Travel Travel en Take a look at Bangkok's first observation tower
Set to measure 459m high, the tower will stand on the banks of the Chao Phraya River and rank as sixth tallest in the world.

With a price tag of US$138 million (RM578.3 million), it's hoped the Bangkok Observation Tower will become a major tourist attraction for the city.

Designed to evoke a burning candle, the tower symbolises the annual practice of lighting candles on the birthday of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and wishing for national prosperity.

The space inside the tower will be used as an educational platform to promote Thailand's history and cultural heritage.

Profits will go towards community and charitable projects.

"There were 32.6 million visitors to Thailand in 2016 who, together, spent almost 72 billion dollars," said Ittirith Kinglake, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, in a statement.

"In 2020, the number of visitors to Thailand is expected to increase to be 41.5 million visitors. Tourism has consistently been one of our country's most important revenue sources and accounts for 17.7% of GDP ... the tower will act as a significant tourism driver for the country."

The tower is expected to be completed in 2019. — AFP Relaxnews]]>
Travel Tue, 19 Sep 2017 09:20:04 +0000 theSundaily 483967 at
Around the world in 79 days: British cyclist smashes record
Scottish adventurer Mark Beaumont rode into Paris 78 days, 14 hours and 14 minutes after he set off from the French capital, smashing the previous record of 123 days for a round–the–world bike trip.

Arriving in evening rush hour traffic under light drizzle, the 34–year–old rode the last cobbled mile to the Arc de Triomphe with a 20–strong entourage on wheels, including a man in a top hat on a penny–farthing bicycle.

Some 50 supporters were at the monument to greet him, including his tearful wife Nicci and his daughters Harriet, four, and Willa, one.

"I doubt I'll ever do anything like it again," said Beaumont, describing the journey as "definitely the longest two–and–a–half months of my life".

Bouncing his grinning one–year–old in his arms, Beaumont said the world record was "an absolute dream come true".

A Guinness World Records judge was on hand to present him with his two framed records — he also beat the previous time for the farthest distance cycled in a month — while he was still in the saddle.

Beaumont had held the round–the–world record until 2009 when it was beaten by a New Zealander, leaving Beaumont to conclude he simply had to have the title back.

"I have taken myself beyond anything I have ever done physically and mentally," he said.

3.30 am starts

Fogg took 80 days to complete his voyage by train, ship and balloon in Jules Verne's classic 1873 novel, "Around the World in 80 Days".

Although Beaumont was able to fly over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, he did the rest with his own muscles.

He spent 16 hours a day in the saddle for 76 days to cover the 29,000 kilometres, getting up at 3.30 am every morning.

The three remaining days were spent on flights.

"I am quite looking forward to not getting up at half–past three every morning," Beaumont joked as he set out in the dark on the 180–km final stretch in the Loire valley southwest of Paris.

Childhood dream

Beaumont set out from Paris on July 2 and crossed Europe, Russia and Mongolia before arriving in Beijing.

From there he flew to Perth in western Australia and crossed the country as well as neighbouring New Zealand before flying on to Anchorage in Alaska.

His trans–American journey ended in Halifax in Canada, where he boarded a flight for Lisbon.

Beaumont said being the fastest man to cycle round the world has been his dream since childhood.

This is "the culmination of me as a 12–year–old boy pedalling across Scotland 22 years ago and going on lots of adventures, going further every time," he told his followers on Twitter.

Problems walking

Beaumont set the world record in 2008 when he cycled around the world unsupported in just short of 195 days. That was bettered by New Zealander Andrew Nicholson doing it in 123 days two years ago.

In the meantime Beaumont had taken on other adventures, and was part of a team who tried to break the record for rowing across the Atlantic in 2012, only to capsize after 27 days.

Although his latest escapade has not been so obviously dangerous, spending so long in the saddle has taken its toll. Beaumont told reporters that even walking up airport stairs "really hurt".

And he predicted that his record may not last forever.

