Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Seoul City Guide

 The city of Seoul, located in South Korea, has something for everyone to enjoy. Considered to be amongst the largest cities in the world, Seoul is one of the largest destinations for travelers and tourists in Korea. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a series of museums, an amusement park, or a hiking trail – you’re bound to find exactly what you’re looking for.

WHEN TO VISIT SEOUL

 


The weather in Seoul varies from extreme to extreme, so you’ll need to think carefully about the type of weather you like and enjoy before you plan your trip. Some say the weather hovers around 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) all year round, but this number is a bit deceiving.

 

Take, for example, the summer months. Summer temperatures can easily rise to scorching triple-digit temperatures, and humidity levels are usually very high, making temperatures feel even warmer.

 

Temperatures during the winter months tend to fall below zero. The frigid atmosphere is made worse by the Siberian winds and pressure systems that frequently and rapidly fluctuate.

Seoul receives quite a bit of rain year round, but monsoon season is between June and September.

The best time of year to visit seems to be during the fall months, when temperatures fall into a mild pattern and monsoon season ends. The month of May, during the Hi Seoul Festival, is nice as well. There are tons of cultural activities, including parades and musical entertainment.

TRANSPORTATION THROUGHOUT SEOUL

 


The public transportation system in Seoul is considered to be very modern, including buses and a sophisticated subway train system. The subway system, with eight separate lines, is one of the most reliable methods of transportation throughout the city. Trains arrive at each station at, on average, 5 minute intervals. They’re always clean, and the signs are written in both Korean and English to avoid confusion with tourists.

 

If you do opt to use the subway, start by picking up a subway map at a local tourist office. There are not many maps in the subway stations themselves, so you should familiarize yourself with the route to your destination of choice. Other subway riders are generally willing to help tourists, and most stations have English speaking ticket agents on site as well.

 

Seoul’s bus system was at one point less advanced but the city has, in the past 5-7 years, revamped the system. The buses also use a color coded route system but, believe it or not, those not familiar with the area often find the subway system easier to navigate.

HEALTH AND SAFETY IN SEOUL

 


The city of Seoul has always been considered a relatively safe place for tourists. Locals don’t really harbor any sort of dislike for any culture, especially towards Americans. You should, however, keep your eyes peeled and take standard safety precautions no matter where you go.

 

Of notable importance are the markets, which can be very crowded. Pick pockets are always looking for new targets, so keep your money in a safe place and hold onto your bags at all times.

 

You should also be aware of the political friction between North Korea and South Korea. Always keep an eye on news events before your trip and perhaps change your schedule if you feel that North Korea may pose a threat during your stay.

 

While the water in South Korea is safe to drink, many do not like or enjoy the taste. Seoul, and the rest of South Korea, has very high standards when it comes to food safety, so most restaurants are safe to visit. Ask the concierge at your hotel in Seoul if he can recommend anywhere special.

IMPORTANT KOREAN PHRASES

 


Learning to speak Korean isn’t easy, but if you learn at least a few simple phrases you may find it a bit easier to communicate with your hosts. Most of these are spelled phonetically.

  • Annyong haseyo? (Good morning.)
  • Ch’oum peopgetsumnida. (How do you do?)
  • Ne (Yes)
  • Aniyo (No)
  • Kamsahamnida (Thank you)
  • Mianhamnida (I am sorry)
  • Annyonghi jumushipsiyo (Good night)

 

There are dozens of guide books and online tutorials you can use to learn how to speak Korean. Try to find an audio program so that you can hear the proper pronunciation of the phrases you’re trying to learn.

Whether you’re spending the day in Bukhansan National Park or letting the kids run wild in LotteWorld, you’re bound to have an incredible experience in Seoul. Prepare to submerse yourself in an entirely new culture!

Monday, 5 April 2021

Toronto City Guide

 The Canadian city of Toronto has certainly developed over the past few decades. Once relatively unknown and obscure, the city has evolved into one of the most well known centers of business, communication, and culture in the country. Whether visiting as a tourist, or for business, you’re bound to find something worth your attention.

