hAnGOutS From left: an

afternoon break at agalico; vintage goods at vtg; rommaneenart park.

Local Take three insiders share their favorite places in the city.

I live on the edge of Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok’s historic center. My favorite spot for a laid-back lunch is Nai Soey beef Noodles (100/2-3 Phra Athit Rd.; 66/86-982-9042; $). For dinner, I love raan Jay fai (327 Mahachai Rd.; 66-2/223-9384; $$)—it might be the most expensive open-air seafood restaurant in the city, but the crab omelette alone is worth the splurge. There’s not a lot of green here, so I’m lucky to live next to rommaneenart Park. I spend my Sunday afternoons wandering the paths.

SOMrAK SIlA director at wTf café and gallery

My neighborhood of Thonglor has wonderful indie venues. vTg at Palio (Soi 10, Ekkamai Rd.; 66/83-9060767) sells a well-curated selection of vintage clothes. At rma institute (off Soi 22, Sukhumvit Rd.; 66-2/663-0809) you’ll find interesting exhibitions showcasing a range of art, from pen-and-ink illustrations to ceramic sculptures. For a late-night bite, there’s the 24-hour café at the rex hotel (762/1 Sukhumvit Rd.; 66-2/2590106). The décor is very retro and quirky, but the real draw is the authentic Thai-Chinese dishes.

pOlpAt ASAvAprAphA designer of asava women’s wear line

When I first moved to Sukhumvit 49 in the early 1970’s, it was a quiet residential area. Now the neighborhood is filled with great restaurants. Little home bakery (413/10-12 Soi 55, Sukhumvit Rd.; 66-2/185-1485) is my standby for breakfast and has fantastic waffles. A cup of tea in the garden at nearby agalico (20 Soi 51, Sukhumvit Rd.; 66-2/662-5857, ext. 11) is a must. I’m half Japanese, so I can tell you that maru (95/5-6 Soi 3, Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/712-5001; $$$$) serves some of the freshest sashimi in Bangkok. ✚

BAnGKOK’S BeSt GuIDeS •Plugged-in former cartier executive carmeN gómez meNor (

creates bespoke shopping itineraries and will introduce you to local designers and artists.

•With her encyclopedic culinary knowledge, oLive TiPPaPaPaT of Bangkok Food tours ( hunts down authentic regional eats for you.

•explore the city’s historic Buddhist temples and markets by bike with native aNucha SeeNuaN (

48 june 2012 |

i l l u s t r at i o n B y l a u r e n n a s s e f

KrISSADA SuKOSOl clApp rock star, actor and owner of The Siam

insider trends


fifteen of the world’s top chefs. four days in Japan. unlimited saKe. it all adds up to the year’s Biggest culinary dudefest, whose happy hangover may change the way you eat tomorrow. by adam SachS


oro! Toro!” The chefs are shouting. It’s the middle of the night in the middle of Japan. Location: an old and formerly serene ryokan in a sleepy coastal town south of Kanazawa. Built for a Meijiperiod emperor’s visit, this wood-framed room has welcomed its share of distinguished travelers over the past century or so. Never, though, have so many of the world’s celebrated chefs padded across its tatami mats in their tabi toe-socks, a glittering constellation of Michelin-anointed stars gathered around the diminutive sushi bar, cinching their yukata robes with one hand, reaching out for fatty-tuna rolls with the other. Fifteen chefs have descended on green, beautiful Ishikawa prefecture for a four-day, invitation-only culinary

50 june 2012 |

happening called Cook It Raw. The annual event—part sensitive cultural exchange and field study, part Boy’s Own adventure complete with duck-trapping expeditions and cookouts and after-hours onsen hot-spring bonding opportunities—culminates in a splashy dinner party. Dinner is a big production and it’s fun to witness these chefs working with Japanese traditions and the ingredients at hand, filtering them through their various outsider takes. René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma unshackles himself from the strictures of Nordic regionalism, going native for a night with a beautiful dessert of sake ice cream and a sauce with wild ginger and sorrel. And—hey!—here’s David Chang of the expanding Momofuku mini-empire playing expediter in the kitchen and sending out a bowl of raw buri with grate-your-own kabu turnip. Illustration by Wasinee Chantakorn

The whole thing is impressive, expertly executed and, in the best way possible, ever-so-slightly beside the point. What is important (if you’re someone who gives thought to such peculiar concerns as the future of food) happened in the days preceding the dinner. Now heading toward its fifth edition and roaming each year from country to country, Cook It Raw is an annual, evolving experiment in What If? What if you convinced the best-in-class young chefs to step away from their stoves, flew them to some leafy, far-off place, plied them with alcohol and coffee and encouraged them to trade ideas? Think of it as a conference without panels, a culinary festival with no cooking demos or autograph-seekers. Nothing, really, but chefs talking to other chefs. The point of assembling this international super-league of cool-dude chefs (and it is very much a dudeocracy, there having been no female chefs invited to date) is this ad hoc hanging-out time, the casual exchange of ideas within this clique of some of the most inventive and influential cooks and restaurateurs in the world. From such unstructured interactions, so the thinking goes, the flame of creativity might be sparked—a spark that might be carried home and fanned by experimentation until it lights the way forward to a new way of thinking about food. Sound grandiose enough? Hell, yes. With a silver-plated dish of half-baked pretension on the side. But if you like to eat, then Cook It Raw is the kind of high-minded, just-shyof-bullshit-sounding experiment you should be happy exists. It’s like the Fresh Air Fund for working cooks. Make a list of all the restaurants in the world you’re dying to try. Now cross off any hoary old palaces of haute cuisine, anything too formal or this-is-how-we’vealways-done-things traditional. Skip the spots known for the pretty view and focus on where you really want to eat. Circle the places where young chefs are reinterpreting old ways, foraging in the fields and coming up with truly personal styles of cooking. What you’ll get is a kind of Venn diagram of all that’s new and exciting in food right now. It blends many varied strains, from the elemental, back-to-nature primitivism of the Nordic purists to the just-make-it-delicious borderless eclecticism of the Momofuku style. But there’s a commonality here, a likeness of purpose across the spectrum of the current dining scene. Mauro Colagreco, a L’Arpège-trained Argentine in the Côte d’Azur, creates vegetable-driven menus from a terraced hillside garden overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. On the

other side of the Atlantic, in Charleston, South Carolina, Sean Brock is busy conjuring the antebellum culinary glory of the American South from forgotten varieties of Jimmy Red corn and heritage pigs. What connects these two, what binds together this group huddled at the sushi bar and makes them able representatives of a new breed of chef dudes, is a shared determination to move good restaurants out of the realm of the fussy, boringly tradition-bound temples of gastronomy. There’s something going on with restaurants these days: they’re getting more relaxed, celebrating not just the purity of their ingredients but also the quality of the dining experience. They’re pushing ambition, lowering the pretension. Ben Shewry, of Melbourne’s Attica, laments that fine dining has been driven for too long by luxury for luxury’s sake. “We’ve been hoodwinked, tricked, really,” he says. “All these six-milliondollar kitchens but no heart and soul there.”


oo small to eat,” Narisawa-san says, tossing a nubbly runt of a wasabi rhizome back into the gurgling creek. Location: somewhere in a shady, damp forest near the foothills of Mount Hakusan. For non-Japanese chefs, the simple fact of wild wasabi sprouting plentifully just off the forest path is a thrilling discovery no matter the size. Yoshihiro Narisawa, a dapper, swaggeringly avant-garde Tokyo chef, digs his spade into the mud, pulls up a more impressive specimen, washes it clean in the stream. Magnus Nilsson, seasoned forager of Fäviken, a remarkable 12-seat restaurant in Sweden, nibbles the root, bites off a mouthful of its spicy leaves and passes it around for others to try. The Brazilian chef Alex Atala of São Paulo’s D.O.M.—tall, chisel-chinned and looking very much like a red-bearded 1970’s G.I. Joe action figure—jumps into the stream for more wasabi. Back on the bus, we eat white-chocolate-and-wasabi Kit Kat bars, cycling through the continuum from pure to plastic in a way that seems to exemplify everything confounding and beautiful about Japan. So what does it all add up to? What will the chefs take home from Japan other than some nice memories of a boondoggle among friends and the gift of a finely engraved knife from Narisawa-san that had sweet Ben Shewry nearly weeping with gratitude? It’s not as simple as returning to the kitchen and incorporating some of your just-learned Japanese techniques on your menu. What strikes me about this gathering of chefs is that each is engaged in an »

cook it raw is an annual, evolving experiment in what if? | june 2012 51

explicit effort to extend a community, to strengthen the ties between what Atala refers to as “the spirit of the brigade, a brotherhood.” One evening, the group joins a traditional duck hunt. Sakaami ryo, as the technique is known, requires quick hands and enduring patience. The hunters, mostly older men with decades of practice, crouch on a ledge in silence as the day’s light fades and winds shift. We wait motionless beside them until, finally, a screaming, jetlike blast of air above our heads announces the ducks’ departure. The hunters hurl their handmade nets up into the darkness. The nets fall back empty. The hunters are stoic, sanguine, quite possibly vegetarian. This whole elaborate business of not catching ducks seems a Japanese lesson of some kind, though I’m not sure about what. When I ask the chefs why they left their businesses and families behind for a feral romp in the woods of Ishikawa, the answers strike a similar note: the final dinner isn’t the point. As Daniel Patterson, of Coi, in San Francisco, says, “The process is the point.” The point, like the best kind of curious, wandering travel, is simply to get out into the world and be inspired by it. At dinner one night Brock and Redzepi are talking corn. The Dane asks the Southerner about the variety he uses for grits. “I’ll show you on my arm,” Brock says. And he does, pulling up his sleeve to reveal an elaborate wrist-to-shoulder tattoo of his favorite vegetables and grains. For all the attention these guys get, they’re food nerds at heart. Earnest, obsessive, not terribly interested in strutting or showing off. In a world that is overloaded with celebrity chefs, these guys want to be in the kitchen, inventing, making stuff better. Unscripted, away from the cameras: chefs talking shop, bouncing around ideas that will eventually make it onto their menus. That conversation can wait for tomorrow. For the moment we’re enjoying this ryokan, buoyed on a sea of sake. Steadied by an ocean of uni and pink-hued buri. Brock leads the move to Japanese whiskey. In addition to his belted yukata, he’s mounted a small video camera belonging to Anthony Bourdain’s TV crew onto his head, facing backward, and is laughing his ass off. Several Americans are trying to teach Redzepi how to say shrimp in a U.S. Deep South accent. “Shreeyyammps,” sings the Dane in a commendable Bayou twang, and Brock giggles infectiously. Albert Adrià is doing the wave. Ferran’s younger brother and behind-the-scenes coconspirator of the El Bulli genius, Adrià leaps up from his seat at the sushi bar. And down the row, one by one, the dream team throw their hands up, chanting “Toro! Toro!” ✚



BeSt ServIce

The city hotels, resorts, airlines and cruise lines that nabbed top honors for service in t+l’s annual world’s Best awards survey.

hOTELS OvERALL c i T y hoT e L S 1 Park hyatt milan 98.95 2 Stafford London by kempinski 98.40 3 four Seasons hotel gresham Palace Budapest 98.07 4 emirates Palace abu dhabi 97.50 5 milestone hotel london 97.39 6 olissippo Lapa Palace lisbon 97.33 7 Palacio duhau-Park hyatt Buenos aires 96.92 8 eliot hotel Boston 96.84 9 Trump international hotel & Tower chicago 96.67 10 The Peninsula Bangkok 96.53

toP: Peden + munK /

reSorTS , i N N S aN d Lod g eS 1 Lodge at kauri cliffs matauri Bay, new Zealand 100.00 1 oberoi udaivilas udaipur, india 100.00 1 Posada de mike rapu, explora rapa Nui easter island 100.00 4 Singita Sabi Sand at Sabi Sand Private game reserve (ebony Lodge, boulders Lodge, castleton camp) Kruger national park area, south africa 99.54 5 oberoi rajvilas Jaipur, india 99.49 6 Singita grumeti reserves (Sasakwa Lodge, Sabora Tented camp, faru faru

7 8


10 10

Lodge, Singita explore mobile Tented camp) serengeti national park, tanzania 99.13 blackberry farm walland, tennessee 99.00 royal malewane Kruger national park, south africa 98.82 mandarin oriental dhara dhevi chiang mai, thailand 98.75 four Seasons resort carmelo, uruguay 98.67 La résidence Phou vao luang prabang, laos 98.67

hOTELS ASIA c i T y h oT e L S 1 The Peninsula Bangkok 96.53 2 The Peninsula tokyo 96.47 3 ritz-carlton beijing, financial Street 96.25 4 mandarin oriental tokyo 96.00 5 St. regis singapore 95.78

r e S o r TS 1 oberoi udaivilas udaipur, india 100.00 2 oberoi rajvilas Jaipur, india 99.49 3 mandarin oriental dhara dhevi chiang mai, thailand 98.75 4 La résidence Phou vao luang prabang, laos 98.67 5 oberoi amarvilas agra, india 97.22

the peninsula, Bangkok



ciT y h oT e LS

ciT y h oT e LS

1 The Langham melbourne 95.46 2 Park hyatt melbourne 93.33 3 intercontinental sydney 90.67 4 Park hyatt sydney 90.00 5 four Seasons hotel sydney 89.33

reSorTS aNd LodgeS 1 Lodge at kauri cliffs matauri Bay, new Zealand 100.00 2 intercontinental bora bora resort & Thalasso Spa french polynesia 96.67 3 Lilianfels, a Luxury collection resort, blue mountains australia 90.67 4 voyages Longitude 131° ayers rock, australia 86.67 5 reef house boutique resort & Spa cairns, australia 85.33

1 eliot hotel Boston 96.84 2 Trump international hotel & Tower chicago 96.67 3 rosewood mansion on Turtle creek dallas 96.07 4 woodlands inn summerville, south carolina 96.00 5 ritz-carlton New york, . central Park 95.83

reSorTS aNd iNNS 1 blackberry farm walland, tennessee 99.00 2 Triple creek ranch darby, montana 98.62 3 Stein eriksen Lodge park city, utah 97.42 4 The wauwinet nantucket, massachusetts 97.33 5 four Seasons resort Jackson hole, wyoming 96.67 | june 2012 53

hOTELS EUROPE c iT y hoT e L S 1 Park hyatt milan 98.95 2 Stafford London by kempinski 98.40 3 four Seasons hotel gresham Palace Budapest 98.07 4 milestone hotel london 97.39 5 olissippo Lapa Palace lisbon 97.33

reSorTS aNd iNNS 1 Turnberry, a Luxury collection resort ayrshire, scotland 97.65 2 hotel villa cipriani asolo, italy 97.50 3 château eza eze village, france 97.33 4 Palazzo Sasso ravello, italy 96.80

5 domaine Les crayères reims, france 96.36

hOTELS AFRICA ANd ThE MIddLE EAST c i T y h oT e L S 1 emirates Palace abu dhabi 97.50 2 four Seasons hotel cairo at the first residence 95.65 3 four Seasons hotel cairo at Nile Plaza 95.29 4 burj al arab dubai 95.15 5 mount Nelson hotel cape town 94.00

reSorTS aNd LodgeS

1 Singita Sabi Sand at Sabi Sand Private game reserve (ebony Lodge, boulders Lodge, castleton camp) Kruger national park area, south africa 99.54

2 Singita grumeti reserves (Sasakwa Lodge, Sabora Tented camp, faru faru Lodge, Singita explore mobile Tented camp) serengeti national park, tanzania 99.13 3 royal malewane Kruger national park, south africa 98.82 4 ol donyo Lodge mbirikani group ranch, Kenya 98.29 5 kirawira Luxury Tented camp serengeti national park, tanzania 97.65 5 mombo & Little mombo camps moremi game reserve, Botswana 97.65

CRUISES LARGE-ShIP 1 crystal cruises 97.30 2 regent Seven Seas cruises 94.85 3 disney cruise Line 92.45

CRUISES SMALL-ShIP 1 Seabourn 98.26 2 Silversea cruises 95.25 3 Seadream yacht club 94.82

CRUISES RIvER 1 uniworld boutique river cruise collection 93.26 2 Tauck 91.79 3 viking river cruises 91.08

AIRLINES INTERNATIONAL 1 Singapore airlines 91.95 2 etihad airways 89.68 3 emirates 89.61

cLoser Look

what makes Perfect Service?


kauri cLiffS goLf reSorT & SPa

oberoi udaiviLaS

PoSada de mike raPu, eXPLora raPa Nui


remote, 24-square km. oceanfront escape on new Zealand’s north island.

