Part of the Ndau Collection, Victoria Falls Zimbabwe

A Surprise Visit to Victoria Falls

We were preparing to leave Savuti Camp and our host, Dylan Harriss had come up with a big surprise. We are going to make a little detour to Victoria Falls to vist one of his friend’s shop and factory. One of the perks of having a private charter!! We can change our plans!
The name of the shop is Ndau located at Elephant Walk in Victoria Falls and it lived up to it’s considerable reputation. I love any excuse to stop and shop for exotic gifts, so I was thrilled. I came out with crocodile bracelets and feathered earrings. Yay!
We were also delighted to visit the Colonial Grand Dame – Victoria Falls Hotel established in 1904 and beautiful. Recently renovated, if has that old colonial feeling- I hope to get back to stay there soon.
We were cleared to circle the Falls and I have never experienced such a spectacular sight. A wonderful memory we will all treasure. Thank you Dylan and Gavin.

View of Victoria Falls- Zimbabwean Side

What a thrill to buzz the Falls!!

Welcome to Dumatau Camp- Linyanti Reserve, Botswana

How can you top that welcome!!!!

Savuti Camp- Linyanti Reserve, Botswana

Next stop was Savuti Camp, again a Wilderness Camp, on the Linyanti Reserve ( northwest corner of Botswana). Savuti Camp is a wilderness area destination, far from the crowds and along the northern borders of this sandy, thorn-tree country. This is the northern most reach of the Linyanti river system, which in most years has been a barren, grassy gully. Four years ago, the water from the main river 17km’s away reached this and flowed down it creating a lifeline for the wildlife that has learnt to live in this harsh and forbidding zone. The result is a wildlife experience with a difference, and game drives are never sure what they will find. Tents were large and comfortable. Staff was outstanding; so friendly and happy to see us. They greeted us at the entrance with a song and dance, along with a wonderful bar and snacks. Love those gin and tonics out in the bush!!
Savuti is famous for it’s enormous elephant population. In dry season, one can see four to five hundred elephants at one time.

Another View from the Tent- Vumbura Plains, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Vumbura Plains- view from the Tent

Vumbura Plains- Okavango Delta, Botswana

Vumbra Plains is one of Wilderness resorts’ premier properties. Each of the suites has been constructed with a totally private view of the delta floodplains, and are shaded by ancient, tall Jackalberry trees. The rooms are all open-plan in design and have a sunken lounge, spacious bedroom, over-large shower (in-door and outside too), dressing area and writing desk. The outside decks have a comfortable sala, with large comfy cushions to snooze on and of course a small plunge pool for those torridly hot days! There is 24 hour electricity and bed lights for those comfy evenings with a book just before going to sleep in spacious softness, with percale sheets and duvets. In the winter months, a hot-blanket or a hot water-bottle are available. These cabins are a luxury indeed. All of the suites are linked to the main lodge by a raised wooden walkway at the back of the suites that allows the hippo and other game unobstructed access to the river, and allows safe access for guests too. The main lodge with a large fronted service area is spacious, has a dining area, a lounge and a seating area that is slightly separate from the main lounge.
A birdwatcher’s dream, one can sit out on their private deck and be totally entertained.
We took small boats down the river late one afternoon and had sundowners on the boats all tied together. Sunsets in Africa are unforgettable.
Game drives were terrific-hippos, lions, giraffe , elephant, Kudu, Oryx, ending with an incredible leopard sighting. I really hated to leave Vumbra Plains after a very short two days.

Water Lily – Okavango Delta

Lilac Breasted Roller- Vumbura Plains Camp, Okavango Delta Botswana

Leopard Tracking – Vumbura Plains Camp, Okavango Delta Botswana

Sunrise Botswana- Jack’s Camp

Tracking Lions

Lion’s Call

Jack’s has no electricity after 5PM so when we returned to our tents for bed, we had lanterns. An interesting experience for me, I had never turned on a lantern, and when I move it it immediately went out- plummeting me in complete blackness. Fortunately I could put my hands on the trusty flashlight that Africa Inscribed had supplied us, ran out waving it, and got one of the staff to teach me the ins and outs of lighting and shutting down a lantern. Another new skill.
Next morning I was awakened by a lion’s roar- what a wakeup call!!
Game drive and bush breakfast were in store. I couldn’t think of a better way to start the day. Then we hopped back on our lovely PC12 and flew off to Vumbra Plains

Trance Dance at the BaSarwa Bushmen’s camp- Botswana

An afternoon with the Bushmen- Jack’s Camp, Botswana

We had the pleasure of taking a walk with the local bushmen. Some the new skills we learned were eating sour berries, catching small wildlife with a stick trap, and cleaning a scorpion’s eyes. As the sun was setting, the tribe went into a trance dance in a circle around a fire. A totaling memorizing experience, it depends on the tribal chief’s mood. He and 2 elders dance around a fire with the tribal ladies chanting. He works himself into a trance, contacting his ancestors. Watching the fire, under a canopy of endless stars, with the dancing and chanting is an experience I will never forget.

Not Shy!

Checking out the Meerkats- Jack’s Camp, Botswana

Sunrise Jack’s Camp

Jack’s Camp

First stop was Jack’s Camp. The camp, named after Jack Bousefield, a legendary pioneer of this region, is a permanent, tented camp built with considerable elegance, understated style and by the soft lights of the paraffin lamps in the evenings. There are animals and birds that live here, not found anywhere else. The tents are decorated with Persian carpets, old period furniture, beds with wooden headboards and decorative drapes. Hot water and flush toilets add a comforting touch and the drapes around the beds in the bedroom area keep out the Mosquitos at night. Safari Chic.

