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Southeast Asia: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

SOUTHEAST ASIA: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

No longer seen merely as an exotic counterpart to the Occident, South-East Asia has developed an identity all its own over the past few years. You will find very little homogeneity in ASEAN, with every country priding itself on a distant identity concerning culture, religion, cuisine, and traditions.

This vast region is an overwhelming mix of landscapes, from verdant, rolling hills, and isolated islands with white-sand beaches to thick forests and intriguing caves. You can enjoy a range of diverse experiences, and no matter what type of traveler you are, you will find that one special place that will have you returning repeatedly. There are beaches to bum about on, temples, and architectural marvels to visit, hills aplenty to hike, tea estates to unwind at and a whole lot of truly incredible foods to experiment with.

Because we know that you could spend your entire life trying to uncover all of South-East Asia’s treats and not make much headway, we have brought together a collection of the best, unique experiences on offer in the ASEAN countries.

Get off the highway and wander down little, hidden by-lanes where you will discover everything from forgotten tribes, to a mosque built of pure gold, and a swimming pool on top of the world.

Best Travel Ideas for Southeast Asia

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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys

Meetings, Incentive Conferences, and Exhibitions: Vibrant New Destinations

As the economic scenario improves and business sentiment picks up, there’s a buzz in India’s outbound MICE (Meetings, Incentive Conferences, and Exhibitions) market. While the travel industry gears up to keep pace with the growth in demand, we track the vibrant destinations that are soaring high.

With changing dynamics in the global economic scenario, emerging economies in Asia and the Middle East are fast becoming important business destinations; rapid development and huge investments in infrastructure and manufacturing, IT services, healthcare, hospitality and many other sectors. As a consequence, increase in business activities have led to a boom in the travel sector’s MICE (Meetings, Incentive, Conferences and Exhibitions) segment, which is all set to record good growth. “Despite the economic slowdown over the last few years, cost sensitivities and tightening of budgets by most corporates, our MICE business has seen a superlative performance of over 25-30 per cent growth year-on-year. The bragging rights and strong appeal of “foreign” travel works like magic as a reward and performance incentive. Hence, the growth trajectory of MICE is a real and a strongly viable one,” says Rajeev Kale, President and COO, MICE, Domestic, Sports Holidays, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd.

Karan Anand, Head, Relationships, Cox & Kings Ltd, concurs with him. “The MICE market is dominated by the Incentive business. We see this business growing at approximately 25-30 per cent year-on year. The Meetings and Exhibition business will grow at a steady pace of 20 per cent. Overall, it looks very positive,” he states.

Gardens by the Bay Park in Singapore

Good infrastructure, excellent connectivity, hotels, convention and conference centers to accommodate large crowds are the hallmarks of a good MICE destination, opines travel consultant Munish Talreja. Preferential air fares, special accommodation, transportation rates, custom, immigration facilitation and adequate facilities for all sizes of conventions, meetings, etc. make countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Dubai a viable MICE option. These destinations are apt for Indian companies as they offer distinct advantages like short travelling time, world-class infrastructure, good connectivity and numerous tourist attractions at competitive rates.

Per the Union of International Associations’ (UIA) 2012 Global Rankings, Singapore has been ranked as the world’s foremost city and country for international meetings, titles the city-state is holding for the third and seventh consecutive year, respectively. Its popularity as a MICE destination lies in its pro-business environment and strategic location within Asia, which creates a valuable platform for collaboration and exchange, while creating a springboard from which to expand further into the region. Singapore’s strong knowledge economy also sets the stage for many thought leadership events. Added to this is the city’s world-class MICE facilities, easy accessibility to a wide variety of leisure offerings as well as attractive incentive schemes.

“From a business perspective, companies take their employees on MICE events for knowledge-sharing, networking, brainstorming—all of which require a clutter-free, rejuvenating environment. In that sense, Singapore and London fit the bill; Singapore mainly because of the ease and convenience in reaching the destination, the comfort and hygiene it offers,” Ashutosh Labroo, Director (Human Capital), ISS India, points out.

According to sources from Singapore Tourism, in 2013, approximately one quarter of Indian visitors to Singapore went there for business or MICE purposes, with the segment contributing about 54 per cent of the India’s total tourism receipts. With positive sentiments within the Indian market and the increase in opportunities to collaborate between both countries, this number is expected to increase in the long run.

According to Kale, access, budget, duration, climate, MICE infrastructure/facilities and comparative value-driven air and land pricing are factors that influence the selection process of a destination. While short haul destinations are both convenient and hit the value sweet spot, the focus today is more on vibrant new destinations and experiences. “Hence, we’ve seen Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, USA & Canada, Philippines emerging strongly. Of course, the evergreen favorites continue to be Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand,” he cites.

Corporate houses are now seeking new destinations in their budget bands or new locations and experiences in popular destinations. “As India is emerging as the biggest outbound market in the world, many tourism boards and product owners are making a beeline to India. This gives the corporate houses a wider choice and competitive prices,” states Adil Bajirao, Vice President – Tours, Gilpin Tours & Travel Management (India).

Centara Grand & Bangkok Convention Centre at CentralWorld, Bangkok, Thailand

The top destinations in terms of numbers continue to be Thailand, Malaysia, and Dubai, according to Anand.

