Urban Adventure Issue Taiwan | Niseko | Scotland
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Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writer Konrad Clapp Creative Director Lynn Ooi
This issue’s theme is Urban Adventure – the idea can be many things, from finding an unexpected adventure right in the heart of a city, to discovering nature and outdoor fun not far from the hustle and bustle of life. We kick off with Taiwan, where adventure can be found within the city limits – miles of hiking and cycling routes abound. There’s also plenty of outdoor stuff to get your teeth into just outside Taipei – like exciting singletracks near Yangmingshan, or awesome climbing cliffs at Longdong Bay, for starters.
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We then hit Kerala, and with a base from Kochin, we visit nearby attractions including Kuttanad’s backwaters, Kovallam’s beaches, and Wayanad’s mountains.
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We’ve also packed in a special feature on one of our favourite year-round destinations: Niseko. Already famous for its winter season, this time we explore what’s on offer during the “green season”, ie. anytime there’s not 5m of fresh powder on the ground. There’s cycling, onsen, eating and more, all of which is blissfully uncrowded 6 months of the year. In line with Etihad’s new routes to Edinburgh and Madrid, we’re doing features on both destinations. Better still, we’re giving away a pair of ROUNDTRIP TICKETS to either Edinburgh or Madrid (see below)! Do check our website for updated blogs, or drop us a line if you want to give us some feedback or contribute a travel story! Until then, happy trails!
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Another Malaysian city gem is Kuching, where orangutans, huge swathes of wild rainforest, limestone caves, and a laidback vibe are just a short distance away. Kuching will soon be hosting the world renowned Rainforest World Music Festival, followed by the Kuching Marathon in August.
Simply fill up our entry form in the link below and tell us which one of the two cities you’d want to fly to, and why?
Events & Partnerships Chua Wei Ling
Penang, with its upcoming Penang Bridge Marathon and drastically underrated mountain biking scene, is an ideal, adventurous city-break. Plus there’s its legendary food scene and UNESCO-listed Georgetown neighbourhood.
WIN a pair of tickets to Edinburgh or Madrid via Etihad Airways!
Designer Shilpa Suresh
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Contributors Chua Wei Ling, Julian Kerr, Ken Berg, Samantha Lee, Shilpa Suresh, William Jefferson, Wilson Low
Special Thanks Alan’s Mountain Bike Etihad Airways Roomboss.com and many, many others!
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EXCESS BAGGAGE ALLOWANCE
Sold in 35, 60 and 90-litre sizes, the wide mouth opening means the Overboard Duffel can fit almost anything the same size (or smaller) than the bag itself - useful for hauling bulky items like tentage, camp stoves or ski equipment. Made of extremely durable, lightweight material, the Overboard has multiple straps to cinch bulky cargo in tight. While its folding seal, waterproof zip and welded seams will generally keep out all water (even when submerged), just in case there’s an additional internal wetdry pocket. Available at gearaholic from $140$180.
With an empty weight under 9oz., the Mammut MTR 201 Hydration Pack may be the lightest hydration system in the world making it ideal for distance and endurance sports where every ounce matters. Its in-built suspension system makes for a smooth run despite several litres of sloshing water, and its wellpadded yet breathable quick-dry straps keep the fit comfortably light, even when fully loaded at over 5kg. It’s expandable from 10-12L and there’s a variety of dedicated pockets, mesh carry-alls, bungee straps, trekking pole loops and shoulder pockets that can even fit a mobile. Available at Adventure 21 at S$189.00 (10+2L) and S$179.00 (7L).
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FITNESS SUPER WATCH
Billed as the ‘fitness super watch”, Fitbit’s Surge and its smaller sibling the Charge HR are packed with features that measure your calories burned, distance, and even sleep patterns (automatically based on your heart rate). Both watches are easily paired with your desktop or smartphone to display your workout data – it also gives out specific ‘badges’ (for achievements like hitting 20,000 steps) as motivation. Based on your weight, age and height, they give you fitness goals in terms of your ideal daily activity level. It even tells you how many calories you can take based on your weight goals. Both sport the same silicon strap comfortable enough for wearing 24/7. They also pack in a 5-day battery life. The smaller Charge can easily be worn as a watch or accessory, while the Surge can be a bit big for the small-wristed (even in ‘S’ size). Where both watches really shine are in their optical heart rate sensors which
are super-reliable when snugly worn, doing away with bulky chest strap monitors. Screens Unlike the slimmer Charge HR, the Surge has a 1.25-inch screen instead of a strip. The touchscreen is easy and intuitive, and is responsive even in rain. The main advantage of Surge’s larger screen is the fact that you can get call notifications and read text messages (although you can’t respond). The Charge only displays caller ID. The Charge’s small screen, however, makes it easy to use – just one button switches your displays and functions. GPS Function The other big difference between the 2 is the GPS function. The Surge has
05 a built-in GPS function, and acquires satellites very reliably, taking less than 30 seconds to plot the current location. It also has specific tracking functionality for indoor workouts. With the Charge HR, you’ll need to bring your smartphone along with you in order to tap into the GPS function. Charge HR (S$199) is a sleek fitness tracker, while Surge (S$349) has additional smartwatch features like call/ text notifications and music selection functions from the touchscreen.
Taipei has long been a go-to place for foodies and those taking advantage of long weekends. However, the city’s attractions aren’t the only things visitors can cram into a long weekend, as many Taipei-ites can attest to. Thanks to its relatively small size, Taiwan’s beautiful mountains and coastline are easily accessible on a day trip from Taipei; the dramatic northeast coast and the Yangmingshan mountains are within an hour’s drive from the capital, and are great places to go hiking, mountain biking, diving or rock climbing. And at the end of the day, soak away your aches at a hot spring.
URBAN ADVENTURES NEAR TAIPEI CYCLING
It’s not a stretch to say that the Taiwanese are obsessed with cycling. Home to top bicycle manufacturers like Giant, it’s gained notoriety as a country that loves punishing uphill climbs, gnarly singletracks and everything in between.
In northern Taiwan near Taipei alone, there are over 100kms of bike paths that crisscross the landscape, located near scenic spots along rivers, coastlines, or mountains. Taipei City’s bike paths are an alternative way to navigate the city; convenient Youbike kiosks rent bicycles from NT$5. Yangmingshan National Park If city biking isn’t your thing, head to the Yangmingshan mountains just north of the city and you’ll be able to experience some lung-busting climbs (and thrilling descents). A maze of paved roads snake their way up (at a 7% gradient) around Yangmingshan National Park, offering spectacular vistas of the mountains and/or
the ocean at just 30 to 60 minutes’ cycling time from central Taipei. One popular route is the road is a punishing 15km, 4-hr ride behind the National Palace Museum that takes you up along curvy mountain roads to Lengshuikeng with its free hot spring baths. Push further onto Datun Mountain, the highest road in the park, for its amazing views and natural attractions. Soak your muscles at the end of your ride at the public hot springs of Beitou at the base of the park. Yangmingshan is popular for road bikes, as hiking trails are off limits to bicycles. Trail Riding While Taipei’s forested areas near Yangmingshan and Maokong are rife with dirt trails, it’s not always easy to locate one. Nevertheless, local bikers will gladly show you the way to tracks like the 10kmlong ‘Ski Lift’ which is a fast, technical downhill track near Yangmingshan, or the 15km-long Maokong trail in the Mucha area that’s famous for its teahouses that overlook the city, where the challenging trail winds through tea plantations and bamboo groves over 2-3 hours.
A little further afield is Wulai, about 30km from Taipei, where you can join the cross-island Tonghou trail which takes you along the Tonghou River through grass, dirt tracks and farm roads towards Yilan. (passports required at the trailhead). Shorter rides can be had in nearby Taoyuan County where trails range from dirt tracks to tea plantations and forest trails. Bike tours In a cycle-obsessed country, it’s not difficult to join one of many bicycle tours offered at various cycle shops in Taipei. In Taipei, Alan’s Mountain Bike (www.alansmountainbike.com.tw) organises frequent MTB tours in and around the city, and also rents mountain bikes – hardtails (NT$800/day) and full-suspension (NT$1,000/day).
There are many hiking trails accessible from Taipei City, depending on the type of scenery and terrain you’re looking for. Many of these involve hill climbs due to the topography of the area. Yangmingshan National Park As the closest national park to the city (30 minutes by bus or car), it’s a very popular hiking spot especially during weekends. Plenty of trails criss-cross the entire park, with difficulty levels ranging from super easy to demanding.
