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Jaipur – The Place Where Indian Tales Come to Life

Bring an empty suitcase to Rajasthan’s famed pink city, because you’re going to want to buy everything in this creative hub.

“JAIPUR IS SLOW LIFE!” my taxi driver declares. All around us, cars, pedicabs, bicycles and cattle are stuck in hardcore commuter gridlock. Horns screech, elephants trumpet, and pedestrians tumble in and out of the disorderly scrum. Young boys jog in between the cars and oxcarts hawking fresh coconuts, marigold garlands, and saris. A horse cart waits patiently next to us, the turbaned driver casting a betel- stained grin. My driver responds by pressing on the horn for an unnecessarily long time. Slow life? Sure, in the literal sense. But it definitely doesn’t seem relaxing.

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Amer Fort, outside Jaipur, dates to 967, the reign of Raja Man Singh

After a few days in the Rajasthani capital, however, my taxi driver’s declaration begins to make sense. In spite of the log-jammed roads and dizzy markets, folks here take their time. Like the horse-cart driver who smiles in traffic, shopkeepers linger over tea and conversation, and skilled artisans work slowly and deliberately to create swoon-worthy architecture, textiles, art and jewelry that stand the tests of time. This is no accident.

Back in 1726, Maharaja Jai Singh, the city’s namesake, summoned skilled craftsmen—bricklayers, stone masons, marble cutters, metal smiths, potters, weavers— from the farthest reaches of the Subcontinent to build a new capital from the ground up. City planners followed architectural blueprints detailed in Vastu Shastra, a part of the Vedas, or Hinduism’s religious texts. Think of it as Vedic feng shui. Balanced aesthetics and details of  extraordinarily exquisite filigree, inlay and gilt are the cornerstones of the city’s iconic structures: the old city wall, the City Palace, Jal Mahal (or Water Palace, on Man Sagar Lake), and the pink Hawa Mahal, (Wind Palace), for example.

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Hawa Mahal

Jai Singh launched one of modern India’s first intentional artisan communities. Deep inside the dusty warrens of the walled old city, artisans— or karigbars— turn out extraordinary objects much like they have for the past three centuries. Craftsmen chisel marble, cut gems and hand-embroider garments with solid-gold thread with casual expertise. The level of detail is staggering. More than once on my visit, I was given a magnifying glass to properly appreciate gold inlaid with precious gems, highly technical weaving techniques, and pichwai or gota embroidery, which resembles a painted tapestry.

Modern designers—native and foreign-born—still flock to Jaipur. Tapping indigenous artisans’ know-how, the new kids are repurposing folksy styles into edgy, appealing fashion, furniture and practically anything else. The contemporary craft movement, in turn, gives a lifeline to the karighars in their continual defense against machine- made wares. We can all thank the Maharaja for inuring his subjects with an abiding appreciation for hand-hewn beauty and intricacy—an ethos of living and enjoying creative pursuits that continues to underscore the city’s character. Here, the slow life is the good life.

NEIGHBORHOODS

Zip around the Pink City’s eclectic enclaves—a seamless blend of ancient and avant-garde, bustling and sleepy—via autorickshaw or Uber.

OLD CITY
The Pink City got its rosy paint job in 1876, and the original walled core still blushes with glorious palaces, forts and temples. The old markets are full of treasure; it’s worth elbowing you way through the mayhem to get your piece of Jaipur’s magic.

CIVIL LINES
The posh district’s graceful tree-lined streets and colonial and Mid-century bungalows appeal to dignitaries and design-types.

C-SCHEME
Teeming with youthful energy, this burb mixes cool cafes and crafty threads with the ubiquitous sidewalk ch ai wallah, or tea seller.

Ml ROAD
Endless rows of multi-generation jewelry shops, snack stalls and sari boutiques make this iconic street a one-stop shopping (and eating) hub.

VAISHALI NAGAR
The up-and-coming district’s low rents and broad avenues lure fresh start-ups looking for space to flex their creative muscles.

KANOTA BAGH
Not a neighborhood per se, the pretty shopping complex’s bougainvillea-covered courtyards are home to trendy ateliers peddling contemporary and vintage crafts.

The Place Where Beautiful Myths Start: Wandering In Athens

Despite the adversity it has faced in recent maybe even because of it—Athens has become an incredibly fun place to wander.

But when I reached the Acropolis, I kept walking’ past the stands selling archaeological schlock, past the spectators on Segways, into the park that surrounds Philopappou Hill. I took a seat on a rock ledge overlooking olive trees, where a few smart Athenians had strung hammocks to watch the sunset. Someone was playing abouzouki. Someone else was practicing the trumpet. Everywhere there were ruins. The yawning sun cast the whole park in a strange sepia glow.

The Acropolis in Athens from Filopappou hill

The Acropolis in Athens from Filopappou hill

I followed ancient stone pathways to the western edge, clambered down a dirt trail, and emerged in Petralona, a neighborhood that felt like it was in an entirely different city. It had bougainvillea, jasmine, cats, funky 1960s apartment buildings. Everyone was on their terraces, on the street. I had that pleasant sensation, unique to urban travel, when you find your neighborhood, relax your shoulders, and think, I could live here. I sat down at a sidewalk cafe and asked for an ouzo. “No, we drink raki,” the waiter said with a smile, “because we are from Crete.” An icy pitcher arrived. The sharp, anise-flavored liqueur went down smoothly with what I had ordered: sausage marinated in vinegar, tomatoes sprinkled with oregano, olives, cheese.

