Photo supplement for Bay of Distinction.
As a place where metallic winged giants once soared meters from the washing lines of people’s tenement apartments, and where an unpoliced mini-city formerly survived outside of society without law or order, the noisy, gritty and captivating Kowloon Bay is a little spot where the Hong Kong of old still lives on.
Envisage – if you will – the tourism of the future, and no I don’t mean some Richard Branson utopian form of space tourism, I mean the kind of Star Trek tourism where you could beam yourself into another life for a day, Total Recall style. Imagine if science fiction came true and you could be just like Arnie – you could buy yourself a piece of memory revealing the idyllic escapade of a lifetime. There would be no environmental problems, no harmful detriments on society, not a centimeter of construction or pollution involved, and no greedy conglomerates to steal profit or culture from the locals. Welcome to the future, welcome to ecotourism.
Actually, in all honesty you can just go straight on imagining, because my allegorical metaphor isn’t specifically exact, but ecotourism does mange to alleviate some of these problems. I am sure most people have heard of ecotourism by now and it really is a love or hate concept. You either take the hedonistic ‘live life, screw the environment’ standpoint or stand on the opposing ‘bored of classical tourism, let’s have an authentic experience and save the environment at the same time’ side. I may refer to the latter stance sarcastically, but really whomever ecotourism attracts; the eventuality does more good than harm.
Shanghai ifc, 8 Century Avenue, Lujiazui, Pudong 200120 China
Although the impressively groundbreaking Ritz Carlton Hong Kong just opened barely a few months ago another equally impressive milestone from the group has been making a steady stream of waves over in Shanghai city for the past few months as well. Officially opened back at the end of last year, the Ritz Carlton Pudong is a marvel to behold and, like the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, the fresh new Shanghai property also boasts a large number of breathtaking feats, including Shanghai’s highest al fresco dining and wining venue, awe-inspiring design traces, plus unrivalled hotel-wide views over Shanghai. Developed by Hong Kong locals, Sun Hung Kai Properties, the hotel is a real stunner and it is unmistakably evident that no expenses were spared in the creation of this masterpiece. Set amidst the upper floors of the Cesar Pelli-designed Shanghai ifc, the hotel reaches for design and architectural heights, which it achieves with class. The cloud-touching property is an integral feature of Shanghai ifc and it enters in as the second Ritz Carlton in the city, and seventh in China. The interiors are just as perfect as the exterior, with designs from Singapore-based Richard Farnell and restaurants by Japan’s legendary Super Potato.
The 285 modern Art Deco rooms feature a lush array of textures, materials, furnishings and technology, with Blu-ray players appearing alongside coffee pod machines, beautifully-designed free-standing bathtubs, and more marble than you can shake a stick at. Richard Farnell’s touches also prettify the property throughout, with patches of real Stingray skin decorating some of the public areas, and meeting rooms which feature an Alice-in-Wonderland chic. For business and conferences one could not get much better, with the hotel’s 1,135 metre square ballroom supposedly being the second largest hotel ballroom in Shanghai. There is also over 2,250sqm of conference and meeting space, with plenty of natural light and outdoor spaces as well. The climax of the hotel is the 58th floor lounge and restaurant called Flair, which has a split-level outdoor terrace with views directly across to the big ball of the Pearl Tower – quite possibly the best rooftop bar in the world.
Originally published in South China Morning Post, July 2011
Experience a new level of hospitality at The St. Regis Shenzhen.
Continuing their foray into China and expanding their palatial presence further in Asia Pacific, the newest St. Regis property in Shenzhen is the latest and greatest from the luxury-centric group and it is a milestone in every sense. The resplendent hotel is housed in the upper fractions of the city’s highest building, the 441.8 meter-tall Kingkey 100 building, which also happens to be the ninth tallest building in the world and the tallest building ever designed by a British architect, who in this case was the highly-acclaimed Sir Terry Farrell. Continue reading Luxury on High – St. Regis Shenzhen
Situated a leisurely drive away from Bangkok are a handful of unique home-grown Thai wineries which have slowly been gaining praise with wine-drinkers around the globe and, despite the government’s strict stance on alcohol, things are looking better than ever for the budding local wine scene.
