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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Cambodia – Steeper entry at Angkor Wat Temples

Ticket prices for Angkor Wat are scheduled to increase on Wednesday, with industry experts expressing cautious optimism that despite reports showing tourist spending fell last year, the sharp increase in admission fares at the country’s premier tourist attraction would not deter foreigners from visiting Cambodia.

Starting on Wednesday, foreign visitors to the Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap province will need to fork out almost twice as much for one-day passes, which are set to increase to $37, from $20. Three-day passes will rise to $62, from $40, while week-long passes will cost $72, up from $60.

The higher admission fares, first announced last August, follow similar price hikes at the country’s popular tourist sites. On January 1, the entry fee of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh increased to $10, from $6.25. Entry to the capital’s other top tourist draws, the National Museum and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, rose to $5, from $3.

Carrol Sahaidak-Beaver, secretary-general of the Cambodia Tourism Federation (CTF), said she did not expect these price hikes to have any significant impact on visitor numbers.

“We are not anticipating any negative impact on tourism numbers for either Angkor Wat, the National Museum or Tuol Sleng Museum,” she said yesterday. “The prices have been unchanged for 25 years and were overdue for an increase.”

Sahaidak-Beaver noted that a longer period of adjustment would have helped transition from the old to the new prices. However, the increased expenses should not affect Cambodia’s tourism competitiveness in the region, she added.

“Many tour packages are sold well in advance hence it is difficult to go back and say there has been an increase,” she said. “The new price is competitive to what is offered by our neighbors and internationally, and we fully support the increase.”

Ho Vandy, deputy secretary-general of Cambodia’s National Tourism Alliance, said while government data showed tourists were spending less money during visits to the Kingdom, it was too early to say how higher admission prices would play out.

“We don’t know yet if it will affect the country in a positive or in a negative way,” he said. “Let’s see at the end of 2017 what the results are.”

In its year-end report released last week, the Ministry of Tourism revealed that overall revenue from tourism in Cambodia declined last year despite more visitors. Total revenue dropped $500 million to $3 billion in 2016 as international tourist arrivals increased 5 percent, crossing the 5 million mark for the first time.

Vandy suggested the lower revenue could be the result of increased airline connectivity. He said with more airlines serving Cambodia the country is increasingly becoming a stopover on wider regional trips, leading to shorter stays.

“There are more direct flights connecting Cambodia with the region and there are many airlines operating in the country,” he said. “Tourists are cutting down the length of their stay because of this and are choosing to go to more places during their trip.”

However, Tui Rutten, managing director of First Travel Cambodia, said a growing shift from high-end to budget travellers was likely behind the decline in overall tourism revenue. There are more Chinese tourists visiting Cambodia on cheap package deals and fewer tourists from Western countries, partly because of poor economic conditions in Europe, she explained.

“There have been a lot of Chinese charters coming to Cambodia and I think there has also been an increase in low-cost tourism,” she said. “I feel like there has been a decrease in the number of high-value tourists from Canada, the US and Europe.”

Whether the admission fee hikes of a handful of tourist sites would impact the decision of budget-conscious tourists to visit Cambodia remains unclear. Rutten preferred not to speculate.

Author:  Matthieu de Gaudemar / PhnonPehnPost

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

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

Why is Jaipur called the Pink City?

Jaipur has been popularized with the name of Pink City because of the color of the stone exclusively used for the construction of all the structures. Anyone who has witnessed the city can substantiate the fact that all the buildings of Jaipur are pink in color. The pink color has its own history. In 1876, the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria visited India on a tour. Since pink denotes the color of hospitality, Maharaja Ram Singh of Jaipur painted the whole city pink in color to welcome the guests. The tradition has been sincerely followed by the residents who are now, by law, compelled to maintain the pink color.

Pink in color and pink in vibrancy, the city of Jaipur is one of most beautiful and magnetic cities of India. One always falls short of words while describing the bounteous charm that the city captivates the visitor with. The culture, architecture, traditions, art, jewellery and textiles of Jaipur have always charmed the travelers. It is one city that, even after modernisation, still holds to its roots and values.

Apart from being the capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur is also the largest city of the state. The foundation of the city dates back to the eighteenth century, with credit to the great warrior and astronomer Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. The glorious past of Jaipur comes alive in the palaces and forts in the city where once lived the royal clans. The majestic forts and havelis, the beautiful temples, the serene landscapes, and the rich cultural heritage, have made Jaipur an ideal destination for tourists.

There is something in the atmosphere of Jaipur that brings joy and delight as soon as you set foot in the city. The pink color of the city brings out a romantic charm that captivates every heart. If you haven’t got a chance to experience the royalties of Jaipur yet, plan your trip right away!

