LETTER FROM OVERSEAS EDITOR

Humour me for a moment and ask yourself:

What captures your curiosity that you’ve never taken an opportunity to explore? What subjects are you most passionate about in life? If you died tomorrow, what adventure would you regret missing? Travel can be so much more than merely an escape – travel can be a portal to enrich your greatest interests and hobbies or even a channel to make dreams into reality. All those one-of-a-kind holiday aspirations you have placed on hold for "one day" – take them off your shelf.
Life is short. There is no time like the present.

Segregated by continent, this issue is an idiosyncratic around-the-globe tour of truly unique travel ideas each with a distinctive theme. Design royal jewels in India with the owner of Jaipur’s Gem Palace, drive the Formula One race circuit at Monza, glimpse war history in a crawl through the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, plant a coral garden in the Maldives to preserve their endangered reefs, go on a dinosaur dig in Montana with Jurassic Park’s paleontologist, take a ‘magic carpet ride’ in Guatemala, just to name a few. It’s the first volume of our Off the Beaten Track series of one-of-a-kind travel experiences from around the world. Some you can do on your own, other adventures require the connections of a specialised tour operator. Whatever your desire, your Edge consultant can make arrangements.

As if I hadn’t gotten enough of humid seaside resorts in June (see Issue 7: Romance in Coastal Mexico), next I’m heading farther east to Caribbean waters to bring you the best of the Caribbean for December’s issue. But before island hopping in November, I’ll be returning to Oz this month to check in with my team at Edge – can’t wait.

So for now, don’t waste another minute to turn your interests into a once-in-a-lifetime holiday.
Be bold, go forth, and venture Off the Beaten Track.

Sincerely, Kimberly Rosbe

Editor at Large

EDITORIAL

Sleeping Under the Stars

On a white water rafting expedition down the Chilcotin-Fraser Rivers in British Columbia, I fell completely in love with a raftsman named Ethan. Well, it was puppy love actually – I was 13, had frizzy badly permed hair (what can I say, it was the 80’s) and was too shy to barely even speak to him. He was 21, had ringlets of curly blond hair and a Canadian accent which I struggled to understand. He never knew of my crush, of course, but I watched him and the other raftsmen in wonder as they navigated canyons and Level V rapids, pitched our tents and even made 3-course meals every evening all to the backdrop of some of the most pristine wilderness and rivers imaginable.

It wasn’t glamorous traveling conditions though let’s face it, the raftsmen constructed "Tiger Traps" at every camp (you can imagine). All meals were cooked over an open fire. And we slept in tents under the stars. But the experience’s value transcended its rudimentary nature – the magic was existing amongst nature itself. Fresh mountain air, untamed backcountry wildlife, crystal-clear water rich with rainbow trout, soaking in hot springs to bathe, being alone with your thoughts – true emersion in nature. Days were spent ‘running the river,’ hiking and sightseeing. Evenings were spent around campfires hearing the stories of our traveling companions and their life’s triumphs and tragedies. The trip contained many firsts – saw my first glacier, caught my first fish, glimpsed my first bald eagle and learned about astrology with the clearest maps of the stars spread out above every night. With no modern contact for two weeks, those river days opened my eyes to the great outdoors. When we all bid tearful farewells on the last day, Ethan walked over to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I think I blushed for a week.

FEATURE

Off the Beaten Track

NORTH AMERICA

White Water Rafting
Vancouver, British Columbia

Since my rafting days, Canadian River Expeditions has merged with Nahanni River Adventures bringing together the two most renowned guide groups and river selections in British Columbia. They offer premium 5-21 day Canadian and Alaskan white water rafting and canoeing expeditions for novices to advanced paddlers on challenging world-renowned rivers such as the Nahanni, Tatshenshini, Alsek and 17 other scenic mountain, arctic and alpine rivers. Before you know it, the words "Eddie outs!" and "Forward HARD!" will be naturally escaping your mouth. I suggest start collecting water-proof camping gear.

Humpback Whale Spotting
Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Of the half dozen New England ports which offer whale watching operations, Provincetown (the northernmost tip of Cape Cod) is closest to Stellwagen Bank, the 842 square mile National Marine Sanctuary that is the summer home to 6 species of cetacean. Portuguese Princess Excursions partners with the non-profit Center for Coastal Studies to take tourists out to witness this incredible spectacle of humpback whales mating and at play while collecting data on the area’s cetacean population. I was just sailing off the Cape in August with my Uncle who lives on the water in Marion – this area is definitely worth a linger.

