MCI (P) 100/05/2014
Switzerland | Taiwan | Laos
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The Long Way
As many of us travel more and more these days, we tend to realise that individual places are often part of an extended – if more interesting – journey. In fact, there is a blurring of 'destination' and 'journey', as this issue's theme – "Journeys" – illustrates.
We kick off with UNESCO-listed Luang Prabang and its surrounds, exploring the myriad temples and natural offerrings, before tackling Taiwan's cycling sojourns where plenty of options exist, from easy coastal rides to challenging uphill climbs – both of which offer views of Taiwan's natural beauty. This issue, we also have a Special on Switzerland – thanks to its worldfamous railway system (and a network of buses, cableways and ferries), the famously mountainous country lends itself to plenty of journeys, be they long or short. We take you from the classic canton of Appenzell in the northeast, to the sunny side of southern Switzerland in Ticino, before chugging along to the UNESCO-listed vineyards of the Montreux Riviera on stunning Lake Geneva. We also hit neighbouring Germany to explore a Bavarian road trip along the Alpenstrasse (or the "German Alpine Road"). Passing countless traditional mountain villages, castles, churches and palaces along the way, this scenic journey skirts the Alps and some of Germany's most famous sites. While in Rwanda, we journey through the small nation's rich natural offerings, from gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park to a classic game drive in Akagera National Park. For those who prefer beaches and islands, Palau presents a good option for touring around. From world-famous dive sites to unique geological phenomena and WWII history, this group of islands offers a variety of experiences. Finally, we take a journey around Nagano – from the majestic Matsumoto Castle to the scenic Suwa Lake – and taste some notable sake (as well as craft beer and wine) from highly-acclaimed, historic breweries along the way.
Until then, Happy Trails!
Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writers Konrad Clapp Samantha Pereira Creative Director Lynn Ooi Designer Marilyn Wong General Manager Aaron Stewart
Media Rep Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd 242A River Valley Road Singapore 238299 Tel 6732 0325 www.sportsandtravelonline.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sports and Travel Limited Rm. 1104 Crawford House 70 Queen’s Road Central Hong Kong Tel +852 2861 8746 Fax +852 2961 4800 email@example.com
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Contributors Amos Ang, Gunther Deichmann, Jing Xuan Teng, Ken Berg
Special Thanks Bayern Tourismus Rwandan High Commission Swiss Tourism Swiss Travel System Taiwan Tourism Bureau and many, many others!
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Wedged between the confluence of the quiet Mekong and Nam Khan River, Luang Prabang exudes spirituality and serenity. The quieter, slower-paced cousin of frequented Vientiane, this tiny city – geographically stacked with rugged mountains, yawning caves, cascading waterfalls, and plenty of towering palm trees – is brimming with rich history.
A backdrop peppered by golden wats (temples) and monasteries that are home to more than 1,000 saffron-robed monks, Luang Prabang’s UNESCO-listed holy sites are shored up further by a manifold of Buddha relics that sit in shrouded low-lying hills, mountain villages and sequestered corners of the city. Cradling these hotspots are fragments of French colonial influences palpable through the food, culture and Baroque-styled architecture, spotlighting Luang Prabang as a city vastly different from the rest of bustling Southeast Asia.
CULTURE Awash in a mosaic of tribal cultures that can be broken down into over 100 ethnic groups, Luang Prabang’s tribal system is determined more by geography than tradition. With three main classes making up the lot – the Hmong tribe embodying the Mongolian heritage, and perceived as warriors living in higher elevations; the Khmu tribe living in twostoreyed stilted houses, as their means of
TEXT & PHOTOS BY Samantha Pereira
JOURNEY THROUGH LAOS
income often involve slash-and-burn agriculture, and the Lao tribe dominating most of Luang Prabang’s population are riparian natured as they live off fishing and agriculture. Monkhood Sitting 300m above sea level, Luang Prabang’s town area is dotted with a series of temples and monasteries, as it’s a common practice to have young Lao boys (from ages 3 and up) commit temporarily to monkhood. A tradition that requires at least 3 months, and seen as a source of merit and prestige; these boys serve as novice monks while studying. A common sighting every day at dawn, is the tradition of giving alms to these novice monks. As they make their rounds across streets of Luang Prabang, locals would place palm-sized balls of rice, bananas or cake into bowls carried by these monks to give thanks and ask for blessings.
Traditional Village Ban Xang Hai village, which sits a few metres away from the Pak Ou Caves, is well known for being in the business of making clay vases, which has helped to ferment Lao wine that is widely drank across the country. Over the recent years, this village has extended that tradition by adding ‘Lau Lo’ whisky and ‘Lau Hai’ wine to the mix, with plenty of villagers housing large cauldrons behind their stilted houses to cook up this sweet potent mixture. Another draw for this village are the textiles that are hand-sewn by women and girls, exhibiting their ethnic group colours. Night Markets A stone’s throw away from Mt. Phousi are several night markets clustering the area. With many of the locals setting up shop early in the evening, you can stop by tents that house four or more locals selling handicrafts, textiles and plenty of street food that include fish and vegetables.
Luang Prabang is practically awash with Buddhist temples, some dating back to the 16th century. While all of them serve pretty much the same purpose, these temples vary greatly in size, grandeur and importance. To avoid being ‘templed out’, here are a handful of must-see temples: Wat Xieng Thong One of Laos’ most prolific temples with a history that dates back to when Luang Prabang was handing over its capital status to Vientiane, Wat Xieng Thong – which is also the gateway to the city as it sits right on the conflux of Nam Khan and Mekong river – is often highlighted for its elegantly ornamented roof that evokes a bird displaying its colourful wings. Intricately decorated on the inside with stencilled golden motifs and glass mosaics that paint the Lao version of the Hindu epic – the Ramayana – and other symbolic tales, the temple’s other draw involves the Reclining Buddha that sits in a red chapel overlooking the shrines. Wat That Luang Hugging the corner of a sprawling stretch of land that sits on a low hill, Wat That Luang used to serve as a crematory for Laos’ royalty. Now, seen as a national monument for royalty, the high-walled monastery is said to enshroud the Buddha’s breastbone from the
3rd century and the ashes of Sisavang Vong, Laos’ final king. Containing plenty more Buddha images within the temple, and a huge bronze Buddha statue, this temple is said to be a favourite among many of the novice monks, who can often be seen praying here. Wat Wisunarat Luang Prabang’s oldest temple, Wat Wisunarat is historically rich with its origins serving as a home for Prabang’s Buddhas before being burnt to the ground by military rebels. Rebuilt using stucco and brick that was donated by Laos’ first and last vice king, some of the ancient remains like a stupa and other Buddhist icons still stand strong on this holy site that now serves as a Museum of Religious Arts. There are numerous tour agencies that offer cultural trails through snaking cobblestone pathways up to temples and monasteries that are located atop hills, or to underground caves that serve as Buddhist shrines. Pak Ou Caves Overlooking the Mekong river, the Pak Ou Caves,
broken up into lower and upper caves are one of Laos’ most revered holy sites. Sitting amongst limestone cliffs, the caves are filled with thousands of different-sized Buddha statues, as it serves as a depository for prayers and wishes of the Laotians. With only a boat ride granting access to this secluded cave, locals are often seen crowding these caves during the Lao New Year in April, to which they ceremoniously wash these statues to gain merit.
OUTDOORS While most of Luang Prabang’s attractions are in town, it’s not far from outdoor excursions where you can take a boat ride along the Mekong, hike up a hill or simply take a dip in waterfalls.
The peak is accessible via a series of steps snaking up the hill; with several stops marked by statues of Buddha, this hill provides the panoramic view of Luang Prabang as well as the gentle rivers that course through it.
Mt. Phousi Resting in the centre of the town, Mt. Phousi (150m) is the only spot in Luang Prabang that has views of both majestic rivers – Nam Khan and Mekong – straddling the hill.
Kuang Si Waterfalls A 3-tiered cascading waterfall that sits on the outskirts of south Luang Prabang, Kuang Si Waterfalls can be accessed initially via trekking a boardwalk.
There’s also the option of climbing to the top of the waterfall, but as it’s slippery and steep, it is best suited for experienced climbers. With several other cascades and basins extending further into a forested valley, the scenic, crystal clear waterfall is also open for swimming.
GETTING THERE To get to Luang Prabang, you can use Bangkok as the jumpingoff point. With Thai Airways departing from Singapore daily, you can explore Bangkok before taking Bangkok Airways to fly directly to Luang Prabang.
LUANG PRABANG HALF MARATHON: LA PROCESSION this year. Similar to last year’s setting of running through UNESCO-listed heritage sites, this year’s run is also free for runners (and corporate sponsors) who can make a donation (minimum USD200) directly to charities working closely with the locals.
First started in 2013, the Luang Prabang Half Marathon is back for the second time
The 7k race, which will start at Sisavangvong Road (where the National Museum is), will have competitors running through the province’s famous landmarks like the Wat That Luang and Mount Phousi. Further north, and passing the Nam Khan
and Mekong river, the run will continue past French-influenced buildings and majestic temples before returning to the starting point. Runners opting to pursue the 14k and 21k race will then do 2 and 3 laps respectively around the same area. As the race starts in the morning, runners may also encounter the monks of Luang Prabang on their daily alms procession throughout the city. This year’s race is set for 14 October. Visit www.luangprabanghalfmarathon.com for more information.
