Monday, July 24, 2006

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Take a load off in Taiwan

Spa resorts have become a big hit in Asia, though most tend to be “artificial” retreats.

What if spa resorts were surrounded by mountains, fields of wild flowers, fruit orchards, farm animals, and village-styled cuisines?

Say hello to Taiwan’s leisure farms.

Leisure farms are a new concept in holidays, where conventional farms are adapted to the demands of holidaymakers who want to get away from the stress and noise of the city.

Shangrila is one of the most popular leisure farms in Yilan, with activities like fruit-picking (below) and trekking.

Taiwan currently has 48 leisure-farming districts especially identified by the Taiwan Leisure Farming Development Association. These leisure farms may not be especially impressive in terms of size or hotel star rating, but they offer great scenery and experience.

Imagine being able to participate in fruit-picking, tea-planting, flying special wish lanterns, playing with bamboo whistles and dragonflies, and enjoying local cuisines under the trees. Or how about just lying back and listening to the sound of nature?
The following are three of Taiwan’s more popular leisure farms:

Yilan County

The first impression of Shangrila is the breathtaking view and fresh air. Shangrila is one of the most popular leisure farms in Yilan, which is credited with being the first county to develop a leisure farm. It is located at the foothills of the legendary Dayuan Mountain and enjoys a comfortable temperature of 25°C all year round.

The farm resort is in a European cottage style and is reminiscent of a village in the English countryside. You can pamper yourself by taking a bath in the forest while enjoying a cup of tea produced by the local farmers. One highlight here is fruit-picking, where you get to exercise while enjoying fresh air and fresh fruits.

Yun Shan Shui House is set in the midst of clouds. It boasts a traditional Taiwanese dining area, a tea-tasting area, a photo and antique display area, and a lovely balcony overlooking the lush mountains.

If you are the adventurous type, you will enjoy activities like mountain trekking, flying wish lanterns (Kong Ming Tian Deng), campfires, evening outings, star-gazing and admiring fireflies. The Nearby Ji Yuan Nong Chan (Orange Orchard Farm Production) offers mandarin orange jam, preserved jujube and other farm products.

The Pearl Pumpkin Orchard is worth a look because they produce the weirdest pumpkins imaginable – pinball, lantern, pear etc, and in colours ranging from red to orange to yellow and white. Every year, from March to May, the orchard organises the Pearl Pumpkin Festival, where they serve up a sumptuous pumpkin spread.

Nantou County

Chirping birds, the scent of tea leaves and sandalwood, nature in its simplicity – that’s what this leisure farm offers. The Old Five Homestay is named after the owner, who is the fifth child in the family.

Years ago, Old Five used to be a tea farmer, but one who never sold his tea leaves to the commercial distributors. Instead, he only sold to his friends, many of whom travel a long way just to buy from him. Some stayed overnight at his farm because of the long journey, and that was how the place evolved into a pastoral home-stay.

Situated by a river, the Old Five Homestay is a blend of Japanese and Chinese architectural styles. It radiates peace and calm.

This being Nantou County, guests make it a point to visit Sun Moon Lake, once described as the most scenic natural lake in Asia. Part of the lake looks like a sun and the other, a new moon, hence its name.

Taipei County

Yun Shan Shui House is an out-of-this-world hostel set in the midst of clouds, mountains and pristine water. This dreamy leisure farm used to be an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere, until Wu Ganzheng and his family decided to turn it into a dream retreat for outsiders.
The Wu family put their heart and soul into it, with grandpa growing vegetables and raising pigs, grandma picking vegetables and keeping chickens, second sister doubling up as the butler, and their friendly neighbours chipping in by helping to cook taro balls. The place is now a popular tourist attraction that offers village lifestyle and traditional food.

Yun Shan Shui is a four-storey building boasting a traditional Taiwanese dining area, a tea-tasting area, a photo and antique display area, and a lovely balcony overlooking the lush mountains.

If you like sunflowers, take a couple of hour’s drive down south to Guanyin Town in Taoyuan County to visit the Sun & Green Farm. It is the biggest sunflower farm in northern Taiwan and has over 10 breeds of sunflowers. Some of the flowers grow to be as wide as 20cm!

Taiwan has long been known as a shopping and dining destination, and the capital city Taipei is where you will find the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101. What tends to be overlooked in all this are its more bucolic attractions. W

For more details, visit the Taiwan Tourism Bureau website at

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Philippine Travel: When And Where

When you’re about to embark on a journey to the Philippines, the two most important questions to ask is “when” and “where”. If you’re traveling to the Philippines, do be aware that the experiences you’re about to encounter is unlike anything you’d encounter anywhere else in the world. Each and every country has its own unique experience to offer you and when you travel to the Philippines, you should expect the same.

