Indonesia – Tana Toraja to be next top-priority tourist destination

Designation of Toraja as prioritized tourism destination to help improve accessibility, spurs development World Bank may become engaged in development of Toraja

Some tourist destinations have made a name for themselves long before the authorities granted them the special attention they deserve.

For many foreigners, Tana Toraja rings a bell because of its widely distributed coffee as well as its cultural heritage sites exposed in international publications and at global tourism trade fairs.

However, it was only recently that the government decided to designate Tana Toraja, the pride of South Sulawesi, as one of its emerging tourist destinations to be developed as a matter of priority, along with 10 others appointed earlier.

A special team comprising members of various ministries and agencies had been set up to speed up the development of Tana Toraja, said Deputy Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Safri Burhanuddin.

“Tana Toraja itself is already part of the national strategic tourism area, so we will only need to carry out an integrated study to develop Toraja further,” said Safri, who oversees human resources, knowledge and technology as well as maritime culture at the Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister.

(Read also: Toraja to be next top-priority tourist destination)

The team’s main tasks will include improving access to the area, particularly by expanding Pongtiku Airport and completing the construction of Buntu Kunik Airport.

At present, tourists typically embark on a nine-hour car ride from the provincial capital of Makassar to reach Tana Toraja.

Safri said the aim was to promote Tana Toraja as Indonesia’s main cultural destination.

Home to thousands of indigenous Torajan people, the area is widely known for its unique traditional funeral ceremonies, beautiful housing architecture and buffalo fighting, among other things.

Tana Toraja welcomed 296,136 domestic and 34,865 foreign tourists in 2015, according to Tourism Ministry data.

In the same year, North Toraja hosted 286,669 domestic and 32,763 foreign tourists.

The government hopes to double arrivals by 2019.

A recent visit by Vice President Jusuf Kalla, himself a South Sulawesi native, had played a significant role in the area’s designation as the 11th emerging tourist destination, Safri said.

The government has declared tourism one of the country’s main sectors to develop and expects to garner US$20 billion in foreign exchange revenue in 2019, double the figure of 2013.

To achieve this goal, it eyes 15 million foreign tourists this year and 20 million next year.

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Exploring Japan’s rising dragon

Cool air greeted us as we were getting out of Chubu Centrair International Airport located south of Nagoya, Aichi prefecture, upon our arrival in central Japan. We, a group of Indonesian journalists and bloggers, were in Japan by invitation from Cathay Pacific and the Japan National Tourism Organization to explore several cities in the Shoryudo area.

The region is nicknamed the “rising dragon” based on the shape of the Chubu and Hokuriku regions at the heart of Japan, with the Noto Peninsula forming its head and Mie Prefecture its tail, and its rising body covering every part of its nine prefectures.

“Tomorrow, get ready to layer up because the place we’re going to is very cold,” warned our tour guide, Akiko “Ako” Konishi. “The weather forecast even said it will be snowing tomorrow.”

This was not my first trip to Japan but I believe there’s always something new waiting to be discovered and snow would certainly not stop me.

Kenrokuen

Kenrokuen is a perfect place to visit if you like to stroll around in a beautiful Japanese garden. Located on a hill in the central part of Kanazawa city, it is regarded as one of Japans three most beautiful gardens alongside Kairaku-en in Mito and Koraku-en in Okayama.

“Out of the three, my favorite garden is Kenrokuen, it’s beautiful at all seasons but the sight in winter is at its most extraordinary,” said Ako.

Originally the outer garden of the Kanazawa Castle, the 11.4-hectare Kenrokuen garden was opened to the public in 1874. It is home to about 160 plant species and 8,200 trees.

There are many beautiful spots inside the garden but it is renowned for its majestic Karasakinomatsu pine trees. In winter time, gardeners set up yukizuri snow support to prevent the pine trees’ branches from breaking under heavy snow, creating a surreal geometrical sight from a distance.

