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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

Thai Airways Gives out Rimowa Amenity Kits in its Royal First Class

Thai Airways gives out Rimowa Amenity Kits in its Royal First Class. Rimowa is a German manufacturer of aluminum as well as polycarbonate luggage. The dimensions of the plastic carry case are: 4″ x 7″ x 2.5″. The amenity kit consists of,

  • L’Occitane Cologne
  • L’Occitane Moisturiser
  • L’Occitane Lip Balm
  • Dental Kit with Fluocaril Toothpaste from Thailand
  • Mouthwash
  • Earplugs
  • Eyeshade
  • Comfort Socks
  • Comb & Brush

Thai Airways Rimowa Amenity Kits: Example Set 1

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Neptune Blue

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Neptune Blue

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Neptune Blue

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Neptune Blue

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Neptune Blue

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Neptune Blue

Other airlines that seem to hand out Rimowa Amenity Kits in business and first classes include ANA, EVA, and Lufthansa—curiously all part of the STAR Alliance.

Thai Airways Rimowa Amenity Kits: Example Set 2

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Amber Color

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Amber Color

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Amber Color

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Amber Color

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Amber Color

Rimowa Amenity Kits from Thai Airways's Royal First Class - Amber Color

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Posted in Airlines and Airliners

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

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

Thailand - Land of Smiles

Millions of visitors flock to the ‘Land of Smiles’ every year and it is easy to see why. Whether you want to party, laze on a beach, or stuff yourself with local delicacies, Thailand has something for everyone. Beyond its more obvious attractions, however, a little deeper exploration yields up Thailand’s subtler charms.

Thailand: At a Glance

Experience the Best Attractions of Thailand

  1. Muay Thai, Thai Boxing Boxing Days: Grueling training sessions, a rudimentary diet and sparse facilities—these are the staples of training for Muay Thai or Thai boxing. There are special camps run across the country that offer short-term courses for visitors. Most have English-speaking instructors, and training periods can range from one day to a few weeks. Check out the Lanna Muay Thai Boxing Camp in Chiang Mai and the Muay Thai Institute in Bangkok.
  2. Biking in Thailand Biker Fun: Thailand is great for two-wheeled exploration, as long as you can deal with crazy traffic. Check out the Big Bike Company in Patong. They rent out Honda CB 400 cc motorbikes that are fun and fast. Your inner petrol head will certainly be happy, especially when you hit the long, winding roads.
  3. Red Curry from Thai Cooking Cook up a Storm: If you love Thai food and like pottering in the kitchen, why not combine the two and take in a Thai cooking class. The Baipai Thai Cooking School in Bangkok is a well-known institute in a beautiful location, and offers short courses run by English-speaking instructors. If you are in Phuket, the Phuket Thai Cookery School offers you a haven from the noise and bustle of the city. Located on Siray Beach, you can couple your cooking classes with panoramic ocean views and then walk off a meal in the evening or even take a siesta on the wooden sundeck.
  4. Adventure Sports in Nakhon Nayok, Thailand Leave the Road Behind: Go off the beaten track and indulge in some soft adventure sports in Nakhon Nayok. From rappelling to cutting through forests and streams on ATVs and white-water rafting, there are lots here for the intrepid adventure-lover.
  5. Unrestrained water fight, Songkran Festival, Thailand Get Wet: Thailand turns into a free-for-all water park once a year. The Songkran Festival is an unrestrained water fight, and visitors are fair game, both to be soaked and to do the soaking Images of the Buddha are ‘bathed’ and young Thais seek the blessing of their elders by pouring scented water over their hands. Held at the peak of the hot season, Songkran is quite literally a chance for the entire country, and all its visitors, to cool off.
  6. Turquoise Waters, Phuket, Thailand Join the (Yacht) Club: If your sailor self has been feeling neglected for a while, and you are feeling especially indulgent, Thailand has many great yachting options. A sailing holiday in Thailand is an especially beautiful experience with the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea and swimming and snorkeling at your leisure. Most trips are around Phuket and Koh Samui, and you will get to see other islands as well.
  7. Koh Phangan's Sanctuary Island Resort Kick Back: Take a break from all that activity at Koh Phangan’s Sanctuary Island Resort. The Sanctuary is a laid back, alternative health resort on a isolated beach fringed by tropical forest and tropical seas. Your mind and body will both leave refreshed and ready to take on the world again.
  8. Loi Krathong, Thailand's festival of lights Festival of Lights: Come November, Thailand transforms into a veritable fairyland of lights, Loi Krathong is Thailand’s festival of lights held on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month of the year. If you are lucky enough to be staying on the coast, you will be able to see lights stretching far out across the water. The word ‘loy’ means ‘to float’ while ‘krathong’ is the lotus-shaped receptacle. Originally, the krathong was made of banana leaves or a spider lily plant; it contains food, betel nuts, flowers, candles, and coins.
  9. Tom Yum Thai Soup Soup It Up: Thailand is known for its spicy, flavorful food and tom yum soup is one of the country’s best-known dishes. This clear, hot-and-sour soup combines herbs, spices, and seafood to great effect.
  10. Wat Bang Phra, Yantra Tattoos, Thailand Get Inked: Experience tattooing like no place else at Wat Bang Phra. The monks here create delicate sak yant (also known as yantra tattoos) following age-old methods, and bless them afterwards.
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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys