Saturday, July 26, 2008

Untitled

<html><div><embed src="http://static.issuu.com/webembed/viewers/style1/v1/IssuuViewer.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" quality="high" scale="noscale" salign="l" flashvars="mode=preview&amp;previewLayout=white&amp;username=philiprowell&amp;docName=l_t&amp;documentId=080725021526-5c549f4439a04ae69615e6d7d40d6b92&amp;autoFlip=true&amp;backgroundColor=ffffff&amp;layout=white" style="width:307px;height:230px" name="flashticker" align="middle"></embed><div style="width:307px;text-align:left;"><a href="http://issuu.com" target="_blank"><img src="http://static.issuu.com/webembed/previewers/style1/v1/m1.gif" border="0" /></a><a href="http://issuu.com/philiprowell/docs/l_t?mode=embed&amp;documentId=080725021526-5c549f4439a04ae69615e6d7d40d6b92&amp;layout=white" target="_blank"><img src="http://static.issuu.com/webembed/previewers/style1/v1/m2.gif" border="0" /></a><a href="http://issuu.com/embed/guide?documentId=080725021526-5c549f4439a04ae69615e6d7d40d6b92&amp;width=425&amp;height=301" target="_blank"><img src="http://static.issuu.com/webembed/previewers/style1/v1/m3.gif" border="0" /></a></div></div></html>
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Magazine clip.

At Desire Creation Systems, we presented this to a magazine recently when they wanted to revamp their rather boring image. They rejected it in favour of someone else's proposal; upon seeing the new look, we have established that the reason was something to do with their lack of intelligence.

Our proposal was so good, however, that we have found backing to start the magazine on our own. Our business aim: to put out of business the concern who rejected our work.

<div><embed src="http://static.issuu.com/webembed/viewers/style1/v1/IssuuViewer.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" quality="high" scale="noscale" salign="l" flashvars="mode=preview&amp;previewLayout=white&amp;username=philiprowell&amp;docName=l_t&amp;documentId=080725021526-5c549f4439a04ae69615e6d7d40d6b92&amp;autoFlip=true&amp;backgroundColor=ffffff&amp;layout=white" style="width:307px;height:230px" name="flashticker" align="middle"></embed><div style="width:307px;text-align:left;"><a href="http://issuu.com" target="_blank"><img src="http://static.issuu.com/webembed/previewers/style1/v1/m1.gif" border="0" /></a><a href="http://issuu.com/philiprowell/docs/l_t?mode=embed&amp;documentId=080725021526-5c549f4439a04ae69615e6d7d40d6b92&amp;layout=white" target="_blank"><img src="http://static.issuu.com/webembed/previewers/style1/v1/m2.gif" border="0" /></a><a href="http://issuu.com/embed/guide?documentId=080725021526-5c549f4439a04ae69615e6d7d40d6b92&amp;width=425&amp;height=301" target="_blank"><img src="http://static.issuu.com/webembed/previewers/style1/v1/m3.gif" border="0" /></a></div></div>
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Sunday, July 6, 2008

High mileage club.

Perhaps I'm being naive here, but I think these high petrol prices are fantastic.

They're getting to a level where people finally have to think before they get into their cars.

The result - in my neighbourhood at least - is fresher air, reduced decibel levels from traffic, a more appealling atmosphere, and a return of lovely tropical smells in the garden in place of diesel fumes and carbon monoxide.

I'm not sure that personalised individual transport should be a right automatically extended to everyone. Just because cars exist, doesn't mean everyone should get to drive one. It's just not feasible.

Necessary journeys are still financially viable. People can still get to work. Which is how it should be. But people really seem to be thinking twice as to whether their journey is necessary. Driving aimlessly around as a leisure option, which was undoubtedly the weekend choice of activity for thousands of people, is slowly being taken off the menu.

At any rate, the answer is simple. It's not a new invention, it's not something radical requiring great adaptations in lifestyle.

It's called a scooter.

Even with these new fuel prices, a full tank of my Fino is less than 200 baht. That four litres will last more than a week, going literally everywhere.

So far, I've done 4,000 kilometres on it. Compared to the 4,000 kilometres that I would otherwise have done in the Fortuner, the Fino has already saved me about 20,000 baht in a few short months.

For anyone wanting to immunise themselves against petrol prices, a trip to the local Yamaha dealer should be a matter of urgency.


Blogged with the Flock Browser

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Printed matters.

Sometimes, even if you're in the mood to buy things, you can't find anything to spend your money on.

The past couple of times I've been wandering around Kinokuniya or Asia Books looking to purchase some cool, original, inspirational printed material, I've come out frustrated and bored. It seems that despite the millions of books published every year, only a handful every year are actually worth buying. Everything looks the same; words, words, and more words. I don't know why there isn't a new 'Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite' equivalent published every week - surely there'd be a market for it.

Recently I've taken to popping into the Japanese bookstore in Emporium. The Japanese know how to do books. Brilliant design, gorgeous to look at, and totally original in concept and layout. Sometimes the books look more like magazines; sometimes the magazines look more like books. Whatever it is, I never come out empty handed and always have to carefully edit my purchases to avoid a 10,000 baht bill.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Blowing hot and cold.

With winter raging in the Northern hemisphere and the tropics as balmy as ever, choosing the temperature of your holiday is as easy as turning a dial. There’s no better time of year to pick and choose the temperature you want when you holiday in Asia – and all within a few hours’ flight time. Fancy something cold and fresh? Can do. Something more tropical and steamy? Also possible.

-20 degrees: HARBIN, CHINA

If you like it cold – very cold – Harbin is the place for you. Built by the Russians at the endof the 19th century when the railway was being laid from Moscow to Beijing, Harbin is an architecturally fascinating place: with a history of Jewish and European settlement,it looks more like Melbourne than Manchuria. Add to that the blanket of snow coveringthe town at this time of year, as well as the world famous Ice Sculpture festival featuring ice sculptors from all over the world, and you have a recipe for an intriguingly different vacation.

Where to stay:

To get a feel for Harbin’s history, the Modern Hotel – built in 1906 by a Russian Jew – isthe only place to consider. In the middle of the charming Old Quarter, the Modern is a quirky yet perfectly comfortable choice, with Harbin’s most popular 101-year-old icecream parlour attached. Tel: +86 451 8461 5846

Where to eat:

Russian restaurants abound, serving borscht, Russian sausage and Leba rye bread. Butfor a unique experience, head to Russian Park, where you can enjoy a steaming Chinesehotpot in a restaurant built entirely out of ice.

2 degrees: SAPPORO, JAPAN

Cold enough for the Winter Olympics, yet offering a warm welcome at the many innsand izakayas dotting the city streets, Sapporo is charming come winter. With its famousSnow Festival, deliciously hearty regional Japanese cuisine and famous brewery – a beer so good they named a town after it – winter is the right time to sample the delights ofJapan’s most famous northern city.

Where to stay:

The Ginrinso is one of Japan’s finest examples of traditional ryokan inns. Situated abovethe city in the mountains, with spectacular views and outdoor hot springs, the Ginrinso doesn’t come cheap, but is worth every penny to experience the art of the ryokan done properly. japaneseguesthouses.com/db/sapporo/ginrinso

Where to eat:

The Sapporo Brewery – a must visit – features a superb restaurant, offering a deliciousrange of food, Japanese and German, that complements their delicious brew. It is a fascinating insight into the history of Japanese brewing and the German pioneers whobrought brewing to this area.

8 degrees: HANGZHOU, CHINA

With its picture-perfect location on the West Lake and impossibly beautiful avenues linedby weeping willows, Hangzhou in winter – all mist and silver skies – is beautifully moody destination.

Where to stay:

The West Lake (Xihu) State Guest Hotel, a former mansion on the shores of the lake, is asbeautiful as hotels come. A 100-year-old construction oozing history and character – butsacrificing nothing in luxury and amenities – the Xihu will have you composing poetry andwriting calligraphy praising its beauty in no time. Tel: +86 571 8797 9889

Where to eat:

Hangzhou cuisine relies on vinegary spices and meats to create hearty meals – perfect forthis time of year. The Louwailou Restaurant is one of the best of many in the city, servingclassic Hangzhou cuisine on a beautiful bridge over the lake: fresh West Lake fish in vinegarsauce, Aunt Song’s Fish Broth and Dragon Well Tea & Shrimps are just a few of the manydelights on offer.

16 degrees: MACAU, CHINA

These days, it’s better known as Vegas on the Pearl River Delta, but 500 years of colonial history isn’t so easily erased: there’s still much of old Portugal to discover in Macau. Wander the winding cobbled streets, marvel at the gorgeous old houses, stop off at the many cafes and restaurants fora vinho verde and a bacalhau, wonder at the cute Portuguese letterboxes and street signs. If the Brits across the river were in Hong Kong for reasons of commerce, the Portuguese must have hada different motive altogether: this place was designed for relaxation.

