Asean destinations are reinventing for the holiday moods. Take your pick!

ASEAN+ December 18, 2016 17:11

By ANN Desk
Asia News Network

5,272 Viewed

The holiday season is here and vacationers to Asia are spoilt for choices.



One can take a cruise on Star Cruises SuperStar Libra in Malaysia, visit a pristine fishing village in Vietnam, explore the herb, coffee markets in Indonesia's Bali, take in the beauty of nature and experience the Isaan way of life at Jim Thompson Farm in Thailand, visit the night market in Myanmar or celebrate in style at Philippines' staycations. Nine ANN media reports. 

The Star, Malaysia - Penang to Phuket on a super cruise

Passengers having fun at the pool side on the 10th deck of the cruise ship. (Goh Gaik Lee / The Star )

I was already on a high when I knew that I was going on a cruise. And I made the most of that feeling by imagining myself as a character in the movie Titanic as I stood on the top deck of Star Cruises’ SuperStar Libra! With the wind blowing in my face and the loud splashing of the ocean below — that was my defining moment on the cruise.

Thankfully, the 42,285-tonne cruise ship was so big that my fear of seasickness abated, though I did feel a bit light-headed for the first two days.

Partying from the Start

Our media group had to first register at Swettenham Pier in George Town, where we were warmly welcomed by the crew. And their excellent, friendly and warm service was a constant from the start of the cruise till our disembarkation.

The free flow of food at selected restaurants is one of the main attractions of the cruise. However, the drinks available onboard are not free except for plain water, juices, hot coffee and Milo served at lunch, dinner and supper.

All passengers are given an access card, which we were reminded to carry at all times. It serves as a “credit card” as well as an identification card. Not all restaurants, entertainment and beverages are included in the cruise fare, so some items are charged on the access card; payment is settled before disembarkation.

Passengers can indulge in a wide array of international cuisines presented by the award-winning Star Cruises culinary team. Ranging from South-East Asian specialities to Western delicacies, all are available at the six restaurants — Mariners Buffet, Ocean Place, Four Seasons, Spices, Taipan and Blue Lagoon — which operate around the clock. Besides that, there are the Pool Bar and Coconut Willy’s that offer alcohol and beverages.

There are parties onboard too, and SuperStar Libra gave us a welcome party just after we set sail. There is also a farewell party on the night before disembarkation. That’s the time when passengers can dine on the best food and sip on cocktails near the poolside while looking out towards the vast blue ocean.

Fitness enthusiasts can rejuvenate their senses with a workout session in the gymnasium and swimming pool, followed by total relaxation at the spa. The on-board entertainment and leisure programmes cater to passengers of all ages, such as the magic show presented by Fabien Solaz from France who whisks audiences away into the world of illusion and well-choreographed productions like One In A Million.

Of course, for shopaholics, there are retail shops and duty-free outlets to choose from that sell jewellery, watches, cosmetics, fragrances, handbags and more.

Look out for the daily newsletter called the Star Navigator, which lists out the offers onboard, the day’s programme, entertainment choices, facilities available, restaurants you can dine in, even the sunrise and sunset times! The crew members usually distribute the newsletters in the evening or you can find it hanging outside your cabin. The newsletters also include important reminders and notices for passengers.

I shared the cabin with my colleague and The Star photographer Goh Gaik Lee. It might be a tad smaller than a hotel room but our deluxe ocean-view stateroom was quite big for a cruise ship. The yellow carpeting set off the two single beds which are complemented with a dresser table, TV and a clothes cabinet and in-room shower and restroom.

The ship has a towering 10 decks in total, with 7,128 cabins of various sizes.

Sea Legs are Grounded

The fun was not only reserved for activities on board. It was a four-day/three-night cruise that included shore excursions at two designated stops — the famous provinces of Krabi and Phuket in Thailand.

Krabi, being a resort destination near the Andaman coast, lies between an area of limestone karsts and a mangrove forest. The media members, 20 of us, were taken around during the shore excursions on a tourist bus complete with a friendly local guide Zen Hussain, who is fluent in English and Bahasa Malaysia.

The first stop was the Tiger Cave Temple located among lush green forest and filled with old gigantic trees. There is also a meditation centre at the temple.