Gilded retreat overlooking lake Pichola, in udaipur, india.

Hilltop lodge on easter island, a five-hour flight west of santiago, chile.

Staff-to-Guest ratio




top Activity

teeing off on the par 72 championship golf course, on a bluff with views of the Pacific.

a ride around the courtyards and reflecting pools atop one of the hotel’s indian elephants.

a trek past moai sculptures, along the volcano’s edge, to natural rock pools.

employee Spotlight

shaun cawood, the food and beverage manager, once drove from his home to the hotel in the middle of the night to fulfill a request for cognac and cigars.

roop singh, the caretaker of the property’s 8-hectare Bada mahal conservancy, educates guests about the on-site spotted deer, wild boar and peacocks.

Head guide joanna Faulkner plans unique experiences, such as a private picnic in a volcanic cave within earshot of the surf.

extreme request

arranging a car purchase for a guest’s three-month stay.

dinner and a private stargazing session with one of udaipur’s most renowned astrologers.

coordinating a helicopter arrival from a yacht to the island’s mountainous terrain.

t+l readers Say

“the staff predicted our every need.”

“i’ve traveled widely and have never stayed at a better hotel; the service is impeccable.”

“excellent custom hiking adventures led by in-theknow locals.”

the Details


Haridasji Ki magri; $$$$; three-night minimum. $$$$$

54 june 2012 |


F r o m l e F t: e a r l c a r t e r ; d u s t i n a K s l a n d ; c o u r t e sY o F P o s a da d e m i K e r a P u , e x P lo r a r a Pa n u i

for the first time in Travel + Leisure world’s Best awards history, three resorts, all in far-flung destinations, received perfect service scores. here’s how they stack up.

stylish traveler

the new desert oasis aBu dHaBi is Fast develoPinG into tHe Hottest destination in tHe middle east, WitH jaW-droPPinG Hotels emerGinG From tHe sands seeminGlY overniGHt. by david kaufmaN PhoTograPhed by hugh STewarT

FasH i on d ir e c to r : mi mi lo mB ar d o. Fas Hio n marK e t e dito r: je ss ie B andY 72 maY 2012 |

[st ]

StylISh SAnD DuneS From top: the


or years, Abu Dhabi stood in the shadow of its high-profile neighbor Dubai. But flush with 95 percent of the U.A.E.’s oil, the lesser-known emirate is building its own iconic skyline. Renowned architects are helping to reshape the capital city’s image from a business center to a cultural hub of the modern Middle East, with a souk from Norman Foster and ambitious museums, such as the upcoming Frank Gehry– designed Guggenheim and an outpost of the Louvre by Jean Nouvel, among others. No less awe-inspiring is the new crop of luxury hotels and resorts, whose bold and innovative structures are becoming architectural landmarks. The contemporary hotel boom began with the arrival of what is now the viceroy on Yas Island in 2009, an audacious departure from the city’s traditional palace-style hotels. Known for its futuristic, curvilinear design, the 499-room property, conceived by Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture of Asymptote Architecture, is shrouded in a lattice-like skin made of no less than 5,096 diamond-shaped steel panels. It famously hovers over a Formula One racecourse. A 10-minute drive from downtown, on Saadiyat Island, future home of the Guggenheim and the Louvre, the seven-month-old St. regis is the brand’s entry into the region. The cream-colored beachfront retreat was built to evoke a Mediterranean palace with Arabian-meets-Art Deco décor that pays homage to both its Persian Gulf location and New York origins.

jumeirah at etihad towers; the beach at the st. regis on saadiyat island; the lobby at the Yas viceroy. opposite: the main pool at the Park Hyatt, on saadiyat island (dress, etro; swimsuit, Gottex; sunglasses, louis vuitton).

On the same stretch of sand sits the rigorously contemporary Park hyatt, which rises along the island’s 18-hole golf course. Hidden behind the low-slung, angular walls you’ll find a marble-lined interior with courtyards and intricately filigreed wall panels. Next up, debuting on Saadiyat in 2014: a Mandarin Oriental. In downtown Abu Dhabi, the eight-month-old Jumeirah at etihad Towers is a stomping ground for petrodollar dealmakers. Housed in a sky-high glass-and-steel sculptural tower that overlooks the Corniche, it has a clubby 24-hour lobby-lounge where business travelers rendezvous until the wee hours. The new rocco forte hotel is decidedly more whimsical, with a highly modern wavy blue-and-green exterior and rooms decorated by London-based interior designer Olga Polizzi, who incorporated colorful mosaics and work by local artists. Equally memorable is the gleaming hyatt capital gate, a free-flowing organic glass structure that tilts 18 degrees to the west (more than four times the lean of the tower of Pisa). More is yet to come in the city center, from an outpost of Paris’s Le Bristol to a Ritz-Carlton and another Anantara resort. With budgets as expansive as the desert, Abu Dhabi’s future is only getting brighter. ✚ | june 2012 57

IcOnS In the DeSert clockwise from top left: strolling the gulf-front

corniche; in the lobby of the rocco Forte Hotel (dress by valentino; shoes, louis vuitton; bag, Prada; necklace and earrings, asha by adm; watch, Baume & mercier); the sheikh Zayed Grand mosque; in the lobby of the jumeirah at etihad towers (jacket by chanel; blouse, theory; pants, shoes and bag, salvatore Ferragamo; earrings, Ktcollection; watch, dior timepieces).

58 june 2012 |

inside the elevator at the jumeirah at etihad towers (dress, shoes and sunglasses by louis vuitton; bag, prada; bracelet, her left, Cartier; bracelet, her right, Kara ross).

looking out toward the yacht club from the marina executive suite at the Yas viceroy (dress, chanel; shoes, jimmy choo; earrings and bracelets, her right, van cleef & arpels; bracelet, her left, cartier).

[st] spotlight chInA GIrl

chic leap FoRwaRd designer masha ma reveals her top picKs for chinese fashion and style. by mark LeaN

62 june 2012 |

For designer Masha Ma, fashion is about revisiting the past and extrapolating creations that are at once intellectual and intuitive. “I was born in Beijing, and lived there until I was 16,” says graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins, renowned for her formflattering column dresses, currently available in such stores as Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong and Istanbul as well as Milan’s Spiga 2. “My grandmother was from Shanghai, and I used to go through all her secret drawers filled with little beautiful things. I guess my bond with fashion started there, and then somehow connected with where I am now.” Since she showed her breakthrough graduate collection at London Fashion Week in 2008, Ma, who currently divides her time between Shanghai, Beijing and Paris, has become synonymous with strong, sculpted silhouettes and innovative embellishments that channel contemporary femininity. At Paris Fashion Week last March, she presented a collection inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose. “Literature is a better muse than images because it leaves space for one’s imagination to continue the story,” says Ma, the winner of the Puma CSM Bursary Award, Fashion Fringe and the Best International Innovation Award in the CCDC Design Contest. Now she believes that China will soon begin to produce its own luxury fashion brands. “One starts by searching for the perfect combination of ground-breaking ideas and exquisite craftsmanship, and, of course, by igniting consumer demand.”

c l o c K w i s e f r o m to p l e f t: c o u r t e s y o f m a s h a m a ; c o u r t e s y o f e s s i s a l o n e n / f l i c K r . c o m ; courtesy of masha ma (3)

Clockwise from left: designer masha ma; her alma mater in london; and some of her creations shown on the catwalk.

here, ma’S favoriTe chiNeSe faShioNS: LaNe crawford lane crawford inspires with its unique edit of the newest and the best designers from around the world. Seasons Place, 2 Jinchengfang Street, Xicheng District, Beijing; 8610/6622-0808; oNe by oNe the one by one boutiques represent a collective of independent chinese fashion designers like Wang chuqioa and Qiu Hao. the clothes here are minimalist and avantgarde. 237, L2, 245 Madang Rd., Xintiandi Style, Shanghai; 86-21/3331-2627; no website.

c o u r t e s y o f l a n e c r aw f o r d ; c o u r t e s y o f a l i c e m o n ta g u e / f l i c K r . c o m

LoLo Love viNTage the owner lolo, a top fashion stylist, is a big fan of vintage apparel. You’ll find period pieces spanning a vast selection of patterns, styles and details—it’s almost as if you’ve stepped into a time machine. First wooden door, Lane 87 Wuyuan Lu, near Changshu Lu, Shanghai; 86-21/6433-1789; no website. Joyce an asian fashion powerhouse for the past 40 years, joyce is admired for its designer mix and creative art-installationtype store displays. G/F New World Tower, Central, Hong Kong; 852/2810-1120; bNc “i always enjoy checking out what’s on offer at Bnc (Brand new china), a Beijing boutique that supports and popularizes the work of up-and-coming chinese designers.” NLG-09a, Sanlitun Village North, Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang, Beijing; 86-10/6416-9045; no website. by “this is the store for stylish staples in neutral shades that are easy to mix-and-match.” 102 and 148, 245 Madang Rd., Xintiandi Style, Shanghai; 86-21/5386-9893; no website. SceNT Library “For me, scents are a source of inspiration. i’m always able to find a fragrance i like here.”6, Lane 274 Taikang Rd., Tianzifang, Shanghai; no website.

strategies travel smarter

StAyS thAt pAy

hOtel lOyAlty prOGrAMS Are nOthInG new, But An ArrAy Of InnOvAtIOnS MeAnS the rewArDS AnD perKS hAve put A whOle new SpIn On thAt cArD In yOur wAllet. nAOMI lInDt lOOKS At the fIne prInt tO fInD Out hOw tO Get the MOSt BenefIt fOr yOur BucK.

Illustration by Wasinee Chantakorn | june 2012 65

strategies frequent-stay programs


ay goodbye to impenetrable, hard-tonavigate and faceless hotel loyalty programs. In today’s dynamic travel environment, the hospitality industry is pulling out all the stops to ensure their most valued guests enjoy stays that are as seamless and memorable as possible, whether it’s knowing mini-bar indulgences or doing away with restrictions like blackout dates and check-out times. Turning to surveys and market studies to know their customers at levels deeper than ever, these programs are being infused with healthy doses of personality and flexibility to go above and beyond travelers’ expectations. “In some ways, frequent-stay programs are heading back to the basics,” says Bonnie Ang, corporate relations manager at Shangri-La International Hotel Management. “Hotels are concentrating

66 june 2012 |

on enhancing brand loyalty and personalized experiences that recognize their high-value guests, with consistent service delivery at all hotels.” Indeed, from large corporate brands to independent hotels, the hotel industry seems to be rolling out highly customized packages that anticipate their guests’ every need, more flexible options to earn and redeem and never-before-seen perks—surfing lessons, anyone? The value of providing flexibility and adding personal touches—essentially, promising a level of service a guest simply won’t receive if they switch to another brand—was recognized at April’s 2012 Freddie Awards, an annual event that celebrates the world’s top airline and hotel loyalty programs by tallying more than a million frequent flier and hotel guest votes. In the Middle East/Asia/ Oceania region, Taj InnerCircle took the top spot. According to the awards’ website, “The Freddie win seems to

c l o c K w i s e f r o m t o p l e f t : c o u r t e s y o f s h a n g r i - l a B o r a c ay ; c o u r t e s y o f m a n d a r i n o r i e n ta l B a n g K o K ; c o u r t e s y o f p e n i n s u l a B e i J i n g ; courtesy of sofitel metropole hanoi

In the lAp Of lOyAlty Clockwise from left: shangri-la Boracay; mandarin oriental Bangkok; peninsula Beijing; sofitel metropole Hanoi.

f r o m to p : c o u r t e sy o f pa n pac i f i c p e r t h ; courtesy of st regis Bali; courtesy of shangri-la pudong

declare that Taj InnerCircle makes members feel special, truly like an inner circle of friends,” referencing the program’s flexibility in point redemption, which can be used against room costs, food and beverage and laundry and fees. When members opt for an Earth-Friendly Green room, they also receive extra points—an additional 15 percent of points earned for a stay. Taj’s InnerCircle prides itself on personalizing stays to guests’ specific needs, whether it’s location and type of room or meal choices. Starwood, a runner-up, whose Preferred Guest Program covers nine brands, including Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien, W and St. Regis, recently revamped its loyalty scheme to maximize options for members, making its elite program what Starwood claims is the most robust in the hotel industry. “For three years, we piloted a highly personal one-on-one ambassador service to better understand needs and desires of what we call our mega travelers,” explains Javier Cedillo-Espin, senior director, Loyalty Marketing & Partnerships, Starwood Asia Pacific. “What we heard loud and clear is that they want more choice, more control and personal service. Today, members don’t just look for points but also for a relationship that extends beyond their stays. What we also heard is that not all trips are created equal. There’s a big difference between business and vacation trips—our mega travelers see vacations as a reward for being on the road half their life, and we need to meet expectations in both arenas.” New benefits include the Your24 scheme, which allows travelers to choose their own 24-hour arrival and departure time, and Suite Night Awards, where 10 suite upgrades are granted to Platinum members who reach 50 nights in a calendar year. The one-on-one ambassador relationship for Starwood’s most elite guests has now been officially unveiled, with the goal of understanding guest preferences and delivering customized experiences. Ambassadors can even assist

guests when they’re not on the road. What’s more, lifetime status is being offered to Gold and Platinum members who meet certain criteria. With more than 56 million members worldwide, IHG’s Priority Club Rewards, also a Freddie runner-up, is the first and largest hotel loyalty program in the world, tallying some 4,400 participating hotels, including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn properties and newly launched Even and Hualuxe hotels. Taking flexibility to new heights, it’s the only program that permits point redemption at competitor hotels via its Hotels Anywhere scheme, and the only one to allow flight redemption via guests’ frequent-flier programs. Hilton HHonors, which includes Hilton, Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels, is also working to better meet the demands of its 30 million members. “After doing extensive research, we uncovered some interesting consumer insights that led to a major shift,” says Jeff Diskin, senior vice president, global customer marketing, Hilton Worldwide. “One thing was clear: consumers are looking for loyalty programs that go beyond just hotel loyalty. They want more than points. They want experiences. Our goal was to shift the conversation from points to possibilities; from being just about rewards to really honoring our customers; from being just about functionality to making more of a human connection, capturing the more emotional and experiential side of travel.” »

DelIcIOuS DetAIlS From top: Chefs at work at the pan pacific perth; ocean views at st. regis Bali; wine corridor at the pudong shangri-la shanghai.

