Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Best Hotel With Traditional Ethnic Identity

The Hotel With the Best Traditional Ethnic Identity is the delightful Misiliana Hotel in Toraja, Indonesia. Nestled in the scenic Toraja Highlands of Sulawesi, this enchanting resort was built nearly four decades ago in authentic traditional Torajan style. It is staffed entirely by local tribal-folk, and everything here is genuinely native, from the ethnic Tongkonan architecture to the local village-style layout of the resort. Even the food served here is truly local – while the comprehensive menu encompasses both Western and Torajan dishes, the chefs are local people and both vegetables and fish come fresh from the ponds and organic farm-plots within this extensive resort itself! The family is the primary social structure in Torajan society. Each village is one extended family, the seat of which is the traditional Tongkonan house with its distinctive large boat-shaped roof. The elders of each household maintain village unity and nurture its traditions. In keeping with these ancient traditions, the Misiliana Hotel is family-owned and the daily management is presided over by the clan matriarch, her daughter and son-in-law. While maintaining international standards and practices in running the hotel, the family integrates the unique Torajan Christian faith and ancient local culture into administrative matters such as staff-relations, property maintenance and finance. Management cannot get more ethnic than this!
What really enchanted us was how this familial tradition creates a natural warmth and hospitality within Misiliana. Every guest is treated as a friend of the family, and the staff greet you with a mixture of professional deference and spontaneous cheerfulness. From humble gardener to regal matriarch, they are really glad you came! Inside the picturesque two-storied Tongkonan houses, each of the 96 rooms at this 3-star property has a terrace and all the mod-cons one could wish for. The lush 8-hectare grounds include lovely landscaped gardens, two attractive swimming pools, jogging tracks, a kiddies’ fishing pond, vegetable gardens, tennis courts, a fitness centre and idyllic farm ponds with quiet ‘thinking spots’. Add majestic mountains for a scenic backdrop, and you have one of our favourite hotels in the world!

All pix by Andrew Ponnampalam!

The Tales On The Tails

Dogs do it, foxes do it and the peacock does it too! But commercial aircraft do it all the time! Holding the tail proudly upright is the integral identity of every self-respecting aircraft, but commercial planes seem to do it with the most gaudy abandon. The aircraft come in various colours and designs, but they almost always carry the logo of the airline on their erect tail-fins. Some of these logos look familiar and some are amusing, while others can be downright weird and mystifying! It can be fun tracing the tales told by these tails. I was flipping through my name-card holder the other day, and came across numerous interesting airline emblems.

Birds are the most common symbol chosen by airlines for their logo. Some, like Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Air Macau, Ukraine International, Shangdong Airlines of China and Amber Air of Lithuania have highly-stylised graphic avian depictions while many others opt for more recognizable presentations. China Eastern has a swallow in flight, while its partner China Yunnan has the lovely peacock found in that province. .China Xinhua has what looks like a dove just taking off, but the graphic depiction is clever because it also resembles a hand waving in greeting. Xiamen Airlines has a graceful crane in flight, while the former Xinjiang Airlines had its bird symbol elegantly flying past a crescent moon to denote its Islamic identity.

Air Niugini of Papua New Guinea and Air Paradise of Bali both share the exotic Bird-Of-Paradise, while Cebu Pacific carries a stylised head of the Philippine Eagle. The flag-carriers of island nations such as Air Mauritius and Air Seychelles have a long-winged seabird that can stay in flight over the sea for months at a time. Condor of Germany, Air Merlin Eurojet of Essex and Kingfisher Airlines of India simply carry the birds they are named for although the German carrier’s logo could also be interpreted as an aeroplane. By contrast, the Indian carrier dispensed with any graphic design and opted for a full-colour photo-realistic illustration of a Common Kingfisher. Another airline with a realistic illustration of a bird as its logo is Highland Airways of Scotland which carries the local eagle.

