newsletter  /  june '08

This Issue:

The Fong: Hong Kong's Hot Spot

We admit it, we love Hong Kong. "Where East meets West", "The Jewel of South East Asia", "Asia's World City"; Hong Kong is all this and more. It is the economic powerhouse of Asia, it's a launching pad for new electronics and cool gadgets, it boasts an innovative vibrant film industry, it's at the forefront of fashion, the people are beautiful, flowers are beautiful, the weather, the shopping, and oh my God, the food!!!

Throw in an extensive transit system that gets you from A to B faster than you can say Tsim Sha Tsui, and every part of Hong Kong is ready for you to explore. Tram it up to The Peak for an falcon's view of the city, walk the Avenue of Stars on Victoria Harbor, gawk at the sky–scrapers of Hong Kong Island, revel in the madness of Mongkok's shopping stalls or admire the Pandas of Ocean Park. BUT friends, there is one place you need not miss, one very, very special place.

Lan Kwai Fong. Saying it tingles the tongue like a dark ale. Hong Kong's famous restaurant and pub quarter lies next to the central business district, but exists as if in a different dimension. With over 100 restaurant and bars lining cobblestone streets, it is Hong Kong's premier place to go for drinks, food, and parties.

Originally an area dedicated to hawkers selling flowers and wares (Lan Kwai Fong literally means street filled with orchids and fragrances), the area was revamped in the early 80's by German–Canadian businessman Alan Zeman. Wanting a place to entertain overseas clients, he purchased and converted one of the main buildings in the square into a group of western restaurants. Paired with a couple existing nearby discos, the area soon became the nightlife hotspot for tourists, expats and the nearby business crowd.

The easiest way to "The Fong" is to take the MTR to Central Station on Hong Kong Island and navigate the crowd to exit D2. Find your way up onto D'Aguilar Street and head uphill. Start out in the afternoon and stroll down the cobblestones to check out the chic and trendy boutiques and spas. Window–shop if you like, indulge if you must. Pop into one of the numerous pubs for a late afternoon pint or sit on one of the various patios enjoying the afternoon sun and watch the people start to filter through.

Aromas soon emanate from everywhere, urging you to quell the growing cravings. This is no easy task with so much to choose from. Obviously the Oriental choices are abundant with Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese restaurants nearby, but there is also French & Italian fine dining, or feast at one of the Russian, Nordic, Australian, Spanish and International restaurants in the area as well.

Eating is sure to take you well into the evening and as you step out of the restaurant you'll realize that trendy little pub district has transformed into "The Fong". Beautiful people are everywhere as celebrities, actors and models come to be seen. High heels click and clack on the street like manic metronomes trying to catch the thumping bass from the clubs. "The Fong" has suddenly become one very, very large street party as people move from club to pub, trying to find the hottest spot to dance and mingle. With bars and pubs nearing capacity, people move onto the street, which is now cutoff to all vehicular traffic. In the end it's the street party itself which is the biggest attraction, as people stop to chat and laugh, enjoying a pint or many.

There is always something going on in "The Fong", be it street festivals during the Halloween and New Year's celebrations or the Beer and Food Festivals that pop up in the summer. If you want good food, good times or just to people watch, make sure Lan Kwai Fong is part of your trip.

Learn what's new in Lan Kwai Fong, click here

EURO 2008: The Fever Pitch

Regarded around the world as the most prestigious tournament for European national teams, the UEFA European Cup football tournament has been held every four years since 1960. This year's version, Euro 2008 is offering a total of 184 million Euros in prize money. The winner will hoist a newly designed 8 kg trophy and will represent UEFA at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa

Austria and Switzerland won the rights to host Euro 2008 making it the second time that two nations have been successful in winning the right to co–host the tournament. The matches will be held at eight different stadiums located in various parts of the co–hosting countries. While the host nations were given automatic qualifications, the rest of Europe's elite were forced to battle it out in the rigorous group stages that began in August 2006. 14 teams made it through to join the two co–hosts in the 16–team tournament. The games begin on June 7th at St. Jakob Park in Basel, where Switzerland will take on the Czech Republic.

The German team captained by Chelsea's Michael Ballack is favored by bookmakers to make the short trip home as European champions. However, Portugal, with arguably the world's best player Christiano Ronaldo of Manchester United in their lineup, can't be ignored as they attempt to go one step further this time after finishing as runners–up at Euro 2004. The Spanish also have a star studded team which includes Liverpool's Fernando Torres and will be looking to lose their under achievers' tag by making an impact at the tournament.

The English team will be the most noticeable absence, with former manager Steve Mc Claren being fired shortly after they failed to qualify. Other noticeable absences include Ukraine, Serbia, Norway, Denmark, Bulgaria and Scotland.

Euro 2004 winners Greece made it through and will hope to cause as much of a shock as they did in the last competition, while 2006 World Cup champions Italy will be hunting for more glory.

With the likes of France, Holland, Portugal, Spain and Germany all keen to add another major trophy to their cabinets, this tournament could be the most hotly contested in years. However, fans are sure to witness a few surprises as Croatia, Turkey, Romania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia and Sweden make up the rest of the teams who are all hoping to grab the world’s attention.

