International Adventure Guide 2013: Singapore

Contrary to popular belief, Singapore offers more than just skyscrapers and street food. In the last few years, the Asian city-state has transformed itself into a premiere destination for adventure and nature lovers. Singapore doesn’t just have gardens; it is a city within a garden. Plus, its tropical climate makes it the perfect place to indulge in outdoor pursuits year round.

What does this mean for adventure travelers? The unique opportunity to indulge in world-class adventures from the comfort of one of the world’s most well ordered cities. Care to go under the sea? Reef diving is available just 30 minutes off the coast. Looking to be airborne? Try zip-lining on Sentosa Island.

For Singaporeans, active pursuits aren’t just a luxury; they are seen as crucial for a higher quality of life. As a result, the city has invested heavily in outdoor attractions in recent years. Last year saw the opening of Gardens By The Bay, a horticultural theme park with futuristic “supertrees” and conservatories. And this year, the team behind the popular Singapore Zoo and Night Safari will unveil River Safari, Asia’s first river-themed wildlife park featuring recreated habitats from the Yangtze to the Congo to the Mighty Mississippi. Also in 2013, Singapore will host the World Street Food Congress, with celebrity chefs and foodies from around the globe – an adventure of a different variety, but an adventure nonetheless.

Adventure Activities

Hiking: Westerners tend to view Singapore as more of a concrete jungle than an actual one. But the truth is, Singapore contains miles upon miles of lush greenery, some of which is primary old-growth rainforest. One of the largest patches is in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, a .6-square-mile national park that contains 40 percent of Singapore’s flora and fauna. Trails range from easy to moderately difficult, and most can be completed in less than two hours. Or, get a bird’s-eye view of the rainforest from the TreeTop Walk, a 820-foot freestanding suspension bridge connecting the two highest points in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Hiking there and back is a moderate to difficult 3.7-mile trek that can be completed in two to three hours. For a less intense hiking experience, try the Rainforest Walking Trail at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which features 314 species of flora and fauna, 80% of which are rare or endangered. The 0.37-mile walk can easily be completed in 30 to 40 minutes. Admission to all parks is free.

Water Sports: It’s easy to forget that Singapore is an island, with miles of beaches and dozens of water sports up for grabs. The People’s Association Water-Venture is a good place to start, with reasonably priced courses and rentals in water sports like sailing, kayaking, power boating, sea rafting, windsurfing and dragon boating. There are nine outlets throughout the island. For diving enthusiasts, Pulau Hantu boasts bright corals and colorful wildlife, despite being just a 30-minute boat ride from the coast. The Dive Company offers one-day dive trips to Pulau Hantu starting at S$95 (US$76). Or, try something completely different at SKI360, Singapore’s first cable-ski park. This relatively new water sport uses a cable system to pull water skiers and wakeboarders around a man-made lagoon. Ski passes from S$32 (US$25).

Adrenaline Activities: Singapore has no shortage of ways to get your heart racing and adrenaline pumping. Thrill seekers flock to the Gmax Reverse Bungy, an attraction on Clarke Quay that propels riders into the sky at speeds of up to 200 km/hr (124 mph). If that’s too tame for you, try the recently opened GX-5 Xtreme Swing, which catapults riders 100 meters across the Singapore River. Each ride costs S$49 (US$39), or you can do both for S$60 (US$48). If you prefer diving downward, try iFly Singapore, a large indoor wind tunnel that simulates the skydiving experience. First-timers can give it a try from S$69 (US$55) for two dives. There’s also the MegaZip Adventure Park, with an aerial rope course, free-fall simulator and some of the most extreme zip lines in Asia. Admission from S$35 (US$28) per person.