Where to stay:

Converted from an old Portuguese fort, with six-foot-thick walls and overlooking the innerharbour, the Pousada de Santiago is the best place to stay to get a feel for Macau’s history.Beautiful old antique furniture in the rooms, ornate decoration and a lovely outdoor terracemake this a little piece of Lisbon in the South China Sea. saotiago.com.mo

Where to eat:

On pretty Hac Sa beach, Senor Fernando has been serving up the best Portuguese food –some would say the best food full stop – in the region. In this elegant yet laid-back beachsideeatery, you can feast on roast suckling pig and salted cod rice, washed down with generousamounts of wine from the 100% Portuguese selection.

20 degrees: HANOI, VIETNAM

Winter is the best time to enjoy the Vietnamese centre of style, when the population bringsout its best Parisian boho-chic outfits. Stylish restaurants, beautiful bars, magnificentmonuments and the hauntingly serene West Lake are just some of many attractions. Hirea moped, brave the traffic, and spend the days scooting through the leafy boulevards,discovering the many gems hidden in this most satisfying of cities.

Where to stay:

For a sense of place in Hanoi, nothing beats the Sofitel Metropole. A colonial Frenchstructure as old as Hanoi itself, the Metropole exudes Gallic style while enveloping you in trueluxury. accorhotels-asia.com

Where to eat:

It’s not Vietnamese, and it has nothing to do with French history, but La Salsa tapas bar, inthe shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral, is a superb place to spend an evening with a glass.

24 degrees: LUANG PRABANG, LAOS

Winters are mesmerising in LP: golden light, perfumed air and a temperature a few degreescooler than the customary sweltering heat. In this soporific town, days are filled by cyclingaround the temples with frequent stops in shady cafes for iced lemon teas, before retiring to a spafor a two-hour massage in the afternoon, finishing in time for a Beer Lao by the river at sunset.

Where to stay:

Maison Souvannaphoum is a converted Prince’s palace, renovated stylishly by the BanyanTree. Spend your time under the fans in the café with a fresh coffee, or lounge by the pooland watch the palm trees sway, framed by the bright blue winter sky. coloursofangsana.com

Where to eat:

Café Ban Wat Sene, run by a happily exiled Frenchman, epitomises the Laotian mix ofFrench class with laid-back Indochinese charm. A welcome oasis of shade during the day, astylish bolthole at night.

28 degrees: PAI, THAILAND

Make the most of the all-too-brief Thai winter by heading up north. Pai – a small bohemiantown an hour or two west of Chiang Mai – manages to retain its backpacker (sorry,independent traveller) roots, while adding more and more upmarket accommodation optionsevery month. Situated in highland territory, nights can get chilly, but the local Thai whiskywill warm the cockles of your heart, and many other places besides.

Where to stay:

Rim Pai Cottage captures the essence of the new Pai: stylish but not slick, comfortable butnot corporate. Beautiful wooden houses (including one tree house) with lovely polishedfloors and stylish bathrooms: after a stay here, you’ll be looking for nearby land and askingfor the architects’ drawings. rimpaicottage.com

Where to eat:

Pai Burger Stall begs the question: is the world’s best burger in New York? Chicago? Philadelphia? No, it’s here at this tiny shack on Pai’s main walking street, across theroad from the temple. Pull up one of the six stools, order a Chang beer, and make yourselfcomfortable while the owner – herself an escapee from Bangkok’s chaos – rustles up the best burger and chunky chips you’ll ever have.

32 degrees: KOH YAO, THAILAND

All of Thailand is beautiful in the winter months: the rainy season has ended, the air is fresh, the land is green and the sky is blue. The South is no exception, and for an example oftropical bliss, you’d be hard pressed to find something better than Koh Yao. Only an hour east of Phuket by boat, yet a million miles away from the bars and shopping, Koh Yao is where yougo when you’ve already been away from it all, but still want to go further.

Where to stay:

Koh Yao Resort is Robinson Crusoe meets Giorgio Armani: undeniably basic and open-to the-elements bungalows (think roof but no walls), yet with an understated sense of style thatcan be hard to find in this part of the world.

Where to eat:

You can eat in the resort while gazing out to sea – something of which you might possibly never tire – or you can hire a motorcycle and go scouting for one of the many small Thaifamily restaurants serving delicious fresh seafood, expertly cooked.

36 degrees: PERTH, AUSTRALIA

If heat is your thing, fly south for winter: the most isolated capital city in the world is at itshottest this time of year. Burning sun and noonday temperatures of 40 degrees – sometimes more – are common; but watching the sun sink below the Indian Ocean as you are fanned bythe cooling sea breeze, makes it hard to imagine being anywhere else.

Where to stay:

The Cottesloe Beach Hotel is situated in Perth’s most glamorous beachside district, withbars and cafes in every direction and the astonishingly clear waters of Cottesloe Beach justacross the road. cottesloebeachhotel.com.au

Where to eat:

Fremantle’s boutique brewery hotel, the Sail & Anchor, offers a modern take on classicAussie pub grub: Asian-influenced gastronomic delights which taste all the better when accompanied by one of the mouth-watering selection of boutique brews.

This article first appeared in Lifestyle + Travel magazine.

Beer'd trimmer.

Last year was a tough year. And, before getting into the serious business of starting 2008, you’d be forgiven if you were thinking of taking a short breather. A breather with a nice, cold, refreshing beverage, naturally. The best places in the region to enjoy the amber nectar:

Samui: The Cliff

No matter where you’re reading this, whether it be within a two-hour radius of Samui in Singapore or Bangkok, or further afield in Europe or America, your mission is the same. Drop what you’re doing, book a ticket to Samui, and upon arrival make your way straight to The Cliff. Even if you fly from Anchorage, coming to Samui for the sole purpose of enjoying a cold Heineken at The Cliff would be a thoroughly sensible expedition. As the sun rolls slowly overhead, turning the sky from a bright blue to a gorgeous deep red, an evening spent here in the company of several green bottles will be one of the highlights of any trip to Thailand. Situated on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean with a feeling of glamour that would not be out of place in Amalfi, The Cliff gets six stars on the atmosphere scale.

Dubai: The Left Bank

A French-named bar in an Arabian-themed development in Dubai might not be the first place you would expect to make it on this list. But fear not. Particularly at this time of the year, when the weather is utterly gorgeous, The Left Bank is a shoo-in to any list of watering holes. With the bright Arabian sun reflecting off the water and onto the fresh golden frothy pints being carried directly to your table by the charming Filipina waitress, trust us: your wellbeing level will be off the charts. Stylish, atmospheric and with an international clientele that gives the place energy and intrigue, the Left Bank should be top of the To Do List of any Dubai visitor.

Bangkok: The Old Pra Athit Pier

Visitors to Bangkok who find they’re unable to pull themselves away from the gravitational pull of Siam and Sukhumvit are missing out on the whole raison d’etre of the city: the river. When you’re on the River of Kings, whether it be on a maritime vessel or simply a well-positioned eatery on the banks, you get a feel for Bangkok’s birthplace, and it suddenly begins to make more sense. The Old Pra Athit Pier is a relatively new addition to the long list of waterside establishments but exudes all of the long-lasting charm of a Raffles or Eastern & Oriental. Sit at the long bar under slowly whirling fans and order a draught Chang from the barman, enjoy the breeze from the river, and you’ll find it impossible to remove yourself from the barstool before closing time.

Hong Kong: South Bay

Nobody needs any introduction to the glitzy bars of Lan Kwai Fong or Soho. Hollywood Road and the area around the escalator are packed with quirky and fashionable places to imbibe. But for Hong Kong’s most relaxing place to lift a cold bottle to your lips, gravitate away from the urban surrounds to the beaches on the south side of the island. In secluded South Bay, two beaches around from Repulse Bay, you’ll find a café. Nothing fancy, nothing spectacular, just a place on the roof of the building where the lifeguards store their equipment. Grab a San Miguel from the fridge, pop it open and enjoy one of the best views Hong Kong has to offer: the green mountains behind, the beach and the islands in front. Stay until the sun sinks behind Lamma Island and you’ll have enjoyed one of Hong Kong’s best-kept secrets.

Singapore: Toa Payoh Hawker Centre

Singapore these days is usually mentioned in the same breath as slick, cool, modern, stylish. To hell with all that. Well, before Dempsey Road and Clarke Quay, Singaporeans in the know were already drinking in cool surrounds of a different kind. Toa Payoh Hawker Centre, designed as part of Singapore’s first new town in ambitiously modernist 1960s style, is a superb place to chug back a few Tigers surrounded by clean brutalist architecture and unremitting straight lines. And the food from the neighbouring hawker stalls – spicy chilli stingray, hokkien fried noodles, perfectly grilled satay – provide a perfect accompaniment to the ice-cold amber liquid.

Hanoi: Tapas

A few glasses of Stella into your drinking session at Tapas, you’ll most certainly be in ‘where the hell am I’ territory. The authentically worn Spanish feel, the view of the Notre Dame cathedral out of the window, the elegant scooters parked neatly on the sidewalk under the spreading flame trees… if, in your beery haze, you get the impression you’ve been magically transported back to Europe, you’ll be forgiven. In a city with many excellent places for a beer, including the countless Bia Hoi stalls, Tapas is one of the very best.

