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Bangkok – THAILAND

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Bangkok – THAILAND

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Bangkok is the capital, largest urban area and primary city of Thailand. Known in Thai as Krung Thep Mahanakhon ), meaning “City of the Deity”) for short, it was a small trading post at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River during the Ayutthaya Kingdom. It came to the forefront of Siam when it was given the status as the capital city in 1768 after the burning of Ayutthaya. However, the current Rattanakosin Kingdom did not begin until 1782 when the capital was moved across the river by Rama I after the death of King Taksin. The Rattanakosin capital is now more formally called “Phra Nakhon” (Thai: พระนคร), pertaining to the ancient boundaries in the metropolis’ core and the name Bangkok now incorporates the urban build-up since the 18th century which has its own public administration and governor.

Since its inception as the capital of Siam, it was at the center of European Colonial plans, but due to its strategic location in Indochina, it acted as a buffer-zone and brokered power between the European forces. Through this, it gained notoriety in the world as an independent, dynamic, and influential city. And in the span of over two hundred years, Bangkok has grown to become the political, social and economic center of Thailand, Indochina and one of Southeast Asia.

As a direct result of the 1980s and 1990s Asian investment boom, numerous multinational corporations base their regional headquarters in Bangkok and the city has become a regional force in finance and business. Its increasing influence on global politics, culture, fashion, and entertainment underlines its status as a global city. In 2009, it was the second most expensive city in South-East Asia behind Singapore.

The city’s wealth of cultural landmarks and attractions in addition to its notorious entertainment venues has made it synonymous with exoticism. Its historic wealth coincides with its rapid modernization, reflected in the cityscape and the urban society. The Grand Palace, Vimanmek Palace Complex, its thousands of temples, and the city’s notorious red-light districts combine draw in 11 million international visitors each year, trailing just Paris and London.

Bangkok has a population of approximately 6,355,144 residents while the greater Bangkok area has a population of 11,971,000 (January 2008). The capital is part of the heavily urbanized triangle of central and eastern Thailand which stretches from Nakhon Ratchasima along Bangkok to the heavily Industrialized Eastern Seaboard. Bangkok borders six other provinces: Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon and Nakhon Pathom, and all five provinces are joined in the conurbation of the Bangkok Metropolitan Area. It is served by two international airports, Suvarnabhumi International Airport and Don Muang, four rapid transit lines operated by the BTS, MRT, and the SRT, with plans to add eight more by 2020.

What to Do at Night in Sukhumvit

Sukhumvit’s nightlife is exciting, ever-evolving, cosmopolitan and can be reduced to three main hedonistic pursuits: drinking, dancing and debauchery.

Along it, and its many adjoining sois, are countless pubs and bars, many of them very popular with expats and tourists. Most are either American-style bars or European watering holes, with the selection of draught beers and foods on sale usually reflecting the adopted theme (and more often than not the nationality of the owner).

They usually close between midnight and 01:00, and many have live music and pool tables. See our Bangkok pubs and bars section for details.  The perfect prelude to a big night out, many hotels here have flash upscale bars perfect for warm-up cocktails. These include the Westin Grande, Dream and Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit.

Bangkok Go-Go Bars

Bangkok Hot Spots :

Bikini-clad dancing girls, over-the-top ladyboys and lewd, eye-popping shows… Yes, the Go-Go bars that earned Bangkok its worldwide notoriety are still alive and letting it all hang out. For better or worse, Bangkok’s illustrious ‘After Dark’ reputation owes much to these spots.

The first area that springs to mind is Patpong – Nowadays, having become part of a wider entertainment scene that includes the popular Patpong Night Market, bars, nightclubs and a gay area, it isn’t the aggressive red-light district it once was.

Open-minded visitors, lured in by hard-selling touts and their curiosity, treat the infamous upstairs shows like a circus show, coming in for a quick look at the inventive performances, a giggle and a couple of overpriced drinks before heading off to continue their shopping or hit a nearby club (these performances are also dubbed ‘ping-pong shows’, and a lot of imagination isn’t needed to guess the origins of this phrase.)