Room CompaRiSon So what does it actually take to get a free room? here’s a look at the minimum points needed for the most budget-friendly rooms at five top loyalty programs. hilton hhonors

7,500 points

10 points per us dollar spent

Starwood Preferred

2,000 points

2 points per us dollar spent

ihg Priority club

10,000 points

10 points per us dollar spent; 2,000 points per stay at intercontinental Hotels

marriott rewards

6,000 points

2.5 to 10 points per us dollar spent

accor Le club

2,000 points

2 points per euro spent (except for ibis/all seasons: 1 point per euro) | june 2012 67

strategies frequent-stay programs

rOOMS thAt rewArD From top: outdoor pool at Four seasons singapore; fine dining at the mandarin oriental tokyo; room service at mandarin oriental macau.

For the first time, points can be used to book premium rooms and suites, opening up 200,000 rooms that were previously ineligible for redemption. HHonors is also the only program in the hotel industry to offer both hotel points and airline miles for the same hotel stay. The research found that members are increasingly using points for merchandise rather than rooms alone. In response, last November, Hilton HHonors launched its Global Online Shopping Mall, the largest of its kind in the hospitality industry, allowing members to use points to purchase merchandise like high-end jewelry, toys, electronics, and even dance lessons or helicopter tours. The Experience Rewards scheme offers hairraising options like flying a fighter jet, surfing lessons and skydiving. Points can also be used to make charitable donations. Members of Marriott Rewards can create profiles that include specifics

off-limits for point redemption) and offers the handy option of late check-out. The program is currently rolling out a new host of earning and redemption options: members can earn and redeem points on food, beverages and spa services even if they aren’t staying at the property, in a move that provides more options in choosing how and where members use their benefits. Similarly, Shangri-La has applied flexibility to its program by allowing points to be accumulated by non-hotel guests who enjoy meals, drinks or spa treatments at its properties. Points can also be shared among family members or converted to airline miles. Though customized service is becoming de rigueur for frequent stay programs, so is the demand for clarity and ease of use. Complex point redemption systems have often meant that only the savviest travelers have actually cashed

regarding pillows, newspaper delivery, room types and location and feather-free rooms. Last year, free high-speed Internet became available to all members staying at nearly all Marriott affiliates in AsiaPacific and the program recently introduced upgrades to suites for Platinum Elite members. Sister property Ritz-Carlton, whose rewards program just turned two years old, provides access to experiences that guests simply won’t be able to find on their own, including workshops with National Geographic photographers and Abercrombie & Kent member-exclusive tours. Hyatt’s award-winning Gold Passport program was the first loyalty program to offer complimentary Internet to all elitetier members globally. It’s also done away with blackout dates like many major brands, permits four suite upgrades annually (traditionally, suites have been 68 june 2012 |

in on benefits, leaving the rest of us with a smattering of points and few real benefits. “All our research has shown that loyalty guests want flexibility and consistency with the rewards points that they earn,” explains Graham Wilson, a senior vice president at Accor for marketing in Asia Pacific. In response, Accor’s recently rebranded Le Club program has adopted an “anytime, anywhere” policy to ease userfriendliness. Le Club is the first hotel loyalty program to be entirely web-based, enabling customers to carry out all their transactions over the Internet. In terms of redemption, points can be converted into gift vouchers and used at Accor hotels at any level, from Ibis to Sofitel. Independent luxury hotels are also getting in on the action, determined to protect their niche as the best option for personalized stays. The Voilà Hotel

f r o m to p : co u rt e sy o f fo u r s e as o n s s i n g a p o r e ; co u rt e sy o f m a n d a r i n o r i e n ta l to K yo ; c o u r t e s y o f m a n d a r i n o r i e n ta l m a c a u

ritZ-carlton Provides access to exPeriences tHat Guests Won’t Find on tHeir oWn, includinG PHotoGraPHY WorKsHoPs

c o u r t e s y o f l e m e r i d i e n ta i p e i

Rewards Program, which launched in 2008 and encompasses 250 hotels worldwide across 15 brands—including Amari and Swiss-Belhotel—targets travelers who prefer boutique luxury stays over chains. “Independent hotels feel squeezed from the advantages global chain hotels receive from their loyalty programs,” says Peter Gorla, vice president and chief marketing officer. “Corporate travelers tend to select hotels that reward them for their business and many independents rely too heavily on online travel agents, whose commissions are cutting deep into their profit margins.” Voilà’s structure straddles the approach of airline alliances and corporate hotel programs: like larger airline alliances, members can earn and cash in points across any Voilà member hotel, while the earning and redemption system, including the use of elite tiers and bonus points and privileges, mimics larger global hotel loyalty programs. The largest alliance of independent hotel brands is the year-old Global Hotel Alliance, which brings together 14 luxury hotel brands, such as Anantara, Kempinski, Leela Palaces, Pan Pacific and Park Royal, representing some 300 properties globally. Rather than a pointsbased system for free rooms, its Discovery Program offers members 1,000 off-thebeaten track experiences designed by local hotel teams. All GHA members complete preference profiles (specifying room type or room amenities, food and beverage choices, newspaper selections) that can be accessed by GHA member hotels anywhere in the world so guests will always feel they’re coming to a familiar place, regardless of the brand. “The premise of the Anantara brand is ‘destination experiences’, so this type of program works very well with our philosophy,” says Marion Walsh-Hédouin, Anantara’s group director of public relations. “It’s important to showcase our destinations to guests so that they experience something new on every stay.” Discovery Program guests at the Anantara Kihavah Villas in the Maldives

can adopt and plant a piece of coral in a frame in shallow lagoon waters with a marine biologist, using a mask and snorkel. Once the coral matures, the frame is moved to its new home under the resort’s overwater bungalows. Guests can monitor the coral’s growth online through pictures uploaded by the biologist. Properties in urban areas offer VIP access to exclusive clubs or meet-and-greets with local celebrities. Guests at Pan Pacific Suzhou can try their hand at embroidery at the Suzhou Embroidery Museum; at the Parkroyal on Singapore’s Beach Road they can practice pottery making at the city’s oldest dragon kiln. The Sino Group of independent hotels—the Fullerton properties in Singapore and both the Royal Pacific Hotel & Towers and City Garden Hotel in Hong Kong—rolled out its iPrestige Rewards program at the end of last year. Benefits include early check-ins, free Internet access, complimentary suit pressing, and an array of food and beverage options, like complimentary wine and discounts on dining bills. iPrestige is also conducting member segmentation and preference analysis in order to create tailor-made packages, like a spending credit program that provides special offers to guests based on their purchasing patterns. To further deepen relationships with customers, nearly all loyalty programs are getting in on the social media game, sharing promotions, deals and news via Facebook and Twitter. Starwood and Voilà are now offering points for checkins via location-based social networks like Foursquare and Gowalla. “Technology is playing a big part in enabling loyalty programs to personalize and deliver an experience unique to every member,” says Vishal Hanmattekar, director of Taj Hotels’ program. “In the past two years, loyalty focus has changed from pure rewards to differentiated experiences. Companies may have understood only customer revenue; now they are embracing customer knowledge more than ever before.” ✚

RewaRd pointS online next time you turn to an online booking engine for a hotel stay, be sure to check if it offers a loyalty program. signing up is usually hassle-free and means that no matter where you choose to stay and no matter what it costs, you’ll accrue points. With agoda rewards, you’ll earn 20 points for every dollar spent. You can earn extra points for referring friends and family to the program, and an additional 500 points for writing a review after your stay. Points are converted into dollar values that can be applied to your hotel booking, but you’ll need a minimum of 12,500 points to start cashing in.’s welcome rewards works on a different model: for every 10 nights you book, you’ll automatically receive a free night at participating properties. the maximum value of the free night is calculated based on the average daily rate of your 10-nights’ stay. expedia rewards offers members one point per us$1 spent on hotels, two points per dollar on flights. Points are converted into reward coupons that are directly deposited into your account and can be applied to a purchase during checkout.

presidential suite, le meridien taipei. | june 2012 69


the ins and outs of modern travel

the future Of hOtelS IS reD

with millions of chinese traveling, hotel groups are trying to meet their needs. are they reshaping the industry? JeNNifer cheN reports The most popular luxury hotel in Beijing isn’t part of a chain. Nor does it have carved stone lions, red lanterns or attendants in qipao. Its 99 rooms are low-key and wood-paneled, occupying territory that’s somewhere between a ryokan and a Finnish sauna. It has a terrific pan-Asian restaurant, but its casual Mediterranean joint also packs in crowds. There are some discreet nods to its locale: heavy wood doors at the front, weathered chests in the rooms and a wall of traditional apothecary drawers. But nothing screams Chinese. Yet, mainland Chinese make up the second largest pool of guests at Opposite House, which opened in 2008 (Americans rank first). Its formula of arty quirkiness, cosmopolitan insouciance and friendly, approachable service is paying off: this year’s average occupancy rate is expected to hit 75 percent, bringing revenues per available room— or RevPar, a standard industry measure—up by 12 percent, says Anthony Ross, the area general manager for Swire Hotels, the company that owns the Opposite House. The Opposite House’s success may offer a lesson for international hotel groups clamoring for 70 june 2012 |

their share of the Chinese market. And clamoring they are, for all the obvious reasons. The world’s largest market is poised to become a major source of income for the global travel industry. According to the Chinese government, 100 million citizens will be traveling abroad by 2015, spending tens of billions of dollars. Figures for the domestic market are even more dazzling. By 2015, domestic travelers will make 3.3 billion trips. In a recent report on China’s travel industry, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) put it all into perspective: every year for the next decade, 25 million Chinese will travel for the first time. That’s 70,000 a day. True, a single country’s impact on the travel industry isn’t a new phenomenon. Americans did that in 1950’s Europe, while Japanese tour groups owned the 1980’s. But it’s the sheer numbers that make China different. Could Chinese tourists reshape the hotel industry? The major players are already changing their game to meet this onslaught. Starwood, Hilton and Accor are in a rush to provide services and amenities tailored to Chinese tourists in their properties outside of Asia. There are the basics: Illustration by Wasinee Chantakorn

is a top five percent who want recognizable Chinese-language websites, congee and dim Western brands,” he says. “And then there is a 25 to sum at breakfast and tea kettles and slippers in 30 percent right under them for whom spending guest rooms. But they are also going behind the RMB2,500 on a room is a big deal. They’re looking scenes and training staff on Chinese etiquette for something different, that better fits their and niceties—an internal memo from Millennium culture, their habits.” Testing a brand out in China Hotels and Resorts provides instructions on also just makes sense, Flaig adds, especially given everything from the table setting for a Chinese stalled economies in the West. “There are so many meal to how deeply to bow to a top executive. hotels in the pipeline so your chances of finding China is also seeing a hotel building frenzy. an owner in China who’s interested is that much Currently, there are more than 200,000 hotel greater,” he says. “Yes, you want to capture that rooms in the pipeline in China, according to outbound market, but it’s also that in China, you industry tracker STR Global. Those figures can get your brand out there in a relatively short focus on the international-standard rooms— period of time. You can’t do that anywhere else.” they don’t even capture the full picture. Global Still, it’s hard not to wonder whether an overly brands dominate the upper end of the market. rosy picture is being painted. Growth is in the midStarwood plans to double its portfolio to 201 market: according to BCG, most Chinese travelers hotels. Currently operating 56 hotels throughout are newbies for whom a hotel isn’t an experience— the country, Marriott has plans for another 53. it’s merely a place to crash. Or as Peter Hook, Accor has 121 hotels with 59 on the way. Hilton the spokesman for Accor in Asia-Pacific, puts it: Worldwide wants to expand its presence in China “[domestic travelers] are not going to suddenly from 28 to 100 hotels by 2015. Finally, IHG, progress from staying at a relative’s house to the world’s biggest hotel operator and the first staying in a five-star.” Recognizing that fact, Accor, international company to break into China, plans which has reconfigured its Grand Mercure brand to add another 149 hotels to its current portfolio in China into Mei Jue, is seeing the biggest growth of 167. Says Keith Barr, the group’s CEO in greater in Ibis, its hip budget chain. China: “In the next three to five years, one out of It’s still too early to declare a winner, but those every four hotel rooms that we will open in the most likely to succeed in China probably aren’t world will be in China.” going to be the Western IHG is also going one step heavyweights, but regional further with Hualuxe, an upscale whaT iT meaNS operators with insight into brand aimed at the Chinese. for you the local market like Banyan What constitutes a China-centric ProS Tree, Shangri-La, Langham luxury hotel? According to IHG, • more choices in china beyond Beijing and shanghai. Hotels and Swire Hotels. Chinese guests want to be treated • less expensive room rates in “They’re smaller, which like VIP’s, order familiar foods, chinese cities where there’s a glut. means they can adapt and be surrounded by Chinese design • Better asian food, particularly change faster,” says James and have a place to see clients at the breakfast buffet. Stuart, a managing partner and family. So far, the company • more attention to public spaces, so you have places to of The Brand Company. “Also has signed 20 letters of intent and hang outside of the lobby and the cultural drivers in East hopes to open the first Hualuxe by guest room. • always wanted to try tai chi? Asian countries are not that 2013. If all goes well, they’ll launch with hotels adding more dissimilar from one another.” the brand elsewhere, aiming to chinese-oriented activities, Doing business, he adds, is attract Chinese traveling abroad. you’ll get your chance. easier for these companies IHG’s move has been coNS thanks to cultural ties. It also applauded as far-sighted. Andreas • Beware of hotels popular with package tours. means they’re more plugged Flaig, managing director of • hotels with high occupancy into what Chinese customers Jones Lang Lasalle Hotels and rates are less likely to give really want—beyond more head of their China operations, discounts. • it’s uncertain whether brands meeting spaces, noodles for says there’s a growing number can maintain standards in all breakfast and slippers in the of Chinese travelers ready to their china properties. room. ✚ graduate to the next level. “There 72 june 2012 |


