Page 1

SOUTHEAST ASIA

JANUARY 2016

16 TRIPS FOR

2016

TAIWAN'S SOUTH COAST

Hokkaido HE A D FOR T HE HIL L S IN

SINGAPORE S$7.90 / HONG KONG HK$43 THAILAND THB175 / INDONESIA IDR50,000 MALAYSIA MYR18 / VIETNAM VND85,000 MACAU MOP44 / PHILIPPINES PHP240 BURMA MMK35 / CAMBODIA KHR22,000 BRUNEI BND7.90 / LAOS LAK52,000


Stay 3 nights, pay for 2, and enjoy complimentary breakfast in style Between now and 31 March 2016, enjoy a complimentary night when you book three consecutive nights in a Horizon Club Room or Suite at participating properties of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts. In addition, enjoy complimentary breakfast for two throughout your stay. Reserve your room at the Best Available Rate by 28 March 2016 (quoting the promotion code AXS3P2) and pay with your American Express速 Card to enjoy this exclusive offer.

SHANGRI-LA.COM/AMEX


For reservations or enquiries, please call Shangri-La Worldwide Reservations at 1 800 06 0020 or visit shangri-la.com/amex. Quote the promotion code “AXS3P2” for Horizon Club Rooms and Suites when you book your stay.

Hylandia by Shangri-La Participating Hotels:

Shangri-La Hotel, Nanjing

Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei

Experience Shangri-La’s legendary hospitality as a Horizon Club guest Luxuriate in a dedicated Club Concierge service that will take care of all your needs and special travel arrangements. In addition, enjoy late check-out options, access to the private Horizon Club Lounge and more. American Express International Inc., 20 (West) Pasir Panjang Road #08-00, Mapletree Business City, Singapore 117439. americanexpress.com.sg. Incorporated with Limited Liability in the State of Delaware, U.S.A. ® Registered Trademark of American Express Company. © Copyright 2015 American  Express Company.

China Shangri-La Hotel, Baotou Shangri-La Hotel, Beihai China World Hotel, Beijing China World Summit Wing, Beijing Shangri-La Hotel, Beijing Kerry Hotel, Beijing Kerry Hotel Pudong, Shanghai Shangri-La Hotel, Changchun Shangri-La Hotel, Changzhou Shangri-La Hotel, Chengdu Shangri-La Hotel, Dalian Hylandia By Shangri-La Shangri-La Hotel, Fuzhou Shangri-La Hotel, Guangzhou Shangri-La Hotel, Guilin Shangri-La Hotel, Haikou Shangri-La Hotel, Hangzhou Shangri-La Hotel, Harbin Shangri-La Hotel, Hefei Shangri-La Hotel, Huhhot Shangri-La Hotel, Manzhouli Shangri-La Hotel, Nanchang Shangri-La Hotel, Nanjing Shangri-La Hotel, Ningbo Shangri-La Hotel, Qingdao Shangri-La Hotel, Qinhuangdao Shangri-La Hotel, Qufu Shangri-La Hotel, Shenyang Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou

Shangri-La Hotel, Tianjin Shangri-La Hotel, Wenzhou Shangri-La Hotel, Wuhan Golden Flower Hotel, Xian Shangri-La Hotel, Xian Shangri-La Hotel, Yangzhou Traders Hotel, Beijing Traders Fudu Hotel, Changzhou Hotel Jen Upper East Beijing Hotel Jen Shenyang Hong Kong Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong Malaysia Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur Mongolia Shangri-La Hotel, Ulaanbaatar Taiwan Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei Thailand Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok Singapore Hotel Jen Orchard Gateway Singapore Hotel Jen Tanglin Singapore

Terms and Conditions: 1. The complimentary night offer (“Offer”) is valid for stays completed on or before 31 March 2016 when booked between 1 October 2015 and 28 March 2016. 2. Black-out dates vary at each participating property. 3. Offer is subject to availability with blackout dates applied and advance reservation is required. Card Members must quote the promotion code “AXS3P2” for Horizon Club Rooms and Suites when calling Shangri-La Worldwide Reservations or visiting www.shangri-la.com/amex. 4. Full payment must be made with The American Express Card in the Card Member’s name to be eligible for the offer. 5. To enjoy the “complimentary third night with two consecutive paid nights” offer, Card Members must quote the promotion code “AXS3P2” when booking any Horizon Club room or Suite at the Best Available Rate and stay for a minimum of three consecutive nights. 6. The complimentary night offer is non-transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash or combined with any other offer, promotion or discount. 7. Card Members may book up to a maximum of three rooms for the complimentary night offer, and must be part of the travelling party. Complimentary nights will be deducted upon check-out. 8. Any back-to-back stay will be taken as one qualifying stay only. 9. A maximum of two complimentary nights is allowed per room per stay. 10. Hotel cancellation policies apply and vary across different participating hotels. Contact the individual hotel for full details. 11. Rates are provided at the Best Available Rate per room, on a per night basis. Rates are subject to local taxes and service charges. Offer is subject to room(s) availability. Rates will be charged at the hotel’s exchange rate. 12. Paid nights will be charged at the Best Available Rate. “Best Available Rate” is a specific industry-defined rate type and varies according to the time of purchase for the same room type and stay period, is unrestricted, non-qualified and excludes discount or negotiated rates not available to the general public, including, but not limited to: membership, corporate, government, promotional, group, packages, unpublished, prepaid, heavily restricted or rates only available on auction websites. 13. American Express and Shangri-La International Hotel Management Limited reserve the right to change the Terms and Conditions at any time without prior notice. 14. Should any dispute arise, the decision of American Express and ShangriLa International Hotel Management Limited shall be final. 15. In case of inconsistency between English and Chinese versions, the English version will prevail. 16. Fulfillment of this offer is the sole responsibility of the participating American Express merchant.


On the Cover

A winter wonderland on the slopes of Hokkaido. Photographed by Glen Claydon

features

Harmony Secret surf gem, outdoor-adventure zone, and cultural and 80 Southern culinary treasure-trove, Taiwan’s south is singing sweetly. Duncan Forgan makes the most of the tough breaks, and breezes through this underrated haven. Photographed by Alberto Buzzola

Rising There’s more to eat, drink and do than ever before in Vietnam’s 88  Saigon southern city. Jeninne Lee-St. John revels in the new riches of her old hometown. Photographed by Morgan Ommer

Country On the starkly beautiful island of Hokkaido, Junot Diaz finds a 98 Snow rugged mountain landscape and an unexpected mash-up of cultures that

together form a strange and wonderful version of Japan—especially in winter. Photographed by Takashi Yasumura

the Key of Life The chain of islands that dangles from Florida’s southern tip is 108 Inexperiencing more development and more tourists than ever. Novelist Lisa Unger,

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

who’s been going to the Keys for years, sees a sunny side to the changes that some locals fear. Photographed by Andrew Hetherington

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TR AV EL ANDLEISURE ASIA .COM / JANUARY 2016

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In Every Issue  t+l digital 8 contributors 10 editor’s note 12 the conversation 14 deals 64 wish you were here 118

departments

19  Where to Go in 2016 These are

the 16 buzziest destinations you need to know about this year, including one of Thailand’s most blinged-out beaches, Australia’s next great foodie haven and Papua New Guinea’s luxury lakeside retreat.

27  The Moment Deep in the jungle

of his Indonesian island, a Mentawai shaman takes a break.

28  Eat Like a Queen A former Miss

ollow the Buzz The region’s Fnew breed of barbershops.

38

Beyond

tastiest new openings.

32  Whistler Stop The lowdown on North America’s top ski resort.

37  Fish Worth Flying For A classic Vietnamese fish dish begs a trip to Hanoi.

56 #VacationEnvy The funny ways Instagram is changing the way we plan—and experience— travel.

Lake evolves into a luxe tourist stop.

44  The Takeaway Mexican

perfumer Carlos Huber’s souvenirs from London.

45  Star of Orion The Kerama-blue

Japanese island of Zamami turns out to be the perfect beerswilling site.

48  China Girls Leading fashion

designers from the Middle Kingdom.

Upgrade 59 Change Is Coming Eight trends that will affect how we fly, drive and stay in the year ahead.

Plus How to get that comfy hotel bed- feel at home.

The Guide

67  Going Deep Today’s best cruise ships offer immersive experiences in traditionally hard-to-access places. T+L charts new itineraries, from Indonesia to Burma.

50 Hip to be Square The hottest

emerging hangout hub for artsy Penangites.

50

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lesson with a pro in Pattaya.

41   Light up the Lake Burma’s Inle

Malaysia takes us out to eat in Kuala Lumpur.

31  Red Hot Red Dot Singapore’s

54  Blazing Saddles A preppy polo

JANUARY 2016 / TR AV EL ANDLEISURE ASIA .COM

Plus What to pack and read at sea.

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F R O M L E F T: K I T Y E N G C H A N ; PA U L M O R R I S O N ; C O U R T E S Y O F E R A B A R B E R S ; K I Y O S H I J I R O

Here & Now


+

t+l digital

LOOKOUT

4 TRENDSETTING DESIGN RESTAURANTS Delicious though the cuisine at these cutting-edge eateries may be, it’s the daring and ultra-luxe settings that hog the spotlight.

OUR DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO SYDNEY An insider’s look at haute gastronomy, high-octane nightlife, and seriously stylish accommodations in this dynamic city Down Under.

FEASTING ON UNI IN HOKK AIDO The pristine waters of this scenic region yield some of Japan’s most prized seafood, including this swoon-worthy briny delicacy.

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TLEDITOR@ MEDIATRANSASIA.COM

F R O M L E F T : C O U RT ESY O F W H OT E L BA N G KO K ; C O U RT ESY O F QT SY D N E Y ; A A R O N J O E L SA N TO S

THIS MONTH ON TR AVELANDLEISUREASIA.COM

Macau’s new hotel boom; introducing the new Four Seasons Seoul; the region’s best openings of 2015; the latest travel deals; and more. travelandleisureasia. com


Rachel Everett

Tom Westbrook

Red Hot Red Dot page 31 — At her favorite restaurant in Singapore, Saveur—“perfect for an animated dinner with friends”—Everett orders the duck rillettes and sea bass. “There’s always a queue snaking out the door, so get there early.” Farm to fork eateries, such as Ryan Clift’s Open Farm Community with its “Grow your own food” philosophy, are trendy but fine dining is evolving too. Hottest up-and-coming chef? “Beppe de Vito makes waves with his four-way dining in Aura, at the National Gallery. His versions of perfect lunch salads, Singapore classics and prolific high-tea are inspirational.” Get the tuna tartare and baked black cod.

Star of Orion page 45 — Westbrook’s beer-soaked dreams came true in Okinawa, on the hunt for the home of Orion beer. On Zamami Island, he loved “the water, from the first glimpse of it glowing blue through the pandanus trees on the dunes, to the refreshing feeling jumping in. It’s so clear you can see the coral without goggles.” He found himself in the middle of an ad for the very beer he was swilling, glancing from his pair of cans to the crew’s bounty with envy. “I’m thinking,” he says, “‘Are they really going to need all those beers for themselves?’” For his next adventure, Westbrook will be driving across Australia from Darwin to Sydney. Twitter: @TSWestbrook

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Philipp Engelhorn

Alberto Buzzola

The Moment page 27 — “The Mentawai carve their canoes out of a single huge teak tree,” Engelhorn says of the tribal Indonesians he visited in Siberut. Though threatened by tourism and logging, they “still live a traditional life, based on their belief in the spirits.” He grew close to the shaman in his photo (“he tattooed me”), trekking with him “in kneedeep mud for hours to find this last tree standing,” Engelhorn says. “The Mentawai are big smokers, they roll tobacco in newspapers and keep it in a corner of their mouth for the day. I stepped out to take the shot and sat down again to finish a smoke with my friend.” Instagram: @philipp_ engelhorn

Southern Harmony page 80 — Having lived in Taiwan for 20 years, Buzzola says the south has a far more relaxing pace of life than the north. Visitors immediately will notice locals speaking the Taiwanese dialects Min Nan or Hoklo, as opposed to the Mandarin that dominates around Taipei, and sucking down southern specialty dishes such as salty rice pudding and danzai noodles, both of which he says are must-eats in Tainan. In fact, he says, the city “offers every aspect of Taiwanese history on its narrow lanes and in its temples. It is cheaper than Taipei and the food is probably the best in the country. The people are just great.”

P H O TO GR A P H ER

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W R I T ER

P H O TO GR A P H ER

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

JANUARY 2016

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W R I T ER

| contributors

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editor’s note

|

JANUARY 2016

16 recommendations that will inspire your travels (“Where to Go in 2016,” page 19). Spanning the globe, the list, naturally, is strong on Asia—the wealth of options range from the peaceful backwaters of Kerala to a luxury lakeside eco-lodge in Papua New Guinea’s remote interior. Check out the latest designoriented resorts in Bali, get the lowdown on why Singapore is now an artlover’s dream destination, tour Taipei and come away surprised by all it has to offer or venture out of Perth to the vineyards of Margaret River. In this part of the world, the variety of itineraries is as endless as it is diverse. Whether you’re returning to favorite getaways or venturing to new locations, seeking out snow or surf, you’ll be mirroring the aim of this magazine: expanding your horizons. When it’s below zero and blanketed in snow, nothing can compare to the pristine winter countryside of Hokkaido and the adrenaline rush of downhill skiing (“Snow Country,” page 98). Soon, it will be even easier to visit as well. Writer Duncan Forgan, who originally hails from Scotland, heads to the south of Taiwan and, to both his amazement and ours, ends up surfing the coast there (“Southern Harmony,” page 80). The island—and Duncan’s story—is surprising like that. Here’s hoping that you have many travel surprises of your own in the coming year.

@CKucway chrisk@mediatransasia.com

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J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 6 / T R AV E L A N D L E I S U R E A S I A . C O M

From My Travels

When thinking of where I should go this year, my mind wanders back to Hangzhou, West Lake in particular. This side of the lake is, admittedly, a postcard image of China, but it’s still perfect for an early morning stroll. Elderly residents are out performing their daily tai chi and ballroom dancing to live music. Arched stone bridges, small paddleboats and sagging willow trees make for a setting that is a world away from the big city. I, for one, need to go back there.

F R O M L E F T: T H A N A K O R N C H O M N AWA N G ; C H R I S T O P H E R K U C WAY

THE NEW YEAR IS A TIME FOR FRESH IDEAS, AND IN THIS ISSUE WE’VE GOT


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Is it safe to visit a one-kilometertall building?

ON OUR WATCH

CARBON FLIGHT-PRINTS To fly or not to fly? We’re supposed to feel bad about the impact of air travel on the

environment. But a recent study from the University of Michigan revealed that the average amount of energy consumed per passenger per mile on a commercial flight dropped by three-quarters from 1970 to 2010. In an effort to save gas, airlines have been flying with more seats filled and seeking out ever-more streamlined planes, with technologies like sharkskin-inspired paint, lighter composite materials and engines that squeeze hotter and higher-pressure air. Translation: for long-haul voyages, it is actually better for the Earth to take to the skies. But when you consider that short flights burn about 25 percent of their fuel taking off and landing, your green thumb will want to stay grounded for smaller trips. As International Council on Clean Transportation analyst Dan Rutherford says, “You don’t

TO HELP YOU DECIDE WHERE TO GO THIS YEAR, OUR READERS SHARE SPOTS THEY CAN’T WAIT TO VISIT AGAIN.

BURNING QUESTION

In a gigantic tourism ploy, Saudi Arabia said it secured financing for the tallest building on Earth: the one-kilometer Jeddah Tower will be 180 meters taller than the Burj Khalifah in Dubai. A Four Seasons hotel will flagship the 200-floor skyscraper. Key risks for this behemoth are the location’s proximity to the ocean, high temperatures, and wind strength. So, the foundations will plunge 60 meters to ward off saltwater damage, the concrete might be poured during cooler nights to help it set, and the tower, designed to echo desert plant fronds, will change shape every few floors sending the winds spiraling around it rather than smacking into it. “We can build a tower that is one kilometer, maybe two,” says Sang Dae Kim, director of the Council on Tall Buildings. “Any higher and we will have to do a lot of homework.” Peace of mind for 2020, when you’re surveying the Red Sea from the world’s highest viewing deck.

#TLASIA

the conversation

Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma, Maldives. — @tcs197

San Agustin, Surigao del Sur, Philippines. — @katrinacenteno

Osaka, Japan. — @keystonowhere

fly a plane to the corner store.” No… you should take the bus. Or walk.

74%

Decrease in energy consumption per passenger on commercial flights from 1970 to 2010

52%

US$1 MILLION

Increase in fuel efficiency of new airplanes from 1968 to 2014

The amount less energy it takes to fly one person one mile than to drive

14 

Fuel cost savings over the 25-year lifespan of a single-aisle plane for every one-percent increase in fuel efficiency

300%

JANUARY 2016 / TR AV EL ANDLEISURE ASIA .COM

Superior fuel efficiency per person riding buses compared to cars

Chiang Mai, Thailand. — @araxrae SHARE AN INSTAGRAM PHOTO BY USING THE #TLASIA HASHTAG, AND IT MAY BE FEATURED IN AN UPCOMING ISSUE. FOLLOW @TRAVELANDLEISUREASIA


EDITOR-IN-CHIEF ART DIRECTOR DEPUT Y EDITOR SENIOR EDITOR AS SISTANT EDITOR SENIOR DESIGNER DESIGNER

Christopher Kucway Wannapha Nawayon Jeninne Lee-St. John Merritt Gurley Monsicha Hoonsuwan Chotika Sopitarchasak Autchara Panphai

REGUL AR CONTRIBUTORS / PHOTOGR APHERS Cedric Arnold, Jeff Chu, Helen Dalley, Philipp Engelhorn, Duncan Forgan, Diana Hubbell, Lauryn Ishak, Mark Lean, Melanie Lee, Brent T. Madison, Ian Lloyd Neubauer, Morgan Ommer, Aaron Joel Santos, Darren Soh, Stephanie Zubiri CHAIRMAN PRESIDENT PUBLISHING DIRECTOR PUBLISHER DIGITAL MEDIA MANAGER TR AFFIC MANAGER /DEPUT Y DIGITAL MEDIA MANAGER SALES DIRECTOR BUSINES S DE VELOPMENT MANAGERS CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER PRODUCTION MANAGER PRODUCTION GROUP CIRCUL ATION MANAGER CIRCUL ATION AS SISTANT

J.S. Uberoi Egasith Chotpakditrakul Rasina Uberoi-Bajaj Robert Fernhout Pichayanee Kitsanayothin Varin Kongmeng Joey Kukielka Domenica Agostino Justin Williams Gaurav Kumar Kanda Thanakornwongskul Natchanan Kaewsasaen Porames Sirivejabandhu Yupadee Saebea

TR AVEL+LEISURE (USA) EDITOR-IN-CHIEF SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT / PUBLISHING DIRECTOR VICE PRESIDENT / PUBLISHER

Nathan Lump Steven DeLuca Jay Meyer

TIME INC. INTERNATIONAL LICENSING & DEVELOPMENT (syndication@timeinc.com) VICE PRESIDENT E XECUTIVE EDITOR / INTERNATIONAL SENIOR DIRECTOR, BUSINES S DE VELOPMENT SENIOR DIRECTOR, AD SALES & MARKETING

Jim Jacovides Mark Orwoll Jennifer Savage Joelle Quinn

TIME INC. CHIEF E XECUTIVE OFFICER CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER

Joseph Ripp Norman Pearlstine

TR AVEL+LEISURE SOUTHEAST ASIA VOL. 10, ISSUE 1 Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia is published monthly by Media Transasia Limited, 1603, 16/F, Island Place Tower, 510 King’s Road, North Point, Hong Kong. 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. This edition is published by permission of TIME INC. AFFLUENT MEDIA GROUP 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020 Tel. 1-212/522-1212 Online: www.timeinc.com Reproduction in whole or in part without consent of the copyright owner is prohibited. SUBSCRIPTIONS Enquiries: www.travelandleisuresea.com/subscribe ADVERTISING OFFICES General enquiries: advertising@mediatransasia.com Singapore: 65/9029 0749; joey@mediatransasia.com Japan: Shinano Co., Ltd. 81-3/3584-6420; kazujt@bunkoh.com Korea: YJP & Valued Media Co., Ltd. 82-2/3789-6888; hi@yjpvm.kr


a rendering of the intercontinental hua hin resort’s extension, the bluport wing.

Holistic Hua Hin This beachfronT Town is blossoming, and one properTy is in full bloom. The iconic inTerconTinenTal hua hin is opening a new seaside club lounge, Two news bars, a resTauranT, and The bluporT wing of deluxe rooms To ensure Their guesTs really can have iT all. A Sterling StArt

light dances through the curtains, signaling the start of another radiant morning on the silvery shores of hua hin. i throw the windows open, stroll onto the spacious balcony and cuddle up on the queen-sized outdoor daybed overlooking the pool. mere moments earlier my personal butler woke me with a polite knock on the door, bearing a much-needed cappuccino and the local newspaper. he’s known me less than 12 hours, but is already anticipating my every whim. as i sip my coffee, browse the headlines, and watch the cerulean sea lap against the intercontinental hua hin’s powdery beach below, i wonder if there’s ever been a more peaceful start to a day.

beAchfront club intercontinentAl lounge

breakfast beckons and i meander downstairs. i skip the buffet in favor of a sea-front seat at the brand-new club intercontinental lounge. members have exclusive access to this facility, which is truly one of the loveliest spots to relax in the resort. set right over the crescent bay with a private dipping pool and al fresco seating, this lounge feels like my very own villa. a smartly dressed waiter brings me eggs

poached to perfection, just the right fuel for my next adventure. This club intercontinental lounge opens 24 hours where you can enjoy all-day light refreshments, afternoon tea and evening cocktails.

fAmily fun

Vana Nava Hua Hin Water Park is only a five-minute drive away but i feel transported to another world. The 3.2-hectare wet-and-wild playground looks more like a jungle than an amusement park, but there are slides aplenty to pique my childlike wonder. After three hours of splashing and floating, through some of the huge and elaborate water slides, i’m blissfully exhausted and ready to take it easy.

Zen in huA hin

The design of the resort is based on basic feng shui principals, with everything aligning to create the ultimate sense of wellness for guests. all the villas and resort features come together in the outline a fish, a feng shui symbol of auspicious energy. To fully indulge in relaxation, i head to the spa where inspiration is drawn from across bali, Japan and Thailand. after the 90-minute Oriental Signature massage using butterfly-pea


Advertisement

At the Azure Bar.

The new beachfront Club InterContinental Lounge.

massage wax that melts delightfully onto the skin, I am positively radiating auspicious energy. What better way to amp up my glow to high-wattage than with a shore-side sun-downer?

After DArk

The InterContinental Hua Hin is quickly becoming a one-stop nightlife destination with three chic bar options. The recently opened Azure Bar, set on Azure’s picturesque one-story rooftop, is bringing a taste of Bali to Hua Hin. During the day guests can enjoy the open-air beach bar with its 180-degree view of the sea-crested horizon, tasty tapas and cozy upscale cabanas. As night falls, the scene takes on a sleeker edge, with stylish tipplers sipping cocktails under the stars to a soundtrack courtesy of a trendy local DJ. Guests looking for a Thai cultural experience will find much to love at Lee La Bar. The live Thai performances, along with Niiki rice spirits, wines from Khao Yai, and blended Mekhong whisky cocktails, offer a window into local nightlife. To end the evening, head to Saraan Lounge, in the InterContinental’s new BluPort wing, for a bluesy speakeasy vibe where you can sip a tumbler of bourbon as the jazz pianist tickles the ivory.

BluPort Polish

This month sees the opening of the InterContinental Hua Hin’s eagerly anticipated Blue Port wing. The 40-room extension, which connects to the Beach Wing right across the street via a convenient walk bridge, represents a new level of luxury for Hua Hin. All of the rooms are brand new, decked out with state-of-the-art entertainment systems and

tastefully decorated in a blend of contemporary Thai design and Victorian-era elegance. There are two meeting rooms, the 335-square-meter Tamarind Ballroom, and the lush Larn-Rom courtyard, which can hold up 500 people—a mix of flexible space that allows guests to plan everything from a flashy wedding to small business meetings. This manicured 3,200-square-meter estate features a swimming pool and the refined all-day dining restaurant Le Colonial, so be it business or pleasure, guests can expect an unparrelleld standard of style, service and finesse. Next year, the BluPort mall will open adjacent to the new wing, world-class shopping.

live like A king

A favorite of the Thai royal family, it is no wonder this seaside resort draws discerning travelers from across the world. King Rama VI was such a fan of Hua Hin that he built the Maruekhathaiyawan Summer Palace here. Regal heritage inspires the design of the InterContinental Hua Hin with luxury touches like oversized private terraces, hand-carved wooden furnishings and woven silk textiles. For the royal treatment, ask for InterContinal’s private jet to pick you up in Bangkok and fly you over in style and book La Residence, the hotel’s 480-square-meter two-bedroom villa with its own infinity-edge pool, walled gardens and direct beach access.

www.intercontinental.com/huahin


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K E R E N S U / G E T T Y I M AG ES

NEWS + TRENDS + DISCOVERIES

A house boat chugs through the bucolic backwaters of Kerala.

Where to Go in 2016

These are the 16 buzziest destinations you need to know this year, including one of Thailand’s most blinged-out beaches, Australia’s next great foodie haven and Papua New Guinea’s luxury lakeside retreat.


/ here&now /

w h e r e t o g o i n 2016

THE BIENNIAL

The winter event runs from December until March 2017, and will be curated by Sudarshan Shetty, known for his site-specific installations. The exhibits will include works from up-and-coming Indian artists, as well as international big guns—Anish Kapoor participated in 2014 (above).

GALLERY-HOPPING T+L’S TOP PICK

Backwater Bliss

A lush stroke across India’s Malbar Coast, Kerala’s landscapes are pure art. By Christopher Kucway I DON’T THINK anyone actually told me to get lost, but I was. On purpose. I opted to go native and hopped on what is essentially a floating bus through the tranquil backwaters of Kerala. There I toured for the morning and where I ended up, I had no clue. It was a village not on any guidebook map, my lunch options down to the lone restaurant in the hardscrabble spot. But the thali was excellent, almost as good as the few hours spent watching school kids make their way to class and adults transport the necessities of daily living—that’s how I thought of the man with a branch laden with ripening bananas—as human vehicles in perhaps the calmest, cleanest rush hour you’ll ever encounter.

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Kerala’s backwaters zigzag through lush green forests unlike anywhere else in the world. Beyond that, if you’re a proponent of travel as a window onto how others live, a day or three spent here is a great classroom. This is India, so you are forced to slow down to the local pace. Mobile phone reception is spotty, the sights intriguing. In 2016, Kochi, the historic center of this state, will host the third Kochi-Muziris Biennale (kochimuzirisbiennale.org), the country’s influential contemporary art event. We’ve rounded up the ideal art-centric itinerary for your time in Kochi (right) and from canals and waterways to murals and canvases, Kerala is one stunning exhibit.

The biennial has breathed life into the city’s galleries. Must-visits include the Aspinwall House, David Hall, Kashi Art Gallery (above), Moidu’s Heritage and Pepper House. And contemporary art has spilled over into the streets: graffiti-inspired murals sit alongside landmarks like the Paradesi Synagogue.

CHIC STAY

The redesigned Trinity (malabar​ house.com; doubles from €300) is an eight-room guesthouse with a modern aesthetic behind its historic façade. Inside you’ll find colorful furniture and lithographs by modernist master M.F. Husain, considered the godfather of contemporary Indian art.  — DEEPANJANA PAL

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C LO C K W I S E F R O M TO P : J O E L AS K Y / G E T T Y I M AG ES ; D H E E R A J T H A KU R / C O U RT ESY KO C H I B I E N N A L E FO U N DAT I O N ; C O U RT ESY O F K AS H I A RT GA L L E RY ; C O U RT ESY O F M A L A BA R H O U S E

HERE’S HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF KOCHI’S CULTURAL SCENE WHILE YOU’RE IN KERALA.


