Ho Chi Minh City Saigon Waterbus makes maiden voyage

Ho Chi Minh City Saigon Waterbus makes maiden voyage

Ho Chi Minh City’s début river ferry service departed on its maiden voyage on Monday morning. With a party of VIPS on board, the yellow liveried Saigon Waterbus sailed from Bach Dang Wharf on its 11km journey to the Thu Duc District area of the city.

The river bus stops at 10 different Saigon River and Thanh Da Canal piers on its journey. The first month of operations will see Saigon Waterbus’s five 80-passenger vessels put through their paces before the service is opened to paying passengers in early October.
 
Only four of the river-buses will be utilised on a day-to-day basis. The other will be used as a spare when maintenance or repairs are needed on the others. The operators of the service say they aim to keep to a timetable of 21 minutes per trip and fares will be VND15,000 (US$.66).
 
River buses are an initiative by Ho Chi Minh’s council to help alleviate ever-worsening traffic conditions in this metropolis with a population of more than eight million. 12GO ASIA says that once known as Saigon, the city enjoys a rich heritage and has a corresponding number of tourism draws to match.

Tuoi Tre News supplied the picture of the Saigon Waterbus.


Bangkok Airport opens auto arrival gates, but only for Singaporeans

Bangkok Airport opens auto arrival gates, but only for Singaporeans

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport has staged an official ceremony to inaugurate the facility’s first automatic arrival gates for international passengers. The gates are being operated on a trial basis for Singaporean nationals only, but may be extended to include other nationalities in the future.

The pilot gates are fully automatic and hooked up to APPS (Advance Passenger Processing System) databases. High-tech scanners are used to check the photographs, passports details, and fingerprints of arriving Singaporean passengers.

The choice of Singaporeans to test the new system out on came about as a result of Singapore offering the same services for Thai nationals arriving at Changi Airport. The launch ceremony for the new gates on Saturday was presided over by senior officials from Thailand’s Immigration Bureau and Consular Affairs Division. 

A spokesperson noted that if the gates worked well and helped cut congestion in the international Arrivals hall at Suvarnabhumi, trials might be carried out at Don Mueang Airport and Phuket Airport. 12GO ASIA notes that other governments will be able to apply for the same services, but priority is likely to be offered to countries with high proportions of visitors to Thailand every year.


Ho Chi Minh City inaugurates new weekend night market

Ho Chi Minh City inaugurates new weekend night market

Ho Chi Minh City’s new pedestrian street market officially opened on Sunday evening. Bui Vien Street in the city’s Pham Ngu Lao tourist zone is now closed off to vehicular traffic every weekend evening from 19:00 to 02:00.

Vendors are permitted to set up stalls on the newly resurfaced pavements of Bui Vien, but not the road itself. The stalls offer everything from cut-price beer and archetypical Vietnamese snacks to logoed T-shirts, dolls and puppets, handicrafts and souvenirs, and the ever-popular Ho Chi Minh mementos.

Bui Vien Street’s collection of 90-plus shops, pubs and eateries also remain open during the market’s opening hours and add to the options available. On Sunday, municipal authorities set up stages for live performances at both ends of the 900-metre-long pedestrian thoroughfare. 12GO ASIA notes that visitors at the market on Sunday said it was lively and a great spot to eat and drink.

Ho Chi Minh City is the gateway to southern Vietnam and features an eclectic portfolio of tourist attractions. Tourists get the opportunity of visiting a revolutionary museum, seeing a water-puppet show and enjoying exciting nightlife to name a few of the draws. Our image of Bui Vien Street was supplied by Tuoi Tre News.


THAI Smile set to add Bangkok Luang Prabang flights to timetable

THAI Smile set to add Bangkok Luang Prabang flights to timetable

Budget carrier THAI Smile has confirmed flights from Bangkok to Luang Prabang will launch on the 1 October. The flights will operate four days a week in each direction and provide a seamless connection between the Thai capital and the UNESCO listed Lao heritage town.

Although a low-cost airline, THAI Smile is owned by national carrier Thai Airways and so is based at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Services to Luang Prabang will take off from Suvarnabhumi at 12:25 on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Scheduled arrival time in Luang Prabang is 14:00.

Return flights will leave at 14:50 and arrive back in Bangkok at 16:25. THAI Smile maintains a fleet of Airbus A320-200s and will be using these to serve the route. 12GO ASIA already offers reservations services for Bangkok Airways and Thai AirAsia flights on this route and will be adding THAI Smile’s in the near future.

