As the ASEAN Tourism Forum rolls out in the Philippines this month, Express TravelWorld explores the myriad tourism offerings of the ten ASEAN nations who have pledged to work together as one sustainable community
The Philippines is the third largest English speaking country in the world. It has a rich history combining Asian, European, and American influences. Prior to Spanish colonisation in 1521, the Filipinos had a rich culture and traded with the Chinese and the Japanese. Spain’s colonisation brought about the construction of Intramuros in 1571, a ‘walled city’ comprising European buildings and churches, replicated in different parts of the archipelago. In 1898, after 350 years and 300 rebellions, the Filipinos, with leaders like Jose Rizal and Emilio Aguinaldo, won their independence.
Philippines is blessed with many unique places worth visiting. Because of its high altitude, Banaue is often described as ‘where land merges with the clouds to meet the heavens’ with the rice terraces as ‘the stairway to the sky.’ During the day, tourists can indulge in activities such as strolling, biking, and trekking. A leading tourism destination in Asia, the Banaue rice terraces start from the base of the Cordilleras and reach up to several thousand feet high. Its length, if stretched from end to end, could encircle half of the globe. In the village of Batad, the terraces take the shape of an amphitheatre and can be reached by a 12-kilometre ride from Banaue Hotel and a two-hour hike through mountain trails.
The Chocolate Hills is a series of 1,268 symmetrical, haycock-shaped hills that rise some 30 metres above the ground. A National Geologic Monument, these unique rock formations were cast after million years of evolution. Spread out in the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan, the hills are so-called because they resemble chocolate bonbons when their grass cover turns to brown at the onset of summer. Two of the hills have been developed and provided with facilities, including a view deck, a youth hostel and a restaurant.
Its an easy atmosphere in Boracay coupled with many leisure activities calendared throughout the year and amenities offered by some 350 tourist establishments. Cebu is a traveller’s fantasy of a tropical island. The island-province of Cebu was where the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan planted the Cross of Christianity in the name of Spain in 1521. But even before Cebu became the occidental gateway to the Orient, it was already a popular entry point among Asian merchants. Cebu’s 166 islands and islets are fringed with sandy beaches and sapphire-clear waters teeming with marine life, perfect for divers.
‘Kadayawan sa Dabaw’ is Davao City’s premier festival and showcases the natural and cultural bounty of the land. A movable feast in August, the week-long merrymaking highlights the manifold tribal cultures of the region which are vividly expressed in traditional songs, dances, games and crafts. It is also on this occasion when a lively trade fair, capped by a flower-and-fruit float parade, takes place. Street dancing and popular entertainment complete the celebration.
The capital of the Philippines – its heart and soul – is Manila, which was born out of the ashes of a once flourishing Malay settlement by the banks of the Pasig River. In 1571, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi established the Ever Loyal City of Manila which, until 1898, was the seat of Spanish colonial rule in Asia. He built the city within walls and called it Intramuros. An anchor tourist destination, Manila is the core of the 7,000 times more islands that make up the Philippines. It is a centre for performing arts in Asia.
Vigan, with its century-old edifices, is a living reminder of what was once a royal city. One of the earliest Spanish settlements in the country, Vigan was founded in 1572 by Juan de Salcedo who patterned its design to that of Intramuros (Old Manila). It became the seat of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia and was called Ciudad Fernandina in honour of King Ferdinand. The St Paul’s Cathedral was built by the Augustinian friars along the distinct ‘Earthquake Baroque’ style of the Ilocos region and features Neo-Gothic and pseudo Romanesque motifs. Standing on an elevation west of the cathedral is Plaza Salcedo, the oldest monument in Northern Luzon. The Archbishop’s Palace is a rich repository of religious artifacts from the Ilocos region.
Meet for business
The development of the Philippine convention industry became official government policy in 1976, a milestone year that marked the establishment of Southeast Asia’s first full-fledged convention centre, the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC); and the creation of the Philippine Convention Bureau (PCB) as a government corporation dedicated to the promotion of Philippines as a meetings and convention destination. An architectural landmark on its own, housing works of various Filipino master artists in painting, the PICC offers facilities for meetings, conventions, exhibits and special events – a plenary hall that can seat more than 3,500; a reception hall, exhibit areas and other meeting rooms. The country’s newest and largest privately-run exhibition and convention centre, SMX is a world-class venue for international exhibitions, large-scale local trade events, major medical and other industry conventions and corporate functions. With future development plans for hotels and a 12,000-seat arena, the Mall of Asia Complex is envisioned to be the ‘New Convention Destination in Asia.’
The World Trade Center Metro Manila is the first world-class exhibition centre which was inaugurated in November 1996. The Cebu Convention Center (Cebu International Convention Center, CICC) is a structure built by the Cebu Provincial Government in time for the 12th ASEAN Summit in January 2007 and the second East Asia Summit.
The Republic of Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world comprising thousands of large and small tropical islands fringed with white sandy beaches, many still uninhabited and a number even still unnamed. Among the most well known islands are Sumatra, Java, Bali, Kalimantan (formerly Borneo), Sulawesi (formerly Celebes), the Maluku Islands (or better known as Moluccas, the original Spice Islands) and Papua. Then, there is Bali with its enchanting culture, beaches, dynamic dances and music. But Indonesia still has many unexplored islands with grand mountain views, green rainforests to trek through, rolling waves to surf and deep blue pristine seas to dive in where one can swim with dugongs, dolphins and large mantarays.
