Time Out Singapore: Essential Guide to Seminyak & Petitenget, Bali

With two public holidays coming up this month right before Bali’s rainy season officially starts, there’s no better time to pay the Island of the Gods a visit, says Gwen Pew.

Seminyak & Petitenget

14 Oct 2014: Kuta has long been known as the party and tourist central of Bali, but for those looking for somewhere more luxurious and away from the backpacking crowd, we’d suggest that you visit its northern sibling, Seminyak.

The area is known for its upmarket lifestyle, and has no shortage of fashionable boutiques, chic restaurants and Instagram- worthy cafés. And should you find yourself tired, there are plenty of spas and bars to rest your tired feet – not to mention the fact that the sunsets along its fine grey beach are truly magical.

But if you want to stay ahead of the curve, then venture even further north to Petitenget, home to some fantastic hang-out spots. We’ve trawled through the streets of both districts to revisit some time-honoured institutions and hunt down cool new establishments, so whether you’re a first timer or an annual visitor to the area, we’ve got you sorted.

Where to eat

You’ve probably worked hard to get the perfect beach bod prior to your trip, but we’re telling you right now that the real reason you got fit before arriving is so you can guiltlessly enjoy all the food that this place has to offer. The first street you’ll hear about for good grub is Jalan Oberoi (also known as JalanLaksamana and Jalan Kayu Aya; the streets here tend to have several names, so be aware of that).

There are a few cafés and brunch places on the stretch, such as Anomali Coffee (Jln Oberoi No 7B, +62 361 736687), the über-hipster Revolver (Gang 51, Jln Oberoi No 3, +62 361 7884968) and the gorgeous, brand-new Corner House (Jln Oberoi No 10A, +62 361  730276).

Fancy foodies can head to Ku De Ta’s sophisticated dinner spot Mejekawi (Jln Oberoi No 9, +62 361 736969) or Urchin (Jln Oberoi No 22, +62 361 732413), a new Aussie-style raw bar and grill. But otherwise, we’d advise you to make the walk to Jalan Petitenget.

The start of the area is marked by the synonymously named Petitenget Café (Jln Petitenget No 40X, +62 361 4733054), which is chilled out during the day and welcoming at night, while tea lovers should definitely check out Biku (Jln Petitenget No 888, +62 361 8570888), which is owned by the Australian princess of Ubud and boasts a fantastic collection of tea from India – and you can even book a tarot card reading session here.

The Potato Head Beach Club (Jln Petitenget No 51B, +62 361 4737979), whose fine dining French restaurant, Tapping Shoes, has just been revamped as a bistro, is worth a visit, but for some delectable fine dining, you should book a table at the recently opened Bambu (Jln Petitenget No 198, +62 361 8469797). Their chefs, including several 60-plus-year-old aunties, come from all over Indonesia and their food is authentic and superb.

Further into Petitenget, Barbacoa (Jln Petitenget No 14, +62 361 739233) is a great Argentinian place, Naughty Nuri’s (Jln Batu Belig No 41, +62 361 8476722) does excellent pork ribs, and Warung Eropa (Jln Petitenget No 98, +62 361 4732480) will satisfy your strongest crispy duck cravings.

Where to drink and party

While it’s not as intense as Kuta, the nightlife scene in Seminyak is certainly alive and well. The biggest parties of the year usually happen in August at Ku De TaPotato Head and W Hotel (Jln Petitenget, +62 361 4738106), but the brand new Jenja (Jln Nakula No 532XX, +62 361 8827711) will call to your inner party animal. It’s known for its hip hop Wednesdays and house/techno Fridays, although we’ve heard that Monday nights are surprisingly fun, too.

Jalan Oberoi is home to several newish places that opened last year for good drinks and better times: Red Carpet Champagne Bar (Jln Oberoi No 42C, +62 361 737889) is a fun, classy affair and claims to be ‘home to Indonesia’s largest champagne collection’, while La Favela (Jln Oberoi No 177X, +62 361 730603) also hosts great parties.

And if you’re further up on Jalan Petitenget, pop into Hu’u Bar (Jln Petitenget, +62 036 14736576), which has been around since 2001 and has hosted a range of celeb DJs. For something a bit different, head on to Salty Seagull (Jln Petitenget No 999, +62 361 8497588), where crab racing takes place every Thursday night. And if it’s gay bars that you’re after, then head right on to Jalan Camplung Tanduk – you won’t miss them.

Where to shop

As one hotel manager wisely advised the men, ‘Seminyak is a woman’s shopping paradise, so just give her the credit card and give up’. He was right. You can still find touristy knick-knacks, but the boutique shops here are generally classier – and pricier. There are three main shopping streets in the area: Jalan Raya Seminyak, and the aforementioned Jalan Oberoi and Jalan Petitenget.

