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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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Lace up your runners and stretch out your hamstrings because though it might be winter outside, we have a good reason to keep up your fitness through the season and throw in some travel as well. From New York to Singapore, there are more options to race your heart out with Vertical World Circuit's stair running world tour.
Here are the details: the seven-race circuit of events begins in New York and circles the globe as racers ascend the stairs of some world's most iconic skyscrapers, all in the name of fitness and to have a crack at coming in first place.
Perhaps it was the years of waving the French flag, or maybe it's the need to be mentally prepared to face the hectic traffic, but whatever the reason, Vietnam loves its coffee. And, if you've ever sampled the super-sweet and milky Vietnamese style of coffee, you know what a treat it can be. Still, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the morning beverage in the country.
On a trip to Ho Chi Minh City, we were told by numerous people to check out Trung Nguyen Coffee, a home-grown coffee shop found in numerous neighborhoods. While we aren't always keen on the idea of hitting up a chain shop, Trung Nguyen is a far departure from your typical Starbucks. Here, coffee is a serious matter with plenty of variety and unique blends.
Welcome to "What Everyone's Buying," a new series on souvenirs, wherein we investigate what tourist trinkets are the hottest selling in hotspots around the world.
When walking around any Southeast Asian metropolis, you'll notice how markets play a major role in tourist attractions and offer anything from prepared food to t-shirts and fresh fare and trinkets. Ho Chi Minh City is no different with the city's Chợ Bến Thŕnh Market serving as the most popular center for finding some unique souvenirs. As expected, the streets around the market have become a mecca for sidewalk shopping as well.
One thing that continually caught our eye were tables of colorful greeting cards that could be mistaken for pieces of art with their 3-dimensional scenes. Multiple vendors are peddling these cards as an artistic alternative to the traditional postcard.
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A pocket-full of coins isn't something we would want to have when traveling the world, but it might just get you out of some awkward situations in Southeast Asia. On a recent trip through the region we noticed plenty of public restrooms in popular areas like open-air food markets, hawker centers and public parks. This is great for when 'nature calls' and you're nowhere near your hotel or a major mall. One caveat is that these 'public' facilities are pay-per-use, at a cost of a few small denomination coins.
Most of the time we noticed that the cost was on the honor-system and sometimes, even if there was an attendant, we weren't refused entry until we paid. Before you think it's outrageous to pay to pee, let us say that the facilities were clean and fully stocked so there were never moments of asking others to 'spare a square.'
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As you can probably tell from our slew of stories on Ho Chi Minh City, we recently traveled to Vietnam. One of the many ways to fly into the country, and the way in which we arrived, is via the green-blue hued planes of the national airline, Vietnam Airlines. Our route had us hopping on at Melbourne to fly nonstop to Ho Chi Minh City and we booked Business Class for a vacation treat.
At first, we considered using the 8.5-hour flight to relax and perhaps nap before what would be a two-week adventure in Southeast Asia, but the airline had a better idea; the flight crew fed us until we were stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Here's a breakdown of what we loved and what we could have done without:
There's no question that traveling to a country that doesn't share your motherland's political persuasion can be a little daunting, but since when is travel about revisiting the everyday? Our recent trip to Vietnam proved quite the wake-up, even though rocking up to passport control with an American passport is no longer anything to be worried about. Once granted entry, we were officially on Communist soil.
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Vietnamese food is a tourist attraction all to it's own because it spans plenty of tastes, ingredients and iconic flavors that are independent to the region. From pho shops and bowls of noodles along the side of bustling streets to rice paper rolls in a market and Vietnamese baguettes while strolling the sidewalks, this city has a lot to offer for empty bellies.
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Driving in a foreign country takes guts and few cities illustrate this need as well as Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City. The metropolis is dominated by scooters and road rules are merely a suggestion of how locals get on with their daily duties.
It's not uncommon to witness scooters with three or even four people along for the ride, plus children standing on the seat. We even spied the Vietnamese equivalent to delivery trucksmopeds piled high with boxes of goods and even a handful of giant rolls of foam. It seems unsafe and pretty crazy, but we never felt our well-being in danger once. All in all, it's reminiscent of the movements of bees in a hive; it just works.
Continuing our travels around South-East Asia, we made it into Vietnam after all, despite our passport drama. First impressions caused near whiplash, however as District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City is an architectural puzzle of new and modern facades facing off with the vintage and colonial.
A little history: In the middle of the 19th century, the French colonized the country and made Ho Chi Minh City (then, Saigon) the capital of the colony. Nothing is more evident of the colonial era than the architecture, as France brought their talent to the East during this time. The influence is even seen in the grid of the city; wide streets, large fountains and landscaped roundabouts recall a European capital more so than a steamy Southeast Asian metropolis.
Sounds kind of like a given to ensure your travel documents are in order before handing over your boarding pass, but take it from us that you should always have another look on that tourist visa or itinerary. It's easy to overlook little misspellings or transcribed numbers, so it is even more important to have someone else look it over to give it the thumbs up.
Here is our story; any American traveler wanting to enter Vietnam needs to obtain a visa. This is not an e-visa that can be purchased online and electronically attached to your passport number. This is one of those old-fashioned, visit-a-consulate or mail-away-your-passport to the nearest embassy situations. While it's a bit of a hassle, a side perk is that you do get a pretty colorful sticker in your passport to show all your friends.
Last year we saw Starbucks and their coffee empire spread into some new spots like India, Disneyland, and even aboard Alaska Airlines. Obviously things are still moving full speed ahead—thanks to all that caffeine—as 2013 looks for more expansion. The year is just beginning, but it’s already time to celebrate Starbucks entry into another country, as the espresso machines just cleared customs and are on the move once again.
Up next for the Frappuccinos and lattes is Vietnam, as Starbucks is getting ready to open their very first store over in Ho Chi Minh City as soon as next month. Just like over in India, it’s a partnership deal as the coffee giant throws it's weight in with Maxim Group. Maxim already runs a whole chain of coffee shop locations in Hong Kong and Macau, so they kind of know what they’re doing when it comes to getting you going in the morning.