Saturday, June 13, 2009

Philippine Country Fair

Quick Tours


090611-PhilFair See, hear, smell and taste Philippines without stepping out of Singapore. Journey instead to Plaza Singapura, where the Philippine Country Fair will be held from tomorrow until Sunday.

Organised to celebrate the Philippines’ National Day on Friday, the event will showcase the country’s culture, arts and attractions.

Visitors can watch the weaving and painting of Filipino textiles and handicrafts and listen to Filipino singers. But what is a country festival without a buffet of its food? Local Filipino restaurant 7,107 Flavours will whip up a menu to feature the Philippines’ regional dishes.

Go on Saturday to see the beauty and beast of the Philippines unleashed, as that’s when the grand finale of beauty pageantMutya ng Pilipinas” and demonstrations of Filipino martial arts will be held.

What’s more, lucky draws will be conducted throughout the festival, with prizes being airfares to Manila and the plum win, an all-inclusive tour package to the city. Kaylene Hong

From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 11-Jun-2009

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A lush lesson in spices


Step back into the island’s illustrious past at the Tropical Spice Garden

Valery Garrett,

090611-Penang1 A waterfall runs down the hillside at the Tropical Spice Garden.

Think of Penang and what comes to mind? Lazy days under palm trees, hawkers calling to passers-by to try their curries and always the scent of spices: Nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.

Famous as one of the Spice Islands, the British founded a base here in the 18th century to grow this precious commodity. Now a short bus ride from Batu Ferringhi’s beach hotels, the award-winning Tropical Spice Garden celebrates Penang’s importance in producing these little seeds.

Brainchild of the son of a Chinese mother and an English rubber planter, Frederick Walker went to boarding school in Britain, graduating from the prestigious Royal Agricultural College. He and a partner opened the garden in November 2003.

Previously a small rubber plantation on a hillside overlooking the sea, Frederick struggled to clear over 40 rubber trees to form terraces and allow more light for plants.

090611-Penang2 View across the bay

Three trails wind through the 3-hectare garden: Yellow for Spices, red for Ornamental plants, and green for Jungle plants, each taking a leisurely 20 minutes. The paths are cool and shaded from the sun, meandering up and down the hillside with seats at intervals to rest and reflect on the garden’s beauty.

The air is infused with the pungent scent of crushed spices; hidden amid foliage of myriad shades of green, waterfalls trickle down the hill. Overhead is the koel bird’s incessant call.

There are over 500 exotic varieties of plants in the garden from tropical regions around the world. Given their importance, the spice plants look surprisingly insignificant.

Used nowadays mostly to improve flavour, spices in earlier times were vital in preserving foods and were part of many medicines. So, in centuries past, European sailors headed east in search of the legendary Spice Islands.

090611-Penang3 Dish of dried ginger, limes, pineapple flower, nutmeg, fresh turmeric, red ginger, betel nut and lemon grass.

Tropical Spice Garden Open: 9am to 6pm daily

Spices can also be bought in the streets around Lebuh Pasar and Lebuh Penang in Georgetown.

In 1786, Captain Francis Light, a British East India Company trader, took possession of Penang and the Company formed a 53-hectare spice plantation in Ayer Itam valley, near the centre of the island.

Pepper was Penang’s first major crop, introduced in 1790 from Indonesia. One of the oldest and most valuable spices, its use as a currency in Roman times gave rise to the term “peppercorn rent”.

The Government Botanical Gardens were established in 1822 to supply seed for the Company’s plantations and vegetables for the officers’ tables. At the same time, private landowner David Brown had large plantations of nutmeg and cloves at his Glugor House estate south of Penang’s capital, Georgetown.

090611-Penang4 Dried nutmeg seeds produce the spice, while the outer skin is mace. Cloves come from dried, unopened flower buds, the oil used in perfumes and medicines. One of the most important spices grown in Penang, cloves were among the earliest and most valuable spices to be traded, used by ancient Egyptians and Romans to flavour food and freshen the breath.

There are edible plants on the Jungle trail too, like the palm, whose Malay name “pinang” was given to the island. The betel nut inside its fruit is mixed with lime, tobacco or cloves, wrapped in a leaf and chewed. The tamarind tree has long seed pods in a sticky brown pulp which go into making curries and chutneys. The cinnamon tree, one of the oldest spices, is mentioned in the Bible and ancient Sanskrit writings.

All three paths end at the hilltop Spice Museum which traces the trade’s history and houses displays of spices and harvesting equipment. Next door in the Spice Café, a one-time rubber planter’s home, freshly picked spices are sold in little packets. Sit and savour a selection of coffee and teas made from spices, ginger or lime, together with some home-made cakes, and enjoy tranquil views across the bay.


Valery Garrett is the author of Discover Hong Kong, a City’s History and Culture Redefined, published by Marshall Cavendish.

SilkAir flies to Penang twice daily. For details, visit

From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 11-Jun-2009

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Leap into Atlantis


Who knew the fabled lost city could be so much fun?

by Lin Yan Qin,

Updated 01:57 PM

Jun 05, 2009

Dubai1 The Leap of Faith looks like a water slide but feels like free-fall going down.