GEAR GUY: Ken Berg
PACKING Having to lug around too much gear on a long journey can quickly take the fun out of what should be an amazing journey. Here are some quick tips on how to cut down on that extra weight. If you have a large bag and a lot of empty space, you’re likely to fill it with things that you don’t need. Having a small pack forces you to only take the essentials. Switching from a 6080L bag to a 40L bag can save you 1-2kg on just the bag itself.
Electronics: While essential to travel these days, devices (and chargers) they can be a heavy load. Decide if you really need to carry a smart phone, camera and a laptop/tablet. You can probably leave at least one of those at home maybe even two.
Staying warm: Stick with down insulation. It has a better warmth to weight ratio than synthetics and can be squished smaller too. The higher the number of its fill power the better warmth to weight ratio it has (anything over 700 is quite high). If you have to use synthetic
insulation (for very wet climate), try prima-loft. It is the synthetic insulation that acts the most like down (good warmth to weight ratio).
Merino Wool: Merino wool doesn’t absorb odour as easily as other fabrics. The less you have to wash it the fewer items you need to bring with you.
Tents: For camping, try an ultralight tent or a hammock. Ultralight tents can be about 2kg and hammocks can even come in under 1kg (like the Hennessy Hammock).
Staying clean: Concentrated soaps require fewer drops. Sierra Dawn Camp Suds is an option; it can be used on dishes, clothes, hands and hair and is biodegradable.
Ken grew up on the doorstep of the Canadian wilderness, backpacking, paddling and rock climbing in this rugged land. Armed with a degree in recreational studies, he has been working at Canada's premier outdoor retailer for over 10 years, putting gear to the test whether it's cycling in -35ºC winters, running marathons or travelling to the far reaches of the planet.
Eating: There are many great dehydrated meals that taste surprisingly good; to cook, you can use one of the many “all in one” cooking systems like MSR’s Reactor.
Small things: Look for silicone-treated nylon as opposed to the heavy polyurethene-coated ones for anything that isn’t subjected to a lot of abrasion; an Outdoor Research ultralight stuff sack will save you about 60g per 15L bag. Look for the simple pared down version of things. Every time a manufacturer adds a strap or zipper they’re adding weight. There are people that can do a multi month trip with a 40L pack but it takes discipline, one or two sacrifices and some tough choices. In the end most people are happy that they went with the lightweight option.
DUFFLE DUTY Swiss brand Exped's Tempest Duffel is a large volume yet lightweight expedition duffel that is guaranteed to keep your gear dry, and stows away easily when not in use thanks to its excellent weight to volume ratio. The duffel is made of TPU film-laminated 840-D and 420-D fabrics that are welded together for lasting waterproof performance, aided with YKK FlexSeal zippers that ensure further waterproofing. Refinements include carry straps that double as backpack-style shoulder straps, and high frequency welded construction that makes this duffle durable. It's available in 3 sizes at Campers' Corner.
INFINITE FILTRATION The Katadyn Mini Microfilter (Ultralight series) is currently the lightest and most compact water filter in the market - it easily fits in your jacket or waist pocket. Ideal for long travel, backcountry camping or day hikes, it weighs approximately 210g and measures 18cm x 8cm x 5cm. The exclusive silver-impregnated ceramic filter removes bacteria and protozoa using a field-cleanable 0.2 micron ceramic depth filter microfiltration method, and has an output of 0.5L/min. The cartridge capacity can filter up to 7,000 litres of water (less for murkier or dirtier waters). Now available at Adventure 21 at S$209.90. Exped Tempest Duffel Katadyn Mini Microfilter
WARM HEAD Outdoor Research's Acetylene Cap is designed to provide warmth during highly aerobic activity in ultra-cold conditions, thanks to the strategically-placed PrimaLoft One insulation and the zippered-down earflaps with fleece lining that provide extra protection in windy winter weather. Made with ultralight 20D Ripstop fabric, this product has a lifetime guarantee. Now available at Outdoor Life at S$92.
Outdoor Research Acetylene Cap Polaris Eva Bike Pod Plus
SLIM SHADY Logan Sunglasses from Spy have a narrow shape, and feature polarised lenses that offer 100% UV protection. The lenses are made with 8base ARC (Accurate Radius Curvature), so that no refraction or distortion occurs when the light waves from the sun hits the lens. These hardy shades are built from bomb-proof Grilamid with a built-in hinge system. The Spy Logan is available at Bratpack Katong Spy Logan at S$129.
BIKE IN A BAG The Polaris EVA Pod Plus bike box is a lightweight option designed to transport both road and mountain bikes of all wheel sizes (26", 650b, 29er and 700cc), which are accommodated in detachable, padded wheel bags. While it's designed for triathlon, time trial and extended seat post bikes, standard road bikes will easily fit. The flat-sided design makes it easy to load and stow, with robust reinforced wheels and numerous pull handles allowing for easy transportation. A lockfriendly eyelet secures the pod when it's unattended. It's now available at Ride Life SG at S$729.
Cycling in Sun Moon Lake
TAIPEI • Hsinchu
Taroko Gorge Wuling •
Sun Moon Lake
1 • Magong
Tainan • • Taitung
3 Cycling in Taiwan is incredibly convenient, thanks in part to the government’s recent efforts at raising the sport’s profile. The country’s subtropical and tropical climates mean that most routes are accessible all year round, and numerous bike stores, including homegrown brand GIANT provide servicing and rentals all across the island. Meanwhile, those on longer journeys will easily find affordable accommodation at small hotels and hot springs along the way.
TEXT BY Jing Xuan Teng PHOTOS COURTESY Taiwan Tourism Bureau
BIKE JOURNEYS AND RUNNING EVENTS IN TAIWAN
LOW INTENSITY & SCENIC
1. Penghu Bay route The Penghu island group, located off the western coast, can be reached by ferry or plane from mainland Taiwan. This 100km route through the Penghu National Scenic Area makes a round trip between Magong City (Penghu’s main town) and Siyu Township, and can be completed in 3 days. The Penghu National Scenic Area features rich marine biodiversity and striking basalt rock formations, as well as over 180 temples. Visit Erkan Village, a protected traditional settlement full of quaint old buildings and museums, and Baisha, where you can cross the longest inter-island bridge in East Asia. Sample freshly caught grouper and red frog crab on Magong’s Chungyang Street, and marvel at the region’s juxtaposition of wind turbines and traditional temples as you cycle.
2. Sun Moon Lake route Sun Moon Lake is one of Taiwan’s must-see natural attractions. It’s the country’s largest lake, and boasts some breathtaking sunrise and sunset views along the 53km cycling loop of the lake. On your way around the lake, you can stop by the visitor centre to view exhibitions on local culture. Lunch is available by the Wenwu Temple – the only temple in the county housing a statue of Confucius – which has a viewing platform. Afterwards, the route takes you past the charming Checheng, a Japanese colonial-era village at the end of the Jiji train line. In Checheng, you can visit the old-fashioned wooden train station, and the Wood Museum, where you can join woodworking classes while learning about the history of logging.
3. Kenting route Explore Taiwan’s coastal Kenting region over 3 days, covering a 132km loop starting at Checheng Township (situated far to the south of the similarly named village near Sun Moon Lake), and passing through Hengchun Township and Mudan Township before returning to Checheng. Check out the Northern Chinese style Checheng Fu’an Temple, with its distinctive palatial facade. Also, stop at Maobitou (“cat’s nose”) Park, which contains massive coral reefs that have been raised up from the sea and eroded over time, creating some unusual (cat-shaped) forms. Near Hengchun is a geothermal phenomenon where flames come up naturally from the ground year round. Unwind on your last day of cycling at the free public baths of Sihjhongsi hot spring.
Taiwan Bridge to Sansiantai Island Basalt rocks in Penghu
Maple leaves in autumn in Wuling
CHALLENGING & LONGER DISTANCE 4. Huadong Highway This route runs alongside the highway between Hualien and Taitung. From Taitung station, make your way north on Highway 11, past Sansiantai Island, through Yu Chang Tunnel before joining up with the Hualien section of the Huadong Highway. The Yu Chang Tunnel is 2.6km long and cuts through the Coastal Mountain Range. The 205km journey can be completed in roughly 3 days at a moderate pace. Some sights to take in during the journey include Sansiantai Island’s unusual coral reefs and shoals of tropical fish (the island is also a great diving spot), and the Eight Leap Bridge between Sansiantai and the mainland, which is modelled on ancient Chinese bridges.
5. Island Loop The ultimate road trip – covering 1,050kms over both coastal and mountainous regions around the entire island in 11 days of intense cycling. Most riders begin in Taipei, cycling down the west coast and returning to the capital via the east – which is considered the more picturesque portion of the loop. On the west coast, stop to admire Hsinchu City Temple, home to massive carved columns and a popular food market, the grand Siluo Bridge, the 17th century Dutch Fort Zeelandia, and Dapeng Bay, one of Taiwan’s largest lagoons. Attractions on the east coast include the dramatic sea cliffs for much of the way, the bizarrely shaped rocks of Little Yehliu beach, and if the timing is right, you can also hop on a whale watching tour.
