Saturday, May 9, 2009

Serenity on high


The fireworks may draw the crowds, but it’s the simple beauty in the hills that takes the breath away


SOMETIMES, appreciating the beauty of a place is in the details. So it is with Danang.

Blink and you’ll miss its fleeting treasures: A cow grazing on the beach, a goat resting in a cemetery, six people balanced precariously on a moped.

These tableaux might give the impression that Danang — Vietnam’s fourth-largest city — is a sleepy seaside town. It is anything but.

Everywhere, signs of urbanisation are rampant. Large expanses of beach are being developed into massive luxury resorts, the city is packed densely with buildings, while its outskirts are dotted with signs of new commercial and residential structures.

Traffic, as with many cities, is a nightmare; motorists are horn-happy; and there are no traffic lights. Crossing a street can, therefore, be something of an adventure. So, walk, don’t run. Or follow a local.

But if you like living dangerously, opt for a tour of the city on a cyclo – which is similar to a trishaw, just that your seat is in front of the bicycle. And because this is not a common activity among tourists — most rent a motorcycle, take a cab or simply walk — expect the locals to stare at you as though you’re some VIP.

The crowds reach a fever pitch during major events such as the Danang International Fireworks Competition. This year, the second of its kind was held on March 27 and 28.

On such occasions, hordes of curious locals and tourists gather to watch the shimmering spectacle on the banks of the Han River, along which the town is situated. So, unless you’re willing to get caught up in the sweaty multitudes, it’s best to enjoy the fireworks from afar.

Of course, there are attractions where you can seek respite from the maddening throngs. One peaceful location is the Marble Mountains — a conglomeration of five hills.

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Peace at the peak of the Ba Na Hills.


If you’re able-bodied and have healthy gams, climb 156 steep steps to the top of the highest hill — the only one which the public is allowed to mount — and you’ll find a temple, pagodas and serene grottoes in which you’ll find ancient sandstone carvings and statues of Buddhist deities.

Another flight of stairs leads you to its peak where you can soak in the panorama of the South China Sea — which would be spectacular if it weren’t for all the construction.

One more spot of calm awaits at the peak of the Ba Na Hills, about 40km west of Danang city. A newly-opened 5km cable car ride — which holds the record for being the longest and highest non-stop cable car ride — gets you 1,300m up in roughly 15 minutes, which is a boon, considering it used to take close to an hour by car to reach the peak via a narrow, winding road.

As you reach the summit, a massive marble statue of Buddha comes into view, but it’s the landscape that you look down upon when you reach the top that is truly breathtaking. One sweep of the verdant hills that blend into the mists and sky in soothing shades of green and blue, and the trauma of being in Vietnamese traffic all but fades away.

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Seek respite on the beach, before it’s too late.


Finally, spend an afternoon heading up to Son Tra Peninsula — 10km north-east of the city — especially if you’ve rented a moped. That’s probably the only vehicle that can get you up the mountain where you can get amazing views of Monkey Bay. At the foot of the mountain, you’ll find a relatively untouched beach where you can chill out, go snorkelling, swim or fish.

Danang has all the charms and problems of a rapidly developing city. Beautiful scenery is offset by unsightly construction, while fascinating culture is hampered by a language barrier.

So, before it becomes ravaged by tourism and marred by the evils of commercialisation, now is the best time to visit Danang.

And remember, don’t blink.

This trip was made possible by SilkAir, which flies to Danang on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. For more information, visit and

From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 07-May-2009



The lighter, the cheaper

As airlines battle to undersell each other in the fare stakes, Jetstar Asia has zoomed in on baggage weight to give travellers a better deal. Customers going for short breaks who do not have check-in luggage can save $15 one way on their tickets. They can, however, stuff another 3kg into their carry-on bag, the weight limit of which has been increased from 7kg to 10kg. The deal is called JetSaver Light, available as a fare option when travellers book their flights on


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Monday, May 4, 2009

Sprees for tight budgets


It’s known to be a costly city but Hong Kong on the cheap is easier than most people think

Shermaine Wong,

090430-HongKong1 Having travelled to Hong Kong numerous times for leisure, I never fail to hear disdainful comments from my friends in response to yet another trip. “Again?” or “Not sian (bored) ah?”

They have a point — 10 trips in three years, with my latest foray just a month back, probably does make me a boring traveller. Yet, every time I visit Hong Kong, there are new things to experience. The city never seems to run out of energy, and it is this allure that makes me return.

Of course, the wide range of shopping and food options is a draw as well. Visitors can find some extraordinary bargains here, despite the city being one of the world’s top 10 most expensive cities to live in.

To shop, the best time to go is at the peak of the summer sale from July to August, when goods in just about every store are steeply discounted. On the other hand, trawling the city’s nooks and crannies for the best buys will pleasantly expose one to the real deal — experience and value-wise.

Small budget, big finds

As much as Hong Kong is known for high-end designer labels, high street knock-offs at bargain prices are widely available, too — as long as shoppers know where to go.

Granville Street on Tsim Sha Tsui (Tsim Sha Tsui station) or Fa Yuen Street (Mong Kok East station) in the Mongkok district are hubs for trendy fashion that won’t break the bank.

