The mega-city of Dubai is an obvious choice for an extended layover to break up a tiring long-haul flight – whether it’s shopping in some of the world’s largest malls, or relaxing on the beach – but on a weeklong journey there, it was the deserts with which my partner and I were so enamored.
Opting for a sunset desert safari followed by an early morning hot-air balloon ride and finally a drive out to abandoned, sand-covered roads, the desert turned out to be one of my favorite landscapes to shoot. The view is constantly changing with the wind and position of the sun, and the vastness was unlike anything else I’d experienced. There were, however, unique challenges to desert shooting.
It goes without saying, but midday in the desert is just too hot and makes the whole experience pretty unenjoyable. As well as being uncomfortable, midday doesn’t give you the best opportunity to take great photos.
Both early morning and late afternoon cast long shadows across the dunes, making for great shots in soft light. The evening sun can bring out the red in the sand beautifully, and the early morning gives a light pink candyfloss effect. Couple these long shadows with an interesting subject – such as a camel or a silhouette – and you’ve got the recipe for a great looking photo.
The Right Gear
In my opinion, the best lens to use for desert photography is a telephoto lens, as it emphasizes and enlarges the dunes. Make sure you stand far away from your subject or focal point when shooting to create an immense sense of scale in the surrounding dunes.
With rapid advancements in technology over the past decade, drones are now more commonplace amongst hobbyist and professional photographers alike. Photographing the desert using a drone allows you to take photos from a completely different perspective altogether.
Having such a vast landscape to work with means that to make the most of your photos, you will need a focal point to bring the image to life. Whilst a person might be the obvious choice, it’s always great to experiment. I like to use camels for my desert photography, and once even found a resort to shoot that resembled a sandcastle. Even simple things such as the setting sun or a rogue hot air balloon can be a great addition to desert photos.
Use Patterns to your Advantage
ABOVE: Balloons above the Dubai desert.
With the sand constantly changing and moving direction due to the wind, the dunes are always creating fascinating, eye-catching patterns. Using these patterns to accentuate your desert shots is a great way to add a new dimension to your photography. I often use patterns as a leading line, drawing attention to the focal point of the photo.
ABOVE: Abandoned roundabout in the Dubai desert.
Whilst the desert, particularly in Dubai, can be an amazing place to shoot, it’s a good idea to go with an open mind. I’ve learned that no matter how much I research and plan my photo shoots, I am always greeted with something completely different than expected. Dubai is a great place to explore the desert whilst not having to venture too far out of the city, and I heartily recommend the deserts for a photography jaunt.
For those who’ve conquered the volcanoes of Java at Ijen and Bromo, Mount Kerinci may be the Sumatran mountain you’ve been missing. With so many sites of interest in Indonesia, from Komodo dragons to some of the finest surfing destinations in the world, Sumatra is sometimes forgotten, but the switchback-less Kerinci is the tallest volcano in Southeast Asia and an excellent reminder that there’s much of western Indonesia that needs to be explored.
Before heading straight to the mountain ridge climb, smart travelers will want to spend time exploring Kerinci Seblat National park. Indeed, one might argue the hikes there are just as rewarding.
There are the Ladeh Panjang rainforest wetlands and the Danau Gunung Tujuh Lake on the other side of Kerinci, but it’s the wildlife that draws most to this Sumatran paradise park.
It will be the tigers most want to spot. Unluckily, the chances of spotting one are slim – very slim. The national park here exists to actually protect tigers, so there aren’t tours chasing them down on the back of jeeps. Still, keep an eye out for footprints.
ABOVE: Though this is tiger country, chances of seeing one are almost zero.
Tigers aren’t the only big cats found in Kerinci National Park. There are wild elephants, sun bears, and leopards. Sadly, the famous Sumatran rhino has been declared extinct in this area. Still, there are orange leaf monkeys, gibbons, dhole, and deer.
From afar, Kerinci doesn’t look much different from other large volcanoes in Indonesia and elsewhere – perhaps even more tame because of the cultivated tea fields – but be advised that the Kerinci experience can get very jungle-y, very fast.
Apart from all of the interesting animals found in Kerinci Seblat National Park, there is also fun fauna, including the corpse flower – the largest flower in the world and which smells of rotting meat. Surprisingly hard to find, it flowers for only a few days.
ABOVE: The tea fields leading to Kerinci, the second highest tea plantation in the world.
Getting into the hike up Kerinci itself, travelers will first come into contact with the tea fields. First built by the Dutch, the Kayu Aro Tea Plantation is the world’s second highest after Darjeeling. Tours are available from the employees at the tea factory, and Aroma Pecco park makes for an easy walk along shaded foot paths.
The hike up Kerinci, however, is not easy. There are no switchbacks; it’s straight up, and it’s jungle. Leaving early in the morning, travelers can look forward to eight hours hiking – filled with singing jungle birds and the loud Siamang gibbons. Hikers will begin their adventure from the village of Kersik Tuo.
Along the way, there are camps at which groups can pitch a tent. For the most time for exploring the next day, it’s recommended to make up as much ground as possible on the first go.
If you’ve managed to get high enough on the first day, it’s recommended to wake up very, very early in the morning – before first light – and head to the summit. The scree top is in stark contrast to the green, muddy rainforest one treks to get there.
