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MCI (P) 100/05/2014

JAN-FEB 2015


Journeys Issue

Photo by Gunther Deichmann, shot with Panasonic LUMIX

India | Varangians | Myanmar

S T N E T N CO 15 0 2 B E JAN-F


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For a list of our distribution outlets, visit Sports and Travel is a publication of Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd (Singapore). All articles published are in good faith and based on bona fide information available to The Publisher at the time of press. The Publisher accepts no responsibility other than that stipulated by law. The Publisher also accepts no responsibilty for unsolicited manuscripts, transparencies or other materials. All rights are reserved and no part of this publication may be reproduced in part or full without the previous written permission of The Publisher. Neither can any part be stored or recorded, by any means. The opinions expressed in The Publication are those of the contributors and not necessarily endorsed by The Publisher. This publication and the name are owned solely by Lennox and Ooi Media Pte Ltd, 242A River Valley Road, Singapore 238299. Email: Sports + Travel Singapore is published bimonthly and distributed throughout Singapore. Trademarks and copyrights for all other products, logos and depictions contained herein are the properties of their respective trademark and copyright owners. All colour separation and printing by Stamford Press Pte Ltd. Singapore MCI (P) 100/05/2014

Tenth Anniversary

Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writer Konrad Clapp Creative Director Lynn Ooi


Welcome to our first issue of 2015! It's been a long, winding journey for Sports+Travel since our inception way back in 2005, and before you know it, you're now reading our 10th anniversary issue! In honour of this milestone, we've decided to name this issue our 'Journeys' issue to showcase not only the destinations we're featuring, but also the metaphoric journey it took us to come to this point.

We kick off this issue with a piece on one of India's most classic journeys – one through the desert state of Rajasthan. With a photo essay by photographer Gunther Deichmann, we take you through the 3 desert cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. Another country with a newlyimplemented Visa on Arrival, tourism in Myanmar has practically exploded here since 2012. Visitors now are looking for destinations beyond the usual tourist trails, hence we're featuring a hike in rural Pah-Oh. Those who ski and/or snowboard or are planning to learn the sports can check out our 6-page special on ski destinations around the world. From nearby hotspots like Niseko and Yongpyong to European gems like the Dolomites and Chamonix, to those on the American continent like Banff, Mammoth and Cerro Catedral, there's bound to be a ski destination to suit your ski style and budget.

Events & Partnerships Chua Wei Ling General Manager Aaron Stewart

Media Rep Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd 242A River Valley Road Singapore 238299 Tel 6732 0325 Sports and Travel Limited Rm. 1104 Crawford House 70 Queen’s Road Central Hong Kong Tel +852 2861 8746

Advertising Sales Singapore Irwan Ismail, Sales Manager Aaron Stewart, General Manager

A mountaineer's dream, Concordia (located on the border between Pakistan and China) was once described as the throne room of the mountain gods. From here, sweeping views of the mighty Himalayas can be had from the base of the world's second highest peak.

Hong Kong

For a long-distance, multi-country journey, we end the issue with a sojourn along the Varangian Road, named for the Vikings that traded along the route that stretched from the Baltics to the Black Sea. Beginning from Riga and ending in Ukraine, a journey through this part of Europe is like going through a time warp.

Clare Gallagher, Haley Read, Gunther Deichmann, Ken Berg, Liang Kaixiang, Wee Keng Rui, Wilson Low

Do check out our website for the latest blogs, or feel free to drop us a line if you want to contribute to our next issue!

Until then, Happy Trails!

Chris Ng


Special Thanks Prime Travel Rwandan High Commission and many, many others!

OUR WEBSITE: In this issue, we're also launching a teaser issue of our first-ever "Sports+" Special. Do keep a lookout for future editions, which will feature articles targeted at the 'sports' segment of our title. From mountain biking to endurance sports, we'll be featuring articles from industry experts and fellow athletes.


There’s no better place to immerse yourself in the sake tradition than in the heart of Japan, Nagano. Uncover centuries-old traditions on exclusive brewery tours, sample the authentic flavours of Nagano sake, and discover a more relaxed, and yet exciting, side to Japan. On this itinerary you will visit some revered sake breweries in Obuse, Iiyama, Azumino and Suwa, where local brewers are on hand to introduce you to the may facets of sake culture. Along the way, drop in on snow monkeys, castles and perhaps bury your own ‘snow sake’.


Nagano Sake Sojourn Departure Date: Mar 1, 2015 Price: $4980 + $250* * subject to change

Set within the mighty mountains of the Japanese Alps, winter in Nagano is not just about sake: soak in a traditional onsen, sample local cuisine, or simply take in its rich cultural heritage.

For more details on Nagano Sake Sojourn, please call us at 6221 4250 or email us at


Pacsafe Intasafe Z500


Montane Skye Jacket

TRICK UP ITS SLEEVE The Montane Skye Jacket is an ideal soft shell for trail running, designed for use in cooler running conditions (whether high in the mountains or in chilly pre-dawn forests). The jacket features a detachable set of sleeves, transforming it into a simple vest that provides core body protection as you warm up (or as the sun rises). You can stow the sleeves in the rear pocket. It features excellent wicking properties, dries fast, and has a four-way stretch for dynamic body movement. Now available at Gearholic ( at S$180.

The Pacsafe Intasafe Z500 is designed for travelling to destinations with possible theft issues. The pack is made with durable, rugged slashguard material and Carrysafe straps to prevent slashers from accessing your gear, while the interlocking zipper pulls prevent easy unzipping. The soft, quilted lining provides an extra layer of protection for 15-inch laptops and tablets, with additional organised compartments for pens, water bottles, and other travel essentials. In addition, the bag’s RFIDsafe material prevents data from e-passports, credit cards and key cards from being read by an RFID reader. The Intasafe Z500 is available at The Planet Traveller and Boarding Gate stores at S$329.

DOWN BUT NOT OUT Marmot PreCip jacket

RAIN PROTECTION Marmot's PreCip jacket is a seamtaped waterproof and breathable rain jacket that features NanoPro coating, which is dynamically air permeable and allows for air exchange to help shed excess moisture vapour without compromising on windproofness or waterproofness. The jacket features Angle-Wing Movement which allows for uninhibited motion, as well as PitZips for extra ventilation. The adjustable hood rolls up into the collar, and the whole jacket can be packed into the accompanying Pack Pocket. Now available at the Marmot store, Velocity, at S$156.

Mammut’s Heron Crest is a touring backpack for mountain hiking, trekking and via ferrata tours; it has a wide range of features and is very lightweight in relation to its volume. The adaptable back length ensures that it sits perfectly no matter the height of the wearer, with 3D EVA foam for good back ventilation. The slim profile, flexible hip belt and back construction is focused on giving lots of freedom of movement and carrying comfort. Now available at Adventure 21 at S$309.90 for 40L. The Mammut Chinese New Year Sale currently offers 20% off regular prices until the end of February.

