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Stay off the beaten track
Why stay in a hotel when you can stay in a centuries-old mansion in China or a tower house in London? Travel metasearch site Wego recently launched a search platform called Holiday Rentals (www.wego.com/holidayrentals), where users can find 400,000 alternative options ranging from villas and private homes to houseboats and castles in 15,000 locations worldwide. Some examples include a harbour view twobedroom apartment in Hong Kong for $550 a night and an eight-storey tower house in London for $1,467 a night. Secret Retreats (www.secret-retreats. com) is a new collection of 33 luxury boutique properties in Asian destinations including Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, India and China. The independently owned properties have an average capacity of 20 rooms, while some have just one to three rooms. The hotels include the 19-room Jing’s Residence (left) in a mansion in Ping Yao in central Shanxi province that is a few hundred years old and the Jeeva Beloam Beach Camp (right), which has five traditional huts in a quiet Lombok cove. Launched in March last year, BeMyGuest.sg also features 35,000 locally owned accommodation options around the world. Some interesting ones include a former artist studio in Pangkor, Malaysia, from $537 a night.
PHOTOS: SECRET RETREATS
Get help on your plans
Want suggestions on what to do in Taiwan, Japan and Thailand? Go to Qiito.com, a local website that helps you plan your itinerary to Asian destinations based on recommendations from people who have already been there. The Qiito team provides general write-ups of attractions while users are encouraged to share photos, addresses, reviews and tips on them. Save your picks in your “travelogue”, the Qiito term for an itinerary. The travelogue allows you to plan your daily itinerary, which can also be shared with travel companions through e-mail or Facebook. IT analyst Adrian Chng, 31, who used Qiito to plan his family’s Taiwan trip last month, says the pictures posted by users give a genuine sense of the place. He also discovered new places such as Little Swiss Garden in Cingjing, a farmland in central Taiwan, by checking out what other users had added to their itinerary. “When you search on Google, you need to already have an idea of where you want to go. But with Qiito, you can browse the website to get ideas on where to go,” he says. Similarly, TripAdvisor.com also allows you to see reviews of hotels and attractions by friends and friends of friends when you log in on the website through Facebook. Users say this makes reviews more credible.
thesundaytimes January 20, 2013
PHOTO: LEVI FELIX
Switch off and recharge in a tub at a retreat in California organised by The Digital Detox.
Take a break from technology
Leave your mobile devices switched off even after touchdown. More hotels are expected to offer tech-free holidays to help travellers unplug from the fast-paced digital world, according to the 2012 World Travel Market Global Trends Report compiled by research firm Euromonitor International. There is already an American company that organises digital detox retreats. Participants have to hand over all their digital devices including eBooks, Kindles, iPads, computers, mobile phones, iPods and even watches when they arrive at rustic retreats held by California-based The Digital Detox (thedigitaldetox.org). The company will be holding a sixday digital detox retreat on the Cambodian island of Koh Totang from April 22 to 27. It costs US$800 (S$979) to US$1,250 a person and includes activities, meals, accommodation and transfer from Phnom Penh to the island.
Easy, breezy travel
SundayLife! gives seven tips to make travel easier and better in 2013, from websites that dangle steep discounts on luxe hotels to car-sharing schemes
Hotel flash sale website ImpulseFlyer offers big discounts on luxe hotels in the Asia-Pacific including Bangkok Tree House (left).
PHOTO: THE OPPOSITE HOUSE
The Opposite House iPad app gives you the inside scoop on what to do in Beijing.
The more than 45-yearold Queen Elizabeth 2 (left) may be turned into a luxury hotel in Shanghai or Hong Kong.
Asian home for famed ship
Dubai – After more than four years sitting idle in a Dubai port, the storied passenger liner Queen Elizabeth 2 is bound again for the high seas as part of a deal to convert the vessel into a luxury hotel in Asia, officials said. The precise destination of the QE2 was not announced. But a map noted its planned voyage ending in China, raising speculation of seaports such as Shanghai or Hong Kong. “We promise to take good care of her,” said Mr Daniel Chui, managing director of the Oceanic Group, a Singapore-based maritime company leading the renovation of the vessel into a 500-room hotel. The deal marks the latest twist in the fate of the QE2, which has been docked in Dubai since it was purchased by the state investment company Istithmar World in 2007 for US$100 million at the height of the city’s boom era. In July, plans were announced to keep the vessel in Dubai as a hotel and hub of a seafaring centre. But Dubai’s economic rebound has been spotty and officials have already pledged huge investments into new entertainment and retails projects, including theme parks and a planned mall to outshine the Dubai Mall that is now billed as the world’s largest. It is also another sign of the expanding economic influence of China, which has a fast-growing tourism sector that already includes a host of themed resorts such as a recreation of a Swiss alpine village. There is no firm timetable for the QE2’s journey east. First, it will undergo full checks for seaworthiness in Dubai that could take up to three months, said Mr Khamis Juma Buamin, chairman of the shipyard operator Drydocks World, last week. The interior of the ship has been meticulously maintained since its last voyage in late 2008 and Dubai will retain ownership of the vessel after its conversion to a hotel. Mr Buamin said technicians will now do any needed upgrades to the hull, engine and other systems. He gave no cost estimate, but noted it will be “a lot” to get the more than 45-year-old ship ready for the seas. “Once we are finished with it, she’ll be 18 years old again,” he said. After that, millions will be spent to restore the rest of the ship to its “glory days”, said Mr Chui. The ship’s fate has been the subject of intense speculation since its arrival in Dubai in November 2008. Officials had long avoided addressing questions about its future, even as it sat unused and suggestions swirled that it could be moved to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup or sold for scrap. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II launched the QE2 in 1967. Since it went into service in 1969, the ship has made at least 26 round-the-world voyages. Dubai officials also leave open the possibility that the ship could one day return. “It’s a global ship,” said Mr Buamin. “This ship may come back to Dubai. This is what ships do. Ships have to travel.” Associated Press
