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A Glimpse of Papeete

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Tahiti was the last French Polynesia’s island we visited. Papeete is a French Polynesia’s capital and center of business. It is a very busy and industrialized island, a throbbing and polluted city, and totally different from any other Polynesian’s Society Islands. In other words, Papeete is just a unique cosmopolitan charm with its lagoon, beach, and volcano mountains around the island.

Once we checked in at Intercontinental Tahiti Resort, we directly headed to the Central of Papeete by Le Truck. Le Truck is a Tahiti’s public bus service, served around Papeete. We just walked across the street in front of Intercontinental Tahiti Resort and waited for Le Truck coming to take us to the Central Papeete. One of main destinations at Papeete is Papeete Market (Marche de Papeete) where we can find almost any types of fresh produce, tropical fruits, and various kinds of Polynesian food.

Pearl shopping is also part of the most favorite activities for tourists at French Polynesia. You can find many pearl specialists and jewelry shops in Central Papeete as well (please do look around first before buying so you can compare all different pearls’ qualities and prices). Another fun stuff to do for me at Papeete is to sit and relax at one of the sidewalk cafes and have couple glasses of local drinks.

Later that day, we decided to enjoy one of tourist destinations called Le Roullotes. Roulottes are food vans or restaurants on wheels that each one has its own cuisine. Every evening they set up shops at Papeete’s waterfront. They are usually packed with locals and tourists that crave to experience this gastronomic pleasure in Papeete. Ow…the choices vary a lot, from Italian, French, Chinese, to local food. And it was the biggest challenge for me, to pick one out of plenty different selections at Le Roullotes. Which kind of food did I have?? Can anyone guess??…..

Phew….After a warm day exploring Papeete, our mind were rejuvenated by the flavors of Les Roulottes and the sounds of the local music at Vaiete Square. We went back hotel by Le truck and prepared ourselves for the next day’s flight.

6

Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa

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Before St. Regis Resort opened at Bora Bora in 2006, Bora Bora Nui (part of the prestigious Starwood collection) was the newest luxurious resort in French Polynesia. So that was the reason why I picked Bora Bora Nui as our hotel at Bora Bora. Unlike at Sheraton Lagoon Resort, Moorea, the room rates at Bora Bora Nui already include a full breakfast that features a diverse menu of international and local cuisines. Varieties of breads, fruit juice as well as fresh fruits were also served. In US, I can’t get enough of tropical fruits, so staying at Bora Bora where tropical fruits were abundantly available made me very happy. Of course, I did not miss a day without at least a glass of tropical fruit juices, and my most favorite one is mango juice. In addition to having the breakfast in one of the hotel’s restaurants, you can also optionally have the breakfast delivered to your over water bungalow via a small canoe by a hotel employee, creating a very unique room service. Where else in the world can you encounter such a romantic experience like this?

Bora Bora Nui is located on a private tiny Motu Tapu to create a total seclusion for the hotel’s guests. To go to the main island, the hotel provides a free transportation between Motu Tapu and Vaitape (the island’s main settlement) once in every 30 minutes. One day, we took this opportunity to explore the main island and to rent a small car for a half day at Vaitape. The main island is rather small. To circle the island’s 20-mile perimeter took us less than two hours including stops. We made a stop at Hotel Bora Bora, a luxurious hotel that belongs to Aman Resorts, located at Matira Point (the southern tip of the main island and the main center of tourism). Hotel Bora Bora was the first hotel in the world that introduced over water bungalows, a magical architectural concept that has conjured up the ultimate island hideaway ever since.

At Matira Point area, there is one of the island’s most popular restaurants, called Blood Mary’s. The setting is a tropical casual restaurant and footwear is optional. Some guests even choose to dig their feet in the sand. For lunch they offer burgers, fish and chips, and salads, whereas for dinner they have a daily catch of the local fishermen displayed on ice. The manager introduces fresh seafood available on your particular evening, and you can either choose from the vast selection or create your own particular combination by ordering directly to the chef.

While driving around the island, we often had beautiful views of motus across the lagoon, making Bora Bora very memorable to us. We stopped at various scenic spots to take pictures and to enjoy the scenery. This is one good example why I like most about having a solo tour, compared to joining a group tour. By renting a car, you can take your time as much as you want when you find a beautiful spot. You can take a walk, have a picnic, or just sit to enjoy the gorgeous blue color of the lagoon.

After returning the car and before going back to the hotel, we went to a local grocery around Vaitape Port. It was probably the biggest grocery shop around the island. We bought some fruit juices, bottles of water, and breads — I ended up using the breads for feeding some fish from our over water bungalow’s deck. There are also plenty of art and craft shops around Vaitape Port. You can find many pearl shops in Bora Bora, and also in other Tahitian islands. In French Polynesia, black pearls have always been identical of purity. Nowadays, the Tahiti Polynesian islands are the leading exporter of fine black pearl in the world. So if you want to buy pearls (especially black pearls) for your jewelry collections, Tahiti will be the right place for you. A shore excursion to a black pearl farm is also available for those interested in discovering the complete steps in pearl making.

