Myanmar, floating whiskey bars and Australia’s cutest animal, officially: Takeoff travel news

TRENDS: Discover secrets of Myanmar

Myanmar has set our travel radars
afire since Lonely Planet named it in its top 10 must-visit destinations
back in 2012, when Australia lifted its sanctions against the country.
Now, Trafalgar becomes the first of the larger group tour companies
offering coach tours to enter the market in 2016. Its new 11-day Secrets of Myanmar tour traverses the well regarded sights of Yangon,

Inle Lake and Bagan and goes off
track to include a cooking class and local markets, visiting some of
Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, the Pa-O, Danu and Intha people. Before Trafalgar’s entry, the tourism market

had been dominated by smaller group
operators including Peregrine, which has been running tours since 2002,
World Expeditions and budget-minded Intrepid Travel. Travel pundits say
Myanmar’s infrastructure is still weak, with poor roads, a lack of ATMs
and poor communications (ie shaky Wi-Fi), though the big hotel groups
are moving in. 

Accor plans to open four new hotels in a country regarded as one of south-east Asia’s most mysterious and most beautiful.
Trafalgar’s 11-day Secrets of
Myanmar guided holiday costs from $4875, excluding airfares, with
departures between January 27 and December 7, 2016. Phone 1300 797 010,
see trafalgar.com.  
 

EXPLORE: Go with the flow

Fossick for gold, unearth a thunder
egg from an ancient lava flow or spot the rare Gouldian finch on a new
self-drive route in Far North Queensland. The new Lava Tubes, Gems and
Gorges Trail is an offshoot of the Savannah Way, which links Cairns and
Broome in an epic 3700-kilometre drive across three states and five
World Heritage sites. The new trail is a 300-kilometre circuit from
Minnamoolka to Conjuboy, inland from Queensland’s Mission Beach. En
route, take a river cruise down Cobbold Gorge, hunt for topaz at
O’Briens Creek and walk down the world’s longest lava tubes – caves
created by lava flows – at Undara Volcanic National Park. Thirsty work?
Pull in to Australia’s smallest bar at Lynd Junction to recoup. Also
check out the nearby Kirrama Range Road, which was mapped late last
year. Find the trails at visitor information centres or see
drivenorthqueensland.com.au.
 

DRINKS: Dram roll

 If you thought whisky and cruising
were uneasy bedfellows, think again as you order up at Magnums, the
first whisky bar on the Princess Cruises line. Staff at the new bar, on
board the locally based Dawn Princess, will lead you through 63 fine
whiskies, from Tasmania to Japan to the US and Scotland. You’ll find
single malts from New Zealand, American bourbons and even a Melbourne
offering. Try a nip or order the flight of the day, featuring three
different whiskies. The cruise line says the spirit is hot, and
recommends a dram after dinner or on a laidback sea day. Cruises on the
Dawn Princess include the 13-night round trip from Sydney

to New Caledonia and Vanuatu from $1399 a person, twin share, departing January 16, 2015. Phone 132 488, see princess.com

Silver fox Roy Billing.

TOUR: NZ fox trot for boomers

On your marks boomers. Your
adventure trip to New Zealand awaits. The new Silver Foxes and Foxettes
tour is aimed at baby boomers who want to live for the moment and
#saysorrylater. Check out the social media campaign, which encourages
you to SKI (Spend the Kids’ Inheritance). The ringleader of the new AAT Kings tour is actor Roy Billing (pictured), a proud Kiwi, Underbelly

and Jack Irish star and 2015
recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia. Billing helps mix New
Zealand’s heady beauty and fine tables with a dash of jet boating or
heli-wine tasting. The 10-day tours start in Billing’s hometown,
Auckland, then on to Rotorua for a hangi feast before

heading to the South Island’s
Christchurch, Franz Josef Glacier and Queenstown. Tours depart from
September 13, 2015 to May 22, 2016 and cost from $3795 a person, twin
share. Phone 131 415, see
helloworld.com.au/instore/silverfox.
 

