Tag Archive | "travel"

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Travelling and shopping: the perfect combination

Posted on 30 March 2012 by Admin

When I’m away travelling, I have a serious love of shopping. In my mind, there’s nothing better than travelling unless it’s travelling and shopping together! There’s something about doing it in another country that makes it so much more special – being able to discover fantastic brands you’ve never heard of, seeing that nation’s on-trend residents styling  the most popular looks, and experiencing a completely different take on fashion through the eyes of a new culture. I find Europe has some amazing places to shop – and it’s possible to find them even while I’m discovering the incredible architecture, sampling the delicious food and becoming friendly with the locals – clever!

And I’ll let you in on one of the best-kept secrets of the fashion-savvy shopping in Europe… there are nine incredible shopping Villages scattered across Europe and sitting near gorgeous cities such as London, Paris, Milan and many more. I’m obsessed with these Villages, not just because they offer up savings of up to 60% on the RRP of amazing brands, including the mighty style mainstays of Matthew Williamson and Mulberry, but also because they’re incredible destinations in themselves.

05Visiting them as a tourist, I love noticing how the architecture of each Village echoes its surroundings. And it’s really refreshing to step away from the madness of a bustling city, with an easy trip out of the centre, and experience a unique way of shopping. Even better – each Village has fantastic restaurants, cafés and open-air promenades (which are great for people watching too!). People from all over the world come to shop here, so I could really just spend all day relaxing and enjoying the food, watching the world go by and discovering what everyone’s wearing… However, that would only be possible if I could stop myself from shopping for the incredible brands on offer – whether at Bicester Village with its top British names like Vivienne Westwood and Mulberry, to the stylish Italian picks at Fidenza Village, such as Missoni and Belstaff, or the French classics by Comptoir des Cotonniers and Antik Batik at La Vallée Village. There are also luxury lifestyle brands including Smythson and Cath Kidston, all with incredible savings you won’t find in the cities!

So whatever country I’m in – Paris, Milan, London, Barcelona, Madrid, Dublin, Frankfurt, Munich or Brussels – I always find a shopping Village just down the road. The hand-picked labels and little touches make shopping an unforgettable experience, and makes each Village a destination in its own right. They are also bursting with their own culture and an experience that is just as exciting as discovering the nearby cities. It’s the perfect combination: shopping and culture, who can say no to that?

value retail

Find out more about the Collection of Chic Outlet Shopping® Villages:

You can keep up with all of the latest fashion and travel news by downloading the Chic Outlet Shopping® free app for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android. With this you’ll be instantly connected interactive maps of each Village, special offers, and exclusive Chic TV footage!

Want to discover what’s hot in Europe? Then follow The ChicBuzz®blog, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, updated daily with info about the latest fashion scoops, glamorous red-carpet reports and news from your favourite brands – as it happens.


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Richard Gere and family will Visit Borobudur

Posted on 23 June 2011 by indotravel

Popular Hollywood Actor, Richard Gere will visit Borobudur, Indonesia’s imposing 9th century Buddhist monument in Central Java, from 25th to 27th June this month.  Himself a devout Buddhist, Richard Gere will be accompanied by his wife Carey Lowell and son Homer James Jigme. Gere and family will be special guests at the spectacular Borobudur Masterpiece Ballet held at the Aksobya Open Air Theater, at the eastern foot of the Borobudur Temple, on Sunday evening June 26th 2011. To be performed by a cast of 150 of top Javanese dancers, the Borobudur Masterpiece Ballet relates the history of the construction of the mighty temple during the reign of the Syailendra Dynasty.

Additionally, Richard Gere is planned to take part in a Morning Peace Walk together with Buddhist monks where he will witness a memorable sunrise from the courtyard of Borobudur. Gere will also participate in a Boddhi Tree Planting ceremony at the Borobudur garden. He will then visit the nearby Mendut Temple and the Borobudur Village on a one kilometer elephant ride, said Tourism Marketing Director General, Sapta Nirwandar at a press conference, Friday 17 June.

The entire visit of Richard Gere and family to Borobudur as well as to the adjacent Hindu Prambanan temple will be documented and broadcast on international TV channels. As June is peak tourist season and is also Indonesia’s school holidays, Borobudur will remain open to the public during the visit of actor Richard Gere, assured Nirwandar.

Both Borobudur and the Prambanan temples are designated UNESCO World Heritage Monuments.

During his visit, Richard Gere will meet Minister for Culture and Tourism, Jero Wacik, and will be hosted to a special Dinner with Sultan Hamengku Buwono X at the Yogyakarta Palace.