"I'm 6 foot 1.9 metres tall and 90 kilos. Someone who is 75 kilos and a 'proper' cyclist might do it faster. We shall see," he said.

"But I'll always be the first who did it (in under 80 days). No one remembers who was second up Everest." — AFP]]>
Travel Tue, 19 Sep 2017 00:46:25 +0000 theSundaily 483730 at
Vietnam floating market struggles to stay above water
Surrounded by dusty old scales on his cluttered houseboat, Nguyen Van Ut says vendors are giving up their boats for better lives on terra firma where supermarkets draw the traders who once thronged the waterway.

"I don't have many customers now. In the past, it was alright, but now many boats have left the floating market... people on vessels have switched to vehicles," the 71-year-old told AFP.

He got into the repairs business 30 years ago on the Can Tho river to support his surviving children after his wife and two of his sons drowned in an accident.

For a time life was good, but now he relies on handouts from his children – three of them work in nearby Can Tho city.

Once reportedly two kilometres long, the Cai Rang market is a shadow of its former self. There are about 300 boats on the water now, down from 550 in 2005, according to the local tourism office.

It has fallen victim to the economic rise of the Mekong Delta, which has rapidly developed over the last decade.

Industrial and construction sectors have created nearly 570,000 jobs, hauling many from poverty.

But people like Ut have been left behind, unable to afford a life on shore.

Even vendors making a decent wage from the tourists who flock to the market yearn for the perks of living on land: better housing, better jobs and modern amenities.

Nguyen Thi Hong Tuoi started working on the water when she was a child, just like her mother and grandmother before her.

Though she earns decent money, she doesn't expect her daughter to carry on the family tradition.

"In the future, I will let my daughter live on land so she can study and have a proper job," the 34-year-old told AFP, as her elderly mother rested in a hammock surrounded by sacks of tapioca on their boat.

It's a common aspiration for young people in Vietnam, where more than half the country's 93 million people are under the age of 30 and eager to move to fast-growing cities for work.

- Supermarket squeeze -

The origins of Cai Rang market reach back to when Vietnam and neighbouring Cambodia and Laos were occupied by the French, who readily exploited the natural resources of the colony previously called Indochina.

The Mekong Delta's web of canals – both natural and man-made – were used to transport goods and people in the absence of a reliable road network.

There are about a dozen surviving markets in Vietnam's Mekong Delta today, though like Cai Rang, many have shrivelled.

"The local government is trying to keep the floating markets alive to (preserve) the culture and attract more tourists," said Nguyen Thi Huynh Phuong, a lecturer at nearby Can Tho University who has researched the market's history.

It still functions as a wholesale market, with vendors waking each day before dawn to load boats with watermelons or radishes and advertising their products by spearing them to a bamboo pole on the bow of the ship.

But its charm also draws millions of visitors each year who buy noodles, fruit and coffee from water traders, making it a well-established pit-stop on the Mekong tourist trail.

Recognising the market as a tourism hotspot, the government designated Cai Rang as a national heritage site last year.

For vendors like Ly Hung, who has lived on the water for 26 years, visitors have helped to maintain a traditional way of life.

"Without tourism this floating market would disappear," he said. — AFP Relaxnews]]>
Travel Sun, 17 Sep 2017 01:21:52 +0000 theSundaily 483061 at
Saint Helena opens to tourism
From October 14, the South African company Airlink will begin weekly flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg. Flight time will be about six hours with a stopover in Namibia. Until now, the tiny British territory was only accessible by boat.

Located in the South Atlantic to the West of the Namibian coast, Saint Helena is one of the world's most inaccessible destinations, a fact that figured large in the decision to imprison Napoleon there in the 19th century.

Until now visitors to the minuscule British territory of 122km² have arrived on the Royal Mail Ship St Helena from South Africa, which takes at least five days to reach the island from Cape Town.

Not surprisingly, the announcement of the new air link amounts to a revolution for the 5,000-strong community that lives on the volcanic tropical island.