The most popular trail is one that leads you up to the tallest mountain in the park, Qixingshan (or Seven Star Mountain at 1,120m). From the Xiaoyoukeng Visitor Center, you can get to the top of Qixingshan in about an hour along a treeless trail. From the top, there are pavilions with sweeping views all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
On the way down, you can head towards Lengshuikeng via a trail that’s lined with sections of bubbling hot springs. The entire park is volcanic in origin, so you’ll see sulfuric fumaroles steaming from various points in the park, including Lengshuikeng and Xiaoyoukeng. Lengshuikeng is a milky lake with sulfurous fumaroles – the source of water for the adjacent free public hot spring bath (bathers must bring their own towels). Yangmingshan is also popular for its rich bird life, both endemic and migratory, which can be spotted along the many trails in the park. The most prized sighting is of a Formosan Blue Magpie, characterised by its long striped tail, which features on the NT$1,000 bill.
many loops within the vicinity. There are also paths that veer into dirt trails requiring ropes to climb. Just 20km from Taipei is the village of Pingxi which is popular for its steam locomotive and lantern festival. A dozen trails criss-cross the area – many radiate from Xiaozishan, leading to trails with dense forest, razor ridges and clear streams to soak in. This historic area is also dotted with abandoned mines, Japanese-era bridges and interesting caves.
April to August is butterfly season, and a popular place to see them is along the flat and shaded Erziping Trail, situated at the foot of Mt. Datun. For more on the park, visit www.ymsnp.gov.tw. Other Hikes There are a number of excellent hikes within Taipei, including the Four Beast Mountains that’s just 15 minutes from Taipei 101. The staircase trails (which are lit at night for a quiet hike) offer amazing city views, dotted with interesting sites – from rest areas to artistic spots – along the
Check out our video on urban adventures around Taipei, where we take on Yangmingshan National Park and the Northeast Coast. www.sportsandtravelonline.com SportsandTravelMag SportsandTravelSingapore
Situated about an hour’s drive from Taipei, the scenic Northeast Coast is a landscape of coastal mountains that drop into dramatic cliffs and protected sandy bays. Thanks to its varied topography, plenty of locals drop by for diving and rock climbing at Longdong bay, and surfing at the beaches further south. Numerous scenic hilly hikes line the coast, offering views of the coastal cliffs and beyond.
At an average depth of 12m, marine life includes scorpionfish, stonefish, nudibranchs and other colourful fishes that congregate along its rocky shore. Snorkelling is also popular here, and snorkel gear is available for rent nearby.
Longdong Bay In recent years, Taiwan has been attracting top climbers from around the world thanks to the gnarly rocks of Longdong, a 2km stretch of cliff pounded by the wild Pacific Ocean. There are over 500 routes along this stretch, with excellent sport and traditional climbing (up to 80m) ranging from 5.4 (beginners) to 5.14a (experienced climbers). The sites are accessible from the scenic 3km-long Longdongwan Cape Trail located above the cliffs. The flattest access is from the jetty near Hemei Elementary School – you hike for 10 minutes over boulders to reach the climb sites (covered shoes are necessary). On any given weekend at Longdong Bay, it’s not difficult to ask someone to point you to the right direction.
Surfing Further south along the coast are a series of coves and beaches. Daxi’s sandy beach is popular for beachcombers as well as surfers who flock to the quiet horseshoe-shaped Honeymoon Bay with its 2-3m high waves. You’ll need to bring your own board here as there are no surf facilities nearby.
Dive operators also meet at the jetty here for scuba lessons and excursions, as it’s the only dive spot in northern Taiwan.
A little further down the coast is Wai-Ao, which is a more developed ‘surf town’ where you can rent surfboards and have
surf lessons from instructors from around the world. In summer, surf competitions are regularly held here thanks to its large white sand beach and consistent wave conditions. Paragliding Located on the hills behind the beach is Wanli, a launchpad for paragliding tours of the area. The most popular site in northern Taiwan, the upward airflow makes it a great training base for beginners, as well as for tandem tours.
There is no shortage of flights to Taiwan, ranging from airlines like EVA and China Airlines to budget airlines like Scoot, Jetstar and AirAsia. Flight time is about 4.5 hours. For more on Taiwan and its attractions, visit www.taiwan.net.tw.
There are numerous direct flights from Singapore to Penang daily (1.5hrs), via AirAsia, Jetstar, Silkair and Tigerair. Those driving up can cross the Penang Bridge that links the mainland to Penang Island. The journey is estimated to be 10 to 12 hours long.
The best time to visit the city is between November and January, when the marathon is taking place and the city soaks in the festivity of the season. The weather is also at its coolest, making it ideal for sightseeing. For more on Penang and its activities, visit www.visitpenang.gov.my.
TEXT BY Samantha Lee
The Blue Mansion
Situated on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Penang is often raved about as the food capital of the country. Tourists and locals alike know the city boasts a great selection of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Peranakaninfluenced street food. More than just a foodie destination though, besides its bustling culinary scene and strong heritage, Penang also makes for an excellent urban adventure destination from Singapore.
PENANG BRIDGE INTERNATIONAL MARATHON This year, the half marathon was held earlier, on 14th June 2015. For those of you who still want some action in the race, there’s still the 10km run and full marathon, both to be held on 22nd November 2015. More than 40,000 runners are expected to sign up for the event and 3,000 applications have already been received just one week since the opening of the online registrations.
First started in 1985, the Penang Bridge International Marathon is the largest sports event in Malaysia. Year to year, the race attracts huge crowds with runners from over 40 countries congregating in the city for this landmark race across the Penang Bridge – which at 13.5km long is one of the longest bridges in Southeast Asia.
The race is separated into three main categories to cater to participants of varying fitness levels – 10km, half marathon (21km) and full marathon (42km). During the event, the bridge is closed to traffic for several hours. It is the only time each year when the public is able to throng the bridge on foot and admire it in all its glory. As the sun rises, temperatures start to climb, but despite the rising heat, runners can still enjoy the panoramic view of the “Pearl of the Orient” basked in warm orange hues.
Visit www.penangmarathon.gov.my for more information.
Kek Lok Si Temple A popular site with visitors, Kek Lok Si, (“Temple of Supreme Bliss”), is a Buddhist temple perched atop Crane Hill. The 7-storey pagoda is a mixture of Burmese, Chinese and Thai architecture. Regarded as the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, it has 10,000 statues of Buddha and became the new home to two of Buddha’s 2,500-year-old relics earlier this year. Snake Temple As its name suggests, the Snake Temple is filled with a variety of (devenomized) pit vipers that coil around the altars and other parts of the temple. In an adjacent building is a compound that houses other varieties of snakes in captivity. Floating Mosque En route to Batu Ferringhi, it is hard to miss this iconic building with its 7-storey
minaret. Built upon stilts over the sands of Tanjung Bungah beach, the best time to visit is during midday when visitors aren’t intruding on prayer times. Visitors are also advised to dress appropriately – no revealing clothing or tops with slogans. Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower While Italy may have its Leaning Tower of Pisa, Malaysia has its own Leaning (Clock) Tower of Penang. The Moorish-style tower is a testament to the city’s royal connection, erected in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. However, due to World War II bombings, the tower now leans slightly to one side, making it an iconic photo spot.
tive indigo-blue exterior. It was later bought over by the descendants of Cheong to save the building from demolition. Today, the beautifully restored mansion has been transformed into a boutique hotel and restaurant, with guided tours available.
