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The Lure of Chiang Mai

Thailand’s second city is a great choice to avoid the teeming herd of tourists, and yet still quenches the thirst for culture, cuisine and shopping…

Thailand’s second city is a great choice to avoid the teeming herd of tourists, and yet still quenches the thirst for culture, cuisine and shopping.

From the air, Chiang  Mai is a vast valley surrounded by hills  and mountains. Upon  closer look, the Ping River appears, gracefully snaking up and down the endless landscape. Much like what  the Nile does in Egypt, the Ping River feeds the farmland, and is the lifeline of the medieval Lanna kingdom, the northern domain of which Chiang Mai was the capital.

Arriving in November, a week before the Loi Krathong festival, one of the two major events in the Thai calendar, we found the city in a festive  mood. Loi Krathong is traditionally held during the full moon of November, and is celebrated to honor the Goddess of Water at sunset with thousands of floating banana leaves decorated with candles and flowers in the Ping River, and hundreds of paper lanterns launched in the air.

The airport was relatively uncomplicated, we were in and out in ten minutes, and shortly thereafter, driving across the river to an elaborately carved wooden gate and entering the enclave of a magnificent ancient kingdom. Or so it seemed. There is no better way to appreciate the façade of the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi than in the dramatic hues of dusk. The first sight of multiple ornamented roof tiers can easily take your breath away, while the impressive dark wood and the warm welcoming staff in the reception area was a promising start to our four-day stay.

Designed by the local architect Rachen Intawong, the sprawling resort took seven years to build and was created to fulfill the heritage passion of a Thai tycoon. Set in sixty acres of rural farmland, the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi is a small village of its own, and  our quarters for the duration of our stay was a villa overlooking the rice paddies and carabaos. Staying true to traditional Lanna architectural style, the teakwood two-story villas provided all the modern amenities mixed with artwork, artifacts and luxurious silks and textiles weaved in the neighboring hilltop tribes. In  all, the complex houses 64 villas and  54 colonial suites overlooking a large pool, and an expansive array of dining choices – French at Farang Ses, Chinese at Fujian, buffet breakfast and lunch  at Akaligo, an English teahouse at the shopping village called The Oriental Shop, as well as an impressive room service menu that can be served in the room or at any of the public places. For the best taste of Northern cuisine, locals and visitors go to the Le Grand Lanna where the chef uses only the freshest ingredients for a meal fit for royalty.

But the heart of the resort is the luxurious Dheva Spa, a palace on its own with 18 treatment rooms and five residences with a thick menu for pampering.

For retail therapy, Chiang Mai is a haven. The night market on Saturday is a good precursor to the more extensive one the following day. Hard- core bargain hunters won’t let both chances slip by. The Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi thoughtfully provides a shuttle for their guests to the city center, a short 15-minute drive away. And if the schedule doesn’t fit, cabs are available at  very reasonable rates.

The weekend night market  comes alive at dusk, when wheeled carts are set up to line the streets. On Saturday, it stretches a good kilometer at Wu Lai Road, where vendors compete with existing shops in this busy commercial road known for its silverware.

The Sunday market is much bigger and located close by, at the  center of the old walled city, starting at the Tha Phae Gate. Shoppers are bombarded with a huge selection of the usual knockoff T-shirts, athletic shoes, clothes, pirated CDs and DVDs; and cheap woodwork. If you haggle, you’re likely to find prices cheaper than those in Bangkok. Food stalls and fruit vendors selling kluk (a local delicacy of fresh strawberries tossed with salt and sugar) pepper the whole scene. The Sunday market is also more interesting as it showcases the art and craftsmanship of the northern tribal villages. Many of the stall vendors make and sell their own products mostly cotton and handwoven fabrics, as well as pottery, wood- carvings  and metal works. To add to the festive mood, strings of colored lights and lanterns are hung all over, while musicians and puppeteers perform in the middle of the road.

For culture, Chiang Mai’s temples are much older than the ones in Bangkok, some as old as the city itself, which celebrated its 700 years in  1996. We visited the mountaintop Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, an important pilgrimage temple with a full monastery. The 800-year-old temple  is famous for its gold domed rooftops overlooking the city, and a short hop to various hill tribe villages.

For first time visitors, Chiang Mai is a place to escape to, where the sights and sounds are to be appreciated and to partake as needed, especially if you choose a luxe resort. There is no sense of urgency visitors usually get from a Thai vacation in Bangkok or Phuket. Chiang Mai is best taken with a long massage in the afternoon and night shopping. Just as the doctor ordered.

  • by Eva Gullas

Travel

Get Lost in this Not-so-distant Island Safari Paradise

LOST IN PARADISE

Tao Philippines Crusoe-style deserted island camp paradise is perfect for those who understand the luxury of simplicity and disconnection.

by Melo E. Esguerra photography by Scott Sporleder

Just when you think Palawan is fast becoming a second Boracay, where congestion of concrete buildings and human bodies have begun to define the island experience more than the pristine beaches of white powdery sand, the Lostboys of Tao Philippines came up with a new island project that guarantees an escape to paradise. They call the island Camp Ngey Ngey.