Jamestown the first and only port of call

Life in Saint Helena is focused around island's only port, Jamestown, the point of arrival for visitors. The more courageous among them will climb the 699 steps of Jacob's Ladder, a historic staircase that offers panoramic views over the island's capital. Fitter visitors will also be keen to make Jamestown the point of departure for a trek to the nearby Heart Shaped Waterfall.

A tour of the town's parks is also recommended for the opportunity to encounter some of the plants that are endemic to the island. However, for a more potent experience of nature, Diana's Peak National Park, which is located 823 meters above sea level, features native snail and insect species as well of magnificent views on all of the island.

In Napoleon's footsteps

A major event in the island's history, Saint Helena continues to be associated with the French emporer's exile. The former Corsican general spent the last years of his life from 1815 to 1821 on the island, where he initially stayed in the Briars Pavillion before moving to his permanent residence in Longwood House.

Both of these buildings are open to tourists, who usually conclude their historic tour with a visit to Napoleon's tomb.

Combined tickets for all three sites are on sale for £10 (RM55). The Saints, as the islanders call themselves, commemorate Napoleon's death on May 5 every year. — AFP Relaxnews]]>
Travel Thu, 14 Sep 2017 08:19:35 +0000 theSundaily 482189 at
In awe of Auckland
So when AirAsia X offered me the chance to make my way to Auckland, a city in New Zealand's North Island, I knew I had to milk it for all its worth.

The first thing you should do upon arrival is get a 360° bird's eye view from the Sky Tower in Auckland's city centre.

From its 220m Sky Deck, you can get your bearings and plan where to travel in this city which is set on a volcanic field.

And at night, the bright city lights provide a breathtaking view of the landscape.

Auckland is also surrounded by many nearby natural attractions including the region of Rotorua, located two-and-half hours south of Auckland.

Rotorua is mainly known for its geothermal spectacles. You know you've arrived at one of them when you start questioning if someone has silently farted in the bus.

Thanks to the natural heat rising from the Earth's depths, the air here is rich in sulphur. For the uninitiated, it smells like rotten eggs.

To witness Mother Earth in action, travel along the trails of Wai-O-Tapu, which will take you into a park filled with spurting geysers, volcanic craters and bubbling mud pools.

You won't be disappointed when you reach the park's Champagne Pool, with its fog of steam, and the nearby Devil's Bath – a stagnant pond the colour of neon green which resembles toxic waste – smells so strongly of something evil, yet so mystical, that given the chance you would still likely dip your toes in.

Rotorua is also rich in the spirited Maori culture which is strongly connected to the land.

Rotorua's Te Puia centre hosts captivating cultural performances daily, which includes the world-renowned Hakka warrior ritual, right before serving a tantalizing buffet of food steamed traditionally in its geothermal environment.

The centre is also the site of the famous Põhutu geyser, and also has a conservation enclosure where you can glimpse the shy kiwi bird.

Speaking of animals, what about those milk-churning cows? As it turned out, the countryside is full of them!

Our entourage almost tipped the van when the driver stopped to allow us to snap photos of not just ordinary fat cows, but a pen of pregnant ones!

You also can't miss the sight of white cotton balls that are sheep dotting the hills.

If you want a closer look at the farm life without having to throw on dungarees, catch a live show at the family-friendly Agrodome.

You can witness an array of sheep specimens strutting their stuff on-stage, and a wool-shearing demonstration loaded with cheeky jokes.

The place also has a nursery to boot, where visitors can dote on little lambs.

If ungulates are not for you, maybe prawns would serve the family better, with a more relaxing atmosphere at the Huka Prawn Park in Taupo, where you can partake in laid-back activities such as feeding baby prawns, and prawn fishing.

For fans of all things Lord of the Rings, Hobbiton in Matamata needs no introduction, as the place is literally the stuff of ­movies.

Many have left feeling like their lives were completed by their journey to the Shire, where guided tours take visitors into the magical dwellings of Peter Jackson's popular trilogy.

