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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.

text MOMOKO

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.

 

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SWISS launches special fares for new Singapore-Zurich service from just S$705*!

 

Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) has launched special introductory fares for its new daily service from Singapore to Zurich that will commence on 13 May 2013.

Visit the magnificent Swiss Alps or the breathtaking Lake Zurich with a round trip in Economy Class from as low as S$705*! If you’re looking to spice up your travel with optimum comfort, a round trip in Business Class is available from S$3705* and offers the innovative SWISS Business Class seats that eases into a 2-metre lie-flat bed.

To enjoy this unbelievably low fare, travellers must purchase their tickets between 14 January 2013 and 28 January 2013. Travel period is from 13 May 2013 to 30 November 2013. Terms and conditions apply.

The new route to Switzerland’s prime economic hub will be operated with an Airbus A340-300 aircraft, offering 219 seats. The westbound LX 179 flight will depart from Singapore at 23:10 and arrive in Zurich at 06:10 the following day. The eastbound LX 178 service will leave Zurich at 22:45 and touch down in Singapore at 17:10 the next day.

Celebrate the launch with SWISS and book your Europe getaway now at www.swiss.com or through your travel agents!

*Round-trip fare includes taxes, surcharges and is subject to currency exchange fluctuations.

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The Heart of India : Goa

 

In the past, Goa was the preserve of hippies making their way across the Indian sub-continent, stopping off to enjoy some rest and relaxation on its then undiscovered beaches. Today, it still retains much of that old hippie vibe, but has become so much more besides, and is even a stop for ships sailing with Fred Olsen cruise lines. Neither the hippies of the sixties, nor the Portuguese colonists that arrived in Goa in the sixteenth century would have foreseen their little slice of Indian paradise becoming a luxury holiday destination. However, among many other things, that is exactly what it has become. So what’s the appeal?

Goa’s main attraction is, naturally, its beaches. Huge swathes of deep yellow sand,.lapped by warm seas and and backed endless palm trees are strung out all along the coast. Some beaches are almost as deserted as they might have been back in the sixties, others are most definitely on the tourist trail, with a modern nightlife to match. In most areas, there is a choice of accommodation, from basic beach huts to sparkling, modern four and five star hotels. So, choose your beach and then find the accommodation to match. From north to south, these are the places to be in Goa.

Arambol and Mandrem

The last real hippie paradise in Goa. Arambol is a quiet paradise, far away from the package tourist crowds that dominate further south. The village is really just a ramshackle collection of streets that lead down to the beach. There, you’ll find beach huts serving up the catch of the day, and a friendly, laid-back vibe. If you’d rather experience glorious isolation, head just south to the wonderfully empty sands at Mandrem beach.

 

Chapora and Vagator

Chapora is a gorgeous, characterful village that charms everyone who visits with its cafe culture, ancient fort and stunning views over rugged clifftops that back the beach. The small settlement of Vagator is just around the headland. It’s quieter and less discovered than neighbouring Anjuna.

Anjuna

Anjuna is famous for its flea market, which has run there weekly since the 1960s. It’s also the centre of Goa’s party scene, so is the place to head if you’re keen to get your dancing shoes on. If you’d rather just kick back and relax, you’ll fit right in. There is plenty of space on Anjuna’s huge beach, with beach restaurants offering cold drinks, hot food and comfortable sunbeds.

Baga, Calangute and Candolim

This stretch of central Goa is the centre of its tourist industry, and offers the widest choice of hotels, huge beaches and plenty of drinking and dining options. The character changes as you head south. Baga, to the north, is the party end, with some noisy upmarket clubs catering to a mixed crowd of young Indians and westerners. Calangute is quieter and more family oriented, with Candolim the most chilled-out.

Colva and Benaulim

This pair of beaches in the south of the state are ideal for those who just want to relax and enjoy. Days are spent sunbathing or exploring the local back-lanes by bicycle, evenings eating out under the stars, listening to the waves…

Palolem and Agonda

Completely undeveloped until relatively recently, these beaches have become favourites with both backpackers and luxury-seekers. Palolem is lively and friendly, lined with bars and restaurants. Agonda is much quieter. They’re just a few kilometres apart, so you can easily split your time between the two as the mood takes you.

Away From the Beach

While the beaches are, indeed, lovely, Goa is not just about its beaches. It has a fascinating history and culture too, with strong Portuguese influences. In the quieter resorts, you can wander along the lanes away from the beach, past white churches and green fields. Head to the magnificent Old Goa, once the Portuguese capital, to see what colonial life might have been like in Goa. The city is a unique meeting of cultures, packed with churches, cathedrals and other historic buildings that have made it a UNESCO world heritage site.

