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Bangkok’s Pride

If privacy, comfort and ease are what you value while on vacation, welcome to Ma Du Zi, which means “Come, See, Stay”. I was glad I went, saw and stayed.

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Since Ma Du Zi is so conveniently located next to Asoke station in Sukhumvit, I decided to take the skytrain to beat the city’s notorious rush hour traffic. The first thing I noticed about this boutique hotel is that it is hardly noticeable from the street. Sheltered by a tall floral fence that serves to conceal the residence-like boutique hotel, Ma Du Zi is a clandestine oasis cleverly lodged in the most popular district in vibrant Bangkok.

As I had not expected the high level of privacy fiercely guarded by Ma Du Zi, my walk took me further then I should from the skytrain station. In reality, the hotel is practically next to The Exchange Tower, which is a prominent building in the area.

Like any respectable private residence, visitors have to get pass security before being admitted onto the property. I was expecting some difficulty trying to communicate with the guard but thankfully, my name was already on his list. I later learned that only hotel guests were allowed on the premises.

I was expecting to see a typical front desk you would expect from a hotel, but Ma Du Zi does not do typical. A modern restaurant and bar greeted me first with the warm, inviting and cosy atmosphere. The reception counter is less conspicuous but intended that way as guests are supposed to breeze in and out of the whole check in, check out process. This homely hotel would not want you to waste a precious minute on unnecessary mundane stuff when you should be enjoying your stay already.

Next up was time to check out my room. By then I should have gotten used to Ma Du Zi’s unconventional entrances yet I was still rather surprised to be greeted by a sophisticated pantry on which sat an Illy espresso machine. Even though I’m no coffee enthusiast, I couldn’t help but felt excited about trying my hands on making a cuppa with this fancy machine.

The room continued to churn out delightful surprises in the form of a super wide, super king size bed with a posturepedic mattress on it. Facing the bed is a wide, flat screen TV with a Bose sound system that docks an iPod. Unlike many hotels where the toilet and bathroom are attached, here, the two are wisely separated for better convenience. After looking into the bathroom, you will have to agree it is for the best as the bath features an opulent infinity Jacuzzi tub with water that fills from the ceiling. Imagine having to wait for your turn to use the bathroom if your partner decides to spend some alone time in the hot tub. While it looks sophisticated, this smart tub is easy to operate as the Jacuzzi automatically starts working when water is filled to the brim.

Although we city slickers claim to want to get away from work while on vacation, how many of us can truly refrain from checking our emails daily? Without having to leave your room to get to the business centre, Ma Du Zi provides complimentary in-room WI-FI internet connection throughout your stay. There is also a neat business corner right in the comfort of your own room that comes complete with a printer and fax machine in one. In my case, I found the printer to be exceptionally useful as I could print out my e-ticket for the flight back which I had carelessly misplaced.

When I wasn’t soaking in the tub or flicking through the selection of cable channels, the study area was my favourite corner. From the window behind the armchair, it gave me a glimpse of the cityscape, one in which I could look out but others could not look in. The bustling scene reminded me once again why I love the city but yet I was glad to have my private sanctuary that gave me respite from all the action.

I have lost count of the number of times I have visited Bangkok, but something about this stay made me feel as though I was looking at the city through different eyes. For this new sensory experience, I credit it to Ma Du Zi, which gave me a strong sense of security while providing all the comforts of home, a very luxurious home if I may add.

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European Backdrops in S.E.A

Couples who wish to have an European – more specifically, Spanish – setting as backdrop for their weddings and dread the distance there and the costs involved, can consider the Philippines as the W&T team discovers.

text ALLEN LEUNG ❘ Special thanks to buda buddies and philippines airlines

Only about three and a half hours away by air and with the country’s national carrier Philippine Airlines flying there from Singapore daily, getting to the Philippines is as speedy and convenient as jetting to Hong Kong or Taipei, both popular pre-nuptial photography destinations for couples in recent years.

And what’s special is historical ruins after the country’s Spanish rule for over 300 years  between the 16th and 19th centuries still remain, even in the capital, Manila.

One such rustic charm that exists through the old ruins and surviving architecture left behind by the Spanish rulers in the capital city is the area called Intramuros, which literally means “within the walls”, a former fortress that was surrounded by high walls and a moat during the colonial period.

It is today the only remaining district in Manila where old Spanish-era influences were still being retained.

Located along the southern bank of the Pasig River, the former walled city has a perimeter measuring 4.5 km with its buildings including the roads originally constructed almost of stone blocks, possessing similar architectural trails one can see in other Spanish defenses like the Caribbean.

