newsletter / november '08
That toilet is not a water fountain! What to Expect in Hotels Around the World
Any world-traveler will tell you no two hotels are alike. What may be regarded as a 5-star hotel in one country, may qualify as 3-star (or less) in another. Hotels, though catering to tourists, will likely adhere to local beliefs and customs. To avoid having the wrong expectations, here is some of what travelers should expect from hotels of various countries.
Japan: The land of the Samurai has long been known for its costly real estate and limited land availability, so don’t expect hotel rooms to be generous in size. Head room will be tight, especially for Europeans and Americans. Be cautious of door ledges and protect your head as you enter and leave the room and/or bathroom. Showering in Tokyo may be a cramped experience since elbowing and banging into walls, shelf, shower head, etc. is a common occurrence. And watch out for the buttons on the toilet; bidets are used throughout Japan, and if you're unfamiliar with them, you may be in for a surprise.
Beds are relatively hard and tend to be smaller than North American beds. And the pillows are sometimes filled with soba-seed, or buckwheat -both are supposedly good for your health and provide good support for your neck.
Other than those small differences, everything else is great. Japanese hotel staff are exceedingly polite and very helpful.
What to try:
USA: Just like everything else in America hotels tend to be big and roomy. Beds are usually very comfortable and cushiony (the perfect kind to jump around on). Room rates are usually inclusive of breakfast, which generally consists of eggs, sausages, toast, some sort of fruit juice...and bad coffee. Another thing to expect from hotel rooms in America is cleanliness. If you’re a germ-phobe, rest assured that your room is likely, as clean as it looks. Hotels in America can tend to be very business-like, and can be impersonal but the bigger 5-star hotels focus on premiere service and work to make your stay the best possible. So, if you have an unlimited budget, try one of the swanky hotels like the Peninsula in Chicago or the Ritz-Carlton in New York and live it up a little.
Thailand: You'll feel like you are getting the biggest bang for your buck staying at hotels in Thailand; famous for its vast choice of fantastic, relatively inexpensive luxury hotels, like Bangkok's Mandarin Oriental or Peninsula hotels, Chiang Mai's Shangri-La and Pattaya's Sheraton Resort - just to name a fine few. Expect to be treated like royalty-usually with a glass of juice or tea at reception, flowers on the bed, a welcome fruit basket and top-rated amenities awaiting your arrival. Water coming out from the tap could be a little off-color (yellowish or brownish), especially when traveling further away from Bangkok (-- but still perfectly safe to use). Another problem, in smaller hotels, is the lack of insulation material in the room construction resulting in noisy rooms. Unless staying really high up, there is a good chance of hearing the traffic and city noises, not to mention noises within the hotel itself. It's a good idea to bring earplugs just in case. And we suggest you don't dive into the bed. Thai beds tend to be firmer than those found in hotels elsewhere, and a swan dive onto the sheets could leave you breathless.
Italy: Similar to Japan, hotel rooms in Italy are small to medium sized due to limited space and like Japan, bidet use is widespread (so before you drink out of that fountain, take a closer look). Most hotels are family-run and therefore give a more secluded and homey feel-- a refreshing experience compared the franchised hotel chains in other parts of the world. Facilities tend to be lacking (no swimming pool, fitness, bar etc.) and the likelihood of having electrical appliances like coffee/ tea maker, hair dryer in your room is very slim to none. Also, expect to go hungry in the morning as Italians do not put a lot of emphasis on breakfast. And lastly, make sure you request for a double (letto matrimonial) when travelling as a couple, since the default option for a two-person bedroom is often twin beds (letti separate).
What to try:
Australia: The land down under is not as wild and "outback" as you may think. Sure, the country is made up of deadly critters and strange looking animals, but hotel rooms here are as pleasant as any other country in the world. Rooms are similar to North American hotels and are generally comfortable and well-equipped with the necessary amenities. One slight problem you may encounter, however, is water shortage. In some parts of Australia (mostly in the south), water restrictions laws may be applied due to drought and extreme dry weather, thus restricting shower and bath usage. Otherwise, enjoy the unique geography and myriad of activities this country has to offer. Just try not to waste too much water while you're there.
India: Exotic, glamorous and elegant. These are some of the keywords fitted to describe hotel rooms in India. For the price of an average 3-star room in other countries, you can probably snatch a 4 or 5 star room in India. Rooms are often spacious and lavishly decorated to showcase local lifestyle and culture. You may also find many colonial-styled hotel rooms (especially in older hotels) due to the country's long history under British rule. However, do not drink the tap water. Clean water supplies continue to be an issue in India.