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Indonesia – What to do in Raja Ampat beyond diving, snorkeling

 

Raja Ampat is a group of islands located in the west tip off Bird’s Head Peninsula, West Papua. This scenic place, comprising 1,500 islands and 100 villages, has been dubbed “The Last Paradise” and “Underwater Paradise” by many people.

Raja Ampat is a group of islands located in the west tip off Bird’s Head Peninsula, West Papua. This scenic place, comprising 1,500 islands and 100 villages, has been dubbed “The Last Paradise” and “Underwater Paradise”  by many people. 

These labels are not without reason. According to the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, Raja Ampat is home to 75 percent of the coral reef and underwater biota around the world; 1,508 species of fish, 537 species of coral and 700 types of mollusks. A report from Raja Ampat’s Tourist Information Center shows that every year since 2007, Raja Ampat has had an increase of visitors ranging 1,000 to 2,000 each year. In 2016, for example, there were around 20,000 visitors from around the world spending time in the archipelago. 

Unfortunately, some of the tourists come to Raja Ampat only for diving and snorkeling. They join a cruise and stay in a boat. For me personally, staying in a boat without experiencing enough land life is a miss of full Raja Ampat experience. Despite its beautiful marine life, Raja Ampat has so much more to offer beyond diving and snorkeling. 

Teaching English to local children is one of the greatest and most meaningful activities in Raja Ampat. It is the best way to connect with locals and learn about their culture. In Sawinggrai village on Gam Island, for example, there is a volunteer project known as Sawinggrai English Effort. Its purpose is to help local villagers learn English from visitors. Here visitors can have a proper English class at the local school or at the learning center provided by the village. 

Visitors can also participate in a “walking program”, simply play or swim with the students while learning words like sand, shells, stones and fish. Whatever the plan is, the local learners will always be excited to spend time with foreigners. Best of all, there is a local coordinator who will help the visitors recruit students and organize your class. Those who are interested in the program can visit seerajaampat.com for further information. 

Another recreation is to take a nature walk and explore the wildlife. Raja Ampat is not only rich in marine life, it also has diverse flora and fauna. The cutest animal in Raja Ampat is probably a Cuscus. These marsupials are actually nocturnal, but visitors sometimes can see them during the day on the top of coconut trees. Other common animals found in Raja Ampat include monitor lizards, coconut crabs, bats, sugar gliders, and a lot of birds. 

Some areas in Raja Ampat also have orchids growing wildly or planted by locals. Up the hill in Sawinggrai on Gam Island, there is an orchid garden where the villagers planted many kinds of orchids from some islands in Raja Ampat. Besides orchids, there are many types of plants as well. To take a walk, visitors can ask their homestay owners or villagers to show them the local garden and forests. 

Birdwatching is another exciting activity, considering the diversity of Raja Ampat’s bird life. A trip to Raja Ampat will not be complete without doing a single bird watching trip. According to the Avibase – Bird Checklists of the World, Raja Ampat is home to 362 species of birds. The list includes Wilson’s and Red Birds of Paradise, which are among the most beautiful birds on the planet. Both birds of paradise can be found on Waigio Island, the biggest island in Raja Ampat. The red one can be easily found on Gam Island. To do bird watching, visitors can hire local tour guides, or they can go by themselves.  

Many visitors come to Raja Ampat only for diving, snorkeling, and enjoying the marine life. While nothing is wrong with that, it is a shame to miss other wonderful things that Raja Ampat provides. Other activities like birdwatching, taking a nature walk, and teaching local children English are worth spending time on. (kes)

Source: theJakartaPost
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Sky is the limit for ticket booking application of Penguin airline

PENGUIN, Thailand’s first travel-tech mobile application, is expected to generate online air-ticket transactions valued at Bt500 million annually in the next couple of years, making it the No-1 travel app in a fast-growing market.

