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Volume 07 / Issue 06


June 2013


64 Saigon/Hanoi Vietnam reunified in 1975, but the two sides never quite stopped bickering. lien hoang jumps into the fray, making the cases for both major cities. photographed by morgan ommer . guide page 73


A Beach of His Own Deep in an eight-year love affair with Koh Phayam, ian lloyd neubauer

reflects on how this Thai island in the Andaman Sea has held onto his heart. map and guide page 77

80 Zambia Up Close With top-tier guides, plentiful wildlife and a circuit of simple yet stylish bush camps and river lodges, this under-the-radar safari destination is Africa for purists. On wheels, on water and on foot—and from the vantage point of his own bathtub—peter jon lindberg gets an intimate look at Zambia.

90 IT List For our annual editors’ choice awards, we’ve logged thousands of kilometers to find the 61 extraordinary hotels that are transforming their destinations.

photographed by monik a hoefler and jens schwarz .

morgan ommer

map and guide page


A flock of swan boats in West Lake, Hanoi, page 64. 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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29 Six Dishes: Penang Where to try the best local fare in George Town. by robyn eckhardt

30 Canton Cool New hotels and boutiques are giving a fresh edge to Guangzhou. by helen dalley

32 Taiwan Speaks Up Speakeasies add a dash of mystery, a dollop of cool to Taipei. by cain nunns 40 A Hostel Environment “Chic hostel” is no longer an oxymoron. diana hubbell checks out the new way to rough it easy. 50 Flying Solo Finding the perfect travel companion can be as easy as looking in the mirror. cristina m . de oliveira helps you plan an adventure for one.

12 …

contr ibu tors

Plus Hotels in Thailand with killer views; what to do in Hyderabad; a hot designer’s travel tips; the best airport bars; and more.

Trip Doctor

55 Q+A The truth behind resort fees; how much hotel points are really worth; and what to do about a damaged room. 57 Planning How to find the perfect learning vacation, whether you’re interested in Vietnamese cuisine or Komodo dragons. 60 Deals An eco-escape in Malaysia; a five-star Bangkok hotel with spa benefits; and more. Plus What to pack for a diving trip; apps that help you save on last-minute bookings; and more.

Decoder 106 Singapore Often written off as too staid, the city-state is continually evolving—its restaurants, night spots, hotels and other diversions leading Asia into the global spotlight, writes christopher kucway .

Departments 14 16 … i n b o x 18

e d i t o r ’s n o t e

On the Cover Checking in at the old-wing lobby of the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. Photographer: Morgan Ommer; stylist: Sabrina Jard; hair and make-up: Phuong Bui; dress: Chula; model: Trang Pham.

photographed by darren soh .

Strategies 113 Hotels A to Z Our guide on how to be the ultimate insider, or at least score a better room.

Last Look

122 Anini Beach, Hawaii A coral-ringed cove less-traversed on the northshore of Kauai. photographed by ted and debbie .

The bookstore at Fang Suo Commune, Guangzhou, page 30.


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c o u r t e sy o f fa n g s u o


dest i nat ions


June 2013 123

30 122

K aua i

H y de r a ba d

G ua n gzhou


106 74 S i n ga pore 80

Koh Ph aya m 106

Z a m bi a



when to go

what US$5 buys

who to follow



April and May, October and November. (Typhoon season falls in between.)

One well-drink or glass of house wine at Rebel Rebel Café and Bar.




Winter (October through February) is the most pleasant. March, April and May are extremely hot, and are followed by monsoon season.

A colorful scarf or locally crafted bangles at Shilparamam, a cultural village.


Koh Phayam


October through April.

The one-way ferry ride from Ranong.




May through September for optimal game viewing and receding floods at Victoria Falls. But you’ll find good prices in April.

Three hours of Internet time at a cybercafé.




Temperatures steadily hover around 30 year-round. July through October sees less tourist traffic.

Three rides on the MRT.




North shore beach waters are calmest during the summer months; the south shore is a safer bet during the winter.

A Double Bubba burger made with fresh-ground Kauai-raised beef, at Bubba’s.


Long Weekend


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Editor’s Note

where to find me @CKucway on Twitter

This Must Be the Place

Retro touches at Bangkok’s new DoubleTree by Hilton

our next stops


Sri Lanka Rangoon Asia’s Quiet Beaches

The T+L Code Travel + Leisure editors, writers and photographers are the industry’s most reliable sources. While on assignment, they travel incognito whenever possible and do not take press trips or accept free travel of any kind. 14

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w a s i n e e c h a n ta k o r n


t’s no great secret that hotel service is a strong suit throughout Asia, but what isn’t always obvious is the region-wide push towards quality accommodation in all price ranges. Brands that are often mediocre at best in other parts of the world are coming up with some innovative looks as they expand around Asia. These new hotels and resorts are most impressive when they combine a playful outlook with facilities we expect and services that go above and beyond. This month’s focus on hotels offers up an endless string of examples—though you’d be hard pressed to pick up any issue of the magazine without reading of another address you would love to call home for a night or three. Our annual IT List (page 90), the best of the world’s new hotels, is always an inspiring read and this year the full weight of properties in Asia comes to the fore. From Bhutan to New Zealand, Bangkok to Penang, and many stops in between, this is the ultimate to-stay list. Of course, all these hotels and resorts depend on their staff, and we’ve included the very finest in the World’s Best Service Awards (page 119). Again, even though it’s a global count, this region figures prominently. You’ll see that the highest ranked city hotel in the world, the Peninsula Hong Kong, is run by general manager Rainy Chan. In fact, we’re glad to report that three of the top-rated city hotels in Asia have female general managers. So we decided to zero in on this often-overlooked detail by asking the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok’s Amanda Hyndman and The Peninsula Bangkok’s Katja Henke for their picks of the city this month (“Views from the River,” page 38). If all the talk about hotels, resorts and room service makes you yearn for a simpler escape, a place to turn off your mobile phone and watch the sun set, iced drink in hand, then it’s time you visit Koh Phayam (“A Beach of His Own,” page 74), where writer Ian Lloyd Neubauer returns to get off the grid. That, too, is one of Asia’s strong suits.— christopher kucway


Writer “Flying Solo” (page 50).

Morgan Ommer

Photographer “Saigon/Hanoi” (page 64).

Darren Soh

italian lessons My first major trip alone was to Rome, at 19. Day one, I woke at dawn for a marathon of a tour, but at the end I had nothing to say about what I’d seen. Rome wasn’t built in a day and there was no reason I had to traverse the Eternal City’s seven hills in 24 hours. The next day I sat in a café with a book, taking in the sights, smells and sounds. most daunting solo trip In Thailand in late August 2008, during civil unrest, I nearly got stranded at Phuket airport. An hour after my flight to Bangkok left, mobs took over the runways and terminals at HKT and shut it down. My positive travel karma was in overdrive that day. when eating alone, avoid… Food that can get stuck in your teeth (sorry, pesto). Sometimes you need a friend across the table to keep you in check.

explain “viet kieu” My mother is Vietnamese— which makes me officially a Viet kieu, a Vietnamese returnee. Locals mostly use it for Vietnamese who were born here, lived abroad and are now back, or for secondgeneration Vietnamese who may have been born and raised abroad but in a Vietnamese community. Which makes me an almost perfect stranger. what do you like most about vietnam The chaos. Think of the motorcycle traffic: this applies to daily life, and it also applies to work. Life in Vietnam is a joyous kind of chaos brimming with youthful optimism and very good food. conservative yet progressive culture I really don’t see it as a contradiction. There’s a long history of absorbing foreign culture, and using it against invaders to repel them.

favorite remnants of “old singapore” All the post-war mid-century architectural buildings, including iconic apartments like The Pearl Bank. best thing about “new singapore” The chance to savor cuisine by celebrity chefs—partly a consequence of the flurry of recently opened integrated resorts. where do you live Sembawang, a neighborhood in the north, where there’s an eclectic mix of old rustic mosques, a real hot spring, a biker bar with great pub grub and some of the best seafood vermicelli on this island. so where to for lunch Kok Sen Restaurant, at 30 Keong Saik Road, one of the best Singaporean Chinese restaurants in town, and one that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. Their prawn-paste fried chicken is to die for.

Photographer “Decoder: Singapore” (page 106).

‘Rome wasn’t built in a day and there was no reason I had to traverse the Eternal City’s seven hills in 24 hours.’ — CRISTINA DE OLIVEIRA

f r o m l e f t: c o u r t e s y o f C r i s t i n a D e O l iv e i r a ; c o u r t e s y o f M o r g a n O m m e r ; c o u r t e s y o f D a r r e n S o h

Cristina De Oliveira


Opening Doors I recently read your article on Doors restaurant in Phnom Penh [“Cambodia’s Hipster Hotspot,” May 2013]. As a long-term Phnom Penh resident, I can confirm that Doors is a very welcome addition to the restaurant and nightlife scene. The food, drinks, service and live entertainment are some of the best in the city. I would recommend it to anyone visiting Cambodia’s capital. f

Ashley Phelps phnom penh Q: How-To Hong Kong

What are some good tips for a first-time visitor to Hong Kong? @TravLeisureAsia #TLAsia  @butterfli253 southern california

Malaysia, Ahoy!

I loved your story about sailing from Langkawi to Penang [“Throw off the Bowlines,” May 2013]. Sailing school sounds like a blast! It’s nice to know there are other oceanic options here in Asia besides diving. I cracked up reading the anecdote about “kicking the donkey.” The only problem? I was rooting for you to chuck that Nicolai overboard! Oh well. Kelly McDurkin singapore

contact info

A: So glad you asked! Our expert Hong Kong expat, Helen Dalley, offers the following ideas: 1) Ascend: The Peak, of course. Try Cafe Deco for affordable eats. 2) Appreciate art: Visit some of the city’s world-class galleries, including White Cube and Gallerie Perrotin (both at 50 Connaught Rd., Central). 3) Go global: Chungking Mansions (36–44 Nathan Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon) is a high-rise warren with an international, if slightly down-atheel, vibe. There are great Indian restaurants and supermarkets. 4) Day-trip: Take the ferry to Lantau island, the bus to Cheung Sha beach and then have dinner at The Stoep (852/2980-2699) on the beach. 5) Drink in the view: Get cocktails at Ozone at Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong’s tallest bar, located in ICC; the martinis are great but very potent.,, f TravelLeisureAsia, or @TravLeisureAsia. Comments may be

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Radar On Our

News. Finds. Opinions. Obsessions.

“Glamping,” if you must.


Indonesia Unplugged

G a b r i e l u l u n g wi c a k s o n g

In a quiet corner of Lombok, a boutique resort is opening its doors to travelers in search of solitude. By Holly McDonald More than ever, travelers to Indonesia are itching to strike out past popular Bali. The new Jeeva Beloam (; US$295), on neighboring Lombok, makes a compelling case for venturing eastward. In a sense, Jeeva Beloam is one of a new breed of places to stay defined partly by what they don’t have: no TVs, no Wi-Fi, no crowds, no noise. The owners are decidedly modest when they call the five bungalows of recycled wood with alang-alang roofs a “beach camp.” Set on their own arc of white sand, the spacious rooms with mosquito-draped beds have a rustic charm; this is beachside luxury, done simply—“glamping” if you must. Relish the isolation and serenity by curling up on the veranda daybed and watching the occasional fisherman saunter into the cove with the day’s offerings for the open-air restaurant. Kayaking, snorkeling, diving, fishing, surfing and trekking are all nearby diversions. Or just sun yourself and listen to the late-afternoon storms cracking out even further east. You can glimpse the jagged peaks of Sumbawa in the distance. ✚

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countryside Samroiyod

h ot e l s

Pick Your Panorama The landscape in Thailand is a glut of picture-perfect scenery. Here are four new hotels and resorts that take advantage of their surroundings. By Merritt Gurley 24

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Beneath a jagged hill on the east coast, Baan Buang Bua has just three villas, with roof terraces to watch the sunset, and a pondside garden where you’ll be served your meals by the owners, a lovely Thai family. The daughter, chatty five-year-old Pan Pan, may even treat you to curry puffs. 66-84/458-5048;; Bt2,000.

city Bangkok

Smack-dab in Bangkok’s hip fashion district of Pratunam and five minutes from the Airport Express link, the new Centara Watergate Pavillion Hotel is a four-star with 281 fab rooms, from singles to family suites. The outdoor pool with shaded gazebos has a killer view. 66-2/6251235; centarahotels; Bt1,890.

river Chiang Mai

Drink in views of the rolling Ping River at Sala Lanna Chiang Mai. This is Sala’s second boutique property in the country and, with 16 high-design villas, the resort maintains a decidedly intimate ambiance. The two-bedroom riverfront suite has a private pool and a deck where you can tan. 66-5/324-2588; lanna; Bt2,800.

beach Koh Samui

In a quiet cove on the powdery shores of Chaweng Noi Beach, Vana Belle is a superlative spot to laze. The 80 suites and villas have private terraces and pools over the ocean, in a distinctly Thai style: wooden furnishings and art inspired by the local myth of the mystical Himmapan forest. 66-77/915-555; vanabellekohsamui. com; Bt15,000.

Hotel rates are for double occupancy.

c l o c kwi s e f r o m t o p l e f t: J a g o g a z e n d a m ; c o u r t e s y o f c e n ta r a w at e r g at e p a vi l l i o n h o t e l ; © I n g a Sp e n c e / g e t t y i m a g e s . c o m ; c o u r t e s y o f v a n a b e l l e

Clockwise from top left: Country living at Baan Buang Bua; Bangkok’s skyline at Centara; bird’s-eye Chiang Mai; shades of blue at Vana Belle.

Radar c r u is i n g

Rooms for Sail


Malaysia in a Mist “Boy I wish that I smelled like this Asian city!” may not be most oftuttered phrase but, whatever the demand, Josh Lee is ready with the supply. Lee, a Malaysia-born perfume master, recently released George Town, a unisex eau de toilette inspired by the area of Penang where he grew up. The perfume comes with a story: the tale of a merchant sitting at the jetty in George Town, sipping tea as the sun rises and then slowly making his way

through the trading grounds where local spices, foods and flowers mingle in an olfactory harmony. This vision inspired Lee’s warm mixture of nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, rose, hibiscus, sandalwood, musk and patchouli, designed to capture the city’s heritage in a bottle. For travelers looking to bring a piece of Penang home with them, what better souvenir than a scent?; RM118.

The Alila Purnama in Indonesia.


best in sew

The sewing kit from London’s Savoy hotel, in a Liberty of London silk pouch.


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It’s a good thing I’m heading to London this month since I just lost a button on my favorite Brunello Cucinelli jacket. A needle and thread is hard to find in a jeans-andT-shirt world; my local drugstore sells mostly useless assortments (orange?). A good hotel, however, understands the art of the sewing kit: a discreet envelope or fitted box with a sliding top, colors I want, and—a thrill every time—threaded needles. I squirrel one away every night, hoping for another. If it doesn’t come, I’m not above filling my pockets at the housekeeper’s cart. —stephen drucker

c l o c kwi s e f r o m t o p : c o u r t e s y o f j o s h l e e f r a g r a n c e s ; COURTESY OF AL I LA H OTELS ; SAM K A P LAN

A street art installation showcases George Town eau de toilette.

High-end hotels are taking to the water, deploying luxury yachts to give guests a taste of the sailing life. In Indonesia, the 46-meter, five-cabin Alila Purnama (; US$54,000 a week for up to 10 people) joins Alila’s two terra-firma properties in Bali. The teak-and-rattan phinisi carries guests to neighboring islands for snorkeling and massages on deserted beaches. + This winter, Soneva Resorts will launch Soneva in Aqua (soneva. com; from US$4,375 a day for up to four people) in the Maldives— the sleek, two-cabin seaborne villa will come complete with a chef, dive master, spa therapist and 24/7 butler, and will cruise to less-explored atolls and reefs. + Also on the horizon: La Sultana Yacht (lasultana​hotels. com; nine days from US$7,545 per person), a sister to hotels in Marrakesh and Oualidia, Morocco. The former Soviet spy ship is getting a serious upgrade and will have seven James Bond–worthy Moorish-style rooms. —maria shollenbarger

Radar d is c ov e r y

Star Search

Travelers are turning their eyes skyward in search of cosmic spectacles that are, in some cases, quite literally once in a lifetime. By Diana Hubbell Take a Cruise

Cosmic Calendar

Celestial happenings are always on the horizon. Here, three you should get a clear shot of from Asia. Comet ISON Keep your eyes peeled this winter for what some astronomers are already calling the comet of the century. If it survives as it hurtles close to the sun, the 5-kilometer-wide comet will develop a tail so brilliant that it may well be visible to the naked eye during daylight. The comet will be brightest on November 28, 2013, but should still be visible through midJanuary 2014. 28

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Top: Solar eclipse. Below: A laser tour of the New Zealand sky.

Geminid Meteor Shower With as

many as 120 meteors an hour, this is your best chance during the year to see shooting stars—just wait until after the bright moon sets, around 4:30 a.m. December 13 and 14, 2013. Total Solar Eclipse, Indonesia Sure, it’s almost three years away, but there’s no harm in planning ahead—especially with the number of tourists angling for hotel reservations and tours in the area. The best viewing will actually be in the Pacific Ocean just east of Indonesia, but the event will still be visible from land. March 9, 2016.

Bright Nights

If all you’re after is a particularly beautiful patch of night sky, here are a few superlative spots for stargazing. Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

Astronomy guides at Mt. John Observatory give nightly tours of the southern sky using lasers to point out

notable constellations. Through the lens of one of their powerful telescopes you can get a closer look at familiar planets and far-off clusters of stars.; adults NZ$135. Pisco Elqui, Chile At Elqui Domos, about a two-hour drive from La Serena, there is an observatory with two electronic Schmidt-Cassegrain type telescopes. Stay in one of the facility’s dome rooms, which have removable roofs, for an unimpeded view of the vast night sky.; doubles from US$125. Emil Valley, Turkey This trip through Turkey is led by astronomy expert Dr. John Mason, who conducts evening lessons on nights spent camping out under the stars, well clear of the light pollution of neighboring cities.; eight-day trip from £1,489 per person including flights within the itinerary. ✚

m a ki ya a g i m a c hi ; c o u r t e s y o f e a r t h a n d s k y. c o . n z

This year’s astronomical showstopper is undeniably the hybrid solar eclipse that will occur on November 3. Cruises such as those run by the following two lines bring budding astronomers to eastern Africa—the best place for viewing—in style. On the open sea, far from city lights, is the perfect spot to take in the event, with plenty of room on deck to set up private telescopes. TravelQuest International combines eclipse viewing with land tours and safaris, if you’re feeling even more adventurous.; 2013 West Africa Total Solar Eclipse Cruise: Spain to Sierra Leone, October 22 through November 5, 2013, doubles from US$9,980. Ring of Fire Expeditions offers other astronomical expeditions, as well, including cruises to Alaska to view the aurora borealis.; Solar Eclipse Cruise October 28 to November 9, 2013, from US$4,469 per person.

Radar food

Six Dishes: Penang Our meal-by-meal guide on where to try the best local fare in George Town, Penang.

breakfast Koay teow th’ng at Seng Thor Coffee Shop

lunch Tamarind prawns at Tek Sen

snack Oyster omelette at Lam Ah Kopitiam

Hearty meat broth, silky wide rice noodles, fish balls redolent of the sea and pork two ways—minced and thickly sliced—make this iconic Penang specialty truly the breakfast of champions. Try to resist finishing the bowl to save room for lunch. 16 Carnavon St.; RM4 per bowl.

Plump freshwater prawns, slicked with an irresistible sweet-sour tamarind and black soy sauce glaze, are just one delicious reason you can expect to queue at this friendly, decades-old Teochew-Malaysian restaurant. 18-20 Carnarvon St.; 60-12/981-5117; meal for two RM60.

For a distinctive version of this ubiquitous Southeast Asian dish, the vendor fries the omelettes—made of thin potato starch batter topped with a broken egg—and oysters separately. An omelette with lacy crisp edges and a springy center is the happy result. 194 Chulia St.; RM6 per omelet.

dinner Lor ark at Kebaya

dessert Gula Melaka ice cream at China House

for the flight home Kueh lapis at Sunflower Homemade Cake

Gilded Chinese panels and marble tables set an elegant stage for modern takes on Straits and Indo-Chinese classics, such as this crispy confit duck leg perched atop a sliced breast, served with plum wedges in rich braising liquid heady with star anise and cloves. Stewart Ln.; 60-4/264-2333;; three-course fixed price menu RM125 per person.