These are found predominantly at Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy, red light districts both situated on lower Sukhumvit Road. Depending on the current level of police interference, both offer explicit shows featuring girls in various stages of undress; usually uniforms, bikinis or pretty much nothing bar a coy smile and a dash of Burberry Weekend. Nana even has its own on-site ‘guesthouse’ for clients.

Nana Entertainment Plaza

Greeting you when you pass beneath the monstrous ‘Nana Entertainment Plaza’ entrance sign is a mass of glowing neon signs, yelling at you from all directions. Shouting even louder than the neon is the intriguing cast of upfront characters – ladyboys, midgets and, of course, girls – who will try and accost you. They can be in your face, but it’s all light-hearted and unthreatening.

On the ground floor there are mostly open-air beer bars to choose from. With salacious names like Lollipop and Red Lips, girls here will try and tempt you in for a drink, a game of Jenga and, probably, more. Some will step into your path or give you a gentle jab in the kidneys to encourage you. Others will resort to trying to drag you in – a shrug and a quick side-step is usually enough to shake them off. A few go-go bars line the right side. Playschool, Rainbow 1 and Rainbow 2 all pack them in – both the bikini-clad girls and the punters.

Nights in White Satin

Ascend up the escalator to the first floor and it’s mostly go-go bars. These include Spankys, Fantasia and Rainbow 3. Rainbow 4 is one of the biggest, with hordes of Japanese-looking girls attracting a busy mix of Westerners and Japanese spectators.

G-Spot, Cassanova and Temptations are among the most popular, and it’s no surprise – they’re ladyboy bars and put on dazzling shows. Angel Witch, on the left, with its lesbian and dominatrix shows is also a big hit. A lot of thought and energy clearly goes into the costumes and performances here – girls in elegant but provocative strips of white satin were strutting gracefully to ‘Nights in White Satin’ on our visit.

For relative calm, head for Big Dogs bar on the left corner of the entrance. This is a humble watering-hole, with beers and a raised terrace view onto the street and alleyway.
How to get there: walking distance from Nana BTS Skytrain station.

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Wellington, New Zealand – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Wellington, New Zealand – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, at the southwestern tip of the North Island between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range. The Wellington urban area is the major population centre of the southern North Island and is New Zealand’s third most populous urban area with 381,900 residents. There are 473,700 residents in the Wellington Region (June 2008 estimates).

Wellington’s suburbs lie across four cities. Wellington City, on the peninsula between Cook Strait and Wellington Harbour, contains the central business district and about half of Wellington’s population. Porirua City on Porirua Harbour to the north is notable for its large Māori and Pacific Island communities. Lower Hutt City and Upper Hutt City are suburban areas to the northeast, together known as the Hutt Valley. Although each of the four cities also contains a rural hinterland, almost all of the population is within the urban area.

Name

Wellington was named after Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and victor of the Battle of Waterloo. The Duke’s title comes from the town of Wellington in the English county of Somerset.

In Māori, Wellington goes by three names. Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara refers to Wellington Harbour and means “the great harbour of Tara”. Pōneke is a transliteration of Port Nick, short for Port Nicholson (the city’s central marae, the community supporting it and its kapa haka have the pseudo-tribal name of Ngāti Pōneke). Te Upoko-o-te-Ika-a-Māui, meaning The Head of the Fish of Māui (often shortened to Te Upoko-o-te-Ika), a traditional name for the southernmost part of the North Island, derives from the legend of the fishing up of the island by the demigod Māui. Wellington also has nicknames including The Harbour Capital, Wellywood and the Windy City .

Importance

Wellington is New Zealand’s political centre, housing Parliament and the head offices of all Government Ministries and Departments, plus the bulk of the foreign diplomatic missions that are based in New Zealand.

