Image courtesy of Orient-Express Hotels, used with permission.
Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. launches its new brand identity, Belmond, this week. In one stroke, the company unifies its diverse collection of 45 luxury hotels and travel adventures, launches a stylish new site (belmond.com) and updates its social media presence to reflect the new brand across multiple channels, down to the new @Belmond profile and the hashtag #DiscoverBelmond on Twitter.
The brand itself is no newbie to the luxury travel world: Read More...
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...
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.
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.
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.
Image of Patuxai, Vientiane courtesy of Backyard Travel, used with permission.
Online boutique travel agency Backyard Travel (website) adds to its portfolio of unique and insider tours to Asia with a new trip that investigates local Laos culture. Its eight-day, seven-night Highlights of Laos tour jumps through Laos' most significant destinations, allowing guests to draw a near-complete picture of Laotian culture in about a week's worth of travel. (Read more: Images of Laos)
"Our new Laos tour offers the chance to see the top attractions in Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Champasak and the 4,000 Islands," explains Backyard Travel's General Manager Maeve Nolan. "We hope this tour will open up the romantic, spiritual side of laid-back Laos to travelers who crave an experience insider experiences."
The tour begins in romantic Luang Prabang, the former royal capital that displays Laos' enduring spiritual side. Key destinations in this stop include Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mai and the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum. (Read more: Must-See Sites in Luang Prabang, Laos) Read More...
Image courtesy of One Eleven, Seminyak, used with permission.
No one understand the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate better than One Eleven, Seminyak in Bali, Indonesia: this adults-only luxury getaway of nine villas gets a chance to share its secret knowledge with its guests all April through its Chocolate = I II packages. These premium stays cater to lovers whose taste for romantic adventure extends to that sweet, dark stuff.
One Eleven introduces a choice of two-night or three-night stays, each offering daily chocolate treats to enhance the production of endorphins in the day, and anticipation for things to come that night. Read More...
Image courtesy of the Avilla Hospitality Group, used with permission.
The Bali Legian-based Bliss Wayan Hotel, part of the Avilla Hospitality group, just changed its stripes. Relaunched as Bliss Surfer Hotel (buy direct) last October, the place is transforming itself inside and outside - room facelifts, collateral design revamp, spiffed-up website, revitalized restaurant and spa menu, and a fresh new look of the website, face lift in each room and suite, and a cool surfer ethic all around.
"We bring you the fun and excitement of a beach vacation through a surfing theme," explains Budhiratmanu, the General Manager of Bliss Surfer Hotel. "Chuck your cares out and chill with our cheerful team who are always around to make your stay an awesome one."
The Bliss' 111 rooms now take on a decidedly surfer-friendly feel in the current upgrade (see above), as will the hotel's other facilities, from the Bombora Restaurant (its beach-inspired menu is still a hot draw) down to the elongated pool and the sand lagoon in front of the restaurant. Souvenir hunters can snap up authentic Rip Curl merchandise at the lobby shop.
Image of komodo dragon courtesy of Getty Images.
The independent destination management company Khiri Travel (website) has long had a presence in Indonesia, but it's about to kick things up a notch: thanks to a recently-signed partnership with Indonesian travel company Sunda Trails, Khiri Travel Indonesia will soon open with offices in Lombok and Flores, with dedicated English and Dutch speaking teams in place.
The merger combines two compatible companies, both with long experience in the region: Sunda Trails has 12 years of inbound tourism operations experience in Indonesia, curating ecotourism and rural community exploration packages with an emphasis on responsible travel.
Alongside cultural and natural highlights in Java, Bali and Sumatra, Sunda Trails offers hiking, bicycle tours, diving, marine expeditions and anthropological trips throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Read More...
Image courtesy of YTL Hotels, used with permission.
The first day of March kicked off Tanjong Jara Resort's (buy direct) 2014 dive season. Guests with PADI certification can take advantage of the Malaysian luxury resort's location next to the South China Sea, only 50 minutes by speedboat from Tenggol Island in Terengganu Marine Park. (Read about Malaysia's nature parks.)
If you haven't heard of Tenggol Island before, we can't blame you: its remote location in Malaysia makes it relatively obscure even among divers in the know. Around 20 diving and snorkelling sites are clustered around this small island. Beneath the island's rugged cliffs, coral gardens spread out in a colorful natural canvas, hosting vibrant nudibranches and swifter marine creatures like eagle rays, barracuda, black-tipped reef sharks and sea turtles. Read More...