W: E: T: +66 (0) 77 425 080

Amburaya Residences (Koh Samui) Co., Ltd. Registered and paid up capital Baht 1,000,000. Registered address: 4/1 Moo 1, Tambol Maenam, Koh Samui, Suratthani 84320. Site location: on title deed numbers: 12757, 13188, 13529, 13530, 13531, 13614 and 13691. Project area: 26 Rai 3 Ngan 19.7 Sq. Wah. Presently mortgaged with Siam Commercial Bank Plc. Customers will pay the expense of the common areas according to the Sale and Purchase Agreement and/or regulations of the project. Bangkok contact: Tel. (0)2 253 4300 Fax. (0)2 254 2441. Samui contact: Tel. (0)7 724 5133 Fax. (0)7 742 7524. An Amburaya Residences (Koh Samui) Co., Ltd. project. The Residences at W Retreat Koh Samui are not owned, developed or sold by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., W International, Inc. or their affiliates. Amburaya Properties (Koh Samui) Co., Ltd. uses the W 速 trademarks and trade names under a license from W International, Inc.

montH 2010 |


travel topics in depth, vivid visuals and more on the beach in terengganu.

quiet coasting Peninsular malaYsia’s east coast maY seem reluctant to reveal itselF, But JohN krich Finds mucH to aPPreciate alonG tHis Quiet PatH. PhoTograPhed by auSTiN buSh | june 2012 75

journal drive


ow this is what I call travel: on the wrong road, at the wrong time of year, even the wrong side of the country. On the sleek expressway that cuts across the Malaysian peninsula from Kuala Lumpur toward the South China Sea, things go swimmingly until I fall victim to the world’s most confusing road signs, posted in Bahasa. I’m exploring Malaysia’s East Coast, what is sometimes billed as this multi-culti country’s “quiet coast,” its Malay heartland, a crucible of cultural identity. To understand the country more fully I feel I’ve got to head

here, even if it’s not the region Malaysia’s image-makers put first in their ads. My first stop, the historic tin mining center of Sungai Lembing, will be the last where the populace and shop fronts are mostly Chinese. As the mosques multiply, the signs come in Arabic-style Jawi script, the laundry lines look more batik-strewn, the people ever more cloaked, scarfed, becapped and increasingly circumspect with more courtly manners. Yet given that this area is mostly smalltown, palm-strewn fishing villages, the three provincial capitals heading north—Kuantan, Kuala Terengganu, Kota Bharu—are as bereft of tourist attractions as they are of

SlOw AnD Sunny From far

left: H.j. abdul Karim Bin H.j. mohd sham, head of the Cherating turtle sanctuary; long Beach, pulau perhentian Kecil; a vendor at Kota Bharu’s central market.

five-star hotels. Local dance and arts are for rare ceremonial occasions. So the wanderer’s eye has to become ever more selective, attuned to ethnic markers and special revelations on an intimate scale.


n a previous trip along the southern part of the East Coast, I meandered through Johor’s searing green mix of palm plantations and cloaked jungle to mellow Mersing, jumping-off point for speedboats to little-known island nubs like Rawa and Pulau Tinggi, practically Robinson Crusoe territory barely a two-hour drive from Singapore. Now, further north, halfway up the peninsula, I can just glimpse the turnoff for Pahang’s main beach town of Cherating. Off-season, the seaside backpackers’ strip offers my pick of thatched chalets on stilts for a night out in fresh air. The next morning, I’ve

got a wide, tranquil bay almost to myself—though the one drawback of wintertime touring is the perceptible ring of flotsom washed up by the rains. Heading out after a quick swim, I find the Cherating Turtle Sanctuary (on the signs, turtle is penyu) open for business (along the same road where a Club Med claims the area’s best stretch of sand). While the East Coast is renowned for several rare breeds of turtle, intrepid ecotourists now must pick their dates carefully, as species seem to appear in smaller numbers during shorter summer periods. At this modest center, kiddie dioramas illustrate the remarkable beach crawls and, year round, a series of open

That’s more than enough to power me a few hours north to Tanjong Jara, long the pre-eminent luxury resort along this less-touristic patch. With one of the East Coast’s longest beaches, this is the place for pure escape, including diving trips in the clearer waters around tiny Pulau Tenggol. Staff more gracious than any I’ve encountered in Malaysia will gladly put guests through a range of cultural programs like bike rides to nearby kampong and craftsmen, in line with what they term “Sicimurni,” a healthy, spiritual lifestyle that’s packaged in a legacy of traditional Malay culture. A half-hour further on, I rendezvous with an environmental professor and friendly foodie named Jarina

eAStern flAvOr From

left: the pool at terrapuri; a dish of nasi kerabu, Kota Bharu; serving kopi-o at Hai peng, in Kemaman.

tanks are filled with tiny hatchlings cutely darting, a stirring sight of hope. For more seasonal delights, there’s always the panoply of roadside cuisine. Aside from durian, mangosteens and grilled corn, the staple of Terengganu is kerepok, an amalgam of ground fish that’s best described as being something between a sausage and a cake. At a stand where elementary school girls can’t hide their giggling curiosity, I try everything on offer—from char-grilled otak-otak fish mousse to lengths of bamboo packed with a tart mixture of coconut and shrimp. At sprawling Kemaman, everyone points the way to Hai Peng, a classic kopitiam, or Malaysian coffee shop, down to its marble-thick tables and roasted brews, cleverly decorated with historic photos. The grilled toast, sliced as thick as the potent kopi-o, is stuffed with peanut butter and banana.

Jani who takes a break from crusading for the protection of Malaysia’s natural spaces to procure the city’s best nasi dagang before a morning stand closes. For my first sample of this banana leaf rice packet imbued with chunks of tuna-like tenggiri, Jani invites me to the two-story hillside house where she lives with her husband Chang Fee Ming, Terengganu’s most internationally known master of realist »

with one of the east coast’s longest beaches, this is the place for pure escape | june 2012 77

journal drive watercolors as well as stark protests against human rights abuses. Their home enjoys a ship-like overlook on the South China Sea, and in the art-stuffed studio they share, Chang, humble yet surly and self-confident in shorts, proudly reminds that his hometown of Kuala Terengganu was once a true cultural hub, thriving under Sultans in the 18th century. The couple’s off-handed heritage tour begins with a lunch using our hands at Meka, a highly characteristic rice buffet where they dare me to spice up the stewed fish with tempoyak—fermented and thrice-stinky durian. Then the artist leads me to the town center’s single remaining block of workshop sheds. “All the rest have been relocated to strip malls,” Chang grumbles. “The government has

The best example of the town’s former magnificently carved mansions is Kota Lama Duyong, the 1920’s residence of a Chinese merchant. But for a combination of the East Coast’s past heritage and cultural tourism future, Jani and Chang insist that I sleep at the newly opened Terrapuri. It’s past dark when I pass through the tiny village of Pinarik an hour further north and come to the gated grounds of a seaside complex of restored houses turned into private villas. The two women at the front desk have limited English skills, but I score a dinner using creative sign language and that most essential Malay word: makan, to eat. Each of the 23 old Malay houses, “architecture of a lost kingdom,” collected and lovingly restored over two decades

cOAStAl culture

From left: Nasi dagang, pahang; on pulau duyong, an island outside Kuala terengganu; a beach vendor, Cherating.

other plans for this land—only this family resists.” At the defiant Wanisma Craft and Trading, they peddle Indonesian factory-made batiks to supplement their handmade, waxetched fabrics visitors can view in a dim workshop out back. The smell of the wax is pleasant, if strong, and in a back room we watch old-timers use knowing hands to heat and fire a local mud into a veritable ore for brass objects and cups and trays for the ceremonial consumption of betel nut. But the best reminder of the port town’s golden age is on Pulau Duyong, a muddy islet a few kilometers upstream from where the river opens to the sea. For some reason, Chang seems hesitant to show me the island’s famed boat builders and I soon find out it takes some detective work these days to actually find any active production. Only one boatyard is working now: with one sleek hull, without nails, being shaped from a local and durable hardwood. 78 june 2012 |

by owner and former travel agent Alex Lee, has antique furnishings and bathroom extensions as big as the long bedrooms, with century-old wooden columns and carved panels remaining intact. Clearly, Lee has sunk millions of ringgit into this life’s labor in hopes of circling the wagons around the last of his native region’s built heritage. The allwood shells boast ceilings high enough to honor any Sultan’s need for breathing space—and thanks to Lee’s guidance,

local color comes in the form of flower-dyed blue rice and splashy headscarves

I now recognize the pre-Islamic motifs of dragon heads in the ornate carving. By morning, as if on cue, several locals appear leading monkeys on leashes to scamper up and dislodge coconuts. At night, a guide regales me with Malay lore and legends as we float down the tranquil Pinarik River (disturbed only by the sounds of pre-taped birds that are meant to stimulate nesting in a large compound owned by the Terengganu Royal Family) in a rowboat, a thrilling outing in itself even if the fireflies, readily trapped in the cupped palms of the boatmen and presented to me for closer wonder, aren’t as plentiful as advertised.

more like an Emirate. Local color comes in the form of flower-dyed blue rice and the splashy headscarves of the all-female, all-business fruit vendors at the town’s so-called “Lady’s Market.” The government-sponsored craft complex is best skipped in favor of the more ample showrooms and factories for batik and songket workshops along a road to the coast that is within a spinning top’s throw of Thailand. Out of coastline, I return towards Kuala Lumpur by looping west and traversing the peninsula to Penang. Now that I’ve returned to Malaysia’s more developed side, back in the realm of massive toll plazas, billboards and malls, I’m suddenly nostalgic for the human scale I’ve exited—a lush

lOcAl cOlOrS From left: Frying

noodles in Kuala terengganu’s Chinatown; long Beach, pulau perhentian Kecil.

Another hour north brings me to Kuala Besut—the jumping-off point for the East Coast’s top scenic spot, Pulau Perhentian, which actually consists of two coastal islands. Countless Malaysians and Internet sites have assured me this low-key locale with excellent snorkeling and diving is closed for the season, but I find motorboats regularly setting out on the wildly bucking half-hour ride. Winter hotel construction mars island walks, but nothing can spoil a dive into the emerald tides of its Long Beach, followed by an evening barbecue of barracuda with the sea lapping at my feet. There’s little sign of environmental management on Perhentian, but thanks to Kelantan’s proIslamic ruling party, loud partying is blissfully just as scarce. One more morning’s drive through evocative towns where the gowns of passing women grow ever more modest and floral, and Kota Bharu, the Kelantan capital, looks even

coast relievedly unpackaged, doggedly unflamboyant, where wrong turns can just as easily turn out right. ✚

guide To eaST coaST maLaySia GettInG there

the east coast expressway runs 250 kilometers from Kuala lumpur to Kuantan. malaysia airlines flies to the Kuantan from K.l., while Firefly flies from singapore. StAy

Tanjong Jara resort Batu 8, off jln. dungun, dungun, terengganu; tanjongjara; double rooms from rm750.

Terrapuri Kg. mangkuk, setiu, terengganu; 609/624-5020;; doubles from rm499. Tuna bay island resort, Perhentian island 120 jln. Besar, Kuala Besut; 60-9/ 690-2902;; doubles from rm250. DO

cherating Turtle Sanctuary Pantai chendor, Pahang; 60-9/581-9087; free. | june 2012 79

journal concierge the author, in uniform (right), outside the mgm grand Hotel & Casino.

“i was a las vegas concierge...”

