Wonders of Kunming

IF YOU are thinking of experiencing serenity, scenic landscapes and culture all in one place for your next holiday, look no further, for Kunming has it all.

Kunming is the capital and largest city in the Yunnan province in southwestern China.

Known as the City of Eternal Spring for its year-long temperate climate, a trip to this city would not be complete without a visit to its many iconic places and scenic spots.

Dianchi Lake

The Dianchi Lake Scenic Area is located in the southwest part of Kunming city.

Measuring about 300 square kilometres, Dianchi Lake or Dian Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the Yunnan province, and the sixth largest in China.

The view of this lake is nothing short of stunning, giving out calm and serene vibes. Take the cable car to relish the picturesque panorama.

Xishan Scenic Spot

The Xishan (Western Mountain) islet is the largest islet on Taihu Lake, and is made up of 34 smaller islets.

Its breathtaking natural beauty is best appreciated by cable car ride.

A must-see attraction is the Kunming Dragon Gate at the top of Xishan, which is said to give visitors good luck.

And certainly luck will play a part in getting there.

The Dragon Gate was built on the face of a steep cliff, and its various paths, rooms, grottoes, and Buddhist figures are all carved from the large natural rock.

Moving throughout the Dragon Gate requires standing on the cliff-edge and holding the railing, looking down upon the spectacular Dianchi Lake.

Aside from that, reaching it is relatively easy, either by bus, taxi, or by cable car ride to and from Haigeng for as low as RMB50 (RM30.40) for a roundtrip, or RMB30 (RM18.20) for one way.

Jiuxiang Caves & Scenic Area

The Jiuxiang Scenic Area is located about 90km from central Kunming. It is famous for its unique karst caves (about 100 in total, of which over 60 are explored), mountains, rivers, deep valleys as well as minority customs and cultures.

For cave enthusiasts, there are five main scenic areas open to the public – Three Feet Cave, Dashaba Dam, Horseshoe Bay, Alulong Scenic area and Horseshoe River Scenic area – where visitors can feast their eyes on the beautiful natural formations created over a period of 600 million years.

Yunnan Nationalities Village

One of the highlights of any trip is experiencing and having a taste of the local culture. Watch members of Yunnan’s 26 ethnic groups share their unique culture, beliefs, dance, and traditions at this cultural village.

From shows to interactive games, the Yunnan Ethnic Village is the quintessence of Yunnan’s delightful customs and cultures.

Stone Forest

Another must-see destination is the Stone Forest, or Shilin. Located 90km east of Kunming, this area is the world’s only karst stone forest in a subtropical plateau region.

The tall rocks seem to rise from the ground like stalagmites, with many looking like petrified trees, thus creating an illusion of a forest made of stone.

These natural stone formations are in the shapes of columns, cones, pagodas, and mushrooms, as well as animals, plants, and even human figures.

Since 2007, two parts of the site, the Naigu Stone Forest and Suogeyi Village, have been designated as Unesco World Heritage Sites as part of the South China Karst.

Yunnan Military Academy

Located at the western side of the Green Lake, Jiangwutang (as it is called in Chinese), which was built in 1909, is a relatively well-preserved military school in modern Chinese military history.

The mustard yellow square building looks simple but dignified. Both eastern and western sides were originally classrooms, offices and dormitories for teachers; northern and southern sides are dormitories for students, over 9,000 of whom have graduated from its halls.

Dounan Flower Market

The famous Dounan flower market is home to over 16,000 species, and over 30 million flowers either shipped locally or flown to cities around the world, with the daily turnover reaching as high as RMB2.5 million (RM1.51 million).

The most commonly-used fresh-cut flowers are gladiolus, Chinese rose, rose, chrysanthemum, carnation, African chrysanthemum, anthurium, and many more.

Wedding cars can sometimes be seen lining up early in the morning waiting to be decorated with fresh flowers.

For those looking for just a few blooms, prices are relatively affordable, with a bunch of carnations going for as low as RMB2 (RM1.20).

AirAsia operates 14 weekly flights from Kuala Lumpur to Kunming, with all-in fares as low as RM179. AirAsia also offers direct flights to Kunming from Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand.

AirAsia to transition its Melbourne services to Avalon Airport

AIRASIA has confirmed it will transition its twice daily Melbourne (Australia) services from Tullamarine Airport to Avalon Airport from Dec 5 this year, at the same time launching the first ever services from Victoria’s second international airport.

