Aug 16, 2012|
A reader emailed in to tell me about Walk Japan, so naturally I checked out the tip. It's a tour company celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, but its mission is as relevant as ever. “There’s a great deal of Japan which is overlooked,” managing director Paul Christie tells me over the phone, calling from his home in Kunisaki (an untouristy place that is, in fact, the focus of one of Walk Japan’s tours). “Our tours take people into even Kyoto and Tokyo, and out into the sticks, in a way that brings it to life.” Christie describes the little fishing villages and island roads as destinations worth a visit. Walk Japan’s dozen or so tours (which are admittedly pricy) range from the kind you can do in a weekend to two-week-long adventures. Walk Japan also tailors trips to coincide with public holidays like Chinese New Year. One signature trip is along the Naksendo Way, a highway that dates from the 17th- to 19th-century Edo period and connects Tokyo and Kyoto. There’s a definite academic bent to these journeys, as both the founders are university professors and the guides emphasize political, social and economic context—current events as much as historical background—of the sights visited and the terrain traversed.
Browse the tours and book them at www.walkjapan.com.
When I go on trips, I tend to consult Lonely Planet and the Luxe Guides to get a sense of both the high and the low culture of a place. I also try to find a local English-language magazine (I know I can trust our sister publications BK in Bangkok and I-S in Singapore!) that has its finger on the pulse of the city. I always enjoy browsing Wallpaper guides, too, but they tend to be heavy on the aesthetics and light on the practical info. But I just came across The Hunt Guides and can’t wait to give them a try. Formerly known as the Eat.Shop guides, which then morphed into a brand called Rather, it’s only this year that they’ve taken on the new moniker. These books put an emphasis on indie shops and locally owned restaurants. The design is careful but not fussy, choosing to eschew unnecessarily long write-ups in favor of pithy descriptions accompanied by big pictures. There is a brand-new Singapore guide, as well as soon-to-be-released editions about Sydney and our own Hong Kong. Covered destinations outside of Asia-Pac include the likes of New York and London as well as more hip, off-the-radar cities like Portland, Oregon.
Buy the books, or keep track of the authors' new finds on Facebook and Twitter (@TheHuntGuides).
My mind’s been blown. While researching for the column, I discovered there are not one, but TWO, Sofitels in Hanoi. It does make sense, given that the Sofitel’s French branding meshes with Vietnam’s colonial past. The one everyone knows has a long name—the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel Hanoi—and a correspondingly long history that dates back to 1901. Sofitel took it over later, and in 1992 the hotel emerged from a restoration project to compensate for damage sustained during wartime. Not to be confused with its white-façaded sister, the Sofitel Plaza Hanoi is a 10-year-old property that reopened its doors in April after its own upgrade and redesign. Located near the West Lake, the Sofitel Plaza is one of Hanoi’s few high-rises—meaning that it’s a prime real estate for a rooftop bar. Twenty floors off the ground, Summit Lounge reopened in the spring along with the rest of the hotel. Alfresco watering holes in Southeast Asian cities hold enough allure, but Summit’s also got a menu of creative cocktails and upscale hawker fare designed by chef Will Meyrick, known for his restaurants in Bali. If you’re heading there, though, just make sure to keep your Sofitels straight.
Sofitel Plaza Hanoi, 1 Thanh Nien Rd., Ba Dinh District, 10000 Hanoi, Vietnam, (+84) 4-3823-8888.
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