Go Fish

IN THE CIMMERIAN GREEN WATERS of Lake Murray—a colossal 2,000-square-kilometer lagoon bracing the border with IndonesianA NEW LUXURY ECO-LODGE OPENS LAKE MURRAY, IN PAPUA controlled West Papua—live monsters both real and imagined: man-eating saltwater crocodiles; a NEW GUINEA, TO ECOTOURISTS. Nessie-like creature said to be a relative of the theropod dinosaur family; and Niugini black bass, the strongest kilo-for-kilo freshwater fish on Earth and Holy Grail of anglers in the Southern Hemisphere. Yet until recently the only way to see Papua New Guinea’s largest lake was as a guest of the reclusive canoe-borne hunter-gatherer tribes that live on its shores. Enter Trans Niugini Tours, an award-winning ecotourism company that runs six luxury lodges in the highlands and a fleet of light aircraft, buses and speedboats. The firm’s newest property, Lake Murray Lodge (pngtours.com), is 100 percent solar-powered and set on an island in the middle of the lake. There’s a plantation-style clubhouse with wraparound decking; 12 stilt-leg cabins with en-suite private balconies; and a commercial kitchen where local women, who until recently hadn’t tasted nor even seen foreign food, prepare steaks, fried rice, garden salads and chocolate cake for hungry fisherman whose days are spent hunting black bass on the lake. Bird-watchers should take note too, for Lake Murray is home to more than half of the country’s spectacular avifauna, including hornbills, eagles and the fabled birds of paradise. – IAN LLOYD NEUBAUER

I A N L LOY D N EU BAU E R ( 3 )

One of Lake Murray’s monster catches. ABOVE, FROM LEFT: Lake Murray Lodge is set on an island in the middle of the lake; paddling the wild waters.

Canggu, Bali Sun-wizened surfers have been riding the waves off the island’s southwestern coast for decades. But with a crop of Australia-inflected, eclectic establishments designed to appeal to a relaxed crowd, it’s recently become favored for more than just its breaks. The hip Frii Bali Echo Beach (frii​hotels. com; doubles from Rs560,000) provides a welcome antidote to the island’s mainstream resorts with its simple rooms and Balinese accents. Guests can try paddleboarding, water yoga or muay Thai—if they’re not too busy lounging on beanbags around the two pools. There’s also a group of expat-run restaurants geared to the active: Milk & Madu (milkandmadu.com; mains Rs70,000Rs95,000) specializes in fresh juices and woodfired pizzas, and the concrete-clad Crate (fb. com/cratecafebali) café does hearty smoothies and feta-tempeh wraps. Old Man’s surf spot is the best place to watch the sunset and have an ice-cold Bintang beer. After dark, a line of surfboard-laden motorbikes leads to Deus (deuscustoms.com; mains Rs55,000Rs165,000), a restaurant, bar, music venue and art gallery that’s the cultural heart of Canggu. For the most action, go in May or October, when Deus hosts two major surf competitions, with pros Harrison Roach and Zye Norris scheduled to compete. —  LESLIE PATRICK


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Mad About Museums

FRIDAY | Get an overview of Singapore’s past at the country’s oldest museum, the National Museum of Singapore

(nationalmuseum.sg; admission S$10). Take a five-minute walk to the quaint Peranakan Museum (above; peranakan musem.org.sg; admission S$6) to find out more about early Chinese settlers who married with Malays in this region, a community known as the Peranakans.

Lady of the Lake

THE CL ASSIC CHINESE RETREAT OF HANGZHOU GOES UPSCALE.

SATURDAY | National Gallery Singapore

(above; nationalgallery.sg; admission S$20), the newest and grandest museum here deserves a day-long visit to tour the world’s largest collection of modern art from Southeast Asia. There’s no shortage of fine dining choices on site, but we recommend National Kitchen By Violet Oon (violetoon.com; dinner for two S$80) for its servings of hearty local dishes.

A restaurant at the Azure Qiantang. LEFT: The ricotta at Mercato Piccolo.

FOR MORE THAN A MILLENNIUM, artists, traders and explorers have

been drawn to Hangzhou’s vast West Lake. Thanks to the manufacturing and tech industries (Alibaba’s headquarters are in Hangzhou), the city is one of China’s wealthiest. The airport now accepts private-jet landings, and as Hangzhou’s residents have become increasingly sophisticated, its hotels and restaurants have followed suit. The most notable newcomer is the riverside Azure Qiantang (starwoodhotels.com; doubles from RMB1,200), a Luxury Collection hotel designed by Pierre-Yves Rochon that makes liberal use of its eponymous blue. Later this year, the 417-room Midtown Shangri-La Hangzhou (shangri-la.com; doubles from RMB980), the group’s second property in the city, will open near West Lake. The downtown food scene is no less refined: Mercato Piccolo (1 Wulin Square; 86-571/8190-5656; mains RMB68-RMB268), from chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, serves amazing house-made ricotta with strawberry. Coming soon is Wujie, a branch of Shanghai’s celebrated vegetarian restaurant. Two hours away in Xinfeng Village is the new Hidden House (thehiddenhouse.cn; doubles from RMB800), a hideaway with picturesque pathways on which to stroll through a bamboo forest. — CRYST YL MO

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SUNDAY | Venture west to check out the three sauropod dinosaur fossils and tons of other cool specimens at Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (lkcnhm. nus.edu.sg; admission S$21). Back in town, visit lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum (above; marinabaysands.com; admission from S$15) at Marina Bay Sands and its variety of exhibitions on art, science, design and technology. — MEL ANIE LEE

Tanzania’s National Parks A safari trip through Tanzania’s more remote parks used to mean staying in low-key camps. That’s about to change, as Asilia (asilia​africa.com) will open the first truly luxurious lodge in Ruaha National Park, a seldom-visited area teeming with wildlife like elephants, leopards and lions. Set on a hill overlooking a savanna with baobab trees, it will offer guided walks and wildlife drives—all without another vehicle in sight. It is still possible to have privacy in the popular Serengeti plains and Ngorongoro Conservation Area at the new breed of high-end tented camps. Two upcoming options: Asilia’s Highlands, opening in March on the slopes of the Olmoti Volcano, will have seven glass-fronted geodesic tents, and in June, Nomad’s eco-friendly Entamanu Ngorongoro (nomad​tanzania. com) is set to open eight tents— with views both into the crater and out over the Serengeti. — JANE BROUGHTON

C LO C K W I S E F R O M TO P L E F T : C O U RT ESY O F P E R A N A K A N M U S EU M ; DA R R E N S O H ; C O U RT ESY O F M A R I N A BAY SA N D S ; C O U RT ESY O F A Z U R E Q I A N TA N G ; C O U T ESY O F M E R CATO P I C C O LO

The recent opening of the National Gallery makes this the perfect time to plan a museum-hopping weekend in bustling Singapore.


Taipei on display at the Dadaocheng Wharf.

Slicker City

Taipei is blossoming into an architectonic arcadia. TAIWAN’S CAPITAL IS EMERGING as one of Asia’s most dynamic design and architecture hubs. The country was once famous for realizing electronic components for the biggest names in the world’s tech industries. But more recently, the capital’s creative class has been channeling its talents to more visceral effect. Among the prominent building sites dotting the city is the much-anticipated Taipei Performing Arts Center (oma.eu) by OMA. Meanwhile, city fathers invested a lot of time, money and energy into their successful bid to be crowned World Design Capital for 2016. While that award was earned largely due to an emphasis on a design-led approach to urban

planning, there are easier ways to sample the current febrile creative climate in the city. Take Songshan Cultural Park (songshanculturalpark.org), once home to a tobacco factory and now a showcase for design and cross-disciplinary events, or Art Yard in Dadaocheng, a shophouse craft shop/café notable for its beautiful ceramics including its own brand Hakka Blue. With tried-and-true hotels such as Mandarin Oriental Taipei (mandarinoriental.com; doubles from NT$12,500) and W Taipei (wtaipei.com; doubles from NT$10,900) providing flash digs from which to explore, there’s never been a better time to have designs on the city. — DUNCAN FORGAN

F R O M TO P : A L B E RTO B U Z ZO L A ; C O U RT ESY O F TA R S I E R B OTA N I K A

Bohol’s Bolt-holes

WHITE-SAND BE ACHES, tropical countryside,

colonial-era churches and wildlife galore: it’s no wonder that the official tagline of the province is, Bohol has it all! This underrated tourism destination has seen a steady rise in development over the past two years. Unlike most islands in the Philippines that offer just the opposite ends of the accommodation spectrum—über luxe or budget—Bohol is special in its organic growth in value-for-money boutique resorts, which promise that warm Visayan hospitality and menus that feature the freshest catch of the day. This year Tarsier Botanika (left; tarsierbotanika.com; three-course lunch for two plus a bottle of wine P3,000; villa rates not yet available) will set the standard for charming waterfront boutiques. Surrounded by verdant gardens, a narrow pathway opens up to a stunning cliffside with panoramic views of the ocean. Created by Nicolas and Patricia Moussempes, their restaurant offers exquisitely executed world cuisine, an extensive wine list and genuinely friendly service. Built in the style of northern Philippine Ifugao huts, the 14 barefoot-luxury villas, some of which have their own private pool, are set to open the first quarter of 2016. You can get a massage at their spa, snorkel the clear blue waters out front, or head up to their sister property Tarsier Equestria for pony trail rides and dressage classes. Or you can relax and sit back with a sunset cocktail in their open-air lounge. — STEPHANIE ZUBIRI

NEW RESORTS ARE GIVING THIS PHILIPPINE ISL AND FRESH PULL.

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On the Horizon

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FOR THE TIN Y NUMBER of history and

nature buffs who have made it to St. Helena, A new airport will make the Napoleon’s final port of exile, much of the fascinating South Atlantic island of appeal was the British territory’s ultra-remote location, almost 3,200 kilometers from South St. Helena much easier to reach. Africa. The only way to get to the capital, Jamestown (below), population 640, was five days aboard the last working Royal Mail ship (rms‑st‑helena.com) from Cape Town. But in February, the opening of St. Helena Airport, on the Prosperous Bay Plain—where you can spot endangered wirebirds—will cut journey time to five hours from Johannesburg. A new generation of adventurers will discover sea turtles and whales while snorkeling in Rupert’s Bay and traverse the dramatic Diana’s Peak. In the island’s misty hills, the Longwood House museum is a reminder of Napoleon’s life on the island. A boutique hotel is in the works, but for now stay at the five-room Farm Lodge (sthelena​tourism. com; doubles from £110 per person), a 17th-century plantation house where the décor and home cooking are from a bygone era—like the island itself. — EMILY MATHIESON

Shore Thing

Lanai, Hawaii With no traffic lights and just one airport runway, Lanai is the anti-Oahu. And last June, one of Hawaii’s quietest islands got even quieter when its owner, Larry Ellison, shut down both its Four Seasons resorts for renovations—leaving only the 11-room Hotel Lanai (hotellanai.com; doubles from US$174), in Lanai City, open to guests. That’s all set to change this year, with the highly anticipated March launch of the Four Seasons Resort Lanai (fourseasons.com; doubles from US$960). The property (formerly the Four Seasons Manele Bay) will have new restaurants, including chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s, two pools, and 217 rooms decorated with woodcuts by local artist Dietrich Varez. Thankfully, the most important things will remain the same: the prime location—near a marine preserve—and the five-star views.  — STEPHANIE WU

THE POWDERY PAR ADISE OF KOH YAO NOI has managed to

dodge the rough love of high-traffic tourism that has harangued its neighbors, Phuket and Krabi. Its natty nook in Phang Nga Bay dishes up views so stunning it’s hard to believe the horizon wasn’t photoshopped. Pearly limestone karsts rise out of the cobalt depths with ancient authority, and all the picturesque pinpoint islands and snorkeling spots, like Koh Hong and James Bond Island, are at close reach. The few hoteliers lean on the island’s intimate charm to offer secluded accommodations like the rustic tree-house style Koyao Island (koyao.com; doubles from Bt8,550), where you can opt for a tented lodge on 200 meters of private beach, or Six Senses Yao Noi (sixsenses.com; villas from Bt27,485) where personal gardens in some of the most fetching villas lead from your infinity pool directly onto the beach. If that’s still not private-estate enough, Ani Villas (anivillas.com; from US$5,500 per night, three-night minimum stay), which just opened last month, may fit the bill. It is all or nothing at this 10-room beachfront property that only books one group at a time, so you’ll have the two master suites, four pool villas with ocean views, four family suites with private living rooms, a bar, a waterslide, a 33-meter swimming pool, a spa, a yoga pavilion, a fitness center and a dining sala all to yourself. — MERRIT T GURLEY

KOH YAO NOI, WITH ITS PRIVATE VILL AS AND QUIET COASTS, MAY BE THE PERFECT THAI ISL AND FOR TR AVELERS WHO WANT THE WHOLE BEACH.

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Cape Lodge. LEFT: Kangaroos lead the way down the cape trail.

C LO C K W I S E F R O M TO P L E F T : C O U RT ESY O F WA L K I N TO LU X U RY ; C O U RT ESY O F CA P E LO D G E ; F R I E D R I C H S C H M I DT / G E T T Y I M AG ES

Australia’s Cape Drive

BORDERED BY THE INDIAN OCE AN to the

west and dotted with forests. Here, more than 60 vineyards thrive in what closely resembles a maritime Mediterranean climate and produce some 15 percent of the country’s MARGARET RIVER, THE L ATEST GOURMET ENCL AVE, IS JUST OVER premium wines. At Cullen (cullen​w ines.com. au; mains A$34–$38), which has an excellent THREE HOURS FROM PERTH. restaurant, the best bet is the Diana Madeline Bordeaux-style blend. Leeuwin (leeuwinestate.com.au; mains A$32–$44) serves freshwater crayfish and grass-fed beef and lamb, which pair well with the Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon. Stay at Cape Lodge (capelodge.com.au; doubles from A$525), a plush boutique hotel set in 13 hectares of woodland. Its lakeside restaurant has a new chef, Michael Elfwing, previously of England’s Fat Duck. Also essential: a trip to the Bahen & Co. (bahen​chocolate.com) chocolate factory, where former winemaker Josh Bahen creates a house blend that is 70 percent cacao and sweetened with organic sugar, along with a spectacular version with chili and salt. — GR AHAM BOYNTON

Persian Treasures

Si-o-Seh Bridge in Esfahan.

Diplomatic stability means that Iran’s history and beauty are accessible again.

WITH 19 UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES and a history of empire going back to 1000 B.C., Iran was a major destination before the revolution of 1979. Now intrepid travelers are rediscovering the vibrant, surprisingly cosmopolitan capital of Tehran; the gorgeous architecture and Great Bazaar of Esfahan; the mosques of Kashan, the retreat of Safavid kings; and the extraordinary gardens of Shiraz. There’s plenty to celebrate about modern Iranian culture, too: the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (tmoca. com), founded by the shah in 1977, holds an impressive collection of Western art. Also in Tehran, the nonprofit art center Sazmanab (sazmanab.org) is a showcase for emerging talent. Since the tourist visa availability is in flux, the best way to visit is with an operator—U.K.-based Exodus (exodustravels.com) and Canada-based G Adventures (gadventures.com) offer comprehensive trips. — SEAN ROCHA

Asbury Park, New Jersey In the song “My City of Ruins,” written in 2000, Bruce Springsteen described Asbury Park as a city of boarded-up windows and empty streets. A battering by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 didn’t help. But the Jersey Shore town, 90 minutes south of New York City, has started to recover, led by its gay and live-music scenes. Visitors to Asbury’s boardwalk can still have their fortunes told at Madam Marie’s Temple of Knowledge but now they’ll also find clothing and jewelry at the Market at Fifth Avenue (marketatfifth avenue.com), sushi and tacos at Langosta Lounge (langosta lounge.com; mains US$8–$16), and surfboards and skateboards at Lightly Salted (lightlysalted. surf). A short walk from the beach, Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten (asburybiergarten.com; mains US$12–$25) serves almost 100 varieties of beer, and famous venues like the Stone Pony (stone ponyonline.com)—a Springsteen haunt—are still packed. The Empress Hotel on the oceanfront (asbury empress.com; doubles from US$99) is the place to stay, at least until the 110-room Asbury opens this year. The first new hotel in the city in 55 years is part of a multimillion-dollar plan to revive a 1.5kilometer stretch of beachfront. — D AVID SHAF TEL

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The Next Berlin

MANY THINK OF

Frankfurt as a city of straitlaced bankers and nondescript towers. But over the past few years, Germany’s business capital has loosened up. The city’s tastemakers are opening hidden spots, many of them in Bahnhofsviertel, the red-light district next to the main train station that is starting to gentrify. There you’ll find Club Michel (club​ michel.com; mains €10-€16), a supper club on the second floor of an office building, where a rotating roster of chefs includes a soba-noodle-making expert. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, the brothers behind Maxie Eisen (maxieeisen.com; mains €8.50€25), a hybrid of French bistro and New York deli famous for its cocktails and pastrami sandwiches, have opened sleek Stanley Diamond (left; stanleydiamond. com; mains €17-€36), which has dishes like beet risotto and almond-nougat crème brûlée. Not far away are two chic places for after-dinner drinks, Kinly Bar (kinlybar. com) and the Parlour (theparlour.de). The only way to see it all is to spend a night or two. The place to stay: the futuristic Roomers (roomers.eu; doubles from €136), a Design Hotel with looming black doors, burlesque-inspired rooms, and a domed rooftop spa. — GISELA WILLIAMS

The dining room at Stanley Diamond.

French Evolution

A boom in design and dining is putting the spotlight on the city of Lille, an hour north of Paris.

DO | Look for city-sponsored indoor and outdoor art exhibitions and the Modigliani retrospective at the modern art museum LaM (above; musee-lam.fr). At Rue du Faubourg des Postes, shop at ethical fashion label Sainte Courtisane (sainte​ court​isane.fr), and jeweler Constance L (constancel.com), two designers backed by the city.

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STAY | The five-star Clarance Hotel Lille

(clarance​hotel.com; doubles from €170) has earned attention for its 18th-century bones dressed up with contemporary furnishings. All 19 rooms and suites are named after Charles Baudelaire’s poems, and chef Nicolas Pourcheresse, who trained with Alain Passard, helms the restaurant, La Table.

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EAT | Lille’s old town has specialty coffee shops like Caféine Coffee (fb.​com/ cafeinecoffeelille), craft-beer dens like Les Bières de Célestin (les​bieresde celestin.fr) and neo-bistros like Bloempot (above; bloem​pot.fr; tasting menus €34-€50), where Florent Ladeyn serves Flemish dishes such as duck tartare. — LINDSE Y TR AMUTA

T O P : S T E V E H E R U D . B E L O W F R O M L E F T: C O U R T E S Y O F L A M ; C O U R T E S Y O F C L A R A N C E H O T E L L I L L E ; © V I R G I N I E G A R N I E R

FRANKFURT IS TAKING A CUE FROM ITS COOLER SISTER, WITH LIVELY RESTAUR ANTS AND COCK TAIL LOUNGES.


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THE MOMENT | MENTAWAI | INDONESIA

A shaman takes a break on the trek to his inland village under one of the last remaining buttressed teak trees on these islands off the west coast of Sumatra. Photographer Philipp Engelhorn reports that most of these ancient trees are gone now, having been cut down in illegal logging operations. For their part, the Mentawai believe in beautification—a beautiful body keeps your spirit happy; a sad spirit could mean illness and death— so they sharpen their teeth and adorn themselves with ornate tattoos made with coconut-juice-and-soot ink.

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/ here&now / INSIDER INTEL

Eat Like a Queen

Former Miss Malaysia Deborah Henry on her passion project and dining out in Kuala Lumpur. BY MARK LEAN

FROM TOP : Beauty queen and foodhound Deborah Priya Henry; a sharing plate at Drift; outdoor seating at Zenzero, where Henry recommends the burrata; chocolates at DC. Restaurant.

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I WASN’T SURE ABOUT DINING

with a beauty queen. Would she force salads and quinoa upon me? Would she monologue about the health benefits of spirulina? Would there be any carbs at all? As it turned out, I need not have worried. Kuala Lumpur-based Deborah Priya Henry, former Miss Malaysia World 2007 and Miss Malaysia Universe 2011, knows food and doesn’t shy away from filling fare. She’s been following the trending foodie movement since it started gaining momentum around 2012, and is excited by the number of youngsters choosing to forgo the rat race in favor of driving food trucks, opening coffee shops or starting their own Instagram-driven gourmet desserts businesses. “I love seeing their passionate approach to introducing new food concepts,” Henry says of the city’s mini culinary renaissance. So what is Henry passionate about? Under the spotlight, beauty queens are notorious for spouting notions like promoting world peace and stopping global warming. But once the pageants are over, and the sashes are hung in the closet, how many of them actually follow through with tangible initiatives? Henry stands out with her steely determination—and for her successes. She cofounded and runs a nonprofit center for refugees called Fugee School, which educates 130 Somalian kids, in a push to increase awareness of the plight of the nearly 30,000 refugee children in Malaysia, who don’t have legal access to institutional schools. For her efforts, she was named one of Forbes Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy in 2013, but


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Henry isn’t in it for the accolades. “What puts a smile on my face is when I see these kids transform and blossom into confident and amazing individuals,” she says. Much like Henry, with her frenetic schedule, Kuala Lumpur never sleeps. So it’s easy to grab a bite at any hour of the day or night from street-side vendors as well as from the ubiquitous Malaysian Mamak coffee shops. Henry says she can relate to the drive of these young chefs who work around the clock: “I guess there is nothing more satisfying that seeing happy, satisfied diners.” Here, Henry shares her favorite Kuala Lumpur restaurants and cafés. + “The chef Darren Chin at DC. Restaurant plays around with flavors and textures,” says Henry, who likes that the food is innovative without being overly complicated. The highlight: its tasting menu. 44 Persiaran Zaaba, Taman Tun Dr. Ismail; 60-3/7731-0502; restaurantdc.com; tasting menus from RM348. + For classic Italian, Henry loves the burrata, seafood pasta and the risotto alla Milanese at Zenzero. GF St. Mary Place, 1 Jln. Tengah, 60-3/ 2022-3883; zenzero.com.my; dinner for two RM250. + Drift is a modern Aussie restaurant and bar popular with expats and

tourists. Here, Henry orders the sharing plates and the truffle mushroom arancini. GF 38 Jln. Bedara; 60-3/2110-2079; driftdining. com; dinner for two RM100. + At Mario & Luigi, one of the city’s newer openings, she likes the cozy setting, and the menu that includes a yummy cold capellini with truffle paste and kombu. 15 Lorong Kurau, Taman Weng Lock, Bangsar; 60-3/ 2282-3571; thebiggroup.co/mario; dinner for two RM200. + Henry has a weakness for sweets that she indulges at Jaslyn Cakes with chocolate ganache and saltedcaramel cake, which she says are to-die-for. 7A Jln. Telawi 2, Bangsar Baru; 60-3/2202-2868; jaslyncakes. com; cake for two RM30. + On hot days, Henry goes to Whimsical, for its assortment of homemade gelato in unusual flavors like rose syrup, steamed bean curd, lavender and honey—and the admittedly strange-sounding but totally delicious rice-and-chicken nasi lemak. D2-G3-05, Solaris Dutamas, 1 Jln. Dutamas 1; 60-3/ 6419-0966; fb.com/whimsicalcaffe; lunch for two RM50.

FROM TOP : To-die-for pastries at Jaslyn Cakes; chef Darren Chin at DC. Restaurant; Drift is an expat favorite; pasta at Zenzero.

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/ here&now / REBOOT

Fresh Face

The north wing of the iconic Galle Face Hotel finishes its restoration. ONE OF THE OLDEST hotels in Asia, the Galle Face on

Colombo’s coast dates to 1864. Little wonder such care was taken in a 30-month restoration of the iconic property’s north wing, which has emerged with a more modern feel but one that remains true to its rich past.

Most noticeable are the 21 private balconies on sea-view rooms, though throughout the wing new interiors feature classic mahogany furnishings and gray marble bathrooms. In total, 72 rooms and suites underwent a revamp along with the north wing’s restaurants and bars,

lobby—with its Corinthian columns and 17th-century Dutch colonial chairs—and executive lounge. In particular, The Verandah restaurant has doubled in size and now offers two levels of seating, while The Pool Bar & Terrace has been extended along the waterfront.

Featuring a hand-carved mahogany counter, the Traveller’s Bar celebrates the hotel’s long list of famous guests; the beluga caviar and house-smoked salmon dish was inspired by writer Anton Chekhov, who visited Ceylon 125 years ago. gallefacehotel. com; doubles from US$145.

SPOTTED

Art From Above art installation is spooking passersby. The life-sized statues perched atop skyscrapers look disturbingly like people ready to jump. On display until May, the “Event Horizon” exhibition is made up of 31 sculptures scattered through the city, an idea conceived in 2007 when more than half of the planet’s population was recorded as living in cities. “These still and silent bodies look out into space,” the artist Antony Gormley says, “asking where the human project fits in the scheme of things.” Director of the British Council Hong Kong, Robert Ness says the work inspires viewers to “reflect on our individual position in this wonderful city by looking more consciously within ourselves.” So if you see a figure looming from above, look closely; it may just be art. eventhorizon.hk/en.

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“Event Horizon” sculptures are hidden throughout Hong Kong.

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F R O M T O P : C O U R T E S Y O F G A L L E FA C E H O T E L ; O A K TAY L O R - S M I T H

HONG KONG’S MOST E X TENSIVE


/ here&now / DINING

Red Hot Red Dot Rachel Everett is excited about Singapore’s tastiest new openings. IF YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

include cooking less and eating more, these three new restaurants belong in your diary. It’s innovation as usual, in the forward-thinking food capital that is the little red dot. 5th Quarter

F R O M TO P : C O U RT ESY O F 5 T H Q UA RT E R ; C O U RT ESY O F M A R I N A BAY SA N D S ; C O U RT ESY O F P L A N K S O U R D O U G H P I Z Z A

The cured meat here is lip-smackingly savory and divine. Set within Satinder Garcha’s latest addition, the plush Hotel Vagabond, 5th Quarter is Loh Lik Peng’s gift to carnivores. The ornately decorated velvet interiors take a page out of the opulent-style playbook of designer Jacques Garcia, but the food is where the luxury really begins. Executive chef Andrew Nocente oversees the modern grill, the focus on meat curing, with selections from all parts of the animal. Start with the five-meat charcuterie cured in-house, then move onto the rumcured pork belly. 5thquarter.com.sg; dinner for two S$100. Plank Sourdough Pizza

The “best pizza in Singapore” debate will come to a quick conclusion after a visit to Plank. Singapore has a plethora of pizza joints but many are overpriced and the authenticity is sometimes questionable, so the opening of Plank, with real-deal pies by master baker Dean Brettschneider (of the hugely popular Baker & Cook) has been a huge hit with local connoiseurs. Brettschneider’s sourdough crusts are the result of a 48hour fermentation process and blasted at 380-400 degrees Celsius, making for a lightly crispy, yet pillowy soft bite. Our favorites include the No. 1, with

caramelized garlic and basil, and the No. 4, with tomato, pulled chicken, cranberry compote and Camembert. Saving the best news for last: it is BYOB so you can wash it down with your favorite wine at supermarket prices. plankpizza.biz; dinner for two S$50. Spago

FROM TOP: Both

the meat and the décor at 5th Quarter are pure velvet; panseared stripedbass laksa at Spago; the knead for pizza at Plank Sourdough Pizza.

Singapore is the first Asian outpost for Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, the restaurant that’s been delighting diners in the United States since 1982. Following on the heels of Wolfgang Puck’s Cut steak house, which opened in Marina Bay Sands in 2010, Spago proffers up slick Californian plates with a dash of Asian delight. Standouts include Spago’s signature beet salad—a divine mix of beets, goat cheese and hazelnuts, and Puck’s take on local favorite laksa, packed with oodles of baby squid and halibut in that familiar coconut soupy goodness. marinabaysands.com; dinner for two S$200.

BEAN BRAINS New cafés have Singaporeans sitting at attention. CAFE&MEAL MUJI Japanese lifestyle stalwart Muji finally opened its über hip café doors in Paragon. Set opposite the actual store itself, this cozy café and eatery serves up healthy dishes and some local Singaporean ones, of course. Grab a cuppa and

then pop over to be inspired by Muji’s styling home and fashion selections. cafemeal. muji.com/sg. THE COFFEE ACADEMICS Hong Kong coffee champion, The Coffee Academics hit Singapore shores late

last year at Pedder On Scotts at Scotts Square. The flagship Causeway Bay TCA in Hong Kong is ranked among the world’s best coffee houses. Here customers can create their own coffee blends for the luxury of a personalized caffeine buzz. Founder

Jennifer Liu’s warm brick interiors, snug tables and coffee-appreciation classes all add that golden Midas touch. thecoffeeacademics.com. CHYE SENG HUAT HARDWARE It’s easy to walk by Chye Seng Huat Hardware, on the rim of

Little India, with its traditional Chinese shop front, never guessing that behind the façade lies a wonderful world of java. Sip your flat white in the industrial-chic surrounds and marvel at this stylish coffee bar’s innovative design aesthetics. cshhcoffee.com.

