newsletter  /  december '08




This Issue:



Ho Ho Who is that?!?! Santa Looks Strange

Julemanden, Hotei-osho, Pere Noel, Buon Natale, der Weihnachtsmann-these are not names of historical figures you once read about in high school history books. These all refer to that fella dressed in a red jumpsuit-Santa Claus! Jolly ol' St. Nick also possesses several looks and disguises to go along with the names.

Japan: In Japan, Santa comes in the form of a Buddhist monk known by the name of Hotei-osho. One of seven ancient Japanese Gods of Good Fortune, this kind-faced fatty is known to carry a huge sack of goodies and is said to have eyes in the back of his head, eliminating the required assistance of elves to know which children have been naughty or nice.

Many Japanese, especially the younger generation, welcome Christmas with enthusiasm. Elaborate decorations and lavish store displays are seen throughout the country during the Christmas season. Gift giving and community service are integral parts of Christmas celebrations in Japan, seen as ways to express love and give back to the community.

Brazil: In Brazil, Santa is believed to reside in Greenland and goes by the name of Papa Noel. This sensual Santa has a unique way of combating the Brazilian heat; silk clothing. Unfortunately there are no reports on his choice of outfit color or any pictures of Papa Noel thus far.

Similar to Australia, Christmas-time in Brazil is accompanied by scorching summer heat. Nevertheless, Brazilians enjoy celebrating this joyous season in traditional fashion. Presépio (the nativity scene) is commonly reenacted and displayed in churches, homes and stores, while Missa do Galo, or Midnight Mass is attended by devoted Catholics on the eve of Christmas until 1am.

Greece: A little on the unkempt side, Santa's clothing are constantly drenched with brine and his beard drips seawater. St. Nicholas also holds a part-time job as the patron saint of sailors. When this Santa isn't busy rescuing drowning sailors and/or sinking ships, he's delivering gifts to children.

For Grecians, Christmas season starts with 40-days of fasting. As the big day approaches, a Christmas feast is prepared, often with a slaughtered pig as the main course. Christ Bread, or christopsomo (a large loaf of bread, engraved and decorated) is baked and adorned on dining tables. A sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross is a common Christmas tree replacement that also doubles as a spiritual instrument to ward off evil goblins (known as Killantzaroi).

China: As strange as it may seem, Chinese people also have their version of Santa, and his name is 'Dun Che Lao Ren' (pronounced dwyn-chuh-lau-oh-run, meaning "Christmas Old Man"). Children hang muslin stockings in hopes of getting toys and firecrackers to play with from their Dun Che Lao Ren, in time for the Chinese New Year celebration (the most important even on the Chinese calendar).

For Christmas, Chinese people decorate their homes and "Trees of light" with Asian-inspired decorations like paper chains, paper flowers and paper lanterns.

Australia: The average temperatures during Christmas season in Australia range from 25-38°C. Because of the summer heat, Australia's version of Santa (known as "Swag Man") is outfitted quite unorthodoxly. Swag Man wears a brown akubra (a wide-brimmed hat, Australian style), a blue singlet (an Aussie term for sleeveless shirt) and long, baggy, shorts to protect against those deadly Australian critters. As the legend goes, Swag Man spends his winter under Ayer's Rock and comes out to deliver presents at Christmas time, driving on his four-wheeler across the rugged outback.

The Australian Christmas celebration is quite different from the Northern perspective, due to the opposite weather pattern from the rest of the world. Family gatherings are celebrated in backyards, gardens and on beaches. Expect food galore; from seafood and pasta to ice-cream and fruit cakes. Anything goes as there are no classic norms on what to eat on Christmas day!


Fat Monkeys, Naked Men and Spock:Odd and Interesting Celebrations from around the World

We at Agoda like to party...a lot. And with the festive season soon upon us, we plan to take full advantage of the numerous parties that occur this time of year. So much so, we may just start celebrating Thursdays, just because Thursdays are great. We expect management may not be too happy with festive Thursdays, so we'll settle with partaking in some of these wild and unique reasons to party from around the world.

Monkey Buffet Festival

Where: Lopburi, Thailand

When: 30 November 2008

The monkeys are as much a part of Lopburi (located 2 hours north of Bangkok) as the people. And every year there is a festival in their honor. More than 2000 kilograms of food is set outside the Pra Prang Sam Yot temple. Which includes fruits, vegetables, fruit flavored blocks of ice, and even soft drinks and beer to quench their thirst. The festival is held in honor of Rama, from the epic Ramayana. Rama rewarded his friend Hanuman, the monkey God, with the city of modern day Lopburi. Close to 600 monkeys flock to the temple to be honored, and fed, and even more tourists follow to watch.