DUBAI doesn’t do small. That the city is studded with superlatives is well known: Here, you’ll find a man-made island built in the shape of a palm tree, with even bigger ones to come; some of the world’s biggest shopping malls, complete with indoor zoos and ski slopes, and plenty of world firsts such as the Armani hotel, naturally located in the world’s tallest tower, the dazzling Burj Dubai.

At the moment, the city resembles a giant construction site - the Burj Dubai, for one, won’t be completed until September - but this is easily forgotten once you drive out to the city’s Atlantis-themed resort on Palm Jumeirah island.


With the opening of the Atlantis, the Palm, last November, Dubai steps up its grandeur to mythological proportions. Named after the fabled lost city, which, according to legend, sank into the ocean in an earthquake, Atlantis, the Palm, sits on the sand like a gate to Poseidon’s realm, its towers resembling spikes of coral from a distance.

The water theme is continued inside, providing jaw-dropping diversions for the young and old. A towering sculpture of blue, green and flame-coloured swirls by glass artist Dale Chihuly greets you in the main lobby.

Dubai6 Fish in Ambassador Lagoon

If the wave-like, curlicues of glass don’t stop you in your tracks, the 11 million-litre Ambassador Lagoon in the resort’s East Tower probably would. There’s enough water to fill four and half Olympic-size swimming pools and super-size fish.

The lagoon is part of the resort’s Lost Chambers, a maze of floor-to-ceiling aquariums that makes for a relaxing and fascinating way to while away the afternoon. Here, you can see the likes of manta rays, whale sharks and man-sized Goliath groupers swim majestically by.

Dubai3 A Lost Chamber suite

Guests with money to spare can sleep to the same view. The resort’s luxurious Lost Chamber suites share a glass wall with the underwater world of the aquarium.

Outside, the Aquaventure waterpark offers a more visceral experience. Entry is free for guests, non-guests pay $112, $86 for children.

The main attraction is the Ziggurat, an elaborate complex of exhilarating water slides. The central tower is designed like a Mesopotamian temple but the ride is anything but serene.

In fact, it’s a near vertical slide that might as well be a nine-storey free-fall. Fittingly, it’s called The Leap of Faith - and you’d need it, plunging from the mouth of temple, body hardly making contact with the slide, down to a transparent tunnel and through a shark-filled lagoon.

Another slide, Shark Attack, takes you on a twisty journey made more exciting by steep plunges in pitch darkness. You emerge into a clear tunnel and leisurely drift through a pool full of sharks and rays.

The two rides are closed to youngsters below 1.2m but they will be well-entertained at Splashers, a water playground that has its own tube slides. The resort makes an extra effort to accommodate children, with clubs and bars for teens and kids.

Dubai2 Atlantis on the sands of Palm Jumeirah island

But there are grown-up pleasures too. Dining choices include Japanese fusion restaurant Nobu, French brasserie Rostang and Italian eatery Ronda Locatelli - all helmed by Michelin-star chefs and their only outposts in the Middle East. The food at Rostang was superb - the crispy, flavourful fries of the steak frites alone made the dish - and the restaurant, with its high ceilings, Art Nouveau-style lamps, smoky mirrors, leather banquettes and mosaic floor brought a bit of Paris to Atlantis.


Dubai is perfect for those who like their shopping with bells and whistles. Fancy extras that come with entrance fees include an indoor ski slope at Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates, the city’s reigning megamall until The Dubai Mall came along last year. The crisp

snow underfoot is made fresh daily and there are five runs with the longest being 400m.

The biggest shopping mall in the world with over 1,400 shopping outlets, Dubai Mall also has one of the largest aquariums in the world holding 10 million litres of water with a walk-through tunnel. There’s also an underground zoo with re-creations of the rainforest and a rocky shoreline with a penguin colony.

The mall might be size of 200 football fields, but its cluster layout ensures that you don’t quite feel the distance walking around.

For a different side of Dubai, look to the Dubai Creek area. Markets such as the Gold Souk are popular with Indian tourists shopping for extravagant dowry - ornate gold necklaces resembling breastplates and the like. The area is an interesting contrast to other skyscraper-filled districts, particularly along the creek where traditional dhows unload all manner of goods from fish to 60-inch plasma televisions.


In Dubai, visitors can start their day in an indoor ski slope, and end it watching the sun set in the desert.

Dubai4 Dune bashing gives you a good look at the part of Dubai that’s not man-made.

Dune-bashing in the desert is a popular activity, though certainly not for those with motion sickness. In between careening over steep dunes, you can stop to snap photos of the desolately beautiful landscape of the scorching sun beating down on the reddish sand.

Despite the crowds, it’s possible to gaze into the ridged horizon with the hot wind whistling in your ears, and feel like you’re on Mars. The thrills of a mythological city are not too far away either.

This trip was made possible by UOB Travel Planners and Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

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