The Blue Mansion Named after the merchant who built it, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is better known as The Blue Mansion due to its distinc-
AREAS TO VISIT
Penang Hill Located just 6km from George Town, the city’s iconic summit – Penang Hill – is actually made up of a group of hills: Flagstaff Hill, Government Hill, Halliburton Hill, Strawberry Hill, Tiger Hill and Western Hill, with the highest point located at the peak of Western Hill (833m). The best time to visit the summit is at dusk, when you can capture George Town’s city lights while enjoying the cool temperatures that can go below 20ºC between June and October. The area boasts a rich diversity of flora, among which are species like the parasitic Exorhorpalia ruficeps which is unique to the area, in addition to carnivorous pitcher plants and cycads which existed since the Jurassic period. If you’re seeking an adrenaline rush, Penang Hill has about 7 mountain biking trails – some of which consist of drop-offs as high as 3m. The No.7 downhill trail is probably the most challenging one (not
advisable for beginners). Riddled with huge rocks and protruding tree roots, the track is constantly evolving due to rain erosion. Those tackling this trail are recommended to go with a full suspension bike. To get uphill, you can hike for 2 hours with your bike, or drive up with a 4WD. Go during the weekdays to avoid the crowd. Most visitors opt to take the iconic Penang Hill Railway, which first opened in 1923, to the top. This daily ride starts at 6.30am and leaves the top station at 11.00pm. Balik Pulau While George Town is a must-visit, the less-visited Balik Pulau a tranquilising retreat from the city. Located in the southwest of the island, it’s a durian connoisseur’s paradise (between May and July). Fruit buffets offering a variety of tropical fruits are available throughout the year, with durian added when it’s in season. As it’s a traditional community, Balik
Pulau’s traditional Malay stilt houses along Jalan Bahru offer homestays to visitors looking for village experience. Rooms are from RM30 a night (single), and bicycles can be hired at RM20 per day. Penang National Park To the north of the island is Penang National Park – a seemingly small, but extremely diverse forest reserve. Within the park there are 9 beaches, hiking trails and a range of flora and fauna not commonly found in other parts of Malaysia, such as the rare Faunus ater snail, alongside dolphins, crab-eating macaque and hawksbill turtles. You can camp in the forest, with tents and basic camping facilities available for hire at a small fee in designated areas. The park is a turtle sanctuary; on Kerachut Beach, visitors can see recently hatched turtles that are kept under protection until they are old enough to be released into the sea. Throughout the year, turtles can be seen coming on shore to lay their eggs.
GEAR GUY: Ken Berg
URBAN When you’re travelling, the reality is that you likely have more surprising adventures in a city or town than you do in the outdoors. Even in an urban environment, it’s not difficult to find an outdoor area to explore, so the key here is to be prepared. DAY PACKS
The best packs stay in place and conforms to your back, especially if you will be running and/or cycling. The Deuter Giga Bike (28L) is designed for transporting a laptop and other essentials while cycling. It has 2 foam channels for ventilation, a mesh hip belt to take some weight off your shoulders, and a built-in rain cover. The Timbuck2 Especial Medio Pack (30L) has reflective details, while the top of the bag is tapered
to make shoulder checks while cycling. It has high density foam with mesh for ventilation, removable hip and sternum straps, and lap top sleeve.
PROTECTIVE PHONE CASING
There is a wide variety of casings out there that will allow protection and still give you touchscreen access to your device. Seal Line’s Ecase can be submersed in up to 1m of
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.
water for 30 minutes, while Lifeproof’s nuud case is waterproof (2m) for up to 1 hour and is shockproof for drops of up to 2m.
You never know when you’ll need emergency access to your medical information – if your phone is password protected, Epic ID has a USB Emergency Bracelet which has 256MB of space to store important personal and medical information.
NEPAL: TRAVEL TIP
It seems news reports on the 25th April earthquake in Nepal (followed closely by a second major tremor on 12th May), were front and centre on global media bulletins recently, triggering widespread concern about the potential devastation to Nepal’s tourism industry. Unfortunately, most reports neglected to mention that many of Nepal’s tourism areas remained untouched by the disaster, including all the popular trekking routes. Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport is also fully functioning, as are all outlying district airstrips/airports, with 65 out of 75 districts nationwide completely unaffected by the disaster – leaving myriad choices for well-informed travellers. With the clearing of the mid-year monsoon rains, October heralds the peak season for trekking. It must be noted that with 33 out of the 35 most-frequented treks unaffected by the quakes, the Annapurna region remains highly recommended for a walk amongst the best scenery on earth.
In the Annapurna Conservation area, 9 out of the 10 national parks were unaffected by the quake, and can easily be accessed via Pokhara, which itself wasn’t affected either. It boasts classic routes – such as the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Sanctuary Trek – that traverse over foothills, across the higher slopes, and eventually beneath the alpine peaks of the Annapurna Range, with views that are normally afforded only to mountaineers. From Kathmandu, Pokhara is easy to get to by road or air. Once there, travellers can easily make arrangements for trekking or other adventure sports like whitewater rafting, mountain biking, or ultralight flying.
In Kathmandu itself, the tourist enclave of Thamel remains a hive of activity and the best place to snag bargains on souvenirs, hang out at trendy eateries and watering holes, or stock up on outdoor equipment before heading into the backcountry. Some UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Boudhanath, the biggest and most important stupa in Nepal, can still be
by Wilson Low
visited even as repairs to quake damage are underway.
Spring-time occupancy of tourist-district accommodation is expected to be high as the tourist season rolls around, but undamaged guesthouses and hotels further out from Thamel – where there’s a bit more peace and quiet from the hubbub or reconstruction – also welcome visitors. Further afield on the trekking routes, teahouse and budget hotel options can be found even in the most remote spots – all of which are largely unaffected, save for lack of visitors. By visiting Nepal’s scenic vistas and rich heritage sites, visitors become participants in a valuable social service: the rebuilding of communities and a country post-disaster through directly investing in the local economy and becoming part of the solution.
ADVENTURES FROM KOCHI TEXT BY Shilpa Suresh IMAGES FROM Kerala Tourism
Located in the southwest region of India, Kerala is known for blending ancient practises – from centuries-old folk dances to their Ayurvedic healing tradition – with an urban twist. This rich heritage is complemented with a landscape that encapsulates long sandy beaches, verdant forests filled with wildlife, and rolling misty hills. At just a 4.5-hour flight from Singapore, Kochi is ideal for a short break for those looking for a combination of culture, beach holiday, wildlife watching and outdoor activities.
Famous for its harbours, Fort Kochi is surrounded by bustling fish markets, and what makes it so unique is the local method of fishing – using Chinese fishing nets, dating back centuries when the Chinese once resided in Kochi. Operated by teams of up to 6 fishermen, each structure is about 10m high, with a cantilevered net suspended over the sea. A hang out spot for locals, Fort Kochi beach is a laidback area where you can watch fishermen in action while enjoying the views of the colonial architecture along the shoreline – these were once homes to explorers like Vasco Da Gama.
Athirappilly falls is an hour’s drive from Kochi or 45 minutes from Kochi Airport. Named as the ‘Niagara of India’ the 25mtall waterfall cascades down into three individual plumes. Below the falls runs a river that’s turbulent for almost 1km until it reaches Kannamkuzhi, after which it’s smooth sailing. Kayaking and canoeing trips are available here, and the guides can lead you to picturesque swimming spots. There are about 12 resorts in Athirappilly, ranging from budget to luxury, some offering up close views of the gushing waterfalls from the balcony.
Hiking trails dot the area – there is a 1km trail down to the bottom of the falls and local guides in Athirappilly offer guided hikes If you have a spice for life then along nature trails. A haven for wildlife, Mattancherry well worth exploring. Athirappilly is home to elephants, tigers, Surrounded by the backwaters of the leopards and bisons, to name a few. It is Arabian Sea, the streets of Mattancherry also the only location where all four South retained their ancient feel, where markets Indian species of hornbills reside, one of are filled with the aroma of spices; unlike which is the great hornbill – the state bird other parts of Kerala, the locals here mainly of Kerala. There are also teak, bamboo and follow Judaism. Mattancherry also hosts eucalyptus plantations in the area. India’s oldest active synagogue – the Paradesi Synagogue, constructed in 1567 You can get to Athirappilly Falls by rail – which can be found in the literally-named (Chalakudi is the closest station), private “Jew Town”. bus, and taxi.
One of the main tourist attractions in Wayanad is the Eddakal Caves. A cleft that’s almost 29m high and 7m wide, these natural caves host a series of carvings of human and animal figures, dating back to over 8,000 years ago.
The higher elevation here give this district misty weather and cooler temperatures throughout the year, although it is better known for having the second highest rainfall in the world.
Bamboo rafting is available along the Kabini River, about 112km away from the caves. The backwaters of the Kabini reservoir are part of the Kabini Forest Reserve which is rich in wildlife, especially in summer (June to October) when the water level recedes. The lush forest surrounding the river is where you may have sightings of elephants, shikars and birdlife.
A little further up north from Kochi, Wayanad offers breathtaking views of mountains, rivers and tea plantations. Within South India, Wayanad is known for its cool climate.
This pristine location is also dotted with history and culture, with the top cultural landmark being the wooden Thirunelli Temple that’s situated amidst the thick forest. In addition, local tribes here include the Paniyas, Adiyas and Kurichyas, who are known to be exceptional archers.
