Wednesday 21 March 2012

Royal Selangor Pewter Centre (Singapore)

Every story has a beginning. Royal Selangor's coincides with the remarkable development of tin mining in the Malay peninsula in the 1800s. The Pewter Centre will take you back over a hundred years to the founding of Royal Selangor and its inextricable link to tin mining, to the present day as the world's largest pewter maker.

View the traditional pewtersmithing tools, antique pewter and other experiential exhibits displayed at the Gallery (Free: open to the public and scheduled tours).

Despite modern technology, every piece of Royal Selangor is still handcrafted to a surprising degree. Watch as the steady hands of our artisans cast, file and polish objects to create the celebrated Royal Selangor finish. You can even try your hand at hammering pewter! (The School of Hard Knocks!)

Founded in 1885, Royal Selangor is the world's foremost name in quality pewter, a brand synonymous with design and craftsmanship.  In the hands of our skilled craftspeople, this versatile alloy of tin, copper and antimony is transormed into an endless variety of homeware and gifts sold in more than twenty countries around the world today.

How to get to the Royal Selangor Pewter Centre
The Royal Selangor Pewter Centre is easily accessible by taxi if traveling by MRT, alight at the Clarke Quay Station. By bus, take no. 54 from Scotts Road or 32 and 195 from City Hall MRT Station.

Opening hours
9am - 9pm daily, including public holidays
No appointment necessary unless registering for a session at the School of Hard Knocks.

Royal Selangor (S) Pte Ltd
3A River Valley Road #01-01
Clarke Quay, Singapore 179020
Tel +65 62689600 Fax +65 62686300

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Take the time to Czech out Prague

Weary old buildings that conceal impressive historical pasts stand next to public monuments such as the gothic Tyn church, neo-classical Estates Theatre and medieval Prague Castle. The contrast in Prague’s architecture mirrors the city’s past, charting the progression from its rule under several regimes to its transition into a democratic state with the ‘Velvet Revolution’. 
The main attractions of the city are within walking distance of each other and the central point is the Prague Castle complex, which overlooks the whole of the capital from its dominating position on a hill in the northwest section.
The huge castle complex is considered the largest in Europe. You can easily spend a day wandering around the grounds including the magnificent St. Vitus Cathedral with its handsome chapels and stained glass windows. 
It is the site where Prague's patron saint, St. John of Nepomuk, is buried in a massive, silver sarcophagus. Ascend the steep staircase of the cathedral spire with nearly 300 winding steps that lead up to the tower for an impressive view of the city.
Visitors can also explore the numerous unique tombs on the grounds, watch performances in the courtyard and shop for souvenirs in the little picturesque shops along Golden Lane. 
Time you visit to the Old Town Square so you can see and hear the five-century-old Astronomical Clock that strikes on the hour. The clock attracts a daily crowd of onlookers who stand in awe of a device considered a marvel of engineering during its time. 
A trip to the Jewish Quarter, with its rich and poignant history gives a fascinating insight into the culture of the people. Visit the cemetery where the famous Rabbi Low is buried. He is recognized for his efforts in the 16th century to save the community by creating a golem creature of mud that figures prominently in many Prague folk tales. 
For a look at modern Prague, take a tram ride to Wenceslas Square, which was the site of political demonstrations that changed the course of history. The Museum of Communism in Wenceslas Square gives a vivid representation of the Czech people’s struggle against communist rule. The square has various hotels, cinemas, shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, some of which are hidden away in side streets or short passage ways. 
Stop by Charles Bridge and enjoy great views over Prague's rooftops. The famous historical bridge crosses the Vltava river linking the Old Town, Prague Castle and surrounding areas. This 13th century bridge holds a distinctive collection of 30 religious statues. 
While you stroll the bridge, enjoy performances by sidewalk musicians and watch artist paint by the footpath. For a unique souvenir, get your caricature drawn by an artist for a small fee. Hop on to one of the boats to end the day with a sunset cruise down the sweeping Vltava water way. 
If you want to sample the local fare, step into one of the sidewalk cafes or restaurants for an affordable and filling meal. The Czech enjoy a hearty cuisine meant to cope with the effects of a cold climate and a customary Czech dinner includes bread dumplings, cured meats, potatoes and cabbage broth.

Practical Information:

Prague has attractions for visitors all year round. The months of May and June are popular times to visit along with Easter and the Christmas holidays. The section of Old Prague is a great place to explore on foot so choose to stay in a hotel in the heart of the city and wear a sturdy pair of shoes to cope with walking on cobblestone streets. If your feet begin to tire, there is a good tram, bus and underground system to help you get around.