As to gear, travelers are going to want to bring plenty of waterproof kit; the rainforest lives up to its name. And, hikers should remember to bring warm clothes, especially for their second day of hiking. Yes, you’re in Sumatra in Indonesia on the equator – and it’s about to get freezing cold. At 3,805 meters tall, Kerinci’s temperatures are often below freezing.
If the clouds aren’t blocking the view, hikers could be able to see down into the Kerinci’s crater still bubbling with lava and all the way to the sea in the west. The summit area is entirely scree. Kerinci is an active volcano, with eruptions once a year caused by the water below.
ABOVE: A slow, careful descent leaves time to discover the area’s diverse flora and fauna.
The hike down can be trying, so travelers not in a hurry should be advised to take their sweet time on the descent. The steep muddy areas can be especially difficult on the way down, and it is an opportunity to take a proper look at the wildlife in the area. The biodiversity in the region, especially of small fauna, is impressive considering it’s a rainforest by an active volcano.
Kerinci Seblat National Park is thousands of square miles of jungle, mountains, volcanoes, calderas, and lakes, and it’s tempting to step of Kerinci and set out to look for tigers. And, while travelers may not find any, this vestige of wildlife protection next to the second highest volcano in Southeast Asia exists to make sure the Sumatran tiger does not go the way of the Balinese and Javan.
Dinner garners all the glamour, and brunch and lunch are a posh midday adventure. But breakfast, lowly breakfast, is so often taken for granted that hotels routinely just fold it into the cost of a single night’s accommodation. But these days, all across Asia, people are waking up to breakfast in more ways than one. From Tokyo to Bali, from Taipei to Saigon, chefs are seizing an opportunity to make a statement, with inventive new dishes in settings all the more inspiring for the morning light.
With nearly three-dozen chefs at the helm in a plethora of show kitchens, with 168 culinary options that span the globe and with a variety of artfully conceived venues, the vibrant new Café is collection of plays within one grand, international play.
The Café seats 290 on multiple tiers of dining, and the low-level buzz of people at work in the morning on their omelettes and coffee is a welcome jump-start on the day. You can indulge traditional Western fare here, from the Continent, from the Americas, and from Japan to boot.
ABOVE: The Café seats 290, with the pan-fried pork Chinese pancakes as a highlight.
But the mindful traveler knows that this hotel is also home to two of Taipei’s premier Chinese eateries – Pearl Liang (Cantonese) and Yun Jin (pan-China) – and that, by osmosis, the dim sum is going to be inspired. And it is, from the shrimp dumplings and sui mai to the steamed rice cakes. And if pancakes have to be part of your breakfast fare in Taipei, try the pan-fried pork Chinese pancakes. Don’t miss the fresh juice bar where the bartender is on hand at breakfast, every breakfast, to produce juice on order – watermelon, mango, carrot, and so on, seemingly ad infinitum.
Royalty at Palace Hotel Tokyo
ABOVE: Across the moat lives the imperial family.
The moat outside Palace Hotel Tokyo wasn’t built to safeguard the guest base of this 2012 debut, but diners on the terrace of the Grand Kitchen are nevertheless beneficiaries of this watery oasis on the edge of the Imperial Palace gardens, a sprawling East Asian complex where Japan’s imperial family lives.
It seems fitting, given the view, to choose a local meal from the menu options or variety of food stations peppered throughout the restaurant. The authentic Japanese breakfast features fresh and light grilled fish, flavorful yet not salty miso soup, and tamago-yaki (sweet omelette) cooked to perfection, along with special rice called yume-gokochi – which fittingly translates as “a dreamy state of mind.”
Europe’s Finest at Reverie Saigon
Copyright 2016 Matthew Shaw.
ABOVE: Café Cardinal at the Reverie.
The European flair of Saigon’s newest luxury hotel isn’t limited to the décor. Here dining menus demand as much attention as the mosaics and marble that furnish the restaurants. It all begins at breakfast with Café Cardinal’s buffet spread.
With a French chef at the helm the Parisian-quality baguettes are a must, and best enjoyed with a selection of imported cheese and prosciutto.
But don’t forget to sample Vietnamese favorites like ice coffee over condensed milk or bo kho (slow-braised beef stew), then sit back and take in the view of a resort-style pool terrace that wouldn’t be out of place in Versailles.
The Sanchaya lavishes the most important meal of the day with the attention it deserves, all to a backdrop of powder white sands, swaying palm trees, aquamarine waters and picturesque islands. Fancy sous vide egg innovative with soft-boiled egg, crab meat, yuzu hollandaise, parsley, toasted sourdough and black caviar? Or bo ne, comprising a sizzling wagyu steak, fried egg, grilled tomato, shallots and soya sauce?
It’s a treat in itself determining what a la carte creation to indulge from a menu drawing on a mélange of Western, Japanese, Vietnamese and Malaysian influences, not to mention the chef’s ‘harvest table’ packed with granola, home-made yogurts, sourdough breads, preserves, honeys and fruit, as well as traditional Indonesian Jamu Gendong tonics served by a roving herbalist.