A Polynesian show with traditional music is featured once a week at Bora Bora Nui, along with a Polynesian buffet and a traditional Tahitian ground oven barbeque – they called it Ma’a Tahiti. In the old days, Tahitians used to cook their food in a ground oven everyday. They dug up a big hole in the ground, in which they burned woods and poured some volcanic rocks over the wood. Then they placed the prepared food, wrapped in aluminum foil (used to be banana leaves), on the rocks and put a wooden cover on the top of the oven. The cooking time lasted for about three to four hours. The food that varied from fish, chicken, pork, beef, and vegetables (spinach, taro, and sweet potato) were all served together in a buffet style.

More than anywhere else in French Polynesia, Bora Bora is a splendid island to enjoy an over water bungalow with its truly spectacular lagoon. Once you sit on your deck and feed the fish, you may never leave your bungalow. Sounds impossible? You have to experience it yourself! We spent the rest of the time relaxing on our balcony or beach, snorkeling, kayaking, and doing some other water sport activities provided by Bora Bora Nui. We once tried kite surfing and went to the outer reef to see where big waves crashed onto the outer reef and swam into the calm water of the lagoon.

When it came to the last day of our stay, it was really hard to say good bye to Bora Bora. I have to admit that everything there is overpriced, but it’s worth every penny. We can’t find a better place to spend our honeymoon than French Polynesia. The over water bungalow is luxurious and romantic. The motus and the blue turquoise lagoon circling the main island are remarkable. I wish I could visit this beautiful place once a year… Ahh… it’s just a dream. But still, I keep on dreaming, who knows someday it becomes a reality. At last, as they say in Tahitian… Nana (goodbye)! Mauruuru (thank you)!



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12

The Beauty of Bora Bora

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French Polynesia’s Bora Bora Island is perhaps one of the most magical places on the earth. The legends, mysteries, and romances associated with the name “Bora Bora” bring an almost mystical presence to the island. Bora Bora is a small island, created by volcanic action around three or four million years ago resulting three main peaks, Mt. Hue (619m), Mt. Pahia (661m), and Mt. Otemanu (727m). Around the perimeter of the main island are a series of motus (small islands). Outside the lagoon, a barrier reef lines the motus protecting the lagoon from the open sea waves. More than a few writers – including James Michener – have called it as “the most beautiful lagoon in the world”. First discovered by James Cook in 1769, Bora bora remains the most stunning blue and turquoise lagoon in South Pacific.

Vava’u is the ancient name of Pora Pora, perhaps supporting the theory that the original inhabitants of this island arrived from Tongan Island. When the first time James Cook found the island, he mistakenly heard the sound of Tahitian “P” for “B”. Then, until now, the island was known as Bora Bora, meaning “first born”.

As you approach Bora Bora by air, you will see the amazing view from above. The lagoon and coral reef circling the island as well as the mountain in the middle of the island just made us believe that this was definitely one of the best places for honeymoon. The airport of Bora Bora is located on the separate island, called Motu Mute, in the northern part of the main island. Upon our arrival, as we walked to terminal, we saw a couple of stands representing their hotels and resorts around the island. An agent from Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa welcomed us and gave us beautiful flower leis. They took care and transferred our bags to a private boat that would bring us to the hotel.

We stayed at the over water bungalow which I would highly recommend for those visiting Bora Bora. It was such a unique experience, indulging in the privacy of Bora Bora over water bungalow, which you could never forget. The over water bungalow features a separate bedroom, a spacious bathroom with both tubs and walk-in showers, a big private sundeck with oversize chairs and glass floor viewing panels throughout the bungalow. Most of these bungalows are perched above the turquoise lagoon water, touched with traditional Polynesian design, creating a newly different world for the occupants. Enjoy the unbelievable ocean views and the sunset from your private terrace. Should you be tired of your room, you can swim, snorkel, and sunbath right from your dock.

It is no doubt that Bora Bora has one of the world’s most beautiful lagoons. Visiting the islands on its outer edge is absolutely a must. One day of private honeymoon tour, which included lagoon excursion, swimming with stingrays, shark feeding, snorkeling, and a private motu picnic, suited us best. First, they took us to a home of stingrays and tropical fish. They were high in numbers and very friendly, but you do have to be careful with their thorny tails. Next, we went to the Coral Garden, a beautiful garden reef off the South East part of the main island. We loved to snorkel here very very much, especially in a perfect sunny day with the sunshine right above you, making the colors of coral more beautiful. You would find a lot of different sea creatures here, varying from different kinds of tropical fish, eels, crabs, sea urchins, and huge shellfish.