Hotspots

Sentosa Island: This hedonistic resort is a veritable playground for adventure travelers. Whether your poison is extreme segwayingzorbing” or more traditional pursuits like swimming and lying on the beach, you’ll find it on Sentosa. Visitors can get to the island by foot over the recently opened Sentosa Boardwalk, by cable car or by public transportation. http://www.sentosa.com.sg/en

Gardens By The Bay: Opened last year, this expansive attraction is more a theme park for plant lovers than a simple botanical garden. Indeed, the more futuristic elements of Gardens By The Bay warrant comparisons to the movie “Avatar”: towering 16-story “supertrees,” gravity-defying suspended walkways, a Flower Dome conservatory simulating the Mediterranean and a Cloud Forest conservatory with a 35-meter “mountain” covered in rare vegetation. The outside gardens are open to the public, while entrance to the two conservatories will cost foreign visitors S$28 (US$22). http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg

Pulau Ubin: Singapore’s man-made adventure attractions are certainly impressive, but sometimes they can feel a bit too … “Singapore.” In less-developed Pulau Ubin island, a quick 15-minute bumboat ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal, the pace is slower and the vegetation more unruly. Once there, you can hike the island’s extensive system of nature trails, rent mountain bikes or just sit on the beach and take a breather from the frenetic energy of the mainland. There’s just enough activity to make for the perfect low-key day trip. http://www.pulauubin.com.sg

Hotels

Wanderlust: The Wanderlust hotel in Little India is intended for the “madcap voyager.” Designed by Singapore’s top design agencies, Wanderlust’s 29 themed rooms are bright, clean and funky. Adventurers will love sleeping under the faux branches of the whimsical “Tree” suite; as a writer, I’m personally obsessed with the industrial-themed “Typewriter” suite. From S$161 (US$129). http://wanderlusthotel.com 2 Dickson Road, Little India

Siloso Beach Resort: One of the more budget-friendly options on Sentosa Island, Siloso Beach Resort is a beachfront eco-resort surrounded by vegetation, wildlife and the longest spring water landscape pool in Singapore. Splurge on the Glass Loft “Tree House,” with floor-to-ceiling windows that make you feel like you’re in the middle of the jungle – despite the fact that you’re minutes from the madness of Sentosa. From S$180 (US$144). http://www.silosobeachresort.com 51 Imbiah Walk, Sentosa

Celestial Ubin Beach Resort: The only hotel on Pulau Ubin, the newly reopened Celestial Ubin Beach Resort is euphemistically described as “rustic.” In reality, standard rooms are small, dingy and not quite worth the price tag. The real treasures are the villas, which are situated right on the almost-private beach and can sleep up to five people. Standards from S$168 (US$134); villas from S$299 (US$240). http://ubinbeach.celestialresort.com 8V Pulau Ubin

Logistics

Seasonality: Peak tourist season is from December to June, and budget travelers can find less crowds and lower prices in the off-peak months of July and August. Temperatures are pretty consistent throughout the year, with a daily average of 81 degrees Fahrenheit. Expect cooler temperatures during the Northeast Monsoon season from November to mid-March, with the heaviest rains falling between November and January.

Safety: Singapore is one of the safest cities in Asia, thanks to strict punishment for minor offenses like chewing gum, jaywalking, forgetting to flush a public toilet, walking around your own house naked and even connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot. While some of the laws may seem pretty absurd by Western standards, their result is a country that is incredibly safe and orderly.

Get Around: Singapore’s Changi International Airport is one of the best in the region, if not the world. Transportation options to downtown are plentiful, with a range of public transport, shuttle and taxi services. The best way to get around Singapore is by its extensive public transportation system. Choose between the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), which connects the busiest parts of the island, and the bus system, which covers everywhere else. The fare depends on the distance traveled; be sure to pick up an EZ-Link tap-and-go stored value pass, which works on all forms of public transport. Singapore Public Transport also offers a handy PDF guide for tourists. Metered taxis are a relatively affordable option too; fares start at S$3 (US$2.40) with S$0.22 (US$0.18) charged for every 400 meters thereafter.

[Flickr Photo via digitalpimp]

Adventure Guide 2013: Portland, Oregon


“Portlandia” might lead you to believe that Portland is home only to tattooed baristas with the occasional mustache, but it’s also an epicenter for outdoor activity; every Portlander has his or her activity of choice, and with so many outdoor activities easily accessible, it isn’t difficult to get a taste of the attitude that keeps this city alive. Nearby Sauvie Island is popular with cyclists who like long rides through rolling farmland. The hikers and trail runners flock to Forest Park, home to over 70 miles of trail and the 30.2-mile Wildwood Trail. Water enthusiasts head to Hood River and the White Salmon area out in the Columbia Gorge, but there is also plenty of kayaking to be had in and around the city center.