Private Charter- The Way to Go!!

Our Africa Inscribed Pilatus PC12NG- YAY!

Traveling in Style with Africa Inscribed

We are on a journey with my favorite safari operators, Africa Inscribed.
Dylan Harriss and Gavin Ford started the company five years ago, and are a force to be reckoned with, on the safari scene. Based in South Africa, AI specializes in white glove private travel. Gavin, recognized as one of Africa’s premier guides has been escorting adventurers for over 30 years. They come by their expertise the expensive way, spending at least 200 days a year exploring, and experiencing camps and lodges all over Africa. No detail is too small. They build strong relationships with camp owners and staff. We partner with Africa Inscribed to make sure our clients have the best personal private experience .

Johannesburg is usually an overnight because international flights land too late in the day to connect with another airline. I recommend at least one day in Johannesburg for a tour with Robin Binckes who will do a visit to historical sites of South Africa starting with a breakfast intensive history of SA. By starting with a historical background, the entire trip takes on a different meaning if you are staying in SA.

Water Lily – Okavango Delta

Heart Song Africa

Traveling in Africa is a love affair .
When I wake up the first morning in Africa, I find my senses tingling.
It reaches into your heart and turns on a switch. You are alive, senses are on high alert.
Adjectives come to mind: clarity, primal, life changing, striking a deep cord, it is like coming home to a warm place.

Saxon Hotel- Johannesburg South Africa

Highlights of the Starwood Luzury Showcase- Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai

Highlights of the Starwood Luxury Showcase- Al Maha

Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa in the desert outside of Dubai. A member of Starwood Luxury Collection, this resort is quite intriguing. Offering over the top desert tented experience, the Al Maha is in a category by itself. Activities include camel trekking, falconry, dune driving, archery, and wildlife exploration excursions.

Highlights of the Starwood Luxury Showcase

Chatwal Hotel NY- a Virtuoso property

Westin Riverside Hotel Chicago

The Starwood Luxury Showcase was held at the Westin Riverside hotel in Chicago. I was delightfully surprised at the comfort level of the rooms and the service. Rooms were bright and pleasant, personnel exceptionally courteous. A large breakfast was served in the Club lounge.
This hotel hosted the Luxury Showcase and the food served was really imaginative and very tasty. Table decor was beautifully set.

Next posting will be the highlights from the Luxury Showcase

Club Lounge at the Westin Riverside Chicago

In Chicago for the Fabulous Starwood Luxury Showcase

My goodness, I had always heard that Chicago was cold, but standing out waiting for the car made me a believer. This city is FRIGID!

I am thrilled to be here to meet folks from Starwood hotels all over the world.

Starwood hotels are Westins, W’s, Sheratons, Luxury Collection, and the ever incredible St Regis properties.

I am here to learn about the new resorts, and meet personnel from these hotels.

It is those personal connections that make my clients have an extra special experience.

I am always so surprised when I write a note to a hotel about a client’s arrival. Inevadibly, I get a response immediately from the General Manager or someone in management within the hotel. They really make an effort and it shows. Looking forward to seeing what properties are here!

Thrilled to have a write up in Virtuoso Life! 25 Must see destinations: Tanzania

tmptitle

Highlights of PURE: Song Saa- Over the Water Bungalow


Image courtesy of Song Saa

Highlights of PURE: Tiger Blue luxury cruising Indonesia

Westin Palace Madrid

Westin Palace Madrid

I am impressed with the Westin Palace. It does not feel like a large hotel.
The concierge personally called me in the US before I left to make sure my transfer times were correct.
Transfers went beautifully, I was met at the airport after baggage claim.
Nice driver, spoke perfect English, not too chatty.
The car was a brand new Mercedes or BMW. It was dark.
Check in was speedy because I am a Starwood member and there is a dedicated place for members to check in.
I made arrangements for dinner at the Rotunda- their restaurant. Traditional elegant restaurant with a huge stained glass dome covering most of the round room.
Drinks were well presented, it was the largest G&T I have ever been served.
The Lobby was elegant, large and welcoming. Furnishings were Spanish antiques.
I was given an Executive suite and the television had a welcome to me on the screen.
Room 406 had a mirrored foyer/hallway, leading into the bedroom.
The room was short walk from the elevator.
There was a small balcony and the door opened for fresh air.
Rooms were inviting, bright, and large – you could actually put on makeup in the bathroom. One bedroom wall was dedicated to closets that were mirrored with a traditional window pane paneling.
I loved the hallways done with dark wood, but well lit and the carpeting was an elegant Persian pattern.
A great mix of tradition with our modern lifestyle. Comfortable, and wonderful personal service.

La Mamounia better than ever- Marrakech, Morocco

This is the result! Cocktail Party for PURE at the Sofitel Imperial Palace- Marrakech

Spectacular party.

Breakfast Sofitel Imperial Hotel Marrakech

I don’t know what the meeting is about, but good food will result!

Marrakech

Stunning new hotel in Ireland, Ballyfin- picture courtesy of Ballyfin Ireland

tmptitle

Highlights of Virtuoso Week

A record 3900 consultants and suppliers from all over the world attended Virtuoso Week in Las Vegas. 312,000, 4 minute appointments were accomplished, bring the travel world together for their annual meeting.
Always fun and absorbing, one departs with complete brain overload.
For me, it brings new and wonderful resorts, tour companies, travel ideas, and reinforces ones I already know about.
Some of the new properties I discovered were Upper House (a spectacular hotel in Hong Kong), the fabulous new hotel Siam from Bangkok, Ballyfin, a stunning new manor house hotel in Ireland. A very pleasant surprise was hearing about a hotel thy has been right under my nose, the St.Regis Washington DC. Right across from the White House, it is a gorgeous property.
Starwood hotels have unveiled some new properties and reopened some new renovations like the Gritti Palace in Venice, St. Regis Bahia Resort in Puerto Rico, St.Regis Bal Harbor.
I always return home completely invigorated and ready to share my new destination ideas and activities. The energy and passion during Virtuoso Week is highly contagious.