Other destinations that have found favor with corporates are Abu Dhabi, Macau and Hong Kong. In terms of upmarket incentive destinations, Canada, USA and New Zealand are preferred, he says. Thailand has been surging ahead as a favorite tourist spot for some time now. Sources from the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau say they expect to see at least 10 per cent growth in the outbound MICE market from India to Thailand and more importantly, are expecting a rise in high-end groups from India.

  • Thailand has world-class infrastructure and excellent connectivity by air from across India including all the major cities. It offers high-end options to corporates at great value for money. Plans are underway to develop several cities as MICE cities. Currently, Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen have been classified as MICE cities.
  • Malaysia, another key destination, is increasingly becoming the first choice for business events being staged in Asia because it is a microcosm of Asian cultures and business practices. Moreover, it offers competitively-priced facilities, accommodation, transportation and affordable food. “A rich fusion of Asian cultures and culinary delights, spectacular natural attractions and idyllic island resorts continue to inspire and motivate business event visitors in Malaysia. Understanding the importance of the MICE industry to the economy, the Malaysian government through the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau offers various assistance and incentives to organizers of MICE,” Mazlan Harun, Trade Commissioner at MATRADE, the Malaysian government’s National Trade Promotion Agency.
  • The MICE industry has been growing in leaps and bounds in the Middle East too and it has not been affected by recent political disturbances in this area of the world. “Dubai is a well-established market for MICE events, with top-notch infrastructure facilities, superb connectivity and short distance from India. It is facing strong competition from other destinations but has excelled because of its ability to sustain itself with new attractions to woo even repeat travelers to the destination. Abu Dhabi has also been faring very well with full support from the state. Qatar is another promising destination, where good connectivity offered by Qatar Airways and the short distance from India make it a viable option for MICE events,” notes Shaikh Rahmatullah, Director, NAFA Tourism Consultancy.

With changing demographics and stiff competition, motivation requirements are at an all-time high. New unexplored destinations and unique and engaging experiences today are the predominant factors for corporates undertaking MICE travel. “While MICE offers the opportunity to discover new destinations, the added advantage of interest-based activity, team bonding outdoors/soft adventure add up to the unique quotient offering a truly “wow experience”. In order to cater to this demand, many destinations are promoting activities that travelers can engage in. Travelers are lured by destinations such as New Zealand for adventure sports and outdoor fun like white/black water rafting; South Africa for canopy walks and shark dives, Red Sea port city of Eilat in the South of Israel for snorkeling and desert safaris, Morocco for Berber treks and Australia for surfing sand dunes and so on,” explains Kale.

“A few emerging new outbound destinations in the budget category are Vietnam, Cambodia, Abu Dhabi, Philippines, Oman and new locations in existing destinations like Hua Hin or Krabi or Koh Samui or Chiang Mei in Thailand and Penang or Kota Kinabalu or Langkawi in Malaysia to name a few. In the above $875 per person category, Poland, Czech Republic, South Korea, Jordan, Israel are few emerging new destinations. Then, there are new locations in popular destinations like Zermatt or Geneva in Switzerland, Garden route in South Africa, Zanzibar in Tanzania to name a few,” states Bajirao.

Some Popular Meetings, Incentive Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) Destinations

Putrajaya International Convention Centre, Malaysia

Malaysia: Malaysia is strategically located in the world’s largest and fastest growing economic region, with English-speaking yet multilingual population, one of the best value—for money destinations, economically and politically stable environment, excellent accessibility and first-class infrastructure. Some of its renowned convention and exhibition centers are the award-winning Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK). Next to the iconic PETRONAS Twin Towers, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre is at the heart of over 12,000 hotel rooms, extensive shopping and entertainment facilities, and convenient transport connections. Only an hour-and-a-half’s flight away is the Borneo Convention Centre, which is located in the ecofriendly state of Sarawak, East Malaysia. MATRADE organizes various buying missions in-conjunction with major trade exhibitions in Malaysia. Buyers/ Importers/ Distributors for the following products are welcome to pre-register for the buying missions:

  • Electrical & Electronic Products
  • Fashion, Apparel and Accessories
  • Footwear
  • Furniture
  • Food and beverages
  • Gifts, Souvenirs and Jewelry
  • Household products
  • Machinery and Equipment
  • Oil & Gas
  • Palm Oil Based Products
  • Pharmaceuticals, Toiletries and Cosmetics
  • Plastic Products
  • Rubber Based Products
  • Wood Based Products

Thailand: From budget hotels to the stately Grand Palace, Thailand has something on offer for everyone. It has an array of destinations ranging from the bustling city life in Bangkok, sun -and-sand options like Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui, Krabi along with hill stations like Chiang Mai – all of these cities offer world-class, state-of – the -art convention venues. Visitors can soak in the mesmerizing beauty of the Emerald Buddha Temple in Bangkok or board a flight to Thailand’s northern capital, Chiang Mai, to experience indigenous Thailand, with luxury award-winning retreats set amongst beautiful lush green paddy fields, jungle experiences and night markets.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is another favorite destination for MICE events. Its excellent business support infrastructure, good airports, perfect accommodation, and other entertainment and recreation options make it a strong contender. Hong Kong’s proximity to mainland China and is an added advantage. As an international business and trading hub, Hong Kong is home to top-notch hotels and infrastructure. Easy accessibility makes it an ideal destination for MICE events.