After visiting the Coral Garden, the guide took us out of the outer reefs to see some black tip sharks. This part was our most thrilling activity in Bora Bora. The guide pulled out a large bucket of dead fish and started ripping them into pieces before spreading them to the water. The fish blood was to attract the sharks. Shortly, some sharks came and he asked us to jump into the water swimming with the sharks. My husband was very surprised, questioning the safety. But the guide calmly told us not to be worried and he said that we (human beings) were even more dangerous than sharks, and then he jumped into the sea without any hesitations. Though a bit scared, we both took our snorkeling gears and followed him into the water. And soon, the sharks started to swim away from us and delve into the deep water. Then we became very relieved and began to explore the deep sea. At that time we were lucky to see a very cute sea turtle. It was a scary experience but very amazing and unforgettable.

The most memorable part of the entire tour was the picnic lunch at a private motu, which was very secluded and unspoiled. As the guide prepared the food and the table, we both walked along the motu’s pristine beach and enjoyed the beauty of the Bora Bora’s lagoon. The food was served at a table in the water under an umbrella. The lunch was great! It consisted of a barbequed lobster (very yummy), a juicy steak, a Polynesian salad, fruits for dessert, and of course, sliced baquettes. A complimentary a bottle of Champaign also accompanied our lunch. A lot of little white fish tickled our feet while we were eating. Hand feeding the leftover baquettes to the small fish was totally a sensational experience. It was truly a relaxing and romantic treat.

After lunch, we proceeded with our boat tour all around the lagoon and then had another session of snorkeling before ending our fantastic tour. I was so thrilled seeing the gorgeous colors of the water, which had many shades of blue and turquoise colors depending on the depth of the water. It is like a resemblance of an artist’s palette of blues and greens, creating the most stunning first impression. I’ve never seen so many shades of blues in one place. There is almost no word to describe the colors of this beautiful lagoon and its ability to fascinate even the most skeptical visitor like me. You have to experience it yourself.

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Moorea – French Polynesia

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Moorea, French Polynesia: a beginning to paradise.

Ia Orana,

For our honeymoon, we spent almost two weeks in French Polynesia Society Islands, which included Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora. Actually, we didn’t want to spend anything more than a “force overnight” in Papeete. Papeete, which is the capital city of Tahiti, is just a crowded small city without much to be recommended of, except the interesting central market. But yes, Moorea and especially Bora bora are both remarkably beautiful. First, our flight arrived at Papeete early in the morning, and we were greeted by local residents playing a music that said we were going to love this place and never wanted to leave – indeed it was true. They gave me two fragrant white flowers (called Tiare) and placed them behind my ears. After that, our next flight took less than 10 minutes to reach Moorea from Papeete by a small airplane. And then we directly headed to Sheraton Moorea Lagoon Resort and spa. We didn’t regret to choose Sheraton Moorea over other hotels for the reason that it is located on the best part of the lagoon and known for having exceptional coral reefs around the island. I previously thought that I might not like to stay in Moorea because of its tranquility and less touristy. However, my early skepticism about Moorea turned out to be wrong. Moorea surely was a paradise for honeymooners.

Located only 12 miles (i.e. 19 kilometers) west of Tahiti Island, Moorea becomes a weekender par excellence for many Tahitians. Its volcanic peaks, reflected in the tranquil waters of Cook’s bay and Opunohu’s bay, its white sand beaches, and its crystalline lagoons are the main signatures of this island. Around the main island was a lagoon varying in the depth from shallow water to deep passage leading into the Pacific Ocean. At the edge of the lagoon was a reef that circled the island and a few small motus. Almost French Polynesian islands have the same characteristic as this one that distinguishes it from many other tropical islands in the rest of the world.

On the first day, we decided not to do much and just enjoy the island’s amazing scenery. We took a free shuttle from Sheraton to the local “mini” shopping center (only few shops, bank, and restaurants available) and the decided to grab a lunch at one of the local snack bars around the street corner. We spent the rest of the day snorkeling right off the beach. Snorkeling, paddle-boating, and kayaking gears are complimentary for the hotel guests but they must be returned by 4:30 pm each day. The quality of the snorkeling here was very good: plenty of fish and coral reefs around the over water bungalow. Sadly, I did see many of the corals damaged and dying. At the time of checking into the hotel, I was very surprised to see that no rules about “how to respect the ocean” were given to the guests. I am not a professional diver but I know that you should not touch sea corals with your hands, fins, or feet because frequent contacts can destroy the corals. However, the fact that many people touched the coral reefs was very unfortunate. I really hope that Sheraton Moorea Lagoon Resort (and other hotels in French Polynesia) can find a way educating their guests not to compromise the natural beauty of the island.

