The Micronesian island of Yap has a famously unusual currency: hundreds of giant discs of rocks scattered all over the island, many of them too heavy to move.
Robert Michael Poole has written for a wide variety of magazines, newspaper and new media sources such as: AP, CNN, MTV, Interview, the Wall Street Journal, and global inflight travel magazines.
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The Micronesian island of Yap has a famously unusual currency: hundreds of giant discs of rocks scattered all over the island, many of them too heavy to move.
After falling in love with Africa, world traveller and photographer Robert Michael Poole set his sights on China. “I wanted to explore its diversity,” he says, “and better understand what each region had to offer.” Exploring nine destinations across the country, he discovered dynamic cities and remote hideaways made for business, entertainment and relaxation.
On Hangzhou’s truly ancient Hefang Street, Fang Hui Chun Tang was founded in 1649 by Fang Qingyi. While most modern Chinese pharmacies have turned to machines for production, Fang Hui Chun Tang continues to make gao fang, an herbal medicine paste, entirely by hand—preserving a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The jelly-like tonic is consumed to boost the immune system.
IT’S EARLY MORNING. As sunlight glitters across the glass façades that puncture the sky from downtown, a light breeze strokes the city streets before disappearing into a wide blue sky that opens onto the Great Rift Valley and Maasai Mara. Nairobi is a city in its element, snug in its multi-cultural complexity and teeming with the sort of treasures many only associate with the better-known urban meccas like Dubai, Tokyo and New York. (Full article in print-only mSafari (Kenya Airways)
Every year in the Gobi desert, nomads from hundreds of miles gather for their traditional festival of Naadam, which has been on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list since 2010.
On March 11, 2011, the residents of Fukushima Prefecture felt the earth shake as a massive quake struck off the northeastern coast of Japan. But few could have predicted the explosions that would later follow or that the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant would go in to meltdown. The region has been physically changed, tainted by radiation, but also altered in other ways: The government’s investigation and ensuing media attention has ensured the words “Fukushima” and “radiation” are forever linked.
This chain of 378 mostly uninhabited specks of land spread out from the Gulf of Guna Yala like a streak of skimming stones breaking the surface, and upon them, tens of thousands of Kuna have resisted modernization, only swapping body paint for clothes that mimic the same elaborate patterns once daubed on their skin. (Full article in print-only Centre Magazine)
In few countries is the national festival so deeply associated with its past, and so relevant to its present, as in Mongolia. The Naadam Festival celebrated in the capital Ulaanbaatar each July, is a UNESCO-inscribed Intangible Cultural Heritage. Some suggest its origins date back to sports played by the army of Genghis Khan, as a way of testing strength and skill and the oldest surviving Mongolian language book, The Secret History of the Mongols mentions all three main sports of the festival – horse racing, archery and wrestling.
A century ago, it was traditional for Englishmen and women to enjoy their afternoon with tea with scones, cakes, strawberries and cream. Today, cities around the world have been flooded by coffee shops, and afternoon tea seems antiquated. Luckily, in the heart of one of the world’s finest tea plantation districts, in the valleys of southeast Sri Lanka, the tradition has not only been restored but transformed into a sought-after experience.
Travel destinations don’t come much more seductive and alluring as Bhutan. Known to many as “The Forbidden Kingdom,” it’s the last Himalayan Buddhist kingdom to remain intact. Considered a last frontier, it also has a reputation for being hard to gain access to – though that turns out to be largely a myth.
Multi-Academy Award winning director Francis Ford Coppola has carefully kept his under the radar, even with “The Family Coppola Resorts” emblazoned across the five properties, and that’s due to their carefully chosen locations ranging from Argentina to Italy. The story of the collection though began in Central America, long before actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio bought Blackadore Caye in Belize to develop his own eco-resort in the same region.
Set amongst steaming rainforests amid luscious vegetation with the mere sound of wildlife for company, it may seem no wonder that El Otro Lado has been fashioned into a “Congo Art Chic” boutique. But the hotel owned by the Spanish family Eleta is far from the jungles of Africa. Literally translated as “The Other Side,” the multicolor property is located on an island across from the UNESCO-listed fortified town of Portobelo on the Caribbean side of Panama.
Anyone thinking that Panama is simply the icon of modernity in the region, would be overlooking the capital city’s most romantic and alluring attraction – Casco Viejo. The old fortified town was constructed in 1673 on a peninsula surrounded by the sea in order to better defend itself against pirates that had previously destroyed the first settlement, Panama Viejo, in 1671.