Mammut Heron Crest


JAIPUR Rajasthan’s capital Jaipur is the chaotic gateway to this flamboyant desert state, and a stepping stone to nearby cities like Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. The 18th century city is a mix of old and new, where swarms of autorickshaws buzz around dawdling camels. PHOTOS BY Gunther Deichmann using Panasonic LUMIX camera and lenses

Known as the ‘Pink City’ for its distinctly-coloured buildings originally painted to imitate the sandstone architecture of Mughal cities, it has several attractions like the City Palace (which still houses the royal family), the royal observatory of Jantar Mantar, the honeycombed Hawa Mahal, and fairytale forts that lie just outside the city. Built of pale yellow and pink sandstone, the magnificent Amber Fort is divided into 4 sections, each with its own courtyard. A popular way up to the fort is by elephant, which drops you off at Suraj Pol (Sun Gate) that leads to the Jaleb Chowk (main courtyard) and the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience), where the Maharaja once held audiences. The fabulous Ganesh Pol, decorated with mosaics and sculptures, leads to the Jai Mandir (Hall of Victory) which features a multi-mirrored ceiling. Opposite is the Sukh Niwas (Hall of Pleasure) and the zenana (women’s quarters), the rooms of which were designed so that the Maharaja could embark on his nocturnal visits in separate chambers of his wives and concubines without the others knowing. Manvar desert Just beyond Jaipur is the Shergarh area which consists of a number of desert villages located in the heart of sand dune country. Home to Manvar Desert Resort and Camp, the surrounding countryside rises like a fertile oasis thanks to a rich water source deep underground.


Bishnoi village From Jodhpur, it’s easy to arrange a trip to a Bishnoi village, where life is caught in a time warp – a perfect place to experience the traditions and customs of tribal life where villagers still live in mud huts. An eco-friendly community, the Bishnois are fiercely protective of their land, and as such, wildlife – such as deer and antelope (ie. blue bulls, black bucks, chinkaras and chowsinghas) – thrive in the area.


Villages tours are usually run by locals, where visitors can witness the daily lives of the villagers – some of whom are potters, weavers and shepherds. At some villages, there are also options for overnighting in a traditional mud hut.

JODHPUR Known as ‘Sun City’ for its bright, sunny weather, Jodhpur is also referred to as the ‘Blue City’ for its vivid jumble of Brahminblue houses that line the old city’s winding medieval streets. The mighty Mehrangarh Fort towers over the old city which circles the fort and is bounded by a 16th century wall with several magnificent gates.

The old city is chock-full of guesthouses; this crowded and hectic zone – scented by incense and bustling with shops selling everything from saris to trumpets – is also Jodhpur’s main tourist area. Mehrangarh Fort rises 120m above Jodhpur’s skyline like an impregnable citadel, featuring several gates that were built to deter invaders. These include Fatehpol (‘Victory Gate’) which

was erected by Maharaja Ajit Singh to commemorate his defeat of the Mughals, and Loha Pol, the fort’s original entrance with iron spikes to deter enemy elephants. It is still run by the Jodhpur royal family, and today you can visit the museum with its beautiful Rajput architecture featuring a stone-latticed courtyard and halls that look more like sandalwood than sandstone.

JAISALMER Rising from the sandy plains like a mirage, most visitors come to this remote city as a jumping-off point for camel safaris in the surrounding Thar Desert. Located at the westernmost frontier of India, the city is dominated by the honey-coloured Jaisalmer Fort (or Sona Qila) with its 99 bastions that encircle the fort’s jumble of lanes; the old city is carved from the same golden-coloured sandstone as the fort, hence Jaisalmer’s designation as the ‘Golden City’. Unlike Jaipur or Jodhpur, Jaisalmer is a small city, and most accommodation – as well as Bhatia Market – are within walking distance of the fort. As a living fort, shops and magnificent age-old havelis (homes) still house families who have lived and worked here for generations. You can visit many havelis of rich merchants, as well as the many lookouts within the fort that afford great views across the city and desert beyond. Within the fort are several attractions, including the 7 beautifully-carved Jain Temples (built between the 12th to 15th centuries) that are connected by walkways and corridors. Patwon-ki-Haveli is a magnificent collection of 5 houses, each one for the son of a wealthy trader. The city is currently undergoing extensive renovations, and many small streets are now filled with exquisitely-carved sandstone houses. Karni Mata Temple Located in Deshnoke, the Karni Mata Temple is nicknamed the ‘rat temple’ thanks to the presence of 20,000-odd rats that call this temple home. Completed in the late Mughal style by Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner, these freeroaming rats are considered auspicious and the devotees make 2 kinds of offerings: the ‘dwar-bhent’ which is given to the priests and workers, and the ‘kalash-bhent’ which is utilised for temple maintenance and development.

TEXT BY Clare Gallagher, PHOTOS BY Haley Read

Most visitors to Myanmar have probably been to several of its famous sites, like the hyacinth-dotted Inle Lake, the pagoda-dotted plains of Bagan and bustling Yangon (the former capital). While all of these sights are worth seeing, rural Pah-Oh’s villages in the centrally located Shan State are more than worth seeing. SHAN STATE Pah-Oh is not completely untouched – tourists already trek here. However, now is the time to trek through these villages, before modernisation penetrates these villages’ traditional livelihoods.

bushwhacking. At a mid altitude (approximately 1,000m), with bearable heat and cool nights for Southeast Asia, suffering is not in the description. It is done in two or three days, covering rolling paths and dirt roads. It is comfortable, scenic hiking at its finest.

The 60km route goes from the sleepy mountain town of Kalaw to heavily visited Inle Lake, or vice versa. Hiring a guide is uncomplicated – just find one of the conspicuous signs for trekking companies. Guides charge between US$38-$75 for an all-inclusive three days: food, luggage transfer and a long-tail boat ride when the trek culminates at Inle Lake, if starting from Kalaw. It is worth inquiring about the language fluency of prospective guides, as some speak close to fluent English.


In terms of trip feasibility, this is not frigid, high altitude Nepali trekking with heavy backpacks, nor tropical, leech-prone Borneo

Along the route, ridgeline panoramas pique trekkers’ expectations of scenery. Undulating plots swap between rice terraces of electric

The bucolic farmlands and traditional lifestyles of Pah-Oh hill tribes have existed mostly unchanged for the past millennium. Save for the occasional rusty motorbike – most vehicles in Myanmar look leftover from WWII (because they are) – and apart from the periodic roadside mini-mart that sells packaged goods, there are few signs of the developed world. These are the romanticised hill tribe communities that adventuresome tourists fantasise about.

MYANMAR’S RURAL PAH-OH green and fluorescent green. Dense rows of mauve sesame plant blossoms, chilies, pumpkins, potatoes and white carrots add to the organised mosaic. Wooden ox carts puncture the fertile earth, operated by weathered, sinewy men draped in longyi (the traditional Burmese cloth skirt worn by both genders). Think of a colour and it’s visible either in a crop or in a traditional headscarf worn by the strikingly beautiful Pah-Oh women. Hours of walking becomes a peaceful experience, as trekkers assimilate to the undeveloped communities, with the real world long forgotten. Of course, seasons matter and trekkers cannot see every crop at once; the dry season (November – April) vastly differs from the wet season. October is arguably ideal, as most groups evade the major rains of the wet season, but the earth is still well hydrated and strikingly lush.

There’s been a steady trickle of tourists since 2011. This introduced the outside world to the Pah-Oh, but tourism has yet to alter their traditional livelihoods, unlike the many oncerural communities of Myanmar’s neighbour, Thailand. Trekkers pass women carrying bamboo baskets heavy with produce and monks bathing in streams next to their monasteries. Some Pah-Oh holler “mingalaba” (“hello” in Burmese), even though most individuals, including children, only speak a Pah-Oh dialect. But language barriers don’t stop the PahOh from flashing welcoming grins and waving at visitors, often from fields away. The three-day trek allots one night in a village. Depending on the village, groups usually sleep in a designated guestroom: half of a raised, bamboo-woven hut, above a year’s

supply of drying garlic, the other half is a village family’s home. Guides cook local staples – often pumpkin, carrots, and squash topping a mound of mountain rice, all flavoured with chilies – over fires in an unventilated hut, just as the village women do.