Wellington’s compact city centre supports an arts scene, café culture and nightlife much larger than most cities of a similar size. It is an important centre of New Zealand’s film and theatre industry, and second to Auckland in terms of numbers of screen industry businesses. Te Papa Tongarewa (the Museum of New Zealand), the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Museum of Wellington City & Sea and the biennial New Zealand International Arts Festival are all sited there.

Wellington has the 12th best quality of living in the world in 2009, a ranking holding steady from 2007, according to a 2007 study by consulting company Mercer. Of cities with English as the primary language, Wellington ranked fourth in 2007. Of cities in the Asia Pacific region, Wellington ranked third (2009) behind Auckland and Sydney, Australia. Of New Zealand cities only Auckland rated higher with a ranking of fourth best in the world in 2009, rising slightly from fifth in 2006 and 2007.

Wellington became much more affordable, in terms of cost of living relative to cities worldwide, with it’s ranking moving from 93rd (more expensive) to 139th (less expensive) in 2009, probably as a result of currency fluctuations during the global economic downturn from March 2008 to March 2009.[11] “Foreigners get more bang for their buck in Wellington, which is among the cheapest cities in the world to live”, according to a 2009 article, which reported that currency fluctuations make New Zealand cities affordable for multi-national firms to do business, and elaborated that “New Zealand cities were now more affordable for expatriates and were competitive places for overseas companies to develop business links and send employees”.

Settlement

Legend recounts that Kupe discovered and explored the district in about the tenth century. European settlement began with the arrival of an advance party of the New Zealand Company on the ship Tory, on 20 September 1839, followed by 150 settlers on the Aurora on 22 January 1840.

The settlers constructed their first homes at Petone (which they called Britannia for a time) on the flat area at the mouth of the Hutt River. When that proved swampy and flood-prone they transplanted the plans, which had been drawn without regard for the hilly terrain.

Earthquakes

Wellington suffered serious damage in a series of earthquakes in 1848 and from another earthquake in 1855. The 1855 Wairarapa earthquake occurred on a fault line to the north and east of Wellington. It ranks as probably the most powerful earthquake in recorded New Zealand history, with an estimated magnitude of at least 8.2 on the Richter scale.

It caused vertical movements of two to three metres over a large area, including raising an area of land out of the harbour and turning it into a tidal swamp. Much of this land was subsequently reclaimed and is now part of Wellington’s central business district. For this reason the street named Lambton Quay now runs 100 to 200 metres (325 to 650 ft) from the harbour. Plaques set into the footpath along Lambton Quay mark the shoreline in 1840 and thus indicate the extent of the uplift and reclamation.

The area has high seismic activity even by New Zealand standards, with a major fault line running through the centre of the city, and several others nearby. Several hundred more minor fault lines have been identified within the urban area. The inhabitants, particularly those in high-rise buildings, typically notice several earthquakes every year. For many years after the 1855 earthquake, the majority of buildings constructed in Wellington were made entirely from wood.

The 1996-restored Government Buildings, near Parliament is the largest wooden office building in the Southern Hemisphere. While masonry and structural steel have subsequently been used in building construction, especially for office buildings, timber framing remains the primary structural component of almost all residential construction. Residents also place their hopes of survival in good building regulations, which gradually became more stringent in the course of the twentieth century.

New Zealand’s capital

In 1865, Wellington became the capital of New Zealand, replacing Auckland, where William Hobson had established his capital in 1841. Parliament first sat in Wellington on 7 July 1862, but the city did not become the official capital for some time.

In November 1863 the Premier Alfred Domett moved a resolution before Parliament (in Auckland) that “… it has become necessary that the seat of government … should be transferred to some suitable locality in Cook Strait.” Apparently there was concern that the southern regions, where the gold fields were located, would form a separate colony. Commissioners from Australia (chosen for their neutral status) pronounced the opinion that Wellington was suitable because of its harbour and central location.

Parliament officially sat in Wellington for the first time on 26 July 1865. The population of Wellington was then 4,900. Wellington is the seat of New Zealand’s highest court, the Supreme Court of New Zealand. The historic former High Court building is to be enlarged and restored for the court’s use. Government House, the official residence of the Governor-General, is in Newtown, opposite the Basin Reserve.