When Is It Best To Travel To The Philippines?

Are you allergic to rain? If so, it would do you good to avoid traveling to this part of Southeast Asia during the months of June till November as that’s when the occasional typhoon or two makes time to visit the Philippines. Traveling during the rainy season of the Philippines can be quite a hassle, especially if you don’t have a car. But if you do, you could expect smaller crowds to contend with as most people tend to stay indoors.

If you’re unable to take the heat and still be merry, then you should not travel to the Philippines during the months of March till May because that’s officially the summer season of the country. Everyone heads for the nearest beach so if you don’t want to feel crowded when you’re sunbathing, set your travel date for another time of the year. The Easter season is always busy for everyone in the Philippines so expect a difficult time on reserving transportation when it’s Holy Week.

If you’re on the lookout for the world-famous fiestas that only the Philippines could offer, schedule your travel date for January, May or December. The flower season of Baguio – described as the summer capital of the Philippines because of its perennially cool weather – is something to look forward to. And then there’s the Santacruzan during May and which each and every town parades its most beautiful residents in a walk around town.

Where In The Philippines Is It Best To Travel To?

There are so many types of places to visit in the Philippines that it’s hard to enumerate each and every one of them. Beaches, however, are one of the most favorite travel spots of the country so if you want to enjoy your stay in a beautiful paradise of clear blue green water and cool white sand, you could check out Tali Beach, the world-famous Boracay or try surfing the secluded beaches of Surigao and La Union.

An Overview of Kenya for Travelers

Kenya is stunningly beautiful African country that has seen its share of good and bad times. If you are traveling to Kenya, the following information will give you a head start.

Kenya is a crossroads country in Africa, which means a little bit of various African countries reside there. More than 40 languages are spoken and as many as eleven different ethnic groups can be identified. The religious breakdown is also very diverse. Despite this variety, the country has a fairly harmonious existence. The national slogan is harambee which loosely translates to lets pull together.

Compared to other sub-Saharan countries, Kenya has historically been advanced in infrastructure and general living standards. During the colonial period, England controlled the country and developed the area. Kenyans were not allowed to participate in government, much like South Africa. As you might expect, Kenyans rebelled and eventually became independent on December 12, 1963. The Kenya People’s Union then became the only political party and ruled until 2002. In October 2002, the National Rainbow Coalition dominated elections
Following independence, Kenya continued to grow economically and the standard of living was the envy of much of Africa. Unfortunately, corruption threw a wrench in the proceedings the country has suffered from a lurching economy for the last 15 years. In 2003, the country turned things around and things have generally improved since then.

Kenya covers 224,960 square miles and is slightly smaller than Texas. The capital is Nairobi. Kenya rises from a low coastal plain on the Indian Ocean in a series of mountain ridges and plateaus which stand above 9,000 feet in the center of the country. The Rift Valley bisects the country above Nairobi, opening up to a broad arid plain in the north. Mountain plains cover the south before descending to the shores of Lake Victoria in the west. The climate varies from the tropical south, west, and central regions to arid and semi-arid in the north and the northeast.

The people of Kenya are known as “Kenyans.” Total population is 30 million and growing at 1.7 percent a year. Ethnic groups break down as Kikuyu 21 percent Luhya 14 percent, Luo 13 percent, Kalenjin 11 percent, Kamba 11 percent, Kisii 6 percent, Meru 5 percent. Religious break down is Indigenous beliefs 10 percent, Protestant 40 percent, Roman Catholic 30 percent, Muslim 20 percent. Languages include English, Swahili, and more than 40 local ethnic languages. The literacy rate is 65 percent and life expectancy is 49 years of age.

As this brief overview reveals, the country suffers the economic problems of many countries in Africa. That being said, it is beautiful place that will hopefully overcome such hurdles. It is definitely a place you will remember visiting.
by: Richard Monk

Overview of Egypt for Travelers

From Pyramids to the Valley of the Kings, the Arab Republic of Egypt oozes history. If you are considering traveling to Egypt, you should know the following about the country.

Egypt has plenty of land, but much of it is sparsely inhabited. This leads to a situation where the vast majority lives within relatively compact urban places. As the most populous Arab nation, nearly all of people live along the Nile River, particularly in Cairo and Alexandria. Cairo in particular is one of the world’s most densely populated cities with a whopping 3,800 people per square mile and roughly 18 million in the extended city. Traffic jams are legendary to say the least.