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/ here&now / Rendezvous Lodge and the Peak 2 Peak terminal on Blackcomb Mountain.

Whistler Stop What started 50 years ago as the centerpiece of an Olympic bid has become arguably North America’s top ski resort. At 3,300 skiable hectares, Whistler Blackcomb dwarfs second-place Vail and is consistently ranked as one of the world’s best, thanks in part to the mix of creative restaurants, luxe lodging and a casual Canadian vibe. BY AMANDA ROSS AND NEAL MCLENNAN

THE PL ACE

WHISTLER SLOPE DISH

Peak-to-Creek may be the most famous run in Canada, a thigh-burning 4.2 kilometers from the top of Whistler to the valley floor. Do it in under 12 minutes and you’re a mountain god; under eight and you could probably win the next mayoral election. The double-black-diamond Spanky’s Ladder is beloved by serious skiers. It has chutes to drop into,

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then bowls to cruise down—but you’ll have to click out of your skis and make a short hike to get to it. And be sure to name-check it as just “Spanky’s.” The six-person chairs on the year-old Harmony Express deliver 3,600 skiers per hour up to terrain that the entire family can ski: Burnt Stew (green), Harmony Piste (blue) and Boomer Bowl (black). >>

PA U L M O R R I S O N

The Five Need-to-Know Runs


TIP Sidestep lines by getting one of 650 “Fresh Tracks” tickets issued daily. For an additional C$19.95, you board the gondola early, have breakfast at the top of the mountain, then get to do a virtually solo run.

/ here&now / THE PLACE

WHISTLER

Art at Altitude

First Nations art at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.

It’s true that ski-resort art galleries tend to run heavy on timber-wolf canvases and tree-trunk carvings. But early this year, the Audain Art Museum, a temple to the art of British Columbia, will open in a 5,200-square-meter Modernist tree house designed by Vancouver’s acclaimed Patkau Architects. Most of the gallery’s 200-plus works—which range from 19thcentury First Nations masks to contemporary works by Jeff  Wall, whose conceptual photographs will form the inaugural exhibit— are part of the private collection of Vancouverbased developer Michael Audain, who wanted to create a monument to the province’s artistic achievements. Just steps from the base of the Whistler Peak 2 Peak Gondola, it will also be a pleasant refuge on the rare bad snow day. audainart​museum.com. If First Nations art piques your interest, pay a visit to the nearby Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. Housed in a soaring cedar-and-glass space, the institution beautifully tells the story of the area’s founding people through its interactive exhibits. Its Thunderbird Café serves food inspired by native cuisine. slcc.ca.

Après-Ski Cheat Sheet

WHERE THE LOCAL TRIBES DO HAPPY HOUR—AND HOW TO JOIN THEM.

THE POSH OPTION

After the Four Seasons Resort & Residences’ staff stores your skis, head to Sidecut Modern Steak & Bar. Onyxpaneled columns and a fireplace sheathed in a mosaic let you know this isn’t a pitcher-of-beer-and-hotwings joint. Settle in and order a glass of local Meritage. fourseasons.com.

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ROWDY ROUNDTABLES

THE COOL CLUB

DAY-TRIPPER’S DEN

Noisy doesn’t come close to describing the Garibaldi Lift Co.’s invariably packed room (referred to simply as the GLC). The big tables attract large groups of skiers trading exaggerated stories of hipdeep snow—often around a plate of poutine (fries with curds and gravy). whistlerblackcomb.com.

Opened five years ago, the Ketel One Ice Room at Bearfoot Bistro is now a carved-in-ice institution for high rollers—and the coldest vodka-tasting room in the world, at -31 degrees Celsius. Throw on a complimentary Canada Goose parka and toss back a shot or two for warmth. bearfootbistro.com.

Its location at the base of the Creekside Gondola—the first mountain access if you’re driving from Vancouver— makes Dusty’s Bar & BBQ the it-spot for brief visits. Choose a version of the Caesar, a.k.a. a Canadian Bloody Mary. On a sunny weekend, arrive by 2:30 p.m. for a patio seat. whistlerblackcomb.com.

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C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P : C O U R T E S Y O F S Q U A M I S H L I L’ WAT C U LT U R A L C E N T R E ; C O U R T E S Y O F T O U R I S M W H I S T L E R ; R I S H A D D A R O O WA L A ; COURTESY OF TOURISM WHISTLER; COURTESY OF THE FOUR SEASONS RESORT & RESIDENCES WHISTLER

THE DEBUT OF A CONTEMPOR ARY MUSEUM IS A TIPPING POINT FOR WHISTLER’S CULTUR AL SCENE.


THE PLACE

2

WHISTLER

Top Tables

CLASSIC SPOTS

Elegant dishes like elk tartare and foie gras parfait served with endive and cacao nibs, combined with a stunning mountain setting, have made Alta Bistro a standard-bearer of casual fine dining in just four years. altabistro. com; mains C$10– $39.

Sticking around for 34 years is remarkable. And the inventiveness that put Araxi Restaurant & Oyster Bar on the map is as strong as ever—it just added Dungeness crab rolled in egg crêpe with yuzu gel to the menu. araxi.com; mains C$29–$52.

FRESH PICKS

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 FA I R M O N T C H AT E A U W H I S T L E R ; C O U R T E S Y O F T H E F O U R S E A S O N S R E S O R T & R E S I D E N C E S W H I S T L E R ; COURTESY OF FIRST TR ACKS LODGE; ANNA BEAUDRY PHOTOGR APHY

GREAT COOKING IN WHISTLER IS HAPPENING AT OLD STANDBYS AND RECENT ARRIVALS ALIKE.

The minimalist Basalt Wine & Salumeria, which opened this summer on the village’s main stroll, is the spot for a plate of killer charcuterie and a bottle of B.C. wine. basaltwhistler. com; mains C$26– $36.

Bar Oso, the newest offering from the team behind Araxi, is a less formal take on Spanishinfluenced small plates that promises to be the toughest table to land this season. baroso.ca; tapas C$3.50–$26.50.

GRAB IT TO GO

The town is sometimes known as “Whistralia” because it hosts so many Australian workers, and they’ve left a culinary mark with liftfriendly hand pies—savory fillings in a closed pastry shell. Get an early-morning Ned Kelly (ground beef, bacon, egg and cheddar) from Peaked Pies for the ride up the gondola. peakedpies.com. Purebread may be the best bakery in the province. Go sweet (drunken-apple blondies) or go savory (pesto-pine-nut “stud muffin”). To avoid the line, head to the Function Junction outpost, eight kilometers south of the village location. purebread.ca. TIP Whistler Blackcomb is going smoke-free this year— so no puffing in lift lines, gondolas or any of the restaurants owned by the company.

1 3

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Where to Overnight Right

SKI BUTLER OR YOUR OWN KITCHEN? THE TR ADE-OFFS ARE FEW IN WHISTLER’S MAIN AREAS. When it comes to lodging, you’ll want to be in either Whistler Village, where you can access the bases of Blackcomb and Whistler mountains, or Creekside, a smaller, quieter village three kilometers south.

within walking distance of the Blackcomb lifts, has what many consider the best ski concierge on the mountain, and offers rooms that are haute-rustic but not precious. fourseasons.com; doubles from C$419.

WHISTLER VILLAGE The Fairmont Chateau Whistler (1)

WHISTLER CREEKSIDE

has been the largest ski-in, ski-out property in North America since it arrived in 1989. Its grand façade channels the brand’s iconic Chateau Lake Louise and Banff Springs properties, and speaks to a classic vision of Canadiana. The location is the best in town: right in front of the Four Seasons at the Blackcomb base—close enough to walk to the main village but far enough to escape the late-night weekend revelry. fairmont.com; doubles from C$469. While Whistlerites proudly claim that this town ain’t Aspen (no Louis Vuitton stores or mink coats), everyone was secretly proud when the Four Seasons Resort & Residences (2) opened in 2004. The 273-room hotel is

To avoid the hubbub of Whistler Village, book at the 77-room Nita Lake Lodge (3), on a tranquil lakeshore 10-minutes’ walk from the Creekside Gondola. The rooms are generously sized, and the services include in-house yoga classes and complimentary snowshoe loans. nitalakelodge. com; doubles from C$259. When you’re traveling with kids, little can compare with extra space and a kitchen, which is why the swank condos at First Tracks Lodge (4) are in demand. The one- and two-bedroom suites are done up in a mountain mélange of rough-hewn logs and stone fireplaces, and can top 130 square meters. The Creekside Gondola is steps away. firsttrackslodge.com; doubles from C$500.

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/ here&now / THE DISH

Notice the Lotus

GET A TASTE OF HISTORY AT THE NEW MANDA DE LAOS RESTAUR ANT AMONG PADDY-COVERED PONDS IN LUANG PR ABANG.

a football club, you need an assistant coach to keep everyone in line. At home in Luang Prabang, Maman Phiew enlisted the help of her daughter Toune Sisouphanthavong in the kitchen to feed her 10-kid brood. In addition to the nuanced touch required to master traditional dishes like larb mincedmeat salad, she taught Toune the scale of cooking for a dozen people each night, which is a bigger head count than you’ll find at some of the boutique restaurants popping up in the region today. So perhaps it was inevitable that Toune one day would open Manda de Laos restaurant, and share her mom’s classic Laos dishes with the world. Food’s not all that runs in the family; the property itself has been with them for generations, and so stunning are the three lotus ponds

that cut through the lush green grounds that it was registered as a unesco World Heritage site back in 1995. The recently opened restaurant is the result of collaboration between Toune and Frederick Meyer, who helped create the award-winning Issaya Siamese Club in Bangkok, and Rodolphe Gay, who has worked with a handful of luxury hotel brands including Belmond and COMO. Expect an international standard of style, with outdoor seating overlooking the ponds and a magical sunset view over the blossoming lotuses, accompanied by old-school recipes that are hard to find elsewhere in Luang Prabang, like khou sin kwai, wok-fried buffalo flambéed with Lao Lao alcohol. “While daily life has changed in Laos and around the world,” Toune says, “here at Manda de Laos we carry on the traditions and spirit of Maman Phiew, dedicated to sharing how one cooked and ate in the past.” Lovingly, that is, and with a full house. 1 Ban That Luang, 10 Norrassan Rd.; 856-71/253 923; mandadelaos.com.

Manda de Laos restaurant; INSET: Do-ityourself larb.

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POSH ON PING A new 14-suite hotel just soft opened on dreamy little Ping River in Chiang Mai. The rooms range from 60 to 120 square meters at The Chiang Mai Riverside, and, according to general manager Axel de Boynes it’s the size that matters. “Above all, we offer space,” Boynes says. “Space for guests to spread their wings and relax into their escape.” There’s a localexperience concierge to help get you into the northern groove, while the Lanna-style architecture takes you back to Thailand’s age of elegance. Teerawut Chanyasak, CEO of the Vorrawut Group, the hotel’s operator, says they are trying to create a hotel the likes of which Chiang Mai has never seen before, “with refinement and sophistication at every turn, the sort of privatebutler service you would expect from a grand old European hotel, and a service connecting guests to the most authentic and fascinating experiences in and around our charming Rose of the North.” We can’t wait to watch it blossom. thechiangmai.com; opening rates from Bt6,800.

FROM TOP: COURTESY OF THE CHIANG MAI RIVERSIDE; COURTESY OF MANDA DE L AOS (2)

WHEN YOUR FAMILY IS THE SIZE OF


/ here&now /

THE ULTIMATE

Fish Worth Flying For

You’ll find cha ca la Vong, Hanoi’s classic dish of grilled fish with turmeric and dill, at little shops throughout the city. Here’s where one chef discovered the best version he’s ever had. BY KATE PARHAM KORDSMEIER

K IYOSHI JIRO

HIDDEN UP A NARROW

stairway in Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a restaurant so unassuming, you wonder how it could be worthy of a culinary pilgrimage. But Cha Ca La Vong, a bare-bones dining room with wooden tables and bright-blue walls, is well worth seeking out. In fact, it has been credited with popularizing the northern Vietnamese dish of grilled fish with turmeric and dill after which it’s named. And although Cha Ca La Vong is surrounded by countless knockoffs (so many

that the street is named Cha Ca), it remains the place chefs go to study up on the dish. One such disciple was Chris Shepherd, of Houston’s Underbelly restaurant (underbelly​houston.com), who traveled the 14,000 kilometers between his hometown and Hanoi to taste the dish in its original form. On arrival at Cha Ca La Vong, the chef found that his burly frame barely made it up the restaurant’s steep stairs. Once inside, he was handed a laminated sheet of paper proclaiming, in English, only

one dish in our restaurant :

grilled fish. Then the ceremony

began. A server arrived, bearing a shopworn gas burner, a skillet, and yellow-streaked fish coated in turmeric and frying oil. There was a spark, a sizzle, a heaping of fresh herbs—dill, mint, scallions—and a short wait while the air filled with a briny, herbaceous aroma. Finally, the fish reached the point of crispy perfection. The rest is up to guests: they can finish their cha ca tableside with cold noodles, chopped peanuts, more herbs and, of course, a drizzle of fish sauce.

Shepherd now serves his own version of cha ca made with Gulf Coast catch of the day rather than the traditional snakehead fish or catfish. He advises fellow pilgrims to look for Cha Ca La Vong’s address, rather than its name, and to show up after 5 p.m.—early birds risk being shooed away. “The culture of doing just one thing really well doesn’t exist in the United States,” Shepherd says. “But that’s Vietnam. And the hole-in-thewall spots blow your mind.” 14 Cha Ca, Hoan Kiem; 84-4/3825-3929.

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/ here&now / TRENDING

Follow the Buzz

HONG KONG Era Barbers

SINGAPORE The Golden Rule Barber Co.

From the fire engine-red exterior to the swank, London-style interior, this men’s salon on buzzy Pottinger Street has some serious swagger. The experts here specialize in 1950s cool, but are more than capable of whipping up all manner of shaves and fades. Such precision and versatility are hardly surprising given Era Barbers’ pedigree—the shop is the work of Paul Gerrard, one of the most trusted local names in the business. 36 Pottinger St., Central; 852/2577-3080; erabarbers.com.

After honing their skills at The Panic Room and Hounds of the Baskervilles, two of the Lion City’s most reputable barber shops, Md Jay Anudin and Yanto Aryan Sani decided to open this slick four-seater in Little India. In addition to the usual array of sculpting, styling and shaving services, The Golden Rule Barber Co. offers guests an array of products for athome maintenance, including pomades and gels by Singaporean brand Mcleod & Sons, as well musical paraphernalia from local bands. 188 Race Course Rd.; 65/6341-7291; thegoldenrulebarber.com.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Pick your pomade at Doc Guthrie’s Barber Shop; banter and buzz cuts at The Golden Rule barber; have your whiskers whisked away at Era Barbers; a plush chair at Barberford.

BANGKOK Barberford

With options ranging from British import Truefitt & Hill to the retro-style Three Brothers Barber Shop, modern dandies are spoiled for choice in Bangkok. This relative newcomer takes pampering to the next level with grooming products from JS Sloane and Kiehl’s, as well as private rooms for patrons complete with customdesigned chairs. Dapper gentlemen are in good hands; all of the barbers have at least a decade of experience and are equally versed in classic European styles and the latest K-Pop looks. 4F Erawan Bangkok, 494 Ploenchit Rd.; 66-2/ 251-0422; fb.com/ barberford.bangkok.

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SHANGHAI Doc Guthrie’s Barber Shop

Care for a nip of whiskey or a brew with your uppercut or high fade? Of course you would. Highquality booze is a welcome part of the package at this class act in Jing’an District, which offers everything from fuss-free buzz cuts to old-school straight-razor shaves. Underage guests can’t imbibe, of course, but the staff will make sure mom or dad gets a free swig. The vibe here is tastefully testosterone-laden, with a great sound track— blissfully Bieber-free— and décor to match. 873 Kangding Lu; 86-185/16003079; docguthries.com.

CLOCK WISE FROM TOP: COURTESY OF DOC GUTHRIE’S BARBER SHOP; COURTESY OF THE GOLDEN RULE BARBER CO; COURTESY OF ER A BARBERS; COURTESY OF BARBERFORD

A host of new barber shops aim to recreate the good old days of masculine grooming, complete with all the trimmings. BY DIANA HUBBELL


ges fique Voya My Magni


ja pa n | c h i n a | m a l ay s i a | + m o r e

COURTESY OF SANCTUM INLE RESORT

Arriving at Sanctum Inle by long-tail boat.

UPDATE

Light up the Lake New resorts and tours operators are rocking the peaceful waters of Inle Lake in a scramble to ready for the cresting wave of Burma-bound travelers. BY MERRITT GURLEY

TR AV EL ANDLEISURE ASIA .COM / JANUARY 2016

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FROM LEFT: Inle

Lake’s Intha fishermen paddle with remarkable balance; lounge on lakefront terrace at Sanctum Inle.

THE SKIES OPEN AND THE L AKE, suddenly, is everywhere, pouring down from above, seeping across the horizon, thrashing beneath our long-tail boat. Then, just as suddenly, as if to the cue “let there be light,” the sun splits through the clouds, tames the rearing waters, and paints a gaudy rainbow across the wild blue yonder. The lake, now a perfect mirror, reflects the arc in a full circle, a rainbow bull’seye, and in the center, the Sanctum Inle jetty, positioned right in time for our arrival. As we putter up to the wooden gazebo on the waterfront, the background is all Burma with wild green hills and the intractable crawl of tropical flora, but the architecture, with broad arches and a central courtyard surrounding a marble fountain, would look more at home in Madrid. Sanctum Inle, which is scheduled to grand-open next month, is bringing modern luxury to the lakefront, a break from the

rustic-chic rooms that have been gathering dust on these shores for years. Picturesque Inle, which last June became the first place in Burma to join the unesco World Network of Biosphere Reserves, is a prime target for the travelers pouring through the country’s everwidening doorway and Sanctum exemplifies the new class of international hotels lining up to wave them in. It is easy to see why the 116-squarekilometer freshwater lake was demarcated such a vital ecosystem. At 900 meters above sea level, the basin lies in the palm of the southern Shan Hills, where the scenery is a farrago of misty mountains, jungled hummocks, rice paddies and even wine vineyards. The lake itself is dotted in lily pads, mint-green marshes, half-sunken stupas, stilted villages and floating vegetable gardens. Some of the endemic wildlife, like the Inle Lake danio fish,

FURTHER AFLOAT

New tours are offering wider access to remote areas of the lake. INDEIN CREEK

On Inle’s western bank, this narrow twisting creek is lined with paddy fields, toiled by farmers and water buffaloes, and dotted with more than 1,000 ancient stupas. “The trip takes you farther and shows you more of Inle than most tours,” says Grace Ei, head of tours at FlyMya, which began offering the day-long excursion two months ago. flymya.com; seven-hour tour US$127.

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SAGAR

A three-hour boat ride across Inle will bring you to the seldom-visited sunken city of Sagar, with its 100 half-submerged stupas and the quiet villages of the Pa-O hilltribe, followed by an overnight stay in a quaint eight-room lodge. “Not many tourists go to Sagar,” my guide Myint Aung says. “It is an unusual scene, with so much history half hidden in the water.” backyardtravel.com; US$249 per person.

JANUARY 2016 / TR AV EL ANDLEISURE ASIA .COM

ORIENTAL BALLOONING

December through February, you can take a hot-air balloon ride for an aerial view of the mountains and shores of Inle. “We are very proud to fly there,” says operations manager Ni Ni Khaing, “as we can show an amazing bird’s-eye view of the lake’s most beautiful places.” This experience launched a year ago, but is not widely advertised. oriental​b allooning.com; US$420 per person.

F R O M L E F T: C O U R T E R S Y O F S A N C T U M I N L E R E S O R T ( 2 ) . O P P O S I T E , F R O M L E F T: C R A I G L O V E L L / C O R B I S ; M E R R I T T G U R L E Y

/ beyond /U P D A T E


can be found nowhere else on Earth. This is also the only place to see Intha fishermen whose precarious one-legged paddling stance and conical bamboo traps have become icons of Inle. Watching their efforts play out in person feels like having magical binoculars to the past. Most of the local industries have remained unchanged for generations: rolling cheroot cigars, silverwork, boat-building, ceramics and handweaving garments. The flora and fauna are ancient and the culture is a living piece of history, but easier access, new tours and upscale hotels have these quiet waters rippling with the tides of change. “There was only one hotel here when I was a child and it was always empty,” my guide Myint Aung says. “Now there are many, and they are all full, and every year more are built.” Yes, international brands are descending like egrets on the shallows. A Novotel, the first in Burma, opened in November 2014, and later this year should bring the launches of an MGallery and a Hilton. Developing tourism while preserving the environmental and cultural charm of the destination is kind of like, as the Burmese saying goes, trying to catch two eels at the same time. Yet, properties are pulling it off. Accor has implemented a sustainability program and is introducing one of the country’s most sophisticated water treatment systems, and Sanctum works with the surrounding communities to minimize impact wherever possible. Mindfulness, serenity, harmony: Sanctum Inle takes the tenets of Buddhism beyond just codes of practice, and into the actual design as

well. “It is a blend between the monasteries you find here and those in Spain,” says Philippe Arnaud, the general manager of Sanctum Inle. At first it seems too ascetic a concept to be driving a luxury resort, but the more I explore, the more sense it makes. The lake provides such a tranquil setting that it invites reflection. The interior designer, Brigitte Dumont de Chassart, is based in Paris but her influences seem to span the whole of Europe, with Romanesque loft ceilings and minimalist Scandinavian-style furnishings in the room types that range from the Cloister Classics to the two-story Abbey suite. Arnaud describes Sanctum as a merging of “the spiritual and the secular, the past and the present, East and West.” He could be talking about modern Inle as well. I ask Myint Aung what he makes of the mad-dash development churning up the lake he calls home. “It is very good for us,” he says, which doesn’t surprise me as his livelihood is linked to the boom. He gives it a little more thought as we motor past a golden stupa and boatyards docking gilded barges. “We are losing something too. Some of the men on these boats aren’t real. They are fake fishermen, hoping tourists will pay them to take pictures.” That’s an unsettling notion and it has me eyeing each stilted house with suspicion. We pass a thriving tomato garden floating like jade jetsam and there behind it is a fisherman, balanced on one foot, thrusting his net across the water. I raise an eyebrow at my guide. “No, no.” Myint Aung tells me. “He’s real. He’s a true fisherman. Here you will still find so many true things.” Let there be light.

FROM LEFT: Inle’s famous Phaung Daw

Oo Pagoda; plush pillows and purple accents in a Sanctum suite.

THE DETAILS GETTING THERE Eight local airlines fly into Heho. Book flights to Inle online through FlyMya (flymya. com), a service that just launched last year. It is a 45-minute drive from Heho to Nyaung Shwe, the main town near Inle Lake. It is a 30-minute boat ride or an hour drive from Nyaung Shwe to Sanctum Inle; travel times vary by property, depending on where they lie on the lake. Sanctum Inle Resort This Spanish-style resort with a monastic motif intends to inspire reflection, with 96 lakeside villas, a bar serving up local wines and ales, a spa, boutique shop, restaurant and cigar lounge. sanctum-inleresort.com; doubles from US$188. Novotel Inle The first Novotel in Burma, this property has 122 contemporary suites and villas on the lake, each with its own separate bedroom and living area. accorhotels. com/9395; doubles from US$180. Villa Inle An oldie but a goodie, Villa Inle has rooms looking right out over the water, and an infinity pool set in their sprawling gardens with a view of the lake. hotel ininle.com; US$391.

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/ beyond /

t h e ta k e away

TE A “I always buy tins for friends when visiting the Fortnum & Mason department store. The packaging is really cute, and I like the variety of flavors.” fortnum​and​mason. com; £10.

WR APPING PAPER “I went to the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the V&A. It was on such a bigger scale than the one at the Met. I bought this paper with the designer’s print at the gift shop.” vandashop.com; £2.

I NEVER KNEW THAT ABOUT LONDON “This book is filled with stories about various buildings and neighborhoods in the city. I would take it with me on the Tube— it’s a great travel companion.” hatchards.co.uk; £12.

NE WSBOY CAP “Lock & Co. Hatters is one of the oldest hat shops in the world; they created the first bowler. I’ve always wanted something from there, and thought the color and sheen of this one were really cool.” lockhatters.co.uk; £105.

PAPERWEIGHT “The Chelsea Physic Garden, which dates back to 1673, is a lovely spot on the Chelsea embankment. It has a small store, where I found this resin ball with wildflowers encased inside.” chelsea​physic​ garden.co.uk; £30.

COLOGNE “I’m from Mexico, where men traditionally wear a lot of scent. Grafton, by Truefitt & Hill—the famous barber and perfumer on St. James’s Street—smells very masculine, which reminded me of home.” truefittandhill.com; £50.

“This has fascinating information about plants, which will really complement the stories I create about each of my perfumes.” chelsea​p hysic​g arden. co.uk; £14.

CARLOS HUBER |

| London 

PERFUMER A place in time: that is the inspiration behind each scent from Huber’s artisanal fragrance brand, Arquiste (arquiste.com). For the recently released Architects Club, it was the Fumoir cocktail bar at London’s Claridge’s hotel in the 1920s. ”It’s where all the bright young things would meet,” he says. “I wanted to capture that clubby English feel.” Huber travels often to London, where he picked up these items on a late-spring visit. “It was such a beautiful time of year. Every street had a house covered in wisteria. I’ve never seen so many flowers.” — K ATIE JAMES

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JANUARY 2016 / TR AV EL ANDLEISURE ASIA .COM

PHOTOGR APHED BY JAMES WOJCIK

P R O P S T Y L I S T: L I S A F L U D Z I N S K I

100 PLANTS THAT ALMOST CHANGED THE WORLD


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SHOP UP A STORM IN TOKYO PICK UP THE BEST GADGETS Working your way around Akihabara’s Electric Town could take an entire day. For a one-stop-shop with a great selection of computers, mobile tech, cameras and more, visit Yodobashi (www.yodobashiakiba.com/index.html). In Shibuya, don’t miss Bic Camera (www. biccamera.co.jp) and Loft (www.loft.co.jp), which also has home and lifestyle items.

REINVENT YOURSELF WITH KAWAII FASHION Fans of Japan’s booming kawaii (cute) fashion trend will be in their element at 6% Dokidoki (dokidoki6. com), which was opened by the “founder” of the movement, Sebastian Masuda, and stocked with clothes in vivid colours and featuring motifs like unicorns, hearts and ice cream. Also stop in at the Angelic Pretty

TAKE A REJUVENATING BREAK (www.angelicpretty. com) for stylish dresses. FILL UP YOUR BEAUTY BAG Japan is known for its superior quality products, and it’s no different in the beauty aisle. But the best thing about shopping for make-up and health goods in Tokyo is that you can find top quality for affordable prices at one of the many drugstores dotted around the city.

RELAX WITH TEA IN A HAMMOCK Japan is home to several hammock cafes. Unwind from a busy day of shopping with tea, cake and a bit of comfy swaying at Mahika Mano (mahikamano.com) in Kichijoji. ENJOY A HEALING BATH AT A SENTO The age-old Japanese tradition of public bathing is alive and well, and is perhaps the ultimate form of

relaxation. Climb into the steaming hot waters at Yama no yu Onsen (1-47-12 Kanamecho, Toshimaku) and be transported back in time as you gaze at a Mt Fuji mural. Or ease aching muscles at modern “designer sento” Bunkayokusen (bunkayokusen.grupo. jp). PAMPER YOURSELF AT A HOTEL SPA If you’re looking for something a little more

indulgent, book a treatment at Mizuki Spa at the Conrad Tokyo (conradhotels3. hilton.com), home to a pool, sauna, Japanese hinoki bathtub and great views. Also try Hilton Tokyo Odaiba’s SpaZen, which has an outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the Rainbow Bridge, and Hilton Odawawa Resort & Spa in a setting outside Tokyo with its excellent Spa and Bade Zone (www3.hilton.com/en).