6. Hualien to Wuling This 3-day, 128km route will take you through the mountainous Taroko Gorge. Starting from Hualien train station, head north into Taroko National Park, and then head west on a punishing uphill ride towards Cingjing Farm in Renai Township (1,750m). Wuling is a cool summer resort as well as a picturesque farming area; in autumn, its maple leaves turn the landscape red. On the last day of your ride you’ll have to scale Wuling Peak, which at 3,275m is the highest point of the journey. Try to make the ascent on a weekday, when the road up the mountain is less congested, making the 60kms of downhill cycling on the way back all the more refreshing.
Taiwan’s Running Calendar Taiwan’s varied landscape features everything from rugged mountains and historic towns to tropical coastline, making it the perfect setting for the hundreds of running events that take place in the country every year. Here are some highlights from late-2014’s running calendar: INTENSE CHALLENGES
Kaohsiung Flex Power 12 hours Ultra Marathon Date: 13 September Location: Kaohsiung One of the country’s most popular ultra marathons, this Kaohsiung race tests even the most experienced of runners – participants cover more than 100kms over the course of 12 hours.
MARATHON & SHORT CHALLENGES
Xinying Post Office Road Race Date: 31 August Location: Xinying, Tainan
Yongfeng Wine Half Marathon Date: 26 October Location: Taichung
Giant Cup Ironman Challenge Date: 14 September Location: Taichung
The 21km and 7km routes at this race take you through the picturesque agricultural fringes of Tainan city’s historic Xinying district. You’ll pass paddy fields, Tai’an palace and a “green tunnel” en route to the finish line.
An unusual combination of wine and running, you can take part in 21km or 10km races through Taichung’s little-known wineproducing region, or relax at the wine tastings and food fair.
This Taichung event includes several race options: a 1-person duathlon challenge, a 2-person double duathlon relay, and Ironman challenge courses.
Salomon Yangmingshan Trail Challenge Date: 6 September Location: Taipei/Keelung This event offers 15.7km and 7.5km offroad races over the Wuzhi and Yangming mountains near Taipei, set against a backdrop of dense bamboo groves. Expect to gain altitudes of 400-600m, depending on which race you join.
Sun Moon Lake Marathon Date: 16 November Location: Sun Moon Lake, Nantou County This event's route covers the perimeter of Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan's largest body of water. There are two options for participants: the 29km race, and the full marathon.
Tour de East Taiwan Marathon Date: 30 November Location: Hualien/Taitung This epic journey is a 333km loop between Taitung and Hualien, to be covered in seven days. You’ll pass through mountainous areas on the northward stretch, and then get to enjoy some coastal scenery as you head back south.
Switzerland Appenzell | Vaud | Ticino Panorama Trains | Swiss Travel
Situated along Lake Geneva in the southern region of Switzerland, the French-speaking canton of Vaud is known for many things, among them Chillon Castle, Glacier 3000 and UNESCO-listed vineyards.
LAKE GENEVA REGION
With its idyllic location along the shores of Lake Geneva and backed by snowcapped mountains, Montreux is a good base to explore the riviera; outdoor enthusiasts can head for the hills, while culture lovers can appreciate its historic vineyards and castles along the lakeshore.
CULTURAL JOURNEYS Apart from its scenic landscape, this region bordering Lake Geneva has historically been a gateway between Switzerland and France. Its rich history has given birth to 2 magnificent medieval castles, while its temperate climate makes it a perfect location for cultivating wine. Lavaux Thanks to an ideal micro-climate that exists between the mountains and the lake, Lavaux is home to thousand-year-old vineyard terraces that lie on the steep slopes facing Lake Geneva. Stretching from Lausanne to Montreux, this UNESCO site has 9 public cellars and wine bars, producing mainly local Chasselas wines (fruity dry white wine). You can hop on the Wine Train (from Vevey to Puidoux) that runs along these wine terraces; at Chexbres station, you can hop off for a hike along the countless paths that line the vineyards. There are also 3 themed walking trails, ranging from easy to medium, that take you through
winegrowing villages, ancient churches and cellar doors. The best place to end the walk is at the Vinorama in the village of Rivaz, where you can sample over 250 wines from the region. Aigle Another wine-producing area is at the nearby town of Aigle with its picturesque 12th century castle, the Chateau d’Aigle, which is surrounded by vineyards all the way up to the hillsides. Located at the entrance to the Rhone Valley in the Chablais region, the castle – now a wine museum – once controlled access to the valley and Pays-d'Enhaut. Wines in this region – both red and white varieties – are made from fully matured grapes, which results in a caramel taste. You can stop at one of 18 winemakers in the area for a tasting session. The best way to explore the vineyards is along the Vineyard Trail (Sentier des vignes),
which is an easy walking route that passes Aigle's vineyards and Bex's salt mines before ending at Lavey-les-Bains where you can relax in its thermal baths. This 23km trail (8 hours) can be broken into several stages – you can also tackle just the Aigle-Bex portion, which is 14km long (4.5 hours) through wine terraces and forested slopes. Chillon Another major attraction along the lake is Chillon Castle – built on a rocky islet set against a steep forested slope. This 13th century castle once controlled the passage along Lake Geneva, and has been a prison, arsenal and royal residence before becoming a museum. Here, you can visit its chapel, frescoed rooms, towers, courtyards and dungeon that was made famous by Lord Byron's 'The Prisoner of Chillon'. Chillon Castle also produces its own White Vaud wine – a Grand Cru made with Chasselas grapes that are grown, aged and bottled by the castle.
ADVENTURE JOURNEYS While a majority of visitors come to the lakeside for its history and gastronomy, there is no shortage of outdoor adventures in the region. For easy walks, the lakeside has flat nature trails, while for more hardcore activities – like via ferrata, mountain biking and skiing – you can head to the nearby mountains. If you’re into cycling, you can even book a session with a trainer at the World Cycling Centre in Aigle to have a try at indoor track cycling.
© Stephan Engler
Paragliding Thanks to the unique micro-climate in Montreux, one of the best ways to get an aerial view of Lake Geneva is on a tandem paragliding session. You can launch from Sonchaux (home to the annual Sonchaux Acro Show which is an exclusive paragliding battle for pro pilots), from where the flight takes in views of Villeneuve, Montreux, Vevey and Chillon Castle. If you have time to spare, there are a number of paragliding schools in the area.
Les Diablerets Nestled in the Alps and easily accessible by train from Montreux, the mountain village of Les Diablerets (1,200m) is a popular ski area with runs suitable for skiers of all levels. The famous Glacier 3000 (altitude 3,000m) is a ski area with 25kms of runs, including the longest and most demanding in the area. Throughout summer, the glacier becomes a cross-country ski loop, and is a starting point for hikes to nearby summits – a panorama of 24 snowcapped peaks, including Eiger, Jungfrau and Matterhorn, can be seen on a clear day. Once the snow melts, the pistes become downhill mountain bike trails. If you're looking for an alternative to mountain bikes, you can opt for a tour on an Arapaho mud bike – basically a cross between a kick scooter and a mountain bike. Trails vary in difficulty and range from 7kms to 20kms in length, passing through picturesque farms and forests before ending in the village of Les Diablerets with its unique painted chalets. The 'Free Access Card' grants you free transport (including buses and cable cars), activities and entrance fees if you're staying at Les Diablerets or nearby Villars-Gryon.
Even if you're not in the air, you can regularly see up to 30 gliders up in the sky – some performing tricks – on good wind days from the village of Villeneuve (the main landing point).
© Regis Colom
The nearest international airport to Montreux is in Geneva, from where there are regular train connections to cities along Lake Geneva (including Montreux). For more, visit www.montreuxriviera.com.
© Bellinzona Turismo
Situated in sunny southern Switzerland, the canton of Ticino may not ring many bells, but this Italian-speaking region does have plenty of gems up its sleeve. Surrounded by the high Alps and dotted with numerous lakes, its position far down the train line from Switzerland's major airports (like Zurich and Geneva) helps keep Ticino as the country's best kept secret. © Ticino Turismo
JOURNEYS THROUGH TICINO THREE CASTLES Surrounded by mountains, the city of Bellinzona (Ticino's capital) has always been a strategic location between Switzerland and Italy, and an ideal place to control traffic between the two countries ever since the Middle Ages. This led to the construction of the city's landmark castles: Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro. All three castles are now listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. The oldest of the three is Castelgrande, which was built in the 13th century (though dating as far back as the Neolithic period) on a hill in the centre of town. This extensive complex consists of courtyards, watchtowers, residential buildings and a unique curtain wall which is wide enough to accommodate a grass bank. Looming at 50m above the old town, getting to the castle is easy – you can approach it via several picturesque steep alleys, or via a lift which is carved into the base of the hill at Piazzetta Della Valle. The second oldest castle – Montebello – looms 90m above town across from
Castelgrande, with walls that extend into the old town. Dating from the 14th century, the external courtyards are also excellent viewpoints for Lake Maggiore and beyond. The castle can be reached on foot from Piazza Collegiata or by bus. © Bruno Pelladini | Bellinzona Turismo
The smallest and newest of the three castles, Sasso Corbaro offers amazing views of Bellinzona, Montebello, Castelgrande and over the plain of Magadino and Lake Maggiore thanks to its position 230m above the town. Once a prison, it remains unconnected to the defensive walls. You can get to this castle on foot via a hiking trail near Bellinzona train station, or by bus.