The most unique bird-logo in the airline world must surely belong to Thailand’s Nok Air, which simply shows a cartoon version of a duck’s beak! I haven’t figured out the meaning, but it really looks cute – and different.
Many airlines opt for mythical birds and beasts such as the griffin and the phoenix. Egypt Air, PB Air of Thailand, Myanmar Airways International, Austria’s Styrian Spirit, and Garuda Indonesia are examples of airlines whose aircraft tail-fins bear creatures of their local legends. In this category, dragons are a favourite, especially in Asia. Apart from the obviously-named Dragonair of Hongkong, the former First Cambodia Airlines and Druk Air of Bhutan are among those who sport the dragon on their livery. Yangon Airways is the only airline I know of that actually depicts a flying elephant! Ironically, there isn’t a single Jumbo Jet in their fleet.

Animals are also featured quite regularly on the tails of commercial aircraft. Quantas has the Kangaroo, Qatar Airways has the Ibex, and Tiger Air of Singapore has a leaping tiger that looks suspiciously like the one on the old Malayan Airways aircraft. The former Vision Air of Borneo had an attractive symbol of a horse, simply because the owner had a passion for horses! People are rarely featured on airline tail-fins, but AeroMexico has a proud-looking Aztec warrior while Hawaiian Airlines has a winsome wahine with flowers in her hair.

Plants are another favourite choice for airline emblems, and the most famous of these could be AerLingus with the legendary Irish four-leaf clover in an evocative shade of green. In a similar vein, Air Canada carries the national emblem of a maple leaf. Tourism-focussed companies Atlantic Express Airlines and Andaman Airlines both show a palm-tree by the seaside. Vietnam Airlines has a golden lotus-flower while Lao Airlines carries a charming depiction of a local flower, too. China Airlines of Taiwan has a full-colour representation of the cherry blossom, an auspicious spring flower throughout the Orient.

American companies might think the world is their oyster, judging from the popularity of the globe on their carriers. Both the iconic Pan American World Airlines (PanAm) and Trans World Airlines (TWA) had depictions of the globe, but they both went bankrupt. Today, Continental Airlines proudly presents a strong globe logo on its aircraft tail-fins, and we wish it a much more prosperous future than its former competitors.

National flag-carriers such as Royal Brunei Airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines carry very formal and intricate national crests. Unusual airline emblems include Oman Air’s traditional and lethal-looking dagger, the Maltese Cross of Air Malta, Philippines Airline’s cheerful sunburst, Mandala Airlines of Indonesia’s prayer-wheel, and in sharp contrast, the garish word “Virgin” by all the carriers in the Virgin group. If you have ever visited the eastern state of Kelantan in Malaysia and watched the graceful giant traditional kites called wau in action, you would really appreciate the unique identity of Malaysia Airlines – the only airline I know of that carries a kite on its aircraft tail-fins. Now, you can actually tell someone to “go fly a kite!”

Pix by oneworld and SkyTeam

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Best Hotel Architectural Theme


The Hotel With The Best Architectural Theme we are impressed with is the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark. Designed in 1956 by the famed architect and furniture designer Arne Jacobsen, this 20-storey cubist edifice was one of the first skyscrapers in that part of Europe, and stands today as an immaculately-preserved monument to his passion for perfection in proportion. The seemingly outdated exterior hides an exquisite gem of interior design, style and spartan elegance. Often called “The World’s First Designer Hotel”, this establishment has the master’s touch in everything from the architecture and interior design right down to taps, door-knobs, and even textiles. Two of Arne Jacobsen’s most famous icons, The Swan and The Egg chairs, were actually designed especially for this hotel, and many of his innovations here have been copied throughout the world in the past half-century. In the extensive renovations undertaken in 2000, great care was taken to preserve the master’s work, and room 606 was kept exactly as Arne Jacobsen left it, right down to the curtains and bathroom tiles.
Pix By Royal SAS Hotel

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Best Hotel Art Collection

The Hotel With The Best Art Collection we like is the quaint Hotel Santo Domingo in Madrid, Spain. Eclectic, unpredictable and personal, this collection of the owner is placed in every nook and cranny of this lovely old building. In meeting rooms, along corridors, beside liftsand on stairways, fine art reaches out to the astonished guest. Magnificent masterpieces by Old Masters and renown Spanish painters such as Esquivel, Madrazo, Ravestein, Balaca and Palmaroli share space with startling avant-garde work by modern painters; andexquisite sculptures vie for the eye with lovingly-maintained 16th century furniture. At times garish and at times breathtakingly beautiful, this display of antiques, artefacts and art through the ages made for an unforgettable stay in 2002. Often referred to as “The Museum You Can Stay At”, this hotel is tucked away in the quiet Plaza Santo Domingo, near historic landmarks such as the Royal Place and the Opera House. It is also a strategic place from which to access Madrid’s great museums and art houses.Pix by Hotel Santo Domingo