Organic Pumpkin Soup-yummmmm…

tmptitle

Recipe- Organic Pumpkin Soup from Six Senses organic chef, Sebastiaan Seegers

From Six Senses Yao Noi, guests regularly comment on a dish they won’t let him take off the menu – Organic Pumpkin soup – the most frequent feedback asking “what do you put in it to get it to taste like that?!” – his answer……..”nothing – just pumpkin, but FRESH pumpkin, just picked”.
The difference is freshness….

Here follows Chef Sebastiaan Seegers pumpkin soup recipe
Pumpkins 1kg, peeled, seeded, cut in 1” cubes
Butter 70 g
Fresh thyme 1 g
Salt 8 g
Pink peppercorns 3 g
Gently sweat on moderate heat all the above ingredients until completely soft, covered with a lid (do not colour) This will take approximately 45 minutes – stir occasionally to ensure it does not burn.
Vegetable stock 1200 mls
Add the vegetable stock and simmer for 15 minutes
Blend will in liquidizer until completely smooth
Pass through a fine chinois
Check seasoning, add freshly ground black pepper, adjust consistency if necessary with more vegetable stock.

Bio- Six Senses Yao Noi’s fabulous Organic Chef Sebastiaan Seegers

Sebastiaan Seegers – European organic cuisine specialist – The Dining Room, Six Senses Koh Yao Noi
Six Senses Koh Yao Noi’s Dutch born Chef de Cuisine Sebastiaan Seegers showcases his unique signature “European Organic cuisine” at the open air over water Dining Room of the hotel. Surrounded by organic vegetable, fruit and herb gardens within view of the restaurants’ generously sized tables, Chef Sebastiaan has no shortage of fresh produce with which to work. Pumpkins (see recipe to follow), passionfruit, tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, watercress, asparagus and okra are all close at hand and are picked daily, featuring on his menus as they become available.
Sebastiaan has built up a close relationship with the traditional local fisherman of this beautiful island and his menus change daily depending on what they bring him.
Hailing originally from Holland, Sebastiaan has an impressive pedigree, having worked with the top echelon of the emerging famous chefs of the Netherlands. From the beginning of his career in 1994 untl 2010 he has worked solely in Michelin starred restaurants, rising to the position of Chef de Cuisine at Restaurant Savelberg in Voorburg (ranked in the top 30 restaurants of the Netherlands)
The opportunity to spread his wings and travel arose in 2010 when he joined the famed Le Gray hotel in Beiruit as Chef de Cuisine of the Indigo restaurant, where he remained until joining Six Senses Koh Yao Noi. An engaging and passionate chef, Sebastiaan is frequently seen in the Dining Room taking orders and customizing dishes for guests – another signature of Six Senses and Sebastiaans style.

Thai Chef’s Table- Mandarin Oriental Bangkok

tmptitle

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok launches Chef’s Table

MANDARIN ORIENTAL, BANGKOK LAUNCHES BANGKOK’S FIRST EVER THAI CHEF’S TABLE AT SALA RIM NAAM
February 2012 – Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok has launched an exclusive “Chef’s Table” at its’ iconic restaurant, Sala Rim Naam. The first time ever by a Thai restaurant in Bangkok, our 25 year hotel veteran Thai Executive Chef Vichit Mukura, also of the popular national TV program “Best Thai Chef”, will provide culinary connoisseurs or simply ‘food lovers’, a rare opportunity to experience first-hand the “inner” workings of one of the most dynamic gourmet kitchens in the world whilst indulging in first-class cuisine.
The Chef’s Table, set in the heart of the kitchen, allows diners a behind-the-scenes VIP pass to interact with award-winning Chef Vichit and watch the ‘Master’ in action as he prepares a bespoke, exclusive Thai menu based on the handpicked selection of the day’s freshest local and imported ingredients. “I personally select only the freshest produce for the enjoyment of guests. Quality is paramount and brings out the true flavours of Thai cuisine at their best,” said Chef Vichit.
Upon arrival, guests will be welcomed into the iconic, Grand Palace inspired decorative restaurant by Chef Vichit to enjoy a welcome cocktail and being personally escorted for a private tour of the kitchen before being seated at the Chef’s Table.
Throughout this unforgettable evening, Chef Vichit and his team of expert chefs will constantly interact with diners and present the assorted ingredients for guests to select and then gain their input into the planning of the evening’s custom crafted, personalised menu. Guests will enjoy informal master class style sessions throughout the duration of dinner, and watch and learn as Chef Vichit plates up deliciously prepared and authentic Thai fare right in front of diners.

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok executive Thai Chef Vichit Mukura

tmptitle

Mandarin Oriental Executive Thai Chef, Vichit Mukura

Vichit Mukura
Executive Thai Chef, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok

Born in the seaside resort city of Pattaya in the province of Chonburi, Chef Vichit Mukura developed a passion for cooking at an early age.

His career in the culinary industry spans over two decades during which he has worked in various hotels around Thailand (plus a brief stint in Japan) working his way from a cook to Chef status.  Today, as Executive Thai Chef of The Oriental, Bangkok, he is in charge of the complete process from kitchen operations to menu selection of the hotel’s two Thai food restaurants, Sala Rim Nam (Thai lunch buffet and set Thai dinner) and Rim Nam Terrace (à la carte Thai dinner).  Moreover, Chef Vichit is an instructor at The Oriental Hotel Apprenticeship Programme (OHAP), as well as overseeing the Oriental Professional Thai Chef Programme (OPTC).  During his time at The Oriental, Bangkok, Chef Vichit has cooked for Royalty, Heads of State and celebrities.
 