Soon it was dark. I was pleasantly drunk, wandering again. Every restaurant was flung open, the interiors empty, the tables and chairs spilled onto the street. You could not tell, based on the confusion of small plates arriving and departing, whether people were just starting dinner or almost finished. No one, as far as I could tell, had any intention of leaving.

I approached an old red building with film reels mounted on its facade; ZEFYROS, the sign said. I knew it was a cinema, but I didn’t realize until I was inside that it was open to the night sky. I took a seat at a patio table in the garden. The air was cool and vaguely botanical, the walls covered in vines. The film was black-and-white, Italian with Greek subtitles, and the only thing I understood was that I did not want it to end.

      WHEN MARK TWAIN arrived in Athens, in 1867, his ship was quarantined, so he sneaked ashore after dark. Ashe recounted in his grouchy travelogue The Innocents Abroad, he bribed his way into the Parthenon, stole a “gallon of superb grapes” from a nearby vineyard, and then completely bypassed modern Athens while dismissing its inhabitants as “pirates,” “villains,” and “falsifiers of high repute.” On his boat the next day, having visited only moonlit ruins, Twain concluded, “We have seen all there is to see,” and set sail for the islands.

To this day, Twain’s attitude persists with too many travelers.

The rap on Athens is that it’s ugly, dirty, even dangerous, that you should just get in and get out. See the Acropolis, eat a gyro and hop a ferry to Santorini. The Greek capital may be many things—chaotic, complicated, enthralling—but a layover should not be one of them. This city demands attention.

It deserves it, too, especially right now. Years of economic catastrophe and political fecklessness have instilled in its residents an almost heroic fatalism. I recently spent a week in the city talking to everyone from soup-kitchen volunteers to anarchist waiters to local art- and fashion-world denizens. No one I met believes a real recovery is coming. But what’s inspiring is that Athenians are getting on with their lives anyway. They’ve stopped waiting—for the government to get its act together, for the EU to bail them out. They’re finding ways, small and large, to move forward.

This process, however painful, has unexpectedly dynamized Athens. A desperate creative energy has gripped its art world. Chronically underemployed young people are launching cooperative restaurants and cafes. And an audacious generation of entrepreneurs is investing in locally made luxury products. All of this creative bootstrapping has coincided with an unexpected surge in foreign tourism. A record 27 million people visited Greece in 2016. Suddenly, the city’s cafes are full, restaurants are opening and hotels are going up.

At the same time, Athens has experienced an eruption of high culture. In recent years, it has become a hot spot for avant-garde performance, like Katerina Evangelatou’s staging of Euripides’ Rhesus as a Sleep No More-style journey at Aristotle’s Lyceum. The prestigious German art festival Documenta began a three-month run here in April, its first-ever event outside its home country. And last fall, after more than a decade of management fiascoes, the National Museum of Contemporary Art opened in a once-derelict l950s-era brewery south of the Acropolis, showcasing leading Greek artists and international stars like Shirin Neshat and Bill Viola.

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

Even more ambitious is the €600 million Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, the new home of Greece’s national opera and library. Designed by Renzo Piano, this waterfront temple to the arts sits atop an artificial hill in the working- class neighborhood of Kallithea, overlooking a rambling park filled with aromatic herbs. The building at once references and defies Athens’s classical architecture: its scale is epic, but the columns and canopy roof are built out of a paper-thin concrete that makes it look like it’s about to float out to sea.

Sailing Across a Splendid Forest & Mountains View – British Columbia

Growing up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, I found it easy to mock visitors from abroad. “This place,” they’d whisper. “I can go swimming in the morning, siding in the afternoon, then kayak home for dinner.” The views, the landscape, the wildlife—that was the refrain. Even in the cities, the scenery dominates. On any clear afternoon, look up from the streets of downtown Vancouver and you’ll see the snowcapped North Shore mountains glowing pink, an ostentatious show of natural beauty so commonplace that most residents barely take notice.

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Sailing the waters off Vancouver Island

There were times when visitors’ compliments sounded like admiration for a two-dimensional backdrop. But B.C. is a complex place, especially when it comes to its aboriginal communities. With a population of just more than 4.5 million, the province is home to around 230,000 aboriginal people from 203 different First Nations, who among them speak 34 languages and 60 dialects. Today, these groups live a life of ostensible equality, but centuries of oppression began a cycle of social devastation that hasn’t yet been fully resolved. In many aboriginal communities, poverty, homelessness and substance abuse still loom large.

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a floatplane docks in Prince Rupert

Indeed, residents of B.C. live in a province of uneasy contrasts. My village on the island was a haven of middle-class comfort, bordered by the poverty of a First Nations reserve. As a child, I walked down the stony beach and saw wealth and privilege give way to sudden hardship. This, I was told once, was my first experience of apartheid.