Songdo Convensia Convention Center in Incheon, South Korea

Seoul: Apart from excellent meeting facilities and a world-class infrastructure, Seoul offers a rich history, scenic locations and an array of unique recreational attractions to the discerning MICE traveler. Sources from Korean Air, which operates three direct flights a week from Mumbai to Seoul, agree that there has been an increase in the MICE movement from India to Korea. COEX, Kintex and Songdo Convensia are three of its main exhibition/conference areas.

Singapore: Singapore offers an excellent range of state-of-the-art convention centers, exhibition halls, and meeting venues for MICE that suit a variety of needs and budgets. The Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre, newly renovated Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre and the Singapore Expo with its MAX Atria wing, are suitable for large-scale international exhibitions and conferences. Some attractions that integrate MICE facilities together with unique leisure offerings include the S.E.A. Aquarium, The Singapore Zoo, Gardens by the Bay, and Singapore Turf Club to name a few.

Dubai: In just two decades, Dubai has risen from the desert sands to become one of the world’s most recognized destinations. It boasts of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, Palm Jumeirah – the iconic marvel and many malls. Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (DICEC) has more than 90,000 square meters of exhibition and meeting space, while four other hotel properties can accommodate conferences for up to 2,000 delegates. Dubai was home to 603 hotel establishments in the first half of 2013 and a total of 81,492 hotel rooms. With recent openings including the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, The Oberoi Dubai, and JA Ocean View Hotel.

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Posted in Global Business Travels and Journeys

How Thailand and its Neighbors are Courting Foreign Investments

Thailand and its Neighbors are Courting Newcomers

Forty years ago, Thailand was known among foreigners as an idyllic beachfront tourist destination, rather than a lucrative investment destination. Fast-forward almost four decades, and Thailand’s Board of Investment is attracting foreign businesses looking for opportunities to tap into a growing list of manufacturing and service industries. Sectors including automotive, alternative energy, biotech, petrochemicals, food processing, and electronics are growing and attracting foreign attention. Investment applications have reached an all-time high in the last few years, with $33.5 billion invested in 2012 alone.

The Thailand Board of Investment (BoI), a government agency started in 1966, has helped spur innovation by decreasing the time of back-and-forth it takes for foreign businesses to operate in Thailand. Companies promoted by the BOI can obtain work permits or visa approval or renewals within three hours, in addition to tax and other incentives offered by the BOI, such as waived restrictions on foreign ownership and exemptions on import duties. For investors, including multinationals such as Dow Chemical Co., part of the draw is the tax incentives and a home base for expanding operations in a still-booming Southeast Asia. This year, Thailand was rated 18th on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index—out of 189 economies. The country has become the world’s largest producer of hard disk drives and the world’s 12th-largest exporter of food, and world’s 10th-largest automotive manufacturer, according to 2013 figures.

Thailand’s growing connectedness is becoming a draw. Infrastructure investment has helped connect Thailand to its neighbors via highways, making it a well-located home base for doing business in neighboring China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia. A high-speed rail network that reaches as far as southern China is due to open by 2022, and Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, already Asia’s sixth-busiest, is in the midst of a $2 billion facelift to handle 60 million annual fliers by 2017.

Bangkok Thailand Skyline

The next two years will result in a major economic makeover for all of Southeast Asia. By late 2015, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has 10 member countries, will form the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The AEC, a regional integration initiative similar to the EU, will encourage the flow of skilled labor, services, investment, capital and goods between member countries including Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

For AEC nations, the hope is that unified economic goals can strengthen the region on an international scale. In the next two years, 14 million high-skilled jobs, 38 million medium-skilled jobs and 12 million low-skilled jobs are estimated to be added, according to a study from the International Labour Organization and the Asian Development Bank. When combined, ASEAN’s GDP tops $2.3 trillion and beats out the economies of Brazil, Russia and India, according to data from the IMF’s World Economic Outlook database.

With instability in parts of the Middle East and continuing conflict in Eastern Europe, emerging Southeast Asian economies are becoming even more important to investors, which is one reason why ASEAN 1s the top destination in Asia for U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI).

Southeast Asia is fast becoming a key location for the crossroads of global trade. Indeed, ASEAN’s many trade agreements give it access to India, China, Japan, South Korea and Australia. As the AEC deadline approaches, many multinational firms are crafting strategies to take advantage of the new opportunities. With varying stages of economic development and available workforce among these countries and their 620 million people, knowing how to tap into the region’s growing middle class can be especially difficult for companies looking to enter the region. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, it’s a welcome challenge for companies taking advantage of Southeast Asia’s increasing integration.

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Posted in Business and Strategy Global Business

PHILIPPINES: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

Best Destinations in Philippines

This is a cocktail of a country, potent and heady. The Philippines does not believe in leaving anything out, so its 7,000-plus islands boast Malay, Chinese, Spanish and indigenous influences, not to mention religious traditions rooted in Islam. Catholicism, animism and everything in between. This country crams as much on its plate as it possibly can, so you will need a clear head to take it all in.