Shanghai: Cottons

Shanghai presents a challenge for the professional archivist of drinking places. Would it be M at the Bund, with its glorious views of the Huangpu River and the countless Chinese flags fluttering in the evening breeze? Would it be Faye Wong’s stunning rooftop bar in Suzhou Creek (appropriately situated on a 1930s-built Czech Brewery)? Perhaps, perhaps. But for this particular list, Cottons is Shanghai’s representative. In the cosy neighbourhood vibe of Anjing Lu, Cottons is far and away the place for a comfortable few beers among a relaxed crowd and staff who always have time to crack an amusing back-translated witticism. Knock back a few Tsingtaos – either in the gorgeous garden in the warmer months, or inside by the roaring fireplace inside the beautiful old European villa. Every time this particular writer is in Shanghai, he finds himself drawn to Cottons for at least a couple of happy hour beers almost every evening, even if there are different plans for the rest of the night.

Luang Prabang: Café Ban Wat Sene

The stylish French owners of this place could franchise the idea in a hundred cities and be multi-millionaires overnight. But the fact that they haven’t, makes Café Ban Wat Sene all the more special. A sort of unpolished, unfinished, unrefined feel, which gives you the impression that it’s been here since at least the colonial period. A shadowy, cool interior and a few tables scattered around the pavement overlooking the street. And a mixed clientele of long-term residents, well heeled and bohemian travellers only adds to the charm. There’s a selection of beers here: but only one possible choice. When in Laos, it has to be Beer Lao.

Siem Reap: FCC

In Siem Reap, where else could it have been? A crowd drawn from all four corners of the earth. The FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) is a stunning architectural environment. A view of the nightly Cambodian promenade as they make their way along the riverbanks, lit by ornate French-era streetlamps. And accompanying food that goes perfectly with the frosty one-dollar happy hour Tigers. Angkor is one of the world’s great travel destinations. But you can’t be looking at temples 24 hours a day. As a must-do when in Cambodia, this should definitely be right up there with the Bayon and Ta Phrom.

This article first appeared in Lifestyle + travel magazine.

Altitude slickness.

Because most of them started as ports, Asia’s big cities are generally low-lying affairs, situated near sea level. But the region has plenty of opportunities for elevation to loftier climes.

From the equatorial highlands of Java to the celestial mountains of China and everywhere in between, more and more of Asia’s high-altitude areas are being developed for tourism – some rough and ready, but some with levels of luxury as lofty as their geography. All you have to ask yourself is: how high do you want to go?

1,140 METRES

Phonsavan, Laos

At just over a kilometre above sea level, Phonsavan doesn’t exactly qualify as truly alpine, but the higher altitude does give a fresh feel to the morning air in contrast to the plains below. The town itself is charming enough, with ample opportunities for alfresco Beer Lao consumption. Nearby, the Plain of Jars is one of Asia’s last unsolved mysteries, with hundreds of ancient pots scattered through the landscape.

Where to Stay

The French-run Phu Pha Daeng (Tel: +856 61 312 044), otherwise known as Auberge de Plaine des Jarres, is Phonsavan’s best option in the style stakes, with lovely stone and wooden cabins just outside the centre of town.

1,460 METRES

Puncak, Indonesia

On the road between Bogor and Bandung, Puncak is a picturesque village in the Javanese highlands, sitting between two spectacular mountains. The scents of coffee and cinnamon drift on the air from the many surrounding plantations, and the air has a distinctly fresh feel, helped along by the fact that the sun disappears behind the mountain early in the afternoon. Puncak itself is quiet and charming, but for day trips, Bogor’s world-famous botanical gardens are nearby, as is the incredible Taman Safari Indonesia.

Where to Stay

The quirky Puncak Pass Resort (puncakpassresort.com) is a property in the ‘if it’s in the mountains, build it Swiss-style’-school. Authentically Helvetian cottages with sloped roofs overlook the valley below, and all that’s lacking is the fondue.

1,620 METRES

Sapa, Vietnam

North from Hanoi, on the last stop of the train line before it hits China, Sapa is one of Vietnam’s highest points. Its altitude means temperatures can approach freezing, with a blanket of fog descending every evening to create a mysterious, otherworldly feel. The brick-and-tile houses are straight out of Tuscany, the minority hilltribe treks are fascinating, and the steaming Vietnamese coffee never tasted as good as it does in the thin mountain air here.

Where to Stay

The Victoria Sapa Resort (victoriahotels-asia.com) is a gorgeous spot. Sip mulled wine by roaring log fires, sit in the open air with a hot chocolate around a big bonfire, or stay in the comfort of your room and watch the mists swirling over the valley.

1,650 METRES

Baguio, Philippines

The garden city of the Philippines, with more public parks and gardens than the rest of the country put together, Baguio makes the most of its out-of-the-way location. Pine-scented air, darling little inns and restaurants overlooking forested valleys, and an outdoorsy, back-to-nature vibe makes this a lovely spot to get away from the sensory overload that is Manila.

Where to Stay

Historical Camp John Hay Manor (campjohnhay.com) is perhaps Baguio’s most stylish place to stay, and also its most environmentally friendly, with numerous good governance awards to its name. Built on a mountain on top of another mountain, the Manor boasts spectacular views; the feeling of being above it all is palpable.

1,782 METRES

Doi Ang Khang, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The areas in far north Thailand abutting the Burmese and Laotian borders are a mountain-lovers’ paradise. Peaks soar to over two km above sea level, nighttime temperatures plum-met to low single figures, and rosy-cheeked ethnic minorities give the area an exotic, unfamiliar feel. Perfect for motoring trips whether on four wheels or two, the winding mountain roads north of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai offer some of Asia’s most accessible and enjoyable high-altitude holidays.

Where to Stay

The Angkhang Nature Resort, (amari.com/angkhang) run by the Amari group, offers individual villas on the side of a mountain, wedged into a valley less than a kilometre from the Burmese border. If the modern fare on offer at the restaurants doesn’t appeal, you can always walk down to the market and snack on Burmese and Chinese cuisine in one of the many restaurants set up by migrants from over the border.

1,829 METRES

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Malaysia’s airy Cameron Highlands started life as a retreat for the British escaping the heat of the capital, and even now the feel of the place reflects it colonial origins. Mock-Tudor houses, strawberries and cream, and steaming pots of tea still define the atmosphere of this hill station. But there are many more modern delights too. Rolling golf courses, jungle walks and luxurious spas will all fill some time in during daylight hours while you wait for nightfall and the chance to sit around the fireplace sipping red wine.

Where to Stay

Built in the 1930s, The Smokehouse Hotel & Restaurant By The Golf Course (thesmokehouse.com.my/ch.htm) captures the essence of the High-lands, with gorgeously twee rooms and a lovely rose garden where you can sit outside and take tea. If you’re feeling homesick, you can always call home from the red British telephone box outside.

1,923 METRES

Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

There’s not much that Nuwara Eliya doesn’t offer: culture, history, and physical activity in the national park trails surrounding the area. A highlight is the St Clair tea centre: a fascinating interactive museum where you can learn the history of the area and about life on the tea plantations. When you’ve had enough education for one day, retire to the terrace and have a cup of the steaming brew while watching the sun set over the plains below.

Where to Stay

The Tea Factory, (aitkenspencehotels.com/teafactory) a tasteful hotel built from – you guessed it – a former tea factory, offers the coolest and most stylish accommodation in the hill country. Nice touches in the rooms remind you of the building’s provenance, and the location in the middle of a tea estate is simply gorgeous.

2,370 METRES

Ayubia, Pakistan

Only 90 km north of Islamabad, Ayubia is one of many popular holiday resorts in the mountains of northern Pakistan. Snowbound in winter, fresh and pine-scented in summer, nearby attractions include Khanspur, the beautiful small town where many of Pakistan’s elite have their country homes, and Murree, the hill resort famous for being the only town still in possession of a working brewery in overwhelmingly dry Pakistan.

Where to Stay

The Ayubia Motel (Tel: +92 (0) 992 359 004) is much more salubrious than its name suggests; ‘motel’ is simply the word Pakistanis use for any hotel out of major towns is a great base from which to explore the surrounding mountain district, or to use as a stopover point for further exploration north.

2,134 METRES

Darjeeling, India

Backed up against the Himalayas, India’s northern border is one long mountain range. There are dozens of charming resorts; but the queen of them all is Darjeeling, the town where the famous tea industry is centred. Flowering gardens, elegant tea estates, strolls along the stately Mall in the middle of town, and the views of Mt Everest in the distance are enough to detain most people for a few days. For the more adventurous, mountain biking, hot-air ballooning and elephant rides along mountain trails are also on the list of options.

Where to Stay

The Windermere Hotel, (Tel: +91 354 54041) created from an old gentleman’s lodge formerly used to house tea planters, epitomises the genteel atmos-phere of the hill station. Cosy rooms protect you against the chilly mountain mist and hearty breakfasts set you up for a day of trekking, strolling or comfy lounging.

5,600 METRES

Lijiang, China

Lijiang is serious alpine territory, with the nearby Jade Dragon Snow Mountain soaring over five kilometres above sea level. Inhabited by the colourful and horse-loving Naxi people, the wide open plains of Lijiang and the nearly-Tibetan style temples dotted throughout the area make for a culturally satisfying trip, while the nascent Chinese ski resort offers some respectable slopes.