Kittikorn Kunnalekha, chief executive officer of Asia One Click, said the company had developed Penguin as an air-travel booking app to support the high growth potential for online airline ticketing. 

 The mobile app sets out a range of special prices and promotions, from which users can choose the best option and reserve and pay for the ticket via their smart phone.

 “We are providing a travel-tech application to support the new era of online travel. Our system is able to connect with more than 500 airlines with promotions and special prices for customers. The software was launched at the end of last year and Penguin now has around 20,000 active download users, which is expected to rise to 300,000 active users by the end of this year,” he explained.

Asia One Click expects that within the next couple of years, Penguin users will be generating ticket purchases worth around Bt500 million annually, making it the app the Thai market leader for mobile reservations, the CEO added.

 The company’s income from the app comes from an air-ticket booking commission paid by users, and payments made by participating airlines. 

 Google reported recently that the online air-ticketing market in Thailand was valued at US$2.4 billion (Bt84 billion) in 2015, a level that is expected to reach $12 billion in the next 10 years, with annual growth of around 18 per cent. 

Source: TheNation

CNN names Isaan as one of best places worldwide to visit this year

THAILAND’S northeastern region of Isaan was recently named by CNN as one of the top 17 places in the world to visit this year.

Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the TAT, (TAT) said: “Isaan has a long history with some of Southeast Asia’s oldest settlements found here. In modern times, the region is famous for its fiery salads, country music, stunning scenery and elaborate temples. 

“There is so much to be enjoyed here and most of it is unseen by tourists, so we encourage people to explore and discover their own amazing Isaan stories.”

The flowers of the Red Lotus Sea in Khumphawaphi district of Udon Thani are usually in full bloom from New Year until around February. Tourists can hire a boat to see the red lotuses up close and enjoy the natural scenery of the freshwater lake and waters, which are home to a variety of fish, birds, wildlife and aquatic plants.

 The list was put together by CNN travel experts and international reporters who named their favourite destinations around the world for a feature on the news organisation’s website. Other destinations on the CNN list included Penang in Malaysia, Columbia, Bordeaux in France, Bhutan, Albania and Senegal.

Isaan was cited as “a piece of Thailand that’s still largely unexplored by the international market”. CNN also noted Isaan’s “excellent infrastructure” including domestic airports and hotels.

CNN also wrote about Isaan’s most famous food exports, sticky rice and papaya salad, as dishes that are among Thailand’s best – provided diners can handle the spices.

Aside from Isaan, Bangkok was named the “Best City” in Asia by readers of DestinAsian, a travel and lifestyle magazine in the Asia-Pacific region with a print run of 33,414 copies and a readership of 100, 242 per edition.

This is the 12th annual DestinAsian Reader’s Choice Awards and Bangkok took the top spot in the city category with Singapore and Hong Kong taking the second and third place on the list. Another popular Thai city, Chiang Mai, was also popular with DestinAsian readers, taking ninth place in the poll.

This poll shows how Bangkok is fast becoming a popular short-haul trip for travellers and tourists across the region. The city offers a range of shopping and entertainment as well as historic sites, temples and attractions that can be easily enjoyed by visitors coming for a few days visit.

Source: TheNation

Six essential tips for frequent business travelers

Avid business travelers should always be ready for that one-month-away business trip or an unscheduled one in two days.

Traveling for work is not the same as traveling for leisure. It requires efficiency, as you will deal with various business-related activities, such as meetings, conferences or even a gala dinner once you arrive in your destination.

Below are some tips all business travelers should consider in preparing, regardless of the business they are in and the destination they are going to.

Always be prepared

Avid business travelers should always be ready for that one-month away business trip or an unscheduled one in two days, if circumstances demand it. This means your passport should be no less than six months from its expiration date, your visa should be ready and you have done some research about the weather in your destination, the places you will be visiting as well accommodation and transportation options.

