Those who have travelled with kids would know a bored and restless child is no easy challenge, whether they are four or fourteen. So we were pleasantly surprised to see the Dorsett Wanchai’s very thoughtful new themed suites which provide the perfect answer. If you’re planning a weekend in Hong Kong with the young ‘uns, this is possibly the best place to stay.
If you’ve got little tots, book the Ocean Park Family Suite. While it might be a bit too ‘twee’ for the grown-ups, consider this: you can sip wine for some peaceful down time while your little tot is immersed in this soft-toy-rich, marine-themed environment, and will be well distracted by the endless delights at hand.
It’s an official collaboration with Ocean Park. Once you have booked the suite, you can buy admission tickets to the Park from the hotel concierge at a special price of HK$900 for two adults and one child, which also comes with free shuttle to the park on weekends. The suite measures a generous 48 sqm, and comes with pantry, sofa bed in the living room, dining area and bedroom with king sized bed. Lots of room to swing a cat.
In the evening, you can call Front Desk to deliver to your room a “specially-designed mobile storybook library” filled with storybooks catering to children of different ages, perfect for bedtime stories before your precious heads off to slumberland.
If you’ve got a teenager in tow, then the Dorsett Wanchai’s Sony 4k 3D Experience Suite is the thing to go for. Says the hotel’s official information: “With Sony’s latest gadgets such as Playstation, blue-ray home theatre system, and LED TV, tech-lovers will be able to surround themselves by the newest electronics and indulge themselves in a SONY paradise.” Nuff said.
Marking the launch of the suites, Dorsett Wanchai is offering a 50% discount on all suite bookings falling between May and September 2017, made through the official hotel website http://www.wanchai.dorsetthotels.com
The hotel is located between Wanchai and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, close to loads of shops and food. It’s an 8-minute walk to MTR station, Times Square, but there’s also complimentary shuttle bus service to 16 destinations via five routes. And all rooms are also equipped with the all-important high speed wifi.
China’s Jiuzhaigou National Park is a stunning fairyland of a nature reserve north of Szechuan and about an hour’s plane ride away from Chengdu. A UNESCO Heritage site, this 700 sq km swathe of natural gorgeousness sits high up in the mountain ranges, and is dotted with breathtaking scenery of wild pines, impossibly blue lakes, dramatic waterfalls, leaping cascades and immense vistas.
I visited during winter particularly to see the frozen waterfalls and snowy scenery…and also to avoid the crazy crowds that throng the place in spring and autumn. It was worth it despite the minus 5 degree Celsius weather, as the crowds were thin and we had breathtaking vistas almost to ourselves at times. The scenery was out of this world. With the dark wood of the trees and rocks set in stark contrast against the snow, it felt like we had walked straight into a traditional Chinese painting.
It’s not difficult to navigate the park. Once you have bought a ticket at the main entrance, there are buses plying two fixed routes that will bring you to all the main sights and lookout points of JZG National Park. You board and disembark at set bus-stops of course. (Another advantage of travelling in low season is that the buses are pretty comfortable, and you are assured of seats most of the time.) If you were gung-ho, you could walk the park too, as the paths and roads are well paved, broad, and decently signposted. But it is a huge expanse, so it would be quite an ambitious undertaking.
We had been warned that there weren’t much food options there apart from a large no-frills restaurant in a central holding area, and a few pot-noodle stands dotted around. So we brought flasks of hot coffee, and some pastry pilfered from the breakfast buffet, which was enough to keep us going for the day.
We got to see most of the main sights of JZG Nature Park, which took us from around 8am until 5pm.
Our hotel, the Sheraton Jiuzhaigou was a ten minute stroll from the entrance of the park, which made it quite convenient. But (and here’s where the griping starts) it was possibly the most shocking hotel property from an international brand which I had ever stayed in.
