In the wilds of Mongolia: Horses, sand dunes and stargazing

I’m a city girl. I did not grow up camping, have never pitched a tent and know nothing of the Girl Scouts beyond Thin Mints or Samoa cookies. Certainly no one would use the words “rugged” or “outdoorsy” to describe me.

So I definitely had a few reservations when my husband suggested a vacation in the wilds of central Mongolia.

My trepidation only grew as I binged on travel reviews bemoaning makeshift bathrooms and swarming insects.

But I ended up loving every minute in Mongolia, a country steeped in history, stunning scenery and welcoming locals. I stepped outside my comfort zone and into the trip of a lifetime. And here’s why you should too.

GET OFF THE GRID

Mongolia, a country of 3 million people slightly smaller than Alaska, is one of the most sparsely populated places in the world.

You can go hours, even days, without seeing another human while traveling through Mongolia’s countryside. Instead, you’ll find a vibrant blue horizon and empty, rolling grasslands dotted with horses, cows, sheep, goats and yaks.

You’ll be forced to unplug as cell service and Wi-Fi is mostly non-existent outside of the larger cities.

So say goodbye to Facebook rants and traffic jams and say hello to a seemingly endless untouched landscape. Your only roadblock is the occasional cow.

BOOK A GUIDE

As avid travelers accustomed to DIY adventures, we rarely book tours. But my top tip for this wonderland is to find yourself an expert.

There are few road signs and English is not widely used, so a local guide with knowledge of the routes and language is highly recommended.

You will also need a four-wheel drive vehicle to navigate the mostly unpaved terrain.

Our expert, good-humored guide, Munkh Bileg, whom we hired through Nomadic Discovery , tailored our private tour to our interests and time constraints to maximize our Mongolian experience.

We rode camels across sand dunes and horses at sunset. We met herder families and sampled local cuisine, including fermented mare’s milk and dried curds. Most of our days were spent off-roading over mountains and across rivers, simply soaking in Mongolia’s other-worldly landscape.

READ CONTINUE – By Nicole Evatt

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Karawang, Cikarang among popular domestic destinations for Indonesians

Two industrial regions in West Java, Karawang and Cikarang, were listed among the top 10 up and coming domestic destinations for Indonesian travelers by travel website Agoda.

Both destinations were recognized alongside other Indonesian popular tourist spots like Labuan Bajo in East Nusa Tenggara, Sukabumi and Puncak in West Java, Samosir in Lampung, Tegal in Central Java, Bandar Lampung in Sumatra, Manado in North Sulawesi and Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara.

(Read also: Saving Raja Ampat waters with tourism)

The list was created by comparing the growth of domestic destinations among local travelers between 2015 and 2016.

Despite being industrial regions, Karawang and Cikarang are actually home to attractive sites. Karawang, for instance, has the Bandung Waterfall and Cikole and Kalimati Lakes. Meanwhile, visitors of Cikarang can expect to find hundreds of years old Saung Ranggon traditional houses and a mangrove forest called Muara Gembong.

According to Agoda, six of the 10 destinations are close to natural attractions and national parks, suggesting that Indonesian travelers are currently leaning toward outdoor adventures.

“Young Indonesian travelers actively seek different experiences through traveling and are hungry for off the beaten path experiences,” said Agoda International Indonesia country director Gede Gunawan in an official statement.

Top 10 up and coming domestic destinations for Indonesian travelers:

1. Karawang, West Java

2. Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara

3. Sukabumi, West Java

4. Samosir, North Sumatra

5. Cikarang, West Java

6. Tegal, Central Java

7. Bandar Lampung, Lampung

8. Manado, North Sulawesi

9. Puncak, West Java

10. Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara

Source – TheJakartaPost

INDONESIA – Local advocate wants locals to benefit more from West Manggarai tourism

Ica Marta Muslin, 35, from Manggarai regency is quite an influential figure on the local tourism scene.

Working for the Wicked Diving foundation as community project manager, she has encouraged and assisted Labuan Bajo residents in West Manggarai regency to become dive masters. Up to six people have received funding from the foundation for the required training. Four of them have become dive masters and two are now working as adventure guides.

Ica is also an active advocate in West Manggarai. Alongside local communities, she has joined peaceful movements and campaigns that focus on tourism, such as fighting to keep Pede Beach a public space. Her statements could also be found in mass media, as she insisted that locals should get more benefits from the region’s tourist industry.

“I have been working in tourism my whole life. I’m actually a law graduate [from Warmadewa University in Bali] who decided to enter the tourism scene. Learning from my previous experience in Bali, I think that locals should not be cast aside from the tourist industry; they should get more benefits from it,” she recently told The Jakarta Post in Labuan Bajo.

Previously a restaurant manager in Karma Bali in 2009, Ica said she returned to Flores as she felt the need to aid in its development. Fortunately, there was a vacancy at a business-oriented independent foundation for international development cooperation Swisscontact in Flores. She later applied and was accepted.

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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