Archived entries for Asia

Flying Cathay Pacific first, Hong Kong-Paris

If you want pure bliss, spend 12 1/2 hours in the air with Cathay Pacific. Here’s a snapshot of my amazing flight from Hong Kong to Paris — definitely the best airborne experience of my life.

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Pre-departure drinks and snacks:
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Cathay offered two full supper service menus – one traditional first class service and one created by the executive chef of the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. I opted for the Mandarin-inspired fare:

Supper service soup: Vichyssoise

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Supper service starter: asparagus, truffle, ham

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Supper service main course: Lamb

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Supper service dessert: Amazing cheesecake with a pot of rhubarb20344480902_784655e769_z

Expansive breakfast: 19730314244_24498acc63_z

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Among aviation geeks there’s a bit of lore around Cathay’s famous onboard rice cooker. When I asked Marcia from the cabin crew about it, she was more than happy to show it off along with the other fun features of the galley like her skillet!

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Landmark Mandarin Oriental

I’ve been fortunate enough to stay at some great hotels in my travels but none beats the combination of style and service at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong this week. Spectacular!

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Around Hong Kong

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More photos on Flickr


Cathay Pacific: Singapore-New York

Asia is pretty great, but the journey is pretty damn spectacular, too — so long as you get to enjoy a great airline like Cathay Pacific. I was rather miffed when my 16-hour nonstop flight from Hong Kong to JFK in New York only lasted 14 1/2 hours!

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SIN-HKG:

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HKG-JFK:

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Singapore: Old and New

A wander around the swampy Singapore…

National Museum of Singapore:

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Singapore Art Museum:

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Central Business District:

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CBD from Fort Canning Park:

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Kampong Glam / Muslim Quarter:

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Cathay Pacific New York/Singapore

My love affair with Cathay Pacific was only made stronger with my trip with this week, flying New York-Vancouver-Hong Kong-Singapore, and then back Singapore-Hong Kong-New York (on their marathon 15 1/2 hour HKG-JFK nonstop, which was simply amazing).

Approaching Changi Airport, over Indonesia, with Singapore Strait at center and Singapore on the horizon:

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No trip would be complete without getting photo evidence of everything I ate:

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The sublime noodle bar at The Wing, one of Cathay’s lounges at Hong Kong International Airport, where I just had to try every option on the menu:

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Seen in Singapore

The view of Singapore from 57 floors atop the Marina Bay Sands (this photo does the skyline no justice):

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The view from my room at the Shangri-La, where I decamped to after a night at the mobbed Marina Bay Sands:

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ION Orchard, the most attractively designed of the 3,000 shopping malls on Orchard Road:

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Singapore Art Museum:

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The famed Raffles Hotel, completely overrun with tourists (in contrast to the lovely Raffles in Phnom Penh).

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Vietnamese cuisine

I was always convinced that the best Vietnamese food was found in Paris; it turns out Vietnamese food in Vietnam is pretty darn good, as well:

Hanoi, Vietnam

Like many younger Americans, my image of Vietnam was shaped not by a war I wasn’t alive for, but by a TV show I loved – “China Beach“! So, quite frankly, I didn’t know quite what to expect when I was landed in the capital of Vietnam this week as part of my 30th birthday extravaganza. I ended up falling in love with Hanoi – a place whose frenetic pace seemed calmed by its wealth of French colonial architecture and gorgeous lakes and parklands.

Approaching Hanoi from Bangkok, the views were spectacular — and made one wonder how a war was ever fought in this terrain:

If you’re going to stay in Hanoi, it absolutely must be at the famous Metropole Hotel. It was a spectacular retreat from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, and so rich with history (who doesn’t love a bunker under the pool bar?).

The incredible Presidential Palace, once home of the governor-general of French Indochine, and then of Ho Chi Minh (though he refused to live here, opting instead for what might pass for a shack in the backyard).

Speaking of Ho Chi Minh, there is no escaping the lingering memory of the revolutionary leader. Here is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where we got to stand 15 feet from the man’s embalmed body, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum, which told the story of the Vietnamese people’s revolt against colonial influence.

There’s no denying the French built this city; the Hanoi Opera House is modeled after the Palais Garnier in Paris, and one church looks rather like Notre Dame. N’est pas?

National Museum:

The gentleman who showed me around Hanoi on his cyclo (aka bicycle rickshaw):

Bikes, bikes, everywhere!

More photos of Hanoi

St. Regis Bangkok

Bangkok is a luxury hotel lover’s dream. There are so many options, and they are all affordable by global standards. This trip I decided to stay at the new St. Regis Bangkok, overlooking the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. It was simply amazing!

A very comfortable room:

A very comfortable room with a view:

A lovely birthday surprise delivered by my personal butler!

Views of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club from the bar:

Rooftop infinity pool:

Bangkok at Night

Forget New York; Bangkok is really the city that never sleeps.