Travelers to Egypt are almost always going to see the pyramids and various archeological remains of the Pharaohs. Just so you can sound like you know what you are talking about, here is a very brief history on the rule of the Pharaohs.

Around 3,100 BC, Mena united Egypt and became the first Pharaoh. 30 dynasties would follow and are categorized as the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and New Empire. In 525 BC, the last Pharaoh was overthrown by the invading Persians. The pyramids of Giza were built during the fourth dynasty. The Great Pyramid is the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu. The Valley of Kings you will visit is only partially an accurate representation. More than a few of the sites were actually moved to higher elevations to save them from flooding caused when the Nasser Dam went into operation.

As for modern times, Egypt covers an area of roughly 386,000 square miles. The capital is Cairo with a population between 16 and 18 million people. The climate is universally dry and hot. Life is sustained almost totally by the Nile.

The people of Egypt are known as “Egyptians.” The total population is over 77 million and growing at a rate of 1.78 percent per year. 94 percent claim to be Muslim. Arabic is the official language although English and French are also spoken. 57 percent of the people are literate and life expectancy is 71 years of age.

As this overview shows, the country is unique in that it is almost totally reliant upon the Nile River. Without the Nile, Egypt would be bereft of its heritage and modern state. Fortunately, it has learned to ride herd on the longest river in the world.
by: Richard Monk

How to get around Bangkok, Thailand

To start off it is good to understand what kind of transport you can get in Bangkok.

There are numerous different types of public transport, but the usual visitor or resident uses only 7 of these: Meter Taxis, Tuk Tuks, buses, canal boats, river taxis, motorbikes, and Taxis (with no meter).

Lets begin with Tuk Tuks. Aren't they cute, those little three wheeled taxis, colorfully painted and featured so much on anything to do with Thailand.

They are very cute until you get stuck in the traffic, behind the number 36 bus at about 2 in the afternoon and suck down a multitude of fumes in 10 minutes than the average smoker does in a life time... you'll say to the kids, isn't this fun....while your kids bury their heads in their Dad's armpit because it smells fresh compared to the air around them.

Okay Try a Tuku Tuk once, don't go too far and then give them up as a bad idea. Out of Bangkok they're much more fun. Tuk Tuk drivers should be haggled with, the price fixed in advance and generally you'll always get ripped off, take a taxi.

Taxis (with 4 wheels) come in two flavours, metered and no meter, although a few non meters actually have a meter concealed behind a panel in the dash board below the radio.... Taxis are great, sit back in air conditioned luxury and watch the Smiths die of carbon monoxide poisoning in a Tuk Tuk. If the driver of a Taxi objects to use his meter then tell him to take a hike, get out, do not be suckered.

Check where you are standing, if it's outside a nice big hotel , then walk up the road a bit and wave down a taxi. Unlike the US or Europe taxi drivers have to pass NO TESTS to become a taxi driver, within a few days of being inb Bangkok you will know Bangkok better than many Taxi drivers.... again if the driver seems to not know where it is you are going, get other thing, make sure you know where you are going and have a rough idea of the route, else a less honest cabby will take you o a tour of the backroads "the short cuts". If you're going a long way, take the toll way, it costs between 20 and 40 Baht, (you pay) and will save you hours of travel time.

Calling a taxi by phone costs ab extra 20 Baht, Taxis at the airport cost an extra 50 Baht. And yes there is a REGULATED taxi stand at the airport outside the main meeting zone. Don't be suckered by taxi and limo touts.

Oh yes then there are the taxis with no meter.... well if you want to use one feel'll cost about the same as a Tuk Tuk but at least you'll get Air Con....possibly.
Buses, once upon a time there were red buses, blue buses, green buses and Air Con buses, then came micro buses and then came deregulation and now there are so many buses that I really don't know what they all are...anyway if you are going to use a bus GET A BUS MAP. Then always use Air Con buses unless where you are going is not on one of their routes or your on such a tight budget that 8 to 15 Baht per person may cause you to have to go without food. Other buses vary from 3 Baht up to 20 Baht. Don't bother asking the conductor about where you want to get off, to them you are a lower lifeform (all passengers are) ask another passenger. A word about getting on and off buses. Do it FAST, buses on occasions don't stop at the bus stop they "slow" in the middle of the road and let off a stream of potential roadkill in the middle of the traffic, okay I exagerate a little but when you get your stop make sure you are already near the door and can sprint for it. Don't expect the people getting on to make way, that kind of common sense tends to fail people using the buses, their objective is to get on fast and get a seat before anyone else...which brings up seats.... don't be fooled into thinking that being a "gentleman" will get you thanks...oh no, you'll see pregnant ladies standing up while young school brats take up the seats, you'll see old ladies burdened by shopping standing while teen sweathearts hog the's a first come dog eat dog world on the buses and if you take one of the non air con buses you'll eventually see some poor person pass out....then they get a seat.
Motobikes. Yeah.... want to get somewhere fast, take a motorbike taxi, married with kids...get life insurance and a damn good helmet.