Fly Fishing in the Rockies
Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Time to practice your lasso skills. The Elk River, which flows along the edge of Colorado’s Vista Verde Ranch, offers some of the best fly-fishing in the Rockies. Vista Verde’s guides show even the most seasoned fishermen the ideal spots to cast for brook, brown or rainbow trout while simultaneously aiding amateurs master the art of tying flies. My best girlfriend in college’s husband, an expert fly-fisher, swears by Vista’s advice.

Surfing on the North Shore
Oahu, Hawaii

Hang Ten with the best in the world on Oahu’s legendary North Shore from Haleiwa to Kahuky (including Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline). Guaranteed monster waves during official surfing season from November through March will test anyone’s skill to face some of the planet’s most imposing swells before they batter the reef and break on the shoreline.

Surf’s up!

Dinosaur Dig
Bozeman, Montana

Superstar paleontologist Jack Horner who was a consultant on the Jurassic Park films, takes wannabe naturalists and amateur scientists on 72 hour digs outside Bozeman, Montana, otherwise known as ‘dino central.’ Bill and Pam Bryan of Off the Beaten Path will arrange this prehistoric pandemonium for a fee to excavate your own fossils of the 160 million year old Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Swimming with Manatees
Crystal River, Florida

In the warm estuaries and rivers off Florida’s coasts reside some 3,000 gentle Sirenias, otherwise known as the West India sea cow or commonly referred to as manatees. Citrus County, about 100 miles north of Tampa, is the only place in the world where you can have a face to face encounter with these 2,000 pound marine mammals. Go in the early morning between November and February and watch in wonder.

Jazz Creole Style
New Orleans, Louisiana

No hurricane can silence the sound of Jazz and Blues in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The world is invited to party during Mardi Gras, and although I can personally report that it’s an insanely good time, I suggest avoiding the carnival sea around February and opt for a visit in late April for The Big Easy’s Jazz and Heritage Festival which runs for 10 days straight at the end of the month. Book a lunch at French Quarter relic Antoine’s and watch the Bayou elite relish in the ubiquitous jazz scene on Sundays. Harry Connick Jr. fan? (my FAVOURITE) The New Orleans native is a yearly spotlight. Don’t forget your pecan pie.

Dog Sledding on Frozen Tundra
Lake Minchumina, Alaska

Want to experience life as an Eskimo? The Denali West Lodge specializes in dog-sledding instruction with guests assigned to dog teams "mushing" across the frozen landscape. Imagine running your own team of huskies on the snow and ice while you spot wolverines, caribou and mountain goats in this unspoiled wilderness. Bundle up though – this adventure isn’t for the feeble.

Trailblazing on Horseback

Lexington, Kentucky

Going through withdrawal after Australia’s horse racing season this month ends? Head to Kentucky where horses are a year-around religion. Make reservations at one of the 450-plus horse farms and take your own trail riding lessons in the heart of America’s blue-grass country. On Open Stable Day held in late May, many farms will honour you with an up-close look at their thoroughbreds. Take the short drive to Louisville and attend the Kentucky Derby, The Run for the Roses and the first jewel in the Triple Crown held on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. Horse lovers can’t miss “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” as it’s known for.

The Art of Crabbing
Tangier Island, Chesapeake Bay, Virginia

Locals on Tangier rely solely on the backbreaking harvesting of the Chesapeake Bay’s most desirable inhabitants – blue crabs. Just last summer Tangier watermen began boat tours that demonstrate the unique bay-to-plate process of crabbing. Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House Bed & Breakfast will arrange your private crab learning experience and most likely Denny will be your guide who will answer any questions about island life. My grandfather retired on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and taught me to crab from his pier, so it’s in my blood. There is nothing like a freshly boiled crab you’ve captured and picked yourself for dinner.

