Heaven and Halong Bay

April 28th, 2010

from wheredaily.com

Vietnam cruise in Halong Bay

Vietnam cruise in Halong Bay

A cruise through the karsts of Halong Bay near Haiphong Harbor in Vietnam is an eerie one indeed. Strange rock formations crop up through the fog and haze, ghosts really, of some dismal times recalling French Navy boats that patrolled the waters in the earlier parts of the last century looking for subversives and smugglers among the fishing junks. And then later, of U.S. Navy vessels trawling the deserted coves in search of guerrilla activity and or just a reason to be there. But these calm waters have always been a place of ghosts – mostly of the ancestors of farming village residents in these parts who have lived here for hundreds of years. A cruise on the Emeraude from Halong City on an overnight venture through the mystical outcroppings easily puts the visitor back a century. Time melts on this carefully reconstructed 1910 paddle steamer, and then stops altogether. The ship silently slips around a forest of limestone islands and rock formations – there are more than 1000 of them in this sleepy bay in northern Vietnam – as mesmerizing in their spectral presence as they are historic. As a passenger, the lazy overnight journey requires a cocktail on the top deck lounge before reading on a chaise, perhaps The Lover by Marguerite Duras, and whiling the afternoon away in dreams. But the boat is not without its bustle of activities. A tender takes brings passengers who want to go ashore to Sung Sot Caves (Cave of Surprises) on an out island by a small village. There are options for kayaking and swimming near Hang Trong. Vietnamese cuisine demonstrations reveal the secrets of really good pho and a night at the movies watching Indochine under the stars upon the Emeraude sun deck simply sizzles. The trip ends the next morning with early t’ai chi and tea before a packed buffet. Pampering has a place here, too, and for a fraction of what it costs elsewhere. The recent onboard opening of the Hanoi-based Santal Spa adds another layer of relaxation to the dazzling views with massages, facials and body scrubs. Santal is best known for its signature massage: the “four hand” treatment performed by two therapists using a blend of Shiatsu, Thai, Swedish, Balinese and Hawaiian Lomi-Lomi techniques. Other available treatments include traditional Vietnamese massage, warm stone treatments, reflexology and foot massages as well as body wraps and scrubs and a range of facials, all using quality cosmetics from France and Germany. An hour-long Swedish massage here might cost $30, rather than up to $200 paid on luxury cruise ships. The ship’s 39 air-conditioned cabins come in deluxe and superior classes (including three suites) and keep the style of simpler times with wooden floors, modest wood and rattan furnishings and a small bathroom and shower. Buffet meals offer an array of Vietnamese and Continental dishes, along with fresh caught seafood, to suit the preferences of the 74 passengers it can carry. Rates for the two-day, one night cruise experience run $308-$557 for one and $350 to $624 for two. Transfers from Hanoi hotels (Halong Bay is about three hours by car from the city) run $45 pp for a shared van or $125 for up to two people in a private car ($135 for 3-5 persons). www.emeraude-cruises.com.

April 26th, 2010

from www.wheredaily.com

It’s barely a week to the opening of Expo 2010 in Shanghai and the city is holding its breath. While this global tradition that dates back to 1851 and put the Eiffel Tower in Paris promises to be the biggest World Expo to date in size and scope, it will also attract some of the biggest crowds ever – some 70 million are expected to attend. Most of those visitors will hail from China herself, whose masses are fast becoming the world’s largest market for potential outbound tourism.

Already the city is abuzz with cranes and welders working last minute corners to open the Expo by May and turn the city into the golden door its officials want it to be. Even the famous Peace Hotel on the Bund, the original 19th century Sassoon building closed for two years or more for renovations, hopes to open its Art Deco portals by the time the Expo shoots off the first round of fireworks. The grand widening of the Bund’s corniche along the Huangpu is now finished and a glistening success, filled with Chinese visitors taking photographs with the Jetson-like AT&T Tower in the background across the river. A brand new subway line, number 13, is in place to ferry passengers speedily through town and arrive at the Expo site in just minutes.