As for the consenting adults, if wine is your poison, you'll be pleased to know that Waiheke is New Zealand's 'island of wine', where it produces its own internationally-recognised vintages for visitors to sip on while taking in vineyard views.

The island also grows and manufactures its own award-winning olive oil.

New Zealand has truly been blessed with an array of breathtaking marvels, from inactive volcanoes which you can watch from cable cars at Skyline Rotorua, to glorious Maori rock carvings which you can see at the end of the Chris Jolly ferry cruise in Lake Taupo. Lake Taupo is also home to the magnificent, gushing Huka Falls.

And for the spacey daydreamers, Waitomo Cave is the stuff of cosmic wonder, with millions of tiny ­glowworms shining their lights in the darkness, giving the cave a secret constellation of its own.

AirAsia X flies to Auckland via Gold Coast daily at greatly attractive prices. Be sure to book tasty Santan meals and other inflight services online for more savings. More details are available at]]>
Travel Tue, 12 Sep 2017 09:50:56 +0000 Siti Afifah Kamarudin 481352 at
Japan: the land of a thousand conveniences
Visitors readying to flock to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics can expect a dizzying array of services in Japan where quirky, futuristic gadgets and everyday conveniences ease the passage through the stresses of daily life.

"Attention to others is at the root of Japanese culture," said Kazuhiro Watanabe, a consumer trends analyst at Nikkei BP consulting group.

It even has its own word in Japanese — omotenashi — or a focus on hospitality. "Here, we anticipate customers' desires," stressed Watanabe.

Don't believe it? How about this typical — if not exhaustive — day in Tokyo.

The alarm goes off. Bleary–eyed, you head to the washroom. It's chilly but don't worry: the toilet seat is heated.

Enjoyed by foreign celebrities and legions of tourists alike, Japan's multi–function toilets have an astonishing range of other features too, from jets to wash yourself, deodorisers or a flushing noise button to cover up embarrassing sounds.

But what if you're alone with a child and nature calls? Many public toilets (spotlessly clean, of course) have infant seats inside the stall. Park baby in the holder and you're good to go.

Back at home, you're late for work and there's no time for breakfast.

So you head to the konbini — Japan's ubiquitous convenience stores — for some food. While you're there, why not pay that electricity bill and pick up fresh socks or underwear while you're at it.

Grab some yen from the ever–present ATM, which itself has a handy umbrella and beverage holder.

Needing a caffeine fix, you can buy a canned coffee — hot or cold — from a vending machine. You won't have to go far: Japan has more than two million drinks vending machines.

Perfection, but at a price

Eating out in Japan is also an exercise in convenience.

Most restaurants come complete with realistic plastic versions of the meals in the windows so the hapless tourist can just point.

And why wait to actually order your lunch? Many eateries have vending machines outside, so you can order your meal before even going in — speeding up the whole process considerably.

Most places also give you a basket so your bag doesn't get dirty on the floor. A hot or cool hand towel — depending on the season — is standard and if you don't have a glass of iced water within a couple of minutes of entering, something has gone very wrong.

On the move, order and service smooth the journey even through the most packed station.

Commuters line up politely and wait for their train. What's the rush when they are always on time and there is always another one about to arrive.

The stress of long–distance travelling is also eased by a courier service known as takuhaibin that will ship bags to your weekend retreat for a modest fee.

Not weighed down by heavy bags, you can line up for the bullet train in an orderly fashion — painted markings on the floor will guide you — and enjoy the seats that rotate so you can watch the scenery at 300 kilometres an hour.

"Japanese are very pragmatic — comfort and practicality are paramount," said Muriel Jolivet, a sociologist who has lived in Japan for four decades.

The country famously has its share of quirky objects too: a book–pillow that lets you catch a few winks in between reading, a shirt fan for those broiling summers, and pocket heaters for winter.

"These kinds of things have always existed," Watanabe said.

