Tuesday 30 April 2013

Namaskaaram! (Hello in Kerala)

Author: Willius Koh Kah Wee

Article written for www.natastravel.com, copyright (c) 2013.

Really wanted/needed a getaway between the fall and spring semesters. 7 modules in 4 months is no joke. Then again, Bintan and Batam were considered too mainstream, so we’ve decided to fly to South India – Kerala for a beach getaway.

Perhaps due to our biased predetermined expectations of India, Kerala wasn’t as disastrous as what we perceived. The locals here were really friendly and genuine. They would unselfishly offer their help without expecting anything in return.

Kerala is one of the top tourist destinations in India. There were lots of inbound tourists, a handful of Europeans and there’s us. We really stuck out like a sore thumb and were really striking. Though that made us easy targets to solicit business from, the locals were more willing and patient with us; education us on how to dine without cutleries, taking the bus and etc as we were obviously tourists.

Due to our time limitations and budget constraints, we only had a week to spare. Hence we decided to visit Fort Kochi, Alleppey and Munnar while in Kerala.

Fort Kochi is the heart of Cochin, situated along the coastline, seafood was readily available at very affordable prices. We were very lucky to chance upon India’s first Biennale too. They showcased some really interesting art pieces. One of which I remember vividly. Random objects such as empty canned drinks, bottled water, dried leaves and others are electronically coiled with copper strips and connected to the generator. It is an interactive piece where when its viewer were to touch the strip, it would echo the objects’ sound!

Alleppy, an hour drive from Fort Kochi has a stunny view of the sunset along the coastline. Though it may not be the cleanest beach around, the view was mesmerizing from the beach resort. We were even told by other homestayers that dolphins could be occasionally be spotted along the beach. Weren’t that lucky this time though…

You could either rent a houseboat and stay over the night at the backwaters or go on a canoe touring through the narrow canals. We chose the latter and was exposed to the villagers’ daily routine. The serene environment was very calming and soothing too; A really different view on life beyond the mad rush in Singapore.

We then made our way southwards to Munnar. If you think Genting drivers are reckless, the bus ride towards Munnar was a blood-tingling one. The driver would speed through the mountainous terrain overtaking vehicles by crossing paths with oncoming traffic. It felt like being on a roller coaster just that this one was for 5 terrifying hours

Munnar is well known for its tea valley. Instead of opting for the jeep ride up the tea plantations, I choose to have a trekking trip instead. To be able to reach the peak on foot with such breathtaking views was an achievement.

A trip to India is not completed without an ayurvedic massage. The therapist would pour warm oil over the body, work their magic and viola! The body is rejuvenated and the mind soothed. It is a spa treatment that could help relax the mind and body in completeness.

The people at Kerala are really hospitable people. One of the tuk tuk drivers, instead of driving us to our destination, actually made a detour and “kidnapped” us back to his home instead. His abrupt invitation made us feel rather uncomfortable and we worried for our safety but in reality, he just wanted to play host and treated us to some of the local snacks. Learning that, I felt really ashamed to have doubted his hospitality. Hearing all types of scheming scams through our growing years made us build up defences against others. I cannot emphasise just how innocent these villagers are even towards outsiders.

Again due to the fact that we are tourists, the locals seemed exceptionally interested in us. On a particular instance, one guy murmured “Oppa Gundam Style” when he walked past us. Singaporeans must have been rare. I was even approached by two locals for a photograph as we were considered unique. That was quite a laugh! :)

To sweeten the deal, it was only about SGD $1,000 for an entire week’s trip. That is inclusive of the air tickets, accommodation and expenses. What a steal! Its my first time to India and it would definitely not be my last after hearing so many stories from our housemates during our homestays about bustling North India. We certainly should not limit our preferred travelling destinations to just Bangkok, Taipei, Hong Kong and other such areas. Being in the hospitality industry, it is important for us to be exposed to different cultures and keeping an open mind about the world at large

The world is your playground only if you’re willing!

The author is a student of University of Las Vegas (UNLV).

Monday 29 April 2013

Amazing Thailand Grand Sale

Date:    15 June - 15 August, 2013 
Venue: Department stores that participate in the program, Nationwide

What/Why : During the event of Amazing Thailand Grand Sale, participants can experience and enjoy discounts of 10-80%, and many other privileges at participating department stores, shopping malls, King Power Duty Free, jewelry shops, golf courses, Thai products, spa and massage, hospitals, as well as from the leading airlines and online travel agencies.