Prior to his visit to Indonesia, the Golden Globe winner who paired with Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, will together with his family visit South Korea first, then end the tour in Indonesia with a holiday on the fabled island of Bali.

The visit to Indonesia of world class celebrities like Richard Gere is expected to raise Indonesia’s image globally and increase visitor arrivals to the country.

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Of Great Wall and Grey Walls

Posted on 07 November 2010 by muchadoabouteating

Badaling 八达岭  or Juyongguan 居庸关?   We are spoilt for choice in deciding which section of the Great Wall to visit.  In the end, we found ourselves at the steeper albeit less touristy Juyongguan.

Completed earlier than Badaling, Juyongguan screams ancient charm.  No wonder Karl Lagerfield chose this section of the Great Wall as the runway for his Fendi’s show in 2007.

Juyongguan is also known for the First and Foremost Pass Under Heaven 天下第一雄关 along with the First Pass Under Heaven (Shanhaiguan 山海关 in Hebei) and First and Greatest Pass Under Heaven (Jiayuguan 嘉峪关 in Gansu).  So many passes in China and all are somehow first under heaven.  Interesting.

The vertically extended Juyonguan is indeed a strenous section to climb, much more difficult than the stretching Badaling.  After going up the steps for about 20mins, we get to reach the souvenir shop to buy a I have been to the Great Wall certificate.  And the rest of our Great Wall adventure was just going down its precarious steps.

We spend the rest of the day exploring some grey walls at the hutongs (read: the narrow alleys) in  Beijing. The walls at Liulizhang 琉璃厂 (a hutong) is possibly more interesting than the Great Wall . We manage to get through the front rows of some arty-touristy-paraphernalia shops and reached the grey walls.

Since this is where typical people in Beijing live.  What is a visit to China without seeing those quintessential banners with slogans?

Or that strong desire to embrace the benefits of modern living coupled with resistence to change in preservation of its unique past?  The stark contrast between the greyish walls of the Hutongs and the shiny skyscrapers was quite a heart-wrenching sight.

We saw some of the oldest professionals making their living in open streets.  Silver hair grandpas and grandmas waiting patiently for their turn at the barber’s.

And even a most skilful dentist who can maintain his composure and balance amidst the crowd.  Intriguing.

Finally, the market at liulizhang is not to be missed.

Beijing. Be it Great Wall or grey walls. You have won my heart.

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India’s Grandest Royal Spa

Posted on 22 October 2010 by Nellie Huang

Plush, stylish and regal: Kaya Kalp – the Royal Spa gives new meaning to royal treatment. From the extravagant wellness treatments to the paradisical landscaping, the spa is especially designed to provide a living experience of regal being. Voted by many as one of the best spas in India, the Royal Spa is a perfect blending of old-world charm and modern-day spa pampering.

Stepping foot into the spa, it’s easy to see how Kaya Kalp has gained such recognition. Davina Hassell, the Spa Manager, guides me around the lavish property and explains, “The spa industry in India is still in its growing stage. I’m proud to say that Kaya Kalp is at the forefront of it and we’re working hard to strive for growth.”

The flagship Kaya Kalp spa located in ITC Mughal Agra Hotel is India’s biggest spa to date, sprawling over 99,000 square feet in area. Since opening its doors in 2008, the spa has already nabbed 8 prestigious awards, one of which is the Best City Spa awarded by Condé Nast Traveller.

Agra-ITC-Mughal Royal-Spa-Kaya Kalp- Relaxation Room

Mughal Interior

Inside the spa, the Mughal mood is infectious. Kaya Kalp is designed using many elements from Mughal dynasty architecture: from latticework to bronzed lamps to velvet upholstery. Delhi-based architect and landscape designer, Pradeep Sachdeva, uses the pomegranate fruit as the theme of the spa – a fruit representative of the Mughal dynasty. Ruby red pomegranate designs can be seen in the design on the walls, ceiling and white terrazzo flooring.

The spa ground extends to the lush, tropical gardens. Running fountains flow, while fragrant flowers and fruit bearing trees blossom under the sunlight. Adapting the garden concept brought in by Baber, the first Mughal Emperor, the Kaya Kalp – Royal Spa adds in that eden atmosphere that can be felt all over the city. We are after all in Agra, the garden city most famous for India’s emblem, the Taj Mahal.