SOUTH AMERICA

Magic Carpet Ride
Guatemala, Central America

Through Cultural Xplorers, enter the closely guarded workshop of the alfombra family. Alfombras are street carpets made of dyed flowers, pine needles and sawdust which are laid along the route of religious processions during Holy Week celebrations in Guatemala. National Geographic itself has done a film on these fascinating, colourful rituals. Visit the workshops during the week before Easter and speak directly with members of the Armas family who has been creating these works of art for the past half century. Although you won’t actually float on the carpets, there is definitely magic in this ride.

Football Fever

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Maracana, one of the largest open-air stadiums in the world, and playground for famous soccer stars such as Ronaldo and Romario, is THE place to watch a soccer game (Italians will argue this point). Although the glory days of Maracana are gone, if you stand in the top row of the 200,000 capacity stadium, you can still hear the cries of ghosts in the epic 1950 World Cup Final between Brazil and Uruguay. Through Emmanuel Burgio, Marcelo Goncalves Costa Lopes, a member of Brazil’s 1998 World Cup team, will take you onto the turf of this famous stadium, invite you into his VIP box to watch a match and then introduce you to players from some of South America’s top teams afterward.

Spa Respite in the Fjord of Last Hope
Natales, Chile

Take a break from climbing the granite peaks of Torres del Paine National Park and head south to the Ultima Esperanza province for a Nordic-style spa. Hotel & Spa Indigo Patagonia, named after the blues of the Patagonia sky and sea, is a transformed hostel by architect Sebastian Irarrazaval built of concrete, glass and timber with soaring modern windows. The hotel, whose 29 bedrooms view glaciers and mountains, welcomes climbers even when they don’t have the budget to stay. It’s the perfect place to meet up in the bar, swap stories and soak in a spa hot tub outdoors overlooking the fjord of Last Hope.

Artists Inspiration
Buenos Aires, Argentina

For a hefty $2,388 US, Limitless Argentina arranges for you to be treated like artist royalty and immerse yourself in the local art scene. For two days, you’ll be accompanied by a bilingual art historian and privately chauffeured for seven hours each day. You will receive a two-day education in 20th century Argentine art including visits to the back rooms of two leading Buenos Aires art galleries, tours of two of the country’s most distinguished privately held collections and two studios of living artists such as Luis Felipe Noe and Leon Ferrari.

EUROPE

Upstaged at the Opera

Odessa, Ukraine

Opera buffs – this is the experience for you. The Opera House in Odessa is one of the best in Europe, architecturally modeled after the famed baroque Vienna Opera House. Exeter International organises private backstage tours of Odessa’s dressing and rehearsal rooms where Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff warmed-up. Before the evening performance, be sure to ascend the stairs to the viewing platform on the roof for a spectacular panoramic view of the city.

Monza racing
Milan, Italy

Obsessed with Formula One racing? Arrange to drive your own car around the Italian Grand Prix F1 Circuit at Monza outside Milan and feel like a Formula One racing star for a moment. Whether you have a million dollar Ferrari or an old beat-up Chevy, for a mere 40 pounds the track is yours for a half hour between December and February, although some days are also available in June. Also on offer are “Speed Days” where staff drivers are there to advise you during your laps. A dear friend of mine was the head engineer of Ferrari’s team for years, so I’ve had my fair share of live F1 events in the pits – most recently the GP at Monza. He and I can both attest, it’s just a game. So remember when you suit up for this adventure, no fleeting moment of imaginary glory is worth risking the safety of your life or others. Keep the sporting spirit but please be careful.

Music to our Ears
Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne personifies the quintessential Swiss town and when I think of Lucerne, I think of music. The perfect combination of the two meld during 4 weeks in August-September with the Lucerne Festival. The Festival of Music, held on the banks of the beautiful Lake, dates back to 1938 when the famed Arturo Toscanini conducted the Concert de Gala in front of Richard Wagner’s former residence and broadcast to over 80 radio stations around Europe and the States. Now the Lucerne Festival is considered one of Europe’s most charming chamber music events and always includes big-name conductors, large orchestras, soloists and classical ensembles.

Remember the Vikings
Stockholm, Sweden

Vasa was a seventeenth-century viking warship that was commissioned by King Gustav Adolphus but sank just a mile into her maiden voyage in 1628. In 1961, she was finally salvaged from the depths of the ocean virtually intact and in pristine historical condition. Norweigan Adventures arranges private tours of Stockholm’s Vasa Ship Museum and Vasa herself – an honour normally extended only to scientists and heads of state. Delve into the secrets of a Norse ship and these Scandinavian warriors’ lives of yore.