We also visited the Khao Khanap Nam, two 100m tall hills flanking the Krabi River, where you can get some stunning pictures. The gigantic crab and sea eagle statues in Krabi town offer more photo opportunities.

The next stop was Jee Or, the OTOP, which means One Tambon One Product shop selling all the region’s native products. (Tambon means sub-district in Thai language.) We had an hour to spare for a meal and some shopping at the famous Ao Nang Beach that overlooks the tranquil sea of Krabi, with hotels, bars, restaurants and souvenir shops on both sides of the road.

Next stop was Phuket, which is famous for its beaches and lively night life.

Shutterbugs had a great time when we were at Promthep Cape Viewpoint that is well-known for its picturesque sunsets. Located at the southern tip of Phuket, it commands a spectacular view of the Andaman Sea.

Visiting the famous and sacred Wat Chalong Temple, we also had the opportunity to sample and purchase cashew nuts at the factory beside it. I was in heaven for we also stopped by Wang Talang, one of the biggest jewellery, souvenir and gift shops on the island.

One cannot visit Phuket without going to Patong Beach, the main area of Phuket where there are many nightclubs, discos and shops. The highlight of the night was the Simon Cabaret Show, a Broadway-style show featuring skilful dancers, colourful costumes, mind-blowing backdrops, great music and lighting.

The transgender dancers wore stunning outfits. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed during the show. But fret not, you can have your pictures taken with the dancers after the show. Do note that you have to tip them at least 100 baht ($2.7) per person, which I found out the hard way — after happily taking pictures with two of them, I ended up having to pay double that amount.

Oh, well, it was money and time well spent on a spectacular cruise!

- By Logeiswary Thevadass

Vientiane Times, Laos - That Inhang: Savannakhet's popular cultural attraction

That Inghang stupa is one of several famous cultural sites in Savannakhet province. (Sisay Vilaysack / Vientiane Times)

That Inhang stupa has become a popular tourism attraction for Savannakhet province with the region also well-known for its prehistoric past.

The stupa is located in That village, Kaysone Phomvihane district. The easiest way to get there is to head out along Route 9 for about 12 km and turn left at the police post, and then drive straight for about another 3km and you will come directly to the stupa.

Thousands of tourists visit the site every week, mostly to pay their respects to the stupa, while some learn about its history.

According to traditional accounts, That Inghang is a sacred stupa and reportedly the burial site of one of Buddha's bones. It is an important place for Buddhists and is registered as a National Treasure of Laos. It was built about 450 years ago during the reign of King Marukhanakhone to commemorate the Buddha's visit to the site.

Buddha is believed to have delivered a sermon to people at the site and later took a rest under the Hang tree. This is the reason why the stupa is called That Inghang.

Something to know before visiting, women are required to wear a traditional sinh (long Lao skirt) to enter the site. These are available next to the entrance. Normally, on days other than the festival, the gate is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm.

Despite the site already being well-known to domestic and overseas tourists, the local authorities have continued to promote the site with the hope to increase the number of visitors.

The in progress annual festival is one event that local authorities hope will let visitors know more about the stupa and local culture. The main activities during the festival each year are focused on cultural performances to encourage visitors to come back again. This year's festival is currently running from December 10-14.

Savannakhet province is situated in central Laos and the largest province of about 21,774 square kilometres, bordered by Vietnam to the east, Thailand to the west, Khammuan province to the north and Saravan province to the south. About 60 per cent of the land is covered by forests.

Beside the cultural site, if you want to know why people called Savannakhet the land of the dinosaur than you can visit the din osaur museum, which is located in the provincial downtown area. The museum is open daily from 8 am-11.30 am and 1.30 pm-4.30 pm.

It houses dinosaur fossils or big lizard bones' as they are called in Laos. They were excavated from Tang Vay village, in Xonbouly district. Three kinds of dinosaur bones have been discovered; Pode, Iguanodon and S auropode.

Other visitor highlights in Savannakhet province include the ancient Buddhist scripts library (Hortay Pidok). This impressive structure was originally built in the 17th century and is the most important repository of palm leaf books written in Burmese Pali, Khmer and ancient Lao alphabets. There are currently 4,000 books containing 361 different stories. It is located in Nonglamchanh village of Champhone district about 55 kilometres east from the provincial town.