The Khon Phee Lhong rocky shoals on the Mekong River pose a dangerous stretch for navigators

The Khon Phee Lhong rocky shoals on the Mekong River pose a dangerous stretch for navigators but also provide habitat for fish and help sustain the river’s ecosystem.

Residents stare at uncertain future as Cabinet gives nod to blasting of Mekong River rapids

THE rough hands of veteran ferry driver Chalin Cheableam steer a small boat up the river to the Khon Phee Lhong rapids on the Mekong River. In his late 50s and having navigated boats on the Mekong River since he was teenager, Chalin has many stories about the geographical signatures of the river and connections to local lore.

Residents stare at uncertain future as Cabinet gives nod to blasting of Mekong River rapids

  PRATCH RUJIVANAROM

Many rocky shoals (“khon”), sand-dune islands (“don”), and steep rocky riverbanks (“pha”) can be seen while travelling along the river. These geographical characteristics are unique to the Mekong River from Chiang Saern district in Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang in Laos, and for a long time local people have developed their culture and way of lives to be in harmony with the nature of the river.

However, he fears that everything is going to change, as an international project to improve the river’s navigation route, allowing barges larger than 500 tonnes gross to travel along the river all year round was approved by the Cabinet this month. This has caused wide concern among locals living along the river in Thailand.

Residents in Chiang Rai’s Chiang Khong district fear that the plan to improve the navigation route will kill the river’s ecosystem and destroy their livelihoods. They are concerned that their way of life and cultural identity, which is strongly associated with the river, will become history.

Khon Phee Lhong, a group of rocky shoals around a kilometre long in the river, can be seen above water during low tide and is an obstacle preventing large barges from passing through that area. It is on the list to be demolished.

“Khon Phee Lhong means the rapids [Khon] that the corpses [Phee] cannot make their way past on the river [Lhong],” Chalin said. “In the past, if someone drowned in the river upstream, the people would come here to search for the body because the turbulent current and whirlpools caused by underwater rocky rapids would bring the body from underwater to the surface and float in the area.”

Read continue: TheNation

 

Cambodia – Siem Reap Tour

Today we did a tour on the outer part of Angkor Archeological Complex, we woke up at 4.30 am and departed at 7 am. We went about 30 Km away from Angkor complex and see several temples, among them Preh Ko, Ba Kong, Lo Lei, Banteay Srey, and Pre Rup. Touring around those temples took […]

via Cambodia Day 8: Outer Siam Reap Tour

This is how Thai students think expats see Thailand (Video)

Water boxing, riding “beautiful elephants” in a commercial elephant camp, and grabbing a quick bite of fried bugs and Pad Thai on the street are what a group of award-winning students think expats love about Thailand.

This homemade video by five Communication Arts students at Nation University, in the northern province of Lampang, won first prize in the government-sponsored contest “Through the eyes of foreigners: Youth’s reflection on the image of Thailand.”

Their three-minute video was awarded THB50,000 cash by the National Legislative Assembly.

According to the announcement that called for submissions, the project was a chance for young Thais between the ages of 15-25 to present a story that reflects their perception of the expat community towards Thailand and paint a picture why they think those foreigners chose to settle down in the land of smiles.

And the result is in: VIDEO

The video by winning team “Kapook Creator” was released to the public by the National Legislative Assembly last night — it offers an interesting look at what the government and Thais think expats are interested in.

Nukul Kammin, a third-year advertising major who was the cameraman for the project, said his group was inspired by the music video “Bangkok City” by Thai-American hip hop group Thaitanium, which might remind you of Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind.”

Asked how he thinks expats see Thailand, the junior said: “Just like in the video. Travel, culture, massage, world-famous Muay Thai, food, elephants, I think these are why foreigners came to Thailand.”

“I didn’t expect we’d win. I think our video is pretty cool, but I thought we’d only get experience, not an award,” the filmmaker said.

Adviser to the project Ajarn Chinnagrit Udomlappaisan commented that it was more about the opportunity for his students to develop a video with a set of instructions.

“The project gave the kids an opportunity to think how they would present Thainess within a limited time,” Chinnagrit said.

Source: Coconuts.co

Thailand – 7 SENSATIONAL festival outings

#Thailand - 7 SENSATIONAL festival outings

Music maps the year ahead, with art and food helping draw the throngs

BRACE YOURSELF for plenty of sensorial delights, cool sounds and creative fun as Thailand churns up a series of festivals celebrating music, art and the good life over the next few months.

Calendars ready? Mark these dates.

LONG KHAN MUSIC FEST

This Sunday at Root Garden on Thonglor Soi 3

Bangkok’s new green sanctuary on Soi Thonglor gives professional musicians who struggle to make a living a break with this free concert where the fans can chip in donations for whichever acts they like.

