Asia

  • Winter Blues? No Worries! Here Are Our Top Five Island Getaways

    The great comedian and actor Carl Reiner once said, “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” With old man Winter just now settling in, many will come to echo the sentiments of Mr. Reiner. Shorter days, colder temperatures, and those pesky snow storms will have us clamoring for the return of Spring. Fortunately, you need not wait for the flowers to bloom to beat those winter blues. Here is a list of our top five island getaways for those who would rather wear trunks and shades to hats and gloves.

    Lizard Island: Winter Blues Prohibited

    Lizard Island Resort | Photo Credit: Lizard Island Resort

    Lizard Island Resort | Photo Credit: Lizard Island Resort

    Who needs snow drifts when you have 24 private beaches to choose from? The answer? No one. What’s more, the good folks at Lizard Island Resort provide complimentary boat transfers to each of those beaches so that you can visit as many as you want. Secluded and exclusive, the resort is Australia’s northernmost island-beach getaway that will have you staying right on the Great Barrier Reef. This means snorkeling, paddle boarding, and diving, as well as exposure to some incredible marine wildlife. Lizard Island Resort simply delivers.

     

    Fiji: Paradise As You Pictured It

    Kokomo Island Resort | Photo Credit: Kokomo Island Resort

    Kokomo Island Resort | Photo Credit: Kokomo Island Resort

    Is there a more fabled island destination than this chain of South Pacific islands? Islands covered with forests, the sun setting into the Pacific, and cocktails adorned with umbrellas. This is represented no better than at Kokomo Island Resort, a private island upon which there are no winter blues to be found. The Beachfront Villas are just that: beautiful villas equipped with private pools and set amid palm trees on the beach. Additionally, many of our travelers opt for a relaxing stopover in Fiji on the backend of an adventure-laden trip in New Zealand. There is no better place to unwind and reflect than Fiji. You will not be disappointed.

    Bali: Winter Blues Banished

    Ayana Resort | Photo Credit: Ayana Resort

    Ayana Resort | Photo Credit: Ayana Resort

    In Bali, the mountains are not covered with snow but instead with volcanic forests and rice paddies. This Indonesian island is perfect for sweating out those winter blues, whether it be on the beach or as a result of some delightfully spicy cuisine. Should you want to stay in the tropical forest, look no further than The Samaya Ubud. Set in the jungle, the accommodations are stunning and the nature trekking is unforgettable. Or opt for the beach and stay at Ayana Resort. Immerse yourself in culture whether it be through their rice planting program or a traditional Balinese cooking class. Exotic and warm, you may never want to leave.

     

    Koh Samui: A Cure for the Cold

    Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui | Photo Credit: Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui

    Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui | Photo Credit: Four Seasons Resort, Koh Samui

    Seeing a monkey scale a tree and snap up a ripe coconut will melt those pesky winter blues. In Koh Samui, it’s difficult to feel anything but wonder amid the palm-fringed beaches and coconut plantations. It is that idyllic paradise that you daydream about as you scrape ice from your windshield and, once there, reality exceeds the dream. A stay at the Four Seasons Resort, with its gorgeous tropical views and private plunge pools confirms this notion. Or lodge at the Six Senses and feast your eyes on panoramas of the Gulf of Thailand and its turquoise waters in a setting inspired by a traditional Thai fishing village. Regardless, the only frozen water you will encounter will be the ice in your cocktails.

     

    Lord Howe: The Hot, Hidden Gem

    Capella Lodge | Photo Credit: Capella Lodge

    Capella Lodge | Photo Credit: Capella Lodge

    Lose those winter blues on a hike through this green gem of an island. Iconic and World Heritage-listed, Lord Howe Island is less than a two hour flight from Sydney and is a gateway to a tropical haven. The land is lush with greenery and coral reefs line the sea floor that surrounds the island. And, in the center of it all sits Capella Lodge, the island’s premium boutique accommodation. Offering breathtaking views of both the ocean and the mountains, Capella Lodge offers a quintessential island experience. Feed fish at Ned’s beach, learn to surf at Blinky’s Beach, or go on the ridge walk to Kim’s Lookout. The options are many and the days are memorable.

    These five island getaways represent some of the best we have to offer. Sun, sand, and jungle, but most importantly, all lacking dark evenings and winter chill. So stop dreaming about an island getaway while you spread salt on your sidewalk or layer on your third jacket. Instead, escape the dreary winter with one of our Team’s favorite exotic getaways to an island paradise. You will not regret it.