Imagine a child’s drawing of an island, jutting out of the sea, square houses clinging to the cliffs and jungle palms on its summit. Welcome to Saba, a tiny speck of a Caribbean island that seems delightfully cartoonish. Technically boasting the highest point of The Netherlands, it has just one road, called, well, The Road, and a capital nestled between its rocky peaks called The Bottom.
When it was launched in 2010, Instagram was essentially used to enhance photos via an array of filters, a fun take on Kodak Instamatic cameras that allowed people to create playfully framed square pictures on their smart phones. Flash forward five years and Instagram has become the most ubiquitous outlet for amateur and professional photographers to display their works.
Nowhere else in the United States has the art of wine-making been perfected as much as in California, which accounts for 90 per cent of the country’s entire output. To put that in perspective, if it were a country, California would be the fourth largest wine producer in the world. Culture+Travel thought it’s time to look more closely at what’s on offer in Napa’s quieter neighbor, Sonoma.
Imagine your dream vacation. A bustling city perhaps? A tropical island? Now imagine, sitting in your office daydreaming about the luxury hotel you’ll be staying in – then spending the rest of your day actually designing it.
The allure of discovering the romance of yesteryear lies at the heart of the joy of travel. Explorers and backpackers alike seek to discover destinations ancient and historical, where the memories of decades, centuries, and millennia fill the air with tales of life, love and war gone by. Finding these physical testaments to human endurance though, is not the tough part. Tuning in to the echoes of the past radiating around them seems to take a certain mindset.
It began as a tiny village. Founded as a venture by Joseph Bloore and Willian Botsford Jarvis in 1830, even their entrepreneurial spirit could surely not have imagined that Yorkville, in Toronto’s north, would become the city’s most upscale district.
Home to the first five-star hotel in Canada, it is not the expense of the area that gives it its character though. It is the story of how it became a center for Canadian culture – musical, literary and artistic.
As a resident of Tokyo for ten years, I’ve been a frequent visitor to Japan’s culturally distinct ryokan, dotted around the countryside. The traditional inns, often located close to the natural hot springs that run through the spine of the country, are not only the top choice of foreign guests, but of most Japanese themselves, all seeking a feeling and experience of old tradition and comfort that no modern hotel can replicate. Until Now.
The island of Bermuda lay seemingly orphaned by the Caribbean, well northeast of tropical paradise islands of the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, some 1,100 miles away from Miami. Discovered by Spaniard Juan de Bemrudez (hence the name) in 1503, the islet of just 53 square kilometers is in fact closest to the state of North Carolina. Still a British Overseas Territory – with the Union Jack remaining in its flag – Bermuda stands alone as both a historical and scenic anomaly.
TEAV Boutique Hotel takes it name from a particularly resonant word in Cambodian society. During the 17th to 20th Centuries the term “teav” was used to describe high-ranking and respectable women in the upper-echelons of the Khmer civilization. It was also used to describe those who showed sophistication and hospitality, an idea the this unique hotel is committed to.
In his home country of the UK, Gary Rhodes OBE is known as the “chef’s chef.” Rhodes Across Tokyo at Shangri-La Hotel” brought the chef back to Japan for the first time in 15 years, for a weeklong presentation of modern British cuisine. ARTINFO Japan caught up with him to discuss how Singapore inspired his marriage, eating snakes in Hong Kong, and the one thing that connects British with Japanese cuisine.
Situated in the far west Pacific, south of Japan and east of the Philippines, the small island of Guam is the USA’s most far-flung territory. Part of Micronesia, a group of islands that includes the diving paradise of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, it is often overlooked as a destination compared to the more well-known tropical paradise islands of the region. But the fact it is less frequented by independent travels is part of the appeal. Escape the resorts booked full by Japanese and Korean tourists, and Guam has plenty to offer.
While the neighboring cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE get most of the attention, Muscat offers perhaps the most authentic experience of the Gulf region, offering history, charm and rugged landscapes from the coast to the inland mountains and deserts. Designed in the style of a Moorish fort, Muscat’s Al Husn offers the Sultanate of Oman’s most extravagant stay option.
The Philippines is, according to the local tourist authority’s tagline, “more fun” than any other destination in Asia. The country though is more diverse than most, and in recent times has been developing fast – not least in Cebu. Malapascua, just 2.5 kilometers long and 1 kilometer wide, is home now to 6,000, of which most are young kids, many of which relocated here once Dutchman Dik de Boer discovered that the surrounding waters are home to one of the blue planet’s most majestic of creatures, the thresher shark.
