Wednesday
Aug072013

Hotels of Note: The Oriental, Bangkok

Bangkok is one of the biggest cities in Asia, and also one of the most chaotic. That of course is part of its charm, with modern malls and skyscrapers mingling with traditional wats (temples) and pedestrians milling past food stalls, motorbike taxis and vendors along the busy sidewalks.

Bangkok also happens to be home to one of the world’s great hotels, the Mandarin Oriental, a five-star legend which has been winning awards for years. With its location on the banks of the Chao Phraya River at the end of a quiet soi (street) and surrounded by lush tropical gardens, this hotel is a true oasis. It’s also the oldest hotel in Thailand, and features buildings ranging from its original colonial style 19th century property to the present day towers.

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Wednesday
Jul312013

Big City Transit: Seoul

If a think-tank full of the world’s top city planners and developers put their heads together to design a state-of-the-art public transport system, it would probably end up looking a lot like Seoul’s. To be fair, that’s not far from what actually happened. The Seoul of post-war Korea expanded rapidly as people from the surrounding countryside poured in. Those people needed practical and effective infrastructure, and transit solutions that worked. And that’s exactly what they got.

That’s good news for today’s visitors. For all of Seoul’s drab (some would say ‘soulless’) architecture, the city redeems itself with one of the cleanest, most beautifully organized public transport systems in the world. All a visitor needs is a public transit map, a card with the name and address of their Seoul hotel written in Korean and a stored value card (try the Seoul City Pass or T-Money card) and you can get pretty much anywhere you need to go. You’ll end up doing a little bit of walking between stations and your onward destination, but this is nominal. Wherever you are headed, the subway, taxis and buses of Seoul will get you there quickly.

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Wednesday
Jul242013

Thai seafood favorites

From fish to crustaceans, many forms and varieties of seafood play a major role in Thai cuisine. Deep fried, steamed, curried, and roasted are just a few ways that seafood is prepared, and there is no end to the ways in which seafood can be combined with the spicy, tangy, sour and sweet flavors in traditional Thai cooking. For seafood lovers, Thailand is a paradise!

Here are five locally popular seafood dishes in Thailand.

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Wednesday
Jul172013

Four sides of Samui 

Koh Samui is developing fast, becoming an international tourist destination to rival Phuket. It's much smaller than its Andaman Sea counterpart, so it's easier to navigate, and there are still far fewer tourists than in Phuket, though the tourist infrastructure is just as sturdy. Situated in the Thai Gulf, Samui has a different monsoonal season to Phuket, which means it's sunny and mostly dry when the rest of Thailand is rainy. Conversely, the wettest months are November to February, when most other places are cool and dry.

Samui has a high number of western expats, many of whom run restaurants and bars on the island, so there's no shortage of choice when it comes to drinking and dining. All the main fast food chains can be found around Chaweng Beach, plus countless venues aimed specifically at the tourist market. The range of accommodation in Samui is also vast, offering everything from rustic beach bungalows to luxury pool villas. As far as tropical islands go, Samui is one of the most flexible, accessible and affordable. Here are four different types of holiday you can have in Koh Samui.

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Wednesday
Jul102013

Hanabi: Japanese Fireworks Festvial

What do you get if you cross a culture of excellence, lovely summer weather, and thousands of pounds of high-explosive gunpowder? No, not a Michael Bay movie marathon at your local drive-in theater; rather, you get Japan’s noisy, colorful, crazy-fun fireworks festivals.

As most people know, fireworks originated in Asia, and centuries before they were used as decorative and loud entertainment, they were used to scare away spirits and demons, and even as weapons. In Japan, the word for fireworks is hanabi and the country is known for its many summer festivals and celebrations across the country for which fireworks shows are a major component, and are definitely worth checking out if you’re in-country.

Most of the fireworks festivals come with lively street markets, plenty of food, musical performances and games for families, couples, and people just looking for a bit of fun. During the day, you can wander the streets eating and enjoying the decorations, shopping, or visiting the historical and tourist sites in the town that you’re in – it doesn’t matter where, every place in Japan has something cool to see.