This final course will sate your sweet tooth. With hints of butterscotch and coffee, gula Melaka (Malaysian coconut palm sugar) was made to star in ice cream. A single scoop studded with nuggets of soft sugar pairs perfectly with their buttery macadamia shortbread. 153 and 155 Beach St.; 60-4/263-7299; chinahouse.; dessert for two RM28.

Eighteen sheer layers of buttery batter, painstakingly poured by hand and baked one after the other in the same pan, makes for an edible souvenir as visually striking as it is tasty. Make sure to polish off this moist cake within a week, before it spoils. It packs well, so bring back a few to share. 117A Lorong Hutton; from RM13 for 250 grams.—roby n eck har dt

Photograped by David Hagerman

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on the map

Canton Cool

New hotels and boutiques are giving travelers good reason to check out Tianhe, Guangzhou’s upscale business district. skirt) in addition to books and magazines in a chic minimalist space. Shop MU83, Taikoo Hui, 383 Tianhe Rd.;

Oriental Guangzhou

From top: The bookstore at Fang Suo; colorful tableware at Pollen Life; Rebel Rebel; outside the W Guangzhou.

also has a modern twist with cool contemporary art pieces scattered throughout. Don’t miss dinner at Ebony for locally sourced snow dragon beef tenderloin and a divine red velvet brownie. 389 Tianhe Rd.; 86-20/8088888;; doubles from RMB2,100. 2

3 Browse homegrown boutique Pollen Life for European textiles and crockery, and quirky statement pieces like watches from Tokyo Bay (from RMB968) and vinyl Vespa flight bags (RMB439). Shop MF01-10, One Link Walk; 86-20/3899-2413;

Popular lifestyle store

Fang Suo Commune stocks

Brit-themed bar Rebel Rebel serves up playfully

everything from adorable Midori stationery to fashion designer Ma Ke’s chic clothing label Exception de Mixmind (RMB2,298 for a


named food and drink including an Italian Job pizza (pepperoni, Parmesan,

Gruyère and mozzarella) and the doubtfully delicious Yellow Submarine shooters (vodka and banana liqueur) in a setting brimming with bonhomie. 42 Ti Yu Dong Rd.;; dinner for two RMB196. 5 W Guangzhou

represents Starwood’s first foray into mainland China with its hip hotel brand. Recline on a driftwood sofa in the Woobar over a cup of lavender Earl Grey by day, or enjoy the tunes and mingle with the in-crowd by night. 26 Xian Cun Rd., starwood; doubles from RMB1,670.—helen dalley


3 Ti a n h e rd.

2 1


H ua n gp u W Av e

Li e de Av e


X i a n Cu n Rd.

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FROM TO P : C o u r t e s y o f F a n g S u o c o m m u n e ; C o u r t e s y o f P o l l e n Li f e ; Rebel Rebel by Rune Baess; courtesy of w guangzhou

Designed to resemble an upscale Chinese residence with its dark wood paneling and high ceilings, Mandarin 1


The exclusive and elusive Alchemy bar.


Taipei Speaks Up

Three new speakeasies are adding a dash of mystery and a dollop of cool to Taiwan’s bar scene. By Cain Nunns Taipei’s nightlife used to be known for its liberal splashes of low. Tacky plastic-chandelier-infested bar-clubs held dominion, while high rollers reserved sofas and ordered champagne bottle sparklers to trumpet their ridiculous expense. But the times they are changing. Speakeasies, the quintessential prohibition-style bars that have taken root in New York and London for their premium booze and even more premium bartenders, have started to carve out a small niche in Asia’s forgotten capital. Across the road from the World Trade Center in the steel-and-glass district of Xinyi is second-floor bar Alchemy (2F, No. 16-1, Section 5, Xin Yi Rd.; 886-9/5358-5759; drinks for two NT$800). It was a labor of love for award-winning owner and bartender Angus Zhao, who fretted over whether the city was ready for a reservationonly bolt hole that doesn’t allow standing customers or walk-ins. Fear not. Booze-enthusiasts are lining up for the noir ambience of this classy nightery. 32

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While Alchemy’s honeycomb cherry-wood paneled walls and ceilings, marble bar, brass fixtures, crystal glasses and leather gullwing chairs scream authenticity, the drinks and service deliver it in whiskey ryeand swing music-backed abandon. The philosophy is straightfoward: fewer customers, more attentive service. “It’s about the people and protecting my clients,” Zhao says with obvious relish. “I have a Japanese friend who opened a bar in a forest. It has one stool. One stool!” Zhao’s Heart of Aztec cocktail—a Don Julio Reposado, honey, Cacao liqueur, Angostura 1999 Rum, Maraschino, syrup, lime and bitters— goes down smooth and will have you ordering another right on its heels. A five-minute taxi ride takes you to Ounce (No. 40, Lane 63, Dunhua South Rd., Section 2, Daan District; 8862/2708-6885;; drinks for two NT$800). A café front gives way to a hidden door on its left flank, and a secret button offering entry to a crooked room in burnt orange buttressing a straight bar. Whiskey-

barrel tables dot the space. It’s another haven for booze not otherwise found on this island republic, where the specialty alcohol suppliers just aren’t special enough. Ounce relies on a steady stream of friends smuggling in suitcases filled with speakeasy staples like Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 years, Rittenhouse Rye and Old Overholt Rye. “We just wanted to get an Old Fashioned that wasn’t half seltzer water,” says part-owner Song YeeHung. Bartender Aaron Feder, who has a large stack of mixing awards under his belt, delivers just that—along with a master class on the origins and genesis of many of his finely crafted and cocktails . Woo Taipei (No. 39, Lane 205, Zhongxiao East Rd., Section 4; 886-2/ 8771-9813; drinks for two NT$800), off eclectic Chunghsiao East Road, serves up sterling Pisco Sours and bespoke cocktails over its 4-meter copper bar while the city’s celebrity set peoplewatch in retro sofas and armchairs. Book early, as spots are tight during weekends in particular. ✚ Photographed by Alberto Buzzola

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The Flying Butler

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b e au t y

What’s in Your Baggie? Family-run for more than a century, the Goring (, in London, gained international fame when Kate Middleton prepped there for her wedding; it later received a Royal Warrant—the palace’s official endorsement. We asked the ever-dapper CEO Jeremy Goring how he maintains his regal glow when traveling. 1 Molton Brown Protecting Vitamin Lipsaver Lip Balm ( “We stock their products in our rooms; the lip balm is stellar, too.” 2 Lab Series Multi-Action Face Wash ( “After a day’s surfing,

this gets the sand out of my skin.” 3 Burt’s Bees Res-Q Ointment (burtsbees. com). “Soothes bumps and bruises.” 4 Jack Black Double-Duty Face Moisturizer SPF 20 ( “Great for stepping off

the plane into any climate—beach or ski slope.”

(malin​ “Smells fresh, and it’s alcohol-free.”

5 Dermalogica Shine Therapy Shampoo ( “Super gentle, without any added fragrances.”

7 G.B. Kent & Sons Badger Shaving Brush (kentbrushes. com). “They, too, have a Royal Warrant, so you know they’re good.” —kathryn o ’ sheaevans

6 Malin+Goetz Eucalyptus Deodorant

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Bali Beats

The first ever Ubud Village Jazz Festival is launching this summer with more than 100 musicians slated to play 20 performances over the course of a jam-packed two days. The event is drawing international names such as famed Dutch jazz pianist Peter Beets and American saxman Joe Rosenberg, along with 34

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local musicians like singer Dian Pratiwi. In an effort to support budding talents, there will be a special stage showcasing amateurs and music students. Antida Music Productions; Jl. Waribang 32 Denpasar, Bali; August 9 and 10;; one-day passes Rp360,000. —david ngo

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Jazz singer Dian Pratiwi takes the mic.

c l o c kwi s e f r o m B OTTOM : © F r e a n d y d a vid ; c o u r t e s y o f l u f t h a n s a ; SAM K A P LAN

If you are flying Lufthansa first class, prepare to be doted on hand and foot with the airline’s new concierge service. Your personal assistant will meet you upon arrival at the first class lounge and escort you though security and passport control all the way onto the plane where you’ll be personally introduced to the crew. And if you like, someone will meet you upon landing as well and usher you to baggage claim. This has been going on in airports across Europe since the start of the year, but just recently made its way to Bangkok, Saigon, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo Narita.

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Rubin Singer The hot designer is flying high on newfound fame. What do Beyoncé Knowles and Joseph Stalin have in common? Two words: Rubin Singer. The elder and original Rubin Singer—a Jewish tailor who essentially sewed his way out of a Soviet work camp—became an official designer for Russian apparatchiks and social elites under the patronage of the Bolshevik dictator; his namesake grandson is now shooting to the top of the fashion charts after creating the reigning queen of pop’s unforgettable 2013 Superbowl halftime show costume. Dressing divas is in his blood (his father, Alik, designed for the Bolshoi Ballet) and what with planning the wardrobes for Beyoncé’s current global tour, concocting Avril Lavigne’s wedding dress, keeping stores stocked with his frocks in Japan, and launching his Autumn/ Winter fempowerment “Valkyrie’s Dominion” line in Thailand, Singer is constantly jetting among New York, Paris, Tokyo, Moscow and Bangkok. Though Beyoncé’s Superbowl unitard was made of python, iguana, leather and silk lace, Singer’s personal style is decidedly more low-key—but no less custom-crafted. —jeninne lee - st. john ✚ Ullate provit m nimus daerum susant

“My partner, Carlos Melia, designed this Maybe Leather jacket for himself. It was handmade in Argentina. And now I wear it all the time.”

Panerai Luminor Marina wristwatch.

“I always wear jeans to travel. These Ullate provit Diesels are low-rise so they move around m nimus daerum susant and I can sleep in them easily.”

Goyard briefcase. “This is my sketch bag. I carry all of my notebooks and pencils, my iPad, business plans... and lots of Women’s Wear Dailys.”

Ullate provit “My sunglasses are m nimus daerum 1974susant vintage Italian Derapage. I spent six months hunting them down!”

CardÓn duffel. “Carlos also had this custom-made in Argentina. I use it to carry our essentials, like laptops and cashmere sweatshirts for if it gets cold.” Ullate provit m nimus daerum susant “These Cole Haan wingtips with Nike Air in the soles are comfortable as hell.”

Photographed by Shinsuke Matsukawa

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Hyderabad, Five Ways

1. time travel See Hyderabad as it once was at the Golconda Fort (above). This 16th-century citadel, strategically located on a granite

hilltop, holds the remains of armories, arched mosques, reservoirs, gardens, marketplaces and the homes of royalty. Ruler Ibrahim Qutub Shah and his son transformed the original 13th-century mud-and-brick structure into a grand fortress. Despite now being in ruins, it remains majestic. Take a guide (or rent a portable GPS video tour) to hear tales of the thriving gem and diamond trade—the Hope and Kohinoor diamonds were discovered there—and the unbelievable acoustics: clap beneath the domed entrance and it will be heard clearly at Bala Hissar, about a kilometer away on the well-worn stone path. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except Mondays); entry fee Rs100.

2. take tea in style

Where better to sip high tea than in a royal palace? The 119-yearold Falaknuma Palace is a snapshot of historic kingly life. Peacocks stroll through the 12.5-hectare property and horsedrawn carriages click along the cobblestone paths. Inside, colossal chandeliers dangle above reception rooms and towering family portraits frame the staircases and hallways. During teatime, scones are topped with jam and cream, and washed down with Nizami Indian tea in china cups. Daily 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.; bookings must be made a minimum of 24 hours in advance; Rs1,500; Engine Bowli, Falaknuma; 91-40/6629-8585;


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3. get crafty

No modern machines are used when creating Bidri handicrafts. In fact, the process has barely changed since it originated 500 years ago. A combination of zinc and copper is heated in an earthy kiln, shaped into the product, inlayed with pure silver and then oxidized through submersion in a mixture of special Bidar soil that hasn’t seen light in a century. At the family-run shop Gulistan Bidri Works, you can watch the artisans at work and pick up Bidriware statues, cufflinks, jewelry boxes and other handicrafts at reasonable prices. Gulistan Bidri Works, 22-1-1042 Kali Kabar, (opposite Honda Showroom); 91-40/2452-3386.

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4. eat like a king

You can join Hyderabad’s highsociety for a meal at membersonly club Chiraan Fort. The regal establishment opens to the public on Fridays and weekends for a buffet Indian lunch. Claim a seat in the small courtyard for some midday sun and fill up on dal, oily curries, spicy potatoes, biryani and buttery naan. Chiraan is modeled on 15th-century Mughal architecture, with scalloped arches connecting open air corridors, high ceilings with glass chandeliers, and portraits of kings and historic scenes adorning the walls. Friday to Sunday for lunch; Police Lines Begumpet, near U.S. consulate; 91-40/3984-1100; chiraanfort. com; buffet Indian lunch Rs250.

5. temple hop

Having only opened in 1976, Birla Temple may not have the history of Golconda Fort, but what it lacks in age it makes up in spirituality. The sanctum is filled with statues of Hindu gods, with the main deity Lord Venkateswara (destroyer of sins) at the center. Crowds of devotees pray in front of the lord’s statue, eagerly clutching at the smoke from lit incense sticks the holy men wave before them. From the wide staircases to the temple’s peaks, everything here is made from white marble—2,000 tons of it. Open daily 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. & 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.; free entry; Adarsh Nagar, Hyderabad; ✚

c l o c kwi s e f r o m t o p : P o o r n a K e d a r / g e t t y i m a g e s ; NOA H SEELAM / g e t t y i m a g e s ; k a r r y n m i l l e r ( 2 ) ; Ti m M a ki n s / G e t t y i m a g e s

Karryn Miller rounds up the best site-seeing for a taste of the city’s varied history.

Radar experts

Views from the River

Whether on the east bank or west, there’s plenty to do along Bangkok’s River of Kings.

From opposite sides of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River, two grande dames face each other. We’re referring to the Mandarin Oriental and The Peninsula—though both also happen to have female general managers, who share their favorite aspects of the east and west banks, respectively. The positioning of their employers hasn’t monopolized our experts’ affections: Hyndman actually lives across the river from the Mandarin Oriental, while Henke lives on the east side in trendy Sathorn. So they really do have the best of both banks covered.

Amanda Hyndman – General Manager of the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok (48 Oriental Ave.; 66-2/659-9000; bangkok; doubles from Bt10,950)

Katja Henke – General Manager of The Peninsula Bangkok (333 Charoennakorn Rd., Klongsan; 66-2/861-2888; Bangkok; doubles from Bt6,000)

river living “The river is by far the fastest way to get around the heaving metropolis that is Bangkok… but it’s also a great way to kick back and watch local life pass you by.” favorite east bank activities 1. “Shopping at Chatuchak, the world’s largest weekend market. The bazaar, with more than 15,000 stalls and shops, is an action packed slice of Bangkok.” 2. “Strolling in Lumpini Park. It is Bangkok’s green getaway with lawns and lakes dotted with pagodas.” 3. “Browsing Oriental Plaza Place [66-88/266-0186]. This luxury mall is directly next to the hotel and has a great collection of jewelry, antique and tailor shops. We also arrange VIP visits to the Lamont Boutique workshop.”

river living “The Charoennakorn area has a vintage feel as guests can travel into Bangkok’s past in an exploration of the historic neighborhoods along the Chao Phraya River.” favorite west bank activities 1. “Riding my bike along the river, passing many magnificent temples and architectural buildings.” 2. “Exploring the local food markets while trying authentic Thai food, which sets my mouth on fire.” 3. “Taking a long tail boat to the Artist House [Baan Sin La Pin;], my favorite spot in Klongsan. Tucked away in a neighborhood where you feel like a local, you can enjoy home-cooked Thai food, watch the local puppet dance, view the selection of art and more.”


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Photographed by Shinsuke Matsukawa


Hostel Environment

‘Chic Hostel’ is no longer an oxymoron or a cruel punchline. Diana Hubbell checks out Southeast Asia’s new way to rough it easy.

Say the word “hostel” to a seasoned traveler, and get ready to hear horror stories of old college trips, complete with rock-hard mattresses, hygienically challenged roommates, frigid showers and windowless cells… all for a few bucks a night. The times have changed though, and the latest crop of hostels is a far cry from those primitive establishments. Catering to a slightly more discerning set of flashpackers, these newer addresses are spotless and feature clever, thoughtful design touches. Take for example Lub d (; shared dorms in Silom from Bt440, Siam from Bt600), a stylishly modern industrial hostel with two branches in Bangkok, one in the nightlife district of Silom and the other by the megamalls of Siam. Both feature funky raw cement with stenciled decorations, as well as contemporary dorms and a helpful staff. Meanwhile, over in Singapore, Matchbox (; shared dorms S$28), with its candy-colored interiors, and amenities that include a pillow menu, offers one of the hippest ways to see the Lion City on a budget. Sanlitun Youth Hostel’s (sanlitun.; shared dorms US$12) dorms are immaculate, but their spacious doubles with flatscreen TVs verge on hotel rooms. Add that to a central location and surprisingly good cappuccinos, and you have a perfect way to check out Beijing. Finally, The Mad Monkey Hostel (; shared dorms from US$7) in Phnom Penh has a laid-back vibe with a side of social consciousness: Employees are often sourced through NGOs, and are guaranteed uncommonly high wages, healthcare and hospitality training. ✚ Clockwise from top: Matchbox’s dollhouse exterior; Matchbox’s loft makes for a laidback hang out; the industrial interior of Lub d Silom.


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c l o c kwi s e f r o m t o p : c o u r t e s y o f m at c hb o x ( 2 ) ; c o u r t e s y o f l u b d


Radar q& a

Reel Life Can a nitpicky hotel inspector ever find fulfillment? That’s the question of Viaggio Sola (“I Travel Alone”), the new film by Italian director Maria Sole Tognazzi. She offers T+L a sneak preview.

d a n i l o s c a r p at i

Can you summarize the details of the plot?

“A Leading Hotels of the World ( inspector, played by Margherita Buy, arrives incognito at glamorous resorts: the Puli Hotel & Spa, in Shanghai; Switzerland’s Gstaad Palace; the Fonteverde Tuscan Resort & Spa, in Italy.”

What did you learn about that profession?

“They work like characters on CSI: hunting for dirt with white gloves, testing the temperature of roomservice coffee, ensuring that the time is synced on TV and radio. Only at the end of the journey can they reveal their true identity.” Do you have any travel essentials? “My Rolex, set

to the time in Rome. It’s been with me since I was 15.”

Actor you like to work with? “Gigicane, my terrier.

He appears in all of my films. Like Hitchcock!” — shane mitchell

Director Maria Sole Tognazzi at the Fonteverde Tuscan Resort & Spa.

Radar t+l p i c ks

Top Of The Morning

Good-bye, runny eggs and sad-looking cereal stations. Hello, Vietnamese bánh mì and French almond sponge cake. These hotel buffets are eating others for brunch.

The morning spread at the Mamilla Hotel, Jerusalem.

Mamilla Hotel, Jerusalem The Piero Lissoni–designed hotel puts a modern spin on Israel’s historically hearty meal. There’s shakshouka, chocolate babka and 10 different kinds of salad.; US$33 per person.


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InterContinental Asiana Saigon Sip and sup here all day with pho made to order, a teeming raw bar, Sunday roast, a chocolate fountain... and free-flow beer, wine, spirits and Veuve Cliquot.; VND1.3 million per person.

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The Peninsula Hong Kong Fare at this opulent spread ranges from classics like eggs Benedict to more over-the-top offerings like black cod with Parmesan, served with a side of bubbly.; HK$428 per person.

The Sukhothai Bangkok With oysters from five countries, 20 types of cheeses and choice eats like gin-andtonic smoked salmon and braised beef cheeks, it’s hard to know where to start.; Bt2,700 per person.