Well, For a WeeK, anYWaY: bruNo maddoX Goes BeHind tHe scenes at tHe mGm Grand Hotel & casino, learninG tHe secrets, WorKinG tHe sHiFts, maKinG dreams come true. PhoTograPhed by Jeff miNToN


n the lobby of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas sits a huge golden lion upon a dais of red flowers. The lion is the corporate mascot of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the movie studio whose most iconic film, The Wizard of Oz, told the story of a young Kansas girl trying to find an all-powerful wizard in a fantastical land of color and magic. The girl’s quest ends when her dog, Toto, tugs open a curtain, revealing the Great Wizard to be a smallish, elderly man frantically pulling levers and cranking

80 june 2012 |

handles and amplifying his voice by means of a speaking tube. Generations of moviegoers have come away with the impression there never really was a wizard in the first place, that it was “just” a little man behind a curtain all along. But that isn’t how “Gary Ring” sees it, in the quiet of the Post-Lunch Lull, standing behind the mighty Desk and staring over at the great gold lion. “Gary Ring,” you see, he knows that magic is real, and that wizards walk among us. The dreams that you dare to dream, “Gary Ring” knows, they really »

can come true. He has seen it happen. He has even made it happen. Because “Gary Ring,” you see…. “Gary Ring,” he is the concierge.


ary Ring” wasn’t always the concierge. He wasn’t even always “Gary Ring.” Early on the first morning, deep underground, the woman in Uniforms gave him his blue suit, and his corrugated cornflower-blue necktie, and his white, white shirt, and all of it fit so well, as if the clothes had been waiting there for him, forever, that he was almost surprised not to find a brass name tag, too, like the other concierges wore, preprinted with what he would soon come to think of as his “old name.” But no. There was nothing, no name tag at all, until mid-morning when he thought to mention it to Jeanne Mills, who was not just the chef concierge at the Grand, but also the sitting U.S. president of Les Clefs d’Or, the international, prestigious society of elite concierges. Jeanne’s name was pronounced with two syllables, like genie, and like a genie she disappeared, and returned not long after with a

name tag for him, and just like that he became “Gary Ring.” He was “Gary Ring,” just like that, but he was not yet the concierge. For there was too much, still, that he did not know. He had not yet learned the trick of upside-down map reading—for when a concierge is giving directions to a guest from behind the mighty Desk, the map, to the concierge, is always upsidedown. Nor had “Gary Ring” yet mastered the art of arranging flower petals in the shape of a heart upon a bed. His first attempt came out lopsided, almost closer to the shape of an actual, anatomical heart than to the stylized, universal icon of romance, and “Gary Ring” looked at his heart and was ashamed. These basic skills he would acquire, and many more besides. At placing a champagne bottle into an ice bucket so the label faced forward “Gary Ring” exhibited talent right off the bat, and he could open the door of a Rolls-Royce Phantom to permit a guest’s smooth ingress or egress as if he’d been doing it all his life. But for all his skills, “Gary Ring” was still not the concierge, because he did not yet understand, he could not make dreams come true. Concierges decorate a guest room with flower petals. | june 2012 81

journal concierge Well, he could. If your dream was merely a pair of last-minute tickets to Cirque du Soleil, with a reservation afterward at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and one of you didn’t eat “gluten,” whatever that was, “Gary Ring” knew, by the end of his second day, how to enter these requests into The System and present them to you as a printed Itinerary. Under the excellent tutelage of the concierge Jesse Ramirez, “Gary Ring” had further learned how to grout or caulk the Itinerary, as it were, with a smooth paste of limousines, balloons and surprise champagne, thus giving it the integrated feel of an Enchanted Evening. But this was not true concierge, “Gary Ring” knew. Yes, he could get you a table at Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill or a midsize sedan for the weekend, or tweak your seating assignment at Cirque du Soleil to allay your fear that you’d be kicked in the face by a supple gamine…. But true concierge was when a guest said it was her birthday today and then hung up the phone. True concierge was when a guest showed up ashen at the mighty Desk and said, “My mother-in-law has just arrived unexpectedly and I… please just…please….”

it wasn’t going well. he wasn’t making his notional couples’ dreams come true, or giving them enchanted evenings. would he ever be the concierge? A special kind of ingenuity and creativity was required, it seemed, and “Gary Ring” wasn’t sure he had it. Toward the end of day three, Jeanne Mills sat him down at a carrel in the phone-bank room, and gave him a pen, and had him answer questions from the official Test of Concierges. He had to design a 20th Anniversary Surprise for a man to enchant his wife with, a man for whom “money is no object,” and also a less surprising Romantic Evening to be enjoyed by a couple for whom “money is tight.” “Gary Ring” sucked his pen for a while, and stared at the pattern on the carpet, and then decided that both couples would go to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. He had been to the franchise in London a few times himself, at different points on the spectrum of liquidity, and knew that while a 82 june 2012 |

mind-set of “money is no object” was absolutely to be preferred when one was dining at L’Atelier, it was possible also just to order a side dish of truffled mashed potatoes—pomme purée truffée, to be technical about it—and indeed that there was something romantic about just having the potatoes, in a Dickensian or O. Henry sort of way. “One day, darling,” a man could pledge to the woman that he loved, spooning pomme purée into her mouth, “we will come here and also have the quail.” It was a form of commitment, in a way—and commitment was something women loved, “Gary Ring” knew. They loved it as much as flowers, and only a little bit less than chocolate. Oh, and after dinner, each couple could stroll along the Strip, “Gary Ring” thought, and watch the fountains dance at the Bellagio, as he himself had done once years before…. “How’s it going?” asked Jeanne Mills, coming to check on him after an hour. “Pretty good,” nodded “Gary Ring,” folding up his answer sheet and sliding it into the pocket of his blue jacket. “It’s going actually pretty well.” It wasn’t, though, he knew, looking at the carpet again after she’d left. It wasn’t going well at all. He wasn’t making his notional couples’ dreams come true, or even giving them Enchanted Evenings. He was painting by numbers, and “Gary Ring” became discouraged. Would he ever be the concierge? he asked himself silently. Would he ever accrue enough knowledge, confidence and general savoir faire to step into people’s lives and enchant them, the way a true concierge must? Would he ever make people feel like kings? And the answer came back, a faint, ghostly voice within him, “…no…probably not….”


oward the end, when “Gary Ring” would sleep and dream, he would dream of flying, just like a sad bird in a cage does, or an inmate serving life, or a person in a terrible short story. In his dream, “Gary Ring” flew away from Las Vegas and the deafening chaos of the Strip. He flew away from the all-night jangle of the slots… the diamond squelch of bottles sliding into ice buckets…. In his dream he flew away from all of it, soaring up into the silence of the sky, over the blistered orange desert with its mesas and plateaus, its sudden shining silver lakes of mercury, then swooping down between the crimson walls of a steep and ancient Canyon, down to where a copper-green river oozed silently along, as it had been oozing along since before there was Time. »

journal concierge

the author with jeanne mills, head concierge at the mgm grand.

Waking, “Gary Ring” would think about the dream, and though he knew the dream was in part just a memory—on the second day, someone from Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters had made a presentation to the concierges and offered them free chopper flights so they might recommend the product to their guests, and “Gary Ring” had said yes—it was more than that. The orange desert, in his dream, was how far he had come, and the cold green river was the understanding that he did not yet have. And “Gary Ring,” he did despair, as his time grew short, for he was losing hope that he would ever understand, that he would ever be the concierge.

‘bruno,’ she interrupted, and looked up at him with a soft sort of pride. ‘this, right now…. this is very concierge.’

But then he did, and then he was. He was Out Front when it started to happen, Out Front with Jeanne Mills, just doing some stuff behind the mighty Desk, when up on the lobby’s giant video screen flashed a massive image of a gourmet cheeseburger beside an outlandish portion of french fries in a paper cone. “Wow,” said Jeanne Mills, glancing up at the projected food. “That looks pretty good.” “Oh, it is,” said “Gary Ring,” and he told her, because he knew, that this was the American Kobe burger from the Nobhill Tavern, where “Gary Ring” had dined alone on his first evening. The burger was exemplary, he went on, and while the quantity of fries might seem excessive, this was because when chef Michael Mina had been a child, he had run out of fries, once, while eating a burger, and through his tears had made a personal vow that should he ever himself have a restaurant, no diner would ever feel that specific ache of depriv— “Bruno?” she interrupted, suddenly, confusingly, and looked up at “Gary Ring” with a soft sort of pride. “This, right now…. This is very concierge.” And “Gary Ring” had to look away. Blinking and breathing and feeling emotions, he steadied himself against the mighty Desk. He did not know what he had done, or said, to so impress Jeanne Mills, but Jeanne Mills was Jeanne Mills, and if Jeanne Mills said a person was very concierge, they were very concierge. And it was with a false new confidence

TiPS from a vegaS iNSider

advice from jeanne mills, head concierge at the mgm grand. “oLd SchooL” vegaS “the former mayor oscar Goodman recently opened oscar’s (Plaza Las Vegas, 1 Main St.;, a steak house downtown where the walls are lined with photos and memorabilia dating back decades.” beST view iN TowN “the outdoor patio of mix atop tHehotel at mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.;—las vegas Boulevard for as far as your eyes can see.”

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doN’T miSS “a private tour of the neon museum (702/3876366;; by appointment only).” PeoPLe-waTchiNg “late night at the Bootlegger Bistro (7700 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; bootleggerlasvegas. com)—where legendary las vegas entertainers go to relax and sometimes have jam sessions.” SecreT deSerT geTaway “spring mountain ranch state Park (6375 Hwy 159;, once owned by Howard

Hughes, an oasis within red rock canyon.”

com), for the incredibly large portions.”

beST comforT-food SPoT “Peppermill (2985 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; peppermilllasvegas.

favoriTe LocaL oddiTy “You can wear just about anything and not get strange looks.”

the mgm grand, on the las vegas strip.

that he headed back through the little door to stand with the others at the pre-shift briefing, in the little antechamber before the phone room. The hotel was at 98 percent capacity that day, said Brittney Bowen, who was running pre-shift, and “Gary Ring” clenched his jaw determinedly, just like his fellow concierges. Just like them he gave an “oh yes” of recollection at Brittney’s reminder that a new Sugar Factory franchise was opening that week, somewhere in the bowels of the vast hotel. Then pre-shift broke up and as “Gary Ring” looked around, wondering what to do first, his eyes fell on a man in the corner of the room who was smiling at him. The man had on the same blue suit as “Gary Ring,” the same cornflower-blue necktie, but as the curtain of concierges parted to reveal the man’s lapel area, “Gary Ring” saw that the man had no name, and “Gary Ring” went cold and felt ashamed. “Gary?” said “Gary Ring,” his voice squeaking. “Hello,” said Gary Ring. And “Gary Ring” fumbled for the name tag in his lapel, and he held it out to the real Gary Ring. “Thank you so much,” he stammered. “I…. I hope it wasn’t too much of a…. Too inconvenient.”

Gary Ring looked down at his name, and then back up at “Gary Ring,” and in the eyes of the real Gary Ring there was a joyful selflessness every bit as ancient and serene as the cold green river flowing slowly through the eternal Canyon. “No,” said Gary Ring, smiling, and he shook his head for emphasis. “You hang on to it.” And it was only then that he understood. It wasn’t skills that made a concierge, or expertise, or savoir faire, or knowing the difference in cost and longevity between low-helium and high-helium balloons. True concierge was the willingness to give of oneself, to give it all, one’s handkerchief, one’s personal burger memories, even, if needed, one’s very name. And to do it all not out of duty, or self-sacrifice, but out of the simple, unshakable understanding that other people’s dreams, they really are your own, at the end of the day, when push comes to shove—and that the map of the human heart, when by some miracle you finally do get it unfurled, is always best read upside down. ✚ MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas; | june 2012 85

pASSIOn prOject left: the sukosol family:

marisa, sukie, Kamala, Krissada and daranee (from left). Below from left: the siam’s Chon thai restaurant, comprised of century-old houses formerly belonging to socialite and oss agent Connie mangskau; an antique opium daybed in a Chinese pool villa; one of the rare books on display in the library.

New Life for oLd Siam

WHat HaPPens WHen a tHai-american musician–actor teams uP WitH a Harvard-trained landscaPe arcHitect? a Hotel tHat seeKs to reinvent BanGKoK’s imaGe is Born. JeNNifer cheN rePorTS PhoTograPhed by chriSToPher wiSe

Chon thai restaurant reflected in the glass faรงade of the deco Bar & Bistro.

or the past 15 years, whenever he’s in Bangkok, Krissada Sukosol Clapp wakes early on Saturdays and heads over to Chatuchak market by 8 a.m. Why the rush? “It’s when the good antiques hit the floor,” he explains. This isn’t the sort of behavior that you might expect from the lead singer of indie rockers Pru and film actor born into a prominent Bangkok family. But Krissada, a soft-spoken 41-year-old, isn’t your typical privileged pop star. Other Thai celebrities might be eager to flash their wealth and fame but Krissada, known as Noi, leads a low-key life. He drives a fuelefficient Honda Jazz hatchback, dresses like a college student and loves being with his wife and two small children. His one extravagance is antiques. “It’s the only thing I spend money on,” he says. By antiques, we aren’t talking about the odd Tiffany lamp or a few Chinese armoires. Since he began collecting in earnest, he’s accumulated enough vintage pieces to fill a warehouse. Some are seriously substantial like French zinc bar tops, carved Indian doors, wrought-iron 19th-century pillars cast in Scotland and crystal chandeliers. Then there are more whimsical ephemera—old movie ticket stubs, Art Deco light fixtures and door handles and hundreds of blackand-white photographs depicting daily life in Old Siam. Over the years, he’s put together a museum-worthy collection, which has only been seen by relations and lucky friends. Until now, that is. Six years in the making, The Siam, Krissada’s 39-room, antique-filled riverside hotel will be unveiled this month. Amid a glut of luxury hotels, it promises to be a bold departure from what this city has seen so far. Plenty of other rock and film stars have gotten into the hotel game. Robert de Niro owns New York City’s eclectic Greenwich Hotel; Richard Gere opened a bed-and-breakfast in upstate New York; U2’s Bono and the Edge bankrolled the historic Clarence in Dublin. Unlike those famous dabblers, though, hospitality runs in Krissada’s family: his mother, Kamala Sukosol, heads Sukosol Hotels (formerly Siam Hotels & Resorts) which his two older sisters and brother help run. (Music, too, is in their veins. Kamala and oldest sister Marisa are singers, and brother Sukie founded indie label Bakery Music and plays guitar and keyboard for Pru.) The Siam is also a family affair. Marisa helps with the marketing, Sukie oversees the construction and sister Daranee, an ex-Wall Street banker, is the financial whiz.

