Monday, November 2, 2009

Girls on the move

Two travel authors dish the dirt on what it's like being a woman in a man's game

Christopher Toh

WHILE many can probably easily name male authors who write travel literature - anyone from Michael Palin to Nicholas Sparks - few can name as many female writers who do the same thing.

One possible reason is the common - and often erroneous - perception is that men who strap on back packs and travel the world are bound on a journey of enrichment and discovery, whereas women who do the same thing are bound for trouble.

However, two female authors are hoping that perception will change with the publication of their debut travel tomes. Today took time out to chat with Adeline Loh and Janet Hsieh.


Malaysian writer Adeline Loh ditched her career in magazine publishing a couple of years ago to take a trip to Zambia. Her first tome, Peeing In The Bush, is a recollection of highlights of the journey, which turned out to be a journey of self-discovery.
"I seriously never imagined that I would ever write a book because I possess a very short attention span," she told Today.

"I have trouble finishing books as it is let alone write one! But I was just so truly inspired by what I had seen and experienced that I just had to let it out one way or another."

According to Adeline, the book took "forever" to complete because she "transformed into this anal perfectionist".

"I needed every single page to be immensely readable, funny and engaging, so I would continually try to come up with new ideas and entertaining ways to relay information. I did not know when to stop," she said.

Two-and-a-half years later, she finally stopped writing and sent the manuscript to the publishers, although she kept wanting to work on it right up to the last minute. "It's like getting ready for a big date, you know? Every touch-up counts!"

You don't hear much about female travel writers. Do you wish there were more?

Actually, there are quite a number of female travelogue writers - they're just not as famous as the men. That's a low-down dirty shame because I think us females are much more funny, clever, wicked and adept at toilet humour than men!

What I wish is not for more female travelogue writers, but for more recognition for the existing ones. I don't think I'm setting the trend here; it's already begun.

Are you worried the public won't get it?

I know that the cool people I was writing for will get my book and those who have trees up their behinds may pooh-pooh it.

What's the biggest lesson you've gained from this experience?

I learnt to be appreciative of everything I have. Simple things - like food, money and shelter.

I hardly complain anymore and have become extremely easy to please. I also realised that the quest for materialism makes people miserable. The people in Africa had only the bare basics and they were contented, so why aren't we?

However, I also discovered burnout. I'm happy I did everything I did. Because I sure as hell ain't going to do it again!

What? No more books?

If I do write another book, I would want it to be 10 times better than Peeing In The Bush. And frankly speaking, that book is pretty hard to beat!


Better known as the vivacious host of Discovery Travel & Living's Fun Taiwan, Janet Hsieh has been to more countries than the entire Plus team put together.

Born and raised in Texas, the Taiwanese lass has visited over 30 countries, including Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, France, Palau, India, Singapore and, of course, Taiwan. She says she was bitten by the travel bug as a girl, and she's about to reveal all in her first travel tome to be published later this year.

It's not just a travelogue, she said. "It's like a biography told in a series of travel stories ... Whenever I go anywhere, I write in my journal. Of course, now I have my blog. I've always liked sharing stuff," Hsieh said. "Even the simplest things like the first time I used a squatting toilet, I didn't know which way to face. So it kind of made sense that I would put it in a book."

But first, she needs a title. "We do have a couple of ideas," she said. "One of them is Janet Revealed. But we're debating about what kind of cover to use."

Said cover ideas included one of her wearing nothing but a map, and a more familiar one of her carrying a back pack. (Personally, I'd go for the one with the map.) "We'll see how it goes," she said.

What was the most challenging about writing this book?

I've been writing it for a long time - two years -but sporadically, because I'd be busy filming for six months at a stretch sometimes. That was challenging. I didn't use a ghostwriter because I wanted it to be me. Everything down to the photos and themes and the style. The book is chronological, but location-based, and about what happens to me there ... But if you're looking for factual information like when to go, how to get there - then my book is not the book to buy!

Are you worried about the reception to your book?

I am a little worried because this is like my baby and I'm almost afraid to release it - what if people don't like it?

Any plans for another one?

We're already working on the second one, which is about my last four years on Fun Taiwan. It's based on the people we have interviewed on the show and not just the Taiwanese.

You don't hear much about women travel writers. Do you wish there were more?

Well, Beyonce had an all-woman band (at F1 Rocks). That is so cool! When you think "hard rocker", you automatically think "male". But it doesn't have to be that way. There are a lot of talented women out there, and I think Beyonce brought that point across.

I was reading an article which said that the people who are going to bring the world out of the recession aren't the Indians or Chinese - it's women. So why not? There should be more female travel writers!

The new season of Fun Taiwan with Janet Hsieh (left) begins Nov 27, 8pm on Discovery Travel & Living (StarHub Channel 16).

From TODAY, Plus – Tuesday, 29-Sep-2009

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

After the war

Kambodscha/Cambodia, Serendipity Beach bei Sih...Image via Wikipedia

Tempting tourists back when the bombing stops is never easy, but war-weary Asian countries are planning new treats for travellers in a bid to cash in on a "peace dividend".