GEAR: Stop the noise

So your carry-on bag already bulges
with laptop, camera, work gear or perhaps the accoutrements required by a
junior traveller by your side. Who has room for big headphones?
Fortunately, sound masters Bose have the answer, with their QC20 in-ear
headphones. Fully charged, these little babies offer 16 hours of noise
cancellation, and act as regular earphones even when uncharged.
The incredibly effective “noise
cancelling” mode will block out even your neighbour’s droning, while
“aware” lets you pick up traffic noise (handy when you’re on the move)
without having to corkscrew them tightly into your ears. They also
feature an inline mike and volume control. First released in 2013, the
new models come in black or white, tailored for iPhones/iPads/iPods,
Samsung Galaxy or Android devices. Includes a tidy zipup bag and earbuds in three sizes. Quiet Comfort 20 acoustic noise-cancelling headphones cost $399. See
bose.com.au.  
 

KIDS: Wild life

Australia’s cutest animal, Archer the koala.

July birthday kids will gain free
entry to Featherdale Wildlife Park, in western Sydney, which also
celebrates its birthday this month. The park is home to Archer the
Koala, officially the cutest animal in Australia, thanks to a recent
poll. Archer, who was hand-raised by

Featherdale staff, beat competition
from around Australia including gang-gang cockatoos and quokkas, and
details his life on his Facebook page @ArcherTheKoala. Featherdale includes a petting zoo
with baby lambs, goats and pigs, as well as Australia’s own baby
bilbies, wallabies, dingoes and wombats, while the fearless can sidle up
to snakes or tangle with a Tassie devil.

  
Open 9am to 5pm daily, 217 Kildare
Road, Doonside. Adults $29.50, children (3-15 years) $16, families from
$56 (1 adult, 2 kids). Phone (02) 9622 1644, see featherdale.com.au/birthday

 The Takeoff travel news column by Belinda Jackson is published every Sunday in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.   

KNOW IT ALL: Singapore Five essential things to consider before you go…

Haji Lane, Singapore. Photo: Belinda Jackson
KNOW IT ALL: Singapore
1.      
Eat cheap on the street: hawker (street food)
stalls are carefully audited by the government and the people – a whiff of grit
or one bad review  and they’re toast.
2.      
Grab an MRT-bus card and skim the city like a
local. The metro system is super-fast and super-efficient, the only choice in
peak hour.
3.      
Forget devil-may-care Asia, it’s all seatbelts
and waiting at the traffic lights. Singaporeans also love a good, orderly
queue
4.      
The Singapore Sling turns 100 this year,
appropriate given Singapore is currently in the grip of cocktail fever, with
sleek new bars playing with everything from sake to bourbon. Pack a glossy
outfit, charge up the credit card and hit the chic strips of Ann Siang Hill and
Haji Lane (to name a few)…
5.      
…and if you overdo it, the tap water is
perfectly safe to drink. 
This article by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald Traveller section.

Ten travel experiences that will change your life


Characters of Egypt. Photo: Belinda Jackson.

If you’ve been living under a rock (or possibly not in Australia), you may have missed the launch of the fabulous new Traveller website, from Fairfax Media. To kick off, a handful of us were asked for 10 travel experiences that changed our lives. I nominated hanging off a glacier on Russia’s Mt Elbrus and watching the cultural puzzle click in India, but also experiencing the absolute inability to communicate (in South Korea) and travelling in the Middle East (oh, there are SO many ways this has changed my life). 

Here are my two published experiences below, and you can click here to read the full story, which includes seeing Rome’s Colosseum, going on safari on the Masai Mara and visiting the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz.

There are holidays that help you relax and unwind, then there are
travel experiences that change your entire outlook on life. Here, some
of Traveller’s most well-travelled writers name the experiences that
changed their lives – and could change yours, too.

Where: South Korea and beyond

The experience: Finding yourself in a truly foreign culture
How it will change your life:
One
of the great joys of travel is connecting with a local without a tour
guide babying you through the conversation.There are those little
milestones – the first time you buy water, order a meal, score a date in
a foreign language.
I thought I was pretty slick: I could fumble
French, shout Spanish, read Russian. My mime skills were excellent, the
vocabulary list in my travel guides well-studied. But my global
communication skills foundered, profoundly, in South Korea.
I’m
sitting in an empty café in Seoul. According to the photos around us, it
sells noodles. I would like noodles. Every time I suggest a noodle
dish, the waitress shakes her head. So I point. She shakes. Point.
Shake. Point. Shake. I give up, I find a vending machine. (Later, I
learn I was sitting in a closed restaurant.)
Having the complete inability to communicate is a humbling experience. It is a reminder that the world is a far bigger place than just you and your orbit. – Belinda Jackson
More: english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/index.kto

