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TRAVEL+ LEISURE SOUTHEAST ASIA

MARCH 2008

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

Bali

Our guide to the island’s best dives

Laos

55 ESSENTIAL TRAVEL WEBSITES YOU NEED

Journeying down the mighty Mekong

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PLUS

sensational swimwear looks

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travelandleisuresea.com SINGAPORE SG$6.90 ● HONG KONG HK$39 THAILAND THB160 ● INDONESIA IDR45,000 MALAYSIA MYR15 ● VIETNAM VND80,000 MACAU MOP40 ● PHILIPPINES PHP220 BURMA MMK32 ● CAMBODIA KHR20,000 BRUNEI BND6.90 ● LAOS LAK48,000


(Destinations)03.08 Kiev 108

London 48 Mongolia 130

San Francisco 34

Laos 22, 59, 120 Bali 38, 42, 98

Sydney 58

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Issue Index Kuala Lumpur 142 Laos 22, 59, 120 Makati, Manila 44 Phuket 22 Malaysia 24, 142 Siem Reap 43 Singapore 22, 36, 38, 43, 51, 52 Thailand 22, 24, 75, 120 Vietnam 24, 38

ASIA Beijing 38 India 50 Mongolia 130 Suzhou 53 Taipei 34 Tokyo 80

AUSTRALIA Sydney 58 THE AMERICAS San Francisco 34 EUROPE Kiev 108 London 48

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

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32

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SOUTHEAST ASIA Bali 38, 42, 98 Bangkok 22, 52, 54 Brunei 56 Burma 84 Cambodia 24 Ho Chi Minh City 51, 68 Hong Kong 34, 43, 52 Indonesia 24


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(Contents)03.08 >108 St. Michael’s gold-domed monastery in Kiev.

98

The Big Blue While its onshore offerings are legendary, the waters surrounding Bali also have their share of excitement. By ALEX FREW MCMILLAN. Photographed by DAN GROSHONG. GUIDE AND MAP 107

12

108 Kiev on the Rise In the wake of the Orange Revolution, Ukraine’s capital is embracing Western ways—and investment dollars. By BRETT FORREST. Photographed by JOHN KERNICK. GUIDE AND MAP 118

120 The Mekong’s Timeless Flow A trip that is as much a cruise along one of the world’s great rivers as it is a journey back in

M A RC H 2 0 0 8| T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A . C O M

time. By JOE YOGERST. Photographed by R. IAN LLOYD. GUIDE AND MAP 129

130 Inland Empire Emerging from the long shadow of Soviet Communism, Mongolia— with its stark landscapes—is looking West for its future. By PANKAJ MISHRA. Photographed by FRÉDÉRIC LAGRANGE. GUIDE AND MAP 140

JOHN KERNICK

97-130 Features


(Contents)03.08

MARCH 2008

Bali

Our guide to the island’s best dives

Laos

55 ESSENTIAL TRAVEL WEBSITES YOU NEED

Journeying down the mighty Mekong

Departments 16 20 22 24 25 142

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

54 See It

Bangkok museums offer fascinating viewing. BY SUZANNE NAM 56 Room Report

Brunei’s Empire Hotel is big on luxury. BY PHIL MACDONALD 58 Classics

> 48

People-watching at Sydney’s original Italian café. BY PETER JON LINDBERG

59–72 Stylish Traveler

PLUS

6sensational swimwear looks

travelandleisuresea.com SINGAPORE SG$6.90 ● HONG KONG HK$39 THAILAND THB160 ● INDONESIA IDR45,000 MALAYSIA MYR15 ● VIETNAM VND80,000 MACAU MOP40 ● PHILIPPINES PHP220 BURMA MMK32 ● CAMBODIA KHR20,000 BRUNEI BND6.90 ● LAOS LAK48,000

Cover At Amanpulo, the Philippines. Photographed by Darren Tieste/ Stone Camera Management. Styled by Rorie O. Carlos. Makeup and hair by Glen Nutley/www. clickdproductions.com. Model: Janelle/www.clickdproductions. com. Maillot, Risqué; sandals, BCBGirls; bag, Aranaz; cuffs, Arnel Papa; sunglasses, Kate Spade; necklaces, CMG.

> 75

59 Bring it Back

Laotian silk wraps evoke the beauty of Asia. BY SHANE MITCHELL 60 Fashion

Six sensational swimwear looks. 66 Icon

A travel wallet brimming with memories. BY CHRISTINE AJUDUA 68 Shopping

34 NewsFlash

Delicious desserts, audio tours, Ferris wheels and more. 42 Check-in

Original artworks in Asian hotels. BY SANA BUTLER

70 What’s in Your Bag?

What fashion designer Koi Suwannagate takes on her travels. BY JENNIFER CHEN 72 The Expert

Bikini fitting tips from a top Hong Kong swimwear designer. BY GENEVIEVE TSAI

44 T+L Guide

London’s culinary young guns turn up the heat. BY CHARLOTTE DRUCKMAN

84 Dispatch

The ethics of traveling to militaryruled Burma. BY EMMA LARKIN

50 Bookshelf

Brewpubs serve up some tasty alternatives. BY JENNIFER CHEN 53 Detour

A change of pace in the garden city of Suzhou. BY SHERIDAN PRASSO 14

Twists and turns in northern Thailand. BY ANTHONY MECIR The best places to stay in the Japanese capital. BY NINA WILLDORF

48 Eat

51 Drink

75 Driving

80 Checking In

Makati: an enclave of calm in a chaotic city. BY LARA DAY

Sumptuous hardcovers to send you packing. BY SARAH KANTROWITZ

75–92 T+L Journal

89 Special Report > 66

Boeing and Airbus take off into a new era in the skies. BY ANDREW BLUM 92 Obsessions

The road to humor with a collection of funny signs. BY DOUG LANSKY

C L O C K W I S E F R O M FA R L E F T : J O H N S P I N K S ; C E D R I C A R N O L D ; N I G E L C O X

33–58 Insider

Ho Chi Minh City—a shopper’s paradise. BY BETSY LOWTHER


Every camera design begins with the hands.

1995: CCD-TRV90 Handycam® featuring a rotating LCD attached to the side for more flexible video shooting

2003: DSC-T1 Slim Cyber-shot featuring a sliding lens cover doubling as a power switch

1996: DSC-F1 Launch of Cyber-shot —featuring a 180-degree rotating lens/flash element

1989: CCD-TR55 First generation, passport-size Handycam® —helped launch a new era of easy travel video shooting

1999: DSC-F505

2007: DSLR-A700

Big impact—with a unique lens-dominant design, this Cyber-shot helped to invigorate the digital camera market

At only 690g, the digital SLR camera delivers speedy one-handed operation

With creative expression that begins in the palm, Sony designs have helped shape the lifestyles of photographers. What is design? For Sony, design and function are inseparable. There’s

that have changed lifestyles, the Sony design philosophy ensures the

an inherent beauty in functionality, and the Sony design concept is

preservation of core elements that should never change.

about communicating that beauty—without inhibiting function—in the most accessible way.

Handycam®, Cyber-shot and the

series share the beauty that becomes

possible only when all unessential elements are removed and true functionality

In the finite space of the human hand, Sony has found infinite possibilities. The

is achieved. If a camera stimulates your creativity the moment you hold it in your

challenge is to develop the ideal package of lenses and image sensors that can

hand, it is undoubtedly a Sony—a camera born with a creator’s DNA.

be easily held. In Handycam®, Sony combined portability and ideal packaging so that people can enjoy taking movies anytime, anywhere. Cyber-shot introduced an innovative self-portrait shooting function. And Sony’s

series

made it possible for anyone to experience the advantages of professional photography. While, Sony has a storied history of creating innovative cameras

“Sony”, “like.no.other”, “Handycam”, “Cyber-shot”, and respective logos are trademarks or registered trademarks of Sony Corporation. All other products and brand names may be trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.


(Editor’s Note) 03.08

H

ERE AT Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, there was much

debate about running a story on Burma (“Travelers’ Dilemma,” page 84). After all, there is a worldwide movement demanding a travel boycott of the country. Tourism, it is argued, supports a regime that has eroded human rights, often specifically in the name of tourism development. Forced labor is used to beautify destinations and to build infrastructure, while many Burmese have been evicted from their properties to make way for new projects—just two examples of many that strengthen the case for the boycott. Against such arguments, the main cases for traveling to Burma—that it’s a beautiful and largely unspoiled country, and travel directly benefits local communities financially—seem misguided. It’s a highly complex issue, but I think that our story presents the sort of fair and balanced account that you would expect from a magazine that takes travel seriously. If you have any views on the matter, please e-mail us at the address below. Now, for a change of pace. I hope you enjoy our Bali dive story (“The Big Blue,” page 98). As a child, I used to dream of flying; when I learned to dive, I came to the conclusion that this was as close as I was going to get in the grown-up world. Bali, often seen as a resort destination, offers some fabulous underwater experiences, so if you’ve not “gotten wet” yet, perhaps now is the time to do so. For landlubbers and beer enthusiasts, our Insider focus on microbreweries in Asia (“Better Brews,” page 51) offers up some interesting local diversions rather than the standard-fare bars and beer gardens most of us know well. Lastly, please do take a moment or two to vote online in the T+L 2008 World’s Best Awards (see page 27). This is a unique opportunity for you to join the millions of other Travel + Leisure readers worldwide

E-MAIL T+L Send your letters to

tleditor@mediatransasia.com and let us know your thoughts on recent stories or new places to visit in Southeast Asia. Letters chosen may be edited for clarity and space. 16

experiences you’ve had, in this truly global travel survey.—MATT LEPPARD TRAVEL + L EISURE EDITORS, WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS ARE THE INDUSTRY’S MOST RELIABLE SOURCES. WHILE ON ASSIGNMENT, THEY TRAVEL INCOGNITO WHENEVER POSSIBLE AND DO NOT TAKE PRESS TRIPS OR ACCEPT FREE TRAVEL OF ANY KIND.

M A RCH 2 0 0 8| T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A . C O M

C H E N P O VA N O N T

in telling us exactly where your travels have taken you and about the real


NOW IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EDITOR-AT-LARGE ART DIRECTOR FEATURES EDITORS

ASSISTANT EDITOR EDITORIAL ASSISTANT

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

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TRAVEL+LEISURE SOUTHEAST ASIA VOL. 2, ISSUE 3 Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia is published monthly by Media Transasia Limited, Room 1205-06, 12/F, Hollywood Centre, 233 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2851-6963; Fax: +852 2851-1933; under license from American Express Publishing Corporation, 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage or retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the Publisher. Produced and distributed by Media Transasia Thailand Ltd., 14th Floor, Ocean Tower II, 75/8 Soi Sukhumvit 19, Sukhumvit Road, Klongtoeynue, Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand. Tel: +66 2 204-2370. Printed by Comform Co., Ltd. (+66 2 368-2942–7). Color separation by Classic Scan Co., Ltd. (+66 2 291-7575).

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(Contributors) 03.08

A dive boat.Bali style. Below: Groshong, left, and McMillan.

20

second home as a child. So her return to the city (“Manila’s Oasis,” page 44) provided the perfect opportunity to reconnect. “Makati changes so quickly that it’s hard to keep track of what’s what,” says Day. When she’s not  nding her way through the wilds of Makati, Day writes and takes photographs in Hong Kong, her hometown. Her work has appeared in TIME Asia and TIME Europe. Doug Lansky “The signs have turned into a

disturbingly addictive habit,” jokes Lansky about his penchant for collecting photographs of humorous signs (“Sign Language,” page 92). After 10 years of traveling the world full time, Lansky  nally settled (more or less) in Stockholm. He’s had a nationally syndicated travel column in the United States and has contributed to Men’s Journal, Esquire and The Guardian, and has written books for Lonely Planet. Brett Forrest “I returned to Kiev because people

there are creating a new society,” says Forrest, who has traveled to the Ukrainian capital more than two dozen times since 2002. While visiting the city for “Kiev on the Rise” (page 108), he was impressed by the country’s resilience since the Orange Revolution of 2004. “Kiev has endured a lot of suffering, so I was pleased to encounter so much joy and hope.” Forrest also writes for Vanity Fair and TIME. Betsy Lowther has shopped her way across Asia

and counts Vietnam as one of her favorite spots (“Saigon Chic,” page 68). “I have to bring along two extra suitcases every time I set foot in the country,” says Lowther, who also dispenses regional shopping tips on her style blog, FashionisSpinach.com. “There are tons of amazing buys—everything from local designers to more traditional  nds.” Lowther has contributed to Teen Vogue and Vogue Australia.

M A RCH 2 0 0 8| T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A . C O M

L E F T C O L U M N , F R O M T O P : D A N I E L J . G R O S H O N G ; C O U R T E S Y O F D A N I E L J . G R O S H O N G . R I G H T C O L U M N , F R O M T O P : C O U R T E S Y O F L A R A D AY ; CO U RT ESY O F D O U G L A N S KY; CO U RT ESY O F B R E T T FO R R EST; CO U RT ESY O F B E TSY LOW T H E R

You see another side of Bali by visiting its dive sites,” says writer Alex Frew McMillan, who took the plunge off the Island of the Gods for T+L (“The Big Blue,” page 98). “You also come to appreciate how welcoming the people are when you realize how erce the sea can be,” he adds. Hong Kong–based McMillan ts his diving around freelance writing for publications such as the International Herald Tribune, South China Morning Post and Action Asia. “I used to scoff at the idea of diving in Bali, but now I’m looking forward to my next trip,” adds Daniel J. Groshong, who took the photographs for the feature. “Macro, drift diving, pelagics, Bali has the diversity to satisfy most divers,” he says. American Groshong’s photographs have appeared in publications around the world, including Paris Match and the The New York Times.

Lara Day relished rediscovering Manila, her


I’M INTERESTED IN DOING SOME GOOD WHILE ON HOLIDAY. ARE THERE ANY ASIA-BASED VOLUNTEER TOURISM AGENCIES? —THERESA LAU, HONG KONG

A:

While digging up information about U.K.- or U.S.-based volunteer travel agencies is easy, finding their Asian counterparts does take more effort. Here are some regional agencies and NGO’s that offer volunteer vacations. TakeMeToVolunteerTravel.com is a Singapore-based agency that lists teaching and other volunteer jobs in China and Southeast Asia. Open Mind Projects (www.openmindprojects.org) has programs in Laos and Thailand, ranging from summer camps to ecotourism. Or consider a stint at the Elephant Nature Park (www. elephantnaturepark.org) outside of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. The park is a haven for elephants rescued from tourist trekking camps and city streets, and offers stays of one to four weeks.

22

What should I do if I have an accident in Thailand? —ANITA SINGH, KUALA LUMPUR

Thailand has both private and government hospitals in most provincial centers, while major tourist destinations such as Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya and Chiang Mai have first-class private facilities with Western-trained doctors. Government hospitals are often overcrowded and understaffed, so it’s best to make your way to a private hospital. Ambulances can be arranged to take you to better-equipped facilities in Bangkok or major provincial centers, if need be. Most hospitals won’t let you leave until the bill is paid. The following hospitals have good reputations: Bumrungrad International (33 Soi 3, Sukhumvit Rd., Bangkok; 662/667-1000; www.bumrungrad.com); Samitivej Hospital (133 Soi 49, Sukhumvit Rd., Bangkok; 66-2/711-8000; www. samitivej.co.th); and Phuket International Hospital (44 Chalermprakiat Ror 9 Rd., Phuket; 66-76/249-400, www.phuket-interhospital.co.th).

south). The rest of Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Macau fall into the former. Again, there’s no set-in-stone tipping etiquette in these countries. For example, fancier restaurants in Indonesia might tack on a 10 percent service charge and a hotel porter in Bali might expect a few thousand rupiah. But a warung (food stall) or a driver on any one of the less-frequented islands in the archipelago might not expect anything more than a few hundred rupiah—if that. How safe are ATM’s in Southeast Asia? What precautions do I need to take? —NANCY TAN, MACAU

“Ghost withdrawals” or “skimming” from ATM’s is a worldwide phenomenon, with losses of billions of dollars annually. Skimming involves the use of a scanners attached underneath or over the ATM’s card reader, which gathers information from a card’s magnetic strip when it is inserted. A pinhole camera is fitted to a metal strip on the top of the ATM Are there general guidelines to frame to capture the card’s PIN. tipping in Asia? Fraudsters then use the information to —JAMES STAUNTON, SINGAPORE manufacture duplicate cards. If the There are no hard and fast rules about card takes longer than usual to giving gratuities, but you can roughly reappear when a transaction is divide Asian countries and territories complete, this suggests a scanner is attached. Also, check for any unusualbetween those where tips are expected looking attachments and shield the and those where they’re not (and may even be refused). In the latter group are keyboard with your hand while entering Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the PIN. And check your bank’s policy on returning cash lost in such cases. ✚ China and Vietnam (except in the

E-MAIL T+L SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO TLEDITOR @ MEDIATRANSASIA.COM. QUESTIONS CHOSEN FOR PUBLICATION MAY BE EDITED FOR CLARITY AND SPACE .

M A RC H 2 0 0 8| T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A . C O M

I L L U S T R AT E D BY WA S I N E E C H A N TA KO R N

Q:

(Ask T+L)03.08


asiaÊS PREMIER RESORT S

hangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa located on the Malaysian island of Penang is among the region’s nest premier deluxe resorts, offering international class facilities and legendary Shangri-La hospitality in a tropical sanctuary.

Guests staying in these rooms also enjoy exclusive breakfast at the Feringgi Grill and access to the Rasa Wing Lounge, which serves complimentary alcoholic beverages, high-tea and free ow of champagne in the early evenings.

The resort houses 304 guestrooms and suites with two distinct styles – the Garden Wing and the luxurious Rasa Wing.

The resort is also home to CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La – the very rst in Malaysia. CHI is a cluster of rustic villas bearing Tibetan-inspired architecture complete with a garden sanctum, yoga pavilion and 11 treatment villas. Exclusive to the Shangri-La Group of Hotels and Resorts, CHI is a concept introducing age-old healing philosophies from the Himalayas. These relaxing treatments are based on holistic practices that restore balance and harmony to the mind and body.

The spacious Rasa Premier Rooms at the Rasa Wing are in a class of their own, numbering 52 units and measuring 62 sq metres each. These rooms offer all the renements of a suite, including LCD TV screens and a unique bath feature on the balcony.

Other facilities include meeting and banquet venues, stateof-the-art Health Club, Par-3 Executive Golf course, two swimming pools and six innovative restaurants and bars.

Batu Feringgi Beach 11100 Penang, Malaysia. Tel: (604) 888 8888 Fax: (604) 881 1800 Email: rsr@shangri-la.com Website: www.shangri-la.com


(Best Deals) 03.08

The pool at Le Méridien.

Need a quick break? We’ve found six perfect getaway ideas for you ■ MALAYSIA Terrace Suite Promotion at Le Méridien Kuala Lumpur (60-3/2263-7888; www. starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien/kualalumpur). What’s Included A three-course candlelit dinner for two on the terrace, including a complimentary bottle of champagne. Cost RM2,800, double, through June 30. Savings Up to 27 percent. ■ THAILAND The Spa Botanica package at The Sukhothai in Bangkok (66-2/344-8888; www.sukhothai.com). What’s Included Your choice of a 90-minute treatment at the hotel’s recently opened Spa Botanica, including a 60-minute Thai massage with a 30-minute facial or a 60-minute body scrub with a 30-minute manicure; and a fruit plate with chocolates. Cost Bt18,470, double, through September 30. Savings Up to 20 percent. ■ INDONESIA Active Spirit Adventure package at Bali’s Alila Ubud (62-3/6197-5963; www.alilahotels. com). What’s Included Three nights’ accommodation; round-trip airport 24

transfer; trekking and cycling tours; a threecourse dinner; a 60-minute massage; and daily afternoon tea with Balinese sweets. Cost US$320 per person, through March 31. Savings Up to 25 percent.

Raffles Hotel Le Royal.

■ CAMBODIA Weekend Escapade package at Raffles Hotel Le Royal, Phnom Penh (85523/981-888; phnompenh.raffles.com). What’s Included Two nights’ accommodation; round-trip airport transfer; one dinner at Café Monivong; and a 20-minute foot reflexology session. Cost US$464, double, through December 31. Savings Up to 40 percent.—N A PA M O N RO O N G W I TO O

M A RCH 2 0 0 8| T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A . C O M

THAILAND Weekender package at The Oriental Bangkok (66-2/659-9000; www.mandarinoriental.com). What’s Included Two nights’ accommodation; dinner for two at Lord Jim’s; round-trip airport transfer; late check-out; one halfday spa program; and one 60minute massage. Cost US$1,688, double, through September 30. Savings Up to 20 percent. VIETNAM Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia package at the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake, which opened in December (84-4/829-3939; www. intercontinental.com). What’s Included 20 percent discount on food and beverage; and a bottle of wine. Cost US$184 per night, double, through May 31. Savings Up to 20 percent. The InterContinental Hanoi Westlake.

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

T+L SOUTHEAST ASIA EXCLUSIVES


✺ User’s Guide T R A V E L

O N L I N E

The Web is an essential tool for travelers, but as booking engines and trip forums evolve and multiply, you have to know where to look—and whom to trust. To help you, Travel + Leisure has assembled the ultimate online guide, from our picks of the top travel websites to jargon decoders. Over the next five pages, you’ll find the places and sources we rely on. Edited by XANDER KAPLAN and NINA WILLDORF. Reported by TANVI CHHEDA, JESSICA SHAW and JENNIFER WELBEL. Photograph by JOHN LAWTON

99


| user’s guide

T+L’S TOP TRAVEL WEB SITES

GETTING THERE

carriers in Europe.

KNOWING WHEN

worldwide, and about

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TO BOOK A FLIGHT

10 percent of the places

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fare is likely to fluctuate

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26

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SITE

FISHNET.COM

“All my life I have loved to fish and watch boats on the waterways. Fishnet. com gives me the opportunity to review all types of fishing in many different areas in Sydney Harbor and keeps me informed about seasonal changes where the fish are likely to be located.” —Tetsuya Wakuda, chef and owner of Tetsuya’s in Sydney

site turns up an impressive

RESEARCHING

continued on page 28

MY FAVORITE

mix of reduced rates on rooms at luxury properties. C O U R T E S Y O F T E T S U YA W A K U D A

strategies


2008 World’s Best Awards VOTE NOW AT

WWW.TRAVELANDLEISURESEA.COM/VOTE For your favorite hotels, spas, airlines, cruise lines, travel companies and the destinations you love— in the only global travel survey that matters!

Dear T+L Southeast Asia reader, Where have you been lately? We want to know. Help us at Travel + Leisure determine which hotels, spas, airlines, cruise lines and destinations deserve travel’s highest honor—a T+L World’s Best Award—by participating in our 2008 survey. Go to www.travelandleisuresea.com/vote for our easy online questionnaire and watch out for the results in our November issue. Thank you in advance for your time and insights and we look forward to hearing from you. Matt Leppard Editor-in-Chief Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia

H O W T O E N T E R Log onto www.travelandleisuresea.com/vote and fill in a few simple details. Voting is free and no purchase is necessary. Closing date: March 20, 2008. Illustrated by GUY BILLOUT

T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A

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strategies

| user’s guide T+L’s Top Websites

SITE EBAY.COM

“I love to check out collectibles in the destinations I’m traveling to before I go. On eBay you can actually search by ZIP code, so I get ideas about what I might nd in the area.” —Ross Klein, president and CEO of Starwood Luxury Brands Group

CUSTOMIZING AN

from underground.

is easy to locate (unlike

IN THE U.S.

ITINERARY

Plus, there’s a new

that of close competitor

MENUPAGES.COM

HOMEAND

small-screen version

Oanda), and you

With approximately

ABROAD.COM

for phones and PDA’s.

can bookmark go-to

25,000 restaurants

Plan a trip to one

Caveat: There are no

conversions. Caveat:

across eight cities,

of more than 90

actual subway maps.

The Thai baht rate cited

MenuPages makes

destinations from

it easy to plan meals

start to finish. Along

DRIVING DIRECTIONS

international markets,

by type of food,

with all the basics

IN EUROPE

and isn’t the same as the

neighborhood, price,

(hotel, restaurant and

VIAMICHELIN.COM

rate used at banks

or random craving

entertainment ideas),

Scan information on

in Thailand.

(bialys in Philly?).

get tips on what to read

7 million kilometers

Caveat: Menus may

before you go. Caveat:

of road across 42

FINDING RELIABLE

be a bit stale; 3,000 to

They tend to overpack

European countries.

WEATHER

5,000 are updated per

an average day with

Maps feature pop-ups

FORECASTS

month. And, unlike at

suggestions.

with descriptions and

WEATHER.COM

pictures of the desired

A notch above

OpenTable (opentable.

on xe.com is based on

com), you can’t book

PLANNING A CRUISE

destinations; directions

AccuWeather and

tables online.

CRUISECRITIC.COM

include estimates about

Weather Underground,

Research almost

what you’ll spend on

11-year-old Weather

NABBING THE

anything about 60

gas. They even tip you

does the best job

PERFECT SEAT

different cruise lines

off to speed traps.

of delivering the

SEATGURU.COM

and gather advice on

Preview seat maps

everything ship-related

CREATING

current conditions for

— including where to

— from buying travel

COMPREHENSIVE

98,000 destinations

find the power outlets

insurance to using

MAPS WORLDWIDE

worldwide, updated

as well as that extra

onboard slot machines.

MAPS.GOOGLE.COM

every 20 minutes.

bit of legroom — for 73

Caveat: Not a booking

Simple, clearly

models of aircraft on

site, so prices usually

designed maps and

LEARNING ABOUT

39 different airlines.

aren’t listed.

driving instructions

HEALTH AND SAFETY

are just the beginning.

ABROAD

The standout stuff:

TRIPPREP.COM

live feeds of traffic

A comprehensive

Like most airlines these

essentials clearly. Get

but you’ll never

GETTING AROUND

get stuck next to the

MAPPING ROUTES

conditions and street

resource with recom-

bathroom again.