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Known for its superlative powder snow, Niseko is thought of as one of the world’s finest ski resorts. Once you’ve had enough of the slopes, browse designer boutiques and souvenir stores at Niseko Village (www.niseko-village.com/en). Book a stay at Hilton Niseko Village and unwind at the hotel’s Wakka spa and glorious outdoor onsen. Niseko-cho, Higashiyama Onsen, Abuta-gun. www3.hilton.com

Made up of 150 islands, Okinawa is a beach lover’s paradise. The capital city of Naha is just a threehour flight from Tokyo and offers a lively shopping street called Kokusai Dori, which stretches for 1.6km and is the perfect place for stocking up on omiyage (souvenir gifts). Spend the night at Hilton Okinawa Chatan Resort and revive a tired body with an Okinawa-style treatments at the Amami Spa. 40-1 Mihama, Chatancho, Okinawa. www3.hilton.com

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/ beyond /T H E Q U E S T Blue seas like nowhere else.

Star of Orion

In search of the perfect spot for a Japanese lager, Tom Westbrook stumbles upon Zamami Island, a slice of paradise on the Okinawa archipelago with water so deeply sapphire it earned a slot on the color wheel.

occasion when your setting, mood and circumstances align in such perfection that you feel like you’re in a commercial. That’s what happened to me while sipping an ice-cold brew on Zamami’s camera-ready alabaster shore. The idea for the expedition was born a year earlier on an evening in Sydney’s Kings Cross. Orion beer was half-price at my local Japanese restaurant and it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I’d never heard of it, but the crisp draught from Okinawa was refreshing and well worth the bargain. One Orion led to another and over dinner my girlfriend and I hatched a plan to visit the beer at its source and try

M I K E LY V E R S / G E T T Y I M AG ES

IT’S A WONDROUS

the refreshment on one of the exotic beaches there. Bucking the grand tradition of drunken pacts, we actually stuck to it. From Okinawa island itself, where Orion is headquartered, we head west to the Kerama Islands, a chain of 22 tiny islands, surrounded by water so brilliantly hued that they named a color after it: Kerama blue, which is a dark, royal shade set aglow in the sunlit shallows. Zamami is one of the four inhabited islands in the Kerama chain, and its waters share the famous sapphire color. Afloat in the Pacific Ocean, 600 kilometers south of mainland Japan and closer by half to Taipei than Tokyo, this dazzling gem on the endless-summer

archipelago of Okinawa is easy to reach, but remote enough to be a peaceful paradise—and the perfect place for a pint. The magic begins before we even set foot ashore, while soaking up the sun from the roof-deck of the slow ferry (zamami englishguide.com/ferries; ¥4,030 round trip) from Naha, Okinawa’s capital. Chugging over the Pacific Ocean, the Japan of snowcapped mountains, hill temples and sprawling metropolises drifts away. Monsoon clouds roil on the horizon then retreat leaving us under a broad blue sky with the sun beating down on the deck. From the dock at the azure harbor, it’s a fiveminute walk to anywhere in Zamami Village, a

quaint town of rickety fishing shacks, coffee shops, bars and a police box for the island’s lone cop. It’s where most of the island’s 600 residents live and the bulk of the island’s Orion is found in ice-cold Kerama-blue tins. Hotels range from Japanese-style guesthouses with pillows and futons on tatami mats, such as Nakayamagwa (zamami.org; doubles from ¥6,000), to the high-end resort Kerama Beach Hotel (kerama-beachhotel.com, doubles from ¥25,200), secluded at Asa Village on the island’s east. Once we dock, I begin to scout the lay of the land, keeping my eyes peeled for the perfect spot to enjoy an icy Orion. Okinawa’s islands are well visited by Japanese domestic

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/ beyond /T H E Q U E S T CLOCKWISE FROM RIGHT: Mozuku soba is

the island’s signature dish; an icy Orion; under those deep blue seas.

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in 1945 a three-month battle raged for control of the island chain. The war exacted a hard toll on Zamami, and dragged out for decades in the form of a political fight over whether the military had forced civilians into mass suicide before the advancing Americans. But the island has slowly emerged from its long shadow as a sleepy, sun-soaked paradise. Bellies full, we wander across the white strip of Furuzamami beach where the sand curls between two green, jungle headlands. The deep-blue sea turns turquoise in the shallows. Coral teeming with fish runs right up to the shore and we jump in the cool, crystal ocean for a snorkel, straight off the beach. It is enough to work up a thirst, which gets me thinking about another beer. So I bring a few chilly Orions to the beachfront, to enjoy with our toes in the sand. The waves run along the shore leaving a swash of foam matching the froth atop my Orion, and I decide that I’ve found the exact spot I’ve been

JANUARY 2016 / TR AV EL ANDLEISURE ASIA .COM

looking for all along. I totally feel like I’m in a beer commercial. The klieg lights, set director and film crew add to the sensation. You see, I am in a beer commercial, or at least surrounded by one. It turns out I’m not the only one who thinks Zamami Island provides superlative scenery for sipping beer. The marketing crew behind Orion are just along the beach, having picked this very location to shoot their next TV campaign. A group of dancers pirouette to a catchy jingle along the sun-bleached sands in front of me, then drink from their Kerama-blue beer cans, smiling toothy grins for the cameras. My search for the perfect glass of Orion has come to a cinematic conclusion. At sundown, the shoot ends and we have the beach and practically the whole of Zamami Island to ourselves. Twilight casts the beach in a rosy glow and I finish the last of my beer in a satisfying swig. That’s a wrap.

Mozuku soba This is Zamami’s signature dish. The island is famous for mozuku, a slimy, skinny and salty seaweed it exports all over Japan. Wayama Mozuku (wayamamozuku.jp; mozuku soba ¥650), a small lunch shop east of the harbor, sells fresh soba with the seaweed kneaded into the dough, and served cold on top of the noodles. Awamori If beer doesn’t cut it for you, this local firewater will. Distilled from rice, it tastes like shochu only stronger. Okinawans credit their famous longevity to the drink. Consumed with water and ice, it will put hair on your chest. It’s also used in cooking and to prepare a fermented tofu dish, tofuyo, that tastes a little like blue cheese. La Toquée (la-toquee. jimdo.com; awamori cocktails ¥740, tofuyo ¥350) is a happening izakaya with Pacificisland décor right in the middle of the township and a fun place to meet locals and fellow travelers alike over a drink. Black pork Slow-braised in soy, mirin and awamori to melt-in-your mouth consistency, we loved the version at Marumiya (432-2 Aza-Zamami, Zamami Village; black pork ¥600).

C LO C K W I S E F R O M TO P : TO M W EST B R O O K ( 2 ) ; TA K AU 9 9 / G E T T Y I M AG ES

tourists, but to a couple of gaijin, the tatami-floor minshuku (guesthouses) and hole-in-the-wall izakaya seem surreal among the surfboards, sand, heat-haze and deigo flowers of the subtropics. After a 20-minute walk from the harbor, we find ourselves at the beach at Furuzamami, on the island’s south coast, the premier spot for a swim, and rated by Michelin as one of the world’s best beaches. Here we stop at the beachfront food shack, Parlor Ikoi (Furuzamami Beach; untokosyo. dokkoisho.com; taco rice ¥650), which has a view over the water, a cooler of my beloved beer and a historically weighty signature snack: taco rice. The dish, minced beef and taco seasoning on a bed of rice, is said to date to 1984 when it was invented to cater to American troops. It owes its continued existence to the large U.S. military presence on Okinawa Island, some 25,000 personnel, who live on bases first occupied during World War II, when

Zamami Must-Tries


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/ beyond /F A S H I O N

China Girls

As standards soar and necklines plunge, Chinese fashion is gripping the globe like a tightly laced corset. Diana Hubbell rounds up the bold and innovative ladies behind the looks.

stood for shoddy or mass-produced, uninspired garments. But today some of the industry’s biggest tastemakers are coming from the People’s Republic. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “China Through the Looking Glass” exhibition of more than 140 ready-to-wear and haute couture pieces drew some 670,000 visitors, smashing the previous record set by Alexander McQueen and extending its run through September 2015. Meanwhile, waifs clad in Chinese creations strutted down fashion week catwalks in New York, Paris, London and Berlin, eliciting all sorts of oohs and aahs. From breakout stars to local icons finally receiving recognition, here are the names to know.

RAN FAN, RanFan

Last year might have been her New York Fashion Week debut, but Ran Fan sashayed onto the stage like a pro. Her statement pieces in jewel and cream tones earned her the Mercedes-Benz China Emerging Designer Award, as well as the adoration of critics at home and

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Safari-chic aesthetic from Wang Tao.

abroad. Figure-flattering shapes and natural fabrics such as wool, silk and lambskin make these garments imminently wearable. It doesn’t hurt that Fan earned her credentials both in London and at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, a dual set of degrees that bolster her cross-cultural aesthetic sensibilities. ranfanstyle.com.

JANUARY 2016 / TR AV EL ANDLEISURE ASIA .COM

MASHA MA, Mashama

It comes as no surprise that Masha Ma interned with Alexander McQueen during her time at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins; her designs have a dark humor and otherworldly feel that would make the late, great pioneer proud. Given her flair for the

C O U RT ESY O F TAO R AY WA N G. O P P O S I T E : C O U RT ESY O F M AS H A M A ( 2 )

“MADE IN CHINA” ONCE


dramatic, it seems fitting that both Lady Gaga and Naomi Campbell are fans. Slick, iridescent fabrics, see-through mesh and sculptural forms characterize Ma’s 2016 collection, her eighth to appear in Paris Fashion Week. Though she just celebrated her 30th birthday, her brand is already soaring high— around 10,000 meters, to be exact. Last year, British Airways commissioned Ma to design an East-meets-West livery, complete with her signature, to be emblazoned across the side of one of the airline’s Boeing 777s. fb.com/mashama.paris.

opened a shop under the name Guo Pei Xi along Shanghai’s Bund a couple of years ago, where demicouture wedding dresses fetch around US$4,000 as opposed to US$800,000. guopei.fr.

WANG TAO, Taoray Wang

During her time as creative director at Broadcast:bo, a popular women’swear label, Wang Tao established herself as one of the country’s canniest female entrepreneurs. With

an eye for expansion, she debuted her eponymous clothing line at the 2014 New York Fashion Week and set the international community atwitter with her clean, feminine silhouettes and classic cuts. For her most recent collection, she opted for a safari-chic aesthetic—picture Out of Africa meets the big city, possibly made with the hope of generating a little extra buzz before the opening of her first U.S. showroom later this year. taoraywang.com.

Two of Masha Ma’s darkhumored designs.

VEGA ZAISHI WANG, Vega Zaishi Wang This rebel designer lit up the runways with her 2012 Alpha Lyrae collection, a series of structured, luminous garments that would look right at home in a Stanley Kubrick film. Although her subsequent works lean less towards the space-age, she still errs on the side of the avantgarde, perhaps a souvenir of time spent interning with Vivienne Westwood while at university. A strong advocate of “smart” fabrics, Wang constantly blurs the boundaries between art and technology. vegazaishiwang.com.

GUO PEI, Rose Studio

Remember Rihanna’s saffron-hued gown at the 2015 Met Gala, also known as “the dress that spawned a thousand memes”? The 25-kilo fox fur- and gold thread-extravaganza that all but enveloped the petite pop star, splashed across the pages of Vogue, and catapulted Beijing-based Guo Pei, who already had two dresses in “China Through the Looking Glass,” into the international spotlight. Although she receives plenty of requests, the couturier caters to a rather select clientele—namely, A-listers such as Zhang Ziyi who can afford bespoke creations like Rihanna’s, which took her team of 300 embroiderers a total of more than 15,000 hours to make. For those not in the 0.01 percent, she

OTHERS TO WATCH Moti Bai, Black Spoon Gothic Lolita grows up with Black Spoon’s ruffled, frilled and layered confections. Moti Bai’s baroque ensembles and doll-like models were just the right amount of over-the-top for Shanghai’s 2015 Fashion Week. Zhou Xiaowen, Hiuman After studying in Paris, Guangzhou-born Zhou Xiaowen set out to conquer Shanghai with spare, crafted menswear. Understated pan-Asian touches add a Zen note to these urbane looks.

Zhang Na, Fake Natoo One of the more influential labels in Shanghai, Fake Natoo draws inspiration from some of the most unexpected sources. Zhang Na’s autumnwinter collection back in 2014 incorporated yak-wool shirts woven by Tibetan nomads, while her latest collection, Microscope, is a feminine, boho affair in silk and lightweight cotton. Dido Liu, Deepmoss Hats worthy of a special day at the races and other flamboyant touches add a

dash of romance to this Central Saint Martinstrained, dreamy designer’s latest collection. Zhang Da, Boundless This trendsetter, who has collaborated with Hermès, launched his first women’swear collection in 2005 and currently sports shops in China’s big cities: Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu. Slightly enigmatic and famously publicity-shy, Zhang Da showcases his experimental creations on ordinary people rather than models.

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/ beyond /N E I G H B O R H O O D

Hip to be Square Wine bars, graffiti art and starlit dining are drawing Penang’s cool kids to Nagore Square. BY MARCO FERR ARESE. PHOTOGR APHED BY KIT YENG CHAN >>

Art alfresco at Nagore Square.

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J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 6   /   T R AV E L A N D L E I S U R E A S I A . C O M


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/ beyond /N E I G H B O R H O O D PENANG’S CREATIVE LIFEBLOOD HAS LEAKED OUT OF

FROM TOP:

Complete your hipster uniform at Foureye Studio; sweets at Brix & Baume; Penang’s young street artists unleashed graffiti murals at Pik Nik; the star of the menu at What the Duck.

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main heritage arteries Chulia Street, Love Lane and Jalan Muntri to feed the pounding core of Nagore Square. This one-way street, lined with gracious two-story Nyonya shophouses, connects Hutton Lane and Burmah Road and is a 10-minute walk from the western end of Chulia Street. Nagore Square remains an insider’s secret, sheltered by a jumble of less-developed side streets. It is getting way too cool to stay on the QT for long though, so now’s the time to follow the beat of this neighborhood on the rise. Nagore’s upsurge started when Lithuanian graffiti master Ernest Zacharevic’s entourage of international and local artists found their gathering space at Pik Nik (15 Nagore Road; 60-16/448-1517; fb.com/piknikeveryday; drinks for two from RM20). The motley group unleashed their creativity upon the very walls of this colonial terrace house back in 2011, transforming it into Nagore’s—and George Town’s—first café for hipsters. Today, Pik Nik is still a magnet for free-spirited mavericks, but also a cozy place to lepak, the local lingo for chilling out. Besides sipping hot cuppas, try the Waffle Salmonster (RM12); the smoked salmon, scrambled egg, mayonnaise and black pepper is Pik Nik’s best piece of art. At the end of 2014, international street-art project Urban Xchange (urbanxchange2015.com) propelled Pik Nik’s edgy art farther down Nagore Road. The vine-tangled lots were transformed from a cluster of worker barracks into canvases for colorful spray-painted murals. As the new luster drew attention, Nagore Road’s placid Nyonya houses bloomed into brand-new restaurants and shops, and in May of last year a crew of debonair young locals set up three rows of restaurants, watering holes and boutiques in the former cell-like shelters. Now Nagore Square is all about alfresco fine dining and casual hangouts, where the scene-makers gather to while away Penang’s steamy nights. Above the chatter and clinking of glasses you can almost hear the rhythmic pounding of the city’s quickening pulse. EATS The quirky name is not the only draw to What the Duck (40 Nagore Rd.; 60-4/227-8840; fb.com/ whattheduckrestaurant; dinner for two RM60), an Asianfusion restaurant set in a restored Nyonya house. The menu is all about, you guessed it, duck, from the bananatopped sizzling brownies that come garnished with Italian zabaglione and duck’s-egg ice cream, to their signature duck confit. Served over kumara mashed potatoes and roasted garlic, the confit is marinated in spices and oil for an entire day before it starts its slow session in the oven. Call to book one ahead. + For quicker eats, Tian Yi Tian (49 Nagore Rd.; 60-16/410-7610; fb.com/ tianyitiandessert; meal for two from RM20) serves Taiwanese and Malaysian fare in the center of the square, right under the stars. Try the Snowflakes—fresh lychees and fruit-flavored granite topped with cream—or ice


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT:

The entrance of Nagore Square; the Snowflakes, fresh lychees and ice cream at Tian Yi Tian; palling around at Pik Nik; where arts meet eats.

cream spring rolls for dessert, or, if you are more in the mood for something delightfully deep fried, opt for the Taiwanese popcorn chicken. + Brix & Baume (124 Burmah Rd.; 60-4/229-8254; brixandbaume.com; desserts for two from RM25) serves cakes and assorted sweets right at the beginning of Nagore Road.

Bar and ColorCube (55 Nagore Rd.; 60-4/226-3198; fb.com/ colorcubepenang; drinks for two from RM50) make up the holy trinity of Nagore Square’s nightlife, offering a good selection of cocktails, bottled beers and the latest dance beats. They often host DJ sets and talented live bands smack in the middle of the starlit seating area.

DRINKS Ardor Bar & Coffee (41 Nagore Rd.; 60-4/226-3198; fb.com/ ardornagoresquare; drinks for two from RM30) is best visited at night with a cocktail in hand, though after one too many you may want to shift gears and try one of their coffees—the hearty beans are imported from northern Thailand. + Annexed B Kitchen (42 Nagore Rd.; meals for two from RM40) serves saucy pastas and nibbles that marry perfectly with a cold beer. + Opposite, hole-in-thewall Bottles Wine Bar (73 Nagore Rd.; 60-17/408-2928; two glasses of wine from RM50) offers international labels from as far as Chile and France, and makes for a romantic yet casual stop to swig a cup under the moonlight. + At the back of the lane, three side-by-side bars Paraiso, Inside

SHOP Finding vintage eyeglasses boutique Foureye Studio (45 Nagore Rd.; 60-16/470-3555; instagram.com/four.eye. studio; frames with lenses from RM90) next to Nagore Square’s hippest bars shouldn’t be surprising. After all, these days glasses are an integral element of the hipster uniform. “Many of my international customers appreciate having a drink with a new pair of spectacles,” jokes shop manager Lucas Ooi. Thick retro-style Clark Kent frames are de rigueur here, but it’s not all about nerdy black. + Crossing the road to boutique Sixtyfive (65 Nagore Rd.; 60-17/432-1510) you can browse for the latest locally produced or imported casual-chic brands to complete your look. T R AV E L A N D L E I S U R E A S I A . C O M   /   J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 6

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/ beyond /F I E L D N O T E S I nearly killed myself and a friend. A poorly chosen reverse maneuver erupted in five terrifying minutes of our two animals neighing and rearing and hating us and trying to toss us as we clung to their manes and reins while I made myself whisper soothing words instead of screaming, “I don’t want to die!” Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive about remounting a few months later, particularly in the immediate vicinity of other riders. But I had a lesson scheduled with famed American polo coach Rege Ludwig, who winters at the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club. I also had a closet full of polo shirts, so basically I was already an expert, right? Well, at minimum, the goal was to turn me into an aficionado—a St. Regis Aficionado. This program curates cultural immersions that go far beyond your standard market tours to help guests engage with their destination in unexpected ways that suit their actual interests. Each hotel offers different things based on their locations, and they’re often one-on-one with experts. When in Chengdu, take a baijiu-making class with a master and go home with an engraved bottle; in Kauai, sign up for surf lessons with wave-riding legend Bill Hamilton who will craft you a custom board. This is the stuff of true vacation bragging rights, not just because it is so exclusive but also because, as I found, it is incredibly fulfilling. It’s in line with the trend of the increasingly competitive US$1 trillion luxury experiences industry; in a Boston Consulting Group study, wealthy travelers said they reap triple the emotional reward from having a cool experience as from buying a product for the same price. It was a great reason to get back in the saddle. And so, one of the preppiest days of my life (and that is saying a lot) starts with a healthy lunch at St. Regis Bangkok and this property’s take on the Bloody: a lemongrass-, ginger- and chili-spiced Siam Mary.

Blazing Saddles

In a polo lesson with a pro, Jeninne Lee-St. John bucks her fear of horseback riding and embraces her inner—and outer—preppy.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Rege

Ludwig teaches polo novices to supinate and pronate; always wear the appropriate head gear; a St. Regis Bangkok Siam Mary.

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C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P : C O U R T E S Y O F T H A I P O L O & E Q U E S T R I A N C L U B ; J E N I N N E L E E - S T. J O H N ( 2 )

THE L AST TIME I WAS ON A HORSE,


C O U R T E SY O F T H A I P O L O & EQ U E S T R I A N C L U B (3)

Yes, it is certainly inadvisable to drink and ride, but the three of us in today’s clinic have a two-hour car ride pre-ponies. “To not falling off!” we toast. The Thai Polo Club rolls across 240 emerald hectares in Pattaya. Friendly Argentine manager and vet Santiago Bachmann talks us through the basics of a polo match during our tour of the five fields, cross-country track, 250 stables, dressage arenas, jumping stadiums and, heartstring-tugger, the region’s best horse hospital. Already it feels like a successful expedition to parts unknown but awesome. Rege Ludwig is waiting for us at the cage. “I need to warn you about a couple of things: Don’t blame me if you leave here addicted,” says the Pennsylvania native with a wink and a drawl. “When I teach, I touch, no matter whether you’re a woman or a man.” Rege has been doing this for 40 years. If yoga teachers can fix my poses, have at it, horse whisperer. The mallets are kind of elongated and tapered versions of croquet mallets, and you hit the ball with the broad side. During the swing, you rotate your wrist so that the palm, thus the mallet’s head, goes from facing outward behind your body to inward in front of you. “Supinate… pronate… supinate… pronate…” Rege intones as we swing our right arms. The mallets, though not too heavy, are really tall, only about 20 centimeters shorter than me. I’m really short, and I have minimal upper-body strength, so practicing on the ground quickly starts to feel like some twisted white-collar torture. I try to ignore the fact that my arm wants to fall off even before I get atop the wooden horse. Rege is a great cheerleader, but he has coached countless high-scoring polo players and several championship teams. I don’t want to disappoint him. The polo stance is acrobatic. You perch far forward and high in the saddle, engaging the right thigh to grip against tipping over, and, while keeping your posture as erect as possible, you lean over and stretch

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Polo ponies,

ready to play; the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club main field and clubhouse; Ludwig is the consummate cheerleader.

your arm down til the mallet head grazes the ground. Getting each muscle movement right is the only way to counteract gravity so Rege adjusts my leg, straightens my back, tugs my arm. “Great! That looks great! You’re a natural,” he encourages. I’m a kid again, bat above my shoulder, my dad’s saying, “Keep your eye on the ball,” before every softball he pitches. But once Rege helps me find my rhythm, I’m doing both the pitching and hitting. Being in the cage is like being in a giant Skee-Ball lane: hit the balls up the ramp and they come rolling back down. Hit them harder, they come back faster. Supinate! Whack! Pronate! “Now I’m guessing you were an athlete,” Rege says to my increasingly inflated ego. Well, yeah, I used to play field hockey so, like, balls and sticks… shrug… Supinate! Whack! Pronate! This is so fun. It is addictive. Then Rege says, “Let’s try a backhand,” and my head promptly shrinks back to size. No, you don’t use two hands and, no, you don’t switch hands (you’d drop the reins at high speed). You lean your right arm over the left side of the horse, so, really far over, and then pronate and supinate in reverse. What? I try it, lose my mojo, and return to forehand so I can go out on

a win. Rege, ever the confidencebooster, is down with this. Finally it’s time to get on the live horses and put all the moves together. It seems like an awful lot to remember at once, but when it clicks it feels rad, the ball goes shooting across the field. Like in baseball, making contact is all about hand-eye coordination and follow-through. Like in golf, a lighter touch paradoxically yields better results. Rege is able to monitor the three of us individually at the same time, correcting our form but mostly giving props—extremely generous since at this point I can barely heft my right arm above the horse’s butt (which this time I manage not to walk into anyone else’s). He’s also able to read our exhaustion. “Five more minutes,” he says and, sensing our reluctance, adds grinningly, “I told you you’d be addicted.” It’s true, I don’t want to dismount. The consultants are on to something— it’s a triple crown of an experience. stregisaficionado.com; Master the Sport of Kings with Rege Ludwig including two nights at St. Regis Bangkok in a Grand Deluxe room, round-trip transfer to the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club and a four-hour lesson for Bt47,340 for two people, available November through April.

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#VacationEnvy

We’ve all lusted over other people’s travel pictures on social media. But have we really entered the age of the Instagram vacation? BY STEVEN KURUTZ ILLUSTR ATION BY MARCOS CHIN

I had only the vaguest knowledge of Santorini. Somewhere in the Mediterranean, right? One of those islands off the coast of Spain where beautiful, underemployed people go to dance to deep house? Now, I am a mine of information about Santorini, and desperately want to go. What changed? I’ve been enticed by that digital-age travel agent: Instagram.

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You know how five people on your feed will all post from the same Napa winery within a week and you’re like, Is this a conspiracy? Well, it was that way for me with Santorini. Everyone was vacationing on the island, which I learned from a brief Google search is Greek, and in the Aegean Sea. For weeks I was smacked in the face with high-contrast shots of brilliant white houses against cobalt

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water. The place looked otherworldly, and ridiculously beautiful. I started imagining a Greek sojourn, checking flight costs. I already knew where I’d stay: Atrina Traditional Houses, the same cliff-side hotel in the village of Oia where one of the Instagrammers stayed. She’d posted a twilight ’gram from the balcony, with the caption, “I guess you don’t need filters in Greece.” Twist the knife!


Once Santorini’s sun had set, it was Cuba’s turn to start blowing up my feed. After that came Morocco, then Iceland. All dramatic, picturesque, highly ’grammable destinations. Not a coincidence. Instagram colors so much of how we travel. I can’t be the only one who spent his honeymoon seeking out ’gram-worthy moments. Now, anytime my wife and I go someplace, it’s like we’re producing our own personal ad campaign. Even while home I’m traveling virtually, tracking my friends’ feeds and asking aloud, and with envy, “How can he be in Stockholm one week, L.A. the next and Mykonos two weeks later? Doesn’t he have a job?!” This echo-chamber effect has made Instagram into an unintended trip-planning tool. Users are following the digital trail blazed by the people they follow—going to the same cities, booking the same hotels, eating the same mahimahi tacos at the same photogenic surf shacks. Christi Cahill, who works for a Manhattan-based public relations firm, spent a week in March lounging at the Eden Roc at Cap Cana resort, in the Dominican Republic. She chose it after a woman she follows on Instagram posted from there. “The photo looked gorgeous. I told my boyfriend, ‘Let’s check it out.’ Instagram is what took us there.” Of course the Eden Roc lived up to its image. The members of our Instagram network, with whom we share so many staged life moments, somehow seem like friends. They share our interests—or at least have an aesthetic we find inspiring. So their travel itineraries come pre­approved. As Cahill said of the woman whose vacation she cribbed: “I knew she had good taste.” Instagram has gotten wise to its growing influence on travelers and their habits. The company has added a “Shop Now” button to ads, so that users can act immediately on their travel fantasies. Its updated search feature offers the ability to

hunt for places by geo-tag, widening the image trove far beyond hashtags and users to create a huge database. Blake Barnes, product manager of Search, said that the geo-tag tool was designed in part to solve common travel problems. Like, for example, the weather. “If I want to go skiing right now, I can look up Tahoe or Squaw Valley and see pictures of the conditions before I jump in the car,” Barnes said. “Search is a way to transport yourself anywhere in the world,” in real time. I wonder if I’ve inspired my followers to go on a journey. Did anyone dash off to Minot, North Dakota, after I posted a photo from there of a cowboy taking a smoke break in the cool morning sun? I hope not. Minot was drab, and the photo was taken on a quick stop on Amtrak’s Empire Builder longdistance train. I confess, my real “inspiration” was the opportunity to humble-brag that I was traveling coast-to-coast over a seldom-seen part of the country. Which raises a potential problem with taking a trip based on an Instagram picture, no matter how alluring it appears on your smartphone screen. We all know, deep down, those images of tanned bodies on the beach and sunsets seen from a mountaintop are probably posed, heavily edited, and posted for a variety of sociocultural reasons that go far beyond wanting to share a personal moment. They may represent the truth, but it’s almost certainly not the whole truth. Is Santorini a beautiful place to vacation? Very possibly. But more to the point, it looks beautiful on Instagram. Its cash-strapped government should rebrand itself: “Greece is for Instagrammers.” Because in the photos I saw, there were no bank runs, no crowds of angry pensioners, no desperate immigrants. Only radiant white houses, adorable domed churches, and inviting, deep blue seas. I, for one, can’t wait to ’gram from there someday—#nofilter.