As an adult I spent more than is years living outside Canada, and from time to time I would catch a glimpse of the ancient cedars and airborne orcas used to advertise my home province. I wondered which B.C. the visitors were coming to see. Was it possible to engage with the region’s complexities and to approach its original residents in away that went beyond the superficial?

If I was asking that question of others, I realized, I first needed to answer it my self. So I planned atrip that took me from mid-Vancouver Island, the land of Snuneymuxw and Snaw-Naw-As First Nations, north to Port Hardy, then on to the remote, fog-shrouded islands of Haida Gwaii, home of the formidable Haida people, to find out whether it was possible for a visitor to take in B.C.’s nuanced human stories while still keeping those forests and snowcapped peaks in view.

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Sea lions gather on a rock near Windy Bay, off the coast of Haida Gwaii

Port Hardy, a seaside town of 4,000 people on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, is today known as a destination for storm- watchers, sport fishermen and hikers, though the place has retained a plaid-shirt solidity that reflects its past as a center for logging and mining. Outside the airport I was met by Mike Willie of Sea Wolf Adventures. Willie is a member of the Musg’amakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nation, and he runs what he calls boat-based cultural tours across the waters into Kwakwaka’wakw territory. That includes the village of Alert Bay, the Namgis Burial Ground, with its totem poles, and the unpredictable waters nearby. He goes from Indian Channel up to Ralph, Fern, Goat and Crease Islands, and as far north as the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw territory, also known as the Great Bear Rainforest—a 65,000-square-kilometer nature reserve that is home to the elusive white “spirit” bear.

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I’d arranged to travel with Willie to the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, as well as to Village Island,  the site of an infamous potlatch—a feast and gifting ceremony through which First Nations chiefs would assert their status and territorial rights. {Potlatches were banned in 1884 by the Canadian government, on the grounds that they were contrary to “civilized values.”

The ban was repealed in 1951.) As we set off, Willie told me about the ceremony. “The potlatch was an opportunity to reaffirm who you were,” he said. “It was away to get through the harsh winters. We gathered: that was the medicine.”

Willie took me to my lodgings, a beachfront cabin at the Cluxewe Resort outside the logging town of Port McNeill. The resort was comfortable but definitely designed to propel visitors outdoors. (A note inside my room reminded guests to please refrain from gutting fish on the porch.) I spent the evening reading, accompanied by a soundtrack of waves sweeping the beach outside, and the next morning, I took a walk along the stretch of pebbly Pacific shore in front of my cabin. I wanted to reacquaint myself with the past, inhale the moisture in the air, smell the cedar. Up above, unhurried eagles swooped, exuding a proprietary air as they circled and fell and circled again.

As l walked, it struck me that this beach, like so many others, has been home to the Kwakwaka’wakw people for thousands of years. Canada, on the other hand, turns a mere 150 this year, and it seemed to be a good time to reflect on the nation’s progress. The contrasts and contradictions I found in B.C. are playing out on a national scale. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, set up as a response to the abuse inflicted on indigenous students in residential schools, concluded its findings in December 2015, attempting to redress the legacy with 94 Calls to Action. The Idle No More movement has been confronting the issues facing First Nations through a series of rallies and protests.

Meanwhile in B.C., tourism revenue is expected to double in the next 20 years, with the aboriginal sector playing a starring role. {This year it is forecast to bring in C$90 million.) Something is happening. This is not about “having a moment”; moments recede. This is a long slog for respect, an effort to change the way Canadians view the aboriginal community’s land and lives.

In preparation for our trip to Alert Bay, Willie drove me into Port McNeill for a breakfast of eggs and bacon at an unpretentious place called Tia’s Cafe. The town is small, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when Willie’s uncle Don wandered in. He told us there was excitement up in Kingcome, site of the family’s First Nations community. He said the oolies, or oolichans—smelt fish used for making oil—had arrived, and the villagers were out fishing last night.

“Sealions were spotted in the river,” Uncle Don said. “It’s strange to see them up that high.”

“And there’s excitement?” Willie asked.

Don raised an eyebrow. “Oh sure.”

Willie came to the guiding business in an organic way. In 2013, he started a water-taxi service between Alert Bay and neighboring Telegraph Cove, and en route he’d tell passengers about Kwakwaka’wakw life. Back then, the creaky remains of the notorious First Nations residential school in Alert Bay, which housed aboriginal children from 1929 to 1975, were still standing, and visitors were sometimes moved to tears when he told them about the abuses that took place there. But there was so much more: the totem-pole ceremony; the death protocol; family crests. You can look at a totem pole and appreciate the art, Willie explained to his passengers, but true appreciation comes from an understanding of its meaning. As he put it, “Wouldn’t you rather see B.C. through fourteen thousand years of history?”

Inside the U’mista Cultural Centre, in Alert Bay, which was set up to protect the heritage of the Kwakwaka’wakw community, I walked among the masks—a collection of painted wooden beaks and faces peering forth into the dimly lit exhibition room. In this culture, masks function not only as decoration but also as a form of historical and legal documentation. They also serve as tools of social instruction. Willie and I stopped in front of Gwalkwaml, or the Deaf Man, a one-eared mask with a downturned mouth and wisps of black horsehair. “It shows a head chief of a clan,” Willie explained. “He didn’t want to hold a potlatch, and the clansmen weren’t happy about that, so they killed him.” The mask, worn during retellings of the story, became a warning.

