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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 insider’s 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.
How to see a side of Japan that tourists are yet to discover
Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima – the Japanese golden route. It’s a trail many have completed, and one many aim to complete during their lifetime. And while there is definitely room for exploring Japan’s epicentre (a 450 per cent increase over the past five years doesn’t lie), a recent journey through the country’s more authentic side highlights just how much more there is to discover. Despite the staggering rise in foreign tourists, relatively little has been done so far to make travellers aware of alternative destinations, with a continued fixation on commercialised travel spots. Tokyo-based startup tour operator Heartland JAPAN is leading the way in the exploration of sustainable travel destinations, positioning itself as the oh-so-necessary provider for inbound visitors wishing to journey off the beaten track. Not only will opening up these regions reignite local economies, but it will also assist in reversing the effects of depopulation and urbanisation, with the hopeful result of revitalising these communities. If you’re like me, and you get your travel kicks from discovering vast and varied natural, historical and cultural alternatives that aren’t plagued with tourists, there are two Heartland JAPAN tours you need to discover ASAP. Allow me to take you through them. TOUR 1: Mt Aso, Kumamoto At the heart of Japan’s most southwesterly island of Kyushu sits the Kumamoto Prefecture. If you haven’t heard of it, fear not, neither had I. And the Japanese are quick to forgive you, eager to open their arms wide for foreigners keen to discover just how incredible their little untouched pocket of the world is. Kumamoto City Your tour begins in Kumamoto. Whilst Kyushu’s modern day capital is Fukuoka, situated in the north, historically Kyushu was governed from Kumamoto city. [caption id="attachment_45084" align="alignleft" width="600"] A traditional seafood dinner in Kumamoto city.[/caption] For those who haven’t dusted up on their samurai history prior to the tour, Futaenotouge Pass is a portion of the Bungo Circuit, a historic trail used by the feudal lords of the Kumamoto Domain to travel to Tokyo, in a practice known as sankin-kotai. Following this exploration (and plenty of time to stop and marvel at the landscape’s rolling hills) you’ll make the 90-minute private car journey to the main event: Aso. Mt Aso For me, there are a number of things that draw me to any country. The people, food, culture – but one of the most significant is the chance to marvel in a natural beauty that is unlike anywhere else I have seen. And for me, Mt Aso is high on the list of my favourites. [caption id="attachment_45080" align="alignleft" width="600"] The craters of Mt Aso resemble a space-like texture.[/caption] Mt Aso is the largest active volcano in Japan, and is among the largest in the world. And among it lives five peaks: Mt Neko, Mt Taka, Mt Naka (also called Nakadake or Naka-Dake), Mt Eboshi, and Mt Kishima. Nakadake hosts a spectacular crater, stretching 24 kilometres from north to south and 18 kilometres from east to west. Within it lives an active volcano that emits smoke at all hours of the day. [caption id="attachment_45081" align="alignleft" width="600"] Nakadake hosts a spectacular crater which stretching 24 kilometres from north to south.[/caption] In fact, it emits so much toxic smoke that many tourists find themselves turned away from visiting, depending on the ever-changing wind directions. We were lucky, I hope you are too. Waita Onsen Village If you take one thing from this article, I hope it’s that the Kumamoto Prefecture offers many things that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Among them is the Waita Onsen Village, located in Oguni. With its collection of six hot springs located at the base of the 1500-metre-tall Mt Waita, the village overlooks Kumamoto and Oita prefectures. Looking around, you wouldn’t be wrong to think you were on the set of a blockbuster Hollywood movie, complete with million-dollar smoke machines as far as the eye can see. What you would be witnessing (and smelling), however, is a natural phenomenon whereby gushing steam from the surrounding volcano punctures the ground and fills the skies. [caption id="attachment_45082" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Waita Onsen village is one of the steamiest places in all of Japan.