The new service is not the first time THAI Smile has flown to Luang Prabang. The airline inaugurated the route late in 2014, but pulled the plug on it about 18 months later. This route is one of several the airline is currently launching. These include Phuket to Shanghai and Phuket to Guangzhou as well as Bangkok to Mandalay.


Jellyfish alert for Pranburi and nearby Gulf of Thailand beaches

Jellyfish alert for Pranburi and nearby Gulf of Thailand beaches

Volunteer rescue and aid workers in Pranburi say holidaymakers should avoid swimming in the sea for the time being. Workers attached to the Sawang Phaepaisan Thammasathan Foundation say they treated eight people for jellyfish stings on Sunday.

A spokesperson confirmed all eight people had been swimming in the sea near Pranburi and all had to be taken to Pranburi Hospital for treatment. Beachgoers reported hundreds of jellyfish had been washed inshore and up on to beaches by rough seas and high waves over the weekend.

The affected stretch of coastline was six kilometres long and between Pak Nam Pran, Pranburi’s main beach, and Khao Kalok. Stings from the chrysaora jellyfish found in the Gulf of Thailand are painful but are only fatal in cases where there is an extreme reaction. Local amphur officials say signs will be put up to warn of the dangers.

12GO ASIA’s resident experts say jellyfish sightings on Gulf of Thailand beaches are fairly common during the rainy season. They say swimmers should exercise caution when in the water or, better still, book hotels with swimming pools as nightly rates are invariably cheaper at this time of year.

Our image of the gulf jellyfish comes with courtesy of Manager Online.


Début Bangkok beer festival scheduled for September

Début Bangkok beer festival scheduled for September

Tickets for Bangkok’s very first craft beer festival have gone on sale. The three-day extravaganza for connoisseurs of fine beers will be staged at the city’s Oasis Creative Market on the first three evenings of September.

Thailand’s very own master brewers, Stone Head, are coordinating the beer-swilling event and say 50 different brews will be on offer.  Stone Head is expected to showcase its own signature brews including Tuk Tuk Ale, Triple Pearl and Weisse Pearl Witbier, but some international offerings will be on the menu.

Top Thai music acts have been lined up on all three evenings to serenade beer drinkers. Two Pill After Meal will be live on stage on the début day and will be followed by Po Yokee Playboy on day 2 while Somkiat will headline on the Sunday.

12GO ASIA notes that online tickets for the Bangkok Beer Fest 2017 are available from Ticket Melon. Tickets for one cost THB200 and include one free drink. Those coming with a friend get slight discounts as tickets for two are priced at THB350 and come with two complimentary beers.

Oasis Creative Market is in the Huay Kwang area of Bangkok and about 1.5kms from the Rama IX MTR underground station. Bangkok Beer Fest is open every evening from 17:00 on the 1, 2 and 3 September.


Malaysia airports authority to add passenger departure tax

Malaysia airports authority to add passenger departure tax

Malaysia’s civil aviation bureau says plans are afoot to increase and adjust the taxes passengers pay at public airports in the country. MAVCOM’s (Malaysia Aviation Commission) proposals are being finalised and are due to be debated in parliament in two months time.

 Media sources in the country report that a new MYR1 fee will be added to the ticket prices for departing passengers. This tax will be applicable to all flight departures apart from those at Borneo airports in the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

MAVCOM operations executive Azmir Zain notes that the MYR1 could generate MYR30 million a year. MAVCOM proposes introducing this tax early next year. The plan is to standardise all airport service taxes at the same time.  

Passenger service charges are currently MYR35 for flights to ASEAN bloc nations, but vary from MYR50 upwards on services to destinations farther afield. The initial proposal is to peg the tax at MYR73 for all non-ASEAN flights.  

12GO ASIA says the flight tax changes will have an impact on fares but it will not be a significant one. 12GO ASIA is the most reliable source for tickets from Malaysian airports in locations such as Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Langkawi and Penang.


VIP rail travel in Thailand to cost more from Monday

VIP rail travel in Thailand to cost more from Monday

Travelling in the State Railway of Thailand’s recently introduced VIP train carriages is going to cost more next week. The SRT’s deputy-governor, Thanongsak Pongprasert, said fares for travel in the state-of-the-art carriages would rise by up to 20 per cent effective on Monday 21 August.

In real terms the price hike will add around THB100 to the cost of travelling in second class seats and sleeping berths and THB200 to first class. The swish Chinese-built trains were introduced late last year and have been deployed on routes from Bangkok to Hat Yai in the south and Chiang Mai, Nong Khai and Ubon Ratchathani.

