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Editor's Letter,
March 2019
Dear ActiveTravels Members,

While my ego wants you to read this very profound and insightful letter about travel, what is most important is for you to see the travel promotions we mention at the bottom of this newsletter. We only have a week or so to take advantage of these exciting deals so don't delay! The exotic charms of French Polynesia and the family friendly delights of Montage resort just outside of Savannah, Georgia are beckoning you!

We also include two great pieces that Steve penned on our recent and wonderful travels to Hong Kong and Bangkok. They are definitely worth a leisurely read to follow our adventures there. When we weren't downing copious amounts of dim sum (see above picture), we were delighting in the art scene, the food markets, and the temples where residents were preparing for the Chinese New Year celebrations. We were also enjoying the lovely hotels. We now only bring our carry-on luggage because we change hotels every two days so we can experience as much as possible of what our clients will encounter during their stays.

Our next destination to investigate is Spain! We'll be away from our office from March 20th-31st to visit our daughter who is studying in Barcelona. We're also seeing Granada, Ronda, Seville and Madrid. We'll be checking our emails as we go and we'll have our colleagues Amy and Rachel to back us up if and when you need our travel assistance.

Happy reading and, of course,

H appy Travels,
Lisa & Steve
News from the Road:
Hong Kong

We arrived into Hong Kong at sunrise Sunday morning after a 15½-hour direct flight from Boston on Cathay Pacific. We dropped our bags off at the Intercontinental (they were kind enough to let us into our rooms early) and then took a taxi over the Prince Edward neighborhood. There was already a line at One Dim Sum by the time we arrived. They gave us a menu with checklist to fill out and soon we were dining on the first of many delicious har gow on our trip. Afterwards, we walked over to the nearby Flower Market to see row after row of fresh orchids, exotic
fare like proteas, and numerous  mandarin orange trees tha t people purchase to celebrate the Chinese New Year. We then wandered over to the Bird Market , where hundreds of parrots, parakeets, finches, and love birds are for sale. The birds were adorable. The food they ate-buckets of crickets, worms, and other assorted bugs, not so adorable.

The concierge we dealt with at the Intercontinental was exceptional, helping to find us a sports bar to watch the New England Patriots playoff game at 8 am local time. Our concierge at the W was also top-notch, booking tickets for the cable car to Big Buddha well in advance and introducing us to the wonderful classical Chinese garden called Nan Lian. We headed down from the W into the mall, where we caught the subway to the Diamond Hill stop.The subway in Hong Kong is so easy to use and so well run. Simply purchase an Octopus Card for HKD$150 and then use your entire trip, adding money when needed. When you leave, bring the card back to the subway for a HKD$50 reimbursement.

Once in Diamond Hill, it was a 5-minute stroll to Nan Lian, a serene oasis in the city, where small pathways led past bonsai trees rocks, koi ponds, bridges, pagodas, and waterfalls, finally entering a large Buddhist temple. It's a very relaxing walk through nature when you've had too much of the city center. 

One subway stop away from Nan Lian is the most popular Buddhist temple in all of Hong Kong, Wong Sai Tin. As soon as we left the subway station, we saw the large crowd gathered at the temple to light incense  and say prayers for good wishes for the year prior to the Chinese New Year.
It's hard to grasp the immensity of Big Buddha until you're high in the sky on a cable car looking down at this massive sculpture perched atop the hillside on Lantau Island. The sitting Buddha is one of the largest in the world at 112-feet high. It's definitely worth checking out, not only to walk up the many steps that lead to the Buddha and see the neighboring Po Lin Monastery, but to take the wonderful cable car ride to the site. Take the subway to the Tung Chung station and you'll see signs to walk over to the Npong Ping Cable Car. Wait in line with your timed ticket and then get ready for a 25-minute ride past the international airport to the mountainous silhouette that houses Big Buddha. Once you disembark, walk past the shops and climb the 268 steps to go face-to-face with the statue, which made its debut in 1993.   
On our last day in Hong Kong, we went on a group hike on the Dragon's Back Trail with expats from Switzerland, France, and London now living in Hong Kong. It's a glorious trail atop a mountainous ridge with vistas of the ocean, beaches, and seaside villages below. We went with a French guide from Wild Hong Kong, who has lived all over the world, but now resides with his wife in Hong Kong. He told us that on our next visit we have to bike in the New Territories, where the landscape is stunning, traffic is less, and the biking wonderful.