ON U.S. PUBLIC

views of major U.S.

mended vaccinations,

TRANSPORTATION

cities (only slightly

embassy listings and

DISHING WITH

HOPSTOP.COM

creepy); addresses

crime advisories

GLOBAL FOODIES

Decide on your

and phone numbers;

for 204 countries.

CHOWHOUND.COM

transport of choice,

and websites for what

(Information is

An obsessive

as well as how far

you’re mapping.

culled from the state

community of feisty

you’re willing to walk,

people around the

and get point-to-point

THE BASICS

world share secret

directions for five

CONVERTING

Australia and the

finds. The site features

cities. Bonus features:

CURRENCY

United Kingdom.)

interviews with experts,

You can see what the

XE.COM

Also included: tips

videos of local culinary

trip would cost by taxi

180 currencies from

on local customs and

customs and blogs such

and look at panoramic

250 places, updated

transportation.

as the newly launched

shots of what to expect

every minute. The

Caveat: Incomplete

Tasting Notes.

when you emerge

conversion application

listings of doctors.

days, the site is no-frills,

continued on page 30 28

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departments of the United States, Canada,

C O U R T E SY O F S TA R W O O D H O T E L S & R E S O R T S

MY FAVORITE

PREVIEWING MENUS


WHAT’S NEW

T+L’S TOP THREE BOOKING ENGINES Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity are continuing to innovate when it comes to simplifying the booking process. Here’s how: * Expedia The TRAVELER OPINIONS feature sorts hotels according to other people’s reviews. * Orbitz An INSIDER DEALS application, downloaded to your desktop, allows you to select up to three potential itineraries (with proposed budgets). They’ll alert you with a pop-up tab when the prices match your magic number. * Travelocity Through partnerships with nonprofit organizations such as Earthwatch Institute, GlobeAware and Cross-Cultural Solutions, Travelocity now makes it possible to plan volunteer vacations; plus, the company awards two travel grants per quarter. (Applications are available on the site.)

WEB DECODER

Wiki

S U - LY N T A N

(‘wik-e-) A collaborative online effort in which anyone can edit content (such as WikiTravel, for usergenerated destination guides you can add to)

BY THE NUMBERS

30 percent: travel plans made using the Web by Americans in 2006

BY THE NUMBERS

32 percent: people who search for travel ideas online but ultimately book offline because of credit card– security concerns

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A FOOD BLOGGER, SINGAPORE

➻ AUN KOH (chubbyhubby.net)

Lifestyle and media consultant and roving epicure, Koh blogs about the delicious side of life. Chubby Hubby, which receives more than 270,000 hits a month, features posts about everything food-related: from recipes that he and his cookbook author and business partner wife have concocted to raves about foodrelated products, all accompanied by stunning photography. We asked him to provide a rundown of a typical day in his life. —J E N N I F E R C H E N 9 a.m. I meet up with Frederic Simon, the managing director of Alila Hotels and Resorts. My company has just started handling this exciting new resort company’s global public relations. We’re madly trying to help promote Alila Cha-Am, a new resort three hours south of Bangkok. 11 a.m. With two clients, my wife Su-Lyn and I interview a potential chef for a restaurant that I’m helping the clients put together in the Dempsey Road area. 1:15 p.m. We drop in for lunch at La Strada, one of our favorite restaurants. The chef has recently changed the menu and I want to try a few of his new dishes. If we like them, I’ll return soon, order them again and photograph them for a blog post. 3 p.m. I grab a quick cuppa with chef and restaurateur Willin Low. We’ve asked Low to teach a cooking class on modern Singaporean food as part of a series of classes we are running for Singapore’s People’s Association. 7:15 p.m. While taking our two golden retrievers for a walk, we stop for a quick crêpe (with sautéed potatoes, Emmental and bacon) at a new crêperie on Prinsep Street that has become a recent favorite. I’m still debating whether to share this discovery with my readers. Doing so means getting a table whenever we want will become difficult. 9:20 p.m. I put together a quick Chubby Hubby post on a recipe that Su-Lyn and I tested a few days before. We’ve already shot the photos for the post so all I have to do is write the text, which Su-Lyn edits before it goes online. 11 p.m. I’m off to the airport to catch a 1 A.M. flight to Shanghai. As the Asia representative of British boutique hotel collection Mr. & Mrs. Smith (mrand mrssmith.com), I spend at least 10 days a month traveling to suss out sexy hotels. Koh’s favorite blog: needled.com/blog. T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A

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strategies

| user’s guide A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A DESIGN BLOGGER, TOKYO

8 MORE TO WATCH VAYAMA.COM A booking

engine that pulls prices from all international flights originating in the United States, including those of low-fare carriers. YAPTA.COM Tracks airfares after you book and will send an e-mail about a significant price drop, along with info about how to use little-known loopholes for a refund. TRAVELISTIC.COM A compilation of on-theground travel videos (there were more than 5,275 at press time) from real people around the world. MEETHALFWAY.COM

U.K.-based site, with a soon-to-launch U.S. version, that helps you find a geographic compromise. SERIOUSEATS.COM New York Times writer Ed Levine filters, compiles, and analyzes all the juiciest global food news and opinions. AIRTREKS.COM

Helps you plan complicated multi-leg itineraries without the hassle and expense of one-off tickets. DONTFORGETYOUR TOOTHBRUSH.COM Create your own handy before-you-leave checklists. THEBATHROOM DIARIES.COM A seem-

ingly silly, surprisingly useful resource reviewing 12,000 public bathrooms in 120 countries.

30

8 GREAT ASIA-PACIFIC TRAVEL WEBSITES ZUJI.COM From Travelocity.com, this is the one-stop shop for Asiabased travelers, with 400 airlines and 77,000 hotels. AGODA.COM A Singaporebased discount hotel reservations site that has comprehensive offerings from Asia (also in various Asian languages, including Chinese, Thai, Bahasa Indonesia and Tagalog). WOTIF.COM An Australian website devoted to last minute bookings worldwide for accommodations ranging from five-star resorts to bed-and-breakfasts. TRAVELFISH.ORG

Launched by an Australian living in Indonesia, this website features knowledgeable summaries about destinations in Asia. Downloadable guides to major spots are also available for a small fee. SUPERFUTURE.COM For urban hipsters who want to know what’s going on in Tokyo, Rio and beyond. EXOTISSOMO.COM The website for veteran tour operators in Asia; great for gathering ideas. HUNGRYGOWHERE. COM Candid and colorful

restaurant reviews from food-obsessed Singapore. WILDASIA.NET If you’re interested in responsible tourism, this site offers sound advice and ideas.

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WEB DECODER

Widget

(‘wij t) A simple tool (world clock, currency converter) that can be downloaded for use on your desktop

WEB DECODER

RSS Feed

(‘är’es-’es ’fe-d) RSS stands for “really simple syndication,” a way to automatically receive updates (e.g., lastminute fares) from your favorite sites

➻JEAN SNOW (JeanSnow.net)

Canadian expat, design aficionado and freelance writer Jean Snow spends most mornings sifting through hundreds of e-mails and RSS feeds about new art exhibitions, design shops and pop-culture happenings. Afternoons, he hits the sidewalks to see them for himself. 3 p.m. “The new trend is for artists and stores or cafés to collaborate,” Snow explains. On the fifth floor of an office building in Aoyama, we visit A to Z Café, a joint project of Pop artist Yoshitomo Nara and design firm Graf Media. 3:30 p.m. An Agnès B. store across the street is touting a collaboration with California-based illustrator Shepard Fairey. “In Tokyo, the boutiques are almost galleries themselves, they’re curated so meticulously,” Snow says. Holding his camera at his waist, he discreetly takes a few shots of Fairey’s paintings. 4:30 p.m. “I also find out about openings through magazines,” Snow says. At the bookstore Nadiff, Snow picks up Paper Sky, OK Fred, Casa Brutus and Pen. 4:45 p.m. The Ginza, known for expensive shops, also has a clutch of graphic-design galleries. We stop in at the Ginza Graphic Gallery; it’s fi lled with creative product packaging and far-out typography. 6 p.m. In the Matsuya department store, the tiny Design Gallery has a show of humorous print ads. “This is one of the things I love about Tokyo,” Snow says. “You just never know where you’ll find something really cool.” Snow’s favorite blog: BoingBoing.net.

—M I C H A E L

ENDELMAN

TA K A S H I YA S U M U R A

T+L’s Top Websites


A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A FASHION BLOGGER, SAN FRANCISCO

WEB DECODER

Aggregator

(‘agri‚ga-t r) Also known as a meta– search engine. A one-stop site for comparing thousands of airfares, hotel rates, and car rentals (see Sidestep and Kayak, page 26)

BY THE C O U R T E SY O F N ATA L I E Z E E D R I E U ; C O U R T E SY O F C N N

NUMBERS

12 percent: Internet penetration in Asia as of November 2007 (source: internet worldstats. com)

➻ NATALIE ZEE DRIEU (coquette. blogs.com) Based in San Francisco, award-winning web designer and senior editor at CRAFT Magazine, Drieu started her blog in 2005 as an outlet for her twin passions of fashion and technology. Nearly three years on, Coquette is now among the top 50 fashion blogs in the United States in terms of traffic and readership, according to fellow bloggers FashionIQ. Drieu is currently working on a book with Diana Eng, a former contestant from American TV hit, Project Runaway, on a book titled TechStyle: Create Wired Wearables and Geeky Gear, due out in bookstores this summer. T+L Southeast Asia caught up with her one day. —J . C . 7:30 a.m. Check e-mail and drink coffee. 8:30 a.m. I arrive at the Ferry Building in San Francisco to model knit fashions in a photoshoot for my friend Shannon Okey’s upcoming knitting book called Alt Fiber, which will be published by Ten Speed Press (September 2008). 9:30 a.m. Wearing a red sweater coat, floral dress, brown suede boots and a French beret, photographer Sasha Gulish begins snapping photos of me on the pier overlooking the bay. 1:30 p.m. After five outfits, the photoshoot is finally over! I’m starving, so I head over to my favorite Japanese deli inside the Ferry Building, called Delica rf-1 (delicarf1.com). The crab croquettes are to die for! 2:00 p.m. Arrive back to my home office to catch up on e-mails and to start blogging. I’ve got an RSS reader of about 1,000 blogs or websites which cover everything from fashion, technology, crafts and celebrities. Coquette’s post today is about the sleek Violet May Blackberry purse made out of python: a compact wallet-style clutch that perfectly fits your cellphone, money, credit cards and even a passport. On the Craft Magazine website (craftzine.com), I uncover fun pasta craft jewelry, a scrap fabric patchwork skirt, a cool T-shirt stencil and how to bake ale bread. 7:00 p.m. I sit down to a pot-au-feu dinner at home with my French husband Gilles. 8:30 p.m. Continue with writing a chapter for TechStyle, an upcoming fashion and technology book I’m writing with fashion designer Diana Eng. Right now, we’re working on a chapter featuring spirolaterals, which are mathematical geometric shapes. We are using spirolaterals as an example for a skirt design that the reader can make. 10:00 p.m. Catching up on all my blog reading and web surfing to prepare for tomorrow’s blog posts. For fashion blogs, the ones I always check out FashionTribes ( fashiontribes.typepad.com), Bag Snob (bagsnob.com), FabSugar ( fabsugar.com), and The Coveted (the-coveted.com/blog). For crafts blogs, I love Not Martha (notmartha.org), Wee Wonderfuls (weewonderfuls.typepad.com), Oh Joy! (ohjoy.blogs.com) and design*sponge (designspongeonline.com). Drieu’s favorite blog: gofugyourself.typepad.com. T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A

MY FAVORITE SITE

DOPPLR.COM

“I’m loving this new site called Dopplr. You privately share your travel plans with globetrotting friends to find out when and where you cross paths. How fun is that?” —Kristie Lu Stout, Anchor/ Correspondent, CNN International

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Cabinets of curiosities. Bangkok’s unusual museums <(page 54)

Grand ambitions in Brunei. Our review of the sultanate’s Empire Hotel <(page 56)

City of Gardens: take a detour to historic Suzhou <(page 53)

+

• A classic café in Sydney • Check into Asia’s art hotels • Makati’s coolest addresses

(Insider) Photo credit by tktktk

C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P L E F T: J O S E F P O L L E R O S S ; P H I L I P P E N G E L H O R N ; A N D R E W R O WAT; S C O T T R I L E Y; J O H N S P I N K S

The best and the brightest. Six of the hottest young chefs in London (page 48) >

Where to GoWhat to EatWhere to StayWhat to Buy

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

000


insider

| newsflash ART

FOOD

The Floating World Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were just two of the great Western painters influenced by ukiyo-e, or pictures of the floating world, the genre of art that emerged from Japan’s Edo period (1615–1868). Most of them studied Hiroshige’s massproduced woodblock prints of everyday life and nature. Few, however, were aware of ukiyo-e’s other tradition: extraordinarily detailed paintings depicting the rarefied realm of theaters and brothels patronized by the wealthy and powerful denizens of Edo (now modern-day Tokyo). “Drama and Desire: Japanese Paintings from the Floating World, 1690–1850”—a landmark exhibition featuring 80 works from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston’s extensive and invaluable collection of ukiyo-e paintings—is being shown at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (200 Larkin St.; 1-415/581-3500; www.asianart.org) until May 4. Hurry and catch this show: many of these paintings haven’t been on view to the public for more than 100 years and they will go back into storage once the exhibition’s San Francisco stint comes to a close.

MADE IN ITALY (SOLD IN TAIWAN) There’s a lot to admire about the renovated National Palace Museum in Taipei, home to the world’s most important collection of Chinese art and artifacts (all plundered from the Forbidden City by the Kuomintang). Early last year, it reopened after a three-year, US$21 million refurbishment, which transformed it from a dusty repository to a sleek, modern space. Even the museum’s shop was completely overhauled. Gone are the staid reproductions of Ming dynasty vases and brush paintings that the old shop used to stock. In their place are brash, fun twists on traditional Chinese culture. Among our favorites are Italian design firm Alessi’s kitchen appliances disguised in the form of figures clad in Qing dynasty costumes. 34

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BEST BUY

C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P L E F T: C O U R T E SY O F M A N D A R I N O R I E N TA L , H O N G KO N G ; C O U R T E SY O F A S I A N A R T M U S E U M ; C O U R T E SY O F A L E S S I

LET THEM EAT CAKE Ditch that diet and head over to the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong (5 Connaught Rd., Central; 852/2522-0111; www. mandarinoriental.com): from March 5 to March 12, The Mandarin Grill + Bar will be serving desserts by Spanish pastry chef Oriol Balaguer, formerly of Ferran Adrià’s revolutionary restaurant, El Bulli. And don’t worry about being subjected to the experiments in molecular gastronomy that El Bulli is famed for. Balaguer is a master of all things chocolate, with two bespoke dessert restaurants under the banner Estudi Xocolata (“chocolate studio” in Catalan) in Barcelona and Tokyo.


insider

| newsflash

Paris

WA L K THIS BLOCK

TOUR

In the Second Arrondissement, between I. M. Pei’s pyramid and Charles Garnier’s fin-de-siècle Opéra, lie the RUE CHABANAIS and RUE STE.-ANNE—where Old World and of-the-moment sit side by side. By CHARLOTTE DRUCKMAN

2. De Bayser

1. Voyageurs du Monde

The Right Bank’s most charming travel agency houses an excellent bookstore and a carefully curated gift shop, specializing in goods and writings on far-flung destinations. 55 Rue Ste.Anne; 33-1/42-86-16-00; www.vdm.com. 5. Zen Zoo

This Asian patisserie is the only place in Paris to enjoy bubble tea: try the milky macha, and don’t miss the shop’s signature savory rice cakes. 13 Rue Chabanais; 33-1/42-96-27-28; www.zen-zoo.com.

3. Louisélio

The organic, minimalist shapes and intricate glazework of the bowls and vases sold at ceramist Louisélio’s studio have made her a favorite with discerning locals. 14 Rue Chabanais; 33-1/42-97-5465; www.louiselio.com.

2

5

1

3

4

36

4. The Different Company

A 21st-century fragrance house showcasing the talents of father–daughter duo JeanClaude and Céline Ellana, this atelier’s décor is as subtly chic as its scents. 3 Rue Chabanais; 33-1/42-60-12-74; www.thedifferentcompany.com.

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SOUNDS OF SINGAPORE Looking for a fresh take on Singapore? Then head down to the city’s Little India neighborhood and sign up for the 45-minute Desire Paths sound tour (65/6392-1772; www.spell7. net/desirepaths; Tuesday to Saturday, 10 A.M. to 4:30 P.M., by appointment only; S$15). If you associate audio tours with plummy English accents dutifully pointing out landmarks, you’re in for a surprise. Created by an experimental theater group, the walk takes its inspiration from New York’s Soundwalk tours, which mix sound effects and music with narration. The Singapore jaunt starts at an unassuming shophouse on the edge of Little India, where you pick up a CD player. Switch it on, and strains of sitar music fill your ears, plunging you into the atmosphere of this lively neighborhood. Tidbits of trivia and sharp and often personal observations about local buildings and characters are interwoven with a love story and ambient sounds. Every now and then, listeners are instructed to turn off the audio—all the better to soak in the surroundings, which provide a healthy dose of color, chaos and grit in this buttoned-down city.

L E F T CO LU M N : M A R I E H E N N EC H A RT ( 5 ) . R I G H T CO LU M N : CO U RT ESY O F S P E L L 7

Founded in 1936, this gallery is a must-visit for drawings enthusiasts. The inventory covers the 16th through 20th centuries; the Old Master offerings are particularly good. 69 Rue Ste.-Anne; 33-1/47-03-49-87; www.debayser.com.


| newsflash

YOGA BREAK IN BALI Since the 1920’s, artistically inclined expatriates have descended upon Ubud in Bali, lured by its tranquility and stunning landscapes. In recent years, yogis and their acolytes have swelled Ubud’s community of global nomads, inspiring longtime resident Meghan Pappenheim to organize the first annual Balispirit Festival (March 5-16; www.balispiritfestival. com; five-day pass, US$300), a 12day extravaganza of yoga classes with top instructors. If you’re not a fan of yoga, there are plenty of other attractions, including African and Balinese dance classes and music concerts.

F E S T I VA L

TREND

Big Wheels Home to the world’s tallest building (at least at press time), Asia can now lay claim to having the world’s largest Ferris wheel. The S$240 million Singapore Flyer (Raffles Avenue, Marina Bay; www. singaporeflyer.com; from S$29.50 for adults; daily, 8:30 A.M. to 10:30 P.M.), which opens this month, stands at 165 meters, compared to the London Eye’s mere 135 meters. At the apex of the 30-minute ride, passengers will be able to see 45 kilometers out into neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia as well as the South China Sea. Singapore won’t have bragging rights for much longer, though: The Beijing Great Wheel—a whopping 208 meters tall—is set to debut next year.

VIETNAM’S RURAL RETREATS Vietnam’s northwest is blessed with some of the most beautiful scenery in Southeast Asia, but accommodations are often as rustic as their environs. If you’re looking for a bit of comfort after a long day of trekking, book yourself into Topas Eco-Lodge in the hill station of Sapa (24 Muong Hoa; 84-20/872-404; www.topas-ecolodge.com; full-board doubles from US$115) or the recently opened Mai Chau Lodge in the town of Mai Chau, 135 kilometers southwest of Hanoi (84-18/868-959; www.maichaulodge.com; full-board doubles from US$155, including tours and transfer from Hanoi). Not only do they offer some of the plushest accommodations around, these lodges also take their social and environmental responsibilities seriously. With Vietnam’s tourism industry booming, we hope developers take note of these two trailblazing hotels.

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GREEN

C L O C K W I S E F R O M T O P R I G H T : C O U R T E S Y O F S I N G A P O R E F LY E R ; C O U R T E S Y O F T O P A S E C O - L O D G E ; C O U R T E S Y O F M E G H A N P A P P E N H E I M

insider


7

WONDERS OF AMAZING THAILAND TO STIMULATE THE MIND AND LIFT THE SOUL

Immerse yourself in natural beauty Thailand offers a rich variety of natural and eco-friendly activities. Hitch a ride atop an elephant, or take a thrilling whitewater rafting adventure in Kanchanaburi.

Experience the Thai way of life Wherever you are, the Thai way of life is always served up with a gentle smile, whether you Ă&#x20AC;nd yourself at an enchanting home-stay holiday or at a local cooking class.

Elevate your senses With a reputation as one of the wellness hubs of the world, Thailand has a wide range of clinics, spas and meditation centers to choose from to get in touch with your inner self.


Explore the Thai Kingdom Thailand has a fascinating history, from heritage sites to national treasures, all of which offer the traveler unique insights into Thai culture.

Embrace sun, surf and serenity Choose from a dazzling range of tantalizing beaches, from family-friendly Hua Hin to vibrant Patong in Phuket to the havens of tranquility at Koh Lanta. Excite yourself Spoil yourself at mega-malls, boutique stores or sensational outdoor markets, or choose from the many theme parks, golf courses, clubs and restaurants that Thailand offers.

Enchant yourself with customs and events Immerse yourself in festivities like Loy Krathong and Songkran, or visit international sporting events like the JW Classic golf tournament. In Thailand, the party really is non-stop.

1600 New Phetchaburi Road, Makkasan, Ratchathewi, Bangkok 10400, THAILAND Tel: +66-2250-5500, www.tourismthailand.org


insider | check-in

Culture Clubs. These four hotels around

Kicker hereplease From left: Duplex suite, Hotel de la Paix; The Gallery Hotel.

Artistic Ambitions Clockwise from top: Artist Jiang Shuo’s satirical Red Guards at Langham Place, in Hong Kong; the colorful exterior of Gallery Hotel, in Singapore; an antique bed at Hotel Tugu Bali.

HOTEL TUGU BALI, INDONESIA Anhar Setjadibrata, the owner of Hotel Tugu Bali, began his career as a collector while working for an international pharmaceutical company in the early 1970’s. Sent to far-flung villages on Java, Bali, Borneo, West Timor and the Sunda Islands, Setjadibrata would come across priceless antiques and cultural relics 42

that were being discarded by locals who thought they were too oldfashioned. Eventually he amassed one of the most impressive collections of Indonesian and Dutch colonial antiques and artifacts, and built this cozy, 21-suite luxury hotel, because, as daughter Lucienne jokes, “We ran out of warehouse space.” Some of his priceless pieces date as far back as the

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12th century, providing an important chronicle of the archipelago’s history. Noteworthy pieces include a white marble dining table from Bali’s early colonial occupation; a 5-meter-tall wooden Garuda; and an entire 300year-old Chinese temple that Setjadibrata moved from Java and reassembled on the grounds of the hotel (it now houses a restaurant).

C LO C KW I S E F RO M TO P : CO U RT ESY O F L A N G H A M P L AC E ; CO U RT ESY O F GA L L E RY H OT E L ; CO U RT ESY O F H OT E L T U G U BA L I

Asia take a sophisticated approach to art, gracing their walls and hallways with original, provocative works. By SANA BUTLER


F RO M TO P : CO U RT E SY O F H OT E L D E L A PA I X ; CO U RT E SY O F G A L L E RY H OT E L

Bedrooms shift focus to a lighter, more contemporary vibe. “We don’t want people thinking they are sleeping in a museum,” says Lucienne. Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong, Canggu; 62-361/731-701; www. tuguhotels.com; doubles from US$350. LANGHAM PLACE, HONG KONG When Langham Place decorated its lobby with two bronze sculptures— featureless save for their gaping mouths—from Chinese artist Jiang Shuo’s celebrated Red Guards series, it created quite a stir. Not only are the sculptures, titled Going Forward! Making Money!, a critique of the destructive herd mentality of China’s Cultural Revolution, they are also a jab at the country’s modern-day embrace of capitalism. One guard clutches the little red book of quotations from Chairman Mao, while the other brandishes a mobile phone. Almost every corner of this 15-story hotel is filled with works from its collection of around 1,700 pieces of contemporary Chinese art. Suites feature the paintings of Hu Yongkai, famous for his portraits of elegant Chinese ladies in traditional settings. In the hotel’s spa hang paintings of chrysanthemums by Alan Lau Wai-Lun (the flowers are traditional symbols of longevity and immortality—appropriate for a spa). Above the hotel lobby’s bar is an oil painting of a voluptuous female from Pei Jing. Having worked with local art consultant Angela Li, the hotel’s owner, Dr. Lo Ka-Shui, has proven that he has financial savvy as well as impeccable taste; since the hotel opened in 2005, some of the pieces from his collection have more than quadrupled in value. 555 Shanghai St.; 852/3552-3388; hongkong. langhamplacehotels.com; doubles from HK$1,650.

groundbreaking Hotel de la Paix in Siem Reap certainly knows a good thing when it sees it. In 2006, it hired a full-time curator to organize shows at The Arts Lounge, a gallery—which doubles as a bar at night—located in the heart of the hotel. The focus is contemporary Khmer art and shows change up to six to eight weeks. Past standouts include abstract photographs of ice by Lorn Loeum, a Battambang native whose works have been compared to Jackson Pollock, and sculptures comprised of AK-47’s and M-16’s from the Khmer Rouge period, made by a team of artists. In March, look out for “Paper Mache,” an exhibition of paper sculptures by Kchao Touch. Sivutha Blvd.; 85563/966-000; www.hoteldelapaixangkor.com; doubles from US$235. GALLERY HOTEL, SINGAPORE Not everyone listens to their parents about not drawing on the walls. Three years ago, this pioneering boutique property along Robertson Quay held a competition for budding young artists whereby the winners got to redesign 19 of the hotel’s rooms and suites. The result is walls festooned with graffiti and pop art–inspired

themes, putting guests smack in the middle of each designer’s quirky and unique interpretation of space. Two of our favorites include “Hear & See” (Room 624), with its tongue-in-cheek murals that depict the life of a model (a giant mascara applicator juts out from a wall), and “Optic 2” (Room 635), a post-modern space that’s filled with black-and-white optical illusions. T+L TIP Pick the room you want when making reservations. 1 Nanson Rd.; 65/6849-8686; www.galleryhotel. com.sg; doubles from US$398. ✚

Room Art Above: The Hotel de la Paix, in Siem Reap. Below: “Hear & See,” one of the uniquely designed guest rooms at Gallery Hotel, in Singapore.