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Best Airport For Inter-Departmental Cooperation


The Airport With The Best Inter-Departmental Cooperation we like is the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. Getting the various government departments, security agencies and airport divisions to work as one cohesive administration is the hardest facet of airport management; but what remains a pipe-dream in most places has become a practical reality in this award-winning facility. KLIA has been named Best Airport In The World in its class more than once, and has won awards for various other achievements, including being environmentally-friendly, going wi-fi, and even for having the best airport cigar-shop in the world – but there simply isn’t an award for effective management of synergy between the various government departments such as customs, immigration, police, airport security, fire brigade, labour ministry and civil aviation. The closest there is to an award comes from the International Commercial Aviation Organisation that lauded KLIA in its 2006 Audit Report, stating that “at KLIA there are a number of positive aspects that have led to a higher level of security”, and proceeded to extol “the cooperation among organisations responsible for implementing the security measures”. As an avid airport-watcher, I must say that the cooperation and seamless communication between the various departments at KLIA is an outstanding model for the rest of the world to emulate.
Pix by Malaysia Airports

The Best Airport With Unexpected Potential

The Airport With The Best Unexpected Potential is Keflavik in Iceland. For a country known more for its remote location and desolate dramatic landscapes, Iceland has a surprisingly excellent international airport. The design, especially at night, reminds one of crystal-clear ice-cubes – singularly appropriate for this unspoilt land where water can be drunk from the glacier-fed streams and waterfalls. The Icelandic people are not especially friendly or effusively welcoming, but they are most efficient and helpful; and Keflavik Airport reflects this in its operations and ambience.
The Icelandair Business Lounge has a similar character – its design is stylish and efficient, and its amenities meticulously comprehensive. Generally, Keflavik Airport is very well-run, stylish and effective – qualities airlines look for in an air-hub. And this is where Keflavik has unexpected potential – it would make an excellent major air-hub between North America and Europe. Just four hours from the USA and three hours to Europe, Keflavik is ideally located for future growth in trans-Atlantic traffic, so watch this facility that won the IATA/ACI award for World’s Best Airport In Its Class in 2005.

Pix by ulalume on Flickr
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The Best Hotel In The World For Staff Spirit


The Hotel With The Best Staff Spirit we found was Plantation Bay on Mactan Island Cebu, Philippines. This 7-hectare tropical lagoon resort was created to replicate the hospitality and spirit of the great old plantation houses, where guests were received with great honour and courtesy. Indeed, there was something exceptional in the spirit with which we were hosted. It was something soft,subtle and soothing; a gentle and evocative happiness in the way the staff related to guests that was both indefinable yet distinctly different.The pleasant professional courtesy aside, there was a meticulous care and commitment to the welfare of guests that was somehow special. Intrigued, we prevailed on the owner to share his secret,which he did very reluctantly. His hand-picked staff-members were all graduates of nursingschool before he moulded them into hospitality charmers! What an innovative, effective idea! One wonders if the take-over by international hotel chains has ruined the magic we found in 1998…..

The Best Airport For Local Identity & Architecture

The Airport With The Best Architectural Theme we like is the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia. In an aviation world of glitzy look-alike steel-and-glass edifices sprouting up everywhere, it is refreshing to be welcomed by the local hospitality of a decidedly ethnic-looking airport. Soekarno-Hatta has no pretensions of grandeur, but a down-to-earth friendly Indonesian design. Walls are of clean white concrete with brown pillars that aptly represent traditional wood-carving so typical of the Indonesian lifestyle. The halls and walkways are relatively low, again fairly typical of local residences. There are touches of classical Indonesian handicraft on the wall panels and even at each set of wall-mounted phone-booths.
It is an old-fashioned, slightly weather-beaten and oddly comfortable gateway to the great Indonesian archipelago. My favourite features at Soekarno-Hatta are the lovely small, neatly-manicured gardens outside every departure hall – each a placid little oasis of restful green. From the air, the main terminal of this airport looks decidedly like an Indonesian resort – an apt and evocative symbol of this nation’s great potential for tourism growth.
As the Indonesian economy grows and the tourism industry flourishes, Soekarno-Hatta International Airport will see expansion, renovation and refurbishment. It is my fervent hope that the authorities have the wisdom and vision to preserve this airport's distinctive Indonesian character and uniquely local architectural identity for decades to come. If they do so, it will ensure that Indonesia will have one of the most distinctive international airports in the world, with a truly Indonesia heritage and identity.
Pix by Luc Citrinot