THE HISTORY OF TORONTO

 


The city of Toronto has an official history dating back to 1834 but, in reality, the city dates back to ancient times. French settlers were exploring the area as early as the 1600’s and, later, it was found that the Huron people had long used the areas around the Humber and Don rivers as local meeting places. That is, as a matter of fact, how Toronto earned its name – literally translating to “meeting place.”

Over the next few decades, a small village known as Teiaiagon grew on the site where the city stands today. It later served as a French trading post and, was dominated by the British and renamed York. Even the United States at one point tried to invade the area. Years later, the name Toronto was readopted and after World War II the city began to grow with a population of residents melding together from around the world. Today you’ll find a wide range of ethnic groups living together while remaining true to their roots.

TRANSPORTATION THROUGHOUT TORONTO

 


Visitors to Toronto may find the city a bit overwhelming at first. There is, fortunately, no need to rent a car while there. The public transportation system is relatively advanced and features several options, including a subway, streetcar, and bus service.  You can even take a public ferry to one of the other Toronto Islands.

Fares for each of the public transportation systems within the city are the same. You can buy individual passes, tokens, day passes, family day passes, weekly passes, and even monthly passes, depending upon your needs.

If you plan on being in the city for more than a few days, a weekly pass, priced at $36, is certainly worth the investment as it offers you unlimited rides from Monday through Sunday. This type of pass also makes it easy for you to hop off and on the transportation systems when you see points of interest you’d like to visit. Ask the concierge at your Toronto hotel how to get a pass.

TIPPING AND ETIQUETTE IN TORONTO

 


The average tip in a Canadian restaurant is believed to be 15%. Some people will tip up to 20% for excellent service. You can, of course, stick to the 10% rule of thumb if that is what you are used to, or if that is what you believe is deserved, but most service employees expect at least 15%. Gratuities are generally not automatically included on a check unless the party is comprised of 8 people or more. Some restaurant owners are particularly knowledgeable about which countries do not primarily tip and, whether the practice is right or wrong, if they suspect such they will automatically include the tip in the bill.

In Toronto it is also customary to tip hotel employees, including your porter, valet, or anyone else who comes in contact with you during your stay. Tipping your manicurist, hairdresser, and taxi cab driver is generally expected as well. The minimum in the latter instances is 10%.

Common courtesy is incredibly important throughout Toronto and all of Canada. Be patient and be polite when dealing with both locals and other tourists. Saying please and thank you, or apologizing for bumping into someone, is considered incredibly respectful. It is important to realize that Toronto, the rest of Ontario, and areas throughout Canada are diverse from a cultural standpoint. You need to be respectful of other cultures at all times.

VISITING THE CHURCH-WELLESLEY NEIGHBORHOOD

 


The Church-Wellesley neighborhood is considered the “Gay Village” and is perhaps one of the most sought after destinations amongst gay and lesbian travelers in Canada. The village is full or pride and is packed with some very fun and entertaining clubs, restaurants, cafes, and shops. During the month of June, the Pride Day Parade and celebration is held, lasting a full week.  If you visit a Toronto tourism office, you can pick up a Gay Toronto tourism guide. The city is incredibly friendly towards all lifestyles.

VISITING THE ANNEX & KOREATOWN

 


The Annex & Koreatown are two diverse areas surrounding the University of Toronto. If you want to have some fun watching the Bohemian and academic communities mingle, this is the place to visit. The area is full of art houses, coffee shops, theaters, and budget-friendly shops. The local ambiance is friendly, a little nerdy, and loved by many.

The city of Toronto has tons to offer visitors from all walks of life. Take your time, explore the areas that attract you most, and take the time to enjoy the experience.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Singapore City Guide

Located in the heart of Asia, Singapore represents a community of cultures still trying to define itself. After establishing independence from Britain in 1965, Singapore became home to an eclectic mix of Chinese, Malay, and Indian people. Thais, Filipinos, and Eurasians also call Singapore home and visitors walking down the street are often startled by the way their lifestyles both clash and blend.