[/caption] Walking around the sleepy rural town, it’s hard to see a square metre of land untouched by steam. And the locals, they make use of it. On the tour, you will be invited inside one of the villagers’ homes, where you can view, and participate in, a unique hot spring cooking experience. The fuming hot steam serves as a means of heating up just about anything. From fish to vegetables, most residents house a smoke vent for culinary purposes. [caption id="attachment_45083" align="alignleft" width="600"] Locals brewing vegetables using steam from the village.[/caption] Kagura Performances During your tour with Heartland JAPAN you will experience a private Kagura performance at a local theatre. Kagura is thought to be among the oldest traditional performing arts in the country, with an origin tracing back to ancient mythology. [caption id="attachment_45085" align="alignleft" width="600"] A colourful Kagura performance.[/caption] It is originally said to be performed for Shinto dieties in an attempt to welcome and entertain, performed only by Shinto priests to thank them for abundant crops. In contemporary Japan, however, the vibrant dances and garments are widely performed to the enjoyment of the public. Experiencing these performances firsthand is unlike anything I have ever seen. The costumes, dramatics and even stamina of these performers is really unparalleled – it’s crazy to think they’re amateurs. TOUR 2: Yamaguchi Prefecture Due to its rich history which spans nearly 700 years, Yamaguchi is the perfect place to explore with experts. Yamaguchi is renowned throughout Japan for its impressive 300-year history and its ties to the Meiji Revolution. While sitting as the seat of the powerful Ouchi lords, Yamaguchi grew as a rival to the war-torn capital of Kyoto during periods of Japanese conflict. As a result, the city grew in popularity as the ‘Kyoto of the West’ and many of its smaller cities have come to resemble the eastern hotspots many travellers know and love. Exploring Tsuwano With old samurai mansions, dark red roof tiles, wooden grated windows and koi carp fish, Tsuwano is a bustling, pleasant town at the western edge of Shimane Prefecture. Walking through Tsuwano is a blissful experience: peaceful mountains envelop the town and its surrounds. It has an energy of ancient Japan, alongside a contemporary atmosphere that allows it to not feel dated. The town was built around the Tsuwano Castle in the early 14th century, and while the structure does not exist anymore, several business and samurai residences still remain in their original locations. You are also able to visit the castle ruins, accessible by chairlift. Spend your time walking down Honmachi and Tonomachi avenues, memorable for their cobblestone streets dotted with established sake breweries, folk craft shops and Japanese sweetshops. The Shinto Shrine Yamaguchi is also celebrated for housing the Taikodani Inari Shrine, one of the five most significant Inari shrines in Japan. [caption id="attachment_45086" align="alignleft" width="600"] The shinto shrine overlooks Tsuwano.[/caption] The site was built in the mid-18th century in close proximity to Tsuwano Castle, with the aim of driving away evil spirits and bringing in good luck. Today, vermillion-lacquered Torii gates are erected over a long series of stairs leading up to the shrine. Visitors are encouraged to make the 15-minute climb through the gates and pray for prosperity, good luck and harvest on the way to the main shrine grounds. [caption id="attachment_45087" align="alignleft" width="600"] Visitors are encouraged to make the 15-minute climb through the gates.[/caption] Large sacred straw ropes line the front of the halls, which is a feature that occurs at other shrines in the Shimane Prefecture. Visitors to Taikodani Inari Shrine can buy fortunes, also known as Omikuji. A bamboo aparatus allots you a number, which coresponds to a tiny slip/roll of paper on which your fortune is written. [caption id="attachment_45089" align="alignleft" width="600"] White pieces of paper contain discarded bad fortunes.[/caption] If you draw a good fortune, keep it, take it home with you. But if it’s bad, you’re encouraged to tie it among the wall of other fortunes. The idea is to leave all bad luck at the shrine, where the divine spirit can exorcise it. Ogawa Sumikawa Sake Brewery Driving towards Susa Bay, you may start to feel an appetite for Japan’s most prized and celebrated alcohol: sake. Fear not, the team at HEARTLAND are quick to replenish, taking you to one of the country’s most celebrated breweries. For novices, sake is a traditional Japanese rice wine, made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran. At Ogawa Sumikawa Sake Brewery, the place you’ll visit, you will learn and watch the signature manufacturing process using the unique brewery rice, ‘sakemirai’. [caption id="attachment_45090" align="alignleft" width="600"] Local markets sell traditional sake cups.[/caption] Very few breweries can brew with this rice, and the much-loved taste led to this brewery being chosen to provide sake for the 2008 G8 summit.