Stone House (Heuan Hin) in Xayphouthong district is believed to have been one of the 121 rest houses constructed by King Jayavarman VII (1181-1218) along the roads which once connected every corner of the Khmer Empire.

The number of tourist arrivals to the country reached more than 4.3 million in 2015, drawing revenue of $650 million, an increase of four percent compared to the previous year, with Savannakhet province alone reaching about 1.1 million.

- By Sisay Vilaysack

The Straits Times, Singapore - Singapore restaurants revamp and rename to stay relevant

To stay afloat in the food and beverage scene, making minor tweaks to menus or interiors may not be enough.

Some business owners are going all out with revamps, overhauling or expanding food and drink offerings, renovating premises and even renaming the restaurants.

At least six brands have been revamped in the past four months. These include The Library in Keong Saik Road, which expanded into the space of its sister restaurant The Study and changed its menu; Korean restaurant Your Woul at Novena, which is now run by second-generation owners and renamed Ho Rang I; and contemporary Asian restaurant Kite, which has replaced its a la carte dinner menus with set meals.

As part of the rebranding, Edward Chia, 28, who runs Ho Rang I with his brother Eugene, 25, did not want to only renovate the restaurant. He says: "People like to dine in well-decorated restaurants, so we felt it was time to update the look. The recipes remain the same, but we want to introduce diners to more traditional Korean dishes presented in a modern way.

"It's not about following trends, but to give people an insight into the food culture. Once people understand the culture and return, this beats hype any day."

His mother and aunt, who are Korean, will still oversee the cooking, as they have for the past 10 years since the restaurant opened.

The Chia brothers also run takeaway Korean rice-box shop Dosirak at China Square Central, as well as Third & Sixth bar in Seah Street.

The French Stall in Serangoon Road closed in July after 16 years and re-opened a month later as Breton. The closure was intentional, says consultant chef Xavier Le Henaff, 55. "We needed to break from The French Stall image to change the menu. The stiff competition and slower economy have also affected business. Not only are diners spending less, but they also dine out less."

Now, the menu focuses on seafood and meat from Brittany, along with desserts such as choux puffs and crepes. Chef Le Henaff adds: "Singapore is a very different city compared with 16 years ago, when the pace of life was slower and eating habits not too fancy. It is important to stay relevant, but yet niche."

The Kilo group of restaurants has also gone through changes. Its Kilo Orchard outlet closed in September, leaving just Kilo Kallang and the two-year-old Kilo Lounge, which used to share the same space as Kilo Kallang.

As the venue was not approved for the parties, Kilo Lounge had to move. The brand re-opened last Friday in Tanjong Pagar.

Kilo Kallang is now air-conditioned and the menu has been updated with new dishes.

On how the revamp works for the brand, Javier Perez of Series of Intentions, Kilo's holding company, says: "Many F&B concepts come and go. To have true staying power, you'll need to stay on top of the game.

"We feel the nightlife scene in Singapore has dwindled in the past few years. People aren't going out like they used to. If they do, it's to the same old concepts with no sense of culture or focus on the guest experience. We hope Kilo Lounge creates a reason for a great night out."

In the tough industry, it does not matter when the revamps happen.

Just 14 months after opening, Kite has spruced up its food and drink menu. Gone is the a la carte dinner menu and cocktails. Now, three set tasting menus are available, along with a sake selection.

Kite's owner Quek Sue-Shan, 36, says: "Initially, Kite was largely inspired by tapas restaurants and food-sharing concepts, but sustaining a restaurant wasn't as simple as placing all the best items on a menu. As I began to understand head chef Dannel Krishnan's repertoire, I realised what we set out to do wasn't doing justice to his food and him.

"Also, the strong flavours of our cocktails then clashed with the complexity of his food."

She also owns Sprmrkt, which has outlets in McCallum Street and at STPI at Robertson Quay.

- By Eunice Quek

Viet Nam News, Vietnam - A fishing village on Jade Island far from the madding crowd

Going to the sea can offer more than swimming, sun bathing, cloud watching, seafood, and coconut water on crowded beaches. Visiting fishing villages along the coast is a less popular though no less amazing and unique experience.