Spa Treatments

After an exhausting day of visiting the city’s numerous monuments, a rejuvenating spa treatment is just what you need. From traditional Ayurvedic rituals to chakra balancing and gem stone massages, there is a large assortment of holistic treatments and spa journeys on offer. A Royal Mughal hammam, resembling those of the old Persian days, is another interesting feature of the spa. Enjoy a deep cleansing body scrub, an oil massage, a scalp massage or simply lounge around the bath. Couples who want some intimate privacy can opt for the Taj Mahal Romance treatment, which includes Ayurvedic massages, guided meditation and Shirodhara therapy enjoyed together.

Kaya Kalp poolPomegranate Journey

Curious to try out the spa’s most unique treatment, I book myself in for the Pomegranate Journey. My therapist first cleans my feet with water – a tradition used by the South Indians to welcome guests into their houses. To begin the journey, we start with a Pomegranate ritual scrub. Kaya Kalp’s signature blend of natural fruits such as pomegranate, lime and ginger, mixed with organic brown sugar allows the body to be gently exfoliated. It deeply cleanses, polishes and softens the body. Next, I get a deliciously healthy bath of pomegranate fruit essence, while sipping freshly squeezed pomegranate and lime juice. After feeling utterly relaxed, my treatment culminates with an Indian aromasoul ritual massage where my body is instantly revitalized with the use of traditional aromatherapy.

Towards the end of my journey, I feel enlighted – physically rejuvenated from the spa treatments, and intellectually enriched from experiencing India’s culture and history.

Agra-ITC-Mughal Royal-Spa-Kaya Kalp-Treatment Rm2

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The Faces of Rajasthan, India

Posted on 21 October 2010 by Nellie Huang

Stretching across Northern India, the region of Rajasthan pulsates with invigorating energy and vibrance. The cacophony of deafening sounds, blinding sights and fragrant smells in India never fail to awaken the curiosity in me. Splashed in bright rainbow hues, Rajasthani cities are distinguished by colours: Jaipur, the chaotic capital, is known as the ‘Pink City‘ for its reddish palaces while the desert city of Jaisalmer is dubbed the ‘Golden City’ for the honeycombed fort that rises above the golden sand.

Against the backdrop of the cities, the streets of Rajasthan are filled with natives dressed in bright orange saris and bulky red turbans. Its spirited people are the reason why this part of India draws million of tourists to its doorstep. Warm, friendly and happy – it’s hard not to get infected by the spirit of Rajasthan. To get a taste of Rajathan, here are some of portrait shots of its beautiful people.

A tribal lady in the Thar Desert

A tribal lady in the Thar Desert, close to the northwest frontier with Pakistan.

A Hindu lady sitting on the window sill of the Amber Fort, Jaipur.

A Hindu lady sitting on the window sill of the Amber Fort, Jaipur.

On the stairs of the Jagdish Hindu Temple in Udaipur, an old lady sells offerings in the form of colourful jasmin flowers and coconut leaves.

On the stairs of the Jagdish Hindu Temple in Udaipur, an old lady sells offerings in the form of colourful jasmin flowers and coconut leaves.

On the streets of Jaisalmer, a lady smiles for the camera.

On the streets of Jaisalmer, a lady smiles for the camera.

Swaggering moustache and multi-coloured turban: a typical Rajasthani man gets ready to milk his cow.

Swaggering moustache and multi-coloured turban: a typical Rajasthani man gets ready to milk his cow.

Hindu ladies, dressed in beautiful saris, stroll through the courtyard of Amber Fort, Jaipur

Hindu ladies, dressed in beautiful saris, stroll through the courtyard of Amber Fort, Jaipur

A priest sits on the stairs of Jagdish Temple, Udaipur.

A priest sits on the stairs of Jagdish Temple, Udaipur.

Mother and son pair strolling through downtown Jaisalmer.

Mother and son pair strolling through downtown Jaisalmer.

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Of Fish, Duck and Many Other Scary Food

Posted on 04 October 2010 by muchadoabouteating

It was a bright and early morning in Beijing. Well, not early enough for the flag-raising at the birth place of the People’s Republic of China but we still manage to catch the many mobile breakfast stalls around the area.

We wondered around to realise that these ubiquitous stalls simply sell prata-look-alike pancakes and decided to grab them.  For just 5RMB per pancake, this sure made hearty breakfast for our empty stomaches.  Tasted like piping hot prata with egg (just an aside: piping hot prata has become unusually rare in Singapore, to think that I actually need to go to Beijing for that, sigh) but they are served with some sweet sauce and lettuce. Great stuff! Be sure to catch one of these stalls at almost every exit of the subway stations while you are in Beijing.

