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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.

IVETTE

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.

MOLECURE PHARMACY

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.

TSUTAYA BOOKSTORE

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.

KIITO KIITO

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.

RAINBOW VILLAGE

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.

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The Short and Sweet Guide to Saigon

It was our first time in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) albeit a short trip and boy were we pleasantly surprised! The city is quite hectic with scooters coming at you from every direction (look both ways!), but we can definitely see why this has become the new hub for startups. We met entrepreneurs from all over Asia as well as those well-traveled ones from Europe as well as the US who’ve made this their new home to work on their startups. The city seems to be in a constant state of flux with construction at every corner. Getting an Uber here takes less time than in San Francisco, if that is even possible. Or you can get your Uber on a motorbike for about half the price. The co-working facilities and cafes are legit – the wifi is super strong with plugs everywhere and the serious coffee culture means you can pretty much work anywhere.

Here are some of our favorites that we’ve discovered along the way, let us know what you think!

L’Usine

We loved it here so much that we went to all 3 locations! Each location is unique in their own right. Our favorite is the one on Dong Khoi as it had the best coffee. Hint: The hidden entrance is through an unmarked arcade then up a serious flight of stairs. It has the most complete range of products of all the 3 shops.

We love their private label Trois Filles that offers day-to-night separates that are stylish yet comfortable in the humidity! A really great place for souvenirs for the design conscious as well.

Merci

Ladies with a penchant for self-pampering and everything pretty and colorful will feel in their elements here. You can get your personal housekeeping in order from head to toe (with champagne!) all without chipping your newly lacquered nails. We love their Brazilian de Luxe waterless manicure and pedicure. They get booked up fast so better to call in advance.

Maison Marou

We are not big chocolate eaters but this place is a must-visit for aficionados and tourists alike.  This is where we bought all our gifts for our besties – you know who you are! You can handpick your own flavors of chocolates if you go with their gift boxes so it’s as personalized as it gets.

The shapes of their chocolates are also thoughtful and kudos-worthy. Our favorite is shaped like a Vietnamese straw hat. Their red and blue gift boxes also make the dark chocolates stand out beautifully.

Must try their sumptuous chocolate chip cookies (perfect if you like your cookies soft rather than crunchy – they can heat it up for you) and iced chocolate. Everything is sourced, made, and designed in Vietnam – way to go!

The Workshop

This was one of our favorite spots. A serious co-working space for serious coffee people. Bring your labtop here to work and you will fit right in or sit here the whole day and sample the pages and pages of different coffee beans they have here.

A beautiful factory loft-like open space that will get your creative juices flowing. Get the window seats for an intimate tete-a-tete or try the bar for the ultimate handcrafted coffee experience with the knowledgeable and friendly baristas.

Le Spa Des Artistes

We tried quite a few different spas here and we always ended up coming back here. We stayed at the hotel too but didn’t realize at first that it had an award-winning spa!

You will find no fault with the environment. Super relaxing and calming. The massage is more of a therapeutic type so don’t expect an acupressure rubdown! The hibiscus hot tea at the beginning and end of the treatment was very yummy.

Hotel Des Arts Saigon

Service was just so so and uneven but more than made up for with a beautiful Indochina elegance that is both clean and modern that is hard to find in the city. The restaurant on the second floor is perfect for breakfast and late dinner (thank you Phuong for all your expert advice on what and where we should be getting our Vietnamese delicacies from!).

There is also an infinity pool and glass bridge at the top of the hotel that is not for the faint-hearted! Room is spacious and they give you handmade afternoon snacks and artisanal chocolates each day!

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Where the Magic Happens – Giftwell Mugs at Pantry Magic!

You can now find our uplifting and super cute Giftwell mugs at your favorite culinary candy store Pantry Magic! We are so happy to be stocked at this lovely one-stop shop for all your essentials and hard-to-find specialty tools and cookware, where everything is laid out beautifully for easy browsing and educating. Stop by and say hello to our mugs in person!


 

Where to find Pantry Magic:
G/F, 25 Lok Ku Road
Central, Hong Kong
Opens everyday: 10:30 AM – 8:00 PM
852. 2504. 0688
WWW.PANTRY-MAGIC.COM

 

 

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Postcards from Bali

Bali has always been one of our all-time favorite vacation spots - the people, their generosity, the creativity, the rich culture and craftsmanship, the never-in-a-rush vibe (except during rush hour on a scooter). This is a place where we can stay for months at a time (and we really wish we could!) and a place anyone would be hard-pressed not to fall in love with. There are simply too many places that we love on this island, here are some of our most repeated and frequently-visited spots. Discover yours and let us know your favorites too!