ASIA

Plant a Coral Garden
North Male Atoll, Maldives

Preserving the opulent reefs of the Maldives is becoming increasingly difficult as global warming is raising temperatures in this region high enough to bleach and starve coral to their doom. However, in the North Male Atoll two resorts are taking significant strides towards reversing this damage. Banyan Tree on Vabbinfaru and Angsana Resort & Spa Ihuru have created programs to grow and transplant corals, protect sea turtles as well as educate locals. Your scuba dive from these resorts can now include planting new coral gardens.

Design Royal Jewels
Jaipur, India

Design your own royal jewelry with the owner of Jaipur’s famed Gem Palace. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds – every stone you can imagine glittering at your fingertips and Munnu Kasliwal, owner of the Gem Palace, whose family has been crafting jewelry for eight generations including pieces for the Mogul court, personally helps lucky visitors choose stones and settings for their pieces when previously arranged through International Ventures and Travel in New York City. (Edge consultants can make the connections for you.) For inspiration, consult the royal jewels in Kasliwal’s private collection brought back from faltering maharajas in the last century.

Elephant Whispering
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Named one of Time Asia’s Heros of 2005, Sangduen Chailert is known by many as the Elephant Whisperer. He founded the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai and has a personal crusade to save rescued elephants from land mines and logging accidents. You can meet with Chailert, also called Lek, and join him at the market in buying the day’s food for the current 30 rescued elephants. Better yet, you can help him bathe the animals in a nearby river.

Spiritual Zen
Kyoto, Japan

Your spiritual awakening awaits at a private morning zazen meditation session with a monk at a seventeenth century Buddhist temple in Kyoto. Even beginning practitioners can benefit from Artisans of Leisure’s specially arranged introduction to the techniques of Zen meditation. Afterward tour the temple grounds with a head monk.

War Buffs
Saigon, Vietnam

The Cu Chi Tunnels were the most heavily bombed, gassed and defoliated in the history of combat. The Americans, however, never completely destroyed the tunnel complex and southern Vietnamese revolutionaries rebuilt the tunnels in time to be used in the 1968 Tet Offensive. The area contained some 50 square miles of tunnels with spaces for barracks, hospitals and weapons. Mr. Nam, a Vietnam war veteran who once fought against the Americans, now welcomes all nationalities with private tours of the Cu Chi Tunnels. For a lucky few, Mr. Nam may even invite you to join him and his family for dinner. After crawling around on your knees all day in the tunnels, this will be an extremely welcome invitation.

Saddle Up
Tibet, China

Experience first hand the pageantry of the Tibetan Horse Festival in Gyalthang. This is not your ordinary horse show. In Gyalthang, racing champs are heros in this horse-dependent culture on the wide open plains of the Tibetan Plateau. Watch as these champions perform implausible stunts like sliding down the side of a galloping horse to grab a 5 inch scarf on the ground. The most colourful horse show in the world – the riders and horses like are all decked out in a kaleidoscope of tapestries and rainbows. Participate in the race down the valley with the experts if you dare.

AFRICA

Tour a Pharaoh’s Tomb
Valley of the Kings, Egypt

Take a private tour of the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh in the Valley of the Kings which has been closed to the public for over 10 years. The burial chamber of Seti I who reigned during the fourteenth century B.C. was discovered in 1817 and is supposedly one of the best preserved and most exquisite tombs in all the Valley of the Kings. Cultural Crossroads can arrange a private tour of the burial chamber guided by Mansour Boraik, the director of the antiquities at Luxor.

A Hidden Tribe
Madagascar

Seemingly out of an episode of Survivor, live three days with the Antandroy, the fiercest and most tradition-bound tribe in the country. Known eerily as the “People of the Thorn Bush,” they remain distant from other Malagasy people and inhabit a harsh land deep in the forest. Through Absolute Travel based in New York, you can arrange to meet with their ombiasy (local healer), learn how to use a piletse (zebu-hide sling shot) and visit ancestral tombs where you’ll likely encounter rare species of lemur.

