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Since I got 3 emails in the past month asking about reasonable (about 100USD/night) hotels in Hong Kong, I figured it warranted a post. Unless I’m staying with friends or there for work, I always stay at the Cosmo hotel (www.cosmohotel.com.hk) in Causeway Bay. It’s a 2 minute walk from Times Square, design-oriented, clean and nice and convenient. Rooms aren’t huge, but unless you decide to go 4-5* there’s really no point in spending more money. The Cosmopolitan Hotel is literally next door and I haven’t really worked out any real differences: same owners, same price range, same location and nearly the same name. I guess “Cosmo” is for the younger, hipper people? www.cosmopolitanhotel.com.hk When my friends splurge they usually stay at Upper House in Central: www.upperhouse.com

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I finally found a halfway decent website that answers the time old question of “where is nice this time of year”? Of course, weather isn’t an exact science but this website let’s you fill in criteria about temperature, humidity, region and rates countries against your preferences. Ideally they would go down one more level to region so that a country wouldn’t get a bad rating because only part of it has rainy season where other areas may be very nice that time of year. Weather2Travel

These notes are from my trip last winter, but Ho Chi Minh City doesn’t change quite as fast as Shanghai:

Food
SH garden – 143 hai ba trung
Seafood with live entertainment: Ngoc suong marina – 19C le quy don Q3
Best Pho IN THE WORLD: Pho hoa pasteur 260 pasteur
Soft crab: 94 Thuy Restaurant 84 Dinh tien Hoang dist 1
Cafe Terrace @ the Saigon Center: great for a snack if you’re in the area

Bars
Temple club – 29 Ton That Thiep St, District 1
Cage – 3A Ton Duc Thang Street, District 1
Lush Bar – 2 Ly Tu Trong Street District 1
The Refinery – an old Opium refinery that’s been converted into a bar on the second floor with a (french?) restaurant on the ground floor. 74 Hai Ba Trung, District 1
Q bar (in the bottom of the opera house) – 7 Cong Truong Lam Son, District 1

Another ultra successful holiday! Despite some tricky logisitics (coordinating people from Sydney, Chicago, Shanghai) we pulled it off. It was my first time in Phuket and it was nice, but I prefer less developed and a bit quieter.

HOWEVER, it can’t get much quieter than sailing around the Andaman for 4 days. We booked the Seraph through Latitude 8 Yachts for 3 nights/4 days  – we started in Chalon and went down to Racha Yai and Racha Noi, then headed up to Kai Nok and Rang Yai  and then back to Chalon. We decided to spring for the crew and a cook – Ooi did an PHENOMINAL job of catering for us – every meal was amazing: seafood, curries, veggies, papaya salad.. any dish that was put down disappeared pretty much immeadiately. It was a splurge, but well well worth it.

While in Phuket we stayed at a new Boutique Hotel that is still in soft opening, but clearly will be one of the most interesting places to stay in the near future: B-Laytong. It’s at the very end of Patong beach (well away from the heart of it) with a gorgeous pool and beautiful rooms. Geared more towards the party crowd (club to open downstairs), this is not really a hotel for families. All the rooms have double-glazed windows so despite being on a busy road, the rooms are very very quiet. And the hotel restaurant is also impressive – we had a fabulous last lunch there and one of the best hotel breakfasts on offer each morning.

On recommendation from our boat capitain some of us went up to Rang Yai for the last 2 nights – we stayed in clean but very basic bungalows that were more like camping than a hotel (which is what we wanted). We had some “visitors” (nothing poisonous, but big enough to unsettle more than 1 member of our entourage). Not for everyone, but we loved hearing the waves at night and the beaches were beautiful and empty. Cost of a bungalow (1000THB) includes free use of sea kayaks, snorkel gear and breakfast. The restaurant isn’t cheap (about 400THB/pp for dinner), but the food is decent enough.

I was bemoaning the lack of a “yelp”-like iphone app for Shanghai that leverages GPS to make restaurant/shopping/etc recommendations based on my location. Turns out, there is one! HiShanghai has arrived on the scene and it’s pretty good! I compared it against my friend’s much more $$ Shanghai app and it had better features and more thorough listings. Totally worth $4.99. It regularly gets updated with new listings and events.

Clubs: I preface this list by saying that I don’t really go to clubs much anymore, but my friends do and this is where they go. Just for context, we are in our early 30’s.:

 Shelter – in an old bomb shelter, mostly electronic music, can get v crowded, but fun

M1NT – big fancy club , long lines on Friday and Saturday after 9

Yuyingtang – live music, mostly chinese bands, younger crowd but fun

JZ – Great  live Jazz venue

Sin – may need to be on a list or reserve a table, depending on the night. Overall a good crowd.

Mao – used to be “the place”, then it fell off the radar and is now making a comeback. Also electronic/house music

Velvet Lounge – this is a bar and a club, gets packed from about 11 onwards. Can be a little seedy at times, but fun.