Yet if you cannot find exactly what you want, talk to the estate’s ‘culinary artisans’ who will create a bespoke dish for you not featured on the menu.
ABOVE: Set table at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi.
Gone are the days of boring continental hotel breakfasts. Instead say “good morning Vietnam” with a selection of dimsum, freshly baked breads and pastries, made-to-order eggs, exotic fruits, and piping hot coffee at the Metropole Hanoi’s Spices Garden restaurant.
The Vietnamese restaurant boasts an extensive juice menu, featuring local favorites such as the Avocado Sinh To (avocado smoothie with yogurt) and other fruit smoothies with mango, pineapple and papaya. With views of the lush garden courtyard and palm-fringed pool, the expansive private terrace is a memorable way to kickstart the most important meal of the day.
From turtles and dolphins to desert glamping, Oman has no end of enthralling amenities for the luxury traveler. But, it is Muscat that is the most fascinating city in Oman for discerning explorer, a modern and international city set on a shining bay on the Gulf of Oman. Whether guests are using Muscat as a jumping off point for wildlife adventure or settling in for a cultural exploration, these three hotels provide extravagance and epicurean treasures to delight any luxury traveler.
The resort is comprised of three separate hotels, of which the Al Waha is the largest. Al Waha means “The Oasis,” which is reflected in the design of its circular swimming pools among palm trees. This family-focused hotel, which prides itself on its traditional Dhofari architecture, consists of 262 guest rooms, each featuring either a balcony or patio with views of the Gulf of Oman.
Refined Chic Seekers at Shangri-La Muscat - YouTube
The second hotel at the resort is the Al Bandar, a five-star deluxe hotel offering 198 guest rooms, all of them facing the Gulf of Oman. Guests can enjoy eating and drinking at one of the seven food outlets – including the celebrated Al Tanoor restaurant serving local fare.
The last of the three hotels is Al Husn, the jewel in Al Jissah Resort’s crown. This luxurious retreat offers guests comfort and opulence in 180 guest rooms and suites, all lavishly decorated with first class travelers in mind. With a 2,000-foot private beach, 20,000 square-feet of swimming pools, and a spa on offer, the Al Husn is the most luxurious of the Shangri-la options outside of Muscat.
The Chedi Muscat | Oman | GHM hotels - YouTube
Set in front of the grand Al Hajar Mountains in northeastern Oman, The Chedi is cushioned in the middle of a garden oasis of 21 acres, featuring opulent Arabian style and genuine Omani design facets.
Culinary Journey | The Chedi Muscat | Oman | GHM hotels - YouTube
The Chedi boasts six separate restaurants, three swimming pools (one of which is 338 feet long), a health club, and a Balinese spa consisting of 13 suites for those wanting to relax and unwind in luxurious surroundings.
Distinguished guests wanting to splurge should be advised that any visitors staying in a Deluxe Club Room, Deluxe Club Terrace, or Chedi Club Suite also gain access to the lavish and exclusive Club Lounge: a large library furnished with elegant European-style chairs where snacks and tea are served by day and cocktails and canapés by night.
The Long Pool | The Chedi Muscat | Oman | GHM hotels - YouTube
ABOVE: The Long Pool at The Chedi in Muscat, Oman.
With 158 guestrooms and villas , this five-star resort caters to groups of all sizes with nine on-site restaurants. Fine dining aficionados will want to dine at The Restaurant, whereas fare for loungers can be had at one of three pool cabanas – the most popular of course being The Chedi’s Long Pool Cabana. For a more cultural experience, travelers are advised to check out the Arabian Courtyard or the Shisha Courtyard for a puff on plush cushions.
Guests at the Al Bustan Palace are in for a truly Arabian treat when they enter this opulently decorated Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Nestled between the Gulf of Oman and the Al Hajar Mountains, the Ritz Carlton Hotel is 198 guest rooms and 52 suites with views of the sea or mountains. Rooms here range from the 60-square-meter junior suite to the 300 square meters of the Presidential Sea View and Presidential Mountain View Suites.
The hotel grounds include three first-class restaurants, from the deluxe Beach Pavilion Bar & Grill to the China Mood (which boasts its own tea sommelier) and the Al Khiran Terrace Restaurant that offers lavish breakfast and dinner buffets. For a vertical vista like few others in Oman, the 38-meter high-domed Atrium Tea Lounge serves tea and treats.
ABOVE: Pool looking out on to the Ritz-Carlton’s 3,000-foot private beach.
Guests looking to relax can take to the 3,000-foot private beach for some rejuvenation. While lounging and enjoying the sun, guests are welcome to indulge in a massage or personalized treatment at the 33,000-square-foot Six Senses spa featuring 17 treatment rooms, saunas, and steam rooms over three stories. There are also five outdoor pools, including a 164-foot infinity pool.
The simple, local Nepalese cuisine has much to compliment it to be sure, but for diners looking for a meal with a little more sophistication in their fare, Kathmandu can sate any fine dining palate. Sure, the pickings are slimmer than somewhere like Tokyo or even Bangkok, but Nepal’s capital is careful with its cuisine – from French-Asian fusion to the best food at the plushest hotel.