Pristine Fishing Village

On Dao Ngọc (Jade Island) in Phú Quốc, Kiên Giang Province, there is a little fishing village named Rạch Vẹm. The village is located on the north of the island, which is home to 170 households. Rạch Vẹm Village is just 20km away from Dương Đông Town, and can be reached with a hired motorbike while enjoying the scenic road.

Phú Quốc has tens of fishing villages but Rạch Vẹm is known as the smallest and most pristine.

Like some other famous beaches on the island, Rạch Vẹm has clear blue seawater and a long white sandy beach. At times moss and seaweed cover the sand. The wind rattles the coconut tree branches, creating a whispering symphony.

Not being a tourist haunt, the village offers a unique opportunity to relax and admire every single wave rushing to the beach. Lying on the sandy beach, with the sun shine on your body, breathing fresh sea air and listening to the crashing waves is guaranteed to revive body and soul.

One of the highlights is a countless number of starfish in the clear blue seawater, gorgeous creatures that imprint themselves on one’s memory.

Experiencing Local Life

Visiting a fishing village is also about sampling the lives of local fishermen. Remember to wake up early to wait for the sunrise and walk along the coast at sunset. These are the times you can enjoy both the shimmering, dazzling nature of the coastal village and the typical daily activities of the residents. They toss fishing nets and pull them to catch fish in the early morning, then head for the market to sell their catch.

In Rạch Vẹm you will find a household that raises bớp fish (cobia) in cage. They offer tourists a chance to experience aquaculture: feeding, arranging the cages, etc. Local people are so friendly and hospitable that they can take you on their boats and show you how to take care of the cages, and catch fish and squid.

Seafood in Rạch Vẹm Village is fresh and diverse. One of the best known dishes is the bớp fish. Don’t look for too much sophisticated cooking of the bớp fish because it will prevent you from enjoying the freshness and sweetness of this kind of oily fish. The bớp fish are grilled with chili and pepper, and bớp fish hotpots.

Rạch Vẹm Village is an ideal place to swim in the clear seawater without worrying about noisy and annoying tourists and to enjoy delicious seafood at fair prices. It is also a refresh glimpse of a simple life on an island far away from the urban bustle. What more can one ask for?

- By Hoàng Linh

The Jakarta Post, Indonesia - Bali’s new tourist spot boasts herbs, coffee

Those who want to explore the richness of Indonesian herbs and coffee should visit this newly launched destination in Tabanan, Bali.

Situated on approximately 35,000 square metres of land, Secret Garden Village is a one-stop educational and tourism site for holiday makers.

In a combination of modern and traditional Balinese architecture amid the cool weather of the Bedugul area, this complex is said to be the first travel herborist education spot in North Bali.

“The venue was officially opened on Dec. 9 by Tourism Minister Arief Yahya,” the ministry's culinary and shopping tourism acceleration team head Vita Datau Messakh told kompas.com.

Activities include, exploring Indonesian traditional plants and natural cosmetics at Beauty Heritage Museum, learning the step-by-step process in creating beauty products at a mini factory, shopping for various beauty products at the Beauty Store and learning and tasting different types of local coffee at Black Eye Coffee & Roastery. Visitors can also opt to taste Balinese and Asian cuisines at The Luwuh or sample items from the international barbecue menus at the Rice View restaurants.

With “the next iconic destination on Bali" as its slogan, Secret Garden Village focuses on gourmet beauty concepts that blend a five-sense experience into one.

“Hopefully this new tourism spot can attract more tourists and investors to both the southern and northern parts of Bali,” said Secret Garden Village owner Billy Hartono Salim.

Myanmar Eleven, Myanmar - Nyaungshwe to open night market for tourism

Nyaungshwe Township in southern Shan State will spend about 200 million kyat ($144,469) to open a grand night market early next year as a tourist attraction as well as for regional development, according to Myanmar Restaurant Owners Association (Inlay Zone).

The Nyaungshwe night market will have various shops mainly selling traditional handicrafts and local products. There will also be a swimming pool, a children's sport grounds and traditional handcraft workshops.

"The night market was first planned to open in October this year. But we are now planning to open it in January. The aim is to attract foreign visitors and develop the region. We estimate that the cost ranges between 150 million kyat and 200 million kyat," said Myo Min Zaw, the chairman of the association.