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Change Is Coming In 2016, new companies, products and trends will alter the way we fly, drive and stay—mostly for the better. Here are eight ways your travel experience is about to get shaken up. BY SARA CLEMENCE AND MONSICHA HOONSUWAN ILLUSTRATIONS BY AUTCHARA PANPHAI

1. IN AIRLINES, SMALL WILL BE THE NEW BIG. Sometimes it seems like airline news is all about large carriers merging into even larger ones. But the next couple of years will be about the rise of niche airlines— new regional networks, commuter carriers and even flying clubs. Their main focus is on business travelers, but vacationers who live far from the huge hubs can benefit, too. Expect airline service to come back to cities that have lost it, and the introduction of new commercial flights between some locations for the first time, says Henry Harteveldt, founder of the travel advisory firm Atmosphere Research Group. Last year, Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines (csair.com) unlocked air access to smaller Asian cities by adding at least four routes served by no other carriers, including Shenzhen to Saigon, Changsha to

Tokyo, Nanning to Chiang Mai and Guangzhou to Nyingchi, in Tibet. In Australia, jet-charter company Jetgo (jetgo.com) started regular commercial flights at the end of 2014 with its fleet of 36-seat Embraer Regional Jets, which can travel as far as Sri Lanka and China. But the airline’s current focus is interlinking the country’s west coast. Last year they started services from Dubbo, 400 kilometers northwest of Sydney, to Brisbane and Melbourne’s Avalon airports, and from the beef capital of Rockhampton to Gold Coast’s and Townsville’s terminals. By making Thailand’s U-Tapao airport its fifth base, Thai AirAsia (airasia. com) now connects Singapore, Macau and mainland China directly to Pattaya and its sleepy eastcoast neighbors.

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3. ONE-STOP SHOPPING WILL COST MORE.

2. YOU’LL GET TO NEW DESTINATIONS DIRECT. Big new planes like the Airbus A350 and A380 and Boeing’s Dreamliner are allowing carriers to explore their longhaul possibilities. “Assuming we have no new geopolitical crises,” Harteveldt says, “you’ll probably see a lot of new routes introduced in 2016.” Some of these will be boons for business travelers—Air India is talking about shuttling between the tech capitals

of Bangalore and San Francisco, for instance. But they’ll also create new direct opportunities as well as reviving old ones. The delivery of Singapore Airlines’ first A350 early this year will make the only nonstop flight between Southeast Asia and the U.S. possible once more, after the airline discontinued the route in 2013. All Nippon Airways, with the world’s largest Dreamliner fleet, relaunched its Tokyo to Sydney service last December after a 15year hiatus, while United Airlines is also taking Dreamliners from Auckland and Xi’an to San Francisco.

4. LOBBIES WILL GET LOUNGIER.

Airlines, hotels and other travel companies have been battling it out with online travel agencies such as Expedia and Booking. com—and travelers could be both winners and losers. The OTAs charge travel companies big commissions for bookings and also saddle them with the cost of providing data about flights, rooms and cars. Which is why you will start finding the cheapest fares and rates on the hotels’ and airlines’ own sites. One recent example: in September, Lufthansa imposed a US$17 fee on flights bought through third parties. And like other brands that are trying to incentivize you to buy straight from them, Hilton is offering special advantages to guests who book direct, letting them choose specific rooms and check in over the phone. Expect more penalties and perks to come.

On your next visit to a favorite hotel, you may wonder where the front desk went. The new entryway is sexier and younger—the kind of place a millennial might enjoy camping out with a laptop and a cup of cold-brewed coffee. And that traditional chest-high check-in desk has probably been swapped out for something less formal (and sometimes more confusing). “It’s, what would look cool on Instagram?” says Bjorn Hanson of New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality & Tourism. This trend is popping up left and right in Australia. Last year, Singapore hotelier Loh Lik Peng opened his first property in Sydney, The Old Clare, transforming an alley between two historic buildings into a lobby so cool it has become a neighborhood hangout. In Perth, the Alex Hotel lobby is centered around a 12-seat dining table for a convivial pop-up restaurant vibe. “I’m convinced that lobby renovations are at an all-time high,” Hanson says.

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6. FIRST CLASS WILL BE SMALLER (BUT BETTER).

5. MORE HOTELS WILL JOIN THE FEE-ING FRENZY. Hotels may be pulling in only a fraction of the US$38.1 billion in fees that airlines scored in 2014. But they’re doing their best to catch up. U.S. properties are expected to have made a record US$2.47 billion in 2015 by tacking extra charges onto their room rates, according to a report by Hanson. He predicts they’ll top that in 2016. We’re not just talking about resort fees—charges for amenities such as swimming pools and tennis courts that have been around for a couple of decades. These days hotels are trying to ding guests for everything from nonsmoking rooms to hair dryers. Want to get into your room a couple of hours early? In the past hotels would have handed over the key for free, if everything was ready. “Now, even though your room might be available, they might charge you US$30 or US$50,” Hanson says. At MGM Resorts’ Mirage Las Vegas, guests can pay an “express” fee to bypass the check-in desk and access a room early. At the nearby Bellagio, you can request a nonsmoking (or smoking) room, but it

won’t be guaranteed unless you pay a US$30-a-night surcharge. On the budget end of the spectrum, don’t be surprised to see more hotels that take à la carte to the extreme. Malaysian hotel group Tune, for instance, which has locations in Australia and across Southeast Asia, charges as little as A$79 a night for a room in central Melbourne. But that doesn’t include television, daily maid service or towels— all available for extra fees.

7. UPGRADES WILL OPEN UP. With airlines replacing first-class seats with business-class ones (see: No. 6), it will be easier to get upgraded from coach to premium economy, and from premium economy to business. It’s simple math: Business-class seats are smaller than first-class, so refitted cabins will have more inventory. This will probably lead to discounts in business class, too.

For several years airlines have been shrinking—and in some cases, discarding—their first-class sections in favor of business-class seats, a trend that will soon reach a peak. Corporate fliers pulled back on firstclass travel in the last recession and never really returned, says Rick Seaney, CEO of flight-data firm FareCompare. “And individuals who would pay full price are choosing private jets.” Lufthansa is slashing the percentage of flights with first-class cabins from 90 to 75 percent. Qatar Airways will keep first class only in its 10 new A380s. Cathay Pacific is leaving the fanciest seats out of the 26 Airbus A350-1000s being put into service in 2016. Even Singapore Airlines, one of the first carriers to offer suites, is halving the first-class seats on its 777-300ERs, which make up almost a fourth of its fleet. Now there will only be one row of four. Meanwhile, other carriers are making premium seats swankier—and charging north of US$10,000 for them. In early 2015, Air France unveiled its La Première cabin, with food by highprofile chefs and fold-flat seats that can be curtained off. British Airways debuted an eight-seat (versus the usual 14) first-class cabin in October for its Dreamliners, with 23-inch screens, leather upholstery and personal lockers. Emirates completed a redo of its first-class offerings, too, with a focus on privacy. First class isn’t dead, just richer and thinner.

8. CAR-RENTAL CUSTOMERS WILL GET NEW OPTIONS. Long lines, loads of paperwork and hard-to-reach locations are challenges even for travelers with premium status at auto-rental firms. A handful of upstarts aims to take some pain out of the process. Launched last year in Bali, new startup Tripves (tripves. com) lets drivers book a rental car, with or without a driver, for a set period of time, on its website. Singapore’s biggest peer-to-peer car rental marketplace iCarsClub (icarsclub. com) and its Chinese spinoff PPzuche (ppzuche.com) have more than 120,000 cars available for hire, all with insurance coverage. It is so hassle-free, you don’t even have to worry about locking your keys in the car; all vehicles are hooked up to the server and can be unlocked keylessly. Bain Capital-funded Socar (socar.kr) in South Korea works similarly to Zipcar: members can reserve a car on the mobile application and choose rental time by 10-minute intervals. Over in India, Zoomcar (zoomcar.com) has a fleet of 1,600 cars with 250 pick-up points across six cities.

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BETWEEN THE SHEETS

ASHLEY NIEDRINGHAUS DIVES UNDER THE DUVET TO UNCOVER WHAT MAKES A HOTEL BED SO DREAMY, AND HOW TO REPLICATE IT AT HOME. WHY ARE HOTEL BEDS SO SPECIAL?

Consider the facts: You’re staying in a room that isn’t your responsibility to clean and getting some hard-tofind private time. In the dreamiest of circumstances, your hotelier has invested some serious effort into making sure your sleep is so sweet you never want to leave that bed. Here are a few ways to recreate that blissful experience at home by adding soporific touches. In 1999, Westin Hotels & Resorts debuted its signature Heavenly Bed that had 10 layers of bedding and—in a move the industry experts initially pooh-poohed—the all-white linen motif.

BEDDING DOWN

Our picks for the coziest hotel beds in the region.

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Mandarin Oriental Tokyo offers a 12-option pillow menu, including one filled with horsehair and a warmed aromatherapy pillow. mandarinoriental.

“The Heavenly Bed experience was a game-changer for an industry that wasn’t focused on delivering quality sleep,” says Brian Povinelli, global brand leader for Westin. Westin’s move not only monetized the hotel bed industry with their direct-to-customer sales but also made the white bed the industry standard. The Heavenly bedding currently outfits Delta Air Lines’ business class cabins on international flights. Try it at home: Switching to Westin’s all-white linens (westinstore.com; white-stripe king sheet set US$419) will make cleaning easier and won’t start any color-scheme arguments—quite the contrary, in fact,

com/tokyo; doubles from ¥70,000. The Mulia Bali lulls guests to sleep in the hotel’s custom-built mattresses, with mattress toppers

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for an extra layer of comfiness. They shelled out US$8,000 a pop for even the lowest room category—and you can too at the hotel’s shop. Heck, may as

since one of the reasons hotels have fully adopted all-white bedding is that it has a calming and balancing effect that can make spaces appear larger. Use layering items, like Euro shams or a bolster pillow, to add pops of color. The National Sleep Foundation, a scientific not-for-profit organization located in Washington, D.C., conducted a poll that found respondents slept longer and better when the bed had been made, and the sheets were fresh. Pull back the covers of a hotel bed and notice that on the bottom, rather than a traditional fitted sheet, is an extra-long flat sheet, which is easier to run through the commercial pressing machine. Try it at home: Take your sheets warm from the dryer straight to the bedroom, smoothing them with your hands as you fit them on the surface, and touch up the top sheet and the duvet with a low-heat iron once they’re on the bed. Here is a tip from the Four Seasons’ housekeeping staff to steal wholesale, a move they call the “Issy Fold” after the brand’s founder Isadore “Issy” Sharp. Loosen the tuck of the flat sheet and wiggle it free by about 20-centimeters to create a pocket along the bottom so you can easily move your feet. To help guests sleep better after checkout, many brands sell their mattresses, pillows and bed linens. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts have started introducing out their new Simmons mattresses with exclusive temperature regulation technology and three zip-on mattress-topper options in new hotel rooms and for retail sales. In January, this bed will be available in the new villas in Bali and the worldwide rollout is expected to be complete by 2017. Try it at home: Mattresses have a life expectancy of a decade; so if your lumpy oldie needs replacing, consider buying from a favorite hotel (and perhaps justify a vacation in the name of research). Four Seasons Bed fourseasons.com; US$2,999 for king mattress and box spring. + Westin’s Heavenly Bed westinstore.com; US$2,395 for a king mattress and box spring.

well spring for a set of their linens too. themulia.com; doubles from US$420. The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai has a mattress made

with special coils to regulate body temperature, and 800-thread-count sheets. ritzcarlton. com/shanghai; doubles from RMB1,288.

C O U RT ESY O F FO U R S E AS O N S

Bring the plush Four Seasons’ bed home.


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DEALS | T+L READER SPECIALS

CITY BANGKOK

From a breakfast with leopards in Sri Lanka to a soothing personal-hot-spring soak in Japan, this month’s offers represent some of the dreamiest ways to begin the year.

Shangri-La Whether your flight was a short hop or a red-eye long haul, the Jetlag Recovery massage at Chi Spa, delivered to you at 20-percent off, can help knead out those tight muscles and restore internal balance. If you find yourself falling for the Chao Phraya’s many charms, extend your stay to five nights and receive a complimentary set dinner at Shang Palace or Angelini to boot. The Deal Fantastic Deal: two nights in a Krungthep River View room, from Bt7,300 for two, through February 29. Save 23%. shangri-la.com. THE PHILIPPINES

Marco Polo Davao Not only does your weekend escape here on Mindanao Island feature a P500 dining credit and a 15-percent savings on spa treatments, but also the view of Mount Apo, an active volcano and the country’s tallest peak; the rich terrain blanketed by orchid farms and fruit plantations; and, if you’re lucky, a rare sighting of the Philippine eagle. The Deal Weekend Getaway: two nights in a Deluxe room, from P5,473 for two, through the end of March. Save 20%. marcopolohotels.com.

Shangri-La Bangkok’s waterfront.

SUPER SAVER Komaneka at Bisma, Bali Pratice yoga to the sound of a rushing river, read on your oversized balcony, or stroll through the resort’s own rice fields at this Ubud haven where the peaceful evergreen surrounds are down-right hypnotic. The Deal Bisma Suite Experience: a night in a Bisma suite, from Rp5,082,000 for two, ongoing. Save 35%. komaneka.com.

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FROM TOP: COURTESY OF SHANGRI-L A BANGKOK; COURTESY OF KOMANEK A

HONG KONG

Cosmopolitan More family fun and less hassle in the Wanchai hotel’s justrenovated two-queen-bed rooms. The little ones get their own bathrobes and slippers, fit to their sizes, and extra-gentle bath products from Mustela and Johnson & Johnson. There are plenty of surprises to keep them excited, from the teddy bear and snack box waiting on the bed, to the mobile library stocked with English and Chinese storybooks. When the city’s bustling bars call, take advantage of the free two-hour babysitting service and head out for a tipple, or two. The Deal Beyond ThoughtfulFantastic 4 Family: a night in a Deluxe Family Quad room, from


HK$1,360 for two adults and two kids, ongoing. Save 20%. cosmopolitanhotel.com.hk. MACAU

St. Regis Macao, Cotai Central The 400 new rooms and suites that opened last month in the the Sands complex are eyepoppingly elegant, accented in turquoise and gold. This offer comes with a HK$600 hotel credit, as well as a welcome gift, daily breakfast for two at The Manor, late checkout, beverages for two upon arrival, and, if you’re an SPG member, double Starpoints. Happy holidays indeed. The Deal Celebratory package: a night in a Deluxe room, from HK$2,688 for two, through March 31. Save 23%. stregis.com.

REGIONAL ASIA-PACIFIC

Hyatt Whether it’s playing blackjack at the City of Dreams Manila or ice-skating under the stars in Seoul, 65 Hyatt hotels in AsiaPacific are prepared to offer you a discount over the holidays, so you can celebrate the season in style at the destination of your dreams. The Deal Holiday Seasonal: a night in a standard room, from US$90 for two, through February 29. Save up to 25%. hyatt.com.

villa, from US$2,100 for six; book by March 1. Save 25%. samujana.com. BALI

Belmond Jimbaran Puri Marbled floor, teak furniture, black-stone bathtub are only the beginning of your blissful break in one of the frangipaniscented pool villas. If you want to take back a bit of Bali, browse the boutique stocked with artisanal local goods or, better yet, just kick it in your own peaceful residence flipping through the in-room catalogue—all purchased items will be wrapped and delivered within 24 hours. The Deal Aspects of Asia: two nights in a Deluxe Pool villa, from US$550 for two; book by February 29 via info.jpb@ belmond.com. Save 30%. belmond.com.

ROMANCE THAILAND

Beyond Resort Khaolak Discover the wonder of the coral-rich Similan Islands together on a diving excursion for two that whisks you out to sea with delicious picnic lunch basket. Then return to this grown-ups-only land of lovebirds prepared to imbibe from sun up to sun down, with the resort’s daily champagne breakfast and a private wine

dinner on the beach, and to sate your midday thirsts, complimentary beer and soft drinks in your minibar. The Deal Run Away with Me: three nights in a Palm Villa Elite Jacuzzi room, from Bt44,000 for two, through March 31. Save 32%. katagroup.com. BORACAY

Mandala Spa & Resort Villas Take a break from the grind at this wellness-focused island resort, where you can follow your daily beachside sun salutation with a dip in a complimentary aloe bath. And whether you choose to enjoy a Mandala signature massage for two or a dinner for two of delicious “living foods” that cleanse and renew, your body will glow with thanks. The Deal The Great Island Escape: two nights in a Garden villa, from P12,998 for two, through May 31. Save 27%. mandala spaandresortvillas.com.

CULTURE JAPAN

Nakanobo Zuien A small town whose fame eclipses its size, Arima boasts the oldest hot springs in Japan. Both types of Arima’s healing waters, the Kinsen and Ginsen, feed into the private, open-air tubs at this luxury Japanese

ryokan, easing pains and increasing your body’s ability to recover. After detoxing in the hot springs, replenish your system with delicious kaiseki dinner and multicourse breakfast served in your spacious room. After all, you didn’t come this far just for the onsen: Hyogo Prefecture’s legendary meat, the Kobe beef, is on the menu, along with another local staple Fukuju sake. The Deal Stay at Nakanobo Zuien: a night in a Japanese-and-Western-style VIP room with Ginsen open-air bath, from ¥137,600 for two, through March 31; book at info@ryokancollection.com with code RCNTL2016. Save 20%. ryokancollection.com. SRI LANKA

Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort Courage is on the menu at this breakfast among the leopards at Yala National Park, which has the world’s largest concentration of the spotted cats. You’ll be driven in via a jeep early morning and spend four hours spying on leopards and other creatures, like sloth bears and jackals. The Deal Wildlife Package: a night in a Luxury Beach villa, from US$850 for two, through February 29. Save 27%. tangalle.anantara.com.

BEACH

C O U R T E S Y O F A N A N TA R A P E A C E H AV E N TA N G A L L E

KOH SAMUI

Samujana Go ahead and cocoon with five friends; you may not have to interact with a single stranger while vacationing at one of Samujana’s enormous villas overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. At a starting size of 320 square meters, a three-bedroom duplex villa has a saltwater infinity pool you can swim laps in, a fully fitted kitchen, and a quiet roof deck for daily yoga sessions. You might consider moving on in, because nothing brings people closer like a week together in a secluded sprawling villa. The Deal Complimentary Night: four nights in a private pool

Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort, in Sri Lanka.

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CLODAGH KILCOYNE/GE T T Y IMAGES

Cunard's imposing Queen Mary 2.

GOING DEEP

Cruising today is about so much more than being aboard a floating hotel with an endless buffet. The best ships now offer immersive experiences in less-charted waters—in Indonesia, Egypt, the Marquesas, Burma—places you’d be hard-pressed to access through any other type of travel. And the onboard talent, from accomplished naturalists to lauded chefs, can serve to enhance the journey and bring a place to life. Our selection of ships and itineraries promises to expand your horizons, so you can board a novice and disembark an expert. T R AV EL A NDLEISUR E A SI A .COM / JA NUA RY 2016

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INDONESIA

cruising

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What Lies Beneath AN EXPEDITION SHIP TAKES PETER HELLER INTO REMOTEST INDONESIA—AND GIVES HIM ONE AWE-INSPIRING EXPERIENCE AFTER ANOTHER.

THE BL ACK ZODIAC skimmed

Jellyfish bob in a jade lagoon on Kakaban atoll, just off Borneo's eastern coast.

fast over blue water. The bow skipped and pounded into the light swell and threw back spray, aiming for a small green island floating low on the sea. From the island, a long dock. The inflatable bumped into it, and my wife, Kim, and I clambered out and trotted to the deep shade of the trees. The path led straight to the edge of a jade-green lake, rimmed with dense forest. Exuberant birdcalls rang out over the water. Already the morning was abundant with two ingredients of certain happiness—delicious coffee at dawn, and a wild body of water to swim in. I thought: It can’t get any better than this. I was wrong. Because the lake was not just any lake; it was in the middle of a coral atoll called Kakaban, at the head of the Makassar Strait, 60 kilometers off the east coast of Borneo. And because it had taken us nine days and 3,700 kilometers to get here, sailing from Darwin, on the Silversea Silver Discoverer expedition ship. And, most of all, because the lagoon is one of the very strangest places on Earth. We put on masks and snorkels and slipped into warm water and it was hard at first to stay calm. Pulsing all around us were thousands upon thousands of orange jellyfish. They were the size of small human hearts. We lay motionless as the throbbing, velvety domes bumped our legs, our arms, our ears. Stingless

* Prices throughout are listed in US dollars; rates are per person based on double occupancy unless noted otherwise.

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The pool deck aboard the Silver Disoverer.

and benign. As each jelly­fish beat its translucent, yolk-like mass to a similar tempo, we began to feel like we were floating in a soundless music, as if we were suspended in some kind of jellyfish heaven. Tiny, transparent needlefish swam back and forth in front of our masks. Kim squeezed my hand and stuck her head into air and took out the snorkel. “Hey!” she said. “I have a confession: I kissed one on the lips!” I said, “I’m jealous.” Then paused. “How did you even know where its lips are?” She made a face and went back under. When our fingertips had turned to raisins, we climbed out and ran up the boardwalk and back through the rain forest to the island’s outer shore, where we swam out to the edge of the reef. We dove down into clouds of fish. A large green sea turtle glided by, curious, just beyond our reach. This was a trip I had always wanted to make: traveling from Australia to Borneo, up through the Malay Archipelago— threading Indonesia’s 17,500 islands, straight into the heart of

the Coral Triangle, one of the world’s epicenters of marine diversity. I’m a veteran adventurer who has spent far too many nights sleeping on the ground, and I never imagined making the journey on a luxury expedition ship. “Luxury” means that the Discoverer was outfitted for 120 passengers and 96 crew—a pretty good ratio. It also means “all-inclusive,” with a sommelier to help pair wines with your meals, and lectures by experts on everything from Indonesian weaving to how fish talk to one another. (No kidding.) Sweetest of all to me, someone who adores good coffee, was that every morning at daybreak there was a double tap at our cabin door by the butler, Georgin, who delivered a carafe of Indonesian dark roast and two flat whites. Kim and I would sip the coffee on our balcony while the breeze blew the curtains and a molten sun rose like a burning ship lifting from the horizon. The Discoverer has a library, a lounge, and a back deck with a swimming pool, from which one can order exotic coffees or cocktails at almost

any time of day or night. But our own little balcony was the most marvelous, especially at dawn. “Expedition” means that the ship is smaller and more agile than the big cruise ships I often see, and can get close to the smallest islands and dock at barely-mapped ports. What the ship does not have is a casino and miniature golf. What it does have: a fleet of a dozen fast Zodiacs that are always ready to deploy for close-up exploration. Plus a team of world-class naturalists and divers to help you ID birds and fish and geologic features. It’s rough-and-ready matched with real elegance. That magical morning, after hours in the water, we ate a perfect lunch of roast pork and virgin mojitos on the aft pool deck. We shared the meal with a theater critic from London and a children’s book author from Australia. The Brit described how he had developed a passion for monkeys, almost an obsession. It was part of the reason he was on this trip, he said. The dessert was my favorite, strawberry panna cotta, and I thought: I could get used to this. >>

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Children playing in the shallows near the whaling village of Lamalera.

What I could not get used to was where we had been in the last 10 days. The best travel always seems at some point like a dream, but this was going beyond surreal. Had we really docked in Sulawesi, the great scorpion-shaped island east of Borneo, and ventured up into the western mountains to Tana Toraja, home of “the culture of the dead"? The people there live in palm groves among the rice

paddies in tall, boat-shaped houses with high prows at either end, and save up all their lives for funerals. These can involve up to 80 sacrificial water buffalo— each of which can cost thousands of US dollars—as well as temporary funeral houses (as large as homes in the village) and tau tau, life-size carved-wood statues of their ancestors. Of course, when a grandmother dies, no one can afford all this

right away, so the family hires someone to embalm her with formalin and herbs and prop her in the kids’ room where she can be “sick” for many years; a child offers her meals three times a day and asks, “Tea, Grandma?” and no one is bothered that she never answers or eats. In early evening, as the low sun lit the lush and jagged limestone ridges and turned the rice paddies a tender, brilliant green, we walked

They Might Be Giants Don’t write off the big lines just because of their scale. Sometimes at sea, great experiences come in extra-large sizes.

What we love Debuting this summer, the 750-passenger, all-suite vessel will have the largest verandas at sea. Why it matters More space outside, more space inside. Perks Passengers can have Canyon Ranch spa treatments, then retreat to their cabin deck. All Regent prices include airfare, gratuities, wine and spirits, and excursions. rssc.com.

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Norwegian Escape

What we love The Haven, a private area with 95 staterooms. Why it matters The intimacy of a small boat with the benefits of a massive vessel. Perks The ship-within-a-ship is like a gated community of all balcony cabins with butlers and a serene pool. Haven guests can hit the amenities of the rest of the ship, but the area is off-limits to other passengers. ncl.com.

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Oceania Cruises

What we love Locavore adventures right on board. Why it matters Foodies can immerse themselves in cuisines of areas they’ll be visiting before they’ve even docked in port. Perks Small-scale winepairing dinners, hands-on cooking classes and half a dozen gourmet restaurants with menus by celebrated chef Jacques Pépin. oceania​ cruises.com

Holland America Koningsdam

What we love The line’s biggest ship ever, with room for 2,650 passengers, launches in April. Why it matters Interior designer Adam D. Tihany’s contemporary touch is an important evolution to HAL’s nautical style. Perks New partnerships with Chateau Ste. Michelle and BBC Earth deliver crazy amenities. holland​america.com.

OSCAR SIAGIAN/GET T Y IMAGES

Regent Seven Seas Explorer


Tana Toraja, Indonesia.

among one of these temporary villages, and saw the wide-eyed tau tau looking down from the cliffs, along with skulls lining the ledges. We passed a living burial tree where deceased infants are interred in carved holes so the tree will grow over and around them. And on the way home we stopped at a funeral in its seventh day; the black-clad relatives had the dogged look of fans at a 12-inning baseball game, and we had to step around the sticky pools of blood of unfortunate buffalo. Maybe even more startling was the whaling village of

BASRI MAR ZUKI/ZUMA PRESS/CORBIS

Celebrity’s Solstice- and Millennium-class ships

What we love Luminae, a private-access restaurant. Why it matters Suite passengers now have a luxurious dining experience— fewer than 100 will occupy the space at a time. Perks Three-course, elaborate dinners that include amusebouches like tuna tartare and entrées such as côte de boeuf. celebrity​cruises.com.

Lamalera on the Savu Sea. Georgin had knocked, as usual, at dawn. He spread a tablecloth and laid out coffee, fresh croissants, and eggs Benedict. Georgin is from Mumbai. He has a bright smile and a sweet nature but an uncertain future, because he is addicted to Breaking Bad and has only three episodes left. I took the espresso out to the balcony and blinked. A volcanic mountain rose out of the mist. Green and rugged, it floated on the smooth sea like a fairy-tale island. Could it be that there are still places on the planet this remote?

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2

What we love Single cabins. Why it matters Solo travelers typically have to pay for two— but not any longer aboard the 175-year-old line's everpopular ship. Perks On the 2,695-passenger Queen Mary 2, 15 single cabins are well priced and have ocean views. There are 30 additional balcony staterooms, too—though these are still aimed at couples. cunard.com.

Clinging to the edge of a rocky cove was a cluster of small houses, a pastel-blue chapel, a line of thatched-roof huts from which stuck the proud prows of wooden longboats. Later we piled into Zodiacs and landed on the sand. In front of the boathouses, crews sat crosslegged before their outrigger canoes—12 to 14 men per boat— and greeted us shyly as they smoked. They were whalers. When a lookout on the point spotted a whale spout, the men ran the boats down to the water and leaped in and paddled, and raised a sail made of woven palms. They gave us a demo. They slid their boats to the sea. They sang as they rowed. Amazing that they hunted sperm whales from such slender craft. When they got close enough, a harpooner on the bowsprit leaped whaleward and threw a spear as he fell. He might land on the back of the whale, who sometimes killed the man and wrecked the boat. In the chapel back in town, the statue of Jesus held a harpoon. I am not in favor of whaling, but these villagers have zero flat ground for farming, and they trade the meat for vegetables from a village inland. It is a subsistence-and-barter economy—very rare in 2015. Only one other ship had stopped in to visit them in the past five years. However one feels about their practice, it was a remarkable anachronism to witness. >>

Viking Ocean Cruises

What we love The infinityedge pool on Deck 7. Why it matters Viking ventured into the open seas in 2015, and this year adds a fourth ship. It has a pool that will make you feel like you could float off into the deep blue sea. Perks Things not normally factored into the price—Wi-Fi, port excursions—are part of the rate. vikingoceancruises. com.

