Cooking Classes at the Banyan Tree Ungasan

July 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Exotic South East, Hotels, News

Something tasty is cooking at the Banyan Tree Ungasan. The luxury resort has combined a tour of the local wet market with cooking classes to offer to guests wanting to experience a wholesome Balinese culinary experience. The Island of Gods is well known for its stunning scenery of mountains and beaches, with its mystical dance and cultures as well as the variety of spices and ingredients in the local cuisine. The herbal marinates of Bebek Betutu, the exotic Satay Lilit and the fresh grilled seafood comes to mind.

Aimed at guests who shares an interest in the culinary world, the Banyan Tree Ungasan has come up with the ideal cooking class scheduled every Wednesday. The program starts out with an excursion to the local wet market of Jimbaran. A guide will lead you as you join the locals in the process of haggling and buying fresh seafood directly from the fishermen. Along with the main ingredients, you will also search around for herbs and spices to work your magic with later on during the day.

After that, it is back to the resort to enjoy your breakfast before embarking on a culinary adventure with the resort’s very own resident chef Ketut Sumerta. The chef will share his knowledge in preparing to cook these traditional gourmet of Bali, with a menu inspired by organic produce and small boutiques of the region.

The classes are designed to cater to students of all skill levels, so don’t be afraid to try! From novice cooks, to advanced chefs, all the recipes are easy and straight-forward to follow. The chef will also suggest various substitute ingredients and other creative means for guests to try and recreate the same tastes from their own locale.

Finally, the tour will end with a luncheon at Bambu restaurants, where guests can dip in and try a taste of their own creations. Each cooking class packages starts from IDR2,500,000, around USD250 per person.

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Gone Fishin’ 5 Great Places in Asia to Go Fishing

July 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Adventure Travel, Nature, Uniquely Far East

Photo credit - Visual Panic

Photo credit - Visual Panic

Fishing can be a relaxing addition to an otherwise hectic, but it’s one of those kind of activities – either you’ll love it or you’ll hate it. Regardless, if you keep an open mind, you can really have some mind-blowing experiences. Asia is not well-known for fishing (except perhaps the overtly commercial kind), but there are plenty of authentic experiences for those that look hard enough.

Shurakuen Fishing Hole – Tokyo, Japan

This is truly one of those “only in Asia” moments – amidst the soot, steel, and glass of modern day Tokyo lies the last thing you would expect: a quaint and unassuming fishing hole. The name ‘hole’ suits, without a doubt; old men sit around the small but busy pond as still as the breeze while waiting for a tug on their fishing line. They say this pond has been here since the 1600s and the current owners have had it for nearly a century; it’s best to visit with a guide, as the owners don’t speak English.

Lei Yue Mun – Hong Kong

It’s hard to believe that you could find any fish not scared away by Hong Kong’s towering skyline, but there are lots of things to do in Hong Kong other than shopping and fishing is one of them. Exploring the fishing villages around Hong Kong Island can be a lot of fun, but a local favorite to fish is Lei Yue Mun, which is a narrow channel on the eastern edge of Victoria Harbour. The two best spots are said to be the rocky shore just in front of the lighthouse, or the area behind the Tin Hau temple. The closest MTR station is Yau Tong.

Photo credit - Tom BKK

Photo credit - Tom BKK

Andaman Sea – Phuket, Thailand

If you want to get away from the Phuket crowds and can tear yourself away from the picture perfect beaches, then head out for the fishing areas on the Andaman Sea. There are plenty of tour providers offering tour options of all shapes and sizes, and the list of fish you can find here is just as long: Wahoo, Dorado, Rainbow Runner, Tuna, Trevally, Cobia, Narrow Barred Mackerel, Black Marlin, Sailfish, and Barracuda – not to mention sharks!

Mekong River – Cambodia (and elsewhere)

The Mekong is an incredible river – one that provides a major economic force for several countries in Southeast Asia, as well as being a popular tourist attraction, particularly the floating markets and villages. There are some incredible fish in these stocks, including the Giant Mekong Catfish that can weigh up to 100kg! The nooks and crannies are endless – Nam Ngum reservoir in Laos is a good one. Ask your local accommodation in any of the neighboring Indochina countries for a recommendation.