There are three main mountains in Wayanad: Chembra Peak (2,100m), Banasura Peak (2,073m) and Brahmagiri Peak
(1,608m). While many peaks are still unknown, however, the area attracts a lot of trekkers. Popular trekking routes include the 3-hour Chembra Peak trek – famous for its heart-shaped lake – which is accessible from Meppady (guides are available), and the Pakshipathalam Peak (1,740m) trail which is known for its birdlife. Camping and hotel accommodation are available at the scenic Seagot Banasura, with a backdrop of the lake and Banasura Dam. Adrenaline seekers can participate in various activities such as jummaring, river crossing and zip lining.
Running from Kollam to Kochi, this 75km stretch of backwater area is ideal for a scenic houseboat journey on a traditional Kettuvallam boat. The ride includes stopovers to the region’s tribes and villages which have long fascinated visitors. Besides exploring the culture, there are also opportunities to fish using their traditional methods and tools. Houseboat packages can also include cycling tours within the villages. Known as the ‘rice bowl of Kerala,’ the land is mostly surrounded by lush paddy fields and during harvest season you can catch the farmers engrossed in various traditional activities. Rich in avian life, you can often find flocks of parrots flying around the bloomed rice stalks.
These villages are also surrounded by canals where you can find vendors on Kettuvallam boats selling groceries and other goods such as coconut husks and rice transported from nearby markets. For those interested in trying out the local cuisine, stop by the small traditional wayside eateries where backwater fish delicacies and tapioca are served. Houseboats can be booked online where there are a variety of boats and styles to choose from. Options range from budget to luxurious, day or night rides, with a number of bedroom options.
The journey from Kochi to Kuttanad usually takes about 2 hours by car or train.
provides various traditional therapies including yoga.
Kovallam A 5-hour drive from Kochi, Kovallam is a village down south known for its pristine beaches. One of the oldest tourist enclaves, these beaches became popular amongst westerners in the seventies with the arrival of hippies, transforming it from an sleepy fishing village to a tourist hotspot dotted with plentiful accommodation options ranging from budget hotels to luxury resorts. Popular activities in Kovallam include surfing and traditional boat rides.
The star attraction is the Lighthouse Beach which stands tall on a rocky peninsula, overlooking Poovar in one direction and the famous Beemapalli mosque on the other. Offering a tranquil scene, this beach is ideal for long walks along the coastline where you can surf, play volleyball and indulge in beach activities.
Waves in Kovallam range from 0.5 to 2m – you can hire surfing and body boards from US$6 a day. Wooden boat rides in Leela Beach use ancient materials where the boats are rowed using bamboo paddles guided by the local fishermen; visitors can also opt for sunset cruises. Known as the world’s first Ayurveda resort, the Somatheeram Ayurvedic Resort sprawls over 15 acres of land and
GETTING THERE SilkAir and Tiger Airways offer direct flights from Singapore to Kochi, with a total travel time of 4.5 hours. Singaporeans, Japanese, Kiwis and Indonesians are some of the 12 nationalities that now enjoy visa-onarrival in India. For other travellers, visas can be applied online via this site: http://indianvisaonline.gov.in. Visit www.keralatourism.org for more information on Kerala.
A group of islands about 400km offshore from Kerala, Lakshadweep is India’s only coral atolls. Containing 12 atolls and a number of reefs and submerged banks, most visitors come here for some excellent diving. Bangaram features smooth sands and a multi-coloured sea, while Agatti is home to some of the best swimming beaches around, with a lagoon that’s ideal for diving. Every visitor requires a special permit to visit Lakshadweep, which is easily arranged via a tour operator. Foreign visitors are restricted to the islands of Agatti, Bangaram and Kadmat; the most dramatic approach from Kochi is by plane, where you land on an airstrip that seems to float in the ocean.
JAPAN: NISEKO FEATURE
ARTICLE BY RoomBoss.com Niseko
© H. Kerr
MT. YOTEI Also known as Ezo Fuji for its resemblance to Mt. Fuji (Ezo is the traditional name for Hokkaido) Yotei is the centrepiece of Niseko’s landscape. Its distinct outline is visible from afar, and on approach reveals a different profile depending on the aspect. Rising abruptly from relatively low surroundings (100m-300m), the slopes of this 1,898m stratovolcano proceed through the four seasons somewhat of their own volition. Winter comes earlier and endures longer on its summit than its flanks, which in turn progress at their own pace in relation to the valleys below. Passage to Mt. Yotei’s rugged summit begins at one of the four established points in Hirafu, Makkari, Kyogoku, or Kimobetsu, allowing access to the crater rim hiking trail and a hut for overnight stay.
A place of natural beauty, outdoor excitement, the freshest food, and soothing hot springs, the Niseko area is renowned as a getaway where one can enjoy the best of Japan’s pristine northern territory. Well known for its world-class skiing and snowboarding, Niseko continues to delight Japanese and international travellers during winter. It’s no coincidence that conditions for a great winter resort also make for a great summer destination. Long a popular destination for Japanese travellers, Niseko’s green season is becoming increasing popular globally for its comfortable summer climate and combination of scenery, activities, food and facilities.
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© William Jefferson
KOYO Diverse flora throughout the Niseko Range offer some of the most impressive displays of autumn colour in Japan. A network of roads lead to pristine mountain forests where birch, maple, Japanese rowan and other deciduous vegetation cover the slopes and valleys. Beginning in late September, rich red and yellow leaves, bright white birch bark, and deep green sasa foliage layer the landscape to create unique and stunning views. A 30-40km section of Route 66 known as the Niseko Panorama Line is the main artery through the Niseko Range with smaller roads branching off into more remote areas. Roadside parking areas and a visitor center at Shinsen Numa offer options for getting out of the car to enjoy scenic vantage points.
© William Jefferson
PONDS & WETLANDS Nature enthusiasts flock to the alpine ponds and wetlands within the Niseko Range. Shinsen Numa, Oyu Numa and Kagami Numa are among the most popular, with boardwalks that meander across the marshlands and along the edge of the ponds. Buried under metres of snow for half the year, fields of bright yellow lilies, wispy cottongrass and various wildflowers emerge in late spring, decorating the landscape and creating unique alpine nature viewing. Shinsen Numa In the 1920’s, boy scout leader Toyomatsu Shimoda bushwhacked his way to the network of ponds and declared it “a place where Gods and mountain spirits reside”. Shinsen Numa offers the full spectrum of the natural alpine environment including seasonal wildflowers, mirror ponds, and autumn colours. Oyu Numa A bubbling cauldron of hot spring water and mud, Oyu Numa provides an above ground view of the region’s mostly subterranean thermal riches. This pond is easily accessible via a 100m path from the parking area. Prime viewing is in autumn, when cooler temperatures create a striking juxtaposition of billowing steam clouds and bright autumn foliage. Kagami Numa The trail to Kagami Numa (“mirror pond”) can be rough in places, but it goes through beautiful forest and rewards you with picturesque views of the surroundings reflected in the pond’s still surface. The trail head is the closest to Hirafu, and can also be reached from the Tokyu Golf Course parking lot.
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JAPAN: NISEKO FEATURE
ARTICLE BY RoomBoss.com
Outdoor sports and adventure activities are central to Niseko’s green season. Niseko serves as a launch pad for rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking and many other summer activities. The front desk at your accommodation, whether you’re staying at a luxury hotel such as The Vale Niseko (nisekoalpineaccommodation.com) or Ki Niseko (kiniseko.com), or a budget hostel such as Owashi Lodge (owashilodge.com), is a good source of information on things to do around Niseko.
© Niseko Promotion Board
Niseko offers hiking for all levels of fitness and experience. From short trails in the foothills such as the “Haru-no-Taki” (spring waterfall) course, to a 3-hour round trip hike from Goshiki Onsen to the peak of Annupuri, through to a full-day climb up Mt. Yotei and around its rocky crater. Be sure to consult a guide, or a local who knows the surroundings, before heading off. A good point of call is the Niseko Adventure Centre (nacadventures.jp).
Take part in a beginner-friendly off-road adventure around the base of the ski trails or experience the thrill of lift-accessed downhill mountain biking. Trails can be accessed independently or with a local guide. Locals and visitors alike gather at Rhythm Cycles (nisekocycles.com), which offers rental bikes, tours, and advice on how to make the most of the area.
Hokkaido offers a road cyclist’s paradise: fastidiously well-maintained road surfaces, cool and clean mountain air, uncrowded roads and courteous Japanese drivers. Organised cycling events attract big crowds in the green season, such as the Niseko Classic (70kms and 140kms) and Nature Ride Niseko (variety of courses from 50kms to 200kms) in July. The Niseko Hanazono Hill Climb offers a 15.5km, 617m vertical climb race in in August. Road bike tours are offered by Hanazono Niseko (hanazononiseko.com) from the beginning of June through mid-October.