Sri Lanka

When government forces claimed victory against Tamil Tiger separatist rebels in May, Sri Lankan tourism chiefs set to work, launching a campaign called "Sri Lanka: Small Miracle", to polish its post-war image.

One of the new activities designed to sell the country on top of its beaches, tea plantations and religious sites is whale watching. The giant mammals frequent the island's shores between December and April.

Dileep Mudadeniya, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau's managing director, estimates the promotional campaign will help raise tourist arrivals by at least 20 per cent to 500,000 visitors in 2010.


The number of travellers to Nepal slumped during a 10-year civil war between the army and Maoist rebels which ended in 2006. But last year a record 550,000 people visited the Himalayan state after foreign governments relaxed their travel warnings.

Tourism authorities say they hope to attract a million visitors by 2011 and are focusing on some of the less developed areas of the country, where few foreigners have ventured.

One plan involves creating a "Himalayan Trail", taking trekkers to some of the remotest parts of the country. The trail would link paths already used by local people to transport goods and livestock, and would take three months to complete - with most visitors expected to walk it in stages.


Decades of civil strife under the Khmer Rouge ended in 1998, and tourism is now one of the few sources of foreign exchange for the impoverished South-east Asian nation.

Even though Cambodia now lures more than two million foreign visitors a year, most stay only briefly to see the ancient World Heritage-listed Angkor Wat temple complex.

"We need time to (change our image)," Ho Vandy, co-chair of Cambodia's tourism working group told AFP. The government last year launched an international "Kingdom of Wonder" campaign promoting the country's eco-tourism and culture.

More than 20 islands have been designated for development while a new airport in seaside Sihanoukville is expected to open later this year. Other plans include a game park for well-heeled hunters in the remote jungle-covered northern Ratanakiri province and several luxury golf courses around the country.

Indian kashmir

Tourists are returning to Indian Kashmir, once described by a 17th-century visiting emperor as a "paradise on earth", as militant violence in the Muslim-majority region subsides to its lowest level since 1989.

In 1988 more than 700,000 tourists visited Kashmir, but the number declined sharply as the insurgency intensified. Now the tide appears to be turning again, with more than 380,000 visiting in the first seven months of 2009. AFP

From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 17-Sep-2009

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Something for everyone

Pinnacles Desert, Nambung National Park, Weste...Image by iansand via Flickr

Breathtakingly gorgeous and filled with activities for both nature-lovers and city folks, Western Australia is a vacation spot full of possibilities for everyone.

Leaning Trees that lie parallel to the ground have become icons for the Shire of Greenough in Geraldton, Coral Coast.

Happy Family

Try a six-day tour to Perth and Fremantle which includes a farm stay - the kids will love the chance to participate in farm activities they've only seen on television. Also included is an overnight stay in the scenic Swan Valley along with a buffet dinner, plus a Captain Cook Cruise down the Swan River.

Romantic Duo

Savour fine wines, sample local cheeses, berries and chocolates; take a romantic stroll through blooming lavender gardens; and experience together the intriguing Tree Top Walk through a world-famous forest of gigantic proportions. If these catch your fancy, go for the seven-day tour to Southwest Perth and Swan Valley.

Walk amongst giant Tingle trees in Walpole.

Girly Trip

Gather your friends for a seven-day trip to Perth, Coral Coast and Monkey Mia. Eclectic markets, sprawling malls, beach bazaars and factory outlets in Perth offer plenty of shopping options before heading to the scenic Coral Coast where you'll find attractions such as stunning wildflower landscapes and endearing Leaning Trees.

Lone Ranger

A four-day Perth flexi holiday package is a great getaway option if you just want to be alone to catch your breath. It includes a day-trip to the awe-inspiring Pinnacles Desert, sandboarding opportunities and a chance to hang out with koalas. Spend the rest of your time shopping leisurely or indulging in café culture. He Peiwen

Book your 6D Perth, Fremantle & Farmstay or your 7D Perth, Southwest and Swan Valley tour package at Chan Brothers Great Travelholic Sale this weekend, Sept 19 and 20 at Suntec City Mall Level 1 Galleria Foyer from 10am to 8pm and enjoy up to $840 off per family.

From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 17-Sep-2009

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Playground for all ages

Giraffes at the world famous Taronga ZooImage via Wikipedia


Stimulating, scintillating activities to inspire and excite the young

Mei Lin

BESIDES the urbane sophisticates it draws, Sydney, the glam cosmopolitan city in Australia, is also a gigantic playground for school-going travellers. Festooned with attractions, it has become a magnet for families with children and even children on school excursions.

Settle in

A good place to get them in the right mood for play is the Swissotel Kids Room, which is specially set up for children below the age of 10.

Connected to the parents' room, the kids' universe is dolled up with colourful bed linen, cuddly toys, wall posters and drawing tables. It also has kiddie confectionery in the mini bar fridge, special menus and a mini play area. The bathroom comes with footstools, toiletries and bath toys.

