Category: Beaches


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Have you seen The Hangover Part II? If so, you may remember the scene where the guys first meet with Paul Giamatti’s character, Kingsley. It’s at a restaurant on the rooftop of a building that overlooks all of Bangkok.

It wasn’t a contrived set; the restaurant actually exists. It’s called Sirocco, and you don’t have to be a movie star to go there. Nor do you have to own celebrity status to order a drink at its Sky Bar, where the signature cocktail is called the Hangovertini.

Sky Bar is among many skyscraping watering holes in Thailand’s capital city. Other favorites include Nest, A Level, Vertigo, Roof at Muse Thonglor and Red Sky, which is located in the center of the city but somewhat under the radar.

A great time to go to any of these bars is after you’ve explored a little bit of Bangkok by foot.

“Get a sense of the city from ground level, then go up to one of the rooftop bars for the aerial perspective,” says A Siriwandee, a Thailand-based tour specialist. “Around sunset is obviously ideal.”

The only thing to remember before setting off for a cold one is that dress codes apply at most of the rooftop bars, “so just be conscious of that,” says A.

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ImageWhether we’ve read it or not, the 1997 novel Memoirs of a Geisha by American author Arthur Golden is a story we’re all familiar with. After all, the book not only became a bestseller, it drew the attention of Rob Marshall, who made it into a motion picture that earned six Academy Award nominations.

What few Westerners know, however, is what the definition of a geisha actually is. According to a review on Amazon.com, it’s a “rigorous” profession. And according to dictionary.com, it’s “a Japanese woman trained as a professional singer, dancer and companion of men.”  

While the geisha culture isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, it does still exist in certain parts of Japan. One such place is beautifully balanced Kyoto, which was the country’s capital for more than 1,000 years.

But think again if you think you can just take it all in by walking around the geisha districts of Kyoto.

“There is no guarantee you will see a geisha,” says Ms. Hisae Komatsu, a travel specialist in Japan, “unless you are with a guide like ours.”

Our guide is one of the foremost Western experts on geisha — a man who has lived in Kyoto for more than 20 years, was married to a former geisha, studies Japanese arts and is a lecturer on Geisha Studies at Kansai University.

“The travelers I’ve talked to are blown away by the elegance and beauty of it all,” says Hisae. “It’s such a unique experience. You not only get to have a conversation with a real geisha, you have access to someone who can answer any question about a geisha’s life.”

ImageVietnam continues to make a name for itself as a destination with underground excursions.

The tunnels at Vinh Moc, in the central province of Quang Tri, once housed an entire village and today host travelers who want to experience the grim depths of wartime living.

The tunnels at Cu Chi, where the National Liberation Front staged strikes on Saigon and the occupying American forces, are one of the country’s top draws.

Now, add one more to this roll call of subterranean adventures. In late May, the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi opened a wartime air raid shelter that once harbored the likes of Joan Baez and Jane Fonda and that was only rediscovered during construction of the hotel’s Bamboo Bar last summer.

To visit the shelter, you have to be a guest of the hotel. But a night’s stay at the Metropole is one splurge worth making anyway.

The shelter is a warren of corridors and chambers, preserved as it was in the days when sirens resounded all over Hanoi. Though this space is dank and austere, it’s relatively luxurious when you compare it to the earthen tunnels of Vinh Moc and Cu Chi.

Upon rediscovery, the hotel didn’t find any skeletons in this closet. Just an old wine bottle, some old light bulbs and old electrical outlets and air ducts. Oh, and some graffiti from one Bob Devereaux, an Australian diplomat who scratched his name in the wall one day back in 1975.

For more on the shelter, including images and video, check out the Metropole general manager’s blog.

Four-Wheel Fun in Bali

ImageThere are many different ways for you as a tourist to explore a destination.

In Siem Reap, Cambodia, you could hop into a motodop, a covered, two-wheel cab that’s hitched to the back of a motorbike.

In Saigon, Vietnam, you could climb onto a cyclo, which is characterized by a chair that’s attached to the front of a bicycle.

But perhaps nowhere is sightseeing more adventurous than in Bali, where visitors are lured by ‘VW safari’ tours — 4×4 excursions by Volkswagen Kübelwagen, a type of jeep originally built during the second world war as a military vehicle.

“There’s no better way to take in the surroundings of Bali’s hilly interior than by VW safari,” says Eva Sihotang, an Indonesia tour specialist. “With the top down, you get these incredible panoramic views of the island’s terraced rice paddies and can breathe in fresh mountain air.”