Indonesia is blessed with the most diverse landscape, from fertile ricelands on Java and Bali to the luxuriant rainforests of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi, to the savannah grasslands of the Nusatenggara islands to snow-capped peaks of West Papua.
The wildlife here ranges from the prehistoric giant Komodo lizard to the orangutan and the Java rhino, to the Sulawesi anoa dwarf buffalos, to birds with exquisite plumage like the cockatoo and the bird of paradise. This is also the habitat of the Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower, wild orchids, an amazing variety of spices, and aromatic hardwood and a large variety of fruit trees. Underwater, scientists have found in North Sulawesi the prehistoric coelacanth fish, a ‘living fossil’ fish, predating the dinosaurs living some 400 million years ago, while whales migrate yearly through these waters from the South Pole. Here are hundreds of species of colourful coral and tropical fishes to admire.
Culturally, Indonesia fascinates every visitor with her rich diversity of ancient temples, music, ranging from the traditional to modern pop, dances, rituals and ways of life, changing from island to island, from region to region. Yet everywhere the visitor feels welcomed with that warm, gracious innate friendliness of the Indonesian people that is not easily forgotten.
In 2009, UNESCO recognised Indonesia’s Batik as World Intangible Cultural Heritage, adding to the earlier recognised Indonesia’s Keris (the wavy blade dagger), and the Wayang shadow puppets. Further being considered as World Heritage is the Angklung bamboo musical instrument from West Java, being uniquely Indonesian.
Indonesia’s culture is rich in arts and crafts. In textiles, Sumatra produces some of the best gold and silver-thread woven sarongs, known as songket; South Sulawesi women produce colourful hand-woven silks, while Bali, Flores and Timor produce some of the best textiles from natural fibers using complicated motifs. In wood craft, Bali artisans produce beautiful sculptures, as do the Asmat in Papua, both traditional and modern, Central Java craftsmen produce finely carved furniture, while Bugis shipbuilders of South Sulawesi continue to build the majestic phinisi schooners that ply the Indonesian seas until today.
Indonesia has many of our luxurious and unique hotels which have constantly been listed as some of the best in the world, located on white sandy beaches, overlooking green river valleys, or situated in the heart of busy capital Jakarta. Cities like Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya or Makassar are a hive of activities for business and leisure and a paradise for shoppers, offering upscale boutiques selling top brand names, to local goods at road-side stalls. Here gourmets can treat themselves to the many regions’ delectable spicy cuisine or dine sumptuously at international restaurants. And for sheer relaxation, Indonesia spas are second to none to reinvigorate both body and mind.
Convention centres are equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, as many top international conferences and exhibitions are held in Jakarta, Bali, Manado, ranging from the Global Climate Change Conference in Bali to the World Ocean Conference in Manado, to trade and investment exhibitions and tourism trade shows in many provincial capital cities.
Jakarta, Bali, Medan, Padang, Bandung, Solo, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Makassar are connected by direct international flights, and many regular and low cost carriers fly passengers to Indonesia’s towns or remote locations.
One of the highlights of 2016 is the total solar eclipse which will be visible for two minutes 55 seconds at Sulawesi. A total solar eclipse is a rare and spectacular event that can only be experienced along a relatively narrow strip over the Earth’s surface. The path of the sun eclipse shadow in 2016 will cross Indonesia, starting at the Indian Ocean, west of Sumatra. Then the shadow will move across Indonesia and out into the Pacific Ocean, with maximum visible duration of just over four minutes to the southern part of Guam and will end north of Hawaii. Luckily, Indonesia is the only significant landmass where the eclipse passes over.
In order to celebrate the total solar eclipse, the Solar Eclipse Festival 2016 will be held starting from March 7-16, 2016. The celebration will take place at Ngata Baru, in the Sigi regency, Central Sulawesi, the highest spot where people will have a vantage point to observe and enjoy this rare total solar eclipse.
Myanmar is known as the ‘Land of Pagodas’, but there are more than just pagodas to delight the traveller. This historic wonderland has just about everything that makes for a memorable cultural experience: colourful bazaars, classic handicrafts, magnificent pagodas and stupas, traditional tribes, exquisite gems, enchanting festivals and dances that bring to life the legends of old.
Yangon, the capital, also considered as the Garden City of the East is the gateway to Myanmar. It is also a growing bustling business centre. Yangon’s not-to-be-missed attraction is the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda atop Singuttara Hill, considered by many as the greatest and most impressive Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar today.
Originally 8.2 metres tall, now it stands close to 100 metres in all its glory through successive renovations by Myanmar monarchs. The pagoda, more than 2500 years old, enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics. The Maha Wizaya Pagoda was built on the Dhammarakkhita (Guardian of the Law) Hill which faces the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. An image of the Buddha which was a royal gift from the King and Queen of Nepal is enshrined within the pagoda. Another important attraction in the city that sits surrealistically on the Royal Lake is the Karaweik. With its double bow depicting the mythological Karaweik, a water bird from Indian pre-history, and a many tiered spire carried on top, the Karaweik represents a fine work of traditional Myanmar architecture. A must visit for visitors is Bogyoke Market, which is the largest and liveliest of Yangon’s markets. The market has a diverse range of goods, from groceries to handicrafts, and antiques to the latest wear.