It’s a late Sunday afternoon and a gingery orange hue slowly turns to a bloody red in the sky above miles of lush budding grape fields. Below, some fortunate individuals sit around a table covered in wine bottles, contentedly sampling a batch of matured grapes fresh from the latest harvest. If trite clichés had their way, this romantic scene would most likely be set in Bordeaux or Tuscany, but this is far from the case, as just beyond the table of wine-drinkers a full-grown elephant assisting with the grape-picking breaks the stereotype – and further on just over a hundred kilometers away from the wine fields is Bangkok, where the rush hour traffic scarcely percolates through busy streets whilst the wine bars and lounges begin to fill up as twilight sets in.
Wines are fairly new to the Bangkok drinking scene, but local taste buds have been maturing more rapidly in recent years as the city, and the country, quickly develops. Wine drinking is now de rigeur in Thai society and, in line with Asia’s burgeoning levels of wine consumption, just about every bar and hotel worth visiting in Bangkok now boasts an erudite selection of wine. This is the same story in other popular spots around the country as well. Official figures indicate current Thai wine consumption to be at 12-14 million liters per annum, and it has been growing at a steady rate of about 6.5% per year since the millennium.
There is a silent revolution taking place in the small but cozy local wine production scene as well, with many of the existing Thai wineries having garnered the respect of the international wine scene by securing numerous esteemed awards. Just back in June three Thai wine professionals passed the internationally-recognized Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Exam, and one of the local star wineries, GranMonte, was also recently awarded with 12 medals at prestigious competitions in France and the UK. However, wine-producing is probably the last thing one would associate Thailand with and, as the sommelier Siwat Thitipornwatthanakul from the Four Seasons Bangkok points out, “Thailand only has limited areas where grapes can be grown for wine making, and it also has geographical limitations.” Nevertheless, these geographical limitations do not run throughout the country and Thitipornwatthanakul adds, “I am confident that Thailand is the most successful wine-producing region within South East Asia.” This confidence is shared by many and some have even said Thai wineries are the best in Asia – although China is of course a close competitor. As Joe Sriwarin, the editor of Wine Today magazine (and one of the three who passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Exam), explains, “In Thailand, the producers are all millionaires who are passionate about wine, and when money is no objection there is no stopping them – no other wine-producing country in Asia is as unique as Thailand.”
This uniqueness is, in part, due to the geography of the country which causes the few select wineries that operate to run in the mountains around Thailand and the valleys in the northern part of the country where the weather is cooler. Although Thailand is a tropical country, these higher altitude areas provide a predominantly subtropical climate which is almost ideal for winemaking. Prayut Piangbunta, the director and chief winemaker from Khao Yai Winery – another of the leading Thai wineries – knows this more than any and he explains that, “Thailand is the only country in the Northern Hemisphere which has the same harvesting period as the South, and this creates a perfect environment for grapes to grow, with dry cool nights and warm sunny days.” Being close to the equator, Thailand’s latitudes fall between 10 and 20 degrees (in contrast to the typical old-world wine-making standard of 30 to 50) and, as one would imagine, this is not your average wine-producing environment – this is the world of ‘New Latitude Wine.’ Contrary to viticulturalist beliefs, Thailand wineries are perfectly capable of growing many types of grapes, though the subtropical climates are more suitable for grapes with high acidity. As Jirachai Sethisakko – the Group Wine Guru for Anantara – highlights, “The quality of Thai wines is comparable to mid-range Chilean wine and an entry-level Australian Shiraz.
In the industry everyone knows that Thailand has some of the most distinctive wineries in the industry, and the ideal grape-growing conditions even allow some wineries to produce two harvests a year. In this world of ‘New Latitude Wine’ the wine production season runs from November to March and harvesting takes place from January to late March. Labor is cheap and grape-picking often takes place at night to avoid the heat of the day. However, the exceptionality of the ‘New Latitude Wine’ world is not just limited to technical details. This is also a world where there are floating vineyards that workers must harvest by boat, and a world where elephants aid the grape-pickers – this is wine-making with a difference.
