Sunday, March 31, 2013

Kowloon Walled City - The City of darkness

Sunlight comes only rarely, with a sliver slicing down between the ramshackle towers. The light here is fluorescent and the people packed sardine tight amongst twisting corridors. Some of the lower levels are widely considered uninhabitable due to trash. Up the street (if it can be called that) there’s a drug parlor with an unlicensed “doctor” open for business upstairs. They exist openly: there are no police because there is no law.

The above is not a description of a dystopian (or utopian) fantasia, but of the Kowloon Walled City which was very real. From 1945-1993, a political loophole created a zone of Hong Kong where there was no law. The resulting anarchic, hodge-podge monolith was the descendant of the pirate utopias of old: a testament to humanity’s ingenuity, greed, violence and tenacity. Here is a glimpse within the walls of one of the strangest human settlements ever.

The story goes like this: it’s 1898 and, at the height of their imperial power, the British have just forced the Chinese to sign away the Kowloon Peninsula for the next 99 years. There is one exception, however, as the British agree to let a small magistrate’s fort remain until they set up their colonial administration. The Chinese leave, but when the British attack the fort, they find it abandoned. So, like any good colonial bureaucrat, they scratch their heads before promptly turning it into a tourist attraction and ignore its murky legal status.

Along comes World War II, and the Japanese, after taking Hong Kong, tear down the walls to build an airport. After the war, squatters flock to the area and begin to build. Attempts to evict them end, twice, end in riots that threaten to cause a diplomatic incident. The British go back to ignoring the place. The population grows exponentially, and by 1971 there are 10,000 people living on seven acres. It attracts the usual types drawn to undiscovered countries: criminals, dreamers, dissidents, refugees and the plain desperate.

But even as the buildings practically merge into one monolithic labyrinth, people manage to build a life in the Walled City. The communities work out basic rules to prevent fires, sink over 70 wells or tap into city supplies to get water (Hong Kong ends up providing it), set height limits on the buildings to prevent trouble with the nearby airport and establish volunteer groups to keep some basic order.

But this is still a lawless place. Driven from mainland China, the Triads set up shop and start living like kings, while Hong Kong’s upper crust comes in for the sex, drugs and gambling. The gangsters end up lording it over the inhabitants until 3,000 raids by the Hong Kong police in the 1970s clear most of them out (though it leaves the city ungoverned as ever).

After the Triad recedes, the city thrives, the population multiplies to 35,000 (making it one of the most densely populated places on the planet), and by most accounts, the violent crime rate is lower than similar neighborhoods in the rest of the city. Doctors and entrepreneurs who can’t afford the licenses in Hong Kong set up shop and make a fortune.

But, thing change as the handover to China approaches. Neither country’s government particularly likes the filthy uncontrolled pocket that their nearly century long dispute has created. An agreement is made, the residents are moved out and, in 1993 the whole staggering structure is demolished. Today, it’s a park.

But the Walled City left its mark, vexing the Muscles from Brussels in Bloodsport, inspiring Christopher Nolan’s depiction of Gotham’s slums and is rebuilt in cyberspace in William Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy.

Every observer seems to have taken a different lesson. Some extolled it as the “rarest of things, a working model of an anarchist society,” while U.S. News and World Report (never big on the whole nonconformity thing in the first place), sputtering in its disgust, dubbed it “a fetid conglomeration” of tenements, piling on words like “festering” for good measure.

I think any lessons the place offers defy easy categories. But because it’s closer in history, it should be a reminder, whenever any of us looks back on the aforementioned pirate utopias, or the romanticized depictions of Tortuga or the Wild West, that those no-rules fantasy lands were real places with all the attendant blood and stink.

Yes, the anarchistic types out there are correct when they say that the Walled City is evidence that humans can co-exist, and even thrive, without laws constantly piled on them. But it’s not that simple. After all, without massive police raids (government incarnate), the place would have probably become a mob-run tyranny. Its residents had a degree of freedom that anyone who comes home to piles of bills or endless forms can’t help but envy. They also had darkness, a lower life expectancy, filthy living conditions and huge numbers of drug addicts.

But if the Walled City is a reminder that lawlessness isn’t quite as cleanly romantic as some might think, it also reminds us that a staggering number of societies are possible — and that every one of them has a price.

Best Exotic Beach

What makes a Exotic Beach? Quite simply they need to stand out from the crowd. Coconuts and powder-like sand help too. The destinations shown here are located around the world. We have included beaches that are ideal for swimming or snorkeling as well as great places to party. Others are quite simply stunning to look at. Remember to pack the right gear once you have decided on your destination. A beach holiday doesn't mean you have to turn into a cooked lobster. Stay safe, lather up on the sunscreen and drink lots of water.

