Thursday, July 8, 2010


Green heart of Seoul
South Korea's capital is transforming itself into a model of eco living. A visit has one looking forward to the future

Unlike South Africa's football pitches this month, the World Cup Stadium in Seoul is decidedly quiet. It has been eight years since the world's most watched sporting event was held here. And eight years since Sky Park - the highest situated of five areas that make up World Cup Park - has been turned from a garbage dump into an enlightened hilltop oasis.

Looking at the vast stretch of grass that leads the eye to pale, distant buildings, you wouldn't for one moment suspect the park's humble history.

Low-lying plants such as thistle and clover, as well as man-height feathery pampas grass, cover the hilltop and the view of the city from the 22 lookout points is striking - much like the softly gleaming, metallic pod seats next to them.

Taking it all in, I feel like I'd beamed down from the SS Enterprise into a Star Trek world of enlightened urban planning. Certainly, the green principles of reuse and recycle apply here.

Having been converted from a landfill into a usable public space, the park is an example of up-cyling. What's more, the area's energy is supplied by a sustainable source - in this case, graceful wind turbines that meld into the landscape. Classical music is played from the sound system.

In one space, science is combined with culture, the rustic with the futuristic, greenery with panoramic views. The result is surprisingly pleasant.

The view down under

Sky Park, Seoul
There will be more of these spaces as Seoul transforms itself into a model of green living. Spearheading the developments is the city's newly-re-elected mayor and environmentalist Oh Se-hoon. In the long term, the city plans to replace all its buses and taxis with electric or hybrid vehicles. More parks and green trails linking major landmarks will be created.

One of Seoul's premier green attractions, however, can be enjoyed now. Like Sky Park, Cheonggyecheon Stream works its magic slowly, and so best appreciated with a cuppa and snack in hand.

Cheonggyecheon Stream is much more than its name suggests. It's not just a body of water, it's a lush garden-cum-creek situated below street level that stretches for 5.8km through downtown Seoul. And like Sky Park, it exhibits a breezy loveliness that belies its dirt-filled origins.

The stream used to be polluted, so was covered with concrete to make way for roads. It was cleaned up and opened in 2005 by then-mayor - and now South Korea president - Lee Myung-bak. Lee received "Hero of the Environment Award" from Time magazine for the project.

Cheonggyecheon today is a place for Seoulites from smartly-dressed youths to suited salarymen to gather, picnic and promenade, making it one of the best places to people watch in the city.

River Renaissance

Hangang, Seoul
Like many visitors to Seoul, I've come ready to trawl the city's famous shopping districts - Insa-dong with its side streets of tea gardens and art galleries, and the fashion universes of Myeong-dong, Dongdaemun and the like.

Sky Park and Cheonggyecheon are pleasant diversions. So, too, a liberating bike ride along the banks of the Hangang, which divides the city into north and south. On a typical day, the stretch fills ups with locals indulging in all manner of activity - from rollerblading to jetskiing, to children splashing in the public pools.

The river area is set to change dramatically by 2030 as part of the Hangang Renaissance. When completed, there will be three artificial islands offering gardens, cafes and cultural venues; and eight waterfront towns connected by river taxis.

One of bridges that span the Hangang, the double-decked Banpo, boasts the world's longest bridge fountain.

Installed last September, the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain makes art out of river water by pumping it out in rainbow-coloured sprays to the music of Vivaldi and other classical works.

Designer tastes

Cheonggyecheon Steam, Seoul
The transformation of Sky Park, Cheonggyecheon and Hangang, lend an intriguing dimension to a city that at first glance looks like any other built-up metropolis. But Seoul is eager to distinguish itself as a tourist destination, and not only with its eco projects.

Last November, the city launched its first gourmet food festival, Amazing Korean Table, where top chefs from around the world were invited to cook with Korean ingredients.

This year, it was named World Design Capital 2010, allowing it to highlight its urban projects and design plans. The centrepiece is Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Park by renowned architect Zaha Hadid which will merge architecture and nature into one seamless whole.

Beam me down to that green patch, Scottie.

iTour Seoul

Recognising that visitors may have difficulty with the language barrier, the city has rolled out a free application that shows the user's location as well as hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions. iPhones with the application which can be borrowed free of charge at the SHOW Global Roaming Centre at Incheon International Airport, Gimpo International Airport, or City Air Terminal near Coex. More information at

From TODAY, Travel; source article is below:
Green heart of Seoul

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South Africa and Football

Beautiful game, colourful nation
Beyond the World Cup stadiums, South Africa offers a lot more action

by Kevin Soon

FOOTBALL fans heading down to the Rainbow Nation for the 2010 World Cup are in for an exciting time both in and out of the stadiums.

For the 19th edition of the beautiful game's most prestigious tournament is aptly being held in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

From Polokwane in north-east Limpopo province to Cape Town in the Western Cape Province, each World Cup venue offers myriad world-class attractions.


Pretoria has a peaceful charm unlike bustling Joburg.
World Cup visitors will likely be spending some time in this area as three of the 10 stadiums hosting the matches are located in these two neighbouring cities.

Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, is famous for its suburban Soweto township - where Nobel Peace Prize winners Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu grew up.

A tour of this vibrant township, which contains most of Johannesburg's black population, is best done as part of an organised tour group. This is because although Soweto is by and large a safe place to visit, chances of getting lost in this sprawling, maze-like township are high.

South Africa football.
A good way to meet the friendly locals here is to ask your guide to take you to a "shebeen" (drinking place) for a pint or two of the popular South African Castle Lager.

The capital city of Pretoria - also known as the Jacaranda City for its pretty jacaranda trees - has a peaceful charm unlike bustling Jo'burg.

