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Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia

By Ellen
Destinations: 
Asia,
Bangkok,
Cambodia,
China,
Da Nang,
Halong Bay,
Hanoi,
Ho Chi Minh City,
Hoi An,
Hong Kong,
Hue

My husband and I are looking forward to a romantic adventure for a few weeks in between the chemotherapy and radiotherapy that I'm undergoing for breast cancer. We chose to take a cruise because we're unsure about my energy level and felt that it would be safest to indulge in some luxury. The choice of Azmara specifically was made because of the long stays in several ports. We hope to maximize the experience by travelling in land from some of the ports, with overnight stays elsewhere.

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See + Do

Hue

Still off the standard itinerary for many foreign visitors, Hue served as the capital of unified Vietnam from 1802 until 1945. In addition to being the seat of the Nguyen dynasty throne, the imperial city held sway over the nation's cultural and religious life, making it a natural for UNESCO World Heritage status. Even today, this medium-size town straddling the Perfume River remains a center of education.

Surrounded by a thick, six-mile-long wall, the massive Citadel on the north bank dominates the cityscape. Inside is the fortified and moated Imperial City, a city-within-a-city containing the ornate wooden Thai Hoa Palace, Halls of the Mandarins, a tranquil pond, and the "pleasure pavilion" of Dien Tho, the Queen Mother's residence. Everything in the innermost Forbidden Purple City, aside from the Emperor's Reading Room, was obliterated during the nightmarish urban combat of the 1968 Tet Offensive. The streets inside the fortress are laid out in a grid pattern and are perfect for exploring on a bicycle, which can be rented from Mandarin Café for $1 a day. It's impossible to get lost; just use the 120-foot-tall Flag Tower on the southern rampart as a beacon.

The wooded hills south of town are dotted with the mausoleums of the Nguyen kings, including the frangipani-scented Tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, who reigned 1843–83. Café on Thu Wheels offers a rollicking half-day tour by motorcycle of the tombs and countryside. The route also stops at riverside Thien Mu Pagoda, whose seven-story octagonal tower is a national icon. A more unusual talisman is the classic British-built Austin sedan housed beyond the main sanctuary. In 1963 a Buddhist monk from the temple, Thich Quang Duc, drove the car to Saigon, where he doused himself with gasoline and burned to death to protest religious discrimination by the Catholic-dominated South Vietnamese regime. The photograph of Thich's self-immolation, with the Austin in the background, is one of the Vietnam War's most enduring images.

Eating

Brother's Café, Vietnam

27–29 Phan Boi Chau Street
Hoi An, Vietnam
Tel: 84 510 914 150

Brother's century-old colonial building is the loveliest setting in all of Hoi An—and that's saying a lot in a city that's a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Make a beeline through the street-front bar to the lantern-lit garden, and request a table for two on the patio overlooking the Thu Bon River. A favorite among independent travelers, the café also draws a smattering of damn-the-budget backpackers with an appreciation for fine food and cocktail glasses wrapped in banana leaves. Set and à la carte menus carry a range of spicy pan-Asian dishes, including sautéed beef with chile and lemongrass, as well as "white rose,'' the shrimp-stuffed rice-flour dumplings that are a Hoi An specialty.

Open daily 10 am to 11 pm.

Eating

Apsara Restaurant, Vietnam

222 Tran Phu Street
Da Nang, Vietnam
Tel: 84 511 561 409

Da Nang's most upscale restaurant is located in a converted home just a short three-block stroll from the Museum of Cham Sculpture. The kitchen specializes in seafood, with everything from crabmeat and asparagus soup to lobster sashimi and squid steamed with ginger. There are tables in the outdoor garden, but the affluent Vietnamese customers tend to prefer the multilevel dining room where a four-piece band plays traditional standards and covers of American classics. Day-of reservations suggested.

Open daily 10 am to 2 pm and 4:30 to 9:30 pm.

See + Do

Dalat

Founded a century ago as a French hill station, this Central Highlands retreat remains, quite literally, a breath of fresh air for Vietnamese looking to beat the heat of steamy Ho Chi Minh City, some 200 miles to the southwest. Colonial vestiges are scattered across the town, including a neo-Gothic cathedral, a pink-sided Catholic convent, the 18-hole Dalat Palace Golf Club (considered the nation's best course), and the charming Cremaillere Railway Station, the terminus of a cog railroad that once connected the mile-high town with the lowlands. The greatest concentration of gracious prewar villas is to be found in the Bellevue Quarter, about one mile west of downtown. Fifteen of these historic buildings have been renovated by Six Senses as the Evason Ana Mandara Villas Dalat, the company's first nonbeach resort (Le Lai St.; 84-6-355-5888; www.sixsenses.com). Much of the original rustic construction—floor tiles, fireplaces, wood trim—has been salvaged, while the grounds have been allowed to go slightly feral. The resort can organize city trips by vintage Citroën automobile, "coffee addict" tours of outlying plantations and local cafés, or, for the more active, mountain biking, canyoning, and hiking excursions. Then retreat to the in-house Six Senses spa for a body polish with homegrown roses and berries.

There's a kitschy vibe to the City of Eternal Spring, a wildly popular honeymoon destination. Wedding-dress and handembroidery shops dot the hilly streets, and no self-respecting Vietnamese vacationer would go to Dalat without visiting the Art Deco summer palace of Bao Dai to plop down at the last emperor's desk for a just-say-cheesy photo op. For more regal accommodation, check in to the 43-room Sofitel Dalat Palace, a lovingly restored Jazz Age relic (84-63-825-444; Vietnam Airlines flights from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to Dalat's airport, which is 15 miles south of town. Air-conditioned buses also make the run from HCMC (six to eight hours) and Nha Trang (three to four hours) through stretches of rugged mountain scenery. November through April holds the best weather, but even during the late-summer monsoon season most mornings are clear. Hotel reservations are essential on long weekends and public holidays, when thousands of Vietnamese head for these hills.

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See + Do

Cooking Schools, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

Resorts such as Hue's La Residence offer instruction in Vietnamese cooking, but the most hands-on fun may be Hoi An's Red Bridge Cooking School. Classes gather at Hai Scout Café. After a tour of the waterfront market complete with shopping tips (a fresh squid should have clear eyes and hard, white flesh), students board a wooden boat for a 20-minute trip down the Hoi An River to Red Bridge Cooking School. With the wit and timing of stand-up comedians, instructors initiate neophyte chefs into the mysteries of carving vegetables for decorations, steaming fresh rice paper rolls, and making a Hoi An specialty, banh xeo, a crispy "pancake" topped with shrimp, spring onions, sprouts, and herbs. Best of all, students get to consume their handiwork. Book several days in advance, as the 8 am and 1:30 pm tutorials—an absolute bargain at $15—often fill up early.

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Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, China

Mongkok, Kowloon
Hong Kong, China
Website: http://www.lcsd.gov.hk/parks/ypsbg/en/index.php

For a genuine slice of Hong Kong life, visit this market, where hundreds of songbirds tweet in elaborate mahogany cages while stall managers feed them grasshoppers and nectar with chopsticks. (Take the MTR train to Prince Edward station, exit Prince Edward Road West, walk east for 10 minutes.)

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Temple Street Night Market, China

Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon
Hong Kong, China

This is the liveliest night market in Hong Kong, with 400 stalls selling clothes, CDs, and fake designer watches. When the superficiality of shopping kicks in, you can seek the real purpose of life from fortune-telling birds and face-readers. Impromptu screeches of Cantonese opera are a regular feature, and if you're hungry, a nutritious bowl of snake soup should fill the gap. Visit between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., but be careful about venturing beyond the main parts of the market—some of the surrounding neighborhoods can be unsafe.

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Stanley Market

Hong Kong
Website: www.hk-stanley-market.com

Located on the southeastern side of Hong Kong Island, this bargain-stocked waterfront promenade is well known to every taxi driver. Look for supple bed linens at Tong's Sheets and Linens or add some colorful Chinese peasant paintings to your walls from Cottage Gallery. Cashmere aficionados load up on the cuddly stuff at Fook Tak Ho and China Town, while women can bring a touch of Hong Kong to their closets with a traditional silk cheongsam from Lotus Village.

Open daily 9 am to 6 pm.

