September 29, 2011
This group is heavily influenced by location and hotel reviews. Among the properties they look at are the Piccolo Hotel and Prince Hotel & Residences in Kuala Lumpur, Lebua at State Tower in Bangkok and Aryaduta in Jakarta which all compete well with the branded chains in these cities and are frequently in Wego’s top 20 in terms of the volume of selections on the site.
The second group of travellers holiday at the many resorts within the short-haul radius of Asia’s low cost carriers. There is more independent choice in these destinations, but boutique properties can be hard to spot online as they lack the powerful e-distribution of their international rivals. Fortunately, Wego.com presents the inventory of over 130 travel suppliers, giving them much higher visibility resulting in judgements based mainly on aggregated consumer reviews, photos and price.
Regular searches in Wego include Sawasdee Village and Twinpalmsin Phuket, Silavadee Pool Spa Resort in Koh Samui, Febri’s Hotel and Spa, Abian Biu and White Rose in Bali as well as The Frangipani in Langkawi.
The most popular reflect the local culture and environment as increasingly travellers want an authentic destination experience, along with the comforts of luxury hotel brands.
“A lot of their appeal is tied into cultural identity, a degree of self-expression and a General Manager passionate about service,” said Craig Hewett, Chief Commercial Officer at Wego.
In Singapore, where a presence is considered of strategic importance to many European and American brands, The Fullerton Hotelin the old colonial building of the Post Office has an independent feel, like Raffles Hotel, and yet regularly ranks in Wego’s top five - taking on the Las Vegas style glamour of spectacular Marina Bay Sands.
“The independent and boutique hotels know exactly who they are marketing to. They’ve built a brand strategy, even if it doesn’t conform to a chain’s model and as we’ve seen at Wego.com, they enjoy enviable success,” explained Hewett.
September 28, 2011
|Fiji Resort - SeaLife|
|Hire out a Moped & cruise around on your own|
|Take a day cruise to Fijian islands|
My mind telepathically added items to my ‘list of things to do’ the moment the cab passed over the mainland connecting bridge and onto the island. The Hollywood-like scenes of people laughing on the back of Mopeds and cruise ships gliding over the picturesque ocean enticed my vision and forced me to lust after the greater outdoor activities the island had unintentionally displayed.
‘Don’t be jealous of thy neighbour’s goods’ is the easiest sin to avoid while on vacation in Denarau, with the grass skirt decorated Bula Bus offering guests free trips to neighbouring resorts to use their pools and restaurants.
Lined up against the coastal sand and available for the pickin’ includes resorts from the Sheraton, Westin, Sofitel, Radisson and more.
But if you do plan to stray away from your accommodation you best be doing so on the back of a Moped. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you don’t hire out the popular and entertaining scooter-type bike. The attraction has become quite the trend in Denarau, so well-liked in fact that you can’t turn the corner without witnessing a collection of travellers riding past feigning the superhero on duty look.
With the clearest and bluest body of ocean you’ll ever lay eyes on, it’s hard to resist the never ending selection of water activities available on the island. Canoeing, snorkelling and scuba diving are all on the table, simply ask your helpful resort staff to book you in and you’ll soon be playing ‘can you keep up with the region’s exotic and fast marine life’.
For holiday makers keen to step a little further into Fiji, catch the Denarau Bus from up to FJ$5 a day to Port Denarau. But you better bring your wallet because you’ll be using every last cent and dollar buying out everything at the colourful markets and extensive shopping complex.
Port Denarau also provides easy access to off shore destinations like Savala through overnight and river cruise transfers.
It wasn’t until the end of my trip came sneaking up on me, when I was feeling relaxed after spa treatments at my resort and satisfied from my non-stop water adventures that I decided to tick off the last item on my list, chilling by the beach.
Known as ‘the Pearl of the South’, Phuket is reclaiming its position as Thailand’s key destination for honeymooners and families alike.
Located 860km south of Bangkok, Phuket is known for its sandy beaches, lush forest tumbling waterfalls and ancient shrines as well as its Indo-Portuguese and Chinese architecture that reflect the turn of the century.
As more holiday-makers seek for adventure thrills, it seems Phuket is up-to-date with activities such as bungee jumping, shooting ranges, ATV offroading, go-carting, horse-riding and Muay Thai boxing.