Treat yourself (and the whole family) at this dreamy Balinese resort
Your ultimate blissful Bali getaway, with newly renovated rooms, a quiet beach, kids’ club, and beachfront eatery! Whether you want to spend your entire time chilling out by the pool or catching up with friends in one of the bars, the classic Balinese resort that is Hyatt Regency Bali has plenty of space and opportunities for you to completely recharge; it’s the perfect tropical escape. Originally built on a coconut plantation, the resort is blessed with the widest beachfront in the region and has the largest garden on the island. Families will enjoy the laid-back Sanur vibe, while couples will revel in its romantic, old-school charm. With 363 newly renovated rooms and facilities, the resort is eminently comfortable while at the same time retaining an authentic Balinese feel. [caption id="attachment_44994" align="alignnone" width="600"] Welcome to relaxation[/caption] Need to know Location The Hyatt Regency Bali is right on the main street of Sanur with 500 metres of beachfront and Bali’s top destinations close by: Seminyak is 45 minutes away and Ubud just an hour. Eat: The hotel has two restaurants: Omang Omang with its all-day dining, and Pizzaria by the beach. Outside the hotel you can enjoy hundreds of cafes, restaurants and bars. Play: Though most people come to Sanur to relax, there are plenty of options for turning your mild a little bit wilder. Beach clubs are within 10 minutes of the hotel, and bars with live music or sports are a quick walk away – plus you’ll find chilled-out yoga studios as well as hip boutiques and salons. Within the hotel, guests can swim in one of three pools, mingle at the Beach Bar or get pampered in the lavish spa. Top Tips The hotel’s renowned, established garden makes a fabulous backdrop for family or romantic portraits. Book a photo session with a local photographer and snap some of your best Insta shots ever. The garden is home to about 500 species of flora and fauna, and trees from the old garden of Bali Hyatt have been restored and given a new home. Head to the spa to try a watsu (water shiatsu) treatment – essentially a massage on water! Sindhu market offers a glimpse of local life. A wet market by day and food market by night, Sindhu is Sanur’s unofficial melting pot. Located 10 minutes’ drive from the hotel, the market opens from 6am to 10am and 6pm to 10pm. The resort is accepting bookings from 20 December 2018. Find out more at hyattregencybali.com
A whole new sea of tranquillity in the Maldives
The resort is an idyllic paradise in the UNESCO-listed Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve. There is a new wave of wellbeing on the tropical archipelago oasis of the Maldives with the opening of The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort and its brand new combination of 70 amazing overwater and island villas and suites. The resort is an idyllic paradise in the UNESCO-listed Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve and takes inspiration from the ‘shape of the water’, the marine life of the Atoll and the elements of water, sun and wind. It has been designed to maximise environmental sustainability whilst providing a supremely luxurious and tranquil Maldivian escape. [caption id="attachment_44983" align="alignnone" width="600"] Over water bungalow, yes please![/caption] Need to know Location: Being nestled on this beautiful coral island in the Biosphere Reserve gives guests of The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort uninterrupted ocean and pristine turquoise lagoon views. From the atoll’s most desirable locale, guests are in close proximity to landmarks such as the Hanifaru Bay, known for the largest gathering of manta rays globally. This is a whole new level of tranquillity. [caption id="attachment_44984" align="alignnone" width="600"] Nothing like being able to see the ocean through the lounge room floor![/caption] Eat The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort presents three unique dining experiences. The Pearl is the resort’s specialty restaurant famed for exquisite Japanese cuisine with exceptional ocean views. The all-day dining experience at Island Kitchen stays true to the Westin brand’s Eat Well credo through a balanced menu combining Chinese, Indian and Maldivian fare. At Hawker, guests can sample authentic Asian street food with a live kitchen in a casual bustling atmosphere. Adjacent to the Library and overlooking the azure blue Indian Ocean, Sunset Bar is a relaxed lounge serving tapas and wonderfully imagined cocktails. [caption id="attachment_44985" align="alignnone" width="600"] Stay in complete luxury with paradise at your doorstep[/caption] To learn more call +960 660 4444 or visit westin.com/maldivesmiriandhoo
