Thursday, June 24, 2010

One, single flight: SG to Melbourne or Auckland

This is one news that I would say I'm looking forward to. I missed it back then, 2 weeks ago, so I'm posting it now. This is good. No need to do connecting flights. Never mind the longer flight - it wouldn't hurt much. And, there's no danger of getting tempted to shop while walking to your next flight. Huh!

Read on...

Budget business to Melbourne, Auckland

Jetstar yesterday announced that it will fly direct to Melbourne and Auckland (photo) from Singapore, making it the first low-cost carrier to fly long haul from Changi Airport.

The cities are about seven hours and 10 hours from Singapore, respectively, but passengers on the A330-200 aircrafts have a choice of flying either Economy or StarClass - Jetstar's international business class cabin. The latter has leather seats with a seat pitch of 38 inches - the equivalent of premium economy seats in full-service airlines British Airways and ANA - and full inflight service including meals and entertainment. Economy seats, meanwhile, have a pitch of 31 inches compared to 31 to 34 inches of those in full-service airlines. Food and amenities are still pay as you go.

Flights to Melbourne will start on Dec 16. Book a flight before 3pm today to buy a one-way JetSaver Light ticket starting from $248 for travel between Jan 18 to March 23 next year. The Auckland route starts on March 17 next year. Both are subject to regulatory approval. Details at

From TODAY, Travel - Thursday, 10-June-2010
Budget business to Melbourne, Auckland

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A taxi ride on a holiday

HMAS Sydney Memorial - Geraldton - WAImage via Wikipedia
This is a very simple story, but enough to make you realize that even for a ride on a holiday, it can be enjoyable with things at their simplest.

Read on!

Taxi ride most memorable

One cabbie, two passengers, six days in Western Australia

GOING on a road trip doesn't make one a celebrity, but the Singaporean winners of Tourism Western Australia's Extraordinary Taxi Ride contest, 33-year-old Ong Jing Yi and her brother Jason, 35, got a taste of stardom when a film crew followed them around during their road trip in Western Australia. They even got to meet the mayor and attend a radio interview at Geraldton town.

The Ongs with the film crew."No matter where we went, people waved and talked to us. I was really happy. I felt like a VIP," said Jing Yi.

In April, the siblings embarked on an all-expense paid road trip in a taxi driven by gregarious Australian taxi driver Doug Slater, a mini-celebrity himself after he was selected via a nationwide voting contest.

During the six-day tour, they visited destinations including Lancelin, Geraldton, Kalbarri, Monkey Mia and Shark Bay. At the end of each day, they blogged about their experiences and uploaded photos. A highlights video was also posted on the Extraordinary Taxi Ride website,, at the end of the trip. The siblings talk to Today about their experiences. Terence Lee

What were some of the most interesting places you visited?

Jing Ai with the world's largest 4WD coach at Lancelin, Western Australia.
Jing Yi: The town of Geraldton is actually the lobster capital of Western Australia. There, I got a chance to go down to the dinghy to collect lobsters.

Jason: The Pinnacles is a very special place. The vast landscape consists of piles of limestone, and over time, the wind will change the surface. A couple of years from now, it might not look the same.

Jing Yi: We even took out a Singapore flag and took a photo with it. The landscape is like the moon!

Was the taxi driver helpful?

Jing Yi: He's like a walking encyclopedia! He knows the country well, having travelled all around Western Australia for more than 20 years. He's wary of kangaroos jumping onto the road because knocking into one could destroy the car's engine. He told us to keep our eyes on the side of the road and look out for places where bushes are sparse, since kangaroos are more likely to jump out of those.

What did you learn about Australia on this trip?

Jason: We try not to drive around at night, especially in the rural areas. Many wild animals come out to roam then, so it's dangerous.

From TODAY, Travel - Thursday, 10-June-2010
Taxi ride most memorable

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Japan: Sun, sea and sushi

Here is one article that may help you decide, if you haven't, to go to japan. If you have been there, you may want to go again.

Bon jour!

Sun, sea and sushi
It's the classic Club Med experience with an Okinawan twist - sushi, shrines and cool Pacific waters

by Fairoza Mansor

The Okinawa archipelago lies like a string of pearls dangling from Japan's southern island of Kyushu. It's an apt image for this stretch of about 150 islands that counts pearl cultivation as one of its major industries.

Sailing in from the Pacific though, you would be forgiven if you didn't know you had reached the southern tip of Japan.

