Singapore – The Asian Hotspot

Singapore Chinatown street scene with old shophouses and Chinese New Year decorations. Crowds of people gathering for Chinese New Year carnival.

Home to glistening skyscrapers, wide open green spaces, historic temples and world-class restaurants, this cosmopolitan city has it all. Just seven hours from Dubai you will find this Asian hotspot offering an unforgettable shopping experience. From the minute you step off the plane into the luxury Changi International airport you will want to flex your credit card to enjoy complimentary lounge access upon arrival for you and a guest. Once settled into the hotel, the first stop must be a walk down the legendary Orchard Road which will awaken your retail senses with row upon row of malls packed with on-trend brands and catwalk couture. Indulge in retail therapy to your heart’s content and use a credit card that has no fees on overseas spend to pay for your purchases. The Bugis Street Market has an array of books and jewellery you won’t find anywhere else in the world, or hunt down unusual antiques and Chinese delicacies in Chinatown.

• Best for: Retail therapy

• Explore: The Botanical Gardens and Gardens by the Bay

Maldives – A diving Paradise

The most stunning collection of islands on the planet is just a short trip away from the Middle East, making them a favourite for everyone from honeymooners to large families needing privacy and a bespoke service. The most significant addition of the last 12 months to the array of stunning resorts is St Regis Vollumi Island. Combining stunning architecture, luxury service from morning until night and a truly personal touch, the destination has already earned an incredible reputation. St Regis Vommuli Island is a once in a lifetime trip and is first class when it comes to unforgettable food and beverage – something often overlooked in the Maldives. Finding a decent place to stay can be tough in the Maldives. If you are booking your room at the last minute, here’s a good tip: some credit cards offer 20 per cent off across the year when you book a room via Hotels.com.

• Best for: Sun worshippers’ and diving enthusiasts

• Explore: The beautiful spa and for dinner the five-course degustation and drink pairing menu held in the underground cellar of Decanter restaurant.

Singapore luxury ‘car vending machine’ dispenses Ferraris, Bentleys

A futuristic 15-story showroom in Singapore dubbed the “world’s largest luxury car vending machine,” has opened offering customers million-dollar supercars, including Ferraris, Bentleys, Lamborghinis and Porsches.

The facility built by used car dealer Autobahn Motors (ABM) simulates a “fish-bone” system capable of minimizing wind resistance. About 60 luxury cars are displayed in its illuminated showcase.

Vehicles on offer run from modern luxury sports cars to classics, including a 1955 Morgan Plus 4.

According to the company, customers on the ground floor choose from a touchscreen display which car they want to see. The car arrives within one to two minutes using an advanced vehicle retrieval system.

The vending machine format aims to make efficient use of space in land-scarce Singapore as well as standing out from the competition, said ABM General Manager Gary Hong.

“We needed to meet our requirement of storing a lot of cars. At the same time, we wanted to be creative and innovative,” he told Reuters, adding that developers have shown interest in using the company’s Automotive Inventory Management System for parking services.

US company Carvana also uses vending machine-like towers to sell used cars. In March, it opened an eight-floor facility that holds up to 30 cars in San Antonio, Texas. In total, the company has four locations across the United States, with the first car vending machine opened in late 2015. Carvana customers can drop a coin in the slot and pick up their new purchases at the vending machines or have the cars delivered directly to their door.

Hair therapy boosts Turkey’s receding tourist numbers

On his to-do list for his trip to Istanbul, Palestinian tourist Jameel wants to visit the Blue Mosque and take a tour on the Bosphorus, like any other tourist.

But he has one more, less conventional purpose — to have 1,500 strands of hair implanted one by one, in an increasingly popular anti-hair loss treatment in the Turkish metropolis.

With over 300 clinics specialized in hair transplant alone, Istanbul is becoming a growing hub in the industry, attracting patients from all over the world but mainly from the Middle East and the Gulf.

Experienced surgeons, advanced technology and relatively low prices are a plus for many tourists. And its growth in the last couple of years has come as a boon for a city where foreign tourism has fallen drastically since a spate of terror attacks in 2016.

“I came to Turkey for the hair transplant and a bit of tourism. Turkey has an excellent reputation when it comes to hair implants,” 27-year-old Jameel said, speaking to AFP after the surgery at an Istanbul hospital, on condition of not using his full name.

Faisal Abu Ahmad, from Saudi Arabia, said his uncle underwent the treatment in Turkey and so he followed suit.

“Rapid hair loss pushed me to undergo the operation. I started getting bald spots,” he said.

At the tourist hubs of Istanbul such as Taksim Square, it is hard to miss the men wandering around with shaved heads and bandages after their operations, proudly sporting the branded headbands of their clinics.