An insider’s guide to Mumbai
Our insider's guide to Mumbai will help make India's biggest city a whole world more intimate. With thanks to Sachin Singh, chief concierge, Sofitel Mumbai. Is there an experience that only locals know about but visitors should too? Khotachiwadi is a heritage village in Girgaon in Mumbai’s south. Nearly 180 years old, the houses here are influenced by old Portuguese-style architecture. Kotachiwadi adds to the cultural diversity of Mumbai. Where do locals like to eat and drink? Mumbai is filled with many restaurants, as well as roadside eateries serving a variety of cuisines. A famous spot among locals is Girgaum Chowpatty. It’s also located in the south and is an area that comes alive after sunset, with local families and tourists all enjoying the sandy beaches, while they eat and drink a few of the city's most traditional and well-known delicacies. Another icon present in the city is Shree Thaker Bhojanalay, a restaurant famous among locals which serves the best Gujarati thali in the city. What is the best shop to browse? In the city of Mumbai, a wide selection of shopping options exists, from ethnic stores to those selling high-end products. If I had to recommend one must-visit store for people during their time in Mumbai, first and foremost is The Bombay Store. This is a beautiful lifestyle destination store that is steeped in the history of India’s freedom struggle. It was founded in order to promote Indian-made products during the Swadeshi movement. Here, you can pick up a pashmina shawl from Kashmir, Dokra folk art from Orissa or embroidered, Kantha work bedsheets from Jaipur. What do you recommend doing for the perfect Sunday in your city? On Sunday, as traffic is limited in the first half of the day within the city limits, you have the option of taking a tour of Mumbai, visiting historical places of interest such as the Gateway of India, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India), Mani Bhawan, the Hanging Gardens and Dhobi Ghat. What is the one thing – be it a souvenir or memory – visitors should take home with them? The Mumbai local trains are one of a kind. Running through the city of Mumbai, millions of people use this service daily. A visitor must experience this while in Mumbai to gain an understanding of the crowd patterns and experience life as a local on one of the busiest rail networks in the world.
The ultimate five-day Lombok itinerary
What to do and where to explore on Bali’s neighbouring island. Bali has long been a much-loved holiday destination for Australians – it’s practically a rite of passage. And while record numbers of Aussies are still basking in Bali’s warm waters, an increasing amount of visitors are now travelling to Bali’s less-visited sister, the stunning island of Lombok. Like the rest of Bali, Lombok offers lush landscapes, tasty culinary dishes, unique cultural experiences and its fair share of adventure, but this beautiful island also boasts almost-deserted beaches, epic surfing breaks and hidden waterfalls as well. It goes without saying that to really explore Lombok you need two to three weeks, but if you’ve only got the best part of one week, here’s one of the best ways to spend it: Day 1 Once you fly into Lombok from Bali, head to the beautiful coastal area of Mandalika Beach, just 30 minutes to the south. Once a hidden mecca for surfers, now this pristine coastal paradise that is only six minutes from popular Kuta Beach (not to be confused with Bali’s Kuta Beach) is home to watersports of all kinds, modern hotels and hip cafes serving up local treats. It’s the perfect place to start your holiday (cocktail in hand). After checking into your hotel, take the afternoon to hike to the top of nearby Merese Hill above Batu Payung beach to see an impressive panorama of Lombok as well as a beautiful sunset. The walk itself will take roughly about an hour from Mandalika or you can hop on a moped and then it’s just a quick 15- to 20-minute walk from the car park to the top. [caption id="attachment_44790" align="alignnone" width="600"] You'll never want to leave after seeing these jaw-dropping sunsets[/caption] Day 2 Today is beach day! Mandalika Beach is perfectly located near some of Lombok’s most beautiful beaches, so hiring a moped or catching a taxi to each one makes for a stunning day by the sea. If you love surfing and fishing, head to Gerupuk Beach or if you’re after peace and quiet, try relaxing at Serenting Beach. For lunch, make your way to beautiful Tanjung Aan Beach for freshly made Nasi Goreng