The Best Airlines With Local Flavour

The Airlines With The Best Local Flavour are sadly gone or going fast, swept away by this millennium’s mad dash towards bigger companies and cheaper operations. We were captivated by the cheerfulness and local pride that was evinced by the dirndl-dressed cabin crew of the former Tyrolean Airlines of Innsbruck in Austria. Tyrolean identity permeated this carrier in the costumes, culture and customer-service, making a great tourism product. The management and staff of this delightful little airline were all cheerfully local, and the essence of Tirol was there whenever you dealt with them. They fought hard against being dissolved into the impersonal flow of a international aviation conglomerate, but corporate efficiency and cost-effectiveness won out. Today, only the memories remain….
Another outstanding airline in this category was the amazing Xinjiang Airlines from the north-western reaches of China. It captured the stunning contrasts that are typical of this great and ageless nation. Xinjiang Airlines guarded ancient traditions with fierce devotion yet was justifiably proud of its ultra-modern technology and equipment. It was 100% Chinese and 100% Muslim, a combination that seems practically impossible; yet something the airline embodied with considerable panache’ and admirable efficiency. Facets of the airline like corporate livery and management personnel seemed indistinguishable from the numerous Chinese airlines existing at that time, but in areas such as operational procedures and in-flight catering the airline proved to be more conservatively Muslim than most well-known flag-carriers of Islamic nations today. It would have been a uniquely effective instrument with which to capture the affluent billion-dollar Islamic tourism market, but once again, an exceptional local carrier has been lost within the cavernous recesses of an international aviation conglomerate.
Local Flavour in Airlines seems to be going out of style in these days of cost-cutting and mergers, but we will continue to keep looking.....
Pix by airliners.net

Friday, 4 October 2013

The Best Asian Discovery












It sprawls across Asia in a glittering geographical garland of 17,500 beautiful islands that stretch from sophisticated Singapore in the north to sun-baked Australia in the south. It is a crucible of the oldest religions and cultures in human history; with Hindu, Buddhist and Christian traditions enduring amidst the largest Muslim and animist communities in the world – yet its government is decidedly secular and its thriving business-world fully materialistic. Its 250 million people belong to 350 different ethnic groups and speak 530 unique languages, yet are remarkably united in national identity. The character of this amazing nation is grounded in local community, yet its outlook is increasingly global. It is a gorgeous cornucopia of colourful cultures, creeds, cuisine and crafts, and it welcomes the world with wide-open arms. This is Indonesia - The Best Asian Discovery for travel and leisure.











In a crowded and competitive travel-industry, what makes Indonesia stand out? First of all, the nation’s sheer size and strategic location ensure that ancient cultures and traditional crafts thrive in our modern technological world. Modern houses have intricate ethnic d├ęcor, and high-powered deals are finalised by tycoons in traditional batik shirts. Sleek imported sedans vie for traffic-space with horse-drawn carts, and satellite-dishes relay telecasts of ancient dramas in authentic detail. In Indonesia, culture is alive and handicraft is part of daily life. Secondly, the fact that most of the islands in this vast archipelago were relatively remote from each other in ancient times results in art, architecture, culture and cuisine being very different from place to place. This gives Indonesia a powerful ‘pull-factor’ in tourism: it is an excellent destination for repeat visits.