I am so so glad that we didn’t think about skipping breakfast for Tiananmen Square 天安门 is huge and crowded.  This is afterall the symbolic centre of the Chinese universe. A must-visit will be the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall 毛主席记念堂. Admission is free but be prepared to quene for hours to get in as Chinese from all over China flock in to pay their respect to the physical presence of Mao. I needed loads of energy from breakfast to get through the crowd, walked through the square before we reached the Forbidden City 紫禁城 aka 故宫博物院 (Admission: 60RMB from Apr to Oct, 40RMB for other months).

To say that the Forbidden City is huge is a serious understatement. To walk through the Forbidden City is just like walking through many Tiananmens.  It was really crowded inside and the photo below just happened to capture a rare corner without any human being.

By the time we reached the Imperial Garden (the grand finale after endless of gates and halls we had to get through in the Forbidden City) and out. It was way beyond lunchtime. We hopped into Fu Yue Lou 福越楼 at Qian Men Dong Da Jie for a duck, Peking Duck.  This unknown eatery is chosen instead of Quan Ju De for we did not like the over-rated chain.

At  Fu Yue Lou, we got better attention, crispier skin and more tender duck than the well-known chain.  For the duck bones, we chose the salt and pepper style of cooking (extra 8RMB).  The fried duck bones tasted totally ahem KFC.  Very yum and appetising.  The entire duck just cost us 98RMB while the 2 big Peking Duck players – Quan Ju De charges 114RMB and Da Dong charges 99RMB for HALF a duck.

I could not miss out an order of the shui zhu yu 水煮鱼 right in Beijing. Look at the amount of chilli that came along.  Beijing’s shui zhu yu is definitely not for the faint-heart.  The sichuan dish was full of kick, the fish slices were ultra fresh and full of bones. Ouch! Careful! Next slice!

Portions were huge for lunch and so we went to another huge place to walk. The Temple of Heaven park 天坛公园 was the place of worship for the emperor (son of heaven). These days people go there to admire the grandeur of Ming Dynasty’s architecture .  It is ANOTHER huge area and the main sights are the Round Alter, Imperial Vault of Heaven, Echo Wall and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.  While admission to the park is 15RMB but you need to fork out another 20RMB for enter the 4 main sights

By the time we are done with the Temple of Heaven it was near evening.  As a foodie who watches too much food tv for any good, I simply need to go Dong Hua Men nightmarket 东华门夜市 which happens to be round the corner of Beijing’s shopping mecca, Wang Fu Jing 王府井.  Lest you are distracted (actually I was indeed distracted) by all the Cartier, IWC and Uniqlo in the shopping street and missed the street leading to Dong Hua Men nightmarket, you can try to find the literal 井of the 王府 (well of the house of Wang) which the street is named after.

Yup, as seen from the above photo, the well is all dried and covered up by now, simply turn into the street after the well is located and Dong Hua Men Nightmarket is right in front of your eyes.  The fear-factor food street selling all sorts of scary food – scorpions, cicadas, starfish and silkworms (15RMB each).

I seriously do not know how many people eat the scary food but I was very purposeful.  I was there for my fried-ice-cream and the moment I spotted it, I had it!

Freshly fried in recycled oil but who cares.  The fried ice-cream (15RMB) was coated with a generous amount of icing sugar served on an equally delectable french toast.  Totally chased the simmering heat of Beijing’s tail end summer away.

While fried ice-cream was a yummy treat, the fried fresh milk (15RMB) paled in comparison.  Tasted just like some plain and gluely chinese cake in thick batter.

Another common street snack will be beef tripe (20RMB).  The ridged tripe 爆肚 was extremely pungent so you will either love or hate it and I belong to the latter.

Well, I decided to get some Tianjin’s buns just because of its name (kuo bu li 狗不理 translates loosely to dog ignores).  It was said that the original bun from Tianjin was Empress Dowager Cixi’s fave.  Ok it’s just meat buns (15RMB for 5).  If you are really interested there is a branch from the restaurant (suitably named 狗不理) the Empress used to patronise just off Jian Men Da Jie.

After exploring the food street, I was dead beat but still insisted on going to the gorgeous St Joseph’s church around the corner of Wang Fu Jin, went to Wang Fu Jin bookstore to get violin concertos scores for my brother (ultra cheap ok!) and explored the extremely similar but a lot more touristy Wang Fu Jing snack street before turning in for the night.