Back at the dock in Alert Bay, brightly colored houses huddled alongside boats ranging from weathered to freshly painted. As we left the harbor, Willie offered me pate of wild sockeye salmon from the Nimpkish River, and I ate as much as I could before we began cresting waves. Over the roar of the engine, I asked him why interacting with tourists was important. “We need to be vocal,” he said. “We need to talk about our evolution and bring people closer to our reality.” Oral-history cultures,

I was reminded, need audiences. “Every time we tell this truth,” he said, “it’s strengthened.”

The Kampot Express Breaks Cambodia’s Quite

Chartreuse rice paddies and tree-covered hills ease by as I gaze out the window on the four-hour train journey from Phnom Penh to the southern riverside town of Kampot. Arriving at the tumbledown station, before bumping along a dirt track in an outsized tuk tuk, I’m prepared for the possibility that Kampot is little more than a rural backwater. But the approach belies the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of this emerging destination, with a boom of new cafe, bar and restaurant openings propelling this historic port forward.

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Rice fields on the town outskirts

Set on the banks of the winding Praek Tuek Chhu River in Cambodia’s south. Kampot has long attracted foreigners, from the Malaysian and Chinese merchants plying their wares before French colonizers stamped their presence on the port town, to the Americans, Aussies and Europeans who are making it their home now, with a growing number of creative-types drawn to the city’s laidback vibe.

The days of the Khmer Rouge are finally behind it (Kampot was one of the regime’s last strongholds until the mid-1990s), and the delightfully restored Royal Railway trains began running again from the capital last April, with bright yellow and blue exteriors, pull-down windows and comfortable vinyl seats offering a charming way to journey towards a much-changed Kampot. Today you’ll find international standard restaurants tucked into crumbling French colonial building’s, attractive shop fronts that peer onto the faded beauty of the tree-lined riverfront, and cute cafes that add sparkle to the town’s languid pace. While world- famous among foodies for its pepper, Kampot receives few visitors compared to Cambodia’s temples and beaches. But with anew literary festival, a range cuisines on offer and its bucolic surrounds ripe for exploration, travelers should visit soon, before it truly takes off.

    THE FOOD

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Kampot’s Fishmarket

From the outside, there is little to distinguish Twenty Three from the dozens of other restaurants housed in the colonial-era building’s that line the streets of Kampot. But the unassuming eatery has flair where it matters most: in the kitchen. Since opening in May last year, head chef Owen Kaagman has quickly carved out a reputation in the town’s dining scene with perfectly balanced dishes such as the smoked mackerel pate appetizer and roasted sea bass with cauliflower puree main, which I wash down with a glass of white wine at lunch, followed by a decadent chocolate-and-salted caramel pot for dessert.

Trained in high-end London restaurants including the Michelin- starred Medlar, Kaagman now works with two domestic stoves and substitutes cold-climate vegetables with whatever approximations he can find in the local market. “It’s been a massive learning curve in terms of adapting,” he says. But while the potholed streets of sleepy Kampot are along way from London’s fine-dining’ scene, that’s just the way he and co-owner Jeremy Ashby like it. “It’s a beautiful, sleepy little town,” Ashby says, “but it’s getting busier now; you can see it happening.”

A sunset cocktail on the riverfront at the centrally located Fishmarket is the perfect way to wind down at the end of the day. Hugh Munro, who spent four years refurbishing the 1930s Art Deco building before opening the restaurant early last year, admits the town’s growth spurt has taken him by surprise. “I thought we would be ahead of the curve, but in the last six months or so we’ve had five great new places open,” he says as green-hued fishing boats putter along the river behind him. “And it’s only going to get better.”

 THE FUEL

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Cafe Expresso Bar – Kampot

Cafe Espresso is a Kampot institution that last year moved to one half of a cavernous former salt-storage warehouse outside the Old Market area where most other tourist-oriented businesses are clustered. “This is one of the last abandoned industrial buildings,” says Angus Whelan, who owns the popular spot with his wife, Kiara Notaras. “I had to do all of the plumbing’, electrics, water in, water out. It was a challenge.” The update was worth the work: the minimalist- industrial feel in the space is balanced by a friendly atmosphere (dogs and children are most welcome) and hearty, modern brunch fare such as the pork tacos followed by ricotta- and fig-jam pancakes that I devoured there on a recent lazy morning.

As the trickle of travelers to the town has turned into a stream, this high standard of cuisine is what people are now expecting, according to Angus, who also recently opened Kampot Espresso Bar in the center of town. Few businesses now rely on the backpacker trade of so- cent beers and “happy” pizzas (toppings mixed with marijuana) that were once Kampot staples. “We’ve got to the point that unless you’re doing something new and original, you’re not lasting,” he says.

 THE ARTS

Kampot Arts and Music Association

Kampot Arts and Music Association

One of the first creative initiatives that attracted visitors was Epic Arts, which began with a cafe that opened in 2006 to empower the local disabled community by providing them with employment opportunities and the chance to experiment with different art forms. Last year, the organization started staging—in the town’s iconic Old Royal Cinema—its well-received Come Back Brighter, alive telling of the country’s story, featuring some dancers who have disabilities. Shows will resume in December.