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Wednesday
Jul032013

Exploring Kathmandu by Foot

Most travelers want to connect personally and deeply with the destination they’re visiting in Asia. The term street-level is often used to describe such experiences and there’s truly no better way to explore new areas than by foot. Sure air-conditioned taxis are comfortable and rickshaws novel at times, but striking out by foot is truly the best way to see a city. Indeed, when you visit an older and not centrally planned city like Kathmandu, taking a hike becomes even more appealing, practical and fun.

Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered, but navigating its labyrinthine streets and passageways efficiently and not sitting in traffic is the key to having the best possible time. With roughly 2.5 million people calling the greater Kathmandu Valley home, this is a sprawling, yet accessible metropolis. People have been living here for about 2,000 years, and it’s been a well-established trader’s meeting point for centuries. Indians from the lower subcontinent didn’t want to go higher than the city’s 1,400m elevation and traders from the Tibetan Plateau found any lower point too hot, so this is where they met. Areas grew into towns, towns into cities and along the way they all became connected by a series of roads, paths, and passageways, making foot the best way to commute. After all, cars didn’t even come to Nepal until the late 1940s when the first one was literally carried in over the mountains.

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Wednesday
Jun262013

City Insider: Syracuse

It sounds horribly like a travel writer’s overused cliché, but the beautiful Sicilian city of Syracuse really and truly does have it all.

And what exactly is “it”, you may well ask. Let’s just say that Syracuse has historical monuments galore, a busy, picturesque harbor, narrow winding cobblestone streets, amazing churches and cathedrals, great food, brilliant markets – pretty much everything one needs for a perfect holiday. Oh, and the shopping is elegant, too. This is Italy, never forget.

Let’s start with the city’s history, of which there is far too much to cover in a simple blog post. The Greeks first visited in the 8th century BC, settling on the island of Ortygia, which is now connected to the rest of the city by three small bridges. The famous Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero once described the city as “the greatest Greek city and most beautiful of all,” and wandering through the spectacular Greek theatre – the famed teatro Greco – you tend to agree with him. Far from Greece, in a little corner of an Italian island, overlooking the sea, the theater is a jewel. It’s in amazingly good, unrestored condition, and if you visit off-season you’ll likely find it almost empty. You can wander at will or simply sit and let centuries of history wash over you.

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Wednesday
Jun192013

Hotels of Note: Raffles Hotel

Out of all the colonial-era hotels in Asia, one of the most well-known is the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The “grand lady of the Far East” is famous around the world for being a luxury hotel that has retained much of its heritage from a bygone era. Its international fame is also helped by the fact that it was the birthplace of a famous cocktail (more on that later).

The Sarkies, Again

The hotel was established in 1887 by the Sarkies, Armenian brothers from Persia (now Iran). The Sarkies had already established themselves in the region with the Eastern Hotel and the Oriental Hotel in Penang, which later became the Eastern & Oriental Hotel.

The hotel was originally located on the seaside but the little island city has been gradually reclaiming land over the decades, and the property today is located in the middle of town and not on the waterfront. The original 10-room hotel was expanded 12 years after it opened with the construction of the neo-Renaissance building that stands today.

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Wednesday
Jun122013

The Indian Thali

A thali, which literally translates to “plate,” refers to a self-contained set meal in India. The basic dishes that make up the meal generally include rice, roti, dal, a variety of curries, curd, a hot poppadum (a type of flatbread), and sometimes a sweet dessert. While many restaurants in India serve a full a la carte menu, if you’re looking for something that will be tasty and fresh with a variety of different flavors, order the thali.

There are several varieties of thali and what region of India you’re in will determine what it includes. While curries are common throughout the country, they are often paired with whatever the staple is in that area. Even with each state serving a different form of thali, many large Indian restaurants simplify their menu to just include either a single thali from their region, or a choice of a south or north Indian thali.

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Wednesday
Jun052013

Big City Transit: Manila

Manila is the quintessential Southeast Asian metropolis: decentralized, congested and a nightmare to navigate during rush hour. And as if that weren’t enough, the city twists the knife with a sparse rail network, taxi drivers who shun the meter and an inadequate bus system.

Okay, so you’re not going to leave Manila praising transport system, but it’s not all bad news. On a hot day, a ride on the air-conditioned MRT is divine; and so long as you have the routes down, a quick jaunt on a Jeepney will leave you feeling like a born-again local. And even if Manila’s public transit network could use a serious overhaul, with fares this low, who’s complaining?

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