Ubud Escape by Scott Allford

Being an Australian, I had always been against travelling to Bali as it is synonymous with a certain type of Australian traveller. However, due to a sudden forced vacation, Bali was the cheapest and easiest destination for a few days. While Kuta and Seminyak definitely aren't places I aim to travel to again, Ubud really resonated with me and provided me with the relaxing holiday I needed. 

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New year's day flyby at Mauritius' Underwater Waterfall by Scott Allford

The Underwater Waterfall in Mauritius has been popping up in bucket lists recently, and is quickly becoming one of the top places to see in your lifetime. Although there is no actual waterfall, it is simply sand and silt flows, it is still an awe inspiring sight to behold. 

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Top Design Sizzles at Mercedes Benz STYLO Asian Fashion Week 2016 by Ryan Buaron

Upon the invitation of the Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines in Kuala Lumpur and the gorgeous designer Gina Frias of Axxezz by Gina Frias, we were honoured to attend the glitzy Mercedes Benz STYLO Asian Fashion Week 2016 Awards Night held at the MATRADE Exhibition and Convention Centre (MECC) from 2nd November till 5th November 2016.

Malaysia Fashion Week is one of Southeast Asia’s most important fashion weeks and is touted to be the country’s largest lifestyle and fashion trade platform. The annual event features designers from over 15 countries and its inaugural MFW in 2014 drew designers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, China, India, Japan, Pakistan and Australia among others. Aside from designers overseas, MFW has also highlighted brands not only from Peninsular Malaysia, but also from Sabah, Sarawak and the Peranakan community.

At the awards night, we were treated to fabulous designs from past winners Zin Kato and Bill Keith, Irna La Perle, Illiza Ho, Bon Zainal, and Keith Kee. Of particular note was the Bill Keith closer, a gorgeous collection of Asian-inspired, elaborate and vibrant pieces with a dash of playful eccentricities truly brought the runway down. The show was a resounding success and we made sure that we thanked the stunning Dato’ Nancy Yeoh, President and Chief Executive Officer of Stylo International and Co-Chairman of the Malaysian Fashion Week right after the show. With events like this, it is heartening to confirm that there is a bright future for Asian creativity through fashion and we are looking forward to future editions!

 

 

Discovering the mystery of Angkor by Scott Allford

When I was much younger, I remember seeing a documentary about the temples of Angkor and I instantly knew I had to go there one day. I finally made it there in 2006, then again in 2010, and again in 2014. The atmosphere around the temples has changed over time, but the feeling of seeing the intricate carvings, moss covered walls, and encroaching jungle surrounding monolithic structures still inspire me to return to Angkor.

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Snowboarding in Iran by Scott Allford

Many years ago, when I lived in South Korea, I used to spend a large portion of winter weekends snowboarding. However, after spending a few years in tropical countries I was starting to miss having fun in the snow, especially around Christmas time. So when I found out that the Alborz Mountains in Iran have some of the longest ski seasons, I decided to stop by and test out the slopes.

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Agra & Rajasthan by train by Scott Allford

Since the 1850s, India has had a close affinity with trains. Today the country boasts one of the largest rail networks in the world. So when we decided to see a few of the countless UNESCO treasures that dot the sub-continent, we naturally chose to go by train. We quickly discovered that travelling by train in India is a lot more than just getting from A to B, it is a cultural experience in itself.

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Fête Impériale 2016: A Night at The World's Most Beautiful Summer Ball by Ryan Buaron

The 2016 edition of the glamorous Fête Impériale in at the Winter Riding School.

The 2016 edition of the glamorous Fête Impériale in at the Winter Riding School.

Damenkarussell Maria Theresias in der Winterreitschule der Hofburg painting at the Schonbrunn Palace. (Image Credit: Schoenbrunn.at )

Damenkarussell Maria Theresias in der Winterreitschule der Hofburg painting at the Schonbrunn Palace. (Image Credit: Schoenbrunn.at )

A night in the elegant Austrian capital will never be complete without attending one of its many celebrated balls which is known for its grand, imperial flair and harks back to the days of the Habsburg empire. As early as the start of the year, we planned out our 2016 European summer vacation centering around 24th of June 2016, the night of the Fête Impériale 2016, dubbed as the world’s most beautiful summer ball and one of the important events on the Viennese social calendar. The choice of the ball was not an accident, I have been a staunch admirer of the equine species, and despite having my back issues, have ridden in a few countries: Iceland, Denmark, Malta, and Mongolia. It was my interest in the Lipizzaner horses that brought us to Vienna’s Spanish Riding School, which not by coincidence, is also the home of the Fête Impériale.

Daniela Fally of the Vienna State Opera in a wondrous performance.

Daniela Fally of the Vienna State Opera in a wondrous performance.

Dancers from Opera Graz entertain the audience with a graceful dance number.

Dancers from Opera Graz entertain the audience with a graceful dance number.

