ArchiveCategory Archives for "Asia"
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Asia.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Asia.
An erstwhile Portuguese territory, Diu is connected by a lattice of bridges and ferries to Gujarat on the mainland. It has a distinct Mediterranean-meets-Kutch look where houses are painted sunshine yellow, creamy white and powder blue under a scorching sun and clear sky. With a Union Territory status, it is a refuge for travellers to get a real drink as its neighbour is a dry state. Some call it Little Goa, and some call it Gujarat’s Ibiza. But it’s actually a charming and quiet island with clean beaches and delicious food. Wander at the old Portuguese churches and dine on fabulous seafood including rockfish, calamari and prawns.
► Rent a bike and drive to the quiet beaches of Goghla or Ngao and explore the Naida Caves.
► Plan a day trip to the Gir National Park to spot the endangered Asiatic lion from an open-roof jeep.
► Azzaro Resort and Spa offers 40 rooms and suites, a bar, and a spa.
► Close to the Gir National Park, The Fern is an eco-friendly resort with two restaurants, a spa, and simply decorated cottages and villas that bring you closer to nature.
The perfect base from which to explore the rides and attractions at the adjacent theme parks, Lapita, Dubai Parks and Resorts, offers signature Autograph Collection Hotels luxury with a relaxed Pacific Island ambience. A one-of- a-kind destination for family adventure!
Inspired by Polynesia’s tropical landscapes and its traditional wood artistry, guests enter an exotic world where wafting overhead fans, fragrant gardenia blossoms, lagoon-style pools and a vibrant palette of contemporary tiki design add life and character to every corner of the hotel.
Relax on the shaded balcony of one of the 504 guest rooms after a busy day of discovering the thrills and spills at Dubai Parks and Resorts – an awe-inspiring theme park destination comprising MOTIONGATE™ Dubai, LEGOLAND® Dubai, LEGOLAND® Water Park and Bollywood Parks™ Dubai – offering plenty of fun for visitors of all ages.
Comfort and flair are the hallmarks of the spacious Family Suites, which come with a separate dining area and living room, with captivating views of the resort, lagoon or river. Make sure to schedule in some downtime and float along the hotel’s lazy river or take five and retreat to a sun lounger at any one of two outdoor lagoon- style pools.
Younger guests are kept entertained at the Luna & Nova Kids and Teens Club, leaving parents free to indulge in a spot of pampering at Ola spa, where the menu of island-themed treatments is designed especially for footsore travellers and those looking to unwind.
A culinary showcase awaits diners with a taste for gourmet experiences, from contemporary Cantonese excellence at Llikina, to delicious international flavours at Kalea, poolside Mediterranean seafood at Ari and casual bites in the Palama lobby lounge.
Fast becoming a foodie destination in the city, the highlight of the hotel’s epicurean calendar is the Friday Hikina Brunch. Feel the weekend vibes come alive with an abundant Cantonese buffet including fresh, homemade dim sum, numerous live stations and Hikina’s refreshing ais kacang – the perfect summer treat composed of fruit compote and syrups served over crushed ice.
End your day at Lani rooftop lounge where innovative drinks and a Polynesian tapas menu come a close second to the spellbinding views of the theme parks and beyond.
Feel at one with nature and discover a different way to experience all the UAE has to offer, with an island sojourn that combines Anantara luxury and Emirati culture. Established by the late ruler and founder of the UAE, HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, as a royal nature reserve, Sir Bani Yas lies off the coast of Abu Dhabi’s emerging Western Region and is Arabia’s largest wildlife sanctuary.
The instant you step onto the island with its picture perfect white sand beach, wandering wildlife and scenic landscape, you’ll feel an immediate sense of relaxation. The only difficult choice you need to make is which of the three resorts dotted across the island to stay at.
Live out the ultimate wildlife adventure at Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort, for an ultra-private African lodge-style experience; enjoy contemporary design and traditional heritage elements at the beachfront Anantara Al Yamm Villa Resort, reminiscent of the pearl fishing villages of the past; or relax with the family from the comfort of Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara where Emirati cultural motifs blend with 21st-century facilities.
