Saturday, 9 March 2019

The Biggest Waterfalls In The World

Waterfalls always make for spectacular tourist-attractions, exciting the senses with a combination of breathtaking sight, overpowering sound, exhilarating spray, impressive vibration, and often a unique potpourri of scents.

From the towering Angel Falls in Venezuela with an uninterrupted height of 979 metres (3,212 ft) to the broad 10783-metre (35,376 ft) span of the Khone Falls on the border between Laos and Cambodia, waterfalls have always amazed mankind since the dawn of time.
Whether you are at remote cataracts like Dyanjandi in Iceland or at crowded sightseeing favourites like the Niagara Falls on the USA/Canada border, you will be spellbound by the majesty and power of natural cascades. From the shocking deep-red Blood Falls in Antarctica to the brilliant multi-coloured hues of Colombia’s Caño Cristales Rapids and the eye-catching rainbows dancing about a myriad other waterfalls around the world, colours are part of the attraction when water tumbles from one level to another.

Our choice of the best waterfalls in the world are also the largest. The Victoria Falls that straddle the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia are the biggest singular waterfall in the world, with a width of 1.7 kilometres, a height of 108 metres, and an average flow of a massive 1 million litres of water per second!
On our visit to Zimbabwe, we learnt that these impressive waterfalls are most commonly known as “mosi-oa-tunya” or “the smoke that thunders”. Since ancient times, this tremendous natural phenomenon has been located from miles away by the perpetual cloud of spray and the deep rumble of its cascading torrent. Considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site, two-thirds of Victoria Falls lie within Zimbabwe, which also has the most vantage points.
For a variety of reasons, much of the Victoria Falls National Park has been left in its natural state, apart from broad cemented paths and a large Interpretive Centre at the entrance.  While families with small children need to be aware of the ‘wilderness environment’ awaiting them, we find that the lush natural habitat adds to the allure and adventure of the experience at Victoria Falls, the Largest Waterfalls In The World!

(Photographs by Andrew Ponnampalam)

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

The Oldest Airline In The World

It was established in 1919, a full century ago – and is still operating under its original name! Set up at a time when horse carriages were the most common mode of transport in Europe and ox-carts reigned supreme in Asia, Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij is the oldest airline in the world.

KLM, as it usually known, literally means Royal Aviation Company in Dutch, with its ‘Royal’ designation granted that year by Queen Wilhelmina. The usual English translation is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.  As the national airline of The Netherlands, KLM pioneered several milestones in the early days of aviation.

From the very start, Asia was in its sights. In 1924, the first KLM plane departed for Batavia, the capital city of what was then the Dutch colony of Indonesia.  The journey to the metropolis now called Jakarta took weeks to complete. This route became part of KLM's regular scheduled service in 1929; and for more than a decade it remained the longest scheduled air-route in the world.

Along its way on that pioneering flight, the national flag-carrier of the Netherlands stopped in what was then known as Malaya; probably shocking the locals who could not imagine a machine flying in from the sky! KLM became one of the first airlines to have scheduled commercial flights into the country, and continues till this day to operate daily flights into Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of modern Malaysia.

In 1934, KLM reached the Americas for the first time, crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Curacao, an island in the Dutch Caribbean region off the coast of Venezuela. In 1946, KLM became the first European airline to start scheduled trans-Atlantic flights to New York. Today, the airline has direct flights from Schiphol to over 30 destinations across the Americas.    
As a modern and efficient airline of the 21st Century, KLM operates more than 168 planes to 165 destinations, including about 50 aircraft used for its Cityhopper regional operations. Its hub is at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Apart from Cityhopper, KLM has interests in several other airlines, including Kenya Airways, Martinair and Transavia. It employs about 31,000 people in the Netherlands, and nearly 4000 more in about 500 locations around the globe - the human dynamics of KLM - The Oldest Airline in The World!

                                                                                                      (Pix copyright unknown/KLM.)