The majority of MB taxi drivers will make it their sole intent to scare you to death, to see if they can squeeze their bike through a gap that is obviously closing up faster than they are moving and to see how fast they can go on an open stretch of road...they have no fear (or sanity).... your life is in their hands and you'll soon wish it wasn't.
It is the law in Thailand that all bike riders MUST wear a crash helmet.... some of the helmets you see wouldn't project a toddler falling off a 3 wheeler.
Thai law says you have to wear a helmet, but as far as the law is can be made out of paper.

if you intend to use MB Taxis a lot then get a helmet...I did, it saved my face when the inevitable eventually happened and I slide across the road after beeing side swipped by a pick up truck.
If you can avoid MB taxis, then do. If you are in Bangkok for long enough you may eventually get to learn which MB Taxi Teams (yes they work in teams) are safer than others (or luckier than others).

Check out the bikes they are driving, a scratched up wreck will be a good hint that the driver has kissed the tarmac a few times, a brand new bike , a green horn still waiting for his first brush with death.... if you're on a bike and the driver is driving like a nut, tell him to stop and get off.

I have to admit I have very little experience with boat transport in Bangkok, but from what I am told, if you can take a canal or river taxi, then do, they are fast, generally clean, less polution and of course there are less vehicles to hit. Prices vary depending on how far you are going.
In summary I would suggest that if you plan to travel in Bangkok that you :- get a map, take meter

by: Jonathan Semenick

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Overview of Peru for Travelers by: Richard Monk

Peru is located on the upper west coast of South America. If you are considering Peru as a travel destination, following is an overview of the country.
Overview of Peru for Travelers
Historically, Peru was the location of the dominant early cultures in South America. The city of Caral has pyramid remains dated to between 2000 and 2600 BC, which may make it the oldest city in the world. Peru is also the home of the Nazca Lines, the football field size drawings in the ground that are only apparent from the air.
The Incas are a mysterious civilization, but one that was clearly dominant during its time. The Incas were based in modern day Peru. Although it was not a major city, Machu Picchu is the best known archeological remains of the Incas. It was discovered in 1911.
The Spanish defeated the Inca Empire in 1533, who remained in control for nearly 300 years. In 1821, Peru declared independence, but wasn’t able to defeat the Spanish until 1824. In fact, Peru was the last Spanish colony in South America.
Peru has seen periods of relative stability and near civil war since gaining its independence. In the late 20th century, conflicts with the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru rebel groups resulted in as many as 70,000 people being killed. Peru has moved beyond such conflicts and is experiencing a period of strong stability and economic growth. In a stunning development for patriarchal South America, Peru elected Beatriz Merino as the first female prime minister on the continent in 2003.
Peru is an interesting climatic country because it contains stunning mountains, flat plains and over 1,500 miles of beaches on the Pacific Ocean. Figuring out what to take is entirely dependent on the part of the country you will visit. Travel to Lake Titicaca, one of the highest lakes in the world, and you will need to dress for warmth. Visit the dry desert in the east of the country, and you will be dressing just the opposite.
Modern Peru has a total population of 28 million people. Roman Catholic is the dominant language. The literacy rate is roughly 88 percent. After years of conflict, the country has suffered economically to the point that over 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. With stability returning, this situation is expected to improve.
Peru is one of the hottest travel destinations in South America. With the end of armed conflict, the chance to see Inca ruins should not be missed.