Second nights on the trek are spent at a monastery. One particularly rustic establishment is led by an impressive 24-year old head monk. He is in charge of a vast number of novice monks: boys perpetually in motion, skipping across the courtyard and adjusting their too-big maroon robes. Prior to sunrise, trekkers get to watch this crew of novices dutifully performing their chores.

Writer’s note: As we all know, Myanmar today is still dealing with the very real causes and effects of decades of human rights issues, political repression, etc. Presidential elections are slated for this year, with a free and fair vote being the only conceivable way for the nation to begin paving the way for a better, more inclusive future for all Myanmar's people, including minority groups like the Rohingya, Karen or Kachin.

WHY THE RUSH? In September last year, Myanmar’s government introduced an online e-visa option for tourists. Approved within 5 days, the e-visa costs US$50 for a 28-day stay, and is accepted at international airports in Yangon, Mandalay or Nay Pyi Taw, and is soon-to-be accepted at four overland crossings with Thailand.

Since then, the e-visa was extended to include tourists from over 100 countries. This is a tantalising visa option for visitors and suggests that the 2012 governmentcreated Tourism Master Plan goal of 7.5 million visitors by 2020 are not out of reach. Such a dramatic increase in tourists is even more staggering considering that the 1.06 and 2.04 million tourists in 2012 and 2013 respectively, were considered remarkably impressive figures after tourism discouragement ended in 2011. Since September, there have been few reported complaints of overcrowding at airport immigration. If anything, the process

has been depicted as surprisingly smooth; Myanmar is clearly prepping for more visitor arrivals. But the Pah-Oh aren’t prepping for anything. Which is why now is the sweet spot to visit, before the single-track paths bear queues of full-moon partying backpackers, or before the fields succumb to hotels, or before villages modernise solely to accommodate more tourists – the tourists that paradoxically seek a glimpse of the huts, pre-electricity. The idyllic glimpses are worth the rush. Now is the time to see Myanmar. Now is the time for this trek.

Edition 01

Mountain Bike

Adventure Sports Supplement by

TEXT BY Wilson Low

Shopping for a new mountain bike can be a daunting task for the uninitiated, certainly for beginner riders, but often for seasoned off-road cyclists too. Here are some key considerations to help you select your ideal off-road steed.


Many bicycle companies now offer mountain bikes to suit various price points. Companies typically sell either: 1. A complete bike with various component groups or 'specs' to suit one's budget, or; 2. The frame only, letting the end-user go for a custom self-build. It is usually a good idea to buy a bike from a local bike shop – due to the better personalised attention, advice, and after-sales service and warranty guarantees. Online retail and direct-to-consumer brands offer value for money by cutting out the middle man (the

local bike shop) – and the maintenance/service support that comes with it. Beginner tip: Buy a complete bike with the ideal components you want to ride now – avoid buying with the intention of upgrading components in the future, as it can end up costing more money. Advanced tip: Consider going the frame-only option – 'customising' a dream bike based on your experience, riding preferences, and knowledge.

Complete bike Custom build

Issue 01: Mountain Bike


Three wheel sizes to choose from: the traditional 26-inch size, which has been around since the birth of mountain biking, but is quickly being over-shadowed; the 27.5-inch (or 650b) which has been gaining popularity over the past two years; and the 29inch format (the largest wheel size), which has had a strong following for more than a decade now. wheels are more nimble, potentially lighter, suit smaller riders, and offer better clearance and scope for longer-travel full-suspension frame designs; a bigger wheel format offers more stability, traction, suits bigger-sized riders, and will ease the learning curve for riding off-road terrain. Beginner tip: If your budget does not exceed $1,000, stick to the 26- or 17.5-inch format: you will get lighter wheels, compared to a similar-priced bike with 29-inch wheels. Advanced tip: The 26-inch wheel-size is becoming increasingly harder to find on high-end bike models; it is found now more on low-end bikes, or specialist dirt-jump & downhill bikes. Your best option is to go for the popular 29-inch or 27.5 inch wheels.


Mountain bikes mostly come in two flavours: full-suspension and 'hardtail' (includes a front suspension fork, but no suspension in the rear). The cheaper the bike, the better it is to stick to a hardtail frame, as a similarly-priced full-suspension frame would be too heavy, lack tuning options, and would offer a sub-par ride experience.

Advanced tip: Familiarise yourself with suspension setup and tuning especially if your bike costs more than $3,000, and/or if you regularly ride or race on demanding, technical, or high-speed trails.


The drivetrain options currently available are 1x10 / 1x11, 2x10, and 3x10 options. Your choice of drivetrain will depend on your wheel size, your bike's weight, and your fitness. A 1x10 or 1x11, single chainring (with either 10 or 11 cogs on the back) drivetrain saves on weight and maintenance, but may mean you “run out of gears” on either end of the range – either when climbing a steep hill or bombing down a straight and smooth road. A 2x10 or 3x10 setup offers a wider range and is especially useful when pedaling a 29inch wheeled 1x11 drivetrain bike. Beginner tip: Get a bike with a wider gear range to give you more options for different terrain, especially if you opt for 29-inch wheels.

3x10 drivetrain

Advanced tip: Choose your gear ratios carefully for 1x10 or 1x11 – whether for specific race-ready, bigger chainring setups, or for a bike that can climb hills easily with a specific low-ratio, smaller chainring option.

Titanium frame

Carbon frame

Hardtail frame


There are two dominant frame materials used for modern mountain bikes: aluminum and carbon. Frames are also produced in steel and titanium in smaller numbers. Carbon as the material of choice for high-end frame design and manufacture has meant that brands who still have metal frames in their inventory have been forced to innovate and improve to produce metal products on par with their carbon counterparts. Most mountain Full-suspension bikes have suspension travel between 80mm and 180mm. Cross-country bikes have travel on the low end of this range while downhill bikes have travel that reaches or even exceeds the high end of this range. A hardtail is worth considering if you value light weight and acceleration (particularly as a crosscountry racer), prefer ease of maintenance, or limit yourself to riding mild terrain. Full suspension makes sense if you are up for tackling a wide variety of challenging, steep, and technical trails. Beginner tip: If your budget does not exceed $2,000, or you are restricted to riding mellow trails, it makes more sense to stick to a hardtail.

Different materials will affect the way the bike 'feels' or complies to the bumps and vibrations of off-road riding. The quality and method of manufacture is often the key in determining how long your frame will last and how it holds up to the stresses of off-road cycling, regardless of material used. Beginner tip: Go for an aluminum or steel bike if your budget is under $3,000. Titanium, while costly and deemed a 'boutique' frame material, is a good long-term investment. Advanced tip: Consider carbon only if your budget exceeds $3,000. The price range of carbon-framed bikes vary greatly: be wary of low-cost carbon frames, which often use inferior manufacturing techniques and might deliver a harsh ride quality or show signs of poorer quality control.

GEAR GUY: Ken Berg


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.

