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    Floating Yoga: 7 Soulful Vacations to Inspire You

     

    Floating and Yoga. Combine two of the most soulful activities you can imagine and you’ve got floating yoga (Flo-Yo) or stand up paddle board (SUP) yoga. Slightly less vigorous than land based yoga (fast position changes would land you in the ocean pretty quick), you’ll still go through all your key yoga poses and get a beautiful core work out. Not to mention, practising yoga floating a few centimetres above the ocean is one of the most soul enriching experiences you’ll ever have.

    My first floating yoga class was on Hawaii’s Big Island. The class was held at sunrise in a lagoon protected from the surf by a sweep of rocks. Large, pale blue stand up paddle boards were strung with a length of rope and dumbbells to anchor them to the seabed. Lighter than I expected, it was easy to carry them under one arm into the water. We paddled out 10 or so metres to the centre of the lagoon and formed a ragged circle around the instructor. 

    Our class started in simple positions - kneeling and child’s poses on the board to get accustomed to the unstable surface. A whale breached just beyond the break line of the lagoon as we started the practice, and turtles swam under our boards. I promise, in this place there's no problem being mindful - there’s nowhere your mind (or body) would rather be but right here and now.

    We moved to downward dog and twists and it got more challenging to stay balanced.  About a quarter of people fell in, and with water above your head, there is some trick to getting swiftly back on the board, but nothing impossible.  

    The class lasted for around 45 minutes and before we knew it we were lying back on our boards in resting savasana pose. Trust me, you don’t know relaxation until you’re lying in corpse pose on a board, with the sea gently rocking you underneath.

    The only downside to floating yoga is that it’s naturally limited to places where the weather is fine and the sea calm and waveless. I’ve pulled together a list of spots in the Asia Pacific region, so you can pack your Alexandria Main resort pjs and beach bag (on sale, with nothing over $100!) hop on a flight and get floating. 

    Tips: 

    • You don’t need to be a competent swimmer to do floating yoga, but some locations are in water above your head, so you’ll need to be comfortable in the ocean in case you fall in.  
    • You can wear either normal yoga gear or a swimsuit, depending on which you are more comfortable doing downward dog in. Regardless of which you choose, keep fast drying as your main criteria. If you get wet early, you don’t want to spend the entire class in soaking clothes. 

    1. Big Island, Hawaii, USA

    Classes at the Fairmont are held on selected mornings in the lagoon at 6.45am. Open to guest and non-guests, for $20 USD per class, or $150 USD for a 10 class pass.

      

    2. Noosa, Queensland, Australia

    Kat Harding is Australia’s first Stand Up Paddle Boarding instructor and has been teaching SUP classes since 2013. She offers classes and retreats on Noosa beach - one of the most gorgeous beaches in Australia because it’s north facing and therefore sheltered from the weather. Classes start up again in September in the Australian springtime. Kat also offers a weekend luxury SUP retreat, staying at a 4.5 Star resort from 20 October until 22 October 2017. The retreat includes SUP yoga plus land yoga and paddle boarding, not to mention all meals, meditation and nutrition advice. I wish I could go!!! The all inclusive retreat starts at $900 for the weekend. Click on the link for details.    

     

    Prices: 

    Classes: $35 AUD ($27 USD) including paddle board; $20 AUD ($15 USD) if you bring your own board.

    Weekend retreat: $900 AUD ($715 USD)

    3. Bali

    SUP Yoga Bali call their practice a ‘combination of yoga and the healing essence of the ocean’. Classes are held on Sanur beach, a quiet town on the south-east of Bali island. Sanur beach is shallow and usually very calm. SUP Yoga Bali offer two programs - straight SUP yoga and SUP yoga plus 30 minutes Paddle Boarding. They also offer a 5 day all inclusive retreat which includes meals, spa treatments, meditation and daily SUP yoga.

     

    Prices:

    Floating Yoga 1 hour - approx $40 AUD ($35 USD)

    Floating Yoga 1 hour plus 30 mins Stand Up Paddle Boarding - approx $50 AUD ($40 USD) 

    4. Aruba

    Rachel Brathen, aka Yoga Girl, is one of the leaders of SUP Yoga. Classes are held in waist deep water in the crystal clear Aruban ocean. Rachel also hosts retreats which sell out fast. The November 2017 is already fully booked, so you’ll need to get in quickly if you want a spot at the next one in 2018. 

