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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Take the plunge

Don't sweat it. Dive into the weekend with an underwater adventure

Ivana Goh

Sibu sunset

IF IT'S getting too smoggy for you in Singapore, perhaps it's time to head out of town, down to the beach and into the water for a refreshing dive weekend.

Imagine this: Wave goodbye to your colleagues on Friday and you could be taking in an invigorating dive by Saturday morning. Follow that up with a cruisy afternoon dive before hitting the beach for sunset cocktails. Catch up on your beauty sleep on Sunday before heading back, ready for another working week.

And now, with the proliferation of budget flights serving even the smallest of one-mosque towns in Indonesia, you don't have an excuse.

We show you how to get down (underwater) over the weekend without breaking the bank. Just don't forget, if you do one dive, wait 12 hours before flying. If you do multiple dives, wait 18 hours.

1 Close to home

Sibu and Rawa are but two of the tiny islands that hug the coast off Mersing in Malaysia. Divers and snorkellers alike will find clear waters and sandy beaches, far from the madding crowd but in pleasing proximity to Singapore.

How to get there: A quick drive to Mersing or Tanjung Leman, where a speedboat whisks you away to the islands. Resort operators do offer bus packages from Singapore if you don't want to drive.

Where to stay: Sea Gypsy Village is the closest to Singapore, with traditional Malay-style chalets facing the sea. It is supremely child-friendly - with a morning kids club, afternoon games and evening baby-minding services - so don't leave the kids at home! Chalets start at RM210 ($85) a night with lower rates for backpacker-style accommodation (

Rawa Safaris Island Resort, a 30-minute boat ride from Mersing, has chalet packages starting from RM295 a person for full room and board the first night. Subsequent nights are cheaper. If you don't want to dive, guests can rent snorkel gear, kayaks and hobie cats to explore the island (

Best time to go: March to October

Diving in Tioman

2 Something for everyone

The biggest island on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, Tioman offers more than just easy diving on its wrecks and reefs. Dad can play 18 holes of golf and mum can relax with a day at the spa, and snorkellers and beachcombers have their pick of calm, protected bays sheltering some unexpectedly decent coral.

How to get there: Berjaya Air flies daily to Tioman from Seletar in a 28-seater Dash-7 (

Where to stay: If you're on a budget, the oldie but goodie Swiss Cottage on Tekek beach has rooms that start at RM75 a night ( and sits right next to the popular Tioman Dive Centre (

Or, splash out and stay at Berjaya Tioman Beach, Golf & Spa Resort. The Internet rate for a chalet with all mod cons starts at RM385 (

Best time to go: March to October

3 Adrenaline rush

Bali is home to a number of world-class dive sites. Novice divers can check out the USAT Liberty wreck in Tulamben, a two-hour drive from Ngurah Rai International Airport. Experienced divers can brave the cold but crystal-clear waters of Nusa Penida for the chance to spot the rare mola-mola. Watch out for unpredictable currents!

How to get there: Bali is a quick flight from Singapore, and the route is served by a plethora of budget airlines.

Where to stay: The Watergarden's private bungalows (US$125, $178) are nestled amid lily ponds and waterfalls. It is centrally-located in Candidasa. (

The Mimpi Tulamben at the foot of Mount Agung is a two-minute walk down a volcanic rock beach to the USAT Liberty wreck. Designed with divers in mind, some of the cottages feature a stunning outdoor shower accessible from the outside. Rates start at US$90 a night (

To sample multiple dive sites, try a dive safari. Aquamarine Diving schleps you and your luggage between dive site and hotel starting from US$235 for a 2 day/1 night package (

Best time to go: Diving is great all year round. To catch the elusive and weird-looking mola-mola, try August to October.

Dive into the deep blue sea

4 Get wrecked

Can't be bothered to fly? Want to dive more than twice? Fed up with surly customs officials casting dubious looks at your bulging… dive bag? Try a liveaboard. White Manta runs weekend trips to Aur, where you could spot manta rays, whale sharks and many wrecks, including the famed 7 skies wreck - a 98000-tonne bulk carrier sunk in 1969.