The second largest city of Myanmar is Mandalay, where you come closest to the real Myanmar of old. With a population of 700,000, here lies the cultural heart of Myanmar where the most refined arts, traditions of dance, music and drama live on. Mandalay is also known for its fine gold and silver crafts, wood and marble carvings, silk thread weaving and ancient tapestry. The last capital of the Myanmar kingdom, Mandalay not only offers wonderful sights to behold, but also has a number of nearby attractions, most historical and fascinating, all within a 3.2 kilometre radius – from cool hill resorts to nostalgic market places, from an ancient palace to a river ride up the famous ‘Road to Mandalay’, the Ayeyarwady River, or a ride in unique trishaws or horse-drawn carts. Interesting journeys to nearby attractive sights include the following destinations – the three ancient cities of Amarapura, Sagaing and Inwa, up-river Mingun and cool-country Pyin-Oo-Lwin.
Land of traditions
For every visitor to Myanmar an essential part of the itinerary is the traditional Myanmar theatre, which happens to be one of South East Asia’s most captivating shows. The locals love to watch a classical ‘from mid night-to-sunrise’ drama known as Zat. This all-night-long drama is usually held during the pagoda festival. Another intriguing drama is the Yamazat – a Myanmar version of the Ramayana epic.
Classic products of an ancient heritage with an enduring charm, are the arts and crafts of the Golden Land. Among Myanmar’s many crafts are silk and cotton weaving, lacquerware, gold and silver work, wood, bone and marble carving, tapestry and pottery – each a world of knowledge and a learned art form. Lacquerware is an ancient craft, yet very much alive in the regions of Bagan (Pagan) and Pyay.
While Myanmar is known for its cultural tourism offerings, the country has many fascinating options for wildlife enthusiasts. Myanmar’s diverse forests and green landscapes which host a large variety of wildlife species, 7000 plants, 300 mammals, 360 reptiles and 1000 bird species, provide an ideal setting for eco tourism. There are many wildlife national parks and sanctuaries. Alungdaw Kathapa National Park is situated 95 km to the northwest of Monywa. The journey involves some 27 km of tough trekking and elephant ride besides the trips by road and water. It is recommended especially for those keen on adventurous walks in a jungle.
Hlawga Wildlife Park, just 45 minutes drive from Yangon, is inhabited by more than 70 species of herbivorous animals and 90 species of birds. Popa Mountain Park is an extinct volcano over 1,500 metres in height. Lying in the centre of the Dry Belt, Popa Mountain Park covered with recently-grown forests is like an oasis in the desert-like Central Myanmar. Lumpi Marine Park has great potential for both marine- and land-based eco tourism. Shwesettaw Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Minbu forest division, on the western edge of the Myanmar dry zone, between Mann and Mone streams.
The dominant features of the Cambodian landscape are the large, almost generally located, Tonle Sap (Great Lake) and the Bassac River Systems and the Mekong River, which crosses the country from North to South. Surrounding the Central Plains which covers three quarters of the country’s area are the more densely forested and sparsely populated highlands.
The capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, is located at the confluence of three rivers – the Mekong, the Bassac and Tonle Sap. The city is divided into three sections – the north, an attractive residential area; the south or the French part of the city with its ministries, banks and colonial houses; and the centre or the heart with its narrow lanes, markets, foods stalls and shops. Over the past four years, the city has undergone tremendous changes – businesses are springing up constantly and tourism is once again booming. Cambodia has one of the most liberal investment laws to further boost tourism. It has also managed to retain its charm and character – broad boulevards, old colonial buildings, parks and green spaces that reminds one of the country’s French heritage, and above all its people who always have a smile.
The Royal Palace is built on the site of the Banteay Kev, a citadel built in 1813. The palace grounds contain several buildings: the Throne Room of Prasat Tevea Vinichhay which is used for the coronation of kings, official receptions and traditional ceremonies; the Chan Chhaya Pavilion which is a venue for dance performances; the king’s official residence called the Khemarin; the Napoleon Pavilion and the spectacular Silver Pagoda. This pagoda is worth exploring. It owes its name to the 5,000 silver tiles weighing one kg each which cover the entire floor.
The Angkor temple site in Siem Reap is one of the most important archaeological sites in South East Asia. Angkor Wat, the largest monument of the Angkor group and the best preserved, is an architectural masterpiece. Its perfection in composition, balance, proportions, reliefs and sculpture make it one of the finest monuments in the world. Angkor Wat was built in the first half of the 12th century. Estimated construction time of the temple is 30 years by King Suryavarman II, dedicated to Vishnu (Hindu) and is a replica of Angkor Thom style of art. Wat is the Khmer name for temple (the French spelling is ‘vat’), which was probably added to ‘Angkor’ when it became a Theravada Buddhist monument, most likely in the 16th century. After 1432 when the capital moved to Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat was cared for by Buddhist monks. It is generally accepted that Angkor Wat was a funerary temple for King Suryavarman II and oriented to the west to conform to the symbolism between the setting sun and death. The bas-reliefs, designed for viewing from left to right in the order of Hindu funereal ritual, support this function. Even though Angkor Wat is the most photographed Khmer monument, nothing approaches the actual experience of seeing this temple.
Cambodia is a destination that takes great pride in its diverse attractions which hold great fascination for the matured segment of global travellers. Ratanakiri province offers wonderful opportunities for eco tourism in Cambodia. A sparsely populated province, it is renowned for its unique natural beauty and wealth of natural resources. The physical and environmental characteristic of the province forms an impressive range including undulating hills and mountains, a level plateau, watershed lowlands, crater lakes, rivers and waterfalls. Forest cover varies from area to area, from the dense impenetrable forest in the northern reaches, which are still rich in wildlife, to the drier and sparser forest, found in the southwest.