The Lostboys have taken over the abandoned resort of Manguengey in Busuanga, a remote island in Palawan. They have kept the ruins from the typhoon and built their signature bamboo Tuka huts around the main beach of the island, which serves as the camp area. Just a short walk away you’ll find jungle trails that lead to three other wild beaches, preserved reefs and windswept cliffs encompassed by crystal blue waters. And on certain days, when the winds are strong, one side of the island becomes a good site for surfing.

 


Eddie Brock, one of the founders of Tao Philippines, explains how this concept of an island safari came about. “When we took over Manguengey Resort, we were stuck with the idea of how to run it. We do not know how to cater to resort guests, the individual choices and needs, and menus,” he admits. “Tao’s expertise is to show travelers something new, something more raw and adventurous. We decided that we will not worry about things we don’t understand, and stick to what we do best. One of the best aspects of a Tao trip is creating an atmosphere of connecting with other travelers, disconnected from digital clot—without the worry of planning, wallets and keeping a status. Five days out in the remoteness with the islanders in control leads to a positive attitude: guards down, inhibition is off and open to meet new friends.”

The camp is accessible through the three day/two night boat safari from Coron, with beach and reef stops en route the camp and back. Guests will be joining other travelers, staying in individual Tuka huts dotted along the beach. There are lounges, a dining and kitchen area, and open hang-out places. Currently, the big mansion from the old resort is being restored into a villa that can accommodate a family or group of friends.

The island can be reserved for big events like weddings, parties and other meaningful gatherings.

In the island, there is no room service, no menus, no WiFi. You will arrive as strangers, you will eat together, swim together, laugh together, drink together, and get to know each other offline. Become part of the magic of Tao, and see what happens!

For more information on how the trip to Camp Ngey Ngey works, log on to www.taophilippines.com

 

(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s June 2017 Men’s Issue, “Lost in Paradise” on pages 110-113.)

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Travel

THROWBACK THURSDAY. Our Stylish Voyage on a Boat with Loida and Richard

FOR SAIL

With hosts Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau, we take entertaining to the high seas.

by Shari Quimbo photography Steffen Billhardt

The sky was decidedly gloomy on the Sunday afternoon Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau invited a small group of us for a sail, the clouds getting darker as I make my way to Porter’s Marina, where the Blue Planet was docked.

“Richard built the boat himself in Cebu,” Loida explains, going on to share that he was the former honorary French consul in Cebu. “It was built here, and I designed the interiors.”

All that work certainly paid off—Loida and Richard would often sail the boat out to different Philippine destinations such as El Nido, Siargao, Boracay and the Gigantes Islands in Iloilo. These could mean days-long journeys that sometimes meant dealing with some rough seas. Quick day trips, much like the one we were about to embark on, were also a regular past time.

Loida gives me a quick tour of the boat then shows off her tropical spread. With its bright blue and white floral seating, the cabin’s dining area is already a pretty festive site. “I wanted to keep it simple,” she tells me, arranging her fresh fruits around on the banana leaf-covered wooden slabs she was using as serving trays. “And I wanted it to look more local, more tropical. We are on the water, after all.”

The bamboo slats of the dining table were the perfect backdrop to Loida’s spread, which featured tropical fruits alongside an entire roll of lechon belly, fresh lumpia, empanada and steamed shrimp.

The highlight of the table, though, was the chicken liver pate, a dish that Richard makes himself. “Luckily, the French love to cook,” Loida jokes conspiratorially.

Finally, it was time to take the vessel out onto the high seas, and the group makes its way above deck to enjoy the view. The cool sea breeze was a bit stronger than usual, something that had to do with the dark rain clouds looming above us—something that would have deterred any other group, but not this adventurous bunch. Armed with a glass of champagne in one hand and a biscuit smeared with pate on the other, many stand against the railing, admiring the sight of the sky turning orange above the Mactan Channel.

And then it starts to pour. No matter, though—as the rain pounds against the deck, the party finds its way down below. A bottle of wine is opened, and then another, while a second pot of pate is transferred on a plate. Our captain waits until the waves calm before he brings us back ashore.

(This story has already been published in the printed edition of Zee Lifestyle Magazine’s November 2016 issue as one of the Entertaining Features on pages 82-85.)

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Culture

Experience authentic Korean Barbeque at Da-In Restaurant

Filipinos are crazy for Korean barbecue. As such, there are a lot of places that are offering Korean barbecue. But Da-In restaurant isn’t just one of those restaurants.

Located in Salinas Drive in Lahug, Cebu, Da-in restaurant is a joint project between the Creative Cuisine Group and Da-Won restaurant. With state-of-the-art grilling stations in each table and various Korean cuisines ready to be served, Da-In would surely sate your Korean barbecue cravings without any hassle.

Visit Da-In restaurant today!

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