These differently-made wines are produced mainly southwest of Bangkok in the Chao Phraya Delta and the Hua Hin Hills, and in the north and northeastern parts of the country near Chailang Rai and the Khao Yai region, about 130-kilometers from Bangkok. The central wine hotspot is the area around Khao Yai National Park, where a cluster of the leading local wineries operate, and where almost 50% of local Thai wines are produced. Operating within close proximity of one another, many of these wineries also offer tours, lodging, restaurants, and other activities. Up in the northeast, for example, Village Farm Winery boasts a spa and a cliff-hanging swimming pool, whilst the PB Valley Khao Yai Winery vineyard offers resort-style accommodation and Siam Winery boasts a large Thai-inspired wooden pavilion designed by a former Norman Foster architect. For this reason the area has been loosely compared to Napa Valley in California and the enthusiastic atmosphere at local wineries could be compared to other wine scenes that were also once not so developed. As Nikki Visootha Lohitnavy – the Winemaker at the GranMonte winery – states, “It is kind of comparable to the 70’s when Napa was booming. Back then Napa wines competed with the French wines and won at the judgment of Paris. Now we are more or less winning the same all around the world.” However, the Thai wine scene is not quite yet ‘winning’ at a Charlie Sheen level yet and, as Siwat Thitipornwatthanakul from the Four Seasons Bangkok clarifies, “There are definitely opportunities for Thailand’s wine industry to grow. We still need more education in wine-making. Chile is a good example for us to look at, since it is a wine region with similarities to Thailand.”
Chile is the perfect yard post to measure the Thai wine scene against, since it is a young wine country with a similar climate that produces similar wines, and that also once lacked the education to create good wine and was plagued by tax problems. However, though Chilean alcohol taxes were dropped (and the wine Chilean industry subsequently saved) in the 1980s, excessively high taxes and a strict governmental stance on alcohol are hindering the growth of the local Thai wine scene. “The Thai government is very strict with alcohol advertising. Thailand wine deserves better and more publicity from local press but they cannot publish pictures of bottles or write about wine except for education,” says Joe Sriwarin, the editor of Wine Today magazine. In spite of everything though, the local Thai wines are doing extremely well outside of Thailand and, with Thai wines being undoubtedly some of the best to come out of Asia, the future nevertheless looks bright for this new world of newer New World wines.
Originally published in Turbojet Horizon Magazine, August 2011
With intentionally oxidised furnishings and features running throughout, this Bill Bensley-landscaped resort is guided by design and it would only make sense that their spa would follow suit. While there were already a whole bunch of quality treatments on offer, the design stakes of the spa increased two-fold this year, with the opening of the stunning Nest treatment suites which are, in essence, oversized Avatar-like nests suspended midair accessible only by a bridge. Branded as the Coqoon Spa, it is now one of the most distinctive spas in Thailand and the spa suites further secure this standing.
The surroundings for the treatments on offer include eight double rooms, six immaculately presented deluxe treatment rooms, plus a luxurious spa suite (complete with a private swimming pool, steam showers, a sauna, a Jacuzzi and a waterproof shower treatment table). There is also a beauty salon on hand for the more vainly inclined.
Drawing on timeless Asian herbal remedies, Coqoon Spa uses a perfect blend of specially selected ingredients and essential oils. Using Anne Sémonin branded products, the treatments and ingredients encourage harmony for all kinds of skin types.
Originally published in Kiosk Magazine, January 2012
LUPA / Compass Offices (Aon China Building) –
Many of the neighbourhood’s bars, restaurants and cafes have accordingly molded their services, furnishings and cuisine to cater to the needs of the area’s many busy-bodies.
Hearty New York Italian eatery LUPA is one such establishment. The newly opened restaurant has squarely positioned itself in the all-important sweet-spot between casual lunch establishment and formal dining hall. At 5,500 square feet in size, the sprawling interior is equally fitting for large events, particularly when combined with the 2,500 square-foot outdoor terrace, which in and of itself is perfect for a small cocktail affair.
Also new to the district is the latest serviced office complex from Compass Offices. The exquisitely furnished establishment takes up the 16th and 17th floors of the Aon China Building which, situated in the heart of the district, an ideal place to base yourself if you’re in town for a business trip.
The building itself has recently undergone renovation, and now boasts three ultra-posh elevators that are sure to impress even the most pernickety of business clients.
