newsletter / may '08
Samui: Thailand’s Island Treasure
No longer the backpackers' paradise of recent memory, the classically beautiful island of Koh Samui has seen a lot of development, but it will still take your breath away with its palm–fringed beaches and tranquil water. It also depends on when you go, and right now is the perfect time. High season is only just beginning, so you will avoid the crowds of June and July.
What keeps the island so beautiful is that its charms are spread out among many areas, all fascinating, but also because the big development has happened mostly in Chawaeng, so the majority of the tourists go straight there. And it's quite a scene. Nightlife is rowdy and raucous with bars and discos packed with young people from all over the world, there just to drink and hook up. But Chawaeng also has some of the best beachfront hotels and prettiest beaches in Thailand, where you'd never guess that there's such a party going on as you chill on the beach watching a picture postcard sunset
And that leaves endless beaches all over the island untouched, to be discovered by rented motorbike or car. You'll find a quiet one just minutes away but seemingly so far from the madding crowd.
The other main draw is Bo Phut, or Fisherman's Village. One narrow lane skirts the lovely shallow bay. Once a quaint fishing village, the tiny scale has been maintained in a series of beach restaurants and stylish little shops. Soon the little lane will be crowded. So go now while it's more relaxed.
And all over the island some of the best resort hotels in the world are nestled lovingly into the exotic landscape in a way that actually enhances it. Add the recent arrival of the Four Seasons resort on its own little peninsula has now anointed Koh Samui as true five–star royalty among the world's great destinations.
Finding the Thrilla in Manila: Top 10 things to do in the Philippines
Found in the heart of Manila is the "Walled City" – Intramuros. Constructed in 1571, during the period of Spain's colonization, it contains European style buildings and churches that have been replicated in different parts of the country. Although the Pacific War of the 1940s took its toll on Intramuros, it is still one of the world's best preserved medieval cities. The site is a timeless journey through forts, dungeons, old churches, colonial houses, and horse–drawn carriages.
2. Puerto Galera - Mindoro Island
Home to some of the country's most beautiful beaches, Puerto Galera can be reached by ferry from Batangas City, a 2–hour drive south west from Manila. The island's pristine white sand beaches are lined with palm and coconut trees. Visitors can treat themselves to a massage, sample fresh barbequed seafood or enjoy many water sports in the sparkling blue sea such as diving, sailing, deep–sea fishing, snorkeling and windsurfing. Puerto Galera also has a hot nightlife scene for those who like to party.
3. Malate at Night
Located on Manila Bay, the Malate district is perfect for experiencing Manila's famous nightlife. At night, the area is dedicated to bars, pubs, night clubs and restaurants. The choice of restaurants serving both local and foreign dishes is immense. Malate's nightlife establishments house some of the Philippines most talented bands and DJs, so no matter what your taste in music, you are sure to find a suitable venue. Malate is very popular among locals, expats and tourists making it a great place to meet people.
4. Manila Bay Walk
The Manila Bay Walk is located on the Roxas Boulevard promenade. Overlooking Manila Bay, the promenade has open air cafes, restaurants and benches where you can sit and do some people watching. You can witness the famous Manila sunset, as well as be entertained by numerous live acoustic bands. The main plaza fronting the Malate church is the central attraction of the Manila bay walk and is surrounded by numerous vendor stalls offering a wide range of items.
5. SM Mall of Asia
Situated on Manila Bay, SM Mall of Asia is the world's 3rd largest shopping mall and home to over 600 shops and 150 dining establishments. It houses cinemas, South East Asia's largest ice skating rink and the country’s first ever Imax theatre. The mall's open air music hall, directly facing the sea, often hosts events, contests and concerts. There is also a science discovery center featuring a digital planetarium and a wide range of science and technology exhibits. Due to it's a massive size, the mall provides a 20 seat tram service to transport passengers around the complex.
6. Taal Volcano
Just 50km south of Manila lies one of the world's natural wonders, Taal Volcano. It is known as the smallest active volcano in the world and sits inside Taal Lake. The volcano itself is very unique as it also has a lake of its own, inside the crater. Visitors must travel to Talisay where a 45–minute wooden boat ride will take you to the volcano. An additional 15–minute trek by horseback, will take you to the top of the crater. There you'll enjoy breathtaking views of the lake which sits inside the crater surrounded by mountains which form the crater's rim. It is no easy task, but the brave may wish to climb down the inside of the crater and swim in the lake's highly sulfuric water. It will do wonders for your skin but not your clothes.