Despite selling us club suites, they had closed the club lounge due to low season, so no extra amenities. What’s more, heating was turned off in all the public areas. The staff in the lobby checked us in wearing their great winter coats, and the hallways of the hotel were so chilly, dim and dreary it looked like a set from ‘The Shining’. Back in our suites, central heating was minimal; even with an extra standalone heater that we literally begged for, the temperature in the bedroom registered 15C. We ended up sleeping on the floor in the living room, the only place which was of a humane temperature for sleeping. At least the Chinese restaurant there was decent and the food was hot, which just about prevented us from turning into human popsicles.
Banyan Tree Just Opened in JZG So I was thrilled to hear that Banyan Tree had just opened a property in JZG a few days ago. Although 45 minutes away from the park, I think a warm bed in luxurious surrounds would more than make up for the extra travel time. The rooms start from a spacious 65 sq metres, all with nice views, and five F&B outlets including a hotpot restaurant and another that offers Sichuan and Cantonese cuisine. What’s more, there’s also the Banyan Tree Spa with 12 treatment rooms and indoor and outdoor swimming pools.
A stay at Banyan Tree JZG also offers other experiences like jam making classes, featuring a visit to Village to pick fruit followed by cooking the jam back at the hotel; a trek to Baihe Nature Reserve to see the Sichuan Golden Monkey and Giant Panda, or go hunting for Chinese herbs and edible mushrooms with a local guide, amongst others.
Marking its opening, the hotel is offering a special early bird package from now until 30 June 2017. If you make an online booking seven days in advance, you’ll get 45% the Best Available Rate. There’s also the 4D/3N Sense of Exploration package with daily breakfast for two, a day trip to Jiuzhaigou National Park inclusive of park tickets, round trip transportation, and a picnic lunch, as well as a complimentary upgrade to the next room category. (www.banyantree.com)
Fancy a holiday in an icy landscape with stellar displays of the northern lights? Take the kids out of school and head to the Arctic in February for an experience more inspiring than any classroom can offer. Customise a trip with Off the Map Travel to Swedish Lapland with the Arctic Ice Adventure experience. Adventure guides bring you into the Arctic Wilderness to see fantastic icy landscapes, caves and ice formations; experience dog sledding, and hang out in a cosy pre-built igloo (above) as a base. You’ll get to learn the basics of igloo building, go ice fishing to catch dinner, get to taste local cuisine and experience the life and culture of the indigenous Sami people. And of course, go on a hunt for the northern lights. This is available 11-26 February 2017, tagged on to any customise tour of the region. www.offthemaptravel.co.uk
Adventurers with a penchant for mountainous landscapes should try the Songtsam Circuit (above), in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province. Starting from its capital Shangri-la — a key pass on the ancient Tea-Horse trading route and the main gateway into Tibet — it that takes at least 6-9 days to complete, taking you through Shangri-La, Tacheng (Weixi), Cizhong, Meili (Deqin) and Benzilan. Done in relative luxury, you stay in Songtsam Lodges’ six boutique hotels along the circuit, and explorations are done as guided day trips. Transfers between the hotels take place in your own personal vehicle and dedicated driver and guide. The itinerary is packed full of outdoor hikes and drives, and sounds like something from an epic movie. Hike through valleys, primeval forests, up mountains and pass by Tibetan farms and mountain villages; see wild flowers, native wildlife including the snub nose monkey, and experience the culture of the land. The driving time between each hotel ranges from 1.5 hours to 3.5 hours. The circuit covers all major attractions along the ‘Three Rivers in Parallel’ conservation area in Yunnan Province. www.songtsam.com
If you can bear the long long flight to South America, tailor make a bespoke trip to Chile, like this 12D/11N Best of Chile vacation that takes you to the Atacama Desert, Santiago and Patagonia. Stay in luxury digs set within a walled ancient site and get a taste of the life of a local farmer. Visit his home where he tells you about life and traditions, and accompany him as he brings the lamas out to graze. There’ll be days of hiking, biking and driving through amazing landscapes from salt flats, lakes and ravines; and see ancient cave paintings in the Atacama. Then spend a few days in Santiago for an urban reboot (lots of food, art and culture), then head off to a private reserve in Chilean Patagonia to see guanacos, rheas, foxes, condors and pumas. You’ll stay in luxury at every stop and a private guide will be around to help throughout. Not cheap, but it’s one of those bucket list experiences that you have to do once in a lifetime. http://www.andbeyond.com/tours/south-america-tours/best-of-chile-1.htm
(Photos courtesy of Songstam Lodges, andbeyond travel and Off The Map travel)
There are two pilgrimages Harry Potter die-hards should make. The first is the Warner Brothers’ set in London where all eight movies were made, and where Harry, Hermione, Ron Weasley and company literally grew up. The other is Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida where the world of Harry Potter comes fully alive in wondrously immersive, theme park style. This is hardcore, brain-fever inducing Harry Potter heaven. If your kids have been seriously good this year, the December hols is the time to pack up your wands and go.