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Shanghai Tang, China

12 Pedder Street, Central
Hong Kong, China
Tel: 852 2525 7333
Website: www.shanghaitang.com

The brainchild of flamboyant local designer David Tang, Shanghai Tang (which now has London and New York branches) sells upscale traditionally designed Chinese clothing with a modern spin. Examples include cheongsams (traditional, formal long dresses) in acid-bright hues and Mao jackets cut from the finest silk. There are also accessories like Chinese lamps with jewel-colored shades, modern ceramics, and Chairman Mao watches.

See + Do

Victoria Peak, China

Hong Kong, China
Website: www.thepeak.com.hk

At 1,810 feet tall, Victoria Peak is Hong Kong's highest and most notable landmark, as well as its ritziest residential area. Its well-heeled 19th-century residents were hand-carried up the mountain via sedan chair, but modern visitors can take the Peak Tram (the steepest funicular in the world) from Central Terminal at 33 Garden Road. The tacky Peak Tower shopping and entertainment complex is forever packed with the camera-wielding crowd. You can pop in and taste bottled waters from around the world at O Bar or sample dishes by Down Under celebrity chef Geoff Lindsay at Pearl on the Peak, but it's best to leave the crowds behind and explore the Peak on foot. Head for Mount Austin Road, which climbs through the Peak's public gardens to the actual pinnacle. Along the way you'll get sprawling views of Macau, the outlying islands, and the jostling junks and sampans of Aberdeen Harbor.

See + Do

Tours of Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong may have been called a barren rock by its first foreign visitors, but these days it's so packed with attractions that it's hard to get oriented. The government-run Hong Kong Tourism Board publishes reams of maps and touring pamphlets, and organizes bus, boat, walking, and shopping tours. Though the names aren't terribly catchy, some of the best include: the Land Between Tour of the New Territories, Feng Shui Tour, Tea & Tai Chi Tour, and the Come Horse Racing Tour. For more upscale options, lift off from the rooftop of the Peninsula Hotel and look down upon the taipans from Heliservices' twin-engine Aerospatiale Squirrel helicopter. The 15- to 30- minute tours circumnavigate Hong Kong Island and give you a great feel for the layout of the city. Longer, pricier journeys take in the big Buddha, Lantau Island, and the New Territories.

To explore the area by water, hop aboard a traditional sailboat, known as a junk. The best is the Cheung Po Tsai, a 92-foot-long traditional red sailboat named after an infamous pirate who once terrorized these waters. The boat was handcrafted according to original Chinese designs and in traditional materials by an 80-year-old local craftsman. The two wooden decks are among the best spots to watch Hong Kong Harbor's nightly 8 pm sound and light extravaganza in vintage style.

See + Do

Tai Chi, China

Hong Kong, China

Limbering up and clearing your mind—Asian style—is a great way to start the day. Free tai chi lessons are given by English-speaking instructors near the Avenue of Stars, right on the Kowloon waterfront, several mornings a week. The classes usually begin at 8 a.m. and last an hour. Call the Hong Kong Visitor Hotline (852-2508-1234) for more information.

Eating

Luk Yu Tea House, China

24–26 Stanley Street, Stanley
Hong Kong, China
Tel: 852 2523 5464

The best—and certainly the most traditional—dim sum in town is served here. Its 1930s rosewood furniture, creaky ceiling fans, brass spittoons, and famously rude waiters have made it a favorite with tycoons such as David Tang (of Shanghai Tang fame) and Dickson Poon, chairman of Harvey Nichols in London. For the genuine experience, come for an early lunch—after 11 a.m. they park the trolleys and break out the picture menus for tourists (though at lunch hour, you may often find yourself virtually ignored by the waiters in favor of the locals, who don't need every dumpling described). If you do decide to show up during the calmer evening repast, come early; the dim sum ends at 5:30 p.m.

Eating

Hutong, China

28th floor, 1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
Hong Kong, China
Tel: 852 3428 8342
Website: www.aqua.com.hk

Hutongs, traditional alleyways lined with ancient thatched-roof houses, are gradually disappearing from the capital, but happily this gorgeous restaurant set high in One Peking Road Tower isn't likely to go anywhere soon. Swathed in scarlet and black, it pays homage to its namesake with antique wood furnishings, red lanterns, and bamboo birdcages. The menu—as endless as the views—is traditional Chinese from across the nation: platters of crispy, fatty lamb ribs; braised Mandarin fish fillets with spicy black-bean sauce; and prawns with herbs and dried chiles. Finish with a drink at neighboring Aqua Spirit, a rooftop bar that gives Philippe Starck's nearby Felix a run for its money.

Eating

Green T. House, China

The Arcade, No. 208, Cyberport
Hong Kong, China
Tel: 852 2989 6036
Website: www.green-t-house.com

Most visitors to Hong Kong stay amid the snaking streets of the Central District, but it's worth making the westward trek to the high-tech enclave of Cyberport for a meal at Green T. House. The minimalist whitewashed space overlooks the South China Sea and its walls display a rotating collection of artwork, all with a tea theme. Canaries provide the musical accompaniment—except on nights when enigmatic owner JinR plays the gu qin, a Chinese dulcimer. The innovative menu includes addictive dishes such as cow-ear mushrooms in wasabi, ginger, and sesame oil; and a radish, celery, and cucumber salad infused for two days in secret spices. Those with more adventurous palates should try chef Alan Yu's texturally creative items like ribbon cuttlefish "pasta" with Champagne and Szechuan pepper.

Open daily 11 am to 2:30 pm and 6 pm to midnight.

Eating

Fook Lam Moon, China

35–45 Johnston Road, Wanchai
Hong Kong, China
Tel: 852 2866 0663
Website: www.fooklammoon-grp.com

One of the city's top Cantonese restaurants since 1972, Fook Lam Moon is old-school—both in cuisine and decor (look for the shrine to the kitchen god near the entrance). The prices are high, but you're paying for the solicitous, old-world service as well as for beautifully prepared, classic dishes like bird's nest soup (sweetened, double-boiled, and served in a coconut shell), braised whole abalone with Chinese mushrooms, and whole roast suckling pig. There's another branch in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui district (53-59 Kimberley Rd., 852-2366-0286).

Eating

Dumpling Shops, China

Hong Kong, China

No matter how many McDonald's and KFC franchises open up in Hong Kong, savory dumplings are the city's fast-food staple. The ubiquitous dumpling shops offer the full range of regional variations.

Din Tai Fung, a branch of the famous Taiwan shop, is well known for its delicate xiaolongbao, little purses of meat and soup wrapped in dough and steamed in bamboo baskets. They are a meal unto themselves and are often washed down with Chinese tea (third floor, Whampoa Gourmet Place, Whampoa Garden, Hung Hom, Kowloon; 852-2330-4886; www.dintaifung.com.tw/eng).

Another variety, the half-moon-shaped jiaozi, is drier inside but just as filling and tasty. One of the best places to try it is the mom-and-pop shop Wang Fu, where you can choose from a variety of fillings, including the popular traditional pork-and-chives and special creations like tomato-and-egg. They are served alone or with noodles; each order comes with a complimentary glass of soy milk (Whampoa, Jade Center, 98-102 Wellington St., Central; 852-2121-8006).

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Hotel

The Peninsula Hong Kong, China

Salisbury Road, Kowloon
Hong Kong, China
Tel: 852 2920 2888, Tel: 866 382 8388
Email: pen@peninsula.com
Website: www.hongkong.peninsula.com/

We'll come right out and say it: The Peninsula is one of the finest hotels in the world, and has been since 1928. Upon arriving in Hong Kong, guests are whisked from the airport to the hotel's Clipper Lounge via a ten-minute helicopter ride (aerophobes can rough it in one of the Peninsula's Rolls-Royce limos). Set in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon's shopping mecca, and across the street from the Cultural Centre and the Museum of Art, the hotel also has stunning harbor views (many of the 300 rooms come with their own telescopes for surveying Victoria Peak). The interiors epitomize postcolonial luxury, with heavy silk curtains, dark wood furniture, and porcelain antiques; scores of attentive yet discreet staffers are at your beck and call. In the bar, called the Lobby, a string quartet fiddles away to the accompaniment of clinking teaspoons; Felix, the Philippe Starck-designed Euro-Asian rooftop restaurant, is still a must-go, even though it's been around since 1994. For off-the-charts hedonism, hit the ESPA spa (opened in summer of 2006) for a Chinese balancing wrap and massage.