A waltz performance: what a remarkable sight indeed which threw us all back to imperial times!

A waltz performance: what a remarkable sight indeed which threw us all back to imperial times!

Arriving at the glittering ball from the red carpet in Michaelerplatz on a warm summer’s night was a sight to behold. We immediately hied off to the Winter Riding Hall where the grand opening of the Fête Impériale 2016 took place at around quarter to 10pm. The riders entered the hall followed by the debutante’s committee and then a stirring, heartfelt performance by Daniela Fally of the Vienna State Opera, and the ballet dancers of Opera Graz. Afterwards dancers in uniform gowns and white ties entered the hall and performed waltzes which reminded me a little bit of the fairy tale balls of my childhood set to the classical music my father used to play when I was growing up, it was truly impressive and truly magical.

Steeped in history and tradition, the Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule) is a centre of  ‘High School of Classical Horsemanship’ and it’s Winter Riding School, touted (and we agreed) as the world’s most beautiful riding hall, was not only used for horsemanship but as a backdrop for many of Maria Theresia’s court festivities like the ‘Ladies Carrousels’ as well as many masquerade balls making the Winter Riding School the oldest still-existing ballroom in Vienna. Normally, balls take place during the carnival season in Austria, but the summer ball tradition, held in high regard by empress Maria Theresia, has been recently revived by the Fête Impériale.

Under the patronage of Dr. Heinz Fischer, the Federal President of the Republic of Austria, the Federal State of Styria and the Austrian Commission for UNESCO, this year’s Fête Impériale had an estimated 2,500 guests from all over the world including royals like Princess Benedikte of Denmark.

Hofburg Palace.

Hofburg Palace.

Mausi, the resident cat at the Spanish Riding School.

Mausi, the resident cat at the Spanish Riding School.

The Stables of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

The Stables of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

A Lipizzaner selfie.

A Lipizzaner selfie.

Aside from the performances in the Winter Riding Hall, there was much fanfare and music in the adjacent Stallburg, right next to the stables. Earlier that day, we had the privilege to visit and meet the beautiful Lipizzaners. The Lippizaners were bred by the House of Habsburg from Arab, Barb, Spanish and Neapolitan stock in the 16th century but its breed dates back all the way to AD 800 making it one of the oldest breed of horses in Europe. Today associated with nations of Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Slovenia known as the "airs above the ground." The horses at the Spanish Riding School are trained using traditional methods that date back hundreds of years, based on the principles of classical dressage. The school is the only institution in the world which, for more than 450 years, has practiced and continues to cultivate classical equitation in the Renaissance tradition of the Haute Ecole - which makes it to the list of UNESCO’s of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Apart from the school in the capital, Piber, a West Styrian village, with its lush fields and alpine pastures, has also been home to the famous Lipizzaners, and the only stud in the country to breed Lipizzaner stallions. These same horses will later demonstrate their skills in Vienna. During summer breaks, the stallions head down to the Heldenberg in Lower Austria where they spend their holiday while being gently trained and carefully exercised. Top international riders, up and coming stars of the Spanish Riding School as well as dressage coaches attend special courses and seminars in Heldenberg as well at this time.

The Next Escape's Dave Ryan Aguirre Buaron and Scott Munroe Allford attending Vienna's most prestigious ball.

The Next Escape's Dave Ryan Aguirre Buaron and Scott Munroe Allford attending Vienna's most prestigious ball.

On top of the Fête Impériale, the school also has a host of events throughout the year from concerts, tributes, as well as the regular morning practice which are a delight for everyone.

Our 360 Video of the Fête Impériale 2016, Vienna, Austria. (Best viewed on HD and mobile.

All in all, the spectacular summer night at the Spanish Riding School, and the majestic history behind it made for one very unforgettable evening in Vienna, one that we will remember for many years to come. For more information about the Spanish Riding School, please visit their website.

DAVE RYAN A. BUARON, OWNER AND CO-FOUNDER THE NEXT ESCAPE: TRAVEL, ARTS, SPORTS AND LIFESTYLE

Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón: Driving under the midnight sun by Scott Allford

A bridge in the moonscape of East Iceland

A bridge in the moonscape of East Iceland

During our stay in Iceland we decided that we really wanted to see some actual ice! Most of Iceland is surprisingly green in the summer months with the exception of some snow-capped mountains. So we made up our minds to do a day trip out to East Iceland and see the glacier lagoon at Jökulsárlón. Haven’t heard of Jökulsárlón before? You’ve probably seen it a few times. Remember that scene in Die Another Day with James Bond racing across a huge ice sheet in his Aston Martin Vanquish? Or Lara Croft heading into the frozen wastes of “Siberia” in Tomb Raider? That’s Jökulsárlón!

After looking at the tours on offer, we thought it was best to rent a car and do the trip ourselves so that we had the freedom to stop anywhere and do things at our own pace. Although we were aware that covering 800 kilometers in one day was not going to be an easy feat, we went for it anyway and ended up having a really awesome experience.