Le Sherpa is an entire estate featuring a boutique bed and breakfast, shops selling local artisan crafts, and a popular farmers’ market. Tucked away but still centrally located, Le Sherpa is a foodie oasis. The restaurant itself serves international cuisine with a focus on European dishes, especially French. The venue offers indoor or outdoor seating and features a strong focus on supporting local organic food producers.
Previous menus have featured starters such as smoked salmon bruschetta with goat’s cheese and rabbit choila. For mains, there’s roast quail with sauteed potatoes, fillet of trout, and pork belly in red wine sauce.
Le Sherpa uses local Nuwa Estate coffee and has an impressive selection of quality wines. The farmers’ market runs on Saturdays and Wednesdays, selling local goods such as artisan bread, organic fruit and vegetables, and European cheeses.
The restaurant is open from 8am for brunch on weekends until 10pm, and weekdays from 10am until 10pm.
THE OLD HOUSE
ABOVE: The Old House features French-Asian fusion cuisine.
This French-Asian Fusion Restaurant has a diverse menu and a cocktail happy hour from 6.30pm until 8pm every day. Guests can enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail outside in the leafy courtyard, which is equipped with heaters for comfortable evening dining.
Appetizer options include charcuterie and cheese platters, pork or vegetarian skewers, and momos, (traditional dumplings with assorted fillings, such as carrot, shiitake mushrooms, chicken, beetroot, and nuts). For the main course, there’s plenty of choice including vol-au-vents and sweet lime trout.
ABOVE: Vertical garden alongside the bar at The Old House.
Found outside of the city, the vertical garden alongside the bar and lush greenery give The Old House a retro chic elegance, and guests are unlikely to find more innovative cocktails anywhere else in the city.
Guests at Dwarika’s can get a taste of what it’s like to be a 14th-century Nepalese King. With not just one but three restaurants on offer, plus luxury suites, a fitness and yoga center and meeting rooms, it’s the whole package.
Following the 2015 earthquake, which registered 7.8 on the Richter scale and caused widespread tragedy and damage across Nepal, Dwarika’s sent food, tents, and other supplies to communities in need. Their emphasis is on supporting local communities and producers through their market and in their restaurant, as well as showcasing and supporting different community cuisines in Nepal.
Krishnarpan Restaurant is more of a culinary voyage through the diversity of Nepal’s communities, serving between six and 22 courses in one sitting, than a simple meal. Menu options in the past have included flash-fried lentils and traditional Nepali chicken curry, all freshly made to order and sourced from local producers wherever possible. Meals are served in traditional tableware made from brass and earthenware.
ABOVE: Three restaurants are on offer at Dwarika’s Hotel: Krishnapan, Mako and Toran, at Dwarika’s Hotel.
Mako’s Restaurant offers Japanese cuisine in a minimalist setting. Sushi, tempura and rice and noodle dishes are on offer in this intimate fine-dining area.
Toran Restaurant is multi-cuisine and guests can enjoy the extensive menu either inside the restaurant or out in one of the courtyards. This is the more informal dining choice out of the three restaurants. The menu has a large mix of influences from Nepal, India and Italy, including burgers, wraps and salads.
Tukche Thakali Kitchen
ABOVE: Tukche Thakali Kitchen exterior.
The family-run Tukche Thakali Kitchen is one of the most authentic Nepalese eateries in Kathmandu. Using local produce and ingredients sourced from villages in the Kali Gandaki region, the restaurant is named after a village region in Mustang.
The menu is varied but of particular interest is the Momo, a Himalayan dish, and the dhedo, which is made of buckwheat dough.
Today, the restaurant is overseen by Mrs. Rekha Bhattachan, but it began as a family endeavor in 1997. Featured in Conde Naste Traveler and Paste, Tukche Thakali has become well-known for the authenticity of its cuisine.
ABOVE: The Chimney began under Boris Lissanevitch, a Nepal tourism trailblazer.
For something a little more continental and a lot more Russian, The Chimney at the Yak and Yeti has more of a traditional fine dining feel, established by none other than Boris Lissanevitch – a famous Russian ballet dancer and entrepreneur known for his extravagance and a Nepal tourism trailblazer.
Of particular interest are the copper-shafted fireplaces – fitting for The Chimney – and the vaulted ceilings. Boris’s original recipes for Borsht can be found at The Chimney, but the restaurant recommends the rack of lamb with eggplant and sesame. For more of the Nepal-Western chic at the Yak and Yeti, guests can head over to the Piano Bar or Sunrise Restaurant.
For travelers who want more to their Japan experience than high-end eateries and Harajuku oddities, the ryokan has arisen as the choice for discerning travelers.
“A combination of unique opportunities such as private hot springs, Japanese cuisine, and cultural nuances from the architecture, materials, and design aesthetic create a cultural perspective vastly removed from any guests will find elsewhere,” says Sachiko Nakamichi, owner and Maitresse de Maison of the Beniya Mukayu – a luxury ryokan outside of Kanazawa “This is why ryokans are so special and have an allure for foreign travelers and Japanese alike.”
However, for Western travelers to truly enjoy their ryokan experience, there are a few pieces of advice of which guests should avail themselves before their stay.
ENJOY THE MINIMALISM
ABOVE: Zen-style executive suite at Beniya Mukayu.