This year’s festivities run May through October, have more than 200 countries participating, spread out along two square miles on both sides of the Huangpu, feature 24 acres of shopping and dining, run more than 100 performances daily on stages throughout the complex and cost more than $45 billion to build. Grand enough, the pavilions promise to bring on the sound bites. Japan is featuring robotic violinists. America is running a “4D” movie about dreaming and change in the blighted city. France is floating its pavilion on water while Switzerland has a lush roof garden traversed by highflying gondolas. Saudi Arabia has spent the most to bring over a “halfmoon ship,” a hanging boat shaped like a celestial cresscent with imported date palms planted on the top deck as a sort of hanging garden of Babylon. Bedouin tents flap amid the date palm trees welcoming visitors with tea and incense and famous traditions of Bedouin hospitality. China, of course, has the biggest pavilion of them all. It’s a traditional red tower nearly 200 feet tall built in a bracket design called Dougong widely used during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-467 BC). China, too, features a movie – an eight-minute 360-degrees in all directions film about the history of development in China from rural to urban.

The theme for this year’s Expo is Better City, Better Life and the focus is on the new urban vision: sustainability, community, the uplifting of the human condition. Some 270 countries, corporations, agencies, NGOs and industries are coming together throughout the 184 days to share ideas and showcase ingenuity. Lines are long so visitors who have easy access to Shanghai are advised to leave the lumbering China pavilion for another time. As the Expo site deconstructs according to regulations at the end of the Expo, the China pavilion stays on indefinitely.

Tickets range from $22 to $29 for single day tickets and $58 and $131 for three- and seven-day admissions. Buy them at Expo offices and travel agents around Shanghai or from travel agencies in the US, such as Danville, CA-based Peregrine Travel (925-984-4984; www.worldexpochina.net), which is an official purveyor of tickets for the Expo. For more information contact the Chinese National Tourism Office (www.CNTO.org); Shanghai Tourism (www.meet-in-shanghai.net); and Shanghai Expo 2010 (http://en.expo2010.cn).

On the Road to Old Nanjing

April 19th, 2010

from www.wheredaily.com

The rural/industrial countryside flies by at 125 km an hour on this fast train from Nanjing to Shanghai. The trip should take just over two hours – a good buy for $20 these days. The cars are clean, the seats even have international computer outlets. It’s a bullet into the 21st century that is about to get even faster when the new China Railway High-Speed (CRH) train opens in July, doubling the speed– and the price, while cutting travel time between these two hubs to 45 minutes. But Old Nanking (the English pronunciation before the standardization of Mandarin) is not too far away at any time whether in the preserved landscape of the city or the hearts and minds of its people. Today, two-thirds of the 35 kilometer, 14-century wall around the city (built entirely of perfect-or-die bricks mortared with a mixture of lime and sticky rice that adheres to this day) is intact or rebuilt and inside it is brilliant city of “hutong” style neighborhoods, bridges over canals and a lively bazaar selling carvings of rare woods and stone to silk purses to batteries. Of course you can always buy a watch or trendy Fendi. Just look for the man in a business suit with a bound catalogue in hand and a story about how he just came from an import show in Shanghai with a stash of goods to sell hidden in some off location. Most of the time the streets here and the lively promenades are bulging with Chinese tourists vying for the perfect photo opp on the bridge by the illuminated dragon wall. In fact, if you don’t like crowds, forget Nanjing (or any other tourist spot in China for that matter). This was China’s capital before Peking and the residence of Sun Yat Sen, considered the great liberator and father of modern China. His tomb presides here in the peaceful foothills of the purple mountains about 20 minutes outside the city. But it takes 392 steps to reach his marble resting place — one step for every 1,000 Chinese souls alive in 1926. But Nanjing’s complicated past just gets more complicated as the moments tick by. As the city was the seat of power from the turn of the 20th century until 1949 it was also the scene of war and massacre, surrender and forgiveness. A “must” for a trip to China, if not just Nanjing, is a pilgrimage to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum. This expansive and artful undertaking ranks among the world’s finest interpreters of history, right up there with the Holocaust museums in Berlin and Washington DC. The museum is crowded with school children and throngs of Chinese nationals who come from far villages and cities to remember what is commonly referred to as the “White Terror”: 13 months of slaughter between December 1937 and January 1938 that wiped out 300,000 people in Nanjing: one person every 12 seconds. It is not on every tourist’s itinerary. In fact, few non-Chinese will be seen among the throngs on any given day. The museum offers in a variety of documentaries, photos, artifacts and stunning dioramas, a living history of Nanjing’s darkest time – told through the voices of those who remember (there are some 400 survivors now) as well as diaries of witnesses, Japanese soldiers and officers. The English footnotes come surprisingly well written and clear (making the hiring of the incomprehensible English-speaking guide for 200 yuan, or $30, unnecessary). The story takes in the beginning of Japanese imperial activities dating from 1870 to provide the full context of this history and ends with Japanese surrender at the Treaty of Nanjing. In between, the rape. Afterwards, the museum winds through a sad courtyard of pebbles and rocks representing the bones of the dead. It leads to a pit of real bones and skulls in the earth laying just where they fell for the museum is on the haunted site a village outside the city center where the peasants and farmers were butchered and left to rot. The museum ends in a meditation chamber, completely black except for a field of flickering lights in random spots, ghosts in the night and not forgotten. Admission to the museum is free. An easy overnight segue from Shanghai, historically riveting and stunningly quaint in its own way, Nanjing is what you do with any extra time in Shanghai. If you can ignore the Disney elements of the Old City, you can find the true mind of China here. Information: www.nju.gov.cn/english/ www.cnto.org Recommended Accommodations: Mandarin Garden Hotel, Old City Starting Rate: $69