An Overview of Austria for Travelers by: Richard Monk

Although Austria is rarely in the headlines these days, it was once part of a dominant European power. Following is an overview of this postcard country.
An Overview of Austria for Travelers
With its prime location in mainland Europe, Austria was a major player in economic, military and political terms when it was known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Alas, this role was significantly diminished after World War I when victorious allies divided the empire. A much smaller Austria came onto the scene and has developed into an ideal travel and relocation destination.
Famous Austrians dot the historical record. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven were mavericks in music. In psychology, a certain Sigmund Freud made just a slight impact. Currently, the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was born in Austria.
The official name of the country is Republic of Austria. It covers a relatively small area of land, 32,000 square miles. The capital is beautiful Vienna, which has a population of just over 1.6 million people. Other cities of note include Salzburg and Innsbruck which has hosted a winter Olympics. The country is predominantly a mountainous one and has a climate categorized as continental with plenty of rain and snowfall. Summers in the mountains of Austria are simply dazzling. You can pull up pictures on the Internet or simply watch the movie, The Sound of Music.
The people of Austria are known as “Austrians.” The total population for the country is just over 8 million people, and barely growing each year at a rate of .4 percent. The ethnicity of Austrians breaks down as 98 percent German with a mix of neighboring country natives mixed in. The dominant language is German. Roman Catholic is the faith of 73 percent of Austrians although 12 percent claim no religion at all. The literacy rate in this well-developed country is 98 percent. Life expectancy for women is 81.7 years while men average 75.9.
As this overview of Austria demonstrates, the country has seen all sides of the power ledger. Regardless, Austria is a beautiful country with a rich cultural heritage and is definitely worth a visit.

Overview of Greece for Travelers by: Richard Monk

From the Olympics to My Fat Greek Wedding, Greece has always been a cultural centerpiece in the history of man. Summing up its contribution requires a small library, but here is an overview.
Overview of Greece for Travelers
Greece was home to some of the earliest advanced civilizations. From the Minoans of the second BC millennium to Mycenaeans who established the basis of the current language, the country has produced cultural, philosophical, political and sport advancements unrivaled by others.
The modern Greek state obtained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. It has carried on what seems like a constant conflict with Turkey and was also involved in both World Wars. In 1981, Greece joined the European Community that eventually evolved into the European Union.
The official name of Greece is the Hellenic Republic. Greece covers an area of roughly 51,000 square miles. Athens is both the capital and largest population center with roughly 3.5 million inhabitants. Thessaloniki is the second largest population area with just over one million people. The terrain of Greece ranges from mountains in the north to flat plains in the south and beautiful islands off the coast. Winters are mild while summers are hot and dry making Greece a huge tourist destination.
The people of Greece are known as Greeks. They total more than 10.96 million. Population growth exists, but it is just above .2 percent annually. Greek is the official language. From a religious perspective, 99 percent of Greeks claim Greek Orthodox as their religion. Literacy rate is 95 percent and all levels of education are absolutely free. Life expectancy is 76 for males and 81 for women.
Greece is a relatively small country, but has accounted for a remarkable number of developments in the trek of mankind through history. Whether you are going to see the culture or loaf on the islands, Greece is a top travel destination for a good reason.

Overview of Brazil for Travelers by: Richard Monk

The Federative Republic of Brazil is the largest country in South America. Following is an overview of fun loving Brazil for travelers.
Overview of Brazil for Travelers
Indigenous peoples have populated for a long, but undetermined, period. European influence began with Pedro Alvares Cabral when he claimed Brazil as a Portuguese colony in 1500. In a little known development, Brazil actually became the location of the Portuguese government in 1808 when Napoleon chased the royal family out of Portugal. While in Brazil, the family ruled from Rio de Janeiro until 1821 when it returned to Europe. This move was motivated by a declaration of independence by Brazil, led by Dom Pedro.
As with many South American countries, Brazil has seen its ups and downs from a political perspective. In 1989, it finally completed a transition to a popularly elected government when Collor de Mello won the popular vote. Less than three years later, he was forced to resign under the cloud of corruption charges.
In 2002, Luiz Inacio da Silva rose to the position of president. Lula, as he is known, represents a major change in Brazilian politics. He is the first leader from the working class.
Brazil covers just under 3.3 million square miles of South America. The climate in Brazil is mostly tropical, particularly in light of the Amazon River basin.
With a population exceeding 186 million, Brazil is the fifth most populous country in the world and largest in South America. Despite covering a vast area, most of the population lives in urban cities such as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte. If you think traffic is bad in your location, keep in mind over 18 million people live in greater Sao Paulo!
The people of Brazil are called “Brazilians.” The population is 186 million people and growing at a rate of .1 percent a year. 74 percent of Brazilians consider themselves Roman Catholics. The official language is Portuguese and the literacy rate is 86 percent. Average life expectancy is 71.3 years.
Brazil is one of the world's leading producers of hydroelectric power. Over 75 percent of its electrical power is generated via dam projects.
If you are considering visiting Brazil, you should keep in mind that crime can be a problem in certain areas. Use common sense and you will have no problem. Brazil is a blast, very cheap and gets a big thumbs up as a travel destination.