What can the holiday be like? Imagine waking up every morning bright and early, having breakfast and being in Hogsmeade — its winter there permanently — by 8am. Every day. For three days at least.
The entire Harry Potter experience there is called The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It is divided into two locations — Universal’s Island of Adventure and adjacent to it, Universal Studios Florida. It is linked seamlessly by a 10-minute ride on the Hogwarts Express.
As it is a considerable trek there, you’ll definitely want to maximise your Harry Potter pilgrimage, so planning well is key. Firstly, stay on-site in one of the Universal Orlando Resort hotels so you are never too far away. We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, a 10-minute stroll from the gates of heaven through a shady, beautifully manicured park along the river. (This is important because you waste no time waiting for the ferry boats which are also available to take you there.) Upon check-in, we bought the express pass for the theme parks so we don’t have to queue too. What’s more, hotel guests get access into the parks an hour before the general public does. So here’s how we maxed out on our time there.
Make sure you finish breakfast and are out of the hotel by 7.45am. Walk out the hotel from the pool, turn right and follow the path to the entrance of Universal’s Island of Adventure. Doors open to hotel guests at 8am and you want to be there without a minute to lose. Just follow the rest of the people there — they are all heading to Hogsmeade to be the first to ride the Forbidden Journey where the express pass does not apply.
Walk through the cobble-stoned streets of Hogsmeade, where it is perpetually winter, to a full size Hogwarts Castle where the ride takes place. The queue, which still takes about 15 minutes, brings you through the elaborately detailed corridors and medieval halls of the castle, complete with the talking portraits, gadgets, tools and specimens of monsters. You’ll also wind past Dumbledore’s office with lots of things to see and hear. The ride is fabulous, but I won’t say more.
After that, make a beeline for Hogwart’s Express and take it to Diagon Alley, in Universal Studios Florida, the other theme park. While serving as a functional link, Hogwart Express itself — decked in cosy, vintage fashion — is a fun experience. Look out for the corner where people ahead of you walk into the wall at Platform 93/4, and while on the train, watch out for death eaters and the Weasley’s flying car. Don’t forget to wave at Hagrid.
From there, take the short walk to Diagon Alley, and head straight to Gringott’s Bank and get onto the Escape From Gringott’s ride, which also does not except the express pass. Again, the route to the ride takes you into the grand hall of Gringott’s bank where the stern looking dwarves peer at you from behind their desks. You descend into the bowels of the building where another fabulously exhilarating ride awaits.
After this routine, your morning ‘rush’ to get to the best of the Harry Potter experiences is done. Now you can take your time to explore the winding lanes and shops of Daigon Alley (some areas here can be rather scary for the very young) or have an early lunch at the Leaky Cauldron which tends to get quite crowded nearer lunch.
Then get back onto the Hogwarts Express for Hogsmeade. Take the Dragon’s Challenge, a moderately thrilling roller coaster, have a pint of butterbeer, get some candy at Honeydukes and pop into Ollivander’s to see a wand choose a wizard. There are lots of other things to check out in these two locations of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter so take your time from here, and remember to buy lots and lots of souvenirs.
Beyond that, the rest of the theme parks await. Top rides in my view are The Transformers ride, Spiderman and The Minions.
The end of the year is almost here, and for those with kids, it’s time to heave a sigh of post-exam relief and turn your attention to more pleasant things like the family holiday. How about heading out into the open and soak in some sun, sea or snow? You don’t have to go far to do that.