The Kampot Arts and Music Association, established a couple of years ago by the famed rock n’ roll band Cambodian Space Project and operating out of a crumbling colonial building that once served as a bordello, is providing a space for aspiring musicians to hone their myriad skills.

More recently band founder Julien Poulson was part of a team that setup the Kampot Writers and Readers Festival, which had its first edition in late 2015 and has proved a rallying point for members of the country’s literary set. As well as being the staging’ point for several book launches, last year’s event fostered a relaxed atmosphere by including music workshops and oral storytelling.

THE SHOPS

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Atelier’s pepper plantation – Kampot

Wandering along the riverfront, I stumble upon Atelier, a gorgeous store-meets- eatery designed by French Cambodian architect Antoine Meinnel and run by his brother, David. Setup to showcase the famed Kampot pepper grown on their family’s plantation, every element of the space has been meticulously thought out, from the mosaic patterned floor tiles to the soft-leather menu covers. The pepper culture started around the 13th century, in the Angkorian era, according to the writings of Chinese emissary Zhou Daguan; the Meinnel family only purchased their farm a couple of years ago after returning to Cambodia, following the civil war that ripped the country apart and scattered its citizens around the world. “Kampot pepper is a really interesting product, because [cultivation] knowledge nearly disappeared in the dark period, and there’s really a lot of knowledge in Cambodia,” David says. Atelier hopes to seamlessly blend the new with the old, atrend that’s becoming de rigueur in Kampot.

Next door to Cafe Espresso I meet Kunthear Mov, who moved from her hometown in nearby Takeo province in 2008. She co-founded ethical clothing label Dorsu after spending four years working in one of Cambodia’s many garment factories. “We can employ people in fair conditions so women don’t have to work just any job,” Mov says. She now oversees a team of 16 who produce the label’s classic, comfortable clothing lines that are sold both online and at a reduced rate from their Kampot showroom.

 THE STAY

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Sunny shades at Rikitikitavi hotel

This creative vibe is increasingly attracting people from all over the world, Denise Ruygrok tells me at Rikitikitavi, my accommodation for two nights in Kampot. Along with her husband, she opened the comfortable, Asian- influenced hotel in a converted rice barn the same year that Epic Arts sprang up. “It was love at first sight. There was nothing then,” she says. “The atmosphere is the same, but so much has changed: there are paved roads now, restaurants, hotels, shops. Kampot has progressed.” I take in that progress as I stroll one last time along the riverbank before departing for Phnom Penh. Pepper-infused ice cream in hand. I muse over how classic Kampot and its evolving charms now manage to mingle in such sweet combination.

Culture-Rich Taichung

Most travelers to Taiwan get a taste of its urban life via Taipei, the country’s dense and dynamic capital. Few have ever had much of a reason to linger in Taichung, Taiwan’s third-largest city, beyond using it as a way station en route to hiking trails and hot springs in the surrounding’ mountains. But lately Taichung has been changing. Hop on the high-speed rail from Taipei and 45 minutes later you’ll find yourself in a city that’s emerging as one of Asia’s newest hubs of creativity and culture.

Food lovers have been flocking to the city since 2014, when chef Lanshu Chen’s French-inspired restaurant Le Mout  was first named one of Asia’s go Best. More recently, government loans have paved the way for young entrepreneurs to revitalize the old town: additions like the boutique hotel Red Dot and dessert emporium Miyahara have made Japanese Occupation-era buildings into destinations. They’ve also cast anew light on beloved institutions nearby, like the Chun Shui Tang Cultural Tea House, where bubble tea was invented, and the street markets where vendors hawk oyster omelettes and braised pork over rice.

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A tea cup of goose foie gras served with coffee, lemon and marsala at Le Moût

In the Western District, the Calligraphy Greenway serves as a cultural artery, its paths and park spaces featuring art installations, a retail center lined with vertical gardens, and a museum of Taiwanese art. There are sleek new architectural gems, too: the massive, Toyo Ito-designed National Taichung Theater has curved walls that lend it a surreal vibe.

A bird's-eye view of the National Taichung Theater

A bird’s-eye view of the National Taichung Theater

Preserving Taiehung’s heritage remains apriority. A veteran’s housing complex in the Nantun District was on the chopping block until its last inhabitant covered the walls with murals, creating an attraction known as Rainbow Village.

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Rainbow Village Of Taichung

History meets retail at Fantasy Story, a collection of traditional buildings that house shops where screen printers, perfumers and bakers sell their wares. And ambitious initiatives are on the horizon—such as an improved bike-share program and a subway system— promising to make Taichung even more of a complement to the natural wonders nearby.

Aqua Luna II Pays Homage To City’s Maritime Past – Hong Kong

Ivory and imperial-blue sails, arched like dragon wings, pull taut in the evening breeze as the teakwood hull plies an easy 4S-minute loop through Victoria Harbour. The sail design is inspired by Ming Dynasty-era ceramics, featuring a dragon motif as a symbol of luck, and cuts a dramatic silhouette against the night sky, glittering with city lights. There are other ships aplenty in these waters—cruise liners, cargo vessels, fishing boats, and motorized yachts—but I’m aboard what might be Hong Kong’s last true junk.