"Expect Emotions" is the official tournament slogan as fans are set to experience joy, disappointment, relief and high tension up until tournament concludes on June 29th. The final match will be played at the 53,000 seat capacity Ernst Happel Stadion in Vienna and will feature Enrique Iglesias performing the Euro 2008 tournament anthem "Can you hear me?" It's guaranteed you will hear the fans throughout Vienna, as 53,000 rabid footballers cheer for their favorite.

News Flash: The Grass Is Actually Greener! Go Golf in SE Asia

Greg Norman once said that "happiness is a long walk with a putter", and for many a golf enthusiast that phrase drives true. Beyond the game itself, playing golf provides the opportunity for its participants to be in the great outdoors. Often set against striking natural scenery, golfers can breathe in the fresh air and embrace nature's wonders whilst getting both exercise and sun.

Not surprisingly golf is the fastest growing and most popular sport in the world, a fact most evident in Asia, where the game has developed rapidly in the last decade. For golfing buffs, Asian courses are paradise, especially since many have been designed by stalwarts such as the "Shark" and Jack Nicklaus, are situated in the balmy and breathtaking tropics and are – by European and American standards – very easy on the pocket.

What is further complementary about choosing a golf holiday in Asia is the quality spa options available across the continent, especially in Southeast Asia where quality and cost are not mutually exclusive concepts. For golfers themselves, spa treatments such as massage can provide that perfect balance to sport with further relaxation. But more importantly, for wives and girlfriends who wish to holiday but don't par–take in the fairways, spa pampering is a welcome alternative

To cater for golf and spa holidaymakers, many courses and golfing resorts have been built across Asia. This month, we have highlighted some of the best courses in the region, along with accommodation options, just to pique your interest!

Agoda's top 10 golfing resorts in the region are:

1. Laguna Phuket Golf Club, Phuket (Thailand)

Lauded already in numerous publications as one of Asia's premier golf resort destinations, the Laguna Phuket Golf Club is set among the Laguna Resort Complex which features five luxury hotels (Sheraton, Dusit Thani, Banyan Tree, Laguna Beach Resort and Allamande). It boasts an 18–hole, par–71 course designed by Max Wexler and David Abell and caters to players of all levels of expertise. But the course certainly is challenging as 13 of the 18 holes are in close proximity to the actual lagoon. Golfers can enjoy taking the watery gamble with their shots. Afterwards, pampering is essential at the world famous Banyan Tree Spa.

2. Le Meridien Nirwana Golf & Spa Resort, Bali (Indonesia)

The five–star Le Meridien Golf & Spa Resort is a luxury resort overlooking the Indian Ocean with world–class golf and spa facilities. The Nirvana Bali Golf Club boasts an 18–hole course designed by the legendary Greg Norman, and has been featured in several publications. The course is made challenging by the elaborate network of streams, ponds and terraces plus its ocean lapping location. After playing, relax at the fusion Nirwana Spa which uses Western products while keeping the Balinese Hindu philosophy in mind.

3. Novotel Ocean Dunes and Golf Resort, Phan Thiet (Vietnam)

Located three hours from Ho Chi Minh City, the four–star Novotel Ocean Dunes and Golf Resort is located on a private beach and was the first international resort to be built in Vietnam. The Par–72 Ocean Dunes Golf Club located on–site has been designed by Nick Faldo and been identified it as one of the top 10 resort courses in Asia. The course will appeal to both experienced as well as casual golfers, and the coastal winds will bring challenge to each hole. The on–site Spa has private saunas and Jacuzzis for customers use after a round of golf. Or you can go in for a massage before you take to the course, helping to relax the muscles and improve that swing.

4. Kirimaya Golf Resort & Spa, Khao Yai (Thailand)

The three star Kirimaya Golf Resort & Spa provides 60 contemporary living options and is the perfect retreat for those looking for a golf holiday. The 18–hole golf course has been designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus and is set among the mountains and greenery of Khao Yai. Guests can indulge in a range of massages and wellness rituals at the Maya Spa or in the comfort of them own rooms after a day spent on the course or exploring the surroundings.

5. The Empire Hotel & Country Club, Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei Darussalam)

The five star Empire Hotel & Country Club and beach resort overlooking the South China Sea boasts of lavish accommodations, eight swimming pools and a championship golf course. Designed by the celebrated Jack Nicklaus, the golf course includes cliffs, ravines, tight fairways, large bunkers, and is floodlit for night–time games. Also not be missed is the Spa, with its therapies from around the world designed to calm the body and revitalize the skin.

6. Hornbill Golf & Jungle Club, Sarawak (Malaysia)

The five star Hornbill Golf & Jungle Club is nestled amongst the oldest and second largest rainforest in the world, 1,000 meters above sea level. As the name suggests, the main attraction of the hotel is its golf course designed by Neil Crater, while keeping in mind the features of its unique highland location. The course is the ultimate test of golfing skills, and is suited for those who love a fresh physical challenge as well as a mental one. With the number of guests kept to just 60 a day, it provides ample exclusivity and privacy to indulge at a calm pace. The Jungle Club continues to keep up the promise of relaxation and rejuvenation with its pampering sessions of spa, exotic traditional massages and a range of natural treatments.