    December 13, 2019 • Asia, Max Wasserman, South Pacific Islands, Uncategorized • Views: 1550

  • Japanese Quintessential

    Full of fantastic sights and cultural experiences, Japan overwhelms the visitor with its volume of offerings. With this in mind, I journeyed to the “The Land of the Rising Sun” to determine what constitutes a Japanese quintessential. Here are the must-sees and dos that I found.

    Kanazawa: Japanese Quintessential

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    From the moment I read about Kanazawa in college, I was fascinated by the historical samurai town. My day started on foot, touring the classic neighborhood of Nagamachi. I explored Nomura Samurai House, a home that belonged to a wealthy samurai family. The home featured traditional tatami rooms, a family shrine, and a full suit of armor on display. The yard out back was no different, housing both a beautiful garden and a koi pond. Afterward, I visited the  centerpiece of any trip to Kanazawa: Kenrokuen Garden. Spacious, classic, and secluded, the garden is one of the most beautiful in the country. The water features, bridges, teahouses, trees, flowers, and stones make the Garden a Japanese quintessential.

    Miyagawa Market and Shirakawago: Japanese Quintessential

    Miyagawa Market | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Miyagawa Market | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    My next stop? Miyagawa morning market! Stocked with impressive wood sculptures and intricate pottery, Miyagawa is also an excellent place for snacks. The sesame crackers and taiyakai, a sweet cream-filled cake, were delicious. Once through, I walked the streets of Old Town and took in the charming old-style houses and sake breweries. A wealthy merchant district dating back to the 1600s, Old Town was traditional Japan at its most beautiful. Next, my journey continued to UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Shirakawago. Most famous for its Gassho-style farmhouses, Shirakawago homes are built without nails. The roofs, thatched and steeply sloped, look like hands at prayer.

    Forest of Wisdom: Japanese Quintessential

    The Forest Wisdom | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    The Forest Wisdom | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    My first stop was the small, seven family town of Hiyou. I was there to see the Forest of Wisdom, a project that aims to preserve the cedar trees, moss, and natural resources of the area. Moss is a symbol of Japanese culture and it was magical to see them cultivating and growing endangered varieties of moss in the Forest. After a tasty lunch, I walked to the spectacular Kakusenkei Gorge and soaked in the views. Afterward, I grabbed a snack at teahouse perched alongside the river and then made my way back on the interesting bridges of the gorge. At each end of the gorge is a bridge, one traditional wooden bridge and one modern steel bridge which made for an intriguing visual of Japanese history and modernity working together. The Forest and the gorge were a respite from a few busy days of touring and a Japanese quintessential.

    Maiko Dinner and Show: My Favorite

    Maiko Dinner | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Maiko Dinner | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    My favorite stop in Nara was Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Set in the forest, I felt a calm wash over me as soon as I entered the Shrine. Kasuga is most known for the hundreds of bronze lanterns that adorn temple buildings and the stone lanterns that line the pathways of temple hall. I could have spent hours looking at the lanterns. The older ones were covered in a shiny green moss while the brighter, new ones showed newly painted instructions. In Kyoto, I participated in my favorite experience on the trip: a Maiko Dinner and Show at Gion Hatanaka. While I enjoyed a traditional seven-course Kyoto Kaiseki dinner, both maiko and geiko (Kyoto dialect for Geisha) performed traditional songs and dances. During a brief break in the performances the ladies came to each table and answered diners’ questions. I ended my evening and trip with some fun party games.

    These sights and experiences represent the history, culture, and essence of Japan. In short, quintessential Japan, where every day is a new adventure and every interaction a learning experience.

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Kanazawa | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    November 18, 2019 • Asia, Donna Van Buren, Travels • Views: 1044

  • The Sacred Journey

    I went on a sacred journey across Asia and visited some of the its oldest temples. Beyond bricks and mortar, what I experienced when I entered these incredible shrines was special. Let me explain why.

    Bali

    Nusa Penida, Bali | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Nusa Penida, Bali | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Beginning in Indonesia, my sacred journey led me first to the island province of Bali. World renowned for its beaches, Bali crackles with an energy reflective of its people. Its cuisine is no different. I took a cooking class and learned how to make traditional Indonesian curries, sambals, and other traditional dishes. Afterward, I set out to see some Bali’s fantastic sights. I explored Nusa Penida, an island community known for its world class diving locations and panoramas of the Badung Strait. Finally, I saw the spectacular Tanah Lot Temple. One of seven sea temples set off the Balinese coast, Tanah Lot is a breathtaking representation of historic Balinese culture.

