Alex Harmon is the Editor of TNT Magazine Australiaand New Zealand, and the soon to be the Editor in Chief of the Escape Lounge. She is also an avid food writer for various newspapers and lifestyle websites in Sydney. When she's not taking selfies of her food and travels, she's trawling second hand bookstores looking for Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body (her copy was thrown out of window in the south of France, never to be seen again) or trying to skateboard the backstreets of Sydney while snapping photos of street art and hashtagging the hell out of them on Instagram.
Whether it be rocketing down the alpine coaster, gazing in awe at the thousands of ocean creatures on display or simply lazing by the pool, Vinpearl Land Amusement Park in Nah Trang, Vietnam, has something for everyone...Waking up to four grown men bouncing on my bed screaming “Happy Birthday!” while laughing like a bunch of drunken 8 year olds, was the start of one of the best days I’ve ever had. Waking up with my usual Oscar-The-Grouch impersonation, I let my friend know just how excited I was - by rolling over to go back to sleep. ...That was until I heard the words “It’s time to get up, the rollercoaster's open in half an hour!”. Yes, my very adult friends had booked tickets to Vinpearl Land Amusement Park.
Priced at 500,000VND (Approx $25 USD) per person, this ticket gets you access to one of the greatest attractions in Vietnam. Starting with the world’s longest sea-crossing cable-cart from the mainland Nha Trang to Vinpearl Island, you get to admire jaw dropping landscape with iconic white sandy beache and rolling vistas on display. You can end the day here, and still be happy with your purchase but I think this cart ride is barley the beginning of your adventure. The island is also home to a water park, mega arcade and roller coaster rides. As if that weren’t enough, Vinpearl also boasts Vietnam’s first 4D theatre; a 5000 seat amphitheatre, and the largest aquarium in the country.
While clinking over on the cable cart 60 meters above the ocean waves watching the Hollywood style Vinpearl sign approach, I was hard pressed to ignore my inner-child excitement. By the time I had reached the mega-arcade and strapped myself into the bumper cars, my friends and I had well and truly let our Inner Child completely take over. That is to say - if we had then given that Inner Child six bags of sugar washed down with four energy drinks. Yes, we were giggling like school kids, while slipping down water slides, and screaming higher than the small girls behind us on the roller coaster. I can safely say - it was one of the best birthdays I have ever had. Truly the only complaint I have about is place? There is simply too much to do in one day. I thoroughly recommend planning how you're going to tackle the day at the park before you arrive, or rather, just organize two days of fun to get the full Vinpearl Land Amusemement Park experience.
Casa de Las Rosas is a charming little six-room guest house that was once the family home of its owner, providing a family museum as well as perfect place to stay in Cuenca.
The small, family-run inn Casa de Las Rosas in Cuenca, Ecuador did not come by its name lightly. This was the home of the Tapia family from 1952 until 2008, and today is run as a six-room boutique hotel by Rosa Tapia Peña, daughter of Luis and Rosa Tapia who built the home. With both mother and daughter named Rosa, and the fact that Cuenca is the rose capital of Ecuador (exporting flowers all over the world), and the name seemed appropriate.
"I was trying to find an appropriate name, for me it was important," says Rosa Tapia Peña. "My mother was named Rosa, like me, so it was two generations of Rosas."
Roses also feature predominantly throughout the hotel, with vases of them in the lobby and dining/sitting rooms. When I arrived at Casa de Las Rosas and was shown to my room (The Celeste), rose petals were scattered on the bed as well as the bathroom counter, giving a very nice touch. The Celeste room was extremely spacious and comfortable, with a king-sized bed, large wardrobe, windows overlooking a quiet street and a nice bathroom.
Other rooms include Esmerelda on the ground floor, with two double beds and access to the interior garden; Naranja on the second flopr, with two twin beds and originally the room of brothers Genaro and Telmo; Suite Verde offering a double bed in the larger room and one single bed in the smaller; and Suite Amarilla with rooms overlooking the courtyard and into the garden. This suite is a small independent apartment with two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a wide corridor. It offers a double bed in one bedroom and a second bedroom with twin beds. It is ideal for two or three people or a family with two children. The yellow suite occupies three different areas of what was the old house; the toy room, a guest room, and the darkroom where the father developed his photos.
The last room is an Apartment Suite on the third floor, Suite El Tejado. It is the largest of guest rooms and perfect for a long-term stay, with a warm and delicate ambiance. It has two bedrooms with two bathrooms separated by a convenient corridor. It also offers a unique environment with a full living room, dining room and kitchen. The smaller room has a single bed and offers a wonderful view of the characteristic tile roofs of the historic center of Cuenca. The larger room with the double bed offers private access to a large terrace, an ideal place to rest and sunbathe in peace.
All original spaces of the mansion have been preserved while being enhanced in their new role within the modern and stylish hotel. Each room has a private bathroom, cable TV, telephone, and Wi-Fi internet.