Ladies can treat themselves to something pretty at Biasa (Jln Raya Seminyak No 36, +62 361 730308), Innuendo (Jln Oberoi No 117, +62 361 841 0751) and Magali Pascal (Jln Petitenget No 900, +62 361 8469794), which are all founded by European designers based there.

Those looking for something more hip and casual for both genders, head over to Somewhere (Jln Oberoi No 52, +62 361 9262981) and This is a Love Song (Jln Oberoi No 3, +62 361 9130713), or else pop over toSimpleKonsepStore (Jln Oberoi No 40, +62 361 730393), which stocks apparel as well as quirky accessories and designs.

For non-fashion goods, Bathe (Jln Raya Batu Belig No. 88, +62 361 792 9779) has wonderful bath products, and if you forget to bring a book for the beach, the biggest local bookshop Periplus (Jln Kayu Aya No 1, Seminyak Square, +62 361 736851) will have you covered.

What to do

Get your culture fix by paying the little beach-side temple, Pura Petitenget, a visit. It’s right by the beach and holds some beautiful ceremonies, but do be respectful of local culture as these rituals are sacred to the Balinese (a sarong is required for the ladies and any revealing clothing should be avoided, and be courteous when you’re taking photos).

If you prefer something a bit more active, you – or your kids – can learn to surf at Rip Curl Surf School (Jln Arjuna, +62 361 735858), or else indulge in a massage. Many hotels have pampering five-star spas, but Body Works (Jln Kayu Jati No 2, +62 361 733317) has been around for 20 years and offers relaxing treatments without breaking the bank. And Think Pink Nails (Jln Batu Belig No 108, +62 361 9188116) is great for a mani-pedi – they even have a car that picks up and drops off customers staying in the area.

And then, of course, there’s the beach. Few things are better in life than watching the sun dip into the ocean, so plonk yourself on the colourful beanbags at one of the many lovely beach bars and soak it all in. We especially love La Plancha (Jln Mesari Beach, +62 361 730603) on Double Six Beach.

Getting around

The traffic in Seminyak is notoriously nightmarish, yet the most comfortable way of getting around is still by car. Most resorts can sort you out with a set of wheels and a driver, but taxis are cheap and plentiful, too. Blue Bird is the most trusted cab company in the area, but whichever one you take, be sure you ask the cabbies to run the meter if you don’t want to be ripped off. A few brave souls do choose to take on the locals’ preferred mode of transport: motorcycles. A motorbike taxi will cost around $1 to get you from Seminyak to Petitenget, and for $5 you can rent that baby all day (excluding gas).

But if you’re really skint, just use those legs and walk. Seminyak is not the most pedestrian-friendly of places, and pavements sometimes do just vanish in the middle of the road, but on the whole it’s definitely doable, safe and free.

Rates on Skyscanner for AirAsia direct flights to Bali start from $241 return.

Time Out Singapore: Countdown Destinations in Asia 2013 (Feature)

Want to escape Singapore for New Year’s Eve? Gwen Pew and Gabrielle Jaffe round up the best places to celebrate across Asia.

Ring in the new year by partying it up on the beaches of Bali!

Ring in the new year by partying it up on the beaches of Bali!

4 Dec 2013:

For beach celebrations

Bali

For a more chilled out and romantic way of counting down, why not hop over to Bali and enjoy the moment on beautiful golden sands? Almost all the beach bars and clubs around the city will put on special New Year’s Eve nights, and the most well-known spots are the ones in Kuta, Seminkyak and Legian. Otherwise, Puputan Badung Square’s annual parade does a pretty good job of getting revellers in the mood, with a huge carnival that caters to young and old alike.

The heritage district of Ubud is becoming increasingly popular, and its New Year’s Eve celebrations do go on well into the early hours, but it’s still a good way of beating at least some of the tourist crowd. For those of you craving a bit more quiet and privacy, Sanur offers some stunning beaches, or try staying at the mountain lake resort area of Bedugul instead.

Get there Air Asia (www.airasia.com) flies direct to Bali from $232 return.

For shopping and alternative firework views

Bangkok

The main countdown event in Bangkok takes place in front of the Central World Square outside the eponymous shopping centre – the largest mall in the city. Enjoy live concerts by various popular local bands along with light displays and screens broadcasting countdowns from other cities – including the spectacular one in Sydney, which is four hours ahead of Thailand – before a brilliant fireworks display marks the New Year in Bangkok.

For those of you who want a swankier setting and panoramic view, your best bet is to head to the ‘Altitude’ party, which is held annually at the rooftop of Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel, 37 floors above ground. THB1800++ ($70++) will get you access to two helipad-turned-dance-floors with local and international DJs helming the decks, three drinks and the chance to experience a fireworks show up close.

Otherwise, river cruises are also popular on NYE and companies such as Chaophraya Princess Cruise, White Orchid River Cruise and Grand Pearl Cruise all have special tours that include dinner, live music, celebratory drinks and, of course, a gorgeous setting to view the fireworks from. Costs range from around THB3,000 to 4,000 ($118++ to $158++); seewww.thairivercruise.com for details.