OUTDOOR PARADISE Thanks to its 4,000kms of marked paths and trails that criss cross the canton's mountainous terrain, Ticino is made for outdoor activities. With plenty of lakes and rivers that add to the scenic appeal, an outdoor excursion ranges from relaxing walks along lakeshores to challenging alpine biking. There are also plenty of gastronomic and cultural itineraries taking you through alpine pastures, medieval villages, vineyards and UNESCO-listed castles. Hiking, biking and canoeing routes are compiled by SwitzerlandMobility, which coordinates an official route network (both national and regional) that connect with public transport. If you have a
Cycling Ticino bills itself as a cycling haven, whether you’re into road cycling or mountain biking singletracks. Bicycles (both mountain and road bikes) can be rented at train stations, and are allowed on trains as well as bikefriendly hotels. With 175kms of cycling routes and over 300km of MTB tracks, there are plenty of trails to explore. If you like downhill cycling, you can take your bike up to the mountains with a cable car or funicular. Monte Bré is a lovely panoramic terrace accessible via a short cable car ride, and the descent takes you through mountain trails in the woods and quaint villages. For a relaxing pace, there are also cycling
Swiss Pass, you can take any form of transport here, including funiculars, trains, buses and ferries. Hiking Ticino has hiking trails to fit all levels of hikers; there are national routes that stretch over 400kms, to alpine trails and short, easy lakeside paths. One of the easiest and most picturesque is the hike in the outskirts of Lugano, from Monte San Salvatore (912m) down to the lakeside village of Morcote. This 9.3km (3.5 hours) loop trail starts from Lugano, beginning with a funicular train ride up to the mountain and ending with a ferry ride back (you can also take the bus). This mostly-descending trail takes you through thick chestnut forests, a botanical park, and the picturesque villages of Carona and Morcote. From the tallest point at Monte San Salvatore – there is a church at the summit – you can
paths along shores of lakes and rivers. The 34km Maggiatal Tour takes you from Locarno along the Maggia river and valley (Ticino’s longest), passing Ponte Brolla (a cliff diver’s haven), idyllic rural villages and vineyards. Canyoning The Ticino Alps are home not only to lush chestnut forests and rolling mountains – thanks to the natural grinding forces of crystal clear waters that flow through this region, magnificent canyons have been created. The Boggera Canyon in the Valle di Cresciano is not only one of the most picturesque in Ticino, it's also a premier region for canyoning in Switzerland. Ranking high in the beauty factor, thanks to its stunning grey gneiss rock formations and
have a 360º view of Lugano, the lake and mountains beyond. At the village of Carona, the midway point, you can drop by the San Grato Botanical Park which blooms with azaleas and rhododendrons in spring. The jewel of this hike is the end destination: Morcote village. Hikers approaching this village will encounter the church of Santa Maria del Sasso, perched against a backdrop of the shimmering lake. Featuring Renaissance frescoes and carvings, the church complex also consists of a chapel and a cemetery. The houses in Morcote are built along a steep hill (most streets are stairs), while larger villas (consisting of hotels and restaurants) line the lakeshore. You can return to Lugano by bus, or for a unique experience, hop on the local ferry. There are a number of panoramic journeys into Ticino, including the a combination of rail-and-boat routes of the Wilhelm Tell Express (Lucerne - Lugano) and Lake Maggiore Express (Italy - Locarno), the Bernina Express railway (Chur - Lugano) and the post bus route of the Palm Express (St. Moritz - Lugano). For more on the canton of Ticino, visit www.ticino.ch.
emerald green waters, the Boggera Canyon also features plenty of jumps, abseils, swims and slides. The lower portion is suited to Level 1 (beginners) where jumps (up to 10m) are optional and abseils are up to 25m, while the upper Level 4 (for experienced canyoners) portion features a huge number of abseils (up to 45m) and jumps (15m) into narrow fissures with crystal clear pools. Trips last from 2.5 to 6 hours depending on the level. There are also other canyons in the area, including Malvaglia, Giornico and Iragna. To participate in canyoning, you'll need to be relatively fit (hiking involved) and have no fear of vertigo.
Lucerne excursions Located at the convergence of both the Voralpen Express and the Wilhelm Tell Express, you can take advantage of Lucerne’s easy access to 2 nearby mountains: Mt. Titlis and Mt. Stanserhorn. You can board the world's first revolving cable car – TITLIS ROTAIR – as it whisks you up to the perennially snowcapped Mt. Titlis (3,020m). Up here, a walk through the Glacier cave leads to the vertigo-inducing Titlis Cliff Walk (at 500m off the ground), ending at the Ice Flyer glacier chairlift.
Swiss Panoramas Switzerland is no stranger to rail travel, and some of their railway routes rank as the most scenic in the world. Whether they're short sojourns or long journeys, these trains take you past both Switzerland's breathtaking scenery and its engineering marvels. Visit www.swisstravelsystem.com for more.
where rolling hills and colourful villages are set against the Alpstein massif. You'll cross the 99m-high Sitter viaduct (the highest railway bridge in Switzerland) and pass countless lakes and pastoral villages along the way before reaching the bustling lakeside city of Lucerne, where you can explore its old town and historic Chapel Bridge on foot.
VORALPEN (PRE-ALPINE) EXPRESS Route: St. Gallen - Lucerne Duration: just over 2 hours Unlike the stereotypical snowcapped mountain scenery that most Swiss panoramic trails feature, this route is all about gentle undulating hills, idyllic villages and rolling farmland. This journey is a 'slow road' that takes you from St. Gallen (home of the UNESCO-listed St. Gallen Abbey Precinct with its magnificent cathedral) through the canton of Appenzell,
WILHELM TELL EXPRESS Route: Lucerne - Flüelen Locarno/Lugano Duration: just over 5 hours This scenic, luxury rail journey takes you from the Germanspeaking city of Lucerne to the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. From Lucerne, journey starts with a 3-hour historic paddle steamer ride on Lake Lucerne
Another alternative is to take the world's first double decker cable car – the CabriO – up to Mt. Stanserhorn (1,900m). The top level is an open deck, offering you breezy views of the surrounding mountains as you climb. Complementing this modern marvel is an old-fashioned funicular ride (built in 1893) from the village of Stans to the CabriO cable car station, the first of the two-stage trip up to Stanserhorn. A number of mountain trails are accessible from the top stations; walks range from 30 minutes to 4 hours (Mt. Stanserhorn) and 7 hours (Mt. Titlis). The former also has a marmot enclosure where you can see these furry critters up close.
(where you’ll have an inclusive lunch onboard), taking you past charming lakeside villages and Tell's Chapel (named after the route's namesake, William Tell). At Flüelen, you'll board the train bound for the canton of Ticino, winding its way from 470m to 1,100m via the 15km-long Gotthard Tunnel (which dates from the 19th century). The 2-hour journey then takes you through the sun-kissed southern side of the Alps, offering views of magnificent viaducts juxtaposed against the natural beauty of mountains and rivers.
Switzerland © appenzell.ch
From verdant pastures dotted with grazing cattle to the gingerbread-style houses framed by majestic vistas of the Alps in the background, Appenzell is Switzerland in a nutshell. Geographically diverse, with alpine landscape to the south and rolling green hills in the north, the region lends itself well to hiking tours and climbing trips of varying difficulty. Its towns beckon with their quaint buildings and unique traditions such as their annual cattle drive. Known as the öberefahre, it celebrates the return of the alpine dairy herdsmen from their summer grazing sojourn up in the Alps with a festive procession into town. Held during the months of August/September, the procession sees villagers decked out in traditional festive garb, with yodeling accompanying the harmonious ringing of the cow bells. Visit www.appenzell.info for more.
FOOD & DRINK Another reason to visit Appenzell lies in its gastronomic offerings, which range from spicy cheese to an assortment of cured meats and even gingerbread. Gingerbread Called “Biberli”, this baked treat is given a Swiss twist with the addition of marzipan that is sandwiched between two layers of gingerbread.
Spicy cheese This cheese may only be made within the confines of Appenzell, as well as parts of neighbouring St. Gallen and Thurgau. Over the course of 3 months, the cheese is regularly rubbed with a herbal composition to give it its distinctive spicy taste. Only wheels that meet the mark are given a stamp as a guarantee of its authenticity.
HIKING HIGHLIGHTS Complementing the Alpstein region’s countless hiking trails are 28 mountain inns where you can refresh and recharge. Here are some hiking gems:
TEXT BY Amos Ang
Wasserauen to Ebenalp Hike (7.4km, 3 - 4 hours)
The Swiss Flower Route: Schwägalp to Kronberg (6km, 2 - 3 hours)
While a cableway connects the two locations, going on foot is by far the more rewarding option. The scenic trek first takes you to the picturesque Seealp Lake – its serene surface often a perfect mirror of the surroundings – before continuing on to the highlight of the trip: the Äscher restaurant. The restaurant resides in a unique location, having been built at the foot of a vertical rock face towering some 100m above. The trek concludes at Ebenalp, where you can take a cable car back down to the valley.
