The growing popularity of Laos boosted by new air service

Long regarded as one of the world’s mystical and enchanting gems, stunning Laos is emerging as a travel hotspot for 2019.

As travellers, increasingly, search for genuine cultural experiences ahead of the hectic tourist trail, Laos with its stilt houses, elephants, paddy fields, plateaus, rivers and forests, carries great appeal.

And, for Australians at least, this attractive country has just become even cheaper to visit with a new air link opened by Singapore Airlines low-cost arm, Scoot.

The new route will take Aussies to the Loatian cities of Luang Prabangb and Vientiane from just $AUD189 one-way.

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A land of mountains, temples, plateaus and rivers, Laos is generally revered for its authenticity.   The country has retained many of the traditions that have disappeared amid development elsewhere in Asia.

What it lacks in designer shopping, Laos more than makes up with a timeless quality; enchanting wildlife, forests and waterfalls.

“We are thrilled to welcome Laos to our network,” Scoot CEO, Lee Lik Hsin, said.

 “Scoot is confident that the addition of Vientiane and Luang Prabang will boost its proposition as a network carrier, offering refreshing travel opportunities for those seeking authentic experiences off the beaten track.

Dreamliner

“Travellers can also look forward to more extraordinary travel experiences with us as we plan to add even more new destinations to our network this year.”

The Laos sale will run until Tuesday, January 22 at 1.59am (AEST) and is valid for travel before October 26, 2019.

Scoot’s Laos offer includes one-way fares from Perth for $AUD189; from the Gold Coast for $AUD199 and from Sydney and Melbourne for $AUD209. Fares do not included baggage or meals and all flights have a stopover in Singapore.

Travellers who take advantage of the new Scoot service will have the opportunity of joining enriching cultural experiences such as the alms giving ceremony at dawn in Luang Prabang – an  historic town encircled by the Phou Thao and Phou Nang mountains. 

French influence abounds here, deftly blended with local styles and traditions, and the former royal and religious capital of the Silk route, is said by legend to be where Bhudda rested and smiled on his travels.

Travellers will also be able to take a hike; go caving or trekking; or sail on a relaxing sunset cruise down the majestic Mekong River towards Vietnam. 

And, Laos also offers the opportunity of bathing in the extraordinary Kuang Si waterfalls, or visiting the elephant sanctuary where rescued gentle giants are washed in the river. 

Alternatively, travellers can Scoot to Vientiane – now the country’s administrative capital – whose French influences are seen in modern alfresco cafes, riverside restaurants and architecture. 

Take a leisurely tour around town in a songthaew (open share bus) and the National Museum will provide an insight into the city’s history.

You’ll see rice paddies on the edge of town and be able to enjoy peaceful time at Pha That Luang, the historic Bhuddist Temple dating back to the 1500’s.   

 The three-times-weekly flights operated with Scoot’s A320 aircraft are due to start on 1 April 2019 subject to regulatory approval. 

They will operate a circular route leaving Singapore for Luang Prabang, followed by Vientiane, before heading back to Singapore. 

These routes were transferred from sister airline SilkAir, making Scoot the only airline offering direct Singapore-Laos flights from April 2019.

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How Instagram is changing the way we travel

An important development in travel for Australians happened quietly over recent weeks.

‘Worldwide Community’, a leading international Instagram group, opened its first ‘hub’ in the country @ww_australia – providing a whole new field of destination inspiration for travellers.

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The extroadinary growth of Instagram – the fastest of any social platform – has changed the face of travel and has inherently altered the way travellers experience new things

Research shows almost 70% of travel enthusiasts worldwide now rely on Instagram to find inspiration for new journeys.

The impact of ‘Insta-tourism’ has forced the tourism sector to re-think strategies; directing marketing away from advertising toward the use of ‘instagram influencers’.

This is where Instagram hubs like @ww_australia come in.  There are thousands of them, containing hundreds-of-thousands of artists, photographers and influencers who feature travel, landscape, nature, wildlife, portraiture, cityscape and street images. 

People considering a holiday can easily see pictures of the most idyllic, traditional, cultural and  exciting attractions – so it’s little surprise that travel behavior is changing as a result.

Because people engage with Instagram 10 times more than with Facebook, for example, travel and accommodation brands have moved onboard in huge numbers, providing more visual content that connects to our innate desire to discover and experience.

Attractions, increasingly, are also providing destinations with strong image potential, with the need for few, if any, words.