What to try:
France: Similar to Japan and Italy, hotel rooms in Paris tend to be smaller. Fortunately for us, the French do have wonderful taste, reflected in their hotel room decor (compensating for the tiny room). Even so, you may find that often, not all "in-room" amenities are provided and the hotel's facilities leave a lot to be desired. One word of advice, ignore star ratings as these are awarded by government agency based on minor things in the hotel, rather than at the overall atmosphere of the place.
What to try:
You Are What You Eat: Classic Dishes from Around the World
We don't know about you, but we like to eat...a lot. And with the upcoming American Thanksgiving (and the recent Canadian one) we're thinking about gorging ourselves again. The classic American weekend celebration where folks load up on turkey, potatoes, gravy and apple pie (Canadians apparently prefer pumpkin pie...oh those loopy Canucks) gets our glands a-salivating and our stomachs a-grumbling. The thought of the tryptophan coma we're about to fall into after the feast, is nearly as exciting as the feast itself. Such a classic meal got us thinking about food (as if we don't think about food all the time anyway) and classic dishes from around the world. Turkey dinner personifies Americana as much as haggis does Scotland or fish and chips do England. So which dishes really epitomize each country? Honestly, we still don't have a clue, but it was fun to think about. Here we go:
Life in Ireland revolves around the pub. So much so, we considered just putting Guinness by itself as our choice. The black ale is thick enough that you don't need to eat anything else and tasty enough that you don't care. But instead we chose lamb stew and soda bread. The combination is a pub standard. A classic Irish meal, browned lamb chops are stewed with onions, carrots parsley and potatoes of course. It's served with a slice of soda bread; bread made substituting baking soda for yeast. For dessert we'll just sit back in our favorite Dublin pub and order another pint of Guinness.
Something from the grilla in Manila. A mixture of Malay, Indonesian and Spanish influences has created a surprising array of mouth-watering dishes ready to be indulged. The Philippines is in SE Asia, therefore it must have rice as a staple. On top of the rice, we'll put adobo, a classic Filipino dish. Made with marinated pork or chicken it's slow cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and peppercorns, then pan fried to get a crispy brown texture. Because it's made with vinegar it has the bonus of staying fresh for a few days and marinating longer. And by doing so, it just becomes more and more flavorful.
Spicy pretty much says it all and choosing one dish is impossible. Thai food is fresh, loaded with chilies and spices and tastes absolutely fantastic. All dishes are generally shared amongst everyone at the table and almost always come with soup. The classic being tom yum gung. Made with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, chili-paste (or crushed peppers), fish sauce mushrooms and shrimp; the soup is a favorite amongst locals and tourists alike. We also love som tam; a spicy, shredded, green papaya salad mixed with fresh ground Thai chili peppers and often served with salted shrimp or crab. As for a classic meat dish, it's always chicken, pork or seafood and with so many ways to grill, fry, sauté and barbeque we were at a loss. Thais fry chicken so well, we're pretty sure Colonel Sanders would be jealous, but we decided to go with moo ping; skewered pork cubes slowly grilled in a coconut glaze and available seemingly everywhere in Bangkok and beyond. Everything in Thailand (as with Asia) is served with rice. For dessert we'll choose kao niao ma muang; sticky rice in coconut milk served with fresh mango...oh man. The delectable mixture of salty and sweet is nearly too much to handle.
If you didn't know, Russia is big. The largest country in the world covers a lot of space, and therefore it's tough to nail down what food is truly Russian. We love caviar (especially when served with Vodka), pierozhki (little, tasty meat filled buns), blini (thin pancakes topped with butter, preserves and/or sometimes caviar), but for our purpose, we're going with schi. Schi is a traditional Russian soup that is served with almost every meal and has been for over a thousand years. The cabbage soup is made with cabbage(obviously), apples, pickle water and smetana (sour cream). Various recipes include some sort of meat (generally beef) carrots, onions, celery, bay leaves, garlic and pepper and so on. Served from Moscow to Vladivostok, being such a traditional Russian staple, it was an easy choice.
So many areas, so many flavors. To pick just one meal or dish which epitomizes the Indian palate is really difficult, because what is common in Goa isn't necessarily the same as what's available in the New Delhi, Jaipur or Kolkata. In addition vegetarianism is widespread throughout India (nearly 40%) so that's definitely an issue to consider. So for the purpose of our list, we're going to go with rice (go figure) and anything with curry; our Indian editors think a dahl curry and aloo ghobi are the right choices. Dahl is a dried bean (lentil) without its husk and can be mixed with a variety of spices (cumin, chilis, turmeric) and curries. It's either eaten with rice or with naan; the tasty Indian flat bread. Aloo ghobi, is another vegetarian dish, a mixture of potatoes, cauliflower curry and spices. Each meal ends with a classic cup of (masala) chai tea, India's famous creamy, spiced tea.