Indonesia is probably the world’s last great ecotourism frontier, with its varied geography and unimaginable biodiversity. Try figuring out 28,000 known species of local flowers! From the giant Rafflesia that can weigh over 10 kg, to exquisite tiny orchids as rare and as precious as any gem, Indonesia is a flowering paradise of seductive scents and sensations. Bird-watchers from all over the world fly here to spot as many of the 1500 native species that they can, mindful of the fact that Indonesia has more endemic species than any other country on the planet. There are also over 3500 species of wild animals, from ferocious carnivores like the terrifying Komodo Dragons and the mysterious Sumatran Tiger to furry friends like the appealing little Slow Loris and the gentle and intelligent Orang Utan. And still on the topic of ecotourism, we haven’t even begun to describe the underwater wonders awaiting discovery in some of the most varied and spectacular dive-sites ever known!
There are enough websites and publications that extol every detail of this great nation's tourism attractions. At answers!, however, one special quality stands out here - and this is the warmth and love of the Indonesian people. From the most luxurious international hotel to the humblest native dwelling, hospitality in Indonesia is spontaneous and thoroughly sincere. The harried street-hawker hustling in a traffic jam, the musical Batak troubador at your dining-table, the busy village mother with child on her waist, the tattooed tribseman in his jungle domain, the multi-lingual European-educated boutique owner, the tired farmer trailing his buffalo home across the ricefields - every single Indonesian you meet will give you a smile and a beaming welcome. The hospitality and friendships that await the visitor can only be experienced personally - and that, alone, should be reason enough for YOU to head for Indonesia, the Best Asian Discovery in travel!


(All pix by answers! unless otherwise stated)

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Best Commercial Aircraft








When the idea for this aeroplane was conceived in August 1965, it seemed an impossible dream. Some experts said it could not be built, while others said that even if one was ever built, it would simply be too big to fly. Yet just three years later in September 1968, the first production model was completed. It had to be seen to be believed. The body of this aircraft stretched out almost a full city-block; the cockpit perched 30 feet above the ground, the tail towered six storeys high - and most awesome of all, it had a maximum take-off weight of 735,000 lbs or 333,400 kg. This gargantuan creation was the Boeing 747 - the world's first wide-bodied aircraft, also called The Jumbo Jet. It looked majestic - but could it fly? How would such an enormous mass ever break free of the earth's gravity and soar into the sky?
From its birth, the Boeing 747 incorporated new technology that made the dreams of designers a practical engineering reality. Intimidating terminology such as High Bypass Turbofan Engines, Fault Tree Analysis, Widebody Design and Three-Segment Slotted Flaps were introduced, and soon became normal bywords in aircraft-engineering. In February 1969, the huge Boeing 747 made its maiden flight, and in January 1970 the first commercial flight of the Jumbo Jet took off from New York to London. The first 25 planes were bought by Pan American World Airways, and other airlines quickly queued-up to order this flying behemoth.

Once again, the naysayers were out in force, saying that just a couple of hundred units would be built before the Jumbo Jet was made obsolete by the new supersonic aircraft. Once again, the Boeing 747 proved them wrong. Now, nearly fifty years after the first production model was rolled out, about 1500 units have been built, with perhaps a hundred more on order. answers! has selected the Boeing 747 as The Best Commercial Aircraft for several reasons.

First of all, the sheer audacity of its concept and the swiftness with which it was made a reality changed attitudes in aviation-engineering forever. We estimate that it has carried over 2 billion passengers, making it one of the most popular commercial aircraft models of all time. Decades before the idea of Low Cost Carriers even germinated, the Boeing 747 had made air-travel affordable and accessible to millions of first-time air-travellers. Its long-range, large capacity and economic viability transformed the development of air-routes all around the globe. The 747-400 is one of the fastest commercial airplanes, reaching up to Mach 0.85; and with up to 550 seats the Jumbo Jet has been the highest-capacity aircraft for almost four decades. It is also the most recognisable commercial aeroplane in the world with its distinctive and much-loved frontal hump. The Boeing 747 is also one of the most versatile aircraft ever built, being equally effective as a cargo freighter, presidential transport, private luxury jet and even spacecraft carrier.














Most of all, we believe that the Boeing 747 will eventually become the longest-enduring aircraft model ever built, with variants flying our skies more than half-a-century after its first pioneering flight. Slim supersonic beauties have come and gone, and mega-planes are lumbering over the horizon. Computer-control has become commonplace and smaller, sleeker planes are zipping across the air-lanes. But the trusty Jumbo Jet will continue to fly for decades to come, carrying generations that are yet to be!

(Pix by FlyKonstantin, Science and Society Picture Library, the Widebody Aircraft Parade, Antoon's Foobar,etc)