Les Biches
A departure from the resort / beachwear focus of most of the boutiques (think modern Japanese avant-garde reminiscent of Yohji Yamamoto), Les Biches (means female deers) is a refreshing change where you can find a more edgy look that is also extremely wearable, but also make you stand out from the beach crowd.

Canaan
A one-stop shop for all your souvenir needs and picking up something interesting and beautiful from the local brands along the way. Everything here is carefully filtered and expertly edited – you won’t be able to find the goodies here anywhere else. We loved everything from the intoxicating sweet-smelling Balinese candles to the modern rattan bags. It’s also just a stone’s throw away from Potato Head and Katamama.

Nebula
A great place for brunch and breakfast and smoothies and everything in between. We love the chic monochrome interior, high ceiling, and the wonderful hospitality!

Jari Menari
At first, we were skeptical of any place that’s voted “best massage in Bali” but that went out the door as soon as our massage started. They are known for their all-male masseuse concept, but what makes this place truly amazing is the authentic Balinese method and technique of massaging your knots away that leaves you toned, calm, and rejuvenated. Leave your worries at the door and walk out with a sense of well-being and renewal. If you are pressed for time, the 45-minutes foot massage is a godsend. 

Souq
One of our favorite places for … well everything! There’s goodies from A-Z for the home and your closet. Be sure to stop by the cafe for the coffee and cakes – all handmade from their own kitchen. We recommend something savory such as the sausage rolls and chicken thyme pies. A great place to get some remote work done (we all work guys – even in Bali) or just to wile away the hours!

Dough Darlings
It’s not just donuts – it’s Dough Darlings! You never thought donuts can be this fresh and heavenly until you tried the ones here. We loved the caramel but why commit when you can have them all. The pop-up shop at the conveniently located Seminyak Village is a bonus … Darlings, you had us at hello.

Temu Coffee
Hidden behind one of the busy streets in Seminyak Square (watch your toes), this is the perfect place for a hideaway from the crowds. There is an uber cool stadium-like seating area on top of the see-through roof overlooking a courtyard. The iced cappuccino with ice cream here is to die for and worth coming back for everyday – which we certainly did!

Johnny Ramli
You can immediately tell how talented Johnny is when you walk through the doors. There’s something really exciting about Johnny’s designs – simple, classic shapes that are somehow made not ordinary. Whether it’s a play on texture or colors, it’s all communicated in a subtle, minimalist, edgy way. You would think you had walked into a boutique somewhere on the left bank in Paris known just through word of mouth. We loved this store so much we almost wanted to keep it to ourselves, but Johnny’s talents should be shared and enjoyed! We left feeling inspired …

 

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The Berlin Dossier

We just came back from Berlin and are happy to say that it is quite simply – still – the coolest city around. A city that is dynamic, creative, modern; one that is full of history, amazing art and architecture but not held back by it. Here are some of our favorite things (though there are plenty more that we didn't take pictures of), hope you will get a chance to (re)visit the city too in the not too distant future.

AMODO

You can tell that AMODO is a labor of love even before you walk into the store. Everything down to the business card, the music – not to mention the goodies in the store – is well thought out and special.

It is the perfect store for finding that cool souvenir to take back home. We love the focus on discovery and appreciation of all things creative, different that are, at the same time, affordable. Designers beware – you will want to bring back the whole store! The proprietors are also very warm and friendly, and shared with us the insider’s view of the best places for coffee and dining in Berlin 🙂

Klub Kitchen

This was one of our favorites. We tried pretty much everything on the menu (yes, we came back a few times!). Our favorite was the Sultan Eggs. Who knew poached eggs could be so creative and delicious?! The way the menu described it made the combination of ingredients (yogurt with paprika butter) seemed a bit daunting to the North American palate and we were unsure of it first when we ordered it, but it turned out to be just amazing, very tasty, smooth and surprisingly light.

The Green Bowl is a delight for vegans. It has a divine citrusy dressing and was very refreshing on a hot summer day. And yes, broccoli can taste that good?! Be sure to try the handmade to order juices too – simple and creative. It’s also got a chic, simple interior and a very cool staff.

Grosz

Even a simple coffee break at the richly decorated and elegant Grosz is an event. The relaxed outdoor seating right on the Ku’damm makes it a great place for people watching and enjoying a slice of cake.

Lokal

The menu changes daily – literally! When we went there earlier in the day to ask about the menu, they told us to check back at 6 pm as that’s when the chef will tell them what they have prepared for the night! If you want food with a twist, minimalist modern interior with a cool vibe, then this is the place for you.

