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Triple Play

bobamanfayun.jpgI’m deep in the throes of a project that is so un-Jackie—a magazine for the LA Dodgers—but I just had to take a seventh-inning stretch to post my three articles from the 2011 Best of the Best issue of Robb Report. Check out Amanfayun’s brand new ancient spa, the stunning residences at the Four Seasons Resort Seychelles, and Snaidero USA’s debut of some seriously rad bathrooms before the magazine slithers off newsstands to make way for July! more»

Land O’ Lakes

hangzhouarticle.jpgAs is common among Texans, I often find myself insisting that lakes are the better choice in the lake vs. beach debate. Of course, we mostly make this argument due the fact that Texas’ idea of waterfront is either the oil-drenched Gulf of Mexico or the brown sludge that passes for the Rio Grande. My article in the May issue of Robb Report about West Lake’s tranquil glass-like water and romantic arched footbridges definitely helps my argument though. Who needs sand and waves when you have willow trees and sampan boats?! more»

Heaven Above…

westlake6.jpg More than a few times during my trip, I heard the phrase “Heaven above, Hangzhou below.” Funnily enough, when I got to Suzhou, the saying had changed—this time it was “Heaven above, Hangzhou and Suzhou below.” I think the latter is the correct version, although, after spending several days in both cities, I understand why the Hangzhounese would claim the saying for just themselves. Somehow, even during the busiest of times—whether shopping on Hubin and Nanshan roads, visiting ancient Buddhist temples, wandering from gallery to gallery at the Zhejiang Art Museum, or dodging aggressive shopkeepers on Hefang Street—the city possesses a certain peacefulness that Suzhou lacks. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that even when struggling (usually unsuccessfully) to find a taxi or walking the city’s stone sidewalks until the bones in your feet pulsate with searing pain, the serenity of West Lake is always just a stone’s throw away. more»

Explosions in the Sky

banyan3.jpg By the time I made it to Banyan Tree, the popping of firecrackers was almost incessant as Hangzhou’s locals counted down the days to the Lunar New Year. I, on the other hand, could not have been more sluggish. Having skipped from Seoul to Shanghai to Hangzhou to Suzhou and then back to Hangzhou, I was one weary traveler. With just 36 hours at Banyan Tree before retracing my circuitous path back to New York (via Seoul via Shanghai!), I had no greater desire than to bury myself deep under the covers of the fluffy king-size bed in my suite. But after an eight-course meal at Bai Yun, a two-hour Balinese massage at the spa, a stroll through the sleepy grounds of the neighboring Xixi National Wetland Park, and an invigorating workout in the gym, I was feeling like a firecracker myself, exploding with energy for the 24-hour-plus journey home. Xin Nian Kuai Le! more»

Ambassadors and Ascetics

amanfayun_villa1.jpgWhile staying in Hangzhou, I hit the jackpot and found the one taxi driver in perhaps all of China that speaks perfect English. Jerry, whose business card identifies him as “The Grass Roots Ambassador of Hangzhou,” was full of little nuggets of wisdom, like “wear your napkin from your neck when eating hot pot,” and “take ginseng to relieve menstrual cramps.” But his most valuable piece of advice was this: “If you haven’t been to the lake or the temple, you haven’t been to Hangzhou.”

The temple to which my new friend was referring is the Lingyin Temple, and lucky for me, Amanfayun, the second resort in my Tour de Hangzhou, is located just steps away. Much like the temple, where visitors can watch Buddhist monks in afternoon prayer each day at 3:30, Amanfayun reeks of authenticity from another time. Located on the site of a former tea plantation workers’ village, the resort’s guest rooms, restaurants, and tea houses are the same structures in which workers resided centuries ago. Monks even like to hang out at the Tea House from time to time, most likely on their way to the temple from another nearby landmark, the Buddhist University. But as exciting as it was to mingle with such enlightened creatures, I remembered yet another gem that Jerry shared with me: “If you want to take a picture of a monk, you must first ask.” more»

(Un)Adulterated Diversions

fshangzhou_restaurant1.jpgI ate well and I ate often at the Four Seasons’ traditional Chinese restaurant, Jin Sha, where eight-course meals are not reserved solely for dinner, and lunches can take up to several hours. Aside from the incredible meals, I went nuts over the restaurant’s 11 private dining rooms dotting the edge of one of the hotel’s man-made lagoons and accessible via a glowing, labyrinthine pathway. Each room has a distinct decor, and many include expansive waterfront terraces and plush lounging options. I quickly understood the need for these private spaces as my tour skipped several rooms from which the sounds of drunken carousing exploded. Even more exciting, these private dining rooms have a history as deliciously decadent as the DongPo pork served on their tables: General Manager Rudolf van Dijk divulged that the tradition dates back to the sexy swinging days of concubines! Meow! more»

Snowed In

fsspa1.jpgFollowing Korea, I spent nearly two weeks wandering eastern China. Well, perhaps wandering, which implies roughing it in a rucksack-and-sleeping-bag kind of way, gives an inaccurate impression. Rather, I spent the time bouncing between amazing resorts and hotels throughout the cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Suzhou.

First up was the Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake, which I would sooner describe as a resort than a hotel due to its stunning lakefront location and out-of-this-world spa. Though one of the heaviest snowfalls in recent Hangzhou history kept me from enjoying the former, it gave me the perfect excuse to spend even more time in the latter, whose vivid use of color—golds in the reception, vibrant pinks in the treatment rooms, and cool turquoises and slates in the amazing indoor pool—had me wishing the snow would never let up. more»