"(Japanese) are very good at making existing products better, rather than creating entirely new concepts from scratch."

Does that make Japan the perfect place to live? Maybe not. There are rules, rules and more rules.

"People cannot do what they want — that's the other side of the coin," Watanabe said.

And perfection has a price, Jolivet added.

"There is a psycho–rigidity underneath all this," she said.

"Mistakes are not tolerated." — AFP]]>
Travel Tue, 12 Sep 2017 05:25:30 +0000 theSundaily 481226 at
Ryanair puts an end to their generous carry-on baggage allowance
Citing boarding and flight delays due to the stowage of carry-on baggage, the low-cost carrier will be introducing a new baggage policy that will lower the checked baggage fee and raise the size allowance in a move aimed at encouraging passengers to check their bags.

As of November, checked baggage fees will drop from €35 to €25 (RM177 to RM126), and the bag size allowance will rise from 15kg to 20kg.

Exceptions will be made for Priority Boarding customers and Plus passengers, who will be allowed to bring two carry-on bags.

Priority Boarding can be purchased for €5 at the time of booking or purchased up to one hour prior to scheduled departure for €6.

All other customers will only be allowed one smaller carry-on bag. Second wheelie bags will be placed in the hold.

The new policy is effective November 1.

Ryanair follows on the heels of rival easyJet, which introduced a "Hands Free" baggage option last week, also touted as a way to reduce cabin baggage and overstuffed overhead bins.

Flyers can check their hand luggage – laptop, handbag or backpack – at the Bag Drop desk during check-in, where they will be tagged as priority. The bags will be among the first to be delivered at the baggage belt at arrivals.

Passengers will be given small plastic bags for their essential items like wallet, passport, keys and mobile phone. — AFP Relaxnews]]>
Travel Wed, 06 Sep 2017 13:18:10 +0000 theSundaily 479027 at
International arrivals to Africa to reach 18.6 million in 2017
That figure marks a nearly seven percent increase compared to 2012, when international arrivals topped out at 16.35 million, reports international market research group Euromonitor.

Analysts attribute the growth over the last five years to increased digital integration and cyber connectivity; alliances between hotels, airlines and car rental companies; social media; meta-search engines; the short-term vacation rental market; luxury travel; and niche tourism.

"Many countries are moving away from only promoting Africa as a traditional safari destination, exploring other niche categories such as beach and medical tourism. The travel and tourism market continues to introduce products that suit different type of travellers, accounting for strong growth in major cities across Sub-Saharan Africa," said Euromonitor Research Analyst Christy Tawii.

Safaris aside, visitors are also travelling to the region to visit South African vineyards, for example, catch a wave off the coast, and bask on its beaches.

By 2022, Euromonitor predicts that growth in international arrivals to Sub-Saharan Africa will reach 25 million, thanks to competitive rates, aggressive marketing campaigns and improved air connectivity connecting the region with major markets overseas.

This will be especially true for South Africa and Nigeria.

Meanwhile, an earlier report by Euromonitor also forecast the fastest-growing cities in Africa for 2017, with Kenya leading the charge.

Here are the cities to watch out for:

1. Kisumu, Kenya
2. Eldoret, Kenya
3. Nairobi, Kenya
4. Mombasa, Kenya
5. Nakuru, Kenya
6. Tangier, Morocco
7. Agadir, Morocco
8. Abuja, Nigeria
9. Yaoundé, Cameroon
10. Mansoura, Egypt — AFP Relaxnews]]>
Travel Wed, 06 Sep 2017 13:04:24 +0000 theSundaily 479018 at
The country that tops the best expat destinations 2017 may surprise you
It may not be top of mind, but the small country in the Persian Gulf managed to leapfrog its way from 19th place in 2016 to the top spot this year, due mostly to the ease of settling in and high career satisfaction, as reported by its expat citizens.