Where: The Middle East

The experience: See life beyond the newsreels
How it will change your life:
They do things big in the Middle East: the Great Pyramid of Gizas,
Iran’s Persepolis, the Sahara desert and the Empty Quarter, to name a
few. Steer clear if you like orderly queues, traffic lights and 10pm
bedtimes.
The standard backdrop for the Middle East in news
bulletins is of tanks, screaming masses and men in epaulettes. The
reality on the ground – save a few war zones – is about traffic jams,
happily shouting friends and men in epaulettes (what’s not to love about
a good uniform?).
Men and women live in different spheres, pork
and booze are largely off the menu and if you’re foreign, you’re rich.
Yes, there are camels and shisha (tobacco water pipes) and you will see
belly dancers. Yet there are also chic beach resorts, the sneaky
late-night bars and saucy cabarets, the deep and abiding love of
football (that’s soccer). And while headscarves can polarise a nation,
from Iran to Oman, the passion for fashion is alive and kicking, with
the same obsession for black.
Let go: travelling in the Middle
East requires sinking deep into a rich, cultural morass. Deep down,
you’ll realise, we all just want the good life. – Belinda Jackson.

Macaron madness: a food photography taster

The Mr Darcy of macarons: black sesame
and blackberry fill. Photo: Belinda Jackson.
‘Light, in abundance,’ was the motto today, thanks to top editorial photographer Ewen Bell. 
I’m not quite sure, then, how I ended up with this study in grey (left), the result of a day’s food photography taster with Ewen, fellow photographer Ian Rolfe and food stylist and photographer Iron Chef Shellie, aka Michèle Froidevaux.
I call it: Vermeer Macaron, because it’s got that whole grey Dutch thing going on (and there were tulips originally in the shot, but I went minimalist to the point of monochromatic).
In case you’re interested, this photo was shot with my modest Canon 600D with a super-fabulous Sigma 35mm f/1.4 whacked on and a Bowens studio flash set-up. Lavish.
I learned that most people shoot up too close, losing the story (guilty), that shooting with the light behind you will make your photos groan with dreariness and that tilt-shift lenses are just crazy animals. 
Sweetness & light. Photo: Belinda Jackson.

Other tips included shooting food portrait, not landscape, and to make a mess with food photography – it’s more real (but I wonder if that means you’re allowed to stick your fingers in the icing).

This fantastic, one-day food photography taster was held at the offices of gear gurus CR Kennedy in Port Melbourne (who have taught me the definition of ‘want’, since putting that 35mm lens in my hands).
Check out this talented team’s travel photography tours through the links below.
ironchefshellie.com 
www.photographyfortravellers.com

PS: the black sesame and blackberry macarons, Shellie’s creation, tasted as good as they look.

Vintiquing in Melbourne: best vintage & antique shopping

CoteProvence, 433 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

It may be a 24-hour flight away but Melburnian Belinda Jackson says her home town holds rich rewards for antiques and design lovers holidaying in Australia.

‘Which do you like better, Melbourne or Sydney?’ It’s a question we Melburnians can’t help asking international visitors. Maybe we have second-child syndrome: founded in 1835, Melbourne is nearly 50 years younger than its glossy sibling. but despite Sydney’s glittering harbour and its first-city status, we also know that we have a great deal to rival what it offers. Who needs the harbour when you can walk the pier at St Kilda? Melbourne’s design scene is more exciting and, of
course, the coffee’s better down south. You’ve come a long way – but Australia’s
second-largest city definitely is worth the journey. 

