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Hotel review: InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort
Tucked away off the coast of Cambodia lies the Vietnamese island of Phú Quoc, a hidden paradise that is set to become the next must-see destination for island lovers and experience seekers alike. Rising up from the palm-lined coast on the south-west side of Vietnam's Phú Quoc Island stands the InterContinental Phú Quoc Long Beach Resort, one of the first of many international resorts to open on the island. The design of the resort, with a 19-storey middle tower flanked by two wings that wrap around the main pool, is impressive but not imposing, thanks to an abundance of tropical plants – especially the palms and rooftop gardens that work to almost blend the resort into the natural landscape of the island. [caption id="attachment_47554" align="alignnone" width="600"] At the end of each day, everyone in the resort stops to watch the sun set over the water.[/caption] Upon arrival at the Intercontinental Phú Quoc you're met with the uniquely designed foyer of the main tower (the traditional basket boats that line the ceiling are a striking addition), and taken through to the windowless reception that opens out to give you views of the pool that seemingly stretches out to meet the sea. Details InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort Bai Truong, Duong To Ward, Phú Quoc, Kien Giang, Vietnam The room [caption id="attachment_47556" align="alignnone" width="600"] A view of one of the rooms available at the InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort.[/caption] The resort has 459 rooms, suites and villas to choose from that vary in size to cater for groups, families and couples. But three nights in the Panoramic Suite is enough to ruin you for all other accommodation. At 101 square metres, the suite features an open-plan bedroom, office, lounge and bar that connects to a large bathroom with a bath and shower, separate toilet and walk-in wardrobe. Tall glass doors open out onto your own generous-sized balcony with views of the beach to be enjoyed from your outdoor setting. [caption id="attachment_47558" align="alignnone" width="600"] The poolside Italian restaurant Ombra, is great for lunch, snack and freshly-made juices and smoothies.[/caption] It is the finer details that really make this room a standout: the sensor lights of the walk-in wardrobe, the view of the ocean from the deepest bath I have ever bathed in (complete with cushioned headrest and bath salts, of course!), the shower with sit-down bench – and multiple shower heads, and the balcony with private cabana for those days when you want to escape the other guests. Food and drink [caption id="attachment_47559" align="alignnone" width="600"] An aerial look at the resort's LAVA restaurant.[/caption] There are six restaurants and bars to choose from with a variety of different cuisines on offer. Ombra is the resort's Italian restaurant, located just beside the main pool area. You can also order fresh juices and smoothies for a lighter option; I'd recommend a mango and mint smoothie. A full buffet breakfast is served at Sora & Umi (you must go the full Vietnamese spread for breakfast at least once) and it is also a Japanese and Vietnamese restaurant at night. [caption id="attachment_47561" align="alignnone" width="600"] Watch the waves roll in as you enjoy a meal at LAVA.[/caption] For an extra special night out, you need to eat at LAVA, the resort's seafood and steak restaurant. You'll be able to watch the waves roll in from your table and dine under the stars. Then there is Sea Shack to satisfy your barbecue craving, Pearl for a fusion of international cuisines, and finally INK 360. [caption id="attachment_47562" align="alignnone" width="600"] Take the lift up to the 19th floor to find INK 360, the resort's rooftop bar.[/caption] The rooftop bar – which is the highest sky bar on the island – is the work of Australian-born interior designer, Ashley Sutton. He's famous for his Iron Fairies bar in Tokyo and The Bookshop in Bangkok, and INK 360 is the latest in his growing list of fantastical creations. The ginormous octopus tentacles that spill out from the roof to envelop the bar will have you feeling like you've stumbled upon a shipwreck floating in the sky. Make sure you're here for sunset and order a Coral Mule from mixologist Giuseppe Tronik. The cocktail is adorned with a flowery pink snow mushroom, which is guaranteed to bring in the Instagram likes. [caption id="attachment_47563" align="alignnone" width="600"] The best place to watch the sunset is at INK 360 with a cocktail in hand.[/caption] Services [caption id="attachment_47564" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Harnn Heritage Spa is an oasis of tranquility.[/caption] No island holiday is complete without a spa treatment and the HARNN Heritage Spa is a tranquil oasis of indulgence that is too good to be missed. There are eight spa treatment rooms set within individual retreats overlooking a large lagoon filled with koi fish. Try the signature bamboo stick massage – it's like a hot rock massage only better! [caption id="attachment_47566" align="alignnone" width="600"] Retreat together as a couple and indulge in one of the many luxurious treatment options at the Harnn Heritage Spa.[/caption] You'll also find four outdoor swimming pools, a 24-hour gym complete with self-defence classes, kids' clubs for all ages with certified nannies, and you can pick up food supplies from the resort's grocer Mercado (or sit down for an ice-cream, Vietnamese coffee and a snack). [caption id="attachment_47569" align="alignnone" width="600"] Cool off in one of the many pools available at the resort.[/caption] Nearby activities A holiday on Phú Quoc can be as chilled or activity-packed as you want it to be. You don't have to have a standard resort holiday with every day spent by the pool, punctuated by meals and cocktails – unless that's your jam. The island has much more to offer than nice views. Hire a catamaran and go snorkelling Of course the InterContinental has a number of activities you can book within the resort, from cooking and cocktail classes, to basket boat rides and beach yoga sessions, but you can also take a catamaran out for the day, snorkel the nearby islands and enjoy a freshly cooked seafood meal on board. [caption id="attachment_47571" align="alignnone" width="600"] Go for a ride in a traditional basket boat.[/caption] Night markets, beaches, sculptures and cable cars The bustling night markets are only a short drive away (try the warm banana and sticky coconut rice wrapped in a banana leaf), as is Sao Beach. Or better yet, hire a motorbike and make your way to the secluded Starfish Beach. You'll need to pack food, drink and sun protection and ride along sandy trails through the national park to reach the beach. You'll find a colony of red starfish sunbathing in the crystal clear waters waiting for you. Phú Quoc even has its own mini-version of Sculpture By The Sea at Sunset Sanato Beach Club. You'll find elephants on stilts coming out of the water and a large, imposing sculpture of a head sliced in two, adjoined by a doorway that visitors can walk through. [caption id="attachment_47572" align="alignnone" width="600"] The best views on the island are found on the Sun World cable car.[/caption] The island is also home to the world's longest non-stop sea cable car. The Sun World cable car connects An Thoi town on the south of the island with Hon Thom Island and it will take you 15 minutes each way. But it's the views of the pastel-coloured fishing boats that speckle the bright turquoise water below that really make this ride one to remember. [caption id="attachment_47573" align="alignnone" width="600"] The world's longest non-stop sea-crossing cable car can be found in Phu Quoc.[/caption] The IT verdict This resort has something for everyone. Families can take advantage of the first-class kids' clubs and kids' cooking classes and facilities, while couples can relax by the adult-only pools, wine and dine at the many restaurants, and splurge on indulgent spa treatments. [caption id="attachment_47568" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Harnn Heritage Spa takes care to make every detail of your time with them an indulgent experience.[/caption] Location: 9/10 More than half the island is a UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserve, making it a lush green oasis that also boasts crystal-clear waters, powdery white sand and an average annual temperature of 27 degrees. It is a quick 45-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Phú Quoc, and the resort is a 15-minute drive from the airport. It is the perfect end to a longer stay in Vietnam for those looking to relax for a few days before returning to reality. Style/character: 9/10 The style and decor of the resort can only be described as understated luxury. It seems that every detail has been designed with the sunset in mind: from the layout of the resort that aims to capture the ocean from every angle, to the rooftop bar, INK 360, on the 19th floor – which is arguably the best of many excellent places to watch the sun set over the ocean. Service: 10/10 I can't fault the service I received at this resort. Staff were kind and attentive; there is a whole office space full of staff ready and waiting to organise activities for you on the island and in the resort. Checking in and out of the resort was seamless. [caption id="attachment_47555" align="alignnone" width="600"] The view from the bathroom in resort's Panoramic Suite.[/caption] Rooms: 9/10 Nearly all rooms have views of the ocean and each accommodation type is stylishly designed with superb attention to detail and understated luxury – regardless of whether you're staying in a classic room, suite or villa. [caption id="attachment_47576" align="alignnone" width="600"] Order the El Copete (like a pisco sour) at INK 360.[/caption] Food and drink: 9/10 Incredible variety and quality: the perfect mix of Vietnamese, seafood and modern international cuisine. The architectural design of each restaurant makes dining here as much of a visual feast for the eyes as it is an edible one. [caption id="attachment_47560" align="alignnone" width="600"] Dining inside the resort's LAVA restaurant is an experience not to be missed.[/caption] Value for money: 8/10 A King Bed Resort Classic Room (without ocean views) starts at $225 a night, which is an affordable resort holiday for most. You also get a fresh fruit bowl upon arrival and complimentary access to the wi-fi, the 24-hour gym and the resort's car park throughout your stay. Getting there: Vietnam Airlines flies direct to Ho Chi Minh City from Sydney and Melbourne in under nine hours and it is an additional 45-minute flight to reach Phú Quoc Island. Spend a few nights exploring incredible Saigon before changing pace by moving on to Phú Quoc. My Dreamliner flight from Sydney to Ho Chi Minh City was more than comfortable, with generous sized economy seats, excellent service and good quality food and drink. There was also a wide selection of TV shows and films onboard to choose from, including the knock-out hit, Crazy Rich Asians. Once you reach Phú Quoc you'll find taxis, cars and motorbikes for hire, and resort shuttles are available for getting around the island and to and from the airport. A new wing has recently opened at the airport, roads are being relaid and there is plenty of construction work underway in preparation for the expected influx of tourists in the coming years. Do you need more help planning your Vietnam trip? Read our guide on everything you need to know before you go.