Borneo, Malaysia

Borneo is the third largest island in the world, and the South China Sea waters surrounding it are teeming with fish waiting for some action. The nice thing about the diversity of the island and area means you can have a number of different types of fishing experiences. There are the deep sea fishing expeditions around the reef areas (known for tasty fish such as group or cod), or you can charter a boat to head further off shore to go exploring.

Fishing Tips

Now, I don’t proclaim to be an expert in all-things-fishing, but I would like to share a few common sense tips with you if you book an Asian fishing tour:
• Now is not the time for bravado and getting lost on the high seas; do your homework and find a reputable provider to assist with your fishing expedition.
• Consider a catch-and-release option given that many fishing areas are overfished and the locals are very dependent on this for economic stability.
• Be sure to consider the time of year; while some sun-kissed hot spots are year-round favorites, the rough seas might be a different story. Do your homework!

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Travel Experiences.

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Delhi, the Immortal City

June 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Culture, Mythical Himalayas

Delhi, the capital of India, presents a vast panorama of fascinating images. It is a city where forts, tombs and ruins share the same skyline with high-rise buildings and stately homes. The wide tree-lined avenues of New Delhi give way to the crowded narrow lanes of Old Delhi, and along with this change comes a diametrically different culture and lifestyle. The presence of contrasts is a historical legacy of the city.

Delhi is a metropolitan city in the truest sense of the word. For centuries, it has attracted rulers, invaders, businessmen, builders, poets, painters and intellectuals from all over the world. Today, Delhi encloses many older cities and its stone walls have seen countless empires rise and fall.

Modern India’s history is synonymous with Delhi. It was from the ramparts of its Red Fort that India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, unfurled the national flag on August 15 1947. Today, as India’s capital and the seat of its parliament, the city hosts world leaders, diplomats, international missions, sports meets, cultural festivals and conferences.

Delhi is a major point of entry for foreign travelers to India. Boosts of a tourism infractructure which compares with the best in the world from international hotels with extensive facilities to gourmet restaurants, air conditioned limousines, luxury coaches, bargain shopping and much more. Delhi has everything going, and it is the ultimate travel experience.

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Traveling in Asia – What to Look Out For

June 7, 2011 by  
Filed under General Fun

Asia is a bewilderingly large continent, home to an incredible range of different cultures and languages. It not the easiest of places to get around, and even the most seasoned of travellers will come across some hurdle or other – though how high it’ll be is anyone’s guess. Here are 10 basic tips to see you through your trip with relative ease…

1. Learn the lingo

Although people on the Asian continent aren’t particularly snooty about whether or not you speak their native tongue, being able to communicate is always a bonus, and knowing the word for ‘please’, for example, could make all the difference in some situations.

2. Know your Asian countries

As we’ve already said, Asia contains more countries than any other continent, so learn about where you’re going and make sure you know which gestures and/or words denote respect and which denote derision. Don’t get it wrong, or you could find yourself in a heap of trouble.

3. Make sure you always carry US dollars

While currency exchanges will always recognise the American dollar, some hotels and tour operators in places like Cambodia and the poorer Asian countries won’t accept anything else.

4. Dip your toe in

If you are travelling around South East Asia, start off in Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore – these cities will gently ease you into Asian culture. For those in Asia for the first time, some degree of culture shock is inevitable. The language is completely alien, the food is often like nothing you’ve ever tried before and the manner of the people quite different to those we might be used to at home.

5. Go local

While you might at first feel out of your depth when it comes to eating out, make sure you dive right in. You can always refer to your guide book for help, and because Asian people are generally so friendly, they won’t mind you pointing out what the guy next to you is chowing down on, and it might even win you a bit of a giggle.

6. Know what’s in store

Asia can be a place of political and social unrest, so it’s crucial that you check out the news and contact your embassy, if necessary, for the latest travel advice.