Paul Gauguin Cruises

What we love Shipboard water-sports marina. Why it matters Few other ships have snorkeling, kayaking and windsurfing just off the aft deck, which is right at sea level. Perks Tahitian staff bring authenticity to the 332-passenger Paul Gauguin. New itineraries go to the Society Islands and the Tuamotus. pgcruises.com. 

— JANE WOOLDRIDGE

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A brave monkey aerial dives across Kinabatangan River, in Borneo.

KIM AND I SLEEP beautifully on ships. Something about the roll and the wash of the waves through the open door lulls us into deep slumber. The next week would bring more scenes that might have come straight from our dreams. In Borneo, on launches up the wild Kinabatangan River, we saw proboscis monkeys jumping from tree to tree, and places where pygmy elephants had trampled the bank, and brilliant hornbills, and storm storks, and kingfishers the color of wild

roses beating fast upriver. One night we stood on our balcony and got drenched in a squall that drove the rain sideways and laced the sky with lightning from horizon to horizon. As fast as it had come it cleared, and the Southern Cross hung over a placid sea. At a Dayak village, up the Kayan River, we shook the hands of about 100 villagers in a long line, many of whom wore elaborate beadwork and weavings with headhunter motifs. At the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation

Center, above Sandakan in the Malaysian part of Borneo, Kim and I were fascinated by a wild young male who bent the smaller trees and swung from one to the next, getting closer and closer. Fascinated—until we realized he was stalking us and the guide yelled, “Run! Run!” I was sorry the monkeyloving theater critic was nowhere in sight. In the Makassar Strait, though, on the afternoon of our long sojourn with jellyfish and turtles, we all gathered on the aft deck for an equatorcrossing ceremony. Someone shouted, “Look!” To the west, against the sun, we saw hundreds of spinner dolphins, porpoising through a boil of tuna. The dolphins leaped from the sea and spun in the air, throwing shards of silver into the sky. Birds circled overhead. I reached for my wife and held her hand. A piece of the world still worked. In this far sea, it held a beauty beyond reckoning. 14-night cruises through Indonesia from $9,950, allinclusive; silversea.com.

Charting a Different Course Cruise with an unconventional company, and you’ll have an uncommon adventure. Un-Cruise Adventures

C.P.T.M.

Paul Gauguin’s beloved Marquesas Islands still lie off the main sea routes for most ships. Not so for this Tahitibased line, which combines low-key port calls with cargo deliveries. In 2016, guests (and supplies) will make 14-day voyages on the new 103-stateroom Aranui 5, featuring four bars, an outdoor swimming pool and expert lecturers. aranui.com.

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It creates itineraries for active travelers and nature enthusiasts that include snorkeling amid whale sharks in Mexico’s Sea of Cortés; kayaking alongside Alaska’s glaciers; and hiking among the Galápagos Islands’ blue-footed boobies. Sailings are limited to 90 guests and include naturalists, local brews and fish pulled fresh from the sea. un-cruise.com.

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Fathom

Star Clippers

This is one of the few lines to specialize in true tall-ship sailings, with a seasoned crew to haul the lines, mix the martinis, and serve Continental-style cuisine. Three ships—two carrying 170 guests, plus a third with 227— set sheets to the wind in the Caribbean, Europe and Asia during seven-night cruises; a fourth is on the way later this year. starclippers.com.

Carnival’s just-launched oneship brand focuses on voluntourism, so roll up your sleeves and get ready to work. On the ground, passengers toil alongside locals to, say, plant cacao in the Dominican Republic or help out a teacher at an elementary school in Cuba. Seven-night sailings take place aboard the new 704-passenger Adonia. fathom.org. — J.W.

C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P L E F T: A U S C A P E / G E T T Y I M A G E S ; C O U R T E S Y O F FAT H O M ; C O U R T E S Y O F S TA R C L I P P E R S ; C O U R T E S Y O F U N - C R U I S E A D V E N T U R E S ; L U I S D AV I L L A / G E T T Y I M A G E S

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CLOCK WIS FROM TOP COURTESY OF THE EIGHTH; COURTESY OF MAR A HOFFMAN; COURTESY OF GIORGIO ARMANI; COURTESY OF HERMÈS; COURTESY OF CLINIQUE; COURTESY OF T E VA ; C O U R T E S Y O F L E V I ' S ; C O U R T E S Y O F E U G E N I A K I M ; C O U R T E S Y O F C H A N L U U ; C O U R T E S Y O F S A LVAT O R E F E R R A G A M O ; C O U R T E S Y O F U N I Q L O

All the essentials for boat-bound travelers, whether for an Arctic excursion or a day on the beach.  1. The eighth long johns in a cashmere blend. theeighth.com; $795. 2. Uniqlo men’s down jacket. uniqlo.com; $130. 3. Salvatore Ferragamo sling bag. ferragamo.com; $696. 4. Chan Luu printed scarf. chanluu.com; $160. 5. Eugenia Kim wool beanie. eugeniakim. com; $250. 6. Levi’s socks. levi.com; $18.

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7. Mara Hoffman maxi dress. marahoffman. com; $290. 8. Helen Kaminski raffia visor. helenkaminski.com; $155. 9. Giorgio Armani sunglasses. armani.com; $290. 10. Hermès wicker bag. Hermès stores worldwide; $7,800. 11. Clinique For Men sunscreen. clinique.com; $30.  12. Teva Women's classic mush sandals. teva.com; $25. — JANE BISHOP

A Virtual Voyage Time to read—at last—and a few new titles to get started. For those long stretches at sea, when the sky is endless and your mind is restless, three transporting new novels will take you on a different kind of journey. Garth Greenwell’s poetic debut What Belongs to You (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) tells of a lonely American teacher who encounters a young hustler in Sofia, Bulgaria. Serge Brussolo’s surreal The Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome (Melville House), translated from the French by Edward Gauvin, is about our dreams—and the people who can enter them. And Leila Aboulela’s The Kindness of Enemies (Grove Atlantic) is a richly imagined novel about a halfRussian, half-Sudanese female professor whose studies of a 19th-century Muslim leader become a portal into his world. The story alternates between two narratives: his in the Caucasus Mountains of the 1830s and hers in the present. — THESSALY L A FORCE

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Alone in the Valley of the Kings SAILING UP THE NILE OFFERED STEPHANIE DANLER MORE THAN JUST EASE OF TRAVEL—IT WAS A MOMENT OF MAGICAL SOLITUDE.

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The Karnak Temple complex, in Luxor

hesitant to book a cruise along the Nile. Beyond concerns about general safety in Egypt, my travel companion, Eli, and I certainly didn’t consider ourselves “cruise people.” Being told what time to eat? Group activities? Would we truly get to see Egypt or would we be carted around in air-conditioned comfort? After weighing all the many recommendations, we booked a four-night cruise with Sanctuary Retreats aboard the Sun Boat IV, starting in Luxor and sailing upriver toward Aswan. There are dozens of options for Nile cruises, but Sanctuary Retreats has a deserved reputation for luxury. Even from shore, the ship stood out: it was petite, modern, unlike the other towering barges that were tied up along the docks. I could see the white cabanas lining the top deck, the balconies outside each of the 40 staterooms. Eli and I were greeted with ice-cold hibiscus tea once we stepped aboard the Sun Boat IV, and we officially didn’t have to think anymore. And we unofficially had Egypt to ourselves. As you may have read, there is no one in Egypt right now. By “no one” I mean very, very few American travelers like ourselves. In every city in which our ship made port, hotel owners sat with me and Eli at breakfast, overjoyed to see foreign guests, and hoping we were harbingers of the return of Americans to Egypt. Tourism has been a foundation of the Egyptian

RICHARD MASCHMEYER /ROBERTHARDING/GET T Y IMAGES

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economy for at least a hundred years, and that underpinning has all but disappeared since the Arab Spring. That is also the draw of Egypt now. In Luxor—often called the world’s greatest open-air museum—we would disembark to see only a few busloads of Russians on a day trip from resorts along the Red Sea. There was no line at the temples of Karnak. When the evening lights came on along the Avenue of Sphinxes, there were just a few Egyptian men out front drinking tea and playing backgammon. Antiquity was empty. The first rule of cruising is that life on board and off should be easy. When a driver met us at the airport in Luxor, he knew our names. He had a car waiting. No haggling with taxis, no schlepping our luggage. When we were shown to our spotless room—efficient but nothing remarkable—our bags were already waiting. We jumped onto the beds, and ogled the view out the floor-to-ceiling windows. Another rule of cruising is that you cover a lot of ground. There would be unscheduled time on the ship, but from the very first morning we were down to business—the attentive staff served strong coffee and handed out an itinerary. It didn’t appear daunting on paper: sightseeing in the morning, lunch, sightseeing in the afternoon.

The pool deck aboard Sanctuary Retreats’ Sun Boat IV, with a view of the Nile beyond.

So we greeted the new day with stereotypical American enthusiasm, setting out for the Karnak Temples and charging good-naturedly through the 41-degree morning. We loaded back into the ship, famished, to find a vast buffet of Egyptian meze—ful, baba ghanoush, tahini, tomato-and-cucumber salads, cardamom rice with braised okra—which we attacked before our guide got us back on the road. I consulted my itinerary for the balance of the day: Hatshepsut’s Temple, the Colossi of Memnon, then the Valley of the Queens.

Our final stop would be the Valley of the Kings. I was beginning to feel daunted. By mid-afternoon I had sweated through my clothes and the wind had come up, blasting us with sand that I continually wiped from my nose and ears. I was certain the bottom of my shoes were melting on the baking white stones. I was momentarily rejuvenated at each site, but by 5 p.m., I was bedraggled at best. Alaa, a Nubian man with encyclopedic knowledge of the valley, was assigned to us by Sanctuary Retreats. He’d seen >>

Bank on Burma Travel to and within Burma is getting easier and one of the best ways to experience the newly opened nation is with a small-ship cruise company.

C O U R T E S Y O F S A N C T U A R Y R E T R E AT S

The Strand Cruise

This year Rangoon's famous Strand Hotel is launching three-night journeys from Mandalay to Bagan and fournight trips from Bagan to Mandalay aboard four-level luxury ship the Strand Cruise. When guests are not out exploring the stupas and lostin-time landscapes of Burma's Irrawaddy River, the onboard spa, wine cellar and pool provide ample entertainment. Three nights from $1,782; thestrandcruise.com

Just You

Tired of single-supplement surcharges? You won't find those fees on the 11-night cruise created by Just You, a tour operator specializing in holidays for solo travelers, down the Irrawaddy aboard the 36-stateroom RV Kalaw Pandaw that launches in September. The route goes from Mandalay to Bagan, with stops in smaller heritage towns like Mingun and Yandabo. From $5,435 per person; justyou.co.uk.

Belmond

Hop from river to lake on a cruise by elite travel curator Belmond. The seven-night tour includes a mix of highend hotel stays and sightseeing in Rangoon and Inle Lake, and nights aboard the Belmond Road to Mandalay, which has spacious cabins, two restaurants, a spa, a swimming pool, a cool bar and a tricked-out fitness center— on the ride from Bagan to Mandalay. From $2,795; belmond.com

Pandaw

This river cruise line offers a 14-day excursion all the way from Rangoon to Mandalay, plying from the Yangon River through the Irrawaddy Delta. In October you can book aboard the revamped colonialstyle ship Paraw 2, featuring three new luxury suites which, at 33 square meters, are the largest staterooms Pandaw's ever offered. Each has its own balcony. From $4,576 ; pandaw.com. —MERRIT T GURLEY

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A traditional felucca floats on the Nile near Aswan.

our kind before: eyes glazed over in the van after the Valley of the Queens. He probably knew Eli and I were conspiring to skip the next site and nap in the van, or be dropped off at the ship so we could eat canapés instead. Alaa forced bottles of water on us and urged us on. The Valley of the Kings is a desolate, blindingly beige suntrap hidden within the Theban Mountains. Its natural hostility was one of the reasons it was chosen to conceal the wealth and mummies of the kings. The landscape was alien, and dense with heat. Eli and I would have been terrible explorers—“Wow, it’s a bit hot, maybe we should come back later?” we would have said, then promptly fallen asleep in the shade—but that’s why you have a guide: to drive you onward. Dropping out of the light of the valley was like dropping out of the living world. There was

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detailed artwork on every surface of Merneptah’s tomb, narrating his journey toward Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead. In his burial chamber, the ceiling was painted with white stars struck against a cobalt ceiling. This is where Merneptah journeyed into the night, into the underworld. “All this painstakingly made art,” Eli whispered (we found that we naturally whispered in the tombs), “and then you bury it, seal it up. A little perverse, right?” I agreed. Touring the tombs is a slight violation. You are walking in a grave, somewhere you were never supposed to be. By our second tomb we were at ease with this perversity, and had solved the riddle of touring these sights: bring small change and linger. The Valley of the Kings is one place in Egypt where tipping isn’t simply a toll you endure

for crossing the street. If you tip the guard, he will take you past the ropes. He will take you behind false walls, up ladders into old storage rooms covered with hieroglyphs, into chambers they are still excavating, and let you climb into a pink granite sarcophagus. If you tip the guard, he will unlock a tomb that isn’t officially open. By the time we emerged— giddy, and bathed in dust from crawling around—the sun was starting to fade. All the tombs were closed and most of the guards had gone home for the day. The rest were dozing off in the shadows of the rocks. “We’re the last ones,” Alaa said, gesturing broadly around the empty site. We asked Alaa if we could take one photo; the light was so beautiful, saturating every exposed surface in gold against the sharp blue of the sky. He

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said no, the official answer, then winked and told us to meet him at the exit. That was how my friend and I ended up alone in the Valley of the Kings. But not entirely alone. There is a presence in the valley. They have been saying for a century there are no tombs left to discover, and yet these burial chambers continue to be unearthed (though most excavations stopped during the revolution in 2011 and have only recently resumed). I didn’t need radar or a computer—when the valley is silent you can practically feel them vibrating beneath the sand. That night—after long showers and much-deserved cocktails—we watched the sun drop into the Theban Necropolis. We were setting sail again, and despite my exhaustion, I was inspired. It’s rare that mythic places look exactly how I imagined them. Though the sightseeing pace took an adjustment, I got that same thrill at each arrival. Very few cruises take you to the temples at Denderah, whose cerulean ceilings are the best-preserved in Egypt. Very few ships arrange day trips on a felucca—the traditional wooden sailboat that still plies the river— which we took to the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract hotel in Aswan, with its echoes of Agatha Christie and colonial Egypt.

There wasn’t a single extraneous excursion on our itinerary, but I couldn’t imagine organizing and navigating it on my own. Easy travel has such a stigma; as a traveler I’ve spent my life avoiding it. But a little ease can create space for new experiences. Occasionally you need some hand-holding from your patient guide to ensure you don’t opt out of the next stop—a site that you don’t yet know will blow your mind. Our moment alone in the Valley of the Kings was certainly a highlight of the cruise, but all the history, all the monuments, were nearly eclipsed by the afternoon activity of the second day. The itinerary said “Free Time,” and Eli and I were committed to a long-overdue nap. We ordered two glasses of rosé, headed to the teak-lined sundeck and commandeered two lounge chairs. We were sailing upriver to our evening sightseeing at the Kom Ombo temple, dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek, and Horus, the falcon god. This was one of the few times the ship cruised during the day. From our perch we watched the viridian riverbanks and mountains ripple on the horizon. We watched the palms bend, the kingfishers dive, the water buffalo graze, the egrets nestle in the reeds. There were fires in the sugarcane fields, women doing laundry on bricks at

the shore, and the ever-present screaming of carefree children jumping off wooden docks. We saw all these scenes without leaving our lounge chairs. Before our cruise, we had walked the Corniche along the Nile in Cairo. We had gazed down at the water from our hotel window. But to experience the Nile, you must be on it. The river is slow. It unwinds; it breathes. To “relax” means to become less compact, less dense. It was not until I was on the top deck of the Sun Boat IV that I was able to truly relax, to absorb the landscape, and watch the light slowly change. “Maybe we are cruise people?” I asked Eli. He didn’t hear me at all. He was sound asleep. Four nights from $2,332, allinclusive; sanctuary​retreats.com.

The distinct double temple in Kom Ombo.

All Aboard! If you thought you weren’t a cruiser, these itineraries will change your mind.

A N G U S MC C O MI S K E Y/ G E TT Y I MAG ES

For the Historian

Ancient Petra, Oman’s Grand Mosque, and Jerusalem’s sacred Jewish, Christian and Muslim sites are all scheduled aboard Azamara’s May 1 Dubai-to-Athens trip. It includes passage through the Suez Canal and overnight stays in Muscat, Oman; Aqaba, Jordan; and Haifa, Israel. 16 nights from $3,450; azamara​ club​cruises.com.

For the Foodie

Crystal Cruises' February 29 sailing from Bali to Singapore is a floating wine and food festival. Worldfamous chefs including New York's Danny Meyer and Hawaii's Alan Wong talk shop and dish up special tasting menus, paired with wines selected by master sommeliers. 11 nights from $4,545; crystalcruises.com.

For the Family

Disney’s July 13 cruise through craggy northern fjords takes in the Stone-Age and medieval sites of Norway, Iceland and Scotland’s Orkney Islands, with options to go sea angling, take tea at a baronial castle, and hop a polar flight for bird-watching on a remote Arctic Circle island. 12 nights from $3,096; disneycruise. com.

For the Naturalist

Rare albatross species, the planet’s largest land crab, World War II sites, and the traditional stone money of Palau highlight Silversea’s June 11 sailing through the dramatic cones of the Pacific Ring of Fire from Koror, Palau, to Hakodate, Japan. Bragging rights like this are hard to come by. 14 nights from $9,950; silversea.com.*

For the Cyclist

Usually travelers must pick either bike or boat, but now they can have it all. AmaWaterways has partnered with with active-travel specialists Backroads to offer itineraries that go from ship to saddle . The November 5 trip from Cambodia to Vietnam will include crusing the Mekong and cycling the Tonle Sap. 13 days from $6,400; backroads. com.  —  J.W. AND M.G.

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T+L WorLD’s BesT aWarDs 2016

vote for your

travel favorites

tlWorldsBest.com/intl

vote now!

For your favorite hotels, spas, airlines, cruise lines, travel companies and destinations you love—in the only truly global travel survey that matters!

We trust you. We trust your judgement. That’s why we want you to rate our global travel experiences for us, in the Travel + Leisure World’s Best awards, now through February 29, 2016. These awards are recognized as travel’s highest honor, so it’s time to give back to those hotels, resorts, spas, airlines, cruise lines, travel companies and destinations you love the most. readers of all global editions of Travel + Leisure will participate in the awards, so this is your chance for southeast asia’s voice to be heard. so visit tlworldsbest.com/intl and tell us exactly what you think. The full global results will be published in our august issue.

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pornsak na nakorn

Dear Travel + Leisure southeast asia readers,


MORGAN OMMER

The Reverie Saigon is dripping with bling.

/ JANUARY 2016 / Surfing, biking and bingeing through southern

Taiwan | Saigon steps up with a slew of new places to eat, drink and stay | The winter wonderland of Hokkaido | Why the Florida Keys keep getting better 79


Drinks at The Checkered Record Club. OPPOSITE: The Tree House hotel’s mod interiors.

SOUTHERN HARMONY

Secret surf gem, outdoor-adventure zone, and cultural. and culinary treasure-trove, Taiwan’s south is singing sweetly.. DUNCAN FORGAN makes the most of the tough breaks,. and breezes through this underrated haven.. Photographed by ALBERTO BUZZOLA.


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HEN I WAS A KID, MY FATHER wouldn’t let me near the ocean,” says my surfing guide, Roy Huon, on the southern shore of Taitung. “He said that it was full of spirits and ghosts. That way of thinking is not so prevalent among the younger generation, but there’s still a wariness.” Huon has competed internationally and is considered one of Taiwan’s top surfers, a ranking that at first may seem like an oxymoron but is quite impressive in this island nation’s increasingly competitive field. Confucian beliefs may have stymied the local surf scene, but demand for Taiwan’s waves is growing. The spotless conditions and unoccupied breaks are perfect for boarders in search of new frontiers. In fact, you might consider the entire south of the country a new tourism frontier. There’s great cycling and trekking, not to mention, in Kenting National Park, which covers the island’s southernmost protrusion, the best beaches in Taiwan. Kaohsiung, once known only as a scrubby port town, is having an industrial-chic revival, and Tainan, the former capital, is still rich in culture and perhaps better known as having the island’s liveliest street-food scene. The region’s advanced transport links, strong traditions and gorgeous scenery make it an unsung alternative to the busier north. I dive in headfirst, and immediately wonder if the brief moment of balance I managed to achieve on a

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previous surf excursion in England was a hallucination induced by the frigid North Atlantic. “Just remember that it is all about weight distribution on the board,” Neil “Moonwalker” Armstrong, Huon’s boss and the co-owner of Surf Taiwan explained to me. “If you can get that right, you are halfway there.” What sounded so simple on a sun-drenched stretch of deserted volcanic sand has taken on a more abstract hue in the water. The breaks rolling in from the Pacific render useless my efforts to put on a respectable display. On my first go, I have enough time to register the fact that I’m facing the wrong way on the board before a wave puts me out of my misery. Subsequent tries involve tangled limbs, salty confusion and even the odd glimmer of hope when it seems that I’m about to channel my inner Kelly Slater. Only one thing is consistent: each attempt ends with me toppling like a domino back into the brine. After snorting up a decent portion of the ocean after one last tumble, I decide to call it quits, leaving the stage to more deserving performers—like Huon, Armstrong, his wife Yen-Yi Wei, and a group of holidaying Aussie surf moms who form balletic shapes on the horizon. In all honesty, I already knew it was not going to be my day. When I heard that Taiwan had a nascent surf scene I mistook its lack of fame for timidity in its breaks. Ideal for a rank beginner, I thought to myself. But on


Tainan’s Confucius Temple. OPPOSITE: Chugging along the coastline near Taitung.

contacting Armstrong ahead of my planned trip, this notion was soon disabused.   “The breaks here are perhaps not as intense as the ones in parts of Australia or at Mentawai in Indonesia, but they are a test,” said the Queenslander, an experienced surf photographer who opened his Taitungbased bespoke surfing safari business in 2009. “The surf is consistently good due to typhoon or northeast monsoon swells that light up a range of powerful beach breaks and points around the island. What’s best is that it remains very much under the radar.” Armstrong has established himself as an in-the-know guide to some of the island republic’s best secret breaks, many of which are in the tropical south around Taitung and Kenting. The drill on these tours is, it seems, very simple. Every day after breakfast boards are loaded into a minibus, which is driven, either by Armstrong or one of his expert Taiwanese guides, to a selection of favored spots. Once a location is chosen, guests are free to surf all day or head back to base as they see fit. There are no rules: just good company, empty waves and blissful blue ocean. WE SPEND THE EVENING AT TAITUNG’S NIGHT market, filling up from stalls selling oyster pancakes, stinky tofu, fried dumplings and other sinful items. The next day I decide to try my hand at other outdoor activities, hoping to find one that’s more my speed.

Cycling, especially, is resurgent thanks to the government’s promotion of pedal-power. The annual Taiwan Cycling Festival, first held in 2011, is a good indicator of this trend. In 2013, 22,473 cyclists participated in the races, tours and other activities associated with the event. Numbers more than doubled the following year. Lacking time, an expensive bike and a desire to don skin-hugging Lycra, I am ill-equipped to attempt the ultimate cycling adventure in Taiwan—a 1,000-pluskilometer circumnavigation of the entire island. Thankfully, I have access to the gentle routes that crisscross the countryside near Yuli. The village lies a few kilometers north of Taitung in the East Rift Valley that sits right on the seam of the collision point between the Philippine and Eurasian plates. Tapping assistance from my guide—a cheerful taxi driver who compensates for his lack of English skills by attempting to set a new world record in taking cameraphone portraits—I hire a rickety fixie and head into the hinterland. The roads are practically deserted as I pilot the old rust-bucket past golden fields of barley and through tree-lined glades. The dying afternoon light dapples the surrounding mountains where bubbling hot springs, limpid streams and hiking routes through hidden valleys await the intrepid. I feel invigorated to be actively immersing in the scenery.


TAINAN’S ANPING DISTRICT REVEALS Paragliding in Lu Yeh Highland. CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Dive Bar & Grubhut dishes up Americana in Tainan; finding the right balance on southern waves; food is never far away at the Taitung Night Market.

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STREETS WITH FORTUNE TELLERS

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Creative energy at Art Station X Residence, Tainan. LEFT: Love River Kaohsiung. OPPOSITE FROM LEFT: Uncle Pete's Pizza in Taitung; breathing fire in Kaohsiung.

Taitung’s options for athletic pursuits, which also include diving and snorkeling around Green Island, a 50-minute ferry ride from the mainland, and paragliding from Lu Yeh Highland, are beyond reproach, but beyond the market and a couple of venues, there’s not a whole lot to do in the evenings. The American-run Uncle Pete’s Pizza is excellent, and I find a ginger duck hot pot joint called Emperor where a stock, based of pure rice wine steeped with Chinese herbs and dried fruit, provides an aromatic counterpoint to plump chunks of bird. A more elevated standard of dining, as well as new, cool, contemporary hotels and a wealth of cultural attractions are congregated in southern Taiwan’s main two hubs, Kaohsiung and Tainan. The former, the island’s main port, has been damned with faint praise in the past, but is now growing out of its reputation as an uninspiring blue-collar hub. Much work has been put into beautifying Kaohsiung, and the grimy industrial enclaves of yore have been transformed into a modern urban landscape of shiny cafés, wide streets, and river- and harbor-side parks. High-design bolt-holes such as The Tree House hotel and an outlet of the Michelin-starred Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung exemplify this change. So too do the designs on display at Pier-2 Art Center, a former warehouse converted into a multi-use cultural space, and the Formosa Boulevard metro station, which features a kaleidoscopic glass mural ceiling designed by AmericanItalian artist Narcissus Quagliata. There’s a feel of wellscrubbed wholesomeness to the place these days,

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especially on Cijin Island, a slender spit of land that is home to a pocket of inviting seafood eateries. Still, more charismatic is Tainan, where I finish my all-too-brief sojourn in the south. Locals still have a big soft spot for the old capital. Certainly, when I was arranging my trip, friends in Taipei advised strongly against passing it by. As I find myself snacking on danzai noodles (an iconic Tainan hawker dish featuring oil noodles with minced pork and fresh shrimp in broth) on a narrow street overflowing with hole-in-the-wall restaurants, I can see why the inveterate gastronome Taiwanese seem to love the city so much. An afternoon stroll around Anping District reveals quaint, yellow-washed buildings, dignified temples and narrow streets lined with fortune tellers and traditional Chinese medicine peddlers. But Tainan’s obvious historic charm comes sharpened with modern style. On my final night, I take a short walk from the hip Art Station X Residence, where sleek upstairs rooms are accessed via a downstairs coffee shop to The Checkered Record Club, a speakeasy-style bar in a handsome shophouse. The bartenders do a stand-up job with my whisky sour, made with small-batch bourbon from Kentucky, fresh rosemary and a twist of nectarine. Equally tasty is the soundtrack, which veers from Scottish indie stalwarts Belle and Sebastian to classic alternative rock. As I prepare to order another drink, the sound of The Beach Boys fills the crowded bar. While there’s no time left for another surfin’ safari, good vibrations are everywhere in southern Taiwan.