Getting There

Non-stop flights operate from the UK, taking around ten hours. For a wider choice of flights, fly to nearby Mumbai and catch an internal flight from there. If you have time, stop off in Mumbai for a couple of days and experience a little of its Bollywood energy.

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Dubai: Land of Gold

Text Lin Zixin Photo L.H. Lim

Rising from what used to the nothingness of the shimmering Arabian Desert, Dubai, bustling heart of Middle East today, will have you thinking of gold in more ways than one. Dive headfirst into the magic and energy of Dubai and experience the miracle story of this east-meets-west city for yourself.

Looking at Dubai’s urbanscape, it might be hard to imagine the city as anything else besides its cosmopolitan and prosperous self today. After all, this is a place with many of the world’s firsts – the tallest building, the largest fountain, the biggest mall… and the list goes on. However, do not be intimidated by the hubbub before your eyes. Lying beneath that sleek and modern demeanour is a city that is equal parts traditional and contemporary, waiting to be discovered by the traveller who looks just hard enough.

The Contemporary

The modern face of Dubai is absolutely indiscreet and unabashedly flamboyant. And this much you’ll expect from a city that has too often created something from nothing, embarking on one ambitious project after another; from the entirely man-made Palm Islands to the currently on-hold man-made archipelago The World, it is evident that subtlety is not a trait that is highly valued in Dubai.

Thrust in the heart of Downtown Dubai, it won’t take you more than a few minutes to understand this. Looking up, soaring skyscrapers paint a dramatic skyline of daring asymmetrical lines against the cloudless sky, screaming “look at me!” All around you, the air is charged and the crowd is energetic as they stream in and out of the countless buildings lining the streets.

Wander into any of them, and you’ll probably find yourself in one of Dubai’s many mega shopping malls. Dubbed the “shopping capital of Middle East”, Dubai’s world-class shopping experience is definitely every shopaholic’s dream come true. Apart from more Louis Vuittons, Pradas and other high-end luxury goods than needed to satisfy your material girl within, Dubai’s malls also boast extravagant entertainment facilities including the likes of an Olympic sized ice rink, the world’s largest indoor ski park and a jaw-dropping 21-screen Cineplex that will be sure to occupy you for hours on end.

For buys that are more local than international, comb through traditional souks for pashmina shawls, spices, ethnic ornaments and other exotic trinkets. No matter what you are looking for, Dubai will be unlikely to leave you disappointed.

Dubai has no lack of world-class dining experiences as well. Fork out a whooping S$160 for a luxurious lunch at the 7-star Burj Al Arab. The hotel’s location on an artificial island off Jumeirah Beach guarantees fabulous sea views unparalleled by any other in Dubai. For dinner, indulge in a pampering meal while taking in the city’s night lights on the 122th storey of the 828-metre Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. After which, take a leisurely stroll to the nearby Dubai Fountain, the largest fountain in the world, and admire the magnificent musical fountain performances that happen every half an hour starting from 6pm in the evening.

Listening to the exotic repertoire and looking at the blinking lights in the distance, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that the scene channels Las Vegas of the Arabic night. You know what? You’re probably not that far off anyway.

The Traditional

For an experience of the traditional Arabian charm, book yourself on one of those desert safari tours that can be easily arranged for through your hotel. Departing in the evening around dusk, be prepared to be transported to another realm of rolling sand dunes and mysterious velvet black, all in the comfort of your guide’s trusty Land Cruiser.

Joining tens of other vehicles at the desert in an impressive procession of Land Cruisers, the air hangs with anticipation for the exhilarating experience that is about to come – dune bashing. At first slow and steady, sit tight as your vehicle suddenly plunges and rises, twists and turns with unbelievable dexterity on the soft sand dunes under the skilful manoeuvres of your guide, a feat that will be sure to evoke gasps and exclamations all around. Before you know it, the thrilling experience is over in a flash, but the memory of it will definitely send your adrenaline rushing for a long time to come.

Calm your palpitating heart by admiring the breathtaking beauty of the desert twilight. Relish the moment as the sun dips slowly beneath the horizon and bathes the golden sand in the day’s last rays. Just don’t forget your camera for this picture-perfect moment because before you know it, the darkness will already have crept in.

By the time all light is gone, you will also have arrived at the final stop of the tour – the campsite for the dinner programme. In the still of the desert and the dark, the orange lights of the campsite from afar are an inviting sight. Walking in, a waft of the mouth-watering aroma of succulent barbecued meats is enough to tantalise your taste buds and whip up your appetite. With just the carpet beneath you, settle down on one of the plush cushions and low tables that have been casually placed around the campsite and enjoy your dinner under the twinkling constellation.

