Off-Course Airplane Gets Shot At By Cambodian Troops

And most people get jumpy when their flight hits turbulence. Passengers of a Bangkok Airways airplane were in for a unnerving surprise when Cambodian troops opened fire at the them. The airplane was supposed to land in Siem Reap Airport; however, due to bad weather, the plane was forced to fly off course.

The shooting was a misunderstanding, as troops believed the passenger airliner to be a spy plane. This border is where, just last year, deadly clashes over territory had taken place between neighboring countries. Typically, commercial airlines do not fly around the Cambodian border, while Bangkok Airways had been six miles over it.

Luckily, nobody was hurt during the incident.

“It was dark so we could not see what type of plane it was. But it was circling many times and then our soldiers fired 18 shots from a machine gun, but it missed the plane because it was flying very high,” Commander Seng Phearin said.

[Image via Big Stock]

A cultural tour of Burma through tilt-shift timelapse

For those who’ve wondered what local life is like in Burma (Myanmar), “Bonsai Burma” by Berlin filmmaker Joerg Daiber can enlighten you. Using tilt-shift photography, Daiber takes viewers on a cultural tour of the country showing daily life, women working in the hillsides, children playing, hawkers selling goods at the market, and fisherman working for their catch. Furthermore, viewers will be taken through various cities and shown an array of landscapes – mountains, hillsides, rivers, and cities – giving an all-encompassing tour of the country.

Why you should visit Singapore in 2012

There are many reasons Singapore makes a great travel destination, from unique architecture to rich cultural experiences to carefully prepared cuisine. In 2012, the Southeast Asian destination has even more reasons to visit, from exciting new restaurants to the opening of their first river-themed animal park. Here are some reasons to put Singapore on this year’s trip itinerary.

New cultural venues

In February, 2011, the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands opened to the public as the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. First there is the architecture of the building (shown right), which is designed to look like a lotus flower in order to metaphorically welcome guests from all walks of life. The museum itself houses more than 50,000 square feet of exhibits for visitors to explore, helping them to better understand the connection between art and science.

The National Art Gallery in Singapore is undergoing a complete renovation and is being relocated to the center of the Civic District. The new visual arts venue will be housed in two adjacent heritage buildings: City Hall and the former Supreme Court building. It will be the largest of its kind in Singapore, and will “focus on the display, appreciation, promotion, research and study of Southeast Asian and Singaporean art, as well as play host to international art exhibitions”. The completed project should be done by the end of the year, and until then travelers can still visit the former National Art Gallery, which features an array of local and cultural works.Luxury shopping

Last September, Singapore unveiled their Louis Vuitton Island Maison to merge luxury shopping with art and architecture. As the brand’s first-ever island maison, the store’s interior is nautically themed and will also introduce cultural elements of the area into the design. Along with selling designer accessories, the venue will also feature a contemporary artwork tunnel as well as a bookstore housing works on art, culture, and design.

Tourists who want to shop should also take a stroll down Orchard Road. While expensive, it is the best in Singapore in terms of quality, choice, and how many shops are centered in one place. Even if you’re short on cash, it’s worth it to visit Orchard Road just to window browse and check out all of the diverse architecture. If you’re on a budget and want to buy something, check out the Far East Plaza, which is on Scotts Road in the Orchard Road District and is home to countless boutique shops and non-chain stores.

Outdoor leisure

In June, 2012, Singapore will be able to welcome visitors to the brand new Gardens by the Bay. The park, which is being constructed to be the “Central Park of Asia”, will encompass 250 acres of land in the Marina Bay District. The project is meant to align with the city’s vision of transforming into a giant garden. Some major attractions include the Heritage Gardens (shown right), the Flower Dome, Dragonfly Lake, Bay East Gardens, and Golden & Silver Gardens.

Asia’s first river-themed animal park

Scheduled to open very soon, River Safari Singapore will be the first river-themed animal park in Asia. Visitors will have the chance to take boat rides and get a close-up encounter with freshwater environments and animals. The goal of the park, which is a project of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, is to educate people on freshwater habitat conservation. Some of the experiences you can have include visiting the Amazon Sunken Forest (shown right) and meeting manatees and arapalmas, riding down the Mekong and seeing Long-tailed Macaques and giant catfish, floating down the sacred healing waters of the Ganges and spying ancient Indian Gharial and narrow-headed turtles, and more.

Unique properties

Last year, Singapore prepared for hotel expansion through many efforts. For instance, the well-known Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort (shown right) underwent a $63 million renovation while new properties like the budget-friendly Ibis Singapore Novena and the luxurious Fullerton Bay Hotel opened their doors to guests.