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Mai Gallery, Vietnam

113 Hang Bong Street, Hoan Kiem District
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 84 4 828 5854
Website: www.maigallery-vietnam.com

A five-minute walk west from Apricot Gallery, this narrow, three-story showroom is the exclusive agent for up-and-coming young Vietnamese artists such as Nguyen Bao Ha, whose urban-themed abstract works have been exhibited in Singapore and Japan, and the moody, photolike portraits of Nguyen Quang Huy. The hushed, thoroughly modern space, with wall-to-wall carpeting, recessed and track lighting, and bleached-white walls, also shows works of more established artists, such as painter Tran Quang Minh, whose landscapes hang at the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum.

Open daily 9:30 am to 8 pm.

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Apricot Gallery, Vietnam

40B Hang Bong Street, Hoan Kiem District
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 84 4 828 8965
Website: www.apricot-artvietnam.com

The elongated colonial-era house that houses this respected gallery is a work of art in itself, especially the central atrium originally built for light and ventilation that now holds a fish pond and stand of pole vault–high bamboo. Hanoi's University of Fine Arts, founded in 1925, has produced more than its share of talented painters, and works by many of these artists are displayed, including the bright abstracts of Thanh Chuong and the streetscapes of Le Quan. The gallery can also custom-frame any painting, build a special crate, and ship the picture overseas via DHL or Federal Express.

Open daily 8 am to 8 pm.

See + Do

Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, Vietnam

57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 84 4 824 9494
Website: www.thanglongwaterpuppet.org

It might seem a bit hokey in an Xbox age, but this 1,000-year-old art form still manages to enchant. The best place to catch a water-puppet performance is this purpose-built theater on the east side of Hoan Kiem Lake, home to a troupe that's toured Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Hidden behind a screen, a team of ten puppeteers use elaborate articulated marionettes carved from water-resistant fig wood to re-create Vietnamese legends and folktales. A nine-piece orchestra with flutes, percussion, and dan bau—a solemn one-string zither—accompanies the performances. Even if you don't understand Vietnamese, there are enough sight gags and fire- and water-spewing dragon puppets to get the gist of brisk-moving vignettes like "Catching Frogs'' and "Boat Racing.''

There are six 45-minute performances every day, from 2:45 to 9:15 pm.

See + Do

Temple of Literature, Vietnam

Quoc Tu Giam Street, Dong Da District
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 84 4 845 2917

Many travelers to Asia come down with a case of pagoda overload during their visit. So be sure to make time early on for Hanoi's most beautiful and historic monument. Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, this campus of tile-roofed sanctuaries and walled courtyards located one mile west of Hoan Kiem Lake held Vietnam's first national university. Promising Confucian scholars and court mandarins selected from across the country took three years of rigorous study in literature, poetry, and penmanship. The names of hundreds of graduates are inscribed on 82 stone stelae that rest on the backs of stone tortoises, a symbol of wisdom. The heads of some of these rock reptiles were worn smooth by students who rubbed them for good luck before exams. Outside the south wall, another monolith commands visitors to first dismount from their horses. These scooter-mad days, it's not a problem. While the Thai Hoc Courtyard is rimmed with tacky souvenir stalls, free enterprise is redeemed by the temple's enormous shade trees and placid, lotus-filled ponds.

Open daily 8 am to 5 pm.

See + Do

Hoan Kiem Lake, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

A good way to get your bearings in Hanoi is to take a quick stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, a pleasant 30-minute circuit. The lake is fringed with willows, myrtles, flame trees, and tamarinds. Legend has it that the 15th-century emperor Le Loi received a magic sword from the lake, which he used to expel Chinese occupiers. After his victory, he returned the weapon to a golden tortoise, which vanished with it into the lake's depths (Hoan Kiem means "restored sword"). An islet on the northern end of the lake contains the Chinese-style Ngoc Son Temple and the remains of an enormous seven-foot, 500-pound tortoise found (sword-free) in the murky lake in 1968. Admission to the isle, which is accessible by the fire-engine-red Huc footbridge, one of Hanoi's most photographed landmarks, is 2,000 Vietnamese dong (about 12 cents). It's also well worth rising at dawn to see the lake at its busiest, surrounded by locals practicing tai chi.

See + Do

Halong Bay

The limestone pillars of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay may have gotten the screen time in The Man With the Golden Gun, but for sheer spectacle, nothing compares to the sublime pinnacles of Halong Bay, 100 miles east of Hanoi. Many of the bay's 1,600 limestone islands and islets—the world's most extensive karst seascape—are part of a protected 580-square-mile UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cruises are the best way to appreciate the bay and the fantastically shaped formations that erupt from the South China Sea. Dozens of companies offer daylong tours from Halong City; splurge for a longer trip and spend two or three days exploring. There are numerous sea caves and grottoes as well as the primeval Cat Ba Island, where a national park protects habitat for one of the world's rarest primates, the golden-headed langur. The most comfortable way to cruise the seas is on the 38-cabin floating palace operated by Emeraude Classic Cruises (59A Ly Thai To St., Hanoi; 84-4-934-0888; www.emeraude-cruises.com). Although the design replicates that of a French paddle steamer that sailed these very waters a century earlier, you'll get the full round of modern conveniences, from sunrise tai chi classes to sea kayaks to evening movie screenings on the open-air "star deck.'' With working sails to augment its engines, the junk-style Halong Ginger offers more rustic luxury (84-4-984-2807; www.cruisehalong.com).

Cool, misty weather swathes Halong from February to April; depending on your taste, this can make the bay a bust, or even more magical. Check your boat company's cancellation policy; in the summer and fall, storms and typhoons can prompt authorities to temporarily close the bay.

See + Do

The French Quarter, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Lying to the south and east of Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi's French Quarter has grand boulevards and elegant French colonial buildings. These include the stately Opera House, based on the neo-Baroque Paris Opera, complete with gray slate tiles imported from France. One block east of the Opera House is Hanoi's Museum of History, an elaborate blend of Vietnamese palace and French villa, a style that came to be called Neo-Vietnamese. Trang Tien, the main artery of the French Quarter, is still a busy shopping street where you'll find bookshops and art galleries as well as cafés and hotels.

Eating

KOTO, Vietnam

59 Van Mieu Street, Dong Da District
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 84 4 747 0337
Website: www.koto.com.au/koto_hanoi.asp

Just across the street from the 1,000-year-old Temple of Literature, this teaching restaurant offers an educational opportunity for hundreds of Vietnamese—and a delicious, affordable lunch for customers. KOTO (the acronym stands for "Know One, Teach One") is the creation of Jimmy Pham, a Vietnamese-Korean raised in Australia, who founded the nonprofit restaurant to train disadvantaged youth and former street kids. The menu, which is sprinkled with inspirational quotes by Confucius and Dr. Albert Schweitzer, offers a broad range of Vietnamese dishes, including bun cha and nem tom (rice-paper rolls stuffed with prawns and herbs). KOTO is a popular lunch spot, but the four-story, 120-seat eatery can accommodate the crush. Photos of past KOTO grads hang from the walls of the busy ground floor, which has a mix of table and stool seating. For a more leisurely meal, climb the narrow staircase to the second-floor Temple Bar—which is outfitted with ceiling fans, muted lanterns, and long, low banquettes and cushions—and sip a Temple Tipple (Havana Club rum, lime, honey, and lemongrass) while sending gloating e-mail (Wi-Fi is free), or dine alfresco on the roof's Treetop Terrace.

Open Tuesdays through Sundays 7 am to 10 pm, Mondays 7 am to 5 pm.

Eating

Cha Ca La Vong, Vietnam

14 Cha Ca
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 4 825 3929

This bare-bones eatery in the Old City market district has been around for more than a century. The service is monosyllabic and there are no napkins, only plastic-wrapped wipes. There is no menu, either, because the place serves only one dish. But that one dish—fried fish—is absolutely delicious. Each set of two to four diners gets a miniature charcoal brazier with a skillet filled with sizzling pieces of fish, tinted with turmeric. While the fish cooks, diners toss basil, dill, cilantro, and scallions into the pan then anoint the fish with various piquant condiments. The fish comes with sides of rice noodles and crushed peanuts. Beer and soft drinks are available.

