Posts from the ‘Luxury’ category

The 7 Cultural Treasures of Asuncion, Paraguay

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Experience

It’s after midnight on Monday morning when the hotel car collects us from the airport, after the short flight from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to today’s holiday destination, Asuncion Paraguay.

We’ve asked the driver to show us a flavour of the city, and he obliges by driving us past the Palacio de los López, the palace that serves as the Republic’s seat of government and home of the President. Lit up like this, we can see why the driver assures us it’s best seen at night.

The Palacio de los López at night, Asuncion Paraguay.

We can’t argue with the nighttime moment at the Palacio de los López. Photo by Marco Bogarin, CC License.

Our Monday morning proper starts with Terere. This is a cold version of the hot Mate drink – similar to tea, but with a distinctive herbal flavour. It’s also a communal activity; as we pass the cup around taking turns to refill and to drink from the metal bombilla straw, there are opportunities to reflect on the madness of the Rio Carnival weekend, and the much more peaceful days ahead of us in Paraguay.

We also make sure to dress lightly – this week will be cooler than last week here, but it’s still a sub-tropical summer and temperatures above 30°C (85°F) are expected.

Today sounds far more grand than it is full of effort. We have in mind a chance to see each of the 7 Cultural Treasures of Asuncion. These were chosen by popular vote in 2009, and we can’t argue with the selection.

Two of these won’t be part of today – the Palacio de los López we have already seen, and the striking Iglesia de la Santísima is actually located in the nearby town of Trinidad (no, the other one) – so we have to put that on tomorrow’s plans.

Our distinctive Hotel Guaraní against the Asuncion skyline. Paraguay's first 5 Star hotel, and a cultural heritage destination.

Our distinctive Hotel Guaraní against the Asuncion skyline. Photo by Loritoarai, CC License.

Next on the list is the easiest of the lot – we’re already staying here! The Guarani Esplendor Hotel completed construction in 1961 – had it merely been Paraguay’s first five star hotel, and so close to the government centre, that alone would have given it significance as the hotel chosen by foreign dignitaries.

Instead, it stepped beyond that function, creating an architectural form that symbolised the striking Brazilian school of that era (And is often mistakenly attributed to the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer). Interior refurbishments ensure five star has evolved with the times; respect has ensured the facade remains an icon of Ascuncion, Paraguay, and South America.

Panteón Nacional de los Héroes, Asuncion Paraguay.

Panteón Nacional de los Héroes. Photo by Lett, Licensed under CC License.

We walk down the main street Senora de la Asuncion, with parkland on both sides, until turning into the Panteón Nacional de los Héroes. Often compared to Les Invalides in Paris, France, the Panteon is much smaller but similar respectful monument to the national heroes of war and peace. The most notable grave is former Paraguayan President Francisco Solano López, who also led the country in the War of the Triple Alliance – when Paraguay found itself at war with Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay from 1864-70. The impact of that conflict, which devastated Paraguay and may have killed up to 90% of its adult male population, can still be felt in the landlocked country’s poor regional living standards.

The Teatro Municipal Ignacio A. Pane, in downtown Asuncion Paraguay.

The Teatro Municipal Ignacio A. Pane, in downtown Asuncion.

Further along Chile (that’s the street, not the country), the facade of the Teatro Municipal (city theatre) Ignacio A. Pane stands out as a contrast of its original 19th Century spanish mission design and a more modern glass portico. The interior similarly embodies this evolution, as we shall find out later tonight.

At the very top end of Asuncion we meet our next, fifth, cultural treasure the Museo del Cabildo. This building has a storied history, from an original Jesuit home to an 1870 extension and creation of the Legislative Palace after the disaster of the War of the Triple Alliance, to its current incarnation as a Museum of Paraguayan history. It’s worth noting across the Plaza the striking glass building – not yet a cultural treasure, this is the current home of Paraguay’s legislative body … and was financed by the government of Taiwan.

The Cabildo at night - when the museum is closed, but the culture is on display.

The Cabildo at night – when the museum is closed, but the culture is on display. Photo by Leandro, Licensed under CC License.