Where to Stay

Zen Garden Hotel, (zengardenhotel.com) situated in the old town section of Lijiang, will give you the best feel for the history and culture of the area. In an old Naxi lanehouse, but renovated beautifully and with lovely staff, the Zen Garden is a gem.

This article first appeared in Lifestyle + Travel magazine.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Time travel.

Geographical travel is so passé. Directions, locations, co-ordinates, choice of country… it’s so done. Much better to travel chronologically; to make your travel plans according to the era you prefer. You want to travel to the 1930s? You can. You want to make a getaway to the 1970s? Uh huh. Or you want to spend a weekend in the 1950s? By all means.

1970s
Darwin

Interesting how several of the places on our list represent a certain era as a result of some great calamity. An earthquake in New Zealand, the partitioning of India, a war in Cambodia, a cyclone in Australia. Perhaps the human race needs a major disaster to leave things as they are.  In 1972, Cyclone Tracy wheeled through Northern Australia, tearing up everything in its path. One of those things was the city of Darwin, which was ripped into shreds in a matter of hours. The resulting rebuilding programme was swift, vast and intelligent, and defines the atmosphere of the town to this day. Lovely early 70s tropical modernism, gorgeous wide avenues and planned parks, the clean lines and soaring optimism of the era reflected in every public building, framed by the tropical sky and the lush greenery everywhere you turn. Lovely louvered windows, flat white roofs, frangipani trees on perfectly manicured lawns: When you step off your Tiger Airways flight onto the Northern Territory tarmac, you’re taking a step back 30 years. And that can only be a good thing.

1960s
Sihanoukville

Thank God for Communism. Without it, Cambodia would be just one more Asian country full of ticky-tacky buildings, petrol stations and mini marts, untrammelled development and overblown six-lane highways. As it is, the calamity that befell the nation in the 1970s means that Cambodia’s architectural heritage is still for the most part intact. Sihanoukville, the stylish beachside enclave where the noblesse oblige of Cambodia holidayed before the Khmer Rouge decided they wanted a part of the action, is still preserved in all its 1960s-chic glory. Modernist bungalows, low-slung marine-cubist villas, lovely, little curvy hotels that could have been plucked from a Thunderbirds set – and yes, one or two very funky little petrol stations from the era. In this little corner of Cambodia, it’s as if the last 40 years never happened. Very handy.

1950s
Chandigarh

A short history lesson. When Pakistan separated from India, the province of Punjab was divided between the two countries. The Punjabi capital, Lahore, is a lovely Victorian town, Melbourne mixed with Mughal, and was perhaps India’s loveliest city: until it found itself in the Pakistani half of the province. India’s leaders decided they needed a new capital of Indian Punjab to replace the one they lost, and gave legendary modernist architect Le Corbusier a call. The result was Chandigarh. A totally planned city, laid out on a grid, built entirely in concrete. Some say it is nothing more than an English council estate transplanted onto Indian soil, but the sheer spectacular appeal of the place is undeniable. And the unique architectural stamp of the brutalist era is apparent everywhere you turn. If the 1950s is your time, it’s time you headed to Chandigarh.

1940s
Christchurch

While the rest of the world was involved in the fine mess of World War II, New Zealand – despite a huge proportion of its population fighting fiercely in Europe and Asia – was itself physically unaffected. In fact, the years towards the end of the war and afterwards were a veritable boom time, with exports to the rest of the world at record levels. Prosperity translated into construction, and the people of Christchurch benefited as much as anyone. Lovely mock-Victorian mansions, modern Arts & Crafts cottages, impressive state-of-the-art shopping precincts and solid public parks gave the city the mark of the era which remains to this day, and gives a lovely historical feel to the place which complements its more modern activities like bungee-jumping and whitewater jetboating.

1930s
Bandung

Hard to believe today, but there was a time when Indonesia was synonymous with all things modern, and people from around the world travelled to Java to see the world’s most futuristic city. That time was the 1930s. Bandung, built at altitude a respectable distance from the capital Jakarta, may be looking a little worn around the edges these days but the 1930s elegance can still be found. Built entirely in Art Deco style, the architecture is consistently beautiful and some of the interiors of the restaurants, cafes and homes are simply lovely. An Art Deco society exists in the town, and tours are available where visitors can explore private suburban homes in the leafy outskirts. Things have stood still in many ways in Indonesia, but in Bandung, that can be said to be a mainly positive development.

1920s
Penang

Visitors to Singapore are often heard lamenting the fact that a good part of the colonial architecture was pulled down in the 60s and 70s. If only the place had retained its faded colonial charm, they say, the place would be a lot more appealing. Well, they need not fret. All they have to do is board a plane, fly 800 kms north to Penang, and they’ll find what they’re missing. Not just the famous landmarks: the Funicular Railway, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Georgetown but practically the whole island retains its slightly weird between-the-wars atmosphere. Wander down any street or peer into almost any building and you’ll be transported back to the era of gin slings, bow ties and frilly hats. Penang, despite the Malaysian government’s determination to make it some sort of IT hub, steadfastly refuses to lose its 1920s soul. Hip hip hooray. As they might have said back in the day.

1910s
Maymo‚ Burma

If Penang isn’t quite surreal enough for you, take a step back another 10 years and see if this decade is more to your tastes. When the British were in Burma, most of the colonials from the Sceptr’d Isle were in fact red-headed Scots, not blue-blooded English. Going slowly mad in the tropical heat and understandably missing the mists, the rain and the chill of home, they did all they could to recreate the atmosphere of Bonnie Scotland in Burma. Finding this place in the Burmese Highlands suitably reminiscent of the crags and lochs they had left behind, they built a hill resort here and retired here whenever the furnace temperatures of Rangoon got too much. Today, the place is almost entirely untouched, and all the houses they built remain completely intact. Spooky would be an unkind word to describe it, but we’re confident that a couple of nights here will see you very glad to return to the year 2007.

1900s
Hua Hin

These days, Hua Hin is best known for its slick design hotels and funky beachside restaurants. But enough of the original Edwardian town remains to justify a visit on temporal grounds. When the railway was pushed through the jungle from Bangkok to Singapore in the late 19th century, Hua Hin was selected as a suitable spot for a seaside resort catering to weary rail travellers. Ladies would enter the sea in bathing machines to protect their modesty from prying eyes, and gents would stroll the promenade with one eye on their fob watches to count down the minutes to the first Pimms of the day. From that era, plenty remains: the original Railway Hotel (now renamed the Sofitel and the only possible choice for accommodation), the lovely railway station, His Majesty’s Klai Klangwon Palace, several other beachside mansions and much besides if you care to discover. Edwardian-era pastel creams and greens are in abundance, matching so well with the blue of the sky and the golden sands. Those Siamese certainly knew how to live.

This article first appeared in Lifestyle + Travel magazine.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Time travel.

Geographical travel is so passé. Directions, locations, co-ordinates, choice of country… it’s so done. Much better to travel chronologically; to make your travel plans according to the era you prefer. You want to travel to the 1930s? You can. You want to make a getaway to the 1970s? Uh huh. Or you want to spend a weekend in the 1950s? By all means.

1970s
Darwin

Interesting how several of the places on our list represent a certain era as a result of some great calamity. An earthquake in New Zealand, the partitioning of India, a war in Cambodia, a cyclone in Australia. Perhaps the human race needs a major disaster to leave things as they are.  In 1972, Cyclone Tracy wheeled through Northern Australia, tearing up everything in its path. One of those things was the city of Darwin, which was ripped into shreds in a matter of hours. The resulting rebuilding programme was swift, vast and intelligent, and defines the atmosphere of the town to this day. Lovely early 70s tropical modernism, gorgeous wide avenues and planned parks, the clean lines and soaring optimism of the era reflected in every public building, framed by the tropical sky and the lush greenery everywhere you turn. Lovely louvered windows, flat white roofs, frangipani trees on perfectly manicured lawns: When you step off your Tiger Airways flight onto the Northern Territory tarmac, you’re taking a step back 30 years. And that can only be a good thing.

1960s
Sihanoukville

Thank God for Communism. Without it, Cambodia would be just one more Asian country full of ticky-tacky buildings, petrol stations and mini marts, untrammelled development and overblown six-lane highways. As it is, the calamity that befell the nation in the 1970s means that Cambodia’s architectural heritage is still for the most part intact. Sihanoukville, the stylish beachside enclave where the noblesse oblige of Cambodia holidayed before the Khmer Rouge decided they wanted a part of the action, is still preserved in all its 1960s-chic glory. Modernist bungalows, low-slung marine-cubist villas, lovely, little curvy hotels that could have been plucked from a Thunderbirds set – and yes, one or two very funky little petrol stations from the era. In this little corner of Cambodia, it’s as if the last 40 years never happened. Very handy.

1950s
Chandigarh

A short history lesson. When Pakistan separated from India, the province of Punjab was divided between the two countries. The Punjabi capital, Lahore, is a lovely Victorian town, Melbourne mixed with Mughal, and was perhaps India’s loveliest city: until it found itself in the Pakistani half of the province. India’s leaders decided they needed a new capital of Indian Punjab to replace the one they lost, and gave legendary modernist architect Le Corbusier a call. The result was Chandigarh. A totally planned city, laid out on a grid, built entirely in concrete. Some say it is nothing more than an English council estate transplanted onto Indian soil, but the sheer spectacular appeal of the place is undeniable. And the unique architectural stamp of the brutalist era is apparent everywhere you turn. If the 1950s is your time, it’s time you headed to Chandigarh.