San Fermin

Where: Pamplona (Navarre), Spain

When: Noon 6 July - Midnight 14 July

The opening San Fermin is marked with the running of the bulls, where participants run along Santo Domingo Street in Pamplona. Unlike bullfights which are only open to professionals, this race is open to all those crazy enough to run. The first running is on July 7th when a rocket goes off to mark the beginning of the race. As the bulls reach the end of the cobbled path, they are locked in pens, and held for the bullfight later in the day. There is a running and subsequent bullfight every day of the weeklong festival, giving adventure seekers enough opportunity to test their mettle and insurance coverage. The roots of the festival go back to when young men would walk with the bulls as they were led to the bullring.

Hadaka Matsuri

Where: All over Japan

When: January or February

Any festival that involves nudity has to be fun. Also known as the Naked Festival, adult males dress down to simple loin cloths. Held in a various cities throughout Japan, the festivities begin late in the evening, and continue late into the night. Hidden amidst the crowd of these partially clad men is one completely naked participant, and touching him is believed to bring good luck and happiness. Japan in January and February can be cold, with the only relief from low temperatures is drinking plenty of sake and running around wildly trying to find the naked man. The most popular gathering is the one attended in Inazawa. Thousands of spectators gather to watch the crowd rush to find this one naked man. This mass of moving skin eventually moves towards a temple, where at midnight, priests throw a pair of sticks into the crowd meant to bring further good luck and signifying the end of the search.

Golden Shears Festival

Where: Wairarapa, New Zealand

When: March of every year

Held in March every year, men and women compete to determine the best sheep shearer and wool handler. This three-day festival officially started in 1961 and was so popular it required army intervention to disperse the crowds. Today it includes several categories as well as level of expertise, and as many as 120 shearers can participate in a single category. Over the years, the festival has taken on a more professional look, with the shearers training year for this major event.

Vegetarian Festival

Where: Thailand

When: 29 September - 8 October 2009

Though celebrated throughout Thailand, the festival is synonymous with Phuket (often referred to as the Phuket Vegetarian Festival), but this 10-day festival actually has Chinese origins. In 1825 members of a traveling Chinese opera fell ill, and resorted to a vegetarian diet to honor the gods. They subsequently healed, and the ritual caught on. The processions are the most anticipated and well-known events during the festival, when "spirit mediums" cut themselves with swords and axes or pierce themselves with needles and skewers and walk around town seemingly unhurt. The final day of the festival includes a 'fire walking ceremony' where mediums walk barefoot on burning coals. The mediums also help purify the bodies of devotees as well as cleanse them of all sins. Similar festivals are also held in Malaysia and Singapore.

Roswell UFO Festival

Where: Roswell, New Mexico

When: Every year on (or near) July 4th

A crashed UFO was found by a farmer in July of '47. The U.S. military agreed...for about two hours and then changed their statement saying it was a highly-classified weather balloon. The case was forgotten for almost 30 years, until a UFO-ologist stirred interest by interviewing personnel involved with the incident, and claiming there was a cover-up. Held every year at the site of the alleged UFO crash believers and conspiracy theorists come to listen to lecturers, authors and researchers and take part in costume contests, parades and concerts.

Whirling Dervishes Festival

Where: Konya, Turkey

When: 8-11 December, 2008

The world flocks to Konya in December to celebrate the death of the Sufi poet commonly known as Mevlana. Followers of the 13th century Persian poet, theologian, and jurist, the Sufi sect whirls as a remembrance to Allah. The dance and music ceremony is known as the Sema, and symbolizes a journey through love trying to achieve spiritual perfection. Dressed in long white skirts and tall hats, the dancers tilt their heads to one side, cross their arms and spin while at the same time moving forward. It is divided into four different dance forms, each symbolizing different seasons, elements and stages in the life of man. The attire and formation of the dance is symbolic; the leader representing the sun, and the dancers the orbits.

La Tomatina

Where: Bunyol, Spain

When: Last Wednesday of August (26 August 2009)

Spain may be the party capital of the world. La Tomatina is held on the last Wednesday of August in the town on Bunyol in Valencia, and has been for more than 60 years. Essentially a massive food fight festival, La Tomatina is held in honor of the town saints. The festival itself lasts one week, with fireworks, parades, and cooking contests, but the tomato fight is the real crowd-pleaser. Truckloads of tomatoes, (approximately 140 tons) are brought to town in the morning. When the water cannons let loose, the fight begins with tomatoes flying from every possible angle. An hour later, the cannons are fired again to signal the end of the fight, and water trucks move in to clear the roads. Participants are encouraged to wear safety goggles and gloves, with the only rule being: squish the tomatoes before you fire.

Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake (Cheese Rolling Festival)

Where: Brockworth (Gloucestershire), England

When: Last Monday of May (25 May 2009)

Named after the hill on which it takes place, this annual event dates back 200 years. At noon on May 25th the first of the Double Gloucester cheese rounds is rolled down the steep hill and a split second later it's followed by the race participants. Running downhill is anything but easy with conditions being wet, muddy and cold, and the racers usually end up tumbling. The festival holds five competitions, including one for the ladies. All winners take home a roll of cheese, while the second and third place holders earn enough cash to pay for parking.

Spock Days / Galaxyfest

Where: Vulcan (Alberta), Canada

When: June 13-15

A small town (1 hour east of Calgary) with a population of less than 1,500 gained popularity by just sharing its name with that of Spock's home planet (Spock of 'Star Trek' fame). In a tribute to the show, the town started the annual Spock Days/Galaxyfest (which just celebrated its 15th anniversary). Trekkies flock to this annual festival to party with other trekkies and occasionally meet the stars and creators of the series. To show their devotion the town built a show-themed "Tourism and Trek Station" which looks exactly like a spaceship. It houses Star Trek memorabilia, space virtual reality games, and tourist information. Popular with sci-fi fans, Galaxyfest also includes skydiving, exhibitions, astronomical observations, and a parade.


Favorite Skiing Destinations

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the "après ski" is so delightful. 'Tis the season once again, where white flakes fall on steep mountain slopes, and those who care not for self preservation rip down the hills at mindboggling speeds. Skiing and snowboarding have long been popular in Europe and North America, but recently the alpine sports have begun grabbing hold of an Asian audience, (previously difficult because of the lack of…well, snow). However with resorts now in Japan, Korea, China and backcountry boarding available in Nepal (yes, Nepal), swooshing downhill has become increasingly popular with the Asian set. Our crack team of editors created a list of favorite worldwide skiing destinations. The list includes the outstanding usual suspects (Whistler really is amazing), but we've also polled our staff to find favorite alternatives recognizing lesser known gems like Zillertal, Les Diablerets or Big White. Here is a list of some of our favorite destinations for carving up the mountains.

Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

Pretty much every ski list has Whistler as the number one destination. The twin peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb offer a massive amount of terrain to go with the massive annual snow fall. The site of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Whistler is poised to become even more popular than it already is.
Alternative Choice: Big White, Kelowna, BC

St. Moritz, Switzerland

Choosing St.Moritz was an easy choice but it was the fact it receives 300 days of sunshine that cemented it. One of the oldest and most famous skiing destinations, the St. Moritz website claims "60 modern transportation facilities open up on 350 km of snow covered runs at altitudes from 1800 to 3300 meters above sea level." That is a lot of terrain to choose from.
Alternative Choice: Les Diablerets, Switzerland

Chamonix, France

Site of the first ever Winter Olympic Games of 1924, Chamonix is possibly the world's best known ski resort. Home to Europe's second highest peak (and the highest peak in the Alps), it is also home to the world's longest run. Throw in powder that is second to none, and this is the prototypical ski destination.
Alternative Choice: Val d'Isere, Savoie, France

Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy

Another Olympic city located in the Alps, Cortina has 110 kilometers of downhill and 58 kilometers of cross country skiing choices. This fashionable, laid back village is surrounded by towering peaks with over 50 lifts to get you on the hills quickly. And if you tire of great skiing, you can take a rip down the still functioning bobsled track of the '56 Olympics.
Alternative Choice: Bormio, Italy

Zermatt, Switzerland

Claiming to be "car free" made this an easy choice for our list. Set at the base of the Matterhorn (the real one, not the one at Disneyland), Zermatt is one of the most peaceful and relaxing resort towns you'll ever come across. With its amazing powder, long winter season, long days and long runs, you're sure to get your money's worth at this inspired destination.
Alternative Choice: Wengen, Switzerland

Kitzbuhel, Austria

Big races, big hotels, big parties and big terrain; this pretty much sums up Kitzbuhel. The location of possibly the most difficult World Cup Downhill Race, this Tyrolean town actually offers slopes for every level of skier. And with 170km of some of the most beautiful snowy runs to choose from, we do mean every level of skier.
Alternative Choice: Zillertal, Austria

Vail, Colorado, USA

There are so many great American locations to choose from. We could've gone with Aspen, Telluride or Tahoe, but in the end the snow of Vail was just too tough to pass up. Vail is vast; seven miles wide with almost 5300 acres of freeride terrain, means finding your very own patch of pure untracked powder is easy as pie.
Alternative Choice: Big Sky, Bozeman, Montana

Portillo, Chile

A top 10 choice of PowderQuest Magazine, the powder of Portillo borders on legendary. Located 102 miles from Santiago with runs set amongst smoking volcanoes and the steaming thermal springs of the Andes, skiing at Portillo is definitely a unique experience. Plus, once the snow starts to melt on the hills of North America and Europe, it's just starting to fall for the July to September winter season in Chile.
Alternative Choice: La Parva, Chile

