Friday, May 31, 2013

The serious business of traveling, and reading Travelife Magazine


Last night, a group of Travelife Magazine readers and friends who've traveled together on one of our wonderful Travelife trips met up for a long overdue reunion.

As we'd all gotten pretty close, I offered to host it at my house, which is centrally located.

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POT LUCK. AND EVERYTHING'S DELICIOUS.

Everyone brought something for a pot-luck dinner.

What a feast we had.

Someone sent his driver over ahead of time with a luscious cochinillo from Tinee de Guzman. I was to tempted to start eating this, that I actually messaged him: "I can't guarantee this will still be intact by the time you all get here..."



And when everyone did arrive and it was time to cut the cochinillo up, this guy actually cut it up with a saucer. I couldn't believe it. And, of course, I just had to have the first slice....

Meanwhile another guy brought two large platters of paella ordered takeout from Alba's.



Someone else brought a great pomelo salad from the Dusit Thani's Benjarong, and still another had her driver go all the way to Pampanga for a luscious chocolate cake that she knows I just love.

A couple also brought a beautiful platter of cheese and cold cuts, and a great organic salad.



Anyhow, the list of delicious food is too long to complete, so let me just say that everyone brought something wonderful.



As for me, I was too busy to cook last night so I ordered amatriciana pasta and a cake from Sweet Bella, and took care of most of the wines.

I think we drank something like five or six bottles until close to 2 AM.

A Sweet Bella chocolate cake


TRAVELIFE READERS ARE REALLY SERIOUS TRAVELERS

About half of the group were friends and readers who I'd met for the first time on our Travelife trip.

But there was basically only one degree of separation between us, and we all soon became good friends.



And now literally everyone has committed to joining the next Travelife trips, and they're especially excited about Chile.

One of them said, only half-teasingly: "There should be something called Travelife Elite, for those who've already gone on several Travelife trips. We get our own section at the front of the bus, and wine for the long drives."

This was all very amusing conversation.

THE BEST INSIGHTS OF THE EVENING



But last night really gave me a very valuable insight into Travelife Magazine's readers: we're avidly followed by people who are as serious and passionate about traveling as we are.

And they've traveled as extensively as we have, too.

I don't think any other travel magazine in this part of the world can say that their core readership is composed of seriously well-traveled people.

Everyone had just returned from a trip, or was leaving on one shortly.

EVERYONE'S ON A NEVER-ENDING TRAVELIFE



And this reunion was so long in the making precisely because so many people were away on their own versions of a Travelife, at any given time.

Last weekend, for instance, about half the group were away on their own versions of a Travelife. Someone was in Japan, another person was away on a cruise, and several others were in Europe.

I was in Vietnam last weekend, and this weekend, I'm in Hong Kong.



And next weekend, I'm flying to Istanbul and Paris for a quick trip, while someone else is going to Boston, and a couple of others are headed elsewhere.

It's pretty hard to keep track of all the interesting travels of everyone reading Travelife Magazine, the leading travel and lifestyle publication and the only choice of serious travelers.



TWO VALUABLE INSIGHTS

And what a conversation we had yesterday.

It taught me two valuable things: how to explain the meaning of the word "maumay," when someone asks me exactly what this means.

I honestly didn't know what this meant, but now I get the picture so clearly...



I also realized that I should never be absent from one of these reunions so that I don't become the topic of conversation by virtue of my absence. So those of you who were supposed to be there last night but who weren't, you know what we talked about....

More later, on just another very enjoyable evening in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



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The Armani Prive Saturday brunch in Hong Kong


Here's where we'll be this Saturday, in Hong Kong for another weekend in our never-endingly eventful Travelife.

Every Saturday, Armani/Privé combines the sunny, Balearic, Mediterranean vibe with New York City’s Studio 54 for an outdoor brunch that they've called ‘White Saturdays.’




ALL DAY BRUNCH ON A TERRACE

Held on the venue’s open-air roof terrace, the outdoor brunch concept combines the best of intricate Japanese cuisine and Italian feel-good food.

It starts from 1230 PM and lasts until 7 PM -- can you imagine?