    Prices: 

    Classes 1 hour - $50 USD

    Retreats - Check website for details 

    5. Aitutaki, Cook Islands

    Kaizen Travel organise retreats that ‘empower women through adventure.’ They’re hosting a Manifesting in Paradise retreat in the sublimely gorgeous Aitutaki Island in the Cook Islands from 7 to 12 January 2018. The week involves SUP yoga, massage, one on one manifesting coaching sessions and so much more that I’ve run out of room to write it all. Oh, and if that doesn’t sound as though it’s enriched your soul enough, they also have a Give Back initiative where 10% of their profits to a humanitarian partner.  

     

    Prices:

    Retreat for 6 days and 5 nights

    $3099 /shared room

    $3300 own room

    Check their website for all details 

    6. Denarau, Fiji

    If your speed is more 'go' than 'slow', Paddle Board Fiji’s ‘Paddle Fit’ classes might be more your thing. The board practice has some yoga, but also stretching, cardio and toning. You'll find Paddle Board Fiji in the Port Denarau Marina, adjacent to the yacht club at Nadi, Fiji.

    Classes cost $50 Fiji (approx $30 AUD and $25USD) per session. 

    Check website for class times

    7. Western Australia and Bali

    Hayley Lawrence runs a series of zen retreats and classes in Albany and Denmark, idyllic sea resorts 400km south-east of Perth in Western Australia. Hayley also runs retreats up in Nusa Lembongan, Bali. She says in paddle board yoga - ‘every movement must be done with more concentration, more intent, and more purpose.’ Namaste to that. Check out Radiant Being’s website for all the details.

    Image Credits:

    Orchid Fairmont image by Alan Light via: freeforcommercialuse.org

    Aruba image from Wikimedia Commons

    Aitutaki image from Wikimedia Commons

    Denarua Island, Fiji image from Wikimedia Commons

    Western Australia image from Wikimedia Commons

    Nusa Lembongan image from Wikimedia Commons 

    Around the world with Slim Aarons

    Before Facebook democratised social envy, there was Slim Aarons. So named because he was tall and skinny, like the people he photographed, Slim Aarons delighted in capturing moments of 'attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places'. Today anyone with an iPhone can capture, crop and filter their own attractive moments, but Slim did it first and he did it best.  They say the best way to achieve happiness is to live in the moment. Well, I'd like to live in the moment of a Slim Aarons image, preferably in Neutra's Palm Springs Kaufman House wearing buttercup yellow.  In an Aarons world the sun is forever shining, unhappy marriages and money worries don't exist and there's no need for Botox because no one ever grows old. Idyllic, no?

    To amuse myself while I wait for someone to come up with photographic teleporting (Elon Musk, are you listening?) I've up come with a list of the Slim Aarons sunshine places. One by one, I'm going to visit them and create my own photos. So pack your Alexandria Main Antibes resort pjs and come with!!

     

    Tania Mallet by Slim Aarons

    (Image sourced from Galerie Prints on 1stDibs)

    Marriott French Leave Resort

    Photographed in Eleuthera, Bahamas, you can stay in a villa at the French Leave Resort, which is part of the Marriott's Autograph Collection. I'd like to visit during the 5 day Eleuthera Jazz Festival at the end of March/beginning of April. 

    Rates: approx USD $470 per night for a 1 bedroom villa.

     

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    Poolside Glamour by Slim Aarons

    (Image sourced from International Fine Arts Consortium on 1stDibs)

    Probably the best known of all Slim Aarons photographs, Poolside Glamour is set at The Kaufmann Desert house in Palm Springs, designed by famed modernist architect Richard Neutra. The house is considered one of the 20th century's most important homes and is arguably Neutra's most architecturally noteworthy and famous designs.

    Unfortunately you can't visit the house, but you can see the outside of it on a Mid Century Modern Architecture Tour like this one: Palm Springs Modern Tours.

    When I go back, I'm planning to stay at the Parker Palm Springs because Jonathan Adler designed it and I think he's totally fab.

    Rates: From $295 USD per night

     

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    Leonard Dalsemer by Slim Aarons

    (Image sourced from Galerie Prints on 1stDibs) 

    Lyford Cay is a private, gated community on New Providence Island in the Bahamas. Luxury Retreats has two villas on Lyford Cay available for holiday rental. Seascape is a 7 bedroom, one level villa, painted Bahamas pink. Starting at $6000 a night (gulp, might need to sell a lot of Alexandria Main) you'll have the use of a chef and butler and 2 housekeepers. Serendip Cove villa boasts 14 bedrooms and bathrooms, sleeping a total of 28 people. Starting at $8000 a night you'll be free to use the pool, waterslide and waterfall cave. And if you find 27 friends to tag along, that's only $286 per person - bargain! Staff includes gardeners, housekeeping, a villa manager, daily cook service and daily butler service (that sounds like a tough vacation). 