Our rental car in Iceland

Our rental car in Iceland

Our chariot awaits

Car rental in Iceland is pretty straightforward, and we’d arranged everything weeks before we left for our trip, so we were able to pick up the car at Keflavik Airport when we arrived in Iceland. We had booked a Hyundai, but ended up with a Nissan. It still handled quite well and was very fuel efficient, so I wasn’t really bothered. As we were actually staying on the outskirts of Reykjavik, it made sense to hire the car for the length of our stay in Iceland because public transport isn’t really frequent in all areas, and Reykjavik is a 50 minute drive from the airport. Added to that, driving in Iceland is pretty easy as the roads are good and traffic is light.

Here we go!

Here we go!

Journey to the East

On our second day in Iceland we got up early and had some Icelandic smoked salmon with our breakfast before we jumped in the car and began our adventure. In June, the sun never really sets, so even though we set off around 7am there was still plenty of light. However, when you drive in Iceland you are required to turn your headlights on no matter what the light conditions are and we quickly discovered why. Soon after we got onto Route 1, a dense fog rolled in and limited visibility to about 100 meters. Although there wasn’t a lot of traffic, it was still good to see the headlights of other cars poking through the fog. When we got closer to Hveragerði, the fog began to clear as we left North America and descended to the European continent.

Go to Hella!

Go to Hella!

On the Highway to Hella

The next part of the drive was somewhat uneventful as the terrain is quite flat. As you go through the town of Selfoss you cross the Ölfusá River and continue through flat, treeless landscapes and the occasional ancient lava field. However, as you near the towns of Hella and Hvolsvöllur, the snowy peaks of Þórsmörk and the base of Eyjafjallajökull (the volcano that grounded flights across Europe back in 2010) come into view.

The western side of Eyjafjallajökull

The western side of Eyjafjallajökull

What part of Eyjafjallajökull don’t you understand?

This is where the drive began to get a bit more interesting, as you start to see more waterfalls and different landscapes. By this point, we had already been driving for over 1.5 hours, so we left the highway and turned onto a gravel road to take in the scenery on the western side of Eyjafjallajökull. There was quite a bit of glacial meltwater and the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall was thundering away in the distance. It was good to stretch our legs and breathe in the fresh air before continuing the drive. A little bit down the road is the Eyjafjallajökull Erupts Visitor Centre, which is across the road from the Þorvaldseyri Farm. There’s a 20 minute film about the eruption and you can buy a $10 jar of volcanic ash if that’s your kind of thing.

The black sand beach in Vik

The black sand beach in Vik

Vik

We pushed on to Vik, which was our lunch stop. We passed the Skógafoss Waterfall as we decided to stop there on the way back to break up the drive. You can also see the Sólheimasandur Plane wreckage on the right, but we weren’t so interested in it. This stretch of Route 1 will give you the chance to see lush green slopes on your left and flat plains stretching to the coast on the right. As you drive down into Vik you’ll see a picturesque church perched above the town and a few black rock formations jutting out of the sea. There’s a petrol station on the main road with a bistro attached to the back and a shop that sells wool jumpers, just like the ones you’ll see tourists wearing around the main street of Reykjavik. In June, the town is covered in purple wildflowers, so it’s a nice walk down to the black sand beach. We touched the North Atlantic Ocean and took in the scenery for a while, had some food, and then went back to the car. On the way back we stopped in Vik again and ate in the bistro. For 2 small pieces of fish, 3 baby potatoes, a few slices of carrot, some beans, a few smears of sauce, and a coffee, we paid US$41 … in a gas station bistro. You have been warned! Iceland isn’t cheap.

We were continually stopping to stare at the stunning scenery

We were continually stopping to stare at the stunning scenery

Lava fields, glaciers, and moonscapes

The next 200 kilometers were the best part of the trip. We were continually stopping to look at the scenery and take photos. We saw numerous farms with turf houses and waterfalls, and we drove in to take a closer look at some of the really beautiful ones. We passed through areas where all you could see were ancient lava fields covered in green and yellow moss which had piled up over the years to make strange contorted structures. About 60 kilometers from Jökulsárlón we came across a place unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. In almost every direction, all you could see was black sand stretching to the horizon. It was quite surreal to see. Then the Vatnajökull Glacier started to come into view. This is the second largest glacier in Europe and contains numerous waterfalls, mountain peaks, active geothermal areas, rivers, and the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon we had driven so far to see.

SEE: PHOTOS OF OUR TRIP TO ICELAND 

Out in Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

Out in Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

Jökulsárlón  & Fjallsárlón

We finally reached Jökulsárlón  around 2pm. After you cross the bridge you turn left into the carpark on the edge of the lagoon. When Die Another Day was shot, they blocked the inlet under the bridge to stop sea water entering the lagoon so that the whole lagoon froze over. On the edge of the carpark there is a little gift shop/café with a toilet. This is where you can