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Taichung: Many Happy Returns

We have always meant to check out Taichung and we got our chance finally last month when we were invited to a weekend pow wow.  And we will definitely be back. Even our Taiwanese friends ask us in all seriousness why we like Taichung so much.  We think it is a bit obvious, don’t you?  You mean besides the abundant sunshine, the short flight (under 2 hrs), the seriously good grub, the laid-back attitude, and the more humane pace and quality of life?  Taichung are all of the above and more from what we have seen and where we have been.  So here goes.


A small cup of coffee can gauge the vitals of a city anywhere in the world.  We are half serious, but we have done this so many time and it has been quite indicative.  Ivette is located in the Xitun district (an area where it is experiencing the greatest growth) and their coffee is one of the best we have tasted in town.  The moment you walk into Ivette you feel like you have been teleported to a chic cafe in Melbourne.  Their honest food policy meant that they source locally and seasonally and let the food do the talking.  They even have a small urban farm on the top floor that provides the edible flowers, fruits, vegetables and spices for the restaurant below.  You don’t want to leave this place once you have sat down.


Straight out from the dreamscape of an Ursula Le Guin sci-fi novel, this pharmacy across from the National Taichung Theater by Toyo Ito stands at the crossroads between nature and science.  Cutting edge and traditional skincare remedies from both East and West are set against the backdrop of hanging gardens and even a double helix staircase.  There is even a small contemporary art gallery on the second floor.  Oh, and the super friendly and knowledgeable pharmacists make a mean cup of hand-dripped coffee, too.


Ever wonder why Japanese read so much?  It’s not because they have more time or enjoy reading more but because of their beautiful bookshops.  Tsutaya (“one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world”) opened very recently and it is already a hugely popular tourist destination as well as a safe haven for all bookavores.  Of the tribes who belong there, we add foodies as well since you can now enjoy the famous Doug’s Burger from Okinawa at the adjacent Wired Tokyo cafe.  This is a place where you definitely would not want to starve your stomach to feed your brain.


Channeling your inner bohemian or French girl chic?  With brands and one-off pieces from Paris, New York, LA and Japan, this select shop will inspire the most seasoned fashion week front bencher to the closeted fashionista alike.  The high fashion and home items culled from antiques markets around the world are gloriously displayed in a romantically gritty industrial space that nails the New York loft look to a T.  The small but quality cafe deserves a bigger presence.


Are you brave enough to add this to your itinerary because you will need about an hour to compete with all the other Instagrammers for wall space for those endless selfies (which you don’t mind really at the end)?  Far from the madding crowd this place is not, but you will be so rewarded if you choose to head over to this truly unique neighborhood. For one thing, you might get a chance to see Rainbow Grandpa (a nonagenarian!) in action.  He is the brains and brawn behind the colorful makeover of this housing complex for retired military defendants.  This place is a reminder that great art and great artists can be found outside of the establishments.

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Bangkok: Lessons in Experimentation

This year we have chosen Bangkok as our retreat destination and really splashed out on our big anniversary!  Yes, it has been 5 years since we first brought the gift card practice to our city’s most esteemed and exciting shops and restaurants. Therefore, it is not a surprise that we picked the Thai capital as it is, like our fair city, no stranger to anything that is new, fresh and exciting.  And, boy, are we impressed!  This is definitely the place to be if you want to take a pulse of what you are missing out on around the world.  From hospitality to retail to F&B and everything in between, there is something that we can take away and learn from in every sector of this energetic city. And, here is our little cheat sheet. Shall we?

In line with our philosophy of “gift well, made easy from wherever you are”, we are always available 24-7 online, even when you are in Bangkok!

Park Hyatt Bangkok

No one does hospitality like the Thais and this is not an overstatement. From the moment we stepped inside this lush and modernist hotel, we felt completely at ease. Like other branches of Park Hyatt, you have to take an elevator from the ground level foyer up to the lobby (this one is located on the 10th floor). From there you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Sukhumvit neighborhood of downtown Bangkok. Luckily, we got in early in the morning as rush hour is quite an experience in Bangkok! There is a quiet buzz around the hotel that is a unique combination of both a city and resort hotel.

The Living Room

This space is so much more than just a place to take tea and coffee. It was teeming with energy with business people speaking quietly on their cell phones, clicking away on their tablets, a group of entrepreneurs webex-ing via a laptop or travelers just enjoying a chilled glass of wine after taking on the Bangkok swelter and they all come together under this cathedral of a space (ceiling-height windows) filled with site-specific art and sculptures. The focused but extensive menu will satisfy any discriminating palate. We recommend the special black tea from Thailand and the sumptuous to-die-for pancakes.

Penthouse Bar & Grill

What do you get when you mix modern art deco with ‘Metropolis’ a la Fritz Lang? The answer is Penthouse Bar & Grill. Perched on the 34th floor of the Central Embassy, this restaurant-cum-cocktail lounge-cum-rooftop bar is truly a tour de force synthesizing what is best in F&B, hospitality, destination anchor and luxury.  The piece de resistance not to be missed is the vertiginous black-and-white striped grand staircase featuring a site-specific chandelier and vintage motorcycle. The futuristic decadent interior goes surprisingly perfect with the solid French cuisine and a selection of grill mains.  All of this is done in the hush-hush tone of a speakeasy set inside the plush lair of a modern-day dandy.

Open House

Touted as an eating deck, bookshop, co-thinking space, art tower, movie theater, design shop and open playground, Open House probably has the longest title ever when it comes to experimental spaces. It wears many hats and truth be told, excellent in every area imaginable. In fact, it is a microcosm of Bangkok – of all the things that they do so well here – like combining retail, co-working spaces, entertainment and F&B and somehow the whole is even more fantastic than the sum of its parts. Bravo!

Everyday Karmakamet

What is happiness? That is the million-dollar-question that this super cute local independent design concept shop is asking everyone and the answer offered is simply to ‘love your life’ and we suspect – lots of smiley faces. Building on the multi-purpose one-stop shop idea, Everyday has a tight and focused line of clothing, body care, home ware, stationery and lifestyle accessories and cafe that will have you feeling at your personal best. We recommend the quirky personality totes and tongue-in-cheek snow globes.