7. Bintan Lagoon Resort, Bintan Island (Indonesia)

The four–star Bintan lagoon Resort is set among 300 hectares of beachfront gardens and offers a world of choice. This golfing resort can easily be reached by a short high–speed ferry ride from Singapore. Both the Jack Nicklaus 18–hole Sea View Golf course and Ian Baker–Finch 18–hole Woodlands Golf course at the resort are known for their spectacular design and signature holes. The stay is incomplete without a visit to the Bintan Spa, where traditional methods are used in conjunction with organic ingredients for the ultimate relaxation experience. Choose from a range of treatments, scrubs, and spa packages.

8. Springfield Village Golf & Spa, Hua Hin/Cha–am (Thailand)

The 3.5 star Springfield Village Golf & Spa provides luxurious rooms and suites, designed to blend with their surroundings and each providing an open view of the golf course. The golf course (another design by Jack Nicklaus) challenges golf enthusiasts with 27 meticulously manicured holes. The championship course has five sets of tees to play from, and offers varying levels of difficulty. For those looking to improve their game, step there is an excellent Learning Center which offers private lesson. Be sure to head over to the Springfield Spa to pamper and rejuvenate yourself with a wide variety of top notch massages and treatments on offer.

9. Sentosa Resort & Spa, Singapore (Singapore)

The five–star Sentosa Resort & Spa is perched atop a cliff gazing out across the South China Sea. The resort's 21 rooms and suites are spread across 27 acres of tropical woodlands. For a round of golf, tee–off one of the 2 resort courses, including the exceptional Sentosa Golf Club, home to the Barclay's Singapore Open and the course of choice for politicians, dignitaries and celebrities alike. The resort also boasts the Spa Botanica, housing mud pools, flotation pools, a meditation labyrinth and Turkish-styled steam baths and a wide choice of indoor treatment rooms or outdoor pavilions..

10. Sofitel Zhongshan Golf Resort, Nanjing (China)

The five–star colonial-styled, Sofitel Zhongshan Golf Resort Nanjing is located on the slopes of the famous Purple Mountain, and features 140 luxurious accommodations. This resort is the perfect choice for leisure as well as business travelers to Nanjing. It is also the first deluxe, five–star golf resort in Nanjing, and the exclusive 27–hole golf course was designed by Gary Player. Guests can also enjoy the Spa, with its various massages and treatments, guaranteed to relax and ease the muscles.

Travel Tip: Gratuitous Guidelines on Gratuities

What is your tipping point? If you're like us, you'll be staring at the strange, colorful denominations in your palm, unsure what you should be giving the driver, porter, waiter, hairdresser, barista, police officer as they smile patiently. Tipping etiquette varies across cultures, generations, locations, and occupations. In North America it's become so ubiquitous, pretty soon they'll have "tip jars" in emergency rooms. So where and what should we tip? Here are some ideas we came up with:

1. Research where you are going. In some places like mainland China or Japan tipping can be considered insulting. So do a little reading, save your cash and don't get labeled a rude tourist. For general ideas on tipping in prospective countries we've put together a brief list:

-Australia: generally tipping is not expected.
-North America: 10–20% depending on level of service (15% is a generally a good guideline), but if the service is terrible, don't feel obliged to leave anything.
-China: tipping isn't required (outside of Hong Kong).
-Egypt: tipping is expected everywhere, so it's good to have small change available at all times. For restaurants/taxis 10–20% is the standard.
-France: service charges are automatically added to the bill, generally 15%.
-Hong Kong: read your bill, as a service charge (generally 10%) has probably already been added by restaurants and hotels. For taxis, just round up to the next Hong Kong Dollar.
-Japan: don't tip. Some places will actually find it insulting if you do.;
-Malaysia: tipping generally isn't expected.
-Thailand: traditionally tipping hasn't been expected, but it is becoming more prevalent. Many restaurants/hotels have already applied a 10% service charge, so check your bill. For taxis, provided you are using a meter, 3–5 Baht is plenty, 10 Baht if the total is over 100.
-Mexico: similar to Egypt as tipping is expected everywhere, so it is best to have some small change on you.

2. Remember to read the bill. As previously noted many restaurants and hotels will automatically add a gratuity and should be giving the tips to the staff.

3. If you're unsure what to tip, just ask. Most people will give you an honest answer and let you know what is adequate.

For more advice on tipping, TripAdvisor is a great resource and Wikipedia as well.

Review of the month: Savoy Hotel,, Myanmar

Reviewed by Chris Groocock

We stayed at the Savoy in the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, when many other hotels were closed due to lack of electricity. The Savoy stayed open, operating a generator six hours a day and pumping water from its own well. The rest of the time it was candlelight and torches, and yes, at times it was very hot! Due to circumstances, the restaurant and bar menus were much reduced. Nevertheless, we appreciated all the efforts made by the staff and the General Manager to keep things going as well as possible. The hotel itself has a lot of charm, and we look forward to staying here again under more normal conditions! Once again bravo to all the team there for making it as comfortable as possible in a very difficult time.

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