Deep in the heart of Vietnam lies Hue, a city that’s a bit out of the way for most travelers (which may actually be a good thing) but is a treasure trove of cultural sights. Hue was the imperial capital of Vietnam in the 1800′s, during a time when the country practiced a dynastic form of government with emperors at the helm. Imperial life then centered on the royal court, and elaborate buildings were built in and around the city’s citadel to host all the pomp and pageantry. With that undeniable Chinese influence, the Imperial city at Hue consisted of hundreds of buildings which served as government offices, residences for the emperor and his concubines and temples. Most of the Imperial City was destroyed however, during the Vietnam War, and today, barely a dozen buildings remain.
palace of supreme harmony, hue
It is perhaps the extent of the ruins which lead many to skip Hue while in the country. Truly, it would take a lot of imagination for one to recreate what court life would have looked like during the peak of Imperial Vietnam. Nevertheless, the imperial monuments in Hue were declared as a single UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. I decided to check this out during my third visit to Vietnam.
This post is written by fellow blogger, Tianhao, from TH Nomad. Seems like he had an extremely wonderful time during his stay at The Majestic Kuala Lumpur!
Think of Kuala Lumpur and the image that springs to mind are of the soaring twin towers amidst other modern skyscrapers. With rapid industrialization, traces of her British colonial history are gradually fading into oblivion. However, the Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur is attempting to change all that. This newly opened 5-star hotel is a beautiful restoration of the old Hotel Majestic, which was a gathering place for the colonial elite, unrivaled in its prestige and luxury back in the colonial days. Today, a stay in the Majestic wing allows one to experience a touch of the colonial heydays, including having a personal butler attached to the room! Recently, I was fortunate to be invited to stay in this iconic hotel.
the hotel facade
As a destination that’s well known for its diversity, the essence of a trip to Southeast Asia for most would probably include a rundown of the well-known ancient ruins, beaches and secluded islands, through natural landscapes and tropical rainforests and generally having a good time in the region’s megacities. A not so prominent (and less popular) theme are its old towns, some of which have been preserved as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These are deserving destinations in their own right, and are perfect supplements to those doing long trips across the region. Earlier this year, I had inadvertently completed a small milestone by visiting all the UNESCO World Heritage towns in Southeast Asia. As there are only five, it’s no mean feat. I was not really ticking it off any list. It just happened.
brightly colored buildings such as these in hoi an, are a common sight in all of southeast asia’s unesco towns
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while might notice this habit of mine of ranking stuff regarding Southeast Asia. This one’s no exception. In order of preference (and I’ll explain why), this is how I would rank the 5:
Categories: Ilocos, Laos, Luangprabang, Malaysia, Philippines
Tags: georgetown, luangprabang, Malacca, Malaysia, penang, Philippines, photography, town, travel, unesco, vietnam, vigan
Considered to be an institution in the Singapore hotel scene with over 4 decades of experience in pampering leisure and business travelers, the Shangri-la Singapore is also considered to be the ultimate hotel in a way. I have been to this hotel several times in the past but didn’t realize until recently just how ginormous it is until once recent weekend. I was fortunate enough to be hosted by Shangri-la Singapore to experience their trademark hospitality through a staycation. To say it was impressive is an understatement!
The hotel actually consists of 3 wings, with each being highly differentiated from the other, practically like a 3-in-1! The “flagship” tower is of course, the Tower Wing which houses over 400 rooms including Shangri-la’s well-known “horizon club” rooms with lounge privileges. A step up from that is the exclusive Valley Wing which suits discerning guests to a tee with its private entrance and rooms adorned with chandeliers. Over the years, the Valley Wing has been the hotel of choice of many heads of state whenever they are in town. The third wing is the Garden Wing, an urban resort concept that made me forget that I was in the middle of a bustling city!
