Category Archives: Asia

6 Travel News Tidbits

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1. Viking Cruises partners with National Geographic

Viking Cruises will sponsor National Geographic’s first fully scripted global anthology series, “Genius,” which will tell the story of Albert Einstein. During the global premiere of Genius — April 25 at 9PM ET/PT on National Geographic — Viking will showcase their brand campaign “Time.” The Founder of Viking, Torstein Hagen, is a lifelong admirer of Einstein and a physicist himself. Read more on their website.

2. Hilton rapidly expanding

In 2016, Hilton opened a whopping 354 properties — that’s nearly one per day! Hilton is especially progressing in China, with 328 properties open or to open. In total, Hilton has 4875 hotels open worldwide.  

3. More attention to flying needs for children with neurological issues

Wings for Autism®/Wings for All® are sponsoring airport “rehearsals” specially designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. The programs are designed to alleviate the stress that families who have a child with autism or intellectual/developmental disabilities experience when flying. It provides families the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtaining boarding passes, going through security and boarding a plane. Learn more here at The Arc’s website

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4. What’s NEW for the 72-Hour Visa Free Transit in Beijing

Beijing has introduced new regulations concerning the 72-hour transit without visa. Travelers must now fill in an application and wait for clearance. An application form and background check are required for stays over 24 hours. So travelers need: 1) onward ticket, 2) application form, 3) background check. This system doesn’t necessarily exist in other Chinese cities as they can be different. In Shanghai, for instance, you can stay double the time (6 days / 144 hours) without a visa. Ask your WIT Travel Agent to Learn More.

5. Avalon Waterways Announces A New Ship

Avalon Waterways is expanding in 2018 with a new ship for the Mekong River, adding new active and themed cruises and cutting the single supplement for all European river cruises. The line’s next new ship will be based on the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, sailing between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap. The 36-passenger vessel will be called Avalon Saigon and will launch in September 2018. The cabins will be slightly bigger, at 245 square feet, with sliding French balcony doors that extend 9 feet. The 14-foot windows have screens to keep out insects. Ask your WIT Travel Agent about available cruises, itineraries, and pre- and post-cruise land tours. 

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6. Did You Know? Two-thirds Of Travel Websites In EU Mislead On Prices

According to a European Commission report, 2/3 of EU websites display misleading prices. Of the 352 price comparison and travel booking websites checked in October 2016, the Commission found 235 gave prices that were not reliable. The sweep of websites, conducted with consumer protection authorities, found that in 1/3 of cases, the final price was not the same as the first price shown. In 1/5 of cases, promotional prices were not available at all. Additionally, in 1/3 of cases, the final price or the way it was calculated was not clear. In a quarter of instances, websites did not make it clear that room availability applied just to that site, and rooms might be available through other channels. The Commission said the 235 websites will have to correct the irregularities and it will ensure sites comply with national enforcement procedures.

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April Showers bring Cherry Flowers!

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Cherry blossom season is well under way, and nowhere else is it as revered as in Japan.

The “Land of the Rising Sun” has a special relationship with cherry blossoms, even going so far as to hold “cherry flower-viewing parties,” picnicking under the pink trees with family and friends. The holiday Hanami literally means “flower-viewing,” and is the art of admiring these little ephemeral gifts. Best complimented with an old temple or castle.

Since cherry trees bloom for only a short period each Spring, they reflect the Japanese Buddhist concept mono no aware, the beautiful impermanence of life.

While of course cherries aren’t endemic to Japan, it seems to be the only culture that really takes the art to indulgent levels. As two well-known haikus by legendary Basho say:

Hana no kumo

Kane wa ueno ka

Asakusa ka

A cloud of cherry blossoms.

The temple bell, is it Ueno

Or Asakusa?

Sama zama no

Koto omoidasu

Sakura kana

How many things

They call to mind

These cherry blossoms!

If you happen to be in Japan right now, Japan-Guide has a useful Cherry Blossom Forecast.

Thinking about Japan? Princess Cruises is offering a special sale in 2018! Call us for the details: 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

Or simply call us up for a chat about Japan! Our Agent Pam at Willamette Intl Travel has recently been to Japan and she’d love to share with you her impressions and help plan your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

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“The Quiet American” and Other Classics of Southeast Asia

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By Wailana Kalama

Bangkok overtook London last year as the world’s second most popular travel destination!

If you’re joining fellow travelers and heading to Southeast Asia, you’ll need some reading for the plane. Step into these books and understand just a little bit more about what makes this region tick.

Graham Greene, The Quiet American. Travel writer Pico Iyer has long proclaimed a long affinity with Greene: “who, almost in spite of himself, taught me and so many others how to move around the world and even how to hazard trust.” Greene’s most famous novel centers around the relationship between the cynical Brit, Fowler, and the idealist American, Pyle. This book is a fictional essay on the moral ambiguity of love and war, and the impossibility of neutrality. My Favorite Quote: “Innocence is a kind of insanity.”