12GO ASIA’s reservations clerks say not every train is a new one. For example, Train Numbers 9 and 10 between Bangkok and Chiang Mai utilise the new carriages. Between Bangkok and Hat Yai, Trains 31 and 32 feature the premium quality carriages.

SRT deputy-governor Pongprasert told reporters the new trains had cost more because they were fitted with comfort enhancing features such as upholstered seats, LCD screens and modern bathrooms. He finished off by claiming the trial period was now over and it was time to incorporate the extra costs into fares.


Thailand Immigration Bureau says 10 year visas now available

Thailand Immigration Bureau says 10 year visas now available

The commander of Thailand’s Immigration Bureau says retired foreign nationals can now apply for 10-year visas. Natthathorn Prohsunthorn told media resources earlier this week retirees could now apply for the new visas-visa extensions at in-country immigration offices.

According to Thai news websites such as Khao Sod, the immigration police lieutenant-general clarified notices of the change had been sent to immigration offices in all of Thailand’s provinces. He explained that the long-term visas were an option for passport-holders from 14 countries.

Nationals from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK and the US are eligible for the visa provided they meet the various stipulations required. The main ones are that applicants have to be 50 years old and have deposited THB3 million into a Thai bank account.

12GO ASIA’s Bangkok team says the visa should be available at Chaeng Wattana Immigration Office now. The team notes that even though lieutenant-general Prohsunthorn did not mention the price for the 10-year visa, the figure of THB10,000 was in the original proposal.


Jetstar Pacific flights connect Quang Binh and Chiang Mai

Jetstar Pacific flights connect Quang Binh and Chiang Mai

Last week saw the inauguration of a new flight route connecting central Vietnam and the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. Vietnamese budget carrier Jetstar Pacific launched a twice weekly service last Friday which links the nation’s Quang Binh Province to the Rose of Thailand’s North.

Flights depart from Quang Binh’s Dong Hoi Airport on Mondays and Fridays. The departure times are not the same on the two days, but are early in the afternoon. The return flights take off from Chiang Mai late in the afternoon. Flight duration is 1 hour 40 minutes.

Travel industry analysts say the new route will tap into Chiang Mai’s ever-increasing popularity as a tourist destination. They claim it will mainly serve Vietnamese tourists, but the 12GO ASIA travel gurus say Quang Binh is not lacking in the attractions department either.

The UNESCO listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is definitely a highlight and boasts amazing limestone karsts and caves. Beaches such as Ly Hoa are noted for the translucence of the South China Sea's waters. Bang Spa’s hot springs and Ho Chi Minh Trail sites are other key draws for tourists.


Celebratory rites mark 20th birthday of Mae Sot-Myawaddy bridge

Celebratory rites mark 20th birthday of Mae Sot-Myawaddy bridge

Delegates from Thailand and Myanmar have marked the auspicious 20th birthday of a river bridge linking the two ASEAN nations. The ceremonies on Tuesday marked the official anniversary of the Moei River Friendship Bridge’s opening on 15 August 1997.

Tak province’s deputy governor, Sutha Saivanich, and Lui Go U, the governor of Myawaddy joined forces to cut the ribbons signalling the launch of Tuesday’s ceremonies. Since it opened, the bridge has played an integral role in enhancing trade and tourism between Thailand and Myanmar.

The bridge is more than 400-meters long and links directly to Myawaddy Town in Myanmar from close to the Thai town of Mae Sot in Tak Province. The Mae Sot-Myawaddy Friendship Bridge is a convenient choice for a ‘visa run’ for foreign tourists wishing to extend their stays in Thailand.

The travel team at 12GO ASIA notes that as Myanmar has opened up in recent years, Mae Sot has proved to be a stepping stone for Burmese Days adventures. Myawaddy has bus services linking it to Yangon and Mawlamyine. The journey to Yangon takes 12 hours and departs infrequently. 12GO ASIA says taking a direct flight from Chiang Mai or Bangkok takes the pain out of this trip.


Upgrade at landmark Hue bridge to make it tourist friendly

Upgrade at landmark Hue bridge to make it tourist friendly

A heritage bridge spanning the Perfume River in Hue is to get a makeover to make it more conducive to 21st century tourism. The original Truong Tien Bridge dates from the French colonial era in the 1890s and is a 400-metre-long structure.

The revamp will see the pedestrian walkways along its two sides tiled, viewing platforms built on the sides of these and the vehicle roadway re-blacktopped. Thua Thien-Hue provincial Road Division spokesperson noted that there would be 10 viewpoints on the bridge.

The view balconies are newer incarnations of ones removed in the 1990s and will allow tourists to gain panoramic views of Hue’s magnificent architectural collection. These earlier add-ons were built during a previous renovation in the 1930s. 