Safari Skills
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

At the Koiyaki Guiding School on the northern boundary of Masai Mara National Reserve, spend four days learning to become a safari guide. Koiyaki is the first institution dedicated to training Masai to be bronze and silver level safari guides. For a moment you can join the students’ classes in their quest to learn about wildlife management, native cultures, tracking, anthropology and ecotourism. Even better, the funds from your visit will also fund a full scholarship for one student during the next school year.

EDGE GOLD LIST

Top 5 Off the Beaten Track Cruises

1. Yangzi Explorer, China

Abercrombie & Kent’s new ship is the only Yangzi cruiser with an onboard Sinologist educated in the river’s history, geology, culture and politics. The Yangzi Explorer also visits the Three Gorges lock system, which many other boats miss and transits the Xiling Gorge by day (most other cruises stream through this gem at night.) Onboard amenities are plentiful including a spa, gym, coffee lounge and larger than normal rooms with balconies – all rarities in this part of the world.

2. MS Fram, Greenland

The MS Fram is the only cruise ship in the world to visit the western coast of Greenland. This eight-day Greenland Expedition cruise takes tourists to a region known for its traditional Inuit communities, staggering ice and abundant wildlife. Shore excursions take cruisers to locations normally only accessible by helicopter including hiking the wild hillsides above the Arctic Circle, driving a dogsled and getting frighteningly close to glaciers.

3. Grand Circle Cruise Line, Red Sea

Very few ships cruise the Red Sea and none have the cultural connections of Grand Circle Cruise Lines. Grand Circle partners with Overseas Adventure Travel which is known for its cultural connections allowing this itinerary to include several sites that would be otherwise difficult to combine – Luxor, Sharm el-Sheikh, Saudia Arabia, the Sinai Peninsula, Petra, Amman and the Dead Sea. This program also includes lunch at a Bedouin camp, a visit to a carpetmaking school and dinner with a Jordanian family.

4. Azamara Journey, Central America

The Journey sails routes that steer clear of the most frequently visited ports in its 16-night cruise through the Panama Canal. It includes shore excursions at San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua and a trip to the summit in the Mombacho Volcano Cloud Forest as well as a jaunt to the mouth of the cone at Masaya Volcano National Park. Emphasis is on off the beaten path ports, but personal attention is still paramount with butler service in every stateroom.

5. Peter Deilmann Cruises, Austria

Where better to listen and learn about classical music than along the Danube in Hungary, the very place which many composers of yore drew their inspiration? The Mozart’s Classical Music Cruise is geared to bring period works back to life. Onshore sightseeing by day you will witness such music history treasures as the theater where The Magic Flute was first performed and touch in person a piano owned by Beethoven himself. At night onboard concerts fill the air with chamber pieces and sonatas. Consider a post-cruise stop in Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace, where passengers will be treated to another concert and tour two of the composer’s childhood homes.

FAMILY FUN

Team Kayaking San Juan Islands

In the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, San Juan Safaris leads kayaking trips for ages 12 and up to explore the local ecology. Spy bald eagles and harbor seals and even orca whales on your journey. Any of of San Juan Safaris can be a family tour and they will only move as quickly as the slowest kayaker. You do not need any special gear or experience to partake and all the details are left to your guide. It’s a sporty and healthy way for your family to spend quality time together outdoors while being simultaneously educational for the kids. Elements, a hotel in Friday Harbor, has a two-bedroom guesthouse that sleeps four and has an upstairs TV den perfect for a low-budget family stay. ($229 per night).

EDGE TRAVEL

Deb E.’s Travel Diary
50th Birthday Celebration

I could not wait for 2008 to arrive to mark my 50th birthday in May. I know some people do not like to celebrate birthdays, and women especially like to hide their age, but for me it’s a reason to celebrate and 50 is an occasion that calls for a special commemoratory. One of my greatest joys in life is wining and dining, hence a lot of planning and discussions were held before we came up with the final itinerary of restaurants to visit and mark the occasion. I travelled with my partner David and close friends Bill and Stephen all of whom equally enjoy the good life.

Our first stop was Shanghai. Earlier this year Qantas introduced direct services from Melbourne to Shanghai three times a week at a very civilized departure time of 9.30 am and with a 10.30 hour flight had us arriving into Shanghai at 6.00 pm local time. After streamlined Immigration and customs formalities we boarded the Maglev fast train for our journey from the airport. The Maglev train reaches speeds of up to 430 km/hour and takes 8 minutes from the airport to the Station – a must for all travelers to Shanghai.