© Niseko Promotion Board
© Niseko Promotion Board
Navigate the Shiribeshi river (immediate access from Niseko Hirafu) as a crew member on a raft, or at the helm of your own “ducky” inflatable kayak. Whitewater ranges from more challenging class 3.5 in peak snowmelt, to a more mellow class 2 during later summer months.
Experience the thrill of descending steep canyons, jumping from waterfalls into pools below, and sliding down natural water features. Tours run in July and August, and operate in places such as the Sakazuki river canyon, approximately 1 hour from Niseko. © Nihon Harmony Resorts
Niseko’s proximity to the Sea of Japan is a contributing factor to its copious snowfall in the winter, and also allows for convenient day trips during summer. Sea kayaking provides close access to beautiful coastal areas where you’ll come across wildlife such as nesting birds, as well as sea creatures including urchins and starfish in the shallows. Both Hanazono Niseko (hanazononiseko.com) and NAC (nacadventures.jp) offer information and tours on the water.
© Niseko Promotion Board
JAPAN: NISEKO FEATURE © Niseko Milk-Kobo
ARTICLE BY RoomBoss.com
Hokkaido natives pride themselves on the island’s fresh, flavourful and bountiful food, in particular seafood such as crab and sea urchin, and agricultural produce grown in winter-rested volcanic soils.
Though long a destination for Japanese chefs, Hokkaido has also attracted a number of top international chefs. The result is a foodie destination that entices travellers from over 50 countries each year with venues ranging from casual izakayas and ramen bars to fine dining restaurants.
FINE DINING © Kamimura
Niseko View Plaza
The produce from over sixty local farms is on sale at Niseko town View Plaza, about a 15-minute drive from the resort area. Visit during harvest months for truly exceptional quality and freshness. Including asparagus and strawberries in June and July, and melons and sweet corn during August and October (keep an eye out for the incredibly sweet white corn, which can be eaten raw).
© Niseko Milk-Kobo
A Michelin-star rated French restaurant, Kamimura combines exquisite dining with an elegant ambience. Located within the Shiki building in Niseko Hirafu, chef Yuichi Kamimura expresses his creative passion for food with Hokkaido’s finest seafoods, meats and produce. Open July 9 to Oct 11 for dinner (Thurs, Fri, Sat) and lunch (Fri, Sat, Sun). Reservation required (kamimura-niseko.com).
Located in Niseko Higashiyama and with stunning views of Mt. Yotei over green pastures, Milk Kobo’s irresistible ice cream, yogurt, and pastries might lead you to postpone your lunch. The Japanese “shu cream” (based on French Choux pastry) is a must. If you do have room for lunch, then walk across to Milk Kobo’s Prativo restaurant with its amazing array of local vegetables in combined à la carte and buffet style.
An Dining is positioned within the newly opened hotel Ki Niseko nearthe Hirafu gondola. Head chef Shinichi Maeda shapes a high-end, Japanese izakaya-style menu with an emphasis on local produce, and an impressive hand-selected range of fine sake. Open year round, reservation required (kiniseko.com).
REGIONAL FARE © William Jefferson
© Niseko Ramen Kazahana
Niseko Ramen Kazahana
Located in Niseko Annupuri, Rakuichi promises delicious handmade soba noodles served in a traditional Japanese wooden home. There are just 12 seats, so book in advance (0136-58-3170).
This signature hearty ramen combines miso ramen, which originated in Hokkaido, with potatoes, which are Niseko’s specialty. Open lunch hours.
Pick your flavour of soup and level of spice, but beware, treat the latter with respect! Located in Niseko Hirafu (0136-23-1116).
Possibly Niseko’s most famous soba noodle restaurant, especially after it was featured in Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”.
Located in Hirafu, Niseko Ramen (www7.plala.or.jp/nisekoramenmount) is part of the local staple diet and home to a very original fluffy creamy potato ramen.
Japanese soup curry at its finest. Toppings include “tsukune” chicken meatballs with garlic and ginger seasoning, “shio aburi buta” (sliced, salted, and roasted pork), and traditional Japanese root vegetables.
䰀甀砀甀爀礀 ☀ 䄀搀瘀攀渀琀甀爀攀㼀 䈀攀 漀甀爀 最甀攀猀琀⸀
JAPAN: NISEKO FEATURE
ARTICLE BY RoomBoss.com
Niseko’s mountains are of volcanic origin, which is also the source of energy for local “onsen” hot springs. Aquifers supplied by snowmelt and precipitation are heated and fortified with minerals hundreds of metres underground.
In addition to bathing, onsen water has the potential to provide a natural source of energy for winter heating, and is used in this way by the luxury ryokan Zaborin (zaborin. com) located near Niseko Hanazono.
In a handful of locations spring water comes bubbling to the surface – these became Niseko’s first onsen baths more than 100 years ago. Wells are sunk for the majority of modern onsen, often to a depth of over a kilometer in order to tap into the hot spring water.
The “Cow Parade” is touted as the largest public art event in the world, and has been hosted in 80 locations around the globe. This year Niseko plays host with a total of 47 decorated life-like sculptures displayed around the area from June to October.
The Cows are in Town!
Niseko Cow Parade
ONSEN © William Jefferson
Nestled at the base of the Niseko Range’s youngest mountain, Mt. Iwao-Nuppuri, Goshiki (goshiki-onsen.com) is the quintessential remote mountain onsen. About 30 minutes drive from Niseko Hirafu, it’s certainly worth a visit. Plug the telephone number into your car navigation and enjoy the winding mountain roads.
Niseko Sake Brewery
Japanese sake rice wine is produced by a brewing process more akin to beer than to grape wine, where rice starch is converted into sugars prior to being converted into alcohol. Since early last century Niseko Shuzo Sake Cellars has produced an “undiluted unprocessed” variety of sake. The high quality sake is made with Hokkaido grown rice, and pure snowmelt and mountain spring water.
Goshiki Onsen Ryokan
Offering large outdoor baths wonderfully finished in stone and wood, Yugokoro-tei onsen (www.niseko-annupurionsen.com) is located in Niseko Annupuri. It’s one of the few onsen where you can arrive early for a morning bath (“asa-buro”).
Call in advance (0136-22-1040) to organise a tasting where you can sample a variety of sake.
Onsen within Hirafu
Ki Niseko (kiniseko.com) and The Vale Niseko (nisekoalpineaccommodation.com) both feature onsen of modern construction and chic design. These onsen are only available to hotel guests at certain times of year.
Another Hirafu-based onsen is Yukoro (0136-23-3434) which is situated in the lower village area, and is frequently visited by locals.
© William Jefferson
SUMMER/AUTUMN FESTIVALS Niseko Tanabata Fireworks Festival
© Niseko Shokokai
© Kutchan Town
“Matsuri” (local festivals) are a traditional and popular way to enjoy summer, and comprise a mix of cultural activities, games, and food. The Niseko area hosts three main festivals during summer.
As the name suggests, this festival boasts an impressive display of fireworks in addition to other activities. Locals often visit the Kutchan festival by day, then relocate to Niseko in the evening to watch the fireworks. [August 1, Niseko Town]
Kutchan Jyaga Festival
© Kutchan Town
© Hirafu Matsuri
This festival features “omikoshi” (portable ornately decorated Shinto shrine) which are carried/bounced on the shoulders of those who bear it, a show with one thousand “yukata” clad dancers, “nebuta” lantern floats pulled through the streets, and lots of food stalls. [August 1-2, Kutchan Town]
Starts from midday and features a fantastic selection of food, traditional games such as “mochi maki” (mochi hurled into the crowd who seek to grab it), live music and “bon odori” (traditional summer dance), taiko drumming and fireworks. [August 22, Niseko Hirafu]
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Located in northwest Borneo, Sarawak is separated from much of the rest of the island by the soaring mountains of Borneo’s Central Range. Topographically divided into three distinct natural regions, Sarawak has a flat coastal belt with extensive swamps and wetlands; a hilly hinterland throughout most of its interior; and a mountainous backcountry located along its southeastern border with Kalimantan. As the fourth most populous state in Malaysia, Sarawak is also home to more than 40 ethnic groups, and each of these have their own distinct language, culture and lifestyle. There are predominantly six major ethnic groups which are the Iban, Chinese, Malay, Bidayuh, Melanau and Orang Ulu.