The spaces on offer are each beautifully furnished and offer equally beautiful city views, together with all the connectivity one would expect from a modern office. The shared office facilities include a large private lobby and three well-equipped meeting rooms with comfortable seating for four, six and 14 people.
Compass Offices also houses a banking-grade data centre on site for those with more demanding information technology needs.
Virtual offices are also available and start at HK$598 per month. Meeting rooms on their own go for about HK$50 per 15-minute session. Custom office fittings are also available for long-term clients.
Originally published in South China Morning Post, June 2012
These days it’s hard to keep track of all the new hotel openings in Asia, let alone around the rest of the world. Like mould growing in spring humidity, new launches are a dime a dozen and here we present you with a round-up of some of the best so far.
The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong
Soaring 490 metres above Victoria Harbour, on the top floors of the fourth tallest building on the planet is the new Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong and the extraordinary hotel marks the beginning of a new era for Asian hospitality.
At a measly 333 metres, the Rose Rayhaan in Dubai was the previous world’s tallest, and – for now at least – The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong now can proudly claim the title of the highest hotel in the world instead. The sweeping 360-degree panoramas are beyond comparison, with every one of the sleek modern-oriental-styled guestrooms featuring either views of Hong Kong’s outlying islands, Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, or, in some privileged cases, all of the above.
The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong is a hotel that turns people into ants and buildings into structures of cards – a place where the world looks differently and where one literally stands above it all. The lobby sits on the 103rd floor, and the hotel continues its vertical climb to the highest bar in the world – the Ozone Bar on the 118th floor (which, yes, does have an outdoor terrace). Other food and beverage highlights include an all-day Lounge and Bar, a cute pastry shop, a Chinese restaurant called Tin Lung Heen, a south Italian-focused outlet called Tosca, plus a lounge called the Chocolate Library. There is also an 860-square-metre spa by ESPA, which comes complete with a glass-enclosed infinity pool, an LED screen ceiling, plus nine deluxe treatment rooms and two couples’ suites.
Location: International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Phone: +852 2263 2263
While the property does not offer as much as mega luxury resorts, the select offerings on hand are of the highest quality. These top-notch offerings include a spacious spa, 74 comfortable and airy guestrooms, an open-air waterfront bar, a beach-side saltwater infinity pool, plus a well-equipped gym and what could easily be considered Samui’s best restaurant – H Bistro.
Although slightly cosily-sized at 8,862 square-metres, it is exactly this cosiness which makes the property so successful, with intimate public areas and a simple design keeping everything at guest’s fingertips. Arranged in an orderly U-shaped layout, the warm brick-coloured structures of the property have been expediently arranged around the garden-edged infinity pool at the centre of the resort, which can be reached within 30 seconds from anywhere on the property. In addition, every single one of the rooms unobstructedly looks onto the sea, with each boasting massive flat-screen televisions, centrepiece terrazzo bathtubs, teak floors, restful king-size four-poster beds and oversized glass-walled rainshowers as well.
Other highlights of the property include the generously sized treatment rooms of the Luxsa Spa and possibly one of the finest and most well-equipped restaurants in Samui, H Bistro, where fresh foods and molecularly enhanced dishes tantalise and exert a pull on one’s senses. Although newcomers on the scene, Hansar is managed by hospitality veterans Ativa, and as a result the service is second-to-none, with every one of the staff making guests feel like family. This superior service is another element that contributes to the subtle sense of working luxury that makes this place the diamond in the rough that it is.
Location: 101/28 Moo 1, Bophut, Koh Samui, Suratthani, Thailand 84320
Phone: +66 7724 5511
W Retreat Koh Samui, Thailand
The overuse of words beginning with the letter ‘W’ employed at W Hotels around the world gets kind of galling after a while, but this is one annoyance we are willing to forgo at the W Retreat Koh Samui, which really is, by definition and design, whimsical and wonderful (*shudder*).
At the entrance one is greeted by interactive digital floor projections and a large architectural recreation of a lily pond complete with glowing psychedelic floating globules and sunken seats that look like oversized lotus flowers. From here on in a whole world of chicness awaits where quirky design features abound and create a serious sense of place. In the 75 colourful glass-walled pool villas red marshmallow-resembling light fixtures, modish asymmetrical ceiling fans and other playful eye candy combine to make an impact on the senses, whilst around the resort a number of alluring food and beverage outlets beckon and entice.