Philippines: At a Glance

Experience the Best Attractions of Philippines

  1. Intramuros, Spanish Walled City within Manila A Shot of Culture: Intramuros, the Spanish walled city within Manila, has a history and culture all its own, and is worth spending a day or two exploring. Start at the Intramuros Visitors Centre, located right by the entrance to Fort Santiago, and wander about the lanes lined with lovely casas until you reach San Augustin, Manila’s oldest stone church. You can also tour Intramuros on a kalesa—a horse-drawn carriage, though walking has its own charm.
  2. Surfing in Siargao, Mindanao, Philippines Surf’s Up: If your beach bum-turn-surfer self is calling out to you, head to Siargao, in the northeast of Mindanao. Time seems to stand still here, as you hitch rides on the famous Cloud 9 break and gaze, over chilled beer, upon skies softening into sunsets. In October, crowds descend on the sleepy island for the Siargao Cup surf competition, one of the Philippines’s largest sporting events.
  3. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, Philippines A Whole New World: The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River is a marvel of limestone stalactites and stalagmites, and can be accessed on a kayak tour. As you drift into the cave, take in the weird formations sculpted out of the rock over the centuries. You will spot a melting candle by one side, or a rampaging dinosaur on the other!
  4. Apo Reef Island, Philippines Fall Off the Grid: Apo Reef is off the tourist map, which means that you will have the secluded Apo Reef Island and its surrounding reef pretty much all to yourself. You will have a great time being one with the fish as you swim, snorkel, and dive to your heart’s content, emerging only for meals of fresh seafood.
  5. Taal Volcano in Talisay, Philippines An Active Getaway: Climb to the top of the overwhelming Taal Volcano in Talisay, where the bubbling green waters of the Taal Lake await. Within the lake sits yet another volcano, steaming away gently. The trip to the top can be tiring but there are horses available for the less active, and the views from up there are well worth the journey.
  6. Makati City, Metro Manila's financial heart, Philippines Retail Therapy: Indulge yourself in Metro Manila’s financial heart, Makati City, and its Greenbelt mall. You will find a range of treats here—the mall has both open-air and enclosed areas, sit-down as well as fast food eateries, and big international brands (think Calvin Klein, Hermes, and the like) along with high-end and Filipino designer boutiques.
  7. Pristine Islands off the coast at El Nido, Philippines Hop About: Head to the pristine islands off the coast at gorgeous El Nido. There are multiple islands to choose from, each of which is prettier than the other. You can spend your days lazing about on white sands, exploring the area on kayaks and snorkeling among the many colorful fish that call these waters home. If you are lucky you may spot a hawksbill turtle or two, and you may come across dolphins, whale sharks, dugongs, and mantra rays.
  8. Banaue's Rice Terraces, UNESCO-listed World Heritage site Be Bucolic: Get a taste of the Filipino countryside and spend some time amid Banaue’s rice terraces. These rice terraces are a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site, gracefully sculpted into the hillside by the Ifugao people of this quiet little farming community.
  9. Rolling green hills in Batanes, Philippines Get High: You could be forgiven for thinking you are in Scotland when you visit Batanes, the country’s northernmost province. Expect rolling green hills, towering fortresses and the like among the ten islands here.
  10. Slow-roasted Suckling Pig, Philippines Life’s a Feast: You will have a great time going on an eating binge in the Philippines, especially if you love meat. Pork, in particular, plays a big role in the cuisine here, and a slow-roasted suckling pig is the best treat to be had. Even if you are not a big pork-eater, Manila is where you should aim to experiment with your eats and get an introduction to the many flavors that make up Filipino food.
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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys

MYANMAR: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

Best Sights of Myanmar

Mandalay, Bagan, Inle, and Yangon—these names all conjure up the wonder that is Myanmar, at least in a traveler’s mind. Now, you have the freedom to venture a little farther as well. With recent reforms easing restrictions in this proud country, it is finally time to see what Myanmar has been hiding away all these years.