WHEN TO VISIT SINGAPORE 


The seasons in Singapore are very similar so if you’re looking to plan a trip around the climate you need not worry about when to visit. The only time the weather varies is between November and January when you may find yourself visiting during a rainier time of year. The average temperature in Singapore throughout the year is approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit (or 26.6 degrees Celsius). The weather aside, the best way to plan your trip to Singapore is by checking the calendar of events. The Great Singapore Sale (a must for shoppers) takes place between May and June and the Singapore Arts Festival is usually held in June as well. The Singapore Film Festival (April) and Singapore Food Festival (July) are also favorites.

MIND YOUR MANNERS WHILE EATING IN SINGAPORE



Dining etiquette in Singapore isn’t complex, but deserves a mention. There are a number of dining habits we have in the west that are not practiced in the east. First of all, the average restaurant in Singapore serves food family-style whereas in the west this is the exception and not the norm. In most restaurants all of the dishes will be placed on the table at once so that everyone can begin eating together but if you are in a very formal setting the meal will be served one dish at a time. If your Singaporean companion serves you during the family-style meal he is doing so because he has a high level of respect for you. It is considered polite to do the same in turn when your companion’s bowl begins to grow empty. Pay special attention to the way you use your chopsticks. Never leave them sticking up out of a bowl of rice – a gesture that is considered a bad omen. When you are finished eating dip your chopsticks in tea and then wipe them clean before putting them aside.   Don’t forget that because of the vast blend of cultures found in Singapore you may be dining with individuals who have strict dietary restrictions. In many cases these restrictions are guided by their religious beliefs, but make sure you ask about everyone’s needs before choosing a dining establishment.

VISITING A WET MARKET IN SINGAPORE



Most communities around the world have some sort of meat and produce market, but only in Singapore will you find a wet market. Wet markets have earned their name quite literally – the building and stalls are frequently hosed down with water to keep them clean. Make sure you wear pants and shoes you don’t mind getting wet when you visit.   Most of these markets actually have two sections – a wet section for meats and vegetables and a dry section for beans, noodles, and herbs. In the wet section you’ll find your average far as well as a blend of eels, frogs, and maybe even turtles. Two of the most frequently visited wet markets are the Chinatown Complex (well known for selling seafood, pork, and eels) and the Tekka Market (popular amongst locals looking for beef, mutton, and freshwater fish). Both markets sell toys, clothing, linen and a wide variety of souvenir-type articles.

SINGAPORE’S INCREDIBLE ART FESTIVALS



Singapore hosts over a half-dozen different arts festivals throughout the year. The odds are high that you’ll plan your trip around or near one of these incredible events. The Singapore River Busker’s Festival, for example, is held in mid-November and features shows put on by a wide variety of street performers. The festival lasts for an entire week and most of the performances happen after sunset. Stop by to see musical performances as well as sword-swallowers and a myriad of other entertaining individuals. The Singapore International Comedy Festival is another favorite. Held in either March and/or April, the festival attracts comedians from all over the world. Most attendees are hand-picked based on their performances at other global events and are then invited to Singapore. During the first week of September you are likely to stumble upon the WOMAD festival (World of Music Arts and Dance). Throughout the three day event you’ll witness spectacular performances showcasing international traditions and ethnic cultures from around the world.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Kuala Lumpur City Guide

 The city of Kuala Lumpur is bustling with activity from sunrise to sunset and beyond. It’s a popular destination amongst tourists in Malaysia, with dozens of incredible attractions to explore. Learn a bit about the culture before you embark on your journey and you’re bound to have an incredible experience.

WHEN TO VISIT KUALA LUMPUR



The city of Kuala Lumpur is located incredibly close to the equator. Because of its location, there is very little variation in the weather throughout the year. Daytime temperatures average around 96 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) while evening temperatures hover around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 Celsius). Planning the time for your trip won’t revolve around the temperature as much as it will the rain.

Where the temperatures don’t really vary, the levels of rainfall in Kuala Lumpur throughout the year do. The months of February, March, April, May, September, October, and November tend to be the rainiest.