12GO ASIA notes that a walk across Truong Tien Bridge is a must when visiting this peerless central Vietnam city. 12GO ASIA provides travel reservations services from all points in Vietnam as well as international connections to Da Nang Airport. Hue and the airport are less than 100kms apart.


Bombardier wins train contract for new Bangkok monorail lines

Bombardier wins train contract for new Bangkok monorail lines

The Germany based Bombardier Transportation has won the contract to supply rolling stock for two new Bangkok monorail lines. The four-carriage trains will be utilised on the city’s Pink and Yellow lines when they are inaugurated in a few years time.

The contract is for 72 Innovia Monorail 300 trains. The Pink line will get 42 of the trains and the rest will be used to serve the Yellow line. The trains will feature driverless technology, have maximum speeds of 80kph and will be built at Bombardier’s Puzhen factory in China.

Bombardier also secured the contract for the installation of signalling equipment for the two lines. Both monorail lines are being designed to handle two-way traffic of up to 56,000 passengers per hour and are part of the Thai government’s aim of improving transport choices for residents and tourists in the national capital.

12GO ASIA says the Pink line will be 34kms long and connect Khai Rai to Minburi. The Yellow line will link Ladprao to Samrong and be 30kms long. The construction of the lines got the green light last year and both have been tentatively scheduled for soft launches in 2022.


New AirAsia Kuala Lumpur to Sihanoukville flights take off

New AirAsia Kuala Lumpur to Sihanoukville flights take off

Last week saw the inauguration of a new AirAsia flight route which links Kuala Lumpur with a popular seaside town in Cambodia. Authorities at Sihanoukville Airport laid on a ceremony to welcome the début flight from the Malaysian capital.

As it taxied along the runway, the Airbus 320 was serenaded with a water cannon greeting. Performing artistes in traditional Cambodian costumes then gave a short show to greet the arriving passengers and VIP entourage on board Flight AK264.

Flights now operate four times a week in each direction. Outbound flights depart from Kuala Lumpur Airport at 12:15 on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Arrival time is 13:00 at Sihanoukville. Return flights take off at 13:40 and arrive back in Kuala Lumpur at 16:30. All times are local.

Spencer Lee, AirAsia’s commercial head, explained that Sihanoukville was an up-and-coming destination for tourists and it made sense to connect it to the airline’s network. 12GO ASIA notes that flight durations are less than two hours on a journey that could take two days if travelling overland.

Sihanoukville Airport is seven kilometres from the resort’s Serendipity and Ocheteaul beaches. Our image of Flight AK264 at Sihanoukville Airport was supplied by the Aviation Tribune.


Thai Immigration Bureau increases staffing at Bangkok airports

Thai Immigration Bureau increases staffing at Bangkok airports

The Immigration Department of Thailand has draughted in 200 extra officers to help out at Bangkok’s two airports. A department spokesperson says the additional officers should help cut queuing times for passengers at Don Mueang Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Complaints about long lines of passengers queuing in Departures and Arrivals halls in both airports have been posted up on social media over the past couple of weeks. At Don Mueang the weekend before last, arriving passengers claimed they had to queue for over four hours before immigration officers stamped their passports.

Immigration Bureau commander Sitthichai Lokanpai inspected the newly manned checkpoint desks at Don Mueang on Saturday. According to media sources in Bangkok, he told the officers it was just as important to smile and be pleasant as it was to process passengers.

Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi are the two busiest airports in Thailand. They jointly deal with an average of 80 million passengers annually. 12GO ASIA notes that long queues at the airports are expected to be a short-term issue as the Immigration Bureau has already announced a recruitment drive.


Rail ink opens and connects two Bangkok urban train lines

Rail ink opens and connects two Bangkok urban train lines

Thailand’s prime-minister presided over ceremonies to open a rail line in Bangkok which has been dubbed the missing link. Prayut Chan-o-cha looked on as the first official service connecting the city’s elevated Purple Line and the underground Blue Line departed from Taopoon Station.

The one-kilometre MRT Blue Line extension from Bang Sue to Taopoon rectifies a planning oversight which left commuters with the only option of shuttle buses when transferring between the two train services. The Blue Line originally opened in 2004 and the Purple Line last August.

When the inconvenience of not being able to seamlessly transfer between the two lines became obvious, prime-minister Prayut Chan-o-cha invoked special powers to get it built. Under the auspices of Section 44, the construction process got a kickstart and was completed in just five months.