Mondulkiri has natural beauty, with thickly forested mountains and waterfalls. Add to that the communities of hilly tribe people who are not affected by mass-tourism and you have an area that is very attractive to the adventure traveller. The town of Sen Monorom is the best base camp for travellers who want to explore the surrounding areas. A quiet but beautiful town nestled in the hills, it has a lot of potential to develop into a centre for non-intrusive eco tourism. At present, it is undeveloped, which gives a feeling of going somewhere off the beaten tourist trail. Also interesting is the variety of languages being used – Khmer, hill tribe language, Vietnamese and Laos.
Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s premier beach town. Sihanoukville’s white sand beaches and warm Gulf of Thailand waters combine with a laid back atmosphere to provide a great little tropical getaway. Sihanoukville is a place to unwind by the beach, enjoy the fresh from-the-ocean seafood, take in a snorkeling or scuba trip, and generally slow-down, lay back and chill-out.
Kratie is home of freshwater dolphins. It is a picturesque sleepy Mekong River town situated on the east bank of the mighty river. Kratie is a nice place to spend a night or two.
Brunei, a small nation on the island of Borneo, is famous for its beautiful sunsets, warm tropical climate and stunning mosques. However, there is much more to the destination that travellers can explore – from mosques and galleries to unspoilt beaches, birdwatching sites and diving locations.
Art and culture
Brunei’s heritage is evident everywhere in the country, its 700 years of history can be traced through many of the landmarks, giving visitors a sense of its strong Islamic influences in the rich culture.
Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque sits at the very heart of the capital city and the country’s Islamic faith. Built in 1958 and named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, it is one of the most impressive mosques in Southeast Asia. Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque is an ornately decorated mosque, built in 1994 and surrounded by landscaped gardens and fountains. This mosque is a fine example of Islamic architecture.
Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Islamic Exhibition Gallery, which was officially opened in 2001, is one of the landmarks of Bandar Seri Begawan that contains His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s personal collection of hand-written Al-Qurans, a range of walking sticks and prayer beads dating from early Islamic periods to the late 19th century. Another unique gallery is The Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery. Here visitors can learn about the settlement, watch a craft demonstration or pick up a souvenir.
Built along the banks of the Brunei River, the Arts and Handicraft Training Centre was established for the preservation of traditional handicrafts with displays of beautiful brocades called Jong Sarat, hand-woven baskets, silverware, brassware, woodcarvings and replicas of the asymmetrical daggers called ‘Keris’. Other notable attractions include – Malay Technology Museum, Royal Regalia Museum, Maritime Museum, Mausoleum of Sultan Bolkiah, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Islamic Exhibition Gallery, among others.
With more than 70 per cent of the country under tropical rainforest cover, Brunei is a nature lover’s paradise, offering a variety of green adventures – from picnics in the park to jungle treks and longboat-rides into the heart of a pristine rainforest. Located in Jalan Tutong, the kilometre-long Persiaran Damuan Park is a favourite among joggers, for it has pleasant walkways bordered by shrubs and sculptures made by artists from ASEAN countries. The park offers a view of the royal residence, Istana Nurul Iman, as well as Pulau Ranggu, an island in the middle of the rover. Other similar tranquil getaways include – Tasek Lama Park, Bukit Subok Recreational Park, Bukit Shahbandar Forest Recreation Park, Luangan Lalak Forest Reserve Park, Mendaram Waterfall, among others.
Borneo has long been a top diving destination, attracting divers, naturalists and photographers with its stunning aquatic life, beaches, and warm, tropical climate. Brunei waters cover around 41,188 square kilometres but only about 50 square kilometres of it is covered with coral. In recent reef studies, coral ecologists have discovered that this small area holds more than 400 species of coral.
Brunei is also home to one of the most pristine rainforests in Borneo and home to around 622 species of birds, of which 49 species are endemic only to Borneo, making Brunei rainforest one of the most species rich habitats in the world. Here thousands of species of plants and insects abound, together with hornbills, barbets, babblers, sunbirds, spiderhunters, leafbirds, trogons and floor dwellers like pheasants, picas and wrenbabblers.
Brunei also boasts of kilometres of unspoilt beaches like Muara Beach, Meragang Beach, Serasa, Jerudong Beach, Seri Kenangan Beach, Tungku Beach, among
Brunei may not be an international shopper’s paradise but there are plenty of interesting places to shop at. Outdoor markets in Brunei sell anything from local food to handicrafts and many of the shopping complexes offer clothing, electronics and cosmetics all under one roof. For instance, Bandar, the equivalent to the Central Business District or Downtown, offers a good mix of eclectic and high-end shops. Gadong is Brunei’s own premier shopping area and home to the biggest and grandest mall in the country, The Mall, Gadong. The latest shopping precinct and the busiest, Kg Jaya Setia is full of life on any day. A little further away from the other shopping areas but definitely worth the trip is Plaza Abdul Razak, which has a diverse selection of shops while the neighbouring Plaza Athirah building – an old favourite with the locals – has a big selection of textile shops.
Brunei Darussalam has some of the best medical facilities in Borneo, all located in the Jerudong vicinity. The Jerudong Park Medical Centre (JPMC) is a private specialist hospital in Brunei Darussalam. JPMC offers a spectrum of services catering to families and organisational needs. The National Cancer Centre currently within the JPMC hospital, with its day care treatment facility, is a specialist centre for the treatment of cancer patients. Gleneagles JPMC, which is located within the same compound as JPMC, is a tertiary medical centre specialised in treating cardiac diseases. The centre provides screening and diagnostic services as well as interventional cardiology and heart surgery.