There are also discounts to be enjoyed at participating merchants at selected tourist attractions in Bangkok, Chiangmai, Phuket, Hat Yai, Hua Hin, Pattaya, Koh Samui and other famous destinations in Thailand. The event attracts many target tourists such as Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea etc. to travel and go shopping in the low season of Thailand.

Contact :
TAT Bangkok Office, Tourism Investment Department
Phone: +66 2250 5500 ext.2951
E-mail : businessdiv@tat.or.th
Website :http://thailandgrandsale.tourismthailand.org
Press Release by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). Copyright TAT 2013. For more details on this press release, go to http://www.tatnews.org/eventscalendar/41-event/38-amazing-thailand-grand-sale.

Saturday 20 April 2013

A Visual Tour to Johannesburg

Special Thanks to Jermaine Chua for sharing her Johannesburg images with NATAS

- Images are copyrighted -

Click here for the previous album on Christchurch!

Monday 15 April 2013

Lose Yourself in A World of Falling Water

Namtok Thi Lo Su is the most famous waterfall in Thailand, located in the splendid Umphang Wildlife Reserve in the North’s Tak Province.  It has earned UNESCO World Heritage status, and while it is also the biggest waterfall in Thailand, it isn’t beloved because of teeming rapids crashing hundreds of feet like Congo’s Inga Falls, or because of a massive flow-rate and powerful roar like Niagara Falls in the US.

Rather, Thi Lo Su is known for its serenity and picturesque beauty.  In fact, one publication marks it as the 6th prettiest waterfall in the world, and several others list it in their “best” lists, too.  It is unique because of its multiple tiers, which emanate from Huai Klo Tho, a mountain stream located over 400m above sea level, and it links the Thung Yai Naresuan and Huay Kha Kaeng Reserves, forming Thailand's biggest wildlife refuge and one of Southeast Asia's most magnificent and unspoilt deciduous forests.

At Thi Lo Su, water spills over the edges of verdant, tree-lined limestone cliffs from three elevations, the water cascading nearly 300m by the time it completes its fall, which is spread out over the width of nearly four football fields.  Water feeds down from the uppermost level like rain running down stairs in a storm, white and frothy and fresh.  By the time it has reached the middle and lowers tiers, crystal clear pools have formed and they are irresistible if you have a mind for a refreshing dip.  Spend a day chilling in the clean, cool water and relaxing to the soothing sounds of the falling stream, or have a jump and a splash amid quite possibly the most beautiful backdrop for a swimming pool that you’ve ever experienced.

After bathing, and if you’re looking for more activity, you can explore the cave tucked behind the falls, and do plenty of hiking in-and-around the falls well within view, or earshot, of the tumbling water.  And why not explore?  After all, this natural gem is located in a pristine sanctuary covered by evergreen forest full of ironwoods and teak and bamboo, and is home to a splendid array of orchids, wildflowers and ferns, as well as numerous species of butterflies and birds, such as the rare and colorful hornbill.

It takes some time and a bit of effort to reach this amazing oasis from Mae Sod in Tak Province, but that adds to the adventure, and while it makes for a great a day trip, if you’ve hiked in and spent all day swimming and exploring, consider spending the night camping in the grounds near the falls.

The best time to go is when the falls are at their most beautiful, of course, and this is during the wet season from June to November when water flow is at its highest.  The road leading to the area, however, may be closed at this time for safety reasons, so some hiking may be required.  The high season for tourists visiting Thi Lo Su is December and January when the water level is still fairly high, and the main road leading to the waterfall is indeed open to the public, but only four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended when attempting to pass the steep, slippery, yet incredibly scenic path.  One alternative means to reach the waterfall is by way of rafting, heading downstream along a peaceful stretch of the Klong River, and ultimately completing the journey either on foot or by car.

So if you’re heading to Thailand’s beautiful North, are looking for an outdoor adventure off the beaten path, and love nature and stunning outdoor environments, then Umphang Wildlife Reserve and Namtok Thi Lo Su are for you!

Article written by Tourism Authority of Thailand. Pictures by Tourism Authority of Thailand. Credits to Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Monday 8 April 2013

Isaan: A Laid-back Way to Experience Amazing Thailand

Heo Narok Waterfall y
Travelers in Thailand who are looking for an escape from the bustle of Bangkok, the built-up southern beaches, or another temple tour should consider a location where national parks are plentiful, ancient Khmer architecture abounds, and water buffalo roam.