    Komodo Island

    Komodo Island | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Komodo Island | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Named for its most famous inhabitants, Komodo Island is home to the Komodo Dragon. Weighing up to 200 pounds and measuring out at nearly eight and half feet in length, these lizards are modern day dinosaurs. Yet, the natural landscape of Komodo Island is just as striking as its residents. The island is 240 miles of lush greenery, rugged terrain, and picturesque beaches. Komodo Island also features a pink sand beach, one of only seven that exist in the entire world. After snapping some pictures with some new friends, I ate lunch on the pink beach and listened to the sea.

    Yogyakarta and Borobudur

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    After my adventure in Komodo Island, the sacred journey took me next to the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. I visited the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site Prambanan Temple, the largest Hindu temple in all of Indonesia. Next was the Taman Sari, a renowned water castle that was built in the mid-18th century. The next morning, I left the hotel at 4:30am to watch the sunrise at the Borobudur. Another UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, the Borobudur is a ninth-century Buddhist Temple that is also the world’s largest. Watching the sun rise over the spires and arches was magical and a sight that I will never forget.

    Singapore

    Gardens by the Bay, Singapore | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Gardens by the Bay, Singapore | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    The last stop of my sacred journey brought me to the beautiful country of Singapore. I went on the Heritage Foodalicious Tour, tasted some samples, and learned about a family-run soy sauce business. After, I visited the Gardens by the Bay, a stunning nature park that runs adjacent to the marina resevoir. I ended my trip and my night with a laser light show under the “trees” in the park. Colorful, electric, and beautiful, it was a fitting end to the trip.

    Southeast Asia evokes wonder because it is a world unto itself. From the sea temples of Bali to the Komodo Dragons of Komodo Island, Southeast Asia is a wonder land worth visiting more than once.

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    Borobudur, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Donna Van Buren

    November 14, 2019 • Asia, Travels • Views: 629

  • Japan: A Journey Through Time

    Past and present mingle in Japan, producing a culture that is vibrant and eclectic.

    Bullet Train Through Japan

    In Japan, I found that there is no better representation of the country than the bullet train. Clean, orderly, and prompt—the bullet train is a marvel. The three-and-half-hour journey from Tokyo to Fukuyama was smooth as silk. Before entering or exiting the train car, an attendant would bow, a sign of respect and thanks for joining them on this journey. Needless to say, that my first impression of the country was one of humble respect. Tattoos are covered and shoes are removed before entering rooms. It is a country that prizes its culture and history-both of which I was able to experience firsthand.

    Guntu Cruise

    What the bullet trains are to contemporary Japanese culture, the Guntu Cruise is to the country’s storied past. Guntu is named after the blue crabs that inhabit the waters around the Seto Inland Sea. This luxury floating Ryokan houses 16 beautiful cabins. All meals were included as well as a seating at the sushi bar which itself was a two-hour raw fish journey. And the view through the window behind the bar displays the gorgeous natural setting of the Inland Sea. Clad in a kimono, I also participated in a traditional tea ceremony before returning to my room—a Terrace Suite complete with my own personal balcony. The next day I took an excursion into the town of Miyajima with its shrine and Torii Gate.

    The cruise concluded the next day and I was back on a bullet train aimed toward Tokyo. It was clear that while Guntu and the bullet train were from different eras, they were both imbued with tradition that came from the Japanese people themselves. Tradition is glue that binds culture and history together to form the rich collage that is a country. In Japan that collage is humble, respectful, and majestic.
    Cory on the Guntu | Photo Credit: Cory Payton

    Cory on the Guntu | Photo Credit: Cory Payton

    Want to experience Japan for yourself? Check out our Japan itineraries!

    July 3, 2019 • Asia, Cory Payton, Cruises, Travels • Views: 721

  • Singapore: The Lion City

    Singapore offers night life, innovative cuisine, impeccable cleanliness and iconic Marina Bay Sands. I quickly realized there was so much more this country had to offer with hidden secrets nestled throughout.

