Tuesday, December 30, 2008

20 sweet spots for winter the best places to travel to for winter value

In life, being in the right place at the right time can come down to serendipity, but in travel, it is almost always the result of good planning.

To avoid crowds and inflated prices, we recommend the period between high and low seasons when the weather is fine, places are still open and happy to welcome travelers, and you can explore a destination at your own pace. We call this magical time and space continuum the Sweet Spot and make it a point to round up the best of them for you each season.

We've covered the 20 best places to travel for value this winter and grouped them by region — follow the links to right to discover this season's Sweet Spots

Winter forecast: With the exception of its southernmost terrain, the U.S. and Canada experience the colder side of winter. Cool breezes from Canada spill into the northern United States, serving as a tailwind for southbound vacationers. The Rockies see a surge in ski traffic, while Florida celebrates the end of hurricane season. Regardless, seasonal shopping overtakes New York and Chicago, spreading holiday cheer.

The music starts at the airport, but that’s not all this hip, funky Texas capital city has to offer. Consistently ranked as one of the most livable cities in the U.S., Austin embraces film, cuisine, and its outdoor terrain equally.
Why go in winter: You’ll find more package deals and fewer crowds during winter months, yet the weather still hovers around a pleasant 65 degrees. The best deals can be found in December, including during the holiday period.

As the frontier of the American Dream, laid-back Los Angeles allows visitors to be a pampered star, an earnest culture vulture, a die-hard foodie, and anything else their heart desires. Head here for celebrity sightings, super shopping, and the chance to mix with the beautiful people.

Why go in winter: Spotty rains, temperatures in the mid-60s, and that trademark West Coast sunshine clear Los Angeles of its usual smog halo during the winter months, making for picturesque cityscapes, room discounts, and comfortable celebrity-spotting from Beverly Hills to Hollywood. Don't miss the Rose Bowl Parade in January, and starch that bowtie for the all-important Academy Awards come late February.

From its towering mountain summits to its sandy seashores, Maine offers diverse year-round activities for vacationers of all stripes. Maritime sites abound, romantic inns flourish, and family fun spots thrive in all regions. Stay south for sparkling beaches and quaint coastal villages, or trek north for rugged, untouched wilderness.

Why go in winter: Holiday time is bustling in harbor villages, but not bursting at the seams with tourists. Winter snows bring calm to the coast, but droves of skiers shush down the slopes in Kennebec and Moose River Valleys and huff along the Nordic trails in the Highlands.

The Big Easy is a delectable gumbo of red-hot jazz, historic streetcars, lacy French-colonial balconies, powdery beignets, and zesty Cajun cuisine. Its unique blend of Southern hospitality, eccentric tradition, and unabashed debauchery give it a distinct character unlike anywhere else in the United States. The city’s tourism infrastructure – especially in the relatively unscathed French Quarter – has largely recovered post-Katrina.

Why go in winter: Daytime temperatures in the mid-60s and fewer crowds make winter a comfortable time of year to visit New Orleans. Winter is also quiet and less crowded, though New Year’s Eve draws crowds who come for the fireworks and the ball drop.

Host to several events in the 2002 Winter Olympics, this chic resort town invites outdoorsy types to go skiing, sleigh riding, snowshoeing, ice skating, hot-air ballooning, or even bobsledding down the same track used in the Olympics. But Park City also offers plenty of entertainment for the more laid-back crowd: lounge at the Egyptian Theatre on historic Main Street, stroll through 20-plus art galleries, or debate between 100-plus bars and restaurants for a dinner destination.

Why go in winter: An early ski season in a place with near-perfect snow conditions is a bargain hunter's dream come true. Three easily accessible premier ski resorts offer bargains to jump-start the season, and the town is dripping with alpine holiday spirit.

for more:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28056073/

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hong Kong International Airport

Hong Kong International Airport is known as Chep Lap Kok Airport by the locals, as it was built on the Island of Chep Lap Kok which was reclaimed for the project. Completed in 1998, it now handles almost 50 million passengers a year.