Get there Tiger Airways (www.tigerair.com) flies direct to Bangkok from $230 return.

For fancy fireworks and culture vultures

Hong Kong

As Asia’s concrete jungle, Hong Kong knows how to pull out all the stops when it comes to ushering in the New Year in style, with the largest fireworks display breaking out beautifully on the harbour itself. There are many places you can get fantastic views of the show from, but we’d especially recommend Ritz Carlton’s Ozone bar on the 118th floor, which is hosting a special Black and Gold Masquerade Ball for the evening with tickets costing HKD600 ($97). Otherwise, check http://www.aqua. com.hk to see if the iconic red-sailed traditional vessel will be operating like they did last year for a postcard perfect way to celebrate the night.

Away from the harbour, Sha Tin Park plays host to a countdown carnival with an eclectic mix of music, dance, jugglers and artistic performances. A highlight here last year was Herbert’s Dream by French arts group Quidams, which saw little white figures on stilts transform into four-metre-high illuminated giant elves, all set to music. This is one for the dreamers – and the broke (it’s one of the few parties in Hong Kong with free admission).

Get there Scoot (www.flyscoot.com) flies direct to Hong Kong from $450 return.

For views of iconic landmarks

Kuala Lumpur

If you’re after iconic landmarks as the backdrop of your fireworks photos, head to KLCC Park for the best view of the ones exploding over the Petronas Towers. However, many other venues around the city centre will also be staging their own shows – check out Sunway Pyramid, Damansara Mutiara, Bukit Building or Dataran Merdeka.

To catch the riot of colours and sounds at a glance, most surrounding five-star hotels offer a pretty decent view from their rooms or bars: Traders Hotel’s Skybar and Mandarin Oriental’s Sultan Lounge are both good places to check out.

Get there Tiger Airways flies direct to Kuala Lumpur from $117 return.

For street parties and entertainment

Manila

A lot of posh hotels around Manila Metro are throwing large-scale extravagant parties, with some of the most popular ones at Edsa Shangri-La, The Peninsula Manila and the Dusit Thani Manila, all featuring live music and a delicious dinner.

Makati City will once again host an annual street party, starting at the corner of Peninsula Manila Hotel, featuring all sorts of entertainment delights such as magic shows and other performances. Plus, it offers one of the most impressive fireworks shows in the country.

For a bit of retro dance music, Discovery Suites is where you need to be, as DJ Shanti Santos and the Human Race Band will be on stage to lift you up into high spirits with their euphoric brand of tunes. Resorts World Sentosa’s Filipino counterpart also traditionally holds parties at Bar 360 and The Plaza in Newport Mall. While there will be no fireworks here due to its proximity to the airport, this is nonetheless a brilliant destination for starting 2014 with a bang.

Get there Philippine Airlines (www.philippineairlines.com) flies direct to Manila from $262 return.

For traditional temples and music madness

Tokyo

If you want to be one of the first people in Asia to see in 2014 – and to see it accompanied by banging beats from some of the biggest names in the electronic music industry – then head to the Land of the Rising Sun. In previous years, Tokyo mega-club Sound Vision Museum has managed to nab Detroit techno masters Jeff Mills and Derrick May for its wild and crazy NYE parties. See http://www.vision-tokyo.com nearer to the date for details. For those who prefer to say goodbye to 2013 with live music, surrounded by a rowdy crowd of party-goers, Rockin’ On magazine’s Countdown Japan festival sees 100 acts playing across four stages over three days, culminating in one big all-night party on New Year’s Eve itself.

Looking for something less head-bangy? Then mosey on down to The Pit Inn, the Shinjuku den that puts on an all-night jazz-in with dozens of veteran musicians. Punters are free to come and go as they please, which is perfect if you want to sneak off for a spot of hatsumode. What’s hatsumode, you ask? This all-important first shrine visit of the year sees the Japanese don colourful kimonos and present amulets at Shinto shrines across the country at midnight on 31 Dec. But don’t worry if you’re too busy partying at the stroke of midnight – the atmospheric shrine visits go on throughout the night and continue for the first few days of the New Year.

Get there Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlines.com) flies direct to Tokyo from $837 return.

Time Out Singapore: A Quick Guide to Nusa Dua, Bali

Gwen Pew and Berwin Song check out three new properties of note in Bali’s Nusa Dua region.

Photos can do no justice to the stunning Grand Nikko Bali. Image courtesy of the hotel.

Photos can do no justice to the stunning Grand Nikko Bali. Image courtesy of the resort.

13 Nov 2013: On the east coast of the southern tip of Bali, the district of Nusa Dua is traditionally known as a gated enclave of swanky resorts, home to five-star properties such as the Conrad, Grand Hyatt Bali and the Westin. While there aren’t many sights in the area itself (the bland Bali Collection shopping complex is the only real retail centre in the area), the region is perfect for those looking for a quiet, all-inclusive getaway or resort conference – recently, both the 2013 Miss World competition and the security-heavy APEC summit were held inside the gated region. The district is also seeing increased development in the wide swathes of land outside of the gates, with numerous resorts in the works.

