Category Asia

Insider tips on exploring the Komodo Islands

Three Komodo dragons up close

Three Komodo dragons sunbake at the waterhole. Each is three-meters-long with prehistoric claws, beady eyes and scaly skin, which looks like woven metal armor. It feels like I’ve done a Dr Who and dropped into a dinosaur convention. Our diminutive guide is armed with nothing but a pronged stick.

One heaves itself up and lurches towards me, so close I can hear its guttural hiss. A foot-long pink forked tongue darts in and out of its mouth. Meanwhile, saliva is drooling from the other two. Even DreamWorks couldn’t have come up with scarier looking creatures. Suddenly, my walk in the Komodo Islands National Park doesn’t feel like…well…a walk in the park anymore.

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Six of the Best Shopping Boutiques in Seminyak Bali

Pura Vida is an ethical clothing line produced in Bali

Bali’s classy shopping district of Seminyak is the place to buy handmade clothes at reasonable prices. It is not about bargain basement shopping but about a classy shopping experience and an excellent quality to price ratio.

All these shops cluster on Jalan Laksmana, Jalan Raya Seminyak and Jalan Pettinget.

Bias...

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Japan’s Hidden Secret: Tourist free Kanazawa or “Little Kyoto”

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Japan’s Hidden Secret: Kanazawa

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The Japanese describe Kanazawa, located by the Sea of Japan in Western Honshu, as “little Kyoto” because it offers an artisanal tradition akin to Kyoto’s as well as beautifully preserved traditional neighborhoods. Put more accurately, while Kyoto is the much older Japanese Imperial capital, Kanazawa is the best-preserved Edo (or Shogun-era) city in the country. As an added bonus, it is a City of Crafts and Folk Art and forms part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. It offers many of Kyoto’s charms without its tourist hordes.  In short, it is a gem that has largely been under the radar for most Western tourists.

The Maedas ruled the remote Kaga region (of which Kanazawa is the center) during the Shogun era, when power emanated from the Edo Castle (today’s Tokyo). Rather than challenge the Shogunate in war, the Maedas poured their efforts into cultural pursuits and channeled their vast wealth from local gold mines into arts and crafts, many of which are still nationally renowned. The name “Kanazawa” means “marsh of gold” and the castle town was famous early on for Kaga gold-leaf, inlaid work and calligraphy. Indeed, the gold leaf that covers Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion was produced in Kanazawa.

Being the richest domain outside the Shogunate, Kanazawa’s population swelled with samurai retainers, artisans, merchants and, of course, geisha courtesans. Since the town was located along a remote sheltered coast across the mountains from Tokyo, it was protected from being ravaged both in the feudal wars as well as during World War II, where it was spared from US bombing. As a result its samurai and geisha districts are remarkably intact.

Here is the lowdown on its six...

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Luang Prabang Highlights: monks, markets and the Mekong

Orange-clad monks at the dawn alms giving ritual in Luang Prabang

Monks at dawn in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is one of last authentic cities in Indochina. This is the place people expect when they fantasize about South East Asia. What makes it so special is that you don’t have to run around checking off a bunch of tourist sites. It is wonderful to just ‘be’ and enjoy the soul of the city.

In the soft grey light of early morning, we sit quietly on a bamboo mat, wicker baskets of sticky rice beside us, across from a shuttered colonial mansion heavy with bougainvillea.

Around a corner, dozens of barefoot monks appear in a swish of saffron, golden bowls hanging from orange shoulder straps.  Locals show us how to earn merit.  Men adorned with scarves over one shoulder as a mark of respect and kneeling women in traditional shawls put fistfuls of rice into the monks’ bowls.

As in a dream, just as the rising sun gilds the ceramic-tiled temple roofs, the stream of gold vanishes and the monks return inside...

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Bhutan: Tantric Buddhism in the land of Gross National Happiness

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Ever since the Fourth Dragon King of Bhutan announced that he measured his country’s progress in terms of Gross National Happiness, not Gross National Product, this tiny land-locked Himalayan kingdom has become something of a Mecca, some might say a trophy, for cluey Westerners seeking respite from their highly paid but stressed-out lives.

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What to Do in Cebu in the Philippines

Cebu has warm water and great underwater life to explore on day trips such as to Nalasuan Island

Cebu is oldest city in the Philippines and now a thriving port and manufacturing center. Cebu is the country’s epicenter of Christianity and a gateway to more than 160 white-sand-rimmed islands and islets. For visitors, it offers a heady mix of Spanish-inspired culture, fabulous food, and interesting design stores as well as access to terrific snorkeling and diving.

