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If we’ve learned one thing about the world in the last few years, it is that Hello Kitty is only gaining in ubiquity. From airport shops and her own Los Angeles convention to kitty-print toilet paper and every accessory under the sun, the cartoon cat missing a mouth has steamrolled beyond Barbie, the X-Men, and more in her quest for world domination.
Since 2005, that success has included airplanes, with Taiwanese carrier EVA Airways debuting Airbus A330s (and, last year, an extra special Boeing 777-300ER) covered tip to tail in Hello Kitty imagery. When we say tip to tail, we mean even the interior; the Hello Kitty flights, of which there are 6 regular routes originating in Taipei (Los Angeles, Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Fukuoka, Hokkaido), please passengers with Hello Kitty-theme in-flight shopping, in-flight entertainment, and in-flight meals.
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We can hardly keep up with how great things are over at Changi Airport, but yet again we’re ready to share some news about what fun stuff they’re adding to the terminals and concourses.
This week the airport is adding a little bit of the local foodie scene, as they’re taking a creative spin on the airport food court. The new options are all included within what they’re calling "Singapore Food Street," as they’re introducing 13 local hawker stalls right into the airport.
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In a new weekly Friday column, we'll explore street food and other culinary specialties from around the world.
Last week we brought you the traditional delicacies of Vietnam and, this week, we skip to another part of Southeast Asia for the colorful treats of Singapore. Kueh, as they're called, are not specific to Singapore; these tiny desserts can be found in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Southern China, but each country twists the basics into their own recipes.
Kueh (or kuih and kue) is really just a broad term signifying small cakes, cookies, dumplings, pudding, biscuit, or pastries made from rice or glutinous rice. Like most kueh, the Singaporean variety comes with no specific or authentic recipe since most of the methods have been handed down from generation to generation, creating a unique taste from color to color. Traditionally handmade for special events like Hari Raya and Lunar New Year, kueh is sold in food hawker stalls all year round.
Singapore might be synonymous with skyscrapers (many just tall, some tall and slightly mental) and shopping malls, but there is a place to escape the city and focus on things much smaller and delicate: the beautiful orchids on display inside the city’s National Orchid Garden, showcasing over 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids.
Part of Singapore’s Botanic Gardens, which date back to 1859, it’s a perfect antidote to a few days of city life, whether you’re an avid horticulturalist or just appreciate the pretty. The small entrance fee (SGD5 / $4) is worth it, especially since access to the rest of the Gardens is free.
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This is being described as the "most embarrassing tourism ad ever," and also as "so bad it will go viral," and also as "cringe-worthy," and also as a bunch of other similar things. We've watched it - once, and only once - and those are all fair descriptions. It might literally be the worst bit of travel advertising we've ever seen. It's so bad that it goes around to being good, but then it comes back around to being bad, and then it gets stuck at bad. It's painful to watch.
The source of this travesty is the Singapore tourism board, and the backlash they faced was very immediately and very public. In what might be described as an understated public climb-down, the board admitted that the video "was not resonating well with audiences" and that "some aspects of it could have been done better." So of course they took it down, and of course you can find one of its many online copies embedded below.
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We consider ourselves pretty darn familiar with things related to travel loyalty programs. From airlines to rental cars we know most of the ins and outs about points, miles, and free credits. However, we do need to hit the books and study up on one of the latest options, as airports getting in on the loyalty scene is certainly new to us.
It’s the airport awesomeness that is Singapore’s Changi Airport that is changing up their Changi Rewards Program. Membership is free, and you’ll earn points for every dollar you spend.
Like most other loyalty programs, the folks at Changi have set up three levels: member, gold, platinum. Travelers can reach gold status by spending $4,000 within the year, and it’s a platinum card if you throw down over $8,000 (which can be easily done if you're in the market for duty-free luxury goods). The program offers up coupons and what not during the year, and the deals and discounts get better as you climb the loyalty ladder.
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The Economist Intelligence Unit has just named their "most expensive cities" for 2014 and, knocking Tokyo from the top, the year's winner is Singapore. As the headlines around this ranking circulate, we feel it's important to note that this is for living in a city, and not simply traveling there. Singapore is actually one of the more affordable city destinations, and caters to all budgets.
For example, travelers can pay over $400 per night for a stay at the historic Raffles Hotel, or to splash in the famous infinity pool of the Marina Bay Sands. On the flip side, a night at one of our favorite hostels, the 5footway Inn, is only $25-$40. A room in a great boutique hotel will average $130 per night, but the big chains love to go luxe in Singapore with a $225 average.
Airfare is on par with average fares to London or Paris, even though with a trip to Singapore, you get thousands and thousands more miles for your money. Budget travelers should even keep a look-out for Singapore Airlines' occasional flight deals, like a recent one which offered US to Singapore in the airline's award-winning economy class for $999 roundtrip.
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Yet another exciting destination is being added to the routes the latest British Airways aircraft are flying: the Airbus A380, which premiered at LAX in September, will be starting services from London Heathrow to Singapore Changi (SIN) on October 28.
Initially operating on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (with the return to London the following day), the route will go daily A380 from February 9 next year. Why Singapore? Heathrow to Changi is an important route for both corporate and leisure traffic and competition is intense, with the original A380 flyer - Singapore Airlines - offering several double-decker services a day between the two cities.
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Last month, the 33rd annual ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) was held in Kuching, Malaysia (Borneo) and drew delegates from around the world. The ten member countries - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam - were all represented by their ministries of tourism. The conference takes place each year but its location rotates through the member countries. This year’s host, Malaysia, opened the gathering by highlighting ATF’s vision of “Ten Countries, One Destination.”
“I hope that this forum will chart the strategic directions to expedite the growth and development of tourism in ASEAN and enhance our collaboration towards projecting ASEAN as an attractive and multi-faceted single destination,” said Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak.
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One of the major current and long-term goals of ASEAN is to further connect the ten member countries, marketing the region as "ten countries, but one destination" for travelers. Considering the long travel time, visiting multiple cities across a handful of countries makes total sense for those coming to Southeast Asia from the States.
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The start of a new year means a zeroing-out of frequent flier qualifying miles and hotel loyalty program balances. Thus, there's no better time to plan for 12 more months of travel. To help with some inspiration, we're sharing the places and events we're most excited about for 2014.
More new months in the year means more chances to party at the buzziest events or simply witness a historical occurrence. Keep this list handy as you map out your itineraries for this year:
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Singapore Airlines is consistently ranked tops for luxury when it comes to their planes, service, and even their airport lounges. After this summer's announcement of a major update for seats in all cabins, it was only a matter of time until the carrier announced plans to similarly freshen up the environment of the lounges.
SIA unveiled the new concept for their airport oases at Sydney International. Tucked behind a customized batik screen and designed by ONG&ONG, the SilverKris lounge is modeled to convey a sense of "home away from home" with living room, kitchen, and dining room areas.