Best for romantic getaways

Grand Nikko Bali

Walking around the sprawling, stunning grounds of Grand Nikko Bali, you wouldn’t think that the resort is about to celebrate its 18th anniversary. Everything is kept in mint condition, the staff members are all friendly and attentive, and the facilities are top notch. The five-star resort was rebranded just a few months ago, following the refurbishment of all 389 guest rooms and the introduction of 19 villas that each boast their own private infinity pool with either an ocean or garden view (there are 17 one-bedroom, one two-bedroom and one threebedroom villa), plus an exclusive villa lounge, a ballroom and an open-air wedding gazebo.

Guests staying at the villas are also welcomed to use the Nikko Club Lounge – a prime location to watch the sunrise over the Indian Ocean, enjoy a complimentary a la carte breakfast, or relax over canapés and cocktails at dusk – and get pampered by a range of treatments, such as the recommended two-hour Harmony massage, at the Mandara Spa.

With four restaurants and a bar, as well as a range of other activities (including camel rides) and direct beach access, there is no real need to leave the Grand Nikko if you don’t want to, making it perfect for those who are looking for a truly private romantic getaway.

Guest rooms start from USD350++/ night; villas from USD650++/night. A discount of 33 percent off villas is available until March 2014. Seewww.grandnikkobali.com for details.

Best for beach activites

Chedi Sakala

The third property by luxury hotel group General Hotel Management (GHM) to open in Bali, the Chedi Sakala just started welcoming its first guests at the end of October, and officially opens this month. The resort occupies 2.4 hectares of land and is located right along the well-developed beaches of Tanjung Benoa at the northern end of Nusa Dua (inside the gated enclave), which features numerous water activies and sports. Impressively, all of the 247 guest rooms are suites; there are also 14 private one- and two-bedroom pool villas.

Other facilities at the resort include two swimming pools, a wellness spa, health club, lagoon bar and kid’s club. An all-daydining restaurant serves up an international cuisine, while the Sakala Bali restaurant across the road from the resort provides a more upscale, contemporary French dining option.

Guest rooms start from USD310++/ night; villas from USD800++/night. Seewww.ghmhotels.com/en/thechedi- sakala/home for details.

Best for those on a budget

Mantra Nusa Dua

One of the most affordable options in the area, Mantra Nusa Dua is the brand’s flagship resort outside of Australia (where they have 52 properties). While it doesn’t boast the all-out swankiness of some of the surrounding resorts (such as the ridiculously massive Mulia compound across the street), it’s great for a quiet getaway with wellsized rooms.

There are 172 rooms in three categories, situated in two wings surrounding the centrepiece pool, which runs the length of the hotel (with an overhead walkway creating a few waterfall features that leads to their dining room). All rooms feature a balcony with an outdoor daybed and rain showers in the bathrooms. Superior and Deluxe rooms start at a relatively spacious 51sqm – the difference comes in the form of an extra sofa area or a bathtub, respectively. The top rooms are the suites (24 in total) – all sized at 102sqm and still significantly cheaper than most other resorts in the area.

Though there’s no direct beach access, free shuttles are provided to Geger Beach, which is a threeminute drive away. Here, Mantra has a small area with a few beach chairs reserved specially for their guests.

The resort is also home to the Chakra spa, a first for the Mantra brand, featuring their signature Chakra balancing massage (which involves a Tibetan singing bowl and Indonesian massage). Look out for more as Mantra expands in Asia, with plans for multiple properties across Bali (including their budget hotel Brand Free and the higher-end Peppers, the first of which will be a rebranded property taking over Sentosa Seminyak).

Superior rooms start from USD99/ night; suites start from USD242/ night Seewww.mantranusadua.com for details.

Time Out Singapore: Legoland Malaysia Water Park (Feature)

Legoland Malaysia Water Park is officially opening its doors on 21 October. Featuring over 70 Lego models and 20 water-based rides – including the signature attractions Joker Soaker, Wave Pool and Build-A-Raft River – this is set to be the largest Legoland Water Park in the world. Gwen Pew goes and checks it out.

Legoland Malaysia's water park is definitely kid-friendly - but there's plenty to do for the big kids too. Photo courtesy of Legoland Malaysia.

Legoland Malaysia’s water park is definitely kid-friendly – but there’s plenty to do for the big kids too. Photo courtesy of Legoland Malaysia.