For travelers used to finery in 5-star hotels, the amenities of a ryokan can at first seem a trifle empty. There is very little furniture or art in rooms because the aesthetic of the carefully designed room and even the noises of the surrounding nature are the highlight.
“When ryokans strip away anything unnecessary this allows the guest to embrace time filled with freedom,” Sachiko Nakamichi tells Travelogues. “This is the concept we adhere to at Beniya Mukayu, allowing guests to enjoy their own time and explore the freedom they find themselves gifted with. […] This is a question of ryokans offering guests a perspective of freedom from routines and unconstrained from […] distractions.”
BENIYA MUKAYU - YouTube
ABOVE: Minimalist designs, as in the Beniya Mukayu, date back to the Muromachi period in the 14th century.
The genesis of the minimalist designs found in Japanese ryokans has an abiding history.
“The origin of Japanese minimalism culture is started with tea ceremonies back in the Muromachi-era,” says Hiroto Takegaki from Gora Kadan, a luxury ryokan in Hakone. “In our ryokan we respect those traditions and culture.”
DRESS THE PART
ABOVE: Sandals and male yukata.
It is not the act of wearing that is important, but the embracing of new experiences.
The first requirements of a ryokan are sartorial: never wear shoes past the entry area. There is typically a small foyer where guests can remove shoes and replace them with slippers. Slippers in Japan should be worn with socks, often a simple white sock that tucks into the cleft of a traditional sandal.
“It is not the act of wearing that is important but the embracing of new experiences. Guests who do embrace these requirements find the experience to be uplifting and indeed rather fun,” Sachiko Nakamichi says. “Embracing sartorial requirements such as yukata and sandals during a stay in ryokans is a unique and cultural experience.”
ABOVE: Sandals are worn with socks.
The yukata is a light cotton robe provided for travelers while at ryokans, which guests can feel free to wear around the property and at meals. The left side of the yukata is wrapped over the right side and is secured with an obi, or sash.
After all, in a world of hot springs and baths, there is a certain practicality to the dress. “When guests have an onsen, [the yukata] is easy to take off and put on,” says Hiroto Takegaki from Gora Kadan.
KAISEKI IS SERIOUS
ABOVE: Delicately prepared kaiseki dish at Beniya Mukayu.
Kaiseki is delicate, intricate, and ranks as one of the most satisfying dining experiences in Japan. Served in small, careful dishes, kaiseki food at a ryokan is almost always local and extremely seasonal – sometimes varying week to week.
However, even for Japanophiles, kaiseki can be imposing. Often, eager travelers will be keen to have kaiseki every night of their travels, but guests should be warned that kaiseki is serious business, both in terms of the fare and the undertaking.
ABOVE: Kaiseki can be 14 courses served over two hours.
It’s not just the rare, seasonal, and often raw food that’s challenging; kaiseki can be 14 courses served over two hours. Doing that every evening would be extremely trying. The ingredients always vary but can involve flavors such as sea urchin, salmon roe, and snails.
At ryokans, dinner is usually early, between 18:00 and 19:00, and in many ryokans the large meal served in the guest’s room.
ABOVE: Private room bath at Gora Kadan.
The most popular experience at almost every ryokan is the hot spring, or onsen. Often ryokans will have private baths, but for the most part the communal areas will be separated by sex.
Most onsens take their hot springs seriously and guests should do so as well: no splashing about or making too much noise. Guests should remember that the onsen is meant to be a calming – borderline pharmacological experience. The Beniya Mukayu ryokan, for example, has slightly alkaline spring water from Hakusan, meant to compliment everything from stiff joints to tough skin.
“Many come here for the onsen and each onsen has different health benefits; for example our onsen is categorized as weak alkaline which has benefits for fixing skin trouble,” says Hiroto Takegaki from Gora Kadan, adding that ryokans provide a level of personal service that hotel accommodations can not match. “In Gora Kadan we have respected this style since we opened.”
Guests should also be aware that they should shower before getting into the onsen and that people with long hair should put it in a bun and keep in out of the water if possible.
Embrace the Tatami
ABOVE: Tatami beds at Gora Kadan.
Along with the minimalism comes a few compromises in comfort – albeit minor ones. Ryokans require guests to sleep on a tatami mat on the floor or raised surface. While this method may not be as comfortable as sleeping in a Western-style bed, the experience of sleeping on a tatami mat in a Japanese ryokan is a unique charm to the setting.
“The guests sometimes do not enjoy sleeping on tatami as the experience of using futons is unfamiliar. Unlike the beds international guests use typically, sleeping on the floor is culturally vastly different and so can push one’s limits,” Sachiko Nakamichi tells Travelogues. “It is also the perception that futons do not provide adequate support during sleeping, and so convincing people [to change] can be a challenge for ryokan proprietors and guests alike.”
“Most guests are okay to sleep on the tatami floor,” Hiroto Takegaki tells Travelogues. “However some elder guests have issue with knees or back, so for those customers we will provide a portable western bed or will recommend the room with twin beds.”
Adding to the irregularity of the tatami mats are the other seating arrangements; ryokans will have a low table on the floor and chairs or mats that require travelers to sit on the floor.