In addition to his responsibilities as Executive Thai Chef of The Oriental, Bangkok, Chef Vichit is also a widely-respected authority on Thai cuisine and writes regularly for several food as well as lifestyle magazines (Thai food column).  Furthermore, he has appeared as a Guest Chef on many TV cooking programmes, both local as well as international.  Chef Vichit’s family owns and operates a very successful restaurant in Pattaya.

An interesting side note, the Mandarin Oriental is launching a new Chef’s Table. I will post the announcement and information in my next entry. 

Pomelo Salad

tmptitle

Recipe from the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok- Pomelo Salad

YAAM SOM O GUB GOONG GAI
Herbed pomelo salad with prawns and chicken

Ingredients for dressing
50 g prawn, minced
25 g chicken, minced
200 g thick coconut milk
8 g chili paste oil
3 g chili paste
5 g salt
10 g lime juice
14 g white sugar
8 g coconut sugar

Method
In a sauce pan, heat 50 grams of the coconut milk over a medium heat then add the prawns and the chicken to stir-fry until cooked. Add the rest of the coconut milk. Bring to the boil then mix in the chili paste and the chili paste oil. Season with the salt, white sugar, palm sugar and the lime juice to taste.

Ingredients for pomelo salad
300 g pomelo segment, flaked
200 g dressing (from above)
40 g chicken breast, boiled and shredded
70 g prawns, boiled
8 g shallots, deep-fried
4 g garlic, deep-fried
16 g peanuts, deep-fried
2 g coconut meat, shredded and roasted

Method
place the pomelo in a bowl; add in the prawns and chicken breast. Mix in the dressing and toss well. Then add in the shallots, garlic and peanuts. Toss lightly. Sprinkle with coconut meat and garnish with coriander leaves and shredded big red chilies.

Recipes from the Road – favorite dishes from the Mandarin Oriental

I am incredibly privileged to have received recipes for my favorite dishes from the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok. Sticky rice with Mangos and Pomelo Salad. Here is the recipe for sticky Rice with Mangos from Executive Thai chef Vichit Mukura – Oriental Baan Rim Naan. His bio follows.

The Oriental Baan Rim Naam
KHOW NIEW MAMUANG
Coconut sticky rice with mango
 
 
Ingredients for coconut mixture (part 1)
1.5​cups​thick coconut milk
170​grams​white sugar
8 ​grams​salt
1 ​leaf​pandanus leaf
 
Method
- mix thick coconut milk, white sugar, salt and pandanus leaf together in a sauce pan and heat them over medium heat until boiling. Strain them and set aside
 
Ingredients for sticky rice (part 2)
2​cups​raw sticky rice (Khiew Ngoo)
 
Method
- rinse raw sticky rice until the water is transparent and soak them for 5 hrs. at least or over night , then rinse well again and strain them
- on the stainless tray with cheese cloth, put the rinsed sticky rice on and wrap them with the same cheese cloth and bring to steam for ½ hr. until cooked
 
How to do the coconut sticky rice
- pour the coconut mixture (from part 1) in cooked sticky rice (still hot
​from part 2), then stir them until well mixed, cover them tightly ​about 15 mins
- remove the cover and stir them again, then cover about 15 more mins to be well blended
- served the coconut sticky rice with ripe mango

Sticky Rice with Mango

tmptitle

Fabulous new hotel in Bangkok- the Siam

The Siam, a spectacular luxury hotel that has just opened in Bangkok in June, lives up to all it’s abundant  hype.  A Bill Bensley design, it is a feast for the eyes. Owned by a prominent family in Bangkok, I heard Mr. Bensley was given carte blanche to do whatever he felt was appropriate. I have to say it is one of his best efforts. 
Mr. Bensley incorporated four of Jim Thompson’s houses with contemporary elements ( Jim Thompson – fascinating American character that single  handedly started the Thai Silk industry after World War 2 and disappeared in the 60′s after walking into the Malaysian jungle- www.jimthompson.com. A whole subject unto himself.) 
 One of the owners is a prolific antique collector; a popular actor and singer, his collection is seen everywhere.  As a former antique dealer, I was blown away with his enthusiastic , eclectic collection. The hotel even has a screening room.  On either side of the screen is a collage of old movie tickets on a pair of panels.  One of the restaurants, with highly regarded Thai cuisine, utilizes one of the  antique Thai houses. Food was excellent and the setting was delightful. Located on the Chao Praya, in the elegant Dusit neighborhood one is in a more peaceful part of the city.  The hotel is planning to take clients sightseeing by boat- the Grand Temple is nearby. Another interesting aspect of activities offered at the Siam is kickboxing. The hotel has a ring and lessons for guests in their ample, enormous gym.  As a  guest, one can take lessons, and if you stay long enough , you will become a proficient kick boxer!  Hmmm… 

Walkway Siam Bangkok

Screening room, Siam Bangkok

Note the “film” border on the floor and the collage of old theatre tickets on the sides of the screen.

Traditional side of the Siam Bangkok

Personal Plunge pool, Siam Hotel Bangkok

The Siam! Brand new luxurious hotel in Bangkok. Wow!!!