Eating

Café Moca, Vietnam

14-16 Nha Tho
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 4 825 6334

Run by American Jeff Richardson and his Vietnamese partner, Truong Viet Binh, Café Moca is a busy establishment near the city center. Seven varietal and blended coffees are served over the counter, while the menu has 16 types of coffee drinks, from double espresso and café latte to iced versions and even Indian spiced coffee (Starbucks, eat your heart out). The café is in a Sino-French building with marble tables, generous wooden armchairs, and vast windows looking out onto the street. Vietnamese, European, and Indian dishes are available as well as coffee.

Eating

Café Lam, Vietnam

60 Nguyen Huu Huan
Hanoi, Vietnam

One of Hanoi's oldest cafés, this slightly musty one-room establishment is practically a historical monument. Its proprietor, Nguyen Lam, provided coffee and often loans to the city's impoverished artist community during the war, and rumor has it that he is sitting on an art collection now worth a fortune. He serves Vietnamese-style hot and iced coffee (with thick, sweet condensed milk) to a crowd of faithful regulars.

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The Lost Art, Vietnam

99 Nguyen Hue Street, District 1
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 914 0108

Interior designers, design-driven expats, and quality-conscious Vietnamese all frequent Bao Toan's tasteful downtown showroom, which features his custom furniture and period reproductions. The graceful, high-end pieces, frequently made from mahogany or recycled old timber and fabrics such as cow skin, are often inspired by Art Deco styles. Made-to-order pieces take three weeks to build; the store can ship them worldwide. Bao also offers a full interior-design service, from concept through construction to installation.

Open daily 8:30 am to 6 pm; call ahead Sundays and holidays.

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Gaya, Vietnam

39 Ton That Thiep Street, District 1
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 914 3769
Website: www.gayavietnam.com

This is a one-stop design center for upgrading your style. Gaya reps some of Southeast Asia's top tastemakers, from dressmaker Romyda Keth to furniture designer Lawson Johnston, who uses traditional materials like water hyacinth to fashion mod "egg" chairs. You can also pick up elegant beds, tables, chopsticks, stoneware, and linens. Best impulse buy: a picnic basket woven from water hyacinth and equipped with bright-orange lacquered bowls and plates.

Open daily 9 am to 9 pm.

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Apricot Gallery, Vietnam

50–52 Mac Thi Buoi Street, District 1
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 822 7962
Website: www.apricotgallery.com.vn

While Vietnam's art scene rests in Hanoi, the walls of this spacious three-story gallery, originally a French colonial building, are filled with oil paintings by some of the nation's most prominent or promising artists. Among those featured are Bui Huu Hung, who specializes in haunting, classical portraits on lacquered wood, and Le Quan, whose bold brushwork found a customer in Bill Clinton. The gallery can also custom-frame the canvases, and crate and ship the art anywhere in the world via DHL or Federal Express.

Open daily 8:30 am to 8:30 pm.

See + Do

The Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Two hours' drive south of Saigon, Vietnam melts into a waterland of rivers, rice paddies, and canals. The fertile Delta region, formed by the silt-rich Mekong River, is the nation's breadbasket. Outside Vinh Long, a maze of river islands supports countless fruit orchards. Farther south, the alluvial plains have been cut into a patchwork of rice fields and shrimp farms, while scattered sanctuaries attract numerous bird species, including the rare redheaded saurus crane. The main city, Can Tho, on the south bank of the Bassac River, hums with waterborne trade. Four miles to the east is Cai Rang floating market, the Delta's largest, where scores of sampans and barges display their wares atop boat masts. Cruise along one of the waterways and you'll see locals trading from boat to boat, tending vegetable gardens, or working their abundant paddies. Delta denizens often live on houseboats or in huts on stilts that double as fish farms: Inhabitants feed the fish beneath the floors of their homes then haul them out when it's time to eat or sell them. The best way to see the Delta is to use a tour agent. Ho Chi Minh City–based upmarket operator Trails of Indochina will organize boat or cycling trips to untouristed villages; clients even have the option of donating a sampan to a needy local family (10/8 Phan Dinh Giot St.; 84-8-844-1005; www.trailsofindochina.com).

See + Do

Cu Chi Tunnels

It's difficult to regard the orderly rubber trees and rice paddies and realize this rural landscape 40 miles northwest of Saigon was the most heavily bombed, gassed, and defoliated target in the history of warfare. Through a labyrinth of underground passageways and rooms, Vietcong rebels were able to control this rural area, emerging from trapdoors at night to lay booby traps or ambush patrols, then retreat to well-equipped lairs 30 feet below the surface that could withstand B-52 air strikes. A section of the 150-mile tunnel network has been developed and, thankfully, enlarged (the original passages were barely 18 inches wide and 30 inches tall). Saigontourist, along with every private tour company in town, offers a half-day tunnel excursion, usually with hotel pickup and return (84-8-829-8914; www.etravelvietnam.com). You'll find displays of gruesome booby traps, a screening of a heavy-handed 1967 North Vietnamese propaganda film about a pretty Cu Chi peasant girl turned "American-killer hero," and several winding, lengthy tunnels to navigate (flashlights are provided). And for an extra $13, you can squeeze off a ten-round clip—the munitions menu includes a choice of M16 or AK-47 rifles—at the on-site firing range. Go as early as possible to avoid Ho Chi Minh City rush hour traffic and tour-bus crowds.

Eating

Quan An Ngon, Vietnam

138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 829 9449

The owner of this popular restaurant scoured the streets for the best dishes he could find, then offered the sellers a gig at his new restaurant at a regular wage. Thus Quan An Ngon was born in 2001. Now 20 or more former street vendors stand in the restaurant's open-air dining area preparing specialties such as spring rolls, bun cha (char-grilled meat and peanuts over rice noodles) and bun bo hue (spicy soup with seafood and pork). The communal tables are packed with locals—always an auspicious sign.

Eating

Mandarin, Vietnam

11a Ngo Van Nam Street
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 822 9783

Mandarin, a sister property to Hoi An, is a sophisticated place; there are Chinese screen paintings and timber beams, and often a live classical trio plays downstairs (call ahead to check the schedule). Chinese dishes are on the menu, but the most successful are those that strike the traditional Vietnamese chord of spicy, fishy, salty, sour, and caramelized notes. For starters, try the bay scallops grilled in their shells and dressed with chopped scallions, peanuts, and herbs. Main courses include costly abalone and shark's fin, as well as succulent beer-steamed crabs.

Eating

Lemongrass, Vietnam

4 Nguyen Thiep Street, District 1
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 822 0496
Website: www.bongsencorporation.com

Tucked away on a side street just a block from the Opera House and Lam Son Square, this 80-seat restaurant serves a mix of locals, expats, and tipped-off travelers. The cozy dining room—tile floors, wood wainscoting—is attractive, and success hasn't spoiled the experience: The southern Vietnamese fare remains fresh and affordable. Don't miss the grilled-beef salad with mango, or chicken sautéed with chile and lemongrass. The waitstaff is sometimes stymied by the narrow, three-story layout—second-floor seating will ensure the best service. Reservations are recommended for dinner, which is more of a local affair than lunch.

Open daily 11 am to 2 pm and 5 to 10 pm.

Eating

Hoi An, Vietnam

11 Le Thanh Ton Street
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 84 8 823 7694

This restaurant specializes in the intricate cuisine of the eponymous central coast town, which was influenced by progressive waves of settlers (Chinese and French). A delicious specialty is plump, buttery shrimp grilled in a banana leaf and dipped in a sauce of lime juice and salt. The cao lau is also superb: thin slices of pork, shrimp, and crumbled morsels of crunchy sesame cake tumbled on top of wide rice noodles, served with an aromatic bowl of marrow-bone broth.