TEXT BY Chua Wei Ling
IMAGES FROM Sarawak Tourism
Other landmarks in Kuching that reflect its history include the heritage buildings of the White Rajah era, and the shophouses – many built in the 19th century – that line the road along Gambier Street. With their facade unchanged for decades and decorated with weathered signboards, many have hidden histories, for example along the narrow lane between two shops, No. 24 and 25, which yields even more hidden shops as well as a small mosque.
Being a melting pot of cultures, Kuching is well-known for its places of worships. Sites such as the former State Mosque, built in 1968, is possibly the city’s most prominent landmark especially at sunset; or even the Tua Pek Khong Temple which stands at the intersection of the Main Bazaar – it is the oldest place of worship in the city.
Alternatively, there are many cycling and MTB tours that wind around Sarawak, taking travellers away from the city areas and on mountainous routes. Going out of the city, cyclists can even try crossing the Sarawak River in a sampan to experience how the people of Kuching commute between the two sides of the river daily, visiting rural kampongs on the other side.
Sarawak offers many hidden gems that are off the beaten track, and these are easily accessible on foot or by cycling. In the historical capital, Kuching, one can cover many of the city’s notable sights and lesser known locations, such as the Cat Statue, the Sarawak Museum, Old Kuching with its narrow alleyways, and even the Brooke Dockyard which was first set up in 1912 and is still operational today.
From Singapore, there are direct flights via Silkair and AirAsia, with a flight time of about 1.5 hours. For more information on Sarawak visit www.sarawaktourism.com.
Semmenggoh Wildlife Centre Borneo’s jungles are home to a rich variety of wildlife including the famous orangutans, and at the Semmenggoh Wildlife Centre (24km from Kuching), visitors can see semi-wild orangutans at the nature reserve. The centre aims to promote the conservation of the orangutans via campaigns and education programmes, as well as rehabilitate any wild animals that are injured or orphaned. Semadang River Full-day kayaking and bamboo rafting trips are available along the Semadang River, where you can experience a traditional Bidayuh lunch at a village along the way. Starting from Kampong Bengoh, paddlers will pass a waterfall, and drop in at the Gua Biasmara cave before breaking for lunch at Kampung Danu. Along the way, there are interesting limestone formations and caves – some of which can be visited on a dedicated caving excursion, including Rembang Cave, Majok Cave and Babai Cave. Most trips also include a river fish feeding session at Tanjung Baru before returning to Kampong Semadang. Bako National Park At just 40km from Kuching, Bako National Park is one of Sarawak’s most important nature conservation sites. Covering a diverse but compact area of 2,727ha. at the tip of Muara Tebas peninsula, it is Sarawak’s oldest (and smallest) national park and contains almost every type of vegetation that can be found in Borneo. A total of 25 distinct types of vegetation can be found, and these make up 7 complete ecosystems ranging from beach vegetation to heath forest, mangrove and peat swamp
forest – which can be explored via the park’s network of nature trails. A protected area since 1957, the wildlife in Bako are less wary of humans, and as such, visitors will have plenty of opportunities to observe and photograph them. The best times to visit would be just after dawn or before dusk, as that is when the animals are most active. Telok Assam, the area around the HQ (which also houses a number of accommodation options in chalets), is one of the best places to see wildlife like long-tailed macaques, silvered langurs, common water monitors, plantain squirrels, wild boars and mousedeer. Bako is also home to rare proboscis monkeys; you can catch glimpses of them at various places, including in the mangroves at Telok Assam, and along the trails at Telok Paku (1.2km) or Telok Delima (1km).
Bako has a network of 16 trails of differing lengths, ranging from 200m up 10.5km. Experienced trekkers can opt for longer and more strenuous circuits from the HQ, taking up to 7 hours to complete; these include the Telok Kruin (10.5km) route and the Telok Limau (10km) route.
URBAN ADVENTURE JUST BEYOND KUCHING
The Telok Limau route takes trekkers to the small beach at Telok Limau, passing through rich rainforest, and swamp forest with climbs up a number of hilly sections offering great views of the Muara Tebas peninsula. Overnight camping is allowed at Telok Limau and a boat can be arranged for the return trip (or by retracing the route back on foot). Visitors have to inform the park management attempting this trail.
Approximately 40mins drive southwest of Kuching lies the majestic limestone caves of Bau which itself is just 4km west of the picturesque manmade Blue Lake. As limestone is relatively soft and soluble, the frequent tropical rainfall in the region caused the Bau Formation to be cut through with caves. Most of these caves are inaccessible and remote, however there are two notable caves which visitors can get to easily. Fairy Cave The larger of the two, a circuit of the Fairy Caves takes about 1 hour to complete, with access to the cave via a 4-storey staircase. The combination of light, water and mineral-rich soil allows plants to survive in the cave, and the resident swiftlets and bats are part of the ecosystem here.
Thanks to the unique limestone walls at the entrance of the Fairy Caves, rock climbing has become popular here. The famous Batman Walls feature a unique suspended start, with a limestone feature
that is not easily found elsewhere in the region. Interested climbers can contact Climb Asend (www.climbasend.com) to arrange guided visits. Wind Cave The Wind Cave, on the other hand lies in a narrow belt of limestone which stretches for 150 sq. km. Here, a number of rare plant species can be found, including gigantic Arenga palms. Up to 14 species of bats can also be found, alongside 12 distinct species of snails which have evolved in the dark, damp caves. Deriving its name from the cooling breeze that blows continuously through the caves, the Wind Cave was formed during the Jurassic-Cretaceous period roughly 60 million years ago. A 1km plank walk runs throughout the length of the cave, providing visitors with relatively easy access. A flashlight is a must here, unlike in the Fairy Caves, as the interior is unlit. The main features of the cave are the stalagmites, stalactites, pillars (which are formed when both of these fuse together), as well as amazing natural limestone structures that hang from the ceilings of the cave passages. At the end of the passage, the plank walk leads to the hillside and down to the bank of the Sungai Sarawak Kanan, which is one of the major tributaries of the Sarawak River. Here, a narrow sandy beach lies along the river bank, where visitors are free to swim or even picnic, as there are stalls selling snacks and drinks.
UPCOMING EVENTS Rainforest World Music Festival [August 7 - August 9] Held annually, the Rainforest World Music Festival brings together renowned international and indigenous local musicians for 3 days of workshops, ethno-musical lectures, jamming sessions as well as mini concerts and evening performances on the main stages. With a variety of food and drink stalls, including an arts and crafts area and festival memorabilia, the festival takes place against the backdrop of scenic Mt. Santubong.
Kuching Marathon [August 16] Attracting runners from all around the world, although only in its second year the Kuching Marathon has quickly established itself as a well-known race on the ASEAN circuit, with runners getting the opportunity to enjoy the diverse sights and sounds of Kuching city and its surrounding kampongs. The race consists of full- and halfdistances ( 42km/21km), as well as 10km and 5km runs. This yearâ€™s turnout is expected to be high, following last yearâ€™s successful inaugural edition which attracted more than 5,000 runners and prize money worth RM125,000.
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Located deep in the heart of Perak, the ancient Belum-Temengor rainforest has been in existence for over 130 million years, making it older than either the Amazon or Congo rainforests – even predating the era of the dinosaurs. Covering a vast 3,000sq.km. of mostly virgin rainforest, the protected areas of Belum Temengor include Upper Belum (the Royal Belum State Park) and Lower Belum (Temengor Forest Reserve), linking up to create a vital crossborder wildlife corridor with contiguous nature reserves to the north in Thailand. It’s also home to the second-largest lake in Malaysia, Lake Temengor. At no time in its 130-million year history has it faced bigger challenges – from global warming to logging and poachers – to its survival than now. The forest’s future existence lies largely in the efforts of local environmentalists, residents and tourism bodies.
Belum-Temengor is home to hundreds of species of birds and mammals, many of which are critically endangered, such as the Sumatran tiger and rhinoceros. Standing on the frontline of the fight for their survival, the park and its tourism operators have become leading pioneers in blending conservation and sustainable tourism.
Tiger Conservation The Malayan tiger, native to Belum-Temengor, is one of 6 remaining subspecies of tiger left in the world. Found only in Peninsular Malaysia, their numbers had declined from 3,000 in the 1950s to just 65 individuals in 2009 due to poaching driven by the trade in traditional Chinese medicine.
Through the concerted efforts of conservation groups alongside local communities, the illegal trade has been replaced by sustainable tourism, and today BelumTemengor’s tiger population has steadily increased to an estimated 300-strong. The key to this fundamental shift has been the Malayan Tiger Preservation Project, with local patrol teams scouring the rainforests daily to physically remove snares and catch poachers. This led to the implementation of the Wildlife Conservation Act in 2010, where subsequent poachers who were caught were fined up to RM500,000. Other steps taken included keeping a close watch on the population numbers through hidden cameras and regular tracking of individual cats via pug marks.