Three hours north east of Bangkok, the traffic has ground to a halt. Surrounded by the evergreen forests and grasslands of Khao Yai National Park, the cars soon find themselves backtracking from an unexpected menace – wild elephants on the road. A few minutes away though, there is no stopping the momentum of Thailand’s biggest musical event, the Big Mountain Music Festival. Now in its fifth year, and held on Khao Yai’s Bonanza Racetrack in picturesque nature, it has grown into the largest festival in South East Asia, attracting 130,000 people over two days.
Tim Burton, J.J. Abrams, and Katy Perry are all renowned for creating widely different fantasy worlds in their films and music videos. And as customers of Tokyo’s most talked-about live show, it’s appropriate that what they would have witnessed is a hyper-performance art extravaganza that is best described as a mixture of the otherworldliness of each of them — plus all the quirkiness of a Japanese sensibility. The Robot Restaurant, located in Shinjuku’s red light district, wasn’t meant to be this way. In fact, it was launched with a view to rivaling the AKB48 shows on Tokyo’s east side…
Shikoku’s deep south might not seem like the obvious location for a luxury spa resort, given the easy access of hot springs in Hakone and Karuizawa. But Muroto, on the southern tip of Japan’s most rural island, houses a structure that takes the concept to luxurious new heights. The curvy lines of Utuco Auberge & Spa mimic the waves crashing against the volcanic rocks at its front, but the water in its pools has a far deeper source, some 1,200 feet below. Designed by world-renowned make-up range creator Shu Uemura, Utoco’s rejuvenating powers aren’t limited to its own pools and treatments, either.
For residents of the world’s largest city, escape from the urban sprawl is a regular urge, and one location has for decades developed into, quite literally, the hot destination for day-trippers.
Hakone, a ragged terrain of valleys and peaks around Lake Ashi, is Japan’s prime hot-spring haven, renowned for its natural beauty protected by the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and the newly UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site of Mt.Fuji.
A NEON MAN RUNS ALONG A neon blue track on the iconic Glico candy billboard above Dotonbori Street, one of Osaka’s more garish tourist destinations. But just below this busy thoroughfare, reflections of chochin lanterns ripple in the canal as a parade of boats drift lazily by. These contrasting images say a lot about Japan’s third city. Unlike other destinations, Osaka doesn’t come with a neat, prepackaged tagline for the tourist guides.
It takes about 45 minutes of fairly easy climbing to reach the top of Mount Nosoko. At 282 metres, it’s not Ishigaki’s tallest peak – that honour goes to 526-metre Mount Omoto – but the view of the island makes it one of the “must do” experiences on any visit to Japan’s Yaeyama Islands, which lie about 400 kilometres south-west of the island of Okinawa and are only some 200 kilometres from Taiwan.
For the Tokyo City Report, Robert Michael Poole presents a guide for Culture Buffs, Food Lovers, and Trend Setters, including where to sleep, nosh, buy, and what to experience.
The 11th century book “The Tale of Genji,” written by Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shibiku about the life of the Japanese Emperor’s son, is often cited as the world’s oldest novel. Set in the northern hills surrounding Kyoto, the area of Arashiyama retains much of the scenery of the period in which the novel was set, with its traditional Togetsukyo (moon crossing) Bridge, rickshaws, and stores selling local wares such as tofu, sake, and beautiful lacquerware. It’s just one of the top five must-sees in the old Japanese capital.
Prince Genji maneuvered his way through all classes of life in 11th century Heian period Kyoto. Demoted to a commoner, the amorous and politically astute son of a concubine eventually retired an honorary emperor during the last period of classical Japanese history. To this day, Arashiyama retains the scenery of a millennium ago, the 1000 year old Togetsukyo Bridge still traversed daily by man powered rickshaws and illuminated by glimmering lanterns.
Tokyo’s taxis have come a long way since the first six Model T Fords rolled out of the Tokyo Taxicab Company 101 years ago, with a plethora of taxi companies now operating and mass fleets of Toyota Crowns slowly being replaced by the electric Nissan Leaf. More than a million passengers are driven daily, by some 67,000 registered drivers, most of whom are older than 60 and male. Politeness and cleanliness are the order of the day and tips or negotiations are practically taboo.
