Wednesday
May072014

Florence – Five Top Highlights

It’s safe to say that Florence is one of the most amazing cities in all of Italy. Apart from the most popular reasons to visit Italy – to taste the food and gaze upon the architecture – there are plenty of spectacular sites and attractions around Florence that stimulate and charm the other senses.

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Wednesday
Apr232014

The Beaches of Bali

Bali is a big island with a long history of tourism and beaches that range from frenetic to lazy. Generally speaking, for the tropical idyll of powder-fine sands and calm seas you are probably on the wrong island (the Gilis might be more what you're looking for), but for surfing, diving, dining, dolphin spotting and enjoying coastal village culture, Bali is your place. The most popular and accessible beaches are those closer to Denpasar airport, at the bottom of the island.

Kuta

The birthplace of tourism in Bali, Kuta started out as primarily a surf spot. Still a popular destination for surfers – especially from Australia – the beach now draws an international crowd of all permutations. There's little observable "authentic" Balinese culture this close to the airport, but there's still a small-town charm in the area's narrow winding lanes, urban rice paddies, ramshackle shophouses and moped traffic jams. On this side of the island, the beaches are best from April to October when the monsoon is directed out to sea, rather than blowing debris up on shore.

The atmosphere on the beach changes depending on where you are along its five-plus kilometer span. It starts off crowded in the south, where Kuta's main shops, restaurants, bars and clubs are, and gets more peaceful the farther north you go. For affordable Bali accommodation Kuta is the best location – especially for younger independent travelers seeking to party with like-minded souls.

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Wednesday
Apr092014

Five Great National Parks: Australia

Australia’s diverse ecosystems are among its headlining attractions, and you could spend years just exploring the national parkland on this island continent. Of course, no one has time to see them all, so we’ve compiled a list of five great national parks in Australia. Just plan on doing a lot more than cooing over the adorable koalas (though, to be fair, there’ll be time for that, too).

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Wednesday
Mar262014

Hotels of Note: The Royal Horseguards

In a city like London, it's easy for the grandeur of history and tradition to get a bit diluted. After all, it is a city loaded with prestige and status, but there are certainly several standout properties that continue to impress even the most jaded of visitors. One such property is the Royal Horseguards, a hotel that has become an enduring icon along the banks of the Thames.

Originally built as a block of luxury apartments in 1884, it officially opened as a hotel in 1971. Many of its early investors had close ties to the British military - more specifically the Household Cavalry, the most prestigious unit of the British Army and the Queens official bodyguard. Indeed, during both world wars, the hotel was taken over by the Ministry of Defense and was used as a base of operations by MI5 and MI6, Britain's most secretive and powerful spy organizations.

In 1985, the hotel acquired the upper floors of the adjoining National Liberal Club at 1 Whitehall Place, an expansion that upped the total number of guestrooms and suites by 140. Because of its prime location, the hotel has long been a top choice for governmental meetings and operations, run by the Houses of Parliament and the Foreign Office.

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Wednesday
Mar122014

Regional Variations in Thai Cuisine

Thailand is a country with an incredibly diverse variation of regional dishes. At Thai restaurants outside Thailand, the food is often lumped into a single category: Thai cuisine. In Thailand however, you'll find that food at restaurants is often grouped by region, many restaurants only serving food from one particular region of Thai cuisine. While there are countless variations of Thai food by region, there are four main categories; Isaan northeastern, Lanna northern, Bangkok central, and southern Thai.

Isaan food, also known as the cuisine originating from the northeastern region of Thailand, is one of the most popular and widely consumed varieties of food in the entire country. Sticky rice, which is steamed and is much more glutinous than regular jasmine rice, is the main staple grain in Isaan. This variation of Thai cuisine includes lots of fresh vegetable & meat salads, as well as meat and fish often roasted over charcoal. Some popular examples include somtam, a combination of shredded green papaya, tomatoes, peanuts, chilies, garlic, fish sauce, fermented fish sauce (optional), lime juice, and palm sugar; kaw moo yang, grilled pork neck that’s sliced into bite sized pieces and served with a chili dipping sauce; larb moo, a salad of minced pork in a dressing of lime juice and chilies; and tom sap, a hot and sour soup.