Travel Tokyo and beyond by train: the perfect 4 day itinerary
Once you have finished exploring the Japanese capital’s endless attractions, there’s lots more to see and do just a short train ride away. With exclusive access to some of the best sights in Tokyo and beyond, Tobu Railway offers travellers a smooth and efficient journey into the heart and history of Japan’s mesmerising capital city and surrounding areas. Its trains deliver curious visitors to the Asakusa area of Tokyo, where old and new intersect, the charming old town atmosphere of Kawagoe, the stunning city of Nikko, steeped in history and tradition, and the onsens and abundant natural scenery of Kinugawa. Here, the perfect four-day itinerary for riding the rails with Tobu Railway. [caption id="attachment_47070" align="alignnone" width="600"] Toshugu Shrine is Japan's most lavishly decorated.[/caption] Day 1 – Tokyo and Kawagoe Jump on the train and head to Kawagoe, an easy 30-minute ride from Ikebukuro Station on the Tobu Tojo line. Reminiscent of an old town from the Edo Period (1603-1867), when Japan was ruled over by the mighty Tokugawa Shogunate, the last feudal Japanese military government (the head of the government was known as the shogun), its main street is lined with kurazukuri, traditional clay-walled warehouse-style buildings. Known affectionately as ‘Little Edo’, visitors alighting Tobu Tojo line can spend the day strolling the compact city centre visiting museums, temples and shrines; don’t leave before seeing the charming Kashiya Yokocho or Penny Candy Lane, which is lined with shops selling rainbow-hued traditional lollies and sweets that make the perfect souvenir to take home. [caption id="attachment_47071" align="alignnone" width="600"] Rooftop details at Sensoji Temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa[/caption] Back in Tokyo, Asakusa is hugely popular with visitors and has the feel of an old town, with its historic buildings, temples and shops, many of which have been run by the same families for over 100 years. Once out of the railway station, you can’t miss the enormous red-painted Kaminari-Mon Gate; walk through it and along bustling Nakamise-dori Street, with its shops selling bright children’s toys and games and traditional sweets and treats. Eventually you’ll reach the imposing Sensoji Temple, originally built in 1649 (it was rebuilt in 1958), where locals stand silent in a fragrant fog of incense smoke to pray in front of the statue of Boddhisattva. [caption id="attachment_47072" align="alignnone" width="600"] Scale models on show at the popular Tobu World Square.[/caption] Tradition and history give way to the new and modern at Tokyo Skytree Town, a shopping and entertainment complex dominated by the 634-metre-high Skytree. There are observation decks at 350 and 450 metres; on a clear day you can see the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji standing proud in the distance, while at night the entire city of Tokyo is illuminated in bright, colourful lights. Once down from the Skytree’s lofty heights, spend some time in Tokyo Solamachi, with its 300 shops and restaurants, an aquarium, planetarium and museum. [caption id="attachment_47073" align="alignnone" width="600"] Tobu Railway’s Taiju steam train.[/caption] Day 2 – Nikko’s history Head out of Tokyo on the Tobu Railway line for the comfortable two-hour train ride north from the heart of Tokyo to Nikko. Sitting at the entrance to Nikko National Park, the city is blessed with stunning mountain scenery and has been a centre for Shinto and Buddhist worship for many centuries. Visitors and locals flock here to see the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Tosho-gu Shrine, Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine. Dating back to the early 1600s, the sprawling shrine complex is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. The shrines and temples of Nikko are reached by another compelling sight, Shinkyo Bridge, ranked as one of the three finest bridges in the country. Built in 1636, visitors can now walk across the bridge after extensive restoration and renovation works. [caption id="attachment_47074" align="alignnone" width="600"] Nikko’s autumnal colours.[/caption] Spend the evening at the Nikko Kanaya Hotel, a seamless blend of western and Japanese traditions and architecture. The city will also boast the luxury hot springs resort Nikko Fufu in late 2019, and the Ritz-Carlton, Nikko in 2020. Day 3 – Nikko’s nature [caption id="attachment_47075" align="alignnone" width="600"] The tranquil beauty of Lake Chuzenji.[/caption] Beyond its sprawling shrine complex, Nikko has much to offer nature lovers. The three sacred peaks of Mt. Nantai, Mt. Nyoho, and Mt. Taro, known collectively as Nikko Sanzan, that dominate the landscape of Nikko National Park have a long tradition of mountain worship; visitors can experience the area’s mystical side by trekking the mountains. Other natural wonders to seek out while visiting Nikko are the tranquil Lake Chuzenji and Kanmangafuchi Abyss, formed by the eruption of Mt. Nantai; you can experience it on a riverside walking trail, part of which is lined with some 70 stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva who looks after the dead. Day 4 – Kinugawa From Nikko’s Shimoimaichi Station you can take the Taiju steam locomotive train to arrive in Kinugawa Onsen, the hugely popular hot spring resort town along the Kinugawa River. First head to Tobu World Square, a theme park made up of over a hundred scale models of some of the world’s most visited attractions, including UNESCO World Cultural and Heritage sites such as the Taj Mahal, the Vatican and the Pyramids at Giza. The scenes are made complete with 140,000 miniature people. [caption id="attachment_47076" align="alignnone" width="600"] Some of the 70 Jizo statues at Kanmangafuchi Abyss.[/caption] Float down the Kinugawa River on a river boat ride complete with stories of the river’s history, and finish the day by checking into one of the traditional ryokans to soak in the hot mineral waters. Tobu Railway’s Nikko Pass includes round trip trains between Tokyo (Asakusa) and Nikko, free buses in Nikko, and 20 per cent off express fares. Also receive discounts at sightseeing facilities, souvenir shops, and restaurants. To find out more visit Tobu Railway or Tobu Japan Trip.