HOTEL DE LA PAIX, CAMBODIA For serious collectors hunting for the next up-and-coming art scene in Asia, Cambodia is the place to be. The T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A

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insider | t+l

guide

STAY

EAT

Most major hotels are located along Ayala Avenue, Makati’s central thoroughfare. The grande dame is The Peninsula Manila (Ayala Ave., corner of Makati Ave.; 632/887-2888; www.manila.peninsula. com; doubles from P7,200), whose elegant lobby merits a visit in itself for its high ceilings, marble floors and classical balustrades. The rooms—which are being renovated in stages—are equally plush and spacious, with warm wood trimmings and rattan furnishings. • The Mandarin Oriental (Makati Ave.; 63-2/750-8888; www.mandarinoriental.com/manila; doubles from P7,000), another longrunning establishment, still holds its own among Makati’s finest hotels. Here, the décor is more contemporary, though the rooms are fi lled with the requisite luxury touches. Also, stop by the Art Deco jazz bar Martini’s, a fashionable hangout. • For those who want a hotel’s convenience but more privacy, book into one of the serviced apartments at Fraser Place (Forbes Tower, Valero St.; 632/818-1818; www.frasershospitality. com; from P13,000), tucked away behind the hubbub of the Ayala Triangle.

Makati offers cosmopolitan cuisine to suit every taste. Pioneering Spanish restaurant Cirkulo (900 Pasay Rd.; 63-2/810-2763; dinner for two P3,500) serves up classics such as paella negra and gambas al ajillo in a warm, red-hued dining room. The menu also features modern dishes such as roasted Chilean sea bass wrapped in jamon Serrano and served with balsamic syrup and herb-flecked couscous. • Nuts about chocolate? Tsoko.nut (Podium 3, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Ave.; tsokonutbatirol. com) pours Makati’s richest tsoko-

PHILIPPINES

Makati Moments Clockwise from above: Nature-inspired designs at Budji Living, a furniture store; a guest room at The Peninsula Manila; the World War II memorial at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial; a chef at Sango! The Burger Master, a popular eatery.

late (P77), the Filipino take on Spanish hot chocolate, whipped with a traditional wooden stirrer known as a batirol. • Sango! The Burger Master (No. 5, ground floor, Creekside Mall, Amorsolo St.; 632/830-0391) is a favorite pit stop for hungry locals looking for a quick bite. Expertly trained chefs keep customers rolling in burgers with miraculous efficiency (the double-decker Master Burger will satisfy any appetite). • The cozy café known as Apartment 1B (1 Lafayette Sq., 132 L.P. Leviste St.; 63-2/843-4075; lunch for two P2,000) specializes in gourmet comfort food. Try the crab cakes served with shoestring fries. »

Manila’s Oasis. Historic and au courant at the same time, the commercial hub of Makati is an island of style, culture and calm, offering a welcome respite from the capital’s chaos. Story and photographs by LARA DAY 44

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insider | t+l

guide

DO

SHOP

Massive, impersonal malls tend to dominate Manila’s shopping scene, but the ones in Makati are some of the most appealing, offering not only international brands, but also edgy homegrown designs. Wander through

Away from the bustle of city life, the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial (McKinley Rd., Fort Bonifacio;

63-2/844-0212) is a tranquil expanse, providing a place to explore and reflect. • The stunning architecture of the Ayala Museum (Makati Ave., corner of De La Rosa St.; 632/757-7117; www.ayalamuseum. org) sets off an impressive collection of Filipino art, with both permanent and special exhibits. Works by such luminaries as Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo and Fernando Zobel, and historical dioramas offer an invaluable insight into Philippine culture. Make sure to check out the museum’s M Café; this classy brunch destination transforms into a hip nightspot in the evening. • Though it looks modest and unassuming, Finale Art File (No. 403, LaO Center, Pasay Rd., corner of Makati Ave.; 63-2/8132310; www.finaleartfile.com) is one of Manila’s leading galleries, housing works by some of the Philippines’ most eminent artists. Displays range from avant-garde installations to more traditional artwork.

A colorful array of T-shirts at Team Manila.

Art Space Above: Innovative furniture on display at Budji Living. Below: Paintings by local artists at Finale Art File.

The Ayala Museum.

GUIDE TO MANILA GETTING THERE All major Asian airlines offer direct flights to Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Though the airport is only 7 kilometers from the city, allow yourself plenty of travel time because of the fiendish traffic. GETTING AROUND Save time by taking the LRT (Light Rail Transit) or MRT. There are plenty of taxis available, but make sure the driver turns on the meter. WHEN TO GO Temperatures average around 30 degrees all year. The best time to go is during the dry season, which starts in November and runs until April. Avoid going from July to September, which are peak months of the typhoon season. DON’T MISS The 16th-century walled city of Intramuros, which has survived earthquakes, fires and wars.

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the Archaeology wing of the Power Plant Mall, which teems with up-and-coming designers such as Team Manila (2nd floor, Archaeology, Power Plant Mall, Rockwell Dr., corner of Estrella St.; 63-2/899-1570; www. teammanila.com). These masters of urban cool sell funky T-shirts, totes and accessories with bold graphic prints. • For high-end couture, the airy boutique of House of Laurel (6013 Villena St., corner of Manalac St.; 632/895-5688; www.houseoflaurel. com) dazzles with off-the-rack chic from frequently changing collections. • The bright, inviting showroom of Budji Living (235 Nicanor Garcia St.; 632/896-6316) showcases furniture by well-known Filipino designer Antonio “Budji” Layug, who made his name with cutting-edge designs crafted from natural materials found locally, such as bamboo, abaca and coco shells. ✚


INDULGE YOURSELF

MARCH 2008

Bali

Our guide to the island’s best dives

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insider | eat

British New Wave From far left: The dining room of the Ledbury, in Notting Hill; Brett Graham’s ballotine of foie gras, at the Ledbury; the Ledbury’s chef, Brett Graham.

ENGLAND

London’s Top Young Chefs. A surge of fresh talent is putting the heat back in this city’s kitchens. Here are six rising stars. By CHARLOTTE DRUCKMAN T+L TIP Look for English wild mushrooms such as cèpes (porcini), girolles (chanterelles) and trompettes (black chanterelles), which show up in October on menus around London.

BRETT GRAHAM THE LEDBURY Less than a year ago, the Australian-born, 28year-old Graham opened this airy Notting Hill spot, where he subtly incorporates Asian staples such as shiso and soy. He relishes getting his hands dirty—gutting squid, cleaning the exhaust hood—and puts his whisk into everything, including desserts, such as his chocolate pavé with chicory ice cream. “I’m not into molecular gastronomy. I get bored,” Graham says. He would rather confit a suckling pig for 24 hours—then serve it with sweet mangosteens dunked in house-made pork sauce. Perfect Meal Ballotine of foie gras with date purée; balsamic-roasted loin of lamb with misoand-garlic-braised eggplant; and a date-andvanilla tart. 127 Ledbury Rd.; 44-20/7792-9090; dinner for two US$200. BRYN WILLIAMS ODETTE’S Formerly a stodgy institution for ladies who lunch, Odette’s was revamped in November 2006 to keep pace with its hip home, Primrose Hill, in central London. The interior went from

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garishly overwrought to mod-Baroque—and thanks to 30-year-old Williams, the food has been upgraded from old-school formal to light modern British. He combines Welsh influences from his childhood with French methods from his training: pan-fried turbot with braised oxtail and English cockles is his signature dish. Perfect Meal Curried scallops with cauliflower purée; sautéed red mullet with parsley mashed potatoes, grilled baby squid and wild garlic; and pineapple poached in simple syrup beside a scoop of coconut ice cream. 130 Regents Park Rd.; 44-20/7586-4369; dinner for two US$160. ADAM BYATT TRINITY Warm, walnut-paneled walls and wooden floors give the restaurant an air of urban rusticity that matches both Trinity’s environs, the Clapham neighborhood in the southern part of the city, and thirtysomething Byatt’s refined, hearty menu—such as pig’s head made into crispy croquettes and served afloat pea soup with a drizzle of lobster oil. Ever ambitious, the chef is already hatching his next plot: a large-scale Photographed by JOHN SPINKS


New Kids on the Block From far left: The dining room at Notting Hill Brasserie; Mark Jankel, of Notting Hill Brasserie; pig’s trotter on toast with quail eggs, at Trinity, in Clapham; Trinity’s Adam Byatt.

venue that will raise the bar on fast food. Perfect Meal Pig’s trotter on toast with quail eggs and pork cracklings; herb-crusted fillet of hake with shellfish tortellini; and a cocoa-centric trio—a Valrhona pot de crème, a chocolate milk shake and dark-chocolate cremosa. 4 The Polygon; 44-20/7622-1199; dinner for two US$140. MARK JANKEL NOTTING HILL BRASSERIE Before he could peek over a kitchen counter, Jankel was cooking with his grandmother. Food is very personal to Jankel—he knows many guests by their first names, and the Jerusalem artichokes on the menu come from a neighbor’s garden. The 30-year-old’s palate is clear but hardly predictable (black truffles infuse the milk in his rice-pudding gelato). Up next, Jankel will pursue his dream of opening London’s first 100 percent sustainable restaurant. Perfect Meal Cannelloni of lobster and freshwater prawns with shellfish velouté; panfried halibut with Jerusalem artichoke purée; and white-truffled honey cheesecake. 92 Kensington Park Rd.; 44-20/7229-4481; dinner for two US$200. JEAN-PHILIPPE PATRUNO FINO Born in Marseilles, 35-year-old Patruno has come into his own here, at what Londoners deem the Spanish restaurant. Diners are quick

to call Fino a tapas bar, but both the food and the atmosphere defy such categorization. “It’s more like a reasonably priced degustation menu with small portions to share,” Patruno says. The Soho digs include a laid-back dining room and a library-like bar where both club chairs and walls are swathed in brown leather. Perfect Meal Pulpo a la Gallega (a tender carpaccio of boiled octopus); arroz negro (rice with squid ink); clams with sherry and ham; and creamy caramel flan. 33 Charlotte St.; 4420/7813-8010; dinner for two US$200. THEO RANDALL THEO RANDALL AT THE INTERCONTINENTAL While Rose Gray and Ruth Rodgers of London’s River Café were making a name for themselves with a restaurant and cookbooks, their partner Theo Randall was happiest running the kitchen. At last, he’s the star of the show, with this minimalist, 160-seat restaurant at the InterContinental in Mayfair. The 40year-old chef still has a decidedly Italian style: the pasta is made by hand daily and vegetables arrive from Milan and Verona weekly. But what distinguishes him from Gray and Rodgers is his use of regional English produce. Perfect Meal Taglialini with brown shrimp and zucchini; chargrilled veal chop; and lemon tart. 1 Hamilton Place; 44-20/7318-8747; dinner for two US$140. ✚ T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A

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insider

| bookshelf

Armchair Travels. Readers, beware: These seven new hardcovers

A

COLLECTION OF MAPS DATING FROM THE 14TH CENTURY,

Cartographia (Little, Brown and Company, US$60) by Vincent Virga will appeal to both curious travelers and history buffs. OWeighing in at over 5 kilograms, Eyes over Africa (teNeues, US$125) is fi lled with color-saturated images from lensman Michael Poliza’s low-flying helicopter tour of Africa. OEqual parts guide and coffee table tome, China (DK Publishing, US$40) includes timelines, annotated 50

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architectural diagrams, Chinese poetry and day-in-the-life snapshots of 14 residents. OIn Paris Changing (Princeton Architectural Press, US$40), Christopher Rauschenberg retraces the footsteps of French documentarian Eugène Atget in 1898. The two men’s photos are shown side-by-side, revealing the city’s eternal elegance and its modern developments. OPhotographer Lynn Davis offers black-and-white portraits of off-thegrid destinations, such as Nova Scotia

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and Greenland, in Illumination (Melcher Media, US$75). ONovelist Alexandra Lapierre’s Women Travelers (Flammarion, US$45) showcases 31 voyagers from the 19th and 20th centuries, including Gertrude Bell, “the Bell of Baghdad.” OTake a tour of Rajasthan’s ornate palace hotels and gardens in India Sublime (Rizzoli, US$65). Also included: a directory with addresses and phone numbers so that you, too, can live like a maharajah—if only for a night. ✚

D AV I E S + S TA R R

just might send you packing. By SARAH KANTROWITZ


drink | insider

Better Brews. In Southeast Asia, beer usually

C LO C KW I S E F RO M TO P : CO U RT ESY O F A RC H I P E L AG O ; CO U RT ESY O F T H E P U M P RO O M ; C O U R T E S Y O F B R E W E R K Z ; C O U R T E S Y O F E L G R A N D E H O L D I N G S LT D .

means cold, watery lager. But if you’re looking for a drink that leaves more than just a buzz, stop by these brewpubs. By JENNIFER CHEN QHOA VIEN BRAUHAUS, HO CHI MINH CITY The French might have imparted an appreciation of good coffee, fine wine and crisp baguettes to the Vietnamese, but the local obsession with bia hoi—a refreshing, light pilsner—is entirely homegrown. Most Hanoi residents would argue that their city provides the most authentic bia hoi experience, but Ho Chi Minh City does boast this enormous, 500-seat Czechstyle beer garden. It’s a touch of Bohemia in Southeast Asia, complete with oompah music,

dark timber and artery-clogging fare such as pigs’ trotters. But the beer is the thing here, and Hoa Vien has two of its own brews on offer: a bia vang tuoi, or pilsner, and a bia den, a darker, hoppier tipple. 28 Mac Dinh Chi St., District 1; 84-8/829-0585; beers from VND14,000. Q BREWERKZ, SINGAPORE With a population of 4 million, the city-state boasts five breweries devoted to craft beers—probably the highest ratio of microbreweries per capita in the region. But

Brewerkz deserves sole credit for starting Singapore’s microbrew movement. When it first opened in 1997, the beer scene was pretty dreary: “Nothing but industrial pilsners and stouts,” says founder Devin Otto Kimble. Today, the original 840-square-meter brewery still pulls in huge crowds, especially on the weekends. Hearty American grub is also on the menu. Look out for new Brewerkz locations at Singapore Indoor Stadium, Bukit Timah Road and Changi Airport’s recently opened Terminal 3. »

T+L TIP Prices at Brewerkz depend on the time and day. A pint after 8 P.M. on a weekend will set you back S$13.99; but during a weekday lunch, that same pint will only cost S$4.99.

A Pint of the Finest Clockwise from top right: Bottled beers from Singapore’s Archipelago Brewery; brewmaster Alex Chasko from The Pump Room, in Singapore; Brewerkz, Singapore’s first microbrewery; alfresco drinking at Inn Side Out, Hong Kong.

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01–05 Riverside Point, 30 Merchant Rd.; 65/6438-7438; www. brewerkz.com. Q TAWANDAENG, BANGKOK This cavernous beer hall celebrates Oktoberfest yearround—albeit a peculiarly Thai– German hybrid. A nightly show by house band Fong Nam is a lively mix of Thai favorites, old and new; in fact, it’s probably the only place in Bangkok where you can enjoy classical dance as well as local country and western in a single evening. And the draft brews, especially the wheat beer, beat Singha any day. 462/61 Rama 3 Rd.; 66-2/678-1114-6; www.tawandang1999.com; pints from Bt120. T+L TIP Archipelago sells bottled beers, available at Cold Storage grocery stores throughout Singapore.

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QEAST END BREWERY, HONG KONG Not technically a brewpub, this long-time favorite among local and expatriate beer aficionados does serve ales from the Hong Kong Brewing Company, the

territory’s only microbrewery. Also on offer are great beers from all over the world, including Brooklyn Lager, London Pride and Belgium’s Duval and Chimay. If you want to enjoy your pints alfresco, pop next door to Inn Side Out, which is owned by the same company and serves the same quality drinks. 10 Hysan Ave., Sunning Plaza, Causeway Bay; 852/2577-9119; pints from HK$30.

usual pale ales and wheat beers, Allen set out to make microbrews that used Asian spices and herbs. Visit the flagship pub near Boat Quay to sample his concoctions. Our favorite among Allen’s six beers is the Trader’s Brown ale— a mellow beverage with a touch of gula melaka, or palm sugar. 79 Circular Rd.; 65/6327-8408; www.archipelagobrewery.com; pints from S$14.

QARCHIPELAGO, SINGAPORE Founded in 1931 by German brewer Beck’s, the Archipelago Brewery Company was Singapore’s first commercial brewery. But at the advent of World War II, British colonial rulers seized the brewery and then sold it off. For years, Archipelago only produced one stout, until 2006, when an enterprising young Singaporean, Andrea Teo, recruited American brewmaster Fal Allen to help her resurrect the historic label. Not content with churning out the

QTWO MORE FOR THE ROAD, SINGAPORE Unveiled in January, Red Dot BrewHouse (25 Dempsey Rd.; 65/6475-0500) is the latest addition to Singapore’s burgeoning microbrew scene, with six beers, including one that features kaffir lime and another with spirulina. Also of note is The Pump Room at Clarke Quay (01-09–10; 3B River Valley Rd.; 65-6334-2628). Ignore the middling menu and on-the-prowl bankers, and order a pint of the lip-smacking India Pale Ale ( from S$6.50). 

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CO U RT ESY O F A RC H I P E L AG O ( 2 )

Another Round From left: Archipelago Brewery’s pub, near Boat Quay in Singapore; microbrews on tap at Archipelago.


detour | insider

Journey to the Past. Suzhou may boast a highprofile new museum, but this city of canals and walled gardens still feels ages removed from the bustle of nearby frenetic Shanghai. By SHERIDAN PRASSO ✷ STAR ATTRACTION

■ WHAT TO DO

■ WHERE TO EAT

The I.M. Pei–designed Suzhou Museum (204 Dong Bei St.; 86512/6757-5666; www.szmuseum. com), an angular masterpiece of skylights and white polygons, is the city’s newest draw. Completed in October 2006, the 15,000-square-meter museum houses an invaluable collection of 30,000 Chinese artifacts, including 18th-century porcelain vases, silk tapestries and Ming dynasty landscape paintings. Take a break from art viewing in the museum’s teahouse, then stroll through the garden, a contemporary take on the manicured oases for which Suzhou has long been known.

The 16th-century Garden for Lingering In (near Changmen Gate; 86-512/6510-6462; www.suzhou. gov.cn) lives up to its name: a covered walkway meanders through ginkgo groves, bursts of wisteria and traditional pavilions surrounding a pond that has inspired some of China’s most famous poets. Silk production has defined Suzhou since before Marco Polo’s day; Englishlanguage guided tours at Suzhou Kaidi Silk Co. (1965 Renmin Rd.; 86-512/6753-2809) demonstrate how the fabric goes from silkworm cocoon to the thick duvets (US$45) on sale in the factory’s gift shop.

As many as 2,000 people a day pack the eight dining halls of Songhelou Restaurant (18 Taijian Lane, Guanqiang St.; 86-512/65233270; lunch for two US$20) for dishes such as Squirrel Mandarin Fish, a fancifully filleted fried carp in sweet sauce that is a hallmark of the local cuisine, which is known for its refined dishes. For a smaller-scale venue, try Deyuelou Restaurant (27 Taijian Lane, Guanqiang St.; 86512/6522-6969; lunch for two US$20), a 400-year-old institution on the same pedestrian thoroughfare, where the specialty is a rich braised ham with honey glaze. ✚

GETTING THERE Take a 90-minute train ride from Shanghai. Nanjingbound trains depart every hour — more frequently during rush hour.

CHINA

Zen Moments From left: The Suzhou Museum, designed by I. M. Pei and completed in 2006; a window onto the Garden for Lingering In; shrimp dumpling soup at Songhelou Restaurant.

Photographed by ANDREW ROWAT

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insider | see

it

Days at the Museum. Visitors to Bangkok usually stick to its most famous sights. But the Thai capital is also home to some fascinating museums. By SUZANNE NAM gilded wats and glittering Grand Palace, Bangkok also hosts a collection of museums that make for interesting and, in some cases, ghoulish diversions. Here are three small museums that offer a glimpse into the lesserknown facets of Thai culture and history, as well as a welcome respite from temple fatigue.

F

AMED FOR ITS

Silpa Bhirasri Memorial National Museum Few people know that the father of Thai modern art was actually a Florentine sculptor. Corrado Feroci, who changed his name to Silpa Bhirasri when he became a Thai citizen, first came to the kingdom in the 1920’s at the

invitation of King Rama VI, an enthusiast of European art. Bhirasri later founded what would become Silpakorn University, the country’s premier fine arts school, where he personally taught many leading modern artists. Bhirasri’s office and studio space, located on the university’s campus in the city’s historic center, have been transformed into a museum. On display are not only photos and other memorabilia, but also paintings, sketches and sculptures by Bhirasri and some of his notable students. Indeed, this bright, airy museum contains one of the best collections of early modern Thai art. Among the most captivating pieces are Buddhist sculptures

Viewing Pleasure Above: Outside the Bangkok Corrections Museum. Below: Artworks at the Silpa Bhirasri Memorial National Museum. Right: A Buddha image by Bhirasri.

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Photographed by JOSEF POLLEROSS

executed in Cubist style and secular work reminiscent of Rodin, Gauguin and other European artists. Replicas of Bhirasri’s large works of public art, such as the city’s Democracy Monument, Victory Monument and the statue of Rama VI at Lumpini Park, are also on show at the museum. The Fine Arts Department at Silpakorn University; Na Pra Lan Rd.; 66-2/223-6162; Monday to Friday, 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. Erawan Museum When wealthy businessman Prapai Viryapant decided to share his extensive collection of religious Southeast Asian art with the public, he wanted to house it in a building that befitted


Prayer and Pain Left: The three-headed elephant at the Erawan Museum. Below: Inside the Erawan Museum. Below right: A rattan ball once used as punishment, at the Bangkok Corrections Museum.

sacred objects. His solution was to construct the largest elephant statue in the world—in homage to the Hindu elephant god Airavata (known as Erawan in Thailand, where many people practice a form of Buddhism that freely borrows from Hinduism). Unfortunately, Prapai died before the project was completed. But his legacy, a 44-meter-tall, three-headed brass elephant on a round, pink pedestal, is definitely worth a trip to this otherwise unremarkable area on the eastern outskirts of Bangkok. If viewing the massive pachyderm isn’t enough, you can climb into the belly of the beast, where you’ll find ancient Buddha images as well as Buddhist relics. In addition to the vast array of religious artifacts, the museum also features fantastical frescos and stunning stained glass. Littered throughout the museum are ornate sculptures of mythical figures that were commissioned by Prapai. 99/9 Moo 1, Bang Muang Mai, Samut Prakan; 66-2/371-3135; www. erawan-museum.com; daily, 8 A.M. to 5 P.M.

Bangkok Corrections Museum Located on the site of a former maximum security prison stands this intriguing if gruesome museum dedicated to the history of corrections in Thailand. Some of the old prison’s cellblocks still survive and are open to tours, but the museum’s most interesting attraction is upstairs. There, you’ll find life-sized models of the various punishments meted out to prisoners from the 17th century right through to the early 20th century. Alongside the wax models of convicts of yore being subjected to cruel and unusual punishments are photographs of actual executions, the skeletal remains of a prisoner and instruments of torture, including the machetes used to behead the condemned. One display that always attracts attention and disgust from visitors is a huge rattan ball, whose cavity is generously laced with spikes. The ball was used in one of the most brutal practices in old Siam’s penal system: a prisoner would be stuffed inside and then rolled out

onto a field where elephants would be goaded into kicking the ball around. If the museum’s gory displays prove too much, you can seek refuge outside, where the grounds have been transformed into a public park. 436 Mahachai Rd.; 662/226-1704; Monday to Friday, 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. ✚

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insider | room

report THE OVERVIEW As ambitious as its name implies, The Empire Hotel and Country Club rambles over hectares of trimmed lawns and neatly tended tropical gardens. Modified golf buggies zip around the complex, carting guests to and from the resort’s Jack Nicklaus–designed golf course, self-contained luxury villas, restaurants, sports club (with its Romanesque indoor swimming pool), spa, cinema and theater. The hotel’s huge lobby sits under a 50-meter-high, domed atrium, supported by towering faux-Moorish columns splashed generously with gilded trim. A lake-sized, free-form pool sits by the ocean. It has its own white-sand beach and—such are its dimensions—there are kayaks to help you navigate. Room choices extend from standard five-star fare (deluxe and superior) to suites (seven categories in all) and spacious two- and three-bedroom villas. Drowning in extravagance is the aptly named Emperor Suite, with its own 10-meter swimming pool, large Jacuzzi, grand piano, cinema and wet bar—spread over an incredible 666 square meters. Bill Clinton and a string of Gulf State sheiks have forked out the necessary B$14,375 a night to stay here. Jerudong; 673/241-8888; www.theempirehotel.com; doubles from B$265. THE AREA Fortunately, the resort is

self-contained because there is nothing of any note nearby. Solo trips into the city involve booking hotel transport and then finding a taxi for the return trip. Whether that is worth the effort is debatable. You’d probably be better off booking a city tour with hotel pick-up and drop-off.

Grand Designs. The Empire Hotel and Country Club BRUNEI

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MA RCH

is a resort of extreme proportions—from one of the world’s largest hotel suites to a swimming pool the size of a lake. PHIL MACDONALD tries this sprawling hotel on for size 2 0 0 8| T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A . C O M

Photographed by PHILIPP ENGELHORN


THE DESIGN Low-rise and sprawling. The Empire’s lobby, with its towering columned atrium, pays respect to Moorish-Islamic architecture. The effect is stunning, but also a little disjointed, as the atrium is set to one side of the multi-floored lobby. The resort’s high room count and low-rise profile means a lot of walking along corridors to get from your room to other parts of the hotel, like the restaurants or reception. However, a series of glass-curtain walls affording views of the South China Sea provide an agreeable diversion during these walks. THE SERVICE The staff works hard to

provide a top level of service and, in most cases, succeeds. Requests are met promptly, efficiently and cheerfully. Room service is quick and in-room meals are well presented, though the room-service menu could come with a few more offerings, considering the number of restaurants at the resort. One quibble was the time of day the maids came to clean the room. It was hardly ever before 3 P.M. and on one

occasion not until 5 P.M. (and they were back within the hour to turn down the bed).

arate shower, while a deep bathtub sits below a picture window offering impressive sea views.