DECO DELIGHTS

Melbourne is one of the world’s great Art Deco cities,
thanks to a building boom leading up to its centenary in 1934. Many
architecture aficionados rate the Manchester Unity Building their favourite, but
guide and deco expert Robin Grow loves the Century Building
for what he describes as its ‘sleek, unadorned and uncompromising
verticality’(cnr Swanston St & Little Collins St). Join Robin on his Melbourne Art Deco tour, for $49, which takes place every
second Sunday of the month, meltours.com.au/architecture.htm

AROUND TOWN

Undoubtedly one of the city’s most exciting streets for design is Gertrude Street in Fitzroy. It’s only a couple of
blocks long, but packed with great cafes, restaurants and some of
the city’s best vintage shops (see below). Fitzroy’s sister hotspots
include its neighbour, Colllingwood, refined Prahran and the
street-art-spattered lanes and alleyways of the central business district. Forget taking a taxi, make
like a local and zip between these areas on the trams.
A word of advice for the serious hunter: the high-end antique
stores cluster around Armadale’s High Street. Here you will find the Armadale Antique Centre (1147 High St, armadaleantiquecentre.com.au),
the Francophiles at Capocchi (941/951 High St, capocchi.com.au),
the fresh and fun Fenton & Fenton (471
High St, fentonandfenton.com.au) and the master of quirkiness, Graham Geddes Antiques (877 High St, grahamgeddesantiques.com).

Kazari + Ziguzagu,
450 Malvern Rd, Prahran

MARKET CULTURE

See what Melbourne’s artist community has to offer at the Rose Street Art & Design market (rosestmarket.com.au) which takes place efvery Saturday and Sunday, or look for vintage reads in the weekly book market
at Federation Square, the city’s love-it-or-hate-it modern architecture statement
(fedsquare.com). You won’t find anything
shiny and new or mass-produced at Camberwell’s enormous Sunday market, but lots of lovely pre-owned and
handcrafted goods (Sundays, 7am-12.30pm). The 135-year-old Queen Victoria Market is an institution selling produce through
the week, before acquiring a gifty edge on weekends (qvm.com.au). Lunch on hot pide (Turkish pizza) from the
delicatessen hall or squeeze in with the hipsters for a caffeine hit at tiny Market
Lane Cafe (109-111 Therry
St, marketlane.com.au).

 

CAFE SOCIETY

Design Dispensary, 92 Gertrude St, Fitzroy

It’s said that if three Melburnians are standing
together, an espresso machine will soon turn up. This town has a serious speciality
coffee culture: aficionados hang in hip Proud
Mary
ordering cold drip, pourover, syphon and chemex coffees. The ricotta
hotcakes are astonishing and yes, you can get a latte. (172 Oxford St,
Collingwood, proudmarycoffee.com.au) For some New
York love, everyone’s talking about Bowery
to Williamsburg’s
pecan pie (16 Oliver Lane, City) while old
school vibes still resonate at oh-so Italian Pellegrini’s
Espresso Bar
, said to be the first place to pour an espresso in this town and
still rocking its original working-class diner theme (66 Bourke Street, City.

DAY TRIPPING

An hour and a half south of the city, you’ll discover our
beloved beach getaway, the Mornington Peninsula. This is the ideal place to enjoy fish and chips
and a paddle at Safety Beach or indulge yourself with a long lunch at Merrick’s General Store (3460
Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks, mgwinestore.com.au) or indeed at one of Red Hill’s
many wineries. In Dromana, don’t miss Felix
which appropriately sums itself up as ‘unique, boutique, antique’ (167 Point Nepean Rd,
Dromana, felix.net.au) while Big Chair stocks Australian-made, upcycled
furniture and also pocketable gifts (119 Ocean Beach Rd, Sorrento, and 118 Main
St, Mornington, bigchair.com.au) andhe little town of Tyabb is an antiques and
vintage hub. Check out The Vintage Shed
(thevintageshed.com.au) and the vast Tyabb
Packing House
at 14 Mornington-Tyabb Road (tyabbpackinghouseantiques.com.au) before heading back to the city.

NEED TO KNOW

WHERE TO STAY Artist and architect Maggie Fooke has created an
artistic haven at Brooklyn Arts Hotel (48-50 George St, Fitzroy, brooklynartshotel.com.au) which is just off Gertrude Street.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK Enjoy old-world glamour at The Everleigh bar (150-156 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, theeverleigh.com) Euro-cuisine at Moon Under Water
restaurant (211 Gertrude St, Builders’ Arms Hotel, buildersarmshotel.com.au) or modern Australian gastronomy at Saint Crispin’s
(300 Smith St, saintcrispin.com.au).

To find out which are Melbourne’s top eight vintage & antique shops, click here.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was first published in British magazine Homes & Antiques

Six of the best: hotel openings in 2014

The Shard, London. Soon to be home to Britain’s first Shangri-La hotel.