Yes, the dim sum and bao (Little Bao) lived up to expectations. But it was the other international fare that far surpassed anything I anticipated. The hummus, babaganoush, and shawarma at Maison Libanaise was the best I've had outside the Middle East. The Nepalese food at Manakamana in the Kowloon Night Market was so authentic I was sitting next to monks from Kathmandu. But my favorite restaurant in Hong Kong was Yardbird in the Sheung Wan neighborhood. Old school R&B from Donnie Hathaway was thumping as we walked into the crowded bar on a Friday night and ordered innovative cocktails. Their specialty is yakitori, where different parts of the chicken arrive on small kebabs. All were juicy, but the neck, inner thigh, and meatball selections were out of this world. Also order the KFC, spicy Korean fried cauliflower.
I loved all three hotel properties we checked out in Hong Kong for various reasons. The Intercontinental Hong Kong offered fantastic views of the Hong Kong skyline and waterfront from the floor to ceiling windows in the room. After long days of sightseeing, I enjoyed coming back to the room to watch the Chinese junk boats, ferries, and fishing boats pass by. The Intercontinental also had the best breakfast buffet of the 3 hotels, with a lavish spread of American, Chinese (great dim sum), Indian, Japanese, and Korean choices, all washed down with fresh mango and guava juice. 

The W Hotel Hong Kong offered nice touches, like a welcome tray of goodies in our room, including a photo of our family from a recent trip to Switzerland. The fitness center was also wonderful, sitting on the 73rd floor with glorious views of the city below. 

The Upper House on the Hong Kong side offered by far the most spacious rooms with good vista of the city and waterfront below. The concierge was also excellent, setting up free shuttles around the city to see the sights and hit the restaurants at night. In fact, service at the Upper House genuinely made us feel welcome.
If interested in spending a week in Hong Kong like we did or going for a 48-hour stopover, ActiveTravels will steer you in the right direction.
Hotels We Love:

Bangkok is a sprawling, congested city and even when you arrive at the major sights like the Royal Palace and Wat Arun, they tend to be overcrowded. That's why you need to take it slow, not place too many items on your itinerary, and stay at a great hotel where you will enjoy spending time. We split up our stay in Bangkok with two nights at the Anantara Siam and two nights at their sister property, Anantara Riverside. Amy stayed at the Bangkok Mandarin Oriental and did a site tour of the Peninsula Bangkok. 

Here are our thoughts:

Both Anantara properties feature a lavish spread at the breakfast buffet, including American, Chinese, and Indian favorites. Anantara Siam also features an excellent Thai Restaurant, Spice Market, where we dined our first night. Afterwards, we walked into the indoor courtyard and checked out the koi pond. The highlight at Anantara Siam was their signature 90-minute Siam 2482 deep-tissue massage. Using two bamboo sticks, eight herbal compresses, and gold leaf, Lisa and I walked out of there as loose as a jellyfish and happy as clams.

Anantara Riverside has more of a resort feel, overlooking a large pool where you simply push a button on your menu and a server appears to take your order. The hotel was busy with families who would
spend the entire day splashing around in the 90-degree heat. The Manohra Dinner Cruise  from the resort's pier is a must, a 2-hour gentle cruise along the Chao Phraya seeing the Royal Palace and Wat Arun lit up at night.

On our last day, to celebrate Lisa's birthday, we took a 5-hour Spice Spoons cooking c ourse with one of the hotel's chefs. At 8 am, we took a tuk tuk with Chef over to a local market and picked up all the necessary ingredients for the three cours es we would soon make, including large prawns, chicken, lemongrass, galangal, coriander
root, mushrooms, and many spicy peppers. Soon we were back at the hotel's outdoor cooking center on the 2nd floor, creating Golden Caps,crusted rice crackers filled with a chicken and shrimp filling; a spicy and delicious Thai soup that we hope to recreate at home one day; and a tender barramundi topped with spicy chili, curry powder, and lime. We finished with fresh mango that Chef sliced like bird's wings, served with sweet sticky rice that was topped with sweet coconut milk. A memorable birthday lunch!