BELUM-TEMENGGOR FOREST insular Malaysia they can all be found. The rare Plain-Pouch Hornbill has also made the area its stronghold; it migrates here annually when the fig trees around Tasek Temenggor bear their fruit.
The Orang Asli also play a vital role in the future success of tiger-based tourism; the project equips them with the skills to be tour guides and advocates for tiger preservation to tourists.
The area is also a major draw for birdwatchers, with Belum State Park being home to 316 bird species. Common sightings include the Fish eagle, Falconets, Accipiters and the Honey Buzzard, a type of kite which feeds on honey and possesses hard, scale-like feathers on its face to guard against bee stings.
Hornbill Conservation Belum-Temenggor is home to an estimated population of around 1,000 hornbills. These include all 10 subspecies native to Malaysia, making it the only place in Pen-
The best times for birding in Belum are dawn and dusk from July-October, when many species fly en masse for their daily feeding at Tasek Temenggor; boat trips on the lake offer a breathtaking experience.
MEME’s research findings are then circulated to various public and private bodies, as well as local Orang Asli guides who are key to ensuring ground-level implementation of conservation initiatives. Many tour groups have since reported on their successful low-impact encounters with wild elephants, giving the chance for close encounters without disturbing the animals themselves. The Pulau Banding Foundation, a research group in collaboration with Kyoto University, are involved in conducting research on endangered tapirs.
Other Conservation Efforts Focusing specifically on the park’s endangered elephant population, Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME) was created to gather data on their behaviors, feeding patterns, etc.
33 BELUM ECO RESORT
Situated on a 3-hectare plot on Pulau Banding, a small island within Lake Temengor, the Belum Rainforest Resort was built by hand using only natural materials. Working closely with the indigenous community in both the construction and running of the resort, its wildlife activities like birding and trekking tours are aimed at giving the local Orang Asli people a stake in the development of sustainable tourism. Among the grassroots initiatives include producing an overall biodiversity inventory of the forest, researching the lifecycle of endangered tapirs, and studying
the effect of global warming on Lake Temenggor’s native marine life. The resort’s many accolades include Perak Tourism’s “Best Eco-Resort Award”, while its ongoing collaborations with organisations like Wild Asia and strong support for jungle research have greatly increased the overall understanding of Belum-Temengor’s biodiversity.
Banding Island is located along the East-West Highway, and easily reached by road from Penang (3hrs), Ipoh (3.5hrs) and KL (5hrs). For more info on Belum, visit www.belumresort.com.
IN AND AROUND EDINBURGH
Best-known for its bagpipes, Braveheart and its distinctive national dress (the kilt), modern Scotland’s image looms far larger on the global scene than you’d expect from a country of just 5.2 million people. Over the centuries, it’s given the world everything from thinkers like Adam Smith and David Hume to penicillin, radar and whiskey. Despite 300 years of direct English rule (from 1707-1999), it’s maintained its own unique identity to this day. And no where is that more evident than in its historic capital city, Edinburgh – erstwhile seat of the Scottish kings and one of Europe’s most historically important, architecturally beautiful and culturally vibrant cities. Not far out of the city lie plenty of parks and natural landscapes that you can explore. Bikers, campers and hikers have free access to almost everywhere in Scotland, under a law known as the right to roam. This means you’re able to cross or camp on any private, unfenced land as long as you don’t cause a nuisance or damage private property.
PHOTOS COURTESY Visit Scotland
Old & New Town Edinburgh’s history dates back over 10,000 years, to the early Stone Age forbearers of the Celts. The city has been the Scottish capital since the 15th century, and between its medieval Old Town and 18th century New Town it is one of Europe’s most architecturally important cities. Edinburgh’s home to more listed buildings than any city in the world (75% of all buildings in the city), consisting of structures from the middle ages through to the Scottish Enlightenment and Georgian era, with the entire city inscripted by UNESCO in 1995. Some of its more prominent buildings include St. Giles Cathedral, the Canongate Tollbooth, Holyrood House and the entire Royal Mile, with the modern city co-existing alongside centuries of history. A free 2.5-hour walking tour is available daily, covering all the main sights of the Old City starting from the Royal Mile. Tales of body-snatchers, witch hunters, and executions unfold along the windy old streets. Advance booking is necessary.
Edinburgh Castle In a country already dotted with castles, it’s impossible to overstate Edinburgh Castle’s importance in Scottish history. Originally a pre-Roman hilltop fortress, over the centuries it’s been attacked, besieged and conquered numerous times, by barbarians, Romans, Scottish kings and finally the British. Dramatically perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city, Edinburgh Castle is one of the city’s top sites. Home to the Royal Palace and Royal Apartments, the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish crown jewels), are also on public display. Other attractions include the daily sounding of the One O’Clock Gun and the Stone of Destiny, an unimposing block of stone which was part of the coronation ceremony of early Scottish kings, then taken by England where it became a symbol of control over Scotland for 700 years, before finally being returned to Edinburgh in 1996.
ETIHAD DESTINATION: SCOTLAND
There are literally dozens of parks, green spaces and trails in and around Edinburgh, from urban trails and coastal walks, to long-distance routes like the popular Union Canal Towpath (50km) taking you directly from the heart of the city deep into the surrounding countryside. Holyrood Park + Arthur’s Seat Holyrood Park is a little piece of wilderness right in downtown Edinburgh. Covering just 2.5sq.km., the former royal hunting estate is home to glens, lochs, the Salisbury Crags and the famous Arthur’s Seat (250m). Easily climbable year-round in two hours up and back, Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcanic peak and affords stunning views over the city including the nearby Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle, both less than 2km away.
Pentland Hills Meanwhile, the Water of Leith Walkway (13km) leads into the nearby Pentland Hills, Edinburgh’s closest wilderness area. Situated as it is between the famous Highlands to the north and the corresponding Lowlands to the south, the region around Edinburgh is an interesting mix of both rugged and tame. The Pentland Hills cover roughly 90sq. km., and despite the wilderness setting, there are numerous nearby roads and villages, meaning its highly accessible by bike, bus or car. Consisting of a mix of rolling farmland and national park, the hills are home to a wide range of fauna including badgers, foxes, rabbits, roe deer, shrews and weasels, while the most numerous animals in the park are sometimes grazing sheep and cows. There are over 100kms of signposted walking paths and bike trails including surfaced (green) and rough/steep (yellow) routes, like the Capital View Trail (4km) with views straight down to Edinburgh and Firth of Forth, to the summit of Scald Law (579m), the park’s highest hill, or many of the park’s 12 archeological sites, some dating back to the early Celts, with later ruins including Castlelaw and Caerketton Fort.
One thing Edinburgh’s best known for are its events, with the city hosting a huge range from international book and film festivals, to Hogmanay, music events and more. Edinburgh Festival Fringe Every August, Scotland’s capital Edinburgh hosts the world’s largest arts festival – the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Attracting global artists and audiences, last year’s festival saw 50,000 performers, across 3,000+ events in nearly 300 venues - ranging from jazz to comedy, opera, cabaret, circus, the spoken word and more. Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 runs from 7-31 August, with many tickets starting from a few pounds each and already available for all shows. For more information, visit www.edfringe.com
The Highland Games Next to bagpipes, the Highland Games are probably Scotland’s most famous cultural export. Happening somewhere in the country almost every weekend from late-June to mid-September, the games include tossing the caber, tug o’war, bagpiping and dancing competitions, wrestling, racing and in some cases, haggis hurling and/ or haggis speed-eating. For a full schedule of this summer’s remaining events, visit www.shga.co.uk.
Etihad Airways flies daily from Singapore to Abu Dhabi, departing at 8.10pm and arriving there at 11.45pm. From Abu Dhabi, connect daily flights to Edinburgh – leaving Abu Dhabi at 2.20am and arriving in Edinburgh at 7.20am. Visit www.etihad.com/sg for more promotional fares and information on Etihad Airways. For more on Edinburgh and its surrounds, check out www.visitscotland.com.
Sierra de Gredos
Madrid is already famous for its abundant architectural gems from medieval to modernist, its renowned foodie scene that ranges from some of Spain’s best tapas to its 12 Michelin star restaurants, and of course its round-the-clock nightlife. Put all these factors together, and Madrid becomes a must-see. Despite being the EU’s third biggest city, thanks to its historic roots many of Madrid’s best sites today are concentrated in a tidy cluster around what was formerly the medieval city centre, in places like Puerta del Sol or Madrid de Los Austrias, making walking the best (and easiest) way to soak up the sights and sounds of the city, whether it’s strolling along Spain’s most famous street – Gran Via – or visiting the Madrid de Los Austrias Sunday market, El Rastro.