Mandarin Oriental Singapore The hotel has three brunches, but the international option has everything from a foie gras station to sashimi.; S$108 per person. — diana hubbell and brooke porter

Photographed by Sivan Askayo

Radar airports

Liquid Layovers

Long lines, surly officials, security checks—time in the airport is rarely the highlight of a trip. So the secret to making the most out of a bad situation? Hunt down the airport bar. We’re not talking neon-lit countertops where you’re resigned to sucking back overpriced room temperature swill; these days many international gateways have real cocktail bars, with creative menus and cozy ambience. Here, a few watering holes with drinks so divine you’ll be hoping for flight delays. In November, the Peak Lookout Airport

(; drinks for two HK$160) opened at Hong Kong International Airport, capturing some of the feel of the original location on Victoria Peak, high above the island and harbor. Here, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Australian Shiraz are served by the glass or bottle while martinis are shaken with top-shelf liquors like Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray. For a sweeter glass, try the Melon Lily cocktail with Midori liqueur, orange juice and a splash of dry champagne. At Terminal 1 in Chek Lap Kok, Caviar House & Prunier

( hong-kong-bars; drinks for two HK$310) pairs sturgeon roe with smooth Beluga vodka. If you have an 44

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appetite for ale, try the Balik Beer poured here, a strong brew aged on oak to produce a sherry-like taste. Beer is also a popular choice at the FCC Bar (; drinks for two US$11) inside Phnom Penh’s international airport. But in Cambodia it’s the golden-hued, somewhat sweet and light-bodied Angkor Draft that tends to keep tourists and business travelers company at the bar. It’s a fairly onedimensional lager created for a hot climate and, as

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such, is best ice cold. A more full-flavored option is Angkor Extra Stout, a darker varietal with roasted flavors and chocolatey aromas. Further north, at Seoul’s Incheon airport, an entirely different fermented beverage appears on the menu at Punggyeongmaru (; drinks for two W8,000), a quiet, understated restaurant serving traditional Korean fare like bibimbap and spicy beef soup. And while well-traveled epicureans might be familiar with soju,

a spirit commonly distilled from rice or sweet potatoes, makgeolli, sometimes referred to as Korean rice wine, isn’t typically found beyond the country’s borders. Try the slightly tangy intoxicant on its own or mixed with juice, and pair it with a spicy snack; its creaminess and relatively low level of alcohol tend to balance fiery foods. It you’re flying business class through Samui Airport (samuiairport, drinks are free at Bangkok Airways’ Blue Ribbon Club Lounge. If you are flying economy, you can find a variety of lagers at the airport’s Irish pub. The outdoor departure lounge (left) feels like a tropical gazebo, so kick back with a frosty drink and enjoy the tropical breeze. Just don’t miss your boarding announcement. To truly unwind during a layover, few places beat Poolside Bar (harilela pool.html; drinks for two S$37) at Changi Airport in Singapore. Even if you don’t want to pay the S$13.91 fee to take a dip in the rooftop pool, the setting is a relaxing place to enjoy a drink. Wine, bourbon and beer are all available at this oasis located in Terminal 1, but a refreshing Singapore Sling seems the fitting choice. Order one and remember that, on vacation, even an airport can be fun. ✚

C o u r t e s y o f b a n g k o k a i r w ay s

Looking to drown your downtime? Ben Keene rounds up the best-in-class airport bars for transiting tipplers.

Radar st yle

Summer Sherbets




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1 Dress by Giambattista Valli (; shoes, Donna Karan (; bag, Diane von Furstenberg (; earrings, necklace and ring, Van Cleef & Arpels ( 2 Dress, Hugo (; shoes, Bruno Magli (; necklace and bracelet, Roberto Coin ( 3 Top and pants, Kate Spade (; shoes, RenĂŠ Caovilla (; bag, Chanel (; sunglasses, Illesteva (; earrings and ring, Roberto Coin. 4 Dress, Trina Turk (; shoes, AGL (; bag, Prada (; earrings, Van Cleef & Arpels; necklace, Paloma Picasso for Tiffany & Co. (; bracelets, Kara Ross ( 5 Top, Rebecca Taylor (; pants, Monika Chiang (; sweater, Two by Vince Camuto (; shoes, Fratelli Rossetti (; hat, Eugenia Kim (; bracelet, Paloma Picasso for Tiffany & Co.; rings, Kara Ross Fine Jewelry.


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Photographed by Weston Wells

m o d e l : Ai n s l e y wi t h W i l h e l m i n a M o d e l s . H a i r b y E l s a u s i n g L’ O r e a l u s a / E l n e t t a n d NARS C o s m e t i c s . m a r k e t a s s o c i at e : c o u r t n e y k e n e f i c k

Playful pastels are the hottest hues of the season. Styled by Mimi Lombardo

Radar r e s tau r a n t s

A Milione Flavors

c o u r t e s y o f i l m i l i o n e b a r & r i s t o r a n t e i ta l i a n o

Chef Marco Gubbiotti is bringing ancient Umbrian recipes and contemporary cooking techniques to Hong Kong at his newest restaurant, Il Milione. A native of Umbria, Chef Marco Gubbiotti is lighting up a modern menu with his hometown flavors at recently opened Il Milione Bar & Ristorante Italiano in

Central Hong Kong. As the official culinary consultant for the Umbria Region Administration, Gubbiotti is arguably the global authority on rich central Italian tastes, so

it’s no surprise that the Il Milione menu dazzles with dishes like passatelli pasta, made with breadcrumbs and Sorrento lemon, served with lobster in a lobster-tail broth with samphire. “In Umbria, we nourish the earth, and the earth nourishes us with its harvest. We take the produce and, with minimal intervention, create dishes that unlock the

freshness of the flavors,” says Gubbiotti. “My vision is to bring the true Umbrian essence to the world.” The restaurant, named after the travel chronicles of Marco Polo, is Gubbiotti’s first restaurant in Asia. G16-21, GF Hutchison House, 10 Harcourt Rd., Central, Hong Kong; 85-2/2481-1120; il-milione. com; five-course dinner menu, HK$990. — david ngo

Passetelli served in lobster broth at Il Milione.

Radar events

Mark these on your Menu

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Dear Marketing Maven,



Play Sherlock at the Sheraton

Calling all aspiring flatfoots and gumshoes— the new interactive CSI exhibit at Sheraton Macao Hotel challenges visitors to solve mysteries based on clues planted on the staged crime scene. With help from investigators from the American TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and their forensic science counterparts, guests will have to formulate a theory, support their conclusions based on scientific evidence and get to the bottom of a real stumper. There are three crime-scene scenarios for visitors to choose from and each will require serious sleuthing to CSI-Microscope uncover the truth. Using real-life forensic and xx xx xxxxxx scientific equipment, visitors can test their skills at DNA analysis, toxicology, firearm identification, latent prints and blood spatter analysis to crack this case wide open. CSI: The Experience—Macao, co-presented by Sands Cotai Central and Sheraton Macao Hotel; daily 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. through June 15;; HK$120 for one scenario.


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Do you know what an affineur is? If not, how could you call yourself a true foodie? Asia’s love of anything to do with food comes through loud and clear this month at the AsiaPacific Food and Wine Festival (June 13-16; ritzcarlton.

com) at Hong Kong’s RitzCarlton. Among the chefs at the epicurean event is Ivan Li (pictured), whose Imperial Cuisine is rooted in the Qing dynasty. There will also be celebrated chocolatiers, a master of wine and several chefs from Italy and France. Oh, affineur? That’s a cheese master, in case you were wondering. If you miss out on this event, the World Gourmet Festival (September 2-8, 2013; takes place at the Four Seasons Bangkok in September, this year featuring chefs from Portugal, France and Belgium among others. And if you’re already dreaming of what culinary wonders are on next year’s calendar, pencil in the World Gourmet Summit (April 2014;, which will be held in Singapore next April.

F r o m TO P : c o u r t e s y o f r i t z- c a r lt o n h o n g k o n g ; c o u r t e s y o f EMS e x hibi t s / c b s

Yes, the rainy season has descended, which has benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, hotel prices often drop, the jungles and forests flourish, and crowds thin out; on the other hand, it rains a lot. But there are still wonderful vacations to be had, even if there’s a downpour for an hour or two every day. So don’t get me wrong, I’m all for rainy season retreats. But I can’t help but laugh at how you’ve begun marketing the soggier months of the year. I don’t mind calling it the “green season” but when you trot out the entire jewelry store in specials touting the “emerald season” and “jade holidays,” or “aqua celebrations” and “lush month discounts”—I can’t decide whether to roll my eyes or hat-tip your euphemistic ingenuity. A suggestion: just let your lowered rates do the work of attracting visitors. Smart tourists know when they’re traveling in the rainy season, so there’s no point green-washing it.

Radar opinion

Flying Solo

You can learn a lot about yourself while on the road—especially when you’re not being kept awake by your travel buddy’s snoring or battling with him about who gets to sit in the window seat. Whether you want to retreat to a remote corner of the world for some quiet time or meet new people in a foreign culture, it’s okay to fall off the grid for a few days and not invite a single person to join you. Traveling on your own can be a true indulgence. But you need to be in the 50

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right headspace for it. If you’re convinced that you’ll be lonely, then there will be no escaping the solitude. Put aside your fears and get excited about being able to call all the shots on your vacation—from having breakfast in bed to skipping that very important museum because you would rather fit in a two-hour massage. As the sole architect of your itinerary, you’ll have more fun if you do your research. A little familiarity with your destination will go a long

way. This may sound obvious, but when you’re in a country where you can’t speak or decipher the language, reading a map may be a challenge. Plan out in advance some walking routes to points of interest or study the public transportation system so that you can hit the ground running upon arrival. And even though you’re planning this trip to take a break from everyone for a bit, there may be moments when you miss the sound of familiar voices, so figure out how you’re going to phone ➔

© D a n a N e e ly / g e t t y i m a g e s . c o m

Finding the perfect travel companion can be as easy as looking in the mirror. Cristina M. De Oliveira helps you plan an adventure-for-one.

home. Buying Skype credits can be a challenge in some places, such as Vietnam. Make sure you’re loaded up before you take off, or check with your service provider about using your cell phone overseas. If you’re afraid of getting bored, then map out what you want to achieve on your trip so that each day has an underlying mission. Always wanted to learn how to dive? Ready to try standing up on a surfboard? Been


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putting off reading Dostoyevsky? You can spend your days ticking lingering items off of your to-do list. A shortcut to infusing your journey with purpose is to a find a local cause you believe in and try to work some volunteer days into your trip. The experience can be rewarding and eyeopening, especially during a voyage of self-discovery. Hands Up Holidays ( can set you up with teaching gigs in Nepal (from

US$5,900 for 21 days, including a trek to Everest Base Camp) or conservation work in India’s Sundarbans Delta (from US$1,800 for 11 days). Plus, the site allows you to search for projects that are specifically suited to the needs of a solo traveler. While planning your own activities may sound like fun, eating alone can be daunting for even the most independent traveler. But remember: This could be the perfect time to treat yourself to that meal of a lifetime. Load up your tablet with good reads and settle into your reservation for one. After all, there won’t be anybody else to complain about the pricey bill or judge you for eating two desserts. If you’re interested in a more low-key affair, sidling up to a bar is a good way to pass the time. You may encounter other like-minded of us—or strike up a conversation with the bartender, who can probably pass along some great local tips or at least have some good stories to tell. In the spirit of diving into the local scene, forgo a traditional hotel and rent an apartment through Airbnb ( or Flipkey ( On these sites you can book everything from a private studio to an entire house—or a room in a shared house if you are looking to make friends. I’ve had spectacular hosts who leave out guidebooks, maps and have even passed along their number in case I have any problems. In a strange way, this makes you feel like you at least know one person in town in case anything goes wrong. For the costconscious, Couchsurfing ( will put you in touch with benevolent hosts who take in visitors free of charge and may even give you a tour of their city. From meeting new people to getting in tune with yourself and your instincts, being the master of your itinerary is an exciting way to see the world. If I were forced to come up with a downside to traveling alone, it would have to be that you won’t have anybody else to take pictures of you. Perhaps “perfect the self-portrait” is the ideal task for day one of your adventure. ✚

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your travel dilemmas solved ➔

57 …

58 …

59 …

Trip Doctor pl a nning

pa c k i n g


de a ls

Q: What is a resort fee,

and do I really have to pay it?

W hi t n e y L a w s o n

—bill smith, eagle, colo.

A: Good question. And one you should ask of your hotel, too. Resort fees, which can add a full 30 percent onto a hotel bill, may cover everything from wireless Internet and gym access to faxing and use of a notary (huh?)—services and amenities that you may have no interest in using. Yet travelers who kick and scream Illustrated by Ben Wiseman

about baggage fees are often surprisingly mute when it comes to these hotel charges. The difference? In the case of baggage, you’re at least paying for a service that you intend to use. When they were first introduced in the late 1990’s, according to Bjorn Hanson, dean of the Tisch Center for

by the numbers

30 percent

The markup on a US$84 room at the Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa, in Las Vegas, due to the US$24.99 resort fee


By Amy Farley

Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, resort fees applied to the extensive facilities of actual resorts: tennis courts, pools, beach clubs, etc. Though not all guests used these services, you could still argue that maintaining these facilities merited an additional charge. And anyway, many resorts were lenient, waiving the fees for guests when they did not apply. But about a decade ago, resort fees jumped the shark and began appearing at more properties to cover such services as daily newspaper delivery, printing of boarding passes and even nightly turndown. Hanson estimates that hotels took in at least US$1.95 billion in ancillary revenue in 2012 (up from US$1.2 billion in 2000). Though resort fees account for less than half of that revenue, they are still a boon for hotels. These fees are particularly egregious in some destinations: Las Vegas, foremost among them. We recently polled luxury hotels on the Strip and found that the extra charges average US$25 a night. Even hotels that once bucked the trend and made not charging resort fees a point of distinction (and marketing campaigns) are now adding them. In the past few months, the Cosmopolitan hotel and all nine Caesars Entertainment properties quietly adopted mandatory resort charges. “Hotel executives like resort fees because they allow them to keep their room rates low,” ➔

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Trip Doctor explains Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with the New York–based consultancy Hudson Crossing. “But these charges need to be viewed for what they are: an indirect rate hike.” He says hotels will keep adding resort fees unless customers start “responding with their wallets” and walking away. That’s easier said than done when even spotting these charges in advance can be difficult. At Marina Bay Sands in Singapore the S$29.99 resort fee is optional, but you need to opt out at the start of your stay or the cost will be automatically added to your bill upon check-out. And you have to be careful to read the fine print to find the fee. In November, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent warnings to 22 hotels for not properly disclosing mandatory resort fees on their websites and “misrepresenting the price that consumers can expect to pay for their hotel rooms.”

But the problem persists. In a recent test of Vegas’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino website, I found that the property did not alert me to the US$25 fee (covering Internet, domestic longdistance calls, gym access, boarding-pass printing and notary service) until I was ready to book, and even then didn’t include it in the reservation total. Similarly, the big online travel agencies (Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity) didn’t include the fee in their total room rates. They simply noted that I would have to pay US$25 a day to the property. Harteveldt says that if hotels don’t embrace a clear and standardized practice for disclosure, the FTC may have to step in with regulation, much like the U.S. Department of Transportation did last year when it forced airlines to disclose all additional fees. The short answer to your question is: Yes, you likely do have to pay the fee. But if you’re not using the services, do it under protest.

Q: Why is it getting harder to redeem my hotel points? A: The salad days for points holders may be ending. In

general, demand for rooms is rising, and with it rates, according to Brian Kelly, founder of That means hotels no longer have to be quite so accommodating to loyalists. In the past few months, Kelly notes, both Marriott and Hilton adjusted their loyalty programs so that it takes more points to book many of their most desirable properties. Starwood, meanwhile, upped the amount of money you need to spend for its SPG Cash & Points redemptions. Hotel points haven’t gone off a cliff the way airline miles did about five years ago, but they’re definitely losing value. So keep racking them up. You’re going to need more to get what you want.

what ’s your problem? I accidentally damaged my hotel room!


Assess the mess. One that only requires cleanup costs less than one that calls for replacing broken furniture and fixtures.

Fess up. The hotel will find out regardless—and you’ll want to be there to plead your case.


Fret if the damage is small and unintentional. Hotels will often let you go without penalty.

Assume you can walk away scot-free. If the damage is major, you could be responsible for repairs and lost revenue.

Trip Doctor

pl anning

Q: I want to take a learning vacation, but the options are bewildering. Where do I start?

i l l u s t r at i o n b y w a s i n e e c h a n ta k o r n

Find the trip that’s right for you by letting your passions guide you and then choosing the company to match. Here, five ideas to get you started. By Diana Hubbell CULINARY A Gastronome’s Vietnam, Trufflepig This bespoke tour company offers foodie sojourns that go beneath the surface of a cuisine. An itinerary through Vietnam might include cooking classes in Hoi An and Hanoi; sampling everything from pho to water beetle; and noshing at both street-side gems and haute restaurants like Maison 1888 in Danang. 1-416/628-1272; trufflepig. com; 11 days from US$8,000 per person.

WILDLIFE Bali & Komodo Dragons, Kensington Tours See the world’s largest living lizards with this journey to the island of Flores and Komodo National Park. Guides and rangers will help you get a glimpse of the rare and deadly Komodo dragons from a safe vantage point. After your walk on the wild side, relax with a sunset dinner cruise. kensingtontours. com; eight days from US$2,675 per person.

PHOTOGRAPHY The Silk Road Through Your Lens, Wild China Capture the sights of the Silk Road with this trip through Xinjiang, China’s culturally distinct northwestern province. Snap shots of the Taklamakan desert, Karakul Lake and local Uighur markets, all with the expert guidance of the highly experienced British photographer Sean Gallagher. 86-10/6465-6602;; nine days from US$2,980 per person.

Art and Architecture Burma: Golden Temples and Pagodas, Cox & Kings One of the outfitter’s Royal Academy art tours, this journey through Rangoon, Mandalay and Bagan features lectures by guests such as the former director general of the Ministry of Culture, as well as the expertise of author Miranda Bruce-Mitford. 44-84/ 5868-2597; coxandkings.; 14 days from £3,845 per person.

Religion And Culture Rejuvenating Himalayas, Learning Journeys This trip through northern India teaches the philosophy behind yoga and meditation through lectures and practice. Stops include Rishikesh and Haridwar, where wellness is central to spiritual life, as well as the luxe Ananda resort in the Himalayas. 855/7847687; learning journeys. com; 12 days from US$3,550 per person.

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Trip Doctor

by Mimi Lombardo


Q: We’re going scuba diving in Indonesia, and I’m looking for a watch that works as well underwater as it does on land. Any tips?

Q: I’m so tired of my swimsuit taking eons to dry. Help! —kay ekblad, A: Here’s the solution: this onepiece from Montreal-based 2 Lolë. The paneled “Maui” maillot is made of chlorineresistant, quick-drying Swim Tech fabric with an übercomfortable four-way stretch. Need something to throw on post-dip? The breathable and anti-wrinkle fabric of Eco Swim by Aqua Green Shirred Side Dress Cover Up is knitted out of (yes) coffee grounds, making it sustainable by the sea. Q: With so many sunscreens on the market, I’m overwhelmed. Have a favorite? —janet bakes, A: We took an informal poll, and the cheekily named Supergoop! SPF 50 Antioxidant-Infused Sunscreen Mist is a T+L editor pick. It’s infused with vitamin C (touted by dermatologists as a damage preventer), plus it’s parabenand fragrance-free, hence easy on your skin. Soleil Organique makes similar mists in varying SPF’s, with a green-tea scent. For daily use on the face, we prefer lightweight and long-lasting Kiehl’s Super Fluid UV


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Defense SPF 50+ and emollient-rich La Prairie Sun Protection Emulsion Face SPF 30. Hailing from Norway, 3 Restørsea Rejuvenating Day Lotion SPF 30 contains anti-aging enzymes and moisturizing algae, though it may be worth the splurge for its pretty packaging alone. Q: I’m heading to Nantucket’s Wauwinet Resort in July. Any New England summer wardrobe tips? —jake collistro, santa monica, calif. A: The Wauwinet is a casual classic; you won’t feel out of place in a few East Coast mainstays. A preppy nylon windbreaker from 4 Gant Rugger and wrinkle-free seersucker 5 Mac pants are fantastic options in the summer months, when afternoon temperatures hover around 23 degrees but nights are cool. For accessories, we love these lightweight yet sturdy 6 Hush Puppies slip-ons —perfect for walking Great Point beach—and Steve McQueen–worthy 7 folding Ray-Ban aviators.

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1 5




7 These packable aviators fold flat.

J o h n l a w t o n (6) . w at c h : c o u r t e s y o f ta g h e u e r . S t y l i s t: r i c hi e o wi n g s / H a l l e y R e s o u r c e s

A: Just ask the U.S. Navy SEALs, who tested and approved elements of the 1 Tag Heuer Limited Edition Oracle Team USA Aquaracer 500M. It’s the latest in sporting chronographs: water-resistant to 500 meters with rhodium-plated hands and a scratch-resistant crystal—and cool-looking, to boot.