At its prime, Intramuros was an important legislative and religious hub for the Spaniards where the governor’s palace and several Roman Catholic churches were built within the walled city.

One of the churches still remaining today is the Manila Cathedral, also known as Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Built originally in 1581, it was damaged and destroyed several times before its present cathedral, now one of the most popular churches for weddings in the capital.

An imposing Romanesque structure, the church’s entrance and façade graced by statues of famous saints sculpted in Roman travertine stone is a favourite background for couples after their weddings in the church. Another famous church popular for weddings, or just pre-nuptial shoots, there is the San Agustin Church which is still remembered by many as one blessed structure in Intramuros spared by American bombing in 1945.

The church, believed to be the oldest in the country, is notable for its combination of styles – Doric lower columns and Corinthian upper columns – which perhaps explains its popularity with wedding couples who want to have an ancient European backdrop in their photographs.

Filipina wedding planner Joey Lopez Del Prado who operates between Singapore and the Philippines says she can make arrangements for couples here to even host a wedding reception and ceremony in the churches’ compounds even if they are not marrying inside the churches.

But she points out that wedding venues and backdrops for pre-nuptial photography are aplenty within Intramuros built by the Spanish rulers in 1606.

One popular spot is Fort Santiago, a favourite promenade for artists, lovers and wedding couples to shoot pictures of the nostalgic romance of a bygone Spanish legacy with its gardens. It was the garrison that once imprisoned the Philippines’ national hero Jose Rizal before his execution in 1896.

In fact, Joey said almost every street and corner within Intramuros gives photo opportunity for excellent European backdrop for the wedding couples’ album.

One can just walk around the stone-filled paths, or use the pleasantly decorated horse carriages, to see old gunpowder rooms used as recently as World Wall II, seminaries and chapels.

Today, Intramuros also houses some of the higher education institutions in the Philippines, including the Mapua Institute of Technology, Lyceum of the Philippines University, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and high schools such as the Manila High School.

Besides the old buildings housing the education institutions, Joey points out that the Intramuros Administration has also made available several old landmarks in the area for wedding use which are for hire.

They include Casa Manila Patio, San Diego Gardens, Puerta Real Gardens, Plaza Moriones and Trellis, and Almacenes Reales, the former Royal Warehouse, which can accommodate guests of between 60 and 1,000.

WHAT TO EAT

Evolved from centuries of mixed influences from Chinese, American, Spanish and even Hispanic, Filipino cuisine is a blend of indigenous ingredients that are surprisingly delightful and palatable. Compared to Bali’s babi guling, Philippines’s version of whole roasted pig – lechon – deserves equal of higher billing. The skin is totally crispy without the strong ginger taste found in babi guling. Equally popular is crispy pata otherwise known as deep-fried pig’s trotter. Healthier options include must-try dishes like sinigang, a sour broth cooked with either meat or seafood and goes well with steaming hot white rice.

WHERE TO SHOP

SM Mall of Asia, also know as the third largest mall in Asia, houses the SM Department Store while the SM Hypermarket is situated within the north parking building. Located in Bay City, the spectacular Manila Bay view can be seen from this shopping complex. In Mekati City, giant mall Greenbelt is made up of five sections connected by a three-hectare park that comprises lush landscapes and water features. It is especially idyllic to hang out on a lazy afternoon at one of the many coffee joints.

WHERE TO STAY

The Bellevue Manila has more than 200 well-appointed rooms and is suitable for large and small groups. They also have special arrangements with Fernbrook Gardens to facilitate visitors with accommodation and easy access to this latest wedding theme park in Asia.

Sofitel Manila is known for having “the longest buffet” in the capital. Free champagne is served at breakfast while the dinner menu comprises of the freshest seafood. The spectacular view of sunset over Manila Bay, hailed as one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, is another good reason for the hotel’s popularity.

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Zen Soul-Journ In Kyoto

Text SARU

The pleasant surprise at Hoshinoya Kyoto is that it has no televisions or VCRs in guest rooms. Or rather, she has no need for such distraction from the beauty of nature. Situated in the picturesque Arashiyama valley, Hoshinoya allows visitors to sojourn in the comfort and unique accommodation experience of their own private villa with an atmosphere far removed from the outside world.