THE DETAILS GETTING AROUND Taiwan High Speed Rail's (thsrc.com.tw) west coast route links Kaohsiung (2 hours) and Tainan (1.5 hours) with Taipei. Taitung is linked to Taipei (3.5 hours), Kaohsiung (3 hours) and Tainan (3.5 hours) by express train. TAITUNG Kindness Hotel A classy mid-range hotel in Taitung with friendly service and extras such as free bikes to borrow. kindness-hotel.com.tw; doubles from NT$2,400. Uncle Pete’s Pizza The hub of the expat scene in Taitung dishes up great wood-fired pizzas in a convivial setting. fb.com/ unclepetepizza; dinner for two NT$600. Emperor Ginger Duck Restaurant To the left of the junction of Nanjing and Gengsheng roads, this family-run favorite sells one dish only: ginger duck hot pot. 886-89/

321-952; dinner for two NT$350. K AOHSIUNG The Tree House Design Hotel Creative décor compensates for the compact guest rooms at this design hotel. designhotels.com.tw; doubles from NT$4,000. Din Tai Fung The Kaohsiung branch of the famous dumpling chain lives up to the brand’s exacting standards. dintaifung.com.tw; dinner for two NT$1,300. Pier-2 Art Center This formerly disused dockside warehouse hosts everything from contemporary exhibitions to music festivals. pier-2. khcc.gov.tw. TAINAN Art Station X Residence Above an art gallery and a coffee shop, the three rooms at this boutique showcase creativity. 886-6/223-

3508; doubles from NT$2,700. The Checkered Record Club In an attractive shop house opposite a temple, this hidden gem features expertly mixed cocktails and a carefully curated soundtrack. 886-6/222-8716; cocktails from NT$250. Dive Bar & Grubhut Pretty much exactly as advertised: an American watering hole on Hai’an Road with spot-on bar food and good craft beers. fb.com/divetavern; dinner for two NT$1,250. SURFING Surf Taiwan (surftaiwan. com) runs bespoke tours around the island. A sixnight tour for two costs NT$44,354 per person; if you're feeling social, six people sharing a group room is NT$23,688 per person. Accommodation, trips to surf breaks, nonsurf activities and airport transfers are all included.


Saigon There’s more to eat, drink and do than ever before in Vietnam’s southern city. Jeninne Lee-St. John revels in the new riches of her old hometown. Photographed by Morgan Ommer


Rising

More than one kind of mixology at Hotel des Arts Saigon MGallery.

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One weekend a month, not even the double-paned glass of my bedroom window, which effectively blocked out the incessant motorbike honks, could stave off the blare of 6 a.m. concerts on the Opera House steps. The band would strike up a march or a waltz and I’d be jolted out of bed, surprised every time. It was hard to be upset, though, when you watched the appreciative crowd congregated in the street, on plastic chairs or atop their bikes, getting their culture on at the crack of dawn. It was a minor inconvenience of having a home-base loft on central Dong Khoi so conveniently located that I could spend a week without leaving its six-block radius. I lived in Saigon for nearly four years and we affectionately called it the biggest small town on Earth. I watched the city develop, sure, but ploddingly so. Saigon puttered along with the same fairly small set of highend hotel rooms for a while. It was an era when one new restaurant opening every six months was an event and you could count your Saturday evening options on your fingers. When I moved away mid-2012, there was no Starbucks or McDonald’s. When I moved away, the city seemed on the verge, but, then, hadn’t it always? The past couple of years have seen an explosion in sustainable growth—if you define “green” less in terms of the environment than in terms of the dollar. Creative-concept, well-run bars, restaurants and event spaces are filling the streets and alleys, as a lowkey cultural counter to the massive malls concurrently moving in. There’s a new subway going in right through the city center, and everyone’s getting primed to capitalize on it as the action spreads west past Ben Thanh circle and along Toa Nha Central Park. Last year, the 40th anniversary of NorthSouth reunification, was a big one for the boom, so I went back a couple of times to chart the changes. One Sunday morn, in my sumptuous new suite in the historic Caravelle Hotel, kitty-corner to my old apartment, I sprung out of bed to a band at the Opera House, who had struck up a tango. I rubbed my eyes and peeked out the window at this ongoing tradition. It was still hard to be angry.

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CLOCKWISE FROM RIGHT: A Park Deluxe room at the Park

Hyatt Saigon; where the lobby is like a gilded aerie; and the new pool cabanas are in a verdant Eden; one of the Caravelle’s plush new Heritage Saigon suites.

Bedroom Boom The hospitality stock rose sharply in 2015 with the highly feted openings of three big brands, while two city-center stalwarts embarked on thorough renovations. It is all in line with the mass-mobilized modernization of the city (whose next planned peak will be a glam Ritz-Carlton coming in 2017).

PARK HYATT SAIGON Don’t let the relative youth of the city’s grande dame fool you. Park Hyatt Saigon has only just turned 10, but its unbeatable location next to the Opera House and its reputation as the civilized go-to for both hammering out deals and hammering back martinis have made it an entrenched Saigon institution for years. A birthday makeover has softened and lightened the interiors. A classy zone to take your afternoon tea or nurse an evening Scotch to the piano player’s dulcet tunes, the high-ceilinged, tall-windowed lobby lounge feels like a gilded aerie—which we can’t help but think is apiece with the place’s new running theme. Pretty pastel birds surface from the luxurious 3-D carpets rolled out all over the building; it’s like walking on sunshine, and that’s before you emerge to catch some rays in the central courtyard/pool patio that’s been remade into an Edenic garden complete with private cabanas. Paradise found, smack in the center of Saigon. saigon.park.hyatt.com; doubles from VND5,144,250.


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP : Le

Méridien is a cocoon of design; flying high in Le Méridien; check into the historic Caravelle Hotel; the Caravelle’s pool.

CARAVELLE HOTEL Want to steep (and sleep) in history? Back in the day, the Caravelle was home to the Australian and New Zealand embassies, the American TV networks, and countless war correspondents who would stroll across the way to the Rex (also recently redone and expanded) for their daily dose of the American military’s Five O’Clock Follies or to the Graham Greene-immortalized Hotel Continental for a drink and a gossip on the veranda. Today it’s in the midst of a rolling renovation to maximize its prime placement next to the coming subway. Book a plush new Heritage Saigon suite; it’ll be an effort to dislodge yourself from the bed’s embrace but that coffee at your front window while admiring the Opera House right outside will be worth it. caravellehotel.com; doubles from US$199.

HOTEL DES ARTS SAIGON MGALLERY Gilded cages, patterned ceilings, hand-painted furniture, walls adorned with frames of Vietnamese art and hand-pressed French flowers, grand pianos and lattice and lacquer. The smooth luxury of the city’s newest star recalls the romantic bygone era of high-society Indochina fast-forwarded into a sleek future. Peer out from the large windows, round-edged like you might find in a spaceship, over the leafy compound of the U.S. Consulate General—or get a 360-view from the roof, which houses Saigon’s highest infinity pool complete with swim-up bar, exclusive to guests. The floor below, though, is drawing all the city’s cool kids to The Social Club, a cigar, wine and tapas bar modeled on old-school London gentlemen’s clubs. Some traditions are timeless. mgallery.com; doubles from US$120.

LE MERIDIEN Commandeering what was once a dark and overlooked bend of downtown’s riverfront road, the playful designcentric hotel has sprouted up as a shiny new beacon anchoring the dining and drinking neighborhood developing around it. Popping with primary colors, it’s like a romper room for left-brain business-trippers—the miniature Marou chocolates in your room add sweet touches. Installations of local art and design meant to get those creative juices flowing and great views of the city courtesy of its positioning on a corner lot leave no doubt that you’re in the heart of the new Saigon. The well-fitted gym and lap-pool both face the river, so you can watch the world sail past while sweating on a treadmill or lounging in a shaded recliner. starwood. com; doubles from VND3,360,000.


The Reverie’s rooms have the best views in town. FROM TOP RIGHT: Let it all go at the fanciful two-story spa; a tiled bathroom in a Junior suite in The Reverie.

COURTESY OF SAIGON OUTCAST

THE REVERIE SAIGON Life is but a blinged-out, Italian-designer all-starteam of a dream that might’ve been directed by Baz Luhrmann. The brand-new, seven-yearsin-the-making Reverie is a super-fun fantasyland in which the heights of its aesthetic aspirations are matched only by the outof-this-world service. The neon rainbows snaking up the outside of this glass tower broadcast only an inkling of the chic cirque that awaits within: vast walls strung with crystals, Brobdingnagian couches made of ostrich, a fleet of luxury limos including a Rolls-Royce Phantom Dragon, a satellite-linked Baldi Firenze clock and 19th-century piano both

coated in malachite. May we welcome you into our divine disco Junior suite overseen by sparkly bluebirds? Oh, you prefer the sweeping three-sided views from your duplex, baby-soft-leatherfurnished Saigon suite designed by Visionnaire? Fine, we’ll just pop into the fanciful two-story spa for a salt sauna and a Reverie Fusion massage and meet you later on down by the candy-swirl of a swimming pool for fresh fruit delivered by smiling stewards. Then it’s up to the top-floor club lounge for sundowner bubbles over the Saigon River before heading out into the night. thereveriesaigon.com; doubles from US$435.

CULTURE VULTURES

Over to the somewhat sketchy docklands The Observatory (fb.com/theobservatoryhcmc) entices the alterna set with international DJs—including big names like France’s Joakim—spinning house, techno and experimental electronica. The dance floor can stay heaving til all hours, so escape to the deck overlooking the Saigon River if you need a break, or want to admire the sunrise. Downstream, a hippie collective has parked itself in semi-suburban District 2. Saigon Outcast (saigonoutcast.com) is a graffitied beer-garden-slash-bike-park lorded over by a few stacked, inhabitable shipping containers, and playing host to all things indie from art classes, to farmers’ and flea markets, to the Future Shorts film fest, to live concerts by imports like Malaysian songwriter Raggy. Fun for the whole family.

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FROM LEFT: Bia Craft’s

taps flow local; steak straight off the grill at Stoker; bar seating surrounds CaféRestaurant’s open kitchen; Sorae sushi; hand-rolling cigars the Cuban way at Sorae.

MICRO BREW-HA-HA

Pasteur Street Brewing Company (pasteurstreet.com) shook up the market a year ago with its American-style gastropub and microbrewery—it’s an easy place to while away an afternoon sampling drafts, noshing on gourmet snacks and shooting the breeze with the friendly expat owners. But as it turned out, a handful of craft-addicts had been brewing beneath the surface for years, which the owners of Quan Ut Ut learned when they started selling their own suds at the barbecue joint. Joining forces with local brewers, they've opened a tiny new temple to hops in District 2. Genius in its simplicity, Bia Craft (biacraft.com) feels like a little shed where everybody knows your name. For the love of the craft community, the taps flow with house and Pasteur Street beer, plus a range of wellpriced drafts from other Saigonbased brands such as Platinum, Phat Rooster and Fuzzy Logic (whose Dirty Blonde Ale hints at banana bread). An instant hit, Bia Craft is now looking for larger digs—and somewhere more accessible to local quaffers. “We want Vietnamese customers. We just need to educate them on the value,” says Albin Deforges, one of the partners. “They love beer.”

Eating and Drinking One surefire way to pinpoint a maturing dining scene is by the explosion of middle-way restaurants—that vast culinary landscape in between street stalls or super laid-back and the fine dining mostly found in hotels. In fact, many of Saigon’s new-wave restaurateurs have their roots in hotel kitchens. Our picks of the best new eateries in town are classy casual joints, where no matter the buzz the chef might come out and chat about the provenance of your pork. In other words, our new favorite locals.


STOKER The pork at Stoker is seriously insane. We love the thoughtful design that encompasses gorgeous wallpaper and a long bar—stocked with an impressive cornucopia of craft liquors like Monkey 47 gin—as comfortable to eat at as the dining room tables. But, oh, that pork. Quickly credited with opening the city’s newest steak house, the owners are quick to counter that they care deeply about all of their meats, which variously are prepped in

the in-house smoker or dry-aging room. This ethos shines through clearest in the Secreto Iberico, a slab of tender, tangy pork cut from just behind the shoulder of a Spanish pig reared on wild acorns and fired to medium-rare on the grill. Get it after the best-seller starter of bone marrow with caramelized onions, and with a side of broccoli with butter and almonds. Or get it alone. Twice. stokerwoodfiredgrill.com; meal for two VND1,200,000.

SORAE Mouthwatering sushi flown in from Japan and cigars handmade by a master roller from Cuba. Just two reasons Sorae is packing them into its fiveoutlets-in-one, industrialchic cacophonous clubhouse. Follow us with the flow: from the yakitori station, where you should sit at the counter to watch the grillers fanning the flames under your skewers, to the sushi bar. Face one way to see the chefs slice up toro so soft they may as well be using

a butter knife; turn around and you’re looking directly into the open kitchen overseen by dapper chef Yoji Katayama. Must-orders here, or perhaps in one of the private tatami rooms, include the Hokkaido scallop and foie gras sushi and the yellowtail jawbone. Upstairs, even if you can manage to skirt the well-ventilated cigar lounge with a view, the 100-plus whiskies will draw you in for the long haul. soraesushi.com; meal for two VND1,400,000.

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OLLIE’S KITCHEN Saigon’s long-standing love of street food has as much to do with simplicity as socializing. Ollie’s Kitchen brings those values indoors, to a cozy little room you have to enter through a clothing shop. This lunchtime favorite fills up quickly, and the quirky charisma of the local owner who flits in and out colors the convivial ambience. (The very personification of the generational shift, with his thick black glasses and English as jaunty as his hat, he was mistakenly described to us by a friend as a Viet-kieu from California.) It’s like going over to your friend’s house for lunch: easy, classic comfort-food recipes he says he “just threw together” but actually derive from generations of

home-cooking. The chalkboard menu has daily changes based on what Ollie feels like simmering in his stock pot, but you’re likely to always find standards such as bo luc lac (beef cubes sautéed with onions) and ga xiao qung (stirfried bone-in chicken with ginger). fb.com/ ollieskitchensaigon; meal for two VND300,000. CAFE-RESTAURANT Staking their claim on the so-hot-right-now Ben Thanh circle, the owners of this just-opened all-day endeavor are trying their best to be all things to all people. Their beautifully restored slice of this heritage block is at least triple-wide, giving the second-floor space room to breathe. A lounge area, bar, main dining section

Soul Burger. MEAT MANIA

Quan Ut Ut (quanutut.com; meal for two VND700,000) blazed on the scene in 2014 with its char-grilled barbecued deliciousness, not to mention housebrewed beer. And while they’re still going so strong that they’ve just opened another, bigger location, the latest carnivorous craving up for debate in this town is the simple burger. Or, not so simple. In Saigon, the burger arms race is a three-way with some seriously prime options having hopped on the grill in the past year. Here are the contenders: Chicago-native Gabe Boyer, who used to oversee a couple of the city’s fanciest kitchens, has gone back to his roots—his grandpa ran a burger joint back in the day—with Soul Burger (fb.com/ soulburgersaigon; burger platters from VND195,000), where the mushroom-, Emmental- and cognac cream-topped Diana Ross and the Blues Brothers, buried in blue cheese and crispy bacon, are made of hand-ground beef from Kansas and sandwiched by buttered pretzel buns of Boyer’s own recipe. His Canadian partner, John Tuzi, has ensured there’s a selection of high-end poutine on the menu, but from the Motown tunes to the inviting balcony, this place isn’t lacking in class.

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At gastropubby Relish & Sons (relishandsons.com; burgers from VND176,000), giant cleavers are tacked to the walls, and each juicy burger (Aussie grass-fed beef; pulled pork; fish) comes with a house-made relish or chutney tailored to its taste. The Classic cheeseburger is slathered in a tangy bourbon-onion sauce and matches tastily with gooey-cheesy-beany fries and a frothy strawberry cheesecake milk shake. If that sounds like the pinnacle of Americana, you might have missed the part where we said there were beans on the fries. For West-Coast indulgence, haul your gluttonous self over to Chuck’s (cburgers.com; burgers from VND80,000). This is In-N-Out Burger-style simplicity with just a couple of tables at which you can wait for your order sipping a classic A&W root beer or one of the mircobrews on tap from Chuck’s homemade kegerator. The payoff is ever-so-slightly seasoned meat smashed down on that griddle then covered in American cheese, and slid, with fresh lettuce and tomato, between a super-soft bun. It’s melt-in-your-mouth, and so surprisingly light that you could have dinner elsewhere beforehand and slam a Chuck’s burger for dessert. (We did, and we are not ashamed.)

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Relish & Sons.

Chuck’s.


and open kitchen mean you’re welcome to linger over a coffee and your laptop, or book a big table with friends for a raucous dinner. We’d strongly suggest you get anything that comes out of their Big Green Egg, an imported Kamado-style cooker from which we sampled the supplest whole roasted young chicken. This is an excellent option for Sunday brunch, especially if you want to take advantage of the lovely landscaped roof garden. crhcmc.com; meal for two VND600,000.

MOUNTAIN RETREAT It’s a hike to get up this mountain—the top of a fifth-floor walk-up—but the view from the summit is worth it. In the tradition of the now-legendary, Brangelina-patronized Cuc Gach Quan (cucgachquan.com.vn; meal for two VND600,000), this new spot is all about grandma’s countryside Vietnamese food served in an adorable, approximateauthentic setting. It’s just the kind of place you envision being thrilled to discover in Vietnam. The countryside in question is

Ha Giang, in the far north along the Chinese border, known for its terraced rice fields and hearty fare (it’s cold up there!), so Mountain Retreat doesn’t shy away from filling you up. Get the fried squid in rice-paper packets, pork rib grilled with lemongrass, and deepfried bacon slabs. With bamboo roofing, handmade chairs, and ethnic minority textiles, the rustic setting, indoors or out in the leafy garden, is a getaway. fb.com/ mountainretreatvn; meal for two VND400,000.

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Stoker’s pretty papered dining room; wellplated at Café-Restaurant; which is an all-day, airy affair. OPPOSITE: Ollie’s Kitchen is a lunch favorite.

Glow.

SKY HIGH

We mostly bemoan the razing of beautiful heritage buildings, but one aesthetic benefit of the building boom is a livelier night sky. The city’s first wave of posh roof bars—most ostentatiously exemplified by Chill Skybar (chillsaigon.com) and its neon-lit, Bali-beach club swagger— originally suffered from little to see to justify the inflated prices. But with ever more towers puncturing the heavens, the skyline is ablaze with man-made stars, and a few new spots offer a bird’s-eye view. Head to Glow (glowsaigon.vn) for wide-open spaces, a relatively unpretentious crowd, a climbable sign that’ll light up your Instagram, comfy nautical-striped couches worthy of the Cote d’Azur, and a convenient after-hours descent to the thumping nightclub Play (fb. com/playsaigon), below. The bilevel Air 360 (air360skybar.com), just south of Ben Thanh market, has a direct line of sight over that iconic (always buzzing) traffic circle, a pool for party-plunging, generous wait staff, a reliable house music sound track, and a shocking-steal of a daily happy hour: all you can drink (including bubbles!) for VND250,000 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. If you’re less enamored of heights, there are also plenty of low-rise roofs for your open-air drinking and dancing pleasure. Our favorite? Broma (fb.com/ bromabar), hidden in plain sight on main boulevard Nguyen Hue, is a small, two-story, Christmaslights-strung clubhouse for easygoing barflies who like to rock out. DJs spin everything from reggae and dancehall to jazz hop and rockabilly, often past 2 a.m. You have to find your way through a different bar to get to this one, taglined “Not a bar,” though it certainly is, and a fun one at that.


C S O N U O N WT R Y

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Mount Yotei, sometimes called the St. Moritz of Asia. OPPOSITE: Birch trees line the base of Mount Yotei.


On the starkly beautiful island of Hokkaido, junot diaz finds a rugged mountain. landscape and an unexpected mash-up of cultures that together form a strange and. wonderful version of Japan—especially in winter. Photographed by takashi yasumura.

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IF

all you know of Japan’s countryside is what you see outside your bullet-train windows on runs between Osaka and Tokyo—a picturesque banality managed to within an inch of its life— Hokkaido will surprise you. This northernmost of Japan’s main islands is also the harshest, coldest and least settled, accounting for 22 percent of the nation’s landmass yet only 4 percent of its population. There are a couple of marvelous cities and lots of picturesque (and slowly dying) towns. But its real draws are its vast primeval forests (which cover 70 percent of the island), its volcanic peaks (some, ring-of-fire active), its mild summers, its fecund Western-style farms, and above all else its winter, which lasts a good six months and brings lovely snows (485 centimeters a year). Hokkaido in winter is truly sorcerous. Nothing in the guidebooks, photographs or GoPro videos can prepare you for the astonishing beauty of this stark land. It’s no coincidence that many of Japan’s finest artists—Akira Kurosawa, Haruki Murakami, Takuboku Ishikawa—have set much excellent work in its wintry precincts. Hokkaido is the environmental equivalent of the epic; here is a harmony of natural forms that is more or less the equivalent of the earth dropping the mic... forever. Hokkaido is the homeland of the Ainu, the island’s persecuted indigenous inhabitants, who have stubbornly preserved their culture despite the best efforts of centuries of Japanese. It is Japan’s great wild frontier. It is the North Beyond the Wall; it is Deep Earth. The island has always been popular with Japanese honeymooners and winter sporters, but lately a whole lot of other folks are starting to take serious notice of this wonderland in the north. Tourism is way up, especially from other Asian countries. Developers have taken note, expanding hotels and venues, and there are rumors that Chinese investors have been operating behind the scenes, snapping up water and mineral rights. But the real starting gun will pop this year, when the 53-kilometer-long Seikan tunnel linking Hokkaido to the main island of Honshu will start accommodating Japan’s iconic Shinkansen, or bullet trains. It’ll take just four hours to travel from Tokyo to Hakodate, Hokkaido’s southernmost city, making a weekend trip from Tokyo not only possible but really, really tempting. Some say nothing’s really going to change—the island’s population will keep getting grayer and smaller and poorer. The hard-core boosters are convinced that the Shinkansen-led boom will breathe new life into the north. My best friend in Tokyo just shakes his head at my question, tells me to ask the Ainu what they think. (Damn.) In any event I figure this is the time to visit, when things are still in-between and unstable and weird. Before old Hokkaido ends and new Hokkaido begins, before this harsh, proud island is subsumed by whatever fate awaits it.

IT'S SNOWING IN SAPPORO WHEN WE LAND.

It’s always snowing in Sapporo, it seems. Owing to an almost constant wallop of Arctic weather from Siberia, Hokkaido’s capital is one of the most reliably snowy cities on the planet. Given all I’ve read and heard, I half expect our plane to land right in the middle of a storm-wracked, bear-besieged tundra.

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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: The view

of Mount Yotei from Niseko Village; The Barn, a bistro at the Kimamaya hotel in the village of Niseko, serves French fare in a building inspired by traditional Hokkaido farmhouses; a lift in Niseko Village Ski Area; the Scandinavian-inspired interior of the Lookout Café.


New Chitose Airport, however, is anything but wilderness. As much as it’s possible for an airport to be popping, New Chitose is popping. It seems to have been modeled after the Apple design aesthetic: clean, futuristic, easy to use. The shops overflow with vacuum-sealed corn and whiskeys and Ainu trinkets and Nippon Ham Fighters jerseys and more chocolate confections than you can shake a stick at— Hokkaido is, after all, famous for its dairies. It is omiyage heaven and you could easily lose half a day and all your ducats shopping here, which is what the crowds of Chinese tourists seem intent on doing. My Chinese-American partner—I’ll call her Ms. Marvel—recognizes the accent instantly. “Beijing, all the way.” As we drag our snow boots toward baggage claim alongside the third member of our troika, La Bachatera—Japanese by way of New Jersey—I spot my first bear. I’d made bearspotting a priority on this trip, since the bear, long revered by the Ainu, is central to the Hokkaido brand. This bear, alas, is only an advertisement, a supersize kaiju who is snapping the Sapporo TV tower with a single swipe of its massive paw. Our plan was to stay in Sapporo for one night and then plunge ahead to Mount Yotei, the spiritual heart of Hokkaido. One thing you have to take into account when visiting the north in winter, though: the weather runs the show. Takashi, the concierge at the Cross Hotel, informs us that the roads leading up to Mount Yotei are closed because of snow. Maybe it will clear up tomorrow. Maybe not. On Takashi’s advice, we do the standards: visit the Sapporo Clock Tower, one of the few surviving structures from the Sapporo Agricultural College that Western advisors helped to establish in the 1870s; wade through some thick-ass snow to take a gondola ride up to the 1972 Winter Olympics ski-jump station for the view of Sapporo and the Ishikari Plains; tour the old Sapporo Brewery and bug out at all the vintage adverts; gambol around the Miyanomori International Museum of Art and the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art; and round things out by eating Hokkaido soup curry at Treasure and Genghis Khan barbecue at Itadakimasu (both are Sapporo specialties, and both are excellent). Throughout our stroll, I’m eating almost constantly, from corner-stall gyoza to cart-sold baked yams. As in most Japanese cities, you are never more than 20 paces from some cold libation or hot slice of deliciousness, which makes impulse noshing almost impossible to resist. Once night falls, we go where the action’s at: the Susukino entertainment district, which is


like the less jaded, more caffeinated younger sibling to Kabukicho in Tokyo. In this vibrant crosshatch of bars, restaurants, and neon, drinks are poured by the millions nightly. On nearly every corner mill schools of hosts in Poison hairdos trying to lure girls into clubs, while behind them circle touts in swim parkas, offering—I kid you not—binders full of women. This is where Hokkaido’s children get down— and where tourists come for thrills. Dawn finds our little trio at the Curb Market, maneuvering around scabs of old snow. This is Sapporo’s two-block answer to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, bursting with king crab and entire shoals of dried herring and a wide assortment of local produce. A tourist trap, we’ve been warned by the locals—but trap or not, I’m not skipping a sushi breakfast in the city with reportedly the freshest seafood in all Japan. While we’re buying boxes of individually wrapped cobs of Hokkaido corn for omiyage, La Bachatera sweet-talks the proprietor, a tall, confident bruiser, into recommending a sushi restaurant that is less tourist-trappy. “Marusan Tei is great,” he says, puffing up. “I eat there myself. Not too expensive.” We end up at a long table with a lone Japanese tourist, in her twenties. Her camera is massive. As for the seafood donburi, it’s super-oishii, especially the uni. Our dining partner also approves, leaving not a single grain of rice behind. Back at the hotel Ms. Marvel and La Bachatera huddle with Takashi, whom they’ve taken a serious shine to. This tall, handsome, efficient, genuinely kind young man is Hokkaido’s best advertisement for itself. Our plan had been to head to Otaru and then Niseko, then visit the Ainu Museum in Shiraoi— following a counterclockwise circle around Mount Yotei. But Takashi, who has all the latest weather news, suggests going in the opposite direction to allow a little more time for the roads to Niseko to be cleared. The snow is falling lightly as we pack our bags into the taxi. Takashi stands outside the entire time in the cold without a coat, flakes accumulating in his hair. As we pull away he bows deeply. I must be getting sentimental, because his dedication touches me. In the car, I put my head down. When I wake up I find the world has changed. We’ve entered yukiguni—Snow Country—for real. Hokkaido’s wintriness is overwhelming in its scale and dizzying in its mille-feuille complexity. I stare, speechless, at the rolling drifts of Siberian snow, at the towering alps, and at the endless primeval spruce forest that covers them. Lake Shikotsu is before us, a caldera lake blue as an eye, surrounded by three

The garden of the Miyanomori International Museum of Art, in Sapporo. CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: A freshly plowed Niseko street; the Lookout Café, a short ski from the top of the Niseko gondola; the “galette complete,” a breakfast dish at the Niseko Supply Co.; skiers at the Niseko Village Ski Area.


volcanoes and enveloped by a haze of frozen, archaic trees. This land is a true song of fire and ice. In the days before the Japanese arrived, when it was only Ainu, it was also wolf country, howls rising over the mountains. We’re in Deep Hokkaido now, as deep as you can get when you’re in a heated, immaculately appointed cab. Just as I’m about to speak, a red fox steps out onto the road, an exclamation of color against the drifts. It gives us a single indifferent glance before gliding back into the trees. Like Shimamura in Yasunari Kawabata’s novel Snow Country, I feel my chest rise at the inexpressible beauty of it.