The beaches that fringe the islands are startlingly white, the water aquarium clear and lined with soft and hard corals that attract myriad fish. Over 1,000 species - including barracudas, butterfly fish and manta rays - glide through these waters.

The setting is reminiscent of a South-east Asian diving destination until you splash out into cool Pacific waters and step ashore to sushi and shrines.

This Japanese element means that if you're looking for a beach locale with a difference this summer, Okinawa's islands are good spots to explore. Check out the outer reaches, where the absence of American naval bases makes for better preservation of traditional Japanese culture.

The travelling time from Singapore to Ishigaki, part of the outer Yaeyama stretch of nine inhabited islands, usually takes from 10 to 14 hours with a stopover in Tokyo or Osaka. Until Sept 29, though, Club Med has 50-minute charters from Taipei to Ishigaki that cut the journey to Okinawa to about six hours.

Four- and five-day all-inclusive packages include one night in Taipei and cost $2,068 and $2,268, respectively, for adults, excluding airport taxes and fees. For children's rates or more information, contact 1800 Club Med (258 2633) or your preferred travel agent.

Sun, sea and Club Med Kabira

Club Med Kabira
Dive into it: The four-trident Club Med Kabira makes a good base for a family holiday. Situated on one of Ishigaki's best beaches, the resort was ranked the world's fourth Best Diving Resort Hotel at Dive and Travel Awards 2009.

The island has easily accessible reefs, including a patch of rare Ao and Hama corals for enthusiastic divers to ogle. Visitors who don't know their way around an oxygen tank can sign up for lessons at the Scuba Diving School; or go snorkelling or windsurfing in the cool Pacific waters. Lessons and equipment rental are covered in Club Med's all-inclusive package.

Club Med Kabira
To get what is considered Ishigaki's most scenic view, take a glass-bottom boat out to Kabira Bay to see the teeming sea life. While you're there, learn the art of black-pearl cultivation, which Kabira Bay is famous for, and go home with some bling.

On land: Take advantage of Club Med's free lessons to learn how to swing on a trapeze or hit a tennis ball. Or explore Ishigaki's mountainous terrain on a mountain bike.

Sightseers can sign up for a variety of excursions, including a tour of tranquil Taketomi Island, a 10-minute ferry ride away, which has more cows than humans. Immerse in Okinawan culture by riding a water-buffalo cart around the island to traditional songs and music from a sanshin, an Okinawan guitar.

Kabira Bay, pearl cultivation
Parents, take a break from babysitting - drop your kids off at Petit Club Med. Themed "Under the Sea", the centre will immerse the little ones in an underwater world with its fish-laden magnetic wall and stingray seats. The Mini Club Med, meanwhile, encourages four- to 11-year-olds to terrorise someone else for a change in a newly constructed pirate ship playground.

The digs: The 183 rooms here marry sleek French and Japanese decor. The Japanese elements come in the form of fabric artworks and paintings of Okinawan women in traditional garb. Yukatas, or cotton robes, are provided for casual lounging.

Taketomi Island
True flavours of Okinawa can be found in the Habushu, a local pit viper liqueur that is as fascinating as it is macabre. The liqueur is served before you step into the dining hall. The bottle shows a coiled snake with its fangs bared, so if you want to enjoy the buffet spread, you might want to suppress your curiosity until after the meal.

Star attractions: The resort stages nightly performances. Guests who catch the Asian-themed night will get an Okinawan aural and visual treat along with the usual shows put up by the resort's Gentle Organisers (GOs), or staff. A professional Okinawa Taiko drumming troupe will pound out beats that, when combined with vivacious choreography, will leave the audience clapping to the catchy rhythms.

Okinawa Taiko drumming.
But the resort's real stars? Its friendly GOs, who elevate a stay here from great to unforgettable. I asked Emilie Chiang, a sassy 28-year-old Taiwanese GO, how long she sees herself working for Club Med. "Forever" was her reply.

And how does Guy Cohen, 21, an Australian windsurfing coach report to the beach shack at dawn after a late night? "You got to love your job," he said.

Their cheer was contagious. Or maybe it was just the perpetual Okinawan breeze on my face.

From TODAY, Travel - Thursday, 10-June-2010
Sun, sea and sushi

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Salt of the earth

Salt of the earth
Getting to the Bolivian salt flat is an adventure on its own

by Nellie Huang

Aguas Calientes
Deep in the Bolivian Andes lies the Salar de Uyuni, a sparkling desert of crystalline salt. Legend tells of its hallucinogenic landscape: When submerged in rain, the salt creates a perfect - almost dreamlike - reflection of the skies.