Tomb of Sun Yat Sen: Larger than life

Tomb of Sun Yat Sen: Larger than life

Tale of the Thai White Temple

April 2nd, 2010

from WhereDaily.com

Take the Bridge over the River of Sin at Wat Rong Khun

Take the Bridge over the River of Sin at Wat Rong Khun

It could be a set out of What Dreams May Come, as Robin Williams wanders the sewers of Hell. Or it could be a bullet on a page of Ten Temples You Should See Before You Die. This apparition rises from the fruit fields on the road to Chiang Rai in northern Thailand almost like a crystal cathedral off the San Diego Freeway. The only thing it lacks is an angry preacher.

Wat Rong Khun, or White Temple, is a spectacle in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps it is the very definition of the nirvana it is trying to capture – a blinding enlightenment coming from the patience, perseverance, and vision of one man: artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. Thirteen years in the making so far, the temple is part of a sprawling, six-acre complex of white paint and mirrored glass with a bridge that passes over a sculpted river of grotesque figures of sin and suffering to get to the ubosot, or assembly hall — one of the three main structures in this creation to date. Day or night Wat Rong Khun is a splendid display of imagination that plays upon the sunlight and moonlight with sparkling reflections, enhanced by a menagerie of creatures amid calm ponds.

Kositpipat, a devout Buddhist of 55 who sold paintings for 20 years to launch the project, got to work on the Wat with a small army of disciples 1998. And he is taking until eternity – or 2070, he projects – to get the job done. Completion calls for nine equally painstakingly ornate white buildings, including a crematorium, each with a grand lesson in morality to teach.

Most Buddhist temples pay homage to the life of Buddha in colorful images of lotus blooms and monsters that depict the faces, lessons and ascent of the master of enlightenment. The murals in this ubosot read like a painted alleyway in Hollywood. Red skull traffic cones line the road like so many Halloween candles. And once past the river of writhing hands and body parts the temple walls depict images of whores, alcohol, cigarettes and all manor of vice, plus New York cityscapes, weapons, spaceships, even Superman and Neo from Matrix – basically whatever seemed to come into Kositpipat’s brain from the headlines of the day. A sign posted boldly on the gift shop wall reads, “Wat Rong Khun is a Buddhist place of worship and unfortunately, due to many incidents of inappropriate behavior, our foreign visitors will not be permitted to enter the temple without your guide.” But a bored guard at the door to the hall hardly pays attention to the sad sign.

Entry is free and a gift shop sells artful T-shirts and the artist’s prints. Or there are the bottles of Mao berry juice, honey and fresh fried worms to be purchased next door.

Wat Rong Khun near Chiang Mai

In Barbados, It’s the Water

March 31st, 2010

from WhereDaily.com

Barbados: Is it the water or the rum?

Barbados: Is it the water or the rum?

Perhaps it’s something in the water – or in the rum. Barbados, a dot on the map between the Caribbean and the Atlantic just above Grenada, is known for more than sun, soak and sand. It’s known for its ability to make babies.

True, romance abounds in these parts and couples from other countries can legally tie the knot at a moment’s notice (or, rather, a day’s planning). But they can also try their luck at the Barbados Fertility Centre, fast becoming the epicenter for affordable and easy IVF treatments and other fertility therapies.

The JCI-accredited clinic runs the gamete, or rather the gamut, of medical procedures, from ovulation induction to donor programs, freezing, fertility therapies and vitrification with overall success rates ranging from 14 percent (invitro-fertilization for women over 42) to 67 percent, depending on treatment and age.

