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City insider: Sydney Summer Fun  

For many westerners, Christmas and New Year's Eve are typically associated with snowfall, chestnuts roasting on open fires, mulled wine, and generally being cold. In Australia, it's the middle of summer – this year predicted to be one of the hottest – and the open fires are hopefully restricted to barbecues charring festive flavor into sausages and steaks (and chicken for the vegetarians).

While it might seem jarring to those from the northern hemisphere to spend this time of year trying to avoid sunburn rather than snowstorms, Yule time in the "sunburnt country" is the best time to visit. Sydney – a notoriously grumpy city in winter – comes to life in the warmer months, outdoorsy activities come to the fore and there's a summer schedule of activities that includes music festivals, the performing arts, markets, cricket, and more. Many events are staged around the jewel in the city's crown – Sydney Harbor – giving you more of an excuse to enjoy Australia's brilliant summer weather.

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Fortune Telling in Asia

Throughout Asia, fortune telling – or more properly, divination – is still widely practiced. Tarot cards, palm readers, and numerologists can be seen everywhere from rickety street corner card tables to public parks in the shade of a tree to large stalls in upscale hotel lobbies. Indeed, some of the best known diviners work out of temples, and some have lineups, with customers waiting hours and traveling great distances to see them.

For westerners, divination is something that has been somewhat watered down by popular culture over the past 100 years or so, and it’s generally taken less seriously – a fun thing you do with friends or at a carnival, although there are certainly those who place great importance on a good reading.

But for people from Japan to China to Thailand to India, divination is very much a part of daily life, and is often taken into consideration when making important decisions. Let’s have a quick look into some of the more popular methods that you might come across when traveling.

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Mongolia - Home of the Khans

Genghis Khan and Mongolia are synonymous. Few country’s name and their former leader are known by so many yet visited by so few. This is a rugged land with rugged people who share a rich history, firmly rooted in tradition yet racing towards all that the modern world has to offer. Its capital Ulaanbaatar (UB), temperature-wise, is the coldest on earth, the countryside has little arable farmland, and it’s the second largest landlocked country in the world (Kazakhstan is first), making it a challenging place to survive in, let alone prosper. Perhaps this is part of the reason why more than half of Mongolia’s three million residents have moved to the capital, making it a rapidly changing city with a kaleidoscope of people, colors and flavors.

Ulaanbaatar’s name alone is exotic and far-flung enough to warrant a visit, and once there you will understand what being at the edge of the Earth is like. Tourists rarely visit in any substantial numbers and you might find yourself as a bit of an attraction. Most famous for its fearsome leader Genghis Khan (also spelled Chingis/Chinghis Khaan) who formed one of the largest empires the world has ever seen, you can see firsthand the type of harsh, barren landscape that shaped a legendary, brutal leader. Born Temujin, likely in 1162, he conquered most of modern day China, further south to what is now Vietnam, ventured in to parts of Myanmar and west all the way to eastern Europe and the Middle East before dying in 1227 and passing power to his son. Delving in to Genghis’ history and the legend should be an integral part of a visit and it’s easy to do, as images and info are everywhere. There’s even an Irish Pub bearing his name!

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Big City Transit: Singapore

You’re never far from where you want to be in Singapore – and that’s just one more reason to love the local transit system. You can wheel around in a trishaw or board a bumboat to cruise the Singapore River and admire the skyline. For pure transit needs in this world-class city, you’ll find everything you need between the MRT, taxis and buses. And as with so many things in Singapore, you can expect that the infrastructure is going to be well-organized and spotlessly clean.

Residents and long-term visitors carry an EZ-Link stored value card, which covers both the MRT and bus networks and eliminates those awkward scrounging-for-change-in-your-pocket moments. If you’re just in the city for a few days, pick up a Singapore Tourist Pass for a few bucks per day and enjoy unlimited access to the MRT and buses. 

Read on for a breakdown of Singapore’s transit system:

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Oct312013 wins Lonely Planet Traveller Award for Best Booking Service in Thailand

It’s been a good week in the offices. We are very honored to announce that we were named as the Best Booking Service in Thailand at the recent Lonely Planet Traveller Destination Awards 2013.

The event, which was held in Bangkok, Thailand, was presented by Lonely Planet Traveller, a branch of the award winning monthly magazine for those who are curious about the world.