Monday, 28 January 2019

The Best Hotel Buffet

What we regard as the best hotel buffet in the world has also been described as the longest, though there are now several other claimants to the record in length. All we know is that it takes 10 to 15 minutes just to walk from beginning to end of the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, USA.
Having personally sampled the buffet at over a thousand hotels around the world, we believe the Bacchanal Buffet is deliciously distinctive both in quantity and quality.
In terms of quantity, there are literally hundreds of daily offerings spread out over 25,000 square feet, with something for everyone, including the most enthusiastic eat-all-you-can aficionado. The variety ranges from strictly healthy items like the Acai Breakfast Bowl, fibre-rich salads, gluten-free options and freshly-squeezed juices to decadent diet-destroying delights at the centre-island dessert bar – and seemingly everything in-between!
Apart from classic American fare, there are also offerings from the eight other ‘show kitchens’ namely Mexican, Italian, Seafood, Pizza, Deli, Desserts, Japanese and Chinese. Guests from South and South-East Asia will be delighted to discover the sumptuous seafood laksa and curry dishes evocative of the mouth-watering traditions of India, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Our personal favourites must be the outstanding Cantonese selections of dim sum, noodles and stir-fry dishes – probably the best we have tasted anywhere in the entire USA, if not in Europe as well. Tucked away at the very end of the buffet-table, they awaited us every morning with authentic Cantonese-style serveware, including bowls, chopsticks and even toothpicks! Cantonese-speaking guests from Southern Chinese provinces like Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong and Guangxi, as well as the global Nanyang diaspora will feel very much at home with this section of the buffet. Interestingly , Japanese guests were also enthusiastic in their affirmation that the food in the Japanese station was authentic and decidedly “oishi”!
Overall, the quality of the Bacchanal Buffet would satisfy the most demanding gourmand.  Ranked “Number One Buffet in the country” by the New York Post, it has also won accolades from publications as diverse as USA Today, Thrillist, Food Beast and Travel+Leisure. From the much-lauded crab-legs and delectable oysters to the luxurious Wagyu beef and dry-rubbed smoked spare-ribs, to the garden-fresh vegetables and the impressive choices in sauces, we found an attention to detail and a passion for perfection that belies its gargantuan size.
It is these finer qualities that led us to dub the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace as the Best Hotel Buffet in the world!

(Photographs Copyright of Trip Advisor)

Thursday, 6 December 2018

The Best South Asian Birding Destination

The vast region of South Asia is a paradise for ecotourists, and birdwatchers in particular have a field day. From the giddy heights of northern Nepal to the scenic south of Sri Lanka, and from Pakistan in the west to the east of Bangladesh there are rich ecotourism destinations with bird-species galore.
In India alone, there are world-class bird-watching destinations in numerous states, but our particular favourite is a relatively unheralded triumph of local government and community-led conservation efforts at the very southern tip of India.
To us, The Best South Asian Birding Destination is the Suchindram Kulam Wetlands in Tamil Nadu.
We have chosen this hidden treasure for several reasons.
First is its unique location. As part of the Suchindram-Theroor-Manakudy Conservation Reserve, this area underlies the southernmost continental range of the Central Asian Flyway. About two-thirds of Kanyakumari District consists of lowland plains dotted with over 2000 freshwater kulam or ponds. 
The second is its rich biodiversity. Although it has a few small mammals such as flying squirrels, giant fruit-bats, macaques, otters and the rare Malabar Giant Squirrel, this Conservation Reserve has an impressive array of plant-life, ranging from towering mangrove trees to over 110 species of tiny aquatic flowering plants. Its large variety of aquatic vegetation includes water-lilies, lotus, floating-hearts,  water-plantains, arrowheads, cat-tail reeds and other water-plants that attract birdlife. 
The main attraction of the Conservation Reserve, of course, is its variety of birdlife. About 250 bird-species have been recorded in the district, including both migrants and residents.  4 species are relatively rare or threatened, while another 12 are endemic. A few tall trees and bushes on a central island have become a natural safe roosting-place for breeding birds such a Black-headed Ibis, Spot-billed Pelicans and Painted Storks, forming a precious ecosystem that has flourished since the area was officially designated a Conservation Reserve.
However, what stunned us on our visit to Suchindram Kulam was the sheer quantity of birdlifeThere were literally hundreds of waterbirds, large and small, crowding the wetlands. It was a stunning sight. We were informed that birds such as Greater Flamingo, Northern Pintails, Common Teals, Spotbill Ducks, Bronze-winged Jacanas, Whiskered Terns, Little Terns, Black-Winged Stilts and Pheasant-tailed Jacanas have been recorded in the greater Conservation Reserve, while species such as Gargeneys, Pintails, Ruffs, Reaves, Coots and Little Stints have sometimes been recorded in their thousands.    
What specially inspired us about Suchindram Kulam however, was the splendid community-led effort that led to its conservation. In 1988, local resident  and renown ornithologist Dr. Robert B. Grubh of nearby Nagercoil initiated a proposal for the conservation and management of Suchindram-Theroor-Manakudy wetland complex in cooperation with global organisations such as Birdlife International , The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Wild Bird Society of Japan, the World Resources Institute, and the United States Agency for International Development.
Although some traditional fisherfolk and farmers had initial misgivings, the majority were eventually won over by the passionate efforts of a large number of local people ranging from schoolchildren and undergraduates to village-folk and pensioners who were engaged in wetlands conservation.  Community workshops, local television broadcasts, field-demonstrations, press-coverage, school-programmes, and intense personal efforts were utilised in the local languages to raise conservation-awareness.  
Most importantly, visionary local government leaders swung into action. The Tamil Nadu Forest Department, District Collectors, the Public Works Department, Village Panchayats (Councils) and other local and regional government entities have supported the conservation efforts. The synergy of local people and government in effective conservation is exemplary!  
The practical benefits of nurturing the area’s rich local natural heritage are now being realised, and today the Tamil Nadu Tourism blogspot has a prominent feature on the Suchindram-Theroor-Manakudy Conservation Reserve  – showcasing this exquisite ecotourism gem to the world. What a source of pride for the state of Tamil Nadu!   
If the Tamil Nadu Forest Department continues its serious efforts to protect this area while providing visitor-friendly amenities such as tourism-information kiosks, car-parks, public toilets and well-managed nature-trails, we believe that Suchindram Kulam and the rest of the Suchindram-Theroor-Manakudy Conservation Reserve could continue to be The Best South Asian Birding Destination for generations to come!  

