morning moon

morning moon

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paresa

paresa 3

Perched high on the cliff side, over azure blue waters and a picturesque panorama of the Andaman Sea, Paresa is more than just a hotel: it’s Phuket’s best kept secret. Imagine the Swiss Family Robinson, if they were smart enough to build themselves a treehouse made of teak in the tropical forest, an outdoor shower, a fully stocked bar, and a private infinity pool cantilevered over the cliff, and you begin to get a sense of the luxury adventure that awaits. Add a team of Angels on call to do your bidding – plus a private beach club along the marvelously under-crowded Kamala Beach – and your search for the perfect idyll has ended. Or at least my search has ended. What need have I with the rest of this island when my jungle villa awaits? Cocooned, the outside world falls away. And while I’m due at the spa any minute now, for the first time in my life I’m thinking a massage might actually be redundant.

kamal beach - paresa

paresa 2

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moating

gondola launch

After trampling up and down temples in the sweltering heat – I’ve tried to not belabor the point but it is hot, hot, hot in Cambodia! – it’s time for a little luxury:  skimming the moat of Angkor Thom in a private gondola stocked with champagne and canapes. As the sun set the moon rose high into the sky, casting an iridescent blue glow over the waking jungle.

gondolas

moorise over the moat

pale blue glow

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tomb raider

ta prohm entrance

If these images of Ta Prohm look remotely familiar, it’s likely because of Angelia Jolie – the Angkor temple was used as a setting in the film Tomb Raider. Unlike most of the Angkor temples Ta Prohm has been left much as it was found: a photogenic combination of strangler ficus soaring out of the ruins and spung tree roots dripping like so much candle wax. It’s not yet part of the jungle, but the atmosphere sure suggests it’s merging.

ta prohm tomb raider

ta prohm panorama

ta prohm banyan roots

ta prohm detail

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more angkor

entrance to angkor

More than just temple ruins, Angkor is in fact an entire region of Cambodia, which served as the seat of the Khmer Empire. Flourishing from the 9th to 15th centuries it was the largest preindustrial city in the world, with an elaborate infrastructure connecting a sprawl of almost 400 square miles to the well-known temples at its core. Those temples, buried amid forests and farmlands, number over a thousand – from piles of brick rubble unearthed in rice paddies to the magnificently restored Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Followers of this blog will note the similarities Angkor Wat shares in design – if not scale – with Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Ayutthaya. Both follow the basic plans of Khmer architecture: a temple mountain (“Mount Meru”) bounded by raised rectangular galleries, all within a moat and an outer wall – and all richly ornamented with decorative elements and statuary. Built in the first half of the 12th century, Angkor Wat is even more unusual in that although the site was neglected it has never been completely abandoned, remaining a significant religious centre through Hindu then Buddhist kingdoms, colonialism, and civil war – its preservation abetted by the expansive moat which kept the encroaching jungle at bay.

angkor wat

angkor courtyard

angkor wat - interior panorama

angkor way 4

apsara dancer detail

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comfort me with mangoes

The green hue of palms and ferns might predominate in the Blue Mountains but there’s no shortage of fruit trees, either. My only regret: I’m just about a month shy of mango season.

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better a half moon than none at all

 

Touching down in Montego Bay, I am reminded vaguely of Cancun, Mexico’s sunny, all-inclusive answer to Tijuana. The hotels in Jamaica aren’t as monstrously immoderate yet the enfilade of one over-developed beachfront property after another radiates the same unsettling heat of population density. It appears as though MoBay, as the touristic area is called, has been developed in hopeful homage to the success story just across the Caribbean. More to the point, that means catering to the specific needs of an all-inclusive American tourist: cheap food, cheaper liquor, and cheap building. And while I certainly can’t begrudge anyone their right to a value-for-money vacation, I often question why anyone would choose a foreign holiday when their destination of choice seems purposefully built to shut out anything and everything that might qualify as foreign. Gated resorts, anodyne surroundings, food and drink in excessive quantity, if not quality – wouldn’t it be more economical to go to Florida? So you can imagine the smile that turned my frown upside down when my car turned into Half Moon, a 400-acre antidote to the rash of Cancunitis. Tucked away in the Rose Hall enclave of Montego Bay, the 56-year-old resort features two miles of empty, white-sand beach set against a lush and lengthy jungle landscape. In addition to spacious villa-style accommodations – and a dolphin lagoon – there’s Fern Tree, the spa at Half Moon, with signature beachfront spa suites and its very own Spa Elder. Plus, despite being booked to capacity it doesn’t feel remotely crowded. In fact, outside of the restaurant I don’t see a blessed soul, let alone a wristband reveler – or machete-wielding homophobe.

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