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Sunday 18 March 2012

Dubai Desert Delights

One of seven states of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has transformed from a quiet port into a destination brimming with novel structures and amazing malls alongside traditional attractions such as safaris in olden deserts. 

The Burj Al Arab hotel, which is built in the shape of a sail, stands proudly by the coast as a symbol of this change. Other significant structures include the enormous entertainment complex known as Dubailand and The World, a group of man-made islands in the shape of the continents of the earth. 
Dubai has established itself as the holiday capital of the Middle East with a range of leisure choices that includes championship golf courses, art galleries, Jumeirah Beach and the Dubai Museum. Visitors can also try some unique experiences such as camel riding, sand skiing or sand boarding, sail onboard a traditional dhow and go dune bashing or four wheel driving amidst sand dunes. 
The high temperatures make the white sand beaches and thrilling water parks a natural option for holidaymakers, but remember to bring along sun block. The water parks offer excitement with high water slides and rides like the Wild Wadi Water Park on Jumeirah beach, and Aquaventure, which is part of luxury resort Atlantis The Palm.  
The Dubai Mall draws shoppers with swanky shops such as Galeries Lafayette, Bloomingdale’s, Hermes and Prada. The mall houses an Olympic-sized ice rink and once you’ve had your fill of shopping, wonder through the marvel that is the Dubai Aquarium. The Mall of the Emirates not only features international names with brands such as Marc Jacobs and labels like H&M, it also has an indoor ski resort with ski runs of varying difficulty and a snow park. 
For old style shopping with local flavour, make a bold venture into the souks or outdoor markets found along the banks of the Dubai Creek. The unique smell, sounds and sights of the souks can be experienced in the Deira old quarters. 
The shops lining the alleyways offer everything from exotic spices and gold to fabrics in diverse colours and a range of prices. The wonderful part of wondering through these souks is that they are a living entity and not set up for tourists during the shopping season. 
The merchants are friendly and relaxed and do not pressure you into buying their wares. In fact, they are patient and glad to explain what they have to offer. Bargaining is part of the fun and if you are not accustomed to haggling, the shopkeepers will walk you through it. 
For a tour of the city, climb aboard the abra water taxi and ride across the Dubai Creek to the Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort, regarded as the oldest building in the city. The dioramas on display here illustrate the lives of the people in olden days and show how far the emirate has progressed. 
An elegant way to take in the sights is to cruise the Creek aboard the Bateaux Dubai which presents a fine dining gourmet experience on board while you view the city lights come alive at night from the interior of the glass enclosed vessel.
For something rugged, try a desert safari in a four-wheel drive vehicle amidst the sand dunes that extend across the salt flats of the Gulf coast. The escorted safaris range from half-day trips to overnight camping excursions with BBQ dinner. 
A typical desert camp is all the more enjoyable accompanied by activities such as sand surfing, sand boarding and getting henna tattoos, wrapping up with a delicious buffet dinner of local cuisine on mats and low tables with entertainment in the form of a belly dance performance under the stars.
Get caught up in the excitement of a camel race with the unforgettable sight of the lanky animals ridden by young jockeys being urged towards the finishing line by their trainers keeping pace alongside in 4WD vehicles. 
A camel ride can be arranged and is not as intimidating as it appears. Just follow the guide’s instructions, lean back and get into sync with the side-to-side gait of these gangly creatures. The grounds have a carnival atmosphere with merchants hawking rugs, beads, blankets and multi-coloured camel accessories spread out on the ground.
Practical Information:

While the weather is sunny all year round, November to April are the milder months. Dubai city has a metro transit system that runs along the busy main street known as Sheikh Zayed Road, which is close to key shopping, recreational and entertainment facilities. Weekends in the Muslim world are on Friday and Saturday.  

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Friday 16 March 2012

Explore the Soul of Siem Reap

Siem Reap is located in the north of the kingdom of Cambodia. Once a sleepy village, it is now an energetic town with five-star hotels and eateries, art galleries and luxury jewellery shops.