Aung San Suu Kyi & Alan Clements, The Voice of Hope. An icon of peace and optimism in a corrupted society, Kyi rose to headlines when her country Myanmar opened its borders in 2010. This biography takes the reader directly into the heart of Myanmar and Kyi’s struggle, her optimism, and unfailing commitment to her beliefs. My Favorite Quote: “Saints are sinners who go on trying.”

The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.

–Aung San Suu Kyi

George Orwell, Burmese Days. I always enjoy reading Orwell, ever-sensitive to the plights of common men. Drawing from his experience as a police officer in 1920s Burma, Orwell’s novel addresses bigotry, racism, and imperialism. My Favorite Quote: “There is nothing like an earthquake for drawing people together. One more tremor, or perhaps two, and they would have asked the butler to sit down at table with them.”

Marguerite Duras, The Lover. Believe it or not, but Duras’ The Lover was the subject of my bachelor’s thesis. A non-traditional spin on a time-honored story, this short book follows an adolescent French girl and her Chinese lover. It’s all about colonialism, feminine writing, marginalized people, and–if you believe my thesis abstract–a bit of Saïd’s Orientalism thrown in there as well. A chaotic, instinctual and dreamy read. My Favorite Quote: “Very early in my life it was too late.”

Read our earlier post on WIT Agent Nancy’s favorite books to take with you on a trip to Southeast Asia.

Heading to Southeast Asia in 2017? Give us a call! We have the know-how and the connections to land you a trip of a lifetime! call us at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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Filed under Asia, Cambodia, Europe, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam

Travel News Update: Hong Kong and E-Cigs

 

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If you’re entering Hong Kong with e-cigarettes containing nicotine, you’ll need a medical prescription indicating that they’re for personal use. If the e-cigarette is nicotine-free and for personal use, no medical prescription is needed. So travelers, be aware: you should either show proof that the e-cigarette is without nicotine, or show prescription. Nicotine is considered a Part 1 poison in Hong Kong, and the possession of a nicotine e-cigarette without a prescription faces a penalty up to $100,000 fine and 2 years’ imprisonment.

This order follows recent efforts by officials, headed by Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan, to step up on e-cigarette control and its possible carcinogens. Take note that in Hong Kong, cigarette smoking, including e-cigarettes, is banned in no smoking areas, including all indoor public areas, and some outdoor areas like school campuses and parks.

Other entry requirements remain unchanged; US citizens can visit Hong Kong for up to 6 months without a visa. If you visit mainland China via Hong Kong, you must obtain a Chinese visa before arrival at the Chinese border.

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Happy Year of the Rooster!

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Chinese populations all over the world will be celebrating lunar New Year’s Festival, from this Saturday, 28 January, and continuing for two weeks. Dozens of countries, and countless Chinese communities across the globe, come together to lion-dance, explode fireworks, and be merry. On the 15th day of the New Year—this year on February 11—is the pinnacle of festivities, the beautiful Lantern Festival. Lucky for you if you’re in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, or Vietnam during this fortnight!

According to the Chinese zodiac, it’s the Year of the Rooster—so don’t be surprised if you see images of brilliant yellow and red roosters all over.

Traditionally, families get together and munch on specially prepared dumplings. They clean the house, sweeping away ill fortune and making way for incoming good luck. Relatives exchange red paper arts, light firecrackers and gift money to children. You may catch a dragon dance on the street or a martial arts performance. It’s a great time to visit China and its neighbors!
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Popular Greetings:
1. 新年好 / 新年好 (Xīnnián hǎo) ‘New Year goodness!’
/sshin-nyen haoww/
2. 恭喜发财 / 恭喜發財 (Gōngxǐ fācái) ‘Happiness and prosperity!’
/gong-sshee faa-tseye/
3. 步步高升 / 步步高陞 (Bùbù gāoshēng)  A steady rise to high places! — “on the up and up”
/boo-boo gaoww-shnng /

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Read more from around the Web:
How to Celebrate Chinese New Year
Non-Touristy Ways to See the Great Wall of China
China’s massive Lunar New Year rush

Interested in a Vacation to China or Taiwan but not sure where to start? Give our agents a ring! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Ice Festivals around the World

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From the Desk of Wailana, Social Media Correspondent based in Stockholm

Glacial Artscapes

It’s freezing in my adoptive home of Sweden, about -10 C (that’s 14 F!), and venturing outside puts me knee-deep in snow. Coming from Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, it’s not something I’ll ever be used to!

But ice and snow has its charms. Sweden just opened its Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi for 365 days of the year (previously it was only in winter season), so that puts me in the arctic spirit! And the rest of the world seems to agree. From December to March each year, cities and towns all across the globe host beautiful Ice Sculpture Festivals and transform their streets into a glacial winter wonderland.