On the other hand, the various white sandy beaches including Bang Tao beach, Kata Noi Beach, Bang Tao Beach, Kamala Beach, Surin Beach, Pansea Beach, Kata beach, Nai Yang beach, and Rawai Beach, provide much incentive for travelers, with scuba diving, sailing, sea canoeing and kayaking available.
Another contributing factor to Phuket’s attractiveness is its nightlife, with Patong Beach recognised as a hot spot for its clubs and dining options.
And with the great exchange rate, Phuket will continue to draw international visitors with its affordable accommodation and wide range of attractions.
Images: Tourism authority Thailand
|Cu Chi Tunnels
War Remnants Museum
Address: 28 Vo Van Tan, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Reunification Palace is one the most important buildings in Ho Chi Minh City not only because of its striking modern architecture but it was the site where Vietnam war ended. Then known as the Independence Palace or Presidential Palace is where the first communist tanks to arrive in Saigon crashed through the wrought iron gates. The rest is history!
Address: 133 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, Ho Chi Minh City
This French-built cathedral occupies scenic Paris Square in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City with its two bell towers dominating the city skyline. This cathedral is impressive on the outside but lacks the guilt and gold Westerners have come to expect in a European Cathedral. Sadly its somewhat dark and grey on the inside but it’s amazing that this fine structure has survived. Daily services are held.
Central Post Office
Designed by Gustave Eiffel (of the Eiffel tower), Ho Chi Minh City’s Central Post Office is a classic example of the French colonial style, featuring an elegant interior with a vaulted glass canopy ceiling, complete with a gigantic portrait of Ho Chi Minh.
Ben Thanh Market
Located right in the center of Ho Chi Minh City this vibrant market sells all manner of goods. It’s open till late and you can buy practically anything you want. Bargaining is a must and even if shopping is not your thing it’s quite fun to sightsee the people, aromatic smells and general bustle of activity
Address: District 1. 700m southwest of Rex Hotel
Don’t get run over
Mekong Delta Tour – Day tour
Escape the hustle of the city and take a scenic drive through the Mekong Delta and journey down the narrow tree lined canals on board a sampan. Visitors can opt for a one day or a multi-day tour of the vast Mekong Delta where residents still live in stilt houses or on boats and shop in floating markets.
_________________________________________________________________________________Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon is a wonderful city to explore and obviously there are many more places to visit. If any reader has a personal favourite please help expand this list by adding a comment below
How to get there
China Airlines fly daily to Saigon ex Taipei.
Contact Vietnam Tourism
September 26, 2011
SOME people just can't seem to break with habit, even when taking a holiday.
A colleague overhead an English fellow at a camp-site in Switzerland bemoaning to a captive at the bar about the camp's lack of 'proper' food. "It's awful," he growled. "They didn't even understand when I ordered egg and chips for lunch – they served me a boiled egg and some thin strips of potato that when I asked, they said were called Pomme Fritz…"
He's not alone.
Tourists from France expect the world to speak French. Those from the south of the United State are amazed that the few others anywhere else eat grits. And Aussies – well don't get us going on the lack of Vegemite in 5-star resorts in 'Vegas and the United Nations...
Thomas Cooks, arguably the most famous travel company in the world, has been receiving bizarre complaints from tourists ever since 1871 when Mr Cook took 570 people by train from Leicester in the Midlands of England to a temperance rally 15km away.
The success of the venture prompted Cook to start arranging other trips for all sorts of people – not just for those who had forsaken alcohol – including an amazing round-the-world tour in 1872 that took 222-days and for which he charged 200 guineas.
Today the company manages the travel plans of 19-million customers annually, and staff patiently deal with those who don't quite seem to understand how petty are some of their travel gripes.
Like the fellow who went back to England quite irate about the Mediterranean tradition of siesta. "It's lazy of the local shopkeepers to close in the afternoons," he wrote. "I often needed to buy things during this time. It should be banned."
Another wrote: "I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local stores do not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts," while one grizzled: "We booked an excursion to a water park, but no-one told us we had to take swimming costumes."
And when a guest at a Novotel in Australia complained his soup was too thick and strong, the waitress pointed out he was eating the main course gravy.
Another: "On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don't like spicy food at all."
And how about this bloke. "The beach was too sandy… it was not yellow like the sand in the brochure, it was quite white."
And the beach proved a worry for another family. "No-one told us there would be fish in the sea. The children were quite startled."
Then there was the tourist at an African game lodge who spotted an aroused elephant, and complained to Cooks that the sight of this rampant beast ruined his honeymoon by making him feel "inadequate."