7. Rizal park
Rizal Park, commonly referred to as Luneta, is one of the most beautiful city parks in the world. Luneta has been the site of some of the most significant moments in Philippine history. Among them are the execution of the Philippine Revolution hero Dr. José Rizal in 1896 and the Declaration of Independence from America in 1946. The park's attractions include the national museum, Chinese and Japanese Gardens and a small man made lake with a replica of the Philippine archipelago. An open air auditorium plays host to free concerts which contributes to the park's popularity among locals.
Greenhills shopping center is an air–conditioned center full of market stalls. Here you can find all kinds of discount clothes and shoes (mostly knock–offs or imitation brands) cell phones and related services (the technicians can do anything with your phone, unlock, ringtones, etc). In addition, there is a large congregation who specialize in pearls from southern Philippine islands and various other types of jewelry. Remember to look around first and BARGAIN!.
9. Coconut Palace
The Coconut Palace is located at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex. The building is an octagon with a roof shaped like a traditional Filipino salakot or hat. It was built using just coconut shells, local hardwood and coconut lumber. Each suite on the second floor of the palace is dedicated to a specific region of the Philippines, with local handicrafts of the corresponding regions being displayed. A butterfly garden and orchidarium are among the palace's other attractions. Brooke Shields and George Hamilton are just some of the famous people who have visited here.
10. Bamboo Organ & Jeepney Factory – Las Pinas
The Bamboo Organ and Jeepney Factory are both located in Las Pinas, an hour's drive south of Manila.
The bamboo organ is a rare and unique musical instrument located inside the St Joseph Church of the Parish of Las Pinas. In 1824, the organ was constructed by Fr. Diego Cera, the church's first parish priest, using hundreds of bamboo poles he buried in the beach sand for one year to repel termite infestations. The organ is admired not only for its construction, but also for its rich melodic sound.
Sarao was one of the first companies to take leftover World War II American jeeps and transform them into famous street art vehicles seen in Manila today. Witness how these works of art on four wheels are made and handcrafted according to client's taste.
Jungle Fever: Malaria, Dengue and tropical travel
The greatest threat to your health in the jungle are not jaguars or caimans – you'll be lucky if you see one, but tiny organisms such as sand flies or mosquitoes that can transmit serious illnesses such as malaria or dengue fever. Consult with your doctor and get your immunizations and preventative medications if you travel to areas that are considered risky.
Keep in mind that even malaria pills are not 100% effective and nor are mosquito repellents. Cover up at dawn and dusk or whenever you go into the forest or swamps where you are likely to encounter bugs. The most effective preventative for sand flies is coconut oil – they drown in it. Use lavish applications if you are in an affected area.
Is your lodge screened? Make sure your lodge is fully screened or that mosquito nets are provided. If in doubt, bring your own mosquito net. DEET is deemed the most effective mosquito repellent, but it is also very toxic. If you use Permethrine based applications, be very careful as to how and where you use it and how you dispose of the bottle. Permethrine is highly toxic to fish and other small animals, so never dispose of it carelessly.
Behind the Curtain: Getting Upgraded to First Class
First, are you sure you want to get upgraded? Think about it carefully, because once you've tasted the good life, it's nearly impossible to go back. But if you do want to try for that free upgrade, here are a few suggestions:
1. Dress nice and look good. Yeah, we know how nice it is to relax in sweatpants and a hoodie on those long flights, but it's the truth. Airlines want first class to look first class, so dress the part and leave the jeans and Ozzy t–shirt packed away.
2. Ask. Obvious isn't it? And generally you're going to get a big fat "No", but if they're overbooked and the only available seats are in first class, you want to be on their radar when they look for people to move.
3. Take advantage of special days. If it's your birthday, honeymoon, anniversary mention it to the service agents. You may catch them in a good mood (note: good moods tend to be rare).
4. Become a frequent flyer member. They're generally free to sign up and airlines will reward return customers.
5. Be nice. It's amazing how far a smile goes. Be nice to everyone you encounter and get to know them (don't stalk or annoy them, just make polite conversation). If you make an impression, they'll remember you when the time comes.
Review of the month: Melia Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
Reviewed by Riza Andre
As this was my first trip to KL, I needed a hotel that could provide me comfort at night and at the same time have close and easy access to places of interest. The Melia name was at least familiar and gave some assurance of the standard provided. If you plan to cruise around the interesting places in KL on foot where there are activities even until late night, KL Melia is a good choice since you have it within close proximity to where the action is. This would give you an advantage to easily go back to the hotel to dump your shopping bags or take a refreshing shower before going for another round. There are however not too many activities you can do in the hotel if you have kids with you other than in the pool area.