21 Oct 2013: Legoland Malaysia Water Park is officially opening its doors on 21 October. Featuring over 70 Lego models and 20 water-based rides – including the signature attractions Joker Soaker, Wave Pool and Build-A-Raft River – this is set to be the largest Legoland Water Park in the world. Most of the slides and pools are suitable for kids as young as two, but older kids and adults will also have fun at the more thrilling ones such as the Tidal Tube, which you shoot down in almost total darkness and reach breathtaking speeds before emerging from the other side, 240-feet down. Alternatively, the LEGO Slide Racers is also designed for daredevils, as six people race down different tubes at the same time on a mat, head first.

The only things to note are that firstly, grounds are extremely slippery so do be careful, and secondly, because Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim country, most people there are dressed in long-sleeved shirts and trousers; feel free to wear a swimsuit but there weren’t a lot of people in bikinis when we went for a media preview, so ladies, be prepared to stand out a little if you choose to show more flesh.

Overall, though, the Water Park makes for a fun day out for all the family – so get ready, set, soak!

Legoland Malaysia 7 Jln Legoland, Bandar Medini, Nusajaya, Johor, Malaysia (+60 7 597 8888, www.legoland.com.my). Sun-Tue & Thu-Fri 10am-6pm; Sat 10am-8pm. Water Park: MYR85-MYR105++ ($30-$40++); Legoland & Water Park: MYR 140-MYR175++ ($54-$67++).

Time Out Singapore: Three New Hotels

Gwen Pew rounds up three of the latest hotels to open in Singapore.

Carlton City Hotel. Image courtesy of Carlton Hotels.

Carlton City Hotel. Image courtesy of Carlton Hotels.

10 Sep 2013:

Best for business people

Carlton City Hotel

As the newest hotel to pierce the Tanjong Pagar skyline, Carlton City – part of the Worldhotels group – is perfect for jet-setting business men and women with its proximity to the CBD, ergonomic in-room furniture and free internet. Its 386 rooms are all elegantly designed, with Carlton Club Rooms and Suites allowing access to the lounge on the 28th floor, where complimentary breakfast and evening cocktails are served each day. Also look out for another branch of Carlton’s Tuxedo café and patisserie, plus the Graffiti Sky Bar on the 29th floor. An opening offer with standard room rates starting from $238++ and Club Rooms from $308++ is available until 31 Oct.

1 Gopeng St (6632 8888, www.carltoncity.sg). MRT: Tanjong Pagar.

Best for the budget-conscious

Holiday Inn Express

Located just off Orchard Road, the first Holiday Inn Express in Singapore is one of the few midrange options for staying in the heart of the city. All of their 221 guest rooms are in the same price category; while there’s no pool or gym, the hotel offers complimentary wi-fi, free continental breakfast and self-service laundry facilities. Regular prices start from $220++ per night, or take advantage of their opening deal, with rooms for $198++ per night until 30 Nov.

20 Bideford Rd (6690 3199,www.facebook.com/HolidayInnExpressSingaporeOrchardRoad). MRT: Orchard.

Best for chic travellers

Naumi Hotel

Following a multi-million-dollar facelift, the award-winning local boutique joint finally reopens its doors to visitors this month, with 73 guest rooms designed by local creative agency White Jacket, plus two luxurious suites inspired by Andy Warhol and Coco Chanel. Be sure to take a dip in their revamped rooftop infinity pool and try out the new Indian restaurant, Table by Rang Mahal. Room rates start from $350++ per night for single occupancy, including breakfast.

41 Seah St (6403 6000, www.naumihotel.com). MRT: Esplanade.

Time Out Singapore: Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas

Launched in 2003 and weighing more than 138,000 tonnes, Royal Caribbean International’s Mariner of the Seas is the largest cruise ship homeporting in Asia, following the ripples of her sister ship, Voyager of the SeasGwen Pew explores it further.

Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas.

18 Jul 2013: Launched in 2003 and weighing more than 138,000 tonnes, Royal Caribbean International’s Mariner of the Seas is the largest cruise ship homeporting in Asia, following the ripples of her sister ship, Voyager of the Seas. She boasts of 15 passenger decks and comes equipped with a shipload of features, including an ice skating rink, a ‘rooftop’ wedding chapel, an outdoor rock climbing wall, an arcade centre, a casino, a miniature golf course and more. Food options on board are plentiful, ranging from a steakhouse to a sushi restaurant to the 1950s-inspired American diner Johnny Rockets (where you can play tunes on their still-functional old-school jukeboxes).

Three- to 17-year-olds can make friends at the Adventure Ocean, which has a host of complimentary activities taking place throughout the trip, while the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery has trained staff looking after little ones aged between six months to three years old, so parents can enjoy some much-needed couple time.

While Mariner is similar in size and build to Voyager, she does have a few unique tricks up her sleeves, including ship-wide wifi (fees apply), new hotel openings an outdoor movie screen and digital touch screens located around the ship to help you find your way. After arriving in Singapore last month,Mariner of the Seas is currently sailing around Shanghai, but will be back in November and cruising around South-East Asia until next March. Her next journey from Singapore will commence on 10 November, and will take guests on a five-night cruise around the region, docking in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Phuket.