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Aqua Luna II sails Victoria Harbour at nightfall

The Aqua Luna II was built by hand and without a single nail by Au Wai, an octogenarian junk builder and the last of his ilk in the city until he recently retired. These traditional boats emerged during China’s Han Dynasty, and were used for shipping, fishing, exploration—even in battle—for the next two millennia. As recently as the 1970s, Au says, “the industry was thriving and there were a lot of traditional junks docked in the harbor.” But over the years, the boats have slowly disappeared.

Despite a few modern adjustments to comply with government regulations, Au’s building process remained firmly rooted in time-honored methods. He uses bamboo for waterproofing and Indonesian teak wood to construct the hull, carefully cutting pieces according to their flexibility. The curved bottom of the boat, for example, requires the most malleable planks. Each piece is heated into shape, then locked together with a tree-derived glue.

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Crafting the hull of Aqua Luna II

Together with his son, Au Sai-Kit, and a team of builders, the elder Au spent two years constructing the Aqua Luna II in mainland China, before moving his work to Hong Kong. The ship took its maiden voyage in April, joining its sister craft, the red-sailed Aqua Luna, on Victoria Harbour.

Sails aside, it is a near mirror image of the Aqua Luna, though more posh thanks to newer furniture and a bigger bar area where guests are served all manner of drinks. Up close, the 27-meter boat looks nothing short of cinematic, with its polished wood decks and fan-like sails unfurling overhead. It’s a regal valediction from a consummate junk builder who dedicated his life to these historic boats. Originally from China, Au fled by bicycle to Macau during the second Sino-Japanese War when he was around five years old. He later made his way to Hong Kong, where his uncle taught him the trade, and eventually came to run Shau Kei Wan shipyard on the northeast corner of Hong Kong Island. While Au has passed his skills onto his son, the younger shipbuilder works mostly on repairing yachts, and doesn’t plan to take up the tradition due to increasing government regulations and a lack of demand. Though his father has another theory: “the new generation isn’t interested—they don’t like manual labor.”

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The bow of Aqua Luna II

Hong Kong is unlikely to see any more labors of love quite like this. “You have to be very precise with the wood cutting; even if it is one centimeter too short or too long, it  could mean that you have to start all over again,” Au says. “It’s a trade that does not allow for mistakes.” The Aqua Luna II is a triumph of precision, and Au expects it to last 40 years—plenty of time for travelers to experience the journey. “I’m incredibly proud of the work I have done,” Au says. “This boat will leave a lasting impression, as junks have done on maritime history, of Hong Kong’s culture and heritage”.

3 New Bars With Amazing Flavors Right In Kuala Lumpur

Shelley Yu’s

SHELLEY YU'S kuala lumpur

This Peranakan bar and restaurant is a charmer, matching Straits Chinese culture with a dash of irreverence. The gin-based cocktails steal the show, peppered with fruits and herbs that wouldn’t look out of place in a Nyonya grandmother’s spice cabinet: salted pineapples, dried sour plums and jackfruit leaves. Try the Roselle Spritz, squeezed from the roselle plant typically grown in Malaysian gardens. The drinks are creative, but when it comes to cuisine, Shelley Yu’s sticks to classic Malaccan Nyonya fare—still on-theme, and equally delicious. sbeUeyyus.com; drinks for two RM60.

Mr.Chew’s Chino Latino Bar

MR.CHEW'S CHINO LATINO BAR kuala lumpur

At this crayola-colored penthouse atop the WOLO Hotel, owner Eddie Chew has forgone the practiced sophistication of his other bars (Coppersmith, Claret) in favor of a louche, anything-goes vibe. A blend of Christian Lacroix fabric prints, imposing murals above the bar, and a champagne bathtub, the interiors are part Manhattan loft, part Cuban residence, and anything but dull. Bartender Rick Joore’s drink creations—like the Chew’s Daiquiri, a blend of rum, hanoho ziso flowers, lime, grapefruit and a plum wine reduction— evoke lazy Havana afternoons spent in the sun. mr-cbew.com; drinks for two RM80.

Kyo

kyo-bar-kuala-lumpur

This nightclub in the Mandarin Oriental has all the ingredients for a killer party: beautiful people, oodles of champagne, a strict door policy (a RM40 cover charge), and a pedigree in Singapore, where the original club had enough DJ- cred to launch a record label. A subterranean energy dominates Kyo (the dance room) and Ren (the cocktail lounge), both decked out in wood panels from tugboats in Port Dickson. Art by emerging talent depict tropes from Japanese anime and 90s movies, which speak to the club’s affluent millennial clientele. On the decks is a roster of local and regional DJs spinning a mix of blistering house, Afro, disco, hip- hop, funk, R&B and lounge tunes.

Green Everywhere You Look – The Anam Resort

“Faster! Go faster!” Mr. Thanh, the water sports director, has been hollering in my ear, which really feels like the opposite of good- passenger behavior, and when he jumps off and starts swimming to shore, his exhortations echo in my wake. “Faster! Farrrrrrther!” If he says so. It’s been a while since I last drove a Jet Ski so I’m psyched to practice cutting and swerving at increasingly high speeds through these mini whitecaps on water that is clear to at least a meter.