THE DELUXE ROOM High ceilings, 60 square meters of floor space, fullwall windows and a private terrace overlooking the resort’s gardens and South China Sea give the room a decidedly airy feel. The king-size bed is made comfortable with cool Egyptian cotton sheets and feather-light duvets. Consoles on each side of the bed allow you to control the lighting, TV, curtains and air conditioning. Tasteful wall hangings, neutral tones, elegant furniture and dark-timber trimmings complete the five-star picture. As Brunei—in deference to the Muslim faith—bans the sale of alcoholic drinks, the contents of the mini-bar are limited. In superior rooms, mini-bar contents are complimentary.

AMENITIES A long list of amenities proves the moniker “country club” in the resort’s title is no idle boast. There are seven restaurants; a floodlit 18-hole championship golf course, driving range and clubrooms; a fitness center; tennis courts; indoor squash and badminton courts; a bowling alley; a snooker room; a spa; nine swimming pools; water sports; a cinema; and a dinner theater. All the venues are interconnected by paths wending their way through the resort’s grounds. Hail one of the resort’s golf buggies to get from place to place. ✚

THE BATHROOM The oversized bathroom is clad with marble floors and walls and twinkles with gold-plated fixtures. There are twin sinks and a sep-

The Emperor’s New Suite From far left: Inside the Emperor Suite; the main lobby with 50meter ceilings; the hotel’s beach and pool. Opposite: The bedroom of the Emperor Suite.

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insider | classics

AUSTRALIA

Café Culture Left: Breakfast at Bar Coluzzi, a communal affair in Sydney. Below: A flat white.

Coffee Break. Eat, drink or simply watch the world go by at Sydney’s original Italian café. By PETER JON LINDBERG

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A

USTRALIA IS KNOWN FOR ITS

obsessive coffee culture, but half a century ago it was

Bar Coluzzi (322 Victoria St., Darlinghurst, Sydney; 61-2/9380-5420; breakfast for two

US$15) that first weaned Sydneysiders off Nescafé. Founded by Roman immigrant (and former boxing champion) Luigi Coluzzi, this tiny café has been Darlinghurst’s de facto community center since 1957. With its retro signage and red-white-and-green façade, Coluzzi wouldn’t be out of place in an Italian train station—except here the baristas speak English in Aussie accents as twangy as didgeridoos. Ask for a flat white (like a latte with less milk). Coluzzi’s is outstanding, with espresso as powerful as Luigi’s uppercut. For breakfast: open-faced sandwiches of warm Turkish bread topped with velvety avocado, Parma ham and juicy tomatoes. Join the regulars on the sidewalk, planted on low stools. As the morning progresses you can trace the shifting demographics of Darlinghurst, one of Sydney’s most vibrant enclaves. First come the neighborhood elders, gossiping in Greek or Italian. After 7 A.M. come the brokers and suits, then the gay old-timers and ageing movie stars. Late morning brings the fashion and media crowd, trailed by the young, funky and underemployed, still bleary-eyed at noon. Sydney has dozens of first-rate cafés, but for Coluzzistas, no place else will do. ✚

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Photographed by SCOTT RILEY


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StylishTraveler A selection of silk wraps by Lao Textiles. Ban Mixay, Vientiane, Laos; 856-21/212-123; www.laotextiles.com; from US$55.

The Silk Road These intricate Laotian wraps evoke the beauty of Asia.

LAOS

Photographed by GREG BROOM. Styled by GENEVIEVE YRAOLA

A

FTER DECADES OF NEAR ISOLATION, tiny Laos is

emerging like a silkworm from its rigid communist cocoon, thanks in part to the country’s complex craft traditions, such as sophisticated weaving and dying techniques. To visit one of the finest fabric workshops, head to Vientiane, the capital, where American designer Carol

Cassidy directs Lao Textiles, a silk studio of 50 enterprising locals, mostly women, who create shimmering wraps, ikat scarves and brocade wall hangings. Cassidy’s talent—pairing centuries-old indigenous patterns with modern colors—is a fresh interpretation of textile art.—SHANE MITCHELL T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A

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IN THE

SWIM Make a splash with these daring swimsuits by four of the Philippinesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; most exciting designers. Photographed by DARREN TIESTE Styled by RORIE O. CARLOS

000


Bikini with shell detail, Cocotini; two-tone resin necklace, Furla; platform shoes, BCBGirls; spiral arm cuff, Arnel Papa. Opposite: Silver swimsuit, RisquĂŠ; hoodie, A/X Armani; sandals, Sapato; cuff, Arnel Papa.

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Two-tone maillot, Minx Swim; gladiator sandals, LewrĂŠ; suede wristlets, CMG; horn bracelets, Arnel Papa; chain belt and sunglasses, Escada. Opposite: Maillot with metallic detail, Waicoco; cuff, Arnel Papa; necklace, belt, bangle and ring, Kenneth Cole.

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fashion | stylish traveller


stylish traveller

000 M

| fashion

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Black and white cutout swimsuit, Risqué; two-tone resin necklace, Furla; rope wedge sandals, Unisa; horn bracelet, Arnel Papa. Opposite: Bikini with tulle detail, Waicoco; chain belt, Escada; necklace, bangles and ring, Kenneth Cole. Hair and makeup: Glenn Nutley/www. clkdproductions.com; Model: Janelle/ www.clkdproductions.com. Shot on location at Amanpulo, the Philippines.

STOCKISTS Arnez www.powerplantmall.com; Arnel Papa 63-2/729-1059; BCBGirls www.bcbgirls.com; Minx Swim www.minxswim.com; Cocotini www.cocotini.com; A/X Armani www.armaniexchange.com; CMG Glorietta 4, www.ayalamalls.com.ph; Escada www.escada.com; Furla www.furla.com; Kenneth Cole www.kennethcole.com; Waicoco Rustans Department Store, 63-2/813-3739; Lewré www.lewre.com; Risqué www.risquedarewear.com; Sapato www.sapatomanilla.com; Kate Spade www.katespade.com; Unisa www.shopunisa.com.

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stylish traveler

| icon

Smythson of Bond Street’s embossed calf-leather Slim Travel Wallet, US$440.

I

Passport Control

Keep your papers in order with this smart travel wallet. Photographed by NIGEL COX

Styled by MIMI LOMBARDO 66

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N AN ERA WHEN THE ROMANCE OF A

foreign land is met with the mundane realities of soulless airports, long queues and stern-faced immigration officials, the travel wallet harks back to a more glamorous age. There’s something delightfully refined about stowing one’s papers inside a sleek case designed for seamless passage. To wit: Smythson of Bond Street’s Slim Travel Wallet, part of a collection of travel accessories from the 120-year-old British stationer. In the case of Smythson, form always chicly follows function. The late Sir Edmund Hillary toted his Smythson to the top of Mount Everest in 1953. For more everyday jaunts, the wallet’s durable leather (in several bright hues), pockets labeled TICKETS and DOCUMENTS, and easy slide-close clasp will help you keep your papers in order—even if you’re rushing to catch a flight.— CHRISTINE AJUDUA


stylish traveler

VIETNAM

| shopping

SAIGON CHIC

With its mix of high-end designer finds and local handicrafts, this city is a shopper’s paradise. Story and photographs by BETSY LOWTHER CLOTHES AND ACCESSORIES Q IPA-NIMA Local haute handbag queen Christina Yu has earned a worldwide following for her whimsical, colorful totes and purses (they’ve even been scooped up by stylish celebrities like Cate Blanchett). This boutique offers her most up-to-date designs in a glittery, hot pink–hued setting. T+L TIP The top floor also stocks an exclusive range of gorgeous, modern clothing from mirrormirror, a line by Hanoibased designer Ha Truong. 85 Pasteur St.; 84-8/824-2701; www.ipa-nima.com.

Nguyen Freres shop. Top: Colorful offerings at Ipa-Nima, a boutique in Ho Chi Minh City.

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Q MINH KHOA

Women from all over Asia flock to this charming shop for

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exquisite cocktail and formal dresses by designer Minh Khoa. The flattering, ultra-feminine designs come in a rainbow of colors and are stocked alongside a range of stylish shoes that go up to size 42. T+L TIP Minh will also work with clients to custom-make pieces for any special occasion. 39 Dong Khoi St.; 84-8/823-2302. QPURI CHORI

This charming little boutique offers a fresh take on trendy clothing and accessories thanks to its locally based Japanese designer. The wide mix of bold patterns, precise detailing and well-tailored shapes has a chic yet breezy style that mixes Tokyo’s


quirky-cool feel with Vietnam’s laidback vibe. T+L TIP The funky selection of hats just might be your most stylish option for protection against the strong Southeast Asian sun. 73 Pasteur St.; 848/824-8274. INTERIORS QAUTHENTIQUE Table after table of colorful ceramics, local textiles and plenty of other fun finds—all at unbelievably inexpensive prices— practically guarantees you won’t exit this airy emporium empty-handed. Located in the heart of busy Dong Khoi Street, the city’s main hub of tourist shops, this is one boutique that shouldn’t be skipped. T+L TIP The low prices and wide selection make this store an easy one-stop shop for gifts. 6 Dong Khoi St.; 84-8/823-8811. QGAYA

This sleek, upscale designer showroom offers a distinctive mix of unique merchandise, all created by international designers living in the region. The selection includes inventive home pieces done in traditional Vietnamese lacquerware from Michele de Albert and modern rattan furniture from Lawson Johnston. T+L TIP A second-floor clothing boutique features a gorgeous range of colorful designs from Paris-trained Cambodian designer Romyda Keth. 39 Ton That Thiep St.; 84-8/914 3769; www. gayavietnam.com.

QLIFE IMPRESSION In a city brimming with lacquerware, this small boutique stands out for its wide range of colors and high quality. The candy-colored housewares—from soup spoons to serving bowl sets—are a great alternative to the more traditional hues you’ll find elsewhere. T+L TIP If you like what you see, don’t miss the sister shop, Le Monde (91 Le Thanh Ton St.), which stocks a slightly different range. 47 Ton That Thiep St.; 84-8/821-4521; www. lemondedecor.com.

SOUVENIRS QBEN THANH MARKET It’s a rite of passage for visitors to Ho Chi Minh City to stop by this bustling, cavernous market, where everything from toothpaste to handbags is up for sale. The best spot for souvenirs is on the market’s western side (look for stall numbers in the 800’s), a great place to pick up colorful bamboo bowls, woven baskets and other local knickknacks. T+L TIP Bargain hard before you buy—most shopkeepers will first cite outrageously high prices before quickly dropping the cost. Le Loi St. QNGUYEN FRERES

Located near the end of Dong Khoi Street, this large, slightly dusty shop has a lovely selection of handcrafted décor items, ethnic clothing, antique furniture and other traditional finds. T+L TIP Though its appearance may be less polished than other stores in the area, there are plenty of great finds to uncover here if you take the time. 2 Dong Khoi St.; 848/823-9459. QSAIGON KITSCH

This ultra-bright boutique has taken traditional Vietnamese propaganda and transformed it into pop art. Look for neon-hued interpretations of everything from the Vietnam flag to Communist banners on notebooks, notepads, mouse pads, coffee mugs and more. T+L TIP Upstairs, the somewhat more subdued Dogma offers authentic propaganda posters for sale. 43 Ton That Thiep; 84-8/821-8019; www. saigonkitsch.com. ✚

Vietnam’s New Style From top: Funky Japanese design meets tropical chic at Puri Chori, a shop in Ho Chi Minh City; vibrantly hued pencil cases on sale at Authentique; Communist propaganda images emblazoned on notepads in Saigon Kitsch.

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stylish traveler

| what’s in your bag? A bedroom at The Eugenia. Left: Koi Suwannagate. Below: Koi’s personalized Goyard bag.

FRANCE

Koi Suwannagate

FAVORITE ADDRESSES IN BANGKOK THE EUGENIA A tiny hotel housed in a faux colonial manse that’s stuffed with antiques. “You go there and it’s like you’re somewhere else, a different world.” 267 Soi 31, Sukhumvit Rd.; 66-2/259-9017. MAHA NAGA Fancy fusion food in a garden setting. 2 Soi 29, Sukhumvit Rd.; 66-2/662-3060. LE CAFÉ SIAM Classic Bangkok restaurant, with art exhibitions. 4 Soi Sri Aksorn; 662/671-0030.

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ITH HER STAR ON THE RISE, Koi Suwannagate finds herself mostly traveling for work these days, with jaunts to the world’s fashion capitals of New York and Paris. But the Los Angeles–based designer has her sights set on destinations as far afield as Russia and Spain, as well as those closer to her hometown of Bangkok. “I’d love to go to Laos and Vietnam. I’m inspired by textures and costumes and nature in my work, so I think it’s important to go to these places,” says the 38-year-old, whose delicate creations are worn by Nicole Kidman and Natalie Portman. When it comes to packing, Koi sticks to some of her ultra-feminine designs. Here are some of her other travel essentials. • Koi usually carries her monogrammed handbag from Goyard, the exclusive Parisian leather goods–maker famed for its distinctive chevron prints. “I bought this about three years ago from Paris. It’s the first time I put my name onto anything.” • Makeup is kept to a minimum, but Koi makes sure to pack her Makeup Matte M5 Strong Red Lipstick by Shiseido. “I always have this,” she says. “It’s all I wear in terms of makeup.” • In the evening, Koi likes to dress up one of her designs with one or two necklaces by Turkish jeweler Gurhan Orhan. “I love his designs,” Koi says. “They’re delicate and they have almost an Asian influence.” • During the day, Koi’s feet are always shod in Louis Vuitton sandals or flats. “I walk a lot wherever I go. So I need to be comfortable,” she says. • When it comes to capturing holiday moments, Koi counts on her compact, titanium-encased Contax T3 fi lm camera. “I don’t like digital cameras,” she says.— J E N N I F E R C H E N

W

Red lipstick by Shiseido. Above: Maha Naga, a fusion restaurant in Bangkok. Below: Koi at a Paris café.

C L O C K W I S E F R O M B O T T O M L E F T: C O U R T E SY O F L O U I S V U I T T O N ; C O U R T E SY O F G U R H A N O R H A N ; C O U R T E SY O F KO I S U WA N N A G AT E ( 3 ) ; C O U R T E SY O F T H E E U G E N I A ; C O U R T E SY O F M A H A N A G A ; C O U R T E SY O F S H I S E I D O ; C O U R T E SY O F KO I S U WA N N A G AT E

A Gurhan Orhan necklace. Left: A dress from Koi’s latest collection. Below: Louis Vuitton sandals.

Profession: Fashion designer Destination: Paris Packing Approach: Easy elegance


INDULGE YOURSELF

MARCH 2008

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stylish traveler

| the expert

BIKINI BASICS

Buying a two-piece can be the perfect way to start a beach holiday—or spoil it. Here are some tips from a pro on finding the best look. By GENEVIEVE TSAI. Illustrated by WASINEE CHANTAKORN

P

ERSONAL EPIPHANIES

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Top, US$63; bottom, US$53

CURVY “Support is key for the top. Try to stick to medium coverage that doesn’t make the cleavage look ‘messy.’ On the bottom I would recommend skimpier to medium coverage because too much material emphasizes the hips and the bottom. You keep the body looking proportional and balanced by sticking to one print or one color.”

CO U RT ESY O F SA B I N A SW I M S

often appear in unusual places. For Hong Kong–based swimwear designer Sabina Wong, the setting of her life-changing revelation took the form of a tiny shop stuffed with bikinis in Hawaii. The shop’s owner had insisted that she try on some two-pieces, but Wong was skeptical. “Usually if the bottom fits, the top is enormous,” says the plainspoken, U.S.-born Wong. Bracing herself for disappointment, she discovered the bikinis actually flattered her petite frame. “You know when you try on a swimsuit that looks good you can feel like a million bucks,” says Wong. “For those of us with perfect bodies, sure, it’s not an issue. But if you don’t have an ideal body, shopping for a swimsuit can be so depressing, so demoralizing.” Wong walked out with three bikinis—and the idea for Sabina Swims, her line of sexy swimwear. Inspired by her Hawaiian experience, she decided to sell her tops and bottoms as separates so customers could hit upon the most flattering combination, and in 2004, she opened a store in Hong Kong (1st floor, 99F Wellington St.; 852/2115-9975; www.sabinaswims.com). Since then, the boutique has become a haven for women looking for that perfect suit, as well as frank appraisals about what does—and doesn’t—work. “I’ve had a client tell me, ‘It’s taken me 15 to 20 years to find the right bathing suit.’ She bought six or seven suits in one go,” says Wong. So we asked Wong to be our personal bikini guru. Here are her tips, featuring some popular Sabina Swims designs.


PETITE “For a petite frame, we’d recommend tops that don’t have too much fabric coverage as that will overwhelm you. Likewise on the bottoms, definitely go for a low-riding cut. In terms of solid or print, a balanced top and bottom in like prints and colors is great to keep the proportions even throughout the suit visually.”

Top, US$58; bottom, US$50

Top, US$60; bottom, US$50

PEAR-SHAPED “Avoid skimpy string bikini tops. With the bottoms, look for medium coverage but always low-riding. Solid, dark colors for the bottom are better, too. Stay away from loud big prints, string ties and big bows on the side as these would emphasize the hips. Meanwhile, use bold prints and patterns to enhance and draw attention to the top.” T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A

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~ T R E N D S ,

C U L T U R E ,

F O O D

A

N D

M O R E ~

T+L Journal THAILAND

A Karen villager in traditional garb. Right: Twists and turns along Highway 1095 to Pai.

Twist in the Tale Along a winding road bowered by forests with mountain vistas at every turn, tribal villages and remnants of the old north cling to the region like its fabled morning mists. ANTHONY MECIR goes driving in northern Thailand. Photographed by

CEDRIC ARNOLD

CHECKING IN 80 DISPATCH 84 SPECIAL REPORT 89 OBSESSIONS 92

Map by WASINEE CHANTAKORN

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t+l journal

| driving

DAY 1 CHIANG MAI TO PAI, 128 KILOMETERS The stretch of road from Chiang Mai to the start of the convoluted Highway 1095 is the last chance for some armlimbering exercises—you’ll need them. Up ahead is Thailand’s most curvaceous road. There are exactly 762 twists and turns before you reach Pai, by which time you should be primed to tackle 1,102 more bends, twists and switchbacks to Mae Hong Son. But it is a trip well worth the threat of aching arms and the occasional heart-stopping incident, like an onrushing trucker on a hairpin curve failing to grasp the meaning of a median strip. Over the years, I’ve traveled segments of the Mae Hong Son Loop (as this route is generally known) both for pleasure and on assignment as a journalist. Recently, after my wife and I built a home in Chiang Mai, the country’s vibrant northern hub of culture, commerce and tourism, we decided it was time to experience the full 591-kilometer circuit, which now begins at our doorstep. Since we planned a no-rush journey, the first break—a short detour to Pong Duet Hot Springs—comes before we really need one. At the end of a marked kilometer-long trail

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winding through the forest, Thai families, modestly clad in sarongs, soak in natural rocky pools fed by warm mineral waters, which cascade into a pair of surprisingly elegant man-made ponds ringed by towering trees and tranquility. It’s a haven in the woods, with accommodation available, we note for future getaways. Late in the afternoon we pass through Mae Sae, a popular rest stop with pleasant eateries. Soon the road winds up to the vital watershed between the Pai and Mae Tang rivers. The jungle vegetation of lower altitudes yields to whispering pines. Then, it’s a long glide down into the valley and Pai: Backpacker Heaven. Describing Pai as laid-back is an understatement. “Do nothing in Pai’’ is its motto, emblazoned on posters and T-shirts around town. To shake off driving stiffness, I jog across a rickety bamboo bridge over the Pai River and into the adjacent fields. Bungalows hug the shore and gobble up farmland beyond the riverbanks. Taking in lodgers at US$6 a night is apparently more profitable than planting rice. I note Pai’s social divide: the left bank is the down-market, bohemian side of town, while upscale resorts line the right bank.


On the Road From left: Wrapped against the chill; the Pai River; Mae Hong Son’s evening market. Opposite, from left: The road between Pai and Mae Hong Son; grilled fish at Mae Hong Son’s market; Fern Resort.

Surveying the left bank scene from a hillside, I notice the clusters of thatched-roofed huts perched on bamboo stilts that bear a striking resemblance to a tribal village, albeit one inhabited not by the native Karen or Shan, but a global and migratory backpacker clan. I try to view today’s Pai—and other places along the Loop—through the eyes of young first-timers. By day, it’s a languid valley with a sense of remoteness (although lotus eaters in a hurry can hop aboard a 15-minute flight from Chiang Mai); by night, it’s the sensual mingling of hundreds of bodies in the town’s cafés and in those primitive huts. Before dinner, we stroll down the super-friendly main street. “You have to give it to the locals for enterprise,’’ my wife remarks. Along this short stretch we discover 10 Internet cafés, yoga and cooking classes, an array of hill-tribe artifact vendors and a variety of eateries (samosa, falafel, bagels and cream cheese). At Sam’s bookstore we pick up a copy of the town’s English-language newspaper, the Pai Post. It’s published by Joe Cummings, variously hailed and berated for highlighting Pai on the tourist map as a one-time author of Lonely Planet’s Thailand guidebook.

DAY 2 PAI TO MAE HONG SON, 109 KILOMETERS The next morning, as chilly mists swirl around the river, we head to the must-stop All About Coffee café. We’ve been coming here since it was opened by Prapakorn and Watcharee Wanichayanont in 1999, after the couple fled the frenetic advertising scene in Bangkok. Their rustic, artsy coffee shop, housed in one of Pai’s few surviving wooden buildings, serves a delectable breakfast, which we top off with oven-fresh blueberry cheesecake. “It’s too developed now,” sighs Watcharee, talking of her adopted hometown. “Too much concrete, too many guesthouses, but I wouldn’t want to go back to Bangkok.” En route to Mae Hong Son, we pull off the road at kilometer 158 to savor probably the most spectacular view along the Loop, a 180-degree sweep of hills and mountains undulating like waves into a misty distance that is Burma. The viewpoint, complete with a café, is set at 869 meters (and for those still counting, on the Loop’s 1,548th curve). A brief detour takes us to Mae La, a Shan hill-tribe village tucked away in a Shangri-la–like valley. We also make a nostalgic stop at Rung Arun, a way station along the »


Northern Views From left: The owners of All About Coffee in Pai; views of Mae Hong Son; a Karen woman weaving. Opposite, from left: Wat Jong Klang in Mae Hong Son; Shan noodles; a farmer tends a rice field.

smuggling route of the late and legendary opium warlord, Khun Sa, when he ruled the Golden Triangle. My backside still aches at the memory of the 11 hours on a mule that reluctantly hauled me to the trafficker’s hideout inside Burma. That was nearly two decades ago, when the whiff of adventure, danger and intrigue still permeated the north. And time has stood still—I was pleased to see—in Rung Arun. Its feathery bamboo groves, village pond, houses adorned with scarlet scrolls and surrounding limestone cliffs are right out of a Chinese painting. Mae Hong Son, too, has changed little and remains lovely. It is hard to believe the town was once dreaded as a place of banishment for incompetent and wayward government officials— Thailand’s Siberia. We are lucky that a last-minute cancellation allows us to slip into Fern Resort, three green hectares adjoining a national park, with a brook murmuring by our bungalow. The place is a labor of love for Tawatchai Natipakorn, a kindly, mustachioed lawyer who came to Mae Hong Son 25 years ago to practice law, but discovered, “There were not enough people fighting each other.’’ Enchanted by the town, he stayed on to start the resort, personally landscaping its grounds and hiring mostly neighboring Karen as his naturally hospitable employees. On the last of our three nights at Fern Resort, we head to Jong Kham Lake, which graces the heart of Mae Hong Son, and discover a fairyland reflecting bygone days in the north—strings of lamps and golden spires of the lakeside Shan monastery shimmering on the water. The road encircling the lake, most of it barred to traffic, is flush with open-air food stalls (the whole grilled fish is irresistible), which cater to locals dining on the grass along 78

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the lake’s shore. Another temple, crowning the hill that overlooks Mae Hong Son, seems to float in the heavens, its lights aglow while the forests beneath slumber in darkness. DAY 3 MAE HONG SON TO MAE SARIANG, 164 KILOMETERS Before setting off, we fortify ourselves at the morning market with a Shan staple, sticky wheat noodles in a rich curry gravy topped with tofu, and a side dish of fried papaya served up by cheerful Shan, as the market erupts with business and banter. This atmospheric breakfast is among our culinary highs in Mae Hong Son. The others being northern Thailand’s signature dish, khao soy (noodles suffused with a rich coconut curry), at Auntie Noon’s, and the freshly baked whole wheat bread, arguably the best on the Loop, at another local institution, the Sunflower Café. The road out of Mae Hong Son—paralleling the Burmese border—passes through largely intact forests and snug valleys checkered with rice fields, to Khun Yuam. The town’s most famous features are the hillsides of Mexican sunflowers to which thousands of Thais flock each winter, much the same way the Japanese revel in cherry-blossom season. There’s also a World War II museum fronted by a somber granite memorial inscribed: “To fellow warriors, wish your souls be blissfully in heaven.” These “warriors” were the bloodied and beaten Japanese retreating from Burma, who died in Khun Yuam by the hundreds, and whose remains lie in fields around the museum. Mae Sariang is, in some ways, our favorite Loop town, being the least touristy. Over breakfast we are lulled by the clacking of wooden cowbells, the ultimate pastoral sound in Southeast Asia, as a water buffalo sinks luxuriously into the


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Yuam River shallows. Before sunset, I join others in a jog along the runway at the airport that, at least for now, serves mainly as the town’s fitness center and a grazing ground for cows, its wooden control tower shut tight. At night, from the quiet verandah of our teakwood guesthouse, all we can see are a dozen flickering lights in the valley and mountains across the river. DAY 4 MAE SARIANG TO CHIANG MAI, 190 KILOMETERS The home stretch is hardly an anticlimax. The road drops dramatically from the highlands to meander along the Mae

Chaem River. A short distance off the main road looms the 2,565-meter “Roof of Thailand,” Doi Inthanon, the country’s highest peak and a cloudland of Alpine vegetation, with temperatures at this time of year that would make the Swiss feel at home. As our drive nears a safe ending, we think it fitting to pause at the 15th-century Buddhist monastery in Chom Thong, one of the most beautiful and revered in the north. Recent renovations have taken away some of its age-old patina, like the inroads of progress have taken their toll on the Loop. But despite this, both the monastery and the Loop still remain wonderful places. 