Swissotel is situated above Myers Department Store adjacent to the Pitt Street Mall, so sightseeing is easy on foot or via public transport.

Start your engines

Oz Jetboating

Introducing young children to this bustling city is best done on a Sydney Harbour cruise. A boat ride around the harbour with its landmark attractions never fails to thrill them.

Older children will probably prefer a wind-whipping trip on a powerful jetboat. Get off at Luna Park, a retro amusement park featuring old-fashioned rides such as the Ferris Wheel and exhilarating rides such as the Ranger, Flying Saucer and Spider.

Wake up to a safari

Alternatively, stop at Taronga Zoo, whose latest resident, Luk Chai, made headlines for being the first Australian-born elephant in July this year.

Darling Harbour

For a nocturnal adventure, the zoo's Roar and Snore Programme lets you sleep over in purpose-built safari tents overlooking the Harbour. Imagine waking up to the roar of a lion or the trumpet of an elephant - all from a safe distance, of course! You will also be the first to greet the animals before the rest of the crowd is admitted.

For close encounters with local creatures in a natural bush garden and red earth setting right in the heart of the city, the Sydney Wildlife World at Darling Harbour is a convenient stop.

Capture more than 100 species of animals in some 65 different habitats. If you are lucky, you might even get to caress a newly-hatched emu or pat a koala.

Then saunter over to the Sydney Aquarium next door, home to more than 11,000 Australian marine creatures spanning 650 species. Check out the Dugongs in the Mermaid Lagoon - legend has it that the graceful mermaid descended from these gigantic sea mammals.

Next, hop aboard the Shark Explorer glass-bottom boat on Australia's largest Great Barrier Reef Oceanarium and join in the feeding of reef sharks. You can also communicate with divers in the Oceanarium through the latest technology.

Sydney Aquarium Reef Theatre

Science for fun

While still in the Darling Harbour vicinity, pop into the IMAX Theatre, which houses the world's largest cinema screen (29.42 metres high, 35.73 metres wide) for a screening.

Getting to Darling Harbour aboard a Metro Light Rail or Monorail from various points in the city is a delightful family activity. While at the harbour, the People Mover Train is another fun scenic ride for families to get around the large precinct. Shopping options are plentiful with clothing, games and toys from W.A Jacobs Toymaker to titillate little ones.

On the edge of Chinatown lies the Powerhouse Museum, which explores history, science and design. With over 385,000 objects displayed in 22 exhibitions and 250 interactives, there is never a dull moment. From steam engine and horse drawn carriages to ancient archaeological finds and modern scientific discoveries, the Powerhouse has just the right amount of stimuli to arouse young minds.

Step on clouds

Swissotel Sydney Kids Room

Take in a 360-degree bird's eye view of the city from 250m high in the air at the Observation Deck of Sydney Tower, just a few metres higher than Singapore' Swissotel.

For a totally enlivening experience, go for a "Sky Walk" over Sydney. In this breathtaking 45-minute activity, participants step on a glass platform while clad in safety suits to catch awesome views of the famous Sydney beaches to as far as the rustic Blue Mountains. For those 10 years old and above only.

Not brave enough? Embark on a no less mind-blowing adventure but in the confines of a theatre. The brilliantly-designed simulated ride "OzTrek" takes you on an intense virtual adventure across dynamic landscapes where Australian history, culture and geography come to life with special 3D holographic technology - "experience" white water rafting or be "swallowed" by a crocodile!

Boasting inspiring views of the Harbour, the 30-hectare Royal Botanic Gardens is a bountiful showcase of diverse flora spanning aboriginal, begonias, bush, ferns, roses, rare plants, pines, herbs, desert, native plants and more.

Chance upon flying foxes, native birds, ducks, possums, lizards and other animals and insects. If not for anything, the Gardens is simply a very relaxing and pleasant vista for families with young children to roam and be in tune with botanical nature - a perfect opportunity for bonding.

From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 17-Sep-2009

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Venice will sink further: Group

Authority insists port project will pose no danger

High water is already affecting cafes in this Venice square.

ROME - The Italian authorities plan to expand Venice's port into a bustling shipping hub, further endangering the fragile lagoon and contributing to the sinking of the treasured city built on water, according to a conservation group.

Venice in Peril, a British fund that works to preserve Venice, said on Monday that a report it obtained from the local port authority showed plans to accommodate more and bigger ships in a bid to compete with other European harbours.

The port authority confirmed it had written the report but insisted the work will respect the environment and is necessary to deal with the growing flow of tourists and goods.

The debate illustrates the complex and often controversial balancing act between protecting the Unesco world heritage site and exploiting a port that gives easy access to prosperous areas of northern Italy and central Europe, as well as rapidly developing markets in the Balkans.

The report, drawn up for the Italian Senate, outlines ongoing and future work including the continued dredging of passages in the shallow lagoon to allow larger vessels in and the construction of a new shipping terminal in the long-declining mainland industrial zone of Porto Marghera.