4 reasons we’re falling for Aomori in autumn
The pretty little Japanese prefecture of Aomori still remains somewhat off the tourist trail, making its natural beauty and fascinating history even more captivating to those who discover it, and ultimately fall in love with it. Even for a country bestowed with as many natural assets as Japan, Aomori is a rare beauty. Set on the northernmost tip of Honshu, the prefecture is one of the country’s most bewitching. Embracing the sea like a crown, embellished with emerald forests that transform to rubies and amber come autumn, and with beautifully preserved traditions dating back to the Edo period, it’s astonishing Aomori remains relatively unknown. While tourists flock to Japan’s larger cities and flood her snow-frosted mountains, Aomori sits quietly, tending to her apple orchards, admiring her changing foliage, and enjoying the bounty of the sea at her feet. But those who know her (of which you may now consider yourself one), come year round to revel in her summer festivals, admire her soft blossoms in spring, put ski to powder in winter, and hike her autumn woodlands. [caption id="attachment_46904" align="alignnone" width="600"] Enchanting Autumn leaves[/caption] In fact, autumn in Aomori is particularly enchanting, no matter what your interests. If you’re planning a visit to Japan this season, make sure you find your way to this partially hidden gem to unearth a little more of her persuasive charms. 1. For the love of nature The Japanese are known for their deep appreciation of nature. The meditative, re-energising influence of our terrestrial environment can be experienced by all of us, if we take the time to acknowledge the shudder of leaves in a breeze and the ceaseless rhythm of flowing water. This sentiment is easily understood with a visit to Towada Lake, the largest caldera lake on Honshu, and the calming Oirase Mountain Stream, both of which are part of the Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Stop by Towada Art Centre to see how the lake has shaped the community and inspired many, while the cascading stream will restore peace to anyone who hikes alongside. [caption id="attachment_46905" align="alignnone" width="600"] Take a relaxing stroll around Towada lake[/caption] If Towada has ignited your enthusiasm for nature, make the Shirakami Mountains your next stop. At this UNESCO World Heritage Site you’ll find the largest virgin beech forest in the world. Or take in the magnificent autumn leaves with a stroll around the Hakkoda Mountains and explore the ethereal beauty of the lake system, Lake Juniko, which is surrounded by a blaze of red and orange come autumn. 2. For history and art of the ages Aomori prefecture is bestowed with incredible art galleries, museums, and historical sites. Not to be missed is the Aomori Museum of Art. The sleek, minimal building designed by Japanese architect Jun Aoki proudly houses collections from local Aomori artists, as well as a permanent collection that includes the works of celebrated pop artist Nara Yoshitomo. Nara’s 8.5 metre Aomori-Ken dog statue is an adorable highlight. Another must-see location for art and history lovers alike is Hirosaki Castle. Built during the Edo period in 1611 by Nobuhira, lord of the Tsugaru clan, the castle, complete with moats, yagura towers, and 2600 cherry trees, is widely touted as one of Japan’s most elegant. [caption id="attachment_46907" align="alignnone" width="600"] See the Hirosaki Castle grounds transform during the Autumn Foliage Festival[/caption] 3. For unwinding your mind and body If you’re looking to completely disconnect from your digital life and surrender to simplicity, make your way to Aoni Onsen. As the crisp autumn air takes firm hold in Japan, there are few things more relaxing than enjoying a traditional onsen. Lit only by oil lamps, Aoni Onsen is known as the Lamp-no-yado or the ‘Lamp Inn’. This authentic and remote ryokan is the only place to stay here, so be sure to book ahead. Surrender to the art of idleness, because there’s no internet, TV, or electrical outlets, just four different baths, wholesome home-cooked food, and nature. Bliss! [caption id="attachment_46906" align="alignnone" width="600"] A must-do when in Japan![/caption] 4. For affairs of the stomach Thanks to its position curled around the sea, Aomori benefits from incredibly fresh seafood. You’ll sample the bounty of sea-dwelling delights wherever you dine, but a visit to the lively Auga Market, a fish market in the centre of town, is unmissable for food-lovers. Be sure to try the ichigo-ni, a simple but restorative dashi-broth fish soup featuring abalone and sea urchin. Aomori Prefecture also grows most of Japan’s apples. An Aomori apple is likely to be the juiciest and crunchiest you’ve ever tried with the balance of sweet and tart at near-perfection. You can try the apples in an array of treats, but don’t leave without biting straight into the whole fruit just as nature intended. Getting there: Take the 80-minute flight from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Aomori or you can arrive by train from Tokyo in about 3.5 hours. For more information about Aomori and to plan your trip, visit en-aomori.com; facebook.com/hakkodajapan; facebook.com/aomori.jp.
A guide to Hong Kong’s best neighbourhoods
Hong Kong is one of the most hyper-lit and compelling cities in the world, a landscape of jutting skyscrapers rendered in metal and glass. But at ground level, the spaces between these futuristic obelisks are populated by bustling communities living life on a much more human scale. Setting out on foot is the perfect way to see the metropolis in all its colourful, quirky and aromatic glory. Central and Sheng Wan Hong Kong Island is the beating commercial heart of Hong Kong, but it also possesses a sense of soul that is often missing fr om business districts. One of the reasons for this is its rich colonial history. It was in Old Town Central that the British first planted their flag in 1841; the spot known as Possession Street was once situated on the waterfront but thanks to land reclamation it’s now surrounded by buildings. [caption id="attachment_46686" align="alignleft" width="600"] Old meets new in Tai Kwun[/caption] Any exploration of Hong Kong Island requires a good deal of time spent wandering the streets and alleyways of Central and Sheung Wan, where an eclectic mix of historical sites, restaurants, shops and markets are crammed together in a wondrous harmonious jumble. Hollywood Road The first thing you need to do is arm yourself with an Old Town Central self-guided walks booklet from the Hong Kong Tourism Board and set off along Hollywood Road, the busy main thoroughfare from which you can dart off in different directions depending on your whim. Tai Kwun Heritage and Arts Centre Your first stop should be the newly revitalised Tai Kwun heritage and arts centre. Made up of the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison, the historic buildings now house dedicated museum space detailing the chequered history of the complex; you can wander the old cells and find out things like what the prisoners were fed through interactive exhibits, as well as lofty exhibition spaces and a collection of shops (check out the Taschen store with its shelves stacked with beautiful art tomes), restaurants and bars, including the aptly named Behind Bars, where drinks are served in the old cell blocks. If it is too early to stop for lunch, make a mental note to return later in the day or in the evening to sample Madame Fu’s imaginative dim sum menu. In the old prison exercise yard a resolutely modern building clad in an intricate web of woven metal is an arresting contrast to the historic buildings it sits next to. I find out that it actually houses the infrastructure for the air-conditioning units required to cool the complex to cater to modern tastes; keeping the prisoners comfortable in the past obviously wasn’t a priority. [caption id="attachment_46684" align="alignleft" width="600"] A local temple[/caption] Where to find: 10 Hollywood Rd, Central PMQ Another historic building given a new lease on life is the PMQ, the former Police Married Quarters on Aberdeen Street. [caption id="attachment_46685" align="alignleft" width="600"] Artwork in PMQ[/caption] Built in 1951 on the former site of the first government school in Hong Kong, the mid-century architecture is all clean lines stacked on top of one another and grouped around a central courtyard. The former married quarters that would have housed serving police officers and their families have now been given over to young artists and designers to develop and sell their creations, and well as a number of restaurants, bars and shops. Where to find: 35, Aberdeen St, Central PoHo and SoHo Two of the most interesting neighbourhoods to get lost in are the catchily named PoHo and SoHo. [caption id="attachment_46688" align="alignleft" width="600"] Wandering women in PoHo[/caption] Short for South of Hollywood Road, SoHo comes alive at night with ex-pats and locals heading out to the bars and international restaurants that serve up cuisines as diverse as Lebanese, pub grub, Vietnamese and Italian. During the day the whole scene is quieter, with boutiques and antiques shops to browse. The charmingly boho PoHo is concentrated around a collection of streets lined with funky little shops, galleries and cafes and teahouses. Where to stay Located on Pottinger Street, known as ‘stone slab street’, The Pottinger is a gracious 68-room luxury boutique hotel with generous rooms and the prettiest lobby I have even seen, filled with chinoiserie vases of flowers and foliage. Afternoon tea in the restaurant if a must even if you aren’t a guest. [caption id="attachment_46687" align="alignleft" width="600"] The graceful Pottinger hotel[/caption] Mong Kok and Prince Edward Arriving into Mong Kok at night is possibly the best introduction you can have to this Kowloon neighbourhood, famed for its bustling streets lit with countless flashing neon signs for every imaginable service and establishment, as well as its density of people. This is where the workers who flock to Hong Kong Island on a daily basis return to at the end of the day, so the vibe is a lot more local than across the harbour, although the sheer number of people on the streets can be confronting at times. Exploring here and in neighbouring Prince Edward offers up sights, sounds and tastes that are sure to intrigue and delight. The Bird Market One of my favourite places