If your visa is not yet in your hand, it is recommended to spend some time to apply for it, as the procedure can take a while, depending on your destination country. As for booking a flight, comfort should be your priority, especially on long-haul flights. It is suggested to stick with one or two particular airlines, as they sometimes have promotions for loyal customers and frequent flyer programs.

Pack lightly

When it comes to packing for a business trip, you may want to make George Clooney’s character in Up in The Air ( 2009 ) your role model. For a two- or three-day trip, it is suggested to pack all your belongings in a piece of carry-on luggage.

While a duffel bag may sound practical, it increases the risk of getting your clothes creased and could potentially be a burden on your shoulder. Carrying your belongings on board also means you do not need to claim them once you have landed, saving you precious time.

Make a list of necessary items to store in the suitcase, such as electronic chargers, adaptors and jewelry. Place your laptop in a reachable space, so you do not need to dig through your clothes to get it out for airport security. There are ways to maximize the limited space in a cabin-size suitcase, such as filling your shoes with ties, socks or belts prior to packing them. Turn your shirts, blazers or suits inside out and then fold them horizontally to minimize creases, and bring clothes that cater to more than one purpose. Generally, adjust your clothes to your schedule during the business trip, thus you will not pack too much.

Don’t bring prohibited items

Do some research on prohibited items on your airline to exclude them from your suitcase. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lists banned items and items that require additional screening or will trigger the alarm at airport security. Aside from obvious items like explosives, firearms and sharp objects, you need to be aware of certain types of food and sporting equipment. National flag carrier Garuda Indonesia has released a similar list of prohibited items, which included rackets, penknives, fishing rods and selfie monopods.

(Read also: Top tips for flying with children)

Know the rules

Prior to checking in at the airport, there are some rules you should know. Be careful concerning the amount of liquids, gels and creams in your luggage, as several carriers require passengers to limit liquids to 100 mL (3.4 ounces) or less per item and to place them in a clear, resealable bag.

Do note that different airlines have different rules in terms of baggage weight. Garuda Indonesia, for example, limits checked-in baggage to 32 kilograms and carry-on baggage to 7 kg, with certain dimensions, depending on the class and flight.

Avoid wasting time at airport security checkpoints

Use your time as efficiently as possible at airport security checkpoints. Different countries have different airport screening procedures. You may need to take off your shoes, jacket, watch and belt before passing through the metal detector. Large electronic devices and toiletries may need to be checked separately, so be ready get them out of your luggage quickly. The trick, courtesy of the Up in the Air movie, is to take two container bins at the same time. Fill one with your shoes and jacket and the other with your laptop and other required belongings. Put them on the conveyor belt and prepare your ID as well as boarding pass.

Always be ready. Do not wait for your turn to take off your shoes, for instance.

Arrive early

According to TSA, it is recommended to arrive at least two hours ahead of domestic departures and three hours for international flights. Remember that what you need to do at the airport is not just checking in and jumping on the plane. Consider additional time for traffic jam, parking, rental car returns and security screening. (kes)

Source: TheJakarkaPost

More Asians are traveling around the world

The number of international tourists rose by 4% worldwide to 1.2 billion last year as Asians traveled more, but security fears hit visitor arrivals in Europe, the World Tourism Organization (WTO) said.

The number of people living in Asia and discovering both their own region and the rest of the world rose 8% compared to 2015, the Madrid-based body said.

The Asia-Pacific area, meanwhile, proved a popular destination – the second most visited region after Europe.

But the UN body cautioned that while Europe was still blessed with 620 million tourists last year, the growth in the number of visitors had slowed due to security concerns.

WTO chief Taleb Rifai told reporters the results in Europe varied widely from one country to the next. He refused to give a much-anticipated ranking of the most visited countries, saying this would be unveiled later.

In 2015, France ranked number one, followed by the United States and Spain.

Source: TheNation

Cambodia – Angkor Wat bridge awaits restoration

SIEM REAP, 25 January 2017: A temporary pontoon bridge leading to Angkor Wat will be completed in May to allow workers to close an ancient stone bridge for restoration.