Thailand, located on Southeast Asia’s Indochina peninsula, is known for its tropical beaches, royal palaces, ancient ruins and ornate temples displaying figures of the Buddha. The country’s spectacular natural, cultural and historical attractions can be found across several destinations like Bangkok, Hua Hin, Samui, Krabi, Pattaya, Satun, among others. From families and FITs to MICE and corporates, Thailand boasts of a plethora of tourism attractions to appeal to every traveller visiting the country.
One of the most visited and remembered landmarks of Thailand is the Grand Palace in Bangkok, which is the utmost architectural symbol of the country. The construction of the Grand Palace began in 1782 during the reign of King Rama I, the founder of Chakri Dynasty, to become a royal residence. The Grand Palace served as a significant royal residence until 1925 and is now used for ceremonial purposes only. Another popular attraction of Thailand is Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimonmangkalaram or Wat Pho, built in 16th century and regarded as the royal temple of King Rama I. The temple is famous for two things – its 46-metre-long Reclining Buddha built in 1832 featuring the feet beautifully inlaid with mother-of-pearls and the Thai massage. Wat Pho is also regarded as the country’s first public university.
The Chiang Mai Zoo is another must visit attraction where over 200 types of Asian and African mammals can be found. It is located at Doi Suthep foothills, next to Huay Kaew Arboretum. Doi Luang Chiang Dao, a limestone hill in the area of Chiang Dao Wildlife Reserve and at a height of 2,195 metres from sea level, is the third tallest peak in Thailand after Doi Inthanon and Doi Pha Hom Pok. The peak is a great spot to soak up spectacular views of a fog sea while the nearby area is home to rare highland flowers, birds, and butterflies. The 700-acre Prommitr Film Studio in Kanchanaburi was created to serve as a filming location of Thailand’s historic trilogy movie The Legend of King Naresuan. Visitors can actually spend the whole day wandering around the set featuring stunning buildings, learn the history of the ancient kingdoms through exhibitions and lectures, and try putting on ancient-style clothing and have a photograph opportunity.
Thailand boasts of a significant number of national parks which offer a variety of ecologically, economically and scientifically valuable plants and animals. For instance, the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park in Chiang covers a 262-square-metre verdant forest and mountain ranges in three districts of Chiang Mai. Attractions in this national park include Huai Kaew Waterfall and Kru Ba Sri Wichai monument.
The Huai Nam Dang National Park, a 180-square-kilometre national park in Mae Taeng district, is equally blessed with mountainous terrains and verdant forest, which rises to the top of the Huai Nam Dang Viewpoint at Doi Kiew Lom to overlook a stunning scene when the peak of Doi Chiang Dao emerges from the sea of fog in the morning. Nearby attractions include Pong Nam Ron Tha Pai (hot spring) and Namtok Mae Yen (waterfall), all located in Mae Hong Son. Another attraction is The Doi Inthanon National Park covering an area of 482.4 square kilometres in three districts of Chiang Mai province. Cool climate lovers should visit the park during December to February to see Siamese sakura flowers blossoming all over the area. Situated some 65 kilometres from Kanchanaburi along Route 3199, this 550-square-kilometre Erawan National Park is best known for its seven-level Erawan Waterfall, which is one of Thailand’s most famous, and most beautiful waterfalls. Among all levels, the second level of the fall features a vast, picturesque pond ideal for swimming while trekking trails to the upper levels are also favoured by adventure lovers.
Apart from leisure travel, Thailand also boasts of a wide array of convention facilities for corporate and MICE travel. For instance, the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre, Thailand’s first convention centre in Bangkok, can host meetings, conferences, exhibitions, trade shows, concerts and special events. While the Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre has been hosting international trade exhibitions, world congresses, and a wide variety of MICE events since 1997. For large events, the Pattaya Exhibition And Convention Hall (PEACH) is the best MICE venue outside of Bangkok. This world-class multipurpose ‘one stop convention venue’ offers complete versatility and flexibility for any meeting needs.
Singapore, often referred to as the Garden City, is a cultural melting pot and a blend of old-world and new architecture. This island state is also a land of contrasts – Chinatown and Little India, both gastronomic and shopping hubs, represent the ethnic diversity of the country. For nightlife, visitors can explore the Long Bar at Raffles Singapore or head to Clarke Quay for a picturesque eating and drinking experience.
Dining and shopping
Singapore’s famed Marina Bay showcases the city’s most spectacular side. The Marina Bay Sands Singapore is the focal point of the bay, and visitors here can explore the ArtScience Museum, Sands SkyPark, various shopping, dining and nightlife options, among others. At eight in the evening a spectacular light show is organised at Marina Bay, wherein the water as well as several iconic landmarks are illuminated. Clarke Quay is a beautiful riverside development packed with bars, restaurants, boutique shops and nightclubs. Visitors can head under the futuristic, jelly-like roof to explore some great shopping options and several bars.
Chinatown is another iconic spot offering a great shopping experience, plethora of attractions and plentiful food joints for tasting authentic Chinese food. Visitors can learn about its history from the Chinatown Heritage Centre on Pagoda Street. Little India is a colourful and exciting area located east of the Singapore River. Upon entering this area, visitors are welcomed by the exotic aromas drifting out from family kitchens, restaurants and shops selling different types of Indian food. Famous for the busy Mustafa Centre, a market that stays open day and night all year round, this neighbourhood is an attractive destination not only for shopaholics but also for lovers of Indian cuisine.
