Friday, 21 April 2017

Stunning resort offers a real taste of Vietnam

Nha Trang is one of Asia's new tourism hotspots; a booming coastal resort city in the south of Vietnam that is known for its many beaches, dive sites and nearby islands.

Its main beach is a long, curving stretch faced by a promenade, new international hotels and many seafood restaurants.

Head just out of town to Amiana on the Bay Nha Trang and you'll find one of the few resorts with absolute beach access; a family-friendly luxury resort overlooking a stunning bay. Sit on the beach and watch the local fishing fleet out looking for squid and prawns.

Built four years ago, Amiana is family-owned and offers a real taste of Vietnam, from traditional mud baths and cooking classes (I can now make a handy Vietnamese pancake) to seafood buffets and learning how to row in traditional basket-weaved coracles.

Other activities range from yoga to kayaking,

The cosy 158-room resort is just a short hop out of town (shuttles run throughout the day) and 45-minutes from Cam Ranh Bay Airport, with links to both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

There is a wide choice of villas and rooms, all with either direct ocean or garden views, along with a seawater pool that's the largest in the country, two freshwater pools, and a lagoon beach exclusively for in-house guests.

Bacaro restaurant offers all-day dining and there are three bars, a spa centre, gym, recreation centre, tennis courts and various water sports options.

Guests range from Vietnamese and Australians to Chinese and Russians; which mirrors Nha Trang as a whole.

While the resort offers an ideal beach break for a few days, Nha Trang itself moves at a slightly faster pace with attractions that include the late-night Skyline bar with its rooftop pool and several bars (where the cool kids and cocktail connoisseurs hang out), bustling street markets and many temples. It's small enough to navigate but big enough to offer plenty of diversions.

Head away from the tourists to enjoy traditional Vietnamese dishes at Lang Ngon, an atmospheric open-air restaurant. Think rice noodles with snail, or various frog dishes, along with more mainstream options.

For a step back in time visit the Po Nagar Temple, built by the Cham people in the 8th century and with gardens alive with music performances, small stalls and traditional weavers peddling their wares.

There are two golf courses in the region, with several more planned as the region booms. No wonder with 300 days of sunshine per year and 5.5 kilometres of uninterrupted sandy beach.

Amiana on the Bay Resort Nha Trang, Turtle Bay, Phan Nam Dong St, Nha Trang. 
+84 58 355 3333.

How to get up close and personal with koalas - for free

So cute! It is easy enough to interact with koalas in zoos and animal parks, but a lot harder to find them in in the wild. 

On Wild Koala Day (which is actually two days) - May 3 and May 6 - there will be free tours in the You Yangs in Victoria. 

The Koala Clancy Foundation is offering free educational tours in the You Yangs with local experts on both days - although a gold coin donation is welcome. 

Koala researcher Janine Duffy says people are fascinated to learn that there are koalas living wild in the You Yangs, and that some of them are world-famous.

“Koala Clancy, the most famous wild koala in the world, with 32,000 fans on Facebook, lives in the You Yangs with his family,” she said. 

Experienced koala researchers will be leading the tours, which start at 11.45am and 2.45pm on May 3 and May 6. Bookings are essential.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

New cruise ship will be heaven for rev heads; hell for others

Norwegian Cruise Line has unveiled details of a unique attraction on its new ship Norwegian Joy, a soon-to-be-unveiled 3,850 passenger vessel purpose-built for the Chinese market. 

In a move that will delight rev heads and send out warning bells to anyone seeking peace and quiet, the new ship will feature a two-level electric go-kart track on its upper level as part of a deal with Ferrari Scuderia watches. 

Norwegian Joy will home port in Shanghai and Tianjin, following a grand inaugural port tour leading up to a christening ceremony on June 27, led by her Godfather, ‘King of Chinese Pop’ Wang Leehom.

The Ferrari-branded track will allow up to 10 drivers at a time to race each other on the course and have photos taken at the finish line to share with friends and family back home. Guests of Norwegian Joy’s The Haven and Concierge class cabins will enjoy a number of complimentary rides as part of the amenities and benefits of their suites and staterooms.