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The other side of Koh Phangan 

Poor Koh Phangan – all you ever really hear about are its full moon parties. This is largely the work of the island itself, which is constantly trumpeting full moon and half-moon and black moon events, and ignoring all the other great things to do there. True, the full moon party is a huge draw for the island, but it's just one tiny aspect of Phangan.

In fact, Phangan is as idyllic a destination as any other Thai island. It shares the same topography as neighboring Samui – the same powdery sand, clear turquoise water, rainforest jungles, waterfalls, mountain lookouts, coral reefs, and secluded bays and coves. On the cultural side, there are Buddhist temples, meditation and yoga retreats, art enclaves, Muay Thai camps and an international array of restaurants. It diverges from the better-known islands in that it leans more towards the bohemian, and is overall more relaxed and affordable than, say, Phuket or Samui.

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All Aboard - Trans-Siberian Railway

The words ‘Trans-Siberian Railway’ conjure up images of far-flung landscapes, exotic adventures and romantic isolation. Featured in countless books and movies, many intrepid travelers consider it a must-do on their global conquest list. Famous for being the longest single railway line in the world, it’s an impressive network that connects Russia’s capital Moscow and the country’s far eastern reaches at Vladivostok, some 9,289km away. It also links with other lines heading further afield to northeastern Russia, Mongolia, China and even North Korea. While the journey is indeed one for the ages, some careful consideration and planning are required to ensure it’s fun and memorable.

While locals use the train to travel portions of the line, most tourists start their journey in either Beijing or Moscow, traveling between the two capital cities, typically with a couple stops along the way to break things up. This route covers two lines, the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian, and comes in at a whopping 8,861km, taking seven days in a single stretch, which is not advisable. Being on the train itself is an exercise in passive exploration and a very different journey for those not accustomed to long trips by rail.

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Getting to Know Moscow

Not so long ago Moscow was the iron heart of a mysterious nation under lock and key. Outsiders were limited to classic Cold War rhetoric and images on TV, usually featuring grey buildings, people waiting in lines for staples like bread and tanks plying the Kremlin’s laneways showcasing military might. Fast-forward a couple decades and Russia’s capital is bustling with energy, firmly capitalist, home to Europe’s tallest building and remarkably friendly.

Yet it’s hard not to think about Moscow’s communist past as you explore this city of 15-million, as many buildings and monuments still bear images of the famous hammer and sickle or people harvesting crops and hoisting flags in victory. But there’s also a polish, shine, new coat of paint, both literally and figuratively, that brings the city’s overall mood in to the modern global community and era. This is a city well worth devoting a few days to discovering.

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A Look at a Few of Europe’s Favorite Dishes

Much like movies or cars or music, there is no “one best” food that pleases everyone. Some like spicy, some like mild, some prefer a fine t-bone steak while others would prefer to avoid meat entirely. Every country or culture has its own specialties and favorites, and as fans of travel, thinks that trying the local dishes is the best – and tastiest – way to learn a bit more about the country you’re in. Here are a few of Europe’s most-loved and popular foods, and the country they hail from.


Almost every restaurant in the Balkan Peninsula serves Shopska Salad, which gets its name from the Shopluk region where Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia meet. The story goes that it was created in the 1950’s  as a unique dish to offer visitors and place Bulgaria on the culinary map, much like Italian gelato or Chinese dumplings have done. The recipe is quite simple: chop up tomatoes, cucumber, onion, peppers and parsley, add oil and a few dashes of salt or pepper, and top it off with a healthy dose of grated briny sirene cheese. Splash a bit of vinegar on there if you want a stronger taste.

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Hotels of Note: The Manila Hotel

The Philippines is comprised of over 7,000 islands, which is a staggering amount of choice if you are an island lover. The most logical place to start a trip to the Philippines is the capital of Manila. Most international flights arrive here, and from Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport you can get to everywhere else. But before rushing off to those idyllic islands you may want to consider checking out the capital, and if you do you shouldn’t miss the majestic Manila Hotel.

Hotel History

The 570-room Manila Hotel opened in 1912, making it the oldest luxury hotel in the Philippines. It was a part of the plan to rebuild Manila when the US took over the Philippines from Spain in 1898, which included wide boulevards, stately buildings and elegant architecture. The grand design of the Manila Hotel matched this ambition well, and it was decided to place it next to Rizal Park.

The hotel was occupied by Japanese troops during World War II – that is, until American and Philippine forces launched the offensive that became the catastrophic Battle of Manila. Despite most of the city being destroyed, the hotel survived mostly intact. It returned to business after the war, and was expanded in 1976.

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