The Raffles Singapore, a luxurious colonial-style hotel dating back to 1887, is one of the most important landmarks of Singapore. The hotel has hosted several famous personalities including Queen Elizabeth II, late Elizabeth Taylor and late Michael Jackson. The Raffles Singapore boasts of 18 Raffles Inc State-room Suites, 66 Courtyard and Palm Court Suites, 12 Personality Suites, five Grand Hotel Suites and two Presidential Suites along with eight distinctive restaurants and bars.
The Merlion is more than just a statue but a mythical symbol of Singapore. The Merlion Park where the half-fish and half-lion Merlion resides, is a place where visitors can experience some incredible views and the city’s most sought after photo-op. Although the water-spouting Merlion is the main focal point, visitors can also relax on the terraced seating area, which boasts of some great views across the water to Marina Bay Sands. The Singapore Flyer is the world’s largest observation wheel (outside the United States). Standing at a stunning 165 metre from the ground, the Flyer offers breathtaking, panoramic views of the Marina Bay, island city and beyond.
Gardens by the Bay is a large, colourful, futuristic park located in the bay area of Singapore. Gardens by the Bay captures the essence of Singapore as the premier tropical Garden City with the perfect environment in which to live and work. The famous Supertree structures offer an impressive skywalk over the Gardens and there are hundreds of trees and plants to discover, making this destination ideal for both kids and adults.
The Universal Studios Singapore is the first-of-its-kind to open in Southeast Asia. The park has more than 20 attractions in themed zones including the Lost World, Ancient Egypt, New York, Hollywood, Madagascar, Sci-Fi City and Far Far Away.
Singapore Night Safari is a unique attraction and is one of the leading conservation and research centres in Asia. It offers a glimpse into the nocturnal animal kingdom, with more than 59 exhibits and 1,000 animals to be seen from around the world. These include the Himalayan griffon vultures, greater one-horned rhinoceroses, wildebeests and gazelles.
When it comes to corporate and MICE events, Singapore boasts of some of the best conference venues worldwide. The venues combine state-of-the-art technology with Singapore’s cosmopolitan atmosphere. The conference venues vary in shapes and sizes, with a capacity to accommodate up to 19,000 people with anywhere from 850 square metres to 100,000 square metres of space. The Singapore Expo is Asia’s leading conference centre with 10 convention and exhibition halls totaling over 100,000 square metres of space. The Marina Bay Sands Singapore is another large and versatile exhibition space. The Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre incorporates business events with state-of-the-art technology, service and entertainment. This venue boasts of spacious meeting rooms, ballrooms, galleries, halls and additional spaces. Combining the modern with the luxurious, The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore features a full spectrum of meeting venues. A team of certified meeting professionals are there to plan and host the perfect meeting, event or conference. Other notable venues include Resorts World Sentosa Singapore, Raffles City Convention Centre, Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, Orchard Hotel Singapore, Mandarin Orchard Singapore, among others.
Located on a curve of the Mekong River, the Vientiane capital has a recorded history that stretches back to around 1,000 AD. The area was originally settled because of the fertility of the surrounding alluvial plains, and Vientiane became the capital city of Laos around the mid-16th century. Vientiane capital is the home to the most significant national monument in Laos: That Luang (Great Stupa), which is the symbol of Lao and an icon of Buddhism in Laos. Of the many beautiful Wats in Vientiane, a visit to Wat Sisaket is a must; built in 1818, this is one of the oldest temples in Vientiane. Other Buddhist holy places are Wat Ong Teu Mahavihan, known for its 16th century bronze Buddha sheltered by a carved wooden masterpiece, and Wat Si Meuang, the site of the Lak Meuang or pillar-stone of Vientiane. Wat Si Meuang is also home to the guardian spirit of the city. Hor Phakeo, across the street from Wat Sisaket houses a collection of Buddha statues, including traditional Lao style of the ‘Calling for Rain’ and ‘Offering Protection’.
The Lao National Museum, displays an interesting mixture of revolutionary and contemporary exhibitions. Wat Xieng Khouan, better known as the Buddha Park should not be missed. Shopping for handicrafts is easy in Vientiane capital; visit Talat Sao (morning market) for a wide range of colourful textiles including silks, wall-hangings and other decorative pieces. For very fine handicrafts, there are many upscale galleries in the city centre. The place is also famous for traditional wood carvings, mulberry paper and a variety of basketry made from bamboo and rattan. The nation’s signature dish, tam mak-hung (spicy green papaya salad) is worth the try along with laap (spicy minced meat salad) and ping kai (fried chicken). For its size, Vientiane capital is multicultural and has French, Indian, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants that serve both Lao and specialty dishes. Luang Prabang town offers several unique insights into the history of the region, through Buddhist temples, museum and a variety of Lao, Tai-Lue, Burmese, Chinese and Tai architecture at the Night Market. Luang Prabang sells a large variety of traditional goods. Famous foods in Luang Prabang are ‘Aur Lam’ (a thick stew made with the forsted herb), ‘Sakhan’, (meat and eggplants), ‘Jaew Bong’, (a sauce made with hot chillies and buffalo skin) and ‘khai Pan’ (dried river weed lightly fried with sesame seeds and garlic).