Running from 3 to 11pm, it has independent and chronically underrated acts like Poomjit, Ten to Twelve, 23 Street, Plot, the Lowdowns and De Flamingo in the line-up so far.

Facebook.com/LongKhanFest

KICKS FEST

Saturday, January 28, at the Soy Sauce Bar on Bangkok’s Charoenkrung Soi 24

The third edition of this ear-bending event devoted to indie punk and heavy rock features both homegrown bands and foreign guests, including Vietnamese expat punks James and the Van Der Beeks and Canadian rocker Yeti Jang. More acts are still to be announced. The local talent thus far includes Bomb at Track, Pistols99 and Pretty Punks. The noise starts at 7pm.

Facebook.com/TheWildestYouth

E-SAN MUSIC FEST

Saturday, January 28, at the Udonrat Dam in Khon Kaen

Dubbed “Thailand’s Woodstock”, this outdoor gathering packages the authentic sounds of the Northeast alongside other acts for a real world-music vibe. The roster for the fifth edition hasn’t been announced yet, but it will surely be worth the Bt300 admission fee.

Facebook.com/ESanMusicFestival

MYSTIC VALLEY FESTIVAL

Friday to Tuesday, February 3 to 7, at the Mountain Creek Resort in Khao Yai, Nakhon Ratchasima

Edition Bangkok has mounted this EDM (electronic dance music) mass gathering that will occupy a vast green space in the woodland hills. More than 40 local and foreign DJs will keep the engine revving from four state-of-the-art stages, including such hot shots as Andy Moor, Arctic Moon, David Gravell, RAM, Richard Durand, Sven Vath, Phonique and Nakadia. The electronica will run the gamut from trap, trance and house to techno, with food trucks and a day market vying for attention. Camping facilities are free.

MysticThailand.com

MAYA MUSIC FESTIVAL

Friday and Saturday, February 17 and 18, in Pattaya

The third edition of Thailand’s original EDM festival takes its unique Siamese themes to a new venue in the eastern coastal resort. Having launched with a jaw-dropping Naga theme in 2015 and topping that with a Hanuman stage last year, the event this year is bound to bring more surprises.

Among the mix of local and |overseas acts booked are KSHMR, Far East Movement, Timmy Trumpet, Blasterjaxx and superstar Tiesto. Standard tickets cost Bt4,000, but there are various packages to choose from.

MayaMusicFestival.com

#Thailand - 7 SENSATIONAL festival outings

WONDERFRUIT

Wednesday to Sunday, February 16 to 19, at the Siam Country Club in Pattaya

Also in its third year, this elaborate celebration of art, music, gastronomy and wellness is back at the same grounds not far from the seashore. Installation art and fantastic food prepared fresh by renowned chefs will attempt to distract you from the cool, eclectic music, as well the activities on offer, from hikes and crafts to yoga. It can be great fun for children, and pets are also welcome.

WonderfruitFestival.com

KOLOR IN THE PARK

Saturday and Sunday, March 18 and 19, at Marchat Wake Park in Pathum Thani

Electronic-music junkies have been looking forward to this splashy outdoor event’s return. For two days there’ll by dozens of acts from around the world sharing three stages, plus after-parties, light shows, a graffiti exhibition, gourmet food and an |arts-and-crafts.

www.KolourInThePark.com

#Thailand - 7 SENSATIONAL festival outings
Source: TheNation

What are the tourism trends in 2017?

In January begins the general orientation on the next holiday trips. Fairs help choose, trend watchers look in their crystal ball.

Just about any travel magazine and every holiday site sins on their crystal ball look: what destinations are hot in the New Year, the most attention the list of Lonely Planet, which publishes an annual top 10 countries list, cities and regions.

The top 10 countries

1/ Canada. The country exist 150 years. More importantly, it is full of natural beauty and friendly people.

2/ Colombia. Hooray, it is peace and everyone is welcome.

3 / Finland. Another anniversary. The 100th anniversary is celebrated with exhibitions, cooking feasts and, yes, sauna evenings.

4/ Dominica, Go before it’s too late: the ‘last unspoiled Caribbean island’ come in 2018 the first resorts.

5/ Nepal. Earthquakes have quite thrown back the country. Every tourist who comes, indirectly helping in the reconstruction efforts.

6/ Bermuda. Pink beaches appeal to the imagination, like the fact that the America’s Cup sailing race calling the British island in June.

7/ Mongolia. A new airport, better infrastructure and new hotels: Mongolia is gradually Tourism proof.

8/ Oman. Trump Arabia is becoming more accessible thanks to new hotels and attractions. Eye-catcher is the Musandam peninsula, with fjord-like inlets.

9/ Myanmar. The mysterious land of Southeast Asia has more temples than flats. Upcoming travel destination.

10/ Ethiopia. Exotic, overwhelming and now more accessible thanks to new flight connections.