After the filling dinner, take a few moments to experience the activities that are unique to the region. First, hop on the back of one of the many camels at the campsite. Bobbing and swaying on the humped creature’s back with the trainer patiently leading the animal around the grounds, we bet you’ll be feeling like Arabian royalty in no time. Otherwise, you could ink yourself with exquisite lattices through henna or try a few puffs of shisha, which is actually pretty like smoking a water pipe.

The raucous programme for the evening begins just as you are starting to get comfortable around the campsite. To the compelling beats of Middle Eastern music, be captivated by the passionate movements of the buxom belly dancer clad in vivid jewel tones in front of you. When she is done with her routine, gracefully oblige her invitations to join her in dancing up a storm! Do not be too worried if you barely know how to belly dance – chances are your neighbour doesn’t too! Pull someone along with you to share in the fun (and the initial embarrassment) and round up the evening in the desert with claps, laughter and heaps of good spirit.

Having experienced the best of Dubai and its different faces, we’re betting that you’ll be raring to come back to this sparkling land of gold in no time.

Getting There

You can choose from a large variety of airlines to get to Dubai from Singapore. Emirates operates daily flights with fares starting from S$1065. Total flight time is about 7 hours. Local transport is convenient as well as buses or prepaid taxis to the city centre are easily accessible from the airport.

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Aman at Summer Palace

Text Sophy Zee

A place to truly feel like royalty, for the couple who want the ultimate in luxury.

Rating: ★★★★★
Price: $$$$$
Couple quota: ♥♥♥♥

Price guide
$ – Less than S$200 a night
$$ – S$201 – S$350 a night
$$$ – S$351 – S$500 a night
$$$$ – S$501 – S$600 a night
$$$$$ – More than $600

At a glance

Plus points
+ Beautifully restored buildings housing the most modern of luxuries
+ Delicious food with great variety at four restaurants
+ Unconventional tours which show you the hidden side of Beijing
+ Attentive staff who know you by name

Minus points
– Quite a distance from the city centre
– Not all staff have a good grasp of English

Sleep

The suites are furnished with Ming-style furniture along simple classic lines. While it appears sparse at first, the beds are supremely comfortable, and the entertainment system is state-of-the-art.

In the bathroom, outfitted with a rain shower, the bath gel is the resorts’ own concoction, scented with empress Cixi’s favourite flower – the magnolia.

Eat

Aman, Summer Palace has a range of international restaurants – The Grill serves excellent western food with fresh ingredients.

The Chinese restaurant has Cantonese fare that is on par with some of the best restaurants in Singapore. Naoki, the Japanese restaurant is helmed by Chef Naoki Okumura and serves original French Kaiseki, cuisine, which combines French technique with Japanese artistry.

Do

A subterranean sprawl houses the gym, indoor swimming pool, squash courts, a spa, a private movie theatre, and a Kim Robinson hair salon. Movies are screened at 9pm every day.

Aman designs tours that are not available to the average traveller. Our trip to a relatively untouched section of the Great Wall included a visit to a village head, our very own guide and a picnic lunch prepared by Aman.

Sweat

The gym is out-fitted with latest Technogym equipment catering to cardio, strength, flexibility and kinetic workouts.

Also check out the indoor swimming pool and squash courts.

Classes in wushu, taiqi and pilates are organised on a regular basis.

Buy

Sanlitun (三里屯) is where you can find international brands, local designer shops and cool restaurants. For the serious shopper, Xidan (西单) is where the megamalls congregate and where you can find everything from clothes to electronics.

In the area

The nearest attraction is the Summer Palace (颐和园), which was built during the Qing dynasty by Emperor Qianlong as a summer resort.

In Beijing, besides the must-go tourist attractions like the Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square, check out the new urban hangouts like Nanluoguxiang, Workers’ stadium, Hou Hai and the 798 arts district.

For a good Peking duck with a light, crispy skin, the locals swear by Da Dong (大董).

Read more in our article about Beijing.

Getting There

The resort is about 20 minutes by car from Beijing International Airport, and 40 minutes from the centre of Beijing.

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Mutiara Johor Bahru

Text Lin Zixin

One of Johor Bahru’s premium business hotels, the newly refurbished Mutiara Johor Bahru is fuss-free and centrally located accommodation suitable for that short getaway from Singapore.

Rating: ★★★
Price: $$
Couple quota: ♥♥

Price guide
$ – Less than S$200 a night
$$ – S$201 – S$350 a night
$$$ – S$351 – S$500 a night
$$$$ – S$501 – S$600 a night
$$$$$ – More than $600

At a glance

Plus points
+ Prime location in the heart of Johor Bahru
+ Easy to get to
+ Comfortable and fuss-free

Minus points
– Interiors are run of the mill
– Little attractions nearby
– Views are mediocre

Sleep

Though rooms are comfortable but without surprises, we liked the Junior Club Suite that is especially family-friendly. On top of a double bed for the parents, the room also has a specially designed corner for children with double-decker beds, a PlayStation and other toys to guarantee a cosy and entertaining stay. Choose from Junior Club Suites with themes including Soccer Mania, My Secret Garden and Sweet Melody.

