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News from Asia: Score One for the Sharks

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Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts announced yesterday that it was placing an immediate ban on shark fin and phasing out Chilean sea bass and blue-fin tuna within the year. According to Shangri-La spokeswoman Maria Kuhn, the new policy, which affects all 72 properties, has been a long time coming. “In December 2010, we took shark’s fin off our menus as a first step towards completely phasing it out,” says Kuhn, who is based in Hong Kong, where the company’s headquarters are.

Shangri-La joins Peninsula hotels, which announced a ban on shark fin in November. For both properties, it’s a bold, gutsy move. Both have a serious presence in China, where shark fin, long considered a delicacy, has become de rigueur at banquets. In fact, Shangri-La, which already runs 35 hotels in Hong Kong and mainland China, has 23 properties under development in China. It also has hotels in Taiwan and Singapore.

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Emerging Beach Destination: Khanom, Thailand

An unspoiled beach in Thailand has become an increasingly rare sight. And an unspoiled beach destination with decent accommodation is almost unheard of these days. So I was excited to learn about Khanom in southern Nakhon Si Thammarat province, which faces the Gulf of Thailand. It’s got eight miles of pristine beachfront property as well as dramatic waterfalls and caves. The waters offshore are also breeding grounds for the rare pink dolphin. One newcomer, Aava on barely inhabited Na Dan beach, could be a sign of things to come. Owned by a Finnish husband-and-wife team, the resort has 28 bungalows and villas whose minimalist design is inspired by their countryman, Alvar Aalto. (The fusion restaurant is named after Aalto.) A few villa and condo developments are in the pipeline, so now is the time to visit Khanom.

Jennifer Chen is Travel + Leisure's Asia Correspondent.

Images Courtesy of Aava

Seeing Asia by Water

Mekong River boats

Four new ways to see the Mekong River region.

Recapturing 19th-century explorations of Vietnam’s Mekong River Delta, Jahan is modeled after riverboats from the colonial era and features 26 cabins with balconies. Also in Vietnam, Life Resorts has launched a 22-junk fleet on Ha Long Bay; the boats accommodate up to four guests (two for overnight trips) and offer kayaks and snorkeling gear. And in Indonesia, the 108-foot Pearl of Papua, an ironwood-and-teak vessel with seven cabins, plies the waters around the unspoilt Raja Ampat islands. This month, Datu Bua—a 131-foot, three-suite phinisi (traditional teakwood schooner)—will start taking guests around the little-frequented waters off Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Photo courtesy of Life Heritage Resort Halong Bay

Battambang: Is Cambodia’s Second City on the Verge?

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With the government aiming to fix Cambodia’s dilapidated railway system by 2013, Battambang, the country’s second biggest city, is poised to become the next big destination. Located near the Thai border, the town has not been touched by the development frenzy seen in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and along the southern coast.

It is still home to dozens of charming French colonial villas and Chinese-style shophouses, some of which are being converted into small hotels. A couple of recent examples: La Villa, a lemon-hued 1930’s villa stuffed with seven antique-filled suites, and Ma Maison, another villa-turned-hotel. And, there’s plenty to see in the area, including some interesting temples and Phnom Banan, an Angkor-era ruin set on a mountainside outside of town. Backpackers are already flocking here; I reckon it is only a matter of time before a critical mass of French expats starts opening up more boutique hotels and cafés, as happened in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Luang Prabang.

Jennifer Chen is Travel + Leisure's Asia correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter at xiaochen6.

Photo by iStock

Hong Kong Restaurant Buzz: Down and Dirty Ramen, Star Chef Openings, More

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Big-name international chefs continue to set up shop here with Michael White opening Al Molo in Tsim Sha Tsui this month. Restaurateur Alan Yau of London’s Hakkasan and Wagamama teamed up with Andre Fu to create Bettys, a refined European bistro in the harborside IFC Mall.

French cuisine is making a comeback, after last year’s mania for Italian. A handful of new bistros: La Marmite, the latest venture by the Aqua group; the cozy Bouchon in Soho; and Chez Patrick Deli in the trendy Star Street area of Wanchai. Opening next month is The News Room by the Press Room group, which runs the popular Press Room, The Pawn, and Classified restaurants.