Maybe he would have got sympathy from a woman who bemoaned: "My holiday was totally ruined by topless sunbathing. My husband spent all day looking at other women."
Spain seems to cause the Brits the most angst. "We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish," one holidaymaker scribbled. "And there are too many Spanish people," wrote another. "The receptionist spoke Spanish. The food was Spanish. There were too many foreigners."
And the couple who came home with more than they left with: "My fiancé and I booked a twin-bedded room but were placed in a double-bedded room. We hold you responsible that I now find myself pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room we booked."
And two trainee hairdressers asked before leaving England if they would have trouble staying at a particular resort, because the brochure stated "No hairdressers at the resort," while another lady wrote: "I compared the size of our one-bedroom apartment to our friends' three-bedroom apartment, and ours was significantly smaller."
Then there is travelling to and from your destination: "It took our American friends only three hours to fly home from Jamaica, but it took us nine hours to England because we are English."
And finally: "We bought 'Ray-Ban' sunglasses for $5 from a street trader, only to find out later they were fake."
Some mothers do 'ave 'em.
 SPAIN: "The Receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish, there were too many foreigners."
 RAMPANT male elephant made one honeymooner feel he was "inadequate."
 OFF the menu in Swiss holiday camp: English favourite egg and chips.
 JAMAICA: "Only three hours for Americans to fly home, but nine hours for us to England because we are English."
(Photos: Spain, South Africa, Jamaica Tourism Boards/Bureaux)
But this time the complainant wasn't a passenger – it was one of the airport's own security staff.
And in an even more bizarre twist – to excuse the pun – the lady against whom the charge was made is 61-years of age, and has become something of an overnight hero across America, with more than 2000 sympathisers responding in 24-hours to a Facebook page set up in her support.
Businesswoman Yukari Mihamae was accused of "squeezing and twisting" the security agent's breasts with both hands after refusing to comply with a passenger screening procedure at Phoenix airport.
After it was made public that Ms Mihamae had been arrested and charged with sexual abuse, her story spread like wildfire with national coverage across America in print and on radio and TV, as Americans become increasingly hostile to what they say are over-zealous and obtrusive airport x-ray imagings and pat-downs.
And in a surprisingly quick response to the public outrage over her case, just 48-hours after she was arrested, authorities suddenly dropped the charges and freed Ms Mihamae.
September 19, 2011
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says a South African couple who decided to make their own internet hotel bookings for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand should possibly have done it through a travel agent – they got the name of the hotel right, but instead of being in New Zealand's Eastbourne for the WRC kick-off in neighbouring Wellington, it was 19,000km away in the UK's Eastbourne.
Michael and Sunette Adendorff became suspicious when they arrived in Wellington and their rental car's GPS couldn't get them to Royal Parade, Eastbourne.
After driving around in circles they pulled into a local pharmacy and asked employee Linda Burke directions to their hotel. "I told them there was no Royal Parade and no hotel here called the Majestic, but they said they'd been assured it was there – complete with views of the 'famous Eastbourne Pier.' That's when I twigged they'd booked a hotel 19,000km away in the UK."
The sympathetic Ms Burke took the Adendorffs to dinner at a local club, and then gave them a bed in her own home for the night. "The way we were treated by Linda and the locals was much better than a hotel," Michael said later. "Everyone was so friendly, although they did take the ---- out of us!"
And, yes, they did manage to find hotels in the right places for the remainder of their NZ visit.
FOOTNOTE: While the UK's Eastbourne Majestic Hotel initially declined to refund the Adendorffs the AU$270 they'd paid because they "cancelled" too late, it has now decided to give them a full refund – pointing out that not only had the Adendorffs booked in the wrong hemisphere, the hotel had also previously had another South African couple turn up on the right day of the right month… but the wrong year.
ONCE they were slums that those down on their luck would wait agonising months, often years, to get out of – today the most affluent wait up to nine months to get into them.
They are the-now just-eight suites in an extraordinary boutique hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland called The Witchery by the Castle. Almost in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, it is a near-fantasy creation of entrepreneur James Thomson, who a half-century ago would look down from his schoolroom on these derelict once-slums and daydream some day of rejuvenating them back to their former magnificence.