Upscale your summer experience and plump for one of the exclusive Al Sahel villas with private plunge pool and the occasional roaming gazelle for company ; spoil yourself with beach and private pool luxury at Al Yamm; or sequester yourself away in a two-bedroom family pool villa at the main Desert Islands resort.
When you manage to tear yourself away from your temperature- controlled swimming pool, the 87-square-kilometre island offers a diverse collection of nature and cultural activities to enjoy.
Get an up close view of the island’s 15,000 protected animals and birds and take the opportunity to learn about Sheikh Zayed’s conservation programme as you spot giraffes, gazelles, Arabian oryx, cheetahs and sea turtles on a guided wildlife drive.
Culture mavens can explore the island’s 42 archaeological sites with an expert guide, complete with a lesson in traditional qahwa (coffee) drinking etiquette and chance to leave your own conservation legacy by planting a mangrove seedling.
Re-energise body and mind after an outdoor excursion with a time- honoured Arabian or Eastern ritual at the Anantara Spa, including couples-only options, for signature top-to-toe relaxation.
Culinary satisfaction is never far away with five restaurants serving world-class cuisine ; but the resort’s Dining by Design experience is the gourmet piece de resistance with your choice of tailor-made menu, prepared by a personal chef and enjoyed on the beach in a Bedouin setting or at a secret African bush-inspired location.
From grandparents who want to put their feet up to your energetic toddler who requires a constant stream of entertainment, finding a destination that’ll keep all your family members occupied while on holiday can be a challenge. The good news is that you don’t have to look far to find a vacation spot that appeals to travellers of all ages. Sharjah is emerging as an increasingly popular escape for those in search of variety and great value. Here, we highlight some of the best of the emirate’s attractions for multi- generational travellers.
Feed your mind by learning more about the rich history of the UAE at Sharjah Heritage Museum. There are six different galleries to explore, each of which focuses on a different aspect of local life. The museum is situated along Sharjah Creek where the city first sprang from the sand and is entirely indoors, so is perfect for the summer months.
The non-profit creative space, Maraya Art Centre at A1 Qasba, is also worth a visit for its innovative exhibitions programme, showcasing the work of leading Middle Eastern and international artists.
In Sharjah you can shop until you drop. For starters, head to Mega Mall which has more than 150 outlets spread across four floors, with five anchor stores: Zara, Mango, Paris Gallery, Mega Mart and Sharaf DG. Those who shop there during the summer will have the chance to win one of two brand new cars. Next, head to Sahara Centre, which boasts a plush extension and key anchor stores including Debenhams, Marina Exotic Home Interiors, Toys ‘R’ Us and Home Centre.
It opens late into the evening so you can feel free to browse the boutiques while the children are safety tucked up in bed. Afterwards, treat weary feet with a soothing treatment at Altitude The Spa at Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club.
Speaking of Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club, this popular venue is a must visit for action men. The complex boasts an impressive nine-hole, fully floodlit golf course that is ideal for an evening round. For another way to test your aim, why not try your luck at archery?
There is an indoor target area that’s popular at this time of year. Lastly, you can get to grips with shooting at the 50-metre-long range, which is equipped with a selection of pistols, rifles and revolvers to use under the guidance of a fully trained safety instructor.
Al Qasba is causing quite the buzz among teenagers in Sharjah. Featuring a pleasing mixture of entertainment, leisure and culture, this lively waterfront district is home to attractions including the Eye Of The Emirates Ferris wheel, which stands 60 metres tall and has fully air-conditioned cabins.
As you journey to the top you can enjoy spectacular views of the Arabian Gulf. Watch the Musical Fountain in action before heading to one of the nearby cafes for an indulgent milkshake as a treat.