Walking to the Spa- Yao Noi

Beach overlooking Phang Nga Bay- Yao Noi

Fruit and cold cuts portion of the breakfast buffet- Yao Noi

tmptitle

Part of the breakfast buffet- a gazillion jelly choices, all homemade! Yao Noi

View of Phang Nga Bay from the Hilltop Bar- Six Senses Yao Noi

Mesmerizing!!!!

Ocean View Villa with pool- Six Senses Yao Noi , Phang Nga Bay

Sunrise view from our villa – Six Senses Yao Noi, Phang Nga Bay Thailand

Six Senses Yao Noi- it’s about the view!!

tmptitle

Cruising the Islands near Krabi Thailand

Cruising the islands near Krabi Thailand

tmptitle

Entering a secret lagoon- Krabi Thailand

Khun Annie

Best Butler I have ever encountered – taking notes on our daily needs. Number 1!

Recipe from the Thai restaurant Ritz Phulay Bay – Krabi Thailand

The best Thai Soup -Chicken in Coconut milk, I have ever tasted.

tmptitle

Ritz Carlton Phulay Bay – Krabi Thailand

tmptitle

Ritz Carlton Reserve Phulay Bay- Krabi Thailand

A little slice of heaven, I think this is one of the most beautiful hotels and settings I have ever experienced.  It was filmed in the movie Hangover 2 as the destination for the “wedding”.  Service is far beyond anything I have encountered, and Asian service is legendary!
Our butler is Kun Annie( Kun is a reference of respect), and I would REALLY  like to take her home. She sees after our every wish, from laundry to boat tours of the islands, arranging transfers to our next destination, trips into the village,  and as insignificant as how to to how to operate the TV.  She appears at  our poolside sala with pen in hand to take notes for our latest wishes. Oh my gosh. 
The resort has three restaurants, a Thai, an International, and a Seafood restaurant. 
We dined in the Thai restaurant last night, and the Chicken soup in Coconut milk was the best I have ever tasted. Tonight will be the Seafood restaurant.  
One other observation: the music at the pool is outstanding sort of Buddha Bar- Cafe Costes compilations. Recipes are coming from Phulay Bay’s French chef and I will post them soon.

Ritz Carlton Reserve Phulay Bay- Krabi Thailand

Stunning resort! Ritz Carlton Reserve Phulay Bay – Krabi Thailand

Bagan Myanmar

Home to 2000 pagodas, Bagan is a must on any visit to Burma.  Most are from the 11th and 12th century when Bagan was the capital of Burma.  Similar in some ways to Angkor Wat, there are Pagodas as far as the eye can see. We visited the major ones, including Ananda.  I am struck by the peace and spirituality of Bagan.

Bagan Myanmar

tmptitle

Inside a Temple – Bagan Myanmar

tmptitle

Bagan Myanmar- land of 2000 pagodas

tmptitle

Cruising the Irrawaddy River on the Road to Mandalay

One of the highlights of our visit to Burma is a cruise on the ship Road to Mandalay. 
An Orient Express owned operation that lives up to it’s elegant, amazing reputation. 
I have never seen any company work as hard at making your travel experience truly unforgettable, be it one of their hotels, trains or cruises. Nothing is overlooked, top notch at every point. Fine dining, spacious cabins, amazing service, spectacular in every way-as one would expect from Orient Express. We departed from Mandalay and sailed on the Irrawaddy River downstream to Bagan.  Delightful at every turn, it is an experience I heartily recommend.

Road to Mandalay- heavenly cruise on the Irrawaddy River in Burma

tmptitle

Governors suite -Road to Mandalay

tmptitle

Governor’s Suite – Road to Mandalay

tmptitle

Feeding Koi at the Aureum Hotel, Bagan

tmptitle

Burmese Monks lining up for their first meal of the day

tmptitle

Burmese Monasteries and Monks

Monasteries and Monks have a tremendous influence in the predominately Buddhist country of Burma.   We were privileged to visit the Mahagandahyon Monastery in Mandalay- one of the most important and holy monasteries in Burma.   It houses 1000 monks from age 12- 90. 
Every Burmese man must become a monk for at least one week; there are 500,000 monks in Burma. Highly revered, they take their vows seriously and spend most of their time studying and living Buddhism. Buddhist Monks only eat twice a day at around 8AM and again at 11AM and that is the last meal of the day for them. 

Mandalay

Mandalay is the ancient capital of Burma, established by King Thibau in 1852. He built a palace surrounded by a 2 mile square moat. The palace wall has 12 gates- 3 gates on each side – only the east gate is open to the public. The original gold covered  palace was bombed by the British during WW2 and the government built a small replica in the 1990′s. 
One original structure from the Palace is still standing, called the Golden Palace. It had been moved in 1860 to a then country location guarded by a monastery. We can see the spectacular intricate teak wood carved exterior, alas without the gilding, presently.
The interior did not weather as badly as the exterior and the original gilding can be seen in all of it’s glory. One can only imagine the sight of this building when it was covered in gold. The carving is still absolutely  breathtaking.

Novice Monks- Mandalay

tmptitle

Young Nuns – Mandalay

tmptitle

Buddhist Monk – Mandalay

tmptitle

Close up of the carving on the Golden Palace- Mandalay

tmptitle

The Golden Palace-Mandalay

tmptitle

Seen 10 years ago at a hidden Pagoda complex Shwe Inn Dein- Inle Lake

Sadly, gone today.

tmptitle

Hidden Pagoda Complex found 10 years ago on Inle Lake Myanmar

When we were in Burma 10 years ago, we were taken to a newly opened ancient pagoda and temple complex called Shwe Inn Dein. We went by boat and we had to jump dikes to get there. It was uphill and In a remote part of Inle lake. 
The complex was completely empty, overgrown with jungle and absolutely spectacular. 
The tin covered walkway, about a half mile long, led to a central temple and there were 1059 pagodas around it. Nothing was “restored” and it was beautiful.  The picture of the Buddha heads was taken 10 years ago and sadly, they were gone. We were delighted that we found it again. Now a small village has grown up around it and we hardly recognized the entrance. 