Talk about a very long brunch.

The Armani/Privé brunch, which is priced at HK$ 420, includes a glass of champagne or the ultimate hangover cure: a Bloody Mary as an aperitif.



An array of Armani/Aqua signature dishes follows, including mini ice cream cones for dessert to offset the Hong Kong rays and an espresso martini shot to gear up the party mood.

The menu changes weekly and boasts of the best, fresh produce available from various Asian markets. Then, the dishes are prepared in the restaurant's three kitchens.



Maki, nigiri, sashimi and hand rolls come straight from the sushi counter.

Meanwhile lightly battered tempura, succulent black cod, soba noodles and yakitori are taken care of from the Japanese headquarters in the kitchen.

Finally, al dente pasta and risotto come courtesy of kitchen Italia.


TWO OPTIONS FOR MOODS

Depending on your mood, or the weather, Armani/Privé provides two avant-garde faces.

There's an upbeat lounge club where everyone comes out to play, and a chill-out rooftop terrace mixing the latest DJ vibes against an electric skyscraper city view. A chilled-out Ibiza vibe is provided by a saxophonist and percussionist throughout the day.

HEAVEN BRINGS IN THE ANGELS

Meanwhile, the Armani ‘white angels’ appear at 4 PM.



Yes, there's a fashion show every Saturday afternoon.

Armani is, after all, a luxury fashion brand, and Armani/Privé will be showcasing an array of models and performers to help get the party started early every weekend.

THE PARTY MASTER

The man behind the White Saturday vision is Armani/Privé Manager Manuel Palacio, who is from Spain.

He has combined his two favourite pastimes: mixology and music in a sleek setting complemented by an innovative menu.



He said: “I have combined my experience as a manager in some of Ibiza’s best bars, and my mixology training in New York and restaurant experience in London to provide the ultimate party brunch."

He added: "This is a totally new concept to Hong Kong and Armani/Privé’s outdoor terrace is the ideal location to kick back, enjoy the weather and listen to some great music while enjoying all that our kitchen and bar has to offer.”

With a laid back feel at the start, it slowly and smoothly progresses to an upbeat afternoon and early evening.

The Armani/Privé concept of White Saturdays looks set to bring a new dimension to Hong Kong’s vibrant brunch and party scene, and to add even more spice to an already never-endingly eventful Travelife.

The best part is that it's just a short walk from our hotel in Central District.




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Thursday, May 30, 2013

A lovely four-star hotel called Boutique Hoi An Resort in Vietnam

The beach of the Boutique Hoi An Resort
I'd like to share with you a great little find of a hotel in Vietnam, because I was so pleased with it.

There I was in Danang last week, having spent 7 nights at the five-star Fusion Maia Resort right on the beach. This is supposedly one of Asia's best destination spas, and I really enjoyed my stay here.

FUSION MAIA RESORT
www.fusionmaiadanang.com

But this blog entry is not about the Fusion Maia but about another hotel about 30 minutes away.

Read more about my experiences in Vietnam in the June - July 2013 issue of Travelife Magazine.




GOING HOME TO PICK UP A NEW WARDROBE

After spending a week at the Fusion Maia, I was supposed to go home and pick up a new luggage before going off on another Travelife to an entirely different climate, environment and time zone.

Complete wardrobe change, in other words.



THREE MORE NIGHTS...

But I just wasn't ready to leave lovely Vietnam just yet.

So we decided to stay on for three more nights. Just like that.

I wanted to see at least one of the three UNESCO World Heritage sites around Danang, and laze on the incredible beach awhile longer.

So we extended our airline return tickets.


*    *    *

Read more about
VIETNAM
in the June-July issue of Travelife Magazine.
On sale everywhere from June 15.



*    *    *


WE NEED TO BOOK A HOTEL

And then came the business of booking hotels.

If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that I am pretty finicky about staying in good hotels.

I also like luxury when possible, although I do put up with less if needed. But if I have any say in the places to stay and the budgets, it's almost always five-star deluxe.

THIS IS WHAT FLOATS MY BOAT

This is one of the places we're staying in, in Tanzania...