Our accommodation in Shanghai was at the Le Royal Meridien Shanghai – stylish and sophisticated with an ultra modern design, it is one of Shanghai’s tallest landmarks (easily spotted especially when one is finding their way back to the hotel without a map.) Situated on the historic Nanjing East Road opposite the People’s Park and the iconic Bund, the hotel is a leisurely walk from everything central and a great location base from which to explore Shanghai on foot.

We were really looking forward to dining at the famous M on the Bund located in a historic shipping building constructed in 1921. M on the Bund overlooks the quintessential Shanghai view – the historic Bund and the futuristic Pudong skyline. The restaurant has a refined atmosphere with the décor dating back to the 1930’s. The menu was a mixture of international and Asian with a somewhat French flair. All our meals were exquisite, presentation amazing, and service was an 11 out of 10. This truly was a highlight. After dinner we headed to the Glamour Bar one floor down and part of M on the Bund. Albeit quite dark, the décor was plush pink velvets and golds, and hence the name, all the seemingly glamourous people from Shanghai were there. I felt like I was in a 1920’s and the only thing missing was a long cigarette holder.

Having researched our Shanghai dining choices before we left Australia, our lunch venues were left to what we could find when we got there. Across the road from our hotel is the Peoples Park with beautiful relaxing gardens, shady trees and ponds, we were very pleased to stumble upon an old Art Deco building that houses a roof top restaurant called Kathleens. With magnificent views of Shanghai on a warm sunny day clear of smog, we spent a very long afternoon enjoying a casual lunch followed by a lovely walk through the gardens back to our hotel. This happened to be the big day that I turned 50 and we had organised dinner at Le Royal Meridien in their Italian restaurant Favola’s, a buzzy authentic Italian restaurant with a mixture all of your old favourites combined with modern Italian cuisine. With excellent cocktails and a comprehensive wine list, it was a shame that we had enjoyed our lunch at Kathleen’s so much that we could not fully explore Favola’s mouth-watering menu.

Our last day in Shanghai was spent sightseeing. We started the day with a cruise on the Huang River and our final night in Shanghai we again chose to dine in-house at the Le Royal Meridien, this time at their signature restaurant Allure. A very chic French restaurant with an open kitchen, the maitre ‘de Dora was so welcoming and hospitable – she worked the restaurant floor with such ease making every diner feeling very special. Their entrée and desert plates were amazing, truly another highlight of our Shanghai dining experience.

After Shanghai it was off to Koh Samui, Thailand flying Thai Airways via Bangkok for some well earned R&R after the buzz and hype of Shanghai. Having been to Koh Samui on previous occasions we were very much looking forward to visiting some of our restaurant favourites.

We stayed at the Centara Grand Beach Resort, lovely colonial style property situated beachfront on the best part of the beach at Chaweng. Spice Island is their signature Thai restaurant that boasts a beautiful beachside setting amongst the swaying palm trees. Our favourite, however, is the Japanese restaurant Hagi. It offers superb Japanese food in traditional tepanyaki grill style which is always a fun and entertaining way to enjoy your meal whilst the tepanyaki chef demonstrates his skills with sharp knives and the finest fresh meats, seafood and vegetables. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we repeated our experience a few nights later.

Dining out of the hotel there are an abundance of restaurant and eating choices from roadside carts frequented by the Thai locals, seafood restaurants with their finest fresh lobsters and prawns on ice waiting for diners to choose and have them prepared to their own liking, to very upmarket eateries. Two of our favourites are Prego located at the the Amari Palm Reef Hotel and Red Snapper located at the Chaweng Regent Beach Hotel. Prego is always so busy and it is recommended to make a reservation in advance. Their floor staff would have to be the best in Koh Samui – so professional with prompt attention to detail could have them working in any top restaurant anywhere in the world. Prego has a very extensive pasta menu as well as meats and local seafood. The owner/Chef Marco will from time to time wonder around tables ensuring his clients are enjoying their meals and offering wine suggestions. The restaurant is bright, buzzy and very friendly and highly recommended to those who enjoy excellent Italian food. Red Snapper is a very upmarket air-conditioned restaurant which can be a welcome relief in Koh Samui’s heat. As the name suggests, a heavy reliance on seafood with a sprinkling of meats and pastas, the theme is Mediterranean with a Latin Jazz band performing six nights a week. Red Snapper has a huge wine list with two walls of the restaurant encased with glass door refrigerators with wines from around the world.