Operated by AirAsia’s long-haul affiliate, AirAsia X, the double daily return services departing Kuala Lumpur’s klia2 (mid morning and evening) will deliver guests from Malaysia and Asean closer to one of Australia’s top tourism drawcards, the Great Ocean Road, while continuing to provide convenient and affordable access to downtown Melbourne.

AirAsia X CEO Benyamin Ismail made the announcement at Tune Hotel klia2 on July 10, in the presence of numerous tourism, airport and industry officials including Councillor Bruce Harwood, Mayor for the City of Greater Geelong, Andrew Goledzinowski, Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia and Justin Giddings, CEO of Avalon Airport, at a media event to promote Victoria, the Great Ocean Road and its surroundings. Also present was AirAsia X Group Head of Commercial Barry Klipp.

“As the flagship carrier to launch international services from Avalon Airport, this is a game changer for consumers, for tourism and for the industry. We’re confident that our great value fares to and from Melbourne, will prove popular with Australians wanting to fly to KL or connect to our global network of 130 popular leisure destinations and conversely, Asean will benefit from consistently affordable and convenient access to Victoria.

“Value, innovation and choice are at the heart of everything we do. We are very pleased to be moving our Melbourne services to the state of the art new facilities at Avalon Airport in Victoria, Australia, ensuring we can continue to provide great value airfares for our guests and look at potential opportunities to grow our Melbourne services in the future.

“Avalon Airport has many advantages including a hassle free, streamlined arrivals and departures area and location close to one of Australia’s greatest tourism icons – the Great Ocean Road, at the same time retaining convenient access to the downtown CBD.

“To celebrate, we have put airfares on sale to Melbourne (Avalon Airport) starting from only RM199* all-in one-way which is the lowest ever seen on this route from AirAsia.

He continued, “Our target is to carry half a million guests in the first year of operation, and we’re already reviewing other exciting destinations we could potentially launch from Avalon in the future.”

Avalon Airport CEO Justin Giddings said, “The new international terminal construction is well underway. At almost 9,000 sq m, it will house state of the art facilities with the latest innovations in customs equipment and processes, as well as a fantastic choice of Duty Free shopping and food and beverage options. We can’t wait to welcome AirAsia as our first international tenant as well as guests from Malaysia and around the world to our new international terminal.”

A special promotion to Melbourne with all-in fares from as low as RM199* one-way is available for booking on airasia.com from now until July 15, 2018, for travel from Dec 5, 2018 to Aug 13, 2019.

The airline has changed the destination airport at Melbourne, Australia from Tullamarine Airport (Airport code MEL) to Avalon Airport (Airport code AVV) in its booking system for flights departing Dec 5 onwards. Flight D7 218 from Kuala Lumpur will be the first service into Avalon Airport scheduled to arrive Melbourne on the morning of Dec 5, 2018.

Guests booked to travel with AirAsia X to/from Melbourne from Dec 5 onwards will be contacted directly by the airline and provided with their new travel details including a range of provisions should they wish to change their travel plans.

Guests can always reach out to AirAsia through official channels published on support.airasia.com.

Keep up to date with AirAsia’s latest promotions and activities via Facebook (facebook.com/AirAsia) and Twitter (twitter.com/AirAsia).

*Promotional all-in-fares quoted are for one-way travel only inclusive of taxes. Subject to government and regulatory approvals. Terms and conditions apply.

About Avalon Airport

Avalon Airport is located approximately 50 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD and 43 kilometres away from Torquay – gateway to the Great Ocean Road. The new international terminal will feature state of the art facilities when it opens for operations on Dec 5 when AirAsia’s first services take flight.

It’s in the blood: guiding rafts down Poland’s mountain gorge

SROMOWCE, Poland: Stanislaw Migdal sinks his long wooden pole into the water with a practised hand. For decades now, the mountain river guide has been propelling rafts full of tourists down southern Poland’s Dunajec River Gorge in keeping with a 200-year-old tradition.

Wearing a vibrant blue waistcoat embroidered with colourful flowers and a black mountain cap, he expresses how proud he is to be part of the elite group of 500 men who hand down the job from father to son.

“To be a river guide here, you have to be a mountain man from the Pieniny! You have to be born in one of the five villages by the Dunajec River, live here, be part of a family of guides,” he told AFP.

“We’ve begun accepting guides from elsewhere, but only if they settle down to live here.”

The Dunajec River Gorge, which marks the border with Slovakia, offers breathtaking scenery. Over the course of millions of years, the river dug its bed across limestone mountains dotted with trees to create a dramatic valley.

Its vertical walls can reach up to 300m in height and plunge straight down into the water. Seen from above, the rafts, which carry up to 12 people, look as small as ants.