Trip Doctor

by Tom Samiljan and Merritt Gurley

tech TREND

Checking In, On The Fly Procrastinators, rejoice! There’s a slew of new apps aimed at snagging last-minute hotel deals. Here, our tech experts’ road-tested favorites. Tonight (iOS) With the most properties, this Priceline and team effort offers the best comparison shopping. Case in point: we found 717 hotels in Bangkok on a recent search, varying from Best Westerns to the Sofitel with “Secret Deals” that drop the standard rate by up to 60 percent. Deals become available at midnight—considerably earlier than most apps—but they’re valid for one- and two-night stays only. checkintonight (iOS) Offering bookings one day in advance for rooms across Southeast Asia, this is the app of choice for last minute deals in the region.

Illustrated by Ben Wiseman

Discounts up to 70 percent are available and travelers can opt-in for daily updates on the best hotel rates. Hotel Deals by (iOS) This Travelocityowned app lets you book a week before checking in. The discounts are impressive (up to 55 percent), especially for “Top Secret Hotels”­—you find out the name after you pay. The app lets you pay by scanning your credit card. Hotel quickly (Android, iOS) Launched this March in Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan and Malaysia, this app has more than 200 hotels to choose from, offering deeply

discounted deals for unsold inventory. Bookings can be made any time after noon. Jetsetter (Android, iOS) With a clean interface and easy search functionality, Jetsetter displays a well-curated list of available rooms at discounted prices. You can book same-night accommodations or choose from recommended itineraries at special rates. Hot Hotels (Android, iOS) With this Europe-centered app, a portion of the proceeds buys carbon credits that offset each user’s stay. Its inventory is strongest on the Iberian peninsula, but it also dabbles in South America.



RM933 per night

Plunge Pool Villa at Bunga Raya Island Resort & Spa.



What Mid-Year Madness at Bunga Raya Island Resort & Spa ( Details Three nights in a Superior villa. Highlights A 50 percent discount on the second and third nights, admission to the Marine Ecology Research Centre and use of all non-motorized water sports equipment, as well as complimentary daily breakfast. Cost From RM2,800 (RM933 per night), double, through June 30. Savings 33 percent.


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What Opening Offer at Regent Phuket Cape Panwa (regenthotels. com). Details Three nights in a Pavilion. Highlights Daily breakfast for two at the Restaurant, complimentary Wi-Fi and access to resort facilities including Children’s Club. Cost Bt5,200 per night, double, through October 31. Savings 35 percent.

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What A Taste of Bali at Centra Taum Seminyak (centarahotels Details Five nights in a Deluxe Space. Highlights A full-day excursion for two that includes a visit to the Royal Temple of Mengwi, a sunset tour to Tanah Lot and a Kecak dance performance. Also: a 60-minute Balinese massage for two, daily breakfast, roundtrip transfers. Cost From US$995 (US$199 per night), double, to October 31. Savings 53 percent.


What Savoir Faire from Bai Tram Hideaway ( Details Three nights in a one-bedroom villa. Highlights A cruise to a local lobster farm on a half-day guided excursion and a seafood dinner at 19th-century ruins. Cost US$995 (US$332 per night), double, through July 30. Savings 30 percent.

c o u r t e s y o f B u n g a R aya I s l a n d r e s o r t & s p a . o pp o s i t e : c o u r t e s y o f t h e e x c e l s i o r h o n g k o n g

T+L Reader Exclusives


What Executive Traveller package at The Excelsior, Hong Kong ( excelsior). Details Two nights in an Executive suite. Highlights Complimentary room upgrade, daily breakfast, afternoon tea, snacks and cocktails in the Executive Lounge; 20 percent discount on all spa treatments and dining; three-hour stay at the Plaza Premium Lounge at the Hong Kong International Airport for two with access to shower facilities, internet access, hot meals and non-alcoholic beverages. Cost From HK$2,380, double, through December 31. Savings 28 percent.


What Stay Three Nights at The Siam ( Details Three nights in a suite. Highlights Butler service, private boat transfer between the hotel and Sathorn pier and complimentary daily breakfast in the Deco Bar & Bistro. Cost From Bt16,300 (Bt5,433 per night), double, through October 31. Savings 30 percent.


What Special Opening Rates at Capri by Fraser, Ho Chi Minh City ( Details A stay in a Studio Superior. Highlights Complimentary welcome amenities and daily breakfast. Cost From US$75, double, through June 30. Savings Up to 32 percent.

Getaway CHINA

What Weekend Getaway at the Ritz-Carlton, Shenzhen ( Details A stay in a Deluxe room. Highlights Automatic upgrade to a Premier room, if available, and choice of either complimentary breakfast for two and a complimentary 60-minute spa treatment for one, or a Sunday Glitz buffet brunch with free-flow sparkling wine for two. Cost From RMB1,988, double, through June 30. Savings 50 percent.


What Seasonal Savings by SLH at Pangkor Laut Resort ( Details Two nights in a Spa villa. Highlights Daily breakfast and one complimentary picnic basket for two per stay. Cost From US$480 (US$240 per night), double, through June 30. Savings 10 percent.


What River Escape at The Peninsula Bangkok (peninsula. com). Details A stay in a Deluxe room. Highlights Choice of either one complimentary 50-minute aromatherapy massage for two at The Peninsula Spa or a buffet dinner at River Cafe and Terrace for two per stay, in addition to a daily complimentary international breakfast buffet for two. Cost From Bt6,900, double, through October 31. Savings 57 percent.

Deluxe suite at The Excelsior.

June 2013

In This Issue

courtesy of como hotels and resorts

64 Saigon/Hanoi 74 Koh Phayam, Thailand 80 Zambia 90 It List

Outside Uma by Como, Punakha, in Bhutan, part of the IT List, page 90.

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Shiny towers and soft propaganda, capitalism and communism, share the skyline in Saigon. Opposite: Uncle Ho’s mausoleum still draws Hanoi’s devoted.

Saigon/Hanoi Vietnam reunified in 1975, but the two sides never quite stopped bickering. lien hoang jumps into the fray, making the cases for both major cities. pho t o g r a p h e d by mo rga n om m e r 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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My family hails from the former imperial capital of Hue (my last name means royal), a city that lies right in the center of this elongated country. Which is all just to say, I would seem to be an impartial judge in this north-south divide.

Southerners call Hanoians snobs who

f Americans want to make peace, Ho Chi Minh said in 1966, “we shall make peace and invite them to tea afterwards.” Judging by the relations between Vietnam and the U.S.—as well as the lack of reservations with which the Vietnamese embrace most foreigners—Uncle Ho’s sentiment has been borne out. Friends are one thing, though. Family another. As in any family, rivalry simmers beneath the surface in Vietnam—and manifests itself in strange ways. When Saigon’s population grew larger than Hanoi’s, the capital just annexed more land to grow its own numbers. Politically, Vietnam is one big, communist clan. Socially, a quiet battle still rages on across the 17th parallel. In one corner: the conservative capital, where Hanoians see themselves as elegant, shrewd with money and close-knit. Northerners have post-war bragging rights, a political system that’s triumphed throughout the land, and a glorious leader exalted in every gilded bust and red-and-gold street banner—as well as the official name of their southern rival city. But not all the spoils went to the victor. In the other corner is Saigon, a more-liberal bastion that welcomes newcomers. Southerners aren’t exactly nursing an inferiority complex. They’re driving the economy. Saigonese wake up early and stay out late. Rush hour was once only a weekday concern. Now, Saturday and Sunday evenings offer no respite as people hit the town. Young Vietnamese may not have refrigerators or hot water in their shared rentals, but they can decorate their motorbikes and color their hair in this fashionconscious city—which has also emerged as the nation’s undisputed LGBT capital. Skyscrapers are going up at a vertiginous rate; the Bitexco Financial Tower, the most iconic building downtown, with an optimistic helipad disk jutting out near the top, didn’t exist when I first returned to Vietnam in 2008. Travelers seeking out remnants of French empire, though, would do better to visit Hanoi, the cultural and conceptual heart of the country with no shortage of lakes and ponds, artists and philosophers. Under colonial rulers, “Hanoi was to be a stately, orderly, and controlled urban space,” historian Michael Vann writes. Besides wide boulevards and graceful villas—best exemplified by the celebrated grande dame, the Sofitel Legend Metropole—the sense of order was passed onto communist leaders. Unlike in Saigon, officials in the capital still blare out public service announcements on speakers throughout the city. Perhaps counterintuitively, Hanoi also has a creative tradition stretching back a millennium, which manifests today in funky, concept cafes and shocking, censorshipflaunting artists like Dao Anh Khanh. 66

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look down on anyone not born in their city. Any truth to this is easily explained by migration patterns. Northerners retained much of their Han heritage, derived from the neighboring Chinese. They were traditionally a more closed society. Southerners, on the other hand, picked up Cham and Khmer influences—and bloodlines—as Vietnam pushed into those ancient kingdoms. Historically the French and the Americans had far more interaction with southerners than northerners, contributing to a legacy in Saigon of accepting strangers. In Hanoi, outsiders stand out no matter how long they’ve lived in their adopted home. Foreigners of the past promoted another convention that southerners received well: economic liberalization. Traders from China sailed to the south during its 1,000-year occupation of the Vietnamese territory and began exporting things back home, says Nguyen Thi Anh Nguyet, a history professor in Saigon, which is why “when the French and Americans came, it was easy to accept capitalism.” With all the different peoples and goods passing through the Mekong Delta, southern Vietnamese were already amenable to the free market, whereas in the north, traditionally, “people made enough to give to the government and to feed themselves,” Nguyet says. The southern economic bustle paused in 1975, but after devastating food shortages and ration lines, northerners eventually caught on. In the 1980’s, China had Deng Xiaoping and Vietnam had its Doi Moi market reforms. A retired journalist who worked for AP’s Saigon bureau in the 1960’s and 1970’s recently told me southerners must be chuckling to themselves now, despite their military defeat: “In a perverse way, they won.” But the old system left another stamp on Hanoi. It retains a reputation of languid bureaucracy, while Saigon is known for its innovation and entrepreneurship. In terms of foreigners, NGOs go north, corporations go south. A friend from Hanoi, who took a job at a western consulate in Saigon, says he believes that back in the capital, state salaries and reliable hours offer no incentive to experiment or even exert much energy. It extends from the public sector to everyday businesses. As a tourist, you’ll notice it most in customer service: Sales people in the south will attend to you to the

Clockwise from top left: Huong Khan, a student, strolls the pavilion of downtown Saigon’s newest mall, Vincom Center 2; nem with all the fixings in Hanoi; in Hanoi’s Old Quarter; aerobics near Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi; Graham Greene lived in the 1880-built Hotel Continental Saigon while writing The Quiet American, and it was a favorite of foreign correspondents during the war era; guerilla marketing at the Bitexco Tower, Saigon; canh chua (sour soup) at Cuch Gach Quan in Saigon; though there are 35 million motorbikes in Vietnam, some, like this Hanoian, still pedal.

The Refinery, once an opium plant, serves Continental cuisine in Saigon’s heart. Opposite: Antique cyclos accent the faÇade of Hanoi’s Sofitel Legend Metropole.

Hanoi is less congested, more peaceful and less polluted. There’s a pervading sense of history, beauty and calm point of badgering. In the north, the good news is that they leave you alone. The bad news is also that they leave you alone. Some attribute this less to indifference than to a culture of rudeness (Saigonese friends warned me before my first visit to Hanoi that everyone would try to cheat me, though I found the northerners decidedly less nefarious). While I was helping an acquaintance pick out clothes in Hanoi as a gift for his girlfriend back in Saigon, he asked a sales girl for help and got a tepid response. “See?” he said. “This is why I hate northerners.” If he had spoken to her in English like a westerner instead of in the southern dialect, he says she would have reacted with better manners.

One Hanoi dweller, a French graphic designer named

Steven Moreau, suggested to me that southerners’ perception of bigotry actually makes them bigger perpetuators of the north-south spat. But it is undeniable that the language really does divide people. Northerners speak giong Bac and southerners speak giong Nam. Unsurprisingly, the northern dialect dominates official decrees and discourse, but also the evening news, lessons in proper Vietnamese, translations, dubbings and subtitles. Even when I go out to karaoke with southerners, they change their accents for a higher score. The nuances matter particularly to Hanoians who, like certain George Bernard Shaw characters, write off outsiders who speak with a lesser accent. A woman I met in Hanoi told me her parents can’t help it—they just can’t endure hearing giong Nam. Central Vietnamese have their own regionalisms, too, which blend traits of giong Bac and giong Nam. As someone who speaks giong Hue, I miss a lot from both poles of the country. No matter. I confess a bias in saying that I don’t like either dominant dialect. Giong Bac is arrogantly austere, and giong Nam is as pleasant to listen to as Eliza Doolittle. By contrast, giong Hue is unpretentious, simple and easy on the ears. Cuisine likewise has regional idioms, though I would stress that this is one category in which just about all of Vietnam excels equally. Flavors aren’t as strong in the north, southerners love their sugar, and I prefer the spice and salt of central dishes. After growing up on the home-cooking of a Hue mother, I blanket everything in pepper. I’ve found that locals in Hanoi can’t take the mildest of seasonings. But that doesn’t diminish the quality of food in the capital, the birthplace of pho (beef or chicken noodle soup), cha ca (fish patties) and bun oc (noodles with snails), among other delights. Tantalizing takes on most dishes are widely available in both cities, though I

actually prefer pho in California; for some reason, chefs in Vietnam overcook these noodles every time. Some of my favorite southern entrees are canh chua (a sour tomato-and-pineapple soup), bun thit nuong (grilled pork with noodles) and all manner of hotpots. Thanks to Hue we have banh xeo (shrimp-pork crêpes), which go well with rice paper, a great wrap for everything from spring rolls to fish to bo la lot (betel leaf-wrapped beef). Many eateries in both cities boast in their names that they serve fare from ba mien, meaning the three regions. Hanoi does seem to have a monopoly when it comes to the tongue-in-cheek. In 1946, Vietnam was recovering from a famine that claimed millions of lives. Now, a Hanoi restaurant named after that year gives customers a taste of austerity, with basic fare, intentionally chipped dishware and peeling walls. A similar eatery that has been generating a lot of buzz is Cua Hang An Uong Mau Dich So 37, or Food Trade Shop Number 37. The food is slightly better than at 1946, but you really go for the theme. Diners pay upfront, in exchange for ration slips, which disappear with each dish that arrives. Best of all are the nostalgic trappings of Vietnam’s subsidy era splashed across shelves and walls, from rotary phones and transistor radios, to lanterns, satchels and even a hanging bicycle. My dinner companion was, in the 1980’s, a young boy, but remembered lining up with his parents to claim their state-apportioned food.

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During dinner, he pointed out a decorative brick and explained that Vietnamese used to write their ration numbers on bricks and use them to hold their spots in line.

Vietnamese only can reminisce about those old days

because they’ve moved on. Much as foreigners tend to dwell on the war era, few Vietnamese cling to grudges. Einstein called nationalism an infantile disease, which probably can be said of municipal rivalries, too. When you visit both cities, wander off the beaten path and among the alleys to see what locals like—in food, architecture, culture and daily life. Vietnamese really take advantage of public parks, to breakdance, rollerblade, play games, rehearse. In Hanoi, you’ll see laughing yoga in the morning and sexy dance aerobics at night; in Saigon, old women do hip-hop to burn calories, and mechanical treadmills turn the parks into outdoor gyms. It’s tempting to give Saigon the edge when it comes to cost. Consulting firm ECA International ranked it as the most affordable for expats in Southeast Asia last year. But in second place? Hanoi— whose locals insist that they save money, while southerners are materialistic, perhaps working hard but spending their earnings instantly on meals out, karaoke and mobile phones. The capital has advantages. It’s less congested, more peaceful and less polluted. There is a pervading sense of history and beauty and calm. Some like the relief of chilly winters after humid summers. It was during a crispweather walk through a Hanoi park anchored by a Lenin statue when I met Moreau, the designer, who told me he’s chosen to live in the


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Saigonese wake up early and stay out late. They aren’t nursing an inferiority complex; they’re driving the economy capital for the past five years, after two in Saigon. In truth, though, I think he’s a rarity. People favor Saigon. Northerners abound there. It’s not so easy to find a southerner who has migrated to Hanoi. As a Vietnamese-American, I find it hard enough to fit in. The country tries to lure Viet Kieu like me back, but, once here, we face a lose-lose reality: We are not Vietnamese enough when speaking the language or knowing the customs and we are too Vietnamese in that we don’t have the white skin that parents want for their children’s English teachers. Still, Saigon’s long tradition of welcoming everyone is what drew me here. This cosmopolitan place is lively and inviting. Vietnamese generally are friendly people, it’s just that southern Vietnamese are friendlier. They know it and can articulate it. “Southerners are more open-minded and tolerant,” a young friend tells me. I’ve found Hanoians, on the other hand, struggle to justify why they prefer their city, except out of childhood attachment. When my family left Hue in the late 1980’s, we got on an unsafe boat and slipped into the UN refugee camp in Hong Kong just before the door closed. Recently I met a Vietnamese-Australian who happened to work at the camp at the time. He told me they had to separate northerners and southerners into different housing units to head off skirmishes. I figured my family would have stayed above the fray, but he said, no, we most likely were lumped with the southerners. Maybe I’m not such an impartial judge after all. ✚

An outdoor barbershop with flair, Hanoi-style. Opposite: Skateboarders and b-boys rock it in a Saigon park.

The French began building the Hanoi Opera House in 1901, based on the design of Palais Garnier in Paris.



T L Guide HANOI STAY Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi 15 Ngo Quyen, Hoan Kiem Dist.; 84-4/3826-6919;; doubles from US$250. InterContinental Hanoi Westlake 1A Nghi Tam, Tay Ho Dist; 84-4/6270-8888;; doubles from US$100. Hotel de l’Opera 29 Trang Tien St., Hoan Kiem Dist.; 84-4/62825555;; doubles from US$160. Church Boutique Hotel Hang Gai 95 Hang Gai, Hoan Kiem Dist.; 84-4/3823-6675;; doubles from US$50. Movenpick 83A Ly Thuong Kiet St., Hoan Kiem Dist; 84-4/38222800;; rooms from US$110. EAT 1946 3 Yen Thanh Alley, 61 Cua Bac St., Ba Dinh, 84-4/6296-1946; and Villa 50 Mai Anh Tuan St., Hoang Cau Lakeside, Dong Da, 84-4/6326-1946;; DINNER FOR TWO TK. Cua Hang An Uong Mau Dich So 37 37 Nam Trang, Ba Dinh Dist.; dinner for two VND400,000. Banh Cuon, Miss An Thirdgeneration specialist in rice crêpes. 72 Hang Bo, tucked into a butcher shop, Hoan Kiem Dist. Sen Nam Thanh Good for sensitive stomachs. 84B Nguyen Du, Hai Ba Trung District; 84-4/39410307; dinner for two VND700,000. Quan An Ngon Central cuisine. 18 Phan Boi Chau, Hoan Kiem District; 84-4/3942-8162;; dinner for two VND200,000. La Verticale High-end FrancoVietnamese fusion in a 1930’s villa. 19 Ngo Van So; 84-4/39446317;; set menus from VND756,000. DRINK Cong Cafe Ironic communist paraphernalia. 32 Dien Bien Phu, Ba Dinh Dist; 84-4/6686-0344; Bar Betta Quirky café and bar with a good roofdeck. 34C Cao Ba Quat, Ba Dinh; 84-4/3734-9134. Hoa Vien Czech-influenced brewery. 1A Tang Bat Ho, Hai Ba Trung Dist; 84-4/3972-5088;

STAY Park Hyatt 2 Lam Son Square, Q1; 84-8/3824-1234; parkhyatt; doubles from US$250. InterContinental Asiana Saigon Corner of Hai Ba Trung and Le Duan, Q1; 84-8/3520-9999; ihg. com; doubles from US$160. Caravelle 19-23 Lam Son Square, Q1; 84-8/3823-4999; caravelle; doubles from US$165. Rex 141 Nguyen Hue, Q1; 84-8/3829-2185; rexhotelvietnam. com; doubles from US$110. Hotel Majestic 1 Dong Khoi, Q1; 84-8/3829-5517; majestic saigon.; doubles from US$150. Hotel Continental 132 Dong Khoi, Q1; 84-8/3829-9201;; doubles from US$86. EAT Nam Giao Authentic Hue food. 136/15 Le Thanh Ton, Q1; 84-8/3825-0261;; dinner for two VND250,000. Monsoon Pan-Southeast-Asian. 1 Cao Ba Nha, Q1; 84-8/62908899; dinner for two VND300,000. Halo Best vegetarian in town. 18A Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Q1; dinner for two VND150,000. L’Usine Stark-chic boutique-café. 151/1 Dong Khoi, Q1; 84-8/39140631;; lunch for two VND450,000. Le Banh Mi Upscale Vietnamese sandwiches, plus good coffee and late beers. 12 Le Thanh Ton, Q1; dinner for two VND150,000. Hoa Tuc Classed-up classic Vietnamese; runs a cooking school. 74/7 Hai Ba Trung, Q1; 84-8/3825-1676;; dinner for two VND800,000. The Refinery Ambient interior, lovely patio. 74 Hai Ba Trung, Q1; 84-8/3823-0509; therefinerysaigo; dinner for two VND800,000. Cuc Gach Quan Eclectic treehouse. 10 Dang Tat, Q1; 84-8/ 3848-0144;; dinner for two VND800,000. DRINK Chill Bar Best view of the city. Rooftop, AB Tower, 76 Le Lai, Q1; 84-8/3827-2372; Pacharan Sangria and tapas. 97 Hai Ba Trung, Q1; 84-8/38256924; La Fenetre Soleil Ask about the group dance lessons. 44 Ly Tu Trong, Q1; 84-8/3824-5994. Hien and Bob’s Place Resident expats’ favorite dive. 43 Hai Ba Trung, Q1; 84-8/3823-0661.