GUIDE TO THE LOOP WHEN TO GO The best time in northern Thailand is the cool season, from November through March. HOW TO GET THERE Thai Airways, AirAsia and Nok Air have numerous daily flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the regional center of northern Thailand. International carriers Singapore Airlines and Singapore-based Silk Air have flights from Singapore’s Changi Airport, and Lao Aviation flies from Luang Prabang in Laos. CAR HIRE Major international and local car hire companies are located in Chiang Mai. Check insurance liability before hiring. WHERE TO STAY Accommodation in Chiang Mai,

Pai and Mae Hong Son varies from budget to luxury resorts. Accommodation in Mae Sariang is limited. It is best to book ahead in the cool season. PAI Pai River Corner 94 Moo 3, Wiangtai; 66-53/699-049; www. pairivercorner.com; doubles from Bt3,000. MAI HONG SON Fern Resort 66-53/686-110;

www.fernresort.info; doubles from Bt2,000. MAE SARIANG River House Hotel 77 Langpanich Rd.; 66-53/621-201; doubles from Bt1,000. CHIANG MAI Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai The north’s most luxurious accommodation. Mae Rim; 6653/298-181; www.fourseasons. com/chiangmai/com; doubles from US$540.

Highway 1095 to Pai. WHERE TO EAT PAI All About Coffee Chaisongkhram Rd.; 66-53/699-429; breakfast for two Bt350. MAE HONG SON Bai Fern Restaurant 87 Khunlum Praphat Rd.; 66-53/611374; dinner for two Bt800.

A canine passenger, in Mae Hong Son. Sunflower Café Udom Chaonithet Rd.; 66-53/620-549; lunch for two Bt400. MAE SARIANG Baan Raw Restaurant 107 Langpanich Rd.; 66-53/681-743; dinner for two Bt600.

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HE WOMAN ESCORTING MY HUSBAND, Michael, and me to our room at the Mandarin Oriental is visibly less than thrilled: when she opens the door, her eyes widen slightly, almost imperceptibly, but her displeasure is obvious. An electrical panel is ajar; a workman’s bag is splayed out on the floor. Back in the lobby, we are presented with business cards, 60-degree bows and countless apologies. As the door clicks shut on our new room, a 93-square-meter executive suite, I find myself looking out on Tokyo from the 31st floor of a stunningly silent high-rise. From 150 meters up, the city looks like one big Lego project; tiny toy cars whiz along video-game streets. The huge marble bathroom has outsize windows and there’s a separate door just for the morning newspaper delivery—the excess is almost embarrassing. Three hours off the plane and this is my welcome to Tokyo’s

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new crop of luxury hotels. It is immediately clear that I’m in for a paradigm shift. If an essential part of a hotel’s job is to make order out of a city and translate it into manageable experiences, Tokyo’s hoteliers face quite a challenge. Imagine New York multiplied by 10 and minus conventional addresses. The buildings, confoundingly, are not ordered geographically (most streets have no names and numbers follow a complex zoning code). That means you need maps to find anything and everything. We sampled four of the city’s newest properties—as well as Park Hyatt, Tokyo’s gold standard, made famous by 2003’s Lost in Translation—with an eye to discovering which would make one of the world’s most confusing cities as easy as possible for a first-time visitor. Beyond help in navigating, I had other requirements, too: as much as I wanted access to authentic Tokyo in all of its

Tokyo’s Finest Hotels Five properties, five nights, five ways to stay in the Japanese capital. NINA WILLDORF helps you find the hotel that’s right for you. PLUS: The city’s best accommodations at a glance. Photographed by TETSUYA MIURA JAPAN

Tokyo on Top Above: Tea awaits in a Mandarin Oriental suite. Right: A spa treatment room at the Mandarin Oriental, overlooking the city from the 38th floor.

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hustle and bustle, I knew I’d also crave quiet. Getting good value was also a concern, especially in a city where luxury hotels start at a healthy US$450 per night. FOR THE AFTERNOON OF OUR ARRIVAL,

I’ve booked a Kiatsu treatment at the Mandarin Oriental’s spa. The moment the elevator door opens, I’m immersed in Japanese ritual, offered a set of slippers and a palm-sized cup of tea. Before my massage—a blend of stretching and pressure-point therapy given on a futon—I soak in a mosaic-tiled vitality pool, a big warm bath with tingly jets. The fact that I can see the manic megalopolis sprawling for kilometers while no one can see me is oddly thrilling. The Mandarin Oriental is located in a Cesar Pelli– designed tower in Nihonbashi, a business district in the northeastern part of the city: mostly high-rises, coffee chains and men in dark suits whizzing between the two. Other than a handy subway line in the basement, the best thing about the Mandarin Oriental’s location is its proximity to Tsukiji, the city’s vast fish market. Masumi Tajima, the chief concierge, helps us coordinate a predawn excursion, from writing out the address in Japanese for the cab driver to planning the timing of our morning coffee delivery. She also dispenses a most useful tip: wear closed shoes, for protection

From 150 meters up, Tokyo looks like one big Lego project—TINY TOY CARS on video-game streets

from the fish juices (bless her). In making the messy, the smelly and the awkwardly early somehow stress-free, the Mandarin Oriental succeeds. Things are noticeably less seamless at the Conrad Tokyo. To enter the hotel, in the Shiodome neighborhood—a business hub near Tokyo Bay—our taxi leaves us under a dark overhang. After dropping off our bags in our room, a mod-masculine square with a bathroom enclosed by a glass wall, I call down to the concierge to get a map and directions, via the subway, to a ramen shop called Mist, in the Omotesando Hills shopping center. “When will you need this?” she asks. “How about five minutes?” I suggest. “Oh … I guess I better hurry then,” she says. In the lobby, Western guests are tinkering away at laptops. There’s nobody at the concierge desk and my request has yielded merely a mall brochure. No directions. No map. A well-meaning, slightly flustered woman directs us to a subway route that inefficiently loops around the city. The Conrad may seem geared toward business travelers, but it’s certainly gunning for the gourmets as well. In the elevator, a flat-screen TV flashes a shot of British bad-boy celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, chin cupped in hand. Ramsay has two French restaurants at the Conrad: Gordon Ramsay and Cerise, a more casual brasserie. Dishes such »

High-rise Showdown From left: The Mandarin Oriental’s 37th-floor bar; The Peninsula Tokyo, across from the Imperial Palace Gardens; Hinokizaka, the Ritz-Carlton’s Japanese restaurant.

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as sweetbreads with artichoke velouté sound off in Tokyo, so we compromise with a mellow meal at Cerise. Rustic grilled prawns arrive in a cast-iron pot, a delicious surprise, but the atmosphere isn’t quite as appetizing; next to us, businessmen are discussing amortization using flowcharts as visual aids. While I’m checking in at the Grand Hyatt, Lindsay Lohan sashays through the lobby, entourage in tow. Apparently, celebrity sightings aren’t such an anomaly. “We had Brad Pitt four times, Norah Jones twice, Prince Albert,” Grand Hyatt general manager Xavier Destribats says when I speak with him upon my return to New York. The Grand Hyatt is right in the thick of things, in Roppongi Hills, an urban development with more than 200 shops and restaurants, and the contemporary Mori Art Museum. All this neighboring bustle seeps into the lobby, where bellmen in headsets serve as traffic conductors to a steady stream of stylish guests. It’s easy to see the appeal. We immediately feel on familiar

ground. The concierge, Kay Abe, speaks perfect English and helps us plan an excursion to Shibuya, with shopping maps and a good transport tip: take the bus—which turns out to be direct and about five times cheaper than a taxi. But being so comfortable has a flip side. The aesthetic of our room doesn’t reference Japan in any way I’m able to recognize. (A design exception: the mirrored, mazelike gym and spa, the work of Japanese architect Takashi Sugimoto, a.k.a. SuperPotato.) And the Oak Door steak house could be a buzzy new restaurant in Culver City, California. The Japanese, voracious consumers of luxury brands, eagerly awaited the March 2007 opening of the RitzCarlton, Tokyo (the group’s Osaka property is one of the most popular hotels in Japan). The new Ritz-Carlton occupies the bottom three and the top nine floors of the city’s tallest tower, part of Tokyo Midtown, a bright and beautiful new US$3 billion complex. Within walking

Six Tokyo Hotels at a Glance

Hotel

Overview

Highlights

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Gold Standard

For Scenesters

Traditional

For Aesthetes

Business Casual

New Guard

PARK HYATT

GRAND HYATT

RITZ-CARLTON

MANDARIN ORIENTAL

CONRAD

THE PENINSULA

3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku; 81-3/ 5322-1234; tokyo. park.hyatt.com; doubles from US$564

6-10-3 Roppongi, Minato-ku; 81-3/4333-1234; tokyo.grand.hyatt. com; doubles from US$530

9-7-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku; 813/3423-8000; www.ritzcarlton. com; doubles from US$450

2-1-1 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku; 813/3270-8800; mandarinoriental. com; doubles from US$450

1-9-1 Higashishinbashi, Minato-ku; 813/6388-8000; conradhotels. com; doubles from US$537

1-8-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku; 81-3/6270-2888; www.peninsula. com; doubles from US$565

177 refined rooms on the top 14 floors of a 52story tower in Shinjuku — a hub for nightlife and shopping in the northwest part of the city

A 21-story, 389room stand-alone building, part of the 11.3-hectare Roppongi Hills development

248 rooms occupying the bottom three and top nine floors of the city’s tallest tower, part of the new Tokyo Midtown complex in Roppongi

179 serene rooms atop the Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower (floors 30– 36) in a business district north of the Ginza

290 rooms in a tower in Shiodome, a business district; choose between City (looking out on Tokyo) or Garden (views of Tokyo Bay)

A 314-room stand-alone building close to the Ginza, with four key subway lines in the basement

Rooms are stocked with CD’s and books, and your room key comes on a sterling silver key ring

The location, right in the heart of the city, can’t be beat, with terrific shops, restaurants and nightlife steps away

Luxurious amenities in the bathroom (Voss water, Bulgari products, the world’s best loofah) and one of the city’s savviest concierges

Natureinspired fabrics — bedspreads patterned with fallen leaves, handmade Echizen paper lamps that evoke moonlight

Food is a focus: Gordon Ramsay has two modern French restaurants here, and there are also upscale Chinese and Japanese options

Japaneseinspired design and tech-savvy touches — iPods programmed with tours, in-room cellconvertible phones and automatic nail-dryers

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F R O M L E F T : C O U R T E S Y O F P A R K H YAT T T O K Y O ; T E T S U YA M I U R A ( 3 ) ; C O U R T E S Y O F C O N R A D T O K Y O ; T E T S U YA M I U R A

Sure, certain amenities are a given: ceramic tea sets (check!); blackout shades (check!); perplexingly complex, high-tech toilets (check!). Here, T+L details how each property stacks up


distance from Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Midtown has effectively upstaged its neighbor. The 365,000-square-meter development includes the 21–21 Design Sight museum, created by Tadao Ando and organized by Issey Miyake; extensive gardens; and an impressively curated mix of highend boutiques, restaurants and specialty stores, many with exclusive collections. It’s only fitting that everything about the Ritz-Carlton is hyperbolic—it has the city’s biggest rooms (52 square meters) and most expensive guest room (the US$18,877-a-night Ritz-Carlton Suite). THE RITZ-CARLTON ALSO HAS TOKYO’S BUSIEST LOBBY. At the time of our visit, it has only recently been made accessible to non-guests. Coming back from a walk one afternoon, we try to have a drink at the lobby bar, which has ornate fountains and 5-meter-tall paintings by Sam Francis. Glam Japanese ladies in head-to-toe labels are taking tea beneath Murano chandeliers. Every table is occupied, and we are directed to leave our names on a list. Instead, we decamp to our room, a plush confection in the clouds, which delivers exactly what I’m looking for. In a soaking tub, I watch CNN and drink green tea from a ceramic tea set. At hotels of this caliber, there’s no shortage of superlatives when it comes to concierges, but the lovely Mayako Sumiyoshi (“You can call me Maya”) rises above the best. She’s a connoisseur of the helpful tip. When I ask for the closest ATM, she gets genuinely excited about how to make this the easiest, fastest ATM visit ever. Consulted on trains, she delivers a tour de force: we’ve planned an ambitious three-leg journey to a ryokan in the mountain town of Gero. Not only does Maya help us refine our schedule—suggesting a more affordable bullet train that will still make our connection—she writes the whole itinerary out for us in Japanese, in case we need help en route. Throughout our trip, we’ve heard murmurings about the city’s latest hotel entry, The Peninsula Tokyo, which opened last September on the southeast corner of the Imperial Palace Gardens. From the location (near the Ginza and burgeoning Marunouchi), to thoughtful tech touches (room phones that convert to cell phones), The Peninsula may hit the sweet spot on service, authentically designed rooms, and more. For a culture that prizes the new, The Peninsula is not only new but also notable. Our final stay is at Park Hyatt Tokyo, which opened in 1994, and it’s clear why this hotel sets the bar for excellence. Everything, from the check-in process (a sit-down affair at a desk that has the feel of a friendly counseling session) to our room (vast, soothingly civilized) to the location (in Shinjuku, a mini city with great shopping), satisfies me completely. “There will never be another Park Hyatt,” says The Peninsula’s general manager Malcolm Thompson. ✚

How Suite It Is From above: A Grand Executive Suite at the Grand Hyatt with views of Roppongi; one of the The Peninsula’s Japanese-inspired bathtubs; a twin guest room at the Mandarin Oriental.

Nina Willdorf is a senior editor at Travel + Leisure. T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A

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Travelers’ Dilemma It’s a country of golden beaches, ancient temples and jungle-clad mountains, but run by a brutal dictatorship—leading to calls for a tourism boycott. By EMMA LARKIN. Photographed by JEREMY HORNER BURMA

A socialist-style mural in Rangoon idealizes life in Burma, a country suffering under the yoke of a repressive military junta. AM LYING ON NGAPALI BEACH in Burma, digging my toes into powder-fine sand and feeling incredibly guilty. Technically, I should feel wonderful; I’m on holiday and I’m on one of Southeast Asia’s most unspoiled coastlines. The beach is almost empty and a tropical sun is burning bright. Behind me, a thick forest of palms sways in a breeze off the Bay of Bengal. In front of me, waves crash onto the shore, obscuring the horizon in a fine mist of sea spray. It is an idyllic setting. Yet I cannot shake the niggling feeling that I should not be here and, more than that, I should not be enjoying myself. Choosing Burma as a holiday destination is a controversial decision. The country is ruled by a military dictatorship with an atrocious record of human rights abuses. In September last year, Burma made worldwide headlines when thousands of Buddhist monks in the former capital of Rangoon, and in other cities and towns across the country, marched in protest

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against the regime. The response of the military junta’s generals was swift and thuggish: armed soldiers were deployed to ruthlessly restore order. Thousands of monks and laypeople were arrested and it is still unknown how many were killed when the soldiers fired into the crowds. For years, a widespread tourism boycott, backed by the British government and the European Union, has called on holidaymakers not to go to Burma, where tourist dollars can contribute to supporting this brutal regime. For tour operators and travelers in search of something new, however, Burma is an ideal destination. The country has everything you could want from a Southeast Asian holiday: there are unspoiled beaches and islands, ancient temple ruins, beautiful mountain ranges and exotic hill tribes. Tourist brochures tout a visit as a magical experience that is like stepping back in time to a place where people still wear traditional dress and there’s not a Starbucks in sight. »


Burmese Days Above: A young Burmese girl on the terrace of Gawdawpalin Temple, in the ancient city of Pagan, a popular tourist site. Below: A cyclo driver in Mandalay takes a break from pedaling. Mandalay is a major destination along Burmaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s tourist trail.

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t+l journal | dispatch The brochures may advertise the charms of an unchanged land, but none of them point out why it remains unchanged. There is no mention of the devastating effect of 45 years of military misrule. I hadn’t planned a holiday to Ngapali Beach, but I had been in the country for a few months researching a book about what life was like under an authoritarian regime, and I thought I felt justified in taking a few days off to relax. I didn’t. My bag was stuffed full of notebooks detailing interviews with former political prisoners and writers who had been silenced—a chronicle of the oppression and fear that is part of daily life for many in Burma. I found it impossible to enjoy a bit of beachside R&R against the backdrop of the country’s politics. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of tourism to Burma is that visitors can see little evidence of the regime’s oppressive tactics, and therefore acquire a very distorted view of the country. On the surface, the glossy tourist brochures—depicting golden temples, colonial buildings and smiling people—probably seem more accurate than the human rights reports recording rape, torture and devastation wreaked by the Burmese army at the behest of the generals. Tourists won’t see the political prisoners locked in jails or comprehend the work of the allpowerful censorship board, which controls local media. Roads, dams and tourism infrastructure built by forced labor

look like any other construction work when you drive past it in an air-conditioned minivan. The tourist trail is carefully regulated and foreigners are mostly restricted to a route that marks a rough diamond across the map of central Burma: Rangoon; Pagan, with its hundreds of ancient pagodas, to the west; Mandalay and May Myo, the former British hill station, in the north; and Inle Lake, to the east. Though trips are possible outside this route, they are not always easy to take, or encouraged. And tourists never make it to troubled ethnic areas such as Karen State, where the Burmese army routinely razes villages and terrorizes civilians in the aim of quelling the Karen army’s ongoing struggle for independence. The regime also tries to prevent tourists from talking openly about politics with Burmese people. Tour guides must be registered with the government and are ordered not to discuss the country’s political situation. (In practice, though, some will respond to questions or even volunteer information as long as the setting is private and there is no danger of being overheard.) A network of government spies and informers has infiltrated Burmese society to such an extent that few people will risk openly criticizing the government. Tourists are also likely to miss other, more mundane, realities of a misgoverned country. While electricity in most Burmese households is sporadic, if available at all, hotels run 24-hour

Passengers cram onto a bus outside the British Embassy, in Rangoon.

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generators to ensure that guests don’t have to sacrifice on comfort. Indeed, the regime has gone to great lengths to create a faux reality for tourists. Prior to announcing Visit Myanmar Year in 1996, the generals launched a countrywide beautification program. Forced labor was used to widen roads around the country and revamp potential tourist sites such as Mandalay Palace. Whole villages have been relocated in the name of tourism. At Ngwe Saung Beach, a village was moved off the beach because it was thought it might mar the views from a new resort. Villagers were given no compensation by officials. The mechanisms for reality control are staggeringly effective. When I arrived in Rangoon, just a few days after the September 2007 protests had been quashed, it was as if nothing had happened. A major crackdown was taking place but there was little to see— it was all happening behind the scenes. The authorities were raiding monasteries and systematically tracking down anyone who had been involved in the protests, as well as anyone who was seen taking photographs or filming. The regime imposed a nighttime curfew and

conducted most of these raids and arrests under cover of darkness. By day the city looked normal—bustling with traffic and market vendors—but each night, after the curfew began and the streets had fallen silent and empty, I sat at the window of my hotel room and watched convoys of army trucks rumble past. “Burma will be here for many years, so tell your friends to visit us later,” said Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi before Visit Myanmar Year. “Visiting now is tantamount to condoning the regime.” When Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won the general election in 1990, the regime ignored the results and continued to rule. She has been under house arrest for most of the intervening years and remains so today. The tourism boycott stems from respecting the wishes of Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of the country. Those on the pro-tourism side of the debate, however, say that Aung San Suu Kyi’s opinions are now dated and that tourism can do some good. Isolation is not the way forward, they argue, and the tourist dollar doesn’t »

Tour guides must be registered with the government and are ORDERED not to discuss the country’s political situation

Buddhist nuns collect alms from shops in central Rangoon at dawn.

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t+l journal | dispatch necessarily go towards propping up the regime, but can benefit ordinary Burmese. With more services now available, tourists can avoid prepaid package tours and governmentowned hotels, and can channel their money to those who need it, such as taxi and rickshaw drivers and tour guides. Yet despite Burma’s attractions, the number of tourists remains low. In 2006, just over 654,000 tourists visited—and over half of those were cross-border visitors, mostly daytrippers from neighboring China. Compared to Thailand, which entertained 13.6 million tourists that year, these figures hardly add up to a tourism industry at all. I suspect practicality has as much to do with this as politics. Taking a holiday in a place run by a ruthless military dictatorship poses certain challenges. Transport is erratic and adequate health care is lacking. There are no international banks or ATM’s, so tourists not staying in the few major hotels that have been authorized by the regime to accept credit cards must carry cash—and due to the grossly overvalued local currency, they must change it on the black market. Safety will also become an issue if demonstrations like those that took place in September 2007 continue to erupt. Understandably, few tourists want to gallivant around a country on the brink of a revolution. In the month following the protests, the tourist industry was reeling from almost 100 percent cancellations. Leafing through one of the many sleek tourist brochures for Burma, I came across an advertisement for a trip to Mergui, an archipelago of some 800 islands at the southern tip of the country, and a place difficult to visit as foreigners are prohibited from traveling overland in the area. Out of curiosity, I rang the travel agent to enquire about details. I was told that dates for the trip were impossible to confirm because flights to and from Rangoon were periodically cancelled or co-opted by the government. If I got there, the agent told me, I would have to be prepared to stay indefinitely as they could not guarantee a return flight. Hanging up the phone, I looked again at the photographs in the brochure. They depicted forested islands stretching out across a glittering turquoise sea and uninhabited beaches with sand so white it was as if they had been sprinkled with icing sugar. The photographs were utterly enticing but, as is almost always the case with Burma, the reality that lies behind the image is very different. 

Visitors can see little evidence of the REGIME’S oppressive tactics

Emma Larkin is the author of Finding George Orwell in Burma, published by Penguin. 88

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Fishing at dawn. Below: A Buddhist monk and his student at Shwedagon Temple, in Rangoon.


special report | t+l journal

Mile-High Innovations Breakthrough planes from Boeing and Airbus, fresh approaches to cabin design and new services on the ground aim to change air travel for the better. By ANDREW BLUM. Illustrated by ANJA KROENCKE T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A

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t+l journal | special report ACH STEP IS FAMILIAR AND UNPLEASANT. I am getting on a plane from New York to Seattle to visit the mock-up of the new 787 Dreamliner, which Boeing promises will herald a more comfortable era of air travel. But since the Dreamliner won’t be flying until the beginning of next year at the earliest, experiencing this comfortable future means enduring the present: discolored wallpaper, worn cushions, tabloid-size windows and fluorescent lights. A few hours later, all the familiar discomforts are there: my mouth and contact lenses are dry, I’ve got a wisp of a headache and the walls have closed in. But the future will be better, right? Blake Emery is Boeing’s director of differentiation strategy, responsible, in part, for making the company’s planes more comfortable than anyone else’s. When we meet, he’s talking about a dinner party where—not for the first time—a frequent flier eagerly shared ideas about how to improve passenger comfort. “I cringe. Not that I wouldn’t love to hear

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THE A380 Capacity Qantas: 450 seats Singapore: 471 seats Highlights Qantas: 14 fully enclosed first-class suites; separate business-class lounge; interiors designed by Marc Newson. Singapore: 12 firstclass suites; world’s largest businessclass seats; entertainment system with more than 100 movies.