7. Learn how to haggle

Every Asian community, urban or rural, revolves around a market. Most items will have a marked price, but that’s a mere formality. Be reasonable, find a happy medium and smile at all times. It’s considered in many places to be a snub if you don’t haggle, so give it a go – you’ll only get better, and it’s a lot of fun. Always remember that if you feel pressured, the vendor won’t mind if you walk away from the transaction.

8. Beware of scams

While Asia is rich in culture, breathtaking scenery and generous people, it’s also riddled with poverty, which can make people creative when it comes to a bit of a tourist scam. Keep your wits about you. While most scams are relatively harmless, having things stolen from you will certainly put a downer on things. It’s best to get covered before you go away, so for worldwide travel insurance moneysupermarket is the best place to look.

9. Don’t be afraid to break away from your itinerary

Don’t make rigid plans – you’ll meet people with great stories of where they’ve been, make friends with people you’ll want to travel around with, and may love somewhere you visit more than life itself. Before you go, make a general bucket list and make sure you leave plenty of room to ad lib.

10. Most of all – be patient

Traveling through most parts of Asia can be tricky and rough. The heat, the alien cultures and the language barriers can take their toll if you let them, so whenever the adverse happens, don’t rise to it. Saving face is an very important part of Asian culture, so losing control of your emotions could render you a fool in Asian eyes, and most of all, it won’t get you anywhere.

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The Finest Spas – Asia and Oceania

May 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Attractions, General Fun

Taking a break from your travels to enjoy a spa break can be the highlight of any trip around the world. The quality of spa resorts in many regions of Asia and Oceania is truly exceptional, with spa packages offering treatments found nowhere else in the world.

If you appreciate the benefits of a truly good pampering, you will rejoice in the tranquil calm of spa days at these unique resorts. Factor just one of them into your holiday or traveling excursion and experience first hand the remarkable expertise of some of the world’s best practitioners of massage, beauty treatments and relaxation techniques.

Fiji Beach Resort and Spa, Fiji

Managed by the Hilton hotel group, the Fiji Beach Resort and Spa is one of the world’s most exclusive and unique places to spend a relaxing vacation. Located on Denarau Island and spread over 1.5 kilometres of idyllic beachfront, the resort offers world class spa days in a setting that will take your breath away. Unique experiences such as the tropical beach Massage Bure have helped the resort win nominations for two Pervonia Asia Pacific awards, and the resort’s spa manager Lauren Hudson will make sure that your visit to the spa exceeds all your expectations.

Waiwera Thermal Resort and Spa, New Zealand

Just north of Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island, the Waiwera Thermal Resort and Spa attracts over 350,000 visitors each year. For over 100 years, the resort has been welcoming travellers to the invigorating warmth of its natural thermal pools, and in 2011 a visit to Waiwera offers a whole host of unique experiences, such as being able to watch your favourite films in the Movie Pool.

The spa offers a wide range of beauty treatments, theraputic massages and acupuncture healing sessions, all within a resort that has an other-worldly feel to it. Waiwera is a great place for people traveling with children, with its many fun pools and water slides.

Chiva-Som Resort and Spa, Thailand

Nestled amid seven acres of lush tropical gardens, the beachfront resort of Chiva-Som in Hua Hin on the gulf of Thailand is one of the world’s best-loved spas. The gleaming array of awards that adorn the entrance to the resort tell their own story, while the standard of accommodation, food and facilities at this world-renowned relaxation centre is peerless. The spa includes experiences such as a kinesis studio, private watsu pools, kneipp baths and holistic health treatments. The spa cuisine, like everything else at Chiva-Som, has won numerous awards for providing guests with a sensational, cleansing diet during their stay.

Kusatsu Onsen Hot Sptin and Spa, Japan

Two hours from Tokyo, in Gunma prefecture, Kusatsu Onsen attracts 3 million visitors to its naturally-cooled spring waters every year. Japan boasts more natural hot springs than any other country in the world and treats them with reverential respect, protecting the purity of the water to ensure that the bathing experience is physically and spiritually enriching. ‘Spring quality first’ is the motto of the resort, which claims: “The theraputic benefits of Kusatsu’s water are so high, the traditional Kusatsu folk song praises it as able to ‘cure everything but love sickness’.” As well as hot spring bathing, Kusatsu offers truly unique accommodation and cuisine – this place has to be visited to be appreciated.