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Wednesday
Feb262014

Big City Transit – Taipei

Thankfully, Taipei lacks the endless, jam-packed urban sprawls of other Asian cities like Beijing or Bangkok, but it still packs a punch when it comes to rush hour traffic and labyrinthine public transportation. For tourists going in with the mentality of “doing what the locals do,” and just copying a random commuter, they may find themselves on alternative lines of transit, which can range from cross-country trains to rentable tandem bikes, so…best to know exactly how things work before you dive in.

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Wednesday
Feb122014

Valentine’s Day in Asia – is it a big deal?

Valentine’s Day in western countries is celebrated by everyone from young school children to senior couples who have been married for decades. It’s usually a pretty standard affair – a card, a romantic dinner, chocolates, a gift, and – for the truly dedicated – engagements or weddings.

But in Asia – where western traditions often have to be modified to fit around long-established cultural norms – Valentine’s Day takes on interesting new dimensions.

For instance, in China, there are several important rules one must observe if they want to impress someone. Do not, under any circumstances, give an umbrella or a fan. This is because the Chinese word for both sounds similar to the Chinese word for “to leave” or “to separate,” which is definitely not what Valentine’s Day is about. Similarly, avoid shoe shopping, since shoes represent someone who is ready to walk away.

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Wednesday
Jan292014

Mumbai’s Best People-Watching – Marine Drive

There is no better way to explore a city than on foot, and if that walk takes you along a sea-fronting 4.3km promenade, what could be nicer? Welcome to Mumbai's Marine Drive, a gently curving wide road that carries traffic to and from the busy Nariman Point, a hub of office blocks, government offices and shops. Marine Drive is rather picturesquely known in all the guidebooks as the Queens Necklace, and technically as Netaji Shubash Chandra Bose Road but everyone calls it, quite simply, Marine Drive.

Mansion blocks line one side of the drive, and anywhere else in the world they would be fabulously expensive pieces of real estate, not to mention eye-poppingly beautiful. Here in Mumbai they are indeed fabulously expensive but many of them are distinctly ramshackle, relics of a repressive rent control regime that means people paid virtually nothing for prime real estate, and so the landlords (naturally) didn't bother with the upkeep. Along with the mansion blocks there is the gorgeous 19th century Wilson College, sports clubs, equestrian shows, and a large aquarium that is a venerable institution, visited by generations of children on organized school trips. There are cricket pitches – always busy – a railway line, statues, hotels and restaurants, and a brand new hospital that looks more like a 7 star hotel from the outside. The variety is fascinating.

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Tuesday
Jan142014

Hotels of Note: The Strand 

The Strand is one of a set of colonial-era hotels opened by the Sarkies, a band of Armenian brothers who boasted some of the finest handlebar moustaches the world has ever known. The Sarkie Brothers’ other two hotels – E&O on Penang and Raffles Hotel in Singapore – are better known because they stayed in operation while Burma was on geopolitical lockdown. But don’t let that turn you off of the Strand. An ambitious restoration project has returned it to its former glory, and it remains a quintessential tribute to Victorian-era luxury.

Hotel History
The Strand opened on the Yangon River in 1901. At that time, it was one of the most luxurious hotels in the British colonial empire, and 92 Strand Road quickly became one of the most prestigious addresses in Asia. However, the Sarkies Brothers sold the hotel to a local restaurateur in 1925, and the fate of the Strand took a turn.

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Wednesday
Jan012014

Six delicious Burmese salads

In traditional Burmese cuisine, salads play an important role. Many of these traditional dishes are eaten as small snacks and can be easily assembled at home with readily available ingredients. By combining these ingredients – spicy, salty, and sour – Burmese salads are packed with exciting flavors and textures. There are many different types, but here are six of the most popular to whet your appetite.

Laphet Thoke (Tea Leaf Salad) - Tea leaves are seldom eaten anywhere in the world, but Burmese laphet thoke, a salad made from fermented tea leaves, is one of the iconic dishes of the country. The leaves are pickled until slightly fermented, then mixed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, peanuts, roasted soybeans, or a number of other crunchy nuts or beans. The salad is dressed with a hint of lime juice and fish sauce to create a Burmese dish that’s both fresh and unusual, especially for western palates.

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