Food

Wellington’s cafe culture is prominent. The city has more cafes per capita than New York City.[59] Restaurants are either licensed to sell alcohol, BYO (bring your own), or unlicensed (no alcohol); many let you bring your own wine. Restaurants offer a variety of cuisines from around the world, including from Europe, Asia, Polynesia. “For dishes that have a distinctly New Zealand style, there’s lamb, pork and cervena (venison), salmon, crayfish (lobster), bluff oysters, paua (abalone), mussels, scallops, pipis and tuatua (both are types of New Zealand shellfish); kumara (sweet potato); kiwifruit and tamarillo; and pavlova, the national dessert,” recommends one tourism website.

Festivals

Wellington has become home to a myriad of high-profile events and cultural celebrations, including the biennial New Zealand International Arts Festival, biennial Wellington Jazz Festival, and major events such as World of Wearable Art, Cuba Street Carnival, New Zealand Fringe Festival, New Zealand International Comedy Festival (also hosted in Auckland), Summer City, The Wellington Folk Festival (in Wainuiomata), New Zealand Affordable Art Show, the New Zealand Sevens Weekend and Parade, Out in the Square, Vodafone Homegrown, the Couch Soup theater festival, and numerous film festivals.

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Havana with Tony Wheeler – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Havana with Tony Wheeler – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Havana is the capital city, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city is one of the 14 Cuban provinces. The city/province has 2.4 million inhabitants, and the urban area over 3.7 million, making Havana the largest city in both Cuba and the Caribbean region. The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbours: Marimelena, Guanabacoa, and Atarés. The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay. In 1959 the city halted its growth, and since then has suffered a net loss of living units, despite its population increase.

King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City in 1592 and a royal decree in 1634 recognized its importance by officially designated as the “Key to the New World and Rampart of the West Indies”. Havana’s coat of arms carries this inscription. The Spaniards began building fortifications, and in 1553 they transferred the governor’s residence to Havana from Santiago de Cuba on the eastern end of the island, thus making Havana the de facto capital.

The importance of harbour fortifications was early recognized as English, French, and Dutch sea marauders attacked the city in the 16th century. The sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana’s harbor in 1898 was the immediate cause of the Spanish-American War. Present day Havana is the center of the Cuban government, and various ministries and headquarters of businesses are based there.

Geography

The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbours: Marimelena, Guanabacoa, and Atarés. The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay.

The low hills on which the city lies rise gently from the deep blue waters of the straits. A noteworthy elevation is the 200-foot- (60-metre-) high limestone ridge that slopes up from the east and culminates in the heights of La Cabaña and El Morro, the sites of colonial fortifications overlooking the bay. Another notable rise is the hill to the west that is occupied by the University of Havana and the Prince’s Castle.

Landmarks

  • Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña, a fortress located on the east side of the Havana bay, La Cabaña is the most impressive fortress from colonial times, particularly its walls constructed (at the same time as El Morro) at the end of the 18th century.
  • El Capitolio Nacional, built in 1929 as the Senate and House of Representatives, this colossal building is recognizable by its dome which dominates the city’s skyline. Inside stands the third largest indoor statue in the world, La Estatua de la República. Nowadays, the Cuban Academy of Sciences headquarters and the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (the National Museum of Natural History) has its venue within the building and contains the largest natural history collection in the country.
  • Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro is a picturesque fortress guarding the entrance to Havana bay, constructed because of the threat to the harbor from pirates.
  • Castillo San Salvador de la Punta, a small fortress built in the 16th century, at the western entry point to the Havana harbour, it played a crucial role in the defence of Havana during the first centuries of colonisation. The fortress still houses some twenty old guns and other military antiques.
  • El Cristo de La Habana, Havana’s statue of Christ blesses the city from the other side of the bay, much like the famous Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro. Carved from marble by Jilma Madera, it was erected in 1958 on a platform which makes a good spot from which to watch old Havana and the harbor.
  • The Great Theatre of Havana, famous particularly for the acclaimed National Ballet of Cuba, it sometimes hosts performances by the National Opera. The theater is also known as concert hall, Garcia Lorca, the biggest in Cuba.
  • Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Art Deco National Hotel.
  • El Malecón Habanero, the avenue that runs beside the seawall built along the northern shore of Havana, from Habana Vieja to the Almendares River, it forms the southern boundary of Old Havana, Centro Habana and Vedado.
  • Museo de la Revolución, located in the former Presidential Palace, with the yacht Granma on display behind the museum.
  • Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón, a cemetery and open air museum, it is one of the most famous cemeteries in Latin America, known for its beauty and magnificence. The cemetery was built in 1876 and has nearly one million tombs. Some of the gravestones are decorated with the works of sculptors of the calibre of Ramos Blancos, among others.