The port authority is spending at least ?260 million ($535 million) to dredge inlets and navigation channels to allow the passage of ships of up to 400m in length.

This is of particular concern to conservationists because dredging and heavy ship traffic are seen as one of the causes of the rising sea level in the lagoon, which threatens the low-lying islands on which the historic city is built.

Under the combined effect of rising water levels and settling of the land, Venice has sunk 23cm in the last century.

Most experts agree that the waves generated by large ships and the currents that run through the deep passageways play a big part, displacing and dragging out to sea the sandbanks and sediment that help keep water out.

The rising sea level has increased the frequency of floods, and in December, Venice suffered its worst deluge in 22 years. Experts warn the problem could worsen in the coming decades.

The port authority report dismisses environmental concerns by declaring them solved thanks to a project to build towering movable barriers designed to rise from the seabed and prevent flooding.

The system is expected to be operational by 2014. AP

From TODAY, World – Wednesday, 09-Sep-2009

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Ayers Rock 'used by tourists as a toilet'

SYDNEY - Thousands of tourists from all over the world climb Australia's Ayers Rock every year. But it seems that, once atop of the Northern Territory monolith, visitors do more than just take photographs.

Tour guides have accused some tourists of using the Rock, which is considered to be a sacred site to local aborigines, "as a toilet".

Mr Andrew Simpson, general manager of the Aboriginal-owned Anangu Waai tour company, said many tourists have been defecating at the site. "That's been going on for years ... When people climb up the top of the rock there's no toilet facilities up there."

The climb takes at least half-an-hour each way, but Mr Simpson said no matter how desperate climbers were, it was not acceptable to use the Rock as a lavatory.

Mr Simpson's claims were made in a submission on the draft Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park management plan.

Such allegations could increase the chances of the Rock being closed to climbers. Environment Minister Peter Garrett is expected to make a decision on the plan next year. THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

From TODAY, World – Wednesday, 09-Sep-2009

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Quick tours

The Great Ocean Road from Teddys Lookout in Lo...Image via Wikipedia

Need a break? Pick up these travel packages at the Natas fair and get away.

He Peiwen

1 South Africa

Take a trip to the wild side with this 10D/7N tour that takes you to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Highlights include a visit to Hermanus, a world-famous whale-watching spot; a tour of Cape Peninsula, where you get to see the Twelve Apostles mountain range, colonies of Cape fur seals and African penguins, and visit the Cape Point lighthouse; as well as a stay at Sun City, South Africa's premier resort, where you will visit The Lost City and Pilanesberg National Park.

Culinary delights include ostrich and game meat, sliced abalone and lobster meals. To book, head to Five Stars at Hall 4, booth 4H64.

A'Famosa Resort Water World Theme Park

2 Malaysia

For a family holiday close to home but with plenty to offer, check out the A'Famosa Resort 3D2N Family Paradise Package ($178 per adult and $141 per child).

Located in Alor Gajah (a 45-minute drive from Kuala Lumpur International Airport), the resort offers an international championship 27-hole golf course, an Animal World Safari, an adrenaline-packed Water World Theme Park and more.

3 Korea and Jeju Island

Here's your chance to see those sights shown in Korean drama serials such as Daejanggeum.

The 8D tour is available during both autumn and winter. Visit the Daejanggeum Theme Park; Yongduam Rock (Dragon Head Rock), the famous landmark of Jeju Island; the Teddy Bear Museum; and you even get to go on a submarine tour to the ocean floor.

In Seoul, try your hand at making kimchi, take photos dressed in a hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and satisfy your shopping urges at Dongdaemun Market, Korea's largest wholesale and retail clothing market. To book, head to ASA at Hall 5, booth 5H21.

4 Sydney and Melbourne

Choose a 6D Melbourne or 8D Melbourne and Sydney package for the best of nature and city holidaying. At Phillip Island in Melbourne, delight in the famous penguin parade, where you'll see hordes of fairy penguins waddle up from the ocean to their sand dunes.

Take a trip to a vineyard or choose an optional tour of the Great Ocean Road before shopping your fill at Victoria Market and Harbour Town Outlet Shopping Centre.

Those headed to Sydney will get a taste of the freshest sea produce at Sydney Fish Market and also visit places of interest including the award-winning Sydney Aquarium, Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters rock formation. Book with ASA at Hall 5, booth 5H21.

5 Japan

UOB Travel is offering exclusive deals to Japan on All Nippon Airways (ANA). Return all-in airfare to Tokyo is $488 plus 500 UOB incentive points; to Sapporo, it is $788 plus 500 UOB incentive points.

For on-your-own packages, which include return airfare and accommodation, prices start from $888 (before taxes) for 4D3N to Tokyo and $1,138 (before taxes) to Sapporo. Those who prefer group tours have the option of a 7D5N package to Central Japan and Takayama from $2,398 (before taxes). UOB Travel is at Hall 5, booth 5H11.

Club Med Kani

6 Club Med

Until Aug 31, book a Club Med holiday in Bali, Bintan Island, Cherating Beach, Kani (Maldives) or Phuket, and a second person stays for free.