The market will also be equipped with 20 restaurants of international standard, 15 small food shops and 20 souvenir shops which are due to open from 4 pm to 11 pm daily.

The project is being implemented by Myanmar Hoteliers Association and Myanmar Restaurant Owners Association. However, the night market will be operating mainly under the directive of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.

At the night market, members of the two above mentioned associations and the Souvenir Shopkeepers Association and the Tourism Entrepreneurs Association will be prioritised in opening shops.

On November 23, Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, opened a night market on Strand Road under the management of the region government and Yangon City Development Committee. An official said that the aim is to enable street vendors to sell their products in a designated place as they will be banned from 11 main roads to meet the standards of a modern city.

Around 1,600 out of more than 6,000 street food and fruit vendors are allowed to move to the newly opened night market from 3 pm to 11 pm every day.

- By Myat Su Naing

The Nation, Thailand - Thailand's Jim Thompson Farm opens for its winter blast

The massive flower field is still a popular backdrop for photos. (The Nation / The Nation)

With the cool season now in full swing, the Jim Thompson Farm in Pak Thong Chai district of Nakhon Ratchasima has once again thrown open its gates and as it does every year, is inviting Thais and foreigners to take in the beauty of nature and experience the Isaan way of life.

Designed around the theme “Kak-Ta-Ta! Phrae E Pho” (Amazing Loincloth), this year’s Farm Tour aims to broaden visitors’ knowledge of the multifunctional pa kao ma through a series of fun and educational activities.

And the pa kao ma in glorious new palettes inspired by golden rice paddies and the fields of flowers are everywhere on the farm, forming giant wind wheels and a home for giant pumpkins as part of renowned artist Navin Rawanchaikul’s multifaceted exhibition “Lost on the Farm” marking Jim Thompson’s 110th birthday.

“Kak ta ta signifies ‘amazing’ in English and phrae e pho is pa kao ma. This year we are highlighting the relationship between the Isaan people and the pa kao ma. Navin’s exhibition is a continuation of his 2006 show “Lost in the City” exhibition, which saw Jim Thompson returning home to Bangkok 40 years after his mysterious disappearance and his reactions to the very changed city. This year, Navin takes us on a new journey as he imagines Thompson visiting his farm in Pak Thong Chai district,” says Chutima Dumsuwan, the communication director of Jim Thompson.

The 600-rai farm is divided into five themed zones covering colourful flower fields, organic vegetable plantations, a wonderfully decorated pumpkin patch, a model Isaan-style village and a handicraft market. All are made for lingering and admiring the Isaan wisdom and enjoying a slower pace of life.

“We’ve introduced a new kind of bloom and created a new garden by focusing on the loincloth’s functions. Our aim is to show how the people of Isaan interact with the pa kao ma from birth to death. It’s inseparable from the Isaan lifestyle,” says Phahonchai Premjai, architect and adviser to the Jim Thompson Farm.

“Navin and his team have created a new music-video version of the ‘Pa Kao Ma’ song by Surin Phaksiri as a complement to the exhibition.”

Like every year, the 50-rai cosmos field greets visitors with a sea of pink as the shuttle buses head to the heart of the farm. A favourite with all ages, the pumpkin patch is this year joined by a giant pumpkin-like house built from loincloths and a towering wind turbine that’s covered in vibrant tartan cloth fluttering in the breeze.

New on-site attractions include a picturesque Loincloth Labyrinth and the sea of multicoloured blooms boasting white and red English roses, Blue Sundew, French sunflowers and the Sulfur Cosmos.

Standing alone on the grassland, a model castle complex, built to resemble the Phimai Historical Park, is decked out in loincloths of different shades of yellow to reflect the beauty of ripening rice fields. Next door is the 10-rai Isaan Village, which is home to many magnificent wooden houses in the Korat-style and religious buildings only found in the Northeast.

The “Lost on the Farm” exhibition is centred on the village courtyard. Veteran artist Navin and his production team from his Chiang Mai-based StudiOK are showcasing an avant-garde mobile art gallery modified from the vibrant E-tan farmer’s truck.