to visit when I am in Hong Kong is the Bird Market, located on Yuen Po Street. [caption id="attachment_46696" align="alignleft" width="600"] Songbirds hanging out (literally!) at Mong Kok's bird market[/caption] Here myriad traditional bird cages containing tiny, colourful songbirds hang in rows, and a weird and wonderful array of bird food can be purchased including live crickets and grubs. Older gentlemen gather here to socialise and show off their prized pets, which trill away in the sunshine while they chat. The cages on sale at the various stalls are fabulous souvenirs, although they can make for ungainly carry-on luggage on the flight home. Where to find: 37 Flower Market Rd, Mong Kok The Flower Market Another market worth taking a wander through is the flower market that stretches along Flower Market Road in Prince Edward. The footpaths here are festooned with fresh flowers and plants, creating a heady scent in the air. Make sure to take a closer look in the stores that specialise in phalaenopsis orchids if for no other reason than they are absolutely beautiful to see. Where to find: Flower Market Rd, Prince Edward The Goldfish Market Rounding out the trio of fascinating markets in the area is the Goldfish Market along Tung Choi Street North. Each of the shopfronts is covered in bulging plastic bags filled with water and all manner of fish, while inside tropical breeds of every colour and size attract top dollar from collectors. [caption id="attachment_46693" align="alignleft" width="600"] Fish on sale at the goldfish market[/caption] Where to find: 43-49 Bute Street, Bute St, Prince Edward Tung Choi Street One of the best places to see Mong Kok’s characteristic neon lights, which are strung up over the busy streets below in the hope that they will grab the attention of passersby, is Tung Choi Street. hile the lights alone are enough to mesmerise, illuminating the streets below with their glow, the array of services they advertise is also diverting, from beauty products and cameras to restaurants and hotels. Sham Shui Po One of the latest neighbourhoods to start generating a buzz (and get its own handy self-guided walks book) is Sham Shui Po, a working-class area of Kowloon where you can see locals go about their everyday business, shopping for tofu made fresh on Fuk Wing Street or stocking up on dinner provisions at the local wet markets. The whole place has a wonderfully worn aesthetic, but at the same time is packed with personality. Where to shop Shopping in Sham Shui Po is one of the major attractions of the neighbourhood, and it’s easy to find exactly what you want given that many of the streets are named for the goods that are found there – Leather Street (Tai Nan Street), Bead Street (Yu Chau Street), Button Street (Ki Lung Street); you get the idea. One of the most colourful of these shopping streets is Ribbon Street (Nam Cheong Street), where narrow shops display spools of brightly coloured ribbons, rope and cord, as well as all kinds of craft supplies. [caption id="attachment_46702" align="alignleft" width="450"] Toy shops to keep the little ones happy[/caption] The area is also a mecca for budding fashion designers who come here to rummage through the bolts of fabric for sale at the slightly ramshackle Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar, or shop for fashion pieces at wholesale prices along Cheung Sha Wan Fashion Street. [caption id="attachment_46700" align="alignleft" width="450"] A wet market in Sham Shui Po[/caption] Another fun street to promenade along, especially if you have little people you are trying to entertain, is Toy Street (Fuk Wing Street), where some 30 stores overflow with dolls, balls, board games and all manner of Disney characters. The Man Fung Building One of the neighbourhood’s most Instagrammed sights is the Man Fung Building, a skinny block sandwiched between nondescript concrete constructions that got a statement-making makeover during HKwalls’ 2016 festival. Madrid-based street artist Okuda covered the building in colourful geometric shapes, crowned with an animal face (some people think it’s a dog, some think it’s a wolf) that looks out over the streets from a lofty height. Depending on where you view it from (up high is said to be best) the muzzle of the animal seems to be almost 3D, an optical illusion that has resulted in a wave of Instagrammers risking life and limb climbing over security fences on neighbouring buildings to get a better selfie. The practice made the newspapers during my visit. [caption id="attachment_46701" align="alignleft" width="450"] Instagram users risk life and limb to get a photo with Okuda's street art animal[/caption] Where to find: 180 Tai Nan Street, Sham Shui Po Bo Wah Effigies One of the most interesting places to duck into while walking is Bo Wah Effigies, a cramped studio where nimble-fingered artisans fashion paper effigies to be burnt to honour the dead. The intricate creations are miniature works of art, depicting everything from cars to sushi to vintage coffee flasks. Where to find: 2C Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po
Where to eat and drink in Hong Kong
When it comes to food, there are not many places on Earth where the locals take more delight in the act of eating, or where they have so much choice of where to go, than Hong Kong; the pursuit of food is almost a national sport here. From one-star Michelin restaurants where a bowl of noodles costs just $3 to fine dining to rival anything in Europe to funky eateries where the locals indulge their love of flavour and design, it’s all on the table here. To eat: More for less It is ridiculous how many Michelin-starred restaurants Hong Kong has, but the awarding of this culinary accolade need not imply that a meal is going to cost you through the nose. Hong Kong has a raft of local, no-frills restaurants in possession of one Michelin star or a Michelin recommendation (one star adjacent), where the food is wonderfully flavoursome and shockingly inexpensive. Tim Ho Wan You might have heard of this humble chain, who have a number of outlets in Hong Kong serving up some of the best dim sum you are likely to taste. The wait can be long, but it’s worth it for the pork buns alone. [caption id="attachment_46642" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Michelin Star Yum Cha at Tim Ho Wan[/caption] Tsim Chai Kee Expect steaming bowls of noodles and wontons: the broth is delicious, the noodles wonderfully chewy and the wontons plump and plentiful. Where: Wellington Street, Central Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan Fried Buns A standing-only bolthole serving up pan-fried soup dumplings that are crispy on the bottom and filled with pork swimming in aromatic soup. Where: Lyndhurst Terrace, Central Hidden gems Mrs Pound There are restaurants and bars to be found down every alley in Hong Kong, but a true hidden gem is Mrs Pound in the Sheung Wan neighbourhood, a speakeasy hidden behind a lock shop. Inside there’s a street food inspired menu. Where: 6 Pound Ln, Sheung Wan [caption id="attachment_46643" align="alignleft" width="600"] Laksa prawn dumplings at Mrs Pound (Photo: Leigh-Ann Pow)[/caption] Yat Lok A lowkey, unassuming joint that fits in among the many food haunts in Hong Kong Central. Line up for the roast goose – which garnered its reputation for its shatter crisp skin and delicious flavour. [caption id="attachment_46644" align="alignleft" width="600"] Award winning goose at Yat Lok in central (Photo: Leigh-Ann Pow)[/caption] Where: 34-38 Stanley Street, Central Djibouti Remember that “open a restaurant in an alley trend”? Well, Hong Kong invented that. And one of the first was Djibouti. Even now, the restaurant/bar attracts a cool crowd attempting to get their hands on the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Come for the baba ganoush, stay for the lavender-based cocktails. Where: Shop 1, G/F, 2 Landale Street, Wan Chai High end RyuGin It has long been a boasting opportunity for Hong Kong travellers to say they have enjoyed a meal at RyuGin. Located on the 101st floor of the ICC, Hong Kong’s tallest building, the modern Japanese restaurant offers lucky diners panoramic views of West Kowloon’s harbor and Hong Kong’s skylines. As for the food, Michelin star chef Seiji Yamamoto flies ingredients from Japan on the daily, with the ten-course Kaiseki meal earning the restaurant two Michelin stars. Where: West Kowloon, Hong Kong L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon If it's French fare in small portions you're after, you'll feel right at home at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Located within The Landmark (HK's luxury shopping center), the restaurant is owned by legendary chef Joël Robuchon, who holds the most Michelin stars in the world. Where: Shop 401, 15 Queen's Road Central, Central To drink: No matter what you choose to drink, there’s guaranteed to be an outlet close by dedicated to serving it up in style. Cupping Room Coffee culture is thriving in Hong Kong, where the locals like their brews served strong. Cupping Room has four cafes serving up its own beans roasted in Hong Kong. Filters Lane At Filters Lane in Central the young staff busy themselves creating the perfect cup of brewed coffee from the beans they have roasted in the New Territories or imported blends. Even the decaf is thick, dark and robust. Where: 111 Caine Rd, Mid-level, Hong Kong Craftissimo If your taste runs more to beer, you are going to want to visit Craftissimo in Sheung Wan, a dedicated craft brews bottleshop, or search out Craft Brew & Co. that has craft beers on tap. [caption id="attachment_46645" align="alignleft" width="600"] Craftissimo for dedicated craft brews (Photo: Leigh-Ann Pow)[/caption] Where: Tai Ping Building, Shop D, G/F, Sheung Wan, 22-24A Tai Ping Shan St, Sheung Wan
The ultimate first-timers guide to India