Included in the package are activities such as horse riding, archery and water sports. The promotion starts from $944 per couple, for minimum four nights' stay. It is valid for travel between Oct 1 and April 30 next year.


From TODAY, Living – Weekend, 29/30-Aug-2009

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Hit the high spots

Llama overlooking Machu Picchu, Peru.Image via Wikipedia

A heads up on top destinations, shopping havens and fairytale temptations

Jennifer Chen

What can top Bangkok as the world's best city? Udaipur, India, that's what. The city where James Bond seduces the eponymous heroine in the 1983 film Octopussy is the world's top this year according to Travel + Leisure magazine.

The annual list of the world's best cities was compiled this year with the input of the magazine's readers all over the world, which include editions in South-east Asia, South Asia, China, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and Mexico.

An ancient city in Rajasthan, Udaipur boasts sumptuous palaces, some of which have been converted into hotels. At its heart is a lake on which sits the Taj Lake Palace hotel, where Bond gets it on.

Travel + Leisure's editor-in-chief Nancy Novogrod said that she has noticed a "huge migration and interest away from the classic European capitals and classic resorts to destinations that offer a very particular sense of place. The world has gotten smaller in some ways and the traditional places have gotten less interesting and more familiar."

Completing the top 10 list of best cities behind Udaipur this year were Cape Town; Bangkok; Buenos Aires; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Florence, Italy; Luang Prabang, Laos; New York; Rome; and San Francisco.

Aside from these hotspots, which destinations would appeal to Singaporeans? Today asks some travel agents to weigh in.


Where: Loire Valley, France

Why go: Fairytale splendour with a glass of wine

An hour's drive south of Paris, the Loire Valley - often referred to as the "Garden of France" - is world-renowned for its fairytale chateaux and wine caves. The Loire region produces some of the world's best wine, and wine-tasting is usually free with no obligations to purchase.

Other than visiting the valley known for its wineries and the tours they offer, many also come to this Unesco World Heritage Site to see its architectural heritage.

Forbes once listed a tour of Loire Valley in its "list of grand things you must do in life". Besides a truly French experience, soak in the medieval magic in the air - after all, this is where Sleeping Beauty's castle was found. Chateau de Usse was apparently so beautiful that it inspired Charles Perrault to write the fairytale.

Jane Chang, Chan Brothers Travel

Where: Las Vegas, the United States

WHY GO: To shop, enough said

Aside from its well-known casinos, Las Vegas is fast becoming a gateway to factory outlet and megamall shopping. You can find brand name and designer fashion as well as accessories for the entire family. There's jewellery, houseware and china, home decor, luggage, toys, books, CDs and more.

You'll find stores filled with merchandise from your favourite brands, at discounts of up to 70 per cent. Examples include Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, Desert Hill Premium Outlets or Tanger Outlets Barstow en route to Las Vegas.

Eileen Oh, UOB Travel

Machu Picchu ruins

Where: Peru

WHY GO: To see a world wonder, Machu Picchu

Peru's sites will inspire you to crack open the history books or buy a new camera.

Cusco, capital of the Inca Empire, has remnants of buildings that date back to the 11th century. The 46km Inca Trail, which leads to one of the world's seven wonders, Machu Picchu, will take trekkers through the breathtaking Andes. Lake Titicaca is a popular destination for the beauty of its surrounds and for its floating homes - artificial islands made from reeds.

Melissa Siew, Zuji Singapore


From TODAY, Living – Weekend, 29/30-Aug-2009

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Explore its colourful history and city

Sign below Magellan's CrossImage via Wikipedia

Visitors to Cebu won't ever have a dull day, says Nazir Keshvani

FLYING into Cebu, depending on which side of the aircraft you're seated, you will swoop over the brilliant azure seas of the Philippines. There's a beautiful mountain spine running the north-south length of this long, relatively narrow island.

Its landscape differentiates it from Sibu, an island that is pronounced the same way but situated in Malaysia. While both are fringed with soft sands and turquoise waters, Cebu, the Philippines, is steeped in colonial heritage.

The capital of the eponymous province, Cebu is the country's oldest Spanish colonial city. It has several historic landmarks, including the original cross planted by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. The cross is now housed in a roofed kiosk in Magallanes Street.

Magellan's Cross in Cebu Magellan's Cross in Cebu

Downtown Cebu is dominated by Colon Street, which is the oldest street in the Philippines, dating from the 16th century. Today, it is lined with stores, shopping malls, office buildings and movie theatres.

Get to know the place and you'll discover why business travellers and families come back again and again. Cebuanos (as the residents are termed) are laid back, chatty and hospitable, they will charm and entertain you relentlessly. Everyone has time. Lots of it.

Transport is a carnival. Brightly-painted jeepneys, tricycles and buses in gaudy, hallucinogenic hues, careen across the roads. You will also spot gaily caparisoned calesas (horse-drawn carriages) and hubel-hubels (motorcycles that carry pillion passengers).