Myanmar: At a Glance

Experience the Best Attractions of Myanmar

  1. Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, Yangon Architecture 101: Former capitals are full of old glory and great architecture, and Yangon is not far behind. Spend the day marveling at the colossal reclining Buddha at Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, the gold-hued Botataung Pagoda and Sule Pagoda, the Burmese Yangon City and the colonial-styled Supreme Court.
  2. Bogyoke Aung San Market, Yangon Hunt for Bargains: The Bogyoke Aung San Market (sometimes known by its British name, Scott’s Market) is a sprawling old handicrafts bazaar of around 2,000 shops. Spend the day alongside locals, haggling for colorful Shan shoulder bags, and interesting bits of local arts and crafts, jewelry, ancient antiques, and lacquer ware.
  3. Mohinga, Rice noodles served with fish soup It’s All Rice: Rice, in all its forms, is a staple in the distinctive cuisine of Myanmar. Rice noodles served with fish soup, known locally as mohinga, are a favorite breakfast dish, and are usually eaten on special occasions.
  4. Mandalay Hill, Myanmar Get a Bird’s Eye View: Climb up Mandalay Hill for an all-encompassing view of how flat Mandalay really is. You will see the Irrawaddy twisting across the land from up here, while you help a local monk brush up his English. This hallowed spot is where Buddha once prophesied the founding of a great city.
  5. Inle Lake Boating, Myanmar Row, Row, Row Your Boat: Surrounded by greenery and marshes, cool morning mists, villages of houses on stilts and floating gardens, the Inle Lake is usually pretty. You can get around the lake on a motorized canoe, or ask around if you want to float about on a traditional flat-bottomed Intha skiff.
  6. Myinkaba Age-old lacquer, Myanmar Art Lessons: Bagan, in the Mandalay region, brims with graceful ruins of old temples, pagodas, and stupas. Between Old and New Bagan, the village of Myinkaba boasts an age-old lacquer ware tradition; you can spend hours rummaging through excellently crafted cups, plates, and boxes, wondering just how many you can fit into your luggage.
  7. Bawbawgyi Pagoda, Thayekhittaya Wander through Ruins: Thayekhittaya or the ‘Fabulous City’ a Pyu capital of long ago, was destroyed almost as long ago by Chinese invaders, and today, it has been nominated for a UNESCO World Heritage listing. Rumble through the ruins among the overgrown bush on an ox cart, and explore the Bawbawgyi Pagoda, one of the oldest in the city, and the Leimyethna Pagoda, with Buddhist relief carvings.
  8. Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon Pagoda Sunsets: Make your way up to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon as the sun begins to set, the golden spires of the temple light up, monks glide past and local residents trickle in to pay their respects as the sky takes on various colors of pink, oranges and blues. Look for a quiet spot, settle down, and enjoy the peace of the evening.
  9. Mount Popa, Myanmar Find Your Spiritual Side: Go forth and find your holy spirit at Mount Popa, an extinct volcano and the abode of 37 nats or local spirits, once so important that the early kings were rumored to consult them on crucial matters. The solitary peak is covered in stupas; the statues at the base are of the spirits.
  10. Irrawaddy River, Myanmar I am with Stupa: Sagaing lies along the Irrawaddy River, across the only bridge that spans it. It is dotted with white and gold pagodas that shimmer away in the sun, and if you clamber up the tree-hung stairways past ancient monasteries that lead up to various viewpoints, the spectacle of stupas is something else.
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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys

INDONESIA: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

Sights and Sounds of Indonesia

The Indonesian archipelago is a incredible blend of exceptional cultures, adventure experiences, and indigenous wildlife that goes way beyond the much-explored realms of Bali. There is no better way to step off the tourist trail and have a assortment of holiday stories that no one else will than with a trip through these 17,000 islands

Indonesia: At a Glance

Experience the Best Attractions of Indonesia

  1. Indonesia Wayang Puppets Get Your Cocoa On: ‘Monggo’ is Javanese for ‘please, go ahead’ and when you taste these scrumptious Indonesian chocolates, you will definitely want to go ahead and eat them by the handful. If Willy Wonka lived outside our heads, we are sure that these scrumptious, dark, locally made treats would be his trademark. Leave room in your bag for them!
  2. Emerald Green Waters of Gill Islands, Lombok Dive into the Deep: Far away and remote, the sparkling clear emerald green waters of the Gill Islands off Lombok are stunning, and diving heaven. Get your scuba gear on—there are hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles, manta rays, reef sharks, lionfish and many funny looking parrotfish to rub fins with swimming amid all the colorful coral.
  3. Borobudur Buddhist Temple Truly In-spired: Huge temples in rice fields seem to be South East Asia’s thing, and, just like Angkor War, Borobudur is spectacular in itself. An enigmatic Buddhist temple complex rising out of too-green-to-be-true rice paddies, surrounded by volcanic peaks reaching for the skies, it looks like it arrived at the beginning of time. There are monasteries around at which visitors are welcome; you can even join the monks in the prayer chanting.
  4. Komodo Island Tail Tales: Watch out for forked, snake-like tongues on Komodo Island, notable because its home to the world’s largest lizard, the unique and badass Komodo dragon. The largest island in Komodo National Park, surrounded by pink shores and red coral, it is also where you can trek and walk through rural fishing villages on stilts.
  5. Seminyak, Bali Boutiques Shop Your Way through Seminyak: Glitzy Seminyak, home to galleries, local Balinese boutiques, restaurants and excellent hotels lining the beaches, is a whole other world. Go window-shopping on Abhimanyu Street, famous for its exclusive boutiques.
  6. Smoky volcanic hills of Berastagi Misty Mountaintops: Climb up the smoky volcanic hills of Berastagi, where it is always cool and green. Gunung Sibayak and Gunung Sinabung each take a day to hike, and are very easy to get to.
  7. Ubud, Bali Art it Up: As you saw in Eat, Pray, Love was very real— Ubud is serene, impossibly green, and full of art and character. Spend your days soaking in the culture, browsing through local artisans’ shops and whiling the afternoons away in a cafe.
  8. Nasi Goreng, Indonesian Fried Rice Eat Your Heart Out: If you will come back missing something, all bets are on the food. Indonesian cuisine is mouth-watering, colorful and for lack of a better word, delicious. Snack on lightly spiced nasi goreng topped with a fried egg for breakfast, lap up fiery curries and banana-wrapped fish, and enjoy that staple, spicy chili-flavored sambal.
  9. Nusa Tenggara Islands, Indonesia Go Local: Just east of Bali, the islands of Nusa Tenggara are diverse. Discover native animistic rituals and long-running tribal traditions that co-exist alongside Islamic Lombok and Catholic Bores.
  10. Javan Rhinoceros Of Coffee and Rhinos: Java has a fair bit going for it. Surrounded by the aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean, there are temples, tropical islands, and brilliant surf breaks. Glug down some of that world famous Javan coffee, and go looking for the Javan rhino, one of the rarest mammals in the world.
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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys

CAMBODIA: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

Cambodian Buddhist Monks at Bayon Temple

Replete with history and lore, it is tragic, violent past having left it with on uphill struggle towards stability Cambodia is a beautiful study in charisma and strength. The country has grown rapidly over the last few years, showing residents’ eagerness to re-build their homeland and be at one with the world. Cambodia is shaped like a heart, and you can feel the beat everywhere

Cambodia: At a Glance

Experience the Best Attractions of Cambodia

  1. Angkor Temple Complex in Cambodia Temple Trails: The ancient city of Angkor and its archaeological marvels are Cambodia’s biggest draw, and with good reason. Base yourself at bustling Siem Reap and prepare yourself for a whole lot of walking and gawking. You could spend days exploring grand Angkor Wat, which was built as a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, as well as other ruins like Bayon and Ta Phrom (fun fact: the Angelina Jolie-starrer Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was shot here).
  2. Cambodia Countryside Two Wheels Good: For a very different perspective and a completely new holiday experience, sign up for a bicycle tour. You can choose from set routes or customize an itinerary that includes everything you would like to see, and then just pedal away! You’ll get a chance to experience Cambodia’s countryside, interact with the locals and taste food as it is eaten at home here, and take in the iconic sights, all on two wheels. Trust us; there is no better way to do it.
  3. Choeung Ek War Memorial, Cambodia Lessons in History: Gain an insight into Cambodia’s history at the beautifully maintained Choeung Ek War Memorial. At the site of the Khmer Rouge’s notorious ‘killing fields’, this memorial tells the stories of the regime’s victims, and is a must-visit for a well-rounded understanding of this country and its tumultuous past.
  4. Tonle Sap Lake the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia Float Away: Discover the life of a different kind of nomad, and visit some of the unique floating villages that can be found on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia. Just a half-hour’s drive out of Siem Reap will have you at the jetty where boats wait to spirit you off to see the Chong Khneas floating village, with its medley of homes, shops and fisheries.
  5. Koh Tonse Island, Kampot, Cambodia Dive Under: Head to the south of the country and relax on gorgeous, secluded Koh Tonse Island, just off the coast at Kampot. Surrounded by the azure waters of the Andaman Sea, this is a perfect spot for swimming, snorkeling or just perfecting that tan as you stuff yourself silly on the fresh seafood available at the shacks on the beach.
  6. Khmer and French Colonial Architecture, Kratie, Mekong River Make Some Friends: Head to the sleepy town of Kratie, nestled on the banks of the mighty Mekong River, for a chance to spot the Irrawaddy dolphins that are occasionally seen here. These rare freshwater dolphins are worth making the excursion for, and the untouched pockets of Khmer and French colonial architecture that survive here only sweeten the deal!
  7. French colonial architectural heritage at Battambang Go Back in Time: Step back into another era and explore the best of Cambodia’s French colonial architectural heritage at Battambang. A town that can be visited for a day or over a longer stretch for a more leisurely experience, here, you will find classic examples of life at that time in the grand old houses.
  8. Waterfalls in Mondulkiri province, Cambodia Get Drenched: Make the most of the Cambodian outdoors and visit the Mondulkiri province. This verdant region is perfect for intrepid travelers, with thundering waterfalls like Boo Sea and Sen Monorum to cool down at, and hill tribes to interact with.
  9. Slok Ngor Cambodian Dish Running Amok: Fish amok is one of Cambodia’s best-known dishes, though variations are available in neighboring countries. Cambodians use an herb known as slok ngor, which has a bitter taste that sets the dish apart. Fish amok comes as a mousse made with coconut milk and a ljliuv Khmer curry paste made with shallots, lemongrass, galangal and turmeric.
  10. Friends Restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Make a Difference: Giving back does not have to be hard! Dig into a delicious meal at Friends Restaurant in Phnom Penh, and you will be helping the local community. This eatery dishes up great food, and is staffed by and benefits street youth.
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VIETNAM: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

Flating Markets in Vietnam

Gorgeous beaches, buzzing, neon-lit cities, great food, idyllic countryside … there is little that this country does not have to offer. You may find yourself most comfortable on Hanoi’s slim by-lanes, or prefer the vast, open spaces of Holong Bay, but one thing’s for sure – Vietnam definitely punches above its weight.