Parking for Five tribe market day- Inle Lake

tmptitle

Five tribe market day- Inle Lake Burma

Shwe Inn Dein Temple complex – Inle Lake Burma

1100 pagodas recently opened by the government.

tmptitle

Inle Lake Burma

tmptitle

Fisherman on Inle Lake

tmptitle

Traveling through Burma

We have landed in the Inle Lake area of Burma. It is like traveling back to a very simple time. We see farmers plowing their fields with cows, horse and buggies used for transport. Inle lake is in the center eastern part of the country. A very fertile area, Inle lake is a shallow lake that is the agricultural heart of Burma. Hundred of floating islands of tomatoes and other vegetables. We flew to Heho, and then took a bus and boat to our hotel, the Inle Princess. Beautiful and very peaceful. Right out of George Orwell’s “Burmese Days”.
Today we are taking the longboats to a tribal market.

Rice fields in Burma

tmptitle

Hidden Stupa, Burma

tmptitle

Inle Princess Hotel, Inle Lake Burma

tmptitle

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok- like coming home

It’s the little things: being welcomed with jasmine bracelets
Orchids all over the room 
The elevator attendant that punches your floor without being told.
Being called by name by everyone. 
Ice, our maitre’d at breakfast,  who always has a plate of mangosteens and fresh sliced  mangos at my place.
Eating breakfast on the river- watching the ever vibrant boat traffic.
600 count sheets
Local fruit placed in our room everyday.
The hall butler who runs to unlock our door before I can fumble for my key
The white chocolate elephant with candies and personally signed welcome notes.
The pool beverages constantly being refilled without being asked
Smiles on every employee 
The night note on our pillow with an orchid
Bright lights in the bathroom 
Unlimited refreshing bath salts

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok Pool

tmptitle

Welcome note from the Mandarin Oriental

White chocolate elephant- yum!!!

One of 8 buffet tables at the Mandarin Oriental breakfast

tmptitle

Singita Sabora Tented Camp- amazing food quality from a tent!

tmptitle

Singita Sabora Tented Camp

tmptitle

Recipes from the Road- Singita Grumeti Camps

Singita Sasakwa- image courtesy of Singita Sasakwa

Singita Sasakwa- image courtesy of Singita Sasakwa

Recipes from the Road: Singita Grumeti Sasakwa

Probably the finest resort in East Africa, Singita Sasakwa is unrivaled in elegance.
Patterned after an English Manor House, Sasakwa sits over the Grumeti Plain offering magnificent views of game below.

Recipes from the Road- picture courtesy of One and Only Capetown

ROASTED PEARS WITH ORANGE-DATE PUREE, BRANDY ANGLAISE AND CRISP CINNAMON WAIVERS

9 pears, peeled, cored and quartered
1 cup sugar syrup
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pulp and pod of 1 vanilla bean
6 medjool dates, julienned, plus 3 chopped
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ cup water
Pear-brandy anglaisse

Cook the pears with the sugar syrup, lemon juice and vanilla pulp and pod over medium heat for 10 minutes or until tender.
To prepare the dates: cook the julienned dates in orange juice until just warm. Remove the dates and reserve the juice. Dice 2 tablespoons of the dates for garnish.
To make the date puree, place 3 chopped dates in a blender with the water and the reserved orange juice. Puree for three minutes or until smooth.

Pear-brandy anglaisse
¼ cup sugar
½ cup cream
½ ripe pear, peeled, cored and diced
2 tablespoons brandy

Dissolve the sugar in the cream over medium heat. Add the pear and simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until the pear is softened. Puree the mixture and strain through a fine mesh sieve. Stir in the brandy. Re-blend just before serving.

Crisp cinnamon, ginger wafers
1 cup caster sugar
4½ oz golden syrup
1 stick plus 1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
4½ oz plain flour
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper. Combine sugar, golden syrup, butter, orange juice and zest in a sauce pan over low heat until the butter has melted. Stir thoroughly, and then remove from the heat. Sift the flour and spices into a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in the golden syrup mixture and stir until well combined and smooth. Drop small teaspoons of the batter onto the prepared baking trays, leaving 2 inches between each one to allow for spreading. Bake for 8 minutes, until an even golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

One and Only Capetown- picture courtesy of O&O

Recipes from the Road- One and only Capetown, about the chef

A fairly new luxury hotel on the scene is the One and Only Capetown . I love the location, down by the waterfront. They have a particularily good children’s program and it lives up to the One and Only reputation for ultra Luxe accomodations. I especially like the villas that are separate from the main building. The restaurants are fabulous: Nobu- yes that one, and the widly popular Reubens.
REUBEN RIFFEL, EXECUTIVE CHEF, ONE&ONLY CAPE TOWN

Internationally recognized for his award-winning restaurants in the Franschoek wine valley, Reuben Riffel opened the eponymous Reuben’s at One&Only Cape Town in October 2010, serving up wholesome bistro fare made from locally-sourced produce.

Having defied tremendous odds in apartheid South Africa to become one of Africa’s top chefs at 35, Reuben has come a long way from his home in Groendal where he grew up with 12 siblings. Required to live in an area allocated to Cape Coloreds, a mixed-race ethnic group, Reuben first mastered Cape Colored cuisine through his family, a style of cooking that continues to inspire him today.