And here in the Philippine south, if you get caught in traffic, simply jump out and tuck into some baboy lechon (grilled pork), especially around Talisay City, adjoining Cebu City to the south, or chicharon (chicken or pork skin crisps).

In Cebu City, there's much to do and enjoy. The old and more colourful parts of downtown Cebu around atmospheric St Nino and City Hall are fun to browse.

Hop on a calesa and trot off. Colon Street is a lively artery of commerce and entertainment. Giant shopping malls abound like Shoemart (among the biggest in the Philippines), Ayala Center and the Gaisano Country Mall.

A pleasant vantage point from which to see the city is Cebu Taoist Temple. It's situated on a hill 300m high and has an entrance that looks like the Great Wall of China and a giant dragon statue on the lawn.

The hilltop Tops is also a good lookout point. With some foaming San Miguel and munchies in hand, you can survey Cebu City, Bohol and the mountains to the north. The beaches are splendid, too.

Don't miss these sights

Cebu is the gateway to the Philippines, Asia and the Pacific. It lies in the heart of the Philippine archipelago; in the crossroads of domestic and international air and sea travel, and it is a good jumping-off point for island-hopping to the tropical islets of the central Visayas region.

Tarsier monkey

Bohol island province is one of the loveliest in the Visayas group and lies south-east of Cebu. The tarsier - the large-eyed, insect-eating monkey which, fully grown, is smaller than a child's fist - can be found here.

Here, too, are the world-famous Chocolate Hills, a surreal series of 1,768 hills that resemble scoops of chocolate ice cream; they were formed from the weathering of coral deposits formed when the land was submerged. The hills can be viewed from an observation deck.


From TODAY, Living – Weekend, 29/30-Aug-2009

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Adventure by the clock

China_Beijing_Birds_Nest_Before__c__JanekImage by Earth Hour Global via Flickr

Tiffany Tan shows how you can have a terrific 12 hours in Beijing

10am: Beijing foreign trade clothing store

10am: Beijing Zoo Julong Foreign Trade Clothing Store

Xizhimen Avenue, Xicheng District Open daily 6.30am-4.30pm

It is wholesale markets like this that make the Chinese shopping experience distinct: Goods at rock-bottom prices, a maze of stalls with narrow walkways and a few genuine brand-name items thrown in with mountains of fakes.

Julong is popular among university students and young professionals hoping to chance upon overruns from brands such as H&M, Zara and Quicksilver. Women's tops go for 10 to 25 yuan, men's T-shirts 30 to 50 yuan and jeans 65 to 90 yuan. Everything else a recessionista needs is here: Sunglasses, belts, bags, shoes, fashion jewellery, hats, swimwear.

Since the prices here are some of the lowest in town, most vendors have a no-bargaining and no-fitting rule. But nothing is impossible to determined shoppers.

12.30 Jingdingxuan dumplings

12.30pm: Jingdingxuan Restaurant

77 West Hepingli Street, Dongcheng District Open 24 hours

This three-storey Cantonese restaurant, adjacent to the Lama Temple and The Temple of Earth, is something of a landmark in this historic location. Jingdingxuan, or "golden cauldron pavilion," is known for its dim sum menu and off-hours promotion; every day from 2pm to 5pm and 10pm to 6am of the next day, selected items are only 5.80 yuan.

Among the dishes on daily discount are steamed chicken claw with black bean sauce, preserved egg and pork porridge and baked taro buns. Other specialities include shrimp dumplings (14.80 yuan), beef rice flour rolls (10.80 yuan) and Sichuan noodles with minced peanuts (6.80).

2pm: Imperial Street

2pm: The Imperial Academy Street

Guozijian, Inner Andingmen Street, Dongcheng District

In June, the Chinese government named Guozijian (or the Imperial Academy) Street one of the country's 10 "history and culture streets". This 700-year-old street is lined with courtyard homes, Chinese scholar trees and shops selling cultural and Buddhist items.

Its main attractions are the Imperial Academy and the Confucian Temple. There's a joint admission fee of 20 yuan, and they are open daily except on Mondays, when they open from 9am to 4.30pm. The academy, built in 1287, was China's highest educational institution during its last three dynasties - Yuan, Ming and Qing (1206-1911). Nowadays, before the annual College Entrance Examination, parents and students come here to pray for blessings. It also has an exhibition room of educational artefacts.

Next door is the Confucian Temple, established in 1302, where intellectuals and emperors paid their respects to the eminent Chinese teacher and philosopher Confucius. On the grounds are 198 stone pillars with names of 5,000 people who passed the imperial examinations in Yuan, Ming and Qing.

798 Art District

5pm: 798 Art District

Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District

798 is Beijing's version of London's Soho and NYC's Greenwich Village. Its name comes from "Factory 798", one of the many state-owned factories in the industrial zone that produced electronics during China's pre-economic-reform era. The buildings - designed by former East German architects and constructed with the help of Soviet know-how - is the heart of 798's charm.