Portland is always abuzz with new activities, new bike tours and an outdoor event to attend. Mount Hood Skibowl recently opened up the ski area’s new 500-foot zipline, and you can even ride it in the winter. Mountain bike enthusiasts will want to check out the new Lumberyard Bike Park, an indoor bike park with plenty of technical riding trails fit for all skill levels. If you’re more into road riding, Velo Cult is the current stomping grounds for cyclists that like a good night out – it’s a bike shop, bar and venue, and there is quite frequently an event of interest being held. And of course if you’re hell-bent on combining one of Portland’s other favorite pastimes – beer drinking – with your adventures, Brewvana offers the occasional “Boards and Beer” tour, which features a day on the mountain followed by a sampling of local brews.

Whatever your activity of choice is, Portland probably has it. Just make sure to do it with an Americano in hand.

Hotels

Inn at Northrup Station: Located in Northwest Portland, you’re within easy reach of the trails of Forest Park. All of the suites feature fully equipped kitchens, which means that even though you’re paying more than you would at some of the city’s budget hotels, it’s easy to prep your own breakfast and lunches to go before you head off for a day outside. From $139. 2025 NW Northrup Street, www.northrupstreetstation.com

Jupiter Hotel: A converted motor inn, the Jupiter Hotel is a funky boutique hotel that caters to those truly looking to take part in the Portland vibe. The adjacent Doug Fir Lounge, where you can get a $8 plate of eggs, hash browns and bacon for breakfast and then move onto the all day cocktail menu, feels like a space age log cabin, and is a popular hangout because it also houses a live music venue that attracts big names. They also have onsite bike rental as well as ZipCars, so you can either spin around town on two wheels or get out for the day to more adventurous spots like the coast or Mount Hood. From $79/night. 800 East Burnside, www.jupiterhotel.com

Oregon State Park Yurts: Yes, it rains in the Pacific Northwest, but that certainly doesn’t stop people in Portland from getting out of town and into the outdoors on weekends. Many of Oregon’s State Parks have yurts available for rent, even pet-friendly ones. If you’re headed to Portland for an extended stay, this is a fun and budget-friendly option that lets you explore Oregon’s outdoor spaces with the comfort of a warm bed. Cabins from $24/night, yurts from $35/night. Oregon State Park Yurst and Rustic Cabins.

Eat and Drink

Food Carts: Here’s the thing about Portland: you don’t have to look far to find a food cart. Local favorites include The Cultured Caveman (think hipsters on paleo diets) and The Honey Pot (sweet and savory hand pies, yes, please!). Note, however, that the Portland food cart scene is constantly changing and a good resource for keeping up on it is Food Carts Portland. If you’re in need of some food cart encouragement, you can also download the Portland food cart board game that the local newspaper, the Oregonian, put together. One word of advice: before you do any food cart scouting check out the detailed map – there are often over 475 food carts in operation at one time, you will want to plan ahead.

Base Camp Brewing: It would only make sense that in a city like Portland, adventure and beer would come together. Opened with the outdoor enthusiast in mind, Base Camp Brewing in Southeast Portland makes beer, as they call it “for the adventure-minded palate.” The interior looks just like the name would have you believe, and you’ll even find a canoe hanging from the ceiling. High-octane beers after a day outside? How Portland of you. 930 SE Oak Street, www.basecampbrewingco.com

Luc Lac: In between a morning of hiking in Forest Park and an afternoon on a Portland bridge tour by bike, hit up Luc Lac for lunch. A Vietnamese phrase that means “in movement,” it’s the perfect lunch or happy hour spot for the traveler that wants a delicious yet budget-friendly meal in a good Portland atmosphere. The vermicelli bowls are an excellent deal because of the amount of food to price ratio, and at happy hour you can sample a variety of $2 small plates. 835 SW 2nd Ave, http://luclackitchen.com/


Get outside

Kayak: Make your way to the Kayak School at Next Adventure Paddle Sports Center, which offers a variety of kayaking trips, as well as introduction, whitewater and sea kayaking classes. If you want a more urban trip, try the Ross Island tour, which will get you a good view of downtown Portland from the water. To escape the sounds of the city, check out the trip to Sauvie Island, an island just north of town and predominantly filled with farmland and wildlife refuge.