Krissada’s Hong Kong–born wife, Melanie Giles-Clapp, heads the public relations department. It was Kamala who, in 2006, suggested that Krissada consider developing the 1.2 hectares along the Chao Phraya River that she owned. Around the same time, other events were being set in motion, planting the seed for The Siam. Krissada and Melanie were about to restore the 100-year-old building in Rattanakosin, Bangkok’s Old Town, that once housed his grandfather’s offices and turn it into their home and a showcase for his antiques. Meanwhile, Ponsri Luphaiboon, the former publicity director of the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and an old family friend, offered to sell them a few hectares in the suburb of Minburi. The real prize, though, was four traditional teakwood houses from Ayutthaya that stood there. Jim Thompson, the American who revived the Thai silk industry, had salvaged them for his close friend, Connie Mangskau, a socialite and fellow agent in the OSS, the CIA’s predecessor. Ponsri bought the houses after Mangskau’s death in 1990 and later spurned repeated offers from wealthy Westerners. The houses, she felt, should stay in Thai hands, and she deemed the Sukosols worthy successors. They jumped on the opportunity and began planning a hotel.


t first, the Sukosols had modest visions for the land located on prime riverfront in Dusit, one of Bangkok’s oldest neighborhoods. A quaint inn is what they imagined. But Bill Bensley, a Bangkok-based, Harvard-educated architect and landscape designer, had different ideas. Not that they had divergent tastes—as fellow antiquarians, Bensley and Krissada kept running across each other’s names. “We went to the same antique shops in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, and it happened that many of the things I wanted already had his name on them,” Krissada says. “So I knew we shared the same taste and I just thought it would be great to finally work with him.” Along with Kerry Hill and Ed Tuttle, Bensley is one of the foremost designers of tropical resorts. His projects include the Four Seasons Tented Camp in Chiang Rai and the Leela Palace Kempinski in Udaipur, and they are immediately recognizable for their almost old-fashioned lushness and meticulous attention to detail. From the start, he knew that Krissada’s antiques would play a starring role in the hotel. (Kamala, too, is lending pieces from her collection.) “I would much rather take a backward look at something rather than a forward look, because it’s about Romanticism,” he says. Bensley and his team, which includes his partner, horticulturist Jirachai Rengthong, and Princeton-trained architect Khemvadee Paopanlerd, didn’t want the property to be a mere repository for antiques. Instead they proposed Bangkok’s first urban resort, complete with pool villas, a private pier, a riverside restaurant and, of course, beautifully landscaped tropical gardens. It was far more ambitious, and expensive, than what the Sukosols originally envisioned. » | june 2012 91

“Bill was able to convince me that this was going to be something new for this city,” says Krissada. “And now that I’ve walked through it, I know it was the right move.” Bangkok’s newest luxury hotels tend to either opt for a tasteful blandness—abstract-patterned rugs, cushy sofas and far too much beige—or a hyper-kinetic, forced hipness—calfskin rugs and graffiti-like wall paintings paired with wacky light fixtures and thumping dance music. Corporate press materials might boast about their individual qualities, but at the end of the day, they are basically places to sleep in, and perhaps have a meal or two. The Siam embodies the complete opposite of this designby-committee, and ultimately soulless, approach. It is the distillation of one man’s tastes, vision and passion. As a result, it has atmosphere in spades. With its porte-cochère, wide verandah, green roofs and inner courtyard, the reception building serves as a prelude to the rest of the property. “The first building is really just meant to be a teaser,” says Bensley. It demonstrates how Krissada’s antiques have been incorporated—not as roped-off museum pieces but as part of the hotel’s fabric. Check-in takes place at two vintage reception desks while old display cases are used in the boutique. An enclosed bridge leads to the three-story main residence, where 28 suites are located. Facing the river are the 11 pool villas, including one of the old Thai houses, dubbed Connie’s Cottage. But Bensley points out that they are not what The Siam is about. “We’ll get the rock stars and the people who want absolute privacy and that’s what they’re there for,” he says. “But for me the main building is where the excitement is.” Inside that building, it’s evident what he’s talking about. Grand and intimate at the same time, at its heart is a long fountain under a towering glass atrium inspired by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. In the suites, the spacious bathrooms have been placed on the outside, while the bedrooms and sitting rooms face the inner courtyard. The effect is that guests look inwards—and away from the pedestrian fire station to the north and the dilapidated house to the south. “It’s all about building visual containments…and getting people to look only to the places that will be beautiful forever,” Bensley explains. “That’s key to every project. You can’t just hope that your neighbors will build something nice.” There’s plenty to look at inside the rooms as well. Antiques, of course, fill the rooms, but not just in the form of furniture. Each suite has a theme based on Thai popular history and culture, and they’re illustrated in unexpected ways: the military-themed suite has vintage cigarette box cards with officers in full regalia as well as swords, maps, medals and turn-of-the-century military caps. Another suite displays old perfume bottles and silk sashes from pageants (the theme: beauty queens). When an item couldn’t be sourced from Krissada’s existing collection, he set off on a quest to find it. And if that finally failed, Bensley’s team would create a piece. Up until the final 92 june 2012 |

moment, Krissada was still trying to find the perfect set of doors for the library, which will house first editions of books on Siam.


here’s another reason why the suites in the main residence look inwards. Inspired by a 1908 hotel in Yogyakarta, Bensley and his team placed translucent walls between the rooms and the atrium (bedrooms are still shielded) and placed tables and chairs in the corridor. “I’m hoping it will be a place where guests can meet each other,” he says. “That’s unusual for hotels today. When you go out of your room, no one looks at each other.” He has a point. Most luxury hotel rooms are hermetically sealed affairs that encourage you never to leave them. To help achieve their goal of having a hotel where serendipitous meetings take place, the Sukosols hired Jason Friedman, a gregarious New Yorker who ran the Four Seasons Tented Camp, as the general manager. Friedman and his staff will try to drive home the resort feel with a more personable approach to service and laid-back ambiance. Bangkok is desperately in need of a city resort, according to Friedman. “There’s a big disconnect for a lot of travelers,” he says. “You’ve spent the week at Trisara [in Phuket], and all of the sudden you’re in a business hotel in Bangkok.” The bigger challenge for Friedman is to convince guests to stay in Dusit, a part of town that’s ill-serviced by public transportation and away from the action. “This is not for someone who wants to shop at Siam Paragon,” he says bluntly. “It’s for someone who wants to really see and experience the old town.” To that end, The Siam aims to offer cultural experiences that connect guests to the neighborhood and Thai culture. The hotel has a muay Thai boxing ring in the gym, an on-site cooking school and a screening room that will show classic Thai movies. Still, recasting Bangkok as a historic destination is no mean task. Even its admirers will admit it’s not a pretty city, and like many Asian capitals— barring Beijing and Tokyo—there aren’t that many requisite sights to see. But The Siam team is confident that the location is an asset. “The river is only going to get better,” says Bensley. “People are starting to value what they have.” As The Siam nears completion, Krissada, who is so focused on the hotel that he’s put aside a solo album, has opening-day jitters. “A movie comes out, a song is released, a hotel opens, but you never know how it’s going to turn out,” he says. Asked whether he’ll take a break from his weekly antique hunts in Chatuchak after the hotel finally debuts, he laughs and wonders what he’ll do when his son is older and starts playing football games on Saturday morning. Finally, he says, “No, I don’t think so. It’s my passion. But I’ll need to work around those football matches.” ✚ The Siam, 3/2 Khao Rd., Bangkok; 66-2/206-6999; thesiamhotel. com; doubles from Bt15,000.

In with the old Clockwise from top left: A Bill Bensley–designed bronze fountain in the open-air lobby; a traditional Thai medicinal herb cabinet flanking the lobby walkway; a hand-embroidered, antique silk panel behind Krissada’s hat and jacket; the Chinese Pool villa; view over the infinity pool towards Bathers Bar; a mirrored mini-bar and painted wood floors in the military-themed Siam suite; a salvaged Royal Thai Army pith helmet; repurposed shop house doors at the hotel lead into a Pool villa.

Dinner guests at La Favorita, a 17th-century villa-for-hire in western Sicily. Opposite: A sitting area in one of La Favorita’s seven bedrooms.

The Sicilian Connection Can a rented villa help you gain entrée to a famously impenetrable place? After setting up house in Western Sicily, Peter Jon Lindberg shares his findings. (No. 1: When you ask for “Character,” you better mean it.) Photographed by andrea wyner

lOcAl flAIr Clockwise

from left: produce at marsala’s daily market; a bedroom at la Favorita; Contessa elisabetta, the villa’s owner.


nigmatic,” “ornery,” “inscrutable”: on the rare occasions that western Sicily comes up in conversation—let alone in travel guidebooks—it’s usually prefixed by one or more of those words. This, people tell you, is a region so insular that even Italians are flummoxed by the place. Its dialect, customs and cuisine (couscous; spleen sandwiches) are a world apart from the mainland, and even from the island’s more touristed east coast. “If Sicily is another country, the west coast is another planet,” said an acquaintance in Rome. He did not seem to consider it a particularly friendly planet. Despite or because of all this, when my wife and I decided to rent a house in Italy in the company of five close friends, it was western Sicily that drew us all in. The sun-bleached coastline; the shadowy, souklike markets; the ancient temple ruins at Selinunte; the salt pans at Mozia; the cultural affinity with North Africa (hence the couscous): to us the west coast sounded mesmerizing, and its apart-ness from the Italy we knew was central to its allure. We took the region’s impenetrability as a challenge—a game in which a rented villa would be a distinct advantage. Under the cover of our borrowed house, we could embed among the natives, sipping Aperol Spritzes with the neighbors. We would live like locals, just as

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all those villa-rental brochures promise, and unlock western Sicily from the inside out. First, though, we’d have to find the villa. On the continuum of daunting travel experiences—Mexican cliff diving, flying Aeroflot, carpet shopping in Marrakesh—few spur as much anxiety as “renting large house in unfamiliar land.” You could liken it to a blind date, except this date lasts an entire week, can cost untold thousands of dollars and levies a hefty penalty if you try to skip out early. Of course, with great anxiety comes great reward. Anyone who’s successfully navigated the vagaries of villa renting will agree that it was worth the time, stress and money invested—and that the experience was more meaningful and memorable than any stay at an equivalently priced hotel could be. That certainly was our takeaway, after that strange and unforgettable week was over. Though we encountered plenty of frustrations, all seven of us look back on it as one of our favorite trips ever. Could we have done it better? Absolutely. Would we have changed a thing? Honestly, no. But we learned some essential lessons for next time.


know what you want—and what’s beyond your reach.

Once our group had settled on our maximum price (€5,300 for seven adults and a child, for seven nights), we made a list of must-haves (four bedrooms; large kitchen for communal

lOcAl lIvInG From left: Spaghetti

alle vongole prepared by daniela, the villa’s resident cook; the author (left) and his friend alan riding the cable car to erice; a typically sun-drenched afternoon on a pier in the stagnone lagoon.

the place had character to burn. plus, the owner was a countess. a countess! how could we go wrong? cooking; strong sense of place) and would-loves (ocean view; pool; housekeeping service). Those were just the basics—our actual list was a lot longer. The fantasy was to find an old house near a charming seaside town, where we could sleep unbothered by the noise of car horns but still walk or drive to a market, a good trattoria and our soon-to-be favorite café. Our list, it turns out, was overly hopeful. As several agents explained, “character” and “sea views” are a rare combination in Sicily, where the older, statelier houses tend to be located inland (on the former feudal estates their owners once managed). Since modern-day visitors prefer to be near the water, much of Sicily’s coastline is dominated by smoked-glass condos and 1970’s resort strips. So finding that charming old villa—but one set by the sea—was not necessarily in the cards. We resolved to compromise: we’d trade a waterfront setting for a house with real personality.


choose an agency with strong local connections.

Plenty of villa companies represent properties across the globe, and some do a very fine job. The key is finding an agency with people on the ground who can inspect properties and learn the terrain firsthand. After browsing scores of listings from dozens of villa-rental sites, we got in touch with Think Sicily, a well-rated, decade-

old agency representing 93 properties around the island. Though the company’s booking office is in London, its founding directors—Huw Beaugié, a British expat, and his Palermo-born wife, Rossella—live and work in Sicily. We relayed our wish list to Max Lane, Think Sicily’s local consigliere for the west coast. We also sent him links to villas from other agencies that looked promising. Max came back with three properties that roughly fit our needs, all of them exclusive to Think Sicily. The standout: a seven-bedroom, six-bath, 17th-century ocher-and-cream palazzo called La Favorita. It was located just outside Marsala, a few minutes’ drive from the coast. At €6,460 a week, it was beyond our maximum, but the price included a full-time staff: maid, butler, even a cook. (The cost of La Favorita now starts at roughly €7,600 a week.) And judging from the photos, the place had character to burn. Plus, the owner was a countess—a countess! How could we go wrong?


take advantage of the agency’s expertise.

The best agents are there to help, not only to sell— functioning less like real estate agents and more like travel concierges. Four weeks before our departure, a hefty onekilogram info packet arrived by mail, containing Think Sicily’s own 192-page A Portrait of Sicily guidebook; a road map; and a thick spiral-bound booklet of orientation materials specific » | june 2012 97

at a certain point we realized we were happiest enjoying the villa itself. ‘oversleep, underplan’ became our new motto to our villa, including a plan of the Palermo airport, directions to the house (complete with helpful photographs of tricky intersections we would have to negotiate), tips for driving in Sicily (more nerve-wracking than you could ever imagine), a handy glossary, menu suggestions from our chef and instructions for everything from trash disposal to how to operate the air conditioners. Lane, too, was generous with his knowledge, and didn’t object to our peppering him with e-mail inquiries about what to see and do on the west coast. He shared plenty of advice on Sicilian customs and cuisine (we absolutely had to try the busiate con pesto trapanese with shrimp and sea urchin at Fior di Sale, just north of central Marsala) and offered to arrange excursions for our group (Marsala wine tastings; a sailing trip to the Egadi Islands). None of this felt like up-selling, but rather like the enthusiastic recommendations of a veteran insider. Having lived in Palermo for 14 years, Lane knows the island better than most Sicilians.


pack perspective and a sense of humor.

No matter how much advance research one does, there are bound to be some surprises upon arrival, as well as a certain degree of letdown. The first surprise we encountered at La Favorita? The owner herself was staying in the neighboring

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guest cottage while we rented the main house—a detail that Think Sicily had neglected to mention. Contessa Elisabetta was indeed Palermo nobility; her ancestors had used the estate as a hunting lodge as long ago as the 1600’s. Back then the property stretched clear to the coast, with only fields, forests and occasional wild game in between. (Elisabetta apologized for the general decline of Marsala in the 400 years since.) La Favorita still enjoys relative tranquillity on its 1.6-hectare plot, with long, shady allées of olive and lemon trees. As for the house itself, “character” didn’t begin to describe it. Every room contained a hundred things to gaze upon and wonder over, such as the study filled with the mounted heads of long-dead African mammals and one menacingly tusked cinghiale. Or the library littered with coral, starfish, sponges and horseshoe crabs. Scary-looking swords dangled over the foyer. A flock of stuffed birds had colonized the den. At every corner we met another of the contessa’s ancestors, staring out from smoke-blackened canvases—fierce-eyed men named Eustachius or Bernardus, clad in armor and peacock plumage. The place felt like a natural-history museum crossed with a haunted mansion from Scooby-Doo. Can a villa have too much personality? This one sort of did. For every elegant detail (hand-painted tile floors; a nine-meter


Clockwise from left: Friends adam and evyn on the villa terrace; marettimo island, located just off sicily’s western coast; a gelato vendor near marinella di selinunte, a beach town south of marsala. opposite, from left: the owners’ family tree hangs in the living room; adam and laura, friends of the author, lost in palermo.

Persian rug), there were equally egregious design choices (a kooky coral candelabrum; acid-green upholstery). It was, in short, the home of a long-standing aristocratic family, one with so much wealth and stature that nobody ever called them out on their eccentric taste.


staff can be an asset and a challenge.