See + Do

Cambodian Genocide Museum and Killing Fields

This pair of Phnom Penh sites, Tuol Sleng prison and Choeung Ek killing field, vividly commemorate the abuses and the victims of the nightmarish 1975–79 regime of the Khmer Rouge, during which an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians—20 percent of the population—were executed or perished from disease or famine. At Tuol Sleng, the Khmer Rouge converted a former high school in the south-central suburbs into an interrogation and torture center. Of its estimated 17,000 prisoners, only a dozen were spared death; one of the survivors, artist Vann Nath, chronicled the horrific electrocutions and waterboarding sessions in graphic paintings now displayed at the museum. More haunting are the black-and-white mug shots taken of each prisoner, including young children; doomed detainees gaze at the camera with looks of fear, fatalism, anger, and even nervous grins. After "confessing," they were trucked 10 miles south of the city to an old fruit orchard in rural Choeung Ek commune, beaten to death with hoes (bullets were considered too expensive), and buried in mass graves. Eighty-six of the site's 129 death pits have been unearthed, and the bones of their 8,985 victims are now housed in a vaulted, glass-sided charnel house. The wooded grounds are oddly tranquil—until you learn the executioners smashed babies against the trunk of a flame-of-the-forest tree. Troubling, yet unforgettable, the site is marred by a tacky gift shop selling the usual tourist-oriented bric-a-brac as well as banned wildlife items like tiger teeth. The two sites can easily be toured in a half-day; it's best to visit Choeung Ek first, in the cool of morning.—Christopher Cox

Choeung Ek open daily 8 am to 5 pm.

Tuol Sleng open daily 7 am to 5:30 pm.

See + Do

Tonle Sap

Just south of Siem Reap lies the Tonle Sap ("Great Lake" in Khmer), the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. One of the hydrological wonders of the world, the lake quintuples in size during the summer, when the monsoon-swollen Mekong rises so sharply that part of the torrent veers into the Tonle Sap River at Phnom Penh, actually reversing the current of this 60-mile waterway and raising water levels of the lake more than 25 feet. To handle the annual fluctuation, fishermen live in stilted houses or floating villages, complete with floating schools, police posts, temples, and crocodile pens. Local nonprofit Osmose (12-832-812; www.osmosetonlesap.net; osmose@online.com.kh) offers day trips and overnight stays in Prek Toal, a large floating village, and bird-watching in its nearby UN Biosphere Reserve, a sanctuary for such rare species as the greater adjutant (a bird, not a military officer).

See + Do

Day Spas in Siem Reap

Nearly every top-tier Siem Reap hotel has its own spa, but even budget travelers can indulge in the pampering Siem Reap offers. Reputable massage and reflexology parlors, as well as day spas, that cater to expat professionals and aching tourists alike can be found near the Old Market. Located near the Central Market, behind ANZ Royal Bank, Frangipani offers a full menu of body treatments for men and women, as well as aromatherapy and hot-stone massage, by experienced therapists (615 Hup Guan Street; 63-964-391; info@frangipanisiemreap.com; www.frangipanisiemreap.com). Bangkok-based Body Tune has set up a 22-room operation in an old French colonial shophouse along the river for those who want more ambience with their rubdowns, manicures, or body scrubs (63-764-141; www.bodytune.co.th).

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See + Do

Angkor Wat

The apotheosis of Khmer civilization, 12th-century Angkor Wat remains the national symbol of Cambodia. It's well worth spending at least half a day here. Make sure to see the Churning of the Ocean of Milk along the East Gallery, an epic bas-relief describing a tug-of-war between gods and demons to turn the ocean into an elixir of immortality. Like Ta Prohm and Bayon, Angkor Wat is on the heavily traveled tourist circuit. Ask your driver to take you to the eastern gates instead of the busier western gates.

Eating

Viroth's Restaurant, Cambodia

246 Wat Bo Street
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tel: 855 16 951 800
Email: viroth@online.com.kh

Located east of the Siem Reap River (near La Résidence d'Angkor) in a quieter, mostly residential section of town anchored by the venerated Wat Bo temple, this airy, candlelit restaurant turns out Khmer fusion cuisine. Khmer/French architect Lisa Ros's elegant, contemporary design employs raised decks, shade trees, and silk scrims to foster privacy in the 150-seat space. This way, you can enjoy your fragrant Khmer-style chicken, roasted with ginger, onion, morning glory, and Chinese basil, or the lake fish with ginger, spring onions, and local herbs without being disturbed by other diners (usually a mix of expats and small groups of travelers).

Open daily.

Eating

Meric, Cambodia

Sivutha Boulevard
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tel: 855 63 966 000
Website: www.hoteldelapaixangkor.com

A foodie favorite since its 2005 opening, the Hotel de la Paix's fine-dining establishment marries Continental classics and Khmer creations developed by French-born executive chef Joannes Riviere. His open kitchen turns out French-style pepper steak, a tender Australian beef sirloin coated with crushed Cambodian black pepper, and grilled chicken with banana-bud salad. Mull over the menu with a Khmer martini (kaffir lime– and lemongrass-infused vodka with dry vermouth). The highly seasonal Khmer table, with dishes such as dried snake and green mango salad or grilled prahok fish paste and crudités, is available à la carte or, for the more intrepid, as a seven-course prix fixe. Book a day or two ahead during the high season.

$200-$299
Editor's Pick
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Hotel

Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor, Cambodia

1 Vithei Charles de Gaulle, Khum Svay Dang Kum
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Tel: 855 63 963 888
Email: ask-us.siemreap@raffles.com
Website: www.raffles.com

The attractive Art Deco decor is probably this famed hotel's greatest draw. Definitely don't bother staying here if you can't get one of the "landmark" rooms in the original section (that was recently renovated), many of which overlook the lush, landscaped gardens. The new wing is fairly charm-free, with rooms that are noticeably smaller than those in the main house. But do stop by to have a Sidecar in the classically "IndoChine-Style" Elephant Bar, and then stick around for one of the best Apsara (classical Khmer dance) performances in town.

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Siam Square, Thailand

Phayathai Road, Phatumwan
Bangkok 10400, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 694 1222

This veritable shopping sprawl stretches across central Bangkok from Rama 1 Road to Chulalongkorn University and from Phayathai Road to Henri Dunant Road. Trendy young Thais flock to this maze of tiny boutiques to keep their closets stocked with the latest looks. No surprise, then, that one of the most popular boutiques should be called "It Happened to Be a Closet." Here walls are hung with Indian embroidered dresses and weighty Central Asian skirts displayed like works of art (226 Siam Square, Soi 3; 66-2-658-4696). The youthful groove goes Himalayan at nearby Issue where Mongolian blankets are recut as fitted blazers (266/10 Siam Square, Soi 3; 66-2-658-4416). Sneakerheads and hip-hop kids head to Kinky shop for fresh finds like limited-edition kicks and graphic-prints tees (Under Ground Lido Theatre, Siam Square, Soi 2; 66-2-252-0334). Break for cupcakes at Vanilla Industry (422/1–3 Siam Square, Soi 11; 66-2-658-4720) or for mango and sticky rice at the adorable Mango Tango café (226/1 Siam Square, Soi 2; 66-2-658-3829).

American-size shoppers may initially be shocked by the often childlike size range—a women's medium is an XL here. But it's worth the slight hit to your self-esteem when you see the low prices being charged for these handmade, often one-of-a-kind creations. If you find something you like, just buy it; its difficult to trace your way back through this warren of bargains.

See + Do

Wat Pho, Thailand

Th. Thai Wang or Soi Chetuphon, Phra Nakhon
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 225 9595
Website: www.watpho.com

Just south of the Grand Palace complex near the Tha Chang pier, this temple, which was also Thailand's first public education center, was originally built by King Rama I in the 18th century, and today covers 20 acres. In one pavilion lies the enormous reclining Buddha (150 feet long and 49 feet high), a golden figure with an enigmatic smile and soles inlaid with mother of pearl. The hallway around this big Buddha is lined by smaller statues, fronted by tiers of candles that burn during Buddhist holidays, and fluttering with little squares of gold leaf stuck on by supplicants. Wat Pho is also home to Thailand's most famous school of massage. Although you may have to wait half a day until a therapist is available, it's worth it: A fantastic 60-minute full-body massage costs less than $8.

See + Do

Prasart Museum, Thailand

9 Krung Thep Kritha 4A Lane, Krung Thep Kritha Road, Huamark Sub-District
Bangkok 10240, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 379 3601

This teakwood house is an exact replica of the former queen's house and much of the museum's Thai art and antiques come from the royal collection. Located on the outskirts of Bangkok, visitors wander through authentic Thai pavilions set amid perfectly manicured gardens dotted with Sukhothai-period terra-cotta ceramics. The affable owner lives adjacent to the museum and can often be spotted roaming the grounds of this center, which he opened to educate those interested in Thai antiquities.

Open Thursdays through Sundays 10 am to 3 pm.