Beginning as a kitchen hand, Reuben worked his way up the restaurant ranks in nearby Franschhoek, opening his first eatery there in 2004 that was promptly named South Africa’s Restaurant of the Year. Six months later he was named the country’s Chef of the Year. In 2008 he opened a second restaurant in Robertson, which led to the opening of his third restaurant in at One&Only Cape Town alongside the legendary Nobu.

The author of two celebrated cookbooks, Riffel’s most recent debut, Reuben Cooks Local, takes readers on a journey through one of South Africa’s most well-loved culinary repertoires showcasing local produce from the sea, earth, orchard and vine highlighting the sheer abundance of fresh local produce in South Africa and the Cape.

In November 2011, Riffel partnered with South African Airways to prepare some of his signature dishes for the airline’s Premium Class customers.

One and only also has a spectauclar wine cellar headed by Luvo Ntezo,
internationally recognized as one of the Best Young Sommeliers in South Africa.

Recipes from the road: Spice Village -Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Southern India

From time to time I come across a particularly special food item and I ask for the recipe. We were in Southern India at Spice Village Resort. We were amazed at the quality of the food there, of course all organically grown,fresh from the garden, and totally wholesome. The menus were inventive and presentation was beautiful. This is a small out of the way resort, so we had not expected great dining and we were pleasantly surprised!! We were up for an early morning hike and these cookies were piled on a large platter for fortification. Divine! Thanks to chef PJ Aneesh
WHOLE MEAL CHOCOLATE & COFFEE COOKIES

INGREDIENTS

BUTTER 175 GRAMS
BROWN SUGAR 200 GRAMS
EGG (OPTIONAL) 1 NUMBER
PLAIN FLOUR 70 GRAMS
BAKING SODA 1 TEASPOON
WHOLEMEAL FLOUR 70 GRAMS
BRAN 1 TEASPOON
CHOCO CHIP 200 GRAMS
ROLLED OATS 85 GRAMS
COFFEE POWDER 1 TEASPOON
MULTIGRAIN MIXES 100 GRAM

METHOD

CREAM THE BUTTER & SUGAR .FOLD IN THE EGG TO IT.
MIX TOGETHER REMAINING ALL INGREDIENTS AND GENTLY MIX IT WITH THE BUTTER-SUGAR CREAM TO MAKE SMOOTH DOUGH.
TAKE AROUND 10 GRAMS OF MIX & PRESS IT BETWEEN THE PALMS TO GET A MEDALLION SHAPE.
PLACE IT ON A GREASED TRAY. REPEAT FOR THE ENTIRE DOUGH.
BAKE IT ON 160 C FOR 20-22 MINUTES.
REMOVE FROM OVEN & COOL IT ON WIRE RACK.

Chef from Spice Village, holistic retreat in Southern India

The Dollar is at a new high! Perfect time to travel!

The Euro is trading at 1.27- lowest in two years. Now is the perfect time to plan that trip to Ireland, France, Italy, Turkey, Prague, Germany or anywhere the Euro is traded. Now the luxury hotel you have been dying to see is in reach! Restaurants are affordable again! Cultural offerings are possible! I would love to help plan your dream trip. It’s a great value opportunity!

Amanzoe- Picture courtesy of Amanresorts

Amanzoe- Picture courtesy of Amanresorts

Amanresorts to open another spectacular property this summer- Amanzoe!

Amanresorts, the ultra luxurious collection of beyond fabulous hotel resort properties will open another resort this summer- Amanzo’e.
This from Anamresorts:
Comprising a 38-suite resort and an Aman Spa, Amanzoe is Amanresorts’ third Mediterranean retreat – the Greek complement to Montenegro’s Aman Sveti Stefan and Turkey’s Amanruya. Drawing its name from the Sanskrit-derived word for ‘peace’ and zoe (pronounced zoi), the Greek word for ‘life’, Amanzoe is situated on a hilltop close to the quaint town of Porto Heli on the east coast of the Peloponnese. The resort offers almost 360º panoramic sea views as well as a private Beach Club in a picturesque bay.
If it is anything like the other carefully thought out resorts, it will be a smashing success! Can’t wait to see!

Delta to cut back on Transatlantic Flights

Hammered by the weak euro and the risk of spikes in fuel prices,Delta Air Lines is cutting back on trans-Atlantic flights and shifting its focus southward.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that, just after opening the Atlanta airport’s new international terminal with additional gates, the airline is cutting five percent of its trans-Atlantic capacity. Delta will also cut one to two percent of Pacific flight capacity, for capacity cuts totaling three to four percent, deeper than the two to three percent cuts the company had previously planned.

At the same time, Delta is expanding its New York service southward with more flights to 10 destinations inFlorida, Bermuda and the Caribbean from JFK Airport and LaGuardia Airport.

The new flights, which will begin in late 2012 and early 2013, are in addition to Delta’s previously announced expansion at New York-LaGuardia, where the airline is adding more than 100 new flights to 26 new destinations this summer.

When its full schedule is implemented, Delta will operate more than 260 daily flights between LaGuardia and more than 60 cities, exceeding any other carrier.

Delta reports it is also optimizing its schedule at JFK to facilitate convenient connections to international flights. JFK is a major global gateway for Delta, which operates nonstop flights to more than 45 international destinations from the airport.

Wellesley Knightsbridge opening in London 2012

I am delighted to hear that Stefano Lodi and his team are opening a fabulous new hotel in London – December 2012.
Located on one of London’s most prestigious addresses in Knightsbridge is the site for a new 36 suite luxury hotel scheduled to open on 1st December 2012, which will parallel the very best of hotels in the world.
The Wellesley, is located at 11 Knightsbridge, managed by City and Country Hotels and is being developed by Rhimesong at a cost of £36 million, the property was formerly commercial offices.
The hotel will take on both a contemporary and classic style with interiors created by award-winning design experts Fox Linton, combining the building’s 1920s art deco history and glamour with stylish contemporary touches. In addition to its 36 suites, the hotel will incorporate a Cigar Lounge and Terrace, The Crystal Bar, The Oval Restaurant, and the Jazz Room.
Can’t wait to see!