Our final Cultural Treasure for today, as we turn back toward our hotel, is the Catedral Metropolitana. Designed by a Uruguayan, and built between 1842 and 1849, stepping inside the Metropolitan Cathedral of Asuncion delivers the impact of Spanish Catholic colonialism with its independent evolution in South America over the past century and a half. When Pope John Paul II visited here in 1988 he would have sensed the sparseness in comparison to the Vatican’s cathedrals; he also would have witnessed as we do the devoutness of the parish – even on a Monday lunchtime the tourists only just outnumber the faithful, a reminder of how the strength of faith still impacts this country even as it diminishes in power across much of the western world.

The Catedral Metropolitana de Asunción, a reflection of modern South American faith.

The Catedral Metropolitana de Asunción, a reflection of modern South American faith. Photo by Gabriela Sanabria, Licensed under CC License.

Stepping back out into the midday heat, we are reminded of the siesta tradition that carries on here. Remarkably, this whole walk – five of the cultural treasures of Paraguay – is barely a one mile round trip from our hotel.

So for the afternoon, we part ways. Whether you call it a siesta – or a disco nap – enjoy.

And when you wake up, no doubt you will find some of our everydaydream group milling around the gorgeous hotel swimming pool.

A relaxing afternoon is followed by an easy walk back to the Teatro Municipal, for a 9pm “Concert of Dreams“. Immersing ourselves in the local musical culture is an opportunity, and there’s a certain passion to the music that can be lacking in the precision of big city orchestras. The atmosphere here is aided by the family feel, even at 9pm on a school night!

While the cultural treasures we have seen are all listed as buildings, the message from today is how much the city of Asuncion, Paraguay continues to live the culture they represent. These aren’t monuments to the past, they are spaces – palaces, museums, theatres, and churches – for today’s residents to connect the culture of their ancestors with the lifestyle of their children’s children.

Want to go? Need to know!

Here’s the full list of the Seven Treasures of Cultural Heritage material of Asunción, Paraguay

  • Palacio de los López (Presidential Palace)
  • Hotel Guaraní (Paraguay’s first 5-Star hotel)
  • Panteón Nacional de los Héroes (Memorial to the National Heroes)
  • Teatro Municipal Ignacio A. Pane (city Theatre)
  • Cabildo (former Parliament, now Museum)
  • Catedral Metropolitana de Asunción (city Cathedral)
  • Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad (Jesuit Church complex in nearby Trinidad) – click here to read about our visit there

We enjoyed taking in a walking tour of Asuncion, and couldn’t argue with any of these cultural treasures. Have you been? Did you see other buildings that would make stronger cultural heritage material than the seven winners? Tell us in the comments below.

Swimming with Dolphins

Today’s Itinerary

Luxury, you say? I’ll see your luxury and I’ll raise you -…

In the world of hotels, there’s luxury that’s, you know, pretty good, and then there’s luxury that is a step above. The line is hard to describe but easy to see – like good art.

At the Dreams Resort in Cancun, we’ve experienced heavenly comfort after a bus ride that’s best forgotten, and after following that up with a wild night out in Cancun. We’ve had our pick of restaurants ( from freshly-caught freshly-cooked seafood to Japanese and authentic Mexican), massaged out some of the kinks, relaxed on the beach.

We’ve even had unlimited WiFi, which doesn’t seem like much until you look around a bit and see how much hotels gouge people for Internet access.

So this counts as pretty good luxury. But then they stepped up to the plate, and knocked this baby right out of the park.

Gird your loins people.

Swimming with a dolphin is one of the greatest things you will ever do

It’s still kinda hard to believe this. Right outside our room, there’s a pool that contains dolphins. Actual dolphins. Real, live, actual dolphins.

And we get to go swimming with them.

As Australians, dolphins have this almost mythical place in our collective folklore. You never know when you’re going to spot them, and even when you do you can never be sure how long they’ll hang around. But sometimes, just sometimes, when the surf is pounding and the sun is on it’s way up or heading back down, you may be fortunate enough to spend a magical half an hour watching them seemingly enjoy catching the waves. They’ll ride the bow, flip up out of the surf, sometimes even come close enough to get a really good look at them – and then they’re gone.

Most of the time you’re lucky if the view you get is even this close.