The clinic brings in a staff of islanders as well as surgical practitioners from Ireland and the UK and works out of a plantation-style facility in the south coast town of Christ Church.

Although treatments range between $400 and $8,500 a la carte, (IVF, including embryo cryonics averages around $5,000) full “holiday” packages can be arranged for rates starting at $5,500 per couple, including flights, hotel, transport, treatments and wellness activities through the center. And then there are medical travel middlemen options such as Surgical Escape that put packages together for individuals and couples that take care of all details, from pre-travel doctors visits to full itineraries and follow-ups for one set price.

For people who want manage their romantic ventures through more traditional mores, the rum on Barbados might be a good way to start. So strong is the sugar cane heritage here that a Canivale-style festival swings into action from July 3 to August 3 in celebration of the sugarcane harvest.

Crop Over Festival is Barbados’ biggest, loudest, brashest, boldest and best-loved fest for the party crowd. Hailing from the 1780s when the island was the world’s top sugar state, the last stalks of the harvest have meant the crowning of the king and queen of cane in a flurry of pure flamboyance that continues in an ever-burgeoning blast of glory. The island writhes in a heady mix of music, dancing, carnivals, markets and cultural exhibitions – all culminating on Kadooment Day, August 3, when the costumes come out and rum washes through the streets.

Romancing the rum continues year ‘round for those who manage to stumble onto the Rum Trail. The rum-making tradition here dates back to 1703 and can still be found in four island distilleries that open themselves up for tours. In St. Philip find the Foursquare Rum Factory and Heritage Park; In St. Michel it’s the Cockspur Beach Club and the Mount Gay Rum Distillery and Gift Shop to proffer a proper view of just what Barbadian Water (as it was once called in taverns lining British ports) is all about. And then there are the more than 1,200 rum shops and “tippling houses” that serve glasses and island chats in comfortable, homey quarters.

Mount Gay is the world’s oldest rum (although Cockspur’s Five Star rum is considered to be the finest and Foursquare Spiced Rum the tastiest) and has a “must-do” hourly tour that lasts about 45 minutes, costs about $7 and ends with a tasting. The Mount Gay Rum distillery is found 5 minutes north of Bridgetown, the island’s capital, and offers two expanded tours to serious rum lovers. The first includes lunch on the veranda after the basic tour, for $40; and the second includes a cocktail tour in the afternoon for $30.

While sugar cane thrives across the island’s 166 square miles the rum on Barbados is not a mass-produced commodity. The spirit requires careful crafting, sometimes multiple distillations, and Kentucky bourbon white oak barrels are often used for the aging. Rum can be a complex affair that renders the smoothness of a dexterous Scotch. Seek hints of vanilla, coffee, chocolate, banana and almond in a spectrum of colorful brands.

Whether you go for the beach, the babies or the Barbadian Water, check www.visitbarbados.org for the possibilities.

Barbados Tourism Authority

(800) 221-9831


Barbados Fertility Centre

(1 246) 435-7467


Surgical Escape

(866) 205-8855


Stately, Sexy Keswick Hall in loving Virginia

March 29th, 2010
Romance amid the horse farms

Romance amid the horse farms

Virginia’s Stately Hideaway

Deep in the land of statesmen, founding fathers and plantation gentry is a place Thomas Jefferson might have skipped but honeymooners might consider otherwise. If Virginia is for lovers, then Keswick Hall at Monticello is an interesting amalgam of stately propriety and romance on a 600-acre spread of rolling green hills and undulating golf links.

Remote, romantic and ready to serve, Keswick Hall has a new promo afloat aimed not at honeymooners, not a babymooners, but at ringmooners – those dating couples ready to deal with the “I wills” rather than the I do’s and I dids. The Engagement Package here is a two-night stay with a special itinerary designed for romance as well as providing the newly engaged couple with information and advice on a battery of questions that spring forth as soon as “Yes, I will marry you” is uttered.