Walk Japan has just launched the Oita Hot Spring Trail, a fully guided six day walking tour of Kysuhu through the Oita Prefecture, the mecca of onsen hotsprings. Imagine walking through mountain valleys, the foot of Mount Kuju, onto a plateau, cycling past farmhouses and fields, and reaching the sea. In the midst of that, soak in the view and in onsens, dine on fabulous meals and experience the country’s culture. Accommodation is in traditional Japanese inns with onsen baths. The trail is suitable for those ” who can walk at a gentle pace for three to four hours in comfort.” The tour is capped at 12 people, and costs JPY316,000 per person. Meeting point is in Fukuoka. http://www.walkjapan.com/tour/oita-hot-spring
Another new Walk Japan trail is the stunning Hokkaido Snow Tour(above), a full guided eight-day, seven-night snowshoe-clad adventure of east Hokkaido. Dress warm for the landscape is peppered with powder fine snow, from empty vistas to frozen lakes and mountain views. You head to pretty remote lanscapes , starting at the fishing port of Kushiro, then “over frozen seas where fishermen huddle around ice holes; through snowy landscapes past remote farmsteads, and along cliff-tops”. You may see deer, tancho red-crested cranes and other wildlife. Every evening, stay in traditional inns, some with onsen, and dine on meals made with local ingredients literally for a local flavour. At eighth day bring you to Utoro, a small, onsen hot spring resort town on the coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the tour ends. Priced from JPY498,000 per person, it includes breakfast, dinner and three lunches, snowshoe rental and baggage transfers. http://www.walkjapan.com/tour/hokkaido-snow
See history, wildlife and adventure on a luxury 11-day Tigers, Temples and The Tajtrip with private tour specialist Jacada Travel. Explore Delhi for a couple of days, then head to remote luxury lodge in Bandhavgarh National Park (above)and go on safaris in this 400 square kilometres worth of wilderness with the highest density of tigers in the world. It’s also home to leopards, sloth bears, dhole (Asian wild dog), gaur Indian bison, spotted deer, etc. The trip later includes boat rides on the River Ganges and sunset and sunrise at the Taj Mahal. Not cheap, this lengthy trip – which packs in a lot — starts at around $8000 per person (minus international flights). But it includes lots of pampering , private transfers and a guide throughout. www.jacadatravel.com
Blend a lazy resort holiday with open-jeep touring off the beaten track in Hoi An. Stay at the Anantara Hoi An Resortand head off on day tours with Active Adventure Tours to explore the area’s heritage sights and nature. How about a tour to My Son? At sunrise, the open jeep tour takes you to My Son on a less travelled route past rice paddies and the Thu Bon River delta region, first to a village market to soak in country life, then to My Son itself, the former capital of the ancient Champa Kingdom and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Breakfast is served there, then you’re free to pole around the ruins with a local guide, and take in a traditional dance. The return journey to the resort promises ” small country lanes and pretty hamlets”.
If you’re even more adventurous, do the full day trip to Hai Van Pass (above). Take in a 1,000-year-old Cham tower, head up Bo Bo Hill, an important site in the American War, drive up Hai Van Pass to see its haunting landscape, then head to a pristine stretch of coastline for a picnic lunch and a paddle in the sea. The return journey gives you a good look at traditional fishing village life there. The tours promise “creative itineraries [that] investigate beyond the confines of a guidebook creative itineraries”, ” remote terrain and hidden havens, unseen by the masses”. Sounds exciting. www.anantara.com
It seems that every major Hotel in Macau, these days, needs a compelling draw for tourists. With a long weekend ahead of us last month. I headed over from Hong Kong to Macau to spend a night in Asia’s Las Vegas.
The agenda was mainly to eat at some of my favourite restaurants and to visit the three newly opened attractions – the Eiffel Tower replica at the Parisian and the SkyCab at the newly opened Wynn Palace. We also popped by to see the special Golden Reel Rideat the Studio City Hotel and Complex that opened late last year.
