Asia

  • 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: 632

  • 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: 1533

  • From Camera Lens to Cover Page

    Each year, we take on an expansive search to find the perfect images for our annual Travel Catalogs. Our goal is to find imagery that captures each destination’s beauty and mystery, while inspiring wonder and excitement to travel!

    After searching through countless stunning images, we became captivated by these three beautiful photos from Johan Lolos’ portfolio. Johan Lolos, a native Belgian, is a self-taught photographer that travels the world capturing breathtaking moments in time.

    Just as important as the image, is the story behind it. Follow the journey below.

    Can you tell us the story behind each image?

    Africa Cover | Photo Credit: Johan Lolos

    Africa Cover | Photo Credit: Johan Lolos

    Africa: Namibia

    I took that photo about a year ago in Namibia. It is an interesting story. I was in Namibia for a personal project – I just wanted to go to Africa to experience a safari. I got in touch with a private reserve called Erindi and stayed for a week. Every day we would go on an early morning game drive to spot wildlife. The drives lasted all day. I took a few great images that I’m very proud of, but that specific image of the elephants, I took from the restaurant at the lodge.

    Basically, the lodge is inside the reserve and from the balcony of the restaurant you can see a part of the reserve with water ponds. The ponds draw in elephants, giraffes and other kinds of wildlife. One morning I was having breakfast with no intention of taking photos due to light that day. Then, I saw this family of elephants coming from far away. They were walking towards the water ponds, so I quickly grabbed my tele-zoom lens and started to take photos of them. I was very happy with the results. Spending a week in that reserve is one of my best memories and I would love to go back.

    South Pacific Cover | Photo Credit: Johan Lolos

    South Pacific Cover | Photo Credit: Johan Lolos

    South Pacific: Victoria, Australia

    This photo was taken five years ago in early 2014. At the time, I was living in Australia after graduating school in Belgium. I had bought a one-way ticket so I could spend a year there. I lived in Melbourne for a few months where I mostly worked, nothing exciting. Then January 2014, I went on my first big travel mission, not as a photographer. I wanted to do the Great Ocean Road, and my friends and I rented a car for a three-day road trip. We, of course, stopped at the Twelve Apostles where I took a few photos. It was the very first time my images went viral online when National Geographic reposted one of my photos.

    At the time, Instagram was just beginning to get popular and I figured it would be a great opportunity to make a living out of it. I saw that NatGeo, every Wednesday, would repost images from followers who used their hashtag – #NatGeoTravelPic. My goal was to be featured. Every photo I posted, I was using that hashtag and one day, they shared my photo of the Twelve Apostles. I completely freaked out and woke everyone up to show them. I went from a few hundred followers to a few thousand followers overnight. That’s how everything started for me.

    Asia Cover | Photo Credit: Johan Lolos

    Asia Cover | Photo Credit: Johan Lolos

    Asia and India: Myanmar

    This photo was taken in Myanmar in April 2018. The woman in the photo is my partner, Delphine. We had gone on a three-week trip and it was my first big photography trip in Asia. I had spent a week in Bali before, but nothing beyond that. I had never been in Southeast Asia before. It was a private project mostly about having fun and discovering new cultures. When we visited Bagan, my goal was to shoot one of the famous temples.

    I began looking around to try and find a more remote temple with less tourists. So many people come to watch the sunrise or sunset over the temples. My mission was to find, through Google Maps, one remote temple so Delphine and I could enjoy the sunrise. In the distance, we could see the famous balloons soaring over the temples. It was an amazing view.

    Finding a remote temple was not easy because there are so many temples in Bagan – upwards of 5,000! The biggest ones were famous so there were hundreds of tourists there every day. I wanted to not only find a remote temple, but also find a temple with a nice view. Not all of them offer the best views. However, every year, Myanmar is more restrictive with entry to the temples. In 2017, the Myanmar government shut down all access to temples. It is almost completely forbidden to climb the temples for safety and conservation reasons. Currently the Bagan temples are not a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so the new rules are to increase the chances that Bagan will be included on that list. I was lucky enough to find a temple that was not fenced off which is how I was able to take the photo.

    Follow Johan Lolos on Instagram

    February 8, 2019 • Africa, Asia, Australia, Interviews • Views: 721

  • Kyoto Basics

    Throughout our trip to Japan, which included visits to Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, we found ourselves saying “if only we had another day here” as we left each city. This was most true of Kyoto; home to many famous historic landmarks in the country, it is a must-see destination when traveling to Japan.