Misfit Shine

Many people use the New Year as an excuse to get back in better physical shape or to set new fitness goals for themselves. One of the many ways to make sure that you stay in shape is to measure and track your progress. There are many gadgets and gizmos on the market that can help you do just that – best of all, they're wearable tech.

PEDOMETERS Pedometers are one of your least expensive options. Pedometers will count the number of steps that you take and will estimate the distance that you have travelled.

Meals, weight, sleep pattern, steps, distance travelled and a calorie counter are among items that can be included, but it will vary greatly depending on the model that you choose. They are good for measuring steps and great at measuring intensity of some activities. Timex Pedometer

You can set a goal of a certain number of steps a day and try to exceed that target. They typically track your movement by how often your hip moves up and down. With this in mind, accuracy is one of the biggest drawbacks. Many can be fooled when traveling on a bumpy road and have a hard time measuring intensity.

St. Moritz Pedometer

Accuracy of distance can be increased by measuring your stride but it will be thrown off if you switch from walking to running or add in elevation. Pedometers are great for someone primarily looking to count steps in a simple and cost-effective way.

Examples: St Moritz Pedometer (includes time and a stopwatch). Timex has a model that also counts calories; but the counter is likely to be very inaccurate.

FITNESS MONITORS These have an 3-axis accelerometer on them to track how active you’ve been. They typically link up to a smart phone and therefore can be used for various types of tracking.

Accompanying smartphone apps also work quite well for keeping track of your progress over the course of your training. Many have a feature to alert you when you've been sitting for too long and when you should be getting active. The fact that many of them give you points and let you set goals can make them quite motivating. You can also have the option to compete against friends and post results to social media. Since they clip to your wrist or waist they might not always do a great job of tracking the inGarmin tensity of some activities Vivofit such as weight lifting or yoga. This is great for people who find obtaining points, achieving daily goals and/or competing against friends motivating. Or if you just like gizmos. Examples: Misfit Shine (wearable as a watch or necklace or clip) also tracks sleep patterns with moderate accuracy and is also quite waterproof. Garmin’s Vivofit allows you to pair it up with a heart rate monitor for more accurate results, alerts you of incoming texts/email and controls your phone’s music player.

GPS EXERCISE MONITORS These link up to satellites to give you very accurate results in terms of distance and pace of activities like walking, cycling or running. Many can be linked to a heart rate monitor for an accurate measure of how intense your workout is and calories burned. You can look at where you are on a map and really break down your workout.

Elevation change is tracked accurately, and a general workout info allows you to compare results to previous workouts. While a smartphone (with the right app) can also provide much of this info, these are less bulky and won't drain your phone. Some now come with an accelerometer or separate pod that allow you to track activity indoors or in areas where satellite connection is weak. Examples: Garmin Forerunner 220 includes pace/ distance features, a heart rate monitor, plus accelerometer when signals are lost (you can pre-load satellite locations for Nike Sport Watch quick connections) and the features are great for a mid-range price. The Nike Sport watch has the basic features but also has a foot pod that allows for indoor tracking. Some people use it just as a watch.

ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS There’s a whole new world out there for exploring, and while traditional hotels, resorts and B&Bs are still great as a base, there are plenty more options out there. For a list of by-owner rentals, options range from single rooms to an entire house. Check out,, or For family-run accommodation with Personality, try,

Garmin Forerunner 220, or (working farms). Check out (Unusual Hotels of the World), where unique lodging options include train locomotives, lighthouses, caves, old jails and treehouses. If you’re on a shoestring budget, there’s always (people who let travellers crash on their couches for free).

AIRFARE TRACKING Forget searching for ideal airfares every few days. You can track airfares based on your route and preferred fare; or's Trip Watcher let you register your route and dates, and when the fare reaches the price you’ve chosen, you’ll be alerted via email.

Ski Destinations Around the World

TEXT BY Liang Kaixiang

While there are no ski destinations in the direct vicinity of Singapore, there are plenty of options if you’re willing to travel anywhere from 5 hours an above. The best part of Singapore’s location is that it allows you to ski both the northern and southern hemispheres with ease, giving you options for a year-round ski experience.





Gulmarg (Bragging rights) If the rest of the resorts featured here sounds too normal or you’ve been there before and are looking for something unique, Gulmarg is for you. A combination of big mountains, high altitude (up to 4,000m), culture, and sparse tourist infrastructure makes Gulmarg a real ski adventure. To enjoy Gulmarg, you should be an advanced or expert skier comfortable on off-piste terrain. The nearest major city is Srinagar (1 hour), itself a 90minute flight from New Delhi. Cost: $$ | Beginner Friendly: 1/5 | Ski experience: 3/5 Travel-worthy: 2/5 | Facilities: 1/5 | Snow: 3/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 2.6/5

ASIA With its plethora of ski options and an incredible average amount of snow (10-18m), Japan’s ski areas are divided generally between Hokkaido and Honshu. On top of skiing, Japan also offers a multitude of travel experience such as hot springs and culture. Other ski destinations in Asia include the budget-friendly resorts in Korea, to Club Med in China as well as adventurous slopes in India, each with their own distinct attractions and ski conditions.


Zao (Ski and Soak) Located 400km north of Tokyo, Zao has 3 main attractions: skiing, onsen and “snow monsters” (snow-covered fir trees). This is a medium sized resort, with terrain that’s well suited for beginners and intermediates. Originally an onsen resort town, Zao retains a traditional Japanese feel, making it ideal for culture lovers. The hot springs are said to cure all sorts of ailments and injuries, which makes it the ideal après-ski activity. Cost: $$ | Beginner Friendly: 2.5/5 | Ski experience: 3.5/5 Travel-worthy: 2.5/5 | Facilities: 4.5/5 | Snow: 3.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3.3/5

Hakuba (Big and Sunny)

Niseko (The Holy Grail of powder seekers)

Hakuba is the biggest ski region in Japan, comprising 11 resorts with 960 hectares of skiable terrain, offering more than 200 runs. It is located an hour away from Nagano City in the Japanese Alps, which is also home to many other ski resorts. If you are looking for a plethora of options, including Olympic runs, Hakuba is the place to be. To top it off, Hakuba has more bluebird (sunny) days than any other major Japanese resort.

A popular ski destination with both Japanese and international visitors, Niseko is made up of four interconnected resorts: Annupuri, Niseko Village, Hirafu and Hanazono. The chest-deep powder is what draws snow fanatics to this mountain. Nevertheless, there is terrain suited to all ability levels, which means even beginners are not left out. Niseko is 3 hours away from Sapporo, which at is the nearest major city.