Hut Trip: In the summer at nearby Mt. Hood National Forest, Cascade Huts offers self-guided, multi-day mountain biking trips. They maintain a system of huts, which means you bike single-track and arrive at your backcountry abode, fully stocked with supplies. In the winter they do the same for snowshoers and cross-country skiers. For a multi-day trip in the cold of winter, you can’t go wrong with a warm mountain hut. http://www.cascadehuts.com/

Bike: You can’t visit Portland and not get on a bicycle. If you’re visiting in June be sure to check out Pedalpalooza, a three week long extravaganza of bike events, including the popular Naked Bike Ride and lots of organized rides themed around popular Portland pastimes like whiskey drinking. The city is currently working on getting a bike share program up and running, but until that happens there are a handful of good rental options around town. Portland Bike Tours (which can get you on a single speed so you can feel like a real Portlander) and Pedal Bike Tours can set you up as well as recommend preferred routes and tour options, like the Lava Tour, which takes you to Portland’s extinct volcano, Mt. Tabor. The Portland Bureau of Transportation has a collection of helpful maps when it comes to bike routes.

Get Around

If biking isn’t up your alley, the extensive network of public transportation will serve you well. Getting from the airport into Portland is easy thanks to the MAX light rail system, which gets you downtown in about half an hour – a $2.50 ticket is valid for two hours. Buy books of tickets in advance on Trimet’s website or at the Portland Visitor Information Center located in Pioneer Square downtown. Google Transit will help in planning your route (its recommended bike routes are also good) or you can also use the Trimet website or the Trimet smartphone app. ZipCar is also a great option if you want to get out of town for a few hours.

Adventure Tip

Any Portlander will tell you that an active afternoon should always be followed up with a beer. With over 70 brewpubs and microbrews, it would be inexcusable to not drink a locally made craft beer. Recently published “Hop in the Saddle” is an excellent resource for the beer and bike lover, offering up maps to bikeable craft beer routes, well suited to anyone that wants a taste of true Portland culture. Rent a bike and go. http://www.hopinthesaddle.com/


[Photo credit: Flickr user samgrover (top) and p medved]

Adventure Guide 2013: Lexington

Often referred to as the Horse Capital of the World, Lexington, Kentucky, lures in visitors for its horses, yes, but also for the incomparable surrounding landscape and the adventures that await within. The city itself is historic – it was founded in 1775 when it was still a part of the state of Virginia. Lexington was booming and cosmopolitan by 1820, and it impresses to this day.

With gentle hills and the surrounding Bluegrass Region, much of Lexington stands erect on limestone, which births the famous poa pratensis grass, more commonly known as bluegrass, and helps to carve the world-renowned caves of Kentucky below. Travelers in Lexington enjoy the Kentucky River, a thriving landscape cushioning the city, abounding horse farms and enough bourbon for everyone. Since Lexington was named the fourth best city for “Businesses and Careers” by Forbes in 2011 and sixth in “Best Value Cities” in 2011 by Kiplinger, the city is expanding with the adventure community in tow. Before it gets too big, visit Lexington with a certainty that you’ll experience the charming downtown area and the unscathed natural beauty that made the city grand.

Hotels

Gratz Park Inn: Centrally located and more charming than your run-of-the-mill corporate chain, Gratz Park Inn gives you easy access to vibrant Lexington and just a short drive from the countryside. In true bed-and-breakfast style, the rooms and suites are all decorated tastefully but differently, yielding a unique experience for each guest. One of the packages at Gratz Park Inn includes a picnic in the park, which you can follow up with a bike ride through the trails of Lexington. From $179.
gratzparkinn.com 120 West 2nd Street

Essence of The Bluegrass: This elegant bed-and-breakfast hides within a large brick house in the country outside of Lexington’s center. A double-grand staircase hovers over a grand player piano – the whole place is grand. Just minutes away are some of the best bourbon distilleries and the Kentucky Horse Park, where you can spend the day riding. From $149.
essenceofthebluegrass.com 343 Mt Horeb Pike