Culture

Havana, by far the leading cultural centre of the country, offers a wide variety of features that range from museums, palaces, public squares, avenues, churches, fortresses (including the largest fortified complex in the Americas dating from the 16th through 18th centuries), ballet and from art and musical festivals to exhibitions of technology. The restoration of Old Havana offered a number of new attractions, including a museum to house relics of the Cuban revolution. The government placed special emphasis on cultural activities, many of which are free or involve only a minimal charge.

Before the Communists, Havana cinema rivalled New York City and Paris. As Guillaume Carpentier put it in a Le Monde article, “with nationalisation, they closed one by one, for lack of maintenance, films or electricity… Havana, Cubans complain, is a cemetery of cinemas. It is also a cemetery of bookshops, markets, shops…”.

Tourism

Before the Cuban Revolution – and particularly from 1915 to 1930 – tourism was one of Cuba’s major sources of hard currency (behind only the sugar and tobacco industries). Havana, where a kind of laissez-faire attitude in all things leisurely was the norm, was the Caribbean’s most popular destination, particularly with US citizens, who sought to skirt the restrictions of prohibition America.

Following a severe drop in the influx of tourists to the island (resulting, primarily, from the Great Depression, the end of prohibition in the United States and the outbreak of World War II), Havana began to welcome visitors in significant numbers again in the 1950s, when US organized crime secured control of much of the leisure and tourism industries in the country.

This was a time when Cuba’s foreign minister boasted that Havana spent as much on parties as any major capital in the world, when the island was the mob’s most secure link in the drug-trafficking chain which culminated in the United States and when the country’s justified reputation for sensuality and dolce vita pursuits earned it the appellation of “the Latin Las Vegas”. Meyer Lansky built the Hotel Riviera, Santo Trafficante came to own shares in the Sevilla and a casino was opened at the Hotel Plaza during this time.

It was tourism’s association to the world of gambling and prostitution which made the revolutionary government established in 1959 approach the entire sector as a social evil to be eradicated. Many bars and gambling venues were closed down following the revolution and a government body, the National Institute of the Tourism Industry, took over many facilities (traditionally available to wealthy) to make them accessible to the general public.

With the deterioration of Cuba – US relations and the imposition of a trade embargo on the island in 1961, tourism dropped drastically and did not return to anything close to its pre-revolution levels until 1989. The revolutionary government in general, and Fidel Castro in particular, initially opposed any considerable development of the tourism industry, linking the sphere to the debauchery and criminal activities of times past. In the late 1970s, however, Castro changed his stance and, in 1982, the Cuban government passed a foreign investment code which opened a number of sectors, tourism included, to foreign capital.

Through the creation of firms open to such foreign investment (such as Cubanacan, established in 1987), Cuba began to attract capital for hotel development, managing to increase the number of tourists from 130,000 (in 1980) to 326,000 (by the end of that decade).

As a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies in 1989 and early 90s, Cuba was plunged into a severe economic crisis and saw itself in desperate need of foreign currency. The answer, again, was found in tourism, and the Cuban government spent considerable sums in the industry to attract visitors. Following heavy investment, by 1995, the industry had become Cuba’s main source of income.


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