Cost: $ | Beginner Friendly: 3/5 | Ski experience: 4.5/5 Travel-worthy: 4/5 | Facilities: 4.5/5 | Snow: 4/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 4/5

Cost: $$$ | Beginner Friendly: 4/5 | Ski experience: 4.5/5 Travel-worthy: 3/5 | Facilities: 5/5 | Snow: 5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 4.3/5

BEGINNER FRIENDLY: high percentage of beginner terrain/ rental equipment/ snowsports instruction in English | SKI EXPERIENCE: number & length of runs/ vertical distance/ lifts/ number of ski resorts in the vicinity/ crowd/ terrain variety | TRAVEL-WORTHY: proximity to other attractions/ non-resort related activities | FACILITIES: accommodation/ restaurants/ resort amenities/ activities when not skiing | SNOW: quality of snow (artificial and powder) | COST: average cost including flights



CHINA Niseko Zao Hakuba

Yabuli (Club Med on snow) Three hours away from Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, lies the Yabuli ski area. Like all other Club Med resorts, it is allinclusive and exclusive only to members. Therefore, you have activities lined up, buffets for each meal and a limited group to share the slopes with. This is also the primary training venue for the Chinese national ski team, and the host of the 1996 Asian Winter Games. Cost: $$$ | Beginner Friendly: 2.5/5 | Ski experience: 2.5/5 Travel-worthy: 3/5 | Facilities: 4/5 | Snow: 2.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 2.9/5

Yongpyong (Olympics’ run for beginners) The biggest ski and snowboard resort in Korea, Yongpyong has something for skiers of all levels. There are wide slopes suited for the learning beginner, to a 5.6km run for the intermediate rider and a super high pipe for park fanatics. In cooperation with Gangwondo province, Yongpyong will be one of the venues for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, and is conveniently located just 2.5 hours from Seoul. Cost: $ | Beginner Friendly: 4/5 | Ski experience: 3/5 Travel-worthy: 3.5/5 | Facilities: 4/5 | Snow: 2.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3.4/5


Australia and New Zealand also offer ski experiences. While the former is closer, the latter gets more snow and the ski season lasts pretty long (typically from June till early October) as the mountains are higher.

Cardrona Thredbo



Thredbo (Australia’s European Resort) While skiing is not commonly associated with Australia, there are quite a few options, including Thredbo. By Australian standards, it wins in terms of vertical drop (672m) and variety of runs from beginner through to expert. It is also Australia’s oldest resort and gives you a taste of what a European alpine resort would feel like. Thredbo is located within Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales, and the nearest major city is Canberra (2.5 hours). Cost: $$$ | Beginner Friendly: 3/5 | Ski experience: 3/5 Travel-worthy: 2/5 | Facilities: 4.5/5 | Snow: 2.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3/5

Mount Ruapehu (Volcano Skiing)

Cardrona (All-rounder Resort)

Comprising of the Whakapapa and Turoa ski fields, Mount Ruapehu is the largest active volcano in New Zealand. Located within Tongariro National Park – a Dual World Heritage Area – it is also the largest ski area in the North Island. Ruapehu’s Whakapapa is New Zealand’s largest ski area while Turoa boast Australasia’s longest vertical descent and New Zealand’s highest lift. They can be accessed by road from Auckland (4 hours) or Wellington (5 hours).

Nestled between the popular ski towns of Queenstown and Wanaka, Cardrona is an ideal location for beginners and intermediates. Unlike most New Zealand ski areas, Cardrona provides on-mountain accommodation, albeit limited. Being just an hour away from Queenstown (the adventure-capital of the world) also opens up the possibility of myriad off snow activities. Cardrona has something for skiers of all levels, even an Olympic-sized superpipe.

Cost: $$ | Friendly: 4/5 | Ski experience: 3.5/5 Travel-worthy: 3.5/5 | Facilities: 3/5 | Snow: 3/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3.4/5

Cost: $$ | Beginner Friendly: 4.5/5 | Ski experience: 3/5 Travel-worthy: 5/5 | Facilities: 3.5/5 | Snow: 2.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3.7/5

Ski Destinations Around the World EUROPE The birthplace of skiing and ski resorts, Europe is not just about skiing and snowboarding, but equally important is the food and après-ski (they invented the concept). There are hundreds of ski resorts of varying sizes across Europe, giving you the options to ski from country to country, down a vertical of more than 2,000m while enjoying a panorama of snow peaks. The experience is not complete without the long lunches, quaint little villages and the glasses of wine. The Alps is not the only playground – you can ski in the Pyrenees, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.



St. Anton Zermatt


Poiana Brasov


Zermatt (Swiss Efficiency) Zermatt sits at the foot of Matterhorn, the iconic mountain of Switzerland. Being at a high altitude, you can indulge in the extraordinary mountain scenery and guaranteed snow. The village has an oldworld charm and is largely traffic free (only electric taxis). Expect Swiss-standards in food and hospitality, but be prepared to pay for it. Zermatt is 2.5 hours from Geneva and Milan and 3.5 hours from Zurich.


Cost: $$$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 3/5 | Ski experience: 4.5/5 Travel-worthy: 5/5 | Facilities: 4.5/5 | Snow: 4.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 4.3/5



Chamonix (Winter playground) St Anton (Cradle of Alpine skiing) Famous for its après-ski and nightlife, St Anton is the premier ski destination in the Austrian Alps. There is terrain for everyone but more suited for the intermediate and above. There is easy access to the massive Alberg ski region. St Anton is no longer a secret, so expect crowds sharing the slopes with you. St Anton is 1.5 hours from Innsbruck and 2.5 hours from Zurich. Cost: $$$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 2.5/5 | Ski experience: 4/5 Travel-worthy: 3/5 | Facilities: 5/5 | Snow: 4/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3.7/5

Where better to go in France than the heart of adventure - Chamonix. This mountain town is dominated by Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Western Europe. There are 8 varied resorts with 60 lifts to offer access to on and off-piste terrain that suits all abilities, not to mention the easy access to resorts in Switzerland and Italy. It is also famous for its plethora of aprés-ski activities. Chamonix is actually closer to Geneva in Switzerland (1 hour drive) than Paris (5.5 hours train). Cost: $$$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 4/5 | Ski experience: 5/5 Travel-worthy: 5/5 | Facilities: 4.5/5 | Snow: 4/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 4.5/5


The Dolomites (Epic proportions) Despite being a part of Alps, the Dolomites has a very different feel and reflects an Italian culture at its ski resorts. With a Dolomiti Superpass, you can gain access to 12 resorts, 450 lifts and thousands of runs and off-piste options located within a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The resorts vary from the luxurious Cortina to the traditional Alta Badia. If you’re up for exploring, you can ski the Sella Ronda – a popular day route that takes in 4 valleys. The Dolomites are accessible from Venice (3 hours) or Milan (4 hours). Cost: $$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 4/5 | Ski experience: 4.5/5 Travel-worthy: 5/5 | Facilities: 5/5 | Snow: 3.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 4.4/5

BEGINNER FRIENDLY: high percentage of beginner terrain/ rental equipment/ snowsports instruction in English | SKI EXPERIENCE: number & length of runs/ vertical distance/ lifts/ number of ski resorts in the vicinity/ crowd/ terrain variety | TRAVEL-WORTHY: proximity to other attractions/ non-resort related activities | FACILITIES: accommodation/ restaurants/ resort amenities/ activities when not skiing | SNOW: quality of snow (artificial and powder) | COST: average cost including flights





Poiana Brasov (Europe’s budget ski)

Åre (Arctic skiing)

Granvalira & Vallnord (Ski in a kingdom)

Other than Transylvania and Dracula’s Castle, Romania has the Carpathian Mountains which is home to Poiana Brasov – one of the best value-for-money ski resorts in Europe. There are about 10 ski/snowboard slopes, most of which are for beginners thanks to their wide, wooded glades. For its size, it’s ideal for a quick ski trip while in Eastern Europe or for beginners who are on a shoestring budget. It’s a 3-hour drive from Bucharest and half an hour away from Dracula’s castle.

Scandinavia is widely known for its long winter nights as it is close to the Arctic Circle, and there’s nowhere else better to go skiing than at its largest resort: Åre. Boasting more than 100 years of history, Åre gives you a sense of the Alps in Sweden without the altitude problems. It caters to skiers of all levels across four areas: Duved, Tegefjäll, Central Åre, Åre Björnen. The easiest way to get to Åre is via Trondheim, Norway (170kms); 3 hours away by car or train.