This trek’s best done in the early summer when the flowers are in full bloom. The walk starts from the 1,350m-high Schwägalp, located at the foot of the Alpstein massif’s tallest peak (Mt. Säntis), and leads up to the Chammhaldenhütte, where you’ll be greeted by the sight of Appenzell hill country, stretching as far as Lake Constance. The landscape morphs into a series of charming moors and forest before your arrival at Dorwees, with the end point located atop the Kronberg’s summit, a short climb away.
Beer Brewed by the last remaining brewery in the canton (Brauerei Locher AG), Appenzeller Bier is famous for using pure local spring water – which flows straight down from the Alps – in the brewing process, with the Quöllfrisch and Vollmond brands being particularly popular.
Switzerland's Travel System One of the best ways to get around Switzerland's varied landscape is by public transport. With its dense transportation network that spans trains, buses, ferries, funiculars and cable cars, there is almost nowhere that is inaccessible along its 26,000kms of public transport. To make getting around easier, the Swiss Pass gives you unlimited travel by rail, road and waterway, as well as free travel on panoramic routes (like the Wilhelm Tell Express which involves rail and steamer)
and even free entry to over 400 museums. The Swiss Pass is available in multiples of 4, 8, 15 or 22 days, or 1 month for consecutive travel. There is also the Swiss Flexi Pass, which allows you to choose your travel days for 3-6 days within a month. You can download the free Swiss Federal Railways timetable app (search for ‘SBB’) on your mobile device to get the next timings for your transport – be it trains, buses, cable cars or ferries – to anywhere in Switzerland.
Swiss Peak Pass From now till December 2014, Swiss Travel System is offering the Swiss Peak Pass (which is added to the Swiss Pass), giving you unlimited travel of up to 8 days to 8 of Switzerland's scenic summits including Rochers-de-Naye, Säntis and the doubledecker Stanserhorn CabriO. Visit www.swiss-pass.ch for more.
MORE THAN TRAVEL Train stations throughout Switzerland are more than just places where you can catch a train to your next destination. Wifi To date, 26 train stations (including Zurich, Montreux and Bern) offer free Wifi services, and by the end of 2014, 31 of the larger stations will have gone online. The service is restricted to 60 minutes per station. Luggage If carrying around luggage (or sports gear like bikes or snowboards) is a hassle, or if you intend to stop off midway to your end destination for a lunch on top of a mountain, you can opt for their luggage services.
There's the door-to-door luggage service where you can book online and get your luggage collected and dropped off at any address in Switzerland. There's also a cheaper option where you drop your luggage off at any train station and have it delivered to your end station; same-day as well as overnight services are available depending on the stations. Some hotels can also pick up your luggage for you. You can also check-in for most airlines on your return flight from railway stations. If you're flying from Zurich or Geneva Airport, you can drop your check-in luggage 24 hours in advance at over 50 stations and receive your boarding pass straight away; meaning you only have to arrive at the airport for your departure.
Bike rentals Trains aren't the only modes of transport you can access from train stations; you can also rent bicycles (from mountain bikes to e-bikes). Rent a Bike is available from 80 stations throughout Switzerland, and you can usually return the bikes at any other station. There are also bike-friendly hotels dotted throughout the country. You can book and pay for your bike early online at rentabike.ch or in person at any serviced railway station with a bike rental facility. There are also combined train travel and bike rental offers. For more information on the Swiss Travel System and its services, visit www.sbb.ch.
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A country perhaps more famous for its history of ethnic strife than anything else, Rwanda has come a long way since the horrific happenings of two decades ago. Political stability, tribal unity and a flourishing economy are just some of the things that have given Rwandans much cause for optimism. Tourism numbers are once again on the rise, with visitors flocking to its many attractions and the mountain gorilla indubitably the industry’s brightest star. The cities, built on the same undulating terrain that has earned Rwanda the welldeserved moniker of the “Land of a Thousand Hills”, teem with vibrancy and life. Culture and arts feature heavily here, most notably in the bustling capital of Kigali.
RWANDAN JOURNEY TEXT BY Amos Ang
KIGALI Located in the heart of Rwanda, Kigali sprawls over several hills and is the country’s cultural hub. It boasts a host of art studios and galleries, displaying anything from traditional to contemporary art. Inganzo Gallery is known for its contemporary paintings, while Rwanda Nziza carries a variety of handmade Rwandan craftworks, with proceeds going directly to the artists from all across Rwanda. For a feel of local life, visit any one of the many markets such as Kimironko, Gakinjiro or Nyabugogo. Nyabugogo – the largest of the three – shares space with a bus station and is easily the most chaotic. At the Kigali Memorial Centre, victims of the
genocide are remembered, with emphasis on how it was that the world stood idly by as the atrocities occurred. The flow is arranged in a manner that tugs increasingly at the heartstrings as you make your way further into the exhibits, and ends with an examination of the genocide’s aftermath, including the search for justice in the years that followed.
RECONCILIATION VILLAGES Just outside Kigali is the nondescript-looking village of Mbyo. Comprising of about 60 families, it is one of several Reconciliation Villages set up to do what its name suggests – repair the social divide between Rwandans after the horrific genocide. Guided tours are available, and witnessing the recovery first
hand is a good salve for restoring your faith in humanity.
LAKE KIVU Once hailed as “the most beautiful of all Central African lakes” by the Duke of Mecklenburg, it’s hard to disagree. The lake – the colour of polished jade – stretches out into the distant horizon with a view of the Virunga Volcanoes in the backdrop. Covering almost a tenth of Rwanda’s area, the beautiful lakeside towns of Cyangugu, Kibuye and Gisenyi decorate its irregular shores and frequently serve as transit points into Rwanda’s wilder side, with Nyungwe just further south and the VNP an hour’s drive to the north.
images of Africa: vast stretches of savannah and plains interspersed with a hodgepodge of tangled woodland. Situated at the confluence of different vegetation zones, it complements the humid forests of Nyungwe and the afro-alpine habitats of the VNP.
Named for the 6 volcanoes that line the Virunga Valley, the VNP counts among its many denizens the silverback gorilla, a species made famous by late zoologist Dian Fossey. These gentle giants were once on the brink of extinction but are now slowly making a comeback due to concerted conservation efforts by both the government and several non-profit organisations. Out of this impressive range, the chimpanzee and Angolan colobus monkey are arguably the park’s biggest draws and much like the VNP, treks are available for a face-to-face encounter with these simians.
Gorilla treks are available for those keen on getting up close to these charismatic creatures; the challenging trek involves clambering up muddy terrain and through dense vegetation, often at altitudes above 3,000m. Bookings for the trek are best made well in advance, as the park restricts the number of trekking permits issued per day. The best time to visit the park is in June, as it coincides with the annual Kwita Izina – the national naming ceremony for baby gorillas born in the past year. Originally a local affair, the event now counts among its former guests a number of celebrities including Bill Gates and Natalie Portman.
Although chimp trekking is no less onerous, the rewards are less certain. Chimps, being more mobile, cover much greater distances in a single day compared to the relatively sedentary gorilla. Even if you’re lucky and do manage to come across a group, they have a tendency to vanish swiftly into the undergrowth or treetops upon contact with visitors. Tracking the Angolan colobus presents a more appealing alternative as their large troop size of 400 (the biggest on the continent) and semi-habituation ensures that sighting these mesmerising creatures – with their lustrous black fur and distinctive white mane – is pretty much a guarantee.
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK (VNP)
Known as big game country, Akagera caters to those looking for a safari. Different species of antelope like the impala and the majestic cape eland are often seen on the fringes of the many lakes that are spread out across the park, accompanied by the occasional herd of elephants that emerge out of the woodland for a drink. At night, nocturnal inhabitants such as the leopard, jackal and hyena make their appearance.
Hippo pods and crocodiles populate its biggest lake (Lake Ihema), making the safest way to observe these creatures being on an organised boat trip. Along the way, keep a look out for breeding colonies of waterbirds such as the cormorant and the open-bill stork.
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK Although it’s the newest of Rwanda’s national parks, Nyungwe is by far the richest of the three in terms of biodiversity as its area covers one of the oldest rainforests in Africa. Found within its confines are at least 1,000 plant species, 75 types of mammals and over 275 varieties of birds; it is also a veritable monkey central with 13 species of primates.
AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK Located on Rwanda’s eastern edge, most of Akagera’s landscape is in line with classic
GETTING THERE The easiest route into Rwanda is on Qatar Airways, which has flights – via Doha – to Kigali International Airport. Visitors from countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, the UK and USA do not require visa for stays of up to 90 days. For more details, visit www.rwandatourism.com or contact the Rwandan High Commission (Singapore).
FULL STEAM AHEAD GOLDEN EAGLE TRANS-SIBERIAN & SHANGRI-LA EXPRESS Route: Moscow - Tashkent - Almaty - Urumqi - Beijing Duration: 21 days Distance: 11,250km Price: from S$29,000 Starting off with a tour of Moscow, which includes the iconic Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s tomb, the Golden Eagle journey commences from Moscow’s Kazansky Station. Chugging past Volgograd (the backdrop for the famous WWII Battle of Stalingrad), it whirrs along the Silk Road that once connected China to Europe, stopping at Uzbekistan’s UNESCO cities of Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand before changing trains at Almaty (Kazakhstan). It begins its China voyage on the Shangri-La Express at Alashankou, passing lofty vistas of rural cities and the Great Wall of China before ending in Beijing.
