Welcome to www.allanwchapman.com! This blog is primarily about running, with periodic travel episodes woven in. Today’s post features travel to the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, including Waikiki, Honolulu, and Ko Olina. The running update will come at the end.
In recent years, my wife and I have discovered the best travel bargains appear to be during the second week of December. Hotels, restaurants, and car rental agencies all have told us this is a slow week. The largest discounts have been at the hotels. Even the airlines’ algorithms have permitted them to offer a modest discount this week.
We spent the first night at the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach.
We have stayed at the “Pink Hotel” previously during the peak season in a garden view room, but during the second week of December we were able to get an ocean front view room at the same rate as the normal garden view in peak season.
For dinner, we returned to the Azure, the hotel’s premier restaurant. We had thoroughly enjoyed their prix fixe (tasting menu) on our previous visit this past March, so we were quick to choose this 5 course option again. We were not disappointed. Each course was an innovative, delectable creation. The portions were modest and the serving pace was leisurely, so we were sated, not stuffed, when we finished the sumptuous meal. Here is the menu:
At 7 the next morning I was the first customer down on the beach to reserve lounge chairs in the Royal Hawaiian roped-off section of Waikiki. I reserved chairs 15 and 16, which we had liked during our March visit because they provided easy access to the Mai Tai Bar and Restaurant, as well as to the rest rooms.
After breakfast we swabbed on liberal amounts of sunscreen (mandatory in the hot Hawaiian sun), and took the pool elevator which actually was the closest access to our beach lounge chairs.
And we did lounge in our chairs, alternating between people watching and reading. We spotted more tattoos than we had ever seen in our lives, with some of the people having little flesh showing between the tattoos. We also looked out from time to time at the scores of surfers, paddling and waiting for good waves. There were a few good ones, but I’m sure it was a disappointing day for most of the surfers. The big surf came later in the week. This was a very enjoyable, relaxing time for us, but after about 2 hours, the sun’s heat really cooked us. We made the short walk across the sand, up the ramp and into the Mai Tai Restaurant.
We had found a really good rate at the Marriott Ocean Club in Ko Olina a few days before we left home. This is a time-share facility, but they do have units available to the public. So, after lunch, we set out on the 22 mile drive to Ko Olina. If you’ve ever been to Hawaii and watched the TV News, you know what we ran into on the H1 freeway. The traffic was even worse than normal because the highway crews were working during daylight hours to finish repairs by the end of the week so they could enjoy their Christmas Holidays. Anyway, it took us 2 ½ hours to make the 22 mile journey.
A new Monkey Pod Restaurant has been opened since our last visit to Ko Olina. We had discovered their Maui Restaurant earlier in the year in Wailea and had enjoyed it so much that we returned a second time. The Ko Olina is only about a one mile walk from the Marriott, so we decided to hoof it there-no rain in the forecast. We were rewarded with delicious meals. My wife ordered the Saimin Noodles, with Kalua Pork, broccoli, green beans, bean sprouts, red onion, cilantro, mint and peanuts. I had fish tacos with cilantro, cabbage, roasted tomato salsa, avocado cream, served on double corn tortillas. I really enjoyed my entrée, but I must say I really, really liked the several bites of my wife’s Saimin Noodles more. In fact, I ordered it when we returned a couple of days later and was not disappointed. As good as the entrees were, the dessert was better. They offer strawberry cream pie, banana cream pie, chocolate cream pie, and coconut cream pie.
The next day we headed back into Honolulu for a tour of Shangri La, the Estate of the late Doris Duke. Based on the horrific traffic out of Honolulu the previous afternoon, we allowed 2 ½ hours for this trip. We were facing a return trip to Ko Olina during the afternoon commute hours, so I was expecting the entire day to be stressful and disappointing.
Wow, was I wrong! We sailed in, part of it in the high occupancy vehicle lane, so we reached the parking lot next to the Honolulu Museum of Art School in less than an hour. We paid $5 for 5 hours parking and then hurried over to the Honolulu Museum of Art one block away. Because of no-shows, we were able to get the last 2 seats on the bus for 9 a.m. tour instead of the 10:30 a.m. we were booked on.
The bus ride took about 20 minutes, climbing up Diamond Head Mountain, around, and down the far side. We drove through the entrance gate, and then down the winding driveway to the front of the house. As we disembarked, we gazed upon what appeared to be a small, simple and plain house. It sure didn’t look like what we expected Shangri La to be.
The bus load of us were split into 2 tour groups, with the first going into the house and the second to start in the gardens before proceeding into the house. My wife and I were pressed into the second group and moments later we were through the garden wall door. We look around and we realized that we were indeed in Shangri La. To the far left we caught side of the tiered house, built into the side of the mountain, far larger than it appeared from the front façade we first saw. To the right of the house, the Pacific stretched out from the bottom edge of the property. Straight ahead lay the magnificent Mughal Garden, with Diamond Head Mountain rising behind it. Shangri La is a beautiful estate perched on 4.9 acres of prime ocean front, downward sloping land. The Garden is an emulation of the Royal Garden of the Mughal Emperors of India in the 16th and 17th centuries, which first impressed Doris Duke during her honeymoon there in 1935.
We retraced our steps through the garden wall door and then entered the house through a similar door, into the foyer. Islamic art and written language abounded, expressing Doris Duke’s love for this ancient expression from the Middle East, India and Pakistan. The entire house is designed around the Islamic theme.
Here are the highlights:
The Mihrab Room is a dimly lit chamber, which has as its focus a luster ceramic on one of the walls. This is known as a Mihrab and orients Islamic worshipers towards Mecca, to which they pray 5 times daily. The rest of the sanctuary features beautiful restored tile works and other ceramics.
The Damascus Room is a re-creation of an opulent area where guests were received. The walls and ceiling are wood, embellished with gold, tin, and copper, as well as multicolored glazes. As I recall (photography inside the house is forbidden), the guests sit on a circular ottoman in the center of the room, and the hosts are seated along the walls.
The Living Room is bright, long and spacious, with a spectacular view of Diamond Head through a floor-to-ceiling window, which also runs the full width of the room. Our guide told us the window could be totally retracted into the floor for unobstructed viewing of the Pacific and the Mountain.
The Dining Room is a re-creation of an Islamic Tent. The walls and ceilings are totally covered with striped blue fabric, which is embellished with Egyptian and Indian appliques. A magnificent Baccarat Chandelier hangs from the center of the ceiling, and the south and west wall fabric panels can be raised to let views of the Pacific and Diamond Head into the room. I really could imagine myself in a spacious elegant tent somewhere out in the Sahara.
As I mentioned earlier, I was really pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed this tour so much. Doris Duke left her Estate for the public to enjoy, and I for one found it a real pleasure. If you would like to learn more about booking the tour and more of what is there, you can go to: http://www.shangrilahawaii.org.
We spent 3 more days in the relative calm of Ko Olina (versus the Waikiki frenzy outside the grounds of the Royal Hawaiian). We sat in the shade of a tree next to the beach, and then actually went into the Marriott Lagoon water for a few minutes. We walked to Roy’s for dinner one evening and got caught in a downpour on the way back. It does rain in Hawaii! The next day the waves were up, so the surfers were finally happy!
I also did 3 x 5 minute tempo runs along the Hawaiian Railway tracks, which cuts straight through the Ko Olina Golf Course. Continue reading RUNNING, WRITING, AND TRAVELING FOR LIFE – EPISODE 13