Despite the rainy season, visitors tend to flock towards Kuala Lumpur any time of the year. The most popular, however, are the months of December, January, and February – when the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing bitter cold temperatures and travelers want to go somewhere warm.

TRANSPORTATION THROUGHOUT KUALA LUMPUR



There is quite a bit of traffic and congestion on the roads of Kuala Lumpur. If you can avoid it, try not to rent a car or you may spend more time in it than you do at your destinations. The city has a great public transportation system in place for tourists called the Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus. The HOHO bus is very friendly for tourists and is your best bet for seeing the city.


Another option is the RapidKL bus line, but people tend to have more bad experiences than good with this bus system. The drivers tend to be rude, act as reckless drivers, and sometimes even refuse to stop the bus to let people off (due to traffic) or to let people on (even though there is room). They curse, call passengers stupid, and are generally irritable. Take the system if you must, but elderly travelers and those with children should avoid it altogether.


Kuala Lumpur does have a modern train system as well, but many tourists find it confusing the first time they use it. Tickets are relatively inexpensive and platforms are clearly marked to show the directions each train is going. While there is no set timetable, trains arrive and depart frequently, almost making a formal timetable unnecessary.

HEALTH AND SAFETY IN KUALA LUMPUR




Like many major cities, Kuala Lumpur is relatively safe to visit, especially if you pay attention and take standard safety precautions as you travel. Some things you can do to protect yourself include:

Making sure your family back home has a list of your hotels and their phone numbers.
Making photocopies of your important documents (credit cards, passports, etc). Leave one at home and take the other set with you. When you arrive, lock your originals up in the hotel and carry the photocopies with you.
Letting your credit card providers know you’ll be in a foreign country.
Find information for your country’s Embassy in Kuala Lumpur so that you can reach it in the event of an emergency.
Lovely Malay House, Kampung Bahru, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Aside from these, you should take care to not carry more money than you need. Do not flash your cash or wear too much expensive jewelry. Hold on to your bags and belongings at all times.

TIPPING AND ETIQUETTE IN KUALA LUMPUR




While giving a tip is not an offensive gesture, citizens of Malaysia generally do not participate in the practice. You can, of course leave a tip, ranging from change up to 10% of your bill to a restaurant waiter or server. They don’t expect but would appreciate the gesture. Tipping your hotel pool server, or the bouncer at a club, may earn you better service throughout your stay.



Most of the people in Malaysia are very friendly. That said, women who are not conservatively dressed may attract more attention than they desire, especially in some of the smaller towns surrounding Kuala Lumpur. Wear what you want while you’re on the islands, but consider being a little conservative, even wearing a scarf on your head, while on the mainland.

IMPORTANT MALAY PHRASES




English is a very common language throughout Malaysia, so you likely won’t have trouble communicating during your stay. Even still, it’s nice to learn at least a few phrases to show your willingness to learn and respect another culture. A few simple phrases are as follows:

Selamat Pagi (Good Morning)
Good Bye (Selamat tinggal)
Tidak (No)
Ya (Yes)
Sila (Please)
Nama saya ialah (My name is…)
Malaysia - 27 KL Tower (Menara Kuala Lumpur) from the ground, Kuala Lumpur

These are just a few examples of simple Malay phrases. When learning this language, you are better off with an audio program that will teach you proper pronunciation techniques as well as simple terminology.

The city of Kuala Lumpur is friendly, welcoming, and full of life. You’ll enjoy every moment you spend there!

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Top 20 Green Cities in the World

 With so much attention on the overall health of the planet, the uptick in civic leadership on the environment by so many mayors around the world is certainly a measure of encouragement. In the United States of America alone, the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement is in essence, a petition to the federal government and pledge by 700 small and big city mayors to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and surpass global benchmarks.


Sage city leaders from Asia to Europe have also made up for the monumental failure of national officials to heed the dire forecasts of the global scientific community. As a result, many urban areas have led the charge in singular fashion on the reduction of carbon emissions that not only meet, but surpass, the Kyoto Protocol. Other positive developments that serve municipal populations at large, from bicycle paths to public transportation, park space to green waste management programs, make these twenty destinations great places to not only live, but visit.