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A Beach of His Own

ia n l loy d n eu bau er

Deep in an eight-year love affair with Koh Phayam, Ian Lloyd Neubauer reflects on how this Thai island in the Andaman has held onto his heart.

A late afternoon beach volleyball match. 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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Time passes slowly on Memey Beach.

t c o u r t e s y o f P B a s e . c o m . o pp o s i t e : i a n l l o y d n e u b a u e r

he first time I heard about Koh Phayam was in 2005. Described in a pamphlet as being “like Koh Samui in the seventies,” this small kangaroo-shaped island skirting Burma’s maritime border on Thailand’s Andaman Coast caught my eye, not for what it offered, but for what it came without: the go-go bars, traffic and fullmoon parties that had turned some of Thailand’s most beautiful islands into cringe-worthy parodies of their former, stunning selves. There was no traffic on Koh Phayam because there were no roads, only a concrete motorbike track that runs through the dense tropical brush at its center. There was no airport. The only way to get there was on a passenger ferry that departed in the mornings from a jetty on the outskirts of the town of Ranong, roughly halfway between Bangkok and the Malaysian border. It was not connected to Thailand’s electrical grid, though there were a few generators and solar panels on the island. There were no luxury hotels or concrete resorts, with accommodation limited to 30-something bungalow properties. Most were set on or around Aow Yai and Buffalo Bays: two long sweeps of powder-fine sand that curve deeply into rocky outcrops honeycombed with caves. And best of all, it attracted only a few hundred tourists a week—a sliver of the millions that can be found running riot on the islands of Phuket and Koh Samui any day of the year.

Time would fold on itself as longtail fishing boats came and went across island-studded waters and, if luck would have it, I’d reel in a few red-bellied pacu—a close relative of the piranha. I’d hand my haul over to a noodle lady with a stall behind the pier, who’d fry and plate the fish with fresh rice and papaya salad for less than the cost of a soft drink back home. And I’d spend the rest of the day visiting friends, cruising around on my mountain bike, playing beach volleyball or sneaking in an afternoon siesta. There were about a dozen different beachfront restaurants one could select for dinner, and every second evening or so there’d be a small informal party with a DJ or someone strumming a guitar. Unlike the busier islands in Thailand, tourists weren’t cliquey or exclusive—we were a loose crew composed mostly of young people from Singapore, backpackers from Scandinavia, couples from Australia and families from Bangkok. Tanned, healthy and in love with our island, the conversation flowed easily and friendships bloomed. I returned to Bangkok a new man with a new mission. I quit my job, surrendered the lease on my apartment and spent the next nine months bunkered on Koh Phayam. A good chunk of my stay coincided with Thailand’s rainy season: only a dozen or so tourists remained on the island and every day was accompanied by lashing, heavy rain. It didn’t faze me. I passed time completing Maquis, a novel I’d started writing two years earlier while working at a newspaper in Cambodia but had put aside indefinitely when I relocated to Bangkok. And when the tropical sun came out in snatches from behind the black monsoonal clouds, I’d drop whatever I was—or wasn’t—doing and go swimming, fishing, mountain-bike riding or do just about anything to keep my heart pounding.

Every second evening, it seems, there’s an informal party at a beach bar.


urned out after a year on a hectic news desk in Bangkok, Koh Phayam was the medicine I’d been craving. I spent a glorious month on the island reconnecting with nature and my inner hippie. I’d kick off the day with a refreshing swim in tropical blue waters or, if I was feeling up to it, grab a kayak and paddle out to a coral reef and back, often sighting white-bellied sea eagles and oriental small-clawed otters on the way. Afterwards, I’d grab breakfast at Baan Namchaa, an organic café run by a pair of gracious Burmese ladies in a clearing behind the beach. Then, I’d either get stuck in a book or pedal my mountain bike through the jungle to the village and throw a line over the jetty. 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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Though I moved back to the city a long time ago, my mind is always soothed when I imagine myself sitting alone in my little bungalow at night, typing under the light of an old gas lamp.


n the years that have passed, I’ve returned to Koh Phayam a half dozen times. Every time I return, I fear the worst... that the fragile beauty of my tiny island will have been upended by speculators of property, fisheries or palm oil. In essence, she’s stayed the same, welcoming me back to her warm turquoise waters and cashew-scented brush as affectionately as the day we first met. But in some ways, Koh Phayam is changing. Newish developments include a series of concrete bungalows with generator-powered air con and television on Buffalo Bay, and another on Aow Yai Bay. The motorcycle track that connects the two main beaches to the village pier is spotted with new businesses and an ever-growing number of bars line the zenith of Aow Yai. “Going back a few years it was easy to find a place where you could be totally alone here,” says Linda Chevrier, a Thai national whose French father established Koh Phayam’s first bungalow complex in the late 1980’s. “Now it’s not so easy.” That’s not entirely bad. “Development has been good for the local people; they have more money and can afford to send their children to school,” points out Stella Lefevre, a French national who lives on the island. “But I see a problem with outside people who come here to make money. They are not part of the community.” The big thing that might save Koh Phayam from the wrecking ball is water supply—or lack thereof. The island is home to five freshwater streams. But catchment is weak and streams evaporate into trickles in the dry season, creating a costly proposition for water-greedy resorts. For now, it seems, Koh Phayam is safe, as are the simple pleasures of island life. Biking through boscage. Discovering the bizarre sandstone formations at Aow Kao Kwai Beach. Visiting the sea gypsy village on the western peninsula. A game of football with local kids whose names are hard to remember but whose smiles are not. Or sitting back and taking in a famous Koh Phayam sunset—yellow and magenta flares reflect off the swell as the sun, a burning orb, melts through a layer cake of cloud and evaporates into the mirror that is the Andaman Sea. “Those of us who like it here put up with minor inconveniences,” says Dave Roberts, a retired British Air Force officer who runs a minimart on the island, “and look what we get in return: the sun, the sea and some of the most beautiful people I’ve met in my life.” ✚


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The simple pleasures of island life... Biking through boscage. Football with local kids whose names are hard to remember but whose smiles are not


T L Guide Getting there Happy Air (66-2/ 1348-0000; happyair. flies from Bangkok to Ranong daily. From Ranong Airport, catch a taxi to the Koh Phayam Pier. The Koh Phayam Ferry (Bt150) departs from here at 9 a.m. with a 2 p.m. service available between November and March.

STAY Bamboo Bungalows Aow Yai Beach; 667/782-0012;; bamboo villas from Bt500 to Bt1,650, depending on the season; lunch specials from Bt80. Baan Sian Kayoo (667/782-0133; gopayam. com; from Bt400) and Silver Sand (66-80/

041-3349; from Bt500) both have bungalows set in cashew gardens, on opposite ends of Aow Yai Bay. PP Land Beach Resort Eco-property on Aow Hin Khao Beach a 10-minute walk from the pier. 6681/678-4310;; deluxe bungalows with 24-hour solar power from Bt600; dinner for two Bt170. EAT AND DRINK Baan Manchaa Vegetarian café and juice bar. 50 meters east of the first intersection on Northern Aow Yai Rd.; breakfast for two Bt100. Blue Sky Resort Steaks, burgers, salad on the waterfront. Aow Hin Khao Beach; dinner for two Bt280, imported wine from Bt800. Silver Sand Snapper, lobster and mud crab feasts for up to eight people. Booking must be made 48 hours in

advance. Market prices for seafood apply. DO Phayam Divers Phayam Lodge on Buffalo Beach; 66-86/995-2598;; day trips to Surin Rock with diving gear and lunch Bt4,900 or Bt3,900 for snorkelers. Thai Cooking Classes Buffalo Bay Vacation Club; 66-85/107-9473;; private cooking classes for the cost of your meal. Visit the Chao Lay (Sea Gypsy) village in the northwest coast for insight into prawn fishing, cashew nut farming and salt-making. PP Land Beach Resort offers massage, yoga classes and game fishing. T+L Tip Many businesses open only during the high season, from November to March.

Sunrise breakfast at the Chamilandu Bushcamp, in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park.


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Z A M B I A U p C los e

With top-tier guides, plentiful wildlife and a circuit of simple yet stylish bush camps and river lodges, this underthe-radar safari destination is Africa for purists. on wheels, on water and on foot—and from the vantage of his own bathtub— Peter Jon Lindberg gets an intimate look at Zambia. P hotographed by M o n ika H oefler a n d J e n s S chwarz


ummer AFTERNOONS on the Zambezi can reach 40 degrees, but with the sun at our backs and a breeze off the water, it felt oddly cool in our two-man canoe. We had paddled a half a kilometer upriver before slipping into one of the narrow channels meandering inland. Now we glided in calm water through pristine, bird-speckled wilderness. The grass glowed emerald-green. From our vantage the buffalo onshore loomed twice as large; elephants appeared as tall as baobab trees. But they posed us no threat on the water. The channel banks, on the other hand, were crowded with 5-meter-long crocodiles, their eyes like milky green marbles. At our approach they’d slither silently into the stream, then vanish in the murk beneath us. Meanwhile, hippos poked bulging eyes from the water to stare at us, unblinking—then they, too, would disappear below the surface. (Hippos can hold their breath for six minutes.) Our main concern was to avoid passing over these ornery beasts, since an angry hippo can easily topple a canoe. At which point the crocs become a problem. I was up front, scanning the dark water for eyes. In back was my guide, Paul Grobler, a Zimbabwean expat with the droll affect of a Canadian comic. He also ends most sentences with “eh?” “If we swamp, swim away from the boat, eh?” Say what, Paul? “Crocs attack the largest object first, and that’s the canoe.” So I should just swim to shore and wait there? “No, no, don’t leave the water. Hippos and elephants see you as a bigger threat on land.” Oh. So I should just…discreetly tread water somewhere? “Right,” said Paul. “But keep away from the boat, eh?”

I’D BEEN HEARING THE WORD from Africa insiders: Zambia was the continent’s great unsung safari destination, and unquestionably its best value. The game viewing is reliably excellent, the quality of local guides superb and the


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A young bull elephant in South Luangwa National Park.

we startled an elephant on the nearest bank, who began stomping alongside us, kicking up dust and blaring furious Ornette Coleman arpeggios

A Chiawa Camp canoe safari through Lower Zambezi National Park.

parks offer a diversity of experiences seldom combined elsewhere: canoeing, fishing, boat rides, night drives and, not least, walking safaris—a concept pioneered in Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley by the late naturalist Norman Carr. “If you’re serious about bush walking, Zambia is the place to do it,” said safari outfitter Cherri Briggs of Explore Inc., who owns a house on the Lower Zambezi. In short, it’s perfect for experienced Africa hands, but also makes a fine introduction for first-timers. (I was one myself.) Zambia promised a more natural and authentic bush experience than its better-known counterparts—“like Kenya 30 years ago” was the refrain I kept hearing. Much of this derives from the lodgings themselves, which reflect a shifting ethos in safari travel. “Before, the priority was the lodge, and it was overdesigned for luxury,” said Michael Lorentz, founder of Passage to Africa and “These days, people simply want comfort—a lodge that’s small, genuine, wild and exclusive. The focus is more on the guide and on the safari experience itself.” Zambia certainly fills that bill. While big-name safari companies have made inroads, the field is still defined by intimately scaled river lodges and bush camps, many of them founded and operated by Zambians—people like Andy Hogg, who started the Bushcamp Company, a collection of six camps in South Luangwa that find a tasteful balance between luxurious and rustic. Or Grant Cumings, whose family runs two excellent 84

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and long-standing properties, Chiawa and Old Mondoro, in the Lower Zambezi. With those camps as my bases—and with Briggs’s expert counsel—I plotted out a 10-day trip. Part 1


South Luangwa National Park is among the most highly regarded game parks in Africa, yet it draws considerably fewer visitors than its equivalents elsewhere. The Luangwa River and its tributaries support a staggering concentration of wildlife, including 60 different mammals (among them 14 species of antelope) and 400 bird species. Given the mostly flat terrain—yellow-green grasslands and floodplains; groves of ebony and mahogany; countless oxbow lagoons— the park is ideally suited for walking safaris. The Bushcamp Company’s six properties are scattered in the remote southern end of the park, just a few hours’ walking distance apart. Most visitors stay at several over a week or more, often hiking camp to camp (bags are delivered by vehicle). Tucked in unspoiled wilderness, sites are well removed from other lodgings. The quiet is

From left: A South Luangwa leopard; David Mambo, a guide at Old Mondoro camp, in Lower Zambezi National Park.

remarkable. Even in peak season, you rarely pass another group; the valley seems to be yours alone. The Bushcamps stand out for their chic design; their minimal footprint (they run on solar power, and most are dismantled at the end of each season); and, not least, their ace resident guides. (South Luangwa, in general, has a rigorous two-year training requirement for all walking guides, and park safety standards are extremely strict.) Each Bushcamp sleeps six to eight guests; meals and activities are usually communal. All the camps are lovely, especially Chindeni, with its elegant teakwood decking and breezy, spacious tents perched over a wildlife-rich lagoon, and Chamilandu, whose open-fronted tree houses face a prime stretch of the Luangwa River. Mornings—especially those delicious, hour-like minutes before dawn—quickly became my favorite time at Chamilandu. How novel to be woken not by the marimba of an iPhone but by the thrum of bees around a flowering Natal mahogany tree. Its jasmine-y aroma sweetened the still-cool air. The buzzing found its counterpart in the basso grunts of hippos, yards from my bed, splashing back into the river after nocturnal forays inland. As the sun rose over the pale misty hills, I’d join the other guests for a fireside breakfast: fresh melon, creamy porridge and strong Zambian coffee. By 6:30, we were in the Land Rover, with guide Gilbert Njobvu at the wheel and our

rifle-toting scout, Davey Banda, riding shotgun. (All walking groups are accompanied by an armed, park-appointed escort.) After a short drive we’d park, step out and walk, single file, into the bush. There was no trail to follow; Gilbert would improvise our course based on nearby signs of life. In September—Zambia’s early summer—the Luangwa River runs near-dry for long stretches, and the valley is anything but lush. This is peak safari season: animals congregate around the few remaining water sources, with less foliage to provide cover. Drained of color and liquid, much of the terrain is a dry and crackling brown. You think, This could be autumn in Michigan—but then you hear a rustle behind some shrubbery, and up pops the head of a giraffe. A Thornicroft’s giraffe, to it’s a ‘cackle’ be precise, the rare subspecies of hyenas, unique to Luangwa. Gilbert a ‘leap’ of motioned for us to follow, and we leopards, and sneaked around behind him to a ‘business’ of emerge in a clearing. The rest of the mongooses. tower—it’s a “tower” of giraffes it’s a ‘tower’ when stationary, a “journey” when of giraffes on the move—stood beside a when they’re parched lagoon, attempting to stationary, quench their thirst. a ‘journey’ Bush walks are not only about on the move seeing wildlife firsthand, but also 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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From left: Thornicroft’s giraffes in South Luangwa National Park; a tent at Chiawa Camp, on the Lower Zambezi. Opposite: Inside a guest tent at South Luangwa’s Chindeni Bushcamp.

about the suggestion of wildlife: a tamped-down patch of grass, the sandy imprints of last night’s hippo migration, and, of course, an infinite variety of animal droppings. Every 60 meters Gilbert would take a knee to fondle another curious ball of scat, pointing out semi-digested seeds, nuts and grasses. (When people told me I would see a lot of really cool shit in Zambia, they didn’t know the half of it.) Walking also brings you closer to things you scarcely notice from a vehicle—animal dens; medicinal plants; half-devoured bones. We came upon a buffalo skull, its nasal cavity shattered. “Lions did this,” Gilbert murmured, CSI-style. “They’ll attack the nose and mouth first, then hold it shut to suffocate the beast.” We became so attuned to rumors of wildlife that we once nearly missed the real thing. The leopard was lazing on a branch just above us as we passed beneath the acacia tree: a beautiful young male, paws dangling, tail curling like a cobra. It was Jason, a fellow guest from England, who spotted it first. Leopards tend to stay hidden by day, but this one was veritably posing. Prior to this, Jason told us, he’d visited eight African game parks and seen only a single leopard. After 26 hours in Luangwa, he’d already spotted five. (I wound up seeing 10 in as many days in Zambia.) We continued on in the steadily increasing heat, past a dazzle of dozing zebra, past vast herds of impala with big

soft anime eyes. From the river’s edge we watched a dozen ecstatic crocodiles gorge on a hippo carcass, flipping it in the water to tear off more flesh. Their bellies were distended from the feast. When we passed the same spot two days later, the carcass was down to clean white ribs. Traipsing across a cleaved floodplain, we heard a distant whooosssssh, like storm winds rushing in. Strange—the rains were weeks away. The sound grew louder; now it was like someone shuffling a giant deck of cards. Gilbert pointed up, and at last we saw it: a vast, sky-blackening funnel cloud of red-billed quelea birds, tens of thousands in tight formation, spiraling earthward like a feathered serpent and headed straight for us. We were soon engulfed in a whorling bird storm. Just as quickly, all went quiet again. The entire flock had alighted on a single bush, a hundred meters away. “Farmers call them ‘feathered locusts,’ ” Gilbert said. “They can wipe out a whole field of crops in an afternoon.” The senses sharpen considerably when your feet are on the ground. Without the rattle and fumes of an engine, the sounds and smells of the bush are heightened tenfold— like the sinister Jabba-the-Hutt chortle of unseen hippos, or the saccharine scent of the woolly caper bush, reminiscent of Necco wafers. I constantly felt like I was stoned, not least in the company of Cape buffalo, whose faces are so singular and expressive that you’d recognize any 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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one of them in a herd a month later. Look, doesn’t that old male look like Donald Sutherland? Most of all, walking allowed us the luxury of sweet, slowly unspooling time—time for not merely spotting but for observing, time to linger and watch for a while. This proved to be the difference between a snapshot and a film: suddenly you had movement, context, character, plot. “That infant is dying,” Gilbert whispered. We were crouched under a sausage tree, watching a troop of baboons. He was right: a pink-eared newborn, his body limp, was being passed around by his mother and father and older siblings, who whimpered gently in distress. We watched this drama unfold for the better part of an hour, until the family quietly slouched away, perhaps preferring to grieve off-camera. Part 2