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something different, but it’s like, gee, you don’t have enough legroom? But that’s not going to change, because you’re talking about the most expensive real estate on the planet.” The arms race in premium classes has engendered some staggeringly luxurious cabin configurations—recently abetted by the arrival of the double-decker Airbus A380 “superjumbo.” And several airlines are placing renewed emphasis on the door-to-door experience, expanding their scope of service to the lounge, check-in and even the trip to the airport. There’s never been a better time to fly first class. And while the seats may not be getting any bigger in coach, at least you’re more likely to have your own TV to be distracted by. On October 25 last year, Singapore Airlines became the first to fly the new A380 on a commercial flight (from Singapore to Sydney), which it has partly outfitted with 12 fully enclosed “suites.” Resembling Pullman cars circa 1905 (but with 22-inch televisions), they have fold-down beds, some of which can be


combined to create a double bed in the sky. More striking is what they’re not doing with all that extra space: there’ll be none of the casinos, duty-free shops or cocktail bars that Airbus had originally envisioned. Instead, the upper deck will be filled with sofa-size business-class seats. Qantas, which will roll out A380’s in August, expected that their passengers would jump on the novelty of varied onboard activities, but focus groups have proved otherwise. The company’s premium-class customers initially expressed enthusiasm for the idea of showers on the A380, until they got to the details. “What would happen if there were turbulence? How would the showers be cleaned? Who would manage the queue?” said Qantas’s Lesley Grant, general manager for customer products and services, recalling their concerns. Qantas has expanded its first-class lounges in an effort to enhance the “curb to curb” experience. “Customers are very uncomfortable by the time they get on a plane, which makes it hard for the crew to make them comfortable again,” says Silverjet CEO Lawrence Hunt. In the United States, Delta is betting on the basics. The airline has begun installing “slimline” seats that add an extra 4 centimeters of space. Sounds nice—but the idea that such a change is news only underlines the fact that the band of opportunity for improvement is narrow. Enter Boeing’s Dreamliner. Beginning at an early stage of the plane’s development, the company has conducted copious research on how to make its newest plane more comfortable, with the rationale that both passengers and airlines will develop a strong preference for a certain type of plane—strong enough to translate into US$400 billion of sales and support by 2023, Boeing estimates. Chief among its advances is the Dreamliner’s “lower cabin elevation”—which means, in layman’s terms, that the plane will have more oxygen. Why hasn’t this been done before? The extra air weighs more, but the Dreamliner’s composite construction—it’s essentially plastic, rather than aluminum—is strong and light enough to compensate for it. Along with a slight increase in cabin humidity and additional air filtration, the change should make the Dreamliner feel less like a flying petri dish. At Boeing’s Customer Experience Center near Seattle, Emery shows me the Dreamliner

RATHER THAN TRY

to smooth out the differences between the everyday world and the airborne one, Boeing wants to celebrate them mock-up. The most noticeable difference is the size of the windows, which are more broadsheet than tabloid. In addition to more light and a better view, Boeing believes the windows will help us all tap into our early, pleasurable childhood experiences of air travel. It’s a bit counterintuitive: rather than try to smooth out the differences between the everyday world and the airborne one, Boeing wants to celebrate them. Many will disagree. Even the all-premium airlines—ostensibly the most likely candidates to accentuate the experience of travel—strive, instead, to minimize it. “Our goal is to give people as seamless a transition as possible from their life on the ground to their experience in the air,” explains Dave Spurlock, founder and chief strategic officer of Eos Airlines. I had earlier asked Emery why I often feel far more comfortable in a 737 than a 757, when both typically have the same seats, in the same arrangement, with the same legroom. “It’s a less proportional space,” he had explained. “In the ’57 it’s so easy to get the sense of the long narrow tube.” In the cabin mock-up, Emery pointed out the ways in which the Dreamliner mitigates this unpleasantness: the cabin walls and ceilings are sculpted with curves that are almost baroque, and they’re interrupted by arches that create the illusion of a larger space, if not the reality. Similarly, the cabin door is bigger—almost twice the size of those on many planes today. From an engineering point of view, it’s the Dreamliner’s structure that allows for these changes. But in terms of comfort, it’s all about one’s first impression. Creating this kind of spatial illusion was an architectural trick of both cathedral builders and Frank Lloyd Wright; one just hopes it can last eight hours. ✚

THE DREAMLINER ● 857 planes on order at press time ● First delivery — to All-Nippon Airways (ANA) — is expected in early 2009 ● Other airlines with planes on order include Air Canada (35), Air India (27), Continental (25), and Qantas (45)

Andrew Blum is a contributing editor at Metropolis and Wired. T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A

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Sign Language funny signs when you are traveling any more than you can go looking to bump into someone you know from home. It’s all about coincidence, luck, destiny—call it what you like. An awareness of your surroundings helps, and a camera is a must, but the signs … well, they have to find you. My own journey had little to do with signs. In 1992, I set out to hitchhike from Florida to South America aboard private yachts. It was a half-baked plan at best and I only made it as far as the Virgin Islands. The only reason I made it that far was because I got on an airplane and flew there. Once on St. Thomas, though, I did manage to get crew work onboard a 25-meter custom-made catamaran with a Jacuzzi built into the stern deck. That job didn’t last more than a week, but my six-month trip metastasized into a 2½year world jaunt with pit stops in the French Alps to work as a snowmobile guide; in Israel to pick bananas on a kibbutz; and in Bali to DJ at Club Med. I eventually returned home, but all I wanted to do was keep traveling.

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At home, I leafed through a waist-high stack of photos from my travels and wondered who I could subject them to. It doesn’t take long to figure out that even your closest friends don’t have the patience for more than about 20 minutes of picture flipping. So I whittled the stack down to a manageable selection about the thickness of a Dan Brown paperback. I had snapped some pictures of a few funny signs while traveling, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. When sorting through my giant stack of pictures, I realized that some of the sign photos were, in fact, the most entertaining. Maybe it was because I was such a bad photographer that these turned out better than the others, because photographing signs is relatively idiot-proof. They’re standing still and dressed in bright, reflective colors—hard to screw that up. Looking back, the sign pictures I had in that collection weren’t all that impressive. There was an “Infart” sign from Sweden, a “Bad+Toilet” sign from Denmark (a formula for disaster), a “Butts Wynd” street sign from Scotland and a

CO U RT ESY O F D O U G L A N S KY

What started as an aside has grown into a collection of more than 20,000 images, two successful books and a newspaper column. DOUG LANSKY takes us Signspotting


obsessions | t+l journal

CO U RT ESY O F D O U G L A N S KY

Signs of the Times Clockwise from left: Xikou, Zhejiang province, in China; Langley, in Virginia; Maui, in Hawaii; North Carolina; Oakmont, in Pennsylvania; St. Lucia, in South Africa; Apache Junction, in Arizona. Opposite: Eureka Springs, in Arkansas.

“don’t walk” sign in Manhattan just beside a light that clearly indicated that walking was okay. There were a few less memorable signs as well, but even those were more entertaining than the snapshots of me in front of various landmarks, so I kept my eye out on subsequent trips. As I started to think about the idea of funny signs, I also began to appreciate them on another level. After all, when you visit a new country, you’re not allowed to vote. You can’t cash a personal check. Your library card isn’t valid. Yet they let you drive. They let you get behind the wheel of a multiton vehicle and zip around anywhere you please. Somehow we’re expected to navigate the road and pick up the traffic nuances—perhaps even adjust to a steering wheel on the opposite side of the car while driving on the opposite side of the road—all before the first lane change. All this is, of course, before you throw a few whacked-out signs into the equation: the roadside traffic symbols that look more confusing than psych-test inkblots; mangled English; and the occasional screwball posting that almost stops us in our tracks (if we could just locate the brakes fast enough in that rental car!). When I ended my five-year contract to travel the world and write a weekly column for the Chicago Tribune Syndicate (mostly due to the birth of my first child), I thought I’d substitute a weekly dose of funny signs for my column. I figured this would be an easy swap since editors were regularly complaining about the shrinking news hole,

yet voicing a demand for more fun, edgy material. However, my syndicate didn’t make the leap to the signs and only six U.S. newspapers began to run my weekly “Signspotting” column. Each time, they included a message explaining that funny sign submissions should be sent to www.signspotting. com and that I paid US$50 for each one used plus a Star Alliance Round-The-World Ticket for the best of the year— both prizes still available today. The signs started coming in. First, about 10 per week. Then 20. Now it varies: sometimes 50 per week, sometimes 200. Today, I probably have about 20,000 submissions filling up one ceiling-high filing cabinet and one external harddrive. For five years I downloaded and catalogued signs, paying US$50 per week out of my own pocket (US$13,000 over that period, not including thousands for web design and maintenance) and watching the project grow deeper into debt. I finally decided it was payback time and approached a number of publishers with the idea of a book of funny signs. In fact, Signspotting, the book proposal, had been accepted by travel guide publisher Lonely Planet’s U.S. office three years after I began collecting signs (Rough Guides, Travelers’ Tales and others turned it down). Lonely Planet in the United States thought it had potential and wanted to push it through for a global release. During this time the tragedy of 9/11 struck, which not only grounded flights, but also humor projects. About 18 months later, Lonely Planet publisher Tony Wheeler visited Stockholm, where I live, » T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A

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| obsessions

Consider who among us would have the COURAGE to put up a sign in a foreign language

Mixed Signals From top: Pocatello, in Idaho; San Francisco; Los Angeles; New York state; Beppu, in Japan.

and I interviewed him for an inflight magazine. I had met him a few times previously, but this was our first chance to chat without interruption. Later, I took him kayaking around Stockholm and then invited him home to dinner. I mentioned briefly that Lonely Planet was still sitting on my Signspotting proposal. In my apartment, I pointed out the floor-to-ceiling cabinet stuffed with sign photos. He didn’t seem interested. About a month later, however, he e-mailed me with a “new idea” that I could put together a book of funny signs. The first Signspotting book was published in October 2005 and Signspotting 2 was published last year. There are a combined 150,000 copies of these books now in print. What kept me going those first years were the signs themselves. In every batch there were one or two nuggets that would keep me laughing. I can’t claim a single favorite, but some are more memorable. The “Bottomless Pit: 65 feet deep” sign, the “George Bush Center for Intelligence” sign and the “Promised Land” sign with a “closed” banner across it would make my top 10 list. I also like it if there is an interesting story behind the sign. One woman, Kat Young, even made her taxi driver stop in Kashmir, along the cease-fire line of the disputed territory with Pakistan, to take a picture of a bullet-riddled sign that read, “Now you are out of danger areas.” In some cases, I couldn’t understand how some people got the picture. Did they reverse up the shoulder of the highway to take the snap, or had they been driving with their camera out the window? More commonly, I just wondered where all these signs were coming from and if I should be laughing at them. Consider who among us would have the courage to put up a sign in a foreign language? Just imagine the hilarity if we tried to cover English-speaking lands with signs for Russian, Turkish or Chinese tourists. We’d walk around completely unaware of gaffes that would have these travelers rolling with laughter in the streets. Do you think we’d take the time to crosscheck spellings, grammar and double entendres in even a small percentage of the world’s 6,800 known languages, 2,261 of which have writing systems? The lingual landscape is changing before our eyes, which may explain why so many of the signs come from places where people speak English (the biggest concentration of funny signs come from the United States). I’m no stranger to linguistic gaffes myself. As an expat trying to get by without my mother tongue, I commit more crimes of syntax and mix more metaphors each week than you’ll find in any 20 of the most twisted signs. And my sixyear-old daughter happily points out most of them, typically in front of visiting guests, all of whom probably think I should know better by now. ✚ Doug Lansky is the author of Signspotting and Signspotting 2, published by Lonely Planet.

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CO U RT ESY O F D O U G L A N S KY

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KHARKORIN, MONGOLIA. PHOTOGRAPHED BY FRÉDÉRIC LAGRANGE.

The underwater wonderland of BALI KIEV after the Orange Revolution Adventures along the MEKONG River MONGOLIA’s ravishing landscapes 97


An outrigger dive boat at Jemeluk Bay. Opposite: Divers at Manta Point.


While its onshore offerings are legendary, the waters surrounding Bali also have their share of beauty and excitement, as Alex Frew McMillan finds while diving off its coast. Photographed by Dan Groshong


he dive starts well enough. Our group of four divers dips below the waves in the shadow of Gili Mimpang, three fingers of black volcanic rock that jut from the sea off the Bali resort town of Candidasa. Schools of midnight-blue triggerfish keep us company, their wispy fin tips trailing like streamers in the wind as we drift with the current along the shallow reef. Then, four white-tipped reef sharks emerge one by one from the blue, passing within a meter as they patrol the shallows in a lazy hunt. They eye us as they idle by, their thin gray torpedo-shaped bodies moving easily into the current. But their grace is deceptive—the current is picking up. As our group edges up the wall of the reef while the force of the water builds, pieces of dive equipment start to shake and we are forced to cling to the coral. But the coral doesn’t hold. Piece by piece, it rips away in the current. Suddenly, we are tumbling upwards, tanks clanging as we bump each other. We burst through the surface like corks popping out of water. Forget the safety stop or any attempt at surfacing slowly. The sea has spoken—the dive is over, whether we like it or not. A rapid ascent like that can cause problems if you hold your breath or have been down too long. Fortunately, the dive had been shallow and short, and none of our group showed any aftereffects. We could later chuckle—albeit nervously—over our one-sided tussle with the tide. Within hours, I am lying on a massage table in my villa at the Amankila, the most luxurious resort along Bali’s east coast. An ant crawls over the red rose petals carefully laid on the cream marble floor while a masseuse works any kinks— or excess nitrogen bubbles—out of my body. A few weeks earlier, David Beckham and his wife Victoria had been de-stressing in a similar fashion just up the hill in villa 31. These types of contrasts crop up again and again when you’re diving in Bali. At times, the turbulent sea off the Island of the Gods seems possessed by devils. It roils and froths, and the currents are strong. Divers looking for excitement will find plenty in the drift dives between Bali and its near neighbor to the east, the island of Lombok. There are many sides to this beautiful island. A four-hour drive can take you away from the throng around the airport in the south to the near-deserted plains and hills of West Bali National Park. Bali is as excellent a destination for adventure travel as it is for relaxation. Though divers tend to use the island as a jumping-off point for liveaboard dive trips into eastern Indonesia, where unexplored reefs and the dragons of Komodo and Flores await, Bali also has a wide range of first-rate diving off its shores. The variety of sites runs the gamut, from testing drift dives with currents strong enough to rip the mask from your face to leisurely explorations of shallow »

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SUDDENLY, WE ARE TUMBLING UPWARDS, TANKS CLANGING AS WE BUMP EACH OTHER. WE BURST THROUGH THE SURFACE LIKE CORKS POPPING OUT OF WATER

Bali Blue Left: The activity board at Waka Shorea. Opposite, clockwise from top left: A dive boat makes its way to Menjangan Island; sunset at Jemeluk Bay; a porter carrying air tanks at Jemeluk; Amankila resort; harlequin shrimp at Seraya, near Tulamben; a beach at Waka Shorea; a local girl in Jemeluk; climbing a coconut tree; the jetty at Waka Shorea.


Air Time Clockwise from left: A porter with air tanks at Padangbai; fish swim among the coral; a spotted snake eel at Blue Lagoon, near Padangbai. Opposite: Swimming with the fish at Crystal Bay.

reefs and soft-coral gardens. There’s even muck diving— searching for odd marine life in silty waters—and one of the most-accessible wreck dives in the world. With an island full of temples, volcanoes and emerald rice terraces, Bali’s underwater attractions remain underrated, falling victim to the island’s excess of onshore beauty and innate spirituality. “The market is principally beginner divers,” says John Huxley, the owner of Eco-Dive, a dive shop in Amed on Bali’s east coast. “Bali has the potential to attract committed divers. But it is famous for other things.” Diving in Bali normally requires getting out of the crowded south, since the best sites are off the east and north coasts. But it’s possible to base yourself almost anywhere on the island, where it seems there are never bad choices, only mellow decisions between “good,” “better” and “best.” “I wake up in paradise every day,” says Dee Mytton, the Australian owner of Villa Kubu in trendy Seminyak, north of Kuta Beach on the island’s west coast. “And in the bad times, well … you have the bad times.” Two deadly terrorist bombings in October 2002 and October 2005, both aimed at foreign tourists, blasted Bali. They dealt the island heavy blows, but after several difficult years, travelers have returned. With 1.59 million visitors from January through November in 2007, Bali is back on track.

Huxley at Eco-Dive hopes to see more experienced divers taking “dive safaris” around the island, which has a half dozen main dive destinations, each with a distinctive flavor. Amed tends to lure French-speaking tourists, partly because Huxley, a Canadian, offers dive courses in that language. There are interesting dives just five minutes away by boat at Bunutan, where blue-spotted stingrays and large barrel sponges abound, sharing the deep with reef sharks. A short drive away, past several bays dotted with outrigger fishing boats, is a Japanese shipwreck of uncertain origin. Visiting the wreck is normally part of a two-dive trip that also takes in Gili Selang, an island famed for its strong currents, along with beautiful, peaceful coral gardens in its shallows. The area around Amed is dry and not suitable for growing rice, so the local population depends on tourism for its income. That has helped the dive operators persuade local villagers to protect the shore reefs, with fishermen promising to drop their lines further out at sea. The dive shops pay monthly dues to the villages, use village boats for dives and employ locals to carry dive equipment. » 103


The situation is similar at Tulamben, Bali’s signature dive site. It is also in an arid area and the local banjar (community leaders) oversee the job of transporting dive equipment. Old women and young kids alike pitch in as porters, ambling expertly over the rocky shore carrying heavy dive gear. Tulamben is known for its wreck dive: the USAT Liberty, a cargo ship that was beached on its black-pebble shores during World War II, after being torpedoed by the Japanese. The wreck sat on the beach until a volcanic eruption in 1963 on nearby Gunung Agung pushed it into the sea. The ship is now almost perfectly positioned for wreck diving, with its top just 4 meters under the surface, making it easily reached, even by snorkelers. The deepest part of the ship, which rests on its side, is an easy reach for recreational divers at around 30 meters. The Liberty is festooned with soft corals, table corals and tube sponges. It is also home to abundant marine life, especially yellow-and-white-striped sweetlips and pairs of Moorish idols. Several big grouper and a huge, menacingly solitary, black-barred barracuda lurk in its overhangs. At the wreck’s deep end, a school of jacks transforms into a swirling tower of shimmering silver, stretching almost from the seabed to the surface as they slowly circle. There are excellent dives along the coast from Tulamben. The next bay, Seraya— named after a resort on its shores—is a popular muck dive site. The waters are full of oddities such as harlequin shrimp, white-eyed moray eels and dragonets. There are similar shallow muck dives at Café Garam, a site near Amed. Perhaps the most popular muck-dive site in Bali is PJ, or Puri Jati. It’s a dead-calm bay fronting a duck farm, with a wide variety of marine life that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere in Bali. There are cockatoo waspfish, robust ghost pipefish and strapweed filefish, all of them camouflage experts that can look like weeds or sea grass. Eels, octopi and weird sea worms keep them company. There are decent dive sites dotted all along Bali’s north coast, stretching to the northwest corner of the island and West Bali National Park. Menjangan Island, home to the barking deer it is named for, has clearblue waters and easy-going wall dives. Although locals complain that fishermen from Java still fish the area with dynamite, the rich coral life and huge fan corals are marvels. Over the past few years, Bali has become particularly popular as a dive destination for people keen to catch a glimpse of huge mola molas, or ocean sunfish. The world’s largest bony fish, with an average size of 1,000 kilograms, mola molas are a super-sized, disc-shaped relative of the pufferfish, and can reach several meters in diameter. Although mola molas can be seen year-round, »

THE WORLD’S LARGEST BONY FISH, WITH AN AVERAGE SIZE OF 1,000 KILOGRAMS, MOLA MOLAS ARE A SUPER-SIZED, DISC-SHAPED RELATIVE OF THE PUFFERFISH

Above and Below Left: The Liberty wreck dive site. Opposite, clockwise from top left: An alienlike fish at Jemeluk Bay; a fisherman at Jemeluk; the treacherous coast at Gili Mimpang; Amankila resort.


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Magnificent sea views from the swimming pool at the luxurious Amankila resort.

the best spotting time is during the dry season, from July through October. The lack of rainfall at this time of year leads to an upwelling of cold water from the depths. Water temperatures drop from the typical 28 degrees to 20 degrees or lower, and these slow-moving giants float towards the surface with the chilly water. “The majority of our business is from that season,” says Jonathan Cross, one of the owners of the dive shop, Blue Season Bali. It’s a mixed blessing but a strong attraction. “If one season they stopped coming, you’d have to change your marketing.” With a mola mola sitting less than a meter from your face, it is easy to see why so many people want to spot this odd 106

species firsthand. Their huge circular bodies are broken only by small eyes and a beak-like mouth opened into a permanent “O” shape, as if they spend their days in mild surprise. Two long fins, one curving up from its back and one from its belly, beat slowly back and forth like wings. In season, everyone is after a look at the mola molas, and overexcited divers can easily scare them off if they are not careful. “Last year, they were much less predictable than before because there are more divers,” one dive guide laments. Crystal Bay, an inlet on the island of Nusa Penida, the best location for regular encounters with mola molas, has been buzzing with 25 dive boats at a time in the dry season. Divers


GUIDE TO DIVING BALI andaamedresort.com; from US$70. Life in Amed Lean Village, Bunutan; 62-363/23-152; www.lifebali.com; doubles from U$65. NUSA LEMBONGAN Waka Nusa Staying here will put you close to some excellent dive sites. 62-361/723-629; www.wakanusa.com; doubles from US$111.

WHEN TO GO Bali sits just 8 degrees south of the Equator, so temperatures remain warm to hot year-round. That makes for good diving at any time of the year. The dry season runs from April to September, and an upwelling of deep ocean water accompanies it. That brings bigger creatures, such as ocean sunfish (mola molas) closer to the surface. The best time to see mola molas is from July to October.

361/731-129; www.villakubu.com; doubles from US$230.

GETTING THERE Being one of Southeast Asia’s most popular tourist spots, frequent flights to Bali are available from most major cities in the region on either major carriers or budget airlines.

AMED Anda Amed 62-363/23-498;

SANUR La Taverna No. 29, Jln. Danau Tamblingan; 62-361/288-497; www.latavernahotel.com; doubles from US$80. MENJANGAN ISLAND Waka Shorea West Bali National Park, Singaraja; 62-361/484-085; www.wakashorea.com; doubles from US$165.

Coral life.

WHERE TO STAY SEMINYAK Villa Kubu A cluster of 14 private villas with traditional furnishings and modern touches. No. 33F, Jln. Raya Seminyak; 62-

that get a close encounter with these alien-like fish break the surface with smiles. But on a 30-dive trip at the height of mola mola season in September, there were mola molas spotted on just three dives, all at Crystal Bay. Manta Point, another dive site famous for manta rays, can be even more unpredictable and is hard to reach, with huge waves crashing into the cliffs of Nusa Penida. Nusa Penida is a former penal colony famous as the site of black-magic ceremonies performed by the local islanders and has a fearsome reputation among the Balinese. It, and its smaller neighbors Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, also have a fearsome reputation with divers; they sit in the

MANGGIS (between Padangbai and Candidasa) Amankila Large individual villas linked by elevated walkways in a superb hillside setting looking out at Nusa Penida and Lombok. 62-363/41-333; www.amankila. com; villas from US$700.

established dive shops in the area. Jemeluk Beach; 62-363/23482; www.ecodivebali.com; two dives from US$65. NUSA LEMBONGAN World Diving Jungutbatu; 62/812390-0686; www.world-diving. com; dives from US$40. PEMUTERAN Reef Seen Aquatics Dive Centre 62-362/93-001; www. reefseen.com; dives from US$20. A mola mola at Crystal Bay.

TULAMBEN Tauch Terminal One of the best bases for exploring the Liberty wreck. 62-361/774-504; www.tauch-terminal.com; three days/two nights stay with unlimited dives and equipment hire, 215 euros per person, double occupancy. Mimpi Resorts 62-361/21-939; mimpi.com; doubles from US$80; dives from US$30. DIVE SHOPS PADANGBAI WaterWorx Dive Center Jln. Silayukti; 62-363/41-220; www. waterworxbali.com; minimum of two dives from US$40. Geko Dive Jln. Silayukti; 62363/41-516; www.gekodive.com; dives from US$50. AMED Eco-Dive One of the most

SANUR Blue Season Bali Operates dive trips by speedboat to the dive sites around Nusa Penida; takes day-trippers up the east coast to Tulamben; and runs occasional overnight dive safaris. No. 59, Jln. Danau Tamblingan; 62361/282-574; www.baliocean.com; minimum two dives from US$85.

strait between Bali and Lombok and are lashed by unpredictable currents. That also makes for some thrilling diving, as well as excellent surfing. Blue Corner at the tip of Nusa Lembongan often produces a current that rips along the coast and over a tiered underwater prairie patrolled by sharks of varying sizes. Small bamboo sharks and mid-size grey reef sharks are regular sights. Others say they’ve seen thresher, bull and whale sharks. One dive instructor claimed she ran into 25 mola molas in frigid water towards the end of a dive. These could be fish tales, of course. But it’s good to know there’s always something you didn’t quite catch this time around—to keep you coming back for more.  107


KIEV ON THE RISE IN THE WAKE OF THE ORANGE REVOLUTION, UKRAINE’S CAPITAL IS EMBRACING WESTERN WAYS — AND INVESTMENT DOLLARS. BRETT FORREST DISCOVERS A CITY IN TRANSITION, WITH A BURGEONING NIGHTLIFE AND AN ANYTHING-GOES MENTALITY. PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOHN KERNICK


Portraits of Kiev St. Michaelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s gold-domed monastery, on the western side of the Dnieper River. Opposite, top and bottom: Local faces. Center: The Pechersk Lavra monastery.


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Old and New Robert Koenig (left), one of the early Western investors in the new Kiev, with Darko Skulsky, a leading Ukrainian film producer. Opposite: The heart of the city, Independence Square.

LONG A HILLTOP OVERLOOKING the Dnieper River in Kiev stands the Mother Homeland, a titanium statue of massive proportions. With her right hand she raises a sword and with her left she holds a shield emblazoned with a hammer and sickle. The statue, in the shape of a robed goddess, is absurd, a grand gesture of the fallen Soviet system that has yet to be replaced by anything as grotesquely magnificent. I found myself at the base of this statue on my first trip to the Ukrainian capital, in 2002. I had flown in for a friend’s wedding and I couldn’t take my eyes off the monument, its myth and history confounding me. I swallowed champagne with the rest of the reception crowd as we waited for the bride, a Ukrainian model turned photographer, to appear with her American financier husband. Having climbed the statue from within, the couple poked out from the top of the shield high in the sky. The two then unfurled enormous American and Ukrainian flags, obscuring the hammer and sickle, before releasing clutches of doves into the air. Here was a gesture of another kind altogether—a moment that encapsulated the new Kiev, where Western influences and Slavic traditions have united to transform this ancient city. Kiev has undergone furious change since that wedding day, and during my subsequent visits, I’ve been able to witness the transition. The fundamental event behind the city’s development occurred in late 2004, when pro-democracy citizens staged a mass street protest against electoral fraud. The Orange Revolution awakened political hope where before there was only the dread of power, and ushered Westernleaning Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency. Political consensus has been difficult to muster in the ensuing three years, but the hope for significant legislative reform and social change exists nevertheless. »

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Faces of a City Above and far right: Kiev locals. Center: Mariinsky Park. Opposite: Young women at the club of the moment, Decadence House.