VENICE-SIMPLON ORIENT EXPRESS Route: Paris - Budapest - Bucharest Istanbul Duration: 6 days Distance: 3,688km Price: from S$11,160 This classic route (in restored 1920s era cars) departs just once a year, and begins its journey in Paris for an overnight journey to Budapest, where you’ll spend the night and visit the city’s gems – from ornate churches to thermal baths – on a private tour. Once in Romania, you’ll disembark at the mountain town of Sinaia and the beautiful Peles Castle before overnighting in the vibrant city of Bucharest. The train then travels through Bulgaria’s pastoral landscape before entering Turkey via the beautiful Thracian Plain to its final destination: Istanbul.
Shongololo Express (Windhoek - Johannesburg, 12 days) The Dune Express through the Namibian desert takes you past the breathtaking Fish River Canyon and Giant's Playground. Game drives, township visits and seaside resorts are on the itinerary.
THE GHAN (AUSTRALIA) Route: Darwin - Alice Springs - Adelaide Duration: 3 days Distance: 2,979km Price: from S$1,830 A piece of history that used to ferry Afghan cameleers to the heart of Australia to open up the inhospitable, harsh region for the rest of the country to explore, The Ghan’s voyage starts off at Darwin, coasting through the dry, red plains of the Northern Territory before stopping over at Alice Springs – the gateway to Uluru – for a few hours where travellers can explore the dramatic, grassy highlands on camels. The railway journey then continues south, drastically changing from barren land to lush green hills, as it approaches Adelaide.
Decked out in old-world charm and mystery, railway journeys are often overlooked, as travellers tend to look for quick fixes when it comes to their sojourns. Instead of opting for the next flight or holiday destination, rediscover travel by taking one of the world's most luxurious trains - tucked away in some of the most scenic destinations.
ROYAL CANADIAN PACIFIC (CANADA) Route: Calgary - Banff - Calgary Duration: 7 days Distance: approximately 300km Price: from S$9,300 The historic Canadian Pacific Railway’s ‘Royal Canadian Rockies Experience’ takes you through some of the most rugged terrain of the majestic Rocky Mountains. Highlights include the UNESCO sites of Fort MacLeod and the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park for its unusual geology. The train continues north into the Rockies, as the train climbs through Kicking Horse Pass with its vintage 1909 Spiral Tunnels. This luxurious train is only available as a whole-train private hire, and itineraries (like this one) can be tailored to the individual.
BELMOND HIRAM BINGHAM (PERU) Route: Cusco - Sacred Valley - Machu Picchu Duration: 3.5 hours Distance: approximately 110km Price: approximately S$930
Al-Andalus (Seville - Granada - Seville, 6 days) The Al-Andalus – carriages of which were built in the 1920s for members of the British royalty – tours a long list of UNESCO sites located in Córdoba, Granada, Ronda and Jerez in Southern Spain.
Beginning at Cusco, the Hiram Bingham chugs past military citadels and churches before hitting the steep valleys and mountain tops of the Sacred Valley. As it climbs in elevation, it passes herds of llamas, clustered villages and numerous gentle rivers that cut through the highlands, before reaching Machu Picchu – the Lost City of the Incas. Sitting atop lush green mountaintops, the splendid UNESCO-listed citadel offers panoramic views of the surrounding Urubamba Valley. From Cusco, you can continue onto Puno and the beautiful Lake Titicaca on the 9.5-hour Andean Explorer, a luxury rail which covers one of the highest railway routes in the world.
Tren Crucero (Quito - Guayaquil, 3 nights) This steam locomotive cruises across Ecuador's varied landscapes, from moorlands and cloud forests to coastal landscapes and the spectacular Avenue of the Volcanoes.
SEVEN STARS IN KYUSHU (JAPAN) Route: Around Kyushu Duration: 4 days Distance: 1,200km Price: from S$5,255 Japan’s recent addition to their railway journeys, the luxury sleeper train Kyushu Seven Stars courses through green landscapes of paddy fields and lush plains of Japan’s third largest island: Kyushu. Travelling through 5 of Kyushu's prefectures (Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Miyazaki & Oita), the journey includes walkabouts around untouched, scenic areas like Yufuin and Aso to experience the island’s nature, hospitality and volcanic sites before overnighting at a hot spring resort. For bookings, visit Follow Me Japan (www.followmejapan.jp).
THE GERMAN ALPINE ROAD
Driving is a great way to get around Germany, and plenty of scenic routes are mapped out by themes. If you're into history, you can explore the Castle Route or the Celtic Route; if you're into gastronomy, there's the Wine Route and the Asparagus Route. If you’re in Bavaria, famous routes include the Romantic Road (which passes castles and idyllic villages) and the German Alpine Road (Alpenstrasse), which skirts the Alps past hamlets and mountain resorts. These can be explored in a week or more (at a relaxed pace).
GERMAN ALPINE ROUTE The Alpenstrasse winds over 450km heading eastward, beginning in Lindau which lies along Lake Constance (bordering Switzerland, Austria and Germany) and winding its way along the foot of the Alps all the way to Schönau on Lake Königssee near Berchtesgaden. The entire route traverses southern Bavaria, and passes 21 mountain lakes, 25 castles, palaces and abbeys, and over 60 spa towns, all against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains. Along the way, you pass countless oniondomed churches, viaducts, bridges, mountain passes, spa towns (known as 'Bad') and countless traditional villages with Lüftmalerei (Baroque painted buildings).
PHOTOS FROM Bayern Tourismus Marketing GmbH
Lindau The official starting point is Lindau, with its beautiful walled old town. Highlights here include the Bavarian Lion and a lighthouse standing guard at the harbour entrance, as well as the many painted buildings that line the old town's streets. From here, you drive towards Immenstadt, the only German city with a 'Viehscheid' cattle drive when cows return to the lowland, and Bad Oberdorf, a district that is known for its healing mineral waters. Füssen & Neuschwanstein The Alpine Road then leads to Füssen, home to the Benedictine monastery of St. Mang, as well as a collection of late-medieval town houses and Baroque churches.
Most visitors use Füssen as the access point to visit the iconic Neuschwanstein Castle (built by the reclusive King Ludwig II), and the neighbouring Hohenschwangau palace. The 'mother of all German castles' is 3km away from town; while you can see the few (very elaborate) finished rooms in the castle on a tour, the best view of the castle exterior is from the Marienbrücke (Mary's Bridge) which is a short walk from the castle. Those who make Füssen a base can also explore plenty of scenic hiking and cycling trails in the area as it's located along both the 'Romantic Road' and the 'Via Claudia Augusta', an ancient Roman Empire route. A short drive away lies Wieskirche (Wies Church), a UNESCO-designated church featuring an ornate Bavarian rococo interior.
A little further away lie Linderhof Palace and Ettal abbey. Another creation of King Ludwig II, Linderhof Palace is a much smaller castle featuring a sprawling elaborate garden complete with ornate fountains. The working abbey of Ettal is famous for its production of beer and schnapps, which they brew and distill on site.
Winter Olympics. Collectively known as 'GaPa', you can access the surrounding mountains on 9 lifts, including a funicular to Germany's highest point, Zugspitze.
of Eckbauer (1,237m); you can take a vintage open-air cable car ride and be served beer and sausages on the way up.
Not far from GaPa is the town of Mittenwald, which is known as the cradle of violinmaking.
Just beyond Mittenwald lies another canyon: Leutasch Gorge, half of which lies in neighbouring Austria. A walking trail also follows this gorge – this time, it's a metal walkway built high above the canyon (not for those with vertigo).
From GaPa, a walking trail through the Partnach Gorge takes you through a dramatic landscape of steep canyons (some 80m high) sliced by a mountain stream, decorated with countless waterfalls. This 700m-long hiking trail is carved along the bottom of the canyon, accessible either from town or from the top
Oberammergau With the mountains to the right, the route heads towards the painted village of Oberammergau, home to the famous Oberammergau Passion Play which happens every 10 years, involving 2,000 participants from the village.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen The Alpenstrasse then heads to GarmischPartenkirchen, basically 2 neighbouring towns with a rich sporting history of the
GETTING THERE The Alpine Road runs along Germany’s southern border, making Munich the closest international airport to access the route. You can do the route either from Lindau or Berchtesgaden, both of which are no more than a few hours’ drive from Munich. For more on Bavaria and its scenic roads, visit www.bavaria.by.