Siem Reap is renowned as the gateway to the mystifying temple complex of Angkor Wat, one of the most famous in the world dating back to the early 12th century. Cambodia’s national flag carries an image of the monument marking its importance as a symbol for the country.  
Siem Reap means ‘victory over Siam’ signifying an ancient time when the extraordinary Khmer empire ruled over vast areas in Southeast Asia. The temples form part of an ancient city taking one back to a time reflecting the power and glory of the Khmer empire.  
The monuments of stone reflect the influence, architectural expertise and construction skill of the Khmer people. The splendid Angkor Wat is a masterwork incorporating precision design, excellent technique and superb craft. The floors are built without mortar while the towers and walls are made with sandstone blocks that interlock so firmly not even water can penetrate. 
The alignment and geometric tip are so perfectly in place with the cardinal points that every morning, at the crack of dawn on the equinox, the sun rises directly above the raised centre tower located right at the very midpoint of the complex. 
Further north in the ancient city of Angkor Thom is the Bayon temple. The most distinctive feature of the complex is the huge embodiment of the tranquil faces of King Jayavarman VII keeping a watchful eye in all directions of the temple.
East of Angkor Thom is Ta Prohm, which was built in the late 12th and early 13th century. Huge roots of ancient trees grow all over the place, piercing through doorways and temples. It is the setting where scenes from the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was shot. 
Another impressive sight is the Tonle Sap, the biggest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia, which streams into the Mekong River. Take a day boat trip to get a closer look at the interesting river life with floating markets, schools and temples. More than 100 species of birds can be found near the lake including some that are endangered.  
The highlight of evening activities in Siem Reap is a wonderful show of cultural highlights at the Apsara Theatre. The showcase includes a traditional dinner and dance performance. The dance steps are graceful and striking with vividly colourful and ornate costumes. Both the food and the show are exotic, offering guests a glimpse of the distinctive taste and style of ancient Khmer cuisine and society. 
Adventurous foodies can explore the many outdoor restaurants in Siem Reap. These offer reasonably priced, freshly prepared meals like the amok fish, a local Cambodian style curry that is steamed in banana leaves. Be sure to sample traditional Cambodian chicken, freshly caught steamed fish as well as Khmer sausages and grilled cuttlefish. 
Souvenir hunters should head for the Old Market located in the centre of the town. This is a tourist market offering a variety of items such as hand woven silk scarves, bronze and wooden sculptures of Buddha, apsaras (celestial maidens) and other Cambodian figurines. Drive a hard bargain and you could be rewarded with discounts of up to 50 per cent off the original quoted price.  
Practical Information:

A good time to visit is from November to early February when the weather is cool and dry. A convenient way to get around is by remorque (tuk-tuk) which is a passenger cabin strapped to a motorcycle. The tuk-tuk can accommodate four to five passengers. An affordable way to sightsee is to hire a tuk-tuk and driver to chauffeur you around for the entire day. 
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Wednesday 14 March 2012

San Francisco’s blockbuster attractions

There is never a dull moment in the city by the bay which consistently draws visitors to its iconic sights, gastronomic delights and fabulous shopping ...

The Northern California city of San Francisco offers numerous places of interest and varied experiences such as its famed cable car and the former island prison of Alcatraz. Other places of interest in the area include San Jose and the Napa Valley wine region in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Golden Gate Bridge is probably the most recognized landmark in San Francisco as it has been featured in many Hollywood films. A good place to start exploring is to take a bus there and walk the length of the bridge stretching from the north side of the city to Marin County.

The cable cars are movable landmarks and one of the most enchanting forms of transport that are well worth a ride. Alcatraz is the iconic prison complex on an island off the bay that looms large in the city’s consciousness and has made a significant impact on pop culture.

To get there, take a ferry ride from the pier to the island. You can wonder around the cells where notorious prisoners like Al Capone were incarcerated, the mess hall where inmates had their meals and the yard where prisoners could exercise. The audio guide is an excellent accompaniment to the walking tour and makes the visit all the more fascinating.

Just outside the city, visitors will find beautiful parks and nature reserves. The Muir Woods is a short 20 minutes away by car. Here you can walk among the giant redwood trees, which are considered the tallest in the world. These natural ‘skyscrapers’ reach as far to the sky as the eye can see.

Shopping enthusiasts will find the retail scene has something for every taste. Hit the downtown shopping areas for luxury goods and designer brands. Sacramento Street and Union Street are the places to go to if you prefer boutiques.

You can get the best bargains at discount shops like Nordstrom Rack, Marshall's and Ross. Post season stock and over runs can go for up to 70 per cent off the original prices. Make your way to Gilroy Premium Outlets where an assortment of brand names like Banana Republic and Coach are available at substantial discounts.