What used to be a giant prehistoric lake is now blanketed by 12,000 sq km of pure whiteness. Far-flung and cut off from the world, the salt flat is hard to reach. But a true explorer wouldn't let a little thing like convenience get in the way.

Fighting altitude sickness

Arbol de Piedra
Leaving a trail of dust behind us, the 4x4 Toyota heaved our considerable weight - including our food and blankets for the next four days - onto an unpaved road. The silhouette of dusty Tupiza town slowly faded behind us. Ahead lay the towering mountains we had to conquer to get to the land-locked terrains of Reserve Eduardo Avaroa National Park.

My partner and I, along with a British couple, sat tight with our belts buckled, ready for an adventure.

"Sorry about the bumps, but there are no paved roads in this area until we get to the national park - be prepared," warned our guide Lanzaro, with a slightly embarrassed smile.

Flags at Salt Museum
As the jeep snaked higher through the craggy valley, my vision started to blur. Motion sickness was kicking in. Herman, our chef, handed me some coca leaves, the Andean cure for both motion and altitude sickness. We were now around 4,000m up the mountain - and would reach a peak of 5,865m during our four-day safari. That called for a reason to be paranoid.

Hours later, after having zigzagged through rock cliffs, we pulled up at the desolate town of San Antonio de Lipez. A wild llama sauntered casually past us, clad in black, furry wool and a pink tag in her ear, as if she were sashaying down her private runway. This was our stop for the night.

As the sun set, temperatures dropped to a shocking low of -10°C. We had expected basic facilities - simple stone beds and lack of electricity and showers - but not the extreme temperature. Huddling close to our Bunsen-burner heater, we shivered in our sleeping bags as the night crawled by.

Hot springs and pristine lagoons

Llama at the lagoon
I awoke to the smell of coffee and a throbbing headache. Several travellers from the other group were also dealing with a mild dose of altitude sickness.

Over the next two days, we climbed further towards 4,825m, throttling past landscapes that triggered a sensory overload: Colossal volcanic peaks poking out of the clouds, stretches of terrain pimpled with grazing llamas and haunting deserts.

Bolivia might be the poorest country in South America, but its trademark flora and fauna have long drawn off-the-beaten-path adventurers to its untouched territories.

At Aguas Calientes (which translates to "hot water"), the thermal springs beckoned despite the cold winds. Braving the temperatures, we plunged in and were immediately comforted by a wave of warmth.

Across the Salvador Dali desert, Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon) sparkled a glorious shade of emerald green. Depending on the time of the day, the sun's interaction with the plankton in the water causes the lagoon to change colour.

Our salt hotel
"Be careful, you don't want to fall into the volcanic water," said Lanzaro, pointing to the fumaroles in the bubbling lagoon waters.

Back on the jeep, we weaved past Laguna Colorada, the red lagoon, stained scarlet by the presence of microalgae, watching a flock of pink flamingos gliding above the water while more llamas grazed leisurely on the lagoon banks.

More lagoons and deserts before we stopped for a view of an oddly-shaped volcanic rock. The arbol de piedra (tree rock), made up of distinct rock compositions, had rather strangely taken the form of a tree after years of erosion.

Frolicking in salt

Shadows cast on the salt flats
By dusk, we found our abode for the night glowing under a red sky: A hotel made entirely out of salt. The walls, ceiling, beds and tables - everything was built from giant blocks of salt.

Before the crack of dawn on our final day of the tour, we were up early to catch the first rays of sunlight on the salt flat. There was not a noise around us except for the howling of strong winds and the occasional bird in the sky. The expanse of salt was so immense, we could even see the curvature of Earth at an angle.

In a desert of such magnitude, the last thing I had expected to find was an island. The Isla del Pescado (or Isla de Incahuasi) stands precariously in the middle of the vast whiteness, with giant cacti blanketing its hilltops. The view from the peak of the islet: Priceless.

There is a museum in the middle of the Salar - a converted salt hotel, displaying salt figures and salt beds - but the authorities no longer allow any form of construction on the Salar so as to protect and conserve the environment.

And it should be protected. As Lanzaro pointed out, there's magic to be found in the Salar.

Trip tips

Shopkeeper in Salt Museum
Getting there

The nearest airport is in Bolivia's capital, La Paz. United, American and TACA Airlines fly there, with two stop-overs, for $4,000.

How to get to Tupiza

Catch a bus to Oruro (3 hours, $5, leaves hourly) and then a night train to Tupiza (11 hours, $12, Saturday to Tuesday). Check for detailed schedule. Most locals speak only Spanish so try to pick up a few words before you go.