These include the open kitchens, dramatic glass ceilings and vivid bright blue tones of The Kitchen Table; the raw wood, concrete, and glass elements of the beach-side Sip Bar and Namu Japanese restaurant; plus a healthful juice bar connected to the Away Spa (which boasts Asia’s first Thai/Mexican steam treatment facility). Being a W property, the exceptional design is matched by an exceptional location, which features two separate beaches that converge at a sandy tip. While villas scatter a hillside on one side off from the beachfront, there is a flat plain that stretches out on the other side, overlooked by the various levels of public areas that impressively cascade down the hillside. It is all just a day’s work for this hotel group of cool unconventionality.
Location: 4/1 Moo 1 Tambol Maenam, Surat Thani, Koh Samui, 84330 Thailand
Phone: +66 7791 5999
Kerry Hotel, Pudong, Shanghai
The Kerry Hotel, Pudong, Shanghai is the first of a new luxury hotel brand from the Shangri-La group and, being a debut, the property is of course a real stunner. With first-rate facilities, spacious guestrooms, professional meeting and conference solutions, and some of the best food and beverage outlets in Shanghai, the brand new 31-storey hotel is quite a force to be reckoned with.
The hotel houses 574 plush guestrooms and suites, which all come with specially designed bar counters and high stools, plus massive flat-screen televisions, iPod docks, complimentary Internet, and marble bathrooms with glass-enclosed baths and shower cubicles. However, although faultless and perfectly fine, these guestrooms take second place to the forward-thinking food and beverage concepts on offer at the hotel. These include an eye-catching à la carte restaurant (COOK) with 11 live show kitchens, and a refined steakhouse (MEET) where one can choose a slab of meat from the dedicated ‘Ageing Room’ and have it carved up tableside by the in-house butcher. The Kerry Hotel is also the first hotel with its own craft brewery (BREW) where their own signature beers are brewed in-house by the resident alcoholic (I mean ‘brew master’). Other highlights of the property include an opulent Chinese restaurant with private dining rooms galore (Blossoms) and a 6,000 square-metre recreation destination spanning over three floors.
Location: No.1388 Hua Mu Road, Pudong, Shanghai 201204, China
Phone: +86 21 6169 8888
Anantara Bangkok Sathorn, Thailand
Silently expanding at a swift pace, Anantara has grown to be a major player in the Asian hospitality industry. Now, after a decade of relaxing and pampering their guests, the comfort experts have opened their first true city hotel in Bangkok. Although most recognised for their resort-style accommodations – often with pool villas and verdant natural locations – their new Bangkok property refreshingly goes against the grain which they are normally used to.
However, this is not to say the property lacks the Anantara signature – it is in fact the opposite, with plenty of Thai-inspired ornaments running throughout and a massive outdoor pool and garden area set in between the two towering twin buildings that make up the property. Available for short- and long-term stays, their chic-looking accommodation offerings range from 40 square-metre rooms to 121 square-metre two-bedroom suites.
Some of the guestroom highlights include balconies with city or river views, plus oversized bathtubs and separate living and entertainment areas. The dining options on hand include Zin Bar, a refined and contemporary yet uniquely Anantara take on the lobby bar concept; Crust, a restaurant with its own wood-fire pizza oven serving up some of the best Italian pizzas in Bangkok; and 100°East, an outlet with indoor and outdoor seating with a refined interior marked by hardwood furniture and sensuous textiles.
Location: 36 Narathiwat-Ratchanakarin Road, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Phone: +66 2210 9000
Andara Resort & Villas, Phuket Thailand
Although not the newest property to have launched in Phuket, Andara is certainly one of the more luxurious and well-equipped resorts off the list of recent openings. Sited on a lush, gently-sloping hillside overlooking the picturesque waters of Kamala Bay on the pristine west coast of Phuket, the resort has an exclusive has-to-be-experienced feel about it.