Meandering my way around the labyrinth of Doha’s souq, the scent of shisha lounges, spices and Arabic perfumes seem to linger from centuries old. The restored Souq Waqif dates back hundreds of years and today from the falcon souq where prized birds go for hundreds of thousands of dollars, to chic silk garments and local crafts, it is all housed in a charming maze of Qatari architecture, the only traditional souq remaining in the Gulf. But to the delight of travelers, they too can be housed within the complex in the heart of Qatar’s capital, thanks to a series of boutique hotels that have been created out of old town houses. BLOUIN ARTINFO went exploring to see what they have to offer.
The world’s biggest metropolis is surprisingly one of the easiest cities to navigate by bicycle, and the choice transport of millions of salarymen and students. Just a ring of the bell will part pedestrians on any pavement – ideal for this inner-city street-food tour adapted from Cycle Tokyo, a website aiming to help people to see the city at its best on two wheels.
Chiang Mai, Thailand’s green and pleasant northern city near the intersection of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand — Southeast Asia’s “Golden Triangle” — has been a hot spot for travelers for generations for its walled city of temples, massage parlors and mystical mountain basin setting. But it’s not all elephant rides and cooking classes anymore; a new influx of tourism has catalyzed the regional melting pot of cultures into a new and flourishing arts scene, with galleries and cafe culture blooming all over, from the Ping River in the east to Nimmanhaemin Road in the west. ARTINFO gives you the lowdown on six of the best, as well as essential intel for spending a few days immersed in Chiang Mai’s burgeoning art scene.
Built originally for the 2006 Asian Games, the Torch Doha was designed by renowned architects Hadi Simaan and AREP in the shape of a torch with an actual flame alight at its top. Still Qatar’s tallest tower and an iconic landmark, its interior has recently been re-modeled to present a “new era of luxury” as a high-tech hotel in which each guest of 163 guest rooms are equipped with iPads that can control the actual color and mood of the space. BLOUIN ARTINFO went to explore the site, and discovered a tower of flying carpets, revolving restaurants and a swimming pool suspended in the air.
Frederic Boulin knows his Hyatts. A graduate of Glion Hotel School in Switzerland, the well-kempt General Manager is effervescent when recalling tales of his times at the luxury hotel’s properties in Shanghai, Sao Paolo, La Manga, and Cairo. Not to mention his stints at the Intercontinental in Buenos Aires, Phnom Penh, Guatemala, and Athens. But perhaps never before has the globe-trotting hotelier been at the reigns of a city’s most prestigious and talked-about hotel at the same time as the city itself has become one of the most vibrant hotspots of international fashion, culture, and entertainment. ARTINFO talks with him about the rise of Gangnam.
‘Draw a Stroke’ reads the plague on the corner of Angukdong crossroad in northern Seoul. Cast in bronze, it sits below the sculpture of a giant calligraphy brush in mid-motion, an apt metaphor for the historic district of Insadong that lay behind it – a leafy avenue where the city’s artistic treasures are preserved in time and a bohemian art scene still remains.
Here in Southern Okinawa, Japan, where water buffalo-powered wooden carts meander through historic hamlets, it’s no wonder time is but a breeze to cool the soul of any daydreamer, because at Hoshizuna Beach, the stars are scattered not merely across the sky at night but underfoot as well — in actuality as tiny, five-pointed exoskeletons of marine protozoa scattered in the sands.
Until just a few decades ago, the 794AD Bongeun Temple, focal point of Korean zen from 1551 until 1936, stood gracefully and isolated on the banks of the Han, south of the river, Gang Nam. Entombed inside this outpost of the ancient city of Seoul, time worn woodblock carvings of the Buddhist Flower Garland Sutra describe the interdependency of all phenomena in a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms.
When bustling Tokyo becomes bitterly cold and grey in winter, it’s time to head for the hills for some warm water refreshment.
Standing in the centre of the city is never usually this peaceful and I find myself peering down into a tiny patch of still water, protected by a hefty, 800-year-old, tiered, black-lead roof. This is Kinjo Reitaku, a well which sits in a small secluded corner of one of Japan’s most revered gardens.
THE NISSAN LEAF IS QUIET. It’s so quiet, in fact, that it has to play a little tune to let you know it’s awake. I step inside a light-blue SL model outside its place of birth, Nissan’s Yokohama HQ, and push a button that illuminates the deep-blue LED dashboard, which alerts me that I have 84 miles’ worth of charge and cues a musical snippet reminiscent of “The Jetsons.” And after that, silence: the sound of the automotive future.