Worldwide Community is one of the most prestigious, influential, creative and fast-growing Instagram organisations – and features the work of some of the world’s best photographers and artists.

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Tips: another app that lists airfares

We’ve been getting questions about ‘I Know the Pilot’, another online service for saving money on airline bookings.

This is a notification service which says it is based in Melbourne, Australia –  and can operate either as an app on your mobile device; or as an email alert system; or a website. The service is also on several social media channels.

It draws your attention to airfare sales – and leaves the booking to you.  The service shows flight prices and dates on which the sales apply.

‘I Know the Pilot’ offers a list of partner booking sites. However, if you wish, there’s nothing to stop you going straight to the website of the airline said to be offering the deals.

But are the sales found by ‘I Know the Pilot’ really cheap?  I must stress that we are yet to use the service, but many of the offers do look attractive indeed.

For example, the App recently drew attention to return flights being offered by Air Asia between Sydney and Hong Kong next March – from $463.

The flights left Sydney on March 18 and Hong Kong on March 26.  However, it also clearly stated that 20 kilogram of checked baggage would add an additional $90.31 and seat selection carried a $34.12 fee.  This took the total price to at least $587.

In the same alert, ‘I Know the Pilot’ drew attention to return flights with Qantas on the same days for a total of $501, including baggage.

Even that sounded like a remarkably good price on that particular route. Despite checking 26 other online booking sites, we couldn’t find a deal to match it. 

So it seems the proof of ‘I Know the Pilot’ may be in the booking.

If we try it, we will let you know.

Meanwhile, registering for the email alerts doesn’t cost you a cent.

Finding cheap flights Tips travel

Huge revamp of transport in Sydney

Trains have started testing on Australia’s biggest public transport project – a massive modernisation and improvement of Sydney’s metro system.

New-generation trains – based on the international metropolis system used in 25 cities, including  Barcelona, Amsterdam and Singapore – are set to revolutionise Sydney travel from 2019.

They are being tested on the new SydneyMetro North-west rail system, which includes eight  new railway stations and 4,000 commuter car parking spaces in the city’s growing north-western area.

The new rail link, includes elevated  stations;  Australia’s biggest railway tunnels and the ‘Skytrain’ (pictured) between Bella Vista and Rouse Hill.

Skytrain

Skytrain takes Sydney Metro Northwest above ground for four kilometres

The skytrain is at a height of between 10 metres and 13 metres above ground level and is supported with 130 concrete piers, spaced approximately 39 metres apart.

The two new railway stations on the skytrain, Kellyville and Rouse Hill, are elevated and the platforms are above ground.

A landmark 270-metre long cable-stayed railway bridge over Windsor Road at Rouse Hill also forms part of the skytrain. This is similar in design to Sydney’s Anzac Bridge.

Timetable-free

When it opens, the new system promises a train every four minutes in peak hours and will be ‘timetable-free’: users will just turn up and catch a train.

A second stage of the project will include a revamped rail system through Central Sydney and on to the city’s south-west.

Accessibility

Sydney’s new-generation metro trains will make customer journeys easy – with an emphasis on accessibility for people of all ages.

Features include level access with platforms to multi-purpose areas for prams, luggage and bicycles and real time travel information.

Drivers not forgotten

Sydney’s transport facelift is not restricted to the new rail systems.

At the same time, a new tunnel system known as NorthConnex is changing the face of road travel  by sweeping traffic through a nine-kilometre tunnel in Sydney’s north – linking the existing M1 and M2 motorways.

Central Sydney is also getting a 12-kilometre light rail system, with 19 new Stops through the city.

This system, for which testing is also underway will complement the current Inner-West Light  Rail, which already carries 9.7 million people a year.

 

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Scoot prepares for growth boom

Our favourite airline, Scoot, is gearing-up for double-digit growth over the next three years.

And, in preparation, the Singapore Airlines offshoot is set to move into Terminal 1 at Singapore’s Changi Airport to provide an improved check-in and boarding process.

Changi has been working to expand T 1’s passenger handling  capacility as part of wider improvements at the airport.

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Scoot says the terminal upgrades will be able to handle Scoot’s  projected growth while improving check-in facilities in a more spacious terminal.

The upgrades include expanded baggage facilities and are expected to be completed in 2019.

A new “meeters and greeters” hall has been in use since April 2018 and the Changi T 1 departure hall now has a zone where passengers can check in and drop off their bags at self-service machines.