They have become so ubiquitous that residents of Istanbul joke that a man with a bandaged head could be the city’s new symbol.

“Prices are very, very attractive. However, the second most critical element is the quality of this treatment,” said Talip Tastemel, the general manager of Clinic Expert.

“Turkey is very advanced in cosmetic surgeries and hair transplantation, so the patients are buying a very high quality treatment at a quarter of the normal cost” in some other countries.

Package offers for foreign patients include pickup from the airport, hotel accommodation, the surgery itself and tourism.

Around 1,200 euros ($1,312) would get a patient three days in Istanbul and a top quality medical treatment, whereas the same surgery could cost up to 6,000 euros in Europe, or only slightly less in the Middle East.

The operation is carried out with Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) where tiny hairs are taken out one by one from areas where the patient still has hair like the nape of the neck.

After the harvesting, they are implanted in the areas where the patient has lost hair. The procedure takes around eight to 10 hours, while the tiny transplanted hairs can take weeks or months to take root and grow.

5,000 foreign patients on monthly basis

Emre Ali Kodan, consultant for the Health Tourism Association, said 5,000 foreign patients undergo hair transplants in Turkey every month, with the vast majority coming from the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

“We are setting our sights on a 10-percent increase in hair transplant alone (in 2017). It would not be a dream to reach up to 6,500 patients a month,” he told AFP.

Patients from Greece, Italy and Russia are also showing interest, he said.

“Despite the decline in the tourism sector in 2016, we see a five-percent growth in health tourism, based on statistics,” Kodan said, adding that the aim was to achieve up to seven billion dollars in revenue this year.

Taştemel said the hair treatment sector was showing a resilience lacking in other branches of the tourism sector, which saw revenues plummet more than 17 percent in the first three months of this year compared to the same period in 2016.

No problem in sector

“Even when there were problems in the tourism industry it didn’t affect the medical tourism domain very much,” he said.

“We kept doing a high number of operations even during the crisis period.”

A pharmacist himself, Jameel said he tried many medicines to stop hair loss but they didn’t work.

“At this age, losing your hair has a big impact on your looks.

“That’s why when you lose it, you start looking for solutions to fix this hair problem,” he said.

Taştemel said men need to be proud of their hair.

“To be honest, men don’t have many accessories to present themselves with. It is mainly our cars, our watches and our hair at the end of the day,” he said.

“We are not able to use make-up.

“The look that we have comes mainly from our hair, so when you lose it, it is like something is taken from you.” Clinic Expert offers a range of cosmetic surgeries but hair transplants are its main business and Taştemel said success rates tended to be good.

“In medicine you cannot guarantee a result, you can expect some failures occasionally, but in hair transplantation this is at the very minimum,” Taştemel said.

“Anybody who does this in a decent clinic with a decent doctor, and a decent technique should expect 100-percent success.”

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – New Mexico

balloonThis yearly festival held during early October is a festival of hot air balloons. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA and is a nine day event, The event is the largest hot air balloon festival with over 750 balloons Once the balloons are let off, they paint the sky with their vibrant colours and hues making it a beautiful sight to look at.

Festival Dates : October 1st to 9th 2016

Songkran Water Festival – Thailand

water festivalWater Festival in Thailand or known as the Songkran Festival is celebrated during the hottest time of the year, during the month of April. People celebrate by throwing water at each other and no one is spared. They use sacred water which symbolizes purification. It cleanses them for the bad things they’ve committed in their past and washed away the bad luck that may paved their way. It is also the time for their love ones and respected elder to show reverence. They also take advantage of this event to do good things and share what they have received for the whole year by visiting the Buddhist temples and monasteries and give endowment to the monks.
Festival Date : April 13th 2017

New Year’s Eve – Sydney Harbor, Australia

fireworksNew Year’s Eve held over Sydney Harbor is an annual multi-tiered event, centering on the Harbor Bridge. There are two pyrotechnic firework displays to be witnessed, the 9pm Family Fireworks and the Midnight Fireworks. It is known to be the best New Year fireworks display in the world and a spectacular scene not to be missed.

Oktoberfest – Munich, Germany

octoberfestFrom its humble start as a wedding party in 1810, Oktoberfest has swept the world to become one of the most recognised party themes. In fact the traditional Bavarian costume of lederhosen and felt hat which has been associated, rightly or wrongly, with the drinking culture of Oktoberfest is now the fastest growing Stag Night themes around. This October festival starts during the second week of September and runs until the end of October. Huge tents are raised with shooting galleries, fairground stalls and side-shows along with all manner of other amusements and activities. More than 6 million people attend this  event and it’s all about beer, beer and only beer served by beautiful waitresses

Event date : Starts on 17th September 2016 

La Tomatina – Spain

La Tomatina is a fun filled festival one cannot miss.  Held in the Valencian town of Buñol, a town located in the East of Spain, it also involves a lot of frolic, dance and of course tomatoes.  Participants throw tomatoes at each other and ride down those tomato-streaked slides having the time of their lives. Be it tomato fights or the enormous water showers that follow, la tomatina is one event that gets you dancing and engaging in unlimited fun. It held on the last Wednesday of August each year.