Photo by Steve Jurvetson, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Steve Jurvetson, Licensed under CC.

Every time you’re in the ocean you hope to see and experience that natural beauty.

So today is a very, very special day. We not only get to swim with dolphins, we get to play with them, get a kiss from a dolphin, and even get pushed around by them (in a good way).

Photo by Steve Jurvetson, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Steve Jurvetson, Licensed under CC.

Dreams Resort in Cancun, partnered with Delphinus World, offer these incredible experiences. There’s several types of swimming with dolphins experiences, including large groups (~10 people), small groups (~4 people), couples, and even one on one sessions lasting one hour.

Imagine being able to spend that much time with an animal reputed to be amongst the most intelligent in the animal kingdom, capable of swimming through  the water at up to 40 miles per hour (so fast that it hurts) and that can send thoughts to one another using sonar.

Photo by Patrik Jones, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Patrik Jones, Licensed under CC.

Travel Tip:

Book your dolphin swim experience online and receive a 15% discount. Awesome!

Two hard to beat experiences in the same day

Swimming with dolphins is by far the most incredible thing we could accomplish today. No one would begrudge us if we went back to our luxury hotel and just lay on the pool deck, smiling all afternoon.

That’s an option, sure. But then we’d miss out on figuring out what these Cenote things are – everyone’s talking about them. How do they work?

So we’re headed out of Cancun, down towards a place called Tulum, on the recommendation of one of our Twitter followers (do you

It’s about a two hour drive, so that gives us plenty of time to mull over just how great it is to actually, finally, really swim with a dolphin. Gosh – they even pushed us through the water!

A Cenote is the best kind of hole in the ground

“Cenotes are surface connections to subterranean water bodies”. Thanks, Wikipedia!

In addition, Cenotes are pretty amazing places to jump in for a swim. Natural sinkholes full of filtered water, they’re dotted along the countryside, and Tulum happens to feature some of the nicest ones.

Photo by Adam Baker, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Adam Baker, Licensed under CC.

So – swimmers on (again). Time for a quick dip!

Photo by Mike Milley, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Mike Milley, Licensed under CC.

Overnight in Tulum

Photo by dMap Travel Guide, Licensed under CC.

Photo by dMap Travel Guide, Licensed under CC.

There’s plenty to do in and around Tulum after our quick swim, including exploring ancient ruins and relaxing on a very chilled beach scene. We organise our accommodation early on (best not to get stuck with some of the shady-looking places).

When the tourist buses head out of town by the late afternoon, we make sure you get on up to the ruins at Tulum Ruinas.

We enjoy a perfectly relaxing end to a record-setting day, watching the sun setting and the waves lapping the shore, wondering if there are dolphins frolicking just out of sight.

Travel Tip for Tulum

Make sure you check inside before confirming your place and paying – some of the facilities are a lot less salubrious on the inside. And watch your credit card – better yet, make sure you’ve got cash.

Photo by Manuel Canela, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Manuel Canela, Licensed under CC.

Underwater Art Gallery Cancun

Bleary-eyed, shattered, and mostly numb, we stumble off the overnight bus we took to get from Belize to Cancun, Mexico. It was a long, cold, dull, sleep-deprivation-chamber-on-wheels, and we’re just done. First priority – sleep.

Cancun, we love your beautiful beaches, we want to explore your crystal clear cenotes, and we definitely want to party.

After we nap.

Today’s Itinerary

  • Catch up on some sleep at out luxury Cancun resort
  • Scuba dive an underwater art museum
  • Dive into Cancun’s nightlife

O blessed sleep, where art thou?

We arrive in Playa de Carmen somewhere around five in the morning. Fortunately, we’ve arranged for a local car to pick us up, because after crossing the border into Mexico at 11 PM and another unscheduled stop at midnight, coupled with bumpy roads and overly friendly passengers, we’re experiencing a coma of sorts.

Just picking up our luggage from underneath the bus takes a herculean effort, and where does this strap go? Do all these buckles have to be done up? Why am I sitting on the ground?

Helpfully, not all of us are completely catatonic and, although it’s a small miracle, soon we’re bundled into the car and pulling up into our resort.

In this state, it all seems like a bit of a dream. Everything is dark and quiet, and without paying too much attention we’re in a warm bed and fast asleep.

At midday, we awake to this.

White Sand Beach Cancun

White Sand Beach Cancun. Photo by adpowers, CC License

We must be dreaming

Several weeks ago, when it became clear just how painful the bus ride from Belize to Cancun was going to be, we elected to spend a couple of days in a resort recuperating (yes, it’s a hard life).

That decision has paid many dividends.

We decided to stay at the the Dreams Resort in Cancun, midway between Cancun and Playa de Carmen. Reluctantly opening the curtains, eyes shielded from the midday sun, we are greeted by vistas like this.

Beautiful white sand beaches stretch along the coast. There’s a pleasant ocean breeze coming in off the Gulf, and the lick of white racing up and down the line of the sand shows us where we should be – in the water.

And we’ve got something special planned.

There’s time for a quick brunch and then we’re in a taxi into Cancun, to arrive at the Scuba Cancun Dive Centre ( Blvd Kukulcan Km 5, Zona Hotelera, 77500, Cancún).

We’re going to get us some culture and visit an underwater art gallery.

An underwater art gallery, you say?

There are words in the English language that go together. ‘Bacon’ and ‘eggs’, ‘sea’ and ‘sand’, ‘endless’ and ‘vacation’ (well, those two should). Some words that don’t really belong together are ‘underwater’ and ‘art gallery’. Yet here we are.

This is an incredibly ambitious project with an interesting goal at heart – to drive people away from visiting coral reefs. With around 750,000 tourists visiting local coral reefs, as the artist explained in this National Geographic interview;

That puts a lot of pressure on the existing reefs…So part of this project is to actually discharge those people away from the natural reefs and bring them to an area of artificial reefs.

The project, which features statues made by Mexican artist Jason deCaires Taylor, began in 2009 and will ultimately ‘exhibit’ 400 sculptures.

Watching this video (embedded below), we can only feel how eerie this must have felt. Those statues, clean and solid, don’t belong there under the water.

They stand their, eyes closed, awaiting their fates? Contemplating the infinite? Praying for salvation?

Underwater Art Museum

Underwater Art Museum. Photo by Jason deCaires Taylor – visit www.jasondecairestaylor.com for more incredible pictures. Reproduced here with permission of the artist.

The contrast between the bright colours of the fish and natural coral formations oppose the grey, solid humanity that the statues convey. But over time, the power of nature to transform and adapt becomes apparent, as life, ever-growing, explores the surfaces made by man and makes them its own. The sculptures become a part of the reef, previously ravaged by storms, supporting life where previously there was none.

From Life to Art to Reef

Silent Evolution. Amazing photo series by Jason deCaires Taylor – visit www.jasondecairestaylor.com for more incredible pictures. Reproduced here with permission of the artist.

Around 30 feet underwater, we’re taken on a scuba tour of the underwater art gallery. Down on the ocean floor, amongst these people frozen in time, is a truly unforgettable experience.

Scuba Dive Tour of the Underwater Art Gallery

Caffeine up, people. It’s time to party.

The easiest thing to do right now would be fall asleep on the beach or to crawl back into the luxurious bed at our Cancun resort. We deserve it – that bus ride was pretty bad.

Photo by A. Strakey, Licensed under CC.

Photo by A. Strakey, Licensed under CC.

But buckle up people – grab your Red Bull, grab your double espresso, gulp down those No Doze – stay awake! For tonight – we party in Cancun.

Photo by cezzie901, Licensed under CC.

Coco Bongo – looks tame by day, but by night…Photo by cezzie901, Licensed under CC.

Frommer’s said “you have to experience it to believe it”

Coco Bongo Spiderman

Coco Bongo Spiderman. Photo by Abeeeer, CC License

As they said in ancient Rome – linea longa, bonum festum (don’t quote us on that).

With that principle in mind, Coco Bongo is the place to go if you want to experience the craziness and sheer audacity of the party scene in Cancun.

Frommer’s, in their review, said “you have to experience it to believe it”. A madcap remix of incoherent popular cliches like Austin Powers and Spiderman, combined with pyrotechnics, lightshows, smoke machines, and dancing everywhere possible – take their advice.