and a swim on a near-deserted beach, before heading back to Mandalika Beach for dinner. Day 3 Say goodbye to Lombok’s south coast and travel a couple of hours up to Lombok’s main tourist area of Senggigi. On the way, take a short detour to the spectacular Benang Stokel and Benang Kelambu waterfalls, centred around swimming holes below. The 20-metre-high waterfalls cascade through rugged rocky outcrops covered in moss creating a cool retreat from Lombok’s beaches. When you’ve cooled down with a swim, head to your hotel in Senggigi, around 90 minutes’ drive away. Situated on wide open beaches and backed by jungle-covered mountains, Senggigi is a great place to enjoy a day of shopping, before watching the sunset over the water as you eat dinner and head out to a bar. [caption id="attachment_44791" align="alignnone" width="600"] So many activities to keep even the most adventurous traveller occupied[/caption] Day 4 After an early breakfast and a swim, take a local day trip north to the famous Gili Islands just off the coast of Lombok. Known for incredibly rich tropical marine biodiversity, the three islands of the Gilis each have a no-car policy and white sandy postcard-worthy beaches. For scuba divers, dive in and explore the sunken ship at Wreck Point near Mentigi Beach on Gili Trawangan. Or you could meet the local turtles and even swim with them. Or you could just snorkel right off the beach (why not?). You’ll find that the pace of life on the Gili Islands is slow… and that’s just how the locals like it. It’s the perfect place for a relaxing day in the sun. Overnight in Senggigi. Day 5 Get up bright and early to hop on a half-day trip cycling through some of Lombok’s beautiful terraced rice fields – most of which date back to the time of Balinese colonisation. As you explore the beautiful rice fields on two wheels, you’ll visit small villages along the way and learn about local customs and culture. You might even try homemade local delicacies. Spend the afternoon back in Senggigi relaxing on the beach, before watching the sunset and listening to late-night live music in the local bars: an ideal way to end your holiday. [caption id="attachment_44789" align="alignnone" width="600"] Experience a few nights staying in a beach hut[/caption] Where to stay: Lombok has a range of accommodation including five-star resorts and hotels as well as affordable surf huts and beach hostels to choose from. How to get there: There are regular daily flights between Australia and Denpasar, Indonesia, and there are daily flights between Denpasar and Lombok International Airport (LOP). Local airlines that fly to Lombok from Bali include Garuda, Lion Air, SilkAir and Trans Nusa. Planning a holiday to Indonesia? For further info on Lombok and the surrounding areas, check out www.indonesia.travel
Hotel Review: The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand
If you're looking for an abode to call your own during your stay in Thailand, it can seem a little more than overwhelming. Thankfully Danielle Norton has done the "hard" work for us, reviewing a 'calm' hotel that doesn't accept guests under 10 years of age. Where The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Phang Nga Province, Thailand. One hour’s drive north of Phuket Airport. What to expect You can find us by the pool in a cabana at The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.From the moment we are collected from the airport by Sarojin staff, until the day we leave, we are treated like treasured guests. The driver pulls over, one minute into our hour-long drive, to offer us a chilled towel and a refreshment from the esky on the front seat. We connect to the car’s wi-fi and he offers us an iPad to use on the journey. This introduction is indicative of our entire stay at the Sarojin. As the original Lady Sarojin used to say, “excellence and nothing less”. The service at this resort is next-level and we love that every time we sit down, either poolside, in the foyer or waiting for a driver at the front of the property, an icy glass of water appears. The Sarojin property is a paragon of meditative tropical resort gardens that encourage relaxation and deep contemplation. At night, hundreds of flickering lights glow in the ponds, bobbing like boats on a river, their reflections doubling their efforts. By day, the infinity pool and jacuzzi, surrounded by floating pavilions, glistens invitingly. The communal spaces of the resort are designed with peace and privacy in mind. In the Pandanus Room library there are a wide range of reading materials; from novels to daily newspapers from around the world. Specific titles can be arranged on request. A