In 2002, artists and cultural organisations moved into the then-abandoned buildings and set up art galleries, artist studios, design companies, cafes and restaurants. A number of artists and galleries have since moved out, complaining of exorbitant rental fees.

As such, 798 remains one of Beijing's few pockets of quietude, where visitors can see sculptures on a leisurely stroll, check out paintings and photographs, and shop for curios made by struggling artists.

7.30: Tianxiayan

7.30pm: Tianxiayan Restaurant

798 Art District, 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District, Open daily 11.30am-10:30pm

Rich and spicy Sichuan food is probably the most popular cuisine on the mainland. This three-floor restaurant on the southeastern part of 798 is packed on weekends. Some of its mouthwatering specialities are fried fish with Sichuan pepper (58 yuan), sautéed diced chicken with chilli pepper (32 yuan) and mapo tofu (stir-fried tofu in hot sauce, 16 yuan). Tea is served free. One wall has a Cultural-Revolution-design mural depicting Mao Zedong and Chinese workers and a slogan: "The honour and dream of 798."

Xiu Bar in Beijing

10pm: Xiu bar

6/F Beijing Yintai Centre, 2 Jianguomen Wai Avenue, Chaoyang District, Open 11.30am-2.30pm; 5.30pm-2am (Sun-Thurs); 5.30pm-3am (Fri-Sat)

Park Hyatt's three-month old bar is the newest "It" place in town. The upscale venue draws an eclectic crowd of business travellers, tourists, expats, Chinese yuppies and professional partygoers. Inside, traditional and contemporary elements meld: Two terraces are accented by flowing water and these surround a Chinese pavillion that contains the main bar, a stage for the live band, an open kitchen, a wine room and smaller lounges. Cocktails are 65 to 70 yuan, a glass of wine goes for betweeen 60 to 140 yuan, while snacks 20 to 60 yuan. Check out the restrooms for a rare sight in China: Bidets with heated seats.


From TODAY, Living – Weekend, 29/30-Aug-2009

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Into the cold

PreikestolenImage via Wikipedia

Need a nip? Add fjord sighting and Xmas shopping to your winter holiday

Norway: Stare into the abyss

Most tourists look at Norway's breathtaking fjords from the bottom up, as they slide along the country's narrow inlets on cruise ships.

For a really intimate experience, you can choose to see a fjord, a channel long gouged out by a glacier, from a cliff staring straight down 600m into the azure water.

Hiking up to Preikestolen, or Pulpit Rock, on the south-west coast of Norway near Stavanger can be an unforgettable experience.

Adventurous visitors have been climbing to the top - from inland, not straight up - for about 100 years. Now it's one of the more popular hikes in southern Norway, drawing more than 90,000 people a year.

The rock surface looks like a pulpit overlooking the Lysefjord far below. It is a natural rock plateau, about 25m by 25m, where hikers can get a spectacular view of the 40km-long Lysefjord, the southernmost fjord in Norway that's connected to the North Sea.

Oslo fjord

There are well-worn mountains as far as the eye can see, the gray broken by dark patches of hardy trees as well as light-green meadows on rare flat spots. It's too far south to see glaciers here.

Some visitors who aren't afraid of heights lie on their stomachs and look straight down to the saltwater below. (This is Norway - there are no safety railings.)

Only near Preikestolen itself do hikers need to worry about falling into an abyss, so people who are afraid of heights could probably handle the hike itself and appreciate the view from a safe spot.

The two-hour hike up isn't overly difficult, but it does take some stamina and sturdy footwear. You don't have to be a Norwegian or a mountain goat, but that would help. Some sections of the trail require climbing up rock steps or picking your way through boulders.

Oslo bound

Preikestolen is an easy day trip from Stavanger, an oil centre on the west coast. The city is a one-hour flight or eight-hour train ride from Oslo.

Thai Airways recently launched affordable flights from Bangkok to Olso, so you can warm yourself up with some tom yum soup before you go sightseeing in cold climes.

Christmas market on the Munich Marienplatz - Stall with christmas decorations

Germany: Xmas stuffing

Christmas may be months away but to embark on the ultimate Christmas shopping trip, now's the time to plan, especially when the destination is Germany and euros need to be stocked up.

Every year, more than 130 places in the country are lit up by multitudinous lights, showing wooden stalls that sell Christmas ornaments ranging from wooden toys to nativity displays. The markets draw tourists from all over the world.

In Munich, the Christkindl market is held from Nov 27 to Dec 24 on Marienplatz square, which will have a towering Christmas tree covered in lights.

In Dresden, the "tree" is 14m high and made from wood with decorated tiers. The Striezelmarkt is the oldest documented Christmas market in the country, dating to 1434. Meanwhile, the fair in Nuremberg attracts some 2 million visitors annually, including those from Japan and China.

All this, plus sausages, gingerbread and mulled wine. In Germany, Christmas begins in November.

Munich bound

For details on Germany's Christmas markets, visit

Lufthansa flies to Munich and other cities in Germany.