Lebanese cuisine is supposedly one of the healthiest diets in the world, but we're not sure that includes the coffee. For our list we're choosing hummus, tabouleh salad in a chicken shwarama. Hummus is a dip made from pureed chick peas, olive oil and garlic and man is it tasty when eaten on pita bread. Though it's eaten throughout the middle-east and has no defined origin, hummus is most often referred to as Lebanese (in fact certain Lebanese groups have begun pushing to have it acknowledged as an "internationally-recognized cultural right"). Tabouleh is a parsley/mint/bulgur salad that is often eaten as a snack, as well as with a meal. Shwaramas are made by slow roasting marinated chicken/lamb (or beef) on a spit over an open flame very slowly (sometimes the entire day). Animal fat is slowly dripped over the spit to help keep the meat moist. The meat is then cut off in strips using a long knife and generally eaten in a fresh pita mixed with hummus and tabouleh. Coffee is a staple in Lebanese culture. It's very strong, thick and heavily sweetened; the perfect way to end a classic meal.
Sushi. We could've chosen ramen, we could've chosen okonomiyaki, but really what is the one food that everyone immediately associates with Japan? Modern day sushi originated in Tokyo and is often confused with sashimi; sashimi being the raw fish. Sushi however refers to the vinegar rice that is then topped with the raw fish. It can be topped with various types of raw fish, served rolled in dried seaweed, served on top of fish or even served in a bowl with raw fish toppings; all are various forms of sushi. Pieces are then dipped in soy sauce and/or wasabi (hot Japanese horseradish) and devoured.
We love our tequila. Unfortunately we can't live on tequila alone (as much as we try). Luckily Mexico is also full of Mexican food. Taco, nachos, burritos, refried beans, rice; all so spicy and tasty, but for our purposes we're choosing enchiladas. A corn tortilla is filled with meat (generally spicy beef or chicken) and covered with a tomato and chili sauce. Dating back to pre-European arrivals and originating in the Valley of Mexico (now Mexico City) the indigenous peoples of Mexico apparently ate enchiladas, wrapping fish in their tortilla shells.
Lost in Translation-Essential Phrases When Travelling to Japan
Knowing a few essential phrases goes a long way when visiting a foreign country. It shows that you are trying to understand what's going on, rather than expecting everyone to understand you. Locals are more forthcoming and eager to help, if they see you making an effort to communicate. As with most metropolitan cities, English is generally understood in Tokyo, but as you travel outside into smaller towns and villages, where the means of communication is only Japanese, it will help if you know some essential phrases.
Travel Tip: When an Eligible Passport is Actually Ineligible
Imagine you're touring through SE Asia on your trip of a lifetime; flying from country to country, experiencing all the culture, sights, sounds and smells. Hong Kong first, then Thailand for some laid back beach-time, over to Malaysia to see the Twin Towers and onto Singapore for some shopping. Next on the list is Vietnam for some coffee and culture and then down to Bali to do some surfing, you'll just get Visas on arrival at the arrival airport. It's all good, right? Maybe not. Make sure to check your passport.; if you've got less than 6 months left until it's set to be renewed you're going to be in trouble. Countries requiring Visas for entry generally require that you have 6 months left on the passport before it expires. Some airlines won't even fly you to your destination once they notice the approaching expiry date, as some countries have begun fining the airlines for transporting ineligible passengers.
So it's best to review your passport to ensure you have lots of time (over 6 months) to expire before you're set to return from your trip, and it's advisable to apply for a Visa at your destinations local consulate (if available) even before you leave, just to ensure your plans/flights/reservations don't go to waste because of a technicality.
Review of the month: Yaang Come Village Hotel
Created by Linda Franks
For sure, the best in Chiang Mai! This hotel is amazing and we were sad to leave!!! It gives you a true Thai experience by combining the quality of the staff and the lanna architecture. It is an oasis of peace and well-being in the middle of the busy streets of Chiang Mai.
The staff is so fantastic! They call you by name, attend to any of your needs and more, always have good advice but yet are discreet and effective. We met some people who stayed in this hotel last year and then tried a different hotel in the same style this year... but they regretted changing.
All the guests we talked to (families or mature ladies on holidays), all had a great time and loved the hotel!!!! The rooms are spacious and well decorated in the Thai lanna style. They put fresh flowers, water and fruits in your room every day. The breakfast could be a little bit better for this class of hotel.
The swimming pool is very nice and has a small round shallow pool attached to it. It can be turned into a jacuzzi but for us it was an ideal kids pool! The night market was about 3 mins walk so it was easy for us to go with the kids. We enjoyed the Anusarn night market the best as it has food, bars, crafts, massages, Thai dancers...etc all in one place off the main street. We had an fantastic experience at the Yaang Come village and if we go back to Chiang Mai we would love to stay there again.