A must-see here, especially for airplane aficionados, is the Air Force Museum located at the Zwartkop Air Force Base. The history of the South African Air Force is well captured in this fascinating museum in the form of old aircraft, uniforms, missiles, aeronautical displays and paintings.

Cape Town

A stretch of the Golden Mile becomes a football pitch.
The must-do thing here is to take the cable car to the top of iconic Table Mountain for a spectacular view of the city - with the Green Point stadium standing out like a gleaming white cocoon.

After the excitement on the field, head out for greener pastures - specifically the vineyards of Stellenbosch.

A two-hour drive from Cape Town, Stellenbosch is the most famous wine-growing region in the country.

The wineries are open to visitors for wine-tasting and cellar tours, and you can buy a very drinkable Cabernet Franc red wine from a well-known estate such as Eikendale for about 60 rand ($10.90).

If your favourite team won its match, you might want to celebrate at one of the happening city-centre bars such as Joburg (yes, it's in Cape Town, go figure) - where an attractive, young crowd gyrate to the latest hip-hop and R&B hits.


Kite surfing in Port Elizabeth.
The busiest port in all of Africa is also a tourism centre due to the city's warm subtropical climate and gorgeous beaches.

Durban is famous for its Golden Mile - the wide stretch of golden sands, separated by various piers - which provides excellent opportunities for sun-worshippers and swimmers to enjoy the sunny climes and warm waters of the Indian Ocean year-round.

A key attraction on the Golden Mile is the uShaka Marine World - the fifth largest aquarium in the world boasting 32 tanks. The sea creatures found in the aquarium range from small sea horses to sharks and dolphins.

A highlight here is to dine at the Cargo Hold restaurant which contains the largest shark tank in the world. Yes, the experience of dining on succulent, fresh seafood while hammerhead and ragged-tooth sharks swim menacingly in front of you is unforgettable.

Port Elizabeth

Sun City resort near the city of Rustenburg.
Located at the end of the picturesque Garden Route along the Cape coast, Port Elizabeth is another of South Africa's major destinations for tourists.

It has many historical attractions, one of the most interesting being the Historic Donkin Heritage Trail, which allows visitors to follow in the footsteps of the 1820 British settlers on their journey of discovery and settlement. This 5km trail takes in 47 historical sites in the Old Hill area of the city centre.

The city is also known as the water sports capital of South Africa. Calm waters and fair breezes make good conditions for sailing, and the safe beaches allow swimming, surfing and body boarding. Scuba diving enthusiasts can see ship wrecks, coral reefs and multi-coloured fish in the warm waters with up to 30m visibility.


TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY JOSHUA HOWAT BERGERThis picture taken on May 27, 2010 shows horses at Likatola horse riding and adventures in Teko Village, Maseru, Lesotho. Many in Lesotho, a small mountain kingdom surrounded entirely by South Africa, hoped the 2010 football World Cup would bring tourists, strengthen the economy and help develop football in the impoverished country. AFPPHOTO / PABALLO THEKISO
The gem of this North West Province venue is undoubtedly the fabulously surreal Sun City, which lies in the centre of an ancient volcanic valley like a shimmering mirage under the African sun.

One of Africa's premier resort destinations, Sun City caters to all whims and fancies. Football punters will likely make a beeline for the vast entertainment centre which offers countless gaming tables, slot machines and floor shows.

Once the sun sets, the resort comes alive with shows and performances at its various entertainment and F&B outlets, including the 6,000-seat Super Bowl arena - which has hosted concerts by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Queen, Elton John and Rod Stewart, among others.


Bloemfontein - birthplace of J R R Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings - is the capital of the Free State Province.

This is a sleepy, quiet city, so you might want to visit Lesotho - a small country completely surrounded by South Africa and about two hours' drive from Bloemfontein.

Africa's highest pub can be found at Sani Top Chalet, located at the top of the Sani pass and popular with South African day-trippers. An overnight stay is a good idea if you're driving and have had a pint too many of the superb local Maluti beer, which costs a mere 15 rand a mug.


An impala grazing at Kruger National Park.
It's animals, animals, animals here as this is the gateway to Kruger National Park - one of South Africa's top tourist attractions.

The park covers 20,000 sq km and borders Zimbabwe in the north and Mozambique in the east. Here you can see the best of African flora and fauna such as lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalo - the "big five" of any safari park.

First time visitors may want to consider booking a guided bush drive. The tour costs around 170 rand with experienced rangers taking you in a 4x4 vehicle through the park and explaining the finer details of game spotting.

If you have the time, sign up for a guided night drive where park rangers take you to see nocturnal creatures such as lions, leopards and hyenas.


Women extracting juice from the Marula fruit to make traditional beer during the annual Marula festival in Polokwane.
Considered the premier hunting destination in South Africa, this city provides access to nature and wildlife viewing opportunities for ecotourists.

There is something to satisfy every nature and wildlife fan. Birdwatchers will be flocking to the Polokwane Bird and Reptile Park, which is home to over 280 species of birds. The Polokwane Game Reserve contains wildlife, birdlife, and plants in an unspoiled bushveld environment.


The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town Harbour. Devil's Peak and part of Table Mountain are pictured in the background.
Getting there:

Johannesburg and Cape Town are the two main entry points into South Africa for international flights. Singapore Airlines offers the only direct flights to South Africa with a thrice-weekly service to Johannesburg and Cape Town. It currently has a two-to-go promotion to either city at around $1,400 (including taxes) per person.

Stay: In South Africa, there are plenty of atmospheric and decently-priced B&Bs and guesthouses run by friendly owners. They are knowledgeable and are happy to recommend restaurants for local cuisine and give directions to those who drive. A list of these boutique establishments can be found at

From TODAY, Travel; source article below:
Beautiful game, colourful nation

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