Those in that awkward in-between stage will enjoy a visit to the Arabian Wildlife Centre. It’s the only place in the emirates where you can find wildlife that’s otherwise extinct in the region, including the incredibly rare Arabian leopard. The centre is located about 26 kilometres from the city centre and can be enjoyed all year round thanks to the temperature controlled viewing platforms.
Or, they can enter into a world of science and natural history by enrolling in the Island Explorer summer programme at the Butterfly House on A1 Noor Island. For ages 13 to 16, the course takes place every Monday and Wednesday from 14 to 23 August.
Make a splash at the 800-square-metre Mini Splash Park at Al Majaz Waterfront. Open from 10am until midnight, you can cool off amid the waterfalls and perch in the shaded seating area with a cooling drink. It’s suitable for those aged 12 months to 12 years, but big kids at heart will love it too.
Fantastic summer holiday deals are being offered in Sharjah until 8 September 2017. Packages include taking in some of the emirate’s key attractions and world-class events, from theatre shows to shopping expeditions. Plus, you could be in with a chance of winning a Mercedes-Benz courtesy of Sahara Centre.
Cebu is a splendid place. Home to over three million people, the island offers something for everyone, from centuries- old buildings to white sandy beaches, majestic corals and breathtaking marine life – not to mention the perks of being in a modern city coupled with island-vibe living. Centrally located in the heart of the Philippine archipelago, Cebu is a cultural melting pot shaped by centuries of tradition. I’m proud to call it my home.
Whenever I visit, I make a point to enjoy some downtime with my friends and family in Compostella, a municipality just north of the city. In my opinion, this is where you can find the best Filipino hospitality in the country. Make sure you schedule time to check out one of the local markets where you can sample the freshest seafood you’ll ever taste. Cebuano cuisine is also famous for its Spanish- influenced dishes. Menus are packed with everything from adobo to paella and kare- kare – try it all.
Next, drop by Carbon Market to pick up the freshest Carabao mangoes and get a taste of Cebuano street-food – the tasty chicken barbecue and puso is a must.
Cebu is also blessed with a wealth of diverse natural resources, which keep tourists flocking to the island. From the gorgeous corals off Moalboal to the thresher sharks of Malapascua and the amazing whale sharks of Oslob, there is plenty to admire.
Adventure seekers can try a spot of canyoning in Alegria and Badian, or be brave and take a wild plunge into the majestic Kawasan Falls. Alternatively, take it to the extreme with a skydive on Bantayan island.
Nature lovers will delight in the mountains of Osemena Peak or by taking a trek around Mount Manunggal, the highest peak, in Balamban.
Driving through the state of Madhya Pradesh, in the heart of Indian tiger country, it was difficult to reconcile the tranquil scenes flashing past my window with nonstop reports about the animal’s slide toward extinction. Tigers, it seemed, were the topic of the moment. As I set off from New Delhi on a six-day safari, global specialists were converging to discuss how many of the world’s largest felines are left, and how best to save them. With so many vested interests resting on the creature’s survival (it’s estimated that just six of India’s tiger reserves are worth US$1.2 billion to the Indian economy), it’s hard to know whose version of reality to believe.
On the one hand, the World Wildlife Fund and Global Tiger Forum claim the worldwide population has risen by 22 per cent since 2010, to 3,890. On the other, in spite of investment of about US$500 million since the start of former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi’s Project Tiger in 1973—when nine tiger reserves were created and dozens of camps built—global tiger populations have plummeted. Since 1993, numbers worldwide have halved, and in the past 80 years, three of the nine subspecies have become extinct from habitats including Indonesia and Central Asia.
In India, where two-thirds—or about 2,200— of the world’s tigers live, in and around 49 reserves, there is grounds for cautious optimism, with one study recording an increase of 30 per cent in numbers between 2010 and 2014. Having been on five tiger safaris in India in the past decade, I wanted to see if there was any perceptible improvement in terms of the numbers that were visible and the protection they were being given. Along the road from Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur Airport to Bandhavgarh National Park, where more than 60 cats roam through 1,11,000 acres of forest, it was clear the species is a big part of local identity. I noticed their image everywhere: on a packet of cookies bought at a stall, sculpted on an arch, painted on a village temple. I was also informed of a discouraging report stating that 19 tiger deaths had been recorded in Madhya Pradesh in the first half of 2016 (almost half of all Indian tiger deaths in that period).