Bad Tölz Nestled in the Bavarian Alps, the traditional town of Bad Tölz is famous for its iodine springs and the elaborate annual Leonhardiritt equestrian procession (November 6). After Bad Tölz, you'll pass Kreuth (for a dairy farm tour), Neuhaus (tour Slyrs distillery which produces Bavarian Single Malt Whisky), as well as a number of lakes including Tegernsee and Shliersee. Chiemsee A few hairpin bends bring you higher into the mountains to Sudelfeld (Germany's largest ski area) and into the Inn valley; a must-see is the village of Nussdorf am Inn, an original unspoilt Bavarian hamlet. From here you can get to Chiemsee lake, home to another of King Ludwig II's palaces: Schloss Herrenchiemsee, the most opulent of his palaces, that's modelled after Versaille. The Alpine Road then pushes upwards through some typical mountain scenery,
where plenty of premier hiking trails are accessible from Reit am Winkl. Königssee The final portion of the Alpine Road rises towards the Berchtesgaden Alps. Here, you can hike in the romantic Weissbachschlucht gorge, visit Bad Reichenhal for their salt and brine bath cures, or ride Germany's oldest cable car to Predigtstuhl. After passing the 868m-high Schwarzbachwacht pass, you'll pass the village of Ramsau and the Wimbach gorge before reaching Berchtesgaden with its royal castle and historic town centre. You can take a detour along the loop Rossfeld-Panoramastrasse (Germany's highest scenic route) before heading to the final destination: Königssee. At Königssee, a boat ride takes you to the pilgrimage church of St. Bartholomew – a tranquil end to the scenic German Alpine Road.
Bangkok-Ayutthaya TEXT BY Jing Xuan Teng
Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand (then known as Siam), was founded in 1350. During its golden age in the early 18th century, it was home to nearly a million people from all over Asia and even Europe. Ayutthaya was destroyed by invading armies in the 1760s, and later rebuilt on a site near the old city’s magnificent ruins. Today, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the perfect place to spend a day or two exploring the ruins of a prosperous, culturally vibrant, lost world.
RECOMMENDED NUMBER OF DAYS: 2-3 DAYS MUST SEE: BANGKOKAYUTTHAYA
> WAT PHAI LOM: This
temple, on the Chao Phraya’s west bank, is in Samkhok district north of Bangkok. Its biggest claim to fame is the unusually large population of rare migratory birds that call Phai Lom home for most of the year. Between November and June, you can catch sight of the Asian open-bills nesting in the temple grounds, as well as kingfishers and ibises on stopovers during their migration seasons.
> BANG PA-IN PALACE: In the mid-19th century, King Mongkut restored the ruins of this 17th century summer palace. His successor King Chulalongkorn made further additions at the end of the 19th century, and the result is a unique mix of Chinese, classical Thai and western Neoclassical architectural styles. The huge gardens, modelled after traditional French gardens, contain enough monuments and smaller buildings to warrant a half-day visit. The current King and his family occasionally visit or use the palace, but for most of the year it is open to the public. The palace is approximately 10km south of Ayutthaya along the Chao Phraya. AYUTTHAYA
> WAT CHAIWATTHANARAM: This temple, situated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya, was built in 1350. Its central tower, or prang, is one of the best preserved examples of Khmer style architecture, featuring unusually steep stairs, corbelled arches and complex bas reliefs. At night, recently installed lighting adds even more dramatic beauty to this important historic site.
MONGKHON: Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon is famous for its giant reclining Buddha statue, as well as the numerous other Buddha statues scattered throughout the compound. The temple is nearly as old as the city itself. Its slightly crooked chedi (stupa) is so big it’s presently sinking; visible from most places in Ayutthaya, it is actually a later addition by King Naresuan the Great in the 1590s. Ironically, the
PRINCIPLE ACTIVITY: CYCLING chedi commemorates Naresuan’s military victory over the Burmese, who later went on to invade the city and repurpose Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon as a fortress.
> WAT MAHATHAT: Home to the famous statue of a Buddha head entwined in roots, Wat Mahathat was built in the 14th century as the most sacred grand temple consisting of countless Buddha images. It was destroyed in the 18th century by the Burmese army, who vandalised the compound by lopping off the heads of Buddha images – today, rows of headless statues provide an atmospheric background.
> FOREIGN QUARTERS: Ayutthaya used to be home to traders from all around the world, and some traces of the Dutch, French, Portuguese, and other foreign quarters remain. St. Joseph’s Church, for instance, was built by the French in the mid-17th century and is still standing. Baan Hollanda, not an original building from the period, but built according to 17th century Dutch style, is well-curated museum commemorating the early history of the Dutch in Thailand. MUST DO:
> CYCLING: From Bangkok, it takes five to eight hours (70km) of cycling northwards along the back roads parallel to the Chao Phraya river to reach Ayutthaya, and alternative transport methods like buses and river cruises are available for the return journey. Bicycles can be easily rented in Bangkok, which will come in handy when navigating the sprawling ruins in hot weather. ACCOMMODATION Accommodation options are not as varied as in Bangkok (most visitors come here on day trips), but there are a number of options ranging from cosy guesthouses to 4-star resorts. GETTING THERE There are daily flight options from Singapore to Bangkok, on airlines like Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines, as well as a slew of lowcost options. Those with time to spare can also take the train from Singapore all the way to Bangkok.
From the cobalt abyss of the outer reef walls, to the rich burnt orange of the volcanic savanna soil and the deep verdant forests, you can easily see why Palau calls itself the ‘Rainbow’s End’. While it is primarily known for its excellent dive sites, Palau’s lesserknown terrestrial adventures round out the country’s offerings. DIVING Palau’s oceanic realm is home to about 215 reef-building hard corals and 150 species of soft corals, gorgonians, and sea pens. Reef fishes in Palau are also far more diverse than those in neighbouring Micronesian islands – at least 1,450 species. Favourites of divers, the napoleon wrasse and bumphead parrot fish, are protected species here. As Palau was named the World’s First Shark Sanctuary in 2009 (covering 600,000 sq.km.), 17 species of sharks and 10 ray species thrive in the dive
sites. It’s a groundbreaking measure that’s now being followed by many of Palau’s Pacific neighbours. In total, Palau has over 60 dive sites, with its best-known dive sites situated along the outer reef walls, including sites like the famous Blue Corner and New Drop Off where rich oceanic currents sweep across these reefs. Ulong Channel is well known for its patches of lettuce coral that rise up like city skyscrapers along a narrow passage amid bustling shoals of groupers, while manta rays can be found swooping down in the shallow reef at German Channel. In addition, there are 60 wrecks to explore, as well as an enormous cavern dive known as the Blue Hole. For anyone without a PADI licence, several accredited dive shops offer introductory dives and certification courses. Typical dive packages include up to 3-4 dives per day, including a lunch break at one of Palau’s idyllic beaches near the southern lagoon.
Palau has received numerous awards for its diving, including being named as one of the underwater wonders of the world by CEDAM International. Diving isn’t the only way to experience Palau’s marine life – local operators also offer snorkelling or kayaking tours in the scenic Rock Islands of the southern lagoon. Then there’s the famous Jellyfish Lake (which is inhabited by jellyfish that don’t sting), where you can swim with gentle golden mastigas that follow the sun across a landlocked saltwater lake while they farm their algae that sustain them. Likened to a lava lamp, you can float amongst these creatures which can number in the thousands.
FISHING Sport fishing is also popular in Palau, where a variety of reef fish and billfish can be reeled in, with operators offering hand-line fishing, trolling, casting, deep bottom fishing, and night fishing. There is also an annual fishing derby (check www.visit-palau.com for details), which visitors can participate in.
© Palau Visitors Authority
© Kevin Davidson
TRADITIONS Many of Palau’s traditional customs are still practised today. Palauans are closely connected to the sea as the men studied the currents, moon and tides for fish, and the women stayed on land or along the shallow reefs, with days spent tending to their homes, family and taro patches. Palauan villages were, and still are, organised around 10 matrilineal clans. A council of chiefs from the 10 ranking clans governed the village, and still do to this day. A parallel council of their female counterparts hold a significant advisory role in the division and control of land and money, giving rural Palau a fascinating, thriving social and cultural dynamic.
© Mark Downey
© Mark Downey
GETTING THERE With no direct flights from Singapore to Palau, the quickest option is via the Philippines, from where it’s a 2.5-hour flight to Palau. Most travellers can enter visa-free for up to 30 days. For more information and listings of accommodations and operators, visit the Palau Visitors Authority web page at www.visit-palau.com. © Palau Visitors Authority
PALAU’S ISLANDS From the smallest Rock Island, or atoll, to Babeldaob (the second largest landmass in Micronesia), Palau is a cluster of over 586 limestone and volcanic islands. While the main town, Koror is really a group of islands connected by causeways and bridges, it’s where most of the dining and accommodation are located. Here, you can pick up Palauan handicrafts, drop by its twice-monthly night markets, or visit the kitschy local jail. Other attractions include Dolphins Pacific (where you can swim with dolphins), Palau International Coral Reef Center (showcasing mangrove channels, seagrass beds, as well as inner- and outer reefs) and the Belau National Museum, which has a traditional bai (meeting house) on its grounds. The outer islands – namely Kayangel, Babeldoab, Peleliu, and Anguar – offer opportunities for intriguing land tours. At Palau’s largest waterfall in Ngardmau State, you can ride a zipline down to the falls and return by hiking. There is also a zipline and adventure park in Airai State, a short ride from Koror.