Photo by Vitor D'Agnoluzzo, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Vitor D’Agnoluzzo, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Vitor D'Agnoluzzo, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Vitor D’Agnoluzzo, Licensed under CC.

We’re still trying to wrap our head around it.

Coco Bongo Beetlejuice!

Coco Bongo Beetlejuice! Photo by Abeeeer, CC License

Find the best view in Hong Kong. Twice.

By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

  • we reveal the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant
  • what else can you do in Hong Kong? That’s right – shop
  • there’s more to our hotel than just amazing food
  • find the most incredible view of Hong Kong
  • and then beat it with an even better view!
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Photo by Roger Price, Licensed under CC.

Yesterday our expectations were changed by a surprising experience in Hong Kong that we didn’t know you could do in such an urbanised, cosmopolitan city. Today, we’re going to throw ourselves into the intensity of Hong Kong’s cuisine and shopping experiences – because when a city does something well, it’s a shame to miss out.

There’s a secret that we don’t want to tell you

You know the place – everyone’s got one. That little cafe or pizzeria, just around the corner, down the alleyway, past the mean-looking bikers (they’re actually really nice), right at the abandoned liquor store – there it is – that hidden place; your secret.

We all have that little place we like to think is our own, and we pass it on in whispers to our friends and family – because we want to share the secret (but not too widely).

Goodness – it might become popular! And then the tourists will come, and the queues will get longer, and it just won’t feel quite the same.

We feel a little bit like that about our first recommendation today. It’s been passed along to us through that grapevine, that circle-of-keeping-awesome-places-to-ourselves, with the implicit bond to “Keep it secret! Keep it safe!”.

But we have to break that bond today. This place is just too good.

And let’s be honest – once CNN Travel covers a place, it isn’t so secret anymore.

The cheapest Michelin Starred restaurant in the world

Tim Ho Wan is the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world - right in Hong Kong. Sign up for our travel email!

Photo by Chika Watanabe, Licensed under CC.

So here it is.

Tim Ho Wan is not only the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant, but also has possibly the best dumplings in the world – and it’s our first stop today.

We’re here at 9:15 AM (yes, that’s in the morning) because the secret is clearly out. The queue starts building before the restaurant opens at 10AM, and we don’t want to get stuck in the rush – there’s too much to do today.

How good are the dumplings at Tim Ho Wan’s?

Tim Ho Wan’s is so good that Lady Iron Chef had this to say;

Can you imagine paying just SGD$12 for top quality dim sum? It’s dirt cheap! Is Tim Ho Wan really worth the hype? Yes, I’ll willingly queue up for their dim sum every time I’m in Hong Kong.

For the full blow-by-blow account of just how amazing Tim Ho Wan restaurant is, read Lady Iron Chef’s amazing Hong Kong article.

And for a visual reference (don’t get lost – there’s dumplings to be eaten!) have a look at this Hong Kong article from artofbackpacking.com.

Oh, we’re in Mong Kok? I suppose we may as well get some shopping in while we’re here


As our intrepid Hong Kong travel advisor Gabriele mentioned yesterday, Mong Kok is not only the location of those incredible dumplings we just ate in frightening quantities (we don’t feel so good. But they were so tasty!) – Mong Kok is also the home of markets, open day and night.

Shangai local Nick, who makes frequent trips to Hong Kong, had this to say about why Mong Kok markets are so good;

they block the streets off and sell just about anything – clothes, bags, watches, shoes, hats, electronics – and at a fraction of the price of the air conditioned shopping malls in TST.

Personally, we’re suckers for discounted photography equipment, so that’s what we’re looking for – what would you hope to find?

Hong Kong Shopping

Some other options for Hong Kong shopping are;

  • the Landmark shopping mall – take at look at their website and be gobsmacked by the assortment of brands
  • the Ladies Market on Tung Choi Street, for basically everything
  • the Temple Street Night Market, for a display of a typical Chinese market
  • the Page One bookstore chain, recommended by the BBC, as “one of Hong Kong’s best selections of art and design magazines and books”

Really – you won’t have to look too hard to find an incredible assortment of shopping options in Hong Kong.