A pair of trendy ballet flats that cost about $20 in Singapore can be got for $12 a pair there. Knitted tops and quality cardigans are priced from $8, while jeans go for about $20 a pair.

While most of the shops sell women’s wear, men can also find factory rejects of popular casual labels such as Nautica and Abercrombie. Polo tees start from around $15. The only setback is that many shops do not allow customers to try on the clothes, though they do allow for exchanges.

Warehouses are a good compromise for shoppers who love their designer labels but baulk at the sky-high prices. Space (2/F, Marina Square East Commercial Block, South Horizons, Ap Lei Chau) exclusively stocks Prada and Miu Miu. While prices are not bargain basement, they are significantly less than those at the main boutiques.

I scored a silk Prada blouse for $140, a price I consider a steal because the label’s clothes normally cost $500 or more.

A five minute cab ride from Space is the Lane Crawford Warehouse and Joyce Outlet which are housed in the same building (25/F and 21/F, respectively, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street).

Multi-label retailer Joyce stocks brands such as Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Anna Sui at unbeatable prices, though Lane Crawford, known as the Harrods of Hong Kong, offers a bigger selection — menswear, ladieswear, bags, shoes and even home decor. Prices are significantly lower than those in the downtown stores. J brand — a jeans label widely favoured by Hollywood celebrities such as Heidi Klum and Eva Longoria — may be hard to find in Singapore and cost about $300 a pair on the brand’s website, but it was going for $170 here. Shoe lovers will find themselves in joyland — the likes of Giuseppe Zanotti and Christian Louboutin, normally priced from $900 a pair in Singapore, can be got for $200.

For techies, the good news is that electronic goods in Hong Kong are generally 30 to 40 per cent cheaper than those in Singapore. Try Mongkok Computer Centre (8 Nelson Street) for computers, related products and miscellaneous electronic goods.

At smaller, independent stores, shoppers can get better deals by bargaining, which is a widely-accepted practice that can see 20 per cent knocked off the bill.

Eat more for less

090430-HongKong2 Some of the best dining experiences to be had in Hong Kong are easily affordable.

Street food, as any seasoned traveller will tell you, often offers a true glimpse into a country’s culinary heritage. Not only is it tasty and cheap, the experience of hunching over a gritty sidewalk tearing into freshly-prepared chow is unbeatable.

In Hong Kong, stalls hawking street food ranging from grilled squid and stewed innards to the quintessential Hong Kong snack of curry fishballs can be found on most street corners. Prices start from $1.

Cha chan tengs (teahouses) are to Hong Kong what coffeeshops are to Singapore. Try the popular Tsui Wah Restaurant (15-19 Wellington Street, Central). Its menu is diverse — Indian curry, Hainanese chicken rice, comfort food such as vermicelli in rich broths and more — and portions are huge. A must-try is their soft toasted buns drizzled with butter and condensed milk. The place gets so crowded during lunch that customers will find themselves sharing tables with strangers. A meal starts from $8.

For restaurant-standard food at low prices, a dai pai dong is the tourist’s best bet. Similar to Singapore’s zi char stalls, dai pai dong hawkers once roamed the streets selling their fare by the roadside but have since cleaned up their act and moved into more sanitised environments.

Gi Kee Seafood Restaurant (Shop 4, 2/F Wong Nai Chung Municipal Services Building, 2 Yuk Sau Street, Happy Valley) is popular. Try the sharks’ fin soup, roasted garlic chicken and fresh seafood, which cost roughly a third less than restaurant prices. There is another dai pai dong beside Gi Kee and once the lift doors open, staff from both stalls will shove menus at undecided customers, so indicate which stall you’d like to patronise. The setting may be basic, but the cuisine, like the shopping in Hong Kong, will no doubt entice patrons to return.

From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 30-April-2009

Free downloads surge


Free products are attractive at the best of times. At the worst of times, they are snapped up like hotcakes, as free PDF travel guide supplier Fastcheck revealed in its April 2009 trend report.

Indeed, travellers on a budget are rapidly turning to the Internet to obtain free travel guides, resulting in an average of a 24 per cent increase in downloads from over 100 Fastcheck-partnered websites in the past six months.

The Sweden-based company provides free guides — covering more than 380 destinations in 22 languages — to airlines such as Tiger Airways and Air New Zealand, and travel-related sites such as MSN Hong Kong and BootsnAll Travel. The guides are also available at, which recorded a 42 per cent increase in downloads in the past half year.

"We have seen a steady growth every year, but the recession is definitely speeding up the process," said Mat Tidstrand, chief executive officer of Fastcheck, which aims to reach 14 million travellers this year.

Produced by a writer living in the area, the guides provide leisure travellers with a need-to-know overview of the destination. The guides cover attractions, restaurants, lodging and transportation. Full-colour maps and a street index can be found at the back.

Although the guides feature advertisements, Adrian Leben, Fastcheck's sales and marketing director Asia Pacific, said the information is unbiased as no paid content is allowed. Guides are updated every 12 weeks by the company and each can be quickly downloaded and printed. According to the trend report, the most popular guide is for London, followed by Barcelona, Paris, Rome and Berlin. Singapore is 31st on the list. Jennifer Chen

From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 30-April-2009