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IT'S HARD TO PUT A FINGER ON HONOLULU - the capital of Hawaii situated on the island of Oahu. For one, it doesn't feel like you're in America because of its large Asian migrant population. Arriving at the open-air Daniel K Inouye International Airport, its rustic wooden panel décor also takes you back a few decades in time. We half-expected to run into Elvis Presley in his bejeweled white jumpsuit circa 1973 when he arrived to perform and tape the Aloha from Hawaii special - the world's first concert to be beamed around the world via satellite - at the Honolulu International Convention Centre.
But Honolulu's old world charms and multi-cultural mix are exactly what make the city one of the most unique places to visit in the world. Nicknamed the Aloha State, after the catchall tradition native greeting (you can use it to say both "hello" and "goodbye"), the locals are friendly and no matter when you schedule your trip, the tropical climate guarantees great weather 365 days a year. Essentially, the surf is always up and it's common to find both domestic and international tourists seeking refuge from winter here.
Honolulu also takes its paradise island status seriously so forget about texting or replying that work email while crossing the street because that is an offence that carries up to a US$99 fine. Save the phone camera instead for selfies along its palm-tree-lined avenues and idyllic beaches, because Hawaii's abundance of nature not only looks good in photos but also on the big screen, as Hollywood has discovered.
The King himself made three in the sixties: Blue Hawaii; Girls Girls Girls; and Paradise Hawaiian Style. More recently, creature features like Jurassic Park, Kong: Skull Island, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle were all shot on location at Kualoa Ranch, taking advantage of the site's epic mountain views and lush greenery. Visitors can tour the movie sets - complete with props - in various ways including riding their own all-terrain-vehicle or on a horse.
Also often seen on the big screen is Pearl Harbor (Arizona Memorial Place), which suffered a devastating attack by the Japanese military during World War II. It is now a major tourist attraction in Oahu, with vessels like the USS Missouri and USS Bowfin that played instrumental roles during the war docked there and transformed into museums. A memorial has also been built on the remains of the USS Arizona which was sunk on that fateful morning of Dec 7, 1941.
Synonymous with Honolulu is Waikiki, the city's main beachfront tourist strip. The Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki (2330 Kuhio Ave) and The Laylow (2299 Kuhio Ave) are two new-ish properties situated right in the thick of the action and both are walking distance to everywhere including the spanking new mall International Market Place (2330 Kalakaua Ave) where you can tuck into a bowl of the national dish Poke at its food court, The Street (thestreetsocialhouse.com), before shopping for souvenirs.
For shopaholics, head onto a shuttle for Waikele Premium Outlet (94-790 Lumiaina St, Waipahu) to get your retail therapy fix. There are big bargains on brands like Armani Exchange, Calvin Klein, Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, Kate Spade, Michael Kors and more. Men's wallets from Coach were going for 70 per cent off retail while we were there earlier this month.
To get some reprieve from the city buzz and only 30 minutes away from Waikiki is the Four Seasons, Ko Olina (92-1001 Olani St, Kapolei). Stay during the "winter" months of December to February and you might even be able to indulge in a spot of whale watching from your balcony. The oceanfront luxury property also offers various cultural activities for its guests like island hopping and cooking classes. There are also activities like glamping for kids so the grownups can enjoy some me-time to themselves.
Less touristy but slowly gaining popularity is North Shore, which is about an hour away from downtown Honolulu. If you're a fan of Netflix's Terrace House: Aloha State, you would have seen the cast visiting the area. It's a mecca of surfing thanks to the legendary waves and it's also where you'll find the laid-back Haleiwa Town. Lined with cool boutiques, coffee shops, food trucks and even art galleries, these local small businesses make it feel less commercial than Waikiki where you'll find the big international brand names. If the weather gets a little too sunny, cool down at Matsumoto Shave Ice (66-087 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa) which has been serving the icy treat since 1951.
For a glimpse of old Honolulu, head back to Chinatown where the vibe is slightly grungy but it is also where you will find some of the most unique and authentic Hawaiian cuisine including unusual dim sum delicacies like manapua (pork buns), mataisu (baked radish tarts) and look funn (a thicker version of chee cheong fun)
The heritage district has undergone some gentrification so if you head east to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park, the stretches of N Hotel Street, N King Street and Bethel Street are where you will find a handful of Honolulu's hippest watering holes like 25-seat Tokyo-style whiskey bar Bar Leather Apron (745 Fort St #127A) and modern Hawaiian eateries like Senia (75 N King St) and Fete (2 N Hotel St).
Also undergoing a facelift is Kaka'ako, which used to be an industrial district but now plays host to Honolulu's street art festival Pow! Wow! Hawaii (powwowhawaii.com). Now in its eighth year, the event invites emerging local and overseas artists to paint murals on the walls of warehouses there and nothing is spared from the art as even fire hydrants and rubbish bins are given an artistic makeover.
There are a couple of blocks to cover so if you need to give your legs a rest, head to the nearby SALT (691 Auahi St) which is an enclave of boutique eating, drinking and shopping places. Small bites restaurant Moku Kitchen (660 Ala Moana Blvd, #145) believes in not only sourcing for local produce but also supports sustainability which are both pillars of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine - a movement that many local chefs including George Mavrothalassitis of fine dining restaurant Chef Mavro (1969 South King St) - are now championing.
Also worth checking out at SALT is Hank's Haute Dogs (324 Coral St) which has been serving artisanal hot dogs made of everything from lobster to kobe beef and foie gras for a decade now. Wash it all down with a selection of local craft beers from the Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room (675 Auahi St #121) and then take home a gift from the bean-to-bar chocolatier Lonohana Estate Chocolate (344 Coral Street, #104A) which makes everything from cacao grown on the owner's six-hectare farm.
Honolulu might be one of most remote cities in the world but it's a melting pot of cultures thanks to its multi-ethnic population. As Elvis sang on the soundtrack of Blue Hawaii, we Can't Help Falling in Love with the Aloha State.
The writer was a guest of Scoot which now flies four times a week from Singapore to Honolulu via Osaka on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. For more information, check www.flyscoot.com and @flyscoot on social media.