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Cappadocia: A Land of Fantasy

Posted on 11 July 2010 by Nellie Huang

Deep in Central Turkey, magical fairy chimneys and bizarre rock outcrops abound. Cappadocia’s vast lands are sprinkled with extraordinary works of nature, creating a setting fit for fantasy. During a recent trip to Turkey, I ventured deep into the land of elves and fairies, searching for something beyond the ordinary.

Arriving at Kayseri International Airport, I wandered if I’d landed in another planet. Amidst the outlandish landscape, there was silence except for the occasional sounds of eagles circling the skies. It was daybreak as we drove into Göreme, Cappadocia – the sky shrouded in red, and clouds ominously draped over the mountainscape.

Red skies in the morning: Daybreak at Göreme, the main town in Cappadocia

Red skies in the morning: Daybreak at Göreme, the main town in Cappadocia

Winding my way through the town of Göreme, I found myself staring in the skies as thousands of multi-coloured hot-air balloons float languidly into the air. I had the rare opportunity of hopping onto a hot-air balloon with Cappadocia Voyager Balloons: an inspirational experience that could only be described with superlatives.

Hot-air balloons fill the morning skies as tourists take off into the air to soak in a bird's eye view of Cappadoci

Hot-air balloons fill the morning skies as tourists take off into the air to soak in a bird's eye view of Cappadocia

Some say the best way to see Cappadocia in its full glory is from above

Some say the best way to see Cappadocia in its full glory is from above

I continued my tour around Cappadocia, snaking through entrenched valleys studded with obscure but awestriking works of nature. At Dervent Valley, we chanced upon several hikers and cyclists, hungry for some adventure.

As the sun awakes, the patchwork of meandering valleys and sharp conical outcropsthat make up Cappadocia are bathed in a gentle golden glow.

As the sun awoke, the patchwork of meandering valleys and sharp conical outcrops that make up Cappadocia were bathed in a gentle golden glow.

As I clambered up to Göreme's viewpoint, an impressive panorama unfurled upon me. Millions of peculiar fairy chimneys jut out into the skyline of Cappadocia.

I clambered up to Göreme's viewpoint, where an impressive panorama unfurled upon me. Millions of peculiar fairy chimneys jut out into the skyline of Cappadocia.

Another highly recommended stop is the Göreme Open-air Museum, where towering fairy-chimneys are on display. I wandered around the clusters of rock outcrops, even climbing within the chimneys to get a feel of living within a cave as a hermit.

Imposing fairy chimneys are on display at Göreme's Open-air Museum. I wandered into the bizarre rock formation and could even climb within the outcrop and witness how hermits lived centuries ago.

Imposing fairy chimneys are on display at Göreme's Open-air Museum. I wandered into the bizarre rock formation and could even climb within the outcrop and witness how hermits lived centuries ago.

By evening, I set off for my abode for the night: Yunak Evleri Boutique Hotel. An exclusive hotel carved right out of the cliff face, Yunak Evleri is a gorgeous property tastefully designed in traditional Ottoman style.

My abode for the night, Yunak Evleri Boutique Hotel, is an exclusive property tastefully decorated to give guests an au naturale setting with a lavish touch

My abode for the night, Yunak Evleri Boutique Hotel, is an exclusive property tastefully decorated to give guests an au naturale setting with a lavish touch.

My sprawling deluxe suite was separated into two main areas: the living room and sleeping area. I relaxed in style on my Ottoman kilim sofa, while swaying to soothing music in the background. The day came to an end as I dozed off in my rocking chair, fantasizing about my next day of adventures in Cappadocia.

The interior of Yunak Evleri is designed with a touch of traditional feel and a hint of authenticity.

The interior of Yunak Evleri is designed with a touch of traditional feel and a hint of authenticity.

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Yehliu Geopark: A Lunar-like Adventure in Taiwan

Posted on 18 June 2010 by Carrie Kellenberger


If Taiwan isn’t on your list of Asian travel destinations, it should be!

The geographical terrain of Taiwan is nothing short of miraculous, with towering green mountains, lush forests, deep rivers and gorges, natural hot springs and lunar-like landscapes all contributing to a uniquely Asian travel adventure.

Just a short drive from the northern city of Taipei, you’ll find one of Asia’s most unusual landscapes.

Yehliu Geo Park is famous for its stunning coastline, rolling hills, and unusual rock formations.

Admission to the park is NT$50.

Yehliu’s famous rock formations run along a piece of sea-eroded land that juts out into the ocean.