This hotel is also located right on the Chao Phraya river with a gorgeous pool and riverfront restaurant area where you eat breakfast just as commerce on the river begins for the day. This is only one of their 8 eating establishments. The hotel has 358 rooms and 35 unique suites. The two-story Authors' Wing is the remaining structure of the original 19th century hotel, the first hotel in Thailand when it opened in 1876. Across the river is the hotel's own spa (they ferry you across for appointments). My 90-minute Thai massage was amazing. The service here is exceptional. Frequently named one of the "Best City Hotels in Asia," I can see why.

Sitting across the river, right next to the Mandarin Oriental's spa facility, the Peninsula was developed to be one of the best properties in Bangkok. It offers a modern design and great views from every room (370 of them) back over the river, toward downtown. Our group ate dinner at the riverfront restaurant our first night and it was delicious! It's a little further to the shopping and nightlife, but as a result, a little more tranquil.

Give ActiveTravels a call if you want to know more about these great properties in Bangkok.
Deal of the Month:
Cruising French Polynesia with Paul Gauguin Cruises
French Polynesia will always hold a special place in my heart. It was here and other South Pacific locales like Fiji and the Cook Islands that I received my start in travel writing, penning stories for Rodale's Scuba Diving and resort reviews for Bride's Magazine

In 1994, Lisa and I went on a freighter cruise called the Aranui to the Marquesas Islands that still to this day is one of the highlights of my career in travel. But you don't have to deliver food to the locals to savor French Polynesia. Go in style aboard the m/s Paul Gauguin, a luxury cruise ship that has been plying these waters for 20 years. 

Now through March 16th, The Gauguin is offering $3,000 off per person standard cruise fares, including round-trip airfare from Los Angeles or San Francisco. It's only a 7-hour flight from LA to Tahiti, a mere two hours past Hawaii. Then you arrive in dreamy French Polynesia, where the emerald green mountains rise from the aquamarine waters. I've been
all over Hawaii and the South Pacific and these are my favorite islands in the world, half of them deserted motus, specks of land surrounded by pristine white sand that are ideal for snorkeling and then walking the lonesome beach. Summer is the ideal time to visit French Polynesia, without the threat of cyclone. So if you're considering a river cruise in Europe this year, maybe you want to head to the South Pacific instead. For the same price, you can follow in Paul Gauguin's footsteps. 

Call ActiveTravels today and we'll check pricing and availability. This sale only lasts until mid-March! 
Quick Escape:
Montage Palmetto Bluff

Best known for their properties in Laguna Beach and Deer Valley, the hotel brand also runs the vast Montage Palmetto Bluff property on the South Carolina coast, about a half-hour drive from Savannah, Georgia. 

This 20,000-acre resort offers more than 30 miles of riverfront, more than enough space to play on the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, even go clay shooting.  Three pools include a new adult pool at the River House. A fleet of bicycles, kayaks and the hotel's signature canoes are available for guest use, along with fishing poles to boot. Eight Har-tru tennis courts, a
brand new gym and lawn bowling also entertain active visitors. If you want to charter a yacht for your group, it's on hand for you, at a price. And, don't miss their portable S'mores bicycle truck providing this nostalgic treat on warm evenings.

Expect Southern hospitality like the local May River Oysters served during Happy Hour and a wealth of lodging options to choose from. Montage opened the 74-room Inn at Palmetto Bluff in late 2016. But we love the resort for its new stand-alone cottages, 35 privately owned vacation homes that are up for rental when the owners are not around. This is ideally suited for families, especially during March and April school break. Average highs in mid-March are in the high-60s and it only gets warmer throughout the spring. It makes for a great add-on for trips to Savannah or Charleston.

Give us a call to book this resort for your multi-generational family group or girls or guys getaway. It's a Virtuoso property, so we can get you perks that you cannot get when you book with them directly like the following:
  • Upgrade at time of booking, subject to availability
  • Full breakfast for up to two in-room guests, served in restaurant
  • $100 USD Spa Services credit to be utilized during stay
  • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
They are offering a couple of great promotions as well but you have to act fast! 

Every Fourth Night Free Deal AND Suite'N Your Stay where if you reserve any Inn or Guest House Suite, you'll receive the connecting room for free. These are only available until March 31st but there are other promotions we can unlock for you.

Contact ActiveTravels to give you more details.
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