But remember to bargain!

Now find the most beautiful view of Hong Kong

Yesterday we said there were lots of reasons why we chose to stay in the Intercontinental Hong Kong. One of them was obviously the incredible variety and quality of their restaurant offerings. But there was another reason, and today we intend to enjoy it – weather be damned!

That secret is this – a pool with an most incredible view of Hong Kong. Although it’s typically not swimming weather in Hong Kong in January, some days hover around 18 degrees Celsius, and even relaxing by the pool deck is a pleasant experience.

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Is that boat sailing into the pool? An amazing optical illusion. Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, Licensed under CC.

We can’t linger here too long though – there’s somewhere we have to be for sundown.

The cocktails will have to wait.

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What a dream destination! Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, Licensed under CC.

Or the cocktails can come early. It’s really no problem either way.

Waiter?

That was a pretty good view. But we can do better

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Photo by Ryan Li, Licensed under CC.

Better?

Surely not.

That’s what we thought – and then we made it to the top of the The Peak (that’s right – THE Peak).

Just have a look at this spectacular view of Hong Kong. We’re looking down onto this city of seven million people and from up here, it feels like you could walk out onto those skyscrapers.

Can you just imagine how beautiful this would be at sunset…

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Photo by Mike Behnken, Licensed under CC.

Wow. That is actually really beautiful. Thankyou, photographer Mike Behnken.

One last tip for Hong Kong

Finally, one last tip from Shanghai local, Nick, who says;

ok….a MUST DO IN HK – take the 2.2HKD Star Ferry from TST to Central. (or vice versa, but I much prefer the TST to Central route). The view is spectacular on the ferry, especially at night. The ferry closes at 11pm.

What. A. Trip.

There aren’t many cities that so effortlessly combine such effortless culture, cuisine, and commerce, as does Hong Kong. There are so many places that we didn’t have time to fit it, we’re going to have to come back. This really is a city you could explore for weeks on end.

Luckily – we’re on an endless vacation. So we’ve got time.

Hong Kong Travel Tweeps to Follow

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Evocative Hong Kong at night. Photo by Mitch Altman, Licensed under CC.

HEY!

NEXT TIME we’re in Hong Kong – where should we go? What should we do?

Tell us in the comments, or on Twitter!

Eat. Shop. Cruise? A surprising day in Hong Kong.



By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

The contrast between our week in New Zealand and Hong Kong couldn’t be more stark. In New Zealand, we experienced some heart-stopping adventure thrills in breathtaking scenery and took part in an epic rail-journey that we won’t soon forget.

Here in Hong Kong, we’re going to experience what life is like in one of the most densely populated places on Earth.

And it’s quite a change. Hong Kong has a population of almost 1.6 times that of New Zealand, packed into an area of roughly 1,100 km2. This density has lead to Hong Kong becoming the world’s most vertical city, ranking number one on the list of cities with the most skyscrapers.

From all of our research, it is clear that there is so much to do in Hong Kong; two days is just not going to cut it. Knowing this, we’re going to fit in as much as possible in our two days here in Hong Kong – and we’ll surely make it back soon.

So what’s on the agenda?

Eating.

Shopping.

A bit of sightseeing.

But mainly eating. And shopping. That’s the plan.

And yet…

Is there more to Hong Kong than just stuffing our faces and our luggage full?

7AM : Arriving in Hong Kong

It’s really hard to like long flights (unless you’re in first class). It is much easier to endure them, though, when you know that just on the other end of the flight is something special.

And our hotel in Hong Kong is really something special.

We’ve chosen to stay at the Hotel Intercontinental on 18 Salisbury Road, Kowloon (email / website) for a great number of reasons – it’s really central, most rooms have stunning views of the city and the harbour, it’s very well regarded by other travellers…

There are a couple of other reasons, but we’ll get to those.

For now, all you need to know is this.

Travel, vacations, holidays - these sort of views make it all worthwhile. Sign up for our daily travel email to see more like this.

Stunning. Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, Licensed under CC.

All agreed?

 Flying into Hong Kong

To catch a view of Hong Kong from above, you can watch this video showing the approach of an international flight.