Some of the most visited sites in Luang Prabang Town are Wat Xieng Thong, Mount Phou Si, Wat Visounnarath, (the former Royal Palace) and Wat Manolom. Equally beautiful are the lesser known temples across the Mekong River in Chomphet District. Travellers should also visit Tad Kwang Si Waterfall, Tham Ting Caves, Ban Xang Hai Village and the tiered waterfall Tad Sae. Further out is Muang Ngoi Kao, a quiet village located on the banks of the Nam Ou River surrounded by high mountains and limestone cliffs.
The small town of Vang Vieng is located 150 kilometres north of the Vientiane capital. This place has a landscape of bizarre limestone mountain peaks and scenic cliffs with the Nam Song (Song River) bisecting the town. At the base of the town’s limestone mountains are a network of caves. There are a variety of well-developed tourism services in Vang Vieng and a wide range of accommodations. Water sports such as kayaking and tubing are popular and rock climbing is also a growing pastime. Vang Vieng also offers some places like several 16th and 17th century monasteries and the small Hmong villages. Just off route 13 north are two of Vientiane Province’s well known attractions: a small man-made reservoir known as Nong Nok near Ban Sivilay which is a bird watching site; and the ancient Vang Xang Buddha images and sculptures that are carved into the side of a sandstone escarpment. Khammouane is located in central Laos bordering Bolikhamxay and Savannakhet provinces.
Khammouane covers about 16,000 square kilometres and has a population of approximately 330,000, mostly engaged in agriculture. The Mekong River Valley in the west is framed by the Annamite Mountain Range which separates Khammouane from Vietnam to the east. The Limestone Mountains are honeycombed with countless caves, some of which for years concealed forgotten treasures. The Buddha Cave (Tham Pa Fa) was discovered in 2004 and houses 229 priceless Buddha images. Kong Lor Cave is perhaps the most well-known in the province. It is 7.5 kilometres long and as high and wide as 90-100 meters in some places. The province has three national protected areas (NPA) that cover an enormous area about 6,295 square kilometres in total.
Phou Hin Poun NPA encompasses much of the limestone forest and has 43 recorded species of bats. The Hin Namno NPA is located in the area where the Central Indochina Limestone meets the Annamite Chain, and as a result, has prominent limestone escarpments and caves. In the Pakse area, there are about 62 tourist sites: 32 natural, seven historical, and 27 cultural. There are many French colonial style buildings remaining in the city. From Sedon Bridge, often called ‘old bridge’ by the people of Champasack, travellers can walk around to see the old French style quarter.
Malaysia’s multiculturalism has made the destination a gastronomical paradise and home to hundreds of colourful festivals. Geographically, Malaysia is almost as diverse as its culture – 11 states and two federal territories (Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya) form Peninsular Malaysia which is separated by the South China Sea from East Malaysia which includes the two states (Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo) and a third federal territory, the island of Labuan. One of Malaysia’s key attractions is its extreme contrasts which further adds to this theme of ‘diversity’.
The late Jacques Cousteau, a world-renowned oceanographer, once described Sipadan Island as an untouched piece of art while divers around the world have voted it as one of the top five dive sites in the world. Declared a bird sanctuary in 1933 by the Colonial Government of North Borneo and re-gazetted in 1963 by the Malaysian Government, the dense vegetation on Sipadan Island supports a large variety of tropical birds that include sea eagles, kingfishers, sunbirds, starlings and wood pigeons. Exotic crustaceans including the coconut crab roam the beaches and scurry among the undergrowth. Encounters with turtles, resident schools of jacks, bumphead parrotfish and barracudas are almost assured when diving around the tiny coral island. Pulau Redang, located 45 kilometres off the coast of Kuala Terengganu, is the largest of a group of nine protected islands dotting the South China Sea off the Terengganu coast. Pulau Perhentian, meaning ‘stopover island’, is not to be missed. Situated 21 kilometres off the coast of Terengganu, it consists of the islands of Pulau Perhentian Besar and Pulau Perhentian Kecil. About 56 kilometres off the coast of Pahang lies Tioman Island, an alluring holiday paradise in the South China Sea. Acclaimed as one of the best island getaways in the world, Tioman was the location of the Hollywood musical, ‘South Pacific’ in 1959. According to legend, this island is the final resting place of a mythical dragon princess. The warm waters and good visibility make Tioman a paradise for divers.
Kota Iskandar, Johor State Administrative Centre was opened in April 2009 and is now one of the must see places in Johor. Inspired by Moorish-Andalusian and Johor Malay designs and motifs, Kota Iskandar is Malaysia’s first experiential parliament where visitors through guided tours are allowed to enter Johor’s beautiful state parliament hall and get immersed into Johor’s rich culture and history while understanding the symbolisms and abstract interpretations in true style and splendour of Kota Iskandar- Johor’s Living Legacy. The Langkawi Island, off the coast of Kedah is a cluster of 99 islands offering the best of many worlds: beautiful beaches, world-class infrastructure, mangroves rich in flora and fauna, ultra-cheap duty-free shopping and legends.
The Batu Caves is a an iconic and popular tourist attraction in Selangor. It is a site of a Hindu temple and shrine, and attracts thousands of worshippers and tourists, especially during the annual Hindu festival, Thaipusam. Next attraction is the Mulu Caves National Park which is home to one of the longest networks of caves in the world. Here lies the world’s largest underground chamber, the Sarawak Chamber, capable of accommodating 40 Boeing 747 airplanes.