“Guests who do embrace these requirements find the experience to be uplifting and indeed rather fun – instinctively against previously established behaviors and gives a sense of breaking down one’s own barriers, taking a risk,” says Sachiko Nakamichi.
Here’s the thing about Tokyo: it’s fast, it’s efficient, and it’s dizzyingly fascinating. With the most Michelin stars on the planet and more than two thousand square kilometers of city sprawl, it’s easy to get lost in the maze. But, for those willing to slow down and take Tokyo in stride, there are a few cultural adventures that can be every bit as rewarding as a trip up the Skytree or table at Ginza Iwa.
The Japanese sword and its creation are the stuff of legend. Getting the opportunity to see Japanese swordsmithing from Japan’s greatest masters is an inspiring experience to be sure.
The setting for this bladesmithing adventure is the workshop of the renowned Yoshindo Yoshihara and his son Yoshikazu Yoshihara, a unique chance to watch a true master at work. Yoshikazu Yoshihara has works featured in places such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Two generations of this sword-making family have been recognized with the highest honors for swordsmiths, including Sacred Sword of the Grand Shrine at Ise nominations, awarded once every 20 years.
Image from Toki.
ABOVE: Inside the swordmaker’s workshop.
Some like to go to Tokyo and dress the part of a samurai or geisha, but the Yoshindo Yoshihara swordmaking opportunity provides something a little deeper. The art of making a Japanese katana – both an object of myth and a symbol of authority – has been passed down for hundreds years, expressing an understanding of craftsmanship and metallography that inspires even today.
For the even more keen, patrons can order a sword directly from Master Yoshihara, who produces swords through custom orders; he requires a visit in person before the purchase – with swords costing as much as $50,000.
Image from Gora Kadan.
ABOVE: Kaiseki sample from luxury ryokan Gora Kadan.
There’s no way around it: kaiseki is complicated. It’s delicate, it’s seasonal, it’s cultural – and for some it’s the ultimate dining experience. A kaiseki meal can be more than fourteen small, challenging courses, and for those who want to dig a little deeper into their favorite dining experience, they can get the chance to cook it.
ABOVE: Dishes from the century-old Tsujitome.
Travelers can sit down to learn at a Tokyo restaurant that’s more than 100 years old – and with two Michelin stars to boot – for their cooking lesson. At Tsujitome, guests will cook with master chef Yoshikazu Tsuji, who studied with the renowned Kitaoji Rosanjin.
ABOVE: There can be more than a dozen dishes to a kaiseki meal.
For a more introductory experience or for one that gets straight to the food, guests to Japan can take the opportunity to learn about kaiseki etiquette or have a kaiseki meal with an explanation of the various courses from an expert. Alternatively, one can just, well, eat.
Stay at a Luxury Urban Ryokan
ABOVE: Hoshinoya Tokyo minimalist design.
Ryokans are fast becoming the cultural luxury of choice for travelers to Japan, traditional inns with heritage and class. As the defining feature of the ryokan is oneness with nature and peace of mind, one must usually travel to the countryside or an outer city area for this sort of cultural luxury.
ABOVE: Ryokan style in downtown Tokyo at Hoshinoya Tokyo.
However, when it comes to luxury ryokans, there are a few options in bustling downtown Tokyo that will sate the desire for that certain Japanese style without a long car journey. The Hoshinoya Tokyo doesn’t look like a ryokan from the outside, but it certainly does from the inside.
ABOVE: Images of the imposing and original spa at Hoshinoya Tokyo.
The Hoshinoya Tokyo prides itself on being an urban ryokan – all the style with none of the hassle. Admittedly, the location doesn’t permit long strolls through forests, but the rooms are fantastically designed and situated, with every floor functioning as a six-room ryokan: elegant, simple, and charming.
The hot springs, too, are a little different from what one might expect at a ryokan. Soaring walls and water heated 1,500 meters below, the bath halls at Hoshinoya Tokyo are truly one-of-a-kind.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company announced the debut of The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach tented villas on Tuesday, the second luxury resort for The Ritz-Carlton brand in Ras Al Khaimah and the brand’s fifth property in the United Arab Emirates.
“We are seeing an increased desire from today’s luxury traveler for more high-end offerings and immersive escapes in emerging destinations, and The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach is perfectly suited to meet this need,” said Lisa Holladay, Global Brand leader for The Ritz-Carlton in the press release announcing the debut.
ABOVE: Ritz-Carlton villa looking out onto Al Hamra Beach.
An hour from Dubai and on the shores of the Arabian Gulf, The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach – formerly a Banyan Tree – features 32 tented villas, each with a pool and direct beach access. With a choice of two different types of villas, the Al Naseem Villas feature local design elements inspired by traditional Bedouin architecture, and the Al Bahar Villas include open views and private beachfront access.
“We have been looking forward to the reopening of our beach resort under the management of The Ritz-Carlton and to giving guests truly memorable experiences,” said Frederic Savoye, President of Hospitality Business, Al Hamra Group LLC.
ABOVE: View from a boat leaving The Ritz-Carlton Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach.
Activities at the resort include paddle boarding, fishing trips on the coast of Ras Al Khaimah, and sunrise or sunset yoga.