In May, Tokyo became home to the world’s tallest freestanding broadcasting tower, the minaret like Skytree, atop which people gather to look out over this vast, teeming metropolis. It’s a collective hobby here, gazing out from on high, because of the peace, perhaps, the sense that one is removed from the crush of daily life.
Robert Michael Poole shines the light on 20 must-try Tokyo activities to keep you busy after dark.
Tatsuya Kawagoe’s self-titled restaurant in Tokyo’s trendy Daikanyama district showcases the 39-year-old chef’s own Japanese take on Italian food. Case in point: His nama-fu meunière dish, which combines a Buddhist vegetarian ingredient—wheat gluten—with Western techniques.
After studying French cuisine at Osaka’s Tsuji Culinary Institute, Mr. Kawagoe worked in Kobe before heading to Tokyo in 2000 to focus on Italian cuisine, opening Tiara K Ristorante, then moving to his current restaurant in 2006. “Now people think I’m an Italian chef, but I don’t consider myself so. I’d rather create a new genre,” said the boyish-looking native of Miyazaki, a city on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu.
The Palace Hotel Tokyo first opened its doors by the Imperial Palace’s moat in 1961, when buildings were forbidden to rise above 30 meters. Reopened in May after a $1.2 billion overhaul, the property has a new, 23-story design that towers over the home of the country’s figurehead, though it avoids overlooking it thanks to an ingeniously curved facade.
Fiona Kotur is a native New Yorker whose handbags sell at retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, Harvey Nichols and Harrods. Since 2002, however, she has called Hong Kong home. She spoke with the Journal about beating jet lag with prenatal vitamins (a tip she says works for men, too), balancing airport anonymity with style and making neighborhood discoveries in the dead of night.
Nina Uchida returned to her birthplace of Japan after growing up in Seattle, and now recruits students around the globe for Temple University’s downtown Tokyo campus. The 31-year-old spoke to the Journal about sunrise jogs in Switzerland and heavy-metal hotels in Singapore.
The Montpellier, France, native recently released “Ines Secret,” a DVD beauty-tip series in Japan, and previously worked with Tyra Banks and Milla Jovovich as IMG Models’ Asia-Pacific director. She spoke to the Journal about riding Harley-Davidsons in Hawaii, waking up next to strangers midflight and why you should always look great at an airport.
The 37-year-old Los Angeles transplant spoke with the Journal about green-tea Kit Kats, color-coordinated packing and why she thinks airlines need professional food critics.
This Phuket, Thailand, home has the biggest private pool in the area and a 300-foot stretch of beach to itself. The house was designed by Jean-Michel Gathy to fuse traditional Thai and contemporary design.
Tokyo-based American Ray Horacek is constantly on the go, traveling up to 30 times a year for his role as head of footwear creative and design for Puma Japan. He has been designing footwear for nine years, and today leads both Japan-based and global projects for Puma, while maintaining a career as a fine artist.
Here, the 31-year-old, who has also done stints in Europe, shares his thoughts on airline dining, bribery by chocolate and the virtues of colorful luggage.
Want a taste of two-century-old cooking? That’s what Nadaman, originally established in Osaka in 1830, serves up at its restaurant at the Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo. Takahiko Yoshida stays true to the multi-course kaiseki tradition, offering a seasonal menu that draws its ingredients from across Japan.
“Here in Tokyo, we purchase the products in the height of their season, which other Nadamans may not be able to do,” says Mr. Yoshida. “As our food is very seasonal, this assists us in respecting food that can be eaten at the perfect time.”
Scott MacKenzie has worked in television programming in Europe, the U.S. and Asia, and is now channel director at NBCUniversal in Tokyo. The 34-year-old American regularly travels around the region, as well as to his home country, to discover which new shows might work for a Japanese audience.
Squeezed between the two central Tokyo hubs of Shinjuku and Harajuku, Yoyogi is rarely a destination for tourists — more of a two-minute halt that breaks up the journey to somewhere else. But this month, ecological troubadour Takeshi Kobayashi, producer of multi-million-selling rock-band Mr. Children, opens the gates to Yoyogi Village, a multi-purpose melange of environmentally friendly stores, organic restaurants, coffee shops and event spaces he hopes will regenerate the overlooked district.
In Indonesia, the concept of green living is starting to take hold. This archipelago of more than 17,000 islands stretched along the equator is home to Bali, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and it has seen resorts, tourist facilities, ugly hotels, clubs and all the trimmings that go with those developed over the last several decades. Now, the island is not only pushing a trend to create structures that preserve the natural environment, it is also establishing new forms of education.