The overall restructuring of life here has led many people to believe that Kiev—and all of Ukraine, with its 47 million citizens—is on the verge of breaking out of its dull, post-Soviet mold and becoming something altogether new and uplifting, part of the so-called “new Europe.” The adjustment in the general attitude has not escaped the notice of international investors. From the beginning of national independence in 1992 until 2004, direct foreign investment in Ukraine totaled just US$5.6 billion. But in the three years since Yushchenko’s ascendancy, that number has ballooned to US$20 billion. Hyatt and Radisson hotels have arrived in Kiev, along with the flagship stores of most major fashion brands and carmakers. Newcomers now jockey for position with local oligarchs whose cushy relations with the old apparatchiks had until recently afforded them a stranglehold on commerce. The spawn of Ukrainian émigrés who fled Communism have also been showing up, and while exploring their roots they’ve transplanted values and skills learned in Western democracies—how to conduct business aboveboard, how not to intimidate rivals out of existence, how to deal with a newly free press. This mix of people and manners presents a strange new model of commerce—with rules of engagement altering by the week—in a city whose people are known for their ability to make anything happen for the right price, be it wealthy residents renting the entire botanical garden for their own use or hiring the national ballet for a weekend party at their dacha. To anyone who favors real progress, Kiev’s democratic leanings can only be positive. But now that the Ukrainian state has dropped visa requirements for Western travelers in an effort to drum up business and draw closer to the West, Kiev stands one EasyJet route away from becoming another perfectly polished tourist site of ancient churches and digestible prices. Fortunately 112

there is still time to catch Kiev with a proper mix of old and new, as the energy of recent arrivals mingles with that of natives who still see the world through a Soviet lens. If it’s orange, it’s Kiev. In few places is a single color so loaded with meaning. Ever since Yushchenko’s political coalition chose orange as its official color, it has gone forth into the country as the emblem of reform. On a cold afternoon in midwinter, tangerine banners stream down one of Kiev’s many hills, carried by marchers spilling onto European Square in the town center. Because Yushchenko has dissolved his cabinet a few times and rival parliamentary factions are frequently calling for elections, street demonstrations happen regularly. I’ve returned to Kiev to gauge the speed and effect of change. Reminders of the past are everywhere, whether it’s the concrete-slab, Brezhnev-era architecture or the odd hammer-and-sickle insignia that catches a first-time visitor’s eye. This time, the snow falls on the many middle-aged marchers who have lived through decades of upheaval and privation. That’s just how it’s been in Kiev, stability remaining as elusive as a prolonged stretch of good weather. I am taking it all in when a Mercedes jeep stops in front of me. A door clicks open and a voice inside commands: “Get in.” I have known Robert Koenig for five years. He is one of my Kiev friends, and a better friend in Kiev would be hard to find. His vast local connections are surpassed only by his generosity. Koenig, from Maryland in the United States, was part of the first wave of Western developers to arrive in Kiev a dozen years ago. He worked in-country for Pepsi for a few years before realizing the vast opportunity inherent in a new market economy led by people with no capitalist experience. Koenig now owns a Ukrainian real estate development company, Black Sea Investment Group, which has brought many Western brands »


IF IT’S ORANGE, IT’S KIEV. IN FEW PLACES IS A SINGLE COLOR SO LOADED WITH MEANING

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WHAT’S BEING SOLD THESE DAYS IS A REMARKABLE CONTRAST TO THE SPARSE OFFERINGS DURING THE SOVIET ERA


City in Transition From left: An outdoor market on Andreevsky Spusk; Victory Park’s statue of the Mother Homeland, a monument to the former Soviet system; a Kiev resident. Opposite: A sleek café in the Pinchuk Art Centre.

to the country—Mont Blanc, Dunhill, Tumi and Van Cleef & Arpels, among others. He also owns restaurants, nightclubs, casinos, family entertainment centers and a fast-food empire. “I just took the American model and adapted it to Ukrainian tastes,” Koenig says, as his driver steers us down Khreshchatik, Kiev’s stately answer to New York’s Fifth Avenue. “It’s been bumpy. You had to understand that this was a brand-new country. So you couldn’t expect the same things that you get in the West. For example, when I first started coming to Ukraine from America, I’d bring an entire suitcase full of food. But I don’t need to do that anymore. They’re trying to adopt whatever’s in Western Europe and America and bring it here quickly.” Koenig’s car passes through Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, the heart of the city, a great open space of granite government buildings and mercantile centers, with an oversize globe and golden idols huddled around a 5,000-jet fountain called the Friendship of Nations. It was here, in 1990, that students staged a hunger strike that spurred the end of the Communist Party in Ukraine. It was also here that the Orange Revolution played out in 2004, thousands of protesters hunkering down for weeks in harsh winter conditions as speakers rallied them from a makeshift dais. Koenig watches the square roll past his tinted windows. “Prior to the revolution, Ukraine was a bandit society,” he says. “The authorities would push you around. If you supported the other side, suddenly the tax inspector would come see you, the fire inspector would come see you. Now there’s not as much stress. You’re allowed to take sides without any fear of repercussion. You can walk the streets free.” We continue on through the city. There are roughly 3 million residents here, the Dnieper splitting the cosmopolitan Right Bank from the suburban Left Bank. Koenig has a business meet-

ing, so he hops out at Arena City, his four-story entertainment complex—restaurant, casino, sports bar and nightclub. But he loans me his car and driver and I continue on through the cobblestoned inner city, its winding, tree-stuffed neighborhood streets a mix of new apartment towers and unrenovated Sovietera housing blocks. After ascending several bending embankments, the car turns onto Vladimirskaya, a main artery named for Kiev’s central historical figure. Vladimir I was a Norse warrior who took Kiev by treachery and fratricide in the year 980. The kingdom was then known as Kievan Rus, the Rus appellation courtesy of a Scandinavian tribe that conquered the area and established Kiev as the first capital of the Slavs. An unrepentant barbarian, Vladimir had 800 concubines and engaged in human sacrifice, or so it is said. If anything, Vladimir serves as a lesson that everything eventually gets old. Because having grown tired of all the wild behavior, he eventually baptized his entire kingdom, connecting Kievan Rus with the Western world and qualifying for eventual sainthood. The kingdom of Kievan Rus thrived until 1240, when the Mongols sacked Kiev. The Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as the center of politics, drifted north to Moscow and Russia’s Golden Ring; Kiev would never again hold such sway. There is plenty still standing to remind one of Kiev’s medieval roots, such as the Andreevsky Spusk street market. This is set on a downward-spiraling street of the same name, which since ancient times has formed a direct route between Kiev’s aristocratic upper town and Podol, the merchants’ quarter. The street is packed with vendors selling rare souvenirs—an artisanal jewelry box or czarist-era ruble notes—among the many trifles, such as a wooden mace and a busted Red Army watch. To see how locals shop, there is Bessarabsky Market, in the city’s center. Here, women in headscarves sell fruit, » 115


vegetables, caviar, fish, meat, honey and flowers in a rotunda dating to 1912—the furious commercial activity monitored by a Lenin statue standing opposite. The shopping experience looks timeless and yet what’s being sold these days is a remarkable contrast to the sparse offerings during the Soviet era. Also in Kiev’s center, on Khreshchatik, the Passage complex and nearby Marki bazaar carry high-end Russian and Ukrainian fashion designers such as Alena Akhmadulina and Olga Soldatova. These shops, which emerged after the Soviet collapse, are often filled with the girlfriends of rich young businessmen. It’s not hard to find a taxi in Kiev, as almost any Ukrainian in a cheap Russian Lada or Volga will stop and take you wherever you want to go, after haggling over the price. Without a working knowledge of Russian or Ukrainian—both of which are spoken here—it’s impossible to avoid paying double. I flag down a car and cruise away from Andreevsky Spusk along the Dnieper, which flows southward past Kiev for 650 kilometers before emptying into the Black Sea. The Dnieper was once known as Slavutich, meaning “Slavic river.” These days, Slavutich is etched in cursive across the blue labels of Kiev’s mainstay local beer, several tall glasses of which are landing on my table right now. I’m in a restaurant called Khutorok, which my friends have assured me offers Kiev’s most authentic Ukrainian dining experience. It’s situated in a wooden houseboat docked on the Dnieper. The waitresses wear traditional Ukrainian peasant dress, ill-fitting and laced with colorful stitching, and look as if at any moment they will ditch the city and harvest what the good earth has yielded. Sitting around the table are many of Kiev’s new power players—financiers, construction bosses, publishing magnates, Internet kingpins and wildcatter Americans who arrived in the early days of the free market and who now rake in the spoils of their entrenched companies. Everyone is yelling and reaching across the table for meat—fistsized chunks of grilled pork, chicken and veal.

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HE MEAL HAS ARRIVED IN LOCAL crockery; and the food

is savory and substantial, as is the way of the Ukrainian kitchen. In addition to the carnivore’s delights, there is, of course, borscht, with thick dollops of sour cream floating on the beet broth. Also vareniki, the Ukrainian dumpling filled with potato, salmon, cherries, or meat and vegetables. And blini with black pyramids of sturgeon caviar—which is currently banned from export, giving the meal a whiff of the illicit. (I have often fielded questions about the “black market” in Kiev. My answer: You can buy anything here—a Hollywood movie before its theatrical release, a military escort, pirated computer software—all are a single phone call away.) Meanwhile, someone corrals a round of horilka, the Ukrainian national drink, which is vodka usually blended with honey and hot red pepper. It burns going down, and leaves a scalding aftertaste. Khutorok aside, there are plenty of new restaurants popping up in Kiev these days, such as Belvedere, on Dneprovsky Spusk, 116

which has a Continental menu and is frequented by the mayor of Kiev, Leonid Chernovetsky. Ikra, on Saksaganskogo, has excellent seafood, along with an oyster bar and a fine slogan: IF IT’S FRESHER, IT SWIMS. For top-shelf Georgian, Kazbek is the place to go, and for French pastries and desserts, there is the Wolkonsky Patisserie & Café, in the Premier Palace Hotel. For a quiet few hours, decompress at Babuin, a bookstore, café and bar on Bogdana Khmelnytskogo. For a stiff drink, however, your best bet is the Bar On 8 at the new Hyatt Regency, on Tarasova, which looks upon the gold-leafed St. Sophia Cathedral and St. Michael’s monastery, both completed in the 1050’s. There is also Ryumka, which means “shot glass” in Russian, and the first floor at Arena City, on Basseynaya, which brews its own beer. For dancing along with your drinking, Barski has a terrace that affords great views of central Kiev. There is also Tsar Project, on European Square, a loud, cavernous club, and Privilege, on Parkovka, which resembles a Grecian-style theater. Among the many new clubs, bars and restaurants in Kiev, none is hotter than Decadence House. The café and club is black inside, an Art Deco chamber of discreet permissions. Beautiful women keep coming in, dressed to kill. The many candles and sugarplum-inspired chandeliers spill shadows across their fine features. Vyacheslav “Slava” Konstantinovsky, who co-owns Decadence with his twin brother, Alexander, tells me about a fight that broke out in the club a few weeks earlier where one of the combatants exited minus an ear. With their shaved heads and compact builds, the Konstantinovsky brothers look like a duo of Yul Brynners. They came up through the Soviet sports apparatus as Greco-Roman wrestlers, and they’re now connected to real power as board members of Kiev-Donbass, an influential Ukrainian real estate development firm. They opened Decadence four years ago, and the place now attracts a clientele willing to pay high prices for a night on the town. Tonight there are foreign capitalists, an ambassador or two and several parliamentary deputies. During the revolution, the Konstantinovsky brothers offered up Decadence as a place for Orange functionaries, and the club’s televisions broadcast the mass street protests, the gathering army, the whole uncertainty of a political process in crisis. Slava waves it away. “We’re not so interested in politics now,” he says, his TV’s now looping the Fashion TV channel. That confident wave is the upshot of the Orange Revolution. Three years ago there was a great fear that it would all come to a violent end, but now there’s the belief that Ukraine, with its new political will and foreign investors spurring on growth, is on the path to positive social and economic reform. Outside Decadence, a gypsy cab pulls up and I hop in. An elderly woman sits at the wheel, her voice hoarse with cheap come-ons. She is easily 65, and tells of prostitutes that may be had nearby. “Very clean,” she says. “Very beautiful, all of them.” In Kiev, the city’s underbelly will ultimately confront you, as all manner of vice and excess is barely hidden beneath the »


Vyacheslav and Alexander Konstantinovsky, at Concord, one of their popular spots.

AMONG THE MANY NEW CLUBS AND BARS IN KIEV, NONE IS HOTTER THAN DECADENCE HOUSE

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surface. In some ways, Kiev today calls to mind Las Vegas during its early mob days, where civility, style and good times could be found in a world of thugs, fast money and endless parties. The taxi lets me out at Koenig’s Arena City, where a long line waits amid clouds of perfume and the unfunny faces of some serious money. Upstairs, the club’s dance floor is charged with the cravings of those who save up their glib chatter for the weekends. The loudest laughter can be heard at the VIP table. Koenig is here, and he pours a drink for Darko Skulsky, who owns Ukraine’s top movie and TV company, Radioaktive Film. Radioaktive produced Hatchet, one of last year’s U.S. slasher movies, and has made hundreds of TV ads and music videos for markets throughout Europe. It’s much cheaper to mount productions here than it is in, say, Berlin or Prague. But that doesn’t mean that taste runs cheap. Viktor Pinchuk, a steel billionaire and Ukraine’s second-richest citizen, recently opened the Pinchuk Art Centre, on Krasnoarmeyskaya, a contemporary collection that includes pieces by Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Andreas Gursky, all three of whom attended the opening of an exhibition of their works at Pinchuk’s gallery last year. For Ukrainian art, there’s the Kollektsia Museum, on Pankivskaya, and the RA Gallery, on Bogdana Khmelnytskogo. Kiev’s cultural scene also includes opera and ballet. Standards such as Swan Lake and La Bohème are performed with regularity at the Taras Shevchenko Ukrainian National Opera House, a grand structure on Vladimirskaya, considered one of the most prestigious in the former Soviet Union. The day after my visit to Arena, I meet up with a friend named Aliona. We head to the Pioneer Ice Club, an indoor skating rink designed like a 1970’s commissary. The staff here wear outfits that look as if they were left over from some failed Scandinavian attempt to host the Winter Games. After circling

the ice a few times, we take a short walk to one of Kiev’s landmarks: Pechersk Lavra monastery. The city is filled with such towering hallowed structures, including St. Michael’s, St. Sophia and St. Andrews. It is overcast, but the gold-leafed domes of the Pechersk Lavra monastery have absorbed enough light through the clouds to brighten the afternoon with heavenly reflection. The monastery began in a cave in 1051, with monks living underground. Over the centuries, it expanded across many hectares with the building of several churches, and the complex is still surrounded by high fortress walls. The monastery has been destroyed many times, but it has always been rebuilt, an emblem of Kievan Rus and Orthodox tradition. I send Aliona home in one of the overpriced cabs that loiter outside such places, then head down to the Dnieper, where the ice fishing is good. I shuffle onto the frozen surface, to find only a single fisherman remaining on the white expanse. He stares down into his little gap in the ice, but soon heads off, fishing gear bobbing in his hands. This is the Kiev that doesn’t change. The rest is up for grabs. My American friend who celebrated his marriage here five years ago chose to stick around. Now he manages a sizable investment fund—foreign money drawn to Kiev since the Orange Revolution. This is the city’s inevitable future: growth in every direction. There’s reason to celebrate, to toast the city itself. I had picked up a bottle of horilka on the way to the river and the pepper vodka again burns my insides. Before me are the rolling hills of Kiev, Lavra and its shimmering Orthodox gold, the giant titanium statue honoring Soviet womanhood, and a curious band of orange sunlight ripping through what has been a long and constant cloud cover. ✚ Brett Forrest is a writer based in Moscow.

GUIDE TO KIEV

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Kiev UKRAINE

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pe European Square r R iv Independence er Square

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St. Michaelûs monastery

Bessarabsky Market

Pechersk Lavra monastery 0

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1 mi (1.6 km)

GETTING THERE No Asian carriers fly to Kiev, but most European airlines fly to Borispol Airport. WHEN TO GO Kiev is magical in the summer — the city is filled with trees in bloom. It’s the best time of year to take advantage of the many public squares. WHERE TO STAY Hyatt Regency 5A Ul. Alla Tarasova; 380-44/581-1234; www.hyatt.com; doubles from US$800.

Premier Palace Hotel 5-7/29 Tarasa Shevchenka Bul.; 380-44/537-4500; www.premier-palace.com; doubles from US$437.

WHAT TO DO Pinchuk Art Centre 1/3-2A Ul. KrasnoarmeyskayaBasseynaya; 380-44/ 590-0858.

Radisson SAS Hotel 2 Yaroslaviv Val; 380-44/ 492-2200; www.radissonsas. com; doubles from US$627. WHERE TO EAT Decadence House 16 Ul. Shota Rustaveli; 380-44/206-4920; dinner for two US$100. Khutorok Ul. NaberezhnoKhreshchatskaya; 380-44/416-8039; dinner for two US$70.

Khutorok serves authentic Ukrainian dishes.


Wrestlers train at a A Ukrainian helicopter pilot on a break in Podol, the cityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s merchant quarter. gym in Ulaanbaatar. Month 2006 Travel+Leisure 000


The Luang Say cruises up the Mekong River from Luang Prabang to the Golden Triangle.


From the fabled royal capital of LAOS to the infamous Golden Triangle in THAILAND, this trip is as much a cruise along one the world’s great rivers as it is a journey back in time. By JOE YOGERST. Photographed by R. IAN LLOYD

THE MEKONG’S

TIMELESS FLOW

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By the River From above: A smiling local at Tai Loung, a village along the Mekong River; a traditional village house at Ban Bo, another Mekong outpost. Opposite: The Mekong meanders past Luang Prabang.

V E RY J O U R N E Y H A S I T S M O S T M E M O R A B L E M O M E N T. In the wilds of northern Laos, it came at 5 A.M. in the river- a place without cinemas or video arcades, and a conduit for side town of Pak Beng, with the muddy Mekong flowing gossip, news and information in a region where MySpace and beneath my balcony, clouds shrouding jungle-covered moun- Bluetooth are as alien as Mars. Pak Beng speaks volumes for Laos as a whole: a nation that tains and the aroma of hearth fires wafting up from the thatched-roofed village below. There was a profound stillness has only relatively recently emerged from decades of selfin both a literal and metaphorical sense—everything as it imposed isolation that began 50 years ago with the ouster of the might have been 50 or even 100 years ago. Wood longboats French colonists and subsequent overthrow of its bloated monare staked to the muddy banks because there are no docks or archy. Although the country was bruised during the Vietnam wharves along this part of the river. Hill-tribe villagers are War, much of Laos was sheltered from it and the winds of clad in embroidered shirts, and nothing but birdsong and the change sweeping through Southeast Asia in those times. When occasional cries of a cockerel interrupt the morning silence. the country began to open up around 20 years ago, what traveIt is so quiet that I can actually hear the river flowing past on lers found was a nation unchanged, in many respects, from the 1950’s. The same can be said for the Mekong, a river that its way to the South China Sea. One of the world’s 10 longest waterways, the mighty remains largely un-bridged and un-dammed for much of its Mekong flows more than 4,500 kilometers from Tibet, length, a sort of “liquid curtain” that separates countries with through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and vastly different outlooks on modern life. I was to travel along a secluded section of the Mekong that Vietnam. And as it has been for centuries, the river is everything in this part of the world. It is not just a food source and can only be explored by boat: a 300-kilometer stretch between the only viable means to reach the outside, but it is also a font Luang Prabang in northern Laos and Chiang Khong in of myth and legend (like the giant naga water dragons that are Thailand’s Golden Triangle. Laos’s spiritual hub and former said to dwell in its depths). It’s the primary entertainment in royal capital, Luang Prabang, unfolds as a blast from the »

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past—a place that seems little changed by modern ways. Replete with French colonial shophouses, old royal compounds and countless Buddhist temples, UNESCO called it the best-preserved traditional town in Southeast Asia when it was declared a World Heritage Site in the mid 1990’s. Buddhism remains the town’s heart and soul, and monks are its most conspicuous inhabitants, most of them brighteyed youngsters lured from the countryside by the prospect of a free education and a roof over their heads. Many view their stint in a monastery as a temporary gig rather than a calling. And while faith is no doubt the primary motivation, their sojourn in Luang Prabang is also a coming-out party—their first experience with the world beyond their village and their first contact with foreigners such as myself. (And they are not shy when it comes to practicing their English.)

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wake of the early morning alms procession, catching the sunset from the summit of Mount Pousi, and browsing impeccably preserved monasteries like Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Mai count among the things that one must do while visiting Luang Prabang, my favorite distraction is the old royal palace. When the current Communist regime took over in the 1970’s, it transformed the rambling whitewashed structure into a museum that was supposed to reflect the decadence of the royals. And while the displays certainly exemplify an extravagant lifestyle, the museum is also an unintended homage to those who once ruled over this mountain kingdom. I could have lingered for weeks in Luang Prabang, relishing the authentic café au lait and warm French bread each morning, reading books in the outdoor cafés and slowly making my way through each and every Buddhist temple and shrine. But the Mekong beckons and I eventually find myself treading a wooden gangplank and onto the riverboat, Luang Say, for a two-day journey upriver to the Golden Triangle. Though it closely resembles the traditional cargo and passenger barges that ply the middle section of the Mekong, the Luang Say is a recent construct, built specifically to carry foreign travelers along the river. I wouldn’t call the open-sided boat luxurious, but it is pleasingly comfortable. Traditional Laotian meals are served along wooden tables and there’s a lounge area laden with over-stuffed sofas. The boat can easily accommodate 40 passengers, but on this particular morning only 14 people are heading upriver, a smattering of Englishspeaking tourists from around the globe, including a doctor »

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HILE FOLLOWING IN THE

Royal Capital From above: The Mekong River at sunset, in Luang Prabang; a Buddhist monk in Luang Prabang; the lush countryside of northern Laos. Opposite, clockwise from top left: A teakwood building, in Luang Prabang; children in Ban Bo village; the grounds of the former royal palace, in Luang Prabang; an elderly villager at Tai Loung village; a poinsettia flower, in Luang Prabang.


Town Views Above: French colonial heritage, in Luang Prabang. Left: Luang Prabang from That Phousi stupa, overlooking the town. Opposite: Buddhist monks chat at Wat Xien Thong, in Luang Prabang.

from Kunming in southern China, a couple of hardy Scots and a sixty-something American couple backpacking their way across Southeast Asia. “Most people like to go downriver,” says Som Chan, the boat’s purser and guide, explaining why the boat is less than half full for this particular voyage. But that leaves more room for the rest of us to contemplate the scenery, settle into an afternoon nap or sidle up to the bar at the back of the boat for a chilly Beer Lao. It will take us at least seven hours to reach Pak Beng, where we will stay overnight, and then another seven or eight hours on the river the next day to reach the Golden Triangle. The first of half a dozen stops on day one is the famous Pak Ou Caves, about 26 kilometers upstream from Luang Prabang. Scaling a steep staircase up from the river, I venture into huge limestone caverns, where generations of devotees have placed more than 4,000 Buddha images over the past 500 years—on shelves hewn from the stone, small brick altars and just about every level of floor space. Some are dressed in miniature monks’ robes, while others look so old and fragile they may crumble at the first touch. Curls of incense smoke drift towards the rafters, stained black after five centuries of veneration. Deep-green moss and spider webs add an eerie effect, lending the caves a creepy, yet awesome, spirituality. Continuing northward, the Luang Say enters an unpopulat-

ed stretch of the river, with thick forest along the banks rising to the bottom of mist-covered limestone cliffs, reminiscent of Guilin in southern China. But eventually civilization comes into view once again—a waterfront village populated by hilltribe people, their thatched-roof homes perched on stilts above the banks and fields of dry rice climbing the slopes behind the village. Each of the tiny, isolated communities along this part of the Mekong seems to have a specialty. Ban Bo is known for its lao khao, a potent rice wine brewed in steel drums before distillation into old beer bottles for sale to riverboat passengers. I can’t resist a swig (an odd taste, sort of like lemonade, yet strong enough to run an outboard engine, the villagers tell me). Further upstream, a riverside sawmill comes into view in Udomkhamee, where working elephants toil among the timber. In the twilight our boat slides in Pak Beng—the largest town between Luang Prabang and the Golden Triangle— and the only place with overnight digs. The backpackers onboard head for a handful of modest guesthouses along the main road, but my retreat for the night is an eco-lodge on the hillside above town, a wooden bungalow where I will have a remarkably good night’s sleep and my most memorable moment the following morning. We cast off again shortly after dawn. Long early-morning shadows are cast across the river as we motor upstream » 127


River Views Clockwise from right: Buddha images at Pak Ou Caves, near Luang Prabang; aboard the Luang Say on its journey upriver; street vendors, in Luang Prabang. Opposite: Idyllic views at Luang Say Lodge, in Pak Beng.

against the current. It’s a good time to be on the river. The locals are out in force—fishing, tending buffalo or working the rice fields on the steep slopes behind the riverbanks. “As soon as the harvest is over,” says Chan, “many of the villagers in this area will start looking for gold in the river.” Once the Himalayan snowmelt from the previous winter peters out, the river starts to run low by January or February, with many of the mudflats and sandy shoals exposed. Carrying rattan baskets, aluminum pans and primitive bamboo dredges, locals sift through the silt looking for gold flakes no larger than sesame seeds. Chan tells me that some of the more determined (or lucky) prospectors can make up to US$100 a month.