1940s
Christchurch

While the rest of the world was involved in the fine mess of World War II, New Zealand – despite a huge proportion of its population fighting fiercely in Europe and Asia – was itself physically unaffected. In fact, the years towards the end of the war and afterwards were a veritable boom time, with exports to the rest of the world at record levels. Prosperity translated into construction, and the people of Christchurch benefited as much as anyone. Lovely mock-Victorian mansions, modern Arts & Crafts cottages, impressive state-of-the-art shopping precincts and solid public parks gave the city the mark of the era which remains to this day, and gives a lovely historical feel to the place which complements its more modern activities like bungee-jumping and whitewater jetboating.

1930s
Bandung

Hard to believe today, but there was a time when Indonesia was synonymous with all things modern, and people from around the world travelled to Java to see the world’s most futuristic city. That time was the 1930s. Bandung, built at altitude a respectable distance from the capital Jakarta, may be looking a little worn around the edges these days but the 1930s elegance can still be found. Built entirely in Art Deco style, the architecture is consistently beautiful and some of the interiors of the restaurants, cafes and homes are simply lovely. An Art Deco society exists in the town, and tours are available where visitors can explore private suburban homes in the leafy outskirts. Things have stood still in many ways in Indonesia, but in Bandung, that can be said to be a mainly positive development.

1920s
Penang

Visitors to Singapore are often heard lamenting the fact that a good part of the colonial architecture was pulled down in the 60s and 70s. If only the place had retained its faded colonial charm, they say, the place would be a lot more appealing. Well, they need not fret. All they have to do is board a plane, fly 800 kms north to Penang, and they’ll find what they’re missing. Not just the famous landmarks: the Funicular Railway, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Georgetown but practically the whole island retains its slightly weird between-the-wars atmosphere. Wander down any street or peer into almost any building and you’ll be transported back to the era of gin slings, bow ties and frilly hats. Penang, despite the Malaysian government’s determination to make it some sort of IT hub, steadfastly refuses to lose its 1920s soul. Hip hip hooray. As they might have said back in the day.

1910s
Maymo‚ Burma

If Penang isn’t quite surreal enough for you, take a step back another 10 years and see if this decade is more to your tastes. When the British were in Burma, most of the colonials from the Sceptr’d Isle were in fact red-headed Scots, not blue-blooded English. Going slowly mad in the tropical heat and understandably missing the mists, the rain and the chill of home, they did all they could to recreate the atmosphere of Bonnie Scotland in Burma. Finding this place in the Burmese Highlands suitably reminiscent of the crags and lochs they had left behind, they built a hill resort here and retired here whenever the furnace temperatures of Rangoon got too much. Today, the place is almost entirely untouched, and all the houses they built remain completely intact. Spooky would be an unkind word to describe it, but we’re confident that a couple of nights here will see you very glad to return to the year 2007.

1900s
Hua Hin

These days, Hua Hin is best known for its slick design hotels and funky beachside restaurants. But enough of the original Edwardian town remains to justify a visit on temporal grounds. When the railway was pushed through the jungle from Bangkok to Singapore in the late 19th century, Hua Hin was selected as a suitable spot for a seaside resort catering to weary rail travellers. Ladies would enter the sea in bathing machines to protect their modesty from prying eyes, and gents would stroll the promenade with one eye on their fob watches to count down the minutes to the first Pimms of the day. From that era, plenty remains: the original Railway Hotel (now renamed the Sofitel and the only possible choice for accommodation), the lovely railway station, His Majesty’s Klai Klangwon Palace, several other beachside mansions and much besides if you care to discover. Edwardian-era pastel creams and greens are in abundance, matching so well with the blue of the sky and the golden sands. Those Siamese certainly knew how to live.

This article first appeared in Lifestyle + Travel magazine.

Hourly rating

Everywhere in Asia has its best time, its magical hour, the time of day when you see it at its best and when you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

7AM
Assuming an early rise – we wouldn’t want to waste our perfect 24 hours snoozing – the best place to be at this hour is somewhere in the region of Kata beach, in the tourist magnet of Phuket. At this time, the sun isn’t too high in the sky, so the bay is still in shadow but the water is warm. The ideal day should really include some sort of exercise so we won’t feel too guilty about overindulging later, so we start with a wade into the sea at the south of Kata Noi beach, put our goggles on and commence our perfect freestyle stroke to head north. Across the bay, around the headland, out to sea, back in again to land up at Kata Yai, and a short run back to Kata Noi to dry off and make up the 60 minutes to 8 o’clock.

8AM
This hour means a coffee and a leisurely read of a quality morning paper, preferably surrounded by a buzzy morning vibe. Those criteria, applied together, mean only one place: the legendary New South Wales capital, where bad coffee seems to have been outlawed by federal decree and the Sydney Morning Herald is substantial enough to while away at least an hour with a perfect combination of serious news, gossipy trash and audacious real estate deals. We set the co-ordinates of our magical traveling machine directly to Five Ways in Paddington, where there are any number of quirky and cool al fresco cafes where we can pop ourselves down in the sun and enjoy a frothy cappuccino.

9AM
At certain times of day, it’s a tossup between several locations as to where is the best place to be. But for breakfast, there’s only one possible choice: the city that perfected the art of breakfast, the place that invented a whole culinary culture that has now spread and sees cities all over the world attempting to emulate its offerings. Of course, we’re talking about none other than Hong Kong for dim sum. It’s a difficult task to find a bad dim sum house in Hong Kong: there are so many good ones that a bad one would go out of business in a matter of weeks. But for an authentic experience, we travel directly to Fung Shing Restaurant in On Tai Street, Sheung Wan, for the original take on the art form with surly waitresses pushing steaming carts from table to table. No need for Cantonese language skills; we just point at what we want and it is slammed down in front of us with the sort of charm that only Hong Kong serving staff can muster.

10AM
At this stage, the sensible course of action is to bring the pace of the day down a little. After all, there’s a long way to go; we wouldn’t want to deplete ourselves too early. Continuing the urban theme, but with a slightly more relaxed slant on affairs, 10 o’clock of our perfect day sees us sitting in Holland Village, in the west of Singapore, sipping another coffee – this time a longer version, a mocha, while catching up on the gossip with Singapore’s matinee mummies and reading the latest edition of one of the many cool monthly Singapore publications from the Indian magazine stall on the corner.

11AM
What? We’ve done so much already, but still two hours until lunch? So be it: the best way to fill the time, while our minds are still active, is without doubt something educational and fulfilling. 11 o’clock finds us in the heart of Bangkok, at the Thailand Creative & Design Centre on the top floor of Emporium. Usually open to members only but available to travellers for a nominally-priced tourist pass, the TCDC is a treasure trove of art and design books, obscure DVDs and world-class travelling exhibitions from the British Library, Paris’ Musee d’Orsay and any number of stellar global institutions.

1PM
It would be easy to spend the entire day at the TCDC, so rich is the wealth of material there, but we have a job to do. Lunchtime beckons, and that means one thing. With all of Asia available to us, our culinary compass points to none other than Brussels, Belgium. Little Brussels to be precise – Le Petit Bruxelles, the classic Belgian restaurant in the heart of Hanoi. Fresh mussels, perfectly chilled rosé wine, appallingly appealing chocolate desserts and irresistible French calvados to finish our meal – all in the gorgeous surrounds of a tastefully renovated colonial French villa in Tran Quoc Toan –sees us lingering here for two hours to do justice to the delights on offer.

3PM
No matter what the geographical location, the perfect day must include some sort of self-pampering – the more the better. From Hanoi it is an easy matter for us to pop up in Malaysia’s Langkawi, where the combination of perfect tropical foliage, gorgeous clear seas, and the relaxation-inducing heavy grey clouds along the skyline provide the perfect backdrop for an exotic spa therapy. Despite finding itself in Malaysia, the Datai wisely gives more than a nod to its northern neighbour Thailand with its healthy massages and other slimming spa treatments. A couple of hours of this and we’ve forgotten our moules marinieres and gateaux in Hanoi, and we’re almost ready to begin another round of ridiculous gluttony in the fast-approaching evening.

5PM
It’s terrible how time flies. A whole day gone, and not a bit of shopping has been achieved. In light of time pressures, we simply have to think in terms of efficiency, and that can only mean retracing our steps to Bangkok. There may be better malls, there may be greater selections spread over entire cities, but Bangkok has the edge on sheer concentration of high-end shopping opportunities in one small area. Starting at Siam Paragon for quality fashion, we flit through Siam Square for quirky one-off pieces, blaze through Gaysorn Plaza for something exclusive and expensive, bust a move through Siam Discovery Centre for natty Thai interior design, and finish our tour of duty (via Central Chidlom) at Emporium to pick up the latest grey import mobile phone and a few kilos of otherwise hard-to-find tropical fruits from the supermarket to take home.