Everyone has something they really like in life. And I'm not talking about the finer philosophical things in life here, please.  I'm just referring to whatever floats people's boats.

In my case, I just happen to enjoy staying in really nice hotels.

So if I'm going somewhere, I usually always choose the best of breed in terms of hotels.

Just finished booking my hotels for France and Tanzania, by the way, and they're truly amazing for the places I'm going to.

This is one of the places we're staying in, in France...

NO RESERVATIONS.
IN VIETNAM.

Anyway, back to Vietnam.

So we decided to stay three more nights and we had no reservations.

We could've stayed on at the Fusion Maia, of course, but we wanted to go to a different area. This isn't a big deal, but for some reason, I wasn't in my usual five-star deluxe mode. I was completely relaxed and focusing on the spa.

So I actually let my friends check out the hotels on the Internet.

MY (HOTEL) LIFE IN THEIR HANDS

Yes, I was too busy getting massages to  think about my next hotel. In this sense, considering how OC I am about hotels, you might say that I put my life in their hands.

When I got back from my nth treatment and we were having drinks by the pool, one of them said: "What about the Boutique Hoi An Resort? It looks nice and it's very reasonably priced."

To tell you the truth, I was hardly listening. They could've suggested a no-star hotel at that point and I would've said yes. So I said: "Sure."

And that's how the Boutique Hoi An was booked.


*    *    *

Last two weeks to get the April - May issue of Travelife Magazine.
Still on sale everywhere until June 15.


TRAVELIFE Magazine's April - May 2013 issue

*     *     *


A HAPPY ENDING

This is a happily-ever-after story, however.



The Boutique Hoi An Resort is a four-star property and it's about #9 in the online user rankings for the area of Hoi An alone.

If I had actually been paying attention while my friends were booking this place -- yes, someone else was actually booking a hotel for Travelife -- I would never have said yes to this.



And if I had actually been choosing the hotels myself, I would never have chosen this as it's outside my usual universe of preferences. If ever I look at online user ranking at all when checking hotels out, I have to admit that I usually keep to the top 1 or 2, in the five-star deluxe category.

But, guess what. I loved it.

WHAT A WONDERFUL HOTEL

Reception at the Boutique Hoi An Resort

It's not super luxurious as it's a four-star property, so please tailor your expectations accordingly.

Think simple and streamlined. There's no impressive lobby and the spa is perfectly nice, but you are not going to walk in to either the lobby or the spa and say to yourself: "OMG. This is absolutely out of this world. Where am I?"

The simple spa reception at Boutique Hoi An Resort

But for someone like me who pays attention to everything in a hotel, there was nothing to complain about. I truly enjoyed my stay here.

It was lovely, relaxing and incredibly nicely designed.

The gardens and pool, right by the beach, can certainly rival a top luxury property in this area.




I also had one of my best massages ever at the spa.

No kidding.

They also did a delicious version of a local specialty called Chicken Rice at the one restaurant on the premises. It's not like the chicken rice in Malaysia or Singapore, but it's a version unique to this part of Vietnam.

It's much sweeter than the chicken rice we know in our part of the world, and it was very good.

And, on the brighter side of life, you won't be checking out and looking at your credit card statement either, and saying "OMG..."

THESE ARE THE ROOMS TO BOOK

The dining area of Villa #702

I don't know what the regular rooms are like, but I'm assuming they're very decent. The rooms are all really nicely designed in a contemporary black-and-white theme.

And I can give you the room numbers for the best rooms in the house: the two-bedroom villa right by the beach (#701 or #702) and the adjacent deluxe rooms right by the beach as well (#603 and #604).

These are the rooms we booked so the above rooms have been Travelife certified.

Villa #702

I've stayed in them, and I'd stay in them again. I really enjoyed.

The best part is that I saved some money staying in a four-star hotel instead of a five-star hotel. Then I used the savings to buy a lovely painting in Hoi An that's now hanging in my living room.

More on this hotel in a later blog, and how there is life after five-star deluxe hotels after all.

Even in a never-endingly eventful Travelife.