There are around 180 mushroom rock formations in different stages of erosion.

Amongst them, you’ll find Yehliu’s most recognizable landmark, the Queen’s Head Rock.



The landscape is studded with sea-eroded holes which teem with sea life.


Candle rocks have a ball-shaped core standing out from the rest of the rock.


Honeycomb rocks are mushroom-shaped, but the surface of these rocks is covered with holes of different shapes and sizes.

Many of these rocks contain fossils, which showcase creatures native to Taiwan from a not-so-distant-past.

Hours of Operation: 8am to 5pm

Go By Bus:

From Taipei City, take a Kuo Kuang Hao bus bound for Jinshan from the Zhongxiao-Fuxing MRT station 9 exit 2).

From Tamshui, take the express bus bound for Jinshan at Tamshui Station (near Tamshui MRT station).

From Keelung, take the express bus bound for Jinshan or Tamshui at Keelung Station (near Keelung Railway Station).


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Chiang Mai: Volunteering in the northern capital

Posted on 11 June 2010 by purple5@in

The 2000s will go down in the annals of marketing as the century tourism without a prefix went out of fashion. I’m told my ancestors justified their holidays with hard work and an ‘I’ve-earned-it’ attitude, but these days you feel obligated to buy carbon offsets just for a visa run to Mae Sai.

The buzz around eco-, agro- and volun- tourism, for all of its ad wizardry, does add a fresh dimension to travel in Thailand. While nature-based tours get plenty of attention through hotels in Chiang Mai, volunteer opportunities are too often overlooked. That’s too bad, because, in my experience, lending a hand to a worthy cause is one of the most rewarding ways to experience any city. It also puts you directly in contact with genuine locals that you wouldn’t otherwise meet.

Independent travelers can work out their own arrangements, but it’s hard getting in touch with the smaller charity foundations where the most interesting work is happening. Pay-to-play agencies make sense for short-term volunteers, and while paying to help out sounds a little backwards, these companies operate streamlined projects that can maximize the impact of short-term efforts.

Chiang Mai is overflowing with potential volunteer projects, but these are a few of the highlights:

Volunteer in an orphanage


Chiang Mai’s government-run orphanage, Viengping Children’s Home, is near the city hall, and they welcome foreign visitors who want play outside with the kids after school. These children come from every background imaginable. Some are true orphans; others have been abandoned or abused. Viengping is enormous and functional, if a little bleak, but the kids who stay here truly enjoy the chance to meet and interact with people from such far-off places.

Across from behemoths like Viengping are a host of small foundations and privately run facilities. These little places are always in need of assistance, though they’re usually reluctant to set up a revolving door for short-term volunteers to whisk in and out of the children’s lives. Many of these projects are funded by Christian foundations, and virtually all of them are more receptive to volunteers willing to make medium-term commitments – something like six weeks or more. Two of particular interest are the Agape Home for children with HIV/AIDS and the Wildflower Home, which is a shelter for single mothers in crisis.

Teach monks


When booking accommodation in Chiang Mai, it’s hard to find room without a view of a temple. This city has dozens of monastery schools, where boys from rural or impoverished families get a free education. The students are all monks for the time being – saffron robes, shaved heads and all – but most return to the laity when they graduate. English is part of the daily regiment, and school administrators (also monks) are generally happy to bring a Westerner in to help with speaking and listening practice.

Worth it for the photo-op alone, teaching English in a monastery gives visitors a level of access they wouldn’t normally enjoy in these temples. Everything from morning meditation to the monastic version of school lunch makes this one of the most memorable travel experiences a person could have. And let’s face it: a cauldron of curry is way more appetizing than a steaming vat of taco meat.

Bathe elephants


In fairness, you do more than bathe them, but who hasn’t dreamed of leading an elephant to a jungle river and giving it a good scrub? I’ve probably said too much.

Chiang Mai’s elephants have a serious unemployment problem. In the old days, they hauled fresh-cut teak logs to the river for transport, but the advents of tractors and national parkland have taken their toll on elephant livelihood. Elephant conservation centers have sprung up around Thailand to give these beasts something to do, whether that means painting pictures (seriously), kicking footballs or taking more baths than the average adolescent boy.

They make a living by putting on daily shows for visitors, giving rides and by charging volunteers for the privilege to work with them. These places are businesses, but they do good work. A stand-out facility that is 100 percent dot-org is the Elephant Nature Park. It runs a volunteer program with positions for general helpers, veterinarians and veterinary students.