If you are inspired to visit after reading this, do just note that the attractions listed here are all pay-to-play attractions and entry is not included in the respective Hotel room rates.
Make It To The Top of the Macau Eiffel Tower
Forget the gruelling plane ride to France, the newly opened Parisian Hotel along the Cotai Strip is where you can expect to recreate the romance of the whole European experience … well almost.
The Macau Eiffel as it is fondly referred to, was constructed to half the scale of the real thing and has 6000 light bulbs to keep it lit up at night. There are speakers around its base around the hotel grounds that play music to create the ambience.
Also from inside the Hotel, you can join the long queues for a fee, you can take a lift up to the Observation Decks on levels 7 and 37 to get a bird’s eye view of Macau city and watch the Light Show with music, daily – every 15 minutes from 7:30pm – 10:00pm.
Inside the Hotel, an amazing Dome that quite rivals the Cathedral domes that you would expect to see in France and Europe.
A bird’s eye view from one of the Hotel’s shopping floors shows the palatial ground floor layout with a fountain in the middle of the lobby that changes colours.
Do you feel like you are in Europe yet?
And if you think that’s not enough to go check it out, note that the Parisian also has two other attractions on it’s grounds – the Aqua Pool and Qube Kingdom.
We took the SkyCab at the Wynn Palace Hotel only because it looked just amazing from ground level. In terms of construction and we had heard that this is the only cable car that can turn a corner without a mid-station which is supposed to be a bit of an operational fete.
The Wynn Skycab makes a total of 6 turns with 2 stations because it operates in an unidirectional configuration. You have to be inside one of these to experience the turn which feels a bit like you the way you would at Disneyland sitting in one of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups but of course, with turns that are not as sharp and abrupt.
There are two towers built in the form of a golden dragon and all the cabins taking passengers in a loop around the hotel are equipped with a custom audio system and are fully air conditioned.
Although it was a short ride that cost about MOP$100, the SkyCab gives you a bird’s eye view (a bit like a Bond movie) over the top of the Hotel’s restaurants, its Performance Lake and the Hotel pool where you can catch bikini clad sunbathers.
Inside the Hotel, there are an equal amount of distractions to oogle at. A stunning floral and circus theme some with movable installations confront you with a riot of colour in almost every public area.
World-renowned designer, Preston Bailey whose work is on display at the Wynn in Las Vegas has some sensational sculptures that are completely instagram-worthy.
Even the small kiosks that sell cakes and snacks are resplendant in design detail.
The food …
The Cafe interiors …
Even the floor tiles …
Nothing boring or sleepy about this amazing fantasy Palace.
The Performance Lake that the Wynn is well known for also comes alive with its water performance, best viewed in the evening complete with lights and dancing water.
The Chinese have always considered the number 8 a lucky and auspicious number. Well, at recently opened Studio City Hotel, you can get on the world’s highest figure-8 Ferris wheel for a view of the city from 130 meters up in the air.
Born from an epic Hollywood-inspired tale of two asteroids careering through Studio City’s main façade, the story is that they crashed through the facade leaving a perfect “8” shaped hole.
In reality, the Golden Reel is a panoramic architectural spectacle suspended at 130 meters between two Art-Deco hotel towers. Within the wheel, are 17 spacious cabins, each able to seat up to 10 people.
I did not have time to visit the Batman Dark Flight attraction which is also within the Hotel. This is DC Comics’ first Batman 4D flight simulation ride and offers the latest flight simulation technology and the very best in audio design and visual graphics pitting Batman in a race to save Gotham City against his arch enemies.
The Hotel interior carries through the dark flight-Gotham City dimly lit feel and theme.
For the kid’s and magic show enthusiasts, there is also a theatre attraction called The House Of Magic with daily magic shows and performances
And another one for the kids, a Warner Brother’s Fun Zone which has a 40,000 sq foot playground packed with play experience areas and themed play areas featuring all the popular Warner Bros., DC Comics and Hanna-Barbera characters.