It’s that time of year again, when the wrap-ups are wrapped, the forecasts are cast and we all enjoy a little panicking to get it all tied up neatly in time for a beach Christmas. I’m absurdly interested to see Hayman Island’s reincarnation, and, having just arrived back from London, have renewed a love affair with that city and all that’s glitzy and good in it.

SHANGRI-LA,
ENGLAND

The first
Shangri-La hotel in Britain will have London’s best address, at the Shard,
Western Europe’s tallest building, designed by starchitect Renzo Piano. Set in
the London Bridge quarter, each of the 202 rooms come with butlers and
floor-to-ceiling views to St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of
London. Level 52 is the domain of Hong Kong’s darling architect Andre Fu (of
Upper House fame), where you’ll find Gong, London’s highest cocktail bar, and a
sky-high infinity pool. Word on the street is it’s to open summer 2014 but
there’s no official date from the hotel yet and prices are still to be
released. See shangri-la.com.
The much-anticipated Peninsula Paris.

PENINSULA
PARIS, FRANCE

It’s
taken more than four years of work but The Peninsula Paris has finally declared
it will open on August 1, 2014. Expect 200 rooms, a rooftop bar and underground
spa and hey, because this is Paris, a cigar lounge as well. The wraps are now
off the 100-year-old Beaux-Arts building in the fancy 16th arrondissment, with
views to the Arc de Triomphe, as befits the group’s first foray into Europe.
For your gastronomic pleasure there’s Cantonese being dished up inside, French
fare on the roof and a Chinese tea counter. Rates have not yet been released. See
peninsula.com.
SOFITEL
SHANGHAI JING’AN, CHINA
Shanghai’s
already fabulous hotel scene gets a new player when the city’s third Sofitel
opens just off the iconic shopping strip of Nanjing Road. In keeping with most
Chinese hotels, it’s big: we’re talking 503 rooms, with a cocktail bar at the
top of the 68-storey art deco-inspired building and French-meets-Chinese
cuisine being talked up. There’s already been a two-year delay in its launch
but the group is planning a grand opening of what will become the city’s new
flagship Sofitel in September 2014. See sofitel.com.
CROMLIX,
SCOTLAND
Fancy
angling for trout, stalking deer or wearing someone else’s tartan? Wimbledon
champ and local lad Andy Murray has taken over this classic country house and
opening is set for April 1, 2014 (yes, really). Built in 1874, Cromlix has just
15 rooms and suites, each named after a great Scot, and is close to Gleneagles,
which hosts next year’s Ryder Cup. You won’t starve: the kitchen is under the
deft hand of Albert Roux, responsible for Britain’s first three Michelin-star
restaurant. Cromlix is just outside Andy’s home town, Dunblane, and less than
80 kilometres from both Glasgow and Edinburgh. From £200 ($350) a night. See cromlix.com.
Hayman Island’s iconic pool shot.

ONE&ONLY
HAYMAN ISLAND, AUSTRALIA

It was the
talk of the town when it was announced that the uber-luxe hoteliers of
One&Only Resorts, who play in all the best addresses including the Bahamas,
Maldives and Dubai, are taking over the iconic Great Barrier Reef resort.
Thankfully, the pool wing will be carved into new all-suite accommodation
including private pool terraces; that much-photographed lagoon pool will be hit
with cabanas and daybeds and there’s also a new adults-only pool and chill-out
lounge. And forget foreign backpackers spinning up fishy tales, your guides to
the reef will be dive experts and marine biologists. The new Hayman opens April
2014 (actually, make that July 1, 2014: BJ), from $730 a night. See hayman.com.au.
SEA
SENTOSA ECHO BEACH, INDONESIA
It hasn’t
even opened yet and already this Balinese beachfront resort has won world’s
best apartment at London’s International Property Awards. Located just north of
Seminyak on Canggu’s legendary surf beach, the 68-apartment resort features
“living walls” or vertical gardens by French botanist-designer
Patrick Blanc, a lagoon for your front yard and views straight out onto the
Indian Ocean. If looks are anything to go on, its two beach restaurants,
complete with sand beneath your feet, are set to rival those of Ku De Ta and
Potato Head when the resort opens come July 2014. From $175 for a garden
studio. See seasentosa.com.
By Belinda Jackson. This article first featured in the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age Traveller