James Thomson was a pupil of the George Heriot's School, an equally extraordinary place that was founded in the mid-1600s through a grant of GBP25,000 (tens of millions of dollars in today's terms) by-then royal goldsmith, George Heriot for Edinburgh's "puir fatherless bairns" – "poor, fatherless children."
Heriot died in 1624 and although construction started in 1628 it was not until 1659 that his school opened with just thirty boys. It later became fee-paying, and is now co-educational with 1,700 pupils including free places still for a large number of orphans the school calls "Foundationers;" scholastically it is possibly Scotland's most successful institution.
After leaving as a student in the middle of the last century, James Thomson entered the hospitality industry and set about bringing to reality his dream for the now-derelict 16th century tenement slums – known as Boswell's Court – that his old alma mater once looked down on.
He bought one of the ancient buildings and on Halloween in 1979 opened a restaurant there that he called The Witchery by the Castle. With much of its interior restored to its original 16th century grandeur, furniture hand-crafted to refIect its ancestry, and with exceptional Scottish fare of Angus beef, lamb, game, briny-fresh seafood platters and even haggis, it was an instant success
So much so that VIPs from not only Scotland and England were soon beating a path to its door, but so too were others from around the world. Within a decade, and with so many diners being constantly turned away by the House Full sign, Thomson decided to build a second restaurant within the schoolyard and classrooms of a one-time school adjacent to The Witchery.
He called it The Secret Garden and it too became another instant success – inspiring him to go one further and buy-up more of the ancient tenements and create what he calls "a restaurant with rooms, rather than hotel rooms with a restaurant."
His boutique hotel is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece described by Cosmopolitan Magazine as "one of the seven wonders of the hotel world," its eight suites each a melange of the dark and gothic, the theatrical and romantic, the indulgent and the quirky... magnificently luxurious repositories for James' constantly growing collection of antiques.
And theatrical. The Heriot suite, for instance, named after James Thomson's old school is entered through a black and gold hallway that opens into a sitting room with oak panelling, a giant bedroom with four-poster adorned with green and gold velvet hangings, walk-in wardrobes, and a bathroom that resembles a chapel with gothic ceiling and mirror-clad walls.
The Library Suite features a gothic oak bookcase, part of which opens as a secret doorway into a bathroom whose walls are bookcases filled with antique tomes, while the Old Rectory Suite – once James' study – has a separate bathroom with red and gilt leather walls, and a polished silver bateau bath for two…
And the Guardroom Suite, one of the largest with views in four directions across Edinburgh Old Town and to the hills of Fife in the distance, features a great tapestry-hung bed, a marble-floored bathroom, a panelled dining hall and hidden kitchen, a sitting room complete with open fire – even a centre-piece red and gold Guardsman's uniform on a stand complete with bearskin hat.
Then there's the Inner Sanctum, Sempill, Vestry, the Armoury…
Little wonder you can wait nine months to get a suite at The Witchery for a weekend – and that they're the most-photographed hotel rooms in the UK.
Suites cost from GBP325-350 (AU$495-534) per night including a bottle of Champers on arrival, mineral water, a lavish breakfast hamper delivered to your suite with the morning paper, and taxes.
For details go onto www.thewitchery.com
 ONCE slums, the simple entrance to The Witchery by the Castle belies the wonders that await inside.
 THE Guardroom Suite – for acting-out your fantasies?
 THE Secret Garden restaurant: finest Angus beef, lamb, game, and briny-fresh seafood platters…
 NOW this is a bathroom.
(Photos: The Witchery by the Castle)
September 13, 2011
AT their prime, anything up to two hundred steam-driven paddle- and stern-wheelers could be seen on any one day along any of the city waterfronts of America's mighty Mississippi, a waterway stretching from Minnesota in the country's far north, to where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans 3700km away in the far south.
From when Nicholas Roosevelt built the first riverboat in 1811 and sailed from his hometown Pennsylvania down the Ohio River to join the Mississippi – and ended-up 28-days later in New Orleans – the river and its steamboats became a highway for passengers and freight from the coast to the inland, or out to market from the inland's bourgeoning cotton, tobacco and fruit and vegetable farms.
Vessels that could carry up to 400-plus passengers, or purely freight-only, churned up and down the river 24-hours a day, and plied a myriad tributaries that reached like tentacles into an amazing 31 States.
Even seemingly regular onboard fires in their boiler-rooms could not quell Americans' insatiable demand for the steamboats. On many vessels these boilers were poorly-built and regulated, tending to explode when heated beyond their capabilities – with some 4000 engine-room workers dying in explosions that blew-apart over 500 vessels.