LOWER ZAMBEZI After a week in dusty South Luangwa, the shimmering sight of the wide, blue Zambezi came as a shock. Water, it turns out, changes everything. Lower Zambezi National Park unfolds along 119 kilometers of Africa’s fourth-longest river. (That’s Zimbabwe on the opposite bank.) Wedged between the Zambezi to the south and a 1,200-meter-high escarpment to the north, the park is dominated by riverine woodlands and alluvial plains carpeted in mossy green grass. Though smaller and less biodiverse than South Luangwa, it is considerably lusher, even in the dry season. A short drive and a 20-minute boat ride from Royal airstrip delivered me to Chiawa, set along a magnificent stretch of the Zambezi, from which vantage the camp seems to disappear into the forest. Nine tents made of timber, reeds and canvas—and outfitted with colonial-style furnishings and claw-foot tubs—are spread along the hillside. Chiawa is known for superb walking, fishing and canoeing excursions, and the latter were surely the highlight of my trip. It helped that I was paddling with Paul Grobler, Chiawa’s senior guide. Though our aforementioned croc and hippo dodgings made for some nerve-racking moments on the water, these were mitigated somewhat by Paul’s deadpan wit. There’s a Zambian expression I love: “We’ll make a plan.” It means we’ll deal with it. Paul uses it a lot. “Huge croc just dove under the canoe, Paul.” “We’ll make a plan.” Every so often we passed the skull of some unlucky buffalo or impala, perched on the riverbank as if left there as a warning. Rounding a blind corner, we startled an elephant on the channel bank, who began stomping alongside us, kicking up dust and blaring furious Ornette Coleman arpeggios. Paul, unmoved, was carrying on about the Nile crocodile. “A near-perfect creature,” he was saying. “Virtually unchanged since the dinosaur age. Incredibly efficient—a 88

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killing and eating machine. Most acidic stomach of any animal. The heart pumps in CO2 to help with digestion. Did you know they only have to eat twice a year?” There were lighter, lovelier moments: the sight of carmine bee-eaters nesting in the cliffside, their vermilion and teal plumage resplendent against crumbling sandstone. Or the sudden appearance of a Goliath heron—1.5 meters tall, the largest heron on earth. Or the juvenile baboons playing king of the mountain atop a termite mound, pratfalling like the Three Stooges. And, later, the sun sinking over the Zambezi, turning the water to molten gold. “This is so peaceful,” I said to Paul as we drifted downstream, then abruptly swerved to avoid our umpteenth crocodile. “And also completely terrifying.” “Mmm,” he replied. “We’re relaxing at the edge of death.” My heart was still pounding when I stepped out of the canoe and onto the Chiawa dock. A porter handed me a gin and tonic, and I gulped it down with shaking hands. That night I lay awake with two vivid impressions: (1) I nearly got eaten today, and (2) I loved it.

i was enjoying a post-hike soak in the tub when a bull elephant appeared in my backyard. we performed our ablutions in tandem: i with bath gel, he with clouds of dirt

BY NOW I’D DEVELOPED a serious guide-crush on Paul. (Did I mention he also dabbles in metalwork and astronomy?) The next morning, I was the first to sign up for his guided bush walk. Things I learned in the first 29 minutes of our hike: • Impalas can leap 3 meters high from a standing position. • Elephants mourn their dead by scattering their bones. This is why you seldom see an intact elephant carcass. • The pink gentian flower can be pollinated only by the carpenter bee, whose wings vibrate at the frequency of middle C, prompting the anther to release the pollen. • It’s a “cackle” of hyenas, a “leap” of leopards and a “business” of mongooses. • Hippos, it was only recently discovered, use clicking sounds to communicate underwater, much like dolphins and whales, to which they are most closely related. It was like walking with Attenborough. We chanced upon a group of elephants clustered around a hole by the river. They were digging for the sand-filtered water below to give their young a safe, croc-free drinking source, Paul explained. Like a road crew at a manhole, some were working, others just standing around. One looked up and waved his trunk, as if flagging us past. Nothing to see here, people. ELEPHANTS ARE THE MAIN DRAW at Old Mondoro, Chiawa’s smaller and more primitive sister camp, which sits in a glade of winterthorn trees, whose seedpods are pachyderm catnip. A local group hangs around camp all day, coming right up to the bar, close enough to touch. (Don’t.)

When my boat transfer from Chiawa pulled up just after lunch, a three-tonne female elephant was standing beside the dock, as if to welcome us. For 20 minutes we could only idle in the river as she grazed, until she finally wandered off. There were six more bathing in the lagoon outside my hut. I was instructed to radio for a Land Cruiser to deliver me the 140 meters from my room to the dining pavilion, as the elephants made it too dangerous to walk. The intimacy of their presence can lead one to forget they’re wild beasts. That said, elephants are natural performers—mock-fighting in the river with tusks and trunks entwined; swimming against the current, the babies’ trunks clinging to mothers’ tails; or plucking leafy greens from the riverbank and swirling them in the water, like humans washing lettuce. Old Mondoro has four simple guest huts, with reed half-walls and canvas flaps that pull down at night. Out back, overlooking the river or lagoon, is a porch with a daybed and an outdoor shower and tub. I was enjoying a post-hike soak in the tub one morning—in the company of a chirping tree frog—when a bull elephant appeared in my backyard. His skin was wet from the river, and now he was gathering up sand and showering himself with dust. (This functions as both a sun guard and a parasite remover.) We performed our ablutions in tandem: I with bath gel, he with clouds of dirt. Soon he was completely beige. All that sand looked terribly itchy, I thought, and the elephant clearly agreed, for at this point he began scratching his belly with his penis, then scratching his penis by stepping on it. (A problem all men wish they could solve thusly.) I managed to grab my camera and film the final seconds of this odd ritual, until the elephant got embarrassed or annoyed—wouldn’t you?—and marched off into the privacy of the woods. BACK AT CHIAWA for my final day in Zambia, I met with

owner Grant Cumings over sundowners on the riverfront terrace. Grant was born in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, but spent much of his youth in the wild, water-skiing the Zambezi—yes, the Zambezi—and exploring the country’s remote bush. After college in Florida, Grant returned home to open Chiawa, the first camp inside the park, in 1989. Both Chiawa and Old Mondoro have garnered a cultlike following; one-quarter of the guests are repeat visitors. “That couple there are on their 23rd stay,” Grant said, pointing at two enviably fit, silver-haired Brits across the terrace. “One guest comes twice a year for three weeks at a time—he’ll book Paul for the duration and walk or canoe with him every day.” [Note to self: Befriend this guy.] We watched a lone warthog skitter through the tallgrass by the river. Suddenly, three female lions sprang from the brush. Grant shot up, and a few other guests rushed beside us to watch. A kill looked certain, but the warthog pulled off a miraculous escape, and the dejected cats slinked away. “Shall we pursue?” asked Grant, sporting a schoolboy’s grin. Our impromptu group piled into the Land Cruiser and took off in the gathering dusk, the sky now streaked with rose. For 10 minutes we tracked the pride up the floodplain with no sign, until: “There!” Grant pointed left. My eyes

fixed on a small mahogany tree, and at last I saw them: two, three, no, four lions hidden in the foliage, splayed on branches that barely held their weight. The cats were motionless and entirely relaxed. Grant inched the vehicle closer, and I caught one’s eye. As she peered quizzically through a gap in the leaves, I snapped her portrait. (That photo now hangs over my desk.) The evening was moonless and crystal clear as we continued northward. We wound up spotting a leopard on the prowl, two bush pigs and seven—count ’em—seven civets in 10 minutes. Then our host slowed to a stop at the crest of a rise, killed the engine and switched off the lights. Here we realized the advantage of an open-top Land Cruiser. A magnificent bowl of stars had emerged overhead. We leaned back on our bench seats, gazing at the strange constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. Orion laid on his side, resting. A breeze blew in from the escarpment, carrying the now-familiar scent of Natal mahogany. In the distance a hyena called. No one said a word. It could have lasted three minutes, or 15, or forever. I remember thinking, I am already nostalgic for this. Collectively willing the moment not to end, we sat silent and still, holding our breath, waiting for the key to clink, for the engine to turn. ✚



South Luangwa National Park

z a m bezi riv e r


lake k a ri bA v ic tori a fa l l s

Lower Zambezi National Park

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T L Guide travel Agent Explore Inc. T+L A-List agent Cherri Briggs is a regional expert and part-time local resident. She creates custom safaris to the camps featured in this story— and beyond. stay Bushcamp Company bushcamp; from US$420 per person per night, all-inclusive. Chiawa Camp; from US$525 per person per night, all-inclusive. Old Mondoro; from US$565 per person per night, all-inclusive.

When to Go May through September, the dry season, is ideal. You'll find good prices in April. Getting There Fly to Lusaka (LUN). From there, Zambia-based Proflight flies to Mfuwe airport (for South Luangwa) and Royal airstrip (for Lower Zambezi). Lodges can arrange flights to and transfers from either.

The Basics To travel to both South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi, you need at least eight days. (This trip was 10.) Visas-onarrival are required for citizens of Australia, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, Japan, Laos, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, the U.S., Vietnam and most European countries. Visit for the complete list, as well as for visa requirements and those countries that are exempt. Tour operators can arrange dual-entry visas. Travelers are advised to take antimalarial medication. Consult your doctor about vaccinations that may be necessary.

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It List The coolest new hotels of the year.

City 92 Rustic 94 Design 96 Beach 99 Renovation 101 Resort 103

For our eighth annual editors’ choice awards, we logged thousands of kilometers to find the 61 extraordinary hotels that are transforming their destinations. From a city resort in Bangkok to a stylish getaway in Bhutan, this year’s crop does not disappoint. Read on for 2013’s most groundbreaking openings.

Botanique Hotel & Spa, Brazil

Tuca ReinÉs

High in the mountains of Vale dos Mellos, 258 kilometers northwest of São Paulo, sits a stone-and-glass lodge that showcases the best of the country. There’s the wine cellar (all Brazilian); the food (farm-to-fork); and the furnishings (sourced by Adélia Borges, the country’s leading design authority). The six suites and 11 villas are built with reclaimed wood and have terraces that overlook the valley. But this is not luxury to satisfy all tastes— floorboards are rough, bathrooms doorless and décor is on the spare side. Still, the range of activities—horseback riding, capoeira, cooking classes—are enough to keep the most restless of guests happy.; doubles from US$1,150 all-inclusive. For more winners in our Resort category, see page 103.

A suite at Botanique Hotel & Spa, in Brazil.

City A club executive suite at the Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou.

↑ Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou, China Just 210 kilometers north of Hong Kong, this sprawling metropolis—population 12 million-plus— is China’s next boomtown. A magnet for regional entrepreneurs, Guangzhou’s attractions include noteworthy new architecture (the Zaha Hadid– designed opera house), a thriving food scene (it’s the capital of Cantonese cuisine) and a flurry of luxury

T+L’s Top City Hotels

India; Rs8,000.

Ba nya n Tree Sha nghai on th e Bun d

Four Se asons hotel Toronto; C$545.; RMB1,700. Das Stue

Berlin; 190. E ast, Beijing; RMB938. Fairmont jaipur


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gr a n m eliÁ rom e vill a ag rippin a; 431. hub Porteño

Buenos Aires; US$272.

Leel a Pal ace

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hotel openings. Among the big brands staking their claim here, Mandarin Oriental sets itself apart with alluring interiors: the 287 accommodations, created by Tony Chi, are clad in black wood, muted bronze and mirrored chrome, while labyrinthine layouts modeled on ancient Chinese courtyard residences lend an intimate feel. Business travelers will appreciate the central Tianhe district, while pleasure-seekers will want to tap the street-smart concierges, who led us to the city’s best hand-pullednoodle stalls.; RMB2,300.

Chennai, India; Rs10,000. Ma n darin Oriental

Guangzhou, China mandarinoriental. com; RMB2,300. NoM ad Hotel

New York City; US$435. Pal ace Hotel

Tokyo en.palacehoteltokyo. com; 38,000.

Pal acio N a z are nas

Cuzco, Peru palacionazarenas. com; US$550. Park Hyat t

Hyderabad, India; Rs9,000. Sha ngri-L a

Mumbai; Rs10,900. sofitel mumbai ba n dr a kurl a; US$175.

People are still buzzing about the “new Brooklyn,” where each artisan establishment seems to out-craft the next. And the Wythe—near the Williamsburg riverfront— has become the crown jewel of the borough’s renaissance. Converted from a 1901 factory, the 72 rooms are studies in restraint, with original cast-iron columns, salvaged-timber-beamed ceilings and cement floors (heated on colder nights). Details are steadfastly local, from toile wallpaper that evokes the cityscape to the small-batch brews in the mini-bars. Downstairs at Reynard restaurant, the tattooed staff serves farm-to-table dishes, but if it’s the hipster scene you’ve come for, the Ides rooftop bar will deliver in spades.; US$285.

St. regis

Doha, Qatar; US$391. Ta j Pal ace Marr akesh

Morocco; MAD4,100.


thetokyostationhotel. jp; 28,500. waldorf astoria

Berlin waldorfastoriaberlin. com; 212.

W y the Hotel

New York; US$285.

Zero G eorg e

Charleston, South Carolina; US$309.

→ Hotel prices are starting rates for double occupancy unless otherwise noted. For full reviews, go to

c o u r t e s y o f m a n d a r i n O r i e n ta l . Opp o s i t e : Ad r i a n G a u t/C o u r t e s y o f W y t h e h o t e l

→ Wythe Hotel, New York

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The 72-room Wythe Hotel, in Brooklyn, New York.

Rustic 2013 2013

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2013 2013

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The Copper Room at the hilltop Monteverdi resort, in Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia.

← Monteverdi, Val d’Orcia, Italy

A n d r e w H o w a r d/ C o u r t e s y o f W i l d e r n e s s S a f a r i s . Opp o s i t e : B e r n a r d T o u i l l o n / C o u r t e s y o f M o n t e v e r di

If you’ve always fantasized about living in a medieval Tuscan town, Monteverdi is the hilltop retreat you’ve been waiting for. At just seven suites, the scale is decidedly intimate, with chic farmhouse interiors by Roman designer Ilaria Miani, all neutral hues, rich textures and whitewashed antique wood. And of course, you have the picturesque setting, in the tiniest of villages (population: 25), on one of the highest hills in the Val d’Orcia, recognized by unesco to be among the region’s most beautiful valleys. And thanks to a restoration by the owners—an ItalianAmerican family who have taken a slow and steady approach to integrating the property into the town—it’s the kind of retreat that encourages hunkering down, even though the best of Tuscan wine-and-food country is just a short drive away.; 350.

↓ Odzala Camps, Republic of the Congo With only western lowland gorillas, forest elephants and a handful of Pygmy tribes to call it home, northern Congo’s Odzala-Kokoua rain forest— the second largest in the world— has remained unexplored by travelers. Now Wilderness Safaris is pulling back the curtain on Africa’s next great safari destination with the region’s first high-end camp. Two

sustainably minded lodges— Lango, on the edge of the savanna, and Ngaga, set deep in the rain forest—consist of 12 elevated tree-house suites constructed with local bamboo and decorated with Congolese crafts and artifacts. Leather and canvas campaign furniture and wraparound terraces add creature comforts, as does the organic French cuisine. But the real draw is Odzala’s unrivaled access to its wild neighbors, particularly the 20,000 resident gorillas who live just outside your door.; six nights US$5,885 per person.

A tree-house suite at Odzala’s Lango Camp, in the Republic of the Congo’s Odzala-Kokoua National Park.

T+L’s Top Charming Hideaways berkeley river lodge

Kimberley Coast, Australia; three days for two allinclusive US$2,900.

Capaldi Atl as Mountains

Morocco; 170. Cicada Lodge

Nitmiluk National Park, Australia; US$645. Kur a Desig n Vill as

Costa Rica; US$540.; 150.

M ashpi lodg e

Val d’Orcia, Italy monteverdituscany. com; 350.

Ecuador; three days allinclusive US$1,552 per person. Mon aci delle Terre N ere

Sicily monacidelle


odz al a cam ps

Republic of the Congo; six nights US$5,885 per person.

Pig in th e Wall

Southampton, England; 145. refugia

Chiloé, Chile; US$530. Singita m ar a river lodg e

Tanzania; US$1,900.

Seger a Retre at

Laikipia Plateau, Kenya; US$880. → Hotel prices are starting rates for double occupancy unless otherwise noted. For full reviews, go to

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A Siam Pool Villa at The Siam, Bangkok.

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I g o r P r a hi n / C o u r t e s y o f Th e Si a m

� The Siam, Bangkok

Leave it to a rock star to build Bangkok’s next great resort. ThaiAmerican musician Krissada Sukosol Clapp spent seven years obsessing over the details of his dream hotel on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. He hired renowned architect and designer of hotels Bill Bensley to channel Old Siam in the rooms and public spaces, acquired traditional Thai teakwood houses for the restaurant and spa, and combed through markets in Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States for eye-catching objets (18th-century Chinese ceramics salvaged from shipwrecks; vintage Pan Am posters of Thailand). And while this retreat is bound to impress design aficionados, it also has the sybarite in mind: the 39 suites and villas, which start at 80 square meters, offer a welcome escape from the city with deep soaking tubs, bamboo-shaded gardens and enormous beds with nap-all-morning appeal.; Bt19,185.

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Design T+L’s Top Stylish Retreats a n da z amsterdam prinse ngr acht; 255.

Bulgari hotel & reside nces

London; 510. Café Royal

London; 370. Downtown MÉxico

Mexico City downtownmexico. com; US$175. et t h em

Stockholm; US$594. itc g r a n d chol a

Chennai, India; Rs8,400. jw m arriot t marquis

Dubai; AED600. Penang, Malaysia macalistermansion. com; RM695. Mam a Shelter

Marseilles, France; 49. The balcony of suite No. 3 juts out over the faÇade of Macalister Mansion in Penang.

↑ Macalister Mansion Penang, Malaysia Take a hundred-year-old manor house and add mid-20th-century furnishings, life-size animal sculptures and large bathtubs lined with silver mosaic tiles, and you’ve got Malaysia’s most stylish new hotel. Located on the island of Penang—home of the


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th e siam

Bangkok; Bt19,185. SLS South Be ach

unesco-designated 18th-century George Town

neighborhood—the eight-room Macalister Mansion references the destination’s colonial past, but with a bold nod to the future. To wit: the entrance’s 2.4-meter-high resin bust of the first British governor of Penang. Come evening, take a 20-minute taxi ride to the center of George Town to explore one of Southeast Asia’s most exciting street food scenes, or linger at the hotel for a dinner of assam laksa (tamarind-infused fish soup).; RM695.

Miami Beach; US$535. 21C

Bentonville, Arkansas 21cmuseumhotels. com; US$143. → Hotel prices are starting rates for double occupancy unless otherwise noted. For full reviews, go to

c o u r t e s y o f m a c a l i s t e r m a n s i o n . o pp o s i t e : c o u r t e s y o f o y s t e r i n n

Macalister Ma nsion


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The three-room Oyster Inn is modeled after the baches that dot the island.

↑ Oyster Inn Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Just 35 minutes from Auckland by ferry, Waiheke Island is the Montauk of New Zealand, combining the cool cachet of your prototypical seaside town (beach shacks made of castoff wood; laid-back residents) with a sophisticated edge. Kiwis have known about it forever, but the world is just catching on, thanks to the Oyster Inn, a three-room retreat near Oneroa Beach modeled after the rustic

houses, or baches, that dot the island. Set in a Victorian-era newspaper office, the guest rooms are small but sweet, all whitewashed walls, exposed rafters and colorful kilims. We whiled away the day at the patio café overlooking Oneroa Bay, happily ordering platters of bivalves plucked straight from the sea. Turns out they didn’t name it Oyster Inn for nothing.; NZ$300.

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↑ Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa, Guacalito de la Isla, Nicaragua When Nicaraguan industrialist Carlos Pellas decided to build the country’s first five-star hideaway, he chose an undeveloped stretch of land on the Pacific coast—a blank slate, in effect, to create a new image for a country in flux. Pellas smartly added the familiar trappings of luxury: plunge pools, butlers, a spa with themed treatment rooms,


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a golf course designed by David McLay Kidd. Mukul soars on its strong sense of place: the staff is mostly local, and the furniture in the 23 cliffside bohios and 12 freestanding beach villas is built by hand (unique touches include headboards made of rum-barrel staves and polished pewter tables). Grass-fed Nicaraguan beef, as well as Pellas’s own excellent rum, Flor de Caña, is served at the beachfront restaurant. And, there is a palpable feeling of pride in a project destined to help transform this oasis and jungle into Central America’s next fashionable destination.; US$600.

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T+L’s Top Sandy Sanctuaries Dor ado Be ach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve

Puerto Rico; US$669.

Jum eir ah Port Soller

Mallorca, Spain; 468. mukul be ach, golf & spa

Guacalito de la Isla, Nicaragua mukul ​​; US$600.

Oyster In n

Waiheke Island, New Zealand; NZ$300. sugar be ach, a viceroy resort

St. Lucia viceroyhotelsand​; US$600. → Hotel prices are starting rates for double occupancy unless otherwise noted. For full reviews, go to

J e s s i c a S a m p l e . o pp o s i t e : c o u r t e s y o f p e n i n s u l a h o n g k o n g

A view of Nicaragua’s Playa Manzanillo from the patio at Mukul.