Three Tress Campground: If you’re looking for an accommodations adventure and would rather sleep beneath the stars than a ceiling, check out the Three Trees Campground. Just 16 miles southeast of Lexington, this campground is just across the road from Fort Boonesborough State Park. Three Trees offers canoeing and kayaking, primitive sites, water and showers. The campground is beautifully situated along the Kentucky River. From $28.
threetreeskayak.com 300 Athens Boonsboro Road

Eat and Drink

Sahara Mediterranean Cuisine: For a Mediterranean food adventure, check out the lauded Sahara Mediterranean Cuisine, where well-executed staples are served at an affordable price. Grab stuffed grape leaves, falafel or Tabooli to start and finish off with lamb, beef or chicken sandwiches ($5) or dinner plates ($11). Whatever you get from Sahara will be good, but be sure you can get it when you want by checking the restaurant’s hours before you go (they’re closed on Sundays and open 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. all other days while hours in December vary). Stop in on your way south out of town toward the deepest lake in Kentucky, Herrington Lake.
sahara-lex.com 3061 Fieldstone Way, Suite #1200

Ramsey’s Diner: If you want southern food done right during your stay in Lexington, make sure to visit Ramsey’s Diner. The unsuspecting white building on the corner serves up dishes on mismatched plates in a room that will make you feel like you’re grabbing a bite to eat in your uncle’s house – the uncle who hangs American flags indoors. Whether you want the Catfish Sandwich, BBQ, Country Fried Pork Chops or one of the most decent selections of vegetarian options you could ask for at a comfort food joint, this is the place for you. Have a meal before or after spending the morning or afternoon at Jacobson Park fishing or kayaking.
ramseysdiners.com 500 East High Street

Bourbon n’ Toulouse: You can’t visit Lexington without exploring the area’s bourbon culture. Make a plan to have a meal at Bourbon n’ Toulouse and indulge in some great Creole/Cajon food while you’re sipping your whiskey. Jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish and other southern favorites help complete a menu here that also offers gluten-free and vegetarian options. Since the restaurant is located near downtown, dine before you dash off beyond the city center for fun.
bntlexington.com 829 East Euclid Avenue

Adventure Activities

Red River Gorge: Just about an hour outside of Lexington is the Daniel Boone National Forest, which features infinite opportunities for adventure. Red River Gorge, which lies within the park, is a canyon system known for its phenomenal climbs. The area offers sandstone cliffs, natural bridges, rock shelters and waterfalls, ranging in difficulties from the casual to the professional. Zip-lining and hiking are also available within the RRG. Meanwhile, the forest offers hiking, camping, boating and various water activities. redrivergorge.com

Herrington Lake: Whether you’re looking for a place to fish, wakeboard, waterski, tube or boat, Herrington Lake is a perfect day trip. Herrington Lake is the deepest lake in the state of Kentucky, and it’s also just 25 miles outside of Lexington. If you like to golf, try the Peninsula Golf Resort or if you just want to play in and near the water, there are several marinas near the Peninsula Golf Resort for entry. kentuckytourism.com/lakes_rivers/herrington-lake/12/

McConnell Springs Park: Home of the county’s only known sinking springs, McConnell Springs Park is a 26-acre lush and well-preserved natural area within Lexington. Spend the day exploring the trails that run through the park or participating in one of the many educational and community-centric events that take place at McConnell. mcconnellsprings.org 416 Rebmann Lane

Get Around

Fly into the Blue Grass Airport and get into Lexington’s downtown area by renting a car, taking a taxi or hopping on a LexTran bus, which offers express transportation from the airport to downtown. There’s a curbside designated pickup waiting area for the bus right outside of the Blue Grass Airport – follow the signs. You can also utilize the LexTran buses while navigating your way around town, and Google transit integrates well with the network. A $3 day pass will give you unlimited rides for the day. You can also rent a bike from Scheller’s Fitness & Cycles downtown for as low as $29 per day.

Adventure Tip

There are great biking trails running through Lexington and the county, but Legacy Trail is one of the most notable. The 12-mile trail runs from downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park. Other than crossing the busy Newtown Pike, you don’t have to worry about traffic while on this trail, but make sure you take note of this intersection before you begin your journey.

[Photo credit: J.M. Giordano]