C’s – if seedy is your thing, this is as divvy as they come in Shanghai.

My mom and I had a GREAT time in Mendoza. Mendoza is a hot destination so I recommend arranging your hotel in advance (unlike we did) in order to get a spot at one of the cute boutique hotels. We ended up in a sub-par hotel that I won´t bother to mention. The city itself is cute and nice to walk around in for a half a day, but there isn´t a ton to see or do in the city itself.
We arranged tours with Grape Vine Tours beforehand (My mom had seen them mentioned in a NY Times travel article). They were great, the groups were never more than 4 (unlike some other companies that use large tour busses). The guides were extremely knowledgeable and fun. The tasting lunches in the wineries were excellent (make sure your tour includes a lunch at Ruca Malen)! They took us to see mainly small boutique wineries (or micro-wineries). We did 2 one-day winery tours broken up with a daytrip into the mountains to see the Inca bridge, the national park to catch a glimpse of Aconcagua (the largest peak in South America) and Seven Colors Rock- also arranged by Grapvine.

My favorite wine is Melipal, which also is a great visit and the best tasting (sit down with olives, raisins and walnuts) but my other favorite winery visits were:

  • O.Fournier – a crazy space age facility with amazing views.
  • Tapiz – I´m not a huge fan of their wines but the tour is excellent and you really get to witness the whole process (tasting the grapes from the different varietals, tasting the wine during different stages of fermentation).

It seems there are a few of these types of maps floating around, but having tried a few I think this one is the best: Mapa de Buenos Aires. You can even enter a street address and see exactly where it is (Buscador General in the left menu for the Castilian-impaired).

This is still a WIP (consider it v1.0)

Toptable is your friend – check here before you venture to anywhere upmarket, they have great deals (like 25% off if you are out the door by 7)

$ Borough Market – if you´re a foodie, this is heaven. GO EARLY (get there by 10) you can eat there or buy food and make a picnic (weather permitting)

$$ Levant – beautiful restaurant, good Middle Eastern food. Skip the seafood platter and get the meat.

$-$$ Lots Road Pub – good for lunch, brunch or dinner. What a gastropub should be. Make reservations.

$$$ Bluebird Cafe – it´s an institution but I still like it. They do a good brunch.

$$$ Nobu – the best deal is to go at lunch and have the Binto box. OR get snacks in the bar, not really worth the money for a full dinner.

$$ Electric Bar and Brasserie Notting Hill – Great people watching on Notting Hill (and good food). Excellent for brunhc/lunch

$$$ Arbutus – A reasonable Michelin Star restaurant. Worth the splurge. They do wine by carafe/half carafe as well which is cool. Book well in advance

$$ Tsunami – Excellent (reasonably priced) Japanese fusion food.

$$ The Bombay Brasserie – I had been told it was the best indian food in London and I have to say, I think I agree. It´s pricey but they do a good lunch special (14 GBP)

$$ Admiral Codrington – another good Gastrobpub. They specialize in Seafood (yum crabcakes)

$ Beirut Express – Maroush has Lebanese restaurants all over London but I usually go to the one at South Ken. The Hummus Beiruty is rocking. We generally get the shwarma sandwichs.

$ Bagels on Bricklane – 24 hours real bagels..the best thing at the end of a long night. Or a shopping break snack.

$$-$$$ Hunan – my favorite restaurant in London. There´s no menu but you will be asked for any dietary restrictions you have then then you will eat some of the best Chinese food you ever had (ask for the pork with prunes). Let Mikey pick the wine for you.

$ Dim Sum place in Bayswater – the most authentic Dim Sum we found in London.. They don´t take reservations so get there early. (I need to confirm the name with Ann)

$-$$ Jakob´s – Organic predominantly vegetarian Armenian deli/cafe (try the falafel sandwich)

Hummingbird Bakery – REALLY good cupcakes (my fav is the red velvet).

Bars:

Janet´s bar

Bohemian Kitchen on Old whatever street (need to check this one again)

Misc:

Upstart Market (Sundays only) – an indoor market for emerging clothing and accesarry designers. Some cool ethnic food stalls as well.

If you like markets, this is a good listing: http://www.streetsensation.co.uk/markets.htm

I arrived in Buenos Aires VERY early yesterday and settled into my studio apartment I rented for a month. I think I´m in Barrio Norte but different maps seem to tell me different things… today I wandered around Recoleta and had the cheapest afternoon at the salon ever ($3 to get my brows dealt with – and it was a pretty nice place!!). Not speaking Spanish made it interesting and before I looked in the mirror I imagined myself with Greta Garbo eyebrows, which thankfully was not the case. Tomorrow I will try to sort out the Spanish lessons and SIM card (apparently I need my passport to get one..who knew?).

Luckily my corner store is run by Chinese people, otherwise I would have starved. OK, that´s an exaggeration but Mandarin did some in handy – esp when I went to pay and realized I forgot my wallet at home. The staff were pretty surprised (and entertained) to hear a gringa bust out the Putonghua .

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