MADRID AND ITS SURROUNDS
MADRID Teleferico Casa de Campo
Barrio Malasaña Centred on Plaza del Dos de Mayo, the neighbourhood of Malasaña in central Madrid is the heart of the city’s bustling indie culture. Since giving birth to the rebellious counter-culture Movida (“movement”) in the 80s, Malasaña’s been the place for Madrid’s alt-scene, which has grown into boutiques, gastronomy and nightlife. It’s also where you might encounter cheli, Madrid’s unique version of Cockney-like slang, along with its iconic Muelle-inspired graffiti murals. While the barrio’s best-known for its cafes and clubs, it is also home to arts venues like the massive Conde Duque (cultural centre) which has almost nightly dance, music and theatre performances throughout the year. Palacio Real & Casa de Campo Situated just south of Malasaña is the Palacio Real, one of Madrid’s most historic sites. Completed in 1764, this former residence of the royal family is open to the public year round, including its 3,000 rooms, gardens, state rooms and the Royal Armory. Just behind the palace, Casa de Campo was originally a royal hunting ground, covering a vast 17sq.km., including forests, meadows, the Madrid Zoo, an amusement park and a lake. The park’s open daily and easily accessed on foot or via the Teleferico (cable car), which gives you a
bird’s eye view of sites like Plaza de España en route to Casa de Campo from its starting point at Paseo Rosales (€3 round-trip). Cycling Madrid While public transport is a good way to get around, bicycling around Madrid is a great way to enjoy some of the city’s emblematic buildings, parks and rivers at your leisure. Madrid has a public bike system, BiciMad, which are electric-powered bikes (ideal to navigate the city’s many hills) that you can rent (€2-4 per hour) from various kiosks around the city. One route you can take is from the Ministerio de Agricultura (Ministry of Agriculture building) along the flat, straight Paseo del Prado where you’ll pass Prado Museum, Caixa Forum and the National Library as well as 3 of the most important popular plazas in Madrid: Neptuno, Cibeles and Colón, the final destination. You can also cycle in Retiro Park, where you will see Plaza de la Independencia, as well as the Palacio de Cristal and Retiro Lake. Perhaps the most rewarding is a route from the Palacio Real to the huge park that is Casa de Campo, which features infinite paths that attract mountain bikers. Another route is along the Madrid Rio where you can stumble upon free activities like zip lines and (adult) playgrounds before ending up in Matadero Madrid, an old slaughterhouse that’s now a cultural centre.
ETIHAD DESTINATION: SPAIN
DAYTRIPS AROUND MADRID
Peñalara Nature Park Peñalara is a small, but stunning park located less than an hour from downtown Madrid. Measuring 7.68sq.km, the park is home to its namesake summit, Peñalara (2,429m) – the tallest mountain around Madrid. From the park’s information centre, it’s 4-5 hours to the peak. Home to dozens of protected species of birds, Spanish imperial eagles and black vultures are regularly seen soaring overhead on the slopes of Peñalara, especially in spring and autumn when the weather’s also ideal for rock climbing. The historic Monasterio de Santa Maria de El Paular (Monastery of El Paular) is located in the nearby town of Rascafria. Dating back to the 14th century, its Baroque architecture, exquisite stained glass and famous wood carvings alone make it worth a look, while its quaint hostel – open to both men and women – provides accommodations for a unique overnight experience in Madrid’s rural hinterland. Sierra de Gredos Another prime hiking and climbing area is the Sierra de Gredos, a short east-west chain of peaks running between Madrid and Toledo. Easily reached by car, the summits of several 2,000m+ peaks can be seen from the outskirts of Madrid, including Pico Almanzor (2,592m) and La Galana (2,564m). Easily accessible, they make for an ideal hiking spot, as well as organised activities like horseback riding and tandem paragliding, which can easily be arranged by local operators.
GETTING THERE There are no direct flights to Madrid from Singapore. Etihad Airways provide convenient flights from Singapore to Abu Dhabi, departing at 8.10pm and arriving at 11.45pm in Abu Dhabi. From there, connect one of four Etihad flights to Madrid, leaving Abu Dhabi at 2.35am and arriving in Madrid at 8.45am. For more promotional fares and information on Etihad, visit www.etihad.com/sg.
Visit www.spnmagazine.com for more on Madrid and its surrounds.
Situated just 75km away and connected by numerous road and rail lines, a visit to the historic city of Toledo can be easily arranged as a day trip from Madrid.
Toledo, the city’s signature sweet, and queso manchego, or Manchego cheese, both of which have been awarded D.O. status.
With its history dating back to the Bronze Age, Toledo’s been a strategic prize for centuries, and its architecture today tells the story of successive conquests by the Romans, Goths, Moors and finally by the Spanish kings in the Reconquista.
Toledo’s most famous local architecture is the fortress of Alcazar, which played a pivotal role in the Spanish Civil War. The city also has an abundance of historic ecclesiastic masterpieces, including its stunning cathedral with its hundreds of stained glass windows, as well as the 1,000+ year old Cristo de la Luz mosque dating from the days of the Moors. Meanwhile, the works of legendary Renaissance artist El Greco dot the city and are on display to the public at both the Real Fundacion and Casa de El Greco (the artist’s former home).
The largest city in Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha region, Toledo is still quaint and walkable even compared to stroll-friendly Madrid. And while its setting amidst the hot, central plains was first made famous by Don Quixote’s Man of La Mancha, today it’s equally well-known for its mazapan de
Capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi city is uniquely made up of an archipelago with nearly 200 islands dotted along the coast line, making it an ideal destination for island hopping. Away from the waves, on shore while Abu Dhabi’s well known for its shopping and cityscape, it’s an equally great destination for traditional Arabian attractions like desert safaris, the city’s famous souks and cultural monuments. These include the impressive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (with 82 soaring domes and home to the world’s largest Persian carpet) and the Emirates Palace, one of the world’s most opulent hotels with its gold-leaf decor and decadent Swarovski crystal chandelier.
IN & AROUND ABU DHABI
Al Ain GETTING THERE
Etihad Airways flies daily from Singapore to Abu Dhabi and will soon launch its state-of-the-art Boeing 787 Dreamliner on this route from 2 August 2015. From its hub at Abu Dhabi International Airport, Etihad Airways has direct connectivity to more than 100 cities worldwide, with special stopover offers and multi-city deals allowing travellers to combine Abu Dhabi and their network of onward destinations. For more promotional fares and information on Etihad, visit www.etihad.com/sg.
Known as the Garden City, Al Ain exudes history and culture. Through its museums, restored forts and palaces, souks and archeological sites dating back to the Stone Age, Al Ain gives visitors an insight into a desert way of life that has endured for centuries. Once a vital oasis on the caravan route from the UAE to Oman, the Al Ain Oasis is surrounded with palm plantations and cool shady walkways. Many of these plantations have working examples of falaj, a centuries-old irrigation system that taps water from underground wells. The towering Jebel Hafeet mountain (1,240m) offers impressive views over Al Ain and its desert surrounds, which is home to endangered wildlife like the Arabian oryx and sand gazelle. Among its cultural collections are the bustling Central Market, which is a camel market and livestock souk (the last of its kind in UAE), the picturesque Al Jahili Fort, and the National Museum, built in 1910.
Al Gharbia is where the desert meets the ocean, and features hundreds of kilometres of coastline. Thanks to its calm waters and strong winds, it’s ideal for kitesurfing. Al Gharbia is home to a number of ancient desert forts, as well as the historic oasis town of Liwa which sits at the entry of the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter), the world’s largest desert. Just offshore is the Sir Bani Yas Island, a former royal reserve which now hosts the Arabian Wildlife Park where free-roaming animals include the Arabian oryx. For a bit of adventure, head to Moreeb Hill – at 300m, it’s one of the world’s tallest sand dunes. Its 50º incline makes it ideal for dune bashing on ATVs.
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*The Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights between Singapore and Abu Dhabi applicable from 2 August 2015.
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Singapore's free adventure travel magazine. Pick up your free copy or read online. Check out sportsandtravelonline.com.
Published on Jul 22, 2015
Singapore's free adventure travel magazine. Pick up your free copy or read online. Check out sportsandtravelonline.com.