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A Superior Harbour View suite at the Peninsula Hong Kong.

↑ The Peninsula Hong Kong

Serenity is the word that comes to mind when you enter one of the Peninsula Hong Kong’s renovated Tower rooms. There’s gleaming burl-wood cabinetry with hardware modeled after vintage trunks and luxurious upholstery and paneling in creamy tones; the only dash of color comes from the blossom appliqué hovering on one wall, a subtle reminder that you are, after all, in Asia. Nestled deep within the walls of these classic modern spaces is 21st-

century technology on steroids: electronic panels control the rooms’ various features, from lighting, window treatments and music and video selection, to a guide to the city and live flight-status updates in five languages. And then there are the heart-stopping views of Victoria Harbour and towering buildings of Hong Kong Island—a sparkling rim of lights once the sun goes down.; HK$4,480.

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Renovation A reading nook in the Reales Alcazares Suite at the Hotel Alfonso XIII, in Seville, Spain.

Built in 1929 to host the Spanish king’s crowned cohorts, Seville’s Hotel Alfonso XIII has never abdicated its role as the city’s premier address for discerning visitors. But even royal retreats occasionally need a makeover, which is why Starwood spent nine months and US$25 million restoring the landmark—an Andalusian architectural confection of colorful tiles, carved plaster and curlicue ironwork. Traditionalists may grieve over the disappearance of heavy furnishings from the 151 guest rooms and suites, but we love the lighter new colors, restored antiques and sexy shimmer of vivid silks (everyone looks princely in the new peacock-blue American Bar). And now that the traffic-clogged streets once isolating the hotel have been converted to pedestrian walkways, the property feels like your very own private oasis in this romantic city. luxury​; US$374.

T+L’s Top Updated Classics El Enca nto

Santa Barbara, California; US$475. G rit ti pal ace , a luxury


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collection hotel

Venice; US$1,040.

hotel alfonso xiii, a luxury collection hotel

Seville, Spain

t r av e l a n d l e i s u r e a s i a .c o m; US$374.; HK$4,480.

hotel jerom e

→ Hotel prices are starting rates for double occupancy unless otherwise noted. For full reviews, go to

Aspen, Colorado; US$355. the Peninsula

Hong Kong

C o u r t e s y o f S ta r w o o d H o t e l s & R e s o r t s . o pp o s i t e : M a r t i n M o r r e l l / C o u r t e s y o f COMO H o t e l s & RE s o r t s

← Hotel Alfonso XIII, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Seville, Spain

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The grand living room at Uma by Como, Punakha, in Bhutan.

↑ Uma by Como, Punakha, Bhutan

Eastern Bhutan, with its pristine landscapes and well-preserved Buddhist temples, has had little in the way of stylish retreats. Enter the newest offering by Como hotels, in the untouched Punakha Valley. The sleek sister property to western Bhutan’s Uma by Como, Paro, is a welcome haven between long treks through the Himalayas: nine guest rooms designed by Malaysian-born Cheong Yew

Kuan (also behind the Como Shambhala Estate, in Bali) are clad in native blue pine, while floor-to-ceiling windows overlook rolling green hills. A breakfast of ginger-andlime muffins with house-made watermelon jam fortified us for a trip to Punakha Dzong Monastery—one of the country’s most important sites—just a 25-minute hike along the valley’s lush rim.; US$400.

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Resort T+L’s Top Sybaritic Escapes Alpin a gsta ad

Switzerland; 534. ama nzo’e

Porto Heli, Greece; 1,100. bota nique hotel & spa

Brazil botanique.; US$1,150. Tride nt Hotel

Port Antonio, Jamaica tridentportantonio. com; US$540. uma by Como, pun akh a

Bhutan comohotels. com; US$400. Viva nta by Ta j Madikeri

India vivantabytaj. com; Rs14,500.

A villa at Amanzo’e, near Porto Heli, Greece.

↑ Amanzo’e, Porto Heli, Greece 104

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If the ancient Greeks designed a city on a hill today, with all the innovations of the modern world, it would probably look and feel like Amanzo’e. Its stone columns, hectares of olive trees and panoramic views of azure seas—not to mention its 38 residence-like, plunge-pooled guest pavilions, private beach club, three 27-meter-long green-marble-lined pools

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and 1,115-square-meter spa—would make any returning Homeric hero weep. Add to that its covetable position on the Peloponnese peninsula’s sun-drenched southern coast, known for secluded pebbled beaches and easy access from Athens (the capital is just over two hours away by car or hydrofoil), and you’re well on your way to Elysium.; 1,100.

Edited by Nilou Motamed, Jennifer Flowers, Clara Sedlak, and Nikki Ekstein. Reported by Christine Ajudua, Gini Alhadeff, Kate Appleton, Luke Barr, Gemma Bowes, Jackie Caradonio, Ben Carlson, Jennifer Chen, Robyn Eckhardt, Irene Edwards, Andrew Ferren, Peter J. Frank, Adam Graham, Frances Hibbard, Peter Hughes, Katie James, Stirling Kelso, Sarah Khan, David Kaufman, David Keeps, Matt Lee, Shilpi Madan, Alexandra Marshall, Heidi Mitchell, Shane Mitchell, Lindsey Olander, Kathryn O’Shea-Evans, Sam Polcer, Brooke Porter, Adam Sachs, Andrew Sessa, Patrick Sheehan, Maria Shollenbarger, Samai Singh, Sarah Spagnolo, Marguerite A. Suozzi, Laura Teusink, Valerie Waterhouse, Lucy White, Ingrid Williams, and Alexandra Wolfe.

Courtesy of AmanResorts

→ Hotel prices are starting rates for double occupancy unless otherwise noted. For full reviews, go to travelandleisure. com.

Our Definitive Guide to


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Often written off as too staid, the city-state is continually evolving—its restaurants, night spots, hotels and other diversions leading Asia into the global spotlight, writes Christopher Kucway. Photographed by Darren Soh.

The fast-changing Keong Saik Road.


The W Singapore— Sentosa Cove. N

orchard east coast parkway

chinatown club street

singapore strait sentosa island 0

1.6 KM

Lay of the Land

Chinatown Not just any old Chinatown, Singapore’s version is, well, clean. There’s an endless array of places to eat and—these days—stay and shop, but remember to go on walking tours early in the day or in the evening to avoid the equatorial heat. Orchard Road Abuzz with all things that epitomize the city’s modernity, this is airconditioned bliss if shopping for the latest labels is your thing. Club Street Cheek-by-jowl with Chinatown, this everchanging street is lined with restaurants and bars. Head a block or two further west for a fast-growing collection of even newer eateries. Sentosa A great stop when you have kids in tow, the place to get away from it all in Singapore has become crowded. Still, it’s good for a weekend break within the city. East Coast Parkway Crowded on weekends, and rightly so, the ECP is the spot for seafood—as any day at the beach should be.


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Stay Some hot new hotels in the city and a reworked favorite. W Singapore Far-flung and funky, the design-centric hotel in all its eye-popping orange and purple is aimed at those in need of some fun in the sun. Head to Skirt, which specializes in meat and seafood dishes, such as saltbush lamb and any number of deep-sea fish. starwoodhotels. com; doubles from S$408.

Hotel Naumi Liora A series of 10 interconnected and refurbished shophouses in a cool mixed

neighborhood adds up to 79 odd-shaped rooms with the latest mod-cons, plus free ice cream and coffee in the lobby. Book a Liora Porch room that opens out onto a slightly hidden outdoor deck above a shaded jogging path.; doubles from S$195.

Park Royal on Pickering Looking like a giant planter from street level, the hotel prides itself on its green focus. Its 367 guestrooms are finished largely in wood and

stone, but what’s more obvious on the plus side of its eco-ledger are recycling bins for plastic, glass and paper in each room.; doubles from S$310.

The Forest by Wangz If you’re looking more for a serviced apartment feel, even the 25-square-meter studios here come with modest kitchenettes, though the Molton Brown amenities and a clean, modern look that is standard throughout give off a hotel vibe.

Walking distance to the Novena MRT station.; doubles from S$234.

Shangri-La Singapore An older hotel by comparison, the Shangri-La is still a gem, neatly tucked into a green corner in the center of Singapore. Its entirely renovated Garden Wing is surrounded by 6 hectares of landscaped greenery, most notably a waterfall and a koi pond. Singapore; Garden Wing doubles from S$489.

One to Watch Sofitel So Singapore ( opens in November, with modern Karl Lagerfeld touches adapted to what was a historic postal and telecommunications building.

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Shopping Beyond the obvious labels. World Savage

The signs say it all in this hole-in-the-wall: this ain’t no museum. this junk’s for sale. Junk it is not—though anti-Orchard Road might prove a more apt description. Count on funky retro clothing for both men and women, fantastic jewelry finds that someone’s grandmother used to wear and other assorted oddities from around the world.; 70 Bussorah St.; Bugis MRT.

Inhabit—the other store

From top: Outside the distinctive World Savage; inside the shop’s racks of vintage clothes; three clutches from Property Of...; a durable dufflebag from the shop.

Cool and sometimes hard-to-find labels—think Dion Lee and Les Aperizes— from beyond Singapore are on the racks here, for both men and women, and featuring established and emerging brands offering dressy and casual looks. 333A Orchard Rd.; Somerset MRT.

Property of…

Hardwearing travel bags and backpacks made of waxcloth and vegetable-tanned leather—in other words, perfect for tropical climates during the wet season. For a real splurge—it will set you back around S$900—invest in the brown leather backpack. Just don’t forget it on the MRT! thepropertyof. com; Orchard MRT.


See Do B o t t o m : Ch r i s t o ph e r k u c w ay. a b o v e : c o u r t e s y o f p r o p e r t y o f. . . ( 2 )

Gillman Barracks

Revamped and worth a visit, this contemporary art hub is home to 14 galleries, but be sure to pop into The Drawing Room and the Sundaram Tagore Gallery, two nods to the international art scene.; 9 Lock Road; Labrador Park MRT.

An acrylic on wood Franz Kafka, by Lee Waisler at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, part of Gillman Barracks.

Red Dot Design Museum

For something a bit more hands-on, head to this museum on Maxwell Road where more than 200 designs are on display. Don’t

On an art and culture crawl across the city, some hidden riches.

stop there: opt for a half- or full-day tour of designoriented stops in the neighborhood. The museum shop is interesting, veering from the terminally cute to items you wish you’d thought of.; Tanjong Pagar MRT.

Singapore Tyler Print Institute

Specializing in contemporary paper and print art, the institute offers several exhibitions each year, with some of Picasso’s works on paper on view in August.

There are also workshops dealing with topics such as fabric printing or etching.; by appointment only; closest MRT stop Clarke Quay.

Marina Bay Sands

Monstrosity it may be, but the complex always has a lot to offer. Until November 4, the ArtScience Museum is hosting Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb, a collection of more than 100 artifacts and six mummies from the British Museum. marinabaysands. com; Bayfront MRT.

GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL Como Shambhala Urban Escape This new kid on Orchard Road offers yoga, Pilates, nutritional counseling and massage therapy, bringing a little bit of Bali from the COMO Shambhala Estate to the big city.; Orchard MRT. 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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singapore From left: Roast scallops with braised leeks at Kaixo; outside Broadcast HQ.


Eat Everything from Basque pintxos to Australian burgers. Fat Cow

Here’s proof that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to order a sashimi set at a restaurant that’s actually noted for its fine cuts of beef—slow grilled over charcoal or seared on the teppan. Just remember to book ahead.; lunch or dinner for two S$100.


Do not stop by here on a Monday. The Basqueinspired eatery is often out of items listed on its menu after popular Friday and Saturday seatings. Phone ahead for a chance to sample cherry-flavored gazpacho; roast scallops


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with braised leeks; the jamon-lomo-chorizo combination, which is listed as “pure Iberico;” or, if you’re going wholly native, plates of pintxos à la Basque country. The wine list, while not extensive, is focused on Spanish labels. 96 Tajong Pagar Rd.; dinner for two S$100.

Tamarind Hill

Perched atop Labrador Nature Reserve in the west of the city, the restaurant in a colonial bungalow serves fairly standard Thai cuisine but is worth a visit for the historical touches and tranquil setting. Book a table on the lanai with views out to sea.

t r av e l a n d l e i s u r e a s i a .c o m; dinner for two S$160.

Charlie & Co.

In an age when worrying about what’s in your meat is a cool concern, this Aussie import is a straight shooter. Order the New Yorker burger: grass-fed sirloin, aged cheddar, caramelized onions and the sea-salt fries with chili jam.; lunch for two S$50.

Artichoke Café+Bar/ Overdoughs bakery and deli

Rugged, grungy and not always traditional is the description you’ll get of the café’s Moorish

cuisine. Add to that: fun. Now the Overdoughs Bakery and Deli—really a counter in the sculpture garden outside—offers takeaway treats in the afternoons. artichoke.; dinner for two S$100.


Chinese, Indian, Malay or a mix of all three— everyone needs to eat a few dishes from each cuisine when in Singapore. One of the better ways to sample Singapore’s mix of flavors is at a hawker center such as Maxwell Road. Do not miss: char kway teow, bak chor mee, nasi lemak, laksa, biryani…stop when sated.

Broadcast HQ Some vintage vinyl with your lunch? This brick-walled refurb morphs from a great little lunch spot in the day to a vibrant club and bar at night—think espresso martinis along with albums you thought you’d never find again. The second-floor bar has just been redone.; drinks for two S$30. The Bar at Waku Ghin Can’t finagle a table at the restaurant? Drop into the mod bar for a cosmopolitan or two along with appetizers that start at S$20. Oh, and there’s four pages of whiskey listed by where it was distilled, so you might want to make a bit more room in your dayplanner. 65/6688-8507; drinks for two S$40. The Naked Finn Schedule your tour of Gillman Barracks later in the day and stick around for the minus 12 degrees Celsius coconut cocktail at The Naked Finn, and you’ll definitely feel far from the city. Snack on grilled seafood.; drinks for two S$35.

From left: Inside the popular Keong Saik Snacks; mixing cocktails at the Cufflink Club; a chance to unearth a treasure at Tong Mern Sern Antiques Arts & Crafts.

Local Take Get the scoop on the city from three insiders.


i l l u s t r at i o n s b y w a s i n e e c h a n ta k o r n

Co-founder, Roomorama

You’ve not been to Singapore if you haven’t tried chili crab. Head to Melben Seafood (232 Ang Mo Kio Ave. 3; 65/6285-6762; dinner for two S$55) and order it—and butter crab and blackpepper crab too, if you have room. Keong Saik Street and its surrounds has been slowly gentrified over the past few years. Dop by Keong Saik Snacks (49 Keong Saik Rd.;; dinner for two S$60) for gourmet diner food. For drinks, go to The Library (47 Keong Saik Rd.; 65/6221-8338; drinks for two S$35). It’s called an un-named bar, and you’ll need a password to get in.

Going Green



Artistic Director W Singapore

Creative consultant, Present Purpose

Check out the new club Kyo (133 Cecil St., #B1-02; 65/6225-6001; drinks for two S$35), where I love the basement underground feel that serves my favorite Hendrick’s gin and tonic with a dash of deep house music. Go early to avoid the long queue. If you are up for something more mellow, try Cufflink Club (6 Jiak Chuan Rd.;; drinks for two S$35), a bar setting with an extensive cheeky cocktail menu. Last but not least, don’t forget to check out Woobar at the W Singapore— Sentosa Cove. Sip and flirt while DJs spin until late.

I’m not a coffee drinker but The Plain (50 Craig Rd.; the; lattes for two S$10) is the one place where I make an exception. They serve a generra, coffee with chocolate and orange zest that is heavenly. After the caffeine fix, head next door to Tong Mern Sern Antiques Arts & Crafts (51 Craig Rd.;

to trawl the three-story shophouse and its array of treasures amassed since it opened in 1972. For repurposed furniture, travel a bit further outside of the city to the warehouse of Like That One (2 Bukit Batok St. 24).

To get a real sense that you’re near the equator and not in a big city, head to MacRitchie Reservoir Park and its walking trails that range between 3 and 11 kilometers. If you’re not afraid of heights, then opt for the TreeTop Walk, a journey that gives you a bird’s-eye view of the tropical forest surrounding the reservoir and takes between four and five hours to enjoy properly.

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Strategies Checking in 114…How to Score a Freebie 115… Loyalty Program News 116… When to Book 117

Your A to Z Guide to a Better Hotel Stay

Want to be the ultimate hotel insider—or simply land a nicer room? Here, our 26 tips on how to maximize your experience, from getting perks and freebies to finding the best room rate and enjoying a great night’s sleep.  Reported by Jennifer Coogan, Nikki Ekstein, Amy Farley, Jennifer Flowers, Merritt Gurley, Tom Samiljan and Peter Schlesinger.

Photographed by Holly Lindem

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Hotel Handbook



DealAngel, our favorite

new online hotel search tool, doesn’t just aggregate bargains and sort them by price; it also compares the offered rate with the hotel’s average, assessing just how good a deal you’re getting. Bonus: the site’s handy color-coded calendar helps you figure out the most affordable times to travel to your favorite destinations.



The best way to lighten your suitcase: skip the gym clothes—but not the gym. Westin has a gear-lending partnership with New Balance that provides guests with clean workout clothes and sneakers (with fresh insoles) during their stay at any of the brand’s international hotels, including The Westin Beijing Chaoyang and The Westin Chosun, Seoul.



If you’re angling for an early arrival, some hotels will let you pay for the privilege. For $30, you can check in as early as 9 a.m. at Aria and the Bellagio, in Las Vegas. Guests at the Peninsula Beverly Hills get their room whenever they like and stay as late as they please—even if it’s more than 24 hours later—just by calling in advance. Similarly, Starwood’s most loyal guests (those who log 75 nights a year) can check in at any time and keep the room for a full 24 hours. Top-tier members of the GHA Discovery Program

(which includes Omni Hotels and Kempinski Hotels) are rewarded with 9 a.m. check-in when


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available. Even if you don’t have elite status, it never hurts to ask. Phone ahead with a polite request and you may be accommodated.



Hotels drop prices to unprecedented lows when they can “hide” their room rates from the general public. One way they do it: bundling rooms with airfares through online travel agents such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity. In a recent test, we searched for round-trip tickets from Bangkok to Singapore with a seven-night hotel stay at the Mandarin Oriental, Singapore. Bought separately, we’d have had to pay $3,351. Bundled on

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Expedia, however, we’d pay $217 less—a more than 6 percent savings, which you can use instead for, say, a dinner out in the Lion City.


Club Floors

Don’t be fooled: club-level rates at brands such as Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont and Marriott may be higher, but they can offer real value. Here’s what you get when you pay $90 to upgrade to a club level Deluxe room at The Portman Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai.

Breakfast for two. . . . . $85 Afternoon tea. . . . . . . . $35 Press service for up to two pieces a day . . . . . . . . . $25 Mercedes Benz one-way transfer. . . . . . . . . . . . $50 TOTAL. . . . . . . . . . $195

Savings $105

*Prices throughout are listed in US dollars.

t hi s s p r e a d : I l l u s t r at i o n b y P e t e r A r k l e

A hotel that lets you arrive whenever you please? No, it’s not too good to be true.





Three ways to get hotel perks.

Here’s your all-in-one cheat sheet for hotel tipping.

1 Be loyal.

Each brand offers different benefits to its repeat guests. Kimpton Hotels’ InTouch members, for example, get free Wi-Fi access and newspapers, a $30 in-room spa credit, and $10 toward the mini-bar. The best part? The program is free to join.

Bellman $1 per bag. Concierge $10 to $15 for

performing a special service, such as scoring tickets to a sold-out event or wrangling lost luggage from your airline. Doorman $1 for hailing a cab in rush hour or in the rain; $1 for each bag. Housekeeping Around $5 per day. Leave it at the front desk if you want it divided equally among all your housekeepers. Room service A service charge is almost always included in the bill. To personally thank your

2 Book with an expert travel agent.

At the 975 hotels that are part of the Virtuoso network (, affiliated travel agents can secure significant perks for their clients, from free airport transfers and museum admission to dining and spa credits worth $100. Likewise, agents in the Signature Travel Network

(signaturetravelnetwork. com) can arrange free breakfasts and bonuses such as a 50-minute massage at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap, or welcome canapés and champagne at The Nam Hai hotel in Hoi An. 3 Join the club.