Some of the most enjoyable shopping can be done in the Chinatown area with items ranging from furniture and jewellery to porcelain. The Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest in North America and is a non-stop hive of activity. Here you can find a range of herbal stops along the streets that dispense traditional Chinese medicine.

Weekends are the time to head for the farmer's markets, which are usually held in various towns such as Mountain View. The farmers' market at the Ferry Plaza building is the largest and opens on weekend mornings while the permanent stores in the building sell some of the best chocolate, cheese, olive oil and wine.

It is hard to avoid eating well in San Francisco. The diversity of cultures and the availability of fresh local produce combine to make San Francisco a place for great feasting. As a matter of fact, the Bay Area is regarded as home to some of the best restaurants in the United States.

These range from incredible Italian grub, authentic Japanese food and even exotic Afghan cuisine. For California style fare, feast on fresh crabs with a starter of clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl at the seafood restaurants along Fisherman's Wharf.

Practical Information:

Being a coastal city, the weather is pleasant throughout the year. Spring time in May or June is a good time as is the summer phase between July and August, which is a suitable time to visit most of the Bay Area. Autumn from September to November is when the weather is cool and the fall foliage is at its scenic best.

It is easy to get around on San Francisco's public transport with bus, trolley bus and railway systems that charge a flat fee for adults and concession fares for children and senior citizens. An alternative is the Bay Area Rapid Transit or Bart, which issues store valued cards that can be used to get around easily.

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Sunday 11 March 2012

Philippines: Manila City Charm and Beyond

The capital of the Philippines is an urban metropolitan hub for dining, shopping and sightseeing but it also offers nature retreats and rustic escapes...

Manila is a city of contrasts with jeepneys jostling for road space with limousines, street side food stalls next to posh restaurants and shanty towns down the road from five star hotels. You can’t help but appreciate the Filipino sense of hospitality with the locals greeting you with warm smiles.

It is easy to get around in the city that never sleeps. Taxis are a reliable way to get around. The adventurous can hop on a jeepney, a modified army jeep fitted out with an extended passenger cabin. 

Within the Metro Manila cities of Makati and Mandaluyong, you will find a melting pot of fun activities. Shop with a vengeance at mega-huge shopping malls such as SM Mall of Asia, or enjoy the jet set life at trendy nightlife outlets. 

Whatever your pleasure or taste, Manila’s dining scene has something that will meet your expectations. Apart from native Filipino fare, the abundance of city restaurants serve up international cuisine that range from Japanese, Italian, Indian to Middle Eastern. 

The must do’s on a visitor’s agenda include visits to touristy spots such as the historic Fort Santiago in the Intramuros district notable for displaying the memorabilia of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal. Close by is the Manila Cathedral, built in 1571 and the San Agustin Church at General Luna Street. Check out the Casa Manila, a restored 19th-century dwelling that houses handicraft and curio shops.

Get your fill of the capital, which is overflowing with incredible shopping, food, nightlife and tourist spots before heading out on trips to the surrounding outskirts to enjoy some amazing scenery and nature. 


Just outside the capital is the summer town of Tagaytay, which is approximately a one and half hour drive away from Manila. At an altitude of 640m above sea level, Tagaytay experiences low humidity and has cool temperatures all year. It is a chill out spot to get away from the heat of the city, making it a popular weekend getaway for the locals. A convenient way to get to Tagaytay is to hire a taxi-van with a driver.

At the highest point, enjoy the spectacular view of the four bays and Lake Taal from which emerges the Taal Volcano. It is the smallest active volcano in the world, made all the more unique as it is a crater located within a lake in the midst of a volcano. To get across to the centre, hop aboard the boat at the Taal Lake shore for a 20-minute trip. Once there, you can trek or rent a donkey to get to the top of the crater.

For a family outing, make a day trip to the Philippine version of Disneyland, known as Enchanted Kingdom. It is 30 minutes away from Tagaytay and has rollercoaster rides, theme shows and fireworks displays.

Baguio City

A preferred getaway for visitors from Manila is Baguio City, which is about 250km north of the capital. Baguio City enjoys cool climate all year round. The crisp weather, misty hills and picturesque views of this mountain city are a draw for both tourists and locals. 

Baguio City was originally planned as a health resort for American civilians and military personnel who wanted to escape from the heat. It is also known as the City of Pines because of the numerous pine trees that adorn the landscape. 

The commercial centre of Baguio City is Session Road, which is a favourite spot for strolling and shopping to your heart’s content. The Baguio Cathedral sits atop a hill in the middle of the city. The rose-coloured church with twin spires is remarkable for its splendid architecture. 

