Friday March 7, 2014
Images courtesy of Bali Safari & Marine Park, used with permission.
The Bali Safari & Marine Park (www.balisafarimarinepark.com) isn't just a sprawling zoological garden for the tourists; its active breeding program has chalked up a few successes over the years, with three successes within the past few weeks: a baby giraffe, an elephant calf and two lion cubs have just joined the family.
The first of his kind to be born in Bali, the park's giraffe baby came into the world on January 2, 2014, weighing in at 65 kilograms and standing two meters in height. Its mother gave birth after a 15-month gestation period - as is typical of giraffes, the baby was capable of standing up on its own within an hour of its birth. "We've named the baby giraffe Kuqala, which means 'first born' in Zulu," comments William Santoso, General Manager of Bali Safari & Marine Park. Read More...
Wednesday March 5, 2014
Photo courtesy of the Singapore Tourism Board, Photographer: Ong Yi Chao
The tiny but ambitious city-state of Singapore loves collecting "number-one" accolades for itself, but this is one they probably want to keep on the down-low: the Economist Intelligence Unit, in its annual Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, found that Singapore is the world's most expensive city, jumping five spots up and leapfrogging cities like Sydney, Tokyo and Paris.
Before you look at your wallet and cross Singapore off your backpacking itinerary, though, hear me out. The Intelligence Unit's findings are mostly relevant for expats who want to stay medium- to long-term in Singapore, and thus need to spend their Singapore dollars on expenses that no short-term traveler need consider. (Rent. Car. Groceries. Schools.)
Accommodation. Apartment rents in Singapore may be climbing, but that doesn't matter to medium- to low-cost travelers in Singapore; tourists can still take advantage of the low rates offered by Singapore's many budget hotels.
Transportation. Cars are super-expensive in Singapore - locals need to pay a "Certificate of Entitlement" (Wikipedia) on top of the prices of their cars, inflating the cost of buying a car to three times as much as in neighboring Malaysia. But you don't really need to drive a car around Singapore; the public transportation system is one of the most efficient in the region, requiring only the use of an EZ-Link Card that can easily be purchased at any MRT station on the island.
(The transportation thing may have unfairly skewed the EIU findings - as Singapore-based Channel News Asia points out, "the survey does not include public transport, which is most commonly used by Singaporeans.")
Food. Eating out in Singapore is cheap if you know where to go - the island-state's hawker centers and corner kopitiam take care of your meals without taking too much of your cash. And you certainly get far more than what you paid for: Singapore food happens to be the best bang for your buck you can get in the region.
Shopping. Here, I will concede the point... somewhat. Shopping in Singapore may be a nationwide pastime, but the prices aren't exactly cheap. The only exception occurs during the Great Singapore Sale, when the hottest shopping spots in the country extend their shopping hours and drop prices to bargain-basement levels. Great Singapore Sale or no, travelers have the option to buy their goods in Singapore duty-free: find out more in this article on Tax-Free Shopping in Singapore.
So TL;DR - no, Singapore is NOT expensive at all if you're just passing through. The EIU findings present plenty of food for thought for expats, but food, shopping, transportation and accommodations for travelers in Singapore remain pretty cheap if you know where to go.
Read our list of top reasons to visit Singapore, and be secure in the knowledge that it won't cost you an arm and a leg to see them all.
Wednesday March 5, 2014
Image © Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com.
The political uncertainty in Thailand - mostly confined to Bangkok - has only rarely spilled out to where the tourists go, but some travelers are not taking any chances. VietNamNet Bridge is reporting that an increased number of travel firms are receiving inquiries from tourists changing their minds about visiting Thailand; Vietnam, just on the other side of the Indochina peninsula, makes a logical alternative.
Nguyen Minh Quyen, deputy head of Ben Thanh Tourist's travel service center, said the company has recently joined a travel mart in the Netherlands and finds that German and Dutch tourists are now more interested in Vietnam. [...] "The booth of Thailand used to attract a high number of visitors but the number is fewer this year. There are more visitors visiting the booths of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with more bookings," Quyen said.
Hoang Thi Phong Thu, chairwoman of Anh Duong Co., said that her foreign partner Pegas Touristik normally took around one million Russian tourists to Egypt and some 500,000 tourists to Thailand. When there is instability, it will seek new destinations and Vietnam will benefit, she added.
Read the complete story at VietNamNet Bridge. Read this list of Top 10 Reasons to Visit Vietnam, if you're considering the same jump. For first-time travelers, you'll find our Vietnam Travel Guide, Visa for Vietnam and Vietnam Eight Day Itinerary useful reading.
Wednesday March 5, 2014
Image courtesy of Getty Images.
On March 31, the Balinese celebrate their new year with... absolute silence. The Bali New Year holiday of Nyepi takes its name from the Balinese word meaning "to keep silent" - believers in Balinese Hinduism are required to reflect on their relationship with their divine within their own homes; even nonbelievers follow Nyepi out of respect for their neighbors.
Which is why, for the whole day of March 31, the International Airport in Bali, Indonesia will be closed - "No planes will be allowed to land or take off for 24 hours," reports eTurboNews, "it is expected that both domestic and international airlines will not schedule flights during that day."
Governor of Bali, Made Mangku Pastika, has sent an official announcement letter to four related ministries (Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Foreign Affair, Ministry of Domestic Affair, and Ministry of Communication) regarding the temporary closure of Ngurah Rai International Airport on the respected day.
"The letter has been sent early (dated 30th December 2013) with the expectation that it can be distributed to all related parties, both nationally and the international world" said the Head of the Public Relations Bureau of the Provincial Government of Bali, I Ketut Teneng.
Only Bali will be affected by the Nyepi holiday - it's business as usual for the rest of Indonesia, so travelers flying into Jakarta have nothing to worry about. For more about the Balinese New Year, read this overview of Nyepi from About.com Hinduism, or find out more about the culture of Bali.