That place is Isaan, Thailand’s landlocked Northeast region where, despite infertile soil and hot climate, traditional farming is the way of life.  The environment for tourists, however, is fertile.  A rich, multi-cultural blend of easygoing Thai living, stunning outdoors environments, and some of the most mouth-watering food on the planet affords travelers an opportunity to experience real Thailand, discover its agricultural roots, and revel in breath-taking Southeast Asian scenery.

Bordered by Cambodia to its south, Isaan is hugged by the mighty Mekong River to the north and east, separating it from Laos.  One of the region’s northernmost outposts is the sleepy town called Nong Khai, located on the banks of the Mekong, where the Laotian influence is strong.  Visitors should be sure to visit the truly unusual sculptures known as Sala Kaew Ku, located just outside of town.  Here the art of a Laotian mystic synthesizes Buddhism and Hindu imagery resulting in statues, many-armed goddesses, naga snakes, and a variety of human-animal hybrids, all set among lush sub-tropical gardens.  In the town itself, Nong Khai is a charming place to chill out or wander about, soaking up the Isaan way of life.

Just outside Isaan’s second-largest city Ubon Ratchathani, in the southeastern part of the region, lies Si Saket where a sizable Northern Khmer population resides.  As you’d expect from somewhere that was once an important settlement in the Khmer empire (as far back as the 12th century), ancient Khmer ruins are everywhere.  The largest and most complete complex is Sra Kampaeng Yai, which features three imposing stupas built on a single base and aligned side-by-side facing east.  The shrine was originally dedicated to Shiva, one of the three supreme Hindu Gods, but was converted to a Buddhist temple in the 13th Century.

dsc04439 220And speaking of temples in Si Saket, visitors also won’t want to miss Wat Larn Kuad, aka, “the beer bottle temple”, an immaculate structure made from millions of colorful glass bottles.

Chiang Khan 2Back up north, picturesque Loei Province is surrounded by mountain ranges and is known as “Thailand’s coldest province” due to its occasional sub-freezing nighttime temperatures during cold season.  And while “cold” is a relative word, there’s no debating just how “cool” Loei can be for tourists.  The sites, retreats, and parks are too numerous to name, but we recommend the Phu Luang Wildlife Sanctuary, featuring hundreds of wild Asian elephants.  The Elephants Rehabilitation Project within the reserve is under the patronage of Sirikit Kittiyakon, Thailand’s beloved Queen.  Loei is a true outdoors destination.

Heo Suwat Waterfall yIsaan’s ultimate outdoor experience, however, is surely Khao Yai National Park, a stunning diversity of flora and fauna located in the southwest part of the region just 250km from Bangkok.  There are nearly 3,000 recorded species of plants, 320 species of birds, and 66 species of mammals, including such vulnerable or endangered ones as the Indian bison, the Asian elephant, and the Asiatic black bear.  There are over 50km of hiking trails, kayaking and rafting trips, and nighttime wildlife-spotting excursions which unofficially kick off each evening when thousands of wrinkled lipped bats emerge from a cave outside the northern gate to begin their nighttime feeding.  The landscape at Khao Yai is also dotted with several beautiful waterfalls, an irresistible temptation for hikers in need of a cool-down.

And after a day spent exploring the park, it will be time to eat.  And in Isaan, two words come to mind: spicy and spicier!  The most familiar characteristics are the sticky rice that accompanies almost every meal, and the use of fiery Thai chili peppers.  Of course, not every dish is hot, and most any purveyor will make your food to-order depending on your tastes, but if you really want to experience Isaan, go for a blazing papaya salad, some grilled chicken, the sticky rice, and of course, a cold Thai beer to wash it all down.  Now THAT is Isaan!

Getting to and around Isaan is easy.  There are daily flights from Bangkok to several of the bigger hubs in the region, and bus routes criss-crossing the whole of the Northeast.  So don’t miss it: the ruins, the rural life, the incredible food, the beautiful outdoors, and a laid-back slice of Amazing Thailand.

This article is credited to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

Sunday 7 April 2013

Visual tour to Christchurch!

Special Thanks to Jermaine Chua for sharing her Christchurch images with NATAS

- Images are copyrighted -

Panoramic Photography

Fancy notebooks from Christchurch ;)