Some find the very idea of butlers, maids and personal cooks ostentatious. Others worry they’ll just get in the way. Both have a point. But a fully serviced house can offer real advantages, if you manage expectations—both your own and the staff’s. Our first 24 hours were consumed with the awkward task of making ourselves at home: puzzling over window latches, worrying about that weird metal tube protruding from the fireplace. But our main concern was dealing with the contessa’s staff. On paper it had sounded idyllic. Davide, the majordomo, would serve our meals and look after the house; Maria would come each morning to clean; and Daniela was in charge of the cooking. All three could help with our friends’ two-year-old son, Rainen. Downside? None of the staff spoke fluent English. (Another key detail that Think Sicily neglected to mention.) Daniela, however, was fluent in French, as is my wife. So it fell to Nilou to speak for us.

The contessa, meanwhile, kept popping by unannounced, making us feel like houseguests rather than masters of our domain. She eventually picked up on this and made herself scarce—but even then her presence was felt. Daniela would invoke “Madame” whenever we departed from protocol. The contessa apparently had strong opinions about which china to use for pastry, which wine went best with lamb and when breakfast should be served (8:30 a.m. sharp—never mind that our jet-lagged crew was unconscious until 10). “Mais Madame dit…!” Daniela would say, frowning. But Madame says…! By day three, we were feeling a bit thwarted by the specter of the bossy contessa. When Daniela once again brought up “Madame,” Nilou delicately replied, “Pour cette semaine, nous sommes Madame.” (“This week, we are Madame.”) Daniela finally got it—and from then on, she deferred to our wishes over Madame’s. The mood of the house notably relaxed, and during the second half of the week, the staff actually seemed to enjoy our company.


don’t underestimate the power of the market.

One thing that Davide and Daniela could never quite fathom: why we would all voluntarily pile into our cars each morning and head off to market, rather than lounge by the pool and » | june 2012 99

for seven days we tried on another family’s life— quite literally taking their place, like understudies in some aristocratic theater of the absurd

strolling the grounds at la Favorita.

let the staff run the errands instead. But they didn’t understand—shopping for groceries was one of the highlights of our day. Marsala’s food market sets up near the Porta Garibaldi, in the heart of the city’s old town. Dark canopies shield the fishmongers’ ice troughs from the searing Mediterranean sun. Since there are few people in Marsala who don’t live in Marsala, we couldn’t help standing out. By Tuesday we had become quasi celebrities. At Da Pasquale, the butcher would wave when we approached; produce vendors offered us free samples—peppery fennel fronds, tart fragole selvatiche (wild strawberries). That storied Sicilian reserve quickly dropped away. Old women counseled us on which of the five varieties of melanzane (eggplant) were best for baking versus frying. An amiable Tunisian herbsman spent 20 minutes with Nilou, outlining the subtleties of his basil. Later that day he friended her on Facebook. Operation Sicilian Embed: successful!


let the cook cook.

We’d originally planned on making most meals ourselves, but we soon surrendered the stoves to Daniela. Her cooking was hearty, soulful, authentic—and exactly what we craved. I still miss her melanzane parmigiana, her roast spring lamb, her spaghetti con bottarga, her pasta con le sarde (that ur-Sicilian dish of bucatini, sardines, wild fennel, pine nuts and raisins). Our meals were served outside, under a violetflowering jacaranda tree. Davide set out fresh-cut white roses alongside the contessa’s wacky coral center-pieces, which never failed to amuse us. The highlight meal of the week, however, came the night of my birthday, when we finally moved inside to La Favorita’s grand, over-the-top dining room. Hung on one wall was a 100 june 2012 |

massive three-meter-high oil painting of the contessa’s family tree, starting in the 14th century. Davide had spent the afternoon secretly installing LED lights (yes, LED lights) under a plexiglass tabletop, which he then disguised under a white tablecloth. When we walked in to take our seats for dinner, he hit the switch—and we got our first delighted look at what we now refer to as the Disco Table. Daniela, meanwhile, had prepared her tour-de-force dish of couscous di pesce, a specialty of western Sicily: fluffy, savory couscous mixed with calamari and shrimp, served alongside pan-roasted grouper and scorpion fish. Daniela had worked the entire morning rolling the couscous by hand. The meal was extraordinary. We gave her a standing ovation.


learn to stay put.

“Our American clients generally want to get out and explore,” Think Sicily’s Huw Beaugié says. “They want to see the temples, the salt pans or where granddad was born. Whereas European visitors tend to view Sicily as just another seaside destination. They’re happy to sit by the pool and never leave the house.” We fit squarely in the first category. Our first three days were spent in a sightseeing panic, as we caravanned up and down the coast—visiting the windmills and salt lagoons north of Marsala; wandering the dusty Tunisian quarter in Mazara del Vallo; touring the ruins at Selinunte and Segesta. We rode a cable car to the mountaintop village of Erice (with its spectacular views and cobblestoned lanes, resistant to right angles), and found the finest cannoli I’ve ever tasted at Pasticceria Maria Grammatico. One evening we drove an hour inland, through undulating pastures full of sheep, to a remote hilltop restaurant called Ardigna, near Salemi, where nearly

everything is made in-house: tangy ricotta, garlicky salumi, silky tagliatelle, bittersweet amaro. The bill for our nine-course, six-hour dinner? Just under €38 a person. And we lost ourselves on the back alleys and coastal promenades of Marsala, from whence Garibaldi and his thousand Red Shirts began their campaign to unify Italy. With its sunbaked, dun-colored façades, Marsala looks and feels closer to North Africa than to mainland Italy—which, in fact, it is. (The name comes from the Arabic Mars el-Allah, meaning “port of God.”) Beyond the market and the old town, however, the city’s outskirts are given over to canning plants, used-car lots and drab concrete housing blocks. It has a certain sense of place, I guess, but it’s no Positano. At a certain point we realized we were happiest enjoying the villa itself. “Oversleep, underplan” became our new motto. Aside from the morning market run and an evening foray for gelato, we stuck close to home: strolling in the garden, leafing through the contessa’s complete works of Rousseau, playing carambola on the four-meter billiard table. Two-year-old Rainen preferred to hang out in the taxidermy room, simply gazing up at the gazelles. All around the house were framed photos of the contessa’s contemporary family—at the dining table, by the pool, at the tennis court—looking like, well, nobility. (We came to refer to them as I Royal Tenenbaumi.) At the end of the week it struck us that we had re-created those very scenes ourselves, almost to the letter. We’d even started dressing for dinner.


guide To weSTerN SiciLy N

become the very things you’ll miss the most.

So the week had its share of snags and disappointments. Inserting ourselves into an already functioning, fully serviced household hadn’t been easy. The contessa’s presence during our first few days was disconcerting at best. And the house itself really was spectacularly weird. Yet when we look at the 2,137 photographs taken during that too-fleeting week, it’s those kooky details and disarming moments that invariably make us laugh out loud and render that time so memorable.


Egadi Islands Mozia stagnone Lagoon




Mediterranean sea

always trumps a hotel.

sometimes the things that throw you off

ItAly erice Trapani

for travelers with children, a house

La Favorita could have felt overly stuffy and formal, but having a two-year-old in residence definitely lightened the vibe. And of course staying at the villa offered obvious advantages for his parents: Rainen could have full run of the place, make as much noise as he liked, eat whenever he was hungry and nap without interruption. On our second morning we welcomed an unexpected visitor: the contessa’s adorable dachshund, Brisley, who turned up at our breakfast table, sniffing at his strange new guests. There’s nothing like a dog to make you instantly feel at home. And, of course, Rainen was smitten. Watching him and Brisley chase each other around the garden—and the backyard, the living room, the kitchen and the library—kept us endlessly entertained. That dog was ridiculous.


Setting out for Sicily, we thought we’d studied, scouted and planned for every outcome. But really, who could have imagined, let alone made up, a house as comically strange as La Favorita? Or a town as quirky as Marsala? Forget Positano, or any of those other, prettier places: this was even more transporting. Life at the villa essentially became a weeklong role-playing exercise. For seven days we tried on another family’s life—quite literally taking their place, like understudies in some aristocratic theater of the absurd. And La Favorita, so chock-full of character, in turn became a character—along with Daniela and Davide, the Tunisian herbsman, Pasquale the butcher, the contessa and her medieval ancestors and, of course, Brisley the dog—in our delightfully odd, quintessentially Sicilian play. ✚


mazara del vallo


10 km

when tO GO

eAt AnD DrInK

Giunchi, marsala;

the weather is best

ardigna ristorante


during the spring and

rustico contrada

gelato for two €3.80.

autumn; mid-summer

ardigna, salemi;

temperatures verge


on the unbearable.

lunch for two €34.

GettInG there

fior di Sale excellent

ride to the medieval

several airlines

wood-fired pizzas,

village of erice for

transfer through

plus a view of the

perfect cannoli at

rome to Palermo, a

mozia salt pans. 36/a

this justifiably famous

90-minute drive from

contrada ettore

bakery. 14 via vittorio

marsala; alternatively,

infersa, marsala;

emanuele; 39-0923/

air one, meridiana


869-390; pastries for

and ryanair can take

dinner for two €40.

two €3.80.

gelateria fratelli


caito a 74-year-old

marsala food market

can’t-miss gelato

For the finest meats,

rentInG A vIllA

shop in a quiet corner

look for da Pasquale

Think Sicily

of marsala that offers

the butcher on via


a dizzying range of

Giuseppe Garibaldi

flavors. 47/G contrada

in marsala.

you to trapani, just 20 minutes up the coast from marsala.

Pasticceria maria grammatico take a dramatic cable-car | june 2012 101

City 104 Rustic 106 Design 108 Resort 112 Beach 114 Renovation 116

It List ▲

2012 T+L


For our annual editors’ choice awards, we considered hundreds of new hotels and major renovations—and traveled the world to put the top contenders to the test. The result: 50 properties that stand out for their destination-changing power

Crusoe Island Lodge, Chile.


Ritz-Carlton > hong kong

2012 t+l It List cASA GAnGOtenA

hÔtel AMerIcAnO


cOnrAD new yOrK 102 north end ave.; $$$$

IStAnBul eDItIOn 136 Buyukdere cad.; $$$

the SAInt

cOrInthIA hOtel lOnDOn Whitehall Place; $$$$

Kerry hOtel puDOnG

Shanghai 1388 Hua mu rd.; $$$

efenDI hOtel


quito, ecuador Bolívar oe6-41 y cuenca; $$$

acre, israel louis ix st.; efendi-hotel. com. $$ 45 pArK lAne

London 45 Park lane; $$$$

New york 518 W. 27th st.; $$

hong kong 1 austin rd. W.; $$$ New orleans 931 canal st.; thesainthotelneworleans. com. $$ truMp InternAtIOnAl hOtel & tOwer

india 443 udyog vihar, Phase v; $$$

Toronto 325 Bay st.; trumphotelcollection. com. $$$

137 pIllArS hOuSe

w St. peterSBurG

chiang mai 2 soi 1, nawatgate rd.; $

the eaSt boRneo Suite at 137 pillaRS payS homage to old woRld thai deSign and RefleCtS the aRtiSan edge of the SuRRounding wat gate Community.

104 june 2012 |

russia 8 voznesensky Prospekt; $$$

< 137 Pillars chiang mai

It’s hard not to stifle a yawn when confronted with news of yet another character-filled property in Chiang Mai, but this 30-suite hotel reminds us of what we love about northern Thailand’s unofficial capital. Located in the low-key Wat Gate neighborhood along the Ping River—away from the busy moat area, but within walking distance of good restaurants and boutiques—the hotel has real historical value. Formerly part of the Borneo Company Ltd., this nearly one-hectare property has at its heart a beautifully restored bungalow that was the residence of the firm’s local chief. Today it serves as the library, lounge and inspiration (the name alludes to the 137 teak pillars it once stood on). The colonial theme is echoed in rattan chairs, claw-foot bathtubs and oldfashioned writing desks. You might be tempted to idle away the day sprawled on the daybed of your private terrace, but don’t neglect the hotel’s other enticements, including the lap pool with a 15-meter vertical garden and the petite spa.

c o u r t e s y o f 1 3 7 p i l l a r s h o u s e . o p p o s i t e : c o u r t e s y o f r i t Z - c a r lt o n

14 Urban Hotels

Expensive linens and Michelin-starred cuisine will only get you so far in Hong Kong’s crowded luxury hotel scene. The key to success? Killer views. Hovering some 490 meters above the city, RitzCarlton’s flagship property in Asia doles them out in abundance. The 312-room property occupying the 102nd–118th floors of the International Commerce Centre doesn’t stint on flashy design either. The lobby and restaurants are covered in marble, travertine, glass and chrome, making them the perfect backdrop for the clientele of suit-clad businessmen and Kelly bag-carrying socialites. Upgrading to a club room is worth it: stocked with everything from canapés to paperbacks, the lounge is one of the most efficiently run in Asia. At night, movers and shakers pack Ozone, the rooftop bar. But we prefer floating in the infinity-edged indoor pool on the 116th floor for the ultimate, sky-high feeling.

the RitzCaRton hong kong makeS the moSt of itS vantage point at the top of the Cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S higheSt building with viewS of kowloon and viCtoRia haRboR.


10 Charming Hideaways

2012 t+l It List

the pRoteCted bayS aRound Chileâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S CRuSoe iSland lodge aRe Renowned foR Sea-lion Spotting.

< Crusoe Island Lodge Juan fernández islands, chile

This new 16-room refuge has transformed a little-known island— complete with buried treasure, top-notch diving and a rich literary history—into a castaway fantasy. The cozy oceanfront lodge, in an archipelago off the coast of Santiago, brings the outdoors in. Guest rooms with light-as-marshmallow duvets open onto terraces with views of Pangal Bay. Days are spent on guided treks into the forested peaks of the World Biosphere Reserve (where pirates are rumored to have stashed Incan jewels) or on a boat tour to a hidden cave once inhabited by the 18th-century sailor who inspired Robinson Crusoe. A boon for timecrunched adventurers: the hideaway is now accessible by a two-hour hotel-chartered flight from Santiago.