Furthermore, the destination is also blessed with a lot of cultural attractions. St Paul’s Hill (A’Famosa) was built when the Portuguese colonised Melaka from 1511 to 1641. As Melaka was the centre of struggles between super powers of the time, and suffered the constant threat of attack, the A’Famosa fort was critical in Portugal maintaining its colonial foothold in the Far East. Also known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss, Kek Lok Si is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, and one of the most famous in Penang.
Malaysia is also famous for its other important events like 1 Malaysia Year End Sale, RFC-Rainforest Challenge, Sibu Bike Week Sarawak and Royal Cup Muay Thai Championship.
Malaysia is fast emerging as a choice destination for international conventions and exhibitions. Malaysia’s modern infrastructure includes a wide range of well-equipped facilities, accommodation and settings to cater to all types of meeting requirements. Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) is a non-profit organisation established in 2009 by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia to grow the country’s business tourism industry. The inception is in line with Malaysia’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) to elevate the country to developed – nation status by 2020. MyCEB aims to further strengthen Malaysia’s global appeal and position as the leading destination for international meetings, incentives, conventions, trade exhibitions and major events. The bureau identifies potential business event leads, facilitates bidding processes, promotes government and industry collaborations, as well as provides event support and marketing services. Established in 2006, Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB) is the brain-child of the Sarawak State Government and is a non-profit organisation whose goal is to bring Sarawak to the forefront of international meetings.
The name Viet Nam is a variation of Nam Viet, a name that can be traced back to the Trieu dynasty of the second century BC. Known for its beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities, Vietnam has a rich cultural heritage that flows from its 54 ethnic groups, each with its own traditions.
The diversity of the ethnic groups is apparent in the many traditional arts including sculpture, painting, ceramic and casting, made from materials such as paper, clay, stone, bronze, steel and wood.
Vietnamese sculpture has been heavily influenced by the three traditional religions – Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism – which come from neighbouring countries China and India.
Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon and later renamed after the nation’s iconic Communist-era leader) has French colonial landmarks and beautiful buildings, displaying a combination of Vietnamese, Chinese and European influences. These include the Notre Dame Cathedral, Nha Rong (Dragon House Wharf), Xa Tay (Municipal Office), Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theatre as well as many pagodas and churches. Nearby are the Cu Chi tunnels, used by Viet Cong soldiers during the famed Vietnam War. Many rivers run through the city, the biggest being the Saigon River. The Port of Saigon, established in 1862, is accessible to ships weighing up to 30,000 tons, a rare advantage for an inland river port.
Designated as a World Heritage Site in 1994, Ha Long Bay is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone (karst) islands topped by rainforests. Junk boat tours and sea kayak expeditions take visitors past islands named for their shapes, including Hon Dau Nguoi (Human Head Islet), Hon Rong (Dragon Islet), Hon Canh Buom (Sail Islet), Hon Trong Mai (Cock and Hen Islet). The region draws scuba divers, rock climbers and hikers, the latter favouring mountainous Cát Bà National Park. The beauty of Halong Bay lies not only in the shapes of its islands and the colour of its waters, but also in its diversely rich network of grottos and caves, each a grandiose architectural creation of nature.
Another World Heritage Site, Hoi An is a little port town with its old streets bordered with ancient houses and assembly halls, pagodas, temples, ancient wells and tombs. The city has four museums highlighting the history of the region. These museums are managed by the Hoi An Center for Cultural Heritage Management and
One of the most scenic destinations of Vietnam thanks to its cascading rice terraces, is Sa Pa which has many natural sites such as Ham Rong Mountain, Silver Waterfall, Rattan Bridge, Bamboo Forest and Ta Phin Cave. Sa Pa is also the starting point for many trekkers who want to reach the top of Fansipan Mountain, the highest mountain in Vietnam at 3,143 metres.
Vietnam also has many pristine beaches. Considered one of the jewels along Vietnam’s long coastline, the seven kilometre white sand beach of Nha Trang is often called Vietnam’s Mediterranean Area.
Unique MICE venues
Vietnam offers some unique MICE venues like the Reunification Palace. This ex-presidential palace in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, offers 95 rooms, and the Great Hall can hold 600 guests, the historic Presidential Office 200 guests, the Banquet Hall 250 guests and the Cabinet Meeting Hall up to 200 guests. The venue also offers 20,000 square metre of courtyard space and 2,000 square metre that can be used for exhibitions.
The Ho Chi Minh City International Exhibition Centre (HIECC) has three column-free halls of 2,378 square metre per hall. The outdoor exhibition area is approximately 1,000 square metre. Saigon Exhiibition & Convention Centre (SECC) has four indoor exhibition halls totaling to 40,000 square metre, additional outdoor exhibition space of 15,000 – 20,000 square metre, one 2,000 seat convention centre, a four-star hotel of 600 rooms and a five-star one with 400 rooms.
Another extraordinary venue is the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House. This classic, colonial-style Opera House in central Saigon offers facilities like the main auditorium for large meetings, and conference rooms to intimate rooms that are ideal for smaller meetings.
World renowned cuisine
Vietnam’ cuisine is popular among tourists who may have sampled its famous rice paper and spring rolls in their own countries. Rice, noodles, fresh vegetable and herbs all play a big role in Vietnamese cuisine, making it one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. The people here love noodles. Exotic meats such as dog, turtle and snake are also common. Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup, usually served with beef or chicken. The soup includes noodles made from rice and is often served with Vietnamese basil, mint leaves, lime and bean sprouts.
Vietnam also produces several varieties of rice wine known as Ruou. However, bottles of Ruou usually contain a pickled snake apparently to impart health-giving elements. Vietnam is also well known for its street food.