There are 26 free-standing pool villas and 37 suites, each ranging in size from one to six bedrooms, spread across low-rise buildings layered up the hillside. Apart from the Thai-inspired ornamentation, the rooms feel more like well-equipped urban pads as opposed to accommodation in an island resort, with surround-sound Bose speakers in every room, exceptional kitchens outfitted with a shiny array of appliances, plus bathroom rainshowers and some of the most comfortable beds in Phuket. Other high points include Silk Restaurant and Bar (which fuses time-honoured techniques, fine local ingredients with a dash of contemporary flair), the large 40-metre infinity pool, the spacious spa, plus two of their own Italian-designed private motor yachts that are available for private charter.
Location: 15 Moo 6, Kamala Beach, Kathu, Phuket 83150, Thailand
Phone: +66 7633 8777
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has always had a strong footing in this part of Asia and so this Macau property opened to a fanfare when it launched. Taking over from the old Mandarin Oriental Macau (now branded as the Grand Lapa Hotel), the new property is located on a prime spot on the waterfront – coming in as part of the massive One Central Macau development (which also houses residences managed by the Mandarin Oriental).
Being the hospitality veterans that they are, the hotel features Mandarin Oriental’s trademark fineness, which comes in alongside a modish design scheme that merges subtle inspirations from the territory’s European heritage with sleek interior decor. The 213 spacious rooms (including 26 suites and 1 presidential suite) come complete with such comforts as hydro massage-equipped showers, television-side bathtubs, iPod docks, yoga mats, Nespresso coffee machines, large flat-screen televisions, surround sound systems and stunning panoramas over the adjacent lake or harbour. On site also are a state-of-the-art Fitness Centre and an outdoor swimming pool, with these both being connected to the award-winning Spa at Mandarin Oriental.
As the only non-gaming, five-star hotel on the Macau Peninsula, the Mandarin Oriental, Macau places its focus on areas other than gambling and, as well as the spa, there are also convenient and exclusive meeting and conference facilities, plus a wide range of food and beverage outlets. These dining options include the Lobby Lounge, the Mandarin Oriental Cake Shop and the signature Vida Rica Restaurant and Bar, which boasts soaring columns and a double-height ceiling.
Location: Avenida Dr Sun Yat Sen, NAPE, Macau
Phone: +853 8805 8888
Originally published in Kiosk Magazine, April 2012
As far as luxury city hotels go, the new St. Regis Bangkok is pretty much as good as they get, with a world of well-appointed convenience and luxury on offer to guests lucky enough to stay here. This luxurious world is a world where every room gets complimentary well-made coffee and tea and on request at any time of the day; a world where every room category comes with its own on-call butler; and a world where high-class amenities appear alongside top food and beverage outlets and expedient business facilities.
The 176 guest rooms and 51 suites range from 45 to 250 square-metres, and all come equipped with DVD players, LCD televisions, a multimedia hub, wifi internet and floor to ceiling windows which bring unobstructed views of the city skyline into the rooms. Unique to Bangkok and pretty new to Asia as well is the St. Regis butler service, which is easily the highlight of the hotel.
The indulgent services on hand for all guests include packing and unpacking, garment pressing, bathtub preparation and beverage service as well. In addition to the refined service, there are also a collection of fine dining outlets serving up cuisines from all over the world ranging from Japanese at Zuma (imported from London and Hong Kong), Italian at JoJo (named after one of the founders, John Jacob Astor) and international at Viu (which offers sweeping views of Bangkok). There is also a wine bar, a poolside bar and the St Regis Bar. Recreational facilities include the first Elemis Spa (1 of 4 in the world) in Southeast Asia, an outdoor swimming pool and a gym.
If it is work guests are visiting for though, the hotel comes equally equipped for business as well as leisure. Equipped with the latest technology, the 1,515 square-metres of flexible meeting space ensure large and small business groups can be graciously accommodated at any given time, and the highlight of these is the elegant and sizeable 515 square-meter Astor Ballroom. There is also a designated business centre, plus plenty of parking spaces as well.
For longer-staying guests and those in the know there are also super-luxe residences at the top of building the hotel which are frequented and inhabited by the upper crust of Bangkok. It is no wonder that these types visit the property though, as the design is incomparable. Overseen by the leading New York-based Brennan Beer Gorman Architects with interior design by Studioaria, the property was designed as a contemporary abstract monolith and it features emotion-injected motifs and detailing. If one is in Bangkok on business or simply looking to impress a client, one could do a lot worse.
Originally published in South China Morning Post, September 2011