    Unfortunately we'll all have to bag ourselves a billionaire to gain access to the Lyford Cay private club, but check it out in Town and Country magazine while you're waiting - #todiefor.

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    Belvedere Pool by Slim Aarons

    (Image sourced from Galerie Prints on 1stDibs) 

    Hotel Belvedere, Amalfi Coast, Italy

    Located 10 minutes from the town of Amalfi, the four star Hotel Belvedere is decorated with simple furnishings and Italian tiles. You catch a lift down to the saltwater pool and there are further bathing areas on the sand below.

    Rate start at 190 Euro and include taxes and continental breakfast.

     

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    Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc by Slim Aarons

    (Image sourced from Undercurrent Projects on 1stDibs)

    Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc

    Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc is located on Bvd J F Kennedy in Anitbes on the Cote d'Azur in France. A movie star favourite, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton honeymooned here and Marlene Dietrich and Orson Welles have been guests. The Cannes Film Festival is the time to come star spotting. Hang out in the newly refurbished Bellini Bar or the pool overlooking the Med, and who knows who you (or I!) will see.

    Rates: Start at Euro 560 per night.

     

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    The Beverly Hills Hotel by Slim Aarons.

    (Image sourced from International Fine Arts Consortium on 1stDibs)

     

    The Beverly Hills Hotel

    The iconic Beverly Hills Hotel, with banana palm wallpaper, pink chaise lounges and old Hollywood glamour is an Instagrammers dream.

    Unfortunately, the hotel is part of the Dorchester Group, which is owned by the Sultan of Brunei who recently introduced Sharia law in his oil rich South East Asian nation. His version of Sharia law involves executing people who have abortions, commit adultery, are homosexual or blaspheme (no taking Muhammad's name in vain). As a result of these human rights abuses, many prominent people now boycott the Beverly Hills Hotel. Up to you whether you think boycotts work, or whether they only hurt the people who rely on the establishment for income, but knowledge is your power. A Vanity Fair article covers these issues in more depth here.

    Rates: Approx USD $695 per night, plus tax.

     

     

    Swish Shinta Mani in Siem Reap

    Reception area at the Shinta Mani Resort

    For my money, the swishest place in Siem Reap is the Shinta Mani Club and Resort. Designed by luxury hotel maestro, Bill Bensley (Bangkok based and Harvard educated), the Shinta Mani sets the standard for haute hotels in Cambodia. A few descriptive words to get you in the mood: the fragrance of water lotus flowers; green malachite; ocean blue glass; swinging day beds suspended over a pool of orange goldfish; sweet Cambodian jellies; baskets of hanging green ferns; open hearts.

    Proving that true beauty isn't ever just skin deep, the Shinta Mani also has a strong commitment to responsible tourism. A percentage of your room rate goes to the Shinta Mani Foundation which then donates the money to local community projects - medical programs, English lessons and schools (like Human and Hope Association who make Alexandria Main beach bags). 

    There are two Shinta Mani hotels - the Shinta Mani Club, and the Shinta Mani Resort, directly across the road. Distinguished from the Resort by being a little smaller, the Club is decorated in shades of orange and grey and rooms are designed for privacy. It has a large lap pool where ice creams are handed out in the afternoon. A tiny spa is located upstairs - head there for a banana leaf body wrap after a day at the temples. Play a game of bespoke Shinta Mani Monopoly in your room before lounging on a hanging day bed over a goldfish pond at dinner time. (Tip: don't drink too much alcohol on a swinging bed: queasy gets doubled.)

    The Shinta Mani Resort is directly opposite and slightly larger than the Club. The Resort maintains a boutique feel, with low rise buildings wrapped around a large grass courtyard, a large pool sunk in the centre. Malachite print cushions and deep blue glasses complement large hanging fern baskets in the restaurant.

    When the shopping bug calls you, pop outside the hotel gates, turn towards the river and walk a few steps to the delicious Wa Gallery. Owned by a French expat, Cambodian style is melded with French flair in Wa. You can buy armfuls of multicoloured shagreen bangles, fluorescent Buddhas to drape on chains around your neck and the traditional krama (checked Cambodian scarves) refashioned in the softest Tibetan cashmere. Heading around to the road parallel to the river, turn left and you'll get to Foreign Correspondent's Club (sister property to the famed FCC in Phnom Penh) where you can dine al fresco in the tropical night heat, while bats glide over head.

    Details:

    Shinta Mani Club and Resort

    Junction of Oum Khun and 14th Street,
    Siem Reap,
    Cambodia

    Phone: +855-63-761-998

    Shinta Mani Club: Rooms from USD $220 (including taxes, breakfast and free wifi)

    Shinta Mani Resort: Rooms from USD $185 (including taxes, breakfast and free wifi)

    [* This is an unpaid review. I pay all my own way at every hotel I stay.]