White water adventure

More than 230,000 holidaymakers from around the world took part in Polish rafting between April and Oct last year.

The descent takes two to three hours, depending on the water level.

At times, the current accelerates, giving rafters a wild adventure with white water and whirlpools.

“It’s amazing. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen before,” said Kevin, a 30-year-old Irish tourist.

“They don’t have landscapes like this in Ireland … Not to such a scale,” he told AFP.

For safety reasons, there are strict rules on recruiting guides.

“To apply, you have to be a man between the ages of 18 and 30. No women allowed. For the first three years, you apprentice with an experienced master before taking theoretical and practical exams,” said Migdal, who has done the job for 35 years.

“Only masters are allowed to navigate when the Dunajec is running high because its depth varies from just a couple of centimetres to 18 metres, which comes with a number of dangers.”

Marek Kolodziej has been propelling his raft since the age of 18.

“My father did it before me, so did my grandfather. My brother does it with me and now my son has also joined in,” he told AFP.

“Since we were little we dreamt of becoming river guides. It was natural, no one thought we would do anything else.”

Man overboard

The job comes with its share of hazards, especially for the young men just starting out.

“I fell into the water many times when I started as a guide. I was the helmsman and my pole got stuck between stones on the river bottom,” said Czeslaw Kowalczyk, a 56-year-old who is on his 41st season as a guide.

“I was young, inexperienced and I didn’t want to let go. So I fell in the water!”

Before they began offering tourists wild river rides, for centuries the guides floated logs down the Dunajec and Vistula rivers to the Gdansk port on the Baltic Sea.

Legend has it that for every trip the guide would add another seashell to the ribbon around his hat.

They only began to carry tourists at the start of the 19th century to supplement their income — first using boats dug out of a single tree trunk, then on wooden rafts after running out of large enough trees.

In 1932, they formed a river guide association.

In the early days, it was a particularly tough job. Once done with the descent, the guide would have to use muscle power to fight the current and pull the raft upstream.

Today, trucks do the job. Some things have changed but the guides’ love of the job and their region remain intact.

“The idea of quitting never even occurred to me,” Kolodziej said. — AFP

A hotel that will rock you

RESORTS World Sentosa in Singapore offers six uniquely-themed hotels that present six unique hotel experiences.

Among them is Hard Rock Hotel Singapore (right), which underwent a refurbishment exercise recently.

Designed by Michael Graves & Associates, guests are greeted by three giant guitar sculptures as they arrive through the hotel’s curved driveway.

The lobby is painted in bright colours and decorated with numerous display cases featuring clothes worn by celebrities from all over the world.

There is also a Rock Shop that sells Hard Rock Hotel-inspired apparel.

On the same floor is the hotel’s famous Rock Bar as well as its lone restaurant, Sessions, that serves breakfast for hotel guests but is open to the pubic for lunch and dinner.

It is during lunch and dinner that this restaurant is known as a three-in-one dining destination as it combines a patisserie, a restaurant and a cooking studio all in one.

Well known for its crab and other seafood preparations, Sessions also boasts a superb dessert bar.

Hard Rock Hotel Singapore is also known for its stunning free-form swimming pool that features tropical landscaping and a man-made sandy beach with sand brought in from Australia.

There are 364 rooms, ranging from Deluxe Rooms and Deluxe Suites to Rock Star Suites which make guests feel like a star.
For more, visit the Resorts World Sentosa website.

War, wine and wonders: hopefuls vie for place on UNESCO heritage list

MANAMA: Inuit hunting grounds, World War I cemeteries, Art Deco heritage in Mumbai and Italy’s wine-producing Prosecco hills are among 30 hopefuls in the running to join Unesco’s famous list as the World Heritage Committee meets from Sunday in Bahrain.

Delegates at the annual gathering will also debate adding locations including Kenya’s Lake Turkana and Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley to those sites considered “in danger”, but could remove the Belize Barrier Reef from the risk list due to an oil activity ban.

The roster of contenders for this year’s new additions spans the globe from the Aasivissuit and Nipisat hunting grounds in the frozen expanses of Greenland to the sun-scorched Al-Ahsa Oasis in the deserts of Saudi Arabia.

Eye-catching — or lip-smacking — sites among them include the Prosecco Hills in northwest Italy where famed sparkling wine has been made for centuries, as well as the town of Zatec in the Czech Republic renowned for its hops.

In India, a collection of Victorian and Art Deco landmarks in bustling Mumbai is being billed as “the largest such conglomeration of these two genres of architecture in the world”.