Time Out Singapore: Bintan Lagoon Resort (Feature)

Bintan Lagoon Resort remains one of the most popular accommodations in Bintan despite its sixteen years, as Gwen Pew discovers.

Bintan Lagoon Resort's private ferry terminal. Image courtesy of Mozaic Resorts.

Bintan Lagoon Resort’s private ferry terminal. Image courtesy of Mozaic Resorts.

3 Jul 2013: When it opened its doors in 1997, Bintan Lagoon Resort was only the second hotel complex on this sunny Indonesian island. But while it’s admittedly no longer as modern or shiny as its younger neighbours, its features have improved over the years. One of its selling points is its own ferry terminal – the 75-minute boat trip from Tanah Merah takes you directly to its doorstep and, at the time that we went, away from the worst of the haze.

Stretched out across 300ha of tropical landscape, the resort makes for an ideal weekend getaway without breaking the bank. You may choose to stay in one of their their newly renovated deluxe rooms, which faces the gardens or the South China Sea; their themed suites if you’re looking for something more extravagant; or their three-, four- or five- bedroom villas that come with a free use of a buggy.

We got a sea-facing deluxe room equipped with a cosy balcony, stylish Indonesian teak furniture, king-size bed, raised cushioned platform that doubled as a huge sofa, and a comfortably-sized bathtub.

Wi-Fi is available for a fee if you can’t detach yourself from the outside world, although we highly recommend staying offline. There is, after all, a huge amount to do. Riding the jetski, kayak and the super-intense banana boat (it’s great fun but your limbs will get a proper work out from this, trust us) is great for thrill-seekers. There’s also a snorkelling tour twice daily (10am and 2pm) if you’d like to get up close and personal with the colourful inhabitants of the oceans; the water was slightly murky when we went, but it’s nonetheless fascinating to get a glimpse of what goes on under the sea.

For those who’d rather stay dry, we’d recommend giving the ATV (All-Terrain Vehicles – aka quad bikes) a go. Otherwise, a host of sports facilities are also available, from archery to tennis. Golfers will find paradise here in the resort’s two signature 18-hole courses – the Ian Baker-Finch Woodlands Course and the Jack Nicklaus Sea View course – which offer spectacular views.

Mind you, these activities are pretty pricey – as are the services at Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa, but there are cheaper options. We suggest going for a beach massage in the hut located under palm trees by the sea instead: their Javanese Massage ($30 for 30 minutes) untied all the knots that we had. Do be prepared to become the target for people watchers, but overall it’s relaxing and it’s lovely to have the breeze in our hair.

We also enjoyed being spoilt for food choices. With 12 restaurants and bars on offer, we especially loved the surprisingly authentic Miyako Japanese Restaurant, Orzo Italian and Mediterranean Restaurant (though we’d recommend skipping the mediocre desserts) and their latest addition, Rice Beachfront Bar and Dining. Sipping cocktails while watching the sunset at Rice was certainly an experience we’d remember for a long time, although we were unfortunately forced to move indoors when the food arrived due to the swarms of flies that were too eager to join in the party; it’d have been nice if there were insect lamps installed around the terrace.

The drinks menu at their nightclub/bar, Silk, was impressive and all very well made, but we found their crowd rather seedy on the night that we went. Instead, we much preferred taking a stroll along the pristine Pasir Panjang Beach under the bright moonlight – plus it’s free! Just make sure you bring insect repellent – the sand flies and mosquitoes are merciless.

Apart from families and friends, Bintan Lagon Resort is also ideal for companies looking to do a corporate holiday – their brand new, 1300-persons capacity conference centre, the Great Hall, is due to be completed by the end of July.

Time Out Singapore: Four Points by Sheraton, Bangkok (Feature)

With its young and hip vibe, Four Points by Sheraton in Bangkok’s Asok district is a wallet-friendly, luxury getaway.

A room at Four Points by Sheraton, Sukhumvit 15, Bangkok.

A room at Four Points by Sheraton, Sukhumvit 15, Bangkok.

22 Apr 2013: Our stay at Four Points by Sheraton Bangkok’s Junior Suite over the Easter weekend was fantastic; that is, once we managed to locate the hotel. Despite its very central location – it’s just a few minutes’ walk from the Asok BTS station, and is a stone’s throw away from shopping mecca Terminal 21 and spas like the locals-approved Healthland – the route is not signposted at all.

We first stumbled into the nearby Sheraton Hotel and then got lost as we followed somewhat confusing directions. We were later informed by the staff there Thai government wouldn’t allow any more hotels to be built along the already-overcrowded Sukhumvit Road – hence the tucked-away location. The plus side is that it’s also far from angry the car horns and the ear-piercing whistles of traffic wardens, thus making it the perfect hideaway.