From TODAY, Living – Weekend, 29/30-Aug-2009

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Gearing through Greece

Athens, Greece Zeus Temple 2007Image by Titanas via Flickr

Mark Malby embarks on a self-drive Odyssey through the land of Antiquity

ACCORDING to legend, it took Odysseus 10 years to wind his way back home to Greece after the Trojan war. Modern vacations, alas, offer us no such luxury of time. With a limited hoard of annual leave, it's best to pack as much as possible into that one- or two-week holiday.

Which is why a self-drive vacation offers so many advantages. You can set your own agenda and see all the places you want, for as long or as little as you like. There's no tour-guide behind the wheel.

Greece is particularly well-suited to the self-drive vacation. Striking scenery, reasonable rates - typically 25 euros ($51.50) to 90 euros per day - and a highway system that's big enough to take you there, but small enough to remain personal. No Autobahn or LA freeway gridlock here. Once you're out of Athens, the roads can be mercifully clear.

As for where to go, Greece offers a plenitude of possibilities - north, south, east or west. Here are some highlights:

Lemons above Napflio


Most journeys to Greece begin and end in Athens. It's worth spending a few days here as there's much to see, though driving through its congested streets can be burdensome. Public transit is sufficient to get around and see the sights, especially if you're staying somewhere central like the Plaka (a short walk from the Acropolis, the subway, and the best al fresco dining this side of the Adriatic). Save your car rental for when you leave the capital or arrive at your next destination.

Cycladic Islands

These postcard-perfect islands of white-and-blue Greece are what you invariably find on travel posters and in winter dreams. Scattering south into the blue Aegean toward Crete, each island has its own distinct character. The stylish Venetian architecture of Syros seems a world apart from Mykonos' narrow, whitewashed streets, or Santorini's picturesque villages that sit like snow atop a rugged brown island.

Renting a car on these gives you the freedom to explore parts you'd never see as a foot-bound (or bus-bound) tourist: Remote beaches, hilltop wineries and ruins that don't even appear in the guidebooks. There's nothing quite like standing beside your car in the cool wind at the island's peak, watching the villages and blue sea and loose geometry of farmland far below.

Rolling hills of Arcadia


The green hills of Arcadia have long been synonymous with an idyllic paradise, and it's not hard to see why. Driving past groves of olive trees, ruined castles and grazing sheep, you almost expect the sound of pan-pipes to come lilting down from the hills.

With towns whose names resonate with history - Mycenae, Argos, Sparta and Corinth - each roadsign marks a door to the past. Having a car lets you bypass infrequent bus services and explore the sites at your leisure. Peloponnese also offers ski hills, wineries, great food and scenic coastlines - or picturesque towns such as Nafplio, with its offshore fort and brooding castle.

Admittedly, telling your friends "I drove to Sparta yesterday" has a cool ring to it, even 2,000 years down the road.

Thessaloniki & the North

For a side of Greece that's a world apart from tumbledown white villages, olive groves, and ruined antiquities, head north. Rugged pine forests, narrow switchback mountain roads, and a rocky coastline beckon. Thessaloniki is a surprisingly modern, cosmopolitan city whose citizens dress the part and seem to spend the better part of the day in high-profile cafes. The mountains and wilderness up here would not look out of place in Canada, and feel decidedly more Balkan than Bacchanalian.

For a holiday, there's nothing quite like the freedom of being on the open road, setting your own pace and blissfully escaping the tyranny of tours. Greece, as a destination offers numerous worlds to explore. If you get as far as Alexandroupolis in the far north-east, then you're already at the gates of Turkey, with Istanbul only hours away. But that's another Odyssey altogether.

Fira village


Greece is no mere weekend trip. Even a week or two won't let you won't cover all of it. Choose your region: a leisurely amble through picturesque island chains, the green hills of Peloponnese, or else the rugged north coast. Spring and autumn 'off seasons' make for the best, unhampered driving, letting you avoid summer crowds and winter snowfalls.

Stay: Greece has its big-name hotels, but smaller motels and B&Bs are more atmospheric. Book ahead during peak season, especially summer. Rates on Santorini range from an affordable 25 euros for an off-season B&B to a staggering 550 euros for a 17th century cave villa.

Do: Self-driving through Greece offers you the freedom to explore at your leisure. See storied ruins straight from the history books. Dine on hearty local fare. Taste the cosmpolitan café life - or discos - of Athens, Thessoloniki, and the islands. Ride boats on the blue Aegean or a donkey through olive groves. And don't forget your camera.

Donkey in Greece


Where: Greece

Currency: $1 is 0.49 euros

Big Mac, cost: 3.31 euros ($5.65)*

Getting there: Athens is 10 hours from Singapore. There are few direct flights, though Singapore Airlines does offer an undiscounted fare of $1,900, before taxes.

Mainland centres like Nafplio or Thessaloniki can be reached from Athens, though it's a long stretch. For island driving, it's best to rent cars on arrival.

* Source: McDonald's, The Economist Weeklong


From TODAY, Living – Weekend, 29/30-Aug-2009

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