“We are thrilled to introduce the legendary Ritz-Carlton service, which combined with state-of-the-art facilities, elevated restaurants, and unique spa concepts, will offer the best in beachfront luxury to guests from all over the world,” Frederic Savoye said.
ABOVE: Private dining experience on Al Hamra Beach.
Resort guests can recharge at The Ritz-Carlton Spa, a seaside area offering holistic treatments and dedicated treatment pavilions. The Ritz-Carlton branded spa offers a select menu of local, ocean inspired treatments prepared with flowers and native spices. The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach also has the Ritz Kids program for younger travelers, and two fitness centers are also available.
ABOVE: Villa exteriors at The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach.
Shore House restaurant, which boasts sea views, serves fresh seafood from the Arabian Gulf and cuisine prepared with a local twist; the restaurant prides itself on fresh catches from the sea and local produce. Meanwhile, exotic sundowners are served every day at sunset on the bar lounge. Those who want a more private dinner experience can choose to dine on the beachfront, in a secluded beach cabana overlooking the waters of Ras Al Khaimah or on the beachfront.
ABOVE: Al Hamra Beach from the new Ritz-Carlton.
Additionally, guests wanting to explore The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert can do so with a daily shuttle bus traveling to and from the two resorts. Activities such as nature walks through the Al Wadi Nature Reserve, archery, or wildlife entertainment with owl and falconry shows can be arranged.
Aside from the Al Wadi Desert destination, The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach joins Ritz-Carlton’s three other UAE properties: The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, The Ritz-Carlton Dubai, and The Ritz-Carlton Dubai International Financial Center.
“We look forward to welcoming guests to this stunning beachfront resort, which features the best of its destination together with the iconic Ritz-Carlton experience,” said Lisa Holladay.
Traveling to Angkor Wat is the Cambodia experience. However, in what amounts to a cultural, spiritual, and archaeological wonder, travelers sometimes forget that Cambodia’s greatest Angkor treasure has attracted some of the finest amenities in all of hospitality. From Bill Bensley designs to Aman-style luxury, Siem Reap has an answer for every decadent traveler.
Aman luxury never disappoints. The Amansara boasts a 1960s French-style design on grassy lands, once the location of the guesthouse estate for King Norodom Sihanouk. With 24 open-plan suites (contemporary, courtyard, or pool) featuring a living and bedroom combination with sunken-in bathroom and an island bathtub, the Amansara is the gold standard for luxury accommodations in Siem Reap.
These suites are finished in timber and pale terrazzo with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking a courtyard. With 12 of the suites built with a private plunge pool, guests can soak in style surrounded by the famed ruins that are the Angkor temples.
ABOVE: Suite at Amansara.
Whether guests would like to participate in yoga classes, take a swim in the 82-foot pool, or make a reservation at the spa and wellness center, the Amansara’s in-house relaxation options are world class. Body scrub treatments featuring Khmer herbs and rice wraps, full-body salt soaks, and massages with traditional Cambodian techniques are only a few of the options, a fitting addition to the private dining at the resort’s Khmer house.
ABOVE: Main pool at Amansara.
Staff of the Amansara can assist with booking any of the three adventure packages available to guests to experience Angkor Wat. After a day of discovery, settle in at a pergola-shaded (slitted tarps made from wood) table under the stars for dinner. With a menu that changes daily depending on the fresh produce from local markets, dining at the Amansara is an experience not soon to be forgotten.
PARK HYATT SIEM REAP
ABOVE: The Park Hyatt’s pool in Siem Reap, only a 15 minute drive from Angkor Wat.
The Park Hyatt in Siem Reap was designed with inspirations of Khmer contemporary art. Only a 15-minute drive to Angkor, the resort boasts 104 rooms varying in size from the standard room with 376 square feet all the way up to 2,669 square feet in a Presidential Suite.
Guests can taste unique dishes highlighting the best of Cambodian grilling, and organic goods from the in-house garden are used at any of the three dining areas on site. French and Indochinese cuisine is available at the main restaurant, The Dining Room, while snacks, homemade ice cream, pastries, sandwiches, and a breathtaking view of Siem Reap can be had at The Glasshouse.
All rooms are fitted with a king-sized bed, save those featuring twin (or three beds upon request), and plunge-pools can be found in the two-bedroom and executive-style suites. Extra furniture, such as chaise lounges or sofas, can be added upon request and rooms include city or garden views.
ABOVE: Dining swings at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap.
Adjacent to the Glasshouse, The Living Room, as designed by Bill Bensley, is a full-service bar full of top-shelf spirits and also serves high tea. Veranda views are supported by two majestic colonnades and grant guests the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine overlooking the gardens.
A memorable story at Park Hyatt Siem Reap - YouTube
SHINTA MANI ANGKOR
ABOVE: Shinta Mani Angkor exterior.
Found in the cultural center of Siem Reap, the Shinta Mani Angkor Bill Bensley Collection was designed by starchitect Bill Bensley with the notion of how he would like to experience Siem Reap: private and surrounded by nature. The Shinta Mani collections make for an unforgettable destination in and of themselves. Between the Shinta Mani Shack, and Shinta Mani Angkor, and the coming Shinta Mani Wild for this year, guests will be spoiled for choice.