Vietnam: At a Glance

Experience the Best Attractions of Vietnam

  1. Hoi An's Ancient Town Time Travel: A trip to Hoi An’s Ancient Town is a trip into another era—one of a cosmopolitan trading port with Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese influences. The narrow, sun-washed lanes are a joy to explore, with ancestral homes, assembly halls, and pagodas to stop in at for a break.
  2. Rice-paddy fields in Vietnam Easy Riders: Go back to a simpler time with a visit to Mai Chau. This verdant valley is a world away from the buzz of Vietnam’s cities, and is surrounded by rolling hills carpeted by lush rice-paddy fields. Mai Chau is also home to some hill tribes, and you could learn more about their culture by spending a night or two in their homes.
  3. Cal Be Floating market, River Mekong Market Days: Get a taste of modern-day Vietnamese life with a cruise down the River Mekong to the Cal Be floating market. This colorful market is where many locals trade in fresh fruits and vegetables.
  4. Con Dan Islands, Vietnam A Flash of Color: Once the home of Vietnamese prisoners, the pristine beauty of the Con Dan Islands will be quick to charm you. This chain of 15 islands is a lovely mix of great beaches, colorful reefs, stunning bays, and thick forest cover.
  5. Cu Chi Tunnels, near Ho Chi Minh City Tunnel Vision: No matter how much you may have read about it, nothing prepares you for the maze of tunnels that run under Cu Chi, near Ho Chi Minh City. These tunnels were used by the Vietnamese as a way to evade the American forces, and provide an insight to life through the Vietnamese War.
  6. Hue Perfume River, capital of the Nguyen Empire Hue Calling: Once the capital of the Nguyen Empire, Hue is worth spending a few days in. Bisected by the Perfume River, so called because in autumn, flowers from upstream scent its waters, this city has a wealth of architectural marvels to be discovered.
  7. Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City Lessons Learned: For an introduction to Vietnam’s history, a visit to the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is necessary. The Reunification Palace has been maintained as it was at the time of the Fall of Saigon. The War Remnants Museum, divided into three levels, explains the Vietnam War through photographs and accounts from survivors, and makes for a poignant experience.
  8. water puppet performance, Hanoi Water Ways: While you are in Hanoi, go for a water puppet performance. This enthralling show depicts Vietnamese life, and is great if you are travelling with kids. Modern Vietnam continues the theater tradition that started with farmers and the rural community using puppets that they held up as they stood up to their waists in the water of the rice paddies.
  9. Bun bo Hue, Vietnamese soup Meat Feast: Bun bo Hue is a central Vietnamese take on noodle soup. A rich, luscious broth filled with beef, pork, and thick rice noodles, this makes for a fuller meal than noodle meals in the north and south of the country.
  10. sand dunes of Mui lotus lakes Dune Deal: Look out across the desert-like horizon and you will wonder if you are in the Sahara. The sand dunes of Mui Ne seem as though they would be more at home there than in south-east Vietnam. Grab a board and surf the sandy waves, then stop and admire the lovely lotus lakes hidden within them.
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MALAYSIA: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

Malaysia is a popular honeymoon and holiday destination

A melting pot of thriving culture, gorgeous landscapes, filled with everything from islands to beaches to major metropolises, Malaysia is the throbbing force in the heart of South East Asia. A popular honeymoon and holiday destination, there’s lots to do and discover here, for both the laid-back traveler and the adventurous explorer

Malaysia: At a Glance

Experience the Best Attractions of Malaysia

  1. UNESCO GeoPark in Langkawi, Malaysia Luxury in Langkawi: If you are looking for a lazy, luxuriant vacation with lots of sun, sea and sand, head to Langkawi for a holiday amid beautiful surroundings, lush rainforests, mysterious mangroves and an abundance of wildlife and marine creatures in this archipelago of 99 islands, which is also a designated UNESCO GeoPark.
  2. Snorkel in Perhentian, Malaysia Hippie Hideaway: Lying off the northeast coast of peninsular Malaysia, Perhentian is a veritable haunt for backpackers and wandering artists. The waters here are clear, so much so that you can snorkel straight off the beach and still see a wide array of marine creatures. If you are feeling a little more active, you can hire a boat and spend a day swimming with sharks and turtles, then hit the beach bars in the evening.
  3. Rich Marine Life in Tioman, Malaysia Picture-perfect Tioman: Used as a backdrop in the musical South Pacific, Tioman is known as one of the exquisite islands in the world on account of its tear-topography, rich marine if and blue waters. Its natural beauty, countless kinds of and sea creatures are only a few of Tioman’s many charms.
  4. Pangkor Laut Resort, Malaysia Place to Indulge: A little indulgence is in order on every holiday and you cannot get better than Pangkor for just that. The Pangkor Laut Resort is set amid a rainforest and you will be surrounded by lapping water, white sand, and stunning Emerald Bay during all your pampering.
  5. Sipadan Turtle Tomb, Malaysia Underwater Art: Rising 600 meters from the seabed and formed by living corals growing on an extinct volcano over thousands of years, Sipadan hosts all manner of beautiful marine life. Home to 3,000 species of fish, including sharks, rays and parrotfish, the pearl of this region is the famous Turtle Tomb, located in an underwater labyrinth.
  6. Penang, Malaysia Food & Fusion in Penang: A unique mixture of east and west and deliciously flavorful cuisine makes Penang a great spot for visitors. It is known for sandy beaches, monuments, historical and cultural discoveries, and oodles of old-world charm.
  7. Redang Archipelago, Malaysia White Sands: Forming a marine park of nine islands off the eastern peninsular Malaysian state of Terengganu, the Redang archipelago is the perfect summer destination, with pristine beaches and inviting waters. For a change from the perfectly preserved coral and smooth sands, Redang has plenty of interesting wildlife, including deer and monitor lizards.
  8. Sibu Island, Malaysia Island Getaway: If you are looking for a few days away from the cities, Sibu Island beckons. An idyllic holidaymakers’ paradise, Sibu offers quiet beaches, resorts, and lessons in diving and snorkeling for the amateur water-baby.
  9. Legoland in Johor, Malaysia No Kidding About: Give your little ones (and yourself) a special treat and pencil in some time for the very cool Legoland that is opened in Johor. Your day will go by before you know it! The resort opened on 15-Sep-2012 with over 40 interactive rides, shows and attractions.
  10. Asam Laksa, Malaysia's Favorite Dish Going Sour: A sour fish soup, asam laksa is one of Malaysia’s favorite dishes. Asam (or asam jawa) is the Malay word for tamarind. The main ingredients are shredded fish, cucumber, onions, red chilies, pineapple, lettuce, and pink bunga kantan (torch ginger). Asam laksa is normally served with rice noodles or vermicelli, and topped with a sweet shrimp paste.
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BRUNEI: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