On the practical side, there is a cooking demonstration and hands-on class with Executive Chef Craig Hartman; a wedding planning consultation where couples can address every possible concern; a session on floral techniques and design for creating personal bridal bouquets; a tour of the Estate’s newly-planted vineyard for a wine blending activity; and wine tasting with the award-winning onsite sommelier.
For romance, there’s time set for a couples massage; special lunches and dinners; a hot air balloon ride showcasing the verdant Virginian countryside –with a breakfast picnic basket; on board; and an afternoon at leisure for exploring the Keswick Estate and playing golf at the Arnold Palmer-designed course; plus nature trails, swimming pools and tennis courts pick up any slack in duo activities. (There are three swimming pools on the site, including one infinity pool, a fitness center with yoga classes, a croquet lawn and a tennis pavilion with five clay and hard courts. Even guided fly-fishing trips can be arranged). Horseback riding, skeet shooting, hiking and mountain biking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and whitewater rafting on the James River are also on the list.
The location here is in the heart of horse & hound country outside Charlottesville and minutes from Jefferson’s Monticello. Some may know it as the Villa Crawford. The circa 1912 mansion that today forms one wing of the grand Italianate Keswick Hall has been a 48-room luxury hotel since 1993 and, in 1999, was acquired by Orient-Express Hotels. But the property maintains all the traditions of Southern gentility within. The Crawford Lounge, formerly the entrance hall for Villa Crawford, is an ideal setting for cocktails or afternoon tea. Then there are the Morning Room, the cozy Villa Crawford and the Snooker Room where guests can linger in sunlit corners and enjoy afternoon tea, or a midnight game with glass or two of sherry. The library runs a roaring fire most nights with shelves full of books about Virginia to peruse. Naturally, furnishings follow function in these rooms so employ plenty of original antiques and period pieces. No two guest rooms are alike. And many rooms indulge themes, such as aviation, fishing, maps, music and tennis. This is the kind of place where canopied four-poster beds plumped with comforters and feather pillows, bergere club chairs, personal collectibles, hand-painted armoires, and overstuffed ottomans are de rigueur.
And food has its place – at Fossett’s (named in honor of Thomas Jefferson’s chief cook at Monticello, Edith Fossett: 1787-1854). The restaurant opened in June 2004 with warm interiors and expansive views and terrace seating overlooking the fairways. The food presents approachable, contemporary, seasonal and innovative takes on American Regional cuisine. The property produces its own wine label: Edith’s Chardonnay, embodying what’s possible among the top picks of Virginia’s wine country.

Couples can break open a bottle and celebrate the life to come in Keswick Hall’s Engagement Package, which starts at $1,510 for the two-night stay with all the special inclusions and memories.

Keswick Hall
(888) 778-2565

The Dish on Juicy Travel Site Bites

February 26th, 2010


from WhereDaily.com

The LA Times Travel Show is not for sissies. Each year, the convention hall books out just around Valentine’s Day with nearly 1,000 exhibitors and thousands more who pay $10 a ticket to see parading Las Vegas showgirls, paradise travel posters and buy last year’s travel guidebooks at a discount. This year, the recession pared exhibitor numbers down to 550 but the show did not skip a beat. The excitement continues this weekend in the Big Apple as the New York Times picks up the torch and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center buzzes with talk of adventure, escape and, well … all that is anywhere but here.

The best part of the show, however, may not be in the fast talking sales staff or the cute kids in hula garb. No, the best part of the travel show is the speakers – be they journalists, twitterers, or just crazed inveterate travelers – giving away their best-kept secrets. Did you know the best fares are available in Twitter? Or that a number of airline companies put their tickets on sale on Friday nights at 8 pm, alerting only those travelers hooked into special text or email memberships on their sites or partnership sites, such as Airfarewatchdog? Did you know there is such a thing as a locked and knife-proof backpack that will dog the most determined klepto-gypsy?

While not all the jewels of the travel show can be shared here, a sampling of the highlights comes to WhereDaily from Johnny Jet himself, John E. DiScala (JohnnyJet.com), who travels around 150,000 miles and visits 20 countries each year. Where would Johnny be without the Internet? The following list is a taste of Johnny’s secret sauce –What makes Johnny run: The Secret Sites of Johnny Jet. For those who travel frequently, a bookmark might be in order.

A handy resource of online travel agencies like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity — and you need insert your travel dates, times and cities only once.
Users can search all its sites at once for the best deal.


Results also pull in prices from low fare carriers such as Southwest Airlines and Ryan Air, and even picks up deals from travel agents and European high-speed train routes.


Great deals if you keep searching and searching and then search again

Helps you know when to “buy low” by conducting daily price checks on chosen flights and sending alerts when prices drop or fall within your budget.
www.Southwest.com and www.JetBlue.com
Because these airlines do not partner with most meta search engines, check them separately and sign up for the Southwest “Ding” for the best limited time deals.
Deal alerts render hidden deals and fares not found easily.
Complicated, customized ticketing in a hurry, usually with the best fares possible.