ABOVE: Pool area at Shinta Mani Angkor.
Each suite has Khmer-inspired bed sheets and bamboo towers at each bedside containing everything visitors need to indulge in the best of quality comforts. A Bensley Butler is available to attend to any requests, as is an outdoor bed that can be set up for guests to enjoy a night under the Siem Reap stars.
ABOVE: Shinta Mani suite in Siem Reap.
Khmer-inspired cuisine is served in the main restaurant, Kroya. The Elephant Polo Club, which offers international cuisine, or Bensley’s Bar, an outdoor location suitable for post-temple discussions, are readily available for conversation and cocktails.
Shinta Mani Angkor Bensley Collection - YouTube
After a guest’s journey off site to the ruins of Angkor Wat, travelers can return to enjoy the lavish wellness center, as sponsored by Khmer Tonics, with a range of treatments and healing rituals – all of which are also available in-suite.
ABOVE: Phum Baitang exterior.
Khmer for “green village”, the Phum Baitang offers total immersion into Cambodian/Khmer culture with rooms built to mimic a small village. Positioned across eight acres of land, all 45 suites are built on stilts.
Phum Baitang - YouTube
Guests have the chance to pick their own fresh ingredients and spices to enjoy at the property restaurant, Bay Phsar. A swim-up bar, yoga pavillion, and spa designed like a temple invite guests to unwind and enjoy the best in luxury cultural immersion.
ABOVE: The colonial-Cambodian style relies on stone and wood.
Built in a colonial-Cambodian style, suites vary in size from 60 to 72 square meters (the latter featuring a pool and the former a terrace) with interiors made of stone and wood. Bathrooms feature bathtubs big enough for two people and showcase luxury products from Aesop.
Anantara Angkor Resort - YouTube
The Anantara Angkor boasts 39 suites, a saltwater pool, fitness center, cooking classes, a wellness center, and a spacious terrace for yoga. The spa and wellness center features three spa suites (reservations for treatments highly recommended), and offer both Western and Eastern massage styles. Treatments include body scrubs, facials, massages, sauna, and jacuzzi.
ABOVE: Anantara Angkor exterior.
Upon arrival guests are offered a foot wash and assigned a personal butler to tend to every need. Neutral tones and hand carved wooden fixtures await guests in these traditional suites, ranging in size and layout. Each suite at Anantara Angkor features air conditioning and rainfall showerheads.
Dining options include Khmer at Chi, Asian and international at L Lounge, private dining with Dining by Design, and light snacks and drinks can be had at Salt.
The Sofitel Inle Lake Myat Min hotel held an opening party on Monday, adding 101 rooms to the Myanmar tourism hotspot. A luxury resort located on the shores Myanmar’s second largest lake, the new accommodations are found between 20 acres of rice fields and floating gardens, featuring two restaurants, two bars, a fitness and wellness center, and two large swimming pools.
The Luxury Room, the smallest of the rooms offered at Sofitel Inle Lake Myat Min, is 60 square meters and one queen-sized bed. The largest of the suites, the Opera Suite, clocks in at 95 square meters and looks out on Inle Lake. Each room features a terrace, rain shower, and overlooks lake or mountain scenery.
As to dining, the Sofitel Inle Lake Myat Min offers all-day dining and international cuisine at L’Epicerie, with buffet and à la carte options available for lunch and dinner. The menu includes gluten free, de-light, and vegetarian menus. A lobby bar is also available Sofitel Inle Lake Myat Min, which was originally meant to be under the MGallery brand.
ABOVE: Room at AccorHotels’ newest property in Myanmar, Sofitel Inle Lake Myat Min.
Part of AccorHotels, Sofitel becomes the latest in the brand’s considerable push into Myanmar. AccorHotels announced last year in April that they planned to open five new properties by 2019.
“The company has planned five additional properties to be opened till 2019 as part of the larger strategy to expand its footprint in Myanmar,” said Patrick Basset, chief operating officer of AccorHotels, Upper Southeast and Northeast Asia, in a press release last year.
ABOVE: The Sofitel Inle Lake Myat Min pool area.
The Sofitel Inle Lake Myat Min joins the company’s properties in The Lake Garden Nay Pyi Taw, Novotel Yangon Max, ibis Styles Yangon Stadium, and, most importantly, Novotel Inle Lake Myat Min. Also under the AccorHotels banner, the Novotel at Inle Lake from AccorHotels opened in 2013.
The new Sofitel Inle Lake Myat Min enters and increasingly crowded luxury market in the Inle Lake area. Of particular note are the Aureum Inle Resort and Spa, which opened in 2010, and the Sanctum Inle Resort, opened in 2016 and featuring a Spanish-style design.
ABOVE: Bathroom at Sofitel Inle Lake Myat Min.
Despite widely reported persecution of the Rohingya minority, tourism in Myanmar continues to grow. According to data cited by the Telegraph from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, tourism grew 18 percent in 2017, reaching more than 3.4 million visitors. With fewer than 21,000 visitors in 1990, Myanmar’s resurgence as a tourism destination has been transformative for the nation’s economy.