Sixty stories above the city, at the Banyan Tree’s open-air bar:

Silom Road, bustling at all hours:

A (relatively) quiet side street:

The gay bars of Silom Soi 4:

Bangkok

Most people take a love-it or hate-it attitude toward Bangkok. It reminds me of Steinbeck’s opener to Cannery Row: it’s “a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.” It is complete chaos, but fascinating. If you want an Asian experience, you can have it. If you want a purely Western experience, you can find that, too. You can do nothing, or everything. It’s also the most convenient jumping-off point for exploring Southeast Asia, so I dropped in for a few days during my 30th birthday week travels.

Lumphini Park, where I attempted to run despite the swampy climate:

Jim Thompson House:

Wat Arun:

The contrasts of Bangkok:

The last photo ever taken of me as a 20-something (do I look terrified?):

“Enemies of the People”

Last month, I attended the International Center for Journalists annual awards dinner in Washington, where Cambodian documentarian Thet Sambath was honored. His film, “Enemies of the People” chronicles years of interviews he conducted with Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s no. 2 man. It was only after a number of years of filming him before Thet Sambath admitted to Nuon Chea that his own parents were among those killed by the regime. The film is excellent — scary, enlightening, and heartbreaking.

New York Times: In a Cambodian friendship, a Secret Quest

Khmer Rouge Genocide Tour

My first morning in Phnom Penh, I stopped by the hotel concierge for tips — after all, I came to Asia not knowing I would even end up in Cambodia, so I came with no plans and no guidebook.

“Would you like to do the happiness tour or the sadness tour?” he asked me. The “happiness tour,” he explained, involved shopping. The “sadness tour,” of which he spoke so plainly, was really the Khmer Rouge tour. I admittedly only had a cursory knowledge of the Khmer Rouge years before visiting Cambodia, so I jumped on it.

The first stop on the tour brought me to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the school-turned-prison where Pol Pot and his regime killed held, tortured, and killed everyone from city dwellers to intellectuals to kids.

The simple “museum” seemed more like an untouched relic from its 1975-1979 reign of terror, with implements of torture available to touch and feel:

Photos throughout the museum reminded of us those lost here. Of an estimated 17,000 people who were detained, fewer than a dozen came out alive.

From the prison, we headed out into the countryside, past endless miles of factories where labels like Gap and J. Crew are stiched, to the killing fields at Choeung Ek. One of countless Khmer Rouge killing fields throughout the country, this one-time orchard was beautiful and utterly depressing.

The memorial tower, the only bit of “formality” on what is otherwise acres and acres of seemingly unspoiled greenery. The tower is filled with the skulls of Khmer Rouge victims:

A couple of the many simple, horrifying placards on the site:

With teeth and bits of clothing rising to the ground’s surface after heavy rains, you could feel the recency of the genocide. In that sense, there was no comparing the experience of visiting the Khmer Rouge sites versus visiting Holocaust sites. The two feel very different, perhaps because Cambodia’s darkest years occurred almost during my own lifetime. Also, in every encounter, the people of Phnom Penh were absolutely willing to talk freely and frankly about those years.

A gorgeous site, where unbelievable atrocities occurred:

More photos of my Khmer Rouge tour

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After a few days in Bangkok, I fled to Phnom Penh, the capital of neighboring Cambodia, on a whim. A 45-minute flight on an empty Air France 777 dropped me off in what turned out to be a dusty, exotic, depressing, and incredibly amazing place.

Driving into the center of Phnom Penh from the airport, I felt as if I’d touched down in an underdeveloped central African city.  With a Raffles Hotel.

Like Cairo, Phnom Penh is filled with the good bones of its colonial past — fine architecture abounds, even if much of it is now covered in a thick coat of grime from years of pollution.

Descending into Phnom Penh International Airport:

Wat Phnom (Hill Temple) – the city’s namesake:

Facade of the Phnom Penh Post Office:

The fabulous National Museum of Cambodia, where like the Egyptian Museum, you can reach out and touch ANYTHING.

Tuk-tuks on Sisowath Quay, the lively boulevard along the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers:

The city’s Art Deco Central Market (Psah Thmay):

One of the many mysterious items on offer at the Central Market:

More photos from Phnom Penh

Grand Palace, Bangkok

There are no words for the Grand Palace in Bangkok. World travelers may have royal-palace fatigue, but this place is simply stunning. I am so glad I didn’t pass it over. It is a Bangkok must!

More photos on Flickr

Bangkok

When Pan Am started flying from the US to Asia, the flight took six days with stops at every atoll between San Francisco and Manila. Today we can just take Emirates and be there in less than a day. So heading to Asia for a few days is no longer a big deal!

I touched down in Bangkok just days after flooding began to inundate the countryside. Swooping into Suvarnabhumi Airport, the landscape looked like New Orleans after Katrina. Fortunately, my destination, central Bangkok, had been spared (so far).

Some shots from the city: 

View of the Chao Praya River from Sirocco, an open-air bar on the the 63rd floor of the State Tower:

View from my hotel room:

Wat Arun:

The notorious Patpong district!

The ubiquitous tuk-tuk:

The Sathorn Unique, one of Bangkok’s many abandoned towers that were never completed in the wake of the Asian financial crisis:

More photos on Flickr



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