See + Do

Pak Klong Talaad (Flower Market), Thailand

Thanon Chakkaphet, Maharaj Road, Phra Nakhon
Bangkok 10200, Thailand

The buying and selling frenzy at this market starts around 2 am when boats on the Chao Phraya River begin to dock with a cornucopia of fresh cut flowers, fruits, and vegetables. In order to find the frenzy, follow your nose from Wat Pho along Maharaj Road with the Chao Phraya River on your right-hand side. The bounties of orchids make an excellent photo opportunity but don't forget to stop and smell the lotus flowers, marigolds, zinnias, jasmine, and roses. Be sure to get there early—by late morning, all the blooms will have made their way to the city's hotels, restaurants, flower shops, and funeral parlors.

See + Do

National Museum, Thailand

Th. Na Phra That/Sanam Luang, Phra Nakhon
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 224 1333
Website: www.thailandmuseum.com

Everything you ever wanted to know about Thailand—its history, art, religions, culture, and more—in a complex that includes a former royal residence and chapel. The artifacts here (everything from sacred Buddha images, royal emblems and precious stones, to costumes, weapons and musical instruments) cover Thai history from Neolithic times through the 20th century, and are a treasure trove of artistic (and academic) riches, plus. Make the effort to get up early and get here for the free guided tours in English on Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 9:30 a.m.

Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

See + Do

M.R. Kukrit's Historical House, Thailand

19 Soi Phra Pinit, South Sathorn Road
Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 286 8185

Former Thai prime minister Mom Rajawongse Kukrit Pramoj lovingly assembled these five traditional teak stilt houses over the course of 20 years. Ceramics, handpainted masks, and Buddha images fill the intimate spaces while serene gardens overflow with tropical plants and flowers plus Kukrit's beloved imported bonsai-style trees. Surrounded by skyscrapers, the traditional compound is less well known than the Jim Thompson House and offers a respite amid the bustling metropolis. Although you can take tours, the grounds are also a great place to just escape the city and linger for a few hours.

Open Saturdays and Sundays and by appointment.

See + Do

Jim Thompson House, Thailand

6 Soi Kasemsan 2, th. Rama I Road, Pathumwan
Bangkok 10330, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 216 7368
Website: www.jimthompsonhouse.com

James H.W. Thompson was perhaps the most legendary expat in all of Thailand (rumor has it that letters addressed simply 'Jim Thompson, Bangkok' reached him in a city of over three million). An American adventurer and entrepreneur who came to Bangkok during World War II as a U.S. spy, Thompson later returned to settle down and single-handedly reinvent the Thai silk industry. He not only made the country's silk famous throughout the world, he also collected an amazing array of Asian artifacts including traditional Thai paintings, sculpture, and porcelain dating back as far as 6th century A.D., which he used to decorate the buildings and gardens of this gorgeous, idealized (and subtly Westernized) version of a traditional Thai home on a back khlong. He held court like a latter-day maharaja until 1967, when he disappeared during a trip to the jungles of Malaysia. The main branch of his renowned silk shop still operates in Bangkok to this day.

See + Do

Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaeo, Thailand

Th. Na Phra Lan, Phra Nakhon
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 623 5500
Website: www.palaces.thai.net

One of Thailand's most impressive sights: 54 acres featuring a collection of palatial buildings, golden stupas, sculpted nine-foot demons, and richly ornamented wats (temples). The architecture spans more than 200 years, and the highlight is undoubtedly the glorious Wat Phra Keo, the most sacred Buddhist sight in Thailand. The Wat is a complex of buildings culminating in the Chapel Royal, home to the venerated Emerald Buddha. As at all Thai temples, you must dress modestly (no bare knees or shoulders, no flip-flops) and remove your shoes before entering. The object of all the prostrations inside the Ubosoth, or Assembly Hall, is a tiny jadeite Buddha. Just two feet tall, the statue is so sacred that the king himself changes its clothing for each new season.

Ticket booth closes daily at 3:30pm; grounds at 4:30 p.m.

Eating

Mango Tree, Thailand

37 Soi Anumarn Rachthon off Suriwong, Bangrak
Bangkok 10500, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 236 2820
Website: www.coca.com/mangotree/index.php

When Bangkok locals want to celebrate a big occasion, they book a table at this elegant Thai restaurant—either in the entry courtyard, where live traditional music and (Thursday through Saturday) Thai dance accompanies dinner, or in a fancy, quieter wooden booth inside. Cross the faded Oriental carpet and lower yourself into a booth or pad across a raised dais to recline against cushions around a shin-high table. The classic Thai food is exquisitely presented, well prepared, and doesn't cater to farang (foreign) palates by lowering the chili pepper quotient. The recipes here, like shrimp stir-fried in Choo Chee curry sauce, can be five-alarm hot. You've been warned.

Eating

Gallery Café, Thailand

86–100 Soi Captain Bush, Charoen Krung, Soi 30
Bangkok 10500, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 639 5580

Owned by one of Asia's top antique dealers, this naturally lit, well-located restaurant near the Oriental Hotel is generously decorated with indigenous treasures and hip fashion finds from the boutique at the entrance. Load up on sparkly handbags and silky frocks while waiting for your table. Then settle in for appetizers like crispy shrimp cakes, Thai tuna salad tossed with slivers of powerful chiles, and succulent chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves. Thai curries on this extensive menu range from a mild green chicken curry to the fiery red Malaysian beef variety, all equally delicious and available vegetarian-style as well. Stir-fry chicken with cashew nuts over fragrant rice is a recommended dish for those avoiding Thai spice, though all menu items can be made mild upon request.

Open daily 10:30 am to 10:30 pm.

Eating

The Deck, Thailand

36–38 Soi Pratoo Nok Yoong, Maharat Road, Rattanakosin Island
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 221 9158
Website: www.arunresidence.com/dining.htm

Savvy diners who can find the barely marked, shrine-filled alley across from Wat Pho will be gastronomically and visually rewarded at this waterfront café (follow the signs for the Arun Residence across from the main entrance to Wat Pho). Watch the pale-pink sunset against the spires of the Temple of the Dawn while sipping the signature Arun Surprise cocktail (vodka with fresh lychee and citrus juices). The cardiologist owners converted this 80-year-old house into a funky five-room guesthouse, and the restaurant keeps patrons' health in mind with dishes like red snapper grilled with dill sauce. But they also indulge diners with Australian sirloin, spicy Thai curries, and desserts like lavender crème brulée and homemade ice cream.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 11 am to 10 pm, Fridays through Sundays 11 am to 11 pm.

Eating

Cabbages & Condoms, Thailand

10 Sukhumvit Soi 12, Khlong Toei
Bangkok 10110, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 229 4610
Website: www.pda.or.th/restaurant/default.asp

Don't let the name fool you into thinking that this is a hot spot in the red-light district. Cabbages & Condoms is in fact a quirky, tasty restaurant in the fish market district run by a wholly respectable Thai charity, the Population and Community Development Association, devoted to helping the country's rural poor. In other words, you get to support a worthy cause while you tuck into your marinated chicken satay. Follow the little path under the Cabbages & Condoms sign, duck under a passageway through a modern building, and enter the restaurant's huge courtyard, with shade trees dripping with white holiday lights, and a sheet of water cascading quietly down a longstone wall. The food is traditional Thai with a few unexpected touches. Take a friend and share the massive mieng khum, an ancient Thai appetizer consisting of a dozen tiny nests of ingredients (lemon, dried shrimp, peanuts, ginger, deep-fried coconut, chilis, and shallots), each piled onto an herbal leaf to be wrapped up like a present and dipped into the hot, sweet sauce. For presents to take home, there's a fantastic little gift shop that sells inexpensive crafts from villages across Thailand.