The Zuri Kumarakom, Kerala Resort and Spa, India

Dubbed ‘God’s own Spa’, the Maya Spa the Zuri Kumarakom aims to help its guests achieve the full potential of their body and mind. The spa won the award for Best Resort Spa in India in 2007 and 2008 and continues to wow its guests with therapies and treatments like Ayurveda, hydrotherapy, solar therapies, Swedish and Thai massages, Sabai stone therapy and a range of steam rooms, saunas and pools. Food and accommodation at the resort is among some of the finest in the region, offering luxurious lodgings and dining against a backdrop of emerald green paddy fields and coconut groves.

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Bangkok’s Newest Novotel to Open in September

April 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Hotels, News

Accor, the largest international hotel operator in Thailand, has expanded further in Bangkok with Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom to open on September 15, 2010. The upper mid-scale brand hotel will open after a complete building transformation from basement up to the rooftop. The hotel is conveniently located in Silom Road, one of the most vibrant areas in Bangkok, with easy access to highways and BTS Skytrain stations.

“We are pleased to welcome our newest Novotel hotel to the Thailand network,” said Paul Stevens, Director of Operations – Accor Thailand, “This property has undergone an extensive change, and its prime location near the business and leisure districts make it an ideal accommodation for all types of travellers.”

The hotel boasts modern interior design combining Thai and Asian accents with western design motifs. This 20-story high hotel features the latest of Novotel’s “NEXT” room design with 216 guest rooms of which 12 are suites and 34 are Premier Executive Club rooms.

Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom will feature “The Square” a 122-seat all-day dining restaurant, the “Blue Sapphire” lobby lounge, “Gems Café” sidewalk café, the “Premier Executive Club” lounge, a fitness centre, a swimming pool, a business centre and a 1,740 sq.m shopping arcade. Wireless and wired high-speed Internet access are available throughout the hotel. All guests can stay connected with the hotel’s “Web Corner on a Mac,” a comfortable space outfitted with user-friendly Apple iMacs and a full service business centre available. The hotel also provides complimentary shuttle service to and from the BTS Skytrain stations for guests’ conveniences.

Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom is ideal for both corporate and leisure travellers seeking a prime location accommodation. Here, guests can expect the same friendly and casual, yet efficient service in modern and practical settings as they would at any Novotel around the world. Silom Road represents the heart of Bangkok, lined with a stretch of major businesses, night entertainment, shopping venues, and is a stone’s throw from Bangkok’s main water artery, the Chao Phraya River.

Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom will join the network of eight well-established Novotels in Thailand including Novotel Bangkok on Siam Square, Novotel Bangkok Bangna, Novotel Phuket Beach Resort Panwa, Novotel Hat Yai Centara, Novotel Chumphon Beach Resort & Golf, Novotel Phuket Resort, Novotel Rayong Rim Pae, and Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport hotel.

Accor currently operates 83 Novotels throughout Asia Pacific.

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Sunny Christmas in NZ

March 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Attractions, Enchanting Oceania, Nature

The extinct volcanic cone known as Mauao © Chris McLennan

The extinct volcanic cone known as Mauao © Chris McLennan

Mention Christmas and it conjures up images of kids frolicking in the snow, people wrapped in thick winter clothes and, of course, Santa Claus as he shimmies up and down chimneys bearing gifts for all. Now, picture yourself in sun-drenched New Zealand experiencing a Yuletide holiday the Kiwi way: kids romping around the beach, relaxed barbecue picnics filled with folks dressed in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. Yes, it’s summer in Kiwi country from December to February, where average temperatures range from 20-30ºC.

Christmas and New Year celebrations in New Zealand offer a summer twist on the traditional festive season. As temperatures begin to rise, December starts the countdown to the holiday period, which is marked by barbeques, outdoor music festivals, summer sports and an en masse migration to the beach. The festive focus is on the outdoors as Kiwis wind up business for the year to enjoy Christmas holidays of long, hot sunny days, when the summer days don’t often end until 9:30 at night.