And, expansions are continuing into this year. In August, 2012, visitors to Singapore will be able to stay at the brand new chic and trendy island resort, W Singapore Sentosa Cove, which will be the W Hotel’s first property in Singapore. Moreover, this year the Pan Pacific Hotel Group will be opening a brand new property that is planned to be one of the most eco-friendly hotel options in Asia, PARKROYAL on Pickering. The venue will feature energy and water regulation, solar-powered landscape lighting, and rainwater harvesting as well as lush skygardens, reflecting pools, and waterfalls. Around the hotel property, the landscape will hold a relaxing, tropical feel.

High quality food

Most people would agree that the number one reason to visit Singapore is the food. Even international food expert Anthony Bourdain has toted Singapore as being the most “foodie destination” in the world and has said that once you’ve had the food there “you can’t go back to the way you were before”. One excellent way to get a taste of the street food culture in Singapore, which is high-quality and authentic, is at a Hawker Centre. Here you will be able to sample an array of local cuisines that have undergone careful preparation, like Laksa (shown right), Beef Rendang, and Hainanese Chicken Rice for a good price.

Sinapore also has some excellent new restaurants that have just opened up. To help you experience the hawker food culture even further, there is The Food Republic Beer Garden. Here you can choose from 18 different push-cart stalls offering street food as well as experience live music until 1AM. What’s also great about this place is it’s housed in an old Tiger Beer lowry making it great choice for beer lovers and oenophiles.

There are also L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Joël Robuchon Restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa, both opened by Michelin star chef Joël Robuchon. The two restaurants are the chef’s first venture in Southeast Asia and give guests the opportunity to sample two unique fine-dining menus at the same resort.

[images via ArtScience Museum, Schristia, Gardens by the Bay, River Safari, Shangri-La Sentosa, Diane Bondareff]

10 tips for doing a homestay

Doing a homestay in another country is a great way to get to know the culture from a first-hand perspective. By living with a family, you get to see how a local’s daily life is, from what they eat, to how to they dress, to what their before-bed ritual is. With such a unique opportunity being given to you, it’s important to get the most out of the experience while also being respectful. To help, here are some tips on how to enjoy a successful homestay.

Try new foods

When I did a homestay in Ghana, Africa, there were many meals that I was less than thrilled about. As a health-nut, I never would have made fried chicken a normal part of my diet, and eating (or drinking) rice water for breakfast left me less than satisfied. However, instead of getting upset about the food situation think about how much effort your host is putting into making your stay with them pleasant by spending time cooking for you and letting you stay in their home. Thank your host for every meal, even if you don’t like it. And if there’s something you really can’t stomach, find a way to make it edible. With rice water, I learned to add chocolate powder and stir it into the mix. Moreover, to help myself feel better about eating fried foods I began going for morning runs, which also gave me the opportunity to see the village market stalls being set up in the morning, something I usually would have slept through.Dress appropriately

While it may be okay to walk around your own home in your underwear or short shorts, think about how it might make others feel. Nobody wants to feel uncomfortable in their own home, and even if they don’t say it makes them uncomfortable, it probably does, so just make sure to cover up. Also, in certain cultures showing your shoulders and knees is inappropriate, so just be aware of a culture’s etiquette.

Help out

Because this person/family is allowing you to live in their house, it is respectful to help out. That doesn’t just mean doing your dishes and making your bed; offer to do everyone’s dishes, help cook a meal, sweep the floor, or go to town and get groceries. It’s a nice gesture to the host as well as a unique way to learn about the culture and what it’s like to perform an everyday task.

Keep an open mind

While you probably realize the culture is different in terms of what you will be eating, bathroom habits, and house design, there are sometimes more drastic contrasts that you should be prepared for. When I did a homestay in Thailand, I remember at first having a little bit of a hard time getting used to the squat toilets, bucket showers, and always having frogs and lizards in the bathroom with me as I changed my clothes. What really took me off guard was one night when we were having chicken for dinner seeing my host mother literally chop a live chicken’s head off. Of course, you know it happens, but it’s definitely a little off-putting to see it first hand. There were a lot of adjustments for me in Ghana, as well. Once or twice a week, my host would have a prayer group over at 3AM to sing hymns until 6AM, which meant once or twice a week I didn’t get to sleep. While it bothered me at first I began to go watch the group sing and tried to make it into a learning experience. Remember, you won’t be here forever, so try to open yourself up to as many unique learning opportunities as possible.