Phnom Penh Post reported that Apsara Authority will close the stone bridge , this May, to allow for restoration, while tourist traffic will be diverted to the temporary bridge.

The authority, which manages the historic temple complex, said the closure is part of restoration efforts carried out in conjunction with Japan’s Sophia University.

The 197-metre-long, 10-metre-wide pontoon is made of non-slip weather-resistant plastic.

Apsara spokeswoman, Chaosun Keriya, was quoted saying: “The restoration will take at least two to three years…as  the same type of stone must be used instead of cement.”

The construction of the pontoon started last November.

The original bridge, west of the temple, is about 190 metres long. The first phase of repairs was completed in 2007 by the Apsara Authority and Sophia University, which has spent 12 years repairing 90 metres of the structure already.

The number of foreign visitors to the World Heritage site rose 4.63% to 2.19 million last year. The top source markets were China, South Korea and the United States.

Revenue from ticket sales to foreigners visiting the park reached a record USD62.5 million in 2016, representing a solid increase of 4.21% over 2015.

The entrance fee to the Angkor Historical Park costs USD20 a day (foreigners only), USD40 for a three-day visit and USD60 for a week-long visit.

New entrance fees are due to take effect 1 February this year. The new fees are: one-day pass USD37, three-day pass USD62, and seven-day pass USD72.

Source: TTRweekly

Thailand wants in 2018 introduce E-Visa

#BANGKOK, 25 January 2017: Thailand is exploring the world of e-Visas with the introduction phase scheduled to take place by the end of this year.

Minster of Tourism and Sports, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, confirmed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently evaluating the project.

She was commenting on ways to ease visa formalities and make travel to Thailand more convenient during a press conference, Tuesday, convened to announce the hosting of the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit, 26 to 27 April, in the Thai capital.

“We are working on the introduction of an e-Visa… the first phase should be completed by end of this year… and the full phase will be completed in 2018.”

She said the project was with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, although ultimately visas are in the domain of the Immigration Bureau.

But introducing an e-Visa would decrease visa fee revenue at Thai consulates worldwide, a matter that will need agreement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Her comments followed statements made by the World Tourism and Travel Council, president, David Scowsil, who strongly recommended nations speed up the migration from paper to electronic visas.

“The WTTC focus is on electronic visas, freedom and the right to travel,” he said. “Visas are required by 58% of the world’s 1.2 billion population and they still need a paper visa…they are required to queue and pay for a visa it’s a crazy out-dated system.”

He said the WTTC’s three core objectives were to encourage freedom of travel, encourage policies for growth and encourage sustainable development for tomorrow.

Quoting the example of airlines he said it took them three years to migrate from paper to electronic tickets.

“We are persuading governments to move fast on this, electronic visas offer more security and a country can use the funds earned from e-Visa processing to support branding.”

He cited the example of the US, using e-Visa fees to fund Brand USA.

“China should create an e-Visa. Tourist arrivals to China have remained static at 55 million for five years,” he said. “If they created an e-Visa they could also use the visas to fund a Brand China campaign similar to what the US has done.”

Thailand is hosting WTTC’s first global summit a first for Southeast Asia. Last year, the annual event that attracts around 900 CEO’s tourism policy makers and government ministers, was hosted in Dallas, US.

Former prime minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, will address the global summit in Bangkok, while high profile CEO, Tony Fernandes, who founded the AirAsia group, will talk on airline connectivity.

The summit will be held at the Bangkok Convention Centre in CentralWorld, in downtown Bangkok.

Official airlines for the event are Thai Airways International, Emirates and AirAsia Group.