Scoot chief executive, Lee Lik Hsin, said the move to T1 would help the airline continue serving its growing customer base, and meet their needs for a fast and fuss-free pre-flight experience,’’

“We are working hard to achieve a seamless transition for our customers, employees and service partners, and we look forward to welcoming everyone to our new home in T1 next year.”

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Changi Airport said it periodically reviewed the allocation of airlines across all terminals to provide sufficient capacity for future traffic growth.

Scoot has carried 60  million guests and operates a fleet of 18 Boeing 787 Dreamliners and 27 Airbus A320 aircraft.

The airline’s network now covers 66 destinations in 18 countries and territories.  

Scoot has two Boeing 787s and 38 Airbus A320neo aircraft on order.

Air news travel

Visit the land and hotel above the clouds

If you’re looking for an extraordinary experience on a trip to Europe, make your way to the shores of the pristine Wolfgangsee lake, in the Austrian Alps.

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Overshadowing the picture-postcard alpine town of Sant Wolfgang am Wolfgangsee is Schafberg Mountain, a towering peak in the Salzkammergut Range.

Schafberg Mountain is rather special because, since 1893, it has been the site of one of the steepest steam-powered cog-railways anywhere in Europe.

Schafbergbahn railway carries visitors to the summit of the mountain 1,783 metres above the surrounding countryside. 

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This is truly one of the world’s great travel experiences: memories of which will live with you forever.

The railway winds out of the quaint village; passes through the treeline; disappears into the clouds; and emerges in the snow zone.  

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Once at the summit, it feels like you are on the top of the world.

Visitors are greeted by incomparable 360 degree views across the majesty of the Alps and their many glacial lakes. 

If you want to soak up more of the views and watch the sun set between rugged mountain peaks, the summit boasts a hotel called Schafbergspitze – commonly known as the ‘hotel in the clouds’ – which has operated through the summer months since 1862.

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Here you can sip wine and watch one of nature’s most stunning shows – the sun setting through the alpine mountain peaks.

Rays of golden light bounce from one snow-capped Alp to another, glinting off the lakes far below and highlighting the birds gliding well down the slopes.

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Hotel  Schafbergspitz boasts a a bar perched high on an adjoining mountaintop and, at the very peak of the area, a wooden cross stands as a reminder of the dangers of venturing too close to the edge.

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Schafberg Mountain with its steam train and hotel is located at Wolfgangsee lake in the Austrian Alps. It is about an hour’s drive from the city of Salzberg.

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There is also ample accommodation in Sant Wolfgang am Wolfgangsee or you can do as we did: stay in another of the small nearby villages, to truly experience Austrian alpine culture and communities.

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Regardless of how you do it, the Schafberg Mountain is an experience of a lifetime that you will never forget or regret.

Featured hotels Schafberg Mountain

Western Australian Vines Resort spa is acclaimed

A leading resort in Western Australia has won international acclaim for the quality of its spa treatment.

Novotel Vines Resort, in the Swan Valley, was among the winners at the 2018 World Luxury Spa and Restaurant Awards, held in Northern Ireland.

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Keishi Spa at the Vines Resort was named the global winner in the prestigious categories of best luxury boutique spa and the best luxury golf resort spa.

It was also recognised as the Best Luxury Beauty Spa in Australia and Oceania.

The awards celebrate exceptional service  in the luxury wellness and fine dining industries.

World Luxury Spa and Restaurant Awards are considered the pinnacle of accomplishment and are a benchmark for luxury hotels and spas across the globe.

This year, more than 140 countries competed in 100 categories, with entrants ranging from safari lodges to health retreats.

At Keishi Spa, guests are treated with luxury Babor Skin Care and Aromatherapy Associates in a secluded sanctuary at the Vines Resort, which is about 35 minutes from the Western Australian capital of Perth

The spa, which is popular with resort guests, features a couple massage room, dual Vichy showers and a hairdresser.

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The spa is situated in a secluded sanctuary under towering trees, between the resort’s golf grfeens and swimming pool.

Spa owner and manager, Everlyn Zaccagnini, said it was particularly pleasing to take out the global awards in sections where Keishi Spa had won its continental honours last year.

This, she said, was “a huge elevation in status and reason for us to be immensely proud.

“It is testament to the hard work of all our staff and we are honoured to win such accolades.”

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