The old Hong Kong Airport was right on the island itself, and landing there was decidedly more exciting as at some point you seem to be flying right into the island. The runway extends into the sea, and on more then a few occasions aircrafts had overshot the runway and ended up in the water.

Chep Lap Kok Airport however doesn't hold such excitement. Designed by famous British architect Sir Norman Foster, it is covered in a sea of grey. I can never understand why grey is such an attractive colour for high-tech architects. It gives the place an overall "sameness" that can be disorienting.

Once when I was in transit to China, I went into a bookshop and was tempted to buy a book. As it was quite a heavy tomb, I decided to get it on the way back. While in transit I went back to what I thought was the same bookshop and looked for the book. For the life of me I couldn't find it, eventhough I was so sure of it's location in the shop. I later on found out that I was actually in another shop at a different end of the airport, and as it was the same chain it was done up in exactly the same way - down to the shelves and graphics. And because the airport looks the same from almost everywhere because of the overall greyness, I am sure this happens quite a lot !

The ceiling is one of the most interesting aspects of the design, with origami-like skylights which let in natural light.

The food hall is where some splashes of colours were allowed.

The main "fuselage" of the airport which connects to the departure lounges. There are long stretches without travelators so be careful with your flight time or you may end up having to run to the gate - as I did on one occasion.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hong Kong - Skyline

Since it's early days, Hong Kong has been one of the World's leading financial centres. Many people worried that after the handing over back to China in 1997, Hong Kong would lose it's lustre. But the "one country, two systems" policy promised by China seems to have worked so far, and it continues to thrive as an economic powerhouse. Of course it's political freedom has been curtailed somewhat - but in all other aspects of life it seems to be business as usual, and business is the main activity in Hong Kong.

Visiting Hong Kong is always an exciting experience. With 7 million people fitting into a tiny area, it is one of the most crowded cities in the World. The value of land is here is measured in the square inch !

Being a prolific movie capital of Asia, it is amazing how many films have used Hong Kong as a backdrop, and yet it never looks boring. When I visit, one of my favourite things to do is to spot the locations used in some of my favourite Hong Kong movies. It is also blessed with one of the most spectacular city skylines, easily viewed from Kowloon. 

Friday, December 26, 2008

MV Doulos' Coming to Town

As a kid I used to get really excited when I heard that Doulos or Logos were coming to town. Doulos and Logos were sister ships which are run by a Christian charitable organization based in Germany. They are basically floating bookshops which cruise all around the world, docking at various ports selling books. Their mission is "BRINGING KNOWLEDGE, HELP AND HOPE TO THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD"

MV Doulos carries a crew of around 300, all volunteers from around the World. They stay on board for about 2 years, where they are assigned to specific jobs. And they sail around the World ! What a dream !

MV Doulos is docking in Kuching from 11th December to 2nd January. It opens from 10.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. weekdays and 2.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. Sundays and Mondays.

The opportunity to board an actual cruise ship doesn't come by everyday, so it's a great experience for the young ones. BTW, the MV Doulos is certified by The Guiness Book of Records as "The World's oldest active ocean-going passenger ship"

The friendly crew entertaining young visitors.

The bookshop onboard. According to the flyer, Doulos carries about half a million books on board with over 6,000 titles. As I found out, they also have CDs. Be forewarned though, being a Christian ship most of the titles they carry are Christian books. However, there is a good selection of books and materials for children.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Everyone !

Christmas in Malaysia is not as big as in Singapore or Australia, but all the shopping centres still wouldn't miss this important shopping season for their life, especially during this downturn when everyone is tightening our belts. They will pull out all stops to try and entice us to open our wallets. 

Still, it is possible to enjoy the season without splurging. Have a nice homecooked dinner, put on a nice Christmas movie, get nice sensible presents for the kids - maybe a Christmas tree and you're good to go !