Here are 12 must-do adventures in this friendly Queen City of the South.

  1. Eat suckling pig. Anthony Bourdain followed his taste buds to Cebu and pronounced that they make the best lechon (Spanish for “suckling pig”) in the world on his television show No Reservations. His lechon consultant was Cebu native Joel Abueca Binamica, a retired banker who writes the Market Manila blog. After the broadcast, people begged Binamica to sell his lechon commercially and now he has five bright red and white Zubuchon restaurants...
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Hoshinoya Kyoto: classic Japanese inn with a twist

Hoshinoya Kyoto has been built with traditional Japanese craftsmanship

Hoshinoya Kyoto is a unique contemporary ryokan inside a noble’s retreat on the banks of the Ooigawa River in Arashiyama, just outside Kyoto. It offers a rare vision of authentic Japan incorporating a reverence for traditional culture with a whimsical modern sensibility. There are few Japanese high-end inns, indeed few resorts in the world, whose aesthetic appeals both to well-heeled locals and an informed international clientele. Hoshinoya is breaking new ground.

To get to Hoshinoya, I arrive at a dock near the famous moon-viewing Togetsukyo Bridge for the ten-minute trip in a covered boat along the forest-lined river. Tomoko Tsuchima greets me and shows me around the re-imagined interior and exterior spaces of this protected heritage site. Hoshinoya’s designers have utilised centuries-old techniques of Kyoto craftsmen…hand-crafted washi paper, latticework, ceramic roof tiles, sand plastered walls…to create a modern gem embodying the lightness of touch inherent in good Japanese design.

At t...

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Photo Friday: The Endangered Orangutans of Borneo

Indonesia's orangutans are endangered because their habitat is being destroyed

Becky is a young orangutan mother who is very skilled at teaching her baby to live in the wilds of the Borneo jungle in Indonesia. Under her silent but perfectly calibrated watchful gaze he climbs up and down the tree trunk and right to the edge of the branch she is sitting on. Becky is displaying the sort of initiative and teaching skills that are hallmarks of orangutans’ superior intelligence

Sadly, orangutans such as Becky are under serious threat due to the fact that almost 80% of Indonesia’s rainforest has been lost in the past 50 years. Australia’s neighbor is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, due almost solely to the destruction of its rainforests and carbon-rich peat lands for palm oil production.

Orangutan Odysseys

I visit Central Kalimantan or Indonesian Borneo with Australian-owned Orangutan Odysseys, the only orangutan tour company that visits all the orangutan quarantine stations in both Borneo and Sumatra...

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Photo Friday: Bali’s rice paddies around Ubud

Rice paddies around Ubud in Bali

I took this photo for Photo Friday on an early morning walk with a local guide through lime green rice paddies of Bongkasa alongside the Ayung River around the village of Baung in Sayan, which is not far out of Ubud in Central Bali.

It is enchanting to walk through such a lush landscape and watch the farmers work the paddies as well as learning about Hindu traditions and the local names for all the local tropical plants and flowers. After the walk, our guide took us home to his village compound, where we enjoyed coffee and cake with his wife and baby daughter and his extended family and learned how a traditional Balinese home is configured. All in all, it was a fascinating experience.

I arranged this walk through my accommodation, Bambu Indah, which is a delightful eco luxury boutique hotel with 11 antique Javanese bridal homes that were brought to Bali, restored and decorated with authentic Indonesian furniture and crafts...

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Kusatsu: a classic Japanese hot springs town

Kusatsu is Japan's number one hot springs town

With more than 100 hot springs producing 36,000 liters of hot water per minute, Kusatsu has the highest volume of naturally discharged hot water in Japan. Its Hot Water Field is almost a national onsen shrine.  In fact, Kusatsu onsen has been chosen by the Japan’s top travel agents as the country’s number one hot spring for 10 consecutive years in the 100 Best Hot Springs in Japan. Here is my guide on how to enjoy both the indoor and outdoor onsen is this classic hot springs town.

Bathing evokes an almost religious fervor in Japan. Since it is very active geothermally, more than 28,000 onsen hot springs dot the length of the country, the styles varying from a water hole on the side of a river to complete onsen theme parks. While many hotel and ryokan hot springs deliver a five-star experience, municipal bath houses and foot baths offer everyone the opportunity to take the waters...

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