Eat

The hotel’s Meisan Szechuan Restaurant serves excellent Chinese cuisine while the Seri Mutiara Restaurant serves an equally palatable buffet of local and continental dishes. Check out the Polo Lounge as well for some late-night drinks and live music till 1am.

Sweat

There is a lack of outdoor activities nearby due to the hotel’s city location but you can sweat it out at the hotel’s gym and swimming pool.

Relax

Girls, listen up! Choose to beauty up your talons with manicure and pedicure services right next to the hotel or pamper yourself with a rejuvenating message at Manja Spa just across the road. Prices start at RM88 for 60 minutes of Javanese massage that is pure heaven for your work-weary bodies.

Buy

Mutiara Johor Bahru is just minutes away from the best of Johor Bahru’s shopping. In the area are The Holiday Plaza, Plaza Pelangi, City Plaza and so on.

In the area

A stone’s throw away from the hotel is Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman, the world’s first Hindu glass temple. Originally built in 1922, the temple was subsequently adorned with coloured glass in-lays and reopened in October 2009. Be dazzled by the shining spectacle that is reportedly 95 percent glass.

Getting There

Mutiara Johor Bahru is a breezy 15 minutes away from the Johor-Singapore Causeway and should not take more than an hour from Singapore if the traffic is smooth. If you don’t drive, public transport is convenient as well. Apart from the bus service 170, you can also take a direct taxi across the causeway from the taxi stand at Queen’s Street, just off Bugis. Prices are S$10 per head or S$40 per trip.

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L Hotel Seminyak

Quintessentially Chic and Luxuriously Elegant, L Hotel indulges you with a personalized Butler service and appeals to discerning, well-heeled travelers looking for a luxurious, intimate retreat.

Rating: ★★★★
Price: $$
Couple quota: ♥♥♥♥

Price guide
$ – Less than S$200 a night
$$ – S$201 – S$350 a night
$$$ – S$351 – S$500 a night
$$$$ – S$501 – S$600 a night
$$$$$ – More than $600

At a glance

Plus points
+ Immaculate service to attend to every whim and fancy
+ Central location to quintessential Seminyak dining spots & attractions
+ Waking up to such lovely staff

Minus points
– If you are looking for a Balinese style hotel, L Hotel is too modern in design

Sleep

Snuggle in lush duvet and be pampered by an extensive pillow menu for guests to tailor their preference. Ladies will be impressed with in-room Kiehl’s range of toiletries, with thoughtful extras such as a UV defense face block and a facial cleanser.

All 30 plush suites are furnished with sheer white marble walls and a bespoke handcrafted piece of Balinese ceiling ornament. Sexy mood lighting and luxurious trappings in each room set the mood for Love.

Eat

The dining experience is surprisingly good for a relatively small boutique hotel. The rooftop Luna Bar & Dining, serves up delectable Balinese cuisine with an impressive wine list amidst idyllic panoramic views. Lola restaurant & Bar on the mezzanine level impresses with a one-of-a-kind “Lovers Corner” – a private corner isolated from the main dining area, with a cascading water feature streaming down from your table on the side. Brilliant!

Do

The L Hotel Butlers’ motto is “Leave it to Us.”

Each guest has a dedicated butler providing 24/7 attention at the guests’ request. L’s team of butlers to guest ratio is 1:1, making it the essential unique feature of L Hotel. Your butler can help tailor your Bali experience by helping you get to the right places to be for sunset, spa treatments, golf, sightseeing and many more. The hottest restaurants and beach clubs in Seminyak are within walking distance as well.

Relax

L’Spa offers therapies and wellness experiences that are luxurious, organic and authentic. Enjoy a luxurious massage, a facial or manicure services as a perfect prelude to enjoying Seminyak’s vibrant nightlife!

Buy

Carga, located near the hotel, is a must-visit standalone Balinese house selling chic Balinese and Indonesian handcrafted items and home ware.

In the area

Hop around some of Bali’s most famous nightspots – Kudeta, Potato Head Beach Club, Mint Club, Cubana and Hu’u Bar and enjoy dining in one of the best restaurants in Bali – Metis restaurant.

Getting There

Enjoy a warm welcome by informing your personal butler to pick you up from the airport. Thereafter, it is a 40 minute trip to the hotel where you can enjoy planning out the perfect holiday in Bali and make necessary reservations with the help of your Butler.