Find out which budget air carrier flies where in 136 countries.

www.BetterBidding.com and www.BiddingForTravel.com
Bulletin boards to consult before you bid on a fare or hotel.
www.Homeaway.com and www.Rentalo.com
Sometimes renting a house for a week can cost less than a good hotel for a night.
For travelers looking for insider information from local tourism authorities as well as twitter addresses of airlines, hotels, car rentals, cruisers and travel writing Tweeters.
www.AirlineNumbers.com, www.HotelNumbers.com, www.CarRentalNumbers.com, and www.CruiselineNumbers.com
No explanation needed here.


Calculate driving costs by total distance, drive time, gas stations along the way with current gas prices and even your carbon footprint.
Why drive?
Don’t know what plug to bring? Plug in you destination and find out.
All your documents safe and sound on the cloud where you left them.
Even if your airline won’t tell you that your flight is delayed, flightcaster will. It predicts flight delays by using a proprietary computations and data on every domestic flight over the past decade matched to real-time conditions. The service is free on the web (there is a charge for the phone app) and works best six hours or less prior to departure.

Track a flight and get the ETA.
When you are really desperate for flight delay information, check the FAA

Rooms with a View in Tahiti

February 23rd, 2010

from WhereDaily.com


Even if you’re not getting married in Tahiti you can still invite the folks, the cousins, even the neighbors for a stay in French Polynesia’s latest resort manse: one of two Presidential Overwater Bungalows that opened recently at Hilton Bora Bora Nui. The mighty bungalows get their buzz strength from debuting as the first bi-level, overwater guest accommodations in the archipelago. And, indeed, there is room to spare in these spreads, far beyond the two bedrooms, three bathrooms, private pool, sundecks galore and personal Pacific Ocean to dive into.

The mini-mansions made their close-up in December as a counter-offer to the Royal Villas at the St. Regis and the luxury beachfront villas available at the new Four Seasons Bora Bora. They measure more than 3,000 square feet with all the conveniences of a modern Manhattan residence: mp3 players, assorted satellite TVs, Wifi, voicemail, cocktail bars, coffee service and, well, diving equipment.

Plus each villa comes with a couple of things most abodes do not: private check-in, welcome and farewell gifts, a bottle of Champagne and a fresh fruit platter waiting in the living room, complimentary in-villa massages in the “Well-Being” room (where there is a massage table, sofa, a sauna and a spacious bathroom), and twice-daily turndown service.

Hilton Hotels purchased the former Starwood property last year and set about refurbishing the property’s 120 rooms, suites and villas underwent a general refurbishment. The resort extends along some 16 hillside acres providing views of the ocean and atolls from a variety of vantages, including the hilltop spa. It’s is an easy 15 minute “cruise” from the airport (which is a 45-minute flight from Papeete), and that said, anywhere you want to go in this remote Tahitian string of pearls requires the benefit of a motorboat rather than wheels. Getting out around Bora Bora – whether dining at Bloody Mary’s across the lagoon (a lively crowded seafood restaurant where patrons have their pick grilled, imbibe decorative alcoholic fruit drinks and walk on sand floors), feeding the mouths of friendly stingrays or tossing chum to the not so friendly sharks, can be arranged at the hotel at a moment’s notice.

But most of the time will be spent on the beach, on personal decks, or dipping in the property’s stunning 1000 square meter infinity pool, or swimming with the fish in clear waters accessed right from the edge of your deck.

The two new overwater Presidential Villas run around $4,500 per night as a published rate.