hotel that offers an ‘imagineer’ to create your special experiences is one for which I had high expectations. Staff can organise any type of romantic gesture you can come up with. Dinner on a candlelit beach is one thing but a ‘message in a bottle’ scenario for a special proposal during a couple’s beach stroll, or an engagement ring in a teapot while enjoying afternoon tea underneath a private waterfall, is quite another. The romance of this resort makes it an idyllic setting for honeymooners and loved-up couples. Fabulous food Dine out on the good stuff at The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.The Ficus restaurant hosts an all-day à la carte breakfast on the central resort lake, in the shade of the ancient tree after which it is named. Hundreds of water lilies float on the water’s surface and the sun shimmers; when the complimentary sparkling wine is served with our morning croissants, it feels like the most beautiful place on Earth. The Edge restaurant and the Beach Bar look out onto a magnificent white sand beach. The degustation menu is a delicious parade of fragrant curries and delicate flavours: a brilliant way to try every dish on the menu in small portions. Coupled with the golden light of the early evening and a cocktail, it’s the perfect end to a day in paradise. The restaurant seems casual but the service is exquisite, and the views over the Andaman Sea are spectacular, particularly the light show created by the setting sun. The accommodation The impressive accommodation inside The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.Our room has a garden view and a luxurious outdoor ‘sala’ under which we can bask on the day bed, reading or zoning out to our hearts’ content. Inside, the king-size bed with its mountain of pillows is sumptuous, hence the availability of the aforementioned all-day breakfast. The rooms open onto an opulent, airy bathroom, lined with smooth pebbles to give the illusion of the outdoors in the wet area where there is a choice of showerheads and a huge oval bath, big enough for two. The spacious bathroom is almost as big as the 95 square metre room. If, like me, you prefer more privacy you can request curtain dividers between bedroom and bathroom. The resort has 28 garden residences, 14 pool residences and eight jacuzzi pool suites and six one-bedroom spa suites which are like apartments with a generous lounge area leading out to the jacuzzi on the private balcony. These alternate with pool rooms, enabling a two bedroom configuration for families or larger groups via connecting doors. We loved The incredible spa bath inside the The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.The moment we set foot on the boardwalk leading from the resort’s main path to the Pathways Spa, tranquil notes of music waft around us and we breathe in deeply. Staff are eager to help us exchange our shoes for soft white spa slippers and usher us to a daybed where we sink into the soft cushions and contemplate life, looking at the leafy palm fronds in the gardens and listening to the trickling of water in the adjacent pond. A cleansing ginger tea is delivered along with a cold towel. Spa therapist, Nang, offers us four choices of oils. I opt for the romantic blend, a mixture of geranium, lavender and patchouli, keeping in tune with the theme of this honeymooner’s paradise. Nang calls it the ‘lucky oil’ and I feel very lucky indeed as I succumb to her skilled massage techniques. The treatment room is designed to feel like the surrounding ecosystem; the floors are timber and one side of the pavilion is open to the garden. It’s soothing and rejuvenating and reminds me of the ‘forest bathing’ trend. Birds chirrup in the encircling jungle garden and the sound of waves lapping against the shore lulls me into a state of complete relaxation and surrender to the moment. The spa menu options are plentiful. We choose the oriental-style massage – a combination of Swedish relaxation and Thai stretching techniques. Afterwards, a state of calm has infiltrated my entire being. Things to note Some of the scenery at the The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.The nearby Similan Islands has some of the best dive and snorkelling sites in the world. Sadly, when we visited they were still closed (May–October) for regeneration of the coral. Check on the state of these closures before booking. The resort restricts children under 10. Because it is a place of peace and calm, kids must be old enough to respect this and maintain it. A garden view room including breakfast costs from $670 per night for two people. For more information and to book, visit Sarojin, Khao Lak.