Suite rendering of the cool new Hotel Wellesley opening in London Dec 2012

Soon to be HOT new hotel opening in London Dec 2012

Favorite travel destinations- Tanzania

Favorite Travel destinations- Tanzania

SONY DSC

Favorite travel destinations- Tanzania

SONY DSC

Favorite Destinations: Zambia

Temple ruins Inle Lake, Myanmar

Young Monk in Myanmar

I am fondly looking forward to my return to SE Asia.

I have started to plan my semiannual return to Bangkok, another visit to magical Myanmar, and site inspections in Krabi and Phuket Thailand.  Myanmar is a really hot travel destination and I want to do a run on the fabulous Road to Mandalay- the Orient Express cruise on the Irrawaddy river in Myanmar. I also want to check the iconic Strand Hotel  and Governor’s Residence in Yangon. I am so happy to see Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake again. The people of Myanmar are so dear, and so happy to have guests again visiting their country. I am including some pictures from my last visit. Visas are necessary for Myanmar so I have sent off my visa application. One has to apply 3 months out. Weather will be hot and humid- yay!

Tiger at Ranthambore Park India

Tiger Safari- Ranthambore India- what a thrill!

One of the most gratifying letters I have ever received.

A few months ago I received an email from Lt. Marcus D’Silva who is serving our country in Kuwait. He had found a post I had made on my blog in February of 2010 about India and tiger tracking. He asked if I could help him have a similar adventure. Of course I immediately put him in touch with Toby Sinclair, and Suhail Gupta of India Safaris( Now & Beyon India- a Virtuoso company) and Salim Ali our illustrious guide at Ranthambore State Park. I told Toby and Suhail to please do everything they could to make Lt. D’Silva’s experience the best possible. As it turned out, Salim was on assignment with National Geographic, so they found Salim’s younger brother to do the guiding. Salim knows all the best sighting places. After lots of back and forth making arrangements, the trip was finally set. I was nervous because Tiger sightings are really rare, so I held my breath.
This is a portion of the thank you I received from Lt. D’Silva this week:

Catherine, Toby, Suhail, Farooq, Daljeet,

Captain Pritchard and I would like to express our sincerest thanks to all of you for organizing the game drives in Ranthambhore for the two of us. 6 drives and 5 tiger sightings up close and personal. I found myself a little sick the morning we bumped into each other Toby but we drove on with the mission (as we say in the army) and had two sightings that day. Farooq your guidance was truly exceptional. Suhail your services were most appreciated and Daljeet was extremely helpful in coordinating everything. Catherine none of this would have been possible if not for your blog and your initial assistance.

Princes and presidents could not have paid any amount to assure an experience akin to what we experienced on our trip. It was a memorable experience and one of the highlights of our journey through India.

This letter is the ultimate compliment and what we consultants are all about: making a memorable sometimes life changing experience for my client. Re posts of the blog entries and pictures are below.

Repost of our Tiger Tracking experience- last day, last game drive

For the last afternoon game drive at Ranthambore only Martha Gaughen, Suhail and I visited the park. The rest of the girls stayed at
Vanyavilas. Upon entering the second gate to the park, we had the privilege of meeting Salim’s father who was Fateh Singh Rathore’s driver( the 1st director of Ranthambore National park). Salim’s father drove Fateh Singh Rathore for 30 years, and they photographed tigers for 8 books. As I wrote in the last blog, Salim’s father looked at us and said “the tigress awaits”. Which of course threw us into a fit of excitement. True to his word and because Salim is such an instinctive guide, we saw a rare happening- a tiger charging a Shambar deer! THEN we followed the tiger (who missed the deer) 2 more times and that video is also amazing.

Best tiger experience on the last day, last drive

Toby Sinclair – greatest guide in India

Our illustrious guide for the last game drive- Salim Ali and his father

A&K 100 Club with Royal Malewane’s Liz Biden

Harvest time at Vina Vik

 

We are delighted to find that we have arrived at harvest time!
Harvest depends on the perfect time of grape maturation – four factors influence the harvest timing: tannins, chemical analysis , maturation, and sugar level.
Grapes at Vina VIK are a combination of Carmenere and Cabernet Savignon , Merlot,  Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. The Vina Vik winery aims to be the top wine in Chile – 100 points. They also strive to be the greenest and most organic in Chile.  Tonight they begin picking the grapes at 1AM while it is cool. 
Vina VIK  vineyard is located 2 hours above Santiago. The valley is spectacular- green, green, green- mountains circle all around . Our host is Gonzague de Lambert.
One fact I learned: sulfites are in all wines for a fruit preservative. Vik keeps the sulfiltes very low for a more natural taste. A good harvest depends on weather conditions, light, rain, soil, the subjective decisions made during the growing year and the timing for harvest. 
Cristian Vallejo is the winemaker; he along with Gonzague, make an invincible team. The combination of vast winemaking knowledge, dedication to detail for the year in- year out effort and passion for great wine is impressive. I have no doubt Vina Vik Vineyards will have the number one red wine, and it will be very soon

Carmere grapes Vina Vik vineyards

Vina VIK Vineyards 10,000 acres

Dining room Singular Patagonia

Sunrise at Singular Patagonia

Explora Patagonia

I tried my panorama lense.