 (All photographs by Dr. Robert B.Grubh)

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

The Best Airport-Lounge Company

For nearly a century of commercial aviation, Airport Lounges were exclusive cocoons that individual airlines provided for their elite passengers flying First and Business Class. In that milieu, front-end passengers paying top-dollar for exclusivity and luxury in the air could enjoy similar benefits at airports before their flights, provided by the airline they were travelling with.

Then, just before the new Millennium, came a former global banker and erstwhile entrepreneur. Once a frequent-flyer on business trips, Hong Kong-based businessman Hoi-see Song chafed at not being able to access the privileges and conveniences at Business Lounges for a variety of reasons.

“For one thing, in some countries many airlines did not provide Airport Lounges for passengers on short-haul or domestic routes.  For another, most airlines simply could not provide an Airport Lounge at an airport where they did not have a sufficient number of flights to justify the significant investment involved. As air-travel became more and more a necessity, many affluent air-travellers found that they could not enjoy the benefits of an Airport Lounge simply because they were flying Economy Class due to corporate policy or governmental regulations”,  Song recalls wryly.

“Personally, I did not mind dining at the excellent variety of restaurants at most airports, but I did miss the convenience of being able to have a bite while accessing Internet and Wi-Fi facilities as well as the business-requirements of that time such as printers, fax-machines,  telephones, meeting-rooms and even the ability to have a refreshing hot shower in one convenient location at an airport. Airport Lounges also provided helpful staff and a conducive environment to relax, think or get work done, depending on my needs or mood at any particular time.”                                              Thinking out of the box, Hoi-see Song came up with the innovative idea of Pay-Per-Use Airport Lounges  that would cater to all air-travellers . This immediately empowered airlines of all sizes to provide a full-service Airport Lounge for their elite front-end passengers, practically anywhere in the world! Credit-card companies also found that, for the first time, they could extend executive facilities at airports to their members in a savvy move which met the evolving lifestyles of their target markets. Thus was born the Plaza Premium Lounge – a facility now found at airports all over the world, and a concept being emulated by a host of me-too players. 
Headquartered in Hong Kong, the Plaza Premium Group provides premium airport services to nearly 14 million passengers a year in over 160 airport-locations across the world. The Group has grown to provide four core airport-services:- Airport Lounges, Airport Transit Hotels, Airport Meet & Greet Services and Airport Dining.

With its corporate commitment to make the airport experience exceptional for all travellers by going beyond expectations. the pioneering Plaza Premium Group is our obvious choice for The Best Airport-Lounge Company in the world!

(Photographs by Plaza Premium Group)

Friday, 19 October 2018

The Best Public Park

Public Parks are often regarded as mundane necessities of urban planning, but in some cities, a public park has become a beloved landmark and a destination in itself, enhancing the city in which it is situated.

Some well-known public parks in major global cities have matured into classics of greenery, rest and recreation like Regent’s Park in London and New York’s Central Park.  In this category, we like 400-hectare King’s Park in Perth, Australia, which is a serene and scenic mixture of landscaped parkland, fascinating botanical gardens and wild, untamed natural bushland. Gorgeous views of the Swan River and glistening city skyline add to the charm of one of the largest inner-city parks in the world.