Hidden in the Pyrenees, Andorra is a mountain kingdom (smaller than Singapore!) blessed with abundant snow and sun. There are two large ski areas: Grandvalira and Vallnord which make up more than 300km of ski runs. Pistes above 2,500m assure ski/snowboard throughout the season. If that’s not enough, Andorra is host to many ski races where you can catch a glimpse of the pros in action. Andorra is about 2.5 hours from the nearest international airports, Barcelona and Toulouse.

Cost: $$$ | Beginner Friendly: 4.5/5 | Ski experience: 3/5 Travel-worthy: 4.5/5 | Facilities: 3.5/5 | Snow: 3/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3.7/5

Cost: $$$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 3.5/5 | Ski experience: 4/5 Travel-worthy: 3/5 | Facilities: 4.5/5 | Snow: 3.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3.7/5

Cost: $$$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 4.5/5 | Ski experience: 4.5/5 Travel-worthy: 5/5 | Facilities: 5/5 | Snow: 4/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 4.6/5

Ski Destinations Around the World NORTH AMERICA Skiing in North America is big, both in terms of culture and infrastructure. They have high standards of service, world-class slopes and more importantly, abundance of snow. The popular and bigger establishments are found around the Rocky Mountains and generally on the west of both Canada and the United States. While Canada and the US have similar resorts, Canada has a more laidback atmosphere and generally less crowds. Nevertheless, North America is definitely the place to be for snow lovers and it is hard not to be addicted by the quality and quantity found there.

CANADA Whistler

Banff Big Sky Jackson Hole


Whistler (Canada’s big ski country) You cannot avoid Whistler when you talk about skiing in Canada – the largest ski resort in North America and home to the 2010 Winter Olympics. Whistler is made up of both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, boasting over 3,000 hectares of terrain from gentle slopes for beginners, trees for advanced skiers and terrain parks. It is so big that you’ll struggle to find a service that Whistler doesn’t offer. Whistler is about 2 hours from Vancouver. Cost: $$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 4/5 | Ski experience: 4.5/5 Travel-worthy: 4.5/5 | Facilities: 5/5 | Snow: 3.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 4.3/5

Banff (Premier mountain resort) Banff is Canada’s premier mountain village, gateway to the Canadian Rockies. Other than its multitude of summer activities, winter in Banff is equally good if not better. Banff is made up of three resorts that are accessible with one pass: Sunshine, Lake Louise and Norquay. You can experience the variety of terrain and atmosphere each offers from this scenic township. Banff is about 2 hours from Calgary, the nearest major Albertan city. Cost: $$$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 4.5/5 | Ski experience: 4.5/5 Travel-worthy: 4.5/5 | Facilities: 4/5 | Snow: 4.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 4.4/5


Mammoth, California (Best located skiing)

Big Sky, Montana (Big secret)

Aptly named, Mammoth is one of the largest ski resort in the United States. The base elevation is at 2,424m and given the huge terrain can sometimes extend the ski season all the way to July. There are many accommodation options and facilities available on Mammoth as well as in its neighbouring Mammoth Lakes town. It is located near to the famous Yosemite National Park and is 5 hours from San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Not common on the radar of international skiers, Big Sky is big, comprising of not only the neighbouring Moonlight Basin, but more importantly Lone mountain with its exposed slopes, chutes and cliffs. The terrain is catered more for the intermediate to expert skier. Big Sky is a 45-minute drive from Bozeman, the nearest regional airport and it’s just over an hour to the world famous Yellowstone National Park.

Cost: $$$ | Beginner Friendly: 5/5 | Ski experience: 4.5/5 Travel-worthy: 5/5 | Facilities: 4.5/5 | Snow: 4/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 4.6/5

Cost: $$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 2.5/5 | Ski experience: 4.5/5 Travel-worthy: 4/5 | Facilities: 4/5 | Snow: 4.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3.9/5

Jackson Hole, Wyoming (For experts) If all the other US resorts don’t excite you, Jackson Hole will. The majority of the skiers here are after the insanely steep terrain of chutes, couloirs and cliffs (they label their cat tracks “intermediate”). You will appreciate the beauty of the Grand Tetons while skiing if you warm up on a double Black Diamond. Jackson, 15 minutes away, is the nearest airport and town. Cost: $$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 2/5 | Ski experience: 4/5 Travel-worthy: 3.5/5 | Facilities: 3.5/5 | Snow: 4.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3.5/5

BEGINNER FRIENDLY: high percentage of beginner terrain/ rental equipment/ snowsports instruction in English | SKI EXPERIENCE: number & length of runs/ vertical distance/ lifts/ number of ski resorts in the vicinity/ crowd/ terrain variety | TRAVEL-WORTHY: proximity to other attractions/ non-resort related activities | FACILITIES: accommodation/ restaurants/ resort amenities/ activities when not skiing | SNOW: quality of snow (artificial and powder) | COST: average cost including flights

SOUTH AMERICA The furthest ski region from Singapore in terms of flight time (minimum 21 hours), but well worth the effort if you’re looking for a destination that packs skiing in the second highest mountain ranges and Latino culture. From June to October each year, the Andes receive a bountiful amount of snow due to its high elevation. Acting as a natural border between Chile and Argentina, there are a variety of resorts along this 5,000km stretch of the Andes.


Portillo (Exclusive getaway) Imagine a bright yellow hotel next to an emerald lake with a backdrop of snowcapped mountains: this is Portillo. With limited lodging on the mountain, skiing at Portillo feels like an exclusive getaway. The terrain caters more to the advanced skier with its steeper slopes. Sitting at about 3,000m above sea level, you have to go easy on your first day to get used to the thinner air. Portillo is 2 hours away from Santiago and only an hour from its neighbouring resort in Argentina. Cost: $$$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 2.5/5 | Ski experience: 4/5 Travel-worthy: 4/5 | Facilities: 4.5/5 | Snow: 3.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3.7/5


Portillo Cerro Catedral

Cerro Catedral (Southern Hemisphere ski) Twenty-five minutes from Bariloche is Cerro Catedral, named for the granite spires that resemble a gothic church. Being one of the most well-developed ski resorts in South America, skiers have lift access to 1,200 hectares of terrain – more than enough for skiers of all abilities. The food and accommodation costs can be relatively inexpensive, considering the proximity of Bariloche, a major city in Northern Patagonia. Bariloche is a 2-hour flight from Buenos Aires. Cost: $$$$$ | Beginner Friendly: 2.5/5 | Ski experience: 3.5/5 Travel-worthy: 3.5/5 | Facilities: 4/5 | Snow: 2.5/5 AVERAGE SCORE: 3.2/5


Balti porter

Askole to Jula

Described as the throne room of the mountain gods, Concordia is located near the border of Pakistan and China. It was named in remembrance of the Place de La Concorde by Frenchman Martin Conway who was exploring the area in 1892. It’s the point where the Baltoro Glacier and the Godwin Austen Glacier meet in a natural amphitheatre that provides a 360° panorama view of 4 of the world’s 14 peaks above 8,000m.

by Liang Kaixiang

TREKKING TO CONCORDIA THE JOURNEY BEGINS Skardu is the main staging point for expeditions in this part of the Karakorum Range. Marking the place where the Shigar River meets the mighty Indus, Skardu was originally an ancient mountain kingdom inhabited by the Balti, a Tibetan people who converted to Islam in the 14th century. While extremely mountainous, there are direct flights from Islamabad to Skardu, and road access on the famous Karakorum Highway going north via Chilas, or south from Xinjiang. Due to its remoteness and the ever-changing trail on the Baltoro Glacier, you have to hire local help to get to Concordia. While there are many operators that offer trips from Skardu, travellers can also make arrangements prior to arriving in Pakistan with most international operators.