    Lobby at the Shinta Mani Club

    Lobby at the Shinta Mani 

    Restaurant at the Shinta Mani Resort

    Cambodia Spa Challenge

    Best Spas in Phnom Penh

    On a sourcing trip to Phnom Penh in the New Year I decided to set myself a spa challenge because, as I like to say: why go hard when you can go soft? As it turned out, it wasn't all a cakewalk. There were tears, sweat, humiliation and yes, even pain in this week of spa-athon. Leave your Alexandria Main resort pjs on, because you'll be so zen at the end of this, you'll be wanting to go straight back to bed.

    (Note: All prices are in USD)

    Day 1: Sofitel So Spa 

    • Treatment: So Rejuvenating facial (60 minutes)
    • Price: $60 plus 17% VAT and service charge = $70.20 
    • Address: 26 Old August Site, Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh 
    • Open: 10am to 10pm

    Situated in the Sofitel Hotel, the So Spa is a luxurious and zen space with the relaxation music and dark wood panelling you would expect from a five star hotel. I was greeted with chilled ginger tea and an iced face cloth in a quiet lounge. The menu is fun - you choose from Starters, Mains and Desserts. I was there for a facial which was relaxing and pleasant. After the facial I was given a macaroon and hot tea. It’s appropriate that the sweet treats are western in style because the bill that followed was western priced. For $70 USD it is probably the most expensive facial in Cambodia but if you are staying in-house it's a worthwhile indulgence. 

    Tip: Follow your treatment with fresh Vietnamese rolls and a pressed lemon drink served poolside.

    2. Seeing Hands Massage 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    • Treatment: Body massage (60 minutes)
    • Price: $7 US
    • Address: 12 Street 13 (Wat Phnom), Phnom Penh
    I was excited to get a massage from the famed Seeing Hands blind masseurs. After paying my $7 at the front desk, I walked up a couple of narrow flights of stairs and entered a dimly lit room with 6 beds. Everyone was wearing blue tunics and pants that resembled medical scrubs. Not going to lie, stories about tourists losing kidneys were starting to play in my mind (or wait, was that South America?) and I wasn’t feeling the most relaxed. The hostess pointed to a freshly laundered pair of blue scrubs on the bed and gestured to a curtain hung in the corner of the room where I could get changed. Signs on the wall asked for silence and advised that no responsibility will be taken for lost or stolen possessions. I changed quickly, placed my clothes in a locker and held the key tight as I sat on the bed waiting for my masseur to come in. She deftly placed a clean towel around the hole in the middle of the massage bed and pointed to me to lie face down in it. The silence was broken by the sound of talking clocks that alerted the blind masseurs to the time and a disturbing groaning coming from a bed in the corner. Occasionally the masseurs chatted to each other in Khmer and giggled. I try to relax into the massage, but it wasn’t for the faint hearted. In fact, it was pretty rough. The low point came at the end when she gave me a vigorous stomach massage that seemed designed to rearrange my internal organs. The litre of water I drank before the massage was now inhabiting my bladder and was not enjoying the pressure of a fully grown woman on it.

    I wanted to leave a tip, lack of enjoyment notwithstanding, but it wasn't clear where to put it, so I left feeling a bit mean. Karma got me in the end - as soon as I dressed, I developed a horrendous headache, which left me confined to a dark room waiting for pain killers to work for the rest of the day.

    Tip: More adrenalin raising than cortisol lowering. I’d go back just for the adventure of it, but will stick with a foot massage next time.

    3. Bodia Spa 

    • Treatment: Anti-ageing and firming facial (55 minutes)
    • Price: $34 (plus $5 tip)
    • Address: Corner Sothearos Blvd and St 178 (above U-Care Pharmacy)
    • Open: Daily from 10am to midnight

    The entry foyer is an organic curved space with slatted walls, hardwood floors and sisal stools. I was presented with a tray of cool ginger tea, an ice cold facecloth and a pretty pink lotus flower.

    In my cocoon-like treatment room - all dark brown painted walls with splashes of green - gentle hands applied soft, sweet smelling concoctions of avocado, egg white and lemon juice to my face and massaged my hands and feet. I decided I was never going to leave the room.

     

    Tip: Bodia offer complementary tuk tuk pick up from any hotel in Phnom Penh.