It’s a bit long so we recommend you skip ahead to 3:26, to see the wonderful view of Hong Kong as it appears from behind the cloud cover.

11AM: Cruise the Hong Kong harbour and visit Hong Kong’s Islands

Our day has been planned by Will, a Hong Kong local for the last three years, and in the spirit of all great local guides he’s defying our expectations of what Hong Kong is like and taking us on a completely different experience.

Will has gathered an impressively eclectic group of HK locals, expats, and fly-ins for our four-hour cruise. Most of his friends work in one of the many global institutions powering Hong Kong’s financial centre, which has lead it to become one of the major financial trading centres of the world.

Duk Ling in the Hong Kong harbour evokes memories of distant travellers and long journeys. Sign up to our travel newsletter and escape with us.

Old and New, when the Duk Ling cruises the Hong Kong harbour. Photo by Nick Stenning, Licensed under CC.

Packing the eskies (iceboxes) with some choice wine, beer, and local specialities (particularly seafood), we clamber aboard. Will promises a tour of secluded coves and beaches, far away from the mad pace of cosmopolitan Hong Kong – and for the brave ones, perhaps some impromptu diving off the boat before a refreshing drink over lunch.

As we sail out of the harbour, we cross paths with the mighty Duk Ling – apparently the last authentic Chinese-style junk still in service. The Duk Ling usually roams the harbour for short sight-seeing trips – you can pick up tickets at the HK tourist office.

We pull up alongside her, and it’s clear that the vessel is magnificent. Immediately we’re transported back to an era of smoke-filled gambling dens, lotus flowers and silk, illegal trading and piracy.

There’s almost a small mutiny aboard our humbler vessel, everyone keen for a chance to stand at the helm of the Duk Ling and fantasise – until someone mentioned the price for chartering the Duk Ling. Lacking the sort of treasure that would need to be exchanged, legal or otherwise, we choose to stay aboard and sail on to our island destination.

According to Wikipedia, the name “Hong Kong” is a phonetic rendering of the pronunciation of the spoken Cantonese or Hakka name meaning “fragrant harbour”. Around the dock this isn’t necessarily the case, but with as we sail further out of the harbour the meaning becomes more clear.

With the sea breeze in our hair we sail out of the Hong Kong harbour, the skyscrapers towering above us and gradually receding in the distance. Out on the water it’s a completely different experience of Hong Kong.

The January sun in our faces (the average is about 18 degress Celsius), we make our way to many unnamed coves on a wonderful tour of the islands of Hong Kong harbour. There’s no man overboard until a hidden signal from Will puts a less fortunate member of our crew into the water. No one is game to join them in January, although by March the water would be pleasantly swimmable. For everyone else, lunch is calling.

It’s a completely different experience of Hong Kong than what we were expecting, and it’s so pleasant to see a different side to the famous city that most people just miss out on.

Want to cruise the Hong Kong harbour?

If you want to organise your own charter on the Hong Kong harbour, you can try the following providers;

Finally, if you don’t want to charter a cruise, you can actually ride the Duk Ling on a short trip around the Hong Kong harbour.

5PM: enjoy an early, but epic, dinner at the Hotel Intercontinental

We are eating fairly early on in the evening, but we have somewhere to be at 8PM.

Hong Kong is famous for it’s cuisine, with around two hundred restaurants achieving a Michelin star (or two, or three!).

Will had a list as long as his arm of places for us to try, but unfortunately, we’d already made our minds up. Dinner was going to be at the Intercontinental.

And it isn’t like we are restricting ourselves with our choice – in fact, we can eat at four choices of restaurants and eight choices of locations. The restaurants include Spoon by Alain Ducasse, the world’s most acclaimed Japanese restaurant in Nobu, and Yan Toh Heen, an acclaimed Chinese restaurant.

You can’t really blame us for wanting to eat in our hotel with the calibre of these restaurants, especially with some of the crazy dishes they have served up in the past.

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We’ve no idea what this is and we don’t care – we want it. Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, licensed under CC.

So. Hungry. For. Cuisine.

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Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, Licensed under CC.

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Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, Licensed under CC.