If ever there were a destination that was larger than life, and more vibrant than the postcards can even do it justice, it would be India. Millennia of tribal history, no less than 22 languages and countless cultures combine to make it a fabulously complex (perhaps rather trippy) place to get your head around – which, of course, is why we love it so Once you’ve enveloped yourself in this ever-moving nation of 1.2 billion people and its inextricable melange of cultures, you’ll never quite be the same again. So where to start this life-changing trip of yours? [caption id="attachment_46128" align="alignnone" width="600"] Sunsets over temples[/caption] How to get there Air India flies direct from Australian capitals, with many international carriers flying between the two countries via an Asian stopover. Indian airports are fantastic in themselves, with Delhi claiming the spot as the sixth busiest airport in the world, while Mumbai manages a record of 969 take-offs and landings in a single day. Meanwhile, Cochin airport is the first in the world to run entirely on solar energy – reason enough to hop down to the beautiful coconut palm-filled state of Kerala. [caption id="attachment_46129" align="alignnone" width="600"] India's magnificent views[/caption] How to get around With no less than 26 airlines servicing domestic routes within India, it’s very easy to whiz directly to where you need to go just about anywhere on the massive subcontinent. If you stick to the air, though, you’ll miss out on some glorious other ways to travel. The Indian railway system is nothing short of incredible, its 12,000 trains carrying 23 million passengers every day through an ornate spider’s web of tracks across the country. Eight classes of travel mean you can find exactly the experience you’ve dreamed of, from the four-bunk sociability of second-class air-conditioned overnights through to the most rarefied of luxury onboard such treasures as the Palace on Wheels or the Golden Chariot. If you long for a chariot on only two wheels, touring India atop an iconic Royal Enfield motorbike is the quintessential way to see, feel and love this country. If you prefer four wheels, touring with a private car complete with your own driver/guide can be less expensive than you think here. Where to stay Heritage digs: It doesn’t get much more delicious than staying a while in a haveli mansion, a medieval fort or even a real palace, replete with bejewelled walls and soaring dining rooms, and India offers this kind of experience everywhere. In Rajasthan, the colourful and popular desert state, there seems to be almost a palace in every town; the family-run Deogarh and super-luxe Samode are both worth every penny when you stop for a night (or three), while the Jagat Niwas Palace gazes directly over Udaipur’s famous lake (and Lake Palace). Cosmopolitan chic: Modern architecture in India’s capitals is even more awe inspiring when you get to stay within it. Every perfect curve and pillar is yours to enjoy at the thoroughly beautiful Roseate in Delhi, or get spoiled in the classically plush Leela Palace hotels, spanning from Chennai to Bengaluru, Udaipur and of course, Delhi. Eco luxe: Stay in a luxury tree house on a tiger reserve at Lemon Tree Wildlife Resort Bandhavgarh or in a beachside eco-village of bungalows at The Dune in Puducherry; out in the Andaman Islands, quench your thirst on fresh rain- and springwater in an elegant thatch tent amidst the rainforest at Barefoot at Havelock Resort. Some must-sees The Taj Mahal is beyond a must-see – it’s a part of India’s very soul. Getting out of bed before sunrise will all be worth it if you witness this shining marble edifice at its best, at dawn. The holy city of Varanasi has sat augustly upon the river Ganges for over 5000 years, and the sacred waterway continues to be the centre of life here. From births to deaths, blessings to prayers, the ghats are alive with humanity and their rites 24 hours a day, and must be seen to be believed. Sikkim is far beyond the beaten path, high in the Himalayas and barely attached to the rest of the country, but its unique culture and breathtaking vistas put it high on any list. Take a yak safari, go paragliding through the world’s most famed mountain range, or just meditate in a breezy, open-air monastery. Amer Fort exemplifies the vast Rajasthani forts that have marked the desert through this state’s millennia of royal history. Once you have marvelled at its length and breadth, some of the region’s best dining can be had in the rooftop restaurant, and the son et lumiere evening performance is the perfect finish. Some must-dos The Pushkar camel fair brings countless tribespeople, herdsmen and pilgrims to do business, dance, sing, compete, pray, socialise and trade their 30,000-odd camels. Watch circus performers, sit and sip chai with other visitors and attempt to chat amongst the dozens of languages and dialects filling the air, and bargain in the crowded markets. Travelling by boat – especially houseboat – through the silent canals and waterways of tropical Kerala is an essential experience for anyone needing a deep breath, and especially a deep dive into the everyday life of the people here. You’ll witness the flow of village life from a unique angle as you drift by. An epic journey by rail is an unforgettable experience. The longest train journey in India, the Vivek Express, covers an incredible 4,273 kilometres; if you’re not quite up for that 85-hour epic, the Grand Truck Express covers more than 2,000 kilometres cross-country, from New Delhi to Chennai. Australians can now apply for an e-Visa for India, meaning you’ll no longer have to hand over your passport at an embassy, if you are eligible. To apply, head to indianvisaonline.gov.in (and beware of third party websites).
The essential guide to Goa: the fascinating seaside state of India
Where the Indian subcontinent meets the warm Arabian Sea, nestled subtly between the relative behemoth states of Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the south and east, you’ll find India’s gorgeously laid-back, sometimes a little cheeky, and utterly fascinating smallest state: Goa. It is a meeting place in so many more ways than mere geography. It is where the western ways and architecture of the Portuguese and British have fused with everyday Indian life; where history and ancient culture is melded with modern traditions such as meeting for sundowners on the sand; where generations-old recipes are transformed into on-trend eats and world-famous dishes; and where its famed coastline of beach upon beach forms a golden thread, tying it all together. [caption id="attachment_46121" align="alignnone" width="600"] How many perfect sunsets can you get?[/caption] History The irresistible scent of spices (and subsequent riches) lured the Portuguese across the seas around 1500AD, leading to an astonishing 450-odd years of colonisation under Portuguese rule, interrupted only by brief British occupation from 1799 to 1813, and only finally ended in 1961. During the height of Portuguese influence, Goa would have more closely resembled Lisbon, or perhaps Brazil or Macau, than it would its Indian sisters Mumbai or Delhi. [caption id="attachment_46122" align="alignnone" width="600"] Oozing with history[/caption] Now that Goa is safe back in the arms of Mother India, its European personality has blended quite uniquely with the countless other influences that have been thrown into this fabulous cultural crossroads. In any day, you might tour the 15th-century Basilica of Bom Jesus (housing the remains of St Francis Xavier, no less), munch on the local bhali-pau (bread roll and curry), shop a hippie market in Anjuna and then dance the night away in what is rated the sixth-best nightlife capital of the world. Don’t miss a heritage walk of the charming Latin Quarter of Fontainhas, and a visit to the state’s oldest fort at remarkable Reis Magos. Beach Every kilometre of Goan coastline meets the sea in spectacular fashion, with almost entirely uninterrupted beach in many sections. This article may tell you about Goa three ways, but the truth is, Goa interprets beach life about a thousand ways: whether you’re looking for a weathered hammock under a palm tree or perfectly swept sands fronting five stars of resort luxury, you’ll find it in (beach) spades. Spiritual seekers come for the sunrise yoga and meditation retreats; Insta-influencers adore the perfection of the beachside bungalows of Turtle Hill, or Brangelina’s favourite flop at Elsewhere in Mandrem; history buffs fall in love with the wonderfully preserved treasures of Ponda and Old Goa, the inspiring temples and mosques such as Mangeshi Temple and 450-year-old Shri Mangesh, Bollywood-famous Chapora Fort and the must-see Fort Aguada, and stay in the opulently converted fort at Fort Tiracol. But then everyone seems to end up, sooner or later, on the beaches themselves. The ‘queen of beaches’, Calangute Beach, is an endless parade of watersports, shopping, eateries, and unbeatable people-watching. Baga Beach is similarly non-stop, while Anjuna Beach adds a hippie vibe and some particularly sensational market shopping. For the perfect quiet, tucked-away oasis of your dreams, try Ashwem or Arossim beaches – the latter has a couple of beach shacks with cold beer, great seafood and killer views as you watch the sun sink into the waves. [caption id="attachment_46123" align="alignnone" width="600"] Go on, dip your toes in![/caption] Food Forget everything you think you know about Indian food and fall in love all over again with the gastronomic marvels of Goa. It was spices that made Goa the mixing pot it is today, and it’s spices that manage to bring together Indian ingredients with Portuguese traditions, Catholic cuisines with Hindi necessities, and make it all sing. Fish and seafood are everywhere, befitting this coastal location and also pleasing both Hindi and Catholic sensibilities. However, the Portuguese wine that has flavoured their own cuisine for centuries has morphed into more sensible options here in India, with fermented coconut toddy (vinegar), Portuguese acrid lime, peppercorns and the southern Indian staple, tamarind, all adding a very particular tartness and depth of flavour in its place. You’ll also find a range of local sausage specialties, and a delicious obsession with cashews and cashew paste flavouring local dishes from corner holes-in-the-wall through to five-star kitchens. [caption id="attachment_46124" align="alignnone" width="600"] Never have a bad meal again[/caption] For top-shelf, occasion dining, the global-but-exotic menu at Go With the Flow in Baga is always a solid recommend, or pour on the Portuguese charm at The Verandah, Alfama or Nostalgia. On the other hand, put at least a mealtime or more aside to experience the famous Goan fish thali served at most beach shacks up and down the coastline. Follow the crowds to the best ones – they always know. Australians can now apply for an e-Visa for India, meaning you’ll no longer have to hand over your passport at an embassy, if you are eligible. To apply, head to indianvisaonline.gov.in (and beware of third party websites).