The cheerful red blooms of the Pohutukawa tree appear just before Christmas © Elite Images

The cheerful red blooms of the Pohutukawa tree appear just before Christmas © Elite Images

Crimson Tree

With its crimson red flower fluttering in the wind, the Pohutukawa tree has become an established part of the New Zealand Christmas tradition. This iconic tree, unique to the New Zealand’s demographic, has become an important symbol for Kiwis at home and abroad, and are often featured on greeting cards and in poems and songs.

Renowned for its vibrant colour and its ability to survive rough terrain, the Pohutukawa is important not only to modern New Zealanders, but also to the Maoris who venerated the tree for its spirituality, strength and beauty. The Pohutukawa is considered one of the “chiefly trees”, the rakaurangatira.

Upon death, the Maori believe that the spirit travels to the Pohutukawa tree which sits on the very tip of Cape Reinga, at the top of the North Island. The spirit then slides deep underground into the roots of the Pohutukawa, before finally emerging onto Ohaua for a final farewell before rejoining the ancestors.

The Sky Tower provides a point of focus for Auckland by night © Julian Apse

The Sky Tower provides a point of focus for Auckland by night © Julian Apse

New Year Parties

New Zealand is one of the first few places in the world to welcome the New Year. Auckland’s Sky Tower traditionally has a fantastic fireworks display that doesn’t disappoint.

New Year’s Eve is party time in New Zealand and many of the country’s premier music festivals are held at popular coastal settlements. The best-known event is Rhythm & Vines, a three-day outdoor festival set in a vineyard in Gisborne on the east coast of the North Island – the first place in the world to see the sun each day. More than 20,000 people gather to hear bands from all over the world and see the New Year in at a typically Kiwi outdoor event.

This year Waiheke Island (30 mins by ferry from Auckland) has a huge party called HighLife NYE right in the sprawling Stony Ridge Vineyard. Many popular New Zealand music artists and bands also team up and spend the Christmas and New Year period touring local pubs and bars across the country. Touring information is usually available at the bars or in local newspapers.

Moke Lake Reserve © Ben Crawford

Moke Lake Reserve © Ben Crawford

Sunny Holiday Options

Do something different this year. Pack light and head to New Zealand’s many gorgeous beaches and outdoor hot spots. It’s a perfect time to go diving, surfing, sunbathing, or taking a road trip around the vineyards, fruit orchards and olive grove. If you’re still looking for adventure, try your hand at any number of adventure sports around the country.

A popular holiday option for many New Zealand families and groups of friends is to rent a house or pitch a tent in a camping spot. Bachs, found in the southern part of New Zealand, refers to structures akin to small, often very modest holiday homes or beach houses. They are an iconic part of New Zealand’s history and culture, especially in the middle of the 20th century, where they symbolized the beach holiday lifestyle that was becoming more accessible to the middle class.

Websites such as Bachcare, Holiday Homes, Holiday Houses and New Zealand Holiday Homes provide a network of holiday rentals, while Top 10 Holiday Parks ( coordinate 48 camping grounds across the country. The Department of Conservation manages over 250 vehicle accessible camping grounds, providing access to more remote camping locations.

Matariki – Traditional Maori New Year

Matariki is the Maori name for the small cluster of stars that can be seen low on New Zealand’s northeastern horizon just before dawn in the last days of May or in early June. The first appearance of these stars, which are also known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, heralds the beginning of Maori New Year celebrations.

All Iwi (Maori Tribes) celebrate Matariki, although they may celebrate at different times. Some tribe celebrations are held when Matariki is first seen in the dawn sky, while others celebrate after the full moon rises or at the dawn of the next new moon.

Traditionally, Matariki was an opportunity to honor the past and plan for the future. The coming season’s crop is thought to be determined by the visibility of Matariki. Many people believe that the brighter the stars, the warmer the season will be, thus ensuring a more productive crop. Today all of New Zealand celebrates Matariki. It has become a time to rejoice in the remarkable country they live in; share kai (food), stories and songs; create art and enjoy cultural entertainment.

The next Matariki Maori New Year celebration will be on 04 June 2011. For more information This article is written by Debbie Reyes-Coloma exclusively for Unearthing Asia.

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