12GO ASIA notes that travellers are now able to travel all the way from Bangkok’s intercity rail terminus, Hua Lamphong Station, to Nonthaburi Province with one change and in air-conditioned comfort. Purple Line trains terminate at Bang Yai Station and the total distance is 44kms.

The International Rail Journal supplied our image of the Blue Line extension opening day.


Pattaya Khao Kheow Zoo opens new Asian forest zone

Pattaya Khao Kheow Zoo opens new Asian forest zone

Pattaya’s Khao Kheow Open Zoo has just inaugurated a brand new attraction zone. The Forest of Asia brings the woodlands and creatures of Asia together into one exciting and educational precinct.

The forest is a fusion of rainforest, evergreen and deciduous trees and indigenous wildflowers. Creatures such as Siamese fireback pheasants, Malayan false gharial crocodiles, tapirs and black giant squirrels, also from Malaysia, can be spotted roaming through the new zone. 

Benchapol Nakprasert is the Thailand Zoological Park Organization’s director. Inaugurating Forest of Asia, he said the zone should help the general public realise the importance of conserving wildlife and the planet’s unique natural environment.

He added that the zoo was a shining example of a care facility dedicated to the wellbeing of its animals and showcasing them for visitors. 12GO ASIA says Khao Kheow Zoo is one of the premier attractions for people holidaying in Pattaya and Jomtien and a tour option offered by many travel operators in the resorts.


Thailand celebrates birthday of Queen Sirikit with public rites

Thailand celebrates birthday of Queen Sirikit with public rites

Tomorrow is the 85th birthday of Thailand’s Queen Sirikit. Several ceremonies have been scheduled to take place on the Royal Plaza outside Dusit Palace so that Thais are able to pay homage to the queen.

The first event of the day is scheduled to take place at 07:00.  A parade of 851 monks will arrive at the plaza to receive merit-making alms. After this ceremony, the queen herself will be honoured with royal presents. In the evening, Dusit Plaza is the venue for a candlelight rite. Various concerts and traditional cultural performances have been scheduled too.

The 12 August was designated as national Mother’s Day in the 1970s in honour of the queen. Mother’s Day is a public holiday and, as it falls on a Saturday this year, the substitute day is on Monday.

The main branches of banks and government offices will be closed on Monday. The day is not a religious holiday and so bars, clubs and other premises licensed to sell alcohol should be open as normal.

12GO ASIA says the public holiday on Monday effectively gives Thailand a long weekend. The team carried on by saying Bangkok’s bus stations, airports and Hua Lamphong rail station are already crowded with travellers heading to destinations around the country. Booking tickets in advance ensures guaranteed seats. 


Revamp of Bangkok city bus routes begins in two weeks

Revamp of Bangkok city bus routes begins in two weeks

Thailand’s Land Transport Department has announced trials on a long-term programme which will see Bangkok’s bus routes revamped and simplified. The month-long trial runs will begin on the 25 August and will see eight routes inaugurated.

Department director Sanit Promwong told reporters the new routes have been created from existing ones but have been adapted so they are fit for purpose. The plan for the next two years is to launch a total of 269 routes with buses serving each zone of the city colour coded and numbered for ease of recognition.

The four colours are blue, green, red and yellow. This colour code will be included in the route number. The letters B, G, R and Y in English script will designate the zone and precede the next three digits of the route number.

Mr Promwong explained that the new bus routes would run alongside old ones during the transition period. He noted that this would help commuters and tourists get used to the changes.  

12GO ASIA’s resident travel gurus in Bangkok say the city’s bus network is comprehensive and covers every imaginable location. Fares are also generally cheaper than for the Skytrain and the Metro for comparable distances. The image of the new bus was supplied by Thai PBS.


Don Mueang Airport blames long immigration queues on lack of staff

Don Mueang Airport blames long immigration queues on lack of staff

The manager of Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport has blamed ever growing queues at immigration on a lack of staff. Responding to massive online criticism of the queues at the city’s second airport, Suthirawat Suwannawat said immigration could only handle a maximum of 1,000 arriving passengers an hour.

The manager said the fact passengers had to queue for more than four hours last Friday evening was down to the fact delayed flights had arrived at the same time as scheduled ones. He explained that immigration officers then had to process passengers from 25 flights.

For its part, the Immigration Bureau said unmanned booths at Don Mueang were because a recruitment campaign to hire more officers had failed. Airports of Thailand says it will expand international arrivals at Don Mueang Airport so it can handle 1,800 passengers an hour, but more officers will still be needed to man the desks.

12GO ASIA notes that departing from Don Mueang Airport is also taking a little longer at present. For this reason, passengers with reservations for flights departing from the airport should allow themselves a little extra time to clear immigration.