7+ unusual foods you should try in Japan
A brief guide to all of the weird and wonderful dishes you can try during a visit to Japan. Japan is undoubtedly a country that has a plethora of delicious foods to suit any taste. Each prefecture boasts its own variety of rich local ramen and curry. Nationally, yakitori bars waft heady cedar-filled smoke down laneways and you can find the freshest sushi and sashimi everywhere, even on top of a mountain. Japan is also infamous for its unusual food options. Foods that make a lot of westerners cringe or downright feel ill at the thought of. Since variety is the spice of life, here are some of the ‘weirder’ foods you can tickle your taste buds with while travelling Japan. Disclaimer: To reduce food-related health risks we recommend seeking out trusted restaurants and establishments that are serviced by qualified professionals. Avoid eating street food that has been sitting unattended or from a vendor with little trade. Ordering raw meat from restaurants that do not specialise in the cuisine is not recommended. 1. Torisashi (chicken sashimi) [caption id="attachment_45986" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Have you been served raw chicken in Japan? That would be Torisashi (chicken sashimi).[/caption] A dish that is guaranteed to evoke shock and horror from friends and family at home is chicken sashimi. With cries of “what about salmonella?” ringing in your ears, it can be a confronting first bite. Fresh chicken sashimi shouldn’t have an odour or strong taste about it at all. Where and when can I get it? A traditional dish of the Kagoshima prefecture, torisashi can be found in almost any izakaya in the region. However, it is gaining popularity in cities such as Osaka and Tokyo and can also be easily found in the Kyushu and Okayama regions. No matter where you get it due to the preparation required in serving non-fish sashimi (i.e. getting it fresh), it’s worthwhile to track down a restaurant that specialises in it rather than leaving it to chance. Pro tip It’s not just chicken breast that is available to eat raw. A restaurant with a chicken sashimi menu will also likely serve the organs as such. If you’re game. 2. Natto The easiest to find, and possibly the most divisive ‘unusual food’. Natto is a stringy, sticky and slimy fermented soybean dish that is most commonly eaten for breakfast. The odour is pungent (think stinky socks) and the flavour lands somewhere between off cottage cheese and salty rotten beans. [caption id="attachment_45972" align="alignleft" width="5184"] Natto is usually eaten for breakfast in Japan.[/caption] Where and when can I get it? Natto can be found year-round in most convenience stores (often in a hand roll or tub), in buffet breakfasts and many cafes all over Japan. Pro tip Natto on rice for breakfast, with a dash of soy, mustard and pickles, is a popular way to eat it. 3. Yakitori entrails [caption id="attachment_45989" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Swap your standard chicken breast skewer for a Yakitori intestine or liver.[/caption] The Japanese rarely waste any part of the animal and readily consume flavourful cuts of offal over the fillets that western cultures prefer. Yakitori liver, tongue, hearts, knee joints and intestine are offered alongside belly and breast and are grilled to perfection. Where and when can I get it? Yakitori bars are popular nationwide. It’s worthwhile trying them everywhere as variety and cuts differ from location and season. Pro tip Horumon (horumonyaki) made exclusively from beef or pork offal is available in dedicated restaurants and is considered good for stamina and energy in the bedroom. Wink wink. 4. Fugu (pufferfish) Fugu is a delicacy, and only available during the winter months. It is eaten for its delightfully unusual taste, high level of collagen and is considered great for anti-ageing. So long as the poisonous parts (mainly organs) aren’t consumed as they contain the deadly toxin ‘tetrodotoxin’, to which there is no known antidote. [caption id="attachment_47361" align="alignleft" width="600"] Wakasa blowfish or fugu thin fillet[/caption] Since 1958 chefs have been required to undergo a rigorous apprenticeship to obtain a license to prepare and sell fugu to the public. These days, cases of Fugu poisoning are rare (but not unheard of) with most occurring through amateur preparation. Where and when can I get it? Winter (end of December to March). Fugu is widely available however there are many restaurants in Kyoto that specialise in the dish. Pro tip There are many strange fishes available only in the winter months in Japan. Try to track down ‘Anko’ also known as Anglerfish in Tokyo and the seaside prefectures, it’s the deep sea fish with the light on its head to attract prey. 5. Batta or inago (grasshopper) The fact that grasshoppers symbolise good luck doesn’t stop them being fried and eaten. Considered pests that eat rice crops, they are a popular cooked in soy and eaten as an afternoon snack, where the crunchy texture pairs beautifully with an iced tea or beer. Where and when can I get it? The Nagano prefecture is considered mecca for finding edible insects however, rice grasshoppers are available widely at bars and restaurants. Pro tip Other popular insects to try are zazamushi (stonefly larvae), hachinoko (bee larvae) and inago no tsukudani (boiled locusts), mainly in Nagano. 6. Basashi (raw horse meat) High in vitamins and low in fat content, raw horse meat is usually served cold along with soy sauce, garlic, and wasabi or nigiri sushi style. It is considered a health food and has been eaten for more than 400 years. Where and when can I get it? Horsemeat is available both raw and cooked in barbecue, wagyu and sushi restaurants across the country – I stumbled across horse meat nigiri in a Tokyo sushi train. However, the regions of Nagano, Oita and Kumamoto are famed for their ‘basashi’ (raw sushi style); Kumamoto boasting a ‘cherry blossom’ basashi, named for its intense red colouring and flavour. Pro tip Such lean meat requires fine preparation so as not to become tough or chewy. Paper thin slices of sashimi delicately fall apart on the tongue and are the recommended dish to order. 7. Mystery Snacks [caption id="attachment_46010" align="alignnone" width="600"] Pick up a hot soup or coffee in the many vending machines around Japan.[/caption] With a store on almost every corner, it’s worth exploring the aisles or perusing vending machines for snacks to test your bravery. Along with chips, ice-creams and soft drinks you can find dried crabs, wasabi cheese and a lucky dip of mystery meats. It’s hard to walk past the array of hot soups and energy coffees in vending machines without getting curious as to the (often surprising) taste. Where and when can I get it? Vending machines and convenience stores are everywhere. Even on the ski fields. You’re never far from a snack adventure. Pro tip Don’t try to translate what’s on the packet. It’s far more fun to sip it and see if you can work out what you’re eating by taste! It would be an extremely long list indeed to include all of the weird and wonderful foods available across Japan. These are a great starting point for extending your bravery and palate into the unusual. If you're planning a trip to Japan make sure you check out our Japan travel guide, so you can read up on the very best the country has to offer!