Cabins on the White Manta and Black Manta are pretty luxurious as liveaboards go. There is even an onboard masseuse to ease out those post-dive kinks. The nosh is Thai or Western-style food, and the only extras are very reasonably priced drinks ($4 for beer, $40 for a bottle of wine).

Best time to go: White Manta runs liveabords all year, but weekend trips out of Singapore only run from March to October.


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

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A cool getaway

A late posting, but would be something to catch up on, or to put in your next itinerary…



Cameron Highlands

GIVEN the hordes of tourists trooping up the winding roads to Malaysia's most well-known hill station, you would expect Cameron Highlands to be positively mobbed. Surprisingly, the first thing that hits you when you arrive is the pervading calm.

Overdeveloped? Yes, to some extent. But, rolling greens still dominate the landscape, and the lodgings here are pretty scattered, out of town and secluded. Choose the right place to put up and tranquillity's a given. This, and the cool climate, makes the hill retreat a good weekend getaway from the sweltering heat and bustle of cities.

However, just in case you do tire of holing yourself up in comfortable lodgings and enjoying the air, here are five other things to do. Tan Chui Hua

1 Sunrise from the peak

Take a drive up to Gunung Brinchang (2,032m) for sunrise. On a good day, you get a breathtaking view of the Titiwangsa range, with swirling thick, white mists, dubbed the "White Witch" by locals.

The snag? You have to drag yourself out of those warm covers and reach the peak before 7am. Bring a windcheater.

Cameron Highlands Resort

2 Tea and scones

Cameron Highlands is famous for its tea plantations. Set aside one afternoon to savour freshly brewed tea - try local brands such as Boh, Blue Valley and Bharat.

For best views of the highlands, drive up to the Boh tea plantation at Sungai Palas. Its tea house with glass walls may look out of place, but you get a pretty backdrop as you go "ummph" with every cup of lime and ginger tea, lychee rose blend or just plain Sungai Palas afternoon tea.

The most atmospheric spot goes to the Smokehouse Hotel, a Tudor-style lodge built in 1939. Colonial charm oozes, or rather, what we usually imagine colonial charm to be. In any case, it lives up to its reputation and its gardens are very picturesquely English, interspersed with some tropical blooms.

Have a cup of tea with Devonshire cream, along with scones and jam. Bring a book along to while away time in very pleasant surroundings.

3 Strawberry moments

There are a number of small strawberry farms, more for local produce than anything else.

The fruits here are tangy rather than sweet, but you get to pick the berries yourself. You can also stop by bee farms and nurseries.

Sample strawberry-inspired snacks from strudels to chocolates at Strawberry Moment, a theme cafe in Brinchang town.

Strawberry moments

4 A walk in the clouds

Moss drape from one tree to another, while heavy mists render the scenery surreal. Gunung Brinchang's fantastical cloud forest, referred to locally as "Mossy Forest", is one of the few cloud forests in Malaysia. Such forests are often swathed in clouds and characterised by dwarfed trees, orchids, mosses, liverworts and ferns.

Go on a guided trek up through the forest to Gunung Irau (2,110m), the highest peak here. The less adventurous can explore the fringe on a newly-built forest boardwalk.

5 Knead those knots away

Go for a foot reflexology and massage treatment after your trek. There are a number of parlours in Tanah Rata town with decent menus.

Or, splurge on an appointment at The Spa Village. Located at the Cameron Highlands Resort, it offers exotic treatments such as mint and thyme body scrub and strawberry aroma massage. You can also soak in a tea bath and listen to music on headphones.

Getting there

Take an eight-hour overnight bus from Golden Mile Complex to the hill station.

5 things to bring

  • Light cold wear for night time.
  • Books for whiling away afternoons.
  • Sunblock - it's cool, but the sun's still shining strong!
  • Lip balm, moisturiser and hand cream to keep the skin from drying out.
  • Good walking shoes for long strolls in the mountains.


There's a glut of choices. Guiding criteria include pretty gardens, location and views. For rock-bottom-basic backpacker lodges, check out Tanah Rata town. Upscale stays are centred in Brinchang town. En route to Brinchang, there are picturesque home and farm stays. Families and big groups can consider renting a villa or apartment.


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

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