$300-$399
Editor's Pick
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Hotel

The Sukhothai, Thailand

13/3 South Sathorn Road, Sathorn
Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Tel: 66 2 344 8888
Email: info@sukhothai.com
Website: www.sukhothai.com

"Sukhothai" means "dawn of happiness," and the Sukhothai period (1238–1376) was the golden age of Thai art and architecture. The Zen atmosphere at this refined 210-room hotel draws on both definition and history. Low pavilions, designed in a clean, angular style that would have impressed the staunchest Bauhaus devotees, are separated by pools with lotus flowers floating on the surface and tropical gardens. Accommodations are equally tranquil with Thai silk fabrics in airy silvers, golds and greens, teak paneling, and huge mirrored bathrooms. All 82 suites are technologically tricked-out with iPod connections, Wi-Fi, and flat-screen LCD TV's. The hotel's well-regarded Celadon restaurant specializes in Thai cuisine, like Yam Huaplee, a banana blossom salad that the chef tosses with poached prawns and serves with a side of jasmine rice. In 2006, designer Ed Tuttle came back to give the Colonnade restaurant, known for its international and Asian cuisine, a modern facelift with high ceilings, smooth lines, and large windows overlooking a shallow pool with stupas. There are also international and Italian restaurants on-site and the Lumpini station subway is within walking distance.

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Nightlife

New Asia Bar, Singapore

Swissôtel The Stamford, Level 71/72, 2 Stamford Road
 178882, Singapore
Tel: 65 6837 3322
Website: www.swissotel.com/EN/Destinations/Singapore/Swissotel+The+Stamford/HOTEL+HOME/Gallery/Dining/New+Asia+Bar.htm

The views from this panoramic split-level bar 71 flights above Singapore could make anyone's head spin. For an even trippier time, make advance reservations to access the 71st level, where the floors slant 20 degrees downward for an even better view. Top-40 weeknights give way to a 1970s/80s retro vibe on the weekend, attracting an older clientele that grooves to the back-in-time vibe up here in the thin air.

Open Sundays through Tuesdays 3 pm to 1 am, Wednesdays and Thursdays 3 pm to 2 am, and Fridays and Saturdays 3 pm to 3 am.

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Orchard Road, Singapore

, Singapore

Singapore's main shopping drag is a riot of every brand imaginable and then some, mixing designer bags with American snack foods, bespoke perfumes with sassy party dresses. The sheer range of offerings can be overwhelming, so we suggest sticking to this relatively simple path: Nip into Exquisite by Salon 916 for a shampoo that feels more like massage, plus Singapore's speediest blow-dry (Orchard Parade Hotel, 1 Tanglin Rd.; 65-6735-2917). European and hot Indian brands abound across the street at Palais Renaissance (390 Orchard Rd.; 65-6737-1520), and the most aromatic treasures can be found below ground amid the bespoke perfumes sold at Flaming Queen (B1–12 Palais Renaissance; 65-6235-3918; www.flaming-queen.com). Detour down Scotts Road for deals that spill out from tiny storefronts inside Far East Plaza (14 Scotts Rd.; 95-9673-6477; www.fareast-plaza.com), especially the Indian skirts and tunics at Silkland Store (03–61; 65-6734-4843) and the jaw-dropping bikini bargains at Sheer Romance (01–96; 65-6235-8852). Wisma Atria mall (435 Orchard Rd.; 25-6235-2103; www.wismaonline.com) offers international casual-wear brands, but of the options there, it's a local name, Southaven, that's worth a look for well-cut and well-priced cotton frocks (01–12/13; 65-6734-6608). Eclecticism, also at Wisma Atria, is another must stop for party dresses and playclothes (01–07; 65-6732-0938; www.eclecticismshop.com). Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and the like can be found inside Ngee An City (391 Orchard Rd.; www.ngeeanncity.com.sg), but it's much more fun to cross the street and check out what Singapore's own talent is up to—for example, the sturdy yet stylish travel bags from ProjectShopBloodBrothers (03/41–44 Paragon mall, 290 Orchard Rd.; 65-6735-0071).

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Little India, Singapore

, Singapore

Visit Singapore's vibrant Indian neighborhood on a weekday morning before temperatures rise and the streets begin to swarm with local shoppers. Take in the fortune-tellers, flower garland vendors, and aromatic spice grinders; wander past lacquered Hindu temples and sparkling sari shops before heading into the warrens of Serangoon Plaza, which houses Mustafa Centre, a jumble of Indian imports like pashmina shawls, elaborate fabrics, and sandalwood beads plus bargain brand-name electronics (320 Serangoon Rd.; 65-6295-5855; www.mustafa.com.sg). When the smell of spices entices, head to Komala Vilas for satisfying South Indian vegetarian food like potato masala and dhal (lentil curry), which make up for the utter lack of ambience (76–78 Serangoon Rd.; 65-6293-6980; www.komalavilas.com.sg).

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Chocolate Research Facility, Singapore

01–30 Millenia Walk, 9 Raffles Boulevard
 039596, Singapore
Tel: 65 6338 5191
Website: chocolateresearchfacility.com

This sleek all-white "lab" in the Millenia Walk mall stocks 100 bespoke chocolate bars in innovative flavors from bergamot to yam with almond. The bars, made from Belgian cocoa, include an unexpected center layer: Standouts include Sichuan Pepper, White Sesame, and French Vanilla from the Exotic Series, which is wrapped in animal-print packaging. The Connoisseur Series goes to the dark side at 40 to 76 percent cocoa, sourced from single-origin plantations in Ghana, Java, and São Tomé.

Open daily 11 am to 9 pm.

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Chinatown, Singapore

, Singapore

Scattered amidst the ports and warehouses of the Singapore River are jewelry-box-size gold shops; grocery stores spilling out into the street with abalone, dried sea horses, birds' nests, shark fins, and fruit; and signs in Chinese advertising calligraphers and lantern makers. The six-story Yue Hwa sells everything from Chinese tea leaves to affordable silk cheongsams and other curios (70 Eu Tong Sen St.; 65-6538-4222; www.yuehwa.com.sg). Sitting alongside the antique shops are hip boutiques like Front Row, which stocks up-and-coming Asian designers (5 Ann Siang Rd.; 65-6224-5502; frontrowsingapore.com). Peek into Flair (The Scarlet; 33 Erskine Rd., 01–02; 65-6538-7505; www.flair.sg) and Egg3 (33 Erskine Rd., 01–10; 65-6536-6977; www.eggthree.com) for fun gadgets and knickknacks. Architects, designers, and other local trendsetters appreciate the chic minimalism of dim sum eatery Dim Joy, where chefs from China's Guangdong Province keep the dumplings juicy and entirely authentic (80 Neil Rd.; 65-6220-6986; www.dimjoy.com).

See + Do

Singapore Zoo & Night Safari, Singapore

80 Mandai Lake Road, Mid-island, 10 miles from city center
, Singapore
Tel: 65 6269 3411
Website: www.zoo.com.sg

Most Asian zoos are squalid, depressing animal prisons, but the Singapore Zoo, on the northern side of the island, is one of the best in the world—home to more than 2,500 wild creatures, most in open settings where they can roam free. Among the must-sees here are the world's largest social colony of orangutans and the ten-foot-long, prehistoric-looking Komodo dragons from Indonesia. Since most tropical animals doze during the heat of the day, the best time to come is late afternoon, when you can wander around and then head to the trails of the Night Safari Zoo next door, open 6 p.m. to midnight. The first of its kind when it opened in 1994, this twilight zoo is as close to a real jungle adventure as most of us will ever want to experience. Walking tracks and tramways crisscross a 100-acre park, giving an intimate glimpse of more than 100 species in a wild rain-forest habitat. You can trek on your own or join a guided walking or tram tour; either way, you're sure to have up-close encounters with wildlife—from Malayan tigers, rhinos, and zebras to timid mouse deer and slow lorises (www.nightsafari.com.sg).

See + Do

Red Dot Design Museum, Singapore

28 Maxwell Road
 069120, Singapore
Tel: 65 6327 8027
Website: www.red-dot.sg

In 2005, the former Singapore Traffic Police Headquarters was transformed into a creative hub dubbed the Red Dot Traffic building. Its main attraction is this intimate, funky museum showcasing excellence in commercial design from around the globe. Interactive installations and exhibitions will engage design geeks and neophytes alike. Every first Saturday and Sunday of the month, the museum hosts MAAD (Market for Artists & Designers), a festive marketplace for original wares.

Open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays 11 am to 6 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11 am to 8 pm.

See + Do

National Museum of Singapore, Singapore

93 Stamford Road
, Singapore
Tel: 65 6332 3659
Website: www.nationalmuseum.sg

The museum's neo-Palladian facade in central Singapore sparkles since its much-needed whitewashing in 2006, but what's inside is infinitely more awe-inspiring. Singaporean architect Mok Wei Wei created 52-foot-high glass and steel gallery additions, allowing this century-old institution to mount cutting-edge exhibitions on topics somewhat unexpected for this conservative city-state. Now avant-garde photography has a place amid excellent permanent historical displays covering subjects like antique ethnic costumes. The museum also has a rotating calendar of lectures and cultural events.