    The Machiya

    We decided to forego staying in a hotel while in Kyoto and elected to stay at a machiya – a traditional Kyoto townhouse. We wanted to make sure we spent time in a traditional Japanese home. When entering the house, there is a small room where you remove your shoes before entering the main house. Once your shoes are off, you slide open the wooden door to reveal a simple, warm space. The walls are plain yet detailed, the floors are covered with tatami mats and the furniture is all designed for use while kneeling or sitting on the ground.

    Michiya Table | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Michiya Table | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    The space was so inviting that we felt as if we had just walked into our home. While there were two normal beds in one room, the second bedroom was much more traditional with two futons available to complete the machiya experience. The bathroom had a regular shower only with a wooden soaking tub that allowed you to relax and look out into the small garden at the back of the property. Staying in the machiya felt as if it was integral to our experience in Kyoto. We quite enjoyed our time relaxing and taking in the experience of simply being in the house.

    Authentic Ramen

    We knew we wanted ramen for dinner the first night in Kyoto. One restaurant that offers a unique take on the dish is Menbakaichidai Ramen. Here, traditional Japanese ramen is served with one big twist: fire! Commonly referred to as “Fire Ramen,” this small restaurant serves up ramen that is literally set on fire right in front of you. The fire ignites when the chef pours a small amount of hot oil onto a healthy amount of green onion that is piled on top of the bowl. This ignites a flame that reaches several feet in the air and lasts for about a second.

    Fire Ramen | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Fire Ramen | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    The process releases a unique flavor into the dish unlike any ramen you have ever had. Depending on which set you order, you can add sides of fried rice, gyoza and karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken) to your meal. A spectacle that is every bit as entertaining as it is delicious, combined with extremely friendly staff, makes this a definite stop for any ramen fan.

    The Highlights of Kyoto

    At the recommendation of the staff at Fire Ramen, we made our way over to the nearby Nijo Castle. While this site is generally closed in the evening, in the fall season it is sometimes open to the public after dark. We not only got to explore the grounds but also took a walk through the palace which was beautifully lit.

    Nijo Castle | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Nijo Castle | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    The next morning was Fushimi Inari-taisha, one of Kyoto’s most famous shrines, and rightfully so. The shrine is located at the base of Inari Mountain. Two and a half miles of trails take you up and down the mountain. The most unique aspect of Fushimi Inari is the seemingly endless number of torii gates that line the trails. Walking the trail and passing under these beautiful gates is an extremely relaxing experience. This journey can take anywhere from two to three hours to complete. Those who take the time to explore the trails will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Kyoto. Be sure to get there early in the morning to avoid large crowds!

    Fushimi Inari Tori Gates | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    Fushimi Inari Tori Gates | Photo Credit: Richard Siegel

    We then made our way to Kiyomizu-dera, another beautiful Kyoto landmark. This Buddhist temple is located on a hillside near the edge of the city. Venture here for stunning traditional architecture, spectacular views of the surrounding areas and a rich historical experience.

    Arashiyama District

    Finally, we decided to make a trip to the Arashiyama District. Arashiyama offers visitors a great variety of historic temples and shrines, a plentiful amount of small shops and restaurants and of course, the famous Bamboo Grove. Much quieter than central Kyoto, this area feels like a small getaway within the city.

    Bamboo Grove | Photo Credit: Japan Tourism

    Bamboo Grove | Photo Credit: Japan Tourism

    Kyoto is an amazing city with a rich history that keeps anyone who visits captivated. While we did see quite a bit of Kyoto, we only scratched the surface of what the city has to offer. This, of course, just makes the build-up to the next trip to Japan that much more enticing.

    December 28, 2018 • Asia, Richard Siegel, Travels • Views: 2273

  • My Birthday in Cambodia and Thailand

    First Stop: Cambodia

    Queen's Palace - Siem Reap

    Queen’s Palace – Siem Reap

    My family set off and flew to Cambodia! Upon arrival we connected to Siem Reap where we had arrived in time for my birthday. My plan was to have something special most days. The night of my birthday – we are staying at Amansara – they assisted in creating a memorable night. The night began with us hosting a giant shadow puppet show to the small children of a village close by. It was great to be surrounded by such happiness as this was the first time they had seen this show. Then we went to one of the ancient temples, where hundreds of candles lined the path to guide us through the maze to a dinner set up with rugs, great food and wine and a fortune teller. Looking at the stars in this 1000-year-old temple was magic.

    Amansara

    Amansara

    On to Thailand

    We then moved to Chiang Rai and the Four Seasons Tented Camp. Here, the general manager at the time, Jason, helped with a special dinner in the elephant camp. What a thrill to be there after dark with these massive animals! They had surprised me by releasing 51 Kongmings (sky lanterns) in my honor.  What a thrill to see these candles helping me celebrate for the next 50 years in the sky.