There’s the occasional fishing boat bobbing to my east; on the dunes of the mostly empty shoreline to my west are a couple of local hotels and a few beach-shack eateries; and above…? Right above me is a plane heading in the same direction, surprisingly close. It’s coming in for a landing and I remember that Cam Ranh Airport lies just 11 kilometers—as the crow flies, car drives or, if you were ambitious, Jet Ski cruises—from where I started.

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Take to the seas with the resort’s Jet Skis, kayaks, surfboards, bravo sailboats or snorkeling gear

That’s the amazing thing about The Anam. The newest entry into Vietnam’s ultra-high-end market feels alike a fairy-land fusion of the remote purity of Koh Rong, Cambodia, with the playful, lawn- party luxury of the Florida Keys.

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The Anam’s Saigon bar

But it is a straight 12-minute shot to a little airport in the center of the East Sea coastline and 3s minutes to Nha Trang’—a bustling beach city better suited for a diving or drinking day trip than a relaxing vacation terminus. Sheltered on along empty shore south of Cu Hin Mountain with the requisite private-pool villas, a palatial Themae-product spa {plus two spa-centric guest villas with their own treatment rooms), a 3-D movie theater, three photogenic pools, and the best private-dining set-up I’ve ever experienced, The Anam has all of the elements of exclusive-resort style, none of the far-flung-hideaway inconvenience.

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Bedroom at Anam Resort

Thanks to the spare-no-expenses dedication to landscaping of founder Pham Van Hien, it looks like no other property in the country. Two long, Kelly green fairways run from the main pool down towards the shore where they join at a central lawn dotted with towering palms (3,000 were responsibly transplanted from a nearby grove).

Volleyball nets and a couple of soaring kites overlook a sweep of sand the color of un brushed silk and the bright azure ocean beyond. Stepping out of your villa— each has a garden-wrapped sunken tub and abed of lush Irish linens in a cocoon of French-Vietnamese overlap best exemplified by the floor tiles made by local artisans to evoke colonial-era grace—onto the soft golf grass each morning, you’ll rub your eyes and wonder if you’re standing in an oversaturated photograph. Or perhaps forgot to take off those 3-D glasses. Conquering water skis, sipping fresh coconuts, swinging in hammocks— it all seems so much more fulfilling in these high-definition greens, blues and whites.

Yes, the place is social media gold, but it’s also got warm, small-town service. Just ask the team of spider- men who set up the private-dining experience for us, tight-roping on the gazebo to ensure the drapes billowed just so, carefully arranging the candles into a romantic ring of fire. It was logically tucked into a copse of trees on the front lawn, about 15 meters from the chef and his grill, to perfectly balance privacy and proximity. This

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The villa-lined Lagoon Pool

means you get close to the sounds of the surf, without uncomfortably sandy feet to distract from the wine-paired meat and seafood extravaganza served by the attentive but decidedly nonintrusive waiter.

The hotel also has a community- focused mission championed heartily by general manager Herbert Laubichler-Pichler, who wanted to do more than just decorate his guest rooms with local originals. And so, a mixed-media art tour was recently launched by The Anam in conjunction with the Vietnamese Art Association of Khanh Hoa Province,  a place that photographer Mai Loc— who worked his way up from being an impoverished cyclo driver to an internationally recognized professional who has showed with the likes of James Nachtwey—tells me “is good inspiration for artists, not so good for art business.” The circuit varies by the day to share the spotlight among a diverse batch of creatives ; an afternoon drive through Nha Trangtakes us to meet him, a sculptor, and painters of varied styles and renown.

At the home gallery that demure Bao Tran runs to display the work of various painters including herself and her husband, Luu Thanh Qua, we’re saying our see-you-laters when Luu pulls out a sketchpad and charcoal pencils and shyly asks if, actually, I have five more minutes to spare. A lieutenant in the military, he mostly oil paints traditional bucolic scenes… although, watching him make effusive squiggles on the page, I suspect it is my non- traditional curly hair that was today’s inspiration.

I’m delighted to accept his drawing of me, and even more so that a couple of hours later we will meet again. We reconvene with all of the artists for an aperitif at Laubiehler-Pichler’s home, drinks on the beach at the NhaTrang expat institution Sailing Club {also The Anam’s partner for diving and island-hopping excursions) and then a big fresh-seafood feast. On a balcony overlooking the two twinkling spans over the city’s estuary, picking out snails and sucking down enormous steamer clams, a few rounds of 333 beer facilitates our group chat, a mash-up of their stilted English and my elementary Vietnamese. What a perfect setting it is to bridge the hotel community with this local fellowship, who themselves embody life in Technicolor.

Romance, Raw Beauty and Sense of Place – Milaidhoo Island

In the heart OF the UNESCO World Biosphere Baa Atoll, Milaidhoo Island Maldives is not just another five-star resort, Their philosophy of reinvented luxury starts from the very beginning: the boutique resort thinks of its guests as storywriters, crafting their dream holiday.