As I’ve learned over the years, there’s nothing straightforward about conservation in India, and with so much conflicting information in my head, I was relieved to arrive at Samode Safari Lodge, on Bandhavgarh National Park’s periphery. Built by descendants of the royal family of Samode, the camp’s colonial-style interiors are reminiscent of an African safari camp, with whirring bamboo fans and elegant tea-planter’s chairs. My room was designed in the style of local farmhouses: roughly rendered in mud and decorated with naive, nature-inspired bas-reliefs and murals. Outside, there was a tub for starlit baths and, on lamplit communal patios, trays laid with spicy fried okra, flame-grilled prawns, and fresh coal-baked roti.
There wasn’t much time to sit around feasting, though. Bandhavgarh park authorities allow visitors to take three- and four-hour safaris twice a day, starting around 5.45 am and 2.30 pm. While that does leave a little time for a midday massage or a swim, I spent most of my days in a safari jeep in the company of my guide, Anshuman Shah. He warned me right at the start of our first drive that not every guest sees a tiger. “Most people staying three nights should see one,” he said as we made our way to the park gates. “A group from Canada recently saw eleven in four days. It’s a question of luck: being in the right place at the right time.”
A decade ago, Bandhavgarh’s roads used to be clogged with cars full of colourfully-clad passengers who would spill out, often yelling into their cell phones. Today, only a limited number of registered 4 x4s are allowed into each zone, radios and phones are banned, and a park guide has to accompany every vehicle. The experience is far more peaceful and organised—not dissimilar to a safari in a popular park in Africa— even if visitors all still want the same thing “Just tiger, tiger, tiger,” as Ramkripal Ram, our park guide, put it. But cat sightings that day weren’t good. After spending four hours in the morning and three that evening listening, watching, and tracking, we returned, slightly dispirited, to camp.
The next day, I was assured, we would have more time, since the hotel had secured one of only five 12-hour, US$750 permits issued every day: a popular move by Bandhavgarh’s authorities. “You will see a tiger before you leave, I am sure,” Shah told me. In fact, I saw not just one magnificent cat on my full-day safari, but two. When, mid-morning, we ascended a hill to find a male cub lying languidly on a shaded sandstone rock, I was so thrilled my eyes welled up. Banbayi, a handsome 18-month-old, is seen regularly in this area, Shah said. From his supine position, the cub occasionally looked up at us as we examined him through binoculars, trying to memorise every detail: the long white whiskers; the striped tail that flicked every now and then to dislodge a fly; the muscles that rippled beneath his taut, light-orange hide as he slowly padded off into the long grass to the accompaniment of hooting langurs.
Our second sighting evoked a different emotion. After lunch, we spotted an eight-year-old tigress, Pattya, slinking into a bamboo thicket to rest. Keen to see her properly, we decided to sit and wait for her to re-emerge. By the time she padded out, two hours later, another 18 safari vehicles had lined up beside us, as well as two open-topped buses of schoolchildren. Thanks to the presence of park officials, the crowd was remarkably quiet. Nonetheless, the scene was more zoo than safari, and the striped star of the show was clearly aware of her audience. After performing a quick turn—drinking delicately from a water hole, rolling like a kitten in the sand— she took a final look at the crowd and vanished. And with the evening performance over, the cat paparazzi dispersed in clouds of dust, leaving us to make our way back to camp, as the red ball of the sun sank below the tree line.
It’s a sad truth that, were the tiger a less beautiful creature, its future might be more secure. But the glorious Shere Khan archetype of The Jungle Book is in the unenviable position of being not only the beast that most tourists want to photograph, but the one poachers most want to capture for use in Chinese medicine. It is wanted both dead and alive. The fact that there are any still in existence is in part thanks to Project Tiger, and in part thanks to a handful of enlightened state leaders, said hotelier Jaisal Singh. Singh, a co-founder of Sujan Luxury, a chain of high-end Indian camps and hotels, spent much of his life studying tigers with his uncle, the well-known conservationist Valmik Thapar.