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Eating in Kuala Lumpur - Yeoh's Bah Kut Teh in Klang

Bah Kut Teh is a very popular hawker dish in Malaysia and Singapore. There are a few versions of how this famous dish started. The most credible seems to be the Klang version. Klang is a seaside town near Kuala Lumpur which has since become an important port for Malaysia. Legend has it that a gentleman from Quanzhou brought this dish to Klang, having learnt the secret recipe from a chef over there. This hearty herbal soup was very popular with the port workers, they ate it with plenty of rice to give them energy for their strenous work. 

One version of this story goes futher to explain the origin of the "Teh" in Bah Kut Teh. Bah Kut is basically Chinese for pork ribs. "Teh" in Chinese means tea. But there is no tea in Bah Kut Teh, besides the tea which is normally served alongside. So where did the "Teh" come from ? Well, this version of the story says that the gentleman from China who brought the recipe to Klang was named "Tay". Customers used to call him "Bah Kut Tay" as his shop was very popular. In time, it became Bah Kut Teh !

Bah Kut Teh is basically pork ribs in a rich herbal soup. The herbal soup is made by boiling pork bones together with Chinese herbs and soy sauce. The pork ribs and other ingredients such as pork meat, offals, tougues, etc. are usually cooked separately and added to the broth before serving. Pork liver, kidneys and fresh pork are sometimes added, as per the customer's preference.

Klang is no doubt the centre of Bah Kut Teh. There are over 500 shops selling this popular dish, and on weekends folks from all over Klang Valley make a beeline to this port town for their weekly treat. Different people have different preferences - taste is very personal, so it is hard to say which shop serves the best Bah Kut Teh. A friend took me to Yeoh's Bah Kut Teh in Klang, a very popular but hard-to-find outlet as it is tucked away behind an old building and not in a normal shophouse. 

The Bah Kut Teh here is one of the best I have tried. The herbal taste is quite subtle, with the soy sauce more pronouced. There is a nice balance of saltiness and sweetness from the pork meat. They are also famous for their stewed pork knuckle. The skin has been removed, and the knuckle stewed in soy sauce till tender and full of flavour. Taken with rice and a chili and soy sauce dip, this bak kut teh is a real treat !

The obscure backlane leading to Yeoh's Bak Kut Teh.

The Bak Kut Teh.

Side order of pork ribs. You can also order other side dishes of offals, pork liver, kidney, etc.

The stewed pork knuckle.

Eating in Kuala Lumpur - Charn Kee Tasty Corner at Jalan Alor

Jalan Alor has become renowned as the "Food Street" in Kuala Lumpur. Located right in the city centre, running parallel to the popular Jalan Bukit Bintang, this short street is packed with coffee shops and restaurants serving Chinese dishes and hawker food. It is popular with the locals as well as visitors who have discovered this food haven. Busy during all times of the day, it really comes alive at night when the street hawkers open for business.

Visitors to Jalan Alor would no doubt have come across Charn Kee Tasty Corner, a coffee shop famous for it's noodle soup with fishballs. The fishballs here are really good, handmade and with just the right texture that is not too firm or too soft. The extra taste comes from some additional ingredients which I think includes a dried and roasted fish powder normally used by the Chinese to season soups. 

The most popular dish here is the claypot fishball noodle soup. They also serve "lum mee", tomyam seafood noodle, and Nonya curry noodle. For your first visit you should definitely try the claypot fishball noodle. The soup is really tasty - made with very good seafood stock, and filled with bits of seafood, fishballs and topped with bean sprouts and fried shallots. The Nonya curry noodle is also very good. The sauce is more soupy then the traditional Nonya curry, but is still very aromatic. You should get a side order of the special fishballs and dumplings. The fishballs are bigger then the ones served in the noodle soup, and really tasty.

The coffee shop from Jalan Alor, and the interior.

The claypot fishball noodle soup.

Nonya curry noodle.

The side order of special fishballs and dumplings.