The aim is to create a place where guests feel like they belong. Service from everyone including your island host, who is on hand to ensure every detail of the stay is perfect, is tip top but always friendly, in line with the resort’s “barefoot informality” ethos. Above all, Milaidhoo offers a taste of the true Maldives, opening doors to Maldivian culture and unique experiences.

Milaidhoo Island-1

Opened in November 2016, Milaidhoo has its own corat reef, which completely circles the island and is noted as an outstanding snorkelling and diving site.

A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Milaidhoo has just 50 thatched-roof villas, designed by a local architect and made by master craftsmen. Spacious and bright, each has a private freshwater pool on the sundeck and opens up 180 degrees to allow the natural beauty of the island into the villa. The room rate includes wi-fi, laundry, movies-on-demand, snorkelling equipment and in-villa treats such as a bottle of champagne and fruit basket on arrival, and evening turn-down with gourmet snacks. Toiletries are full-sized from the ultra-luxurious Acqua Di Parma.

Milaidhoo serenity spa

Serenity Spa

The over-water Serenity Spa is all natural and organic, using the power of plants from famous British brand Elemis and innovative African brand Thera Naka. Sports include yoga, sailing, catamarans, kayaks, a 24-hour gym, yacht trips, dolphin cruises, whale shark spotting, manta ray watching, conservation activities with the resident marine biologist, diving, snorkelling, and an open-air infinity pool. Guests don’t just go fishing, but go out on a local boat with Maldivian fishermen and help bring in the days catch.

Food lovers will enjoy the Milaidhoo Gourmet dine-around meat plan offering daily breakfast, lunch and dinner plus all drinks including premium alcohol and wine. In the three wonderful restaurants, no shoes are required. Ever. The signature restaurant, Ba’theli, is on three replica wooden boats, and its menu is inspired by the spice trade routes when, 5,000 years ago, local-made cargo boats sailed the archipelago spreading knowledge about different lands, their customs and cuisine. Dine on the ‘deck’ underneath starry skies or in the ‘cabin’ of the boat and watch sea- life below through glass floors.

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Milaidhoo Gourmet Restaurant

Milaidhoo is tailor-made for couples, with no children under the age of nine allowed on the island. The Perfect Honeymoon package includes romantic dinners, spa treatments and even a star in the night sky named after them-certainly not your average holiday souvenir.

Enjoy The Unique Experiences Offered By Mercure Hotels In Southeast Asia

TRAVEL MADE AUTHENTIC MERCURE HOTELS TAKE GUESTS OFF THE BEATEN TRACK AND LET THEM DISCOVER A NEW CITY IN A TOTALLY AUTHENTIC WAY EVERYTHING FROM DESIGN TO FOOD IS CAREFULLY CRAFTED TO SHOWCASE THE LOCAL FLAVOUR AND HELP TRAVELLERS EXPERIENCE WHAT MAKES A PLACE UNIQUE

Staying true to that promise, Mercure hotels in Thailand make each neighbourhood’s history and hidden stories accessible, creating memorable stays for every guest in this magical country.

With excellent access to transportation and within walking distance to the city’s best shopping, Mercure Bangkok Siam’s central location is perfect for on-the- move guests.

Mercure Bangkok Siam-pool-side

Mercure Bangkok Siam’s Pool Side

And it has another advantage for the active set: the nearby Lumpini Park. As the sun rises, the place is buzzing as old friends practice tai chi, play board games, and chat over breakfast. Office workers start their day with a jog around the lake or an aerobics class set to booming dance hits. From yoga to basketball to weight lifting, the park really has something for everyone.

Newly renovated, Mercure Bangkok Sukhumvit 11 features spacious and contemporary rooms, creative dining options, and a breathtaking rooftop swimming pool. It’s a taste of modern Bangkok living, but also offers guests a glimpse of the past a few minutes away at the Jim Thompson House.

Mercure-Bangkok-Sukhumvit-11

Mercure Bangkok Sukhumvit 11

An intelligence operative, architect and art collector, Jim Thompson revitalised the Thai silk industry before disappearing mysteriously while on a hike in Malaysia. Today, his charming wooden Thai- styie home is a slice of Bangkok life in the 1960s that also showcases the craftsmanship of local silk weavers.

Panoramic views of the skyline, gourmet food, and signature wine list make Mercure Bangkok Makkasan’s sophisticated M Wine Lounge and pool bar ideal for a romantic evening on the hotel’s 10th floor. But mornings bring a very different experience as farmers from across the country turn Makkasan train station into a bustling market.

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M Wine Lounge: Mercure Bangkok Makkasan

With a variety of exotic fruits and vegetables, as well as authentic Thai dishes, this is the best place to experience the absolute best farm -fresh mango, durian, longan, mangosteen and other offerings.

An exceptional value in the heart of the city, Mercure Chiang Mai provides for guests’ every need and offers easy access to northern Thailand’s shopping, dining, and historic cultural sites. One such site is just a minute’s walk from the hotel. Part of the ancient Wat Chedi Dang Nok temple, a hundred-year-old pagoda stands among modern buildings and attracts locals with its Well of Good Luck. Believed to draw from a fortune-changing pool beneath the pagoda, it has never failed to supply luck-seekers with its special water.

Mercure Chiang Mai

Mercure Chiang Mai

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