7PM 
Thus satisfied, we can begin to think about dinner, but naturally not before an aperitif or three. For a spectacular beginning to the evening, we can think of nothing better than a few cocktails at M On The Bund. Shanghai has many new pretenders, all attempting to emulate the grande old dame of the Huangpu River, but the original has not yet been beaten. Lifting a frosted glass to our mouths, overlooking the barges honking along the river while the iconic red and gold flags flutter in the evening breeze, we can’t resist drinking a toast to Marx and Lenin for the communist philosophy that ensured all of this historic heritage remains in existence for our enjoyment.

8PM
Dinner beckons. After a full day, we are in no mood to impress anybody, but we do want something stylish, with a bit of drama to boot. The FCC Angkor – with its perfect combination of comfort food, historically sinister location and fascinating international clientele – is just what we require. A decent bottle of Australian wine, the fans whirling overhead, the fresh breeze coming off the river, the mysterious smell of Cambodia on the evening air – we couldn’t have chosen a better place. We had allocated two hours here, but end up lingering longer over one too many amarettos – but who’s counting here?

10:59PM
Bali. Bali! You mean we haven’t been to Bali today? What were we thinking? We recitify the situation before anybody realizes our mistake, and just make it into Ubud’s Bukit Becik Bar a minute before closing time. The waiter tries to tell us we’re too late, but we insist that we’ve been here all along and he’s simply failed to notice us because of the tastefully subdued lighting, and our cool persuasiveness wins the day. An hour of sipping perfumed cocktails in the heady forest air follows, and we can rest easy in the knowledge that this fabled island has been ticked off on our itinerary.

12AM
We’re pleasantly surprised how often in our perfect day we keep finding ourselves drawn back to Bangkok. It’s hard to beat the Bangkok banyakaat (atmosphere); and at this hour, with the early curfew in mind, there is a delicious desperation in the air with the beautiful people of the city determined to cram maximum enjoyment into minimum hours. Frenetic Soi 11 is still the epicenter of the action, with Q Bar, Bed Supperclub and a host of surrounding satellite establishments providing sufficient diversions until closing time.

2AM
Other than a few excitingly illicit late-night boites, Bangkok’s nightlife is short-lived these days. No matter. We find our own entertainment at Pak Klong Talat – the riverside wholesale flower market where the whole of the city comes to stock up on fresh roses and jasmine garlands. Dodging the buyers from the city’s finest hotels looking to fill their rooms with the magnificent blooms on offer, we make a beeline for the old woman in the middle of the market for her unfailingly fresh lilies to fill our apartment with their exotic scent – leaving ourselves time for a quick bowl of noodles at the stall by the canal on the way out.

3AM
We can sleep tomorrow. For now, there’s only one way to finish off the day. And that’s with possibly Asia’s finest late-night snack creation: roti canai. 3am finds us in Malaysia’s famous muddy estuary, otherwise known as Kuala Lumpur, ravenously devouring our roti telur (egg) while sharing our stories of the day and sipping on delicious teh halia (ginger tea).

4AM
For a moment, sated after our excessive consumption of fried egg, flour and curry in KL, we had thought of calling time on proceedings. But in the interests of editorial professionalism, we shake off our weariness and determinedly press on. 4am sees us heading south, back in Singapore on Sentosa Island, at the beachside Ibiza import Café del Mar. (We may have neglected to mention that our ideal day falls on a Friday; the one night when the shoreline crowd is guaranteed to last until dawn.) With the downtempo beats, the cool sea breeze, the minty mojitos and the comforting murmur of sleepy fellow revelers, we manage to spend a couple of hours reviewing the events of the day before pushing on to our final episode.

6AM
It’s been quite a day. To bring ourselves safely down after such prolonged excitement, we make a beeline for Beijing, where every available public space is filled with tai qi quan practitioners. What with several years of untrammeled development, Beijing may not be the gorgeous lane-filled place it once was, but there is still enough of the old imperial city – for now, at any rate – for us to find the right position to look over the timeless hutongs and imagine ourselves moving gracefully through space in a more genteel era. An hour of flowing movement and faultless internal muscle control sees our body and our spirit cleansed, and the end of our perfect Asian 24-hour adventure. There’s only one remaining journey to make: the journey back home to bed to refill our energy reserves for the next assignment and congratulate ourselves on an excellent use of the time allocated to us.

This article first appeared in Lifestyle + Travel magazine.

Untitled

One of the best ways to get to know a new city is to jog around it. Here’s some of the top jogs in the region. 

Hong Kong

Wherever you are, the Peak looms over the city of Hong Kong behind every building. What may not be apparent from the warren of steamy streets in Causeway Bay and Central is that the mountain is full of spectacular running routes, just minutes away from the MTR stations and wontonmin sellers.

Best run
Bowen Road

For visitors from less geographically spectacular parts of the world, the sharp inclines and severe gradients of Hong Kong’s more hilly runs are out of the question: you’d be exhausted in minutes. But Bowen Road, following a contour of the hillside, offers a flat run with a spectacular view from above the city, giving you the feeling of gliding along halfway up the skyscrapers. Starting behind Hong Kong Park on Cotton Tree Drive, Bowen Road snakes eastwards all the way through Central and Wanchai and ends above Happy Valley. The shaded, wooded and car-free route is one of Hong Kong’s finest attractions and is worth a good hour of running time, there and back.   

Singapore

For one of the most urbanised society on earth, there are plenty of places to run in Singapore that will have you scratching your head and wondering if you’ve suddenly been transported to the steamy jungles of Sumatra. It’s shockingly easy to escape the high-rise surroundings in favour of greenery, oxygen-rich air and even the occasional monkey.

Best run
MacRitchie Reservoir

The whole of Singapore’s forested central catchment area is criss-crossed with jungle paths and shaded gravel roads. And it’s so well planned that if you’re feeling really fit you could run a marathon without ever leaving the woods. But for starters, try the MacRitchie Loop. Starting from the entrance on Lornie Road (just a couple of minutes’ cab ride from the Orchard Road hotel belt), run alongside the reservoir so that the water is on your left. From there, it’s a simple matter of always turning left, running around the edge of the water along well-signposted jungle tracks. Eleven kilometres and one circuit later, you’re back where you started: fitter, leaner, soaked with perspiration and with lungfuls of clean freshly-produced rainforest air to keep you going until the next visit.

Bangkok

The common image of the traffic-choked streets of Bangkok doesn’t immediately conjure up thoughts of happy running experiences. However, there are enough kilometres of quiet lanes, canal-side paths and local sois to put together to make some very satisfying runs indeed.

Best run
The Lumpini Loop

Any run in Bangkok has to take in at least a part of this Victorian-era city park with its wide old trees and boating lakes. But to really see Bangkok, it’s worth branching out: leave the park from the Wireless Road/Sarasin corner exit, run up the steps to the overpass and then cut loose. The walkway will take you over traditional Thai housing, past a lovely old canal and deposit you at the entrance to Bangkok’s newest park, Sirikit. You can run around that one then head back to Lumpini, or if you’re feeling really adventurous, turn left up one of the quiet sois, cross over Sukhumvit Road, continue north and make a break for Saen Saeb Canal. The pathway along the canal stretches for miles in either direction, or you could literally run for hours along this fascinating thoroughfare with not a car in sight, passing wooden Thai houses and canal boats.

Sydney

If Sydney was created by the Almighty, as Sydneysiders like to claim, then him upstairs must be a very keen runner. Clean streets, clear sidewalks, infinite choices between hills and flat surfaces, and glimpses of that gorgeous shimmery harbour peeking out from behind every tasteful 1930s apartment block and eucalyptus tree: Sydney is a runner’s dream.

Best run
Domain

Everywhere in Sydney is good, but it doesn’t get any better than the Botanic Gardens and Domain, with their examples of all sorts of exotic antipodean flora to occupy your mind while you put one foot in front of the other. With the Opera House in your field of vision and the blue Australian sky setting off the greenery, you’ll find it hard to run anywhere else ever again. And if your exertions cause you to heat up a tad too much, the Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton public swimming pool is just around the corner, east towards Woolloomooloo, for a post-workout dip. Just don’t get in the way of the lap swimmers. They take their swimming seriously in these parts.

Kuala Lumpur

Somewhere between Singapore and Bangkok – both geographically and atmospherically – KL offers enough green spaces and lush parks on one hand, and sufficient seething streets and local colour on the other, to make running an entertaining as well as energetic pursuit.

Best run KL
Bird Park surrounds

The area around the Petronas Twin Towers is nice, but serious runners might find the area a little too small. To really stretch your legs, hotfoot it over to the green belt behind the Old Railway Station and National Mosque. Gorgeous forested paths pass the KL Bird Park, the Butterfly Park, the National Museum, the beautiful Carcosa Seri Negara (the former British Governor’s mansion), the National War Heroes monument and countless other attractions, all within one sprawling green zone. After a few laps, you’ll have earned a couple of guilt-free roti canai washed down with kopi tarik.

Shanghai

The wide sidewalks, gorgeous French villas and elegant plane trees of Xuhui’s backstreets provide a lovely backdrop while you’re bouncing on air. And the well-planned parks maintained beautifully by the municipal authorities only add to the appeal of lacing up in China’s most exciting city.

