Saturday, June 21, 2008

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.

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