    4. Bliss Spa 

    • Treatment: Traditional Lulur Scrub (45 minutes)
    • Price: $26 (plus tip of $4)
    • Address: #29 Street 240, Phnom Penh
    • Open: 9am to 9pm every day

    To get to the Bliss Spa you step over a worn wooden doorstep onto a beautiful patterned tiled floor and walk past the racks of washed cotton confections that line the walls of the Bliss clothing boutique. An urn of lotus flowers and batik covered couches signals you have arrived in the spa. I booked online and didn’t bother to select the box that asked whether I wanted a man or a woman, largely because I didn't think I cared. Until… I was greeted by the Cambodian equivalent of George Clooney and suddenly self-consciousness took on a whole new meaning. While I stop blushing at the memory, let me tell you about the massage: it was a scrub of crushed rose buds and fresh jasmine flowers, blended with tumeric powder and rice and finishing with lavender oil massage. If that doesn’t sound like something you want to eat all up then I don’t know what does.

     

    Tip: Take extra cash because you’ll never get out of the Bliss Boutique without buying something.

    5. Friends International Nail Spa

    • Treatment: Gel manicure
    • Price: $16 (plus $2 tip)
    • Address: #215 Street 13, Phnom Penh

    Friends International is one of the poster children for successful social entrepreneurship in Cambodia. Through their nail spa, shop and restaurant they train and employ the most vulnerable children and give them skills and employment. The Nail Spa is in a small room next to the Friends ’N’ Stuff Shop. With only two nail technicians I couldn’t get an immediate appointment and was asked to come back in an hour. This left me just enough time for a short tuk tuk dash to the Elephant Bar at Raffles for a cocktail, where I discovered it was Happy Hour and everything was 50% off! I was in a sparkly mood by the time I came back to the nail bar so I chose a pretty silver glitter polish.

     

    Tip: Look at the gorgeous recycled football wallets in the Friends Shop - they look just like shagreen, except no stingray had to die for them.

    6. Phnom Penh Airport Plaza Premium Lounge Wellness Spa

    • Treatment: Foot Massage
    • Price: $20 (plus $2 tip)
    • Address: Phnom Penh International Airport

    Well, hello! I thought the challenge was finished until I walked through airport security and saw signs pointing to massage rooms.  There’s nothing sweeter than an encore when you think the show is over. Sheryl Sandberg would have been proud - I leaned into that massage chair faster than you could say Boarding Gate 7 and let my feet feel the love for 30 minutes.

     

     

     

    Tip: Business class travellers and members of reciprocal airport lounges get complimentary access, but anyone can use the lounge for $35 USD for 2 hours. (Massage price is additional)

    Luxe Hotel Guide to Phnom Penh

    If you’re looking for Luxe in Phnom Penh, look no further. Here are my top tips for beautiful beds, sparkling service and something special. And ....naturally all hotels listed have a commitment to responsible tourism or sustainability through programs that give back to the local community and ensure a light touch on the environment.

    Sofitel Phnom Penh

    • Sofitel Phnom Penh (5 stars) is very luxurious and quiet, with superb service. Set in the middle of a large green space it boasts 2 pools and 2 gyms and also has a spa. Ask for a pool view room. The alternative is a view over the large Aeon shopping centre next door, which could also see you woken up by truck deliveries all night. 

    I love it because it's a peaceful respite from the craziness of the city, but it you want hip and happening, you might prefer one of the other options below.

    Rooms are around $295 AUD per night

    • Raffles Hotel Le Royal. (5 stars) The grand dame of Phnom Penh, Raffles has been around since 1929 and is where Jacquline Kennedy once stayed (see the entrance foyer below). From a pebbled circular driveway, you walk up a small flight of stairs and in through a white colonnade facade. The Elephant Bar is where all the diplomats and wealthy ex pats hang out. Check out the US Embassy opposite. If you had any illusions that US power and influence was on the wane, the size of the building might make you reconsider. 


    Rooms are around $380 AUD per night
    Entry Foyer at Raffles Phnom Penh

    • Plantation Resort Hotel. (3-stars) A happening and hip boutique hotel in the heart of Phnom Penh, the Plantation Resort Hotel is tucked behind a high white fence in a street just behind the Royal Palace. You enter to peaceful water fountains and calming pools of water. It has a great boutique and a very swish cocktail bar or you might just prefer to retreat to a private day bed around the palm fringed swimming pool. 

    Rooms start at approximately $125 AUD per night


    • La Rose Hotel. Sustainable travel organisers, Soulful Concepts, recommend La Rose Hotel. The hotel is comprised of 2 separate properties - 4-star La Rose Boutique hotel and 5-star La Rose Suites, which has larger rooms. The spa and pool are located at La Rose Suites, which is a complimentary tuk tuk ride away from La Rose Hotel.

    Room rate start at approximately $120 AUD per night