Visit the orchidarium, where many types of plants, trees and flowers are on display. One of the highlights is a vast man-made lake where you can take a boat ride. For fresh air and sunshine, head to Burnham Park which is named after the planner of the city.

Practical Information:

Manila is warm for most of the year except between November and February when it gets cooler. Christmas is an exciting time to visit as the entire nation prepares to celebrate the yuletide. The rainy season is between June and October. 

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Saturday 10 March 2012

An Australian self-drive Holiday

An Australian self-drive holiday is all about the freedom to decide where and when you want to go and how you will get there!

A self-drive vacation is one of the best options to see Australia on your own terms. Driving in Australia is a great pleasure with the opportunity to explore wide-open spaces and wonderful natural landscape. There are many destinations in the land down under that are best experienced by car.

With eight major gateway cities to choose from, it is possible to arrive at one city, embark on a self-drive tour and leave via another city. With inter-city rentals, you can get maximum mileage from your trip. 

Self-drive is simple and convenient and Australia has some of the best road trip itineraries in the world. It helps that Australians use the metric system so speed limits are defined in kilometres per hour and distances are measured in metres and kilometres. 

A big advantage is the left hand drive system similar to Singapore so you are ready to hit the road when you land with very little orientation adjustment to be made. You can purchase a self-drive package from an agent or simply plan your own route and hire a car. To get the most of your Australian driving experience, it helps to be well prepared.

For a start, it is necessary to produce an International Driving Permit (IDP) to hire a car in Australia. However, if you have a driver’s license printed in English such as the ones in Singapore, there is no need for an IDP. Book your vehicle in advance so you have a better selection to choose from. When you arrive in the country, collect the keys right away and you are ready to begin your trip. 

Select the kind of vehicle that best suits your needs. Consider the number of adults and children travelling in your entourage and then work out if you need a sedan, compact SUV or bigger MPV. Remember you also need space for luggage. 

For references, there are plenty of first-rate maps and guidebooks that give comprehensive information and route suggestions for self-drive trips in Australia. Some vehicles come with GPS satellite navigation systems with in-cabin display and voice prompts that give you directions. 

Where possible, try to familiarise yourself with the native road regulations. There are some peculiarities to look out for. For example, at certain peak hours during the day in Melbourne, trams have the right of way over other vehicles. Certain parking lanes are designated Clearways, which means they convert to traffic lanes during peak times.    

It is mandatory that all vehicles in Australia require insurance. Take note that in some cases, the insurance coverage may become void if you are not driving on bitumen roads, so stick to sealed bitumen motorways. It is compulsory to use seat belts including all passengers in the back seat.

While you are on the road, remember that Australian speed limits are generally set at 40km to 60km for built-up areas and 100km per hour for open roads. On some parts of the freeway, the limit can go up to 110km per hour. 

If there is indication of double white lines along the centre of the road, it means overtaking of vehicles is illegal or just plain dangerous. If the white line is broken on one side, it is all right to overtake on that side. 

Remember to activate the indicator when making a turn. Headlights are to be switched on from sunset to sunrise. It is also wise to use headlights during the day in poor visibility conditions such as fog or rain. If the driver of an oncoming car flashes his or her high beam at your car momentarily, they are trying to warn you to proceed with caution or slow down. Most likely there is some trouble up ahead in the form of an accident or a fallen tree across the road. 

Be prepared for toll payments especially in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Ask your car hirer about making arrangements for paying toll. With a prepaid account, it is possible for toll fees to be automatically charged as your vehicle passes under gantries at strategic locations. This way you cut down on the risk of non-payment and avoid incurring a penalty. 

Practical Information:

Toll payments made easy 
Hertz offers a convenient way through its link with toll provider, Roam Express. Simply opt-in to Roam Express Rental e-Pass when picking up your vehicle to pre-register your details for automatic credit card payment of tolls.

Driving safely

When driving in Australia, make sure you wear comfortable shoes and clothing and a pair of good sunglasses. Carry enough water to drink to last the long road journeys. Take turns swapping driving duties with your co-driver. If you’re going solo, it is advisable to take a break every two to three hours for a breath of fresh air and give your legs a chance to stretch.

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 Information contributed by Hertz

Wednesday 7 March 2012

GuteReise! (Germany) Newsletter 1/2012

GuteReise! is “travel to Germany” specialist!
“Gute Reise” in German language means “Have a great trip!”
Germany is a fantastic travel destination! Anytime!

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