Perhaps it can be said that no other city in the Philippines piqued my curiosity as much as Zamboanga. There’s just so many things that differentiate it from the rest of the country. Nevertheless, I had to think twice about coming here. My main consideration was not really about the sights to see or the things to do but more about the reputation. As far as I can remember, newspaper datelines containing the name “Zamboanga” usually detail not so pleasant news. Not all of them paint an accurate picture of the city however – Zamboanga can actually be used to describe other points in the peninsula rather than just the city and most of those incidents that appeared in the papers actually did not occur in the city.
the zamboanga international airport
The city of Zamboanga is distinctive in a couple of things. First is their language – Chavacano. It’s an interesting Spanish-based creole that has mosly died off in other parts of the Philippines. In Zamboanga, it lives on and is commonly used in the public sphere. It was interesting to see the same print ads with the same celebrity endorsers that I often encounter in Manila but translated to the heavy Spanish slant that is Chavacano. The other thing about Zamboanga is of course, its proximity to the far reaches of the Philippines. By far reaches, I am referring to the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi; places that are only a few hundred miles away but seemingly a lot farther based on people’s perceptions. This means that the city is a melting pot of cultures, and the modernist cathedrals, temples and grand mosques in the downtown area attest to this. To a greater extent, Zamboanga of course also functions as a jumping point to Sabah, Malaysia, and as of this writing there are plans to re-start flights between the city and Sandakan in April.
I won’t beat around the bush — Chiang Mai has got to be one of the best cities to live in Southeast Asia. In a region where cities are known for chaos, endless traffic jams, overpopulation and crushing poverty, Chiang Mai offers a nice change with its affordable laid-back lifestyle, cultural inclinations as well as variety of things to see and do, all within an infrastructure framework that is developed and most importantly, convenient for city living. I went to the city for a short visit and was definitely impressed with what it had to offer. My only regret was why I had not visited earlier.
wat phra singh in chiang mai
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest metropolis but the contrast from Bangkok could not be any greater. At first glance, it has all the trappings of a large modern city – shopping malls, an international airport, high-rises and luxury hotels dot the urban landscape. But what really sealed the deal for me is the city’s laid back attitude. Even the tuk-tuk drivers here never once attempted to overcharge me. There’s a certain calmness that doesn’t take long to infect city-folk like myself, and in no time I was swaying to the unhurried rhythms of this northern town.
Tucked away in the relatively new and upscale Scotts Square, just off Orchard Road, is an exciting, recently-opened dining option called Delicious. It offers a smorgasbord of dishes, taking its customers away on a culinary exploration of mainly Southeast Asian inspired dishes. Recently, I was fortunate to be invited to sample their offerings.
And it was a treat! The occasion was graced by Steve Allen, the very friendly Creative Chef who flew from Kuala Lumpur to join us as well as the bubbly Jasmina, from Eastern and Oriental Group (Delicious’ parent company). The culinary expedition began shortly thereafter, with Delicious’ signature Watermelon and Lychee Blast (my personal favorite!) as my drink, as well as the myriad of Southeast Asian dishes that lay before us.
Truth be told, there is no one specific cuisine that can accurately describe the offerings at Delicious. Its menu is evenly split between local dishes as well international favorites such as hamburgers, sandwiches, steaks and the like. For the occasion of our food tasting, majority of the dishes presented were Malay favorites.
When I told my friends that I was visiting Sukhothai, an ancient city located in Northern Thailand, many had asked exactly what there was to see. To most, the idea of exploring ancient ruins in Southeast Asia has probably become synonymous to a visit to Angkor and only Angkor. Even other deserving places such as Bagan and Borobudur become relegated to an afterthought. But Sukhothai was stretching it – barely anyone recognized it.
water lilies in sukhothai
It was precisely for this reason that I could not find any references for the place. I wondered whether it was still worth visiting. The few photos that I found online piqued my interest. That more or less sealed the deal. During a trip to Chiang Mai and armed with no expectations, I went for an overnight stop in Sukhothai.