In May 1849 the little paddle-wheeler White Cloud blew-up with a thunderous roar in New Orleans, the subsequent fire burning through her mooring lines and allowing her to drift downstream into other moored vessels. She in turn set fire to many of these, and then to cargo on wharves, then waterside sheds, and finally town buildings.
In all 24 vessels burned to the waterline, 140 city buildings were razed and nine lives were lost.
By the 1970s trains, planes and automobiles were making their mark on the river trade, and passenger traffic in particular became almost a thing of the past, while freight operators moved from wood-fired paddle- and stern-wheelers to more efficient diesel-powered river freighters and tug-drawn barges.
And by 2001 the number of passenger steamboats plying the Mississippi could be counted on the fingers of one hand, with the final death knell sounding in November 2008 when the world's biggest-ever steamboat, the 436-passenger sternwheeler, American Queen was withdrawn from service and mothballed with mountainous debts.
While a few smaller vessels continued to operate day-time sightseeing and night-time dinner cruises on parts of the river, the following year, 2009, marked the first year since 1811 that no steamboats had operated regular long-distance passenger or tourist cruises on the Mississippi.
But steamboatin' buffs are a devout bunch, and two companies that have been trying to out-manoeuvre each other to bail-out the American Queen, have now joined together to put this spectacular 127m sternwheeler back into the Mississippi tourist business.
Dubbed the "grandest of the wedding-cake boats" for her elaborate white superstructure, American Queen will undergo a nine-months make-over and once more set out on 3- to 7-night holiday itineraries on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers from April next year, with her home-port New Orleans.
Aficionados say you only need go aboard one of these "wedding-cake boats" once to be bitten by the "steamboatin'" bug for life.
The American Queen is a faithful reminder of the grandeur of the 1800s and early 1900s.
So picture yourself sitting on deck in a rocker, or tucking into traditional riverboat dishes of jambalaya, Southern fried chicken, shrimps with olives and green onions, pot roasts, skillet-cooked turkey and potatoes, or decadent chocolate brownies, pecan pie, soft molasses cookies…
And all the while taking-in the views and toe-tapping to Dixieland, jazz, gospel and blues as you drift along at a gracious ten-to-twelve knots, while at night there'll be Southern-style cabaret and vaudeville....
It's an almost-blend of Disneyland and Huck Finn – Samuel Clemens who wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn under the pen name Mark Twain was himself a one-time riverboat pilot – to rekindle memories of childhood black and white flicks and the stories Mum and Dad used to read us.
Yet there's the reality of seeing Civil War battlefields, grand Southern mansions including Elvis Presley's spectacular Graceland, and by contrast the bayous and little settler communities of the Mississippi's earliest less-fortunate pioneers and plantation slaves…
For details of American Queen's sailings from April 2012, phone Cruise Specialist Holidays toll-free 1300 79 49 59.
 COME-back: the grandest "wedding-cake boat" of all, American Queen is set for a come-back in April 2012.
 NEW ORLEANS' Oak Alley Plantation is one of the grand homes tourists see from the river.
 ONE-time slave quarters such as these can also be seen along the Mississippi.
 ELVIS Presley's Gracelands on the banks of the Mississippi.
 SAMMY KAYE Revival Orchestra ("Swing and Sway With Sammy Kaye") will be amongst big names reviving the music of the Mississippi on American Queen.
(Photos: The Great American Steamboat Company; Discover America; Sammy Kaye Orchestra.)
September 05, 2011
IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in the world of travel, David Ellis says you need to look to the right, to the left and then to the right again more than once when crossing the main street of Trundle in country NSW – its an amazing 66-metres wide (that's 157-feet, or the equivalent of three cricket pitches,) making what locals claim is the widest street in Australia.
And it's because when Trundle was first pegged out in the late 1800s it was intended that its main street run at right-angles to the-then Travelling Stock Route that the town would be built alongside, and which by law had to be at least three chains (60-metres) wide so bullock trains had enough room to turn around and reverse.
But like all good intentions, commerce and council couldn't get together and commercial buildings started popping-up alongside and parallel with the Stock Route, with in fact the Stock Route becoming Trundle's main street, renamed where it went through town Forbes Street.
Today, Trundle's locals joke that you need something from the take-away or the pub to see you through from one side of their main street to the other.