a bit about a few of my favorite escapades... click on and explore a destination...
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has only recently been opened to tourism... and therein lies the beauty. At times, it feels as if you are the sole explorer as you bike through it's valley strewn with the surviving 2,200 of the original 10,000 temples, pagodas, and monasteries. For my birthday, I coordinated a champagne flight over the plains at Sunrise with Eastern Safaris and it was truly Magical. Furthering the festivities, I stayed in an 'Orchid Villa' at Aureum Palace with it's infinity pool and lookout tower overlooking the historical landscape. Besides it's luxuries, it's the only property located amidst the temples. I suggest renting Electric bikes to explore the archaeological splendor because the space is vast and best enjoyed without panting! Another great resort is The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate because you can catch a horse-drawn carriage directly across the street and ride it to the Ananda Phaya Temple and then the glorious sunset from atop Shwesandaw Pagoda. If you have time, be sure to visit the breathtaking Shwedagon Pagoda, the Great Golden Pagoda in Yangon, just a short Asian Wings flight away. Being picked up at the airport via traditional elephant coach to stay at the historical Belmond Governor's Residence is the olive in the martini! Don't forget your visas!
When researching island resorts in the Maldives, I was a bit overwhelmed by the options. Most of the over 100 resorts sit on their own tiny island amidst the atolls of this archipelago off the southern tip of India. Sadly, these pearls of paradise are slowly being submerged due to global warming. Sifting through chain hotels to über luxurious retreats, I lucked upon Gangehi Island Resort, and it's affordable chic luxury! I say don't even bother with the capitol island of Malé (unless you want a night at Hotel Jen Malé), and hop on a water taxi and head straight to the resort! I booked an Overwater Deluxe bungalow for my stay, so was a bit bummed when I was told at check-in that there was an error in booking and that I'd have to spend the first couple nights in a 'normal' Overwater Bungalow before moving into the Deluxe. My jaw dropped, however, when I first stepped foot into that first villa because the island's iconic lightning-bolt sandbar extended directly from it's veranda, not to mention the magical experience of bioluminescence like walking on starts at night! A unique factor about this resort is that it sits on a deep ocean channel, so whereas you'd normally have to boat far out for some awesome diving, you can literally walk out to where it drops off and be confronted with giant manta rays, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and giant schools of fish.
Golden Triangle, India
Perhaps it was a Fascination with Eastern Philosophies, or a Love of its Art & Culture, I felt a strong pull to this land steeped in History & Color. Determined to experience as much as possible in a couple weeks, I arranged for a private tour with drivers and guides to navigate my way through time & space, culture & kingdoms.
Welcomed with Jasmine and Marigolds at the airport, immersion into the hubbub of New Delhi was immediate. After a short first night at the Svelte Hotel, the journey began bathed in the honeyed haze of sunrise. From the chaos of its streets to sacred spaces, senses where overwhelmed. The renovated luxury of the Shahpura House served as a peaceful home base to explore the Rose hued city of Jaipur. An elephant ride to the Amber Fort, wandering the astronomical architecture of Jantar Mantar, and the puppetry and palmistry at dinner made for a full day's adventure. Welcomed at breakfast with a birthday cake on a table strewn with flowers was the best way to start a day en route to Fatehpur Sikri, and ultimately Agra. It seemed only appropriate to pop the bottle of Cristal a friend had gifted in a suite at the luxurious Oberoi Amarvilas with it's view of the iconic Taj Mahal. Here, too, I was presented with a decadent birthday cake and serenaded by sitar at dinner.
Like a mystical Sadhu, my journey led to the revered city of Varanasi. Receiving birthday blessings on the banks of the Ganges is an experience I'll cherish the rest of my Life. There's something incredibly magical about the devotion, the incense, the energy that flood these steps. Luxuriating in a rose-petaled bubble bath, after yet another surprise gilded cake, and snuggling under the canopy in the Pandit Nehru Suite of Queen Elizabeth's stay of choice, the Nadesar Palace, was not at all a bad way to draw a close to this otherworldly adventure.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
It's beautiful when disappointment turns into serendipity. The cozy & drizzly morning after waking from my first night in Hanoi, I was informed by the cruise company that I booked for the next two nights in Halong Bay had to cancel because that drizzle was turning into a storm, which landed all boats in the bay. With a sunken heart, I decided to make the best of this extended stay in this city I had yet to really explore. Besides, more time at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel can hardly be seen as a dire sentence. This decadent belle époque gem is dripping with history, and with a pool that offers you an ice-cream cone while you lounge poolside, what's not to love.
Flying by the seat of my pants, I ambled around Hoan Kiem Lake, The Temple of Literature, and the Tran Quoc Pagoda with it's giant Bodhi tree grown from a clipping of the original under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment. After catching a show at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, I relaxed with drinks and a sunset dinner at The Gourmet Corner, a rooftop restaurant with panoramic views of the city. Ready for a little nightlife, I enjoyed a bit of Salsa at La Bomba Latina Latin Bar, then hitched a motorcycle ride to dance some more at the floating Taboo Lounge and Bar.
When back at the hotel, I was greeted with wonderful news, the storm had passed, and the cruise company, Paradise Cruises, would be picking me up in the morning to take me to Halong Bay, and upgraded me to the Premium Suite of it's flagship Paradise Peak vessel - yay! The 3 and a half hour drive was picturesque, passing roadside vendors selling fresh baguettes and french colonial homes and churches amidst tropical landscapes. A private terrace at the bow of the ship, and an en suite vessel jaccuzi tub made for ultimate relaxation in sailing through this UNESCO World Heritage Site with it's enchanting seascape of limestone pillars and islands.