Festival Date : August 31st, 2016

Holi – India

holi1Holi, the festival of colours as it is popularly known, is a Hindu traditional festival which starts with a Holika bonfire on the night before Holi where people gather, sing and dance. This ancient festival is celebrated by playing with colours where everyone plays, chases and colors each other with dry powder and colored water, with some carrying water guns and colored water-filled balloons for their water fight. Many days or sometimes weeks before the actual Holi-day, people sit together and sing Holi songs in Holi Milans. These are musical soirees or gatherings involving traditional Holi music. The love story of Radha Krishna also features in these songs. Hori are the special type of Holi folk songs which are also sung in these musical get-to-gethers. Although Holi is mostly observed in north India, it’s celebrated with a special enthusiasm at Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandgaon, and Barsnar.

Festival Date : March 13, 2017

Running of The Bulls – Pamplona, Spain

running of the bullsThe Running of the Bulls gives us an insight into the Spanish culture and tradition and is a part of the famous San Fermin festival. Thousands of revellers flock to the square beneath the Casa Consistorial for the mayor to give the official announcement that proceedings have begun and watch bulls and people run through the streets side-by-side. A rocket will go off just after midday and once this has launched the festivities kick-off in full swing, with a parade held to commemorate St Fermin himself. A second rocket signals that all six bulls have been released. The third and fourth rockets are signals that all of the herd has entered the bullring and its corral respectively, marking the end of the event. Every year between 200 and 300 people are injured during this thrilling encounter and  although most injuries are contusions due to falls, these are not considered very serious.

Dates : July 6th – 14th 2016

Burning Man – Black Rock Desert, Nevada

burning manNevada’s Black Rock desert hosts the Burning Man, an annual event when up to 48,000 people gather to create art and express their individuality. It takes its name from the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy, which is set alight on Saturday evening. The event is described as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. People who have gone to Burning Man gatherings claim you need to attend to truly understand.

Event Date :  August 28 – September 5, 2016

Full Moon Party – Haad Rin Beach, Koh Phangan, Thailand

Full-Moon-Party-16Some time ago, a group of tourists found that the most beautiful moon was in Koh Phangan. They arranged a party along the crescent-shaped beach of Haad Rin to celebrate the Full Moon night. From then on, people from all over the world come to join the celebration.And now there are 10,000-30,000 people at the party each month. The party begins at dusk, When the round yellow moon makes its appearance over the white sand beach. In twilight, small tables are lined up on the beach and thousands of lamps are lit.As the evening progresses the beach explodes into a dancing frenzy as different m.c.’s take their furn on the decks. There is something for everyone here, trance, techno, drum and bass, commercial dance and reggae, no-one is disappointed. Jugglers and fire-eaters entertain the crowds as the night goes on and with the brilliant impromptu fireworks display, the party atmosphere is complete. After a few hours it could be time to chill-out for a while, maybe grab a drink or a bite to eat from one of the many beach traders and wade out or sit down in the warm surf of the Gulf of Thailand, pure, pure heaven.

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival-ChinaFestival dates : 05 January-05 February

The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival’ is an annual winter festival that takes place with a theme in Harbin,  China, and now is the largest ice and snow festival in the world. Harbin is located in Northeast China and receives cold winter wind from Siberia. The average temperature in summer is 21.2 °C (70.2 °F), and –16.8 °C (1.8 °F) in winter. Annual lows of -35 °C (–31 °F) are not uncommon.

At first participants in the festival were mainly Chinese, however it has since become an international festival and competition. The festival includes the world’s biggest ice sculptures. Officially, the festival starts on January 5 and lasts one month. However, exhibits often open earlier and stay longer, weather permitting. While ice sculptures are erected throughout the city, there are two main exhibition areas:

Ice and Snow World is an area open at night which features illuminated full size buildings made from blocks of 2–3′ thick ice taken directly from the Songhua River. At first China celebrated it then Harbin took over. During the festival, there are ice lantern park touring activities held in many parks in the city. Winter activities during the festival include Yabuli alpine skiing, winter-swimming in the Songhua River, and the ice-lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden.

Getting there

Harbin is  appropriately 1300 kilometers away from Beijing. Its 2 hours flight from Beijing and  7 hours by high speed train.