Most of these islands and states hide WWII artifacts in the forests, preserved by law as they were left in 1945. As well, since the construction of the main highway in Babeldoab, accessibility to sites of cultural and historical importance, such as the Badrulchau (stone monoliths), can be reached in just a couple of hours. In fact, many other stone paths and monoliths were uncovered and protected while the road was being built. Babeldoab On Babeldoab, the dense forests contain approximately 186 species of trees from more than 50 different families. Over many centuries, Palauans have gained traditional knowledge about the trees, including their religious significance, cultural history, economic value, and medicinal use. These forests and those on the outlying islands are home to 161 resident and migratory bird species, the endemic fruit bat and other creatures. At the Ngermeskang Bird Sanctuary, many of these species can be identified on a short hike. In northern Babeldaob, kayak tours take you through dense mangrove channels to sites of cultural importance, such as the burial
place of the goddess who made Palau’s taro patches. There are also many dirt roads to explore, passing by the rivers and rainforests of Babeldoab, which are accessible only by 4WD. Rock Islands Palau’s UNESCO-listed Rock Islands Southern Lagoon is listed as a mixed site (for both cultural and natural properties), covering 100,200 hectares. Here, many of its mushroom-shaped islands dot the turquoise lagoons surrounded by coral reefs, with its beauty heightened by a complex reef system featuring 385+ coral species and various marine habitats, sustaining a large diversity of plants, birds and sea life including dugong and many shark species. The Rock Islands is also home to the highest concentration of marine lakes (isolated bodies of seawater separated from the ocean by land barriers) in the world. They are among the islands’ many distinctive features and sustain many endemics – and continue to yield new species discoveries; one of the best ways to appreciate this extraordinary site is from a helicopter or small plane when the sun is at its highest.
© Matsumoto city / © JNTO
Landlocked Nagano prefecture is a common destination for adventure and sports enthusiasts, thanks to its location in the heart of the Japanese Alps. It’s also the perfect setting for relaxing holidays – the prefecture is home to around 100 sake breweries, as well as its own special cold-resistant strain of sake rice (Miyama Nishiki); some important sake yeast varieties were even discovered in Nagano, like the popular Yeast No. 7, and the newer Alps Yeast.
© Nagano Prefecture / © JNTO
SAKE ADVENTURES IN NAGANO TEXT BY Jing Xuan Teng
Nagano’s sake is a perennial favourite, with its characteristically complex yet light flavour. And a brewery-hopping tour of Nagano takes you through some of Japan’s most beautiful natural environments, alongside its rich, centuries-old brewing traditions. The most convenient way to reach Nagano is a 90-minute shinkansen (bullet train) ride from Tokyo on the Hokuriku Shinkansen. Many breweries in Nagano are open 365 days a year, but it’s best to call ahead when planning an FIT visit, as parking spaces are limited, and you may need to arrange for an interpreter during your tour. The easiest route to take would be to start in the north at Nagano City, before proceeding south towards Matsumoto and ending at Suwa.
The prefectural capital Nagano City was built around the impressive Zenko-ji temple, which is a good starting point for wandering around town. The city was briefly world-famous when it hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics, but today the bigger attractions are its food and drink. Regional products, like soba, miso, apples, and, of course, sake, are the highlights on virtually every local menu.
In Obuse, less than 20km from Nagano city, is the 250-year-old Masuichi sake brewery. Famed Edo period artist Hokusai was allegedly a fan of Masuichi sake, which you can try at Masuichi’s traditional “teppa” (where drinkers traditionally sit, to enjoy sake). Today, bottled sake is everywhere, but in the past it was only sold in either largevolume kegs or serving-sized vessels. People would take their own sake vessels to “teppa” counters, which also served as social centres in small towns.
A brewery near Zenko-ji is Nishi-no-mon, which is housed in a group of traditional buildings, and offers free tours of its production complex. The shops and restaurants attached to the brewery are where a variety of sake by-products (made from sakekasu, or sake lees) are available.
Masuichi also runs a restaurant, attached to the brewery, which serves “yori tsuki” style cuisine – the simple food of sake brewers during the traditional brewing period, and is the classic accompaniment to Masuichi sake.
Japan’s oldest existing castle, Matsumoto Castle, has an unusual black-and-white exterior, and was nearly lost to modernising Meiji-era townplanners in the 1870s. Fortunately, local citizens convinced the town government at the time to purchase the castle from its private owners, and today you can see this 500-year-old national treasure in Matsumoto. In town, you’ll find breweries ranging from the modern Eh-shuzou, with its gleaming white corridors and state-of-the-art brewing technology, to Kametaya, which is more traditional in its architecture (the brewery is in an old farmhouse) and techniques. If you’re moving onto the Suwa area, after touring Matsumoto, keep an eye out for cider
breweries and wineries along the way.
SUWA The area surrounding Suwa Lake is heavily steeped in tradition (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic) – the famous Suwa Taisha is one of Japan’s most important and oldest shrines, and appears frequently in medieval Japanese literature dating back to the 8th century. Every 6 years, Suwa Taisha hosts the Onbashira festival, which involves participants transporting massive logs down the nearby mountain – with some men riding the logs downhill over steep, rocky slopes – and then ceremonially erecting them on temple grounds. Five breweries are packed into a halfkilometre stretch near Suwa’s Kamisuwa station: Masumi, Honkin, Maihime, Reijin
and Ito breweries. Taking advantage of the town’s sakefriendly cold climate, and the water of the nearby Kirigamine springs, Suwa’s breweries offer high-quality traditional sakes, as well as other liquors and sake byproducts. There is also a Nomiaruki (“drink and walk”) event, organised by all five breweries, taking place each year in autumn and spring. Aside from brewery tours and sake tastings, there are also food fairs and traditional craft workshops.
SEASONAL Nagano experiences extremes of weather throughout the year, so some activities and sights in the prefecture are best enjoyed during specific seasons. Cherry blossom season in mid- to late-April is generally the most popular time to visit. Later in the year, Nagano’s mountains are transformed by vividly coloured autumn foliage (momiji). Some good spots for momijigari (leaf peeping) are Togakushi Forest Reserve, near Nagano City, as well as the resort town of Karuizawa. Also, check out Shiga-kogen, at the foot of Mt Shiga, which is the location of Tamamura Honten, a 200year-old sake brewery that has recently started producing exquisite craft beers. Sake tours are available from Follow Me Japan - visit www.followmejapan.jp or their booth at NATAS (4H02).
In the winter, take advantage of Nagano’s many hot springs – which happen to cater for non-humans, as well. In Jigokudani Monkey Park, witness snow monkeys enjoying their own outdoor onsen. These primates practice one of the first documented examples of non-human culture, socialising in the park’s steaming pools, and teaching their young the art of enjoying a bath.
© Yamanouchi Town / © JNTO
Nearby Nozawa Onsen is an ideal place for a relaxing soak – the village contains 13 public baths, 30 natural springs and even more ryokan and minshuku. Dating back over 1,000 years, the town became famous during the Edo period for the health benefits of its baths, and since then has developed its own unique onsen-centric architecture and cuisine.
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EVENTS: RACE CALENDAR AUGUST 2014
Celebration Road Series (Singapore Cycling Federation)
Bloomberg Square Mile Relay
24km & 36km | 2-3 Aug, 6.30am | Changi | Registration: $120-$240 A time trial race for road cycling in a 12km loop. cyclone.sg
1 mile | 2 Oct | Marina Bay | Registration: $1,095-$1,295 per team A 10-person corporate team relay challenge for charity. www.squaremilerelay.com
Singapore Mountain Bike Carnival 2014
The North Face 100 Singapore
8 hrs/9km | 17 Aug, 6am | Lor Asrama | Registration: $75-$280 MTB challenge with 8-hrs marathon ranking & Peugeot Enduro-S ranking. mtb.sg
100km, 50m, 25km & 13km | 10-11 Oct | Registration: $70-$320 This is a challenging minimum-support, self-sustaining race. www.thenorthface100.com.sg
Metaman Bintan Full/Half/Blitz | 23-25 Aug, 7am | Bintan | Registration: $175-$620 A half- and full- Iron distance triathlon, plus a new shorter Blitz version. www.metamanbintan.com
Run For Your Lives Singapore 5km | 25 Oct, 12pm | West Coast Park | Registration: $72.90 A zombie-themed fun run in either Survivor or Zombie roles. www.runforyourlives.asia
SEPTEMBER 2014 Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2014 6km & 10km | 14 Sep, 7.45am | Changi Village | Registration: $35-$40 The route brings runners into Changi Prison in aid of Yellow Ribbon Fund. yellowribbonprisonrun.sg
Craze Ultra 100 Miles 2014 100 miles | 20-21 Sep, 7am | MacRitchie Reservoir | Registration: $315 A 101 mile run (plus 3 other distances) with a maximum time of 32 hours. crazeultranuts.com
18km, 32km | 26 Oct, 5am | Big Splash | Registration: $53-$68 The route runs around East Coast Park. www.newtonchallenge.com
NOVEMBER 2014 Run By The Bay 10km & 15km | 2 Nov, 6.30am | Marina Bay | Registration: $40-$50 A race with 5km fun run, 10km and 15km routes. www.cscrun.com
Wet n’ Wild Run
Great Eastern Women’s Run 2014
5km | 27 Sep, 9am | Sentosa | Registration: $78 This party-themed 5km beachside obstacle race features 12 challenges. www.wetnwildrun.sg
5km, 10km, 21.1km | 9 Nov, 5.30am | Marina Bay | Registration: $41-$73 Featuring Asia’s largest women-only running event. www.greateasternwomensrun.com