The start of a Hoshinoya Autumn spiritual experience begins with a privately arranged rickshaw ride through the most famous Sagano bamboo forest in Japan. The distinctive rustle of the bamboo leaves is a tonic for the soul. Arriving at famed Togetsukyo Bridge, one cannot help but admire the beautiful red Momiji leaves dancing in the air. Boarding a private ferry to the resort, the ten minute boat ride along the Oigawa River indulges visitors to cast aside earthly worries and simply embrace the stunningly beautiful views of autumn. A picturesque nobles’ retreat greets upon arrival – visitors will be instantly aware of how exclusive the location actually is.

Founded upon the concept of experiencing authentic Japan with modern comfort, Hoshinoya Kyoto seeks to treasure Kyoto’s values and culture and her harmony with nature while accepting a modern sensibility. All guest accommodations feature a view of the Oigawa River, delighting those who stay here for the beauty of the season. The rooms are built in the Sukiya “tea house” style of 17th century Japan, and softly lit to bring out the Kyoto-style paper patterning. True to the concept of authentic Japan with modern comfort, furnishing is in modern Japanese style but made to appear at their most beautiful, at the eye level of a viewer kneeling formally. After soaking in the exquisite en suite Hinoki (Japanese Cypress) bath tub, put on Zori (Japanese clogs), Tabi (Japanese socks), slip into traditional Japanese wear and get ready for the magic that unfolds.

Hoshinoya offers a variety of rare and unique opportunities to experience Japan. Guests can not only discover the richness of Kyoto’s natural beauty, but also discover the spirit and sophistication of Kyoto culture. Experience self enlightenment through morning Zen meditation in a temple, enjoy a romantic dinner on the river boat under the star-lit skies, a Kyoto walk in Kimono, Ikebana classes,  biking in Kyoto (all upon request), or Monko, a Japanese incense ceremony (organised daily).

As one’s spirit heals through breathtaking sights, pleasing sounds of nature and spiritual experiences that touches the heart, the taste of Hoshinoya beckons. Kyoto cuisine has always combined mainstream Japanese cooking with Kyoto’s imperial tradition and selected local ingredients. Helmed by one Michelin-star chef Kubota Ichiro, Hoshinoya, Kyoto Japanese cuisine is carried to a new level by boldly incorporating foreign cooking art. Indulge in the exquisite taste of Kyoyasai (Kyoto local vegetables), prepared with full respect for the seasons and be led gently from one dish to another in your gastronomic journey. For true culinary pilgrims, arrangements can also be made in advance for an ethereal dining experience at the nearby Kyoto Kitcho, a 3 Michelin Stars Japanese restaurant in Arashiyama.

While adjourning to one of the 25 guest rooms for rest, be mesmerised by the “Water Garden” in front of the library and try to spot the “Hidden Garden” nestled amongst the guest rooms. Both are illuminated after dark, by stars in the skies and carefully placed subtle lighting, to represent the phases of the crescent moon turning full. Immersed in the pleasures of a shadowy world, lost in the bright fluorescent illumination in which we live today, Zen is discovered in Kyoto.


P.S. If absolutely necessary, rental DVD player, DVD movies and projectors are available upon request

Access:

Hoshinoya Kyoto is situated in the easily accessible yet stunningly beautiful Arashiyama region of Kyoto City, a traditional vacation area dating back to the Heian era (794 – 1185). Upon boarding a boat from the famed Togetsukyo Bridge, guests can take in the splendour of Arashiyama’s natural scenery in a ten minute boat ride up the Oigawa River before reaching Hoshinoya Kyoto.

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The Secrets of Seychelles

Located 4 degrees south of the Equator and hundreds of miles away from anywhere else, Seychelles was once the perfect hideout for pirates to stash their bounty. Today, Seychelles is known to be the dream destination of honeymooners, even the royal ones. With 115 islands sprinkled across the Indian Ocean, you can be sure to find a secluded spot that’s hidden from view, yet has all the treasures that nature has to offer — clear turquoise waters, dramatic granite cliffs, coral atolls and lush tropical vegetation.

A welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of modern city life, this archipelago holds many of the world’s oldest riches. Formed millions of years ago, when fragments of the Gondwanaland supercontinent were cast adrift, these granitic islands are the only ones to be found mid-ocean.

Left uninhabited until the late 18th century, Seychelles is now home to some of the most primitive flora and fauna. The most exotic of which is the legendary coco de mer. This extremely peculiar fruit, which resembles a woman’s bottom, and even has a male counterpart, suggests perhaps, that this really is the place meant for love birds to get acquainted with their primal instincts.

Lest you think that such an idyllic destination is hard to get to, let’s set the record straight. Getting there is easy. Air Seychelles operates a weekly direct flight from Singapore to the main island, Mahe. Mahe may measure just 27 kilometres by 8 kilometres, but it boasts of a whopping 70 beaches and the splendid Morne Seychellois National Park.

Whether you decide to take a stroll down the white, sandy beach, a walk on the verdant trails or a dip in the crystal clear waters, you’ll quickly understand why this was originally called ‘Abundance Island’. Every nook and cranny is brimming with life. You’ll feel it in the pulse of the popular Beau Vallon, inhale it in the serenity of the scenic Mission Lodge, and swim amongst it in the reefs of the Anse Royale.

Then at the end of the day, head for the Sunset Beach Resort. Watching the sun fall below the horizon, turning the ocean into liquid gold, is sheer intoxication. This makes for a romantic backdrop should you choose to dine on delectable local cuisine at the alfresco Silhouette.

And that’s just the beginning of Seychelles. Mahe is a good base to explore the many islands around. Take your pick from the nearby inner granitic islands like Praslin and La Digue or venture further to the outer coralline islands far removed from civilisation.

But the ultimate in exclusivity lies on Frégate Island Private. With just 16 villas and one presidential suite on three square kilometres of paradise, you’re pretty much living it up with the rich and famous. 120 staff provide the exceptional service to top it all off. If you were ever to be stranded on an island, this is the one you’d pick.

As we approached this highly anticipated segment of our trip, an awe-inspiring sight gripped us. Entranced, we watched as a pristine, rocky island surrounded by glittering waters in the evening sun drew near. Perched on the edge of the cliffs were these quaint villas, soon to be home for the night. By the time we were shown to ours, the sky had turned dark. But we knew we’d awake to a majestic view the next morning. In fact, I could hardly wait to see the beauty that would greet me at my doorstep. The crashing waves and chirping birds, heard only by the lightest sleeper, acted as my alarm clock at dawn, just as Mother Nature had intended. And true enough, I opened the door to see the vast ocean, framed by luxuriant trees just as the sky began to receive its first rays of light. The best part? I got to soak it up in the privacy of our very own infinity pool, jacuzzi and daybed.

This is a haven that’s not just adored by guests; flora and fauna revel in it too, evident from the nesting birds, free-roaming giant tortoises and sprawling tropical vegetation. Overhead, exotic birds like the Magpie Robin, Fairy Tern and Lesser Noddy abound, while countless marine lifeforms lie under your feet, just waiting to be discovered.

The more we got to know Frégate, the more it charmed its way into our hearts. There is the integrated environmental programme, which helped restore and rehabilitate some of the world’s rarest species. There is the luxurious Rock Spa, which concocts their own traditional treatments made with natural ingredients. There are the unique gastronomic experiences, made even more delicious by the island grown produce — breakfast in the Treehouse or a private candlelight dinner on the beach.

There are the seven dazzling beaches, and even a private beach on this private island; at Anse Macquereau you turn a sign to say that it’s occupied when you arrive and then back to ‘vacant’ when you leave.

And there is, of course, a certified private butler appointed to each villa, and ours was sprightly Burhan. His warm smile and gentle demeanour gave us a hint that our stay was going to be immensely enjoyable indeed.

Burhan knew the ins and outs of the island and showed us to its most spectacular spots. He led us on a short hike through the tortoise trail, past the magnificent age-old banyan trees and to a lookout point overlooking Anse Felix. Here, we finally caught sight of the elusive Frégate bird. This elegant bird, with a wingspan of two metres, is known for its impressive flying abilities, and no longer nests on the island. We were lucky to have caught sight of it, but it’s true what they say about this being a shy bird; as soon as we reached for our cameras, it flew away swiftly.

Befitting of the ‘anything, anytime, anywhere’ philosophy of Frégate, Burhan managed to arrange for us, within short notice, to have a Creole dinner at the Plantation House. The Plantation House is really a museum that acts as a second restaurant on the island, but is typically closed during the season when we were there. Dinner, however, turned out to be a pretty magical encounter. We were transported into another world altogether as we tucked into traditional dishes like fisherman’s salad and seafood curry among pirate artefacts and cowrie shells.

After thanking Burhan for the wonderful evening, we stepped out onto the pathway heading back to our villa. Twinkling stars dotted the cloudless sky, bidding us sweet dreams as we retired for the night.

It has been said that treasure from ancient pirates still lies buried somewhere in Seychelles to this day, waiting to be uncovered. With all the gems that abound on this unmatched destination, there is truly wealth to be found around every corner.