Be conservative

While this could mean how you dress, it also means in general. While you may be used to taking hour-long hot showers while leaving all of the lights on and scarfing a bag of Doritos at home, you’ve got to remember you’re now living on someone else’s dime. Moreover, it is also possible that the area your homestay is in doesn’t have the natural resources that your home town does, so try to conserve as best as you can. In Achiase, Ghana, the town would turn on the taps for about 3 hours per week, and everyone would rush to fill up as many buckets with water as possible so that we could wash dishes, do laundry, and take bucket showers during the week. While it may not be the easiest thing to get used to, you’ll come to learn that showering and doing laundry every single day isn’t a necessity.

Spend time with the host

Don’t think of your homestay as a budget-friendly alternative to a hotel. Instead, get to know your host and form a relationship. Not only is it more respectful, it’s also very rewarding. It’ll give you the chance to gain a better understanding of life in the city as well as the opportunity to do activities that you may not have otherwise gotten the chance to do. In Ghana, I got the opportunity to attend church with my host mom. While I could have done this on my own, it was a whole different experience going with a local congregation member, and the pastor even had an interpreter sit next to me. I also got the chance to play soccer with the local team in Achiase because I would go running with my host brother in the morning. This was something I never would have been able to do if I had kept to myself, and it gave me a first-hand account of team interactions and sports in the country.

Learn something

The best part about traveling to another country is immersing yourself in the culture and learning everything you can. Partaking in a homestay is a great first step to doing this and the perfect opportunity to learn something. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and interact. If you see your host cooking, ask them what they are making and if you can have the recipe. If you like your host sibling’s clothing, ask them what it’s made of and what the local fashion is like. Help them with their school work and see what they are being taught. Depending on how close you get with the host and what the cultural norms are, you can even learn about more personal topics like community issues, relationships, and gender roles, which leads me to my next point.

Learn cultural norms before you go

If you know that talking about religion or the government is taboo in a culture, don’t ask about it. That being said, I’ve done homestays in places where I was told a topic was off-limits yet became close with a family member and was able to have these touchy conversations; however, I allowed them to bring up the issue. In Ghana, the locals were very open to talking about everything, and would actually take me off guard with the questions they would ask. That being said, I got to learn a lot about dating norms, marriage proposals, government corruption, religious beliefs, diet regimes, and the religious structuring in the schools.

Learning the cultural norms goes farther than what you say; it also includes gestures, clothing styles, and rituals. For example, I researched Thailand before doing my homestay there and learned that it is rude to sit with your feet sticking straight out. This is something I do all of the time at home, especially if I’m eating while sitting on the floor, and was so grateful to have been given this information beforehand as all of our meals were taken on the living room carpet.

Teach something

While you want to learn about the culture from your host family, they are most likely excited to learn more about your culture, as well. Bring photos from home of your friends, family, places you go, foods you like, your neighborhood; anything that you think someone who has never been to your city might want to know about. You can also teach them recipes, games, songs, dances, art skills, and other fun activities that you think might be interesting.

Exchange contact information

After your homestay is complete, you shouldn’t just leave and drop off the face of the Earth. Most likely, you’ve established some kind of connection with these people, and even if you haven’t, they were still nice enough to host you. Once you return home, a follow-up thanking them for their kindness is appropriate. Moreover, if you took photos your host family will probably be interested in seeing them. During both my Thailand and Ghana homestays I was living with families who didn’t own cameras. I took photos of them and their families and the community and mailed them over for them to have for themselves. For both families, it was the first photos they’d ever owned, and both told me that the gift meant a lot.

Exploring the Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang, Laos

While traveling through South East Asia, I had the opportunity to explore myriad temples and religious sites. Wat Po in Bangkok, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, and Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang were all stunning sites of spirituality that I would recommend to other travelers. However, visiting the Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang, Laos, was an extremely unique religious site that left a deep impression on me.

The caves, visible through a jagged opening in the waterside cliff face, are located right on the Mekong River, making the views very scenic. Inside the Pak Ou Caves are hundreds of Buddha statues of all sizes, shapes, and conditions. Most of them are donated by locals, who consider the caves to be a very important spiritual site. What’s really amazing is that locals of all classes have been coming to the site for over 500 years to worship and pray, which is pretty apparent when you notice that some of the statues are literally crumbling apart. While the site has become quite touristy, it is impossible not to feel something while being surrounded by so much visible history and culture.

To get there, you can take a boat from Luang Prabang, which is about 15 miles away. There are two caves, a lower and an upper. If possible bring a flashlight, as it can sometimes be dark and you’ll want to be able to clearly see all of the Buddhas. Expect to pay about $2 to enter.