Featuring all the people involved with the farm, visitors will enjoy a fun scene that explores the life of Jim Thompson after he vanished to his reappearance on the farm through creative, hand-painted billboard art. The adjacent Ruan Nang Auey house has been transformed into a mini theatre and furnished with loincloths, stools and walls made from hay.

Navin invites visitors to dance to the new music-video version of Surin Paksiri’s “Pa Kao Ma” and watch his documentary detailing how the loincloth has been used in local life in Thailand’s North and Northeast

The exhibition also features comics that take readers back to the origins of Pak Thong Chai district and portray the development of Jim Thompson into Thailand’s leading textile company. The village itself is home to a 2.5-metre rice offering made from pa kao ma, a sacred wooden Buddha image created more than 100 years ago and fortunes adapted from the 13 chapters of Maha Vessantara Jataka as contained in the Isaan pha phawaed literature.

Families can join workshops and learn how to weave the loincloth from skilful artisans or check out a series of “Kak Ta Ta Phrae E Pho” books penned by Professor Weera Sudsang. The books and their lovely illustrations narrate how the pa kao ma has always been part of Isaan culture.

“The word pa kao ma comes from Persia while E Pho comes from the Chinese. It was originally an Arab design that came to Asia via marine trade. The pa kao ma is multifunctional and is used for many things, including as a hammock for a newborn or as a garment, shawl and handkerchief. Isaan people often wear silk loincloths to religious ceremonies and other important events, while cotton pa kao ma is worn in daily life for better ventilation,” says Yoothapong Martiset, a cultural adviser to Jim Thompson.

And, as ever, the Jim Thompson Market is a perfect place to shop for refined silk apparel, fashion accessories, home furnishings and agricultural products, all of which make great festive season gifts.

- By Pattarawadee Saengmanee 

Borneo Bulletin, Brunei - Kudos to Brunei’s green strides

Brunei Darussalam once again garnered global recognition as one of the top 10 countries in the world with most protected areas. The Sultanate took 7th place globally with 44.1 per cent of land designated as protected, according to a World Bank report.

Venezuela (53.9 per cent of total land area) came in the first place, followed by Slovenia (53.6 per cent); Monaco (53.4 per cent; Bhutan (47.3 per cent; Turks and Caicos Islands (44.4 per cent and Liechtenstein 44.3 per cent), based on data compiled by the World Bank two years ago (2014).

For its sources, The World Bank used information from the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, compiled by the World Resources Institute, based on data from national and international agencies.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines a protected area as “a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”.

According to the World Bank, as of now, a mere 14.8 per cent of the world’s total land enjoys protected status, which is actually a step-up from 1990 when it was just 8.2 per cent.

Keeping up the spirit of the Heart of Borneo Declaration, Brunei has been effectively managing its forest resources through commendable conservation efforts over the past years that have gained global recognition for the Sultanate.

Brunei Darussalam recently gained international acclaim for having bio-rich tropical rainforests, majority of which are still in pristine condition and protected by effective legislation, despite occupying just one per cent of the total forest in the island of Borneo.

Brunei Darussalam is among those countries with a leading forest area, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in a report in November this year.

In ADB’s Key Indicators 2016 report, Laos topped the list with a forest cover of 81.3 per cent followed by Bhutan (70 per cent), Brunei (70 per cent) and Papua New Guinea (70 per cent).

The report was prepared by the Development Economics and Indicators Division (ERDI) of the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department (ERCD) of the ADB.

Currently, Brunei has the highest proportion of intact peat swamp forests in Southeast Asia. According to the Forestry Department, about 80 per cent of the peat swamp forest is still in good quality, covering around 16 per cent of the country’s total land area.

The department said last year that forest law and the national forest policy have been further strengthened with the formulation and implementation of the National Master Plan or Vision 2035.

In Brunei Darussalam, there has been a strong political will at all levels of the society to manage and conserve its forest resources since 1934 when the Forest Act was formalised in the country.

The high appreciation for forest and the role of forestry in the Bruneian society have ensured active participation from a wider range of stakeholders in the protection and conservation of the Sultanate’s natural forests.

- By Azlan Othman

Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippines - Lifestyle guide to holiday staycations — from north to south

With the traffic jams worsening as the holidays approach, more and more families are considering holing up at home or in their neighbourhood.