She is probably most fond of the stretch between Mount Batur and Ubud, for its windy roads that present vistas of mountain streams, small Balinese villages and those terraced rice fields. And you can quickly put the top up in case a tropical shower suddenly hits.

“I always get a kick out of the kids we pass, too,” she says. “They’re always waving and shouting hello because they think it’s a cool and unusual form of transport, as well.”

Such four-wheel fun is a must-experience during any dream trip to the Island of the Gods.

Sometimes you have to leave home to truly appreciate it. That’s Eva Sihotang’s belief. And that’s why this Indonesia-based tour specialist is familiar with more than West Java, where she grew up.

“Being able to communicate with people from different parts of the country opens you up to experiences you wouldn’t otherwise get to enjoy,” she says.

Eva, who now resides in Bali but continues to explore the entire archipelago, thinks “living away from home has made me more enthusiastic and more culturally aware of the diversity of Indonesia, which has so many islands and so many dialects.”

Eva, an avid diver, likes to channel Jacques Cousteau and survey what’s underwater. Her favorite dive site is off the East Coast of Bali, around the USS Liberty shipwreck, the result of a Japanese torpedo strike during World War II.

“The marine life at Liberty is incredible,” Eva comments. “Especially at night. There’s something magical about it, just like traveling itself!”

As for exciting experiences on land in Indonesia, she recommends setting your compass for Gili Trawangan, the largest of Lombok’s Gili islands, about an hour by boat from Bali.

“One of the coolest things is to watch a movie at the beach cinema,” Eva adds. “The atmosphere is beyond imagination.” Do what you want there, but whatever you do, don’t miss taking a seat on the sand once the sun goes down, she says.


There was a time when honeymoons meant a week spent touring romantic Rome, or a beach in the South Pacific. Nowadays, travelers are looking farther afield.

Amanda Statham, travel editor of popular UK wedding magazine You & Your Wedding, recently revealed her ‘2012 Honeymoon Hot List.’ Among the eight trends she identified? Newlyweds’ interest in venturing East.

Who can blame them? There’s a lot to relish about celebrating your nuptials in Asia, from quiet island retreats in Thailand to luxurious ryokans (traditional inns) in Japan.

One of the most popular trips out there is Angkor for Two, which starts at three days in length and features a hot-air balloon ride over the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, a romantic champagne cruise of Tonle Sap Lake, a Buddhist monk blessing ceremony and soothing massages.

For those who’ve always been intrigued by Bali, the Island of the Gods itinerary for twosomes is a must. The adventure includes hands-on cooking classes with an expert local village chef, swimming in the crystal clear waters of secluded Pasir Putih Beach and experiencing a traditional dance performance at Uluwatu Temple.

But accommodation options could be the best part about traveling to an Asian destination as a couple. People want privacy, and in Bali and beyond, it comes in the form of stylish villas with amenities such as plunge pools and butler service.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably thought to yourself at one point or another: You can’t look anywhere on the Internet these days without stumbling upon a ‘Top 10’ list of this, or a ‘Top 5’ rundown of that. Rankings are all the rage, no matter the topic.

To wit: Just a couple weeks ago, Reuters called out Cheapflights.com’s Top 10 Sunrise Destinations. Also this month, Conde Nast Traveler posted a story on 8 Great Family Vacations.

Tropical paradise beach of Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japan

Tropical paradise beach of Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japan

I’m not opposed to this trend. After all, most lists are easy to digest and fun to read. And so, at the risk of sounding like followers, I’ve come up with 5 Must-Visit Beach Destinations in Southeast Asia …

1. Con Dao. It’s not the most well-known beach destination in Vietnam. But it soon could be — especially now that Brangelina has vacationed here. I like the power couple’s taste. Not only is the island pristine, it’s gateway to a marine sanctuary of the highest order.

2. Koh Kood. The easternmost island in Thailand, this remote retreat has been described by The Guardian as “a fine place to do nothing.” I somewhat disagree. The speedboat ride to get there has to count for something, doesn’t it?

3. Song Saa. This secluded island, just off the coast of mainland Cambodia in Sihanoukville, translates to “The Sweethearts.” Given the romantic allure of its unspoiled white-sand beach and ultra-chic eco-resort, the name is fitting.

4. Koh Panak. Travel 20 kilometres by speedboat from Phuket and behold: a tiny island in Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay with a beach I think makes for the perfect campsite.

5. Ishigaki. As this photo (pictured) makes clear, you won’t find many coastlines as stunning — or as well-suited for honeymooners — as the one that surrounds this reef-ringed island in southern Japan.