Manila & El Nido, Philippines
Being part Filipino, I began my trip to the Philippines with a sense of self discovery. Preferring history over commercial sprawl, I opted to stay within the historical walls of Intramuros, the historic center and original seat of government of Manila. The Bayleaf hotel, with it's modernity and rooftop bar, served as the perfect base to explore the cobbled streets and grand cathedrals. I opted for a scenic pedicab ride, the ubiquitous tricycle taxis, to hit its highlights. The driver suggested the Chinese Cemetery, which turned out to be much further than I thought, over freeways and bridges, and me even getting out to help push at times, but it was completely worth the drive (and his hefty charge) because meandering around its stunning architecture was a history lesson in itself. Wandering the night streets of Malate, it's tourism center, was scarier than the cemetery, but led to an incredible dinner and show at Zamboanga Restaurant.
A short plane flight and midnight Roro bus ride took me to the shores of El Nido on the island of Palawan. After watching the sunrise over the bay, I checked into my ocean view room at Ipil Suites, then skipped out for day 1 of island hopping. Go Palawan offers several tours, but Tour A: Lagoons and Beaches was calling my name. A full day of kayaking and swimming through crystal clear waters was true Paradise. Dinner at the Art Café was a music filled, cozy evening. Wanting more time in Paradise, I ventured on Tour C: Hidden Beaches and Shrines the next day for more tropical bliss.
Another Roro bus ride back to Puerto Princessa, I stayed at the Islands Stay Hotel to get up early and race to get in line to get one of the limited tickets to the UNESCO natural wonder, the underground river. Luckily there was a travel agency across the street and a tour guide at the ticket office that helped out. Spelunking those caves via boat was otherworldly because they are Massive & Expansive. With its layered cultural tapestry, the Philippines are vibrant and beautiful and I can't wait to visit Baguio, my grandfather's birthplace.
Cairo to Cape Town, Africa
There are Trips in which you explore an exciting new Locale, and then there are Voyages that are Expansive and Transformative. My Trans-Nile Adventure was overwhelming with its sheer breadth of Environments, Interactions, and Activities. Art & Culture, Safaris, Tribes, Ancient Histories and Vibrant Cities... and all the resulting Personal Growth.
I normally research and organize my own adventures, but it was an absolute dream to travel with Oasis Overland, who coordinated this epic journey. My first time camping, I fell in Love with the intimate experience of living so close to the land. I did, however, treat myself to some luxuries now and then. Waking up to the pyramids looming above at the Mena House in Cairo was the perfect example of Historical Luxe. Snorkeling in the Red Sea, a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, and a 3 day felucca ride down the Nile were as picturesque as they sound.
Exploring the pyramids of Meroe in Sudan, a sunset dinner at Ben Abeba in Lalibela, Ethiopia, a private safari tour in the Nairobi National Park in Kenya (which subsequently turned out to be my favorite), and Gorilla Trekking through the impenetrable forests of Rwanda are some highlights en route.
I spent the holidays in Zanzibar with it's cobbled streets and turquoise waters. The Emerson Spice Hotel and Mashariki Palace in Stone Town are lusciously boutique with fabled histories, and waking up Christmas morning to sounds of crashing waves and seeing Maasai walking the beach from my balcony at The Z Hotel was a gift in itself.
Antelope Park in Zimbabwe was a veritable animal Disneyland, with morning Lion Walks, horse rides amongst giraffes, and elephant interactions. Canoeing through the Okavango Delta of Botswana for a few days is absolutely tranquil and beautiful. I have to admit, Namibia was a complete surprise! The Himba tribe, sand-swept diamond ghost town of Lüderitz, beach town of Swakopmund with skydiving and desert biking, and the salt pans and dunes of Sossusvlei were pure splendor.
Finishing in Cape Town, which felt a lot like California. Saturday at the Art Walk of The Old Biscuit Mill, High Tea at the Belmond Mount Nelson, and Sunset drinks at La Belle in Camps Bay, as well as just meandering down Long Street, are just a few faves.
It felt a bit like a Pu-Pu Platter of a trip, with tastes of a wide variety of Life, wetting my appetite to soon return.
Family Adventure Through Bangkok, Bali & Krabi
An Experience I'll cherish the rest of my Life; sharing my Love for Travel with the ones I Love most. I wanted to dazzle, pamper, and whisk them around to do as much as possible in two weeks. Immediately after landing in Bangkok, they unwound with nibbles in our premiere penthouse suite at LeBua State Tower, followed by drinks upstairs at the SkyBar on the 63rd floor with a 360 panoramic view of the metropolis. The next day, we cruised down the Chao Phraya River to visit the Golden Buddha at Wat Pho, and braved the labyrinthine chaos of the Chatuchak Market.
Our next stop was the exotic splendor of Bali. After landing, we stopped for a beautiful kecak fire-dance performance of Rama & Sita en route to Ubud. Waking up amidst the misty forest tops surrounded by rice patties, with a slight drizzle, incense, and the sounds of the Sebatu Temple in celebration next door made for an ethereal morning at our villa at Puri Gangga Resort. The Holy Water Temple Complex of Pura Tirtha and the ancient Temples of Gunung Kawi were my cultural priority, followed by some fun at the Monkey Forest and dinner under a setting sun in a private gazebo nestled in rice fields at Bebek Tepi Sawah. We bid farewell to Bali with a Buddhist blessing at the island temple of Tanah Lot.
We had a short overnight layover at The YouniQ Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, before finally stopping in Krabi, Thailand for some beachside relaxation. The jacuzzis on our balconies at the Aonang Cliff Beach Resort were a peaceful way to watch the setting sun. Island hopping the turquoise waters of the Phi Phi islands, elephant treks down rivers, and waterfall hiking rounded out our visit, thoroughly making their vacation an exhausting yet beautiful experience.