When to go

The best time to visit is in dry season (April to October) when road conditions are safer. The roads are muddy and dangerous during the rainy season. Weather conditions in Uyuni can be harsh so bring plenty of warm clothes and water.

Tour operators

United Airlines
- We went on a tour organised by La Torre Tours ( Tour prices depend on the season and number of people in the group. For a 4-pax group, the cost is approximately $240 per person, with food, basic accommodation and driver included.

- Valle Hermoso Tours ( offers a variety of options. You can include an extra day of volcano-climbing, an extension into Chile or choose to depart from Uyuni.

- Oasis Tours ( arranges the same itinerary and has offices all over Bolivia.

- Ruta Verde Bolivia ( organises private, up-market tours with comfortable accommodation options, suitable for older travellers.

From TODAY, Travel - Saturday, 22-May-2010
Salt of the earth

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The Land of Oz: All out Down Under

Sydney Opera House, The Macquarie Visions, SydneyImage by Dushan and Miae via Flickr
I'd not be adding to the text, lest I subtract from it.

Read on...

All out Down Under

Vivid Sydney comes to life

by He Peiwen

IF YOU'RE the kind of traveller who wants to go beyond simply scratching the surface of a city and really get to know its heart and soul, Vivid Sydney might just be the festival for you.

Taking place from May 27 to June 21, Vivid Sydney is a large-scale annual festival - the largest of its kind in Australia - that showcases the city's arts, cultural and creative scene.

Taking place at Hyde Park, Macquarie Street, Darling Harbour, Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House, the programme includes massive light installation and projection shows, as well as performances, exhibitions, discussions and presentations by those in the music, arts and creative industries.

The highlight of this second instalment of the festival is Vivid LIVE, which takes place over two weeks from May 28 to June 11, and brings together music, dance, film, theatre and comedy under one famous roof.

Part of Vivid LIVE is the highly popular illumination of the Opera House's iconic sails. Images of the spectacular sight were broadcasted to more than 200 countries and seen by over 60 million people last year.

This time, the curators of Vivid LIVE are legendary Velvet Underground founder Lou Reed and performance artist Laurie Anderson. Drawing together their different backgrounds in music and performance and visual arts, the couple has been working towards a selection of works that promise to capture the imagination.

Said Anderson: "The point is to present a lot of things that you wouldn't normally go to but gives people the chance to jump off their street. It will be kind of like a big crazy menu - it will have the things we like in it but it will definitely be really eclectic." He Peiwen

From TODAY, Travel - Thursday, 27-May-2010
All out Down Under

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Japan: Hit this cool spot

How about a vacation in one of the Asian countries? A change this time around, on the vacation venue.

Read on...

Hit this cool spot

Nagano in summertime is picture-perfect gorgeous

by Hedirman Supian

YOU don't always need to get all transcontinental and jetset to Europe if you're looking to experience some mountainous greenery during your summer jaunts.

There are destinations closer by in the upper hemisphere. Culturally cool Japan, for instance, has Nagano.

Nagano is home to the Japanese Alps, so there's no shortage of blossoming flora and expansive scenery to gloat about online on that Facebook photo album of yours.

Noted in the history books for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics, this central prefecture of Japan is a vacation hotspot among locals because of its comfortably balmy climates during summer and cool ski resorts during the fall. It is also easily accessibility by rail from Nagoya or Tokyo.

The mountainous countryside boasts great outdoor hikes, lakes and waterfalls. And you can end your day soaking your tender feet in the naturally occurring onsens littered across the prefecture.

Just keep in mind that you won't be wearing anything else besides your personality at these onsens.

Or, you can catch wild monkeys bathing in a hot spring. Really.

If frolicking in the nude or watching other primates isn't your thing, other notable attractions include the medieval Matsumoto Castle, which has great views of the Alps and has a moat that's elegantly inhabited by swans and koi.

Zenkoji, a 1,400-year-old temple believed to house the first Buddhist statue brought to the country, is worth a visit as well.

End your trip with a bang, literally, at the annual ginormous fireworks display at Suwa Lake in mid-August. More than 40,000 fireworks will explode and sparkle over the lake, with the surrounding mountains serving as a natural echo chamber. Does the expression "kaboom" have the same meaning in Japanese?

Guess you will just have to find that out for yourself.

(For more photos, follow the sorce article, as indicated below. Thanks!)

From TODAY, Travel - Thursday, 27-May-2010
Hit  this cool spot

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