Best run
Fuxing Park

Fuxing Park is a good place to start; home to some of Shanghai’s best bars and restaurants, it’s apt that it should be a good place to burn the calories that you consumed here the night before. Warm up with a couple of laps, taking care to avoid the wushu practitioners and beret-sporting petanque enthusiasts (despite 58 years of communism and counting, there’s still plenty of French in the Concession). When you’ve found your rhythm, head out of the north gate and keep on running, crossing Huaihai Lu and continuing north. After less than a kilometre you’ll come across the southwest extension of People’s Square, a modern manicured green spot in the centre of town. From here, run east through the park and north across Yan’an Lu to connect to People’s Square proper. In a different era, this was the Shanghai horseracing track, so it’s an appropriate place to open up and go for a gallop. Now, it’s up to you; do a circuit of the park, explore the many little winding paths, or join the masses for an early morning spot of tai chi. When you’ve had enough, head to the northwest corner of the park, near the Art Museum, for a revivifying cappuccino at Shanghai’s nicest Starbucks.  

Dubai

For half of the year in the Pearl of the Gulf, you’d be well advised to hang up your running shoes in favour of indoor pursuits with very strong air-conditioning. But when the heat abates towards the end of the year, Dubai’s seaside location makes for some lovely coastal runs.

Best run
Jumeirah

Whether you’re staying in the atmospheric Old City or in the newer and infinitely more glamorous Jumeirah beachside strip, the coastal run is the one you should be aiming for. Mile after mile of white sands, posh villas, beachside cafes and an international cast of fellow joggers will keep your eyes occupied while the miles on your Ipod sport kit tick over. Landmarks to look out for include the Jumeirah Beach Club, the Wild Wadi and the Burj Al-Arab hotel constantly shimmering in the distance; as well as several appealingly upmarket shopping strips which you’ll no doubt be returning to later after you’ve showered, changed and armed yourself with your most robust credit cards.

HanoiIf you like a little culture while you pound the pavements, Hanoi is the place for you. Take in Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, the dreamy West Lake, or the many original lanes with craftsmen existing as they have for centuries. Just be sure to look both ways when you’re crossing the roads.Best run The streets of the old town can get a little congested; you may find yourself unable to build up a decent head of steam. Cut loose and head directly towards the monumental Ho Chi Minh square, where Uncle Ho himself rests in peace, his running days long over. Run the long straight leafy boulevards where the ambassadors make their homes, then hit the trail north towards the West Lake (making sure to give a respectful nod to the Lenin statue on the way). The run around the perimeter of the Lake measures a very respectable 14 km; a few circuits of this body of water and you’ll in good shape to complete any trail, Ho Chi Minh or otherwise.

Luang Prabang

If you can overcome the feeling of soporific bliss in the ancient capital, Luang Prabang makes for some very fine running indeed. With quiet, traffic-free streets, intriguing back lanes winding past leafy Buddhist temples and French colonial schools, and a compact layout which means you can run in any direction and still find your way back to the hotel in time for croissants and coffee, the Lao cultural gem is a surprisingly attractive athletic proposition too.

Best run
Old Town

Stick to the Unesco-listed old town; the grid layout makes it easy to keep your bearings, and the riverside breezes will keep your body temperature down while your heart rate goes up. Wherever you start, simply run towards the end of the promontory: when you get to the river, turn round again, run back, and repeat as necessary. To remain in the spirit of things, however, try not to run too far or too fast. Exercise is admirable, but exerting yourself too much is simply not the done thing in this most horizontal of countries.

This article first appeared in Lifestyle + Travel magazine.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Friday, May 23, 2008

Badvertorial.

I buy a few magazines regularly. WIthout fail,  no matter what subject they specialise in, they're pretty decently art directed.

Wired, Men's Health, Monocle, Good, Fast Company. All, without exception, good-looking titles. Nice type, great photography, consistent looks yet enough flexibility within their design guidelines to provide variety.

So, one question: why the hell are all the ads in these mags so damn ugly?

You'd think someone, somewhere, in some advertising agency would have cottoned onto the fact that if someone buys a magazine, there must be something about that magazine that they like.

And that there's a chance that one of the things they like about the magazine they buy is the way information is presented.

But no.

If a magazine has interesting, modern typography, the ads will look like they were done ten years ago.

If the magazine features lots of information in an article, the ads will be light on facts, with just a few words that could hope to convince nobody.

If the magazine is stylish and slick, the ads will be messy and almost totally un-art directed.

If the agencies involved were smart, they'd look at the environment their ads were going to run in, assume that the readers had some interest in the way content is laid out, and go some way towards looking as if they understood that fact.

And ff the clients were smart, they'd simply go directly to the magazines in question and ask them to do something that demonstrated the same understanding of their audience that they show in the editorial.

Agencies are always complaining that they don't get enough respect. If they continue to show an almost wilful naivety in the way they go about trying to convince consumers on behalf of their clients, they should be getting even less respect than they do already.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dramatis personae.

Last night's Man Utd-Chelsea game had it all. What a great story. And such a cast of characters.

John Terry provided the tragedy. Ronaldo the hero who nearly fell from grace. Giggs the veteran who comes back for one last mission and carries the day. Anelka the villain whose previous misdeeds came back to haunt him.

The script couldn't have been better written. Just when you thought the bad guys were going to win, just at the end when you thought there was no hope, Terry let the good guys back in. And a perfect Hollywood ending.

It was almost possible to forget this was a Champions League game at all. Beating Chelsea was enough of a thrill and cause for celebration in itself. It was only a few minutes after the victory that it sank in that it was so much more than that; Man Utd were actually champions of Europe too.

A brilliant night.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Swift theft.

I think I could make a living searching the web, magazines, bookstores, podcasts for cool things, adapting them a little bit (or not at all) and presenting them as ideas for my clients.

There is so much great stuff out there, and so little of it exposed on a grand scale, that it would be easy to repackage things, give them a slight connection to clients' businesses, and present them as original ideas.

Alternatively, it would be no shame to admit that the ideas weren't mine; in my experience, the act of knowing about cool stuff is at least as impressive to people as the act of coming up with it - if not more so.

In fact, I'm quickly talking myself into setting up a division dedicated entirely to harvesting cool new stuff and using it for clients.

The three key words of the philosophy would be:

1. Speed. If you're going to copy stuff, you need to copy it quickly. You need to be the first to copy it, and you need to copy it before it becomes known on a mass scale, so you can be seen to own it as far as your own audience is concerned.

2. Taste. You need to know where to look, and you need to know what is really a good idea and what isn't. In my experience, taste is easy. When you didn't have the idea in the first place, you're in a better position to judge whether it's good or not.

3. Packaging. Changing something slightly, or finding a place 'within' the idea for your business, is the killer app. You need to take something and rebrand it so you can own it, and make it look as if it came from your own business, not co-opted from somewhere else with a dubious link.

Yes. Harvest. Good word.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The A3 principle.

There are a lot of tools available to the creative mind. George Lucas and the entire original Star Wars crew had access to less technology than is contained on the average advertising agency desk today. Whatever can be envisaged can be created.

But let's not overlook the most important word in that last sentence. Envisage. A computer screen won't help you envisage. Flicking through the latest great ads won't help you envisage. And with the multitude of distractions available, it's not controversial to say that the presence of a computer screen can be detrimental to the envisaging process.

The most important tool available today is the most important tool available ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

A big piece of paper and an A3 sheet of paper. (A2, if you're really old school.)

A couple of hours every morning with the computer turned off and no distractions, hunched over a white page and scribbling elegant little notes, illustrations and diagrams, is essential for conjuring up ideas before you turn on the computer to realise them.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Monday, May 19, 2008

Assured future.

It's an easy matter to make one prediction in the area of what we will be doing with our time in the very near future.

All you need to do is take a few things we're already doing, and put them together to discover how they'll converge.

Twitter: the updating service that sends what you're doing to anyone who cares to know, wherever they happen to be, via their phones.

Flock, the browser that sucks information from all of your contacts on Facebook, Youtube, Flickr and Twitter and feeds them to you in a single constantly-updated stream.

And the iPhone, the phone that presents photos and videos in a quality far more advanced than any other phone on the market.

Combine these three technologies and what have you got? It's not too difficult to imagine, in the next year or so, a mobile version of Flock where your phone will be constantly lighting up with all sorts of information from your friends and contacts. Status updates, new photos they've posted, new videos they've uploaded, information as to their location... your phone screen will be a constant feed of information.

We already have pushmail, where emails arrive in your inbox without you needing to do anything. It's only a small leap from that to push-updates, with all new information in whatever form posted by your contacts appearing instantly on your iPhone screen.

Fun.




Blogged with the Flock Browser

Singapore Curl.

What on earth is up with the Singapore Airlines print ads? The Singapore Girl, archaic as the concept was, was always a paragon of charm and loveliness.

Now, in the new ads for First and Business Class, the air stewardesses look like they've taken their styling cues from Marge Simpson. Horribly dated beehive do's and hair that looks as if it's been subject to at least an entire can of hairspray. This stuff would have already looked old 40 years ago.

Advertising is supposed to be known for overpromising. But this is one of many examples where the advertising is actually worse than the product. The client would be better off not advertising at all. Since when did advertising get so uncool, or has it always been this way without my noticing?
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lo-res.