Find some more inspiring dishes here.

8PM: marvelling at the Symphony of Lights in Hong Kong

If anything is going to emphasise the contract between Hong Kong and New Zealand, it is this. A spectacular light show that involves basically the entire city. Lasers, neon, more lasers, even more lights.

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Photo by Barbara Willi, Licensed under CC.

We’re down on the street for this, wandering along the Avenue of the Stars and trying to find a good spot to see the light display. We don’t really have to struggle too hard, given that the show involves around forty-four buildings in Hong Kong and Kowloon.

We’re lucky to have a pleasant evening with no rain.

The show won’t run during a category three typhoon, which makes sense. Because, you know – typhoon. No time to watch pretty lights in a typhoon.

Here’s a brief video submitted by one of our readers that gives just a little taste to the incredible light show.

One day in Hong Kong

So that’s all for our first day in Hong Kong. Yes, we’ve barely even scratched the surface, but it has been an easy introduction to a city that can easily become overwhelming. We’ll throw ourselves into the fray tomorrow and fit in some of the famed Hong Kong shopping – and we’ll also continue to work our way through the cuisine heaven that is Honkers.

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And in case you missed it, here are some great travel tips from Gabriele Baljak. Let us know your travel tips on Twitter, too!

Thanks to Gabriele for those travel tips!

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We know we’ve missed something – what else could we see?

The Bedouin aren’t the only Wise Men of Oman

Today’s Itinerary

By Jacob Aldridge

The sun rises over the Wahiba Sands, Oman

The sun rises over the Wahiba Sands, Oman. Photo by Aries Vitan Wong, CC License

There’s something different about waking up to a cool desert morning. Unlike the genuine cold of a Viennese Christmas Market, which bites at your throat and chews your fingers, early risers in our desert camp experience a more invigorating chill. It’s almost as if the cold focuses the mind on the significance of every moment.

Breakfast includes some traditional fruits from the Arabian peninsula, and before we’ve even offered to help with the washing up and taking down the tents we’re ushered back into our 4WDs.

People have lived in the Wahiba region for almost 8,000 years, and while modernity gives opportunities to the next generation, it’s a shame to note that most of the camel trains we pass are ridden by tourists as the locals embrace the air-conditioned benefits of a new 4WD.

Two camels in Oman

Camel photo by Erkan Pinar, CC License

Mid morning we stop to visit a Bedouin house in the desert, an opportunity to meet and talk with some of the proud tribespeople who embrace both their bedouin traditions and the emerging Omani national identity. Livestock remain the key economy here, mostly goats and camels. While tourism is increasingly important, we get the feeling that the clean house and well-dressed, well-spoken people we meet are nothing new – they may be surrounded by 12,500 square kms (4,800 sq mi) of desert, but that’s no excuse for a mess.

 

How friendly are the locals? Check out this video – this group are either being very polite to an Australian tourist, or they actually like the taste of Vegemite!

Official Amouage Gold picture

You can buy Amouage Gold perfume from the source

We arrive back in Muscat by mid-afternoon. There’s plenty of time before our flight to take in more sights and sounds of this city – but it’s the smell we are interested in. More specifically, the smell of the Amouage Perfume Factory. Feted as ‘The Most Valuable Perfume in the World’, Amouage Gold for Women is created from the resin of the frankincense tree and the essence of the rare Omani Rock Rose, plus another 120 ingredients including Myrrh.

That’s right – Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. If you’re looking for an excuse to treat yourself this Christmas time, look no more.

Conveniently, the Amouage Factory is located not far from the airport, meaning we arrive in plenty of time for our Oman Air flight onwards. We will land tomorrow morning in Bangkok, Thailand.

Want to Go? Need to Know…

  • A single entry, one month visa for Oman can be purchased for 20 OMR (about $USD50) at the airport
  • December temperatures in the desert are reasonably mild, but the summer heat and the late winter evenings are especially dangerous
  • Even experienced desert drivers and hikers are reminded to take precautions with water rations and recording your planned itinerary with your consulate and/or hotel in case of accident
  • You do not need to book in advance to visit the Amouage Factory
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Share your Oman thoughts or desert experiences in the comments below.