Intern professionally

Several institutes and NGOs in Chiang Mai are open to working with interns. Few offer any kind of salary, and most work through local agencies that charge a placement fee. The prospect of traveling halfway across the world and paying a company to hire them puts some travelers off, but it can do amazing things to a resume.

The best internships in Chiang Mai are for pre-med students. Several private hospitals near the city center take on students and pair them with an English-speaking doctor. Students are closely monitored, and they have opportunity to perform rounds, assist the doctor and observe medical procedures.

Qualified interns enjoy higher levels of responsibility, but the level of access across the board is high compared to internship programs in the West. I suppose that’s exciting or a little frightening depending on which end of the operation you’re on, but in either case, nothing happens outside of the strict supervision of the doctor.

The medical internship program run by Friends for Asia is well-organized. Its founder (a Peace Corps veteran) is an excellent resource for volunteers in Chiang Mai.

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Roman Holiday: Eat Your Heart Out

Posted on 11 June 2010 by Pua

* A brief disclaimer on Hong Kong to Europe travel

A short trip from Hong Kong to Rome may seem aggressive to less-zealous travelers. You are, after all, wasting nearly 24-hours in air travel alone. The trick is to optimize your flight times. Cathay has a daily flight to Rome from Hong Kong that leaves close to 1 am and has you landing in Fiumicino around 7 am. Which means you can leave Hong Kong on a Friday night and be sipping espresso in your hotel’s breakfast nook by 9 am Saturday morning. After a leisurely weekend plus an extra day (or two) of nibbling, sipping and loitering, you hop on Cathay’s early afternoon flight back to Hong Kong, and will be arriving just past sun up and in time for a full work day.

Roman Holiday: Eat Your Heart Out

My boyfriend and I are, as it turns out, creatures of habit. If we spend one Christmas in Niseko, Japan it’s likely we’ll spend the next three. We make a beeline to GHM’s plushy Legian boutique hotel the moment we arrive in Denpasar, generally in September, just like we have for last five years. And so this spring, the same as last, we did not think twice about jetting to Rome for a short holiday.

I’d like to say that we went to Rome to behold the magnificence of her architecture, to gaze in awed wonderment at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, to whisper sweet nothings to each other on the Spanish Steps at sunset, but none of this was on the agenda. There was one purpose and one purpose only on our second pilgrimage to Rome, and that was to deeply and indulgently connect with the city’s food and wine. The type of cultural experience we were after involves a glass of smooth and spicy Barbaresco in one hand and a slice of slightly charred, wafer-thin crusted pizza in the other, sitting in a stream of perfect spring sunshine in the Piazza Navona, eyes shielded by chic Italian Persols.

Call us Plebs, call us gluttons, although we’d prefer “shameless foodies,” we came for the thousand year old vines and cuisine, Rome’s iconic purple artichokes, her deep-fried stuffed zucchini flowers, prosciutto and parmesan that brings a tear to your eye, etc. etc. You get where I’m going here. We came to behold, touch, taste, revel and deeply inhale; to queue for pizza with the locals, at revered institutions like Pizzeria Remo (Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice 44, +3906-5746270) and Dar Poeta (Vicole del Bologna 45, +39065880516); to hunt down the city’s “best” trattorias, if there is such a thing; and to while away evenings at cozy wine bars—like the 1000-bottle strong Enoteca Ferrara—a vino lover’s oasis tucked away in the winding cobblestone lanes of the raucous Trastevere.

The New York Times boldly claimed in 2009 that if a title for best trattoria must be bequeathed then it should go to Felice a Testaccio (Via Mastro Giorgio 29, +3906-5746800), a no doubt strong contender. The food is ridiculously good. The roast lamb falls, neigh, melts, off the bone. The cacio al pepe—a handmade square-shaped spaghetti tossed with perverse amounts of powder light and sharp pecorino, a bold coating of fresh ground pepper and emulsified with a bit of pasta water and olive oil until creamy and provocative to the taste—is reason enough to keel over upon completion, confident you have died fulfilled and impossibly satisfied. And that’s before you try their infamous tiramisu.

But food aside, there’s something missing here, and for me it’s the gray-haired and ebullient waiters in bow ties, who scoff at your poor pronunciations and have made an art, and career, of service. Call me old-fashioned but I really love these guys, and my favorites this year just happen to be at a fantastic Tuscan-style restaurant called Girarrosto Toscano (Via Campania 29, +3906-42013045). Everything wows—not least of which is the perfectly soft and sweet cantaloupe wrapped in strong Parma ham. But the simple Spaghetti Vongole that came heaped with delicate clams, loads of spicy thin-sliced garlic and buttery olive oil stole the show.