As usual, advertisers - with a few notable exceptions like Nike - are getting it wrong.

Everywhere clients are asking for higher production values, sleeker looks, 'bigger' feels. Something 'grand' to match the scale of the brand. And, agencies being what they are, are giving it to them.

When in reality, what real people are being turned on by is the exact opposite.

Out of all of the things that take off, all of the things that go global, all of the things that get emailed between friends and spread like wildfire across the globe, most are small. Low production values - home shot videos, shaky unedited footage of bulldogs on trailers pulled by bicycles, cats trying to catch fish from ponds...

Popular culture has gone from everyone looking forward to the occasional extravaganza - a blockbuster film, a major sports event - to a constant stream of low-budget, lo-res, interesting things in everyday places.

We're getting used to advertising being one step behind, so it's no surprise that there a very few examples of the ndustry co-opting the movement. (One of few examples is the brilliant Nike Ronaldinho 'Crossbar' spot, which has been forwarded literally millions of times on youtube.) But real culture has already cottoned onto it. Last year's Cloverfield is one example of a director doing something big by deliberately keeping it small: the whole film was shot like a shaky youtube video. And the handheld feel wasn't just a technique, it was the basis for the entire idea of the film; a military expedition force finding an abandoned video camera after a great catastrophe. Needless to say, the movie was one of the biggest cultural events of the year.

The situation is clear on both big and small scales. I uploaded an TVC to youtube about two months ago. The cost of the ad was about US$300,000. More recently, last week I uploaded a video of my dog eating a pizza, shot on a $500 video camera and edited on a $1500 computer. In one week, the dog video has received 125 times more viewings than the ad has garnered in two months.

It doesn't matter how 'big' clients want to make their communications. People aren't always looking for big things. Low production quality is equated with realness, honesty, likeability and charm. I'm not saying it's right for every client, but it's something we should push every now and then.



Blogged with the Flock Browser

Saturday, May 17, 2008

George eats a pizza.

http://www.youtube.com/?v=2eNLcw1kySw

George eats a pizza.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Friday, May 16, 2008

Soap operation

I've been trying for a while to work out just what it is that's so great about Facebook, Twitter et al; these totally addictive sites that have millions of people logging in at all times of the day.

I could feel that there is a big idea particularly behind Twitter but couldn't work it out. But it's only becoming clear to me what that idea is now.

It's a 24-hour a day reality show. But one where you know all of the actors.

Hook up to Twitter, subscribe to your friends' feeds, enable your mobile phone for updates. Suddenly you've got a rolling news service, a constant feed of information and entertainment, from trivial activity reports to profound innermost thoughts, all delivered to your phone screen.

It's better than any movie or 24-hour reality show there is. Because you get to choose the characters, who's included in the stories, and you personally know everybody in the cast. With the added advantage that you don't need to sit in front of the TV to keep up with it.

Download Flock to your computer and the story gets even better. Flock is just another web browser like Safari or Firefox, but with a few added features; one of which is a feed bar constantly sucking information from all of your contacts on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube and a bunch of other sites. You can literally sit in front of your computer screen watching the news constantly come in: friends' status updates, contacts' Twitter reports, friends' new videos, new photos... It's an amazing sight. Like the CNN News Ticker, but with all the stories involving people you're connected to personally.

It's much more entertaining than watching the telly.




Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Paradise Paradox.

Having just returned from Bali for a regional conference, my thoughts are naturally dwelling on the whole concept of paradise and how it could be defined today.

Bali is an island that occupies a special place in the popular imagination. But, nice as it is, it’s become just a bit too everyday to really qualify as heaven.

I envy the people like Walter Spies or Geoffrey Bawa who discovered Bali before the Australian tour groups and busloads of Korean golfers. They would have been truly blown away by the discovery of somewhere totally different.

Today, Bali is a great place for a holiday, but nothing else - a place just like many others, with stylish hotels, good weather, and a selection of fine Italian restaurants. It’s a lovely place, but the sense of magic can never remain for long when around the next corner is a Peppermint Frappucino and Java Chip Muffin waiting for you.

I wonder if there is somewhere on this earth that would have the same effect today as Bali had in the 1930s: remote enough to be totally free from any reminders of home.

That’s the key. No triggers, no mental association with everyday life. Nothing to bring you back to reality from your holiday-induced dream state. If I see a Starbucks logo every day on my scoot to work, then if I see one on holiday then of course there is bound to be some detrimental effect on my mental state, however small. The ideal holiday discovery needs to be a place where you see different signs, read a different alphabet, eat different food, with no visual reminders whatsoever of the existence you left behind for a week. And yet with an indigenous culture of beauty - just like the Balinese can boast.

Where could this possibly be? Somewhere in Africa? Central Asia, somewhere west of China? Somewhere in the Himalayas north of India?

There has to be somewhere. Globalisation is fine by me, but if it interferes with my enjoyment of my holidays then something must be done.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Beer from the Communist World.

Marx would have been proud.

Hoppy brews from the world's few remaining socialist states triumph victoriously over their decadent imperialist capitalist equivalents.

In this part of the world, my favourite beer is far and away the delicious Tsingtao. Hailing from the Chinese town of the same name, a former German treaty port on China's northeast coast, China's number one beer is fruity, floral, fresh, and tastes as if it was made with water from a pristine Chinese mountain spring.

I first tasted Tsingtao in January 2001, in Guangzhou, on a daytrip over the border from Hong Kong. Then, it came in an authentically communist format: a poor-quality large green bottle and a badly printed, toilet-tissue thin label. More recently, I had a few last night at my local Thai restaurant. The packaging is markedly more sophisticated, the label redesigned and printed perfectly: but the taste is still the same.

My second favourite hails from the People's Democratic Republic of Laos: Obviously, Beer Lao. I have had several happy nights by the Mekong in Vientiane, gazing smugly over the river at Thailand and pitying the poor saps who had to make do with Beer Chang and Leo.

But now, in an uncharacteristic display of cross-border cooperation, Beer Lao is now widely available in Thailand. Its sharp, hoppy, almost-too-strong-but-not taste is perfect for lazy Saturday afternoons, or sitting outside in the baking Thai evening heat. And the recent discovery of Beer Lao Dark has added yet more appeal to the brand. Beer Lao Dark is almost English in texture, a kind of Newcastle Brown Ale with a much more fresh, natural, mineral, refreshing taste. Wherever I see it, I find it very difficult to resist ordering it immediately.

Number three is not so much a brand as an institution: Bia Hoi in Vietnam. Bia Hoi - literally, fresh beer - is found in hundreds of places throughout Hanoi and its surrounds. Delivered daily in unbranded vats to downmarket coffee shops and fluorescent-lit restaurants throughout the North Vietnamese citadel, Bia Hoi - frothy, fragrant, fresh - is shockingly good: with a taste not unlike Belgium's Hoegaarden, but better.

Viva La Revolucion.

Monday, January 14, 2008

11.

The little soi leading off Sukhumvit Soi 11 is developing into a
decent destination. Tapas Cafe, The Pickled Liver, Charlie Brown's,
Soi 11, the legendary Cheap Charlie's... I'm not suggesting it's
particularly sophisticated, but it's pleasant enough. And now - in
what I'm absolutely sure is a first for car-obsessed Bangkok - the
whole soi has been pedestrianised.
It means you can now have your patatas bravas without the added diesel
fumes from the idling pickup truck two metres from your plate.

Thailand is good at stunning individual efforts oblivious to their
surroundings: great restaurants surrounded by slums; secluded world
famous hotels with their backs to som tam-infested beaches. So this
apparently collective effort from the tenants of Soi 11 is rare. Who
knows? It could develop into the Thai version of Lan Kwai Fong. Perhaps.

Phuket aesthetic.

Phuket needs an art director.

Away from the west coast beaches - which are, for the most part, lovely; even Patong has it charm - the place has fallen victim to the same syndrome that afflicts almost all Thai resorts from Koh Chang to Samet to varying degrees: a peculiarly Thai version of downmarketness.

Driving from Sarasin Bridge to Kata Noi, completing our last leg on the Bangkok-Phuket drive, we were assailed by tyre shops, cheap red-lit karaoke bars, post-apocalyptic noodle stalls and the general detritus common to all parts of Thailand where large numbers of Thais have relocated in order to make a better living out of the tourist trade.

It's a pity that the whole place doesn't look like the Amanpuri. It could, quite easily, if the authorities had more taste.

What the place needs is a Tourism Dictator. A sort of Lee Kuan Yew of paradise. Someone who has a vision of how the place should look and the guts to carry it through. I'm thinking that the place should be planned as one large tourism resort: where certain zones are for guests, and other zones are for staff quarters. Just like an ordinary hotel, but on an islandwide scale.

The West Coast could be reserved for tourism. East of the main road connecting the Sarasin Bridge with everything else, pleasant HDB-style housing (1950s HDB, not the monstrosities that were built after the glorious initial period) could be erected.

Road verges could be designed and maintained by the Amanpuri.

I don't see why not. Hawaii and Singapore have great tropical vegetation programmes. No reason why Phuket, more blessed by geography than either of those two places, couldn't do the same.