At any rate, we immediately forgot how difficult it was to get there once we stepped into the vast, bright hotel lobby. Adopting a bright, cheerful colour palate and matching it with quirky – but still elegant – décor, the place exudes a friendlier and more casual vibe compared with other four- or five-star places, though its quality is hardly compromised. Granted, our suite was by no means a room with a view, but it was clean, modern, and tastefully decked out with plush carpeted floors, a deep standalone bathtub and a decadently comfortable king-sized bed. A flat screen TV is conveniently located in the space between the bed and the sofa, which can be swivelled to face whichever side of the room we happened to be in at the time – you can even turn it at an angle if you wished to catch up on some telly in the bath. WiFi is available for free in public areas such as the lobby, although there is a fee of THB450 ($20)/day if you want to surf the net from the comforts of your room.

We also enjoyed some downtime at their rooftop infinity pool after a satisfying buffet breakfast at The Eatery the next morning. Although not massive and surrounded by skyscrapers on almost all sides, it does the job if you’re craving a nice mid-afternoon dip or sun-bathing session, with ample deckchairs and beds lined up in rows on one side. amBar, which is daintily decorated with a flock of butterfly silhouettes, is situated right next to the pool and offers a selection of signature and standard cocktails, as well as other tipples. The Blackberry Mojito (THB300; $13) that we tried was refreshing and had an interesting spicy kick – though perhaps a little too bitter for our liking.

The thing that really struck us about the hotel, however, was the friendly staff – the receptionists were incredibly helpful – going so far as to book a massage appointment for us at a nearby spa – and the cleaners would always say ‘Sawasdee!’ with a smile. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Four Points – especially since prices are reasonable given their excellent standards. And don’t forget to take advantage of their tuk-tuk service, which takes you to any of the designated hotspots within the vicinity of the hotel – for free.

Four Points by Sheraton Bangkok, Sukhumvit 15, 4 Sukhumvit Soi 15, Sukhumvit Rd, Klongtoey-Nua, Wattana, Bangkok 10110 (+66 2309 3000, fourpoints.com/bangkoksukhumvit15).

Time Out Singapore: Japan Beyond Sakura (Feature)

Given the unpredictability of Japan’s cherry blossom season, it’s a challenge to be at the right place at the right time – fortunately, there are plenty of other spring festivals in the country to check out, as Gwen Pew discovers.

One of the 'Sea Hell' hot springs in Beppu, Japan.

One of the ‘Sea Hell’ hot springs in Beppu, Japan.

3 Apr 2013: Part of the beauty of Japan’s famous cherry blossom – or sakura – season is how shortlived it is, seeing as the whole process from blossoming to wilting lasts only about a week. Not all of them bloom at the same time, and flowering usually happens gradually from the southern side of the country to the north throughout the months of March, April and May. See www.japan-guide.com/e/e2011.html for a forecast of the major cities’ cherry blossom blooming time – although the website does warn that rain, wind and temperature changes can have an effect on the plants, so no promises.

April is still a fantastic month to visit Japan, however, as a slew of festivals take place during this time to celebrate the coming of spring. Here are four that you can admire, and if you’re lucky, you might just be able to catch these against a backdrop of pinkish-white falling petals.

Beppu Hot Spring Festival

When: 1-7 Apr
Beppu is famous for its eight major hot springs (onsen) – known locally as ‘the eight hells of Beppu’ (Hatto Onsen) and by which the city’s districts are divided – as well as hundreds of smaller ones that are fed by water from them. Hot springs, which are created when bodies of water are geothermally-heated by hot rocks from the Earth’s crust, are rich in minerals; many believe that they carry health benefits. Aside from the traditional hot water bath, visitors can also enjoy hot sand, steam and mud baths if they crave some variety. People give thanks to the onsen every year and many of the public baths are free to enter during the festival period. A map of where all the different springs are can be obtained from the tourist desk at Beppu station, but otherwise you can join the Hell Tour to make sure you see all of them.

Other attractions: On 6 April, another festival by the name of Ogiyama Fire Festival also takes place in Beppu, during which Mount Ohira is set alight by the burning of dry grass. The Wonder Rakutenchi, a quirky, old-school theme park, is one for those up for a laugh (although they’re more well-known for their duck races than their rides). Alternatively, opt to breathe in somefresh air at Mount Tsurumi.

How to get there: China Eastern Airlines (www.flychinaeastern.com) flies to Fukuoka from $760 return with one stopover. From there, look for the Fukuoka-kuko Kokusaisen Terminal bus stop (what a mouthful!) and take the Nishitetsu/Kamenoi bus for two hours all the way to Beppu, which costs around $40.