The new, members-only booking site Want Me Get Me puts you on the general manager’s VIP list and grants you such perks as complimentary Wi-Fi access, automatic upgrades and pick-yourown extras (free valet parking; cocktails; breakfast; spa credits) at more than 200 luxury hotels, including select Fairmont, Oberoi, Peninsula, Standard and Ace properties.

server, $1-$2 will suffice. Valet $5 when your car is delivered. Note: Tipping protocol varies widely throughout Southeast Asia. Check online for information about local tipping customs when traveling in the region.



Having trouble staying faithful to just one hotel brand? Expedia’s loyalty program is custom-made for hotel-brand agnostics. You can earn points by booking airfare, hotels and car rentals on the site, then redeem them for either flights or hotel stays. (Bonus: there are no

blackout dates and no restrictions.) If you earn elite status, you get free upgrades and perks at more than 1,200 properties.


jack of all trades

The one gadget that makes every hotel a workstation: CB2’s ultra-compact Universal Travel Adapter

(; $23). It’s half the size of its competitors ​ and has one simple switch that toggles between built-in plugs for virtually every destination around the world. It comes in four bright colors, making it easy to find in your suitcase.



Take a load off, ladies. In addition to the ubiquitous hair dryer, more hotels are offering curling and flat irons to the standard list of ­bathroom supplies. Look for them in all ­Hyatt and K ­ impton properties soon. Hotels are taking bathroom amenities to the next level. 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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Hotel Handbook location-based suggestions for sites and activities, this app includes QR codes that unlock anything from cocktail recipes to kidfriendly scavenger hunts. Android, iPhone


next-gen in-room entertainment



Extended-stay hotels may have a ho-hum reputation, but for value-seeking guests, they are one of the best travel finds. You can save money on meals by using the in-room kitchens, and rates are usually lowest on weekends, when corporate demand wanes. Major chains are responding by adding style-conscious brands: the Marriott has Executive Apartments available in business districts across China, India, Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand. Another worldwide brand, Sommerset Serviced Residence, provides amenities like rooftop pools and thoughtfully stocked kitchenettes. The staff will


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even help you organize get-togethers to help you network and make friends.



Four hotel brands are putting the concierge in your pocket.

loyalty partnerships

The divide between airline and hotel loyalty programs is shrinking. A new partnership between Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Delta Air Lines allows

Starwood Preferred Guest platinum and gold members to earn Starpoints for every dollar they spend on Delta fares. Similarly, Delta Medallion members with silver or higher status will get SkyMiles for money spent on Starwood rooms. And status members of both programs get priority treatment at the other.

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Mobile concierges

Conrad This all-in-one

concierge app handles wake-up calls, dinner reservations, valet parking, bath amenities and even the chore of check-in. Android, iPad, iPhone Hyatt When you use the tag @hyattconcierge on Twitter, you will get a response from a concierge within 15 minutes. InterContinental

Concierges from each of InterContinental’s 127 destinations package their little black books for your smartphone in an app that has tips on where to shop, what to eat and what to pack. iPad, iPhone Ritz-Carlton Along with


opting in

Loyalty pays— especially when it costs nothing to join. Many brands offer perks and benefits to even the lowest tier of loyalty-club members. So next time you’re at a hotel, sign up. What do you have to lose?

t hi s s p r e a d : I l l u s t r at i o n b y P e t e r A r k l e

The latest twist on in-room dining: you get to play chef in your very own kitchen.

The days of furiously downloading content onto your iPad before you travel are numbered: AppleTV is coming to a hotel room near you. Starwood has begun rolling out the service at its Aloft properties (with plans to debut it at other brands later). You’ll be able to log in and play your own music, edit photos, make Skype calls and even stream House of Cards on Netflix on your in-room TV. Data is deleted between guests, so you don’t need to worry about security.



You no longer need to pay exorbitant in-room or cellular roaming fees to make international calls. Internet phone services such as Skype, Rebtel and Line offer free calls within their networks, as well as greatly reduced rates to landlines (2.3 cents per minute on calls to landlines in Hong Kong). All you need is a Wi-Fi or mobile hot spot and you’re good to go.

Three ways to use social media to get a better hotel stay.

Phone calls


Quiet Time

Crowne Plaza’s Sleep Advantage program provides “Quiet Zones” where no housekeeping or maintenance is performed between 9 p.m. and 10 a.m.— increasing your chances of getting in those elusive eight hours on the road.


Social media


According to Rajiv Malhotra, head of marketing for Southeast Asia and India at, when it comes to snagging deals and planning the perfect trip, timing is everything.

1 Tweet the property

before booking to see if any special deals are available. Hotels often broadcast deals on social media first. You can also do a keyword search (hotel name and “deal”) on Twitter.

The average room rates across Bangkok remain fairly consistent through the year, though prices may be slightly more affordable towards the end of the year. With little difference in costs, the best time to visit is between late-November and mid-January, Thailand’s coolest season. In terms of affordability, the best time of make a trip down to the island destination of Phuket is around the mid-year period. This is when average hotel room rates could drop as much as 75 percent, compared to the festive periods at start and end of the year. Keep in mind that the months of April, May, September and October are the hottest and driest periods of the year as well. Over in Malaysia, the most affordable time to visit the capital, Kuala Lumpur, is during the first quarter of the year. This is when hotel prices could dip close to 30 percent following the end-ofyear holiday rush. In Bali, the best time to make a trip is clearly during the second quarter of the year. Average room rates have shown the potential to drop more than 42 percent compared to the rest of the year. What’s more, the period between April and October is the island’s coolest and driest, which makes it the ideal season for beach-goers. While Saigon has a wet season that can stretch for as long as eight months, the most affordable period to visit Vietnam’s southern star is at the very beginning of it—April through June—when travelers can enjoy as much as 20 percent in savings on accommodation.

2 Introduce yourself

to the hotel on Facebook and Twitter, and let the staff know how excited you are about your upcoming trip. You might be rewarded with a free upgrade. 3 “Like” hotel loyalty programs on sites such as

Facebook and Pinterest to get updates on extra savings, such as the regular 24-hour Facebook flash sales for Hilton HHonors members.



The new website Tingo makes it extremely easy to get a partial refund if your hotel rate drops. Book a refundable room through the site, which monitors the price. If the rate goes down, Tingo will automatically refund the difference to your credit card shortly after your stay.


user reviews

TripAdvisor has come under

fire for hosting fake or planted hotel reviews—so much so that the site has even implemented a new policy to prevent guests from trying to extort hotels with the threat of a bad review. That said, with so many (more than 100 million) user contributions,

TripAdvisor’s genuine reviews are usually easy to separate from the plants (watch out for unabashed rants or raves, or strangely corporate-sounding terms). But if you’re still not convinced, be aware that some companies let only verified guests post reviews: look for them on Expedia and the websites of Starwood (starwoodhotels. com) and Marriott ( 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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Hotel Handbook


Tallinn, Estonia $201



Berlin $206 Brussels $186

Lisbon $180


First place Peninsula

Delhi $213

Cairo $191

provides free in-room and lobby Internet access. Third place Fairmont, Kimpton and Omni hotels offer complimentary Wi-Fi in common areas and guest rooms if you join their (free) loyalty programs. On our radar IHG Hotels, the parent company of InterContinental, Crowne Plaza and

Bangkok $181

4 Book with the website Room 77, a hotel search

engine that scans prices and availability through numerous online travel agencies and automatically contacts the hotel you choose to request a room that matches your preferences (room views, higher or lower floors, distance from the elevator and more).

How to get a better room. 1 Check in later in the day, when hotels have a

better sense of their open inventory for the night. 2 Be a loyalty-program member.


yuck factor

Shanghai $214

Mumbai $225

They have added incentive to court return-guests by giving them upgrades.

x marks the spot

Last year, researchers from the University of Houston tested hotel rooms in three U.S. states to pinpoint the germiest spots. The takeaway: beware of bedside light switches and remotes.

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Guangzhou $166

3 Look for new hotels.


Second place Andaz

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Pisa, Italy $183

Marrakesh, Morocco $162

and Shangri-La Hotels have free Wi-Fi not only in all hotel rooms and common areas but also in their automobile fleets.

Beijing $226

Budapest $177

Holiday Inn, will give free access to all loyalty-club members starting in 2014.

At high-end hotels, free Wi-Fi remains frustratingly scarce. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 84 percent of luxury hotels charge for in-room Internet access, while just 8 percent of economy hotels do. Here, T+L hat-tips the upscale hotel brands that provide the best Internet service.


Warsaw $125



Want to sleep in? Here, some ways to secure a late check-out. Clients of Virtuoso travel agents (see “Freebies,” page 115) get priority treatment­— including late departures— at roughly 1,000 luxury properties. American Express (T+L’s parent company) Platinum Card members can keep their rooms until 4 p.m. when they book through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, which

includes more than 750 properties. Most loyalty programs offer late departures to high-status members: Hyatt Gold Passport grants 2 p.m. checkout to platinumlevel guests; diamond-tier members can stay until 4 p.m. Guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout also comes with Leading Hotels of the World’s top-tier program, which costs $1,200 per year. ✚

I l l u s t r at i o n b y P e t e r A r k l e’s latest Hotel Price Index pinpoints the cities where you can find luxury hotel rooms for affordable prices. Here, 10 destinations where the average cost of a five-star room still comes in well below $250 a night.

2013 World’s Best Service

The hotels, resorts, airlines and cruise lines that earned top scores for service, as rated by readers in the T+L World’s Best Awards survey. 5. La Casa Que Canta  Zihuatanejo, Mexico 99.00 6. Hotel Salto Chico/ Explora Patagonia Torres del Paine, Chile 98.67 7. Singita Kruger National Park  Kruger National Park Area, South Africa 98.33 8. Nayara Hotel, Spa &  a Fortuna, Gardens L Costa Rica 98.18 9. Nisbet Plantation ​Beach  evis 97.95 Club N 10. 10.Lizard Island  Great Barrier Reef, Australia 97.90

Hotels Asia

General manager Rainy Chan, center, and her team at the Peninsula, Hong Kong, the No. 1 city hotel for service.

phi l ipp e n g ELh o r n

Hotels Overall City Hotels 1. The Peninsula  Hong Kong 98.78 2. Wentworth Mansion  Charleston, South Carolina 98.67 3. The Peninsula Bangkok 98.31 4. Four Seasons Hotel

Istanbul at Sultanahmet 98.18 5. Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus 9 8.13 6. Waldorf Astoria (formerly the Elysian Hotel) C  hicago 98.10 7. Four Seasons Hotel  Dublin 97.78 8. Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek D  allas 97.54 9. Morrison House A  lexandria, Virginia 97.50

9. The Peninsula  Shanghai 97.50 Resorts, Inns and Lodges 1. Amansara Siem Reap, Cambodia 100.00 1. Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge  Tanzania 100.00 3. Oberoi Udaivilas Udaipur, India 99.50  arby, 4. Triple Creek Ranch D Montana 99.26

City Hotels 1. The Peninsula H  ong Kong 98.78 2. The Peninsula B  angkok 98.31 3. The Peninsula S  hanghai 97.50 4. Mandarin Oriental Bangkok 97.39 5. Taj Palace Hotel  New Delhi 97.27 Resorts 1. Amansara Siem Reap, Cambodia 100.00  daipur, 2. Oberoi Udaivilas U India 99.50 3. Discovery Shores  Boracay, Philippines 97.35 4. Oberoi Rajvilas J  aipur, India 97.14 5. Capella S  ingapore 96.34

Hotels Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific City Hotels 1. The Langham M  elbourne 94.55 2. The George C  hristchurch, New Zealand 91.77 3. Shangri-La Hotel  Sydney 91.72 4. Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa 9 0.00 5. Park Hyatt S  ydney 89.27

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2013 World’s Best Service Resorts and Lodges 1. Lizard Island G  reat Barrier Reef, Australia 97.90 2. Southern Ocean Lodge  Kangaroo Island, Australia 97.33 3. Lodge at Kauri Cliffs  Matauri Bay, New Zealand 96.25 4. Four Seasons Resort  Bora-Bora, French Polynesia 94.74 5. Huka Lodge T  aupo, New Zealand 93.75

Hotels Continental U.S. and Canada

Hotels Hawaii 1. Koa Kea Hotel & Resort  Kauai 96.67 2. Four Seasons Resort Hualalai Hawaii, the Big Island 96.06 3. Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea 9 6.04 4. Four Seasons Resort Lanai, The Lodge at Koele 9 4.60 5. Halekulani Oahu 94.29

Hotels Europe City Hotels 1. Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet 98.18 2. Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus  98.13


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t r av e l a n d l e i s u r e a s i a .c o m

Wine with a view at Le Sirenuse, in Italy.

A Day in the Life of Europe’s Top Resort for Service

Le Sirenuse in Positano, Italy, has provided warm, unscripted service since opening in 1951. Here’s a look at what happens behind the scenes.

8 a.m. The terrace pool, lined with loungers and potted lemon trees, is the first priority. Attendants Oronato Villani and Ivan Porrazzo open the two dozen umbrellas. On any given day, 200 Frette towels are handed to guests. 9 a.m. Chef Matteo Temperini corrects his lunch menu to include the catch of the day, pezzogna (sea bream), instead of the usual branzino (sea bass). He will serve it roasted with lemon sauce. 10:10 a.m. Head housekeeper (and 32-year Sirenuse veteran) Nunzia Della Pietra makes her rounds among the hotel’s 58 rooms and encounters an “exploding suitcase.” She organizes the scattered contents—even matching the socks. 3 p.m. Captain Franco Galano welcomes guests onto Le Sirenuse’s private launch, the 12-meter

Sant’ Antonio, and casts off for an excursion toward Amalfi. 6:45 p.m. The Michelinstarred La Sponda restaurant, with terra-cottatiled floors and bougainvilleacovered archways, is quiet before the 8 p.m. service. But in the kitchen, the staff is busy cutting more than 14 kilograms of vegetables. 10:10 p.m. Ten VIP’s arrive by yacht and order baked lobster and risotto. Maître d’hôtel Vincenzo Galani and a pair of musicians perform “Torna a Surriento,” a regional melody. 12 a.m. With guests well fed, the kitchen staff heads to a nearby waterfront nightclub. “When the staff is happy, the guests are happy. We are family,” says owner and general manager Antonio Sersale. The vibe is authentic: he is the son of Franco Sersale, who cofounded the hotel 62 years ago. —peter schlesinger

Quick Take

Le Sirenuse


Number of staffers

Most unusual job: candle lighter


Number of candles lit each night (it takes three hours)

Perk: unlimited cups of Illy espresso

courtesy of le sirenuse

C ity Hotels 1. Wentworth Mansion  Charleston, South Carolina 98.67 2. Waldorf Astoria Chicago 98.10 3. Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek D  allas 97.54 4. Morrison House  Alexandria, Virginia 97.50 5. St. Regis A  tlanta 97.42 Resorts and Inns 1. Triple Creek Ranch  Darby, Montana 99.26 2. Inn at Little Washington  Washington, Virginia 97.65 3. Osprey at Beaver Creek  Colorado 97.50 4. Old Edwards Inn & Spa  Highlands, North Carolina 97.33 5. Tu Tu’ Tun Lodge  Gold Beach, Oregon 97.00

3. Four Seasons Hotel  Dublin 97.78 4. Hôtel Plaza Athénée  Paris 96.67 5. The Lanesborough  London 96.30 Resorts and Inns 1. Le Sirenuse P  ositano, Italy 97.78 2. Hotel Caruso Ravello, Italy 97.50 3. Palazzo Avino (formerly  avello, Palazzo Sasso) R Italy 97.27 4. Domaine des Hauts de  nzain, France 96.25 Loire O 5. Hotel Santa Caterina  Amalfi, Italy 95.86

Hotels The Caribbean, Bermuda and the Bahamas 1. Nisbet Plantation Beach Club N  evis 97.95 2. Biras Creek Resort  Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands 96.67 3. Couples Tower Isle  St. Mary, Jamaica 95.29 3. The Reefs B  ermuda 95.29 5. Couples Negril J  amaica 95.00

Hotels Mexico City Hotels 1. Four Seasons Hotel México, D.F. M  exico City 92.80 2. JW Marriott Hotel M  exico City 87.62 3. Camino Real Polanco Mexico City 85.33 Resorts 1. La Casa Que Canta  Zihuatanejo 99.00 2. Grand Velas R  iviera Maya 97.00 3. St. Regis Punta Mita Resort 96.55 4. One&Only Palmilla Los Cabos 95.71 5. Live Aqua C  ancún 95.56

Hotels Central and South America

What makes winning service?

We surveyed the general managers at the top 16 hotels in each region.

44% admit to using Google and Facebook to research guests before check-in.

31% ensure each guest is personally greeted by a manager upon arrival.

50% have a staff-to-guest ratio of at least 1.5 to 1.

38% described the service style as “genuine.”

13% described the service style as “efficient.”

56% offer room service 24 hours a day.

City Hotels 1. Palacio Duhau - Park Hyatt Buenos Aires 96.88 2. Alvear Palace Hotel  Buenos Aires 95.90 3. Grand Hyatt S  antiago, Chile 94.62 4. Four Seasons Hotel  Buenos Aires 94.12 5. Faena Hotel B  uenos Aires 93.33 5. Ritz-Carlton Santiago, Chile 93.33 Resorts and Lodges 1. Hotel Salto Chico/ Explora Patagonia T  orres del Paine, Chile 98.67 2. Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens L  a Fortuna, Costa Rica 98.18 3. Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo 9 6.09 4. Llao Llao Hotel & Resort, Golf-Spa  Bariloche, Argentina 94.62 5. Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel P  eru 91.85

Hotels Africa and the Middle East City Hotels 1. Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa Cape Town 97.14 2. Cape Grace C  ape Town 96.94 3. La Mamounia M  arrakesh, Morocco 96.30 4. One&Only Cape Town 95.56 4. Saxon Boutique Hotel, Villas & Spa  Johannesburg, South Africa 95.56 Resorts and Lodges 1. Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge  Tanzania 100.00 2. Singita Kruger National Park S  outh Africa 98.33

3. Mombo Camp and Little Mombo Camp  Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana 97.50 3. Singita Grumeti S  erengeti National Park, Tanzania 97.50 5. Singita Sabi Sand  Kruger National Park Area, South Africa 97.42

Airlines International 1. Singapore Airlines 9 4.01 2. Air New Zealand 8 9.18 3. Cathay Pacific 8 8.70 4. Emirates 8 8.67 5. Korean Air 8 8.64

Airlines U.S. 1. Virgin America 8 5.81 2. JetBlue Airways 79.31 3. Hawaiian Airlines 79.26 4. Southwest Airlines 7 8.40 5. Frontier Airlines 7 5.58

Cruises Large-Ship 1. Crystal Cruises 9 5.41 2. Regent Seven Seas Cruises 93.05 3. Azamara Cruises 9 2.89 4. Disney Cruise Line 9 2.29 5. Oceania Cruises 9 1.23

Cruises Small-Ship 1. Seabourn 96.92 2. SeaDream Yacht Club 9 4.76 3. Silversea Cruises 9 4.31 4. Paul Gauguin Cruises 9 3.54 5. Windstar Cruises 9 1.94

Cruises River 1. Viking River Cruises 92.21 2. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection 9 1.68 3. Tauck 90.57 4. Abercrombie & Kent 8 7.74 5. Grand Circle Cruise Line  86.25

Methodology Rankings are based on reader votes collected in the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards survey. Scores shown have been rounded to the nearest hundredth of a point; in the event of a true tie, properties and companies share a ranking. For the complete methodology, go to 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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Last Look

Photographed by Ted and Debbie

Anini Beach, Hawaii

Reef life The 3-kilometer-long coral reef ringing the beach is visible from space. It flattens the ocean into a safe haven for little ones, and an aquatic playground for snorkelers of all ages.

Setting sail from the “Garden Isle” Nestled on the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii’s oldest and most Edenic island, Anini Beach boasts nearly waveless waters. Paddle a wooden rowboat out onto them to experience the cove from another perspective.

A stupendous view

Upward-facing cat Just northeast of the famous Hanalei Bay, Anini sees far less traffic, making it a popular spot for campers—and a peaceful place to unroll a yoga mat and practice asanas in solitude.


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t r av e l a n d l e i s u r e a s i a .c o m

The many stress-reducing vistas at Anini include weekend polo matches backdropped by the sea and the daily golden sunsets unmarred by crowds.


June 2013  

Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia June 2013

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