It is a house with a story; the entire inn is filled with items and momentos from the Tapia Peña family, such as a sewing machine, books, chests, tea sets, photographs and much more. Rosa Tapia Peña says that at the time her father Luis built the house, in 1952, it was on the outskirts of the city. "But Cuenca has grown a lot since then, up around the house. We are in the middle of the city now."
Casa de Las Rosas does offer a good location, a bit outside the hustle and bustle of tourist central, but easy walking distance to the major sites and attractions of Cuenca, only blocks away. The entire city of Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and extremely popular with both Ecuadorians and foreigners alike. Besides tourists who are just visiting, there is a large expat community of people who have found Cuenca so charming, livable and affordable that they have moved here permanently.
"I was born here," Rosa told me one morning after breakfast, as she gazed around the renovated home with obvious affection. "My parents came here when they already had six children; I was the 12th and last child."
This was the family home until 2008, when Luis and Mama Rosa grew elderly enough that it became hard to navigate the stairs, and they needed to live in a place easier for them. The parents initially wanted to sell the house, but daughter Rosa rejected that idea. "To me, it was important to keep it, to have it," she says. She and her husband, who live in Italy, bought the house from her parents in 2011 and spent a year lovingly restoring it, to be both updated and modern while still retaining the original footprint and character of the home. "We tried to keep it like it was; these are the same areas we used. I used to play here," she says of the sitting area where we are talking.
Casa de Las Rosas then opened as a hotel one year ago today, in July 2012. Today brings the inn's one year anniversary, and the entire family is celebrating with a special inauguration. Rosa and her family are in Cuenca from Italy, along with all of her 11 siblings and their families from all over the world - one is in the United States and another in Belgium. "It is a very special day for us."
The rates at Casa de Las Rosas range from $60 to $140 USD for two people; with three or four people, the rates are $110-160. All rates include a delicious, extensive breakfast spread.
Nearby places in Cuenca worth a mention:
Originally built in 1930 as a family home in the newer (at that time) part of Quito just north of the Old Town Center, Casa Joaquin has loads of history and character. The family run, colonial-era inn has been completely renovated, very well-done and tasteful. The decor is stylish, but not at all over the top; it's mix of European tradition and contemporary trend works. The place is very comfortable and homey while achieving elegance at the same time. The hotel was named after the famous painter Joaquin Pinto (1842 – 1906), who lived in Quito and who is considered to have been the “Ecuadorian Da Vinci”.
It is also the perfect size, in my opinion. The original Ecuadorian wood and iron staircase leads to 13 brand-new, individually designed guest rooms, with furniture and decor by local artisans. Each room is unique and has been named after an old drawing or art-reproduction the owners found in the house, left by the former inhabitant and dated from 1920-1940. There is also a full apartment in the back of the property, on ground level, with a bedroom, living room and full kitchen along with a private garden terrace. The apartment is perfect for long term stays of a week, several weeks or months.
Breakfast is a treat; along with the full European continental breakfast, each day guests are also served a specialty of the house that is fair-trade prepared. On our mornings we were treated to crepes, French toast and a savory pastry. A serious Italian espresso machine means that you can also order a wonderful, authentic cappuccino or espresso. Their secret? secret? Two cooks who owned a famous gastronomic restaurant in Leuven, Belgium created Hotel Casa Joaquin - and they just can’t hide their love for fine food!
Adjacent to the dining room is a small, cozy bar that is a nice place to have a drink in the evening. The red phone-booth door to the WC closet (bathroom) is an unexpected, fun and quirky touch.
The staff is excellent - knowledgeable and helpful, while respecting your privacy and giving you as much or as little service as you desire. Rooms are extremely tasteful and comfortable, with excellent European bathrooms.
The neighborhood, La Mariscal, is fun and lively. This is the less conservative, younger and more bohemian Quito neighborhood. All around Casa Joaquin are a wide choice of international restaurants and bars, particularly two blocks down where a corner plaza is a very happening spot in the evening, filled with street cafes, restaurants, and people walking around. Only a few blocks to the trolle system that will take you straight down into Old Town Quito, the location is easily accessible to other parts of the city as well.
All in all, Casa Joaquin offers everything you would want in a boutique hotel, and is the perfect affordable yet luxurious starting point for visiting the treasures of UNESCO World Heritage city, Quito.
orthopedic mattresses, anti-mites treatment
private bathroom with shower, WC and hairdryer
flat screen cable TV
free wireless internet
safety deposit box
delightful breakfast included
24 hour reception
Shitika Anand is a freelance fashion and lifestyle journalist who has more photos of sunrises on her smartphone than selfies. The freedom, nervousness and uncertainty of solo traveling gives her immense joy; even more joy than what Brie and a glass of tempranillo can give to her taste buds. She enjoys discovering secret beaches around Australia, room service, engaging bartenders in conversations about cocktails from the 1800s and munching on kale at organic cafés. Her work also can be found in GQ, Forbes, Women’s Health and CNN Travel, among other publications.