    A private cooking lesson at the Lanna Cooking School in Four Seasons Chiang Mai followed where we all enjoyed learning more about Thai Cooking.

    Food in Thailand

    Food in Thailand

    We finished our trip in Bangkok and took small boats along the canals. We visited the grand palace and temples, and dined amongst the stars at Sirocco.

    Thailand and Cambodia are such special places with wonderful resorts to stay in and enjoy the culture in luxury.

    Chiang Mai Temples

    Chiang Mai Temples

    November 19, 2018 • Asia, Ian Swain Sr, Property Highlights, Travels • Views: 712

  • Amankila: A Balinese Paradise

    Over an hour away from the bustling parts of Bali, Amankila is a remote hideaway up a winding hill on the East Coast. This property is tucked within a lush mountainside overlooking the Lombok Strait. Amankila means “peaceful hill” and it truly exudes a sense of tranquility. It’s perfect for discerning travelers seeking an exclusive escape in paradise.

    Arriving at Amankila

    Bali, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Bali, Indonesia | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Upon arriving in the open-air lobby, guests are first greeted by smiling staff members and panoramic cliff side outlooks. Mesmerizing views continue as you are escorted past the iconic three-tiered infinity pool towards the standalone suites. A ginger and passion fruit frozen sorbet awaits on your terrace. Amankila makes your check-in a breeze, so you can quickly soak up the blissful setting.

    Balinese Offering | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Balinese Offering | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Concrete stilts support the elevated walkways which link the 34 suites to the main complex. Mango, coconut and frangipani trees line the paths, and their fragrances fill the air. All suites have authentic alang alang thatched roofs, spacious marble bathrooms, and coconut wood, rattan and bamboo décor. Tan and cream tones create a warm, sensual ambiance. Also, there are private decks with a daybed and dining table, ideal for relaxing and eating at any time day or night.

    Activities at Amankila

    Resort facilities include two restaurants and a bar, spa services, well-equipped beach club and an expansive pool area. Set above the pools, the primary alfresco dining venue offers Balinese and International cuisine. Executive Chef Shane Lewis highlights the regions bounties utilizing native Indonesian cooking methods. Afternoon tea, served by the library, features handmade Balinese cakes, “Kopi Bali” coffee and ginger and honey tea. You’ll also have the opportunity to chat with locals from the village and watch them create ornate offerings.

    Alfresco Dining | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Alfresco Dining | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Reserve a few hours to relax by the breathtaking three-tiered pool. Lounge chairs are plentiful, and the pool staff treat you like royalty. They’ll happily deliver whatever you desire – from magazines to freshly caught lobster. The staff anticipate your needs and provide you with what you want before you get the chance to voice it, like a refill on ice water and a cold towel slightly scented with jasmine. Stylish pool-side cabanas provide respite from the sun and are a comfortable way to soak up the heavenly atmosphere.

    View from Amankila | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    View from Amankila | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    Signature experiences include visits to ancient palaces and lush gardens, cooking classes, village encounters, trekking and cycling adventures. You may also partake in romantic hilltop picnics and bonfire beach dinners. If you’re into snorkeling or scuba diving, charter the Aman XII – a 50-foot traditional outrigger equipped with a plush cushioned top deck. You can also cruise around Amuk Bay and enjoy a sumptuous champagne breakfast or light lunch after swimming beside an array of sea life.

    The Beach Club

    A steep five-minute walk or on-demand buggy ride transports you down to sea level to the Beach Club. A coconut grove fitted with hammocks, swings, fitness equipment and a soccer field await you. Wispy trees create ever-changing reflections in the 135-foot-long lap pool. On the other side of the pool lies an enchanting black sand beach. Made of volcanic minerals and lava from Mount Agung, the sand is surprisingly soft, and the specks of black and silver glisten in the sun. Take advantage of the waterfront activities, such as paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing and boogie boarding.

    The Beach Club

    The Beach Club | Photo Credit: Kathryn Fischer

    As with all Aman properties, you can expect attentive, unobtrusive service. Over three-fourths of the employees have been there since the resort’s inception over 25 years ago, and their genuine happiness radiates. Along with the welcoming staff, the sprawling and secluded grounds make it feel like a home away from home. Amankila will leave you inspired and rejuvenated and is an idyllic haven to end a Balinese vacation.

    October 18, 2018 • Asia, Kathryn Fischer, Property Highlights, Travels • Views: 886