Norwegian Joy will officially be delivered on April 27 in Bremerhaven, Germany. The ship will then set sail for China, where she will be showcased through a grand inaugural port tour featuring one-day events at the ports of Qingdao, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong, as well as VIP partner cruises from Norwegian Joy’s home-ports of Shanghai and Tianjin. 

Although it promises to provide "first class at sea" experiences, it sounds like a very specialised cruise vessel with an open-air laser tag course, simulator rides and interactive video walls and two multi-story waterslides. 

Should you be tempted, ring 1300 255 200 or visit

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Waterfront luxury in the heart of Tasmania's gourmet country

Coast House, a private, adults-only retreat overlooking the water in the Huon Valley, is one of Tasmania's best-kept boutique accommodation secrets.

Surrounded by orchards, vineyards and small farms in beautiful surroundings, Coast House is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city; tranquil and perfectly equipped for a few days of gourmet solitude.

Quolls, pademelons, bandicoots and wedge-tail eagles are among your closest neighbours on a private peninsula surrounded by water and nature – but provisioned with all life's little luxuries; from Netflix and fast wifi to bottles of local wines (think Sailor Seeks Horse or Devil's Corner).

Completed just two years ago and owned and operated by experienced hospitality professionals Judi and John Willoughby (ex Fairlight), Coast House offers two queen-size bedrooms, each with their own adjoining bathroom, as well as a quiet loft area for reading.

Luxuries include a wood fire in the huge living room (packed with books and games) and heated floors throughout the whole house, a fully equipped modern kitchen overlooking the water, covered verandah, gourmet hamper and luxury provisions on arrival (smoked salmon, sushi, cheeses, bread, fresh fruits, Cygneture chocolates etc).

There is an excellent range of gourmet meals in the freezer (just reheat in the microwave) with wine included, as well as gourmet breakfast ingredients.

Check out the fully stocked larder with pasta, rice, sauces, oils and all essentials, and fridge with free-range eggs, local bacon, quality muesli, fresh apple juice from down the road, yoghurt and other breakfast treats. 

The bedrooms feature luxurious linens and original artworks, while a stroll to the private beach on Beaupre Point might yield a harvest of mussels and oysters from the rocks.

For longer stayers, there is a full laundry - and well-behaved dogs are welcome by prior arrangement to enjoy the many walking trails on the 40 hectares.

Coast House is 10 minutes to Cygnet village, 55 minutes to Hobart and 1 hour 10 minutes to Hobart Airport – but many guests do not leave for the duration of their stay, preferring to explore Cygnet Coast Road with its blueberry farms, wild blackberries and small vineyards.

Rates start from $550 – or $750 for two couples - a bargain when shared four ways.

For bookings see (03) 6295 1876 or 0409 446 290

Airline to crack down after MPs behave like spoilt brats

Air India (AI) is preparing to launch a new set of standard operating procedures - including the introduction of heavy fines - to crack down on unruly flyers.

The move follows air-rage incidents involving politicians who behaved like badly-behaved children on flights.

"Recent incidents of unruly behaviour and assault on AI employees by passengers (whether VVIP or otherwise) have caused severe damage to the morale of employees," said an Air India spokesman. "Even a hotel has right of admission reserved. AI must have a procedure for handling unruly passengers."

Passengers delaying flights beyond two hours in an air rage incident could be fined over $30,000 - although exactly how the airline would force miscreants to pay up is unclear. 

The draft SOPs detail steps for the crew and ground staff in the event of ugly incidents such as two recent controversies involving parliamentarians Ravindra Gaikwad and Dola Sen.

Gaikwad was banned from flying by six airlines after he assaulted a senior Air India official with his sandals, allegedly angry over the state-run carrier shifting him from business class to economy on a domestic flight. 

But he was removed from the "no fly" list after parliamentary intervention. In India, VVIPs and VIPs wield enormous power. 

Air India says the Gaikwad incident caused a flight delay of 90 minutes. He did not apologise and has not been charged. Clearly a tool. Sen had an argument with the cabin crew and delayed his flight for 39 minutes.

The proposal lists six steps to tackle similar situations, including informing the airport manager, no direct interaction with media, immediate filing of police complaint, assessment of damage, and fining a misbehaving flyer in accordance with the length of the delay.