The journey begins with a 6-hour 4WD ride through the Shigar Valley to the trailhead in the town of Askoli (3,050m); more than half the route is unpaved tracks, hence it can be a very bumpy ride – and depending on current weather conditions, there may be flooding, rockfalls or washouts along the way. In Askoli, groups can hire porters and mules to move supplies for the next 2 weeks. Joula Once equipped, the trek heads up the valley, following the course of the Braldo River over 2-3 hours in the direction of Korophon – a forested area at the terminus of the Biafo Glacier. From there, the route meanders to the junction of the Dunlordo and Biaho rivers, passing through thick patches of edible seabuckthorn berries growing wild along the path, before reaching Joula (3,190m), the

first overnight halt. Like most campgrounds along the route, it’s easily identified by its sprawl of cubicle toilets. Paju Being in the soaring Karakorum, one thing that becomes immediately obvious is that it messes with your sense of perspective, and merely going from one valley to another – despite how near it may look – requires a hard day’s hike. Another oddity specific to this day’s hike is that a significant portion of the route is on fine white sand, which is not the easiest surface to trek. Another common sight from Day 2 onwards are the army outposts along the Concordia route, the first of which you pass on the way to Paju (3,380m), a tree-lined oasis that marks the next night’s halt.

Three hours from here, most groups choose to overnight at Khorbutse (3,930m) on the far side of a lateral glacier flowing into Baltoro – a spot with excellent views of Uli Biaho, a soaring 6,000m+ pinnacle of stone. Alternatively, the next campsite is a 3-4 hour trek to Urdukas (4,050m) crossing 2 glaciers en route before ascending high above to a terraced campground overlooking the icefield – the last campsite not actually on the glacier itself, but offers an excellent vantage point down the Baltoro and up the glacier towards Concordia.

Goro 2 Leaving Urdukas, you head towards Goro or “little rocks” in Balti – an apt name for the glacial debris you must cross as you hike along the Baltoro. In the lead-up to Concordia, the summit of Gasherbrum IV (the world’s 17th tallest mountain) grows on the horizon over successive days. A good way to take reference of where you are is to make use of the mountains to your left and right to identify how far you’ve come along the glacier, with Goro 1 and Goro 2 being the day’s lunch stop and overnight halt; at Goro 2 (4,250m) you’re camping on the glacier, so it’s a struggle to find a comfortable, or even level tent site among the moraine and ice. However, you are rewarded with excellent views of Masherbrum (7,821m), which was once thought to be the highest mountain in the Karakorum range, hence otherwise known as K1. Concordia From here, you are a day’s hike from Concordia (4,650m), following the Baltoro to its confluence with the Godwin-Austen

Glacier, where views open up with the final surprise being soaring K2 (8,611m) peeking out over Marble Peak (6,256m), just before reaching Concordia. After 6-7 days’ hard hiking, you arrive at the “throne of the mountain gods”, with the reward being expansive views of four 8,000ers (Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I & II and K2), as well as a view down the glacier at all that you have covered. From here, there are a few optional day trips to K2 base camp (5,100m), Gasherbrum base camp (5,050m) or Broad Peak base camp (4,850m).


On the return trek, there is the option of going over the Gondogoro La pass (5,940m) which brings you around to Hushe (however, there have been periodic restrictions on crossing this pass). Alternatively, you can return the way you came and experience the route back with a different perspective over 3-4 days.

Camp at Urdukas

Panorama from Broad Peak Base Camp View of Baltoro Glacier


Khorbutse/ Urdukas The view from Paju takes in multiple 6,000m+ peaks, while just an hour’s hike brings you to the base of the Baltoro Glacier. Ascending the uneven moraine to one side you will traverse the glacier in a few hours before descending to the opposite valley wall with loose rocks where the glacier has pulled away in recent years. This route brings you to Liligo, an open area that is safe from rock falls, where most groups will stop for lunch.

Things to Note Trekking up to the base of the world’s second highest peak is physically demanding, and it’s best to have previous, high-altitude experience. While the situation in Pakistan has a rough reputation, Baltistan is a surprisingly peaceful corner of the country, with the added advantage of its stunning views of Karakorum and the warm hospitality of the Balti people.

GETTING THERE There are several airlines flying to Islamabad – the fastest connection is via Bangkok, with a flight time of around 10 hours. Visitors to Pakistan need to apply for a tourist visa prior to arrival and would require a letter of invitation from a Pakistani host or tour operator.

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East Europe

Cat House, Riga, Latvia

29 Minsk, Belarus

Imagine silent fortresses and empty steppe, the echoes of bygone khanates in the shadow of cave cities, monastery catacombs where saints rest with folded arms. The Varangian Road – named after the Vikings who travelled, fought and traded on it in medieval times – traverses the frontier regions between the Baltic and the Black Seas. Like the Silk Road it conveyed people, goods and ideas, only it did so between northern and southern Byzantine-dominated Europe.

Riga Town Square, Latvia

Here are some highlights of the Varangian Road, which follows the Scandinavian merchant routes of old from the Baltic port city of Riga, south through the many waterways of the Belarusian plains and marshes, which flow into the mighty Dniester and Dnieper (Dnipro in Ukrainian) Rivers and connecting with the Silk Road at Crimea.


LATVIA: A LEAGUE OF ITS OWN A member of the German-dominated merchant alliance known as the Hanseatic League, Riga (the capital of Latvia) is the largest city in the three Baltic republics. Easily accessible from the rest of Europe, Riga makes for an easy – and beautiful – starting point. Home to the largest concentration of Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) architecture in the world, this Baltic orientation lives on

FROM THE BALTIC TO THE BLACK SEA in the UNESCO-listed Old Town’s soaring spires and Germanic gables, the prosperity which trade brought in its manicured merchant houses. One of the most recognisable is the House of the Blackheads, built in 1334 for an eponymous guild of German merchants. An injunction stands above its entrance – Should you ever see me falling, raise me up – no doubt applicable also for the inebriated party-goers which the building hosted.

It seemed a Baltic merchant’s life is more than just working and playing hard. The intriguing Cat House has two black felines perched atop the roofs. It is alleged that the cats were installed, rears disparagingly facing forward, by a disgruntled Latvian merchant owner denied entry to a German-dominated guild opposite. A protracted legal wrangle ensued, the cats were adjusted and the merchant’s admission to the guild duly followed.

BELARUS IS NOT RUSSIA Travellers unfazed by ever-changing visa regulations and costly consular fees will find a Soviet-era relic in Belarus, especially its capital city Minsk. Grand Stalinist boulevards run through its capital Minsk, which some said were designed to facilitate the passage of Soviet tanks if necessary. Lenin stands unmolested in permanent harangue over a square which still bears his name. The undimmed crimson of the Soviet flag still unfurls to the Belarusian wind, albeit above the Minsk War Museum. Yet Minsk and Belarus have far more than simply residual Soviet facades to offer. The unheralded collection of Catholic and Orthodox churches within Minsk attests to its religious diversity.