Source: TTRweekly

Myanmar (Burma) – The land that time forgot

Once the bustling imperial capital of Burmese Kingdoms, the ancient city of Inwa is now in ruins but still a great place to spend a day

Perched on the left bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River in Upper Myanmar, Inwa – or Angwa as it is known in Thai – must surely be the best-known ancient kingdom among Thais. The imperial capital of successive Burmese kingdoms from the 14th to 19th centuries, it was from Inwa that King Hsinbyushin began a two-year assault on Ayutthaya in 1765 that resulted in the collapse of Siam’s capital. Less than 70 years later Angwa was completely destroyed in turn, the victim of several earthquakes. As Maroon 5 put it, “Nothing lasts forever”. 

Ravaged by war and tremors, Inwa today is scarcely larger than a rural backwater dotted with ruins, monastic buildings and stupas. Daytrippers travel from Mandalay to the old city, enjoying a trip back in time as they try to imagine the city’s previous grandeur from the remains of its watchtowers, city walls, monasteries and temples.

“Visitors jump into horse-drawn carts or make their own way around the old city,” says Khin, my local guide in Inwa. 

I opt for the horse and cart and immediately feel worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of Mandalay. Myanmar’s countryside is charming with rice paddy fields and banana plantations stretching as far as the eye can see. The ruins of stupas and abandoned monasteries roll along like a slide show. The driver slows the horses as we arrive in Inwa proper and pulls over in front of a wooden building with huge posts and a multi-tiered roof.

“This is Bagaya Monastery. The entire building is made of teak,” begins Khin, as we head towards the entrance. “It was a Buddhist school during the Inwa period.”

The grand monastery boasts 267 teak posts, the guide continues, the largest of which is almost three metres in circumference. Each post is 20 metres high. Undoubtedly Bagaya Monastery is the pride of Inwa and I find it easy to imagine hundreds of monks and novices praying here. The monastery today is shaky and worn but it’s still beautiful and worth a visit. 

The Burmese might have been ruthless as they marched from Inwa to Ayutthaya but they also had a strong artistic side, particularly when it came to woodwork. The entire monastery is decorated with figurines, arabesques and reliefs of birds and animals as well as small pillars all beautifully carved in teak.

From Bagaya Monastery, we ask the cart driver where we can stop for lunch and meet some residents. He pulls over at a roadside restaurant, where several locals, their faces covered with Thanaka, are tucking into noodles, sweet tea and bean cake. They welcome us with smiles and friendly nods.

Within walking distance from the restaurant are Yadana Hsimi Pagodas. Here, under the canopy of a huge Banyan tree is a beautiful Buddha image surrounded by what remains of a group of small stupas and what remains of a prayer hall. 

“The temple was reduced to rubble by the 1839 earthquakes,” says the local guide. “Only some beautiful stone lintels and Buddha images survived around the ruins.”

Back in our personal carriage, the driver guides his horse through peanut and banana plantations. Some farmers are busy clearing weeds, while others balance earthen pots and basketful of grass on their heads.

Finally, we arrive at Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery. Unlike Bagaya Monastery, where every single piece is made of wood, this huge Buddhist temple is built of stucco-covered brick. The monastery survived the earthquake in 1839 but time has taken its toll on the huge temple. Yet it is attractive in a strange way and in summer, the guide says, its ultra-thick walls provide a welcome respite from the midday sun. 

In fact, Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery is a very rare survivor of the Inwa era. Just to the East of the main hall is a group of whitewashed pagodas with shimmering gilded umbrellas. Behind them is the lookout for Sagaing – another ancient capital nestled on the Ayeyarwaddy River.

In terms of exotic glamour, Inwa is truly a city lost in the mists of time. 

Some visitors don’t take the horse carriage at all, but prefer to travel on foot. With map in hand and plenty of time, they explore the ancient city on foot. Moving at a slower pace, they enjoy a much more accurate experience of where they are: In essence, the middle of nowhere.

IF YOU GO

Bangkok Airways and AirAsia operate flights between Bangkok and Mandalay. Inwa is about 30 kilometres south of Mandalay.

Sourse: TheNation