Keep in mind however, that designation as a “green city” does not imply eco-perfection in any way. It simply illustrates positive and often, exceptional, measures undertaken to reduce negative urban effects on the environment.


20. Kampala, Uganda


Surprise, surprise. Despite the inevitable suspicion, Kampala has been a recent stalwart on environmental policy. Yes, the capital of Uganda has to contend with some syndetic obstacles, such as overpopulation, disease outbreak and sanitation. Still, bylaws to reconcile urban agriculture within the city and national food system have had impressive results. New measures to tax traffic congestion, eliminate noxious taxis and introduce a modern public transportation will hopefully serve as a model for other major urban centers in Africa and Asia.


19. Sydney, Australia



Sydney has bold plans to become a green and global city by 2030. The campaign has become a lynchpin in Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s administration, with splashy aims to develop an integrated inner transport system, green networks and activity hubs within close proximity to residential areas. City-wide energy and water efficiency is another vital goal in the plan, which in totality, comprises almost 70Mb of documentation on the city of Sydney’s website.


18. Cape Town, South Africa



With grand ambitions to attain “global sustainability”, Cape Town looks to be a green host of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, when without a doubt, the eyes of the globe will be on the beautiful coastal city. Accolades from the travel and tourism industry rain down on Cape Town with enviable regularity and perhaps have some influence in the overall green direction of the city, as leaders seek to have 10% of homes under renewable energy consumption by 2020.


17. Bogot, Colombia

Another potential shock to many, the metropolis of Bogot? has had to battle negative associations with cocaine cartel crime and violence for decades. Again, spartan civic leadership was at the forefront of a crusade to reduce vehicle congestion, rebuild infrastructure to promote pedestrian safety, implement a modern public transportation network and rejuvenate park space. With superb bicycle paths and goals to eradicate personal vehicle use at peak hours, Bogot? is a green pioneer in South America.


16. Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver has been a vanguard in the realm of methane expropriation. The city has a network of pipelines and wells that trap the greenhouse gas at landfill sites in order to redirect it for commercial use. Education programs foster the development of sustainable and energy-efficient construction projects in growth areas of the city. Many older edifices in Vancouver have undergone vast upgrades in recent years that respect future environmental concerns and minimize energy requirements. Needless to say, Vancouver is one of the most beautiful metropolitan areas in North America and a surfeit of parks and recreation space helps the city adhere to green provisions.


15. Montreal, Canada

Already quite cycle-centric, the city of Montreal has plans to add 100 km of new paths by 2009 and a self-rental bicycle program in the downtown core. With green space galore and a superb public transportation system that includes hybrid biodiesel-electric buses, Montreal is a pleasure to explore. For the residential population, renewable hydroelectricity is the energy source of choice and is relatively inexpensive. City inhabitants also recycle and compost more than proximate counterparts.


14. San Francisco, U.S.A.

San Francisco inhabitants are among the most savvy in America when it comes to the environment. Long a bastion of progressive liberal expression, this should come as no surprise. The fact that almost half of the population commutes by way of public transportation, bicycle or on foot, is an emblematic statistic. San Francisco also has a ban on non-recyclable plastic bags.


13. Heidelberg, Germany

The small city of Heidelberg in Baden-W?rttemberg, Germany has some big plans to be green, real fast. Incredibly, the populace of 150,000 has had a choice since 2000 to procure electricity from renewable resources. The municipal administration of the pictorial town has made significant investments in green technology and sustainable energy as a result.


12. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen confirms the staunch bias that Scandinavia is avant-garde in the realm of social and environmental policy. A livable, complete, yet not inexpensive city, Copenhagen has big bets on wind energy and was the recipient of the European Environmental Management Award in 2006. Denmark’s capital city is also among the most bicycle-hospitable in Europe.