Explore Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches
With a coastline that stretches – in a big, sandy 'S' shape – for over 3200 kilometres, it's not surprising that Vietnam boasts so many beautiful beaches. From Nha Trang and Mui Ne and Phu Quoc Island, here's our pick of the best. Don’t forget to pack your swimmers! Nha Trang First up among the best beaches in Vietnam is a perennial favourite. Known as the Vietnamese Riviera, Nha Trang – a busy beach area in the Khanh Hoa province – is renowned for its six-mile stretch of white-sand beach, clear waters and popular party boat cruises. As well as being home to Vietnam's first certified dive centre (Rainbow Divers) and subsequently many soft coral reefs and caves to explore underwater, there's also wakeboarding, kite surfing and banana boat rides for beach bums to try their hand at. Meanwhile for the land lubbers among us, there are plenty of resorts and bars near City Beach that make a mean beachside cocktail. But if you’d rather forgo the buzzing crowds here, travel 34 kilometres north to Doc Let Beach. It’s just as blindingly beautiful as Nha Trang, but without the hordes of other travellers who know they’re onto a good thing. Bai Sao, Phu Quoc Located in the Gulf of Thailand off Vietnam’s south-west coast, Phu Quoc is actually closer to Cambodia than Vietnam, being just 18 kilometres from Kampot province. Famed for allegedly having the whitest sand in the country and some of the best sunsets around, it is undoubtedly one of Vietnam’s most picturesque islands. There's many idyllic beaches here to get your sun-and-sea fix, each with its own character, but Bai Sao – with its powdery sand and swaying palm trees – is the oft-sung star. It figures, really, given that its name translates to Star Beach (on account of the starfish you'll see while snorkelling). [caption id="attachment_46293" align="alignleft" width="600"] Sunbeds under tropical palms on beautiful Bai Sao Beach on Phu Quoc Island.[/caption] Long Beach, Phu Quoc Another Phu Quoc gem is Long Beach, on the island's west coast, a 20-kilometre-long stretch of golden sand. It's here you'll find five-star InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort, part of the upswell of luxury international resorts now sprinkling the island and indicating that it's well on its way to becoming a global beach resort destination: get in before everyone else does. Con Dao Islands Look up ‘idyllic’ in the dictionary and you’ll likely find this place. Largely protected from tourism due to its remote location, about 230 kilometres south of Ho Chi Minh City, the Con Dao archipelago hides some of the most peaceful and untouched beaches in Vietnam. Made up of 16 mountainous islands and islets – the largest being Con Son – you can expect to find a selection of uber-private, absolute beachfront resorts here to lap up a Vietnam beach holiday in unadulterated luxury. Among our favourite beaches though is Dat Doc Beach, where guests at Six Senses Con Dao can access a private stretch all to themselves. How’s that for a seriously five-star stay? Mui Ne Just 220 kilometres east of Ho Chi Minh City, Mui Ne is a charming fishing village cum tourist favourite. Characterised by its rolling sand dunes, serene water, swaying palm trees and warm beach-going weather for most the year, many claim this to be Vietnam’s number one beach. Ideal territory for windsurfing and kite surfing, it’s also not a bad setting for a seaside massage. Once you get bored of the beach scene (if that’s even possible), there’s a growing string of restaurants, boutique shops and resorts nearby. Ho Coc A quaint seaside village roughly 125 kilometres southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Coc boasts one long sweeping stretch of fine sandy beach. Featuring pristine waters and the occasional boulder plonked along its peaceful shoreline, there’s no shortage of photo opportunities here. To make the most of the serene surrounds, come during the week and beat the weekend crowds who day trip here from larger centres. It’s also worthy checking out the nearby hot springs and rainforest. Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai For a little bit of luxury, stay at the Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai on the outskirts of World Heritage-listed port town Hoi An. The resort grounds sit on a private, kilometre-long stretch of Ha My Beach, a popular beach on the country's culturally rich central coast. Content yourself with watching the water shimmer from your ocean-front villa or get active with a kayak on the East Sea. And of course, take your chance to explore the old port town of Hoi An itself: with its centuries-old merchant houses, famously lantern-lit streets and promenades along the Thu Bon River bustling with people and eateries. Minh Chau Beach For a feeling of really getting away from it all and off the tourist trail, head to Quan Lan Island in northern Vietnam. Not far from Halong Bay, this sleepy island wasn't always so sleepy: in the 11th century it served as a busy port for international trade. Today the main drawcard here is the wild and beautiful Minh Chau Beach, stretching one kilometre in a crescent shape. But also don't miss the beautiful old Quan Lan Temple (built in the Le Dynasty) with its exquisite carvings. Book yourself into a homestay and sink into local life for a couple of days. For more information about travelling around Vietnam, visit our Vietnam guide.
Romantic Maldives accommodation on any budget
Whether you’re heading over with a little or a lot, you’re just thankful to be together in the Maldives, right? The good news is there’s an accommodation option for any budget… Got more than $2000 a night to spend? Velaa Private Island This accommodation has been designed with incredible architecture and absolute privacy in mind. You can stay in your typical overwater villa for around $2250 per night or get the ‘honeymoon suite’: a Romantic Pool Residence, which is only accessible by boat and features a sundeck, sunken bath, personal gym, butler and private chef – naturally. You can nab yourself a night there for a cool $9500, depending on season. The hotel’s grape cellar features more than 500 bins, the largest collection in the Maldives – and the hotel’s premier golf academy is exceptional; it’s where PGA professionals provide bespoke lessons to guests. We want to stay longer, so the budget is smaller Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa The Sheraton is an incredible option both for special occasions – ideal for honeymooners who dream of celebrating the beginning of married life in an overwater bungalow – and those who are happy to simply lap up the views from the comfort of a beach villa on shore. [caption id="attachment_43986" align="alignleft" width="600"] The bright white sands[/caption] Water bungalows feature direct access to the crystal clear ocean and depending on season, go for around $943 per room per night. If you’re happy with a beach bungalow however, you’re looking at around $516 per night. The Sheraton Full Moon Resort & Spa is located on a private island just 15-20 minutes from Velana International Airport. It features seven unique restaurants and bars, a spa island – and plenty of watersports. Let’s do something fun and different! Finolhu ‘Beach Bubble’ tents Okay, so it’s not really a week-long solution to your accommodation needs, but the brand new glamping trend from Finolhu – ‘Beach Bubble’ tents – is the first of its kind in the Maldives, and well worth a try. The transparent inflatable bubble allows guests to enjoy a closer-to-nature experience, albeit completely secluded from other guests, but totally on show to the world at the same time. [caption id="attachment_43983" align="alignleft" width="600"] Spend the night in a luxurious bubble tent[/caption] If you’re worried about comfort, you needn’t be – your bubble accommodation is decked out with bespoke furnishings, a separate adjoining bubba bathroom and shower. Made from super-strong, high-tech polyester fabric, your stay will be completely UV protected, waterproof and climate-controlled. Hurrah. For just $830 per couple, you’ll get one night in the beach bubble (7pm to 9am), a private beach barbecue and private waterside breakfast on the beach.
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