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    Singapore Airlines

    I began my solo traveling experience by flying with one of the world’s most luxurious leading carriers, Singapore Airlines. All the flight attendants and cabin crew treated the passengers with grace, ease and white glove service. If this was to be my first introduction to this region, I was more than excited to have this long-haul flight set such a positive tone. Twenty-three hours and a connection later, I arrived. The cleanliness and the hospitable nature of the people were immediately evident.

    Touring the City

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    After settling in, I couldn’t wait to explore. The top of the observation wheel known as the Singapore Flyer offers 360-degree views of the city. To enhance the experience, I was able to indulge in a delicious dinner from a private premium sky dining cart. On a one-hour trip around the Flyer, I was able to capture the breathtaking views. The Botanic Gardens were next on my list as these are the first and only tropical botanic gardens on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. I was able to weave around incredible floral displays, a forest environment and even healing gardens before I realized I had spent hours in awe of the beauty.

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    Singapore Sling

    Of course, no stop would be complete without indulging in a Singapore Sling drink! This beautiful pink gin-mixed beverage is famous all throughout the city and comes highly recommended. The drink is yet another way that Singapore distinguishes itself from other countries with its eclectic culture and hospitable people.

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    April 22, 2019 • Asia, Jacqui McDonald, Travels • Views: 1394

  • Christmas in Vietnam and Cambodia

    Vietnam

    My boys and I arrived in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi after a long flight from JFK. After a restful night, we awoke early and walked to the Hoan Kiem Lake, which was but a stone’s throw away from our hotel. At the lake, morning music blared while both the young and the old practiced Tai Chi. We watched the graceful art at first before attempting it with mixed results for ourselves.

    Colorful Hanoi | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Colorful Hanoi | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    The tranquil morning spent at the lake stood in stark contrast to the day spent in the Old Quarter in Hanoi. The Old Quarter has the charm and energy of a vibrant young city despite its vast number of traditional shop houses. It is also home to the Temple of Confucious — additionally known as the Temple of Literature — which was founded in the 11th century as the site of Vietnam’s first university. Next, we visited Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where we saw the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh. We then explored the Old Quarter by foot, discovering narrow alleys, with a stop at Street Food cafe and the famous Vietnamese coffee.

    Hanoi | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Hanoi | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Hanoi to Hoi An

    From Hanoi to Danang, we flew Vietnam Air before transferring to Hoi An. Our hotel was located close to the Hoi An Ancient town and Hoi An market — a charming area with night markets, lanterns and great cafes. The next day, we took a Vietnamese cooking class which provided us with one of the more memorable experiences of our trip. During the class, we rode our bicycles to the market to pick up all the ingredients and then we visited the vegetable fields where we soaked in the flavor of the local farm life before cooking a delicious meal. We spent the next few days exploring Hoi An, gorging on local food and taking in the striking views that looked out over the sea.

    Hoi An Market | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Hoi An Market | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Hoi An Lanterns | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Hoi An Lanterns | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Ho Chi Minh City

    We flew from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City — still known as Saigon to many. Upon arrival, we were struck by the energy of the city. Our guide told us that there are more than eight million motorcycles in the city of twelve million people! The constant buzz of the engines seemed to be an appropriate soundtrack for a city as fast-paced and dynamic as Ho Chi Minh City.

    Biking | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Biking | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    The next day, we drove to the outskirts of the city to Ben Tre. We rode bikes on small roads, immersing fully in the local culture of the Mekong Delta and the rustic countryside. We passed secluded areas of lush orchards, green rice paddy fields and coconut trees. Lunch was delightful at a traditional Mekong restaurant, and afterward we stopped for “Keo dua” (coconut candy).

    Cambodia

    Siem Reap — the cultural capital of Cambodia — was the last stop on our trip. Our hotel was centrally located, allowing us an easy walk to the market, cafes and souvenir shops. We participated in a quad bike excursion that took us through the countryside backroads of Siem Reap, weaving along rice paddy fields and beautiful scenery.

    Siem Reap Biking | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Siem Reap Biking | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Bela & her sons | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Bela & her sons | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    The next day, we rose early to see the magnificent Angkor Wat at sunrise. It took almost 37 years to build this Hindu temple which later became the center of worship for Buddhism. It was stunning at sunrise to see the play of light on the stones.

    Angkor Wat | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    Angkor Wat | Photo Credit: Bela Banker

    We capped our trip by walking through Siem Reap’s local market and enjoying the local food and culture. It was a perfect trip for my boys and I for Christmas.

    March 20, 2019 • Asia, Bela Banker, Travels • Views: 2216