The push to include funeral and memorial sites in Belgium and France for those killed on World War I’s Western Front has sparked debate over how to treat locations associated with recent conflicts.

In an April report, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which advises Unesco, called for a further “period of reflection”, despite locations including Hiroshima and Auschwitz already being on the list.

Getting on the World Heritage List could be a major boon for the nominees, as being deemed of “outstanding universal value” can boost tourist numbers and bring in funding.

‘Danger’ list

But the committee also considers whether to remove locations from the list that do not do enough to protect their heritage — although such moves are rare.

Possibly facing the chop this year over disruptive building work is the historic centre of Shakhrisyabz in Uzbekistan, once the site of a palace of Turco-Mongol leader Amir Timur, that was added in 2000.

“They have erased a whole traditional neighbourhood that was on the list,” Mechtild Rossler, director for Unesco’s Division for Heritage and World Heritage Centre, told a news conference.

Some major natural wonders could also be placed on the danger list at the Manama meeting, with fears mounting for the national parks of Lake Turkana in Kenya after the construction of the mammoth Gibe III dam on a tributary in Ethiopia.

On a more positive note, however, experts may remove the Belize Barrier Reef — one of the biggest coral reef systems in the world — from the list of sites at risk after hailing the Central American nation for halting offshore oil exploration.

The gathering comes at a sensitive time for Unesco, as the global body’s education, science and culture organisation scrambles for funding following the withdrawal by the United States last year.

President Donald Trump’s administration pulled out of Unesco citing its continuing “anti-Israel bias” six years after the organisation allowed the Palestinians to join. — AFP

A fun-filled holiday

There are few places like Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), where families can find such a wide variety of activities to enjoy.

I discovered this and more during a recent familiarisation trip by RWS.

From learning experiences at the SEA Aquarium and Maritime Experiential Museum, to wild rides at the Adventure Cove Waterpark, or coming face-to-face with dinosaurs at the Jurassic World: Explore & Roar attraction, there is much to see and do here.

The Jurassic World: Explore & Roar is the latest attraction at Universal Studios Sentosa, which ends on Aug 22.

Among the highlights here are learning how to train and control a Velociraptor called Val at the Raptor Training Programme, as well as a live action show set in Jurassic Park and starring a Tyrannosaurus rex (T-Rex)!

If you want to take a picture with a dinosaur, head to the Jurassic Encounter, where you can ‘interact’ with dinosaurs on a big screen with cutting-edge augmented reality. See yourself standing beside a gigantic T-Rex, or a Triceratops.

For the little ones, they can look forward to Hatched! Featuring Dr Rodney, a mainstay attraction launching on June 29, which offers a chance for them to watch the hatching of a baby Velociraptor!

Meanwhile at the Maritime Experiential Museum, visitors take a ‘journey into the past’ in guided tours of exhibitions about the Maritime Silk Route, learn how to tie classic mariner’s knots, and ‘relive’ the terror of being on a ship caught in a treacherous storm in the multi-sensory Typhoon Theatre.

Not only will visitors come away with some idea of the maritime history of the region, they will also learn about the currency used then, the types of equipment used to navigate the seas, and the ports of call that Admiral Zheng He made as he sailed from China to Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Nearby, head for some fun at the Adventure Cove Waterpark.

From now till July 1 on the weekends and public holidays, thrill seekers can take part in exciting water-themed challenges at the waterpark’s Splash Bash, where among the highlights is the flamingo race, where participants sit atop a giant pink flamingo float and paddle towards the finish line amidst thrashing waves at Bluwater Bay.

A stone’s throw away from the waterpark is the SEA Aquarium which is home to more than 100,000 marine animals from over 1,000 species, and across 50 different habitats.

At the entrance, visitors are greeted by a hammerhead shark sculpture made from recycled flip flops fished from the sea in Kenya.

The first big exhibit in the aquarium houses a wide variety of sharks. There are said to be some 120 sharks from 12 different species to be found here.

They include the hammerhead, black tip, silver tip, nurse shark, carpet shark, and the very rare sand tiger shark.

Other attractions include the massive two-jawed manta eels, schools of colourful fishes, ‘magical’ creatures from the deep that emit their own light, and the graceful guitar shark, which is actually a species of ray.

Drink in the surreal experience of seeing these sea creatures swimming above you and even beneath your feet in artfully-constructed tunnels with water surrounding on all sides, or touch a chocolate chip sea star.

The SEA Aquarium also organises conservation and educational activities on a regular basis. Currently, it is holding an Ocean Festival throughout this month in celebration of the June 8 World Ocean Day.