11. Oslo, Norway

Another capital in Scandinavia has made notable strides on the way to green status. Oslo city bureaucrats have taken up the challenge of sustainability and energy independence with atypical zeal. From electric cars to “eco-zones”, landmark principles in urban ecology and development to bicycle and pedestrian mobility, Oslo is a world pioneer.


10. Austin, U.S.A.

The capital of Texas is not the bastion of oil culture and a “bigger is better” moral code, unlike Dallas, Houston and quite honestly, most of the state. Rather, quirky, academic, artsy and bohemian Austin is on the forefront of sound eco-friendly objectives. The city is one of the top solar energy producers in North America and hopes to attain a benchmark of 20% renewable energy by 2020.


9. Stockholm, Sweden

Like Copenhagen and Oslo, the cosmopolitan capital of Sweden is a staunch advocate for the environment. The hearty populace favors non-vehicle modes of transport and the city has a wonderful bicycle program. Best of all, Stockholm contains the eco-quarter of Hammarby Sj?stad, a carbon-neutral urban development on a former industrial brownfield with 10,000 inhabitants.


8. Curitiba, Brazil

A lush, verdant metropolis of 3.2 million people, Curitiba suffers from a major dearth of publicity outside of Brazil. Green-aware associations however, know the city well. Curitiba has one of the best bus rapid transit systems in the world, with a spectacular 85% of the population on board. The layout of the city is a model for urban planners worldwide and in large measure, illustrates why everyone is green with envy about Curitiba.


7. Seattle, U.S.A.

Another Pacific Northwest leader on the environment, Seattle, Washington, parlays peerless natural beauty on the perimeter of the city into sound initiatives. These include hybrid public transit vehicles, green construction projects and investments in city parks.


6. Puerto Princesa City, Philippines

Home to Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the small city of Puerto Princesa in the Philippines is green in the most literal sense of the word. Known as “The City in a Forest”, city officials have done well to integrate the population within a lush environment unlike any other in the country. As a result, Puerto Princesa is not as vulnerable to flash floods in the monsoon rain season – a considerable problem in the Philippines.


5. Malmö, Sweden

Sweden’s “third city”, after Stockholm and Gothenburg, is first when it comes to eco-policy. Lovely Malmö, across the Oresund strait from Copenhagen, Denmark, has been on the cusp of sustainable urban development since the turn of the century. Pedestrian and cyclist-friendly with one of the most avant-garde cityscapes in Europe, Malm? has explicit ambitions to become a veritable eco-city.


4. Reykjavik, Iceland

Another steward of the environment in Scandinavia, the capital of Iceland earns international kudos every year. Reykjavik aims to be fossil-fuel independent by 2050 and is a leader in geothermal and hydro energy. If the municipal government can deal with noise pollution and fumes from the central city airport in green fashion, the mid-century objective will be even more impressive.


3. Freiburg, Germany

The Black Forest perimeter city of Freiburg is the romantic incarnation of everyone’s idyllic German town. Not only is Freiburg beautiful to look at however, the city is also a paragon of wise environmental analysis. From vast car-free zones to solar power adoption and a world class public transit system, Freiburg is a model for every city to emulate.


2. Portland, U.S.A.

A pioneer eco-city, Portland is the fresh epitome of a town that “gets it”. The first city in America to adopt a tough and exhaustive carbon-emission reduction plan, Portland has a popular rapid transit system, high-rate of bicycle use and over 370 km2 of park space. Perhaps more than any other step however, the City of Roses has a progressive populace that cares about the planet.


1. Växjö, Sweden

While Växjö is tiny in comparison to Bogot? or Kampala and will thus never face certain snags that impede green ambitions in massive population areas, the city of 80,000 people is nonetheless admirable. Municipal leaders enacted a bold forest and lake restoration project decades ago that has since paid lucrative dividends. In 1996, the city made a bet on clean and renewable biomass energy and is on pace to break with fossil fuels within the next generation. A network of bicycle paths is popular with the local populace and citizens can obtain a government subsidy for a number of eco-steps to reduce carbon footprints.

Seoul City Guide

 The city of Seoul, located in South Korea, has something for everyone to enjoy. Considered to be amongst the largest cities in the world, S...