The potatoe gratin and the cucumber salad were our favorites. The bread with homemade butter was also to die for. The staff is very knowledgeable and can give recommendations.

ORA

We got lost for a very long time walking up and down Oranienstrasse trying to find this place, so by the time we got there we were famished and thirsty, and it did not disappoint. ORA used to be an old pharmacy and has kept most of the original décor and installations inside.

For lunch, we would recommend the Kurbispuree – you can choose either a puree of cauliflower or a puree of pumpkin. It had a very interesting texture and was delicious. We wanted to order more to take back! Everything comes in these little clear glass jars (like the ones you use for jam-making) so people working nearby can get the food to go and return the jars on their next visit.

Nano Kaffee

There are lots of choices for coffee shops in Berlin. We stopped by Nano Coffee for a pick-me up per the recommendation of a friend who’s a self-confessed coffee snob. It’s got a very nice minimalist-industrial look inside, with dark wood and a spacious interior.

The barista is very friendly and gave us a lowdown of the neighborhood (Kreuzberg) and the perks of living in Berlin. They make a very nicely designed tote bag too if you can get one.

The hardest part about visiting Berlin is coming home . . . See you in Berlin!

 

 

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Gift Well, Travel Often

Another milestone for us! Our colorful mugs are now available at the Design Gallery inside the departure area in Terminal 1 (near Gate 1) at the Hong Kong International Airport! A gift that will continue to give you a smile after your journey home and a perfect gift for your loved ones. Bon voyage!

The spotlight is on us!

 

Where to find us?
Departure Hall (right before you get to Gate 1 inside Terminal 1)
Hong Kong International Airport
Hong Kong
Hours: 7 am – 11 pm

 

 

 

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New Stores Download

Our exciting lineup continues with Angelina, E.Marinella, Hanabi, and Nur! We are so excited to welcome our four new handpicked stores to Giftwell!

ANGELINA

Angelina is truly a breath of fresh air with its charming, nostalgic interior, and beautiful outdoor seating. Right inside Lane Crawford at the IFC, It’s a great place to take a break from the hustle and bustle. You will feel transported in time and place.

Angelina was frequented by Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn and has been the ultimate gold standard for Parisian sweet treats for over a century! Their most well-known treats include the Mont-Blanc chestnut cream dessert and a hot chocolate made of cocoa beans from Africa, but we also love staying for a long lazy lunch and having the Croque Monsieur and Quiche Lorraine.

NUR

Nur is a refreshing addition to the Hong Kong restaurant scene. Thanks to chef Nurdin Topham’s commitment to stay true to his vision and what he believes in, it’s a place where words like farm-to-table, conscious eating, nourishing gastronomy actually mean what they are supposed to mean, rather than just marketing sound bites. 

The food takes inspiration from chef Nurdin’s 20-year career through Raymond Blanc’s Michelin two-star Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, as the personal Development Chef to Raymond, running the renowned Raymond Blanc Cookery School – and later at Nordic Food Lab whose founders are behind Copenhagen’s Noma, the world’s number-one restaurant . . . Nur is definitely the only spot in Hong Kong that can say all that!

HANABI

Hanabi is an intimate omakase sushi bar where a traditional sushi and sashimi menu is met with modern twists – you will love and be surprised by the flavors, cutting-edge combination, on top of the uncompromising freshness. We love that the only choice on the menu is either a HK$800 or HK$1200 per person omakase menu; it takes a lot of confidence and convicton to offer just one choice. 

The chef behind Hanabi is ex-Nobu Intercontinental chef Michael Chan who studied under the tutelage of famed sushi master chef Toshio Matsudo. Grab one of the 12 seats around the omakase sushi bar and have the food handed to you directly from the chef’s hands, one piece at a time. 

E.MARINELLA

If you are well-versed in men’s tailoring, then you must already know E. Marinella. Their ties are as top of the line as you can possibly get. Seen on the likes of Daniel Craig (yes!), John F. Kennedy, and former President Bill Clinton, this Naples-based 1914 Italian company elevates tie-making to an art form. Those who say a pair of shoes can really dress up an outfit have not come across E. Marinella. It shoud be the tie that transcends an outfit and makes it look even better . . . 

 

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Gift the Not Boring Hamper this Holiday!

Introducing our 2015 Giftwell Hamper! Filled to the brim with our bestselling gift cards, our holiday hampers will fit anyone and everyone on your list - whether it be a corporate team or a loved one. Surprise your foodie with a selection of our favorite restaurant gift cards, or thank your VIP with a selection of our bestsellers. Our handpicked gorgeous shops and immaculate packaging will have them thanking you!

To place your order, please contact us at customercare@giftwell.hk or at 8199.9827.