Places like Girarrosto Toscano make it hard to convince yourself to leave Rome and risk missing out on another go at food glory. But we decided to be adventurous this year and head to the hills of nearby Castelli Romani, easily accessible from the city by bus or car.  Castelli Romani is a collection of quaint towns and home to the hotel-sized summer residence of the pope, but more importantly a hotbed of local wine and porchetta, a deeply salted and slow spit-roasted pig that is deconstructed and put back together with layers of Rosemary, garlic and other herbs stuffed between meat, fat and skin.

Rome 10

In the picturesque town of Frascati we had the great fortune of stumbling upon the very relaxed Cantina Bucciarelli (Via Regina Margherita, 27, 06-94010871), which serves an outstanding porchetta, perfectly tempered by thick slices of crusty white bread and a carafe of their house red. Life admittedly does not get much better than sitting alfresco on a picnic bench in the Roman countryside, reveling in herby fatty pork and a pleasant wine buzz. In the midst of our deep bliss, the rich and spicy Rigatoni all’Amatriciana that followed felt almost sinful, but given that we had yet to tour the Vatican more in that delightful bacchanalian than guilty catholic way.

Rome 7

No foodie tour of Rome would be complete without a few turns around Testaccio’s daily fresh outdoor market and a stop at the world-renowned Volpetti gourmet food market. And so on our last morning in the city we loosed our belts and strolled down the hill from the San Anselmo boutique hotel in Aventino to Testaccio. What I love about Testaccio is that, unlike a lot of the city, it’s a real neighborhood, with few tourists, a handful of phenomenal restaurants, and a lot of working-class Romans, who, on that crisp and sunny Monday morning were doing what most of us do, grabbing espressos and hurrying to work.

We may have looked like tourists but it was nice not to feel like a tourist. We perused fresh produce and meats in the outdoor market, alongside mothers pushing strollers and little old ladies, bought some strawberries for breakfast and washed them down with our last square of thick-cut, slightly sweet and just sour enough mozzarella pizza. And then we headed to Volpetti, a gastronome’s cornucopia of cheeses and cured meats, fresh sausages, handmade pastas, olive oils, syrupy aged balsamic and jar-after-jar of handcrafted culinary wonderment.

They must have seen us coming from a mile away, oversized camera in hand, eyes like saucers. We had reached the promise land. Our rotund and smiling new friends behind the counter lavished us with samples, after which would follow enthusiastic nods, cries of “va bene!” the ring of a cash register, and then more samples. Hands were shook, pictures were taken and, flight departure pressing, we left the shop vacuum-packed, arms heavy with goods and bellies satisfied, dreaming of the Roman fare we would whip up in our kitchen, thousands of miles away in Hong Kong.

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Amy Ma

Food & Drink + Hong Kong

Amy is a regular contributor to the South China Morning Post and Wall Street Journal amongst other publications. [...]

Pua Mench

Hong Kong

Pua is a writing and traveling enthusiast based in Hong Kong, with a weakness for all things related to the culinary arts and healing modalities, and a passion for sustainable living. [...]

Kim Inglis

Wellness Spa

Kim has been an editor and journalist for over 20 years, more than half of which has been spent in Asia. [...]

Nellie Huang

Travel Adventures + Singapore

Nellie has been published in Food & Travel magazine and Lifestyle, and is a contributing author of V!VA's Guatemala Guidebook. She writes to travel, and travels to write. [...]

Sarah Jane Evans

Travel Adventures + Borneo

She has published travel articles in Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia in publications including: Vacations and Travel magazine... [...]

Carrie Kellenberger

Photo Blog + Taiwan

She has traveled throughout Asia, finding work as a writer, editor, educator, voice over artist, photographer, and nightclub singer. [...]

Mark Lean

Kuala Lumpur

From writing about music, Mark expanded his focus to design, fashion, food and travel. In recent years, he has explored the highs and lows of Asia. [...]

Joel Quenby

Entertainment + Asia News

Joel is a British writer and journalist who's lived, worked and traveled in Southeast Asia since 2002. He's filed yarns for numerous publications...[...]

Alex Gunn

Chiang Mai

After several diverse careers as a circus performer, school teacher, psychotherapist, stunt pilot and university lecturer he can now be found poking about far flung markets, museums, restaurants and odd places in and around Chiang Mai.. [...]

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