Japan’s gorgeous hidden gem Ōita
Let the sights of Tokyo be your starting off point on a journey to discover the hidden gem of Ōita. Getting from A to B in Japan is ridiculously easy – there are trains and planes dashing this way and that constantly, linking compelling cities, regions and islands that each possess traditions and culture that beg to be experienced. Ōita is one such place, an undiscovered gem nestled on the island of Kyushu. To get the best of both worlds, stay a few days in the Japanese capital of Tokyo, searching out interesting neighbourhoods and unique experiences, before jumping on a plane for the approximately 90-minute flight into Ōita Airport (ANA and JAL both have regular flights). Here, the perfect itinerary for four days of discovery. Day 1: Tokyo Start your exploration of Tokyo by strolling the pavements of Kappabashi Dougu Street (located between Asakusa and Ueno, both accessible by train), also known as Kitchen Street. As the name implies this roughly 800-metre long thoroughfare is lined with around 170 stores selling all manner of kitchen utensils, gadgets and gizmos, as well as shops offering up sweets, treats and essential ingredients. After wandering past everything from woks to coffee pots to chopsticks, pick up a souvenir from one of the jam-packed ceramics shops that are stacked with bowls and cups finished in lovely traditional colours including blue and white, greens and browns. If you walk to Chomeiji Temple you can taste sweet and sticky sakura mochi – pretty pink concoctions wrapped in salted cherry tree leaves and filled with bean paste (30 minutes from Kappabashi Dougu street). Tokyo- (Kanto) style mochi is smooth and round while the Kyoto (Kansai) variety has a grainier texture; both are delicious. After a morning of walking it is time for a lunch of fresh sushi. To really appreciate the effort and craft that goes into making this national favourite, head to Hassan in Roppongi (just a few minutes’ walk from the station) for a hands-on sushi-making experience: don a traditional happi coat (a traditional short robe), learn the history of sushi, get a live demonstration of how fish is prepared before making your own rolled sushi and nigiri sushi, which you can then enjoy with a beef hot pot (you’ll also take home a sushi experience certificate). Finish off the day at Ameyoko, a bustling shopping street once famous for selling candy but that now also has clothes, shoes and food shops for trying popular snacks among the locals. The narrow alley has an impressive history but is also a reflection of modern Tokyo life, where throngs of locals come to eat great food and have fun. [caption id="attachment_45511" align="alignnone" width="600"] The bustling shopping street of Ameyoko[/caption] Day 2: Ōita, Kyushu Island First thing this morning you will need to head to Haneda Airport (it’s an easy train ride straight into the airport) for your short flight south to Ōita, on the island of Kyushu. Jump in a Limousine Bus for the roughly 30-minute journey to Kitsuki from Ōita Airport, a town possessing the authentic feel of the Edo Period (it is recognised as a ‘historic cityscape with kimono’). Dominated by Kitsuki Castle, there’s a collection of historic samurai residences dotted on the hills to the north and south of it and a merchant’s town sitting in between. You can dress up in a kimono while you’re here (they can be hired for around 3000 yen), which gains you free admission to local sights, discounted meals and little gifts at local shops. Having soaked up the history of Kitsuki, it’s time to continue your journey to Usa Jingū, the sacred main sanctum of more than 40,000 Hachiman shrines that are dotted throughout Japan. The main hall here has been designated a National Treasure and its colour and history make for a fascinating visit. The Usa area of Kunisaki peninsula, including Usa Jingū, is the birthplace of ‘Rokugo Manzan’, the cultural fusion of Shinto and Buddhism. You’ll find spectacular temples in the area and this year marks the 1300th anniversary of the founding of Usa Jingū. Check into an onsen hotel in Beppu, where you’ll find seven out of 10 types of Medical Treatment Hot Springs and a modern take on a traditional Japanese aesthetic. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a bath in the onsen to soothe your mind and body after a busy day exploring. Day 3: Usuki Stone Buddhas Today, head to the Usuki Stone Buddhas (approx. 80 minutes by JR and bus), a group of stone Buddhas created from the late Heian (794-1185) period to the Kamakura period (1185-1333), of which 61 are designated National Treasures. Wander the different collections of Buddhas – they are divided into four groups – appreciating the scale, quantity and incredible quality of the statues, as well as the peaceful beauty of the surroundings. We recommend an izakaya (pub) for a dinner of fresh seafood, and an extensive selection of sake to choose from. Back at your hotel in Beppu, make the time for another bath in the onsen. Day 4: Beppu jigoku meguri (or the hell tour) The seismic activity that has been warming your onsen water for the last few nights also produces a totally unique tour that you should take before leaving Ōita: Beppu jigoku meguri or the hell tour. There are seven hells in all where fumaroles and boiling hot water erupt from the ground; the evocative Umi Jigoku (sea hell), Chinoike Jigoku (blood pond hell), Tatsumaki-Jigoku (tornado hell) and Shiraike Jigoku (white pond hell) are among them, all of which have been designated as National Scenic Spots for their fantastical colours and formations. Next it is time to take buses back to Ōita Airport for the flight back to Tokyo. Do some last-minute shopping here for specialty souvenirs and food from across Ōita and Kyushu to remember your experiences of this quintessential Japanese gem. For more details, visit kyushuandtokyo.org
The best places to eat and drink in Japan
The sheer depth and intricacy of Japanese cuisine, from regional classics like Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki comfort food to Michelin-starred chefs’ takes on tempura, can make navigating the dining landscape here as bewildering as perusing the menu at a Tokyo sushi bar. Japan: a feast for all the senses. Here, your handy guide to the best of Japan’s unique food and drink. Eating your way around Japan is the ultimate feast for all the senses. Whether you’re plucking a perfectly sliced, translucent pink piece of sashimi off a delicate ceramic dish, marvelling at dizzying rows of delicately colourful sweet treats, or merrily clinking cold beers over a steaming bowl of ramen in a lively izakaya, one thing quickly becomes apparent: when it comes to food, like all things, the Japanese do not do things by halves. From an emphasis on fresh local produce, to samurai-worthy knife skills, to creating a painstakingly perfect ambience, no stone is left unturned in the quest to create magical food memories for the lucky diner. Why not make it you? Cult favourites Sushi-Bar Numazuko Ginza 1st Japanese cuisine has spread to foodies all over the globe, but arguably, there’s no better place to seek out your cult favourites than in their homeland: and Tokyo’s the perfect place to start. At Sushi-Bar Numazuko Ginza 1st, in the upmarket Ginza shopping area, you’ll find a winning trifecta of Japanese icons: sushi, conveyor belts, and sake. Showcasing fresh seasonal seafood (try the sea urchin, piled up in the shape of another icon: Mt Fuji), this fun and reasonably priced little gem is a great mid-shop stop. Address: 1-8-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo Kirarito Ginza 8F Tempura Motoyoshi For an unforgettable dinner, tempura fans should make a beeline for Michelin-starred Tempura Motoyoshi, where fresh vegetables, seafood and other ingredients are treated to the wizardry of master chef Kazuhiro Motoyoshi in an elegant, intimate setting. Forget pale (or soggy) imitations – this is the real deal: impossibly light and crispy, the tempura perfectly showcases the stunning natural flavours of the produce. Address: B1F Central Aoyama No.6, 3-2-4 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo Drink it all in Sudo Honke Japan’s two most famed beverages offer visitors a chance to imbibe a sense of the culture behind them, as well as the drinks themselves. At Sudo Honke, a family brewery in Obara, Ibaraki (north-east of Tokyo), the region’s pristine waters have been used for over 800 years to create exceptional sake. Take a tour of the brewery, surrounded by ancient trees, soaking up age-old traditions as you sample some of the finest sake in Japan. Address: 2125, Obara, Kasama-shi, Ibaraki-ken 309-1701 Japan Higashiya Ginza Back in Tokyo, the sophistication of the Ginza shopping district carries through to Higashiya Ginza’s charming blend of ancient tradition and modern sensibility. This beautifully designed confectionary shop and tea salon offers over 30 varieties of green tea and a selection of wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets), all aimed at celebrating seasonal influences. Address: Paula Ginza Building 2F, 1-7-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061 Fun feasts Okonomiyaki Nagataya Yes, there are plenty of serene settings in which to appreciate the subtle beauty of Japanese cuisine. But families (and general fun-loving foodies) might also be surprised by the number of lively dining experiences dished up all around the country. In Hiroshima, head for Okonomiyaki Nagataya, where national comfort food okonomiyaki (a savoury, thick pancake packed with vegetables, seafood or meat, topped with inimitable Japanese mayonnaise and tangy sauce) is made in the unique local style. Choose your favourite fillings, and your personal creation will be cooked to order on the tabletop frying surface. Address: Shigeishi bldg 1F, 1-7-19, Otemachi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima Fire Ramen Menbakaichidai In Kyoto, Fire Ramen Menbakaichidai delivers on its name, dishing up moreish soy-flavoured, spring onion-laden ramen noodles on an impressive pillar of fire, thanks to the chef’s technique of pouring burning oil over the dish to draw out extra flavour. It’s the perfect pit stop after a day exploring Kyoto’s nearby Nijo Castle. Address: 757-2, Minamiiseyacho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-8153, Japan Manpuku Shokudo Back in Tokyo, search for the retro-style izakaya (Japanese-style pub) Manpuku