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living along this stretch of river north of Pak Beng are Hmong hill-tribe people. They live in large wooden homes with thatched roofs to protect against the winter winds that blow down from the Tibetan mountains. Though most of the men sport Western-style clothing, Hmong women still wear their traditional garb of embroidered jackets over black trousers with a blue sash. According to Chan, the Hmong are still animists who cling to their ancient beliefs and superstitions. ANY OF THE PEOPLE

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But capitalism has definitely found its way into the riverside dynamic, especially in villages like Gon Dturn, where the Luang Say and other Mekong cruisers stop for a brief respite and a spot of lively trading in homemade tablecloths, wall hangings, sarongs and other textiles spun on looms beneath stilted dwellings. Villagers bearing all sorts of woven treasures greet us at the shore, and there is an explosion of color along the waterfront and unpaved main road. Given the profusion of satellite dishes, metal roofs and factory-made clothes, the people of Gon Dturn seem to have done quite well out of the river trade. Another 80 kilometers upstream, we reach the Thai frontier, marked by a pagoda-shaped border post on the west bank. For the remainder of our voyage northward, the Mekong acts as a wide and muddy divide between the two countries—Laos on one bank, Thailand on the other. The contrast between the two countries is readily apparent in the modern roads, vehicles and buildings on the Thai side. This is the heart of the Golden Triangle, where three countries (Thailand, Laos and Burma) come together in a region once famed for its bountiful and illegal harvests of opium poppies. Crop substitution put an end to the opium trade and the


GUIDE TO THE MEKONG

M A P BY WA S I N E E C H A N TA KO R N

RIVERBOATS There are three ways to navigate the Mekong between Luang Prabang and the Golden Triangle: fast jet boats can make the journey in a single day, though they are considered fairly dangerous; slow tourist barges that take at least two full days; and small “cruise ships,” which are a more comfortable version of the tourist barges.

region’s natural beauty now lures tourists. By late afternoon we have tied up at Huai Say, a bustling market town on the east bank of the Mekong that marks the end of our passage on the Luang Say. Most of my fellow travelers will relax in the waterfront guesthouses at Huai Say, but I’ve got a late-night flight to catch in Chiang Rai and have to figure out how to cross the river into Thailand. This takes me on a mad scramble across three other barges strapped together, before ducking under a huge truck to the dock, where I tumble into a tuk-tuk that whisks me through Huai Say to another river landing, and Laotian customs and immigration. I then climb onboard a long-tail and head across the Mekong to Chiang Khong, on the Thai side. Here, I find a taxi to take me to Chiang Rai. Like the end of any journey, there is a sense of accomplishment, but in this case there is something more. It only takes two days to cruise between Luang Prabang and the Golden Triangle, but time seems to linger along this stretch of river, and centuries-old ways continue to flow as surely and confidently as the Mekong itself. ✚

Bangkok-based Asian Oasis operates two 40-passenger river barges on the Mekong. Onboard are a fully stocked bar, comfortable seating and open sides for viewing or photography. Passage between Luang Prabang and the Golden Triangle includes all meals, an English-speaking river guide and an overnight stay at Luang Say Lodge in Pak Beng. 7th floor, Nai Lert Tower, 2/4 Wireless Rd., Bangkok; 66-2/655-6246 (856-71/252-553 in Luang Prabang); www.asianoasis.com; from US$232 per person one-way. WHEN TO GO It is hot and muggy along the Mekong in northern Laos for much of the year, though early mornings can be brisk. The rainy season is from July to October. The tourist high season comes directly after the rains, especially November and December, when hotel rooms are at a premium in Luang Prabang and the weather is cooler. HOW TO GET THERE Bangkok Airways has several daily flights from Bangkok to Luang Prabang, while budget airline AirAsia has three to four flights a

day from Bangkok to Chiang Rai. Fifteen-day tourist visas can be obtained prior to departure from the Laotian Embassy in Bangkok or upon arrival at the Thai–Laotian border or the airport in Luang Prabang (US$30). WHERE TO STAY LUANG PRABANG La Résidence Phou Vao Perched on a wooded hillside on the outskirts of Luang Prabang, this stylish Orient Express Hotel blends traditional Laotian architecture with modern amenities and outstanding views of the town. 856-71/212-530; www.residencephouvao.com; doubles from US$193. Maison Souvannaphoum Chic digs in a lovely French colonial villa that was once the residence of Laos’s crown prince. The hotel’s French–Laotian restaurant sits beside the pool, while the Angsana Spa luxuriates in billowy white tents in the garden. Rue Chao Fa Ngum; 856-71/254-609; www. coloursofangsana.com/ souvannaphoum; doubles from US$140. CHIANG RAI Anantara Resort Golden Triangle Roll right off the river and into this luxurious resort beside the Mekong, with suites and rooms overlooking three different countries, plus a spa with traditional Thai and Ayurvedic treatments. 229 Moo 1, Chiang Saen; 66-53/784-084; www. goldentriangle.anantara.com; doubles from US$272.

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INLAND EMPIRE

EMERGING FROM THE LONG SHADOW OF SOVIET COMMUNISM, MONGOLIA — WITH ITS STARK, RAVISHING LANDSCAPES AND RESURGENT BUDDHIST TRADITIONS — IS LOOKING WEST FOR ITS FUTURE, AS PANKAJ MISHRA DISCOVERS PHOTOGRAPHED BY FRÉDÉRIC LAGRANGE

A ger camp outside Kharkorin. Opposite: In Ulaanbaatar, a woman in traditional Mongolian dress at a beauty pageant.


Hiking excursions from Los Cerros afford stunning views, like this one of Argentinaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Mount Fitz Roy.


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Desert Song From above left: A herdsman and his camels at the edge of the Gobi Desert; the richly ornate interior of the State Opera and Ballet

OLLING INTO Mongolia on the Trans-Siberian Express from Beijing, I wonder where everyone is. In China, there had been crowds everywhere, the dense human mass overwhelming even to someone from India. But just after we crossed the border with China, an eerie void defined Mongolia. This shouldn’t have been so strange—after all, the Gobi Desert covers much of southern Mongolia. But when I thought of Mongolia I pictured the multitudes of horsemen that swept across Central Asia and Russia in the 13th century, all the way to Central Europe, creating the greatest land empire the world has ever seen. All through that cold morning, pastureland rolled past my train window. I saw an occasional ger—the white circular tent that is the Mongolian version of the Central Asian yurt—and horses accompanied by a cowboy with an uurga, the Mongolian lasso. And then there was emptiness for hours on end. The blank landscape seemed to have subdued the Chinese attendants in my coach. Huddled with their pals over beers in

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the dining car as the legendary Trans-Siberian Express began its long journey from Beijing to Siberia via the Gobi Desert, they had barely glanced up as I stumbled through my phrasebook-aided request for hot water. In the bright Mongolian morning, they seemed withdrawn. The Russian couple in the compartment next to mine also looked sullen. They’d had a terrible night. At the border crossing the night before, the Mongolian immigration officer had told them that their visas had expired and had threatened to throw them off the train into what seemed, literally, the middle of nowhere. Sitting in my compartment, I had heard their tearful pleadings. Then, even the Chinese attendants looked sympathetic. It had finally been sorted out, after a delay of almost two hours. The Mongolian officer relented and gave new visas to the Russians. He may have been bluffing after all. The Chinese attendants looked relieved, the Russians grateful, if worn out by their ordeal. It was an odd scene—the assertive Mongolians, the subdued Chinese and the terrified Russians. It hinted at great historical shifts and ironies: the hierarchies of the Cold War, when Mongolia was a satellite state of the Soviet Union, had been overturned. But it was after a few days in Mongolia, with a greater understanding of what it meant to be a modern Mongolian,


Theater on Ulaanbaatar’s Sukhbaatar Square; a girl in her school uniform, in Mandalgov, in the Gobi; the Choijin Lama Monastery, in Ulaanbaatar.

living in a country sandwiched between Russia and China, that the fuller meaning of what I had witnessed would become clear. Though surrounded by giants, Mongolia itself is no slouch. It is twice the size of Texas, but with a population of fewer than three million people—it has the lowest population density in the world. More than a third of Mongolians reside in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, which lies on a plateau surrounded by high mountains. It was only late September when I arrived, but it felt like December in the Himalayas, the air full of the smell of snow. I would soon leave Ulaanbaatar for the northern borderlands, where the Mongolian steppes yield to the Siberian taiga, into a purer void than I had seen from my train. But the city, I discovered, holds plenty of surprises for the flâneur. I had imagined something more Chinese or Asian: a staging post or a market town, with nomads on horseback and crimson-robed monks in its narrow alleys. In 1924, Mongolia had been only the second country in the world after the Soviet Union to go Communist. If I was unprepared for the Soviet, faux-European architecture of Ulaanbaatar and the signs in Cyrillic everywhere, I was even less ready for the gridlock traffic on broad avenues, the new cafés, beer bars, beauty salons and discos packed with both expatri-

ates and trendy Mongolian youth, or the cranes everywhere, one of them constructing Mongolia’s first five-star hotel. Being a vegetarian, I had prepared for the austerity of Mongolia, stocking up on processed cheese and crackers in Beijing. I realized I had wasted my time when I found myself on Peace Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, surrounded by multiethnic cuisine and fusion restaurants and department stores and supermarkets. These images of luxury seemed far away when I woke up every morning in my room at the Ulaanbaatar Hotel and saw a statue of Lenin dominating the view from my window. With its high ceilings, chandeliers, marble staircases and generally unresponsive staff, the hotel itself seemed to conform to a Soviet idea of luxury. Neoclassical buildings ringed the massive Sukhbaatar Square, a wilderness of cement named after the Mongolian nationalist who rid his country of Chinese influence in 1921, only to saddle it with the Soviets. One building in garish pink stood out in particular. This was the State Opera and Ballet Theater, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in St. Petersburg, part of a Russian fantasy of Europeanness. Much of this, I learned, was the work of the Mongolian Communist Yumjaagiyn Tsedenbal and his Russian wife, Anastasya Filatova, who together ruled the country from » 133


1952 to 1984, consolidating Soviet influence with an iron fist, especially in the Communist-style command economy where the government owned all the means of production and restricted private business. They further cleansed Ulaanbaatar of Chinese influence. Even before their reign, the Soviet Union had cast a dark shadow on Mongolia—Communism had managed to re-create here the cruelties and absurdities it had inflicted on people in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. One afternoon in Ulaanbaatar I wandered into the Memorial Museum of Victims of Political Persecution. It had been set up soon after 1990, when Mongolia rid itself of Communism and embraced democracy. I was shown around by Bekhbat Sodnom, the director of the museum, who turned out to be the grandson of Peljidiyn Genden, Mongolia’s prime minister in the early 1930’s. Genden was shot dead on Stalin’s orders after he repeatedly defied the Soviet dictator’s orders to purge Mongolia of allegedly anti-Communist and rightist elements, such as the Buddhist clergy. More Mongolian leaders would be executed before Stalin found those who were prepared to follow his instructions. The museum contained much evidence of the terror Mongolia had known in the 1930’s. The first floor had photos of some of the thousands of Mongolians killed during that time. On the second floor, I was abruptly confronted by a display case housing a pile of skulls pierced with bullet holes. I winced; my host looked unperturbed. Sodnom felt, he told me later, that visitors need to face the true scale of the tragedy inflicted on Mongolia’s Buddhist culture and identity by the Soviet Union and its Mongolian allies. Death squads traveling around the country had executed more than 20,000 monks and destroyed more than 700

monasteries. They had also wiped out the country’s entire fledgling intelligentsia. Given that almost every other ethnic nationality between Russia and China—Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Tibetans, Uygurs—was absorbed into one of the two Communist empires, Mongolia’s uninterrupted existence as an independent state cannot but be considered an achievement. Still, walking around Ulaanbaatar, I marveled at the evidence of an extraordinary historical reversal: how Russia, which once feared the Mongol hordes, had later managed to completely dominate Mongolia. The Mongols, known to the Russians as Tartars, either ruled or threatened Russia for much of the second millennium. Mongols lived in many Russian towns and intermarried with Russians. Many famous Russians, such as Boris Godunov, Gogol, even apparently Lenin, were said to have Mongol blood. The Russian state itself, as it began to develop in the 16th century, was a successor to the empire created by Genghis Khan’s conquests. (Soviet Communists and their Mongolian supporters reviled the great Mongolian hero.) Since the collapse of Communism, Genghis Khan has made a triumphant comeback. Many statues of Lenin and Stalin have been taken down, and Genghis Khan now stands everywhere in Ulaanbaatar; his bearded face is on currency, billboards, matchboxes and shop signs. I was in Ulaanbaatar when Mongolia’s president spoke at the UN General Assembly in New York, upholding Genghis Khan as a model of efficient and humane governance. As I read the speech in the UB Post, Mongolia’s English-language weekly, I imagined representatives of the Central Asian republics, as well as Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, rising in protest »


A cowboy in Kharkorin. Opposite: The Orhon River, near Kharkorin, in central Mongolia.


Soviet-style architecture on Sukhbaatar Square, in Ulaanbaatar.

IF I WAS UNPREPARED FOR THE SOVIET, FAUX-EUROPEAN ARCHITECTURE OF ULAANBAATAR, I WAS EVEN LESS READY FOR THE NEW CAFÉS, BEAUTY SALONS AND DISCOS


Family Photos From above left: A mother and daughter at home, north of Kharkorin; a young boy in Tsengel, near Ulaanbaatar.

and reciting the names of cities—Samarkand, Herat, Kandahar, Nishapur—devastated by the Mongols. But the revisionists have been at work on Genghis Khan. The modern version of the legend of the man now comes to us expunged of its extreme cruelties. Certainly, the mass murders committed by Stalin and Hitler in the 20th century have made Genghis Khan appear a moderate. This may come as a relief to Mongolians. For certifiable heroes such as Genghis Khan seem to act as glue for a national identity that has fragmented since 1990. Poverty and deprivation during the Communist era had united Mongolia; stagnation had ensured a degree of stability. But, as in Russia, the transition to a free-market economy since 1990 has caused much confusion and distress. According to the foremost American scholar of Mongolia, Morris Rossabi, the country may have had a successful transition to multiparty rule, but economic disparities continue to widen between those few who can take advantage of the foreign presence in Mongolia and the many more who can’t. The crime rate has tripled since 1990 in Ulaanbaatar and pawnshops have flourished. In the suburbs, former employees of state enterprises languish in dingy Soviet-era apartment blocks, or, even worse, in

gers without running water or sanitation. Ulaanbaatar’s smog, which I had attributed to rapid industrial growth, is largely the result of the coal-burning stoves of the suburbs. It is hard to see how things could improve soon. The country’s economy is still heavily dependent on foreign aid and investment—which is why it chose to send its troops to the U.S.-led coalition in distant Iraq. And it needs even more foreign assistance in order to exploit its apparently large deposits of coal, iron, tin, copper, gold and silver. Mongolia’s neighbor, China, which is perennially in need of raw materials, could help, but relations between the two countries remain cool. In recent years a mini gold rush has attracted foreign businessmen and adventurers; it has also excited some local greed. A Buddhist monk I was introduced to turned out to be a gold miner. Since 1990, Mongolia has also hosted the kind of foreigner who offers economic sustenance as well as cultural identity: the Christian missionary from the United States. I had been reading about the American churches that, denied the opportunity to evangelize in populous but rigidly closed China, have turned their attention to other parts of East and Central Asia, particularly Korea, Japan and Mongolia. Almost all the major denominations and sects are represented in » 137


A Vast Land From above left: A cowboy dressed in traditional garb in the central Mongolian countryside; the legendary Trans-Siberian Express

Mongolia, and, although no reliable census figures are available, they have apparently found many “rice Christians” among the Mongolians—people eager to convert in exchange for food and shelter and the possibility of travel to the West. Agizul Sosor, program manager of the Tibet Foundation, which works for the revival of Buddhism in Mongolia, tells me, “The new generation of Mongolians is very consumeristic. They want cars, jeans, stereo systems and satellite TV’s, and they will go to whoever gives it to them. But very few people can have these things; the rest can only watch with envy and malice.” One Sunday morning I went to a service at a Mormon temple on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar—one of many in the city. The temple’s white steeples rose cleanly out of the usual roadside cluster of apartment blocks streaming with clotheslines. Mongolians wearing fake brand-name jeans, sneakers and anoraks filled the austere chapel. “They are good kids,” one of the very young Americans sporting a crew cut and an extremely earnest expression informs me. It turns out that he was from Utah and has just returned from two years in the Mongolian countryside; “without heating,” he adds. The other American Mormons there seemed equally virtuous. They deny that they are in Mongolia to 138

convert people; they are there rather to educate and train Mongolians into economic self-sufficiency. The Mormon Elder, a bald, severe-looking man, complained their church often gets a bad name because of the Seventh-day Adventists and Baptists, who use cash inducements to convert Mongolians to Christianity. Buddhism, which encourages a suspicion of desire, might seem the perfect antidote to such materialistic practices, particularly because it was once woven into the fabric of everyday life in Mongolia, its rituals and mantras ever present during marriages and funerals. Much like Tibet, Mongolia was an ecclesiastical state—indeed, it was the 16th-century Mongolian ruler Altan Khan who inaugurated the lineage of the Dalai Lama (Dalai is a Mongolian word meaning “ocean”). In the pre-Communist era, almost every family sent a boy to the local monastery to be trained as a monk. But two generations of Mongolians lived without any experience of their traditional religion. Since 1990, more than 100 monasteries have reopened and the number of monks is rising. The Tibet Foundation is only one of the many organizations working to promote Mongolia’s traditional religion. One afternoon I visited the Ganden monastery, which now has more than 500 monks.


at Zamyn-Üüd, a town in southeastern Mongolia; a Buddhist monk in a ger temple, Ulaanbaatar; the stark and barren central Mongolian landscape.

Inside Migjid Janraisig Sum, the main temple in the monastery complex, middle-class pilgrims bow before the new 26-meter-high gilded statue of Avalokiteswara, a replacement of the statue removed by Communists in 1937 and taken to St. Petersburg. The chief abbot, Venerable Baasanswren, a large, jolly-faced Buddhist clutching a mobile phone, tells me that the first novice monks after Communism had to travel to Buddhist monasteries in India—a journey that parallels one made by the great medieval figures of Mongolian Buddhism. Some even went to Tibetan masters living in Europe and America. The f irst of these monks are just now returning, and training others. They are also learning the traditional Buddhist art of thangka painting. The abbot pauses now and then in the conversation to help himself to snuff, which he keeps in a Kodak film container. Speaking of the Christian missionaries, he becomes visibly angry, and I notice the translating monk hesitate, leaving out the more un-Buddhist sentiments from his leader’s outburst. The missionaries, the abbot says, give free computer education, clothes and food to Mongolians in an attempt to bribe them into their alien religion. But what he doesn’t tell me is that the Buddhist monks who controlled Mongolia before the Communists hardly set a high

moral example. Monasteries were centers of corruption and the clergy was widely hated by Mongolians. I was not surprised to learn that Choybalsan, one of Mongolia’s more repressive Stalinist leaders, had spent his childhood in a monastery. For years, I had thrilled at the mention of the word Karakorum and it was to this ancient capital, now called Kharkovin, that I now set off. Unfortunately, the only practical vehicle on Mongolian roads is the environmentally challenged SUV. But I have reason to feel grateful for it as we leave the city’s industrial suburbs and move into the countryside. The road, uneven at best, often disappears, and then the knuckles of my Mongolian driver, gripping the steering wheel, go as white as the dust kicked up by our car. Occasionally, small hills appear in the distance. Their smooth sides show pointillist dark and white spots, which then reveal themselves as gers surrounded by herds of sheep and horses, often supervised by handsome men with weatherbeaten faces and lassos. But for many miles on the long straight road there is no vehicle or human being in sight, and the sky, streaked white by jet planes, seems more eventful than the undulating grassland. Such a total absence of the known world and its familiar » 139


features is initially oppressive. But it can be soothing once you get used to it. For a few hours that day I feel that nothing mattered; all ambition, vanities and egotisms faded, and the sense of smallness and insignificance imposed by the vast blank landscape seemed utterly natural and true. It was early afternoon when we draw into a ger camp. The white tents lay next to a bright icy stream, where a raw wind makes it clear why Mongolia is considered colder than neighboring Siberia. But it is remarkably warm inside my ger, once the brazier is lit and the adjustable flap is sealed the top of the felt tent. Inside the ger that serves as the local restaurant, I surprise a couple of middle-class English ladies sniffing at a Mongolian lunch. Mongolian cuisine, usually mutton in watery gravy, is not the most distinguished feature of the country, and I stick with the processed cheese and crackers I bought in China. Somewhat fortif ied, I venture late that afternoon to Erdene Zuu Khiid, a 16th-century monastery. The oldest monastery in Mongolia, it was originally built out of the ruins of the capital and has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. When I walk through the gates with their f loating Chinese eaves, there is hardly anyone in its vast walled compound. The chapels housing the statues of Buddhas are under lock and key and the shadows of temples lie sharp on the ground. I see a young monk in the distance, trying to ride a bicycle, and his exuberance only seems to add to the solitude of the monastery. Beyond the monastery to the east lies the ancient capital of Karakorum, built by Genghis Khan’s son and successor, Ögödei, its boundaries marked by four turtle-shaped rocks. The city was abandoned after Kublai Khan decided in the late 13th century to move the capital to what is now Beijing. But its fame lasted long enough to reach the ears of Marco Polo, who mentioned the city in an account of his travels through Asia. In 1254, William of Rubruck, a Franciscan monk sent by Louis IX to meet the Mongol Khan and make an alliance against Muslims, became the first European to visit the city. What he saw didn’t impress him much. The Mongol nomads did not produce great architects. But there was no mistaking the extraordinary power that radiated from Karakorum—the

power that spread and made Karakorum a household name in places as far away as Iran and India. To leave the monastery compound and reenter the unfenced expanses of Mongolia; to be told by the Mongolian hawkers selling fake archaeological finds and trinkets that the dusty land of scrub and wild grass where I stood was indeed Karakorum, with no distinguishing sign except for the remaining turtle-shaped rock; to remember that this was once the center of the world, was to be given a unique historical lesson. Encircled and diminished by Russian and Chinese powers and waiting now for Western tourists and investors, modern Mongolia seems very far from its adventurous past. No longer the originator of earthshaking events, or even a valued pawn in the Cold War, Mongolia faces the uncertain future of small countries without modern economic bases everywhere. Grappling with inequality, pollution and political instability, it may look to Genghis Khan’s exploits for emotional succor. But nationalism based upon a memory of the past rather than achievements in the present is usually shallow. Sooner or later, Mongolia will have to make its peace with— and learn to depend upon—China. This is not as humiliating as it sounds: the American economy, after all, also depends on China. I thought again of the faded grandeur of the Mongols a few weeks after leaving Karakorum when I read the surprising news that President George W. Bush, who is not known for his frequent-flier mileage, had visited Mongolia, mostly to thank the country for its contribution to the war effort in Iraq. In a speech at Ulaanbaatar, President Bush offered the curious theory that Mongolians were like Americans: hardy frontier people. It wasn’t clear whom the President’s speechwriter had wished to compliment—the Mongolian hosts, whose ancestors had once known “full spectrum dominance,” or the powerful visitors, who were aspiring to it. For the Mongolians’ frontier days are long past, and if the memory of their extraordinary conquests spoke of anything now, it was of the transience of nations and empires, and the impermanence of human glory—the melancholy but important truth that Mongolia’s great emptiness still holds. 

GUIDE TO MONGOLIA

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WHEN TO GO July through September are the most pleasant months to visit, but go prepared

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for cold at any time of the year. Avoid mid October through April, when temperatures remain below minus 18 degrees and snowstorms are frequent.

WHERE TO STAY Ulaanbaatar Hotel 14 Sukhbaatar Square; 976-11/320-620; www.ubhotel.mn; doubles from US$120.

HOW TO GET THERE Most travelers fly in from Beijing, but there are also nonstop flights from Osaka and Seoul. Ulaanbaatar’s Chinggis Khaan International Airport is the only international hub in the country. MIAT (Mongolian Airlines), Air China, Aeroflot and Korean Air fly to the capital city.

Three Camel Lodge Perched in the foothills of the Gobi Gurvan Sayan Mountains, this desert camp of 46 gers (nomadic tents of felt and wood) is the area’s only luxury accommodation. 976-11/313-396; www.threecamellodge.com; doubles from US$120.


CERTIFIABLE HEROES SUCH AS GENGHIS KHAN SEEM TO ACT AS GLUE FOR A NATIONAL IDENTITY THAT HAS FRAGMENTED SINCE 1990

Wrestlers train at a gym in Ulaanbaatar. Month 2006 Travel+Leisure 000


(My Favorite Place)

Marina Mahathir in an Alexis Bistro.

MALAYSIA

Writer, TV presenter, and HIV/AIDS and women’s rights activist Marina Mahathir, the daughter of former prime minister Mohamad Mahathir, tells PAUL EHRLICH where she relaxes

that my favorite place is somewhere exotic and sophisticated, but truth be told, I’m happiest wherever my friends and family are. Since most of them are in Kuala Lumpur, my favorite hangout has to be where I can have a cup of coffee and catch up with them. And that is, invariably, Alexis Bistro & Wine Bar. Alexis started in a shophouse in Kuala Lumpur’s Bangsar district some 10 years ago. Even then it was chic, with its light-timbered floors, banquettes and shocking pink leather walls. The food then was simple and delicious, and the desserts sinful. My family and friends would sit in there for hours, consuming more calories than we should. My older daughter is remembered for sleeping on the banquettes, her head on my lap. The staff is friendly and tolerant—once, while taking a break from a carnival event, I sat in Alexis eating cheesecake, my face painted like a clown. Nobody batted an eyelid. Alexis has since gone on to bigger things. Its Ampang branch features jazz on the weekends and the newer Bangsar branch is so chic that you feel you have to dress up to go there. But somehow the original Alexis hasn’t lost its intimacy. So either out of familiarity or lack of imagination, we still gravitate towards it for girlie natter or serious parent-child motivational talks. Peach and banana crumble, anyone? 

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MA RC H 2 0 0 8| T R A V E L A N D L E I S U R E S E A . C O M

ALEXIS BANGSAR is the original outlet of Alexis bistros in Kuala Lumpur. There are now three outlets in the city. The Bangsar branch, which opened in 1995, is famed for its homemade cakes. 29 Jln. Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru; 60-3/22842880; alexis.com.my/ html/bangsar.html.

TA R A S O S R O WA R D OYO

I

T WOULD BE NICE TO SAY


March 2008  
March 2008  

March 2008

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