Fortunately, staycation is getting more and more popular — an option that allows them to still celebrate in a festively decorated space but without having to brave the traffic every time they go out.

Here is Lifestyle’s list of hotels offering holiday room packages with family-friendly — and even pet-inclusive — activities.

Manila

City of Dreams Manila has several treats lined up, including VIP access to DreamPlay and its Christmas-themed “Wild Winter” experience. On December 23-24, and December 26-January1, DreamWorks characters Shrek, Fiona, Po of “Kung Fu Panda” and Alex and King Julien of “Madagascar” will join a Christmas parade.

If you prefer to sing, you can book one of 10 KTV rooms at Chaos nightclub.

Guests at Crown or Nobu Hotel can book one of four, fully stocked poolside cabanas for a unique holiday getaway. Each cabana can accommodate up to six guests and is equipped with a flat-screen TV, fruit, snacks and cold drinks.

Aside from access to the pools, guests can also soak in the Instagram-worthy Jacuzzi. Tel. 8008080 or e-mail guestservices@cod-manila.com.

Marriott Manila is after every child’s heart with a life-sized gingerbread train parked at the lobby and loaded with all sorts of decadent holiday treats. Guests can pretend to be the train captain and capture the moment in a photo or two.  Those who prefer the traditional gingerbread house can head to the Marriott Grand Ballroom. Tel. 9889999.

Resorts World Manila is holding a “Grand Countdown to 2017” at the Marriott Grand Ballroom. Guests who book the special room packages at either Remington Hotel or Belmont Hotel can get two gold tickets to the event and gourmet dinner for two.

Youngsters can enjoy the Kid Zone in the same venue, complete with inflatable toys, movie room, nap room and dressing room, while adults enjoy performances by French illusionist Sophie Edelstein, top Filipino band Juan Miguel Salvador and The Authority Band, and Lea Salonga and Bamboo. Musical direction is by Gerard Salonga and Ria Osorio. Tel. 9088000 loc. 8992 or 7683 or email nerizza.villanueva@rwmanila.com and pepito.urcia@rwmanila.com. Reservations must be made seven days before check-in date. For room and ticket reservations, Belmont Hotel Manila, 3188888 or Remington Hotel at 9088833.

Bookings made at Sofitel Philippine Plaza from December 1-29 with rates starting at P7,000 include breakfast for two adults and two children (11 years and below) at Spiral, complimentary in-room movies and a 20 per cent discount on dining outlets.

There is a colourful Christmas market or Le Marché de Noël in the main lobby. Indulge in sensory treats like aromatic mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, local pastries, crêpes and Christmas candy as well as Christmas decor, toys, and unique souvenirs. Tel. 5515555 or e-mail H6308@sofitel.com.

Conrad Manila embraces its luxury cruise-like architecture with a “Christmas Cruise” room package inclusive of breakfast for two adults and two children at Brasserie on 3.

Spend the day lounging with your family at the poolside or book a treatment at Conrad Spa. For New Year’s Eve, come early to secure front-row seats at C Lounge where there will be live entertainment and a cocktail buffet.

Conrad Manila pool (Philippine Daily Inquirer / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

At the stroke of midnight, the skies come alive with fireworks. Tel. 8339999 or e-mail conrad.manila@conradhotels.com.

Ortigas

Marco Polo Ortigas has Christmas and New Year’s Eve room packages but its unique offering is its Venetian theme — Marco Polo’s native city — that can be seen in the F&B outlets and throughout the hotel.

The property’s new chef de cuisine Giuseppe Rivoli has prepared an Italian menu guests can sample at Cucina like minced beef roll with spinach, ham, bacon, parmesan cheese and herbs (Pollpettone alla Siciliana); Slow cooked Baby Short Ribs in Balsamic Sauce with Roasted Potato and Bell Pepper; and Cacciucco with Prawns, Mussel, Clams with Garlic Crostini. Tel. 7207777 or e-mail manila@marcopolohotels.com.

Want to go on vacay in style, basking in luxury with your pet by your side? Then head over to Oakwood Premier Joy Nostalg in Pasig.