Shokudo, nestled under train tracks and clad in old film posters – a bustling setting for eating, drinking and being merry amongst locals letting off steam after work. Address: 1F Yamafuji Building, 6-15-12 Nishikasai, Edogawaku, Tokyo French fine dining Joel Robuchon Restaurant French and Japanese cuisine may (literally) be worlds apart, but they share a reverence for subtle sophistication, and the elevation of excellent produce by highly skilled master chefs. Joel Robuchon Restaurant, located in a ‘chateau’ in Ebisu, Tokyo, boasts no fewer than three Michelin stars; its ethos of ‘cuisine actuelle’ focuses on letting the ingredients shine through, with sublime service, plush decor and all the requisite top-notch trappings. Address: Yebisu Garden Place, 1-13-1, Mita, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0062 Michel Bras Toya Japon Further north, French fine dining restaurant Michel Bras Toya Japon will take your breath away with its gorgeously plated odes to Mother Nature, all served up in a stunning elevated setting overlooking the mountainous blue expanse of Hokkaido’s Lake Toya – a truly unforgettable experience. Address: The Windsor Hotel Toya Resort & Spa, 336 Shimizu, Toyako, Abuta District, Hokkaido 049-5613, Japan To explore more of Japan’s delicious bounty, visit ‘Enjoy my Japan’, where you’ll find videos and stories showcasing Japan’s deep traditions, its kaleidoscope of cuisines, the excitement and energy of its cities, a surprising depth of nature and breadth of outdoor adventures, a heritage of fine art, and beautiful destinations for simple relaxation. www.enjoymyjapan.jp
Everything you need to know about Yala National Park
Prior to its inauguration as a national park in 1938, Sri Lanka’s Yala wilderness was a shooting gallery for the ruling British elite, who sought trophies of its plentiful leopards and elephants. Sitting in the south of the tear-drop-shaped island and abutting the Indian Ocean, today Yala’s wildlife is shot by thousands of photographers a year instead; it’s by far the country’s most popular national park, and for good reason: it’s the best place on the planet to spot leopards, with the highest concentration of the cat in the world. But there’s so much more to the 1268 square kilometres of protected space, including important archaeological sites and temples, families of Asian elephants, an endless stream of birdlife and simply a vast and varied landscape of forests, scrub and dramatic mesas rising from the jungle. [caption id="attachment_45184" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Yala combines a strict nature reserve with a national park[/caption] So if you’re holidaying on one of the country’s golden beaches – tear yourself away for a couple of days and witness the best of Sri Lanka’s rich and varied natural wonders. Yala is divided into five blocks plus a Strict Nature Reserve to maintain a pristine area in the face of tourism and other activity. Blocks 1 and 5 are set aside for the public to visit, with Block 1 by far the busiest (see below). Blocks 2, 3 and 4 are more rugged and remote and far less visited requiring permits to enter. Must-see sights Don’t make the mistake of simply going on a safari to spot the park’s big animals, there’s so much more to Yala if you have a few days to explore, from ancient temples to its vast beach lining the Indian Ocean. [caption id="attachment_45185" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Pre-book your safari with a trusted source., this can save you whole lot of time and trouble[/caption] Kumbuk River The park is bordered in the north by the Kumbuk River, and you can stay at KumbukRiver Eco-Extraordinaire lodge situated on its banks to see an entirely different corner of Yala, the lowland forest giving way to dense jungle. There are a range of accommodation options available, some with views of the roaring Kumbuk a stone’s throw away. Plus try river rafting, guided bird-watching and walks into the wilds of Yala’s buffer zone. Beach time Turn your time in Yala National Park into an unashamed beach holiday. A long stretch of golden sand marks its border with the Indian Ocean and there are ample beach huts, and beachside villas to choose from to use as your base for your expeditions into the park. The luxury Wild Coast Tented Lodge would be a good choice, its arched fabric structures set among the dunes and designed to channel the shape of a leopard’s paw. Elephant Rock At times in Yala National Park you could be on the set of a King Kong film, dense forest stretching off into the horizon only to be abruptly stopped by an enormous lone-standing mountain. [caption id="attachment_45187" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Driving off into the sunset[/caption] Elephant Rock (pictured main) is the most photogenic of these, the huge mesas looking like an old bull elephant marching across a plain. Sithulpawwa Buddhism has been prevalent in Sri Lanka since the third century BC and Yala happens to have a great example of an early cave temple (pictured above) dating back to the second century BC; rare paintings on the temple walls from this time still remain. Sithulpawwa’s caves sit below a white stupa and once housed thousands of arhats – monks thought to have achieved enlightenment. A conservation effort Tourism can be a strong force for good, bringing money to the local economy which helps monetise a natural asset, an incentive to keep it in tip-top shape so people will want to come in the first place. But too many visitors can adversely affect the environment. Since the country’s civil war came to an end in 2009, tourists have flocked back to Sri Lanka and Yala: 43,368 visited the park in 2008 compared to 658,277 in 2016. It’s meant a problematic number of safari jeeps entering the park, something the Sri Lankan government is looking to address, and should have remedied earlier if it hadn’t become such a political football. [caption id="attachment_45186" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Elephants roam their natural habitat[/caption] However, an action plan has been drawn up to be implemented before 2020. Its various measures include improving safari-jeep-driver discipline; reducing the numbers of tourists concentrated in the busy Block 1 of the park (see map) by opening up other blocks; and zoning Block 1 itself to disperse jeeps throughout in an orderly fashion. Animal Spotting Yala is a haven for big mammals, a rare sight in Asia outside of national parks big enough to accommodate them. Thankfully this is one of them. Sri Lankan flying snake With yellow and black bands, and red spots, you’ll be lucky to catch this striking snake gliding between trees. It expands its ribs to flatten its body to soar across the canopy looking for small lizards to dine on; the stuff of nightmares for some, for others a rare photo opportunity. Sloth bear The Sri Lankan sloth bear is a dishevelled-looking shaggy character sporting a yellow crest on its chest, a lot like the sun bears found on the continent. Strong climbers, they dine on insects and fruit, and they’re very shy, emerging at dusk. Yala represents one of the best places to spot them. Leopard The star of the show, it’s said there are around 30 leopards roaming around the most popular section of the park, meaning you have an increased chance of laying eyes on this reclusive big cat. [caption id="attachment_45189" align="alignleft" width="1000"] Including Sri Lankan leopards, 44 species of mammals are resident in Yala National Park[/caption] The leopards are actually a subspecies endemic to Sri Lanka, so you’ll be ticking off an extremely rare animal indeed. Asian elephant It’s a life-affirming experience to see families of Sri Lankan elephants, a subspecies of Asian elephant, roaming the expanse of Yala, with over 300 calling the park home. Sri Lanka is thought to have the world’s highest density of Asian elephants, which are under massive pressure from habitat loss in other parts of Asia.
The insiders guide to Indochina
A lot can happen in 25 years, especially in an incredible place like the Indochina region, yet this is the amount of time Insider Journeys has pioneered travel here. They continue to give travellers the opportunity to experience some of the world’s yet-to-be explored and less-understood places, helping travellers to both create and immerse themselves in unique experiences and help build memories that are fit to last a lifetime. You may be itching to experience the energy of a vibrant city like Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), explore the ancient temples of Cambodia, cruise the Mekong Delta, relax on a tropical beach or do all the above; if so, Insider Journeys’ selection of Small Group Journeys, private tours, short stays and river cruises can give you genuine insights into these fascinating and immensely diverse destinations. Get Authentic From majestic monuments to the hidden charms of city backstreets, you can taste authentic cuisine, reach remote villages and enjoy meaningful and genuine interactions with local people in amazing destinations such as Sri Lanka, Japan, India Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and China. When you join an Insider Journeys Small Group Journey, you discover not only the ‘must-see’ sights and hidden treasures of Asia, but also the ideal way to explore these destinations. These itineraries give you the chance to relax and enjoy your journey, led by expert guides who take care of everything while still allowing you to retain a sense of spontaneity, flexibility and a ready sense of independence. Private Eyes If travelling in a small group isn’t your style, then the range of ‘Ready to Book’ Private Journeys designed by Insider Journeys’ team of passionate Asia experts could be what you’ve been looking for. Every itinerary includes the must-see highlights and genuine experiences of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. From the moment your trip begins, a Private Journey provides a seamless travel experience and all transport is included in your journey, be it by air, land or sea. All experiences are designed with you in mind, and if you can’t find what you need, the team can even tailor-make an itinerary especially for you. The Details Insider Journeys 2019-2020 Small Group and Private Journeys brochures are available now. Call 1300 365 355, visit insiderjourneys.com.au or contact your travel agent.
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