For the survey, conducted by networking site InterNations, 13,000 expats representing 166 nationalities, living in 188 countries or territories, were asked to rate 43 different aspects of life in their host country, which were then pooled into six categories: quality of life; ease of settling in; working abroad; family life; personal finance; and the cost of living index.

Expats in Bahrain described the country as a "beautiful melting pot of many different cultures," and local Bahrainis as friendly and welcoming to foreigners.

Because most speak English, respondents said it was easy to settle in, with a quarter of respondents saying they felt at home right away – particularly noteworthy given that a third of these expats had never lived abroad before.

Bahrain also ranked highly in subcategories like job and career, work life balance, along with family life.

Meanwhile, expats in Costa Rica and Mexico reported high levels of satisfaction with their new homes as well, putting their host countries in second and third places respectively.

If making new friends is a high priority in your second life, Costa Rica is the place for you, as it ranks first in the "Finding friends" subcategory.

The sun-soaked country also ranked highly in indices for quality of life, ease of settling and family life.

Of note, nearly a third of respondents in Costa Rica described themselves as retirees.

In third place, perennial favourite Mexico rounds out the podium, with expats giving the country high marks for ease of settling in, personal finance and cost of living.

"The climate is almost perfect, the people are friendly, and the food is to die for," said one Filipino respondent.

Where the country performs poorly, however, is safety and healthcare.

In the all-important quality of life metric, Portugal, Taiwan, and Spain took the top three spots.

Overall, the top 10 list of best expat destinations is mostly made up of countries in sun-soaked, warmer climes, that are rich in culture.

With the exception of New Zealand, conspicuously absent from the top spots are Western, English-speaking countries like the US (43), Canada (16), and the UK (54).

Here are the top 10 expat destinations of 2017, according to InterNations:

1. Bahrain
2. Costa Rica
3. Mexico
4. Taiwan
5. Portugal
6. New Zealand
7. Malta
8. Colombia
9. Singapore
10. Spain

At the bottom of the list are Greece, Kuwait and Nigeria. — AFP Relaxnews]]>
Travel Wed, 06 Sep 2017 11:59:50 +0000 theSundaily 478986 at
Louvre Abu Dhabi: Key figures
Here are some key figures:

»The museum is built on a 97,000m² site on Saadiyat Island, a low-lying island 500m off the coast of Abu Dhabi that is the site of a number of tourism and development projects.

»Engineers had to move 503,000m³ of sand to lay the foundations for the museum.

»The Louvre Abu Dhabi is part of a vast "museum city" that includes 55 white buildings inspired by traditional Arab medinas. It also includes the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, still under construction.

»The museum will host 23 permanent galleries.

»The entire area is covered by a latticework silvery dome that is 36m high, and weighs 7,500 tonnes – almost as much as the Eiffel Tower.

»The dome appears to float, as its four pillars are hidden within the museum.

»The dome is composed of eight superimposed layers: four outer layers in stainless steel and four inner layers separated by a steel structure that is five metres high.

»The layering of 7,850 patterned perforations creates what cinematographers call a "rain of light": each ray of the sun must cross through all eight layers to reach the ground, creating an intricate and ever-shifting pattern.

»Indoor exhibition spaces will cover a total area of 8,600m².

»The museum's galleries will cover 6,400m² and showcase 600 works of art, including 300 loaned by 13 French museums for the inaugural year.

»The space dedicated to temporary exhibitions will cover 2,000m² and children's museum has a dedicated area of 200m².

»The permanent galleries will cover art and artefacts from the earliest Mesopotamian civilisations to the present day.

»The Louvre Abu Dhabi was initiated as a result of an Emirati request and was set up under a 2007 inter-governmental agreement between Paris and Abu Dhabi.

»The Louvre Abu Dhabi is said to have cost funders over one billion euros, including 400 million euros to carry the Louvre name.

»The construction of the museum has been estimated at nearly 600 million euros, but costs have risen due to delays in funding and construction. — AFP]]>
Travel Wed, 06 Sep 2017 10:12:41 +0000 theSundaily 478926 at