Located in the heart of Ortigas center, it has one-bedroom suites with a king-sized bed, home entertainment system, three televisions, dining area for four, fully equipped kitchen, free-standing bathtub, and shower stall with rain shower and steam generator. Joy-Nostalg Center, 17 ADB Avenue, San Antonio, Pasig City. Tel. 9108888.

Makati

Raffles and Fairmont Makati have chosen a musical theme this Christmas which they’ve interpreted in the decor, the holiday hampers and the entertainment. Enjoy tea time at Writers Bar with special performances by a quartet from the Manila Symphony Orchestra on all Saturdays of December.

On December 18, an ensemble from the Manila Youth Orchestra will perform during the gingerbread house decorating event in the ballroom. Kids can decorate their own gingerbread houses with sweets, cookies and frosting for P950. At the end of the workshop, they get to bring home their works of art. Tel. 7951840 or e-mail dining.makati@raffles.com.

Guests using the room packages at Discovery Primea for two or more nights will receive complimentary KidZania tickets. Parents can bond with school-aged kids who will enjoy the “real world” learning experiences. Use the promo code HOME when booking at dp.rsvn@discovery.com.ph.  Tel. 9558888 or 9882988.

The Makati Diamond Residences in Legazpi Street in Legazpi Village, Makati, has two Karaoke Room packages. Guests can book the property’s private cinema equipped with basic karaoke equipment and snacks and beverages for 10 for three hours.

Choose from two room packages priced at 10,000 or 12,000 pesos with snacks like Barbecue Pulled Pork with Mini Brioche, Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce and Vegetable Samosa with Raita Dipping Sauce or Birds Nest with Smoked Pork and Coffee Bourbon Sauce, Sausage Skewered with Vegetable and Eggplant, and Fish Sticks with Fresh Tomato Salsa.

The Karaoke Package is available from December 1-30, 9 am to 9 pm Reservation is encouraged. Tel. 3170999 loc. 1215 or e-mail events@makatidiamond.com.

Just a stone’s throw away from Power Plant Mall, Joya Lofts and Towers is the ideal place for a staycation with your fur babies. The fully furnished, air-conditioned units have it all—from cookware to cutlery to toilet amenities. If you need to cook food, there’s Rustan’s Market Place at the basement floor of the mall. Joya Residences, 28 Rockwell Drive, Ortigas Center, Makati. Tel. 7980497.

Ascott Makati is perfect for shoppers as it is located at Glorietta 4. Guests can use the new facilities including the lap pool and the Cubbies playroom for kids, complete with toys, books and movies. There are Cubbies activities for the little ones like drawing and crafts mounted by the Ascott Host (guest service). Tel. 7298888.

Take in some art and culture at Ayala Museum when you book a room at Makati Shangri-La.  Room stays between Dec. 16 and Jan. 8 include an Ayala Museum day pass and breakfast for two adults and two children (below 5 years old) at Circles. Additional museum tickets can be purchased at 50 percent off. The hotel has a newly renovated pool. Tel. 8138888 or e-mail slm@shangri-la.com.

Bonifacio Global City

Ascott Bonifacio Global City boasts of facilities such as its pool and Cubbies playroom for kids. The property also has a fully equipped gym. Since it is a serviced residence, the guest rooms furnished with kitchenettes, guests can also hold simple cooking or baking activities with their kids. Tel. 8609888.

Kids aged 12 and below have free access to Shangri-La at the Fort’s Adventure Zone for each day of their stay. Instead of the regular inclusion of breakfast for two, the hotel’s festive offering is a Family Buffet breakfast package for two adults and two children 11 years and below at High Street Cafe.

Guests who book the Christmas package for stays from December 15 to January 8 will automatically join a lucky draw for a chance to win a complimentary two-night Family Weekend Stay in a one-bedroom Shangri-La Residence. Tel. 8200888 or visit www.shangri-la.com/fort.

South

Somerset Alabang Manila is the first Ascott property in the south. Aside from its new facilities — pool, Cubbies playroom and gym — it also has bicycles it rents out to guests. Families can go biking down tree-lined streets and enjoy the view of Laguna de Bay. Tel. 6430999 or e-mail enquiry.manila@theascott.com.

- By Raoul J. Chee Kee with Anne A. Jambora