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World Ice Art Championships — Alaska

Since 1989, Alaska is THE destination for worldwide ice art competition. Bringing together more than 100 sculptors and upwards of 50,000 visitors each year, the Ice Art Championship is a place to see masters excel at their craft. Judges break down the competition by Single Block (one block of ice) and Multi-Block, and Abstract and Realistic artworks. These “Olympics of Ice Carving” are a fantastic way for artists to demonstrate strength, vision, and feats of engineering. Usually held between February in March, giving youth carvers a chance to challenge each other during Spring Break. The theme tends to be up to interpretation, with topics ranging from pop culture to folklore; but many artists do favor naturalistic motifs, celebrating local Alaskan fauna or indigenous culture.

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Harbin Intl Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival — China

The magnificent and luminous International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China (whew what a title!), holds the title of largest ice festival in the world. Originating way back in 1963 (albeit interrupted for some years during the Cultural Revolution), it typical runs from January to February. This is one crazy festival–featuring ice lanterns, carving competitions, a fireworks show, converts, water swimming and other ice sports. Sculptures reach their peak in 2007, when a Canadian-themed sculpture was awarded a Guinness Record for biggest snow sculpture (a whopping 820 feet long and 28 feet high!). Tourist packages often combine winter travel in China with a stop in Harbin. (Call Willamette Intl Travel for the scoop!) Come at night for the best multicolored illuminations!

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Sapporo Snow Festival — Japan

The world-renowned Sapporo Snow Festival attracts 2 million people to Hokkaido in early February. Its humble beginnings start all the way back in 1950, when a group of high school students challenged each other with a mere six snow statues in Odori Park. Since then, it’s been growing, and the festival garnered international attention during Sapporo’s Winter Olympic Games in 1972. Guests can enjoy still sculptures in Odori Park, where lights illuminate the frozen dragons, flowers, supernatural beings, musicians, (and so on!) until 10pm.

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Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival — Netherlands

The Netherlands have thrown a few Ice Sculpture Festivals (including one in Bruges!) over the years, but it’s this year (2016-2007) that one is at last coming to Amsterdam. Forty-two expert ice artists will transform the Arena Park into a magical ice-scape from December to February. The theme: Music Inspires, so expect Mozart, Elvis, and maybe even Prince to make an appearance.

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Quebec City Winter Carnival — Canada

More of a parade than an exhibition, Quebec’s City Winter Carnival is a time for the whole city to shake off winter hibernation. Masquerade balls, winter sports, snowmen pop up here and there, and the parade hosts a fair share of ice sculptures to admire and applaud. Don’t forget your glass of Caribou, a hot melange of red wine, whiskey, and maple syrup!

 

Flickr CC images: art_inthecity, RageZ, Jay Cross, Fredrik Rubensson, Thomas Wanhoff

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Christmas in Asia

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Christmas is a widespread holiday, celebrated in countries all over the world. Did you know that it’s a popular holiday even in the Far East?

Though many people don’t associate Christmas with Asia, this holiday is celebrated all the way from Japan to the Philippines. Depending on where you go, it can be a religious holiday or a secular time with family and friends.

In Japan, Christmas is widely popular as a holiday for friends or lovers. Cities decorate their streets and halls with Christmas trees and illuminations, and pipe out Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on the radio. Japanese people may eat Christmas cake, a sponge cake with whipped cream and fruit toppings. December 25 is a romantic holiday, with many Japanese preferring to spend a romantic day with their significant other.

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In Hong Kong, locals go all out with a festive Christmas. December 25 is an official holiday in Hong Kong, and the city dresses up in massive Christmas Trees, German-style Christmas markets and beautiful light shows. The ballet does a yearly Nutcracker that is a delight. You can get your photo with Santa, known in Hong Kong as Lan Khoong or Dun Che Lao Ren.

In China, the New Year usually overshadows Christmas as the most important holiday. Still, many Chinese people like to get into the holiday spirit just for fun. Children can get their photos with Santa (known as “聖誕老人 shèngdànlǎorén”) at department stores, and people give out cellophane-wrapped Christmas apples as gifts.

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In Korea, where 30% of the population is Christian, Christmas is a holiday for families and lovers. This official official holiday is a time for families to get together and eat traditional dishes like barbecued beef, kimchi and rice cake soup. Santa Haraboji is a traditionally dressed grandfather with a top hat (gat) and blue robe, who hands out gifts to children. Like Japan, it can also double as a romantic night with your significant other!

In the Philippines, thanks to Spanish influence, Christmas is a huge holiday. Filipinos decorate their homes with candles, lights and wreaths, and dress up a bamboo pole with a lighted star. Christmas Eve is a big deal—people don’t generally sleep this night, instead they hold the Feast of Noche Buena, which begins after midnight. The dinner consists of delicious oxtail stew, stuffed chicken, pudding and sticky rice. Children line up in front of an elder family member, who passes out coins as gifts.

Vietnam also gets into the secular spirit with decorations and light shows all over Ho Chi Minh City. People throw confetti and eat out in fancy restaurants.

Next Week is Christmas! Where are you spending the holidays? Let us know in the comments!

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