Wouldn't it be nice to see drunk, petulant or arrogant flyers fined after they have inconvenienced every else on to their flight? Can't see it happening though.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Why shiraz, sparkling wine and Tasmania are Australia's wine winners

Australians love drinking wine - particularly if it is Australian, and even more so if it is shiraz. 

With May nominated as Aussie Wine Month, the Dan Murphy's chain has released the results of a fascinating survey in which Australian sparkling wine, shiraz and Tasmania emerge as the major winners. 

# Shiraz remains Australia’s favourite varietal - in every state and territory
# Australian sparkling wine still outsells Champagne more than five to one
# 84% of all wine purchased at South Australian Dan Murphy’s stores is Australian wine, making South Australia the most parochial state 
# The range of Tasmanian wine at Dan Murphy's has increased by 44% in the last 12 months

And expect to see more shiraz on your bottle shop shelves with 53 shiraz products added to Dan Murphy’s stores across the country over the past 12 months.            

While the nation’s favourite grape has seen the largest increase of shelf space across the country, while local pinot noir was the second in line for products added to Dan Murphy’s shelves, with an additional 47 products added in the last year.

Peter Nixon, head of Dan Murphy’s Wine Panel, above, believes the Aussie palate is in a transition phase, with more Aussies beginning to also appreciate a lighter, more elegant glass of red as well as the full-bodied hearty styles which we are world famous for.

“The emergence of elegant red wine styles adds to the repertoire of Australian wine drinkers," said Nixon. "A lot of younger wine drinkers prefer the lighter taste, and with increased international travel, have trialled these varieties in the places they’re most popular such as Burgundy. 

"Excitement in these styles means Aussie wine drinkers are continuing to enjoy the nation’s favourite grape, shiraz, as well as gentler styles and everything in between.”. 

Despite the interest in overseas varietals, Australian’s passion for a sense of place is helping drive Tasmanian product with wines from the island state growing faster than those from any other region in Australia.

Nixon believes the increasing interest in food and wine tourism to the state may be to thank for the growing interest in Tasmanian wine.

“With the growing culture of food and wine travel, it’s not surprising to see the nation’s interest in Tasmania as a destination for fine wine and dining has increased over the last few years," he said. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Flight report: business class on Vietnam Airlines

"So Vietnam Airlines, what are they like?" asked one friend. "They are not a full-service airline, are they?" asked another. 

Which suggests Vietnam Airlines have some PR work to do to lift them out of the same imagined category of budget Asian airlines like Air Asia and Scoot. 

Yes, Vietnam Airlines is a full-service carrier. Your fare includes baggage, meals and all that you would expect. 

And Vietnam Airlines also offers a fully lie-flat business class bed in business class (below) and a very comfortable premium economy cabin.

It also now flies direct from Sydney to both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi - and I was in premium economy one way and business the other for the recent Hanoi inaugural. 

The thrice-weekly Hanoi service is operated on a 274-seat Boeing 787-9, adding 85,000 seats annually and there are now 17 flights each week on Vietnam Airlines between Australia and Vietnam. 

The Boeing 787s business seats are configured 1-2-1, guaranteeing every traveller direct access to the aisle and, thoughtfully, an AC power outlet that accepts Australian plugs without an adaptor. 

Yes, there is Champagne before takeoff; Heidsieck & Co. Monopole, and a choice of cocktails from an impressive list after takeoff. 

The business wine list reflects Vietnam's French heritage with two reds a St Emilion Grand Cru and a Beaumes de Venise  and two whites (a Bourgogne Chardonnay and a Bordeaux Semillon Sauvignon Blanc), but the food can pack a spicy punch. 

Think business class choices like herbed salmon and smoked duck (or mains like braised beef ribs with dried lily buds and steamed rice, or prawn mousse on sugarcane and green mango relish).

For breakfast try a traditional English brekkie, or a traditional beef pho (noodle soup).  

The cabin crew could maybe do with some smiling lessons (Vietnam Airlines is a state-owned enterprise), and the entertainment is quaintly old fashioned (Brocade Weaving of The Tay People, anyone?) but I managed to sleep almost all the way - the greatest luxury business class can provide. 

Business class return fares sell from $3,250 including taxes, fees and limousine pick-up on arrival in Hanoi, and earn SkyTeam frequent flyer points.