If you’re looking for a new place to go for a weekend escape, away from the usual resorts and destinations that everyone else heads to, pen these three new holidays down on your to-do list.#1. A Private Pre-Dawn Tour of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is not exactly off the beaten track, but Anantara Angkor Resort gets you a unique view of the UNESCO Heritage temple like no other. Its Breakfast at Angkor Tour gets you special access into this stunning 9th century temple complex way before other tourists do. Start off at 4.30am from the hotel via private car or tuk-tuk for a local experience.
When you get there, a guide will escort you with flashlight in hand, into the temple grounds via a “secret back entrance” when it’s still dark. With no other tourist inside and before the sun is up, you can imagine what a mesmerizing experience that promises to be! The tour ends at the front of the temple when the sun rises — a great photo op — and the tourist hoards start streaming in. That’s when you head for your private breakfast in one of the more secluded temples nearby. There, you’ll be greeted by a personal butler waiting to serve a continental breakfast of pastries and fruits, while the guide tells you more about Siem Riep’s history and its surrounds. After breakfast, explore more temple ruins then head back to the resort. To get onto this tour, you’ll have to be a guest of the Anantara Angkor Resort of course. The tour is priced from about S$155++ and includes the English speaking guide, breakfast, a one-day ticket to the Angkor Archaeological Park and transport to and from the site. http://angkor.anantara.com/
#2. Immerse in the Landscape of ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’
Immerse yourself in the setting of ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ in Alila Anji, the luxury resort chain Alila’s first resort in China. This new resort will open 1 June. Located in Zhejiang province in China’s first national ‘ecological county’ — which promises pristine and sustainable environment — the resort is set in the hills overlooking a lake. Designed to resemble a traditional Chinese village, Alila Anji has only 74 rooms and villas, but is also family friendly, with a kids’ club to boot.
What do you do here? Visit the Anji Grand National Bamboo Forest where ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ was filmed, visit The Lingfeng Temple dating back to AD907, spend a day at a farm house to gather local produce and enjoy a farm-to-table culinary experience, or go tea picking followed by a picnic lunch in the plantation. Kids get to see Hello Kitty Land too, and adventurers can go white water rafting. The resort also has a spa to bliss out in and if you’ve got a special occasion to celebrate, the hotel can arrange a special dining experience like dinner in the bamboo forest or by the lake jetty just for two. Nice.
The hotel is offering a special rate starting from about S$430 per night (minimum 2 nights’ stay) which gives you accommodation in the Lakeview room, daily breakfast, and one of four tour/curated experience inclusive of lunch and dinner. These four WKND Experiences include some of the activities mentioned above. This package — a very good deal by Alila’s regular pricing — is available for those booking from now until 31 August, for stays between 1 June to 31 Dec 2016. http://www.alilahotels.com/anji
#3. Padi Farming and Thai Culture for the Family
If you’re thinking of a family getaway, the luxury resort Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai offers a culturally rich weekend away. The highlight is a rice planting session for the family where you don traditional farmers’ clothing, hitch a ride to the rice paddies on the resident buffalo, learn about how to plant rice, and put the newfound knowledge into practice. Don’t worry, it’s just about an hour’s session, so you’re not put to much labour. But the kids will come back hopefully with newfound appreciation for the back breaking efforts by farmers who get the rice onto their dinner plates.
There’s also the craft village where you can try out basket weaving, traditional rice pounding, paper cutting and northern Thai music, cooking classes at the Dhara Dhevi Culinary Academy, and walking tours. There’s also plenty going on at the kid’s club to keep youngsters busy. Set in a century-old traditional Thai teakwood house, the club’s plethora of activities get kids experiencing the culture of Northern Thailand, such as Thai dancing, the Thai language, fan and umbrella painting, Sa paper and Lanna style flag making, even yoga and Thai boxing. The resort is offering a 4D/3N Family Getaway Package (about S$2,260++ from 1 May to 30 Sep 2016) including daily breakfast for 2 adults and 2 kids, a Thai set dinner for 2 adults and 2 kids at Le Grand Lanna, 60-minute spa session, Thai boxing or dance class for kids and a private rice planting class for the family.