Hong Kongers don’t mind queuing up for their food. … Diners are literally lining up for Butao Ramen, a cubby-hole of a noodle shop that serves only 200 bowls of pork-bone soup a day. Ramen shops with cult status have been opening in China and Singapore as well.

Finally, part of the local-goes-upmarket trend, Cantopop, a collaboration between two New York Italian transplants and a Hong Kong chef, opened in April. It re-imagines the humble cha chaa teng, the city’s take on the coffeeshop. (Think the fabulous 1960’s diners in Wong Kar Wai’s movies.)

Jennifer Chen is Travel + Leisure's Asia correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter at xiaochen6.

Photo by Christian Kerber

On Our Radar: Guangzhou, China

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Long viewed as the ugly stepsister to Shanghai and Beijing, Guangzhou is hitting its stride. The Zaha Hadid–designed, daringly asymmetrical Guangzhou Opera House (pictured above) opened recently and it’s garnered a lot of notice among architecture circles for its glass-and-granite frame and spider web-like interiors. Other notable new buildings include the Guangdong Museum, the Guangzhou New Library, and the Canton Tower. Meanwhile, five luxury hotels are opening this year, including the Four Seasons and W Guangzhou.

Jennifer Chen is Travel + Leisure's Asia correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter at xiaochen6.

Photo by iStock

Singapore Trend Alert: Supper Clubs, Chinese Sweet Soups, More

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Underground dining—experimental dinner parties with random strangers—is popping up around Singapore. Three supper clubs that are on the radar: Ping’s Illegal Diners Club run by food consultant focused on healthy eats; lolla’s secret suppers, hosted by champagne importers; and Social Candy, a network of like-minded amateur cooks. Locations change with each event and diners sign up via Facebook. It’s an eye-catching trend in a country that’s such a stickler for rules; we’ll see if it goes anywhere.

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Korean Food Gets Mod Makeover in Seoul

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Leading Korea's new culinary wave is Jung Sik Dang, where chef Jung Sik Yim takes local ingredients to prepare dishes like kimchi consommé, pork jowl with yuzu, and even an amuse bouche with grasshoppers. Less experimental is Bistro Seoul, which presents Korean standards in an austere space. While Japanese and Chinese have long happily paid through their noses for expensive renditions of their cuisines, Koreans—like Thais—are just experiencing the phenomenon of taking familiar fare, gussying it up, and serving it in lovely locations. It’s not fusion, but modernization. You’re seeing this elsewhere in Asia—KL has some notable modern Malay restaurants. And while the Thais are kicking and screaming about this trend, other parts of Asia are embracing it.

Jennifer Chen is Travel + Leisure's Asia correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter at xiaochen6.

Photo of Jung Sik Dang courtesy of TomEats/www.tomeats.com

Just Back: Myanmar—Why Go Now?

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For years, Myanmar—better known by its colonial name, Burma—has been high on my list of places I wanted to visit. But the tourism boycott called by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s unstable politics held me back. The military junta’s brutal crackdown on monk-led protests in 2007 also left a bad taste for many a conscientious traveler.

Recently, though, the country has opened up a bit following elections last year—which admittedly were engineered in favor of the military-backed party—and Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest. (Suu Kyi also reversed her stance on tourism two years ago.) The chance to go to Yangon—or, Rangoon—cropped up recently, and I leapt at it.

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Beijing’s New Foodie Destination

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Popular dining and entertainment district Sanlitun is fast becoming the city’s gastronomic destination. A couple of noteworthy additions to the dining scene: Modo, which serves South American and Scandinavian–inflected fare like smørrebrød with herring and pickled radish and arepas with avocado and chicken; Colibri, an airy café with cupcakes galore; and Transit, a sleek Sichuan restaurant.

I’ve been fascinated by the renaissance of Chinese eateries in the capital and how Beijing has really emerged as the place where you can sample an enormous range of authentic, regional Chinese cuisines in sophisticated surroundings. It’s been a remarkable transformation, given that as recently as the late 1990’s it was a culinary wasteland thanks to the long-lingering effects of the Cultural Revolution.

Jennifer Chen is Travel + Leisure's Asia correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter at xiaochen6.

Photo by Lyndsey Matthews

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