THE ABIDING IRONY of Hokkaido is

that the very natural qualities that make it so irresistible to outsiders are what have historically protected the island from them in

the first place. For thousands of years this remote, inhospitable land was Ainu and Ainu only. An indigenous people with lighter skin and hairier bodies than the Japanese, the Ainu created an animist civilization that embodied the Japanese ideal of living close to nature, of managing to be, as Bashō wrote, “friends with the four seasons”— which you’d think might have given them a pass when they finally came into contact with the expanding Japanese in the 1300s. Alas, it did not. As the Japanese pushed northward into Hokkaido, their incursions brought trade, alcoholism and warfare, and slowly pushed the Ainu out of the southern parts of the island. But the Japanese colonization of Hokkaido only really took off in the 1870s, when Meiji officials began to fear that Russia might seize the island. So the Meiji government countered a possible invasion with a real one. Thousands of settlers, many of them disenfranchised samurai, were funneled north, enticed by tax amnesties and land grants. Whole pioneer settlements were wiped out by weather, disease, and crop failure—yet the government, which needed all the natural resources it could lay its hands on to fuel its modernization, did not relent. Eventually, Hokkaido was conquered. For the Ainu, it was the End—about as close to apocalypse as you can experience and still be around to talk about it. On top of grabbing all the land, the Japanese pursued a policy of enforced assimilation, depriving the Ainu of their names, their language, their culture, even their tattoos. The Ainu were prohibited from fishing salmon— which would be like prohibiting Asians from farming rice. Many were forced to toil in slave-like conditions in mines and in—wait for it—the conqueror’s fisheries. (If you want to know where the Japanese imperial programs for Korea, Taiwan and China began, look no further than Hokkaido.) To make matters all the more horrible, the Japanese government refused even to recognize the Ainu as indigenous people until Ainu activism helped overturn that madness—in 2008. Discrimination against them remains rampant. And yet, despite everything, the Ainu are still in Hokkaido, making their world. In the past few decades there has been a marked resurgence of pride in Ainu tradition. Young activists have taken up where their elders left off, and the Ainu language, long on the brink of extinction, is experiencing a minor revival. Artists such as Oki Kanno and Mina Sakai of the music group Imeruat are testaments to the survivance of Ainu culture. The Ainu are Hokkaido, and everywhere you look on the island you will find traces of them. But if you’re a traveler and you want to see Ainu up close, chances are you’ll end up doing what we do. You’ll loop down to the coastal town of Shiraoi, and there on the shore of Lake Poroto you’ll find the Porotokotan Ainu Culture Village. With replicas of traditional thatched houses (chise), a not uninteresting museum, and, best of all, honest-to-goodness Ainu, Porotokotan is indigenous cultural tourism at its most textbook. The only other visitors are a Chinese couple. Despite our paltry numbers, the Ainu staff puts on a performance in one of the chise under a dark canopy of drying salmon. The MC jokes that he only wears his traditional clothes nine to five. He is joined on the tatami stage by six Ainu women dressed in elaborately embroidered robes. They deliver a performance that includes song, dance, informative lectures, and a demonstration of the mukkuri, a mouth harp. Afterward, we wander the grounds for a bit. Take pictures in front of the 15-meter-tall statue of a bearded Ainu chieftain. Tour the museum and get depressed at the Ainu’s horrible history. It’s only when we’re about to leave that we spot the cages. In the first are two healthy white Hokkaido dogs, who jump up excitedly TR AV EL ANDLEISURE ASIA .COM / JANUARY 2016

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when they see us. And behind them, in another cage, heaped on the ground, almost unrecognizable, is a bear. My first real bear sighting, and it’s not some magnificent ur-ursine but a shrunken, listless prisoner in a cage. Talk about careful what you wish for. The Ainu used to sacrifice bears, so perhaps this is better than being fattened up and then shot with arrows. But I’m not so sure. “What do you think will happen if we unlock the cage?” I ask. La Bachatera rubs her nose. “I suspect it will probably come out and eat us.” So instead of being eaten, we decide to cruise back through Shiraoi. The town looks deader than dead; the young people, our driver explains, are all in Sapporo. We stop at a yakiniku restaurant, Ushi no Sato, to try the famous Shiraoi beef Takashi told us about. Doesn’t un-depress me, but the barbecue lives up to its reputation.

NIGHT HAS FALLEN BY THE TIME we reach Niseko. We drive slowly, because this is even deeper yukiguni than what we encountered earlier. Three meters of snow has fallen in only three days, and for whole stretches of the ride we slalom between sheer walls of machine-carved snow. Finally at the edge of town we pull into a convenience store to orient ourselves, and the first sight that greets me is two scruffy, white ski bros in snow pants guzzling beers in the parking lot. Spend enough time in Japan and the sudden appearance of white people doing white things can be disconcerting. I notice other tall white dudes loping out of the convenience store with cases of beer. “We’re not in Hokkaido anymore, are we?” I ask. Ms. Marvel, who seems as shocked as I am, says, “I guess not.” We pile in again but a few blocks later the driver stops abruptly. I think maybe something is wrong but he points out his window. In the distance looms Mount Yotei, famed for its symmetrical cone and at that moment about the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. If Snow Country has a crown jewel, Niseko is probably it. Here among the volcanic heights of Mount Yotei and the Annupuri range is the island’s premier ski region, often called the St. Moritz of the Orient for its long season, consistent snows, and a champagne powder of almost supernatural perfection. The Australians and Kiwis were the first to turn Niseko into a thing when the Japanese economy tanked in the 1990s—fantastic snow at reasonable prices without having to go halfway around the world—but now Niseko has fans all over the snow-loving globe. The rest of rural Hokkaido might be flatlining, but Niseko is booming. All this international love has transformed this sleepy Hokkaido town into a bustling expat zone with the highest concentration of round eyes on the island. And we’re not just talking tourists; there’s also a growing gaijin community that’s settled in Niseko year round—settlers of a different sort. After a couple of wrong turns on those drift-bound streets—two stories high in places—we manage to reach our hotel, the spectacular Kimamaya by Odin, which with its elm floors and dark granite is the Niseko boom’s handsomest child. At check-in we’re joined by a good-looking Asian couple. After listening to them for a few seconds, Ms. Marvel whispers, “Singapore.” After dropping off our bags, we head out into the frigid night, picking our way around the vast masses of recently fallen snow, past all sorts of new construction, some of it interesting, a lot of it boxy, past the food trucks and the busy ski-rental shops, until finally we stand before the illuminated glory of the mountain. The snow crowd

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is only now returning from a day of runs, and as we walk around there are moments when it feels like someone has turned the whole town over to a frat. There are even signs in English that advise visitors not to vomit in public. Dinner is at Bang Bang, one of the town’s best-loved izakaya, our party squeezed between two hearty Australian ski families. The kushiyaki is nicely done, especially the hokke, though I doubt I hear more than two sentences of Japanese throughout our meal. Ezo Seafoods, touted as the best in town, is just down the street—down the snow, really—so we trudge over for a couple of excellently creamy freshshucked oysters. Now that the savory is taken care of, Ms. Marvel demands dessert, so it’s over to the Niseko Supply Co. for coffee and galettes. On a recommendation from the Kimamaya staff, we finish the night at Bar Gyu+, a nightspot accessed through a fridge door that,


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP:

Downtown Sapporo; the minimalist aesthetic of Kimamaya, a Niseko boutique hotel; the altitude, combined with regular storm fronts from Siberia, makes Niseko a snowlover’s paradise.

owing to the drifting snow, looks like it’s been set right into a snowbank. We sip single-malt Yoichi and crisp yuzu mojitos. When we pay our bill, La Bachatera very politely points out to our Australian server that the menu has the word Japanese spelled wrong. “Strange,” she says. “I’ve been here all season and I didn’t notice.” The next day is bright-blue skies from horizon to horizon. We dip into the Barn, Kimamaya’s restaurant, for an A-level breakfast—even the toast looks curated—and then after a brace of espressos at Green Farm Café we head for the lift up to the top of the Niseko Village Ski Area. Believe it or not, this island boy was once a solid skier, but after my recent spinal surgery, skiing is no longer on the agenda. On the lift we’re the only ones without skis or boards. I feel a tug of sadness, but what can you do? I’ll tell you one thing: nothing explains Niseko’s popularity quite like being on the mountain in the midst of all that glorious snow. The divinely sculpted slopes swarm with skiers of all levels, from what appears to be every corner of the world. There are mainland Chinese in rental snowsuits falling over with great abandon; more Australian accents than I’ve heard since Melbourne; some French, too. The girls wander around taking photos, but I spend most of my time on the slope communing silently with Mount Yotei, whose comeliness has earned it the moniker the Fuji of the North. After nearly being run over by half a dozen skiers, I motion to the girls. Time to head back down to town. We have lunch reservations at the highly recommended Prativo, which is a bit outside of the resort area, so we call a taxi—and that’s when we meet Ohtaka-san. Affable, knowledgeable, cool under pressure, with the reflexes of an online gamer, Ohtaka is exactly the driver you want in Snow Country. He doesn’t even seem to mind my questions. His gaijin tolerance is real high. Fifteen years ago foreigners were a real novelty here, he explains, but not anymore. When I ask him what he thinks about the influx of foreigners he goes silent for a long while and then says it’s been about 80 percent good and 20 percent not so good. “Do the Japanese community and the foreigners interact much?” He shakes his head. “Not in my experience.”

FROM WHAT I SEE, NISEKO IS LESS a contact zone where cultures meet and more an exclusion zone where all the challenges that make travel in Japan so rewarding—the


language barrier; the mystifying cultural differences; the constant burden of being an other in a society that prides itself on its homogeneity; the local people themselves in all their diversity—are blocked out. It’s not just me, either. Even the resident gaijin joke about Niseko’s strange circumscription. As Joe, our English waiter at the Niseko Supply Co., explains to us, when the international crowd has to venture out from Niseko, they say they’re going to Japan. No offense to anyone, but I didn’t come to Japan to hang out in a gaijin-safe area—I could do that back in Boston for free. And I’m afraid the memory of the Ainu isn’t helping—left me in no mood for invasions of any sort. Even though I’m as much an invader as anyone. The lesson here might be that if you’re coming to Niseko, try not to first visit the Ainu. In spring the Shinkansen will arrive in Hokkaido, and with it, the future. Perhaps, as some predict, nothing will really change, and towns like Shiraoi will continue to wither, their young people fleeing en masse to Sapporo, Tokyo, and beyond. Perhaps the future will be the Niseko Invasion writ large over the entire island. I suspect there are folks who would love to see something like that happen. Better Niseko than a corpse like Shiraoi, they would argue. When I contemplate that possible future, I think of the Hokkaido wolf, now extinct, and I think of the Hokkaido bear in his cage, and I think of the Hokkaido fox I saw on the road, who looked at us like we were nothing. I think of Takahashi with the snowflakes in his hair. And, of course, I think of the Ainu. What will the future bring Hokkaido? Wolf, bear, fox? I know what I want and I know what I fear, but of the future, to misquote Thomas Mann: I cannot know and you cannot tell me. Let the future bring what it will; for the present I’ll stick with Sapporo, with its fresh-todeath swagger and its legendary ramens. And I’ll stick with the Hokkaido of Snow Country, not only because it is true and beautiful and precious but because maybe one day me and some version of that titanic bear I saw at the airport might meet. Hopefully she won’t try to eat me. After another coffee at the Niseko Supply Co. I say to the girls, “Shall we?” La Bachatera motions for the bill before I finish speaking. We call Ohtaka, and lucky for us he’s free for the day, so he scoops us up and that’s it for Niseko. We’ll end our trip where most people head first from Sapporo: in Otaru, with its famous glassware and its picturesque canal. A

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historic port, it survives on daytripping tourists from Sapporo, but at night it turns into another corpse. We’ll arrive at night. But that’s still in the future. In the present we have a lot of road to cover. I still have hope for one last bear. We head back into Snow Country. Ohtaka is telling us about his time in the Self-Defense Force and about his two sons, both, predictably, in Sapporo. La Bachatera is translating happily and Ms. Marvel is busy with the Otaru section of our guidebook. Mount Tengu. The Herring Mansion. The Music Box Museum. I can’t stop myself from turning around to catch one last glimpse of Mount Yotei, which the Ainu believed was the first place created on our world. To see it in that light, against that blue sky, just about takes your heart out. And then it too disappears.

THE DETAILS GETTING THERE Until the bullet train arrives, the island is most easily accessible by air via the New Chitose Airport. To get to Niseko, hop on a shuttle bus from the airport for a three-hour ride west. HOTEL S Cross Hotel Sapporo A short walk from the Sapporo Clock Tower, this high-rise property offers sweeping city views. Sapporo; crosshotel.com; doubles from ¥22,000. Green Leaf Niseko Village A ski-in, ski-out resort, the Green Leaf has undergone a refurbishment, its 200 guest rooms looking out at Hokkaido’s natural landscape. thegreenleafhotel.com; doubles from ¥34,160, minimum two-night stay. Kimamaya by Odin A cozy nine-room inn with Western-style rooms and a spa equipped with soaking tubs. Niseko; kimamaya.com; doubles from ¥30,880. The Kiroro Located near the slopes and a hotspring, one hour outside of Sapporo. starwoodhotels.com; doubles from ¥88,400. Sheraton Hokkaido Kiroro Resort Located between Sapporo and Niseko, this new resort opened last month with 140 guest rooms and is

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next to the ski slopes. sheratonhokkaidokiroro. co.jp/en; doubles from ¥18,400. RESTAUR ANTS Bang Bang A beloved izakaya known for grilled mackerel and chickenhearts skewers. 188-24 Yamada-aza, Kutchancho, Abuta-gun, Niseko; 81-136/22-4292; skewers from ¥245. Bar Gyu+ Enter this oasis through a fridge door and grab a brew after a day on the slopes. Niseko; gyubar.com. The Barn At Kimamaya's bistro, there's an authentic French menu and a glass wall showcasing the snowy terrain. Niseko; nisekobarn.com; mains ¥1,700–¥2,200. Marusan Tei The best place for seafood donburi near Curb Market. 2-1, 20-chome West, 12-jo North, Chuo-ku, Sapporo; 81-11/215-5655; mains ¥1,830–¥2,400. Green Farm Café A relaxed spot for coffee, tea and farm-to-table bites. 167-6 Yamada-aza, Kutchan-cho, Abuta-gun, Niseko; 81-136/23-3354; mains ¥940–¥1,600. Itadakimasu A centrally located restaurant that specializes in Genghis Khan barbecue, a grilled lamb dish. 6-1, 5-chome West, 5-jo South, Chuoku, Sapporo;

81-11/552-4029; set menus from ¥1,225. Lookout Café Only reachable by gondola, this wood-heavy café at the top of Mount Niseko Annupuri has incredible views. Niseko; nisekovillage.com; snacks ¥490–¥2,085. Niseko Supply Co. Sip champagne while nibbling on fresh crêpes and galettes at this renovated bakery. Niseko; theniseko supplycompany.com; galettes ¥1,225–¥1,840. Prativo A restaurant and dairy farm with a great vegetarian buffet and ice cream. Niseko; milk-kobo. com; lunch buffet ¥1,600. ACTIVITIES Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art The best place to see the art of the island, as well as a vast collection of international glassworks. dokyoi.pref.hokkaido.lg.jp. Miyanomori International Museum of Art Contemporary art collection is strong, including several works by Christo and JeanneClaude. Sapporo; miyanomori-art.jp. Sapporo Beer Museum & Biergarten Japan’s only beer museum, in a 125-year-old building that was the Sapporo Sugar Company factory. 2-10, 9-chome East, 7-jo North, Higashi-ku, Sapporo; 81-11/484-1876.


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in

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The chain of islands that dangles from Florida’s southern tip is experiencing more development and more tourists than ever. Novelist Lisa Unger, who’s been going to the Keys for years, sees a sunny side to the changes that some locals fear. | Photographed by Andrew Hetherington

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A flamingo at the Key West Nature & Butterfly Conservatory. OPPOSITE: The Golden Orb Trail through the mangroves at Long Key State Park.

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The first word my husband ever said to me was yum. We were on the dance floor of Sloppy Joe’s, the wild watering hole (and Ernest Hemingway haunt) on Key West’s Duval Street. Jeff delivered the verdict with a devilish smile just after stealing a kiss. The blaring music hadn’t allowed for conversation before the smooch, and I was too surprised to utter a response. Still, we left together soon after, wandering past the live music and revelers tumbling from other bars onto the sidewalks, escaping the carousal for the quiet side streets of Old Town. They were lined with foliage and “eyebrow” houses with pitched roofs long enough to shade the second-story windows as well as protect the porches. The scent of tropical flowers filled the humid air. Eventually, we wound up on a dock where, against a background of lapping water and clanging halyards, we talked until sunrise. That night—my first in the islands—was classic Florida Keys: carefree, steamy, organic, a little rough and a little refined. Something about the swaying palms and the tropical air, maybe even the tug of the Atlantic tide on one side and the Gulf’s on the other, had a way of quieting your usual concerns about what might happen next. A lot has changed in the 16-odd years that have passed since then— some say too much. Locals fret that development has run amok, spawning too many condos and restaurants and damaging delicate ecosystems. Though the 193-kilometer-long string of islands has a population of just under 75,000, an estimated 4.5 million people visited in 2014—a number that increases nearly every year. Then again, we’ve changed, too. A year after Jeff and I met at Sloppy

Joe’s, we wed in Key West, silhouetted against the sunset. As a young couple without kids, we returned for romantic getaways and outdoor adventure (and, yes, to continue partying). After our daughter arrived, we pushed her stroller around Sunset Celebration, Key West’s nightly arts festival. We’ve seen the islands evolve, and that hasn’t ruined them for us—quite the contrary. Made up of roughly 1,700 islands—some not much more than a sandbar—the Keys button up the seam between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The mangrovetangled Upper Keys extend from the top of the chain to Islamorada. A popular weekend destination for Floridians, this stretch has an abundance of dive shops, chain hotels, and condo developments. In the Middle Keys, the islands get quieter and farther apart, though Marathon is bustling enough to have big-box stores and an airport. The Lower Keys, which include quirky Key West and the Dry Tortugas, are wilder and greener. A series of 42 causeways runs through the archipelago, carrying U.S. Route 1 to its southernmost point. On our most recent trip, we took a three-day meander down the length of the islands with our nine-year-old daughter, Ocean, making several stops along the way. Back when we first started visiting, there was little to please a luxury-loving vacationer in the Upper Keys. It didn’t matter then—like so many others, we came to kayak the green-blue waters, hook marlin and tarpon, scour reefs and wrecks for nurse sharks and moray eels. After a long day on or under the water, a hammock and a cold beer passed for five-star.

But in recent years, ever fancier properties have cropped up—not the worst thing in the world for someone (like me) who has grown to appreciate a high thread count as much as a sunrise paddle. We drove past the strip malls on 53-kilometer-long Key Largo, heading for Islamorada—which, confusingly, is not actually an island but a town that covers five keys: Tea Table, Upper and Lower Matecumba, Windley, and Plantation. It’s known for its excellent fishing and great seafood shacks that dish up oceanfresh fare. The first time Jeff came to the Keys, 30 years ago with his parents, they stayed at Islamorada’s Ocean 80. Built in 1972 as a Holiday Inn, by then it was a modest timeshare property nestled beside Bud n’ Mary’s Marina and home to Pineapple, a bar that was known for its rowdy evenings. In the 1990s the place was a Hampton Inn with an Outback Steakhouse.


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Amara Cay Resort, in Islamorada,

was completely renovated in 2014; Sunset Key as seen from the ferry; Latitudes Restaurant at Sunset Key Cottages and the Gulf of Mexico.

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JEFF AND I SIPPED MORE COCKTAILS ON LOUNGE CHAIRS WHILE OCEAN TRIED TO SCALE A PALM TREE


Seven Mile Bridge, which connects the Middle Keys to the Lower Keys.

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HERE SHE COULD HOLD A STARFISH, PICK UP AN URCHIN OR A SEA CUCUMBER CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: The

“inside-out juicy Lucy” burger at M.E.A.T. Eatery & Tap Room, stuffed with bacon and pimento cheese; a vintage resort sign in Islamorada; a path that winds down to the private beach at Sunset Key Cottages.


In 2014 the property was overhauled to become Amara Cay Resort, whose interiors aim for modern island ease. The large lobby is dotted with cedar-paneled pillars and wicker chairs swinging from the ceiling. Out back are a tidy swimming pool, a rum bar, and a “beach” atop a seawall. Above the bar there’s a painting of a “square grouper”—the Coast Guard’s term for a bale of marijuana tossed into the sea from a boat or an airplane, and a wink to the drug-running that was prevalent here in the 1980s. The first thing we did was settle in for refreshments. I had the Blood Lime, a vodka concoction named in homage to the Netflix series Bloodline. The moody family drama, which was then filming its second season in Islamorada, highlights the beauty of places like white-sand Anne’s Beach, the mangrove swamps, and the serene fishing flats in Long Key State Park. Though the cast and crew have been booking up local homes and hotels—and there are Kyle Chandler and Sissy Spacek sightings—the Hollywood invasion hasn’t disturbed the vibe. “They have kept their presence low-key,” Kara Lundgren, Amara Cay’s general manager, said. The three of us headed out for a swim, first in the Atlantic and then in the pool. With the setting sun painting tiger stripes in the sky, Jeff and I sipped some more cocktails on lounge chairs while Ocean tried to scale a palm tree. Amara Cay was upscale, yet understated and relaxing, a long way from the cracked tile floors and rickety wicker furniture we once expected of the Keys. When Jeff was a child, he and his father would go fishing late at night in Islamorada, toting bait buckets and fishing poles to the remnants of old bridges, left behind as the Overseas Highway was rerouted or expanded. After a dinner of fritto misto, conch francese, and zeppole with Nutella dipping sauce at Amara Cay’s restaurant, Oltremare, we tried to recreate the memory for Ocean. Jeff picked up live bait at Bud n’ Mary’s, just as his dad had. But

modern Islamorada let us down—in the heavy traffic, Ocean got carsick; the night was too dark to find the spots Jeff remembered. Disappointed, we dumped our bait and put our girl to bed. The next morning, we awoke to a pastel sunrise and prepared for a morning on the water. If Ocean had been younger, we might have visited Theater of the Sea, an Islamorada institution where visitors can swim with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, California sea lions, and stingrays. Or we might have gone to see the raptors and sea birds at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center. But since she’s old enough to snorkel, we headed to the Florida Reef, the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States. We met our captain, Chris Gruno, at Seamonkeys, the tiny dive shop on Amara Cay Resort’s docks. He recommended wet suits—the water was warm, but a number of moon jellyfish had been spotted. Their sting, while not dangerous, is unpleasant. Wanting to get into the water as fast as possible, we all opted out of the wet suits and decided to go for it. With the water glassy and the sun bright, conditions couldn’t have been better. Chris zipped us out to Cheeca Rocks, the best nearby area for snorkeling, because the reef comes close to the surface. He reminded us of the rules—no touching, watch where you kick your fins—and said we might expect to see barracudas, rays, turtles, parrot fish, maybe even some nurse sharks. Though the area was dotted with boats, once I was in the water, holding my daughter’s hand, I felt like we were alone. Large, purple moon jellyfish floated in the water—but slowly enough that we could warily evade them. Watching her dive down among the brain coral, attempting to feed fish a bunch of seaweed from her hand, I thought: This is everything I love about the Keys—breathing, being and watching. Starving after the snorkel trip, we sought out the three-year-old M.E.A.T. Eatery & Taproom in Islamorada rather than relying on an

old favorite like the Cracked Conch Café in Marathon, which serves the best conch fingers in the islands. M.E.A.T. feels like an import, with a giant elk head on one wall, organic wines, a dozen beers on tap, and “adult” milk shakes such as Guinness & Nutella. “There wasn’t even craft beer in the Keys when I first arrived,” co-owner Thomas Smith told me later. “Coming from Colorado, it was a bit of a shock.” But change isn’t always bad—a good burger used to be hard to find in the Keys, and Jeff’s “inside-out juicy Lucy,” a patty stuffed with pimento cheese and bacon and topped with American cheese, is a welcome alternative to classic island cuisine. We continued puttering our way south. In Marathon, we stopped at the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, opened in 2014. It’s a slick operation, and felt contrived at first—in a region that boasts some of the world’s best diving, visitors can scuba or snorkel in a 750,000-liter tank containing an artificial reef. My friend Tara Popick, the one I was visiting on that first trip to Key West, joined us with her nine-year-old daughter, Zoé. The girls ran up and down the wooden walkways, visiting the touch tank, a turtle environment, some penned tortoises. They tossed food pellets to tarpons. I began to see the appeal of the place. On the real reef, we had to keep reminding Ocean not to touch anything. We’d been surrounded by stinging jellyfish. Here, she could hold a starfish, pick up a sea cucumber or urchin. At the Stingray Encounter pool, we handfed pieces of fish to southern, cownose, and spotted eagle rays the size of bicycle tires. The girls shrieked with delight as rays splashed and tugged food from our fingers. I might have done a little shrieking, too. It was early evening when we arrived in Key West. Duval Street was packed with tourists, shoppers, and revelers. Visitors were gathering for Sunset Celebration as well as Brewfest, an annual celebration of all things beer-related. At one point, we would have wanted to be in the heart

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The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, in Key West, where the writer lived and worked for more than a decade.

of the action. This time, we had dinner, then took a 10-minute ferry ride to Sunset Key. Over the years we’ve stayed at a lot of lovely places in Key West, from big hotels like Ocean Key Resort & Spa to smaller, more intimate inns like the Marquesa. Sunset Key may have been the loveliest. From the boat we stepped onto a private island of winding pathways, glimmering tiki torches, and rows of white cottages. Officially called Tank Island, 11-hectare Sunset Key was built by the U.S. Navy, which wanted a strategic fuel-tank depot during the Cold War. In 1994, a local developer bought and renamed the island.

Sunset Key Cottages occupies about three hectares, and became part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection in 2014. Our Sunday started with a bit of pampering: room-service breakfast at the sun-dappled table in our eat-in kitchen. A little later, at the spa, a masseuse worked out whatever tension I was still carrying from the real world. I was floaty as we headed back into Key West for the day. We strolled through the glassenclosed environment at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, surrounded by a confetti of live butterflies and tropical birds. Soothing music

played; pink flamingos groomed themselves in a trickling stream. At the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, we wandered through the 1851 Spanish colonial, built with native limestone taken from the grounds and chock-full of photos, paintings, and books. Ocean and Zoé chased the six-toed cats that are allegedly descendants of those the writer loved. The weather was hot that weekend, the streets and sights packed. Everything from food to sunscreen was overpriced. I hear the complaints about the Keys and how they’re not what they used to be. It’s possible I don’t feel the islands are wrecked because I need them not to be—because this is where our life together began. But maybe it’s because the world’s great travel destinations have the ability to absorb change rather than be absorbed by it. They become richer and more complex. At every stage of our lives these islands have offered something new to inspire, nourish or entertain us. And yet their mysterious, languid energy somehow remains. The night Jeff and I met at Sloppy Joe’s, the band was playing and the dance floor was pulsing. When we returned near the end of this trip, there was still a crowd and still live music, but lunch tables packed the dance floor instead of partiers. Ocean ordered a virgin strawberry daiquiri. We took selfies. It was very different from that first night, but I also felt like it couldn’t have been better.

THE DETAILS HOTEL S Amara Cay Resort An oceanfront property in Islamorada offering a man-made beach that is lined with hammocks and thatch huts that are perfect for a relaxing read. amara cayresort.com; doubles from US$189. Sunset Key Cottages Located on an 11-hectare island, this resort can be reached via ferry from Key West. Each of the bright, tin-roofed cottages are

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home to two to four bedrooms. sunsetkey cottages.com; cottages from US$695. RESTAUR ANTS & BARS M.E.A.T. Eatery & Taproom Burgers are the focus at this Islamorada hot spot; the bar serves alcoholic milk shakes and has a dozen beers on tap. meat eatery.com; mains US$10–$17. Oltremare Ristorante The restaurant at Amara Cay Resort serves Italian food with a

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Floridian flair. oltremareristorante. com; mains US$19–$45. Sloppy Joe’s This Key West institution and onetime Hemingway hangout has live music and dancing every night. sloppyjoes.com; mains US$10– $12. ACTIVITIES Aquarium Encounters Hands-on exhibits like shark feedings and a 50-species touch tank are the big draw at this

Marathon attraction. floridakeys aquariumencounters.com. Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum The Spanish-colonial estate on Key West is filled with books, photos and nearly 50 six-toed cats. hemingwayhome. com. Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory View dozens of varieties of butterflies and more than 20 types of exotic birds in this glass-enclosed habitat. key westbutterfly.com.


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wish you were here

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Francisco Guerrero   El Nido   PHILIPPINES In the waters around El Nido are almost four dozen islands and islets, each home to varied

sets of limestone outcrops and innumerable secluded beaches. As part of a protected marine area, these clear waters provide a perfect playground for a day on a banca, best during the dry season between November and April. Some of these strips of sand are so off-the-beaten track that the only footprints are from local lizards, birds and monkeys. Under the waves, this top end of Palawan is home to turtles, manta rays, the occasional whale shark and a kaleidoscope of coral reefs, about 100 different species in all. It’s a diving bounty; some of the dozens of sites venture down as far as 30 meters below sea level. By late afternoon, you could find yourself in any number of bays or inlets, all offering excellent views of the end of another day in paradise.

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January 2016  

Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia January 2016

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