Best Sights of Brunei

Rich in oil, yet oozing with unspoilt charm, Brunei is too often dismissed by travelers. Nestled between the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, Brunei is almost entirely covered by pristine tropical rainforest with vibrant cultural landscapes that’s just waiting to be explored

Brunei: At a Glance

Experience the Best Attractions of Brunei

  1. Sultan Omar All Saifuddien Mosque, Bandar Seri Begawan Heavenly Beauty: With a dome made of pure gold, imported marble from Italy and a man-made lagoon, the Sultan Omar All Saifuddien Mosque is the pride of Bandar Seri Begawan. The mosque is visible from anywhere in the city, and the view from the top of the main minaret is enough to make you believe in heaven. At night, the mosque is lit up, literally illuminating its splendor!
  2. Diving in Brunei near Bandar Seri Begawan Dive Right In: Some of the best diving sites in the world are located off the coast of Brunei. The good news is, most of them have not been discovered yet. As an explorer, you therefore gain access to serene, clear waters, unspoilt reefs, and marine life and discover a few shipwrecks all on your own before the crowd gets wind of them.
  3. Pasar Gadong night market, Bandar Seri Begawan Midnight Feast: You are on holiday; you should be able to eat anytime you feel like it. Indulge those annoying nighttime hunger pangs at the Pasar Gadong night market. Choose from a tempting array of kebabs, seafood, and noodles, or taste a bit of all if you cannot make a choice. The food here is delicious and very affordable, and it will be hard to tear yourself away from all those tasty treats.
  4. Ambuyat, Brunei's national dish Eat What?: Ambuyat, Brunei’s national dish, may raise a few eyebrows, but its fun to eat and even more fun to share. The dish is starchy and rather glue-like and is made from the sago palm, but its flavor comes from the cacah, or the variety of dips used to eat it with.
  5. Kampong Sungai Matan, Homestay in Brunei Get Bucolic: Go back in time and discover the roots of Brunei, its time-honored traditions and rituals showcased through a homestay in a Bruneian village. The residents of Kampong Sungai Matan will be delighted to have you as a guest and will gladly share their way of life with you, demonstrating cooking methods, local customs, and arts and crafts and how to fish like a true Brunei native.
  6. Ulu Temburong National Park, Sunrise Safari Early Bird: Get yourself out of bed early for a sunrise safari through the Ulu Temborong National Park. This is a lush spot with more than a few mischievous monkeys you will need to watch out for. The view from the top of the 60 feet canopy, and the active local wildlife are worth waking up for.
  7. Kampong Ayer, World's largest water village, Bandar Seri Begawan Life on the Water at Kampong Ayer: The pulse of Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, Kampong Ayer is the world’s largest water village, having been inhabited for an impressive 1,000 years. Get yourself a water taxi and go meet the locals in their stilt houses, set amid an array of wooden boardwalks and bridges.
  8. Royal Regalia Museum, Bandar Seri Begawan Wealth of Art: The Royal Regalia Museum gives you a glimpse of what life in the lap of luxury looks like. You will see treasures and ceremonial costumes from the Sultan’s own collection.
  9. Istana Nurul Iman, Bandar Seri Begawan Meet the Royals: The end of Ramadan heralds the festival of Hari Raya, Brunei’s biggest celebration of the year. During this time, the Sultan and his family throw open the doors of their palace and greet people in person. While you are getting friendly with the royals, you can also take a long look at Istana Nurul Iman, the largest residential palace in the world.
  10. Empire Hotel and Country Hotel, Bandar Seri Begawan Live among the Stars: The Empire Hotel and Country Hotel will astound you with its opulence. With a shopping arcade, a cinema, a private beach, and a golf course, among others, on the grounds, it is worth a visit even if you are not staying here. Fun fact: The Emperor Suite here has hosted both Prince Charles and Bill Clinton, and has carpets flecked with real gold!
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