Bana Hills

7 02 2017

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Less than an hour from the Danang Beaches lies the starkly different – and noticeably cooler – Bana Hills, a fantasy resort made up of a fake French village, located atop a mountain. The resort is reached via the world’s longest cable car which glides up over spectacular jungle scenes – rushing mountain streams, enormous ferns and towering Tarzan-like rainforest trees, before entering the clouds and mists near the mountain’s summit.

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The “village” itself is mainly home to mediocre restaurants and shoving crowds of Vietnamese tourists, but the sheer scale and slickness of the operation came as a surprise to me (what else did Vietnam have up its sleeve?!), the beauty of the ride up is undeniable and the faux-Alpine village, wreathed in mist, is pleasingly surreal.

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Heaven…and hell.

7 02 2017

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An Gia was our favourite restaurant of the trip, a beautifully furnished traditional home turned Thonglor-style hipster restaurant, serving delicious local food in a leafy courtyard, complete with dogs, kitschy-tasteful ornaments and lovely ceramics. We ate there three times.

This little piece of heaven is located, incongruously, by a dystopian stretch of beach ten minutes from our hotel. Here, the coastline sand had been almost all eroded away, with walls of sandbags left to try and retain what little was left, and shorefront hotels and shops looking forlorn and trashed. It is worth seeing in itself as a metaphor for the things we are doing to our planet – I couldn’t help wondering if sand extraction for cement used in tourism developments had spurred the carnage?

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Old-fashioned with a twist

4 01 2017

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Tucked away in the leafy well-t0-do suburb of Canterbury, and little-visited by outsiders, is the determinedly quaint Maling Road. This well-preserved stretch of early Victorian shophouses culminates in a cafe in the old post office and, around the corner, one of Melbourne’s most glorious surprises: the Egyptian revival Freemason’s hall.

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Midnight at the oasis

4 01 2017

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The palm-fringed terrace and taxidermied Alice-in-Wonderland interior of the Carlton Hotel, on Bourke Street.

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The mysterious

31 12 2016

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Chapel Street is one of Melbourne’s weekend hubs, home to a scattering of clubs and bars as well as boutiques and cafes where the permanently tanned and sunglass-clad beautiful people while away sunny afternoons listening to 1990s dance music.

What I had never really paid much attention to was the architecture. The Western end of the street is lined with a parade of towering Victorian commercial buildings, giving it something of the air of Buenos Aires.

In the very centre of the street stands this gloomy mansion, with dark void-like balconies. Its ground floor houses JB Hi Fi, a cheap electronics store, which I had never realised is located in a grandiose wrought-iron arcade.

Above this was, for many years, a secretive shop called “Day on Earth” which belonged to artist David Bromley and contained his studio as well as, apparently, atmospheric rooms full of strange things: antique furniture, old mannequins and scientific implements. It was open by appointment only. When  I called the number to visit this time, the line was dead. I saw at ground level that the space has been re-branded as “David Bromley and Co” and the door, every time I passed, was firmly closed.

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Melbourne hipster

25 12 2016

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While back in town, I wanted to see what was new on Melbourne’s hipster strip of Fitzroy. I started with “Easey’s”, a  frankly remarkable bar and burger joint housed in a series of old train carraiges, perched up four flights of grafittied stairs on an innercity sidestreet. Not only is the concept amazing, but the banging nineties hip hop, views, tasy burgers and cute straight bro waiters gave it a fun-time vibe.

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Around the corner on Smith Street is “Hotel Jesus”,  perhaps the kitschiest of the city’s burgeoning crop of Mexican restaurants, designed by the same team as Bali’s (even more riotous) “Motel Mexicola“.

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And finally, way down the end of Johnston Street near the river, is “Admiral Cheng-Ho.” The cafe is named after the Chinese explorer ( more often known as Zheng-he) who led a fleet to Africa in the thirteenth century and could hypothetically have taken coffee back to China. Since the closure of “Lawyers, Guns and Money”, a hipster congee and tripe cafe, this is the only Chinese-themed hipster cafe in Melbourne but to be honest, other than the teas on the menu it was mostly standard (and therefore, excellent) Melbourne cafe fare.

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All that glitters is not sold

15 12 2016

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Just around the corner from Samsen is the awe-inspiringly vulgar interiors shop Sicis, a see-it-to-believe-it emporium for gaudy homewares and mosaiced everything.

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