Festival of the Steel Phallus

When: 7 Apr
Commonly referred to as the Penis Festival – one of two penis festivals in Japan (the other being the Honen Matsuri, or Penis Fertility Festival, which is held in Komaki, Aichi prefecture during March) – Kanamara Matsuri began in Kawasaki during the Edo period in the 17th century. Legend goes that a young woman was inh

abited by a toothed demon who castrated her husbands on two wedding nights, and a blacksmith made her a steel phallus to break the demon’s tooth – hence the festival was born. It was a time for prostitutes to pray at the Kanamara shrine for protection against STDs, while other local folks would also visit for fertility, prosperity and harmony. While it is mostly known today for parading a giant pink penis called omikoshi around town as people eat penis-shaped candies, buy penis-shaped toys – or simply dress up as penises – the festival is also used to raise awareness for STDs and collect funds for HIV research.

Other attractions: Dedicated to the creator of comics such as Doraemon, the Fujiko F Fujio Museum in Kawasaki is fantastic for young and old fans alike – follow their audio guide (available in Japanese and English) around the place, and don’t forget to stop off at the Doraemon-themed café! The Nihon Minkaen Folk House Museum, which features more than 20 houses showcasing various architectural styles dating back to the 17th-19th centuries, also makes for an interesting trip.

How to get there Malaysia Airlines (www.malaysiaairlines.com) flies to Tokyo Narita Airport from $850 return with one stopover; Japan Airlines (www.jal.com) flies direct from $1,000 return. Take the Japanese Rail (JR) Narita Express (NEX) train to Shinagawa Station, and then transfer to either the JR Tokaido Line or the JR Keihin Tohoku Line to reach Kawasaki Station, which takes about an hour and a half and costs $43. Alternatively, you can also get to Kawasaki by a series of commuter trains on the Keisei Railway, Toei Asakusa Subway Line and Keikyu Line, which takes two hours and can get crowded, but only costs $18.

Takayama Float Festival

When: 14 & 15 Apr
Widely recognised as one of the three most beautiful festivals in Japan (with the other two being the Chichibu Matsuri at the Saitama Prefecture and the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, both of which take place in July), the Takayama Float Festival is an annual event that dates back to the 17th century, held in the southern part of Takayama city’s Old Town. It is dedicated to the Hie Shrine – also known as the Sanno Shrine – and people traditionally pray for a successful harvest during this period, but the highlight here is without a doubt the 11 large, elaborate floats called yatai, which are displayed on the streets during the day and paraded around the city with lanterns in the evening by citizens in traditional Japanese dress. Each of the floats are
meant to represent a different district in Takayama, and some of them even carry mechanical puppets known as karakuri ningyo, which dance around the deck.

Other attractions: The Jinya-mae and Miyagawa morning markets are worth a visit for early birds (6am-noon), while the Takayama Jinya – an old government office dating back to the Edo period – also makes for an interesting stop. Alternatively, you can head to the Takayama Festival Float Exhibition Hall (Takayama Matsuri Yatai Kaikan) to find out more about the float festival.

How to get there: Asiana Airlines (www.flyasiana.com) flies to Toyama from $930 return with one stopover. From there, take the airport shuttle bus to Toyama Station (about 30 mins for $5), then hop on the JR Takayama Main Line train towards Inotani, and transfer to the JR Takayama Main Line train towards Inoota to reach Takayama, which takes two hours at around $21. However, another easier and quicker way from Toyama Station to Takayama Station is by the JR Hida Line train heading towards Nagoya – it’ll get you there in an hour and a half, but will cost you double (around $42).

Dances of the Old Capital

When: 1-30 Apr
Back for the 141st year, the traditional Spring Dance Festival gives visitors a rare opportunity to see geishas – highly skilled female entertainers – perform songs and dances in public in Japan’s former capital city, Kyoto. It originated in 1872 as part of the ‘Exhibition for the Promotion of Domestic Industry’ showcase three years after Japan’s capital moved to Tokyo, in an attempt to revive Kyoto’s declining status and attraction. The oldest and most established Mikyako Odori takes place at the famed Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theatre, performed by geishas who prefer to be called geiko, which means ‘a woman of art’. The show itself lasts about an hour and is divided into eight parts, and while the general structure remains the same every year, topics do vary and can be based on current events or political affairs. There are four daily afternoon shows (final show at 4.50pm); tickets range from JPY2,000- JPY4,500 ($26-$58) and can be bought at the theatre’s box office. See http://www.miyako-odori.jp/odori_en.html for more details.

Other attractions: Built in 1397 as a residence for General Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) earned its name quite literally, as its exterior is entirely covered in gold leaf. Other popular temples in Kyoto include the Kiyomizu-dera and Ginkaku-ji, and the Sanjusangendo Hall is another grand example of Japan’s rich architectural heritage.

How to get there: China Eastern Airlines (see above) flies to Osaka’s Kansai International Airport from $780 return with one stopover. From there, board the Haruka Limited Express straight to Kyoto, which will take an hour and 15 minutes for $42. If you buy the one-day, foreigners-only JR West Kansai Area Pass (more info at http://www.westjr.co.jp/global/en), the train ride will only cost you around $26. From Kyoto Station, you can either walk to Miyako Odori, which takes half an hour, but there are also a number of buses close by that can take you there in 20 minutes for $3.