Beyond Minsk, the pretty castles of Mir & Nyazvizh lie within day-tripping distance. The stately Gothic turrets of Mir and the baroque panache of Nyazvizh once belonged to a noble family of similarly eclectic origins – the Polish Radziwills of Lithuanian descent. Mir and Nyazvizh Castles can be visited affordably on public transport, but not both on the same day. Arrange a taxi for a combined day trip. Belarus’ billing as the last dictatorship of Europe should not daunt prospective visitors. The streets are safe, flickering street lighting in some areas notwithstanding. Handicrafts such as matryushka dolls and pisanki (Easter eggs) are a steal, and shopping in store renders unnecessary the rigours of hard bargaining.

Kamyanets-Podilsky fortress, Ukraine

BETWEEN RUSSIA AND THE RENAISSANCE Until events in eastern Ukraine propelled it to international attention, travellers may be forgiven for confusing the largest country entirely in Europe with Russia. Kyiv and Lviv are two unmissable cities. Kyiv combines both Viking and Greek heritage, cherishing the names of three Viking brothers as its founders while seeking since its early days to emulate the Greeks in both faith and learning. The 13-domed St Sophia Cathedral represented early Kyivan efforts to replicate the splendour of Greek Byzantine cathedrals. The Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Cave Monastery)

and its multi-chambered catacombs became an early Slavic seat of learning. Many locals wander, candle in hand, in its tunnels, pausing only to pray before the sarcophagi of its many canonised founder-monks. Close to the Polish border, The beautiful city of Lviv, part of a region known historically as Galicia, is a slice of Central Europe way off the beaten path. The Old Town is built around the Ploshcha Rynok (Market Square), which together with the landmarks such as the Town Hall and both Dormition and Dominican Churches would not look out of place in Vienna, Budapest or Prague. Climb the High Castle for panoramic vistas of the Old Town.

St. Sophia Cathedral, Kyiv, Ukraine

The north-south Varangian Road meets the east-west Silk Road on the northern Black Sea coast and in the Crimean peninsula. This empty land of fortresses and caravanserais has much to offer. The Crimean Tatars are only the latest in a long line of nomads which numbered such powerful peoples as the Scythians and the Huns. The southern Ukrainian city of KamyanetsPodilsky contains a magnificent example of a fortress-town. Built astride the river Smotrych, the fortress and its battlements command fine views of the winding rivercarved canyon and the rolling steppes all around. From the New Town, head westwards across the Old Town to its western edge for the best view of the fairytale New Fortress, nicknamed “stone flower on a rock” and protected by precipices on three sides.

Genoese Fortress, Sudak, Ukraine

A scenic coastline, rugged interior, a string of resort towns and a cultural potpourri of Greek, Italian, Turkish, German and Russian influences all ensure the status of Crimea as the rough diamond in the crown of Ukrainian tourism. No corner of the peninsula is left untouched by bus or marshrutka from Simferopol, its administrative capital. Genteel Yalta and its pleasant seaside promenade beckon, but for a glimpse of the Silk Road, heads towards Sudak and Bakhchisaray. Constructed upon the formidable cliffs of Crimea’s south-eastern coast, the Genoese fortress of Sudak was one terminus of the Silk Road. Fur arrived from the north, textiles from the south and slaves from the surrounding steppes. Today, only the fortress walls remain. A short stiff climb to the top yields wonderful views of vivid blue seas against a backdrop of bald limestone hills. Stay at the Bastion Hotel – sprawled across

East Europe


five buildings – at the foot of the fortress to enjoy toil-free views. Bakhchisaray was the onetime capital of the Crimean Tatar khanate. A day is more than enough to fully explore the subtle sophistication of the Khan’s Palace and dine in one of the many traditional wooden Tatar houses along its main street.


adventurous souls may also hike out to one of several cave cities around Bakhchisaray. The closest and most visited is Chufut Kale, an hour’s walk east of town. Clamber into a natural chamber for a different perspective of the surrounding valley.

High Castle, Lviv, Ukraine

Pechersk Lavra, Kyiv, Ukraine


Nyazvizh Castle, Belarus

Spring and autumn are the most comfortable times to visit. Summer, naturally, is high season when nearly all attractions are open and congested. Winters are not of the savage Russian variant, and visitors in this quiet period would have most attractions to themselves. Riga is a useful place to start. Air Baltic flies from Riga to Minsk and Kyiv. Until the suspension on Crimea-bound routes from Riga and Kyiv are lifted, the most reliable way to get there is via Russia. Check whether a Russian visa is necessary. Singapore passport-holders require visas for Belarus and Ukraine (visas are easily obtainable from the embassy at Raffles Place). Ukraine west of the Dnipro river is stable; protests have fizzled out and the troubled bits are on its eastern fringes. Nevertheless, keep abreast of news even in Kyiv and Lviv. Singaporean travellers to Belarus are eligible for a visa on arrival at Minsk International Airport. Engage a government-accredited Belarusian travel agency to arrange the necessary paperwork.



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APRIL 2015

Venus Run 2015

NTUC Income RUN 350 2015

5km | 8 Mar, 8am | Gardens by the Bay | Registration: $45 A celebration of International Women’s Day.

21km, 10km | 5 Apr, 5am | F1 Pit Building | Registration: $55-$65 The run aims to raise awareness for lower atmospheric CO2 levels.

Green Corridor Run 2015

Compressport TRI-Factor Swim 2015

10km | 8 Mar, 7am | Tanjong Pagar Rail Station | Registration: TBA A run through Singapore’s old railway corridor.

3km, 1.5km | 26 Apr | Sentosa | Registration: $25.90-$55.90 A 4-leg series of events that starts with a mass swimming event.

North East Compressport Run 2015 21km, 10.5km, 5km | 15 Mar, 6.30am | Punggol | Registration: $22-$35 A scenic run through the waterways of Singapore’s northeast.

Running Hour 2015: Run So Others Can 10km, 5km, 1km | 22 Mar, 7am | Marina Bay | Registration: $45-$50 Participants run alongside intellectually and physically-challenged runners.

MAY 2015 Compressport TRI-Factor Bike 2015 54km, 35km, 18km | 17 May, 5.30am | City | Registration: $60.90-$85.90 The second leg of the 4-leg series, featuring a cycling event.

JULY 2015

Twilight Ultra Challenge 2015

Sundown Marathon 2015

10km loops | 28 Mar, 7pm | East Coast Park | Registration: $100 Run/walk for as long as you like up to a maximum of 16 hours.

42km, 21km, 10km, 5km | 4 Jul, 5pm | F1 Pit Building | Registration: $30-$80 The nation’s first night-run marathon.

2XU Compression Run 2015 21km, 10km, 5km | 29 Mar, 5am | F1 Pit Building | Registration: $50-$70 A competitive run around Singapore’s bay area.

Compressport TRI-Factor Run 2015 24km, 12km, 5km | 26 Jul | TBA | Registration: $35.90-$55.90 The third leg of the 4-leg series, the running segment.

Profile for Sports+Travel

Sports+Travel Singapore | Issue 61  

Singapore's FREE adventure travel magazine. Our 10th anniversary issue!

Sports+Travel Singapore | Issue 61  

Singapore's FREE adventure travel magazine. Our 10th anniversary issue!


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