A host of installation art pieces, exhibitions, quizzes and activities have been planned to help create awareness on the importance of marine conservation, and protecting our oceans at this festival.

For more, visit the Resorts World Sentosa website.

Parisians seek Unesco heritage status for bistros, cafes

PARIS: A group of Parisians has launched a campaign for Unesco to award cultural heritage status to the French capital’s bistros and cafe terraces, almost three years after terror attacks in the French capital which left 130 people dead, some of them gunned down in cafes and restaurants.

An association — made up of bistro owners, actors and other private individuals — has been set up to submit an application for Paris’ bistros and cafe terraces to awarded “protected” status and put on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list.

The dossier will be handed in September to the Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for submitting such applications to Unesco, the organisers said on Thursday.

The association said it wants to raise awareness both in France and abroad of “the role that bistros and cafe terraces play in bringing people and cultures together, and their role as intellectual and artistic melting pots.”

The new association argued that following the attacks on Nov 13, 2015, “Parisians crowded onto the terraces … to show that they regarded them as places of cultural cross-fertilisation, of freedom and of the art of living”.

The atrocities carried out by gunman loyal to the Islamic State group were the worst such attacks in France’s history and left the capital and wider country deeply traumatised.

Jihadists armed with assault rifles and suicide vests struck outside a France-Germany football match at the national stadium, cafes and bars, and the Bataclan concert hall in a coordinated assault that left 130 people dead and more than 350 wounded.

The association said that the culture of Paris’ world-famous cafes and bistros was increasingly “under threat”, not only from soaring rents in the French capital, but also from powerful multi-nationals in the food and drinks sector.

“In a society that is becoming increasingly standardised, there are still places for families that make a real contribution to popular culture,” said the association’s head, Alain Fontaine, who owns the Masturet bistro, near the city’s former stock exchange.

Similar campaigns have recently been started to put both the French baguette and the iconic green “bouquinisites” book stalls that line the river Seine in Paris — and are said to make up the world’s largest open-air bookshop — on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list. — AFP

On the dunes of Qatar

FOR A DIFFERENT kind of experience, far from the tropical haze and heat, head for a gem of a place among the sand dunes of Qatar in the chill of winter.

In this peninsular Arab country of arid desert and a long Gulf shoreline of beaches and dunes, go past the usual hustle and bustle of the country’s popular Sealine Beach, and head into the desert of Khor Al Udeid.

This is the magical place where locals and expats go, a natural Disneyland of soft sand where the rides are four-wheel drives and ATVs, instead of roller coasters and spinning teacups.

Experiencing Qatar’s desert in winter is something you will never forget. If you’ve ever been camping, odds are it’s always been in a wooded area or maybe even your own backyard, but here in the deserts of Qatar, it’s a whole other affair.

The perfect time to kick back with your travel entourage is when the temperature drops – from October to May – and you can feel the warmth of the fiery bonfire flame gently lick your exposed skin, that is, if it’s not already bundled up in thick, thermal outfits.

Khor Al Udeid, also known as the Inland Sea, is a favourite mainly due to its distance from the usual flock of tourists willing to wander only as far as Sealine Beach.

Before you begin your hour-long off-road drive to Khor Al Udeid, take your fill of the traditional tourist experience, and enjoy a camel ride.

Camels draped in multicoloured fabric serve as a vibrant pop of colour against the desert background. Whether for a short ride or a snap with these gentle ‘ships of the desert’, it makes for a right start to your desert adventure.

There are also safari packages into the desert, where you can opt for a group adventure of a full-on Arabian camping experience, or just a barbecue/picnic where sand dunes meet the sea.

After the exhilarating off-road drive, look around and you’ll probably find only a couple of other vehicles – which means total privacy.

One of the first things you’ll also notice when you enter the desert is that as far as your eyes can see, the horizon is only a silky stretch of sand and dunes, contrasted by the night sky looking like a blanket weaved from hundreds and thousands of twinkly bright stars.

Unless you have cameras specifically for night-time shooting, the breathtaking sky might not make an appearance in your photographs; just make sure to be there by sundown for the perfect photography glow.

That awe-inducing sight will definitely make a lasting impression on your mind, especially if you have somebody special to share it with.

Grab a couple of rugs and be prepared to cosy up, because there’s arguably no better feeling than being buried under a sea of blankets when the air is extra cool, and you start falling asleep under that vast expanse of sky.

With Doha’s desert charm offering an experience unlike any other, it will probably take you a while to warm up to other holiday destinations.

But fret not, you’ll have plenty to discover while in Qatar, and at least your Instagram feed will be on fire.