Minaret Station wanaka, New zealand

Welcome to New Zealand’s Southern Alps, one of the earth’s last untouched landscapes, with

snowcapped mountains, towering glaciers and pristine lakes. And thanks to the arrival of the region’s first luxury camp, you no longer have to be a celebrity (Shania Twain owns a ranch nearby) or a hobbit (Peter Jackson filmed Lord of the Rings here) to experience the area’s profound beauty in style—though you will have to pay a premium for the access to one of the country’s prettiest corners. Minaret Station, a stone lodge with just four tented suites in a valley near Lake Wanaka, is set on 263 square kilometers of valley floor that can be reached (from Queenstown) only by helicopter. Interiors reflect the surroundings, from the sheepskin rugs to the bottled water by your bed at turndown (it comes from a nearby waterfall). A typical day might include a chopper ride into the belly of the Mount Aspiring glacier or, if it’s summer, an expedition to the coast for abalone and crayfish diving. If all that fresh air doesn’t lull you to sleep, a dip in your private veranda’s heated soaking tub should do the trick.


el chaltén, argentina; all-inclusive. $$$$

cruSOe ISlAnD lODGe

Juan fernández islands, chile $$$

fellAh hOtel

marrakesh, morocco Km 13, rte. de l’ourika; $

lAMAI SerneGetI

Tanzania $$$$

l’AnD vIneyArDS

Évora, Portugal $$

MInAret StAtIOn

wanaka, New zealand $$$$$


bernalda, italy $$$$

the pIG

hampshire, england $$

c o u r t e s y o f m i n a r e t s tat i o n . o p p o s i t e : c o u r t e s y o f c r u s o e i s l a n d l o d g e

vIllA clArISSe outdooR dining at minaRet Station in new zealand offeRS the peRfeCt vantage point to take in viewS of the CountRy’S SoutheRn alpS.

Île de ré, france $$

wAShInGtOn SchOOl hOuSe

Park city, utah 543 Park ave.; washingtonschoolhouse. com. $$$$ | june 2012 107

Design 7 Stylish Retreats

the akaSha wellbeing CenteR at amSteRdamâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S ConSeRvatoRium haS thRee poolS: a lap pool (shown), a watSu pool and a whiRlpool.

108 june 2012 |

amit geron/courtesy of c o n s e r vat o r i u m

2012 t+l It List

StepS fRom ConSeRvatoRium’S tRiple-height lobby iS amSteRdam’S muSt-See RijkSmuSeum.

< Conservatorium amsterdam

As a follow-up to his pioneering Jerusalem property, Mamilla (It List 2010), hotelier Georgi Akirov and his son Alfred set their sights on Amsterdam’s landmark 1897 Sweelinck music conservatory. Three years later, Conservatorium, a 129-room hotel with an arsenal of standout features, debuted with

spare but opulent interiors, courteous service (especially praiseworthy in a city known for a lack thereof), and serious wellness amenities. To our mind, Conservatorium has upped the ante in Amsterdam across every category. Milanese architect Piero Lissoni filled the spaces with low-slung Italian furniture and state-of-the-art eco-technology (in-room sensors; neon LED lights),

while preserving the building’s most beautiful features, such as original hand-painted tiles and inlaid stone floors. The subterranean Akasha Wellbeing Center is arguably the most impressive element: a 30-meterlong lap pool, hammam, full gym and yoga studio, and four oak-walled treatment rooms stand head and shoulders above any other spa we’ve experienced in the Low Countries. | june 2012 109


2012 t+l It List

AnDAZ ShAnGhAI 88 songshan rd.; $$$$

ArMAnI hOtel MIlAnO

the plaza fountain at andaz Shanghai SetS the whimSiCally modeRn tone at thiS boutique hotel in the heaRt of Shanghai'S xintiandi diStRiCt.



amsterdam 27 van Baerlestraat; $$$


Andaz Shanghai

Standing out in a city in the midst of a hotel boom is no small feat. Yet Andaz Shanghai, the Asian debut for Hyatt’s boutique brand, offers a fresh, style-centric vibe thanks to creative collaborations with local designers and artists. In a coveted location in the historic Xintiandi district, the hotel mixes playful elements (you can order a drink inside the lobby’s 60-squaremeter egg-shaped steel sculpture) with guest-friendly touches (in-room mini-bar snacks and soft drinks are 110 june 2012 |

Porto feliz, brazil

complimentary). If you’re wondering why the staff looks so spiffy, it’s because their sleek black ensembles were designed by locally born Han Feng, who created costumes for New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Upstairs in the 307 guest rooms, night owls can thrill at being in the neonfilled heart of the city, spied through curved, retro-space-age windows. With all these bells and whistles, though, we found that the new Andaz was still a work in progress and needed to forgive the staff in training and the lack of a pool and spa, which are still to come.


MAnDArIn OrIentAl pArIS 251 rue st.-Honoré, First arr.; $$$$$

OlIve excluSIve

windhoek, Namibia 22 Promenaden st.; $$$$

the SInGulAr

Puerto borries, Patagonia, chile $$$$

co u r t e sy o f a n da Z s h a n g h a i . o p p o s i t e : m i c Ky h oy l e /co u r t e sy o f o l i v e e xc lu s i v e

milan 31 via manzoni;

namibia’S Seven-Suite olive exCluSive iS named foR the SuRRounding 1.6-heCtaRe olive gRove.

Olive Exclusive windhoek, Namibia

Long known as a hasty post-safari stopover from Namibia’s national parks, Windhoek had little in the way of stylish sanctuaries for weary travelers. Enter the Olive Exclusive, the city’s first contemporary boutique hotel, designed by South African photographer Micky Hoyle, in a quiet residential neighborhood a five-minute drive from the urban center. Each of the seven suites is inspired by a different Namibian region: Egrongo (pictured) is named for a chain of mountains in central Namibia, and is done up in earthy tones, with sculptural woven ceiling lights and larger-than-life photography of abstract landscapes by Hoyle. Ample modern conveniences—in-room laptops; deep soaking tubs—are all the more appreciated after a long stretch in the wilderness.


5 Sybaritic Escapes

2012 t+l It List

a 5-meteR golden Statue of ganeSha (FAR RIGhT) gReetS viSitoRS at keRalaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S RiveRfRont vivanta by taj bekal.

c o u r t e s y o f t h e s e l m a n . o p p o s i t e : c o u r t e s y o f v i va n ta B y ta J B e K a l

the jaCqueS gaRCia– deSigned RoomS at the Selman in maRRakeSh aRe deCoRated with StRiking zelij tileS.

< Vivanta by Taj Bekal kappil beach, india

Thanks to this sprawling new spa retreat, the tropical backwaters of Kerala are getting a welcome dose of luxury. The lush setting of the 10.5-hectare property, on India’s southernmost tip, where the Kappil River meets the Arabian Sea, is referenced throughout: flowing contours and coir-and-thatch façades mimic the area’s Kettuvallam houseboats, while the 71 rooms (many of which open onto plunge pools) are painted with murals inspired by Indian epics. The 15,330square-meter Jiva spa, the

cornerstone of the property, plies travelers with rejuvenating aromatherapy and ayurvedic treatments, the most thorough of which lasts two weeks. If only we could stay that long.

The Selman marrakesh, morocco

There’s no shortage of ultra-chic lodgings in Marrakesh, where every new riad hotel seems to out-design the last. But the Selman—just minutes from the busy medina, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains—takes an exotic new approach. Inspired by the owner’s passion for

Arabian horses—16 of which reside on the property in state-of-the-art stables—the walled compound harks back to Morocco’s golden age. Jacques Garcia, who restored the city’s legendary La Mamounia in 2009, created the 61 guest rooms and 1,200-square-meter spa with Moorish touches: mashrabiya screens, intimate alcoves leading to private balconies, and an 80-meter reflecting pool. Arrange a desert ride on one of the horses or opt for afternoon tea on the shady veranda, where the only sound breaking the silence will be that of hooves on the grass.


bodr um, Turkey $$$$$


marrakesh palaisnamaskar. com. $$$$ the SelMAn

marrakesh, morocco selman-marrakech. com. $$$ tIerrA pAtAGOnIA

chile tierrapatagonia. com. $$$$$ vIvAntA By tAj BeKAl

kappil beach, india $$ | june 2012 113

Song Saa Private Island cambodia

Exploring the necklace of pristine atolls off Cambodia’s southeastern coast once meant a bumpy, three-hour boat ride and bare-bones lodging. That all changed with the arrival of Song Saa, a resort on two islands that now transports guests by speedboat from the port city of Sihanoukville to its white-sand shores in just 30 minutes. We were greeted 114 june 2012 |

by name upon arrival, and our penchant for desserts was remembered with an unbidden sweet roll at breakfast. When we weren’t unwinding in one of the 27 beachfront villas, with their soaring thatched roofs, weathered timber floors and plunge pools, we swam at a nearby protected reef and visited the resort’s smaller island to the north, a nature reserve that’s home to barracuda, parrotfish and the White-bellied Sea Eagle.

hOtel chOcOlAt

Soufrière, St. Lucia thehotelchocolat. com. $$$$ lOrDS SOuth BeAch

miami beach 1120 collins ave.; lordssouthbeach. com. $ Secret BAy

dominica $$$


cambodia $$$$ St. reGIS BAl hArBOur reSOrt

florida 9703 collins ave.; $$$$

whIte peArl reSOrtS pOntA MAMOlI

zitundo, mozambique whitepearlresorts. com. $

courtesy of song saa. opposite: Jessica sample

villAs AT song sAA privATe islAnd FeATure plunge pools ThAT look ouT over The proTecTed mArine AreA And AdjAcenT uninhAbiTed islAnd.

Hotel Chocolat Soufrière, St. Lucia

Make no mistake: St. Lucia’s sexy new retreat, on a working cacao plantation in the island’s jungly Soufrière area, is one of the most exciting new Caribbean hideaways—for foodies and beachgoers alike. The property and farm are the passion project of a pair of British entrepreneurs who bought the derelict 57-hectare estate in an effort to restore the island’s once-thriving chocolate industry. The 14 rustic-chic cottages, with their stone walls, polished granite bathrooms, and open-to-the-sky showers, are especially inviting during the occasional tropical downpour (we curled up with a novel and a glass of Cabernet). The sweetest surprise? Innovative chocolate-infused dishes— cacao gazpacho; yellowfin tuna with chocolate pesto; slow-cooked lamb with chiles and cocoa—all served in an opensided pavilion with postcard-perfect views of the rain forest and the iconic Petit Piton beyond.

Beach 6 Sandy Sanctuaries

2012 t+l It List

you cAn’T Ask For A beTTer view ThAn The one From The 15-meTer pool AT hoTel chocolAT, on sT. luciA.

Renovation 8 Updated Classics

2012 t+l It List

The presTige elysée suiTe AT pAris’s le brisTol is covered wiTh chinoiserie dAhliA wAllpAper.

< Le Bristol Paris

Oh, Paris: your palace hotels are turning up the dial, each one-upping the other with refinements. And this grande dame? A delicate €100 million renovation retained the 19thcentury paintings and gilded ceilings dating back to 1925, but infused the space with a lighter, welcoming sensibility. Floor-to-ceiling windows give an airy feel to the new La Prairie spa, and the Michelin threestarred Epicure restaurant is redone with romantic two-tops overlooking the courtyard. A pair of new suites— with parquet floors, petite balconies and Louis XVI–style furnishings— are reachable by an original wrought-iron elevator, which also leads to the Panoramic Suite (you’ll recognize the 158-square-meter space from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris). In the cream-colored Matignon wing, a staircase is illuminated by a winding, sevenstory light installation—perfectly suited for the City of Light.

The pArk hyATT sydney’s drAmATic overhAul includes new Floor-Toceiling windows ThAT FeATure views oF The operA house Across The hArbor.

c o u r t e s y o f p a r K h ya t t . o p p o s i t e : u f e r a s / c o u r t e s y o f l e B r i s t o l p a r i s

Park Hyatt Sydney >

The city’s top hotel was closed for almost a year to undergo an A$68 million overhaul. Finally, the Park Hyatt Sydney, a 22-year-old harborside landmark, has reopened its doors, and it was well worth the wait. Commissioned works by Australian artists such as sculptor Bruce Armstrong dress up public spaces, while new floor-to-ceiling windows throughout play up the hotel’s unparalleled views (three suites on the new fourth floor have wraparound terraces that look onto Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House). Local timber and sandstone accent the 155 guest rooms, while bathrooms are stocked with toiletries from cult New York City perfumer Le Labo. With a (doubled) staff of local butlers at the ready, service remains of the casual Australian kind, but with an impressive new level of polish, much like the building itself.

fOur SeASOnS hOtel lOnDOn At pArK lAne Hamilton Place, Park lane;

petIt St. vIncent

St. vincent and the grenadines $$$$$


hOtel Bel-AIr

rOSewOOD hOtel GeOrGIA

Los angeles 701 stone canyon rd.;

vancouver 801 W. Georgia st.; $$$

le BrIStOl

SOfItel leGenD OlD cAtArAct


Paris 112 rue du Faubourg st. Honoré, eighth arr.; $$$$ pArK hyAtt

Sydney 7 Hickson rd.; $$$$

aswan, egypt $$

vIcerOy rIvIerA MAyA

mexico viceroyhotelsandresorts. com. $$$$

edited by Jennifer flowers, sarah spagnolo and nikki goldstein. reported by Julian allason, richard alleman, laura Begley Bloom, thomas Beller, rocky casale, Jennifer chen, chandrahas choudhury, robyn eckhardt, mark ellwood, Zeynep erekli, amy farley, peter J. frank, lisa grainger, michael gross, chris haslam, farhad heydari, frances hibbard, david Kaufman, sarah Khan, sharon leece, peter Jon lindberg, mario r. mercado, elizabeth minchilli, Jennifer miranda, shane mitchell, ian mount, Kathryn o’sheaevans, Joshua pramis, ramsey qubein, sophy roberts, Kristina schreck and laura teusink. | june 2012 117


leh, InDIA “In 2010 I took my first trip to India, to Ladakh in the north. It was also the first time I saw the Himalayas. When I took this photo, on my first day in Leh, I had altitude sickness. On that trip we had to go through the Khardung Pass, one of the highest roads in the world at over 5,000 meters. Leh itself is at 3,500 meters. Because I’m from Thailand, which is at sea level, my body couldn’t take it. I stopped on the path to Shanti Stupa because I had a headache and I couldn’t breathe. There was a breeze and I started to feel better, and then I noticed great light on the mountains. I decided to wait a little longer. I could see a layer of peaks behind the palace ruins, and just when the light was perfect I clicked the shutter. Despite the fact that I was sick from altitude, I felt like I was in the right place at the right time.” ✚ ph ot o g r a p he r at hi t p e r awo ngmetha • i n tervi ew ed by r i char d her mes 118 june 2012 |

June 2012  
June 2012  

Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia June 2012