Get connected locally
Hotel apps Want to avoid tourist traps and get an authentic feel of a city? Here is how to explore the city like a local: Download the concierge app of the hotel you are staying in. More boutique hotels are offering free concierge apps for smartphones, according to Mr Simon Westcott, managing director of the Asia-Pacific arm of boutique hotel guidebook publisher Mr & Mrs Smith. He says: “You are more likely to find quirkier and unexpected recommendations.” He especially recommends the apps by the Australian QT Hotel and Resorts group (www.qthotels.com.au), which has hotels in Sydney, the Gold Coast and Port Douglas. Guests get the inside scoop on designer sales and exclusive clubs and bars. Other hotels and chains that have recently launched such apps include The Opposite House (www.the oppositehouse.com) in Beijing, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Get The Hunt Guide (www.thehuntguides.com) The Singapore-produced travel guidebook series, which covers cities such as London and Paris, features suggestions on where to eat, shop and more from locals in industries such as fashion, food and the media. Guides to Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne and Amsterdam will be launched this year. Each guidebook costs US$15.95 (S$19.50) from the website. TravelShark, the local start-up which owns Hunt Guide, will also be launching a free location-based Hunt Interactive app in the later half of the year. Travellers will get recommendations to restaurants, bars and attractions in their vicinity, based on personal preferences that they indicate on the app. Triptrotting.com Find like-minded locals at triptrotting.com. Hit the “community” tab, browse through the profiles of locals in the city you are visiting and send them messages to connect with them. Under the “activities” section, find events organised by locals or Triptrotting’s partners such as Urban Adventures, a global company specialising in day tours. Past events held include a salsa night in Los Angeles and a party in Hangzhou. Ms Aigerim Shorman, 26, co-founder of United States-based Triptrotting, says she has not received reports of travellers being harassed at meet-ups and the team communicates weekly with the locals who organise activities.
PHOTO: PASCAL ANZIANI
Keep fit on your trip
Hotels are making it easier for guests to keep up with their exercise routines and not just by offering gyms with state-of- the-art equipment. Forgot your running shoes? Rent a pair and exercise apparel for US$5 ($6) at all 190 Westin Hotels & Resorts properties worldwide. The hotel group teamed up with sportswear brand New Balance to launch the gear-lending programme (http://westinnewbalance. com/gear-lending.php) in November. New York boutique hotel Ink48 (www.ink48.com) also offers guests a Forgot It, We’ve Got It – Runner’s Edition amenity kit, which consists of a running map of the Hudson River, a preloaded iPod Shuffle, a pair of headphones, a sports watch and a running belt with a water bottle. Want a running buddy to show you the scenic jogging trails of the city? Regent Berlin’s (www.regenthotels.com/ EN/Berlin) head of concierge, Mr
Share a car
Need a car for just a few hours to go outlet-mall shopping or sightseeing? Instead of renting a car, share one. In Paris (above), Autolib (www. autolib.eu) is an electric car-sharing service. Users sign up for an account and select from a range of subscription packages (the ¤10 a day plus ¤7 for every half an hour one is recommended for tourists). Insurance is included. You can pick up and drop off the car you have selected at more than 670 Autolib parking stations, which are close to major monuments in Paris. In North America, the United Kingdom, Spain and Austria, there is a similar car-sharing service called Zipcar (www.zipcar.com). Tourists can opt for the Occasional Driving Plan, where you pay a US$60 (S$73) annual fee and rates start from US$8 an hour to US$72 a day. Petrol and insurance are included. Users reserve a car online or via their mobile phone. They are issued a Zipcard, which unlocks the car they have reserved. Once done with the car, they return it to the lot where they picked it up.
PHOTO: BANGKOK TREE HOUSE
PHOTO: REGENT BERLIN
Regent Berlin’s “jogging concierge”, Mr Stephan Mehlhorn (above right), with guests before the Berlin Marathon.
Pay less for high-end hotels
Want steep discounts on luxe hotels in Asia? Sign up for free membership with two local hotel flash sale websites, The Luxe Nomad and ImpulseFlyer. Both websites put up six to 10 hotels for two-week sale periods at 20 to 50 per cent off. The bulk of the hotels are in the Asia-Pacific, though some European hotels are included as well. At Luxe Nomad, hotels have to be in the four- to five-star range to be picked and consist of villas, serviced apartments and chain hotels. Ms Stephanie Chai, 30, founder of Luxe Nomad, says she and her team visit the hotels to make sure “they do not look different from the photos” and that they have a good overall vibe. They also look at customers' feedback online. A similar vetting process is done at ImpulseFlyer and the hotels must have good reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor.com and travel publications such as the Conde Nast Traveler to qualify, says ImpulseFlyer chief executive Steven Gong, 32. Members get perks such as free room upgrades, spa treatments and airport transfers thrown in. Its collection of hotels include the Bangkok Tree House, an eco-chic 12-room boutique hotel along the Chao Phraya River.
Stephan Mehlhorn, 36 – also known as “the jogging concierge” – accompanies guests on runs around the city for free. The route is customised to the guest’s preferences and the service is available at any time of the day. Mr Mehlhorn has jogged with a guest at 6am every day for a week and also did a midnight session along Berlin’s Kurfurstendamm, a long boulevard with shops, cafes and hotels.
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