BOUTIQUE HOI AN RESORT
www.boutiquehoianresort.com




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Breakfast in Vietnam, lunch in Hong Kong, and a cocktail party in Manila. And tonight I might just get a Porsche in my garage...



Yesterday was a typical never-evendingly eventful Travelife for me.

I began the day on a beach in central Vietnam, feasting on watermelons and passion fruit.

A NEW VERSION OF AN OLD STAPLE

Then I ordered the Vietnamese pho, which is a typical local anytime fare consisting of noodle soup.



But my version is different.

And the staff at the second hotel I stayed in for this trip to Vietnam knew me well enough after the first day that they always made pho to my liking.

The hotel staff would always say: "Noodle soup but no noodles and no chicken, right? Just vegetables."

I nodded happily each time. But they must have thought this was terribly weird.



TWO FLIGHTS AND A COCKTAIL PARTY

Then we spent much of the day riding two flights: a 90-minute flight on Dragonair from Danang to Hong Kong, and then the 90-minute flight on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Manila.

In meal terms, this was the equivalent of three meals: 

A 2nd breakfast on Dragonair, somewhere between Vietnam and Hong Kong; lunch at the Cathay Pacific lounge at Hong Kong airport, and then a very early dinner on board the CX flight to Manila.

Breakfast on Dragonair yesterday,
from Danang to Hong Kong


SMALL JOYS VIA A TV SHOW

While having my meal on the CX flight from Hong Kong to Manila, I watched the last of three episodes of Downtown Abbey's Season 3 which was on Cathay Pacific's inflight TV channel.

If you've been following this blog, you'll know that I'm so happy and surprised that the two protagonists of Downton Abbey, Mary and Matthew, finally end up together.



They've been so suited for each other from the start, but something has always gotten in the way to prevent them from actually getting together. I'd almost given up hope at the end of Season 2.

So this revelation, on board a Cathay Pacific flight, certainly made me happy. Talk about the small joys of life.

And, yes, I do know it's just a television show...

BACK TO REGULAR PROGRAMMING



I landed at just past 5 PM in Manila.

By 7 PM, I was all dressed and at a cocktail party to launch the art exhibit of four ladies and a gentleman -- and I happen to know three of the ladies, which is why I made the effort to attend.

And somewhere in between those two hours, I even managed to pass by the office to revise some of the latest layouts coming out in the next issue of Travelife Magazine. (On sale everywhere from June 15)

I was so glad I went to this exhibit because it's such a joy for me to look at vibrant art.



A VERY NICE GROUP PHOTO
AFTER EVERYONE HAD LEFT

And then I purposely stayed behind when most of the cocktail crowds had left, to just sit around talking with the three artists I knew.

These were: Madame Yan Donko, wife of the Austrian Ambassador; Madame Elena Kudasheva, wife of the Russian Ambassador; and Madame Kumiko Kuroda, wife of the new Bank of Japan Governor in Tokyo.



Of course, when I saw Madame Kuroda, I just couldn't help telling her how I thought her husband is doing a wonderful job of helping to finally revitalize the Japanese economy after 20 years of stagnation and deflation.

The Japanese prime minister and the Japanese finance minister live in my neighborhood in Tokyo, and the finance minister literally lives two doors down.

Then of course, Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda has a Manila connection after spending so many years at the ADB.



So you might say I have a very personal interest in the revitalization of Japan, and I'm so happy that things are starting to look up.

It's been so depressing seeing a once vibrant economy go into a slow but sure downward spiral for two decades.

A LOVELY GROUP PHOTO



I was rewarded by my staying behind at the exhibit last night, with a very nice group photo of the three artists plus the two ambassadorial husbands and myself, looking so relaxed after most people had left.

A PORSCHE IS COMING OVER FOR DINNER TONIGHT.
MAYBE.

And speaking of groups, an equally nice group of people is coming over to my house for dinner tonight.

I am so looking forward to this, and to just chilling out and having fun.



There's even talk that one of them might bring a Porsche and leave it in my garage. Wouldn't that be a nice way to end another day in my never-endingly eventful Travelife?

Best wishes for a most wonderful weekend ahead, from all of us at Travelife Magazine.




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