The hotel offered several different types of bungalows, and we picked the Garden bungalow for our four-day stay in Moorea. As it rained a lot on the first day in hotel, water unfortunately started to drip from our bungalow ceiling, and then we complained to the hotel reception desk. Luckily, we were told to move to the Beach bungalow that was right next to the beach and had a very nice beach view. Yay! Both bungalows (i.e. Garden and Beach) had similar looks as both were beautifully decorated using exotic woods and thatched roof. Although well known as a chained hotel industry, Sheraton had done a great job in giving a uniquely Polynesian touch for each bungalow. There was also a pillow menu to choose from the fancy goose down, heart-shape feather pillow, or hypo-allergenic pillow just by pressing the housekeeping button.

One evening, we called Alfredo’s restaurant to arrange our pick up (they offered free transport). According the Moorea tourist guide, Alfredo’s was be ranked the best restaurant in the island. This made us set our expectation quite high about the quality and taste of the food. However, it turned out that the food was just so so. It might be true that the restaurant was one of the best restaurants in Moorea. But for us personally, if you compared to United States, with the same price you could get much better quality of food.

Getting around Moorea without a car or a bicycle is not easy. Renting a bugxter (an open small car) enabled us to explore the island. Among other things, Moorea is known as a “Pineapple Island” for its abundance of pineapple plantation resulting large and commercial quantity of the tasty fruit. We made a stop at Jus De Fruit de Moorea, owned by the omnipotent Coca Cola company, to see the fruit processing plant. They made different kind “Rotui” fruit juice, which you must try if you spent a day over there. The next stop was to ascend to the Belvedere Point where we had a magnificent view of both Cooks and Opunohu Bays. On the way down, we also had a great view of the famous peak, the Mouaroa Peak.

In the late afternoon, we went out kayaking from the hotel beach and enjoyed the beauty of the lagoon around the island. Different kinds of corals and fish could be seen along the lagoon. The only thing that we regretted was that we did not have a good underwater camera. We just bought a disposable camera and the results were poorly blurred. So, next time you plan to visit the beauty of French Polynesia, don’t forget to bring a good underwater camera. At the end, we fell in love with this place but… the best was not yet come. Bora-bora had been waiting for us as our next destination. Keep your eyes open for our breathtaking Bora-Bora story.

3

Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca

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When it comes to Italian food, it always reminds me of Mario Batali, a host of two Food Network programs: Molto Mario, and Ciao America. Together with his partner, Joe Bastianich, he owns two successful upscale restaurants that have been awarded three stars by Frank Bruni of the New York Times. One of them is Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca. Due to lack of planning, I never succeeded getting a reservation here every time I visited New York City. But, during my last stop at NYC I tried to call them in one morning to check if they had any cancellations. And, surprisingly they said…”For two people, how about 10.30PM?” asked the lady over the phone. Even though it was a bit too late, but my excitement for some very high end Italian food made me reply, “Off course!”

Babbo’s a la carte menu is very broad and full of absurdly succulent dishes. Besides, they also offer two types of tasting menus: a pasta tasting menu and a traditional tasting menu. Their tasting menu requires participation of the entire table. Actually, I truly wanted to order their well-known pasta tasting menu for both me and Alb. But sadly, I had already eaten some dumplings before at Rickshaw Dumpling Bar since our reservation time was a bit late at night and I was so hungry. Hmm… if our reservation had been earlier, we would have ordered the pasta tasting menu that entirely focused on pasta and one dessert. We ended up ordering food from their a la carte menu.

First, we got amuse bouche of spicy chickpea Bruschetta in Olive sauce that was very yummy. The bread was perfectly crunchy outside and fluffy inside. The next meal was crusty Italian bread served with high quality of olive oil. Then, my favorite meal came, which was Black spaghetti with rock shrimp, spicy salami calabrese, and green chiles. The Morellino Italian wine and the spicy salami calabrese, which looked like bacon bits and was sprinkled over the black spaghetti, strongly enhanced the flavor. A said that this was the best pasta he had ever tasted. Babbo has made a name for itself by presenting such fantastic pasta. We completed our dinner with biscotti petite four, which were very mesmerizing.

The ambiance of the restaurant was upscale but cozy at the same time. The service was helpful and friendly. The food flavor also explodes in your mouth. The bottom line is that this place is worth every penny and Mario Batali is undoubtedly one of the finest chefs of our time. So, what are you waiting for? When you got a chance to visit New York City, this is one of the restaurants you must try. For me, I will definitely come back and order their pasta tasting menu to satisfy my curiosity.

Babbo

110 Waverly Pl

New York, NY, 10011

(212) 777-0303

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