Open daily 10 am to 8 pm.

See + Do

Bumboat Rides, Singapore

Boat Quay, Marina Bay
, Singapore

One of the best ways to get your bearings in Singapore is to take a river cruise in a bumboat. These sturdy, low-slung vessels were once the main transport for commercial goods in Singapore; now they're floating tour buses. The cruises, which wind along the Singapore River past skyscrapers, colonial landmarks, and traditional Chinese shophouses, last just over an hour. The boats depart from Boat Quay in Marina Bay, a major shipping center 50 years ago that's now lined with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Take your bumboat cruise in the evening, and then pop by Harry's Bar, at number 28, for sundowners and live jazz (65-6538-3029; www.harrys.com.sg/boatquay.htm).

See + Do

Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore

1 Empress Place, Financial District
 179555, Singapore
Tel: 65 6332 2982
Website: www.acm.org.sg

Singapore's confluence of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures makes it the ideal place to learn about these civilizations and their historic interactions, and this museum near the mouth of the Singapore River is the best place to start. Occupying a noble Palladian pile, the museum has 11 exhibit halls filled with more than 1,300 superb works of art, rare antiques, and cultural artifacts illuminating such subjects as Singapore's maritime history and the impact of Hinduism and Buddhism on the nation's culture. There are temporary exhibits—on, say, Singaporean mosques or Chinese brush painting—and an ongoing series of lectures by international scholars. A second outpost—located in the restored Tao Nan School, built in 1910—focuses on Peranakan culture, the unique outgrowth of unions between Chinese settlers and local Malay women (39 Armenian St.; 65-6332-7591; peranakanmuseum.sg).

Open Mondays 1 to 7 pm, Tuesdays through Thursdays 9 am to 7 pm, Fridays 9 am to 9 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays 9 am to 7 pm.

See + Do

Substation, Singapore

45 Armenian Street
 179936, Singapore
Tel: 65 6337 7535
Website: www.substation.org

Those who know Singapore for its sometimes repressive government will be delightfully surprised by this boundary-pushing, multidisciplinary arts center. The small downstairs gallery mounts innovative visual exhibitions, though it was forced to take down antigovernment images a few years back. Beyond that sits a theater for live performances and often obscure art-house flicks. The café with outdoor seating is a magnet for young Singaporean artistic and activist types.

Open daily 11 am to 6 pm.

$400 or more
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Hotel

Raffles Hotel, Singapore

1 Beach Road, Financial District
, Singapore
Tel: 65 6337 1886
Email: raffles@raffles.com
Website: www.raffleshotel.com

This legendary property, built in 1887, is probably Singapore's most famous tourist attraction. Long before the 1991 renovation that transformed the hotel from a run-down curio into a gleaming landmark, a Singapore Sling at the hotel's Long Bar, where the sugary pink cocktail was first mixed, was de rigueur for visitors. Some say the old girl now gleams too much: The public areas on the first three floors have been turned into a mall-like shopping and dining complex trading on the hotel's famous name. Hotel guests, though, still get to experience the elegant ease of colonial-era Southeast Asia. The 103 standard suites have high ceilings, antique reproduction furnishings, Oriental carpets on polished teak floors, and small sitting rooms and dressing areas. The 12 Personality Suites, which have spacious parlors and dining areas, also include photographs, letters, and memorabilia of some of the hotel's famous guests, such as Rudyard Kipling, Charlie Chaplin, Noël Coward, and Somerset Maugham (who wrote many of his most famous stories here). The signature restaurant, the Raffles Grill, is a bit stuffy and more than a bit overpriced, but a full breakfast overlooking the courtyard shouldn't be missed.

Eating

Mag's Wine Kitchen, Singapore

86 Circular Road
 049438, Singapore
Tel: 65 6438 3836
Website: www.magswinekitchen.com

Though set up like a bar—one raised woodblock communal table extends the length of the room—food is hardly an afterthought at this wine and cigar spot behind Boat Quay on Circular Road. The compact kitchen—run by Mag Tang herself—turns out some of Singapore's most delicious fare. Tang has even been knighted for her work importing from France's Champagne region. European-influenced dishes include a salad of smoked duck infused with coffee bean and tea, or crusty homemade bread for dipping into foie gras macerated with port and Armagnac. But the real indulgences come at dessert: In straight-laced Singapore, the melted chocolate fondant is one of the island's most worthwhile sins. If you'd prefer not to share the experience, book the upstairs private dining room, which adjoins an impressive wine cellar stocked with 2,000 of Tang's recent purchases.

Open Mondays through Fridays noon to 2 pm and 6 to 10 pm, Saturdays 6 to 10 pm.

Eating

Imperial Herbal Restaurant, Singapore

VivoCity, 1 Harbour Front Walk
 098585, Singapore
Tel: 65 6337 0491
Website: www.imperialherbal.com

This culinary address is a must for foodie travelers with a sense of adventure. Enter with an open mind: The waitress feels each diner's pulse, then inspects the tongue before taking an order. Jet-lagged diners are invariably advised to start with fried egg whites, scallops, and ladybell root—believed to stimulate the body's energy source, or qi. A resident herbalist whips up organic remedies made from dried caterpillars and pickled sea horses, which are added to dishes like the double-boiled snow frog's glands with rock sugar, said to improve liver and kidney functions. Order over-the-top items for bragging rights only: Stick to the less outrageous-sounding dishes, and you're likely to be pleased.

Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 6:30 to 10:30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11:30 am to 6:00 pm and 8:30 to 10:30 pm.

Eating

Graze, Singapore

4 Rochester Park
 139215, Singapore
Tel: 65 6775 9000
Website: www.graze.com.sg

The 5,000 square feet of gardens and alfresco tables that front this bright colonial bungalow hint at the relaxed vibe of Graze, a contemporary Australian restaurant in Rochester Park. The outdoor lounge hints at South Beach with a long, placid pool lit by candlelight and black-and-white movies projected against a whitewashed wall. Inside, mismatched wooden chairs and a Bisazza-tiled bar lend homey rustic touches to the modern vibe. The food, however, is unmistakably innovative, from starters like ginger wine–oyster shooters with wasabi and cucumber oil or roasted sweetbreads with a peppered onion tart to entrées like soy-lacquered Wagyu ox cheek with coconut rice, green papaya, and pomelo salad.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 6:30 pm to midnight, Sundays 9 am to 3 pm and 6:30 pm to midnight.

Eating

Buko Nero, Singapore

126 Tanjong Pagar Road
 088534, Singapore
Tel: 65 6324 6225

Buko Nero can be roughly translated as "hole in the wall" in Italian. And though it does only have 20 seats, the monthlong wait to get a table clearly places this Tanjong Pagar restaurant far out of the realm of your common dive. This is a foodie haven that mixes Italian and Asian flavors in dishes like minestrone soup with silken tofu and minced beef ravioli made with truffle oil and wonton skins. Venetian chef Oscar Pasinato does not tread lightly on spice in dishes like pumpkin and crab soup and pan-fried bean curd topped with a cornucopia of snow peas, carrot slivers, sprouts, and spinach leaves.

Open Tuesdays through Thursdays 6:30 to 9:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays noon to 2 pm and 6:30 to 9:30 pm.

Eating

Banana Leaf Apolo, Singapore

54-58 Race Course Road, Little India
, Singapore
Tel: 65 6293 8682
Website: www.thebananaleafapolo.com/

This humble curry house in Little India may well be the most famous restaurant in Singapore. The huge, air-conditioned dining room, with its fluorescent lights and Formica, has all the ambience of a high-school cafeteria; still, it's unanimously acknowledged to serve the city's best fish-head curry (roughly equivalent to the best bagel in New York). Once you're seated, the waiter slaps down a fresh green banana leaf in front of you to serve as the plate. Then, dishes of fluffy rice, papadum, and vegetables, and a bowl of potently aromatic curry with a huge fish head staring back at you. Don't be unnerved; the dish is meaty, intensely flavorful, and delicious. The Apolo shows no sign of suffering from legend-itis: Discerning Tamil locals consistently throng here for lunch.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.