1. Exotic Beach, The Baths
Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
You may have hated taking baths as a kid but the Baths on Virgin Gorda just might convert you. As one of the most famous sites in the Caribbean you can enjoy sandy beaches, shallow pools perfect for snorkeling as well as grottos and caves. One of the other unique features are the massive boulders that dot its landscape. Trying to figure out how they got there is all part of the experience. Discover what thousands before you already have and enjoy the Baths. Explore more of what the British Virgin Islands has to offer and stay at an amazing hotel.

2. Exotic Beach, Flamenco Beach
Culebra Island, Puerto Rico
Big does not always mean better and Culebra Island proves it. Located off of the coast of Puerto Rico's mainland lies an island filled with natural beauty and gorgeous beaches. One of its most famous is Flamenco Beach, or known locally as Playa Flamenco. The sand makes a perfect daybed, the water is ideal for snorkeling and the sun can provide you with the most perfect tan. Plus, lush forests surround you. Nature lovers should also keep their eyes open for turtle nesting locations and the many birds that call this paradise home. Make Playa Flamenco part of your holiday destination and relax at a Culebra Island hotel.

3. Exotic Beach, Flic en Flac
Grande Reviere Sud Est, Mauritius
A refreshing blue lagoon and white sand beaches... How perfect does that sound? Welcome to Flic en Flac. This beach has become a highlight for anyone fortunate enough to visit Mauritius. There are sections of the beach designated for hotel use but they can get crowded. Make the trek in between these establishments and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. True, you might need to bring your own sunshade but will be able to savor this tropical getaway with fewer people. Stick around until the end of the day and watch a glorious sunset. Interested in staying in Flic en Flac? Explore one of our hotels and see which one suits you the best.
4. Exotic Beach, Copacabana

Liberia, Costa Rica
Playa Tamarindo is as close to picture perfect as you can get. This world-famous destination is a Mecca for anyone who loves to surf. Located along the Pacific coast you can leave the wetsuit behind and enjoy the warm waters. Whether you are a pro or just learning the waves are ideal. Playa Tamarindo also hosts a number of other fantastic water activities and is famous for its fishing hotspots. You won't need to bring all your water toys with you though as there are a number of rental shops that can provide all your necessary gear. Stay close to this fabulous beach with one of these great hotels.

5. Exotic Beach, North Playa del Carmen
Cozumel, Mexico
Playa del Carmen is a fantastic sun destination and its beaches are definitely a top reason. The Central area has great sand but can get quite packed because of the restaurants and vendors that surround it. That is why we have chosen North Playa del Carmen. Seeing this beach stretch out before you is a beautiful site to behold. The sand here is absolutely spectacular and there is a lot of it. Your little ones will love building sandcastles here. The water is also perfect for snorkeling and whatever other water activities you might enjoy. Relax at one of these great Playa del Carmen hotels.

6. Exotic Beach, Paradise Beach
Mikonos, Greece
Interested in peace and quiet? Stay clear of Paradise Beach. This hotspot is only for those who love all day and night beach parties. Providing music, bars, lounge chairs, huts and places to grab a bite to eat you could spend a lot of time here. The water is cool and refreshing but truthfully the main reason people flock here is to be a part of the action and celebrate (insert whatever reason you have here) all night long. After your visit you too will see why they have called it Paradise Beach. Stay in the wonderful town of Mikonos and see what else this paradise has to offer.

Exotic Beach, Kata Beach
Phuket, Thailand
Choosing just one beach on Phuket proved to be a tad difficult. We think we have found one that stands out from the crowd though - Kata Beach. Why? Because it pleases so many people. Located along the west coast surfers head out during the monsoon season to catch huge waves. Once that time of year passes though the water is calm and perfect for beachers longing to relax on the beautiful sand. Kata Beach is simply a welcomed relief from the rest of the island's hustle and bustle. Explore more of what Phuket has to offer and stay at one of these great hotels.

8. Exotic Beach, Bondi Beach
Sydney, Australia
This world-famous getaway is only a half our away from Sydney but Bondi Beach transports you to a whole new world. It is actually incredible how beautiful a beach can truly be. Swimmers should stay around the north end of the beach while surfers will definitely want to make their way south. Be forewarned about its famous rip current though. Stay active and play some beach volleyball or simply soak up that Australian sun. You will find great restaurants and clubs long this glorious stretch of sand as well. See which Sydney hotel is best for you.

9. Exotic Beach, Kapalua Beach
Kahului, Hawaii
True, Kapalua Beach is only one of a thousand Hawaiian beaches. However, it is one of the best for swimming. Hawaii is famous for big waves, which makes the surfers happy, but what about a beach for those who have no idea what 'under the barrel' means? Kapalua beach is a lovely stretch of sand that is one of the safest to swim at. Thus, it is a popular choice among families. They aren't the only ones though. Come during whale season and see these beautiful aquatic mammals swim by for a truly unique experience. After staying at one of these hotels you just might find it hard to head back home.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Romantic Retreat in NYC - Gramercy Park Hotel' Haute Bohemian

The Gramercy Park Hotel’s Haute Bohemian is a famous luxury hotel located at 2 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, New York City. According to our specialists, Gramercy Park Hotel is the proper place for a luxury romantic retreat in New York City.