Other public parks have become iconic for the people and programmes that bring a unique buzz of zing and zest! Our favourite in this category is Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park on weekends, when an amazing number of subcultures and countercultures manifest in different parts of the park. From classic-car buffs and proud owners of dressed-up dogs to Elvis impersonators and sinister-looking Goths, to small chamber orchestras, bopping break-dancers and hyperactive clowns, people transform Yoyogi into a must-see destination.

Our choice of the World’s Best Public Park, however, is one of its newest and probably most unlikely in location. This is the Gathering Place Community Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A daring vision, coupled with years of planning, generous donations and active input from the local community have transformed 100 acres of scenic waterfront along the lovely Arkansas River into an innovative, unconventional and thoroughly delightful interactive environment.
Opened in September 2018, the Gathering Place is fast-becoming a magnet far beyond the immediate vicinity of Tulsa. We predict that this stunning and ever-evolving experience will become a major tourism attraction, transforming the image of this unprepossessing city – which, by the way, also has some of the most fascinating, educational and child-friendly museums/libraries/interpretive-centres in the world.
Friends with children tell us that their offspring have gleefully reported no less than eleven different slides in various parts of the park as well as an amazing mirror-maze, “old-looking holes in walls you can climb through and real musical-instruments hanging in the air”(sic), plus details of a fantastical Fairyland Forest that kept them talking excitedly for weeks afterwards. They ain’t seen nothing yet! The reality at the Gathering Place actually transcends imagination – seriously.
The Land Of The River Giants, Spiral Connector, Chapman Adventure Playground, Skywalk Forest, Volcanoville, Ramble Sensory Garden, Cottonwood Lawn, Charlie’s Water-Mountain, Picnic Grove, Oneok Boathouse, Williams Lodge, Yvette’s Global Rainbow, Peggy’s Pond and The Reading Tree are just come of the wonderful attractions, all entirely free!
What ‘sealed the deal’ for us are the caring touches for the less fortunate. Visitors with disabilities are delighted to discover thoughtful features that include dedicated parking-lots and toilets, Ultra ADA Pads, braille signs, wheelchair-accessible dining counters and specially-designed seating throughout the Gathering Place.  All park entrances, pathways, bridges, lawns and gardens as well as some drinking-fountains are disabled-accessible.  The food-items sold here include vegan and allergy-friendly options. The Management also invites guests on the autism spectrum to use spaces provided in the Gathering Place to overcome sensory anxieties.
Foodies and hungry guests find “exciting eating opportunities” at The Patio, Redbud Café, Vista@The Boathouse, and a constantly-changing array of food-trucks, kiosks and food-carts. Add the pretty scenery around the Gathering Place, top up everything with a regular stream of imaginative and absorbing events and activities, and you have a really outstanding destination that we believe is the World’s Best Public Park!
Photographs: ©Alex S. Maclean, ©Shane Bevel Photography, ©Gathering Place

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The Best Airport Train

When it first began operations in April 2002, it raised mixed emotions with its odd-looking snub nose that belied its superfast speeds of up to 160 kmh.  Now on track to welcome its 100 millionth passenger, it has in the 17 years between, won regional and global accolades as the undisputed World’s Best Airport Rail Link.
This is the modest-looking Express Rail Link (ERL) that connects Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur to its international airport in just 28 minutes. 
For most of its existence, ERL used German train-sets from Siemens AG, but in recent years it has added several new train-sets from CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles Company of China.
Regardless of the nature of the equipment, the ride on the fastest trains in Southeast Asia seems consistently swift, smooth and seamless. With an enviable claimed record of 99.7% on-time performance and excellent standards of customer-service, Express Rail Link is now being called in as consultants to other rail projects around the world.
We particularly like its complimentary porter service where purple-liveried porters assist you with your luggage, transfers and check-in. This helpful porter service also includes complimentary wheelchairs and assistance for aged or infirm travellers. For a small fee, a porter will accompany you for the entire ride, and usher you into or from an exclusive limousine that comes with the package. 

Another feature we like about the iconic Express Rail Link is its commitment to the environment. Its operations have been certified ISO14001:2015 compliant for environmental management, and Express Rail Link says it helps save 44,800 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year, taking 5.3 million cars off the roads in that period.
Add the extra convenience of city check-in for participating airlines at its KL-CAT terminal, and we fully agree that Express Rail Link deserves its kudos as the World’s Best Airport Train!