He told me that in states such as Maharashtra and Rajasthan, chief ministers have diligently implemented conservation policies. These have included programmes to turn poachers into gamekeepers, the launch of responsible-tourism organisations that link public and private companies (a pilot project of privately-run nature reserves is underway in Maharashtra), and schemes to compensate villagers if they or their livestock are harmed by a tiger. What they are up against, though, is an exploding human population that increasingly encroaches on forests, creating man-animal conflicts. “India has one and a quarter billion people, with goodness knows how many cows and goats that need land to feed on,” Singh said. Another problem is that forests are run by individual states—whose local bureaucrats make their own rules.
The central government spent US$57 million on the issue in 2015 but, according to Singh, “no matter how much money is pumped into tiger conservation, it gets sucked up by bureaucracy. Until you have a national strategy, nothing will happen.” Most conservationists agree that, under current prime minister Narendra Modi, there is little sign of positive change at a national level. Last year, Modi’s government not only cut funding for the environment by 25 per cent, and support for tiger protection by 15 per cent, but fast-tracked projects that could have disastrous environmental consequences.
These include a river diversion that will submerge nearly a third of the Panna Tiger Reserve and the expansion of a country road along the Pench Tiger Reserve into a four-lane highway. And despite signing an international agreement promising to protect tigers and their dwindling environment, the country currently loses an average of 333 acres of forest a day, which partially explains why the creatures now occupy just 7 per cent of their original habitat. As Julian Matthews from Travel Operators for Tigers explains: “Now less than two per cent of India is protected, far less than is needed for the tiger’s ecological security. Forests are being decimated for pasture and charcoal. So tigers are increasingly forced to live off cattle, which further worsens man-animal conflict.”
Move over Maldives – there’s a new over-water paradise on the scene. Opened just last month, Bawah island in Indonesia’s untouched Anambas archipelago is a quintessential Castaway island that’s just waiting to be discovered.
A two-hour journey from Singapore; the resort is accessed by private seaplane, following a ferry ride from Singapore to Batam. While it may sound like a trek to get there, you’ll need to trust US When we say it’s worth the effort.
Offering barefoot luxury surrounded by a mammoth 300-acres of unspoiled nature, guests are invited to check into, one of 35 eco-designed bamboo villas.
Simply take your pick from over-water of beachfront abodes. Once you’re settled, you can enjoy views across three crystal clear lagoons and explore no less than 13 picture perfect powder-white beaches.
Head to the treetop Club House for some gentle exercise in the yoga pavilion, or to takes dip in the beach-fronted infinity pool. There’s also a viewing platform that’s the perfect spot for watching the sun set. Adventure seekers can spend their days. snorkelling in pristine waters, home to a host of protected marine life, or hiking through untouched forests. With a maximum capacity of 70 guests at any one time, those seeking a sense of exclusivity can relish being one of a privileged few at this intimate island.
“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.
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.
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.
Zip around the Pink City’s eclectic enclaves—a seamless blend of ancient and avant-garde, bustling and sleepy—via autorickshaw or Uber.
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.
The posh district’s graceful tree-lined streets and colonial and Mid-century bungalows appeal to dignitaries and design-types.
Teeming with youthful energy, this burb mixes cool cafes and crafty threads with the ubiquitous sidewalk ch ai wallah, or tea seller.
Endless rows of multi-generation jewelry shops, snack stalls and sari boutiques make this iconic street a one-stop shopping (and eating) hub.
The up-and-coming district’s low rents and broad avenues lure fresh start-ups looking for space to flex their creative muscles.
Not a neighborhood per se, the pretty shopping complex’s bougainvillea-covered courtyards are home to trendy ateliers peddling contemporary and vintage crafts.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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”.