The Hotel has been honoured by the renewal transformation of Ian Schrager. It is still the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City but just better!
The Haute Bohemian style represents a sensuous vision of artful diversity. Bohemia reinvented for the 21st century with an original combination of styles, with great pieces of furniture and artwork and the fantastic use of colour.

It is a balanced atmosphere which only Ian Schrager can imagine and set up, as well as a fresh approach which represents a new departure for him. It brings together a number of creative forces, not chosen for their compatibility, but for their shared commitment to the modern lifestyle.

The hotel also exhibits 20th century masterpieces by artists Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat … More weekend ideas in NYC.

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Bora bora dance

Traditional Polynesian song and dance is inspired by the ancient legends and folklore passed down from their gods. Officially banned following the religious conversion of the late 19th century, It was the onset of tourism in the 20th century that helped to revive these traditional customs.

A traditional female dancer was wrapped in tapa (a fabric made from pounding and softening tree bark) decorated with feathers, shells and mother of pearl. The costumes of today’s female dancers include a more (or skirt), a belt and a bra made of seashells or coconut shells. Male dancers also wear a more, a belt and a large headdress. Dancers hold feathers or pompoms to accentuate their moves and move to the beats of a variety of drums, nasal flutes, conch shells and ukuleles.

Romance on Bora Bora

Truly, the most romantic island in the world. From the dramatic scenery to the privacy and amenities of the overwater bungalows, everything in Bora Bora equals a 10 on the romance scale.
Bora Bora Romance
Resorts have been welcoming couples for over 40 years and their special amenities have been fine tuned to perfection. From sunrise to sunset, each resort has designed their own blend of unique romantic experiences for their guests to choose from.
Romantic highlights include:
* Breakfast brought to your overwater bungalow's private balcony by an outrigger canoe regaled in flowers.
* Gourmet picnic lunches enjoyed from a private beach on a motu.
* Sunset sails aboard a private catamaran including four-course dinner and the sounds and emotions of live Polynesian music and dancers.
* Sharing a lagoon-view table at one of the many fine restaurants.
* Polynesian wedding ceremonies from simple to royal. Ceremonies can be at the resorts, onboard a catamaran at sunset, or on a private beach at sunset complete with musicians and dancers.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Best Vacations Places in Indonesia

Best Vacations Places - The immense archipelago of Indonesia remains one of the most compelling destinations in the world. From the Kepulauan Seribu (Thousand Islands) to the graduated rice paddies of Bali, stunning landscapes abound. The country hums with religion, people and beauty. Steer away from the overpopulated capital of Jakarta and head instead toward crystal green waters, gargantuan trees and Komodo dragons elsewhere.
 Best Vacations Places in Bali
Intricate temples are just part of Bali's charm.   
Jakarta may be the official capital of Indonesia, but Bali is its heart. Explore the dim silver stores of Ubud, where jewelry is wrapped up in the newspaper and carried off in heavy plastic bags. The nightclubs of Kuta make for an electric night out and hushed spas aid the next day's recovery. Amed, Lovina and Pemuteran are sweet beach towns that offer respite from a busy world. In this Hindu region of Indonesia, offerings to Ganesh made of fruit and flowers decorate the streets and beaches. Some of the restaurants require a short walk over rice paddies lit up with floating lights. Horseback ride on a black sand beach, grab a surfboard or discover ancient temples. Paradisaical Bali has a little of everything.

Best Vacations Places in Sumatra
Sumatran tigers prowl the jungles of the island.   
Adventurers stopover on Sumatra, which delivers an experience that is definitely off the beaten path. It is a far cry from the resort culture of Bali. Once known as the Land of Gold for the gold deposits found there, this large island is home to incredible jungles rife with wildlife. Watch for orangutans and tigers, hunt for the world's tallest flower and then look for the world's biggest flower. Experience another thrill by traveling to Mount Kerinci, a live volcano in the Barisan mountains. Danau Maninjau is a place of absolute stillness and tranquility, a lake which must be reached by descending from mountains into a lost world. Finish up the journey at Pulau Weh where scuba dives take you over varied underwater terrain.

Best Vacations Places in Baliem Valley
Visit the Baliem Valley where mountains rise out of the mist and old rituals are still maintained.   
To really infiltrate the inscrutable customs of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, make a trip to the Baliem Valley. In August, the town of Wamena hosts traditional dances, war reenactments and lavish feasts. Tourism is limited to this area, and it can be expensive to travel here. The Grand Valley, as it was named by explorers in the 1930s, offers a way into a place where penis gourds are still in fashion and the Dani, Yali and Lani tribes maintain ancient agricultural techniques. Staying in the Baliem Valley does not necessarily mean roughing it; the Baliem Valley Resort is a luxurious option.