Hilton Bora Bora Nui



Sushi with your Salsa in Vegas

February 9th, 2010

LV SUSHISAMBABrazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Who knew?
Connoisseurs of the fifth sense took this fact and made it into a posh new restaurant in Las Vegas, Miami and New York where a little sake, a little sushi and a lot of chili and taco shells provide the most confounding sensations of national flavors. 
SushiSamba sits, no sizzles, in midst of the Palazzo Las Vegas’s stunning collection of shops like a hot twenty-something bearing a crush of bags and a chaos of beeping and ringing gadgets, walking confidently on too-high heels and fluttering around in a neon-colored scarf amid shelves of crystal decanters and precious perfume. 
By day it’s a zest-to-impress lunch place, usually covered by an expense account. By night, it smokes. Its a 14,000-square-foot expanse – think seating for 150, not including the 21-seat sushi bar and adjacent night scene at Sugarcane. 
The Caipirinha is the drink here – made with leblon cachaça (a fermented sugarcane liqueur), lime, sugar, and muddled fresh fruit. But you can find a choice of mojitos, some samba signatures, such as Samba Juice, made of raspberry and watermelon infused rum, aecia, passion fruit, crème de banana, guava; or Samba ice tea – a virgin’s paradise of black tea, mint, lemon lime and a dash of OJ. 
Find four different serviches here and then such dishes as Kanpachi doused with yuzu, sea salt, black truffle oil, or yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño and lemongrass, Miso-Marinated Chilean Sea Bass, Kobe beef served five different ways; churrasco with Japanese dipping sauces, hamachi, and yellowtail or lobster taquitos served with spicy panca sauce and fresh lime. The to-die-for dish here is duck breast in sweet ginger soy on a skewer with large and meaty Peruvian corn kernels. 
It’s not just the food on stage here, however. Every Wednesday night (through May 2) it’s Sake-oke Superstar night where karaoke addicts can tweak their talent for a potential superstar payoff on YouTube and sweeping sojourn to the SushiSamba city of their choice – plus a free cocktail for anyone who grabs the mic. 
On Tuesday, February 16, Brazil’s Carnaval celebration makes a detour and ends up at SushSamba Las Vegas. Expect DJs and performances by samba dancers wearing elaborate costumes and headdresses while live feeds from Rio de Janeiro project on screens throughout the restaurant. Special Carnaval dishes will be added to the menu, including Abacaxi com Lagosta Capim Santo with Roasted Baby Pineapple, Lobster Salad, and Mango Sorbet, and Tile Baked Black Bass with Mango Rice, Heart of Palm, Cashew Purée, and Oven Roasted Tomato Ragu. Caipirinhas will be on tap. 
Carnaval at SushiSamba is an all-day affair: 11:30 am to 1 am. 

The Shoppes at The Palazzo 
(702) 607-0700
$$ Expect to spend about $50 per person excluding cocktails

Calistoga: Napa’s Neverland

February 8th, 2010

People head to Calistoga for its waters – hot and mineral-heavy straight from the roiling pulp beneath the mighty San Andreas. But people head to Calistoga Ranch Resort for the high-ticket R&R.

While the town of Calistoga is locked into the turn of the (last) century – easy streets, original Victorian domiciles and a mish mash of small town stores and funky ‘60s-style motels, each featuring is own signature of mineral pools and baths – Calistoga Ranch Resort is an assortment of suites, villas and some kind of California magic that would be bedded comfortably in the pages of Sunset Magazine, if not Travel & Leisure. The resort sits about five miles outside of town (and four miles from post St. Helena) in its own canyon in the Mayacama Mountains on the upper edge of Napa. A visitor can take in all of it – the platinum pampering and award-winning dining of the resort, the wine sampling from wineries along the Silverado Trail, the quiet tone of the town, the mineral mud and hot pool soaks offered by vintage motels on nearly every corner, and even a two-room town museum attached to an original residence.

The resort wedges into a mountain crevice on 157 acres shaded by oak trees, fed by mountain waters and surrounded by hiking trails. Its 48 rooms feature such amenities as outdoor deck showers, private wooden Jacuzzi tubs on hidden patios, outdoor fireplace, platters of fruits and cheeses paired with wine, French Press coffee and a plumped up bedroom set that belongs in Province.
The Spa scene compliments the layout with a waterfall hot tub overlooking the creek, treatment rooms with private spas, private wooded balconies to soak in the setting, and a menu of organic healing treatments. Stargazing into unblighted skies is an unexpected extra.

Naturally, romancing couples find much to love here and Calistoga Ranch Resort is kindling it all with … well, a package. A Rest & Renew Valentine’s Day package is a simple affair: Arrive between February 12 and February 16 for a complimentary upgrade to Spa Lodge accommodations as well as dinner for two en suite or at the Lakehouse Restaurant, or a $200 spa credit and complimentary soak in a private mineral pool. The two-night package runs about $1,760 per couple.

In addition, the resort runs an on-going escape package Sunday through Thursday starting at $635 per night (through March) with confirmed accommodations upgrade and breakfast for two each morning.

Calistoga Ranch Resort, an Auberge Resort and member of Leading Hotels of the World
(800) 942-4220