Our final three nights in Koh Samui were spent at Six Senses Hideaway Samui, a luxury resort set around a gentle sloping headland on the northern tip of Samui Island amongst 20 acres of indigenous vegetation and uninterrupted views of the Gulf of Siam. With everything at our fingertips, including our own private butler, it would have been easy to stay there for 3 months instead of 3 nights. Of course we couldn’t wait to try their restaurants. Dining on the Hill offers casual lunches of fresh salads and seafood and at night transforms into a Thai Restaurant. High up overlooking the water with cooling sea breezes it is a delightful experience for either lunch or dinner.

In honour of my birthday, the hotel treated us to an evening of gastronomic indulgence with dinner at their signature restaurant Dining the Rocks. Their degustation menu is the highlight offering tastes of New Asian cuisine with suitable wines to accompany as recommended by their sommelier. A most magnificent setting perched out up high on the rocks, it was a night I shall always remember.

Sadly my 50th celebrations were coming to an end and our expanding waistlines were soon to be put out of their misery. But my birthday would not have been complete without a stay at one of my favourite hotels in Bangkok, The Mandarin Oriental. This iconic Bangkok hotel situated on the Chao Phrya River has been operating for 130 years and has been home to some of the world’s most famous people. Upon arrival, our traveling companion Bill reminded us of the story about his mother Barbara stepping into the elevators here to find Grace Kelly sharing the lift! The history and the grandeur of the hotel makes for an unforgettable stay. Our dining choice at the Oriental was the China House. This is my partner David’s favorite Chinese restaurant and he had been looking forward to dining there again since our last visit two years ago. China House is an avant-garde restaurant inspired by the vibrant 1930’s Shan Hai Art Deco period. It features classical Cantonese cuisine with a modern twist. To David’s delight, the restaurant did not disappoint and he continues to count down the days until we can visit again.

Our last night of our celebrations was spent at the Shangri-La Hotel just a short boat ride down the river. All of the hotels situated along the river – The Oriental, Peninsula, Royal Orchid Sheraton and the Shangri-La – offer complimentary boat rides that stop at each of the hotels and the sky train station which is quite a unique and enjoyable way to get around busy Bangkok. The Shangri-La is home to Angelini’s, voted the best Italian restaurant in Bangkok for the last 10 years in a row. We have dined at Angelini’s before but had read that it had a total refurbishment last year so we were keen to see what changes had occurred. The restaurant is over two levels with a stylish bar at the entrance and then two floors of dining. Now very chic in appearance, light, bright and breezy – previously the restaurant had been quite dark and the transformation is amazing. A huge open kitchen lines one wall with wine racks floor to ceiling, modern Italian cuisine with food that just melts in your mouth. Downstairs there is live music and late in the night Angelini’s is really happening. Apart from their food, Angelini’s has to have the most amazing glasses and cutlery I have ever seen in a restaurant – all the glasses have long coloured stems, green for white wine, red of course for red and blue for your water glasses.

After 18 nights of wining and dining sadly my 50th birthday celebrations came to an end and rest assured it wasn’t only our luggage that came home a few kilos over!

CLUB MED SPECIAL

One of Club Med’s all-time favourite promotions is back – Second Person Stays FREE. For a travel period between September 24, 2008 through April 30, 2009, the second person stays free at the following Club Med villages in the Asia/Pacific region – Kani Maldives, Cherating Beach, Bintan, Phuket and Bora Bora. And of course, all the usual Club Med all-inclusive staples apply – all meals, sports, entertainment, activities and accommodation included.

Sale ends October 31st and certain black out dates may apply, so book fast. Minimum 10 nights stay required for two people traveling together, except Bora Bora 8 nights in Bora Bora and 2 nights in Papeete. All offers are limited and subject to availability based upon Club Med terms and conditions. Please contact your Executive Edge consultant for further details.