Hakuba, Nagano, Japan

Another Olympic city, Nagano hosted the 1998 Winter Games and Hakuba Village is the preferred choice for skiers and snowboarders alike. With onsen (therapeutic Japanese hot springs) nearby to sooth the aching bones after a day of riding and skiing, Nagano could be the ideal skiing destination.
Alternative Choice: Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan

Banff, Alberta, Canada

Banff's sleepy tourist town is ideally placed to access some of the best skiing in North America. The three nearby resorts of Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay, and Sunshine offer every type of world class skiing and snowboarding. Lake Louise is considered the jewel, however the champagne powder of the Sunshine's higher elevations bring back the "die-hards". And to top it off, Marmot Basin of Jasper, Alberta or Fernie, BC 's big powder dumps, are both within scenic 3-hour drives.
Alternative Choice: Panorama, Invermere, BC

Perisher Blue, Jindabyne, Australia

Six hours from Sydney and you're in the best snow in the Australian Snowy Mountains. With 180 snow guns firing to create a great base, the best snow comes in July and August. With 49 lifts whisking skiers to variety of runs, there's lots of room to carve out the snow.
Alternative Choice: Falls Creek, Victoria, Australia

Las Lenas, Mendoza, Argentina

South America's largest ski resort, Las Lenas is approximately 400km from Mendoza and 800km from Buenos Aires. With pure Andean snow and long runs for all levels of skier (including back country professionals), this resort is a favorite amongst both locals and international travelers.
Alternative Choice: Penitentes, Mendoza, Argentina

Las Lenas, Mendoza, Argentina

Sochi was just awarded the 2014 Olympic Games, so it's best to check it out before the world gets to know about Russia's greatest skiing secret. Just off the shores of the Black Sea at the start of the Causcasas Mountains, Krasnaya Polyana is Russia's premier skiing destination. Alternative Choice: Mt Elbrus, Russia

Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand

Located in the central portion of the North Island of New Zealand, this is the country's largest (and most popular) skiing destination. Including 1800 hectares of skied terrain and 3 volcanoes, this designated World Heritage Site showcases vast unmatched beauty...and some killer runs.
Alternative Choice: Mt. Hutt, Canterbury, New Zealand

Ski Dubai, Dubia, UAE

When you've got as much money as the folks in Dubai, why travel? Instead, just build your own 22,500 square-meter, indoor, ski-hill that gives you snow all year-round. Sure the snow is man-made and you won't get that fab ski tan, but the fact that you can ski on snow in the middle of a desert definitely has a "Wow!" factor.
Alternative Choice: How many desert choices do you expect?


TRAVEL TIP: Give me some Credit

"I'm sorry sir, this card has been declined." This is the 3rd most cringe-worthy sentence in the English language (behind "Honey, we need to talk" and "This may sting a little"). It's especially unpleasant when you're on a trip of a lifetime. So here are some recommendations of what to do with your credit cards prior to leaving on that next big trip:

a) Call your card company and let them know you will be travelling and for how long. Credit card purchases are monitored for patterns and that new purchase of 3 bottles of wine in Manila will raise alarms and end in your card being suspended until you contact them.
b)  Arrange to have your bills paid automatically while you're away. It's easy to forget a bill or two and you don't want to damage your credit standing because of a poor memory.
c) Confirm that your card is usable in the country you're travelling to. Depending on the card, it may not be recognized.
d) Confirm cash advances are possible. If you do encounter problems, it's always good to have easy access to cash-flow. NOTE: Cash advances from credit cards are at a higher rate than just purchases (often significantly).
e) Confirm currency conversion rates for purchases. Credit cards will generally give preferred exchange rates, often better than those offered by the banks.
f) Confirm their 800 number when travelling to different countries, and keep it somewhere safe. If you lose your cards, you're going to want it...quickly.

Hotel Review: AMAZING EXPERIENCE at Thavorn Beach Village&Spa

Created by Sean Connolly.

Over the past few years we have stayed at several nice resorts in Phuket & other areas of Thailand, but this place was the best of all our experiences so far. From the moment you arrive you are embraced in friendly, classy & relaxing environment. When you check in your even seated at first and given a refreshing juice drink while they process paperwork. We stayed in the Ocean Villa which has jacuzzi on terrace and offers one of the most amazing in bed/room views of the whole island. This resorts is huge and has restaurants, a gym, live music/entertainment at night, Internet, etc. Rare for the area, Thavorn is a "Resort" is the truest sense in that you could stay within the complex your entire trip without needing to venture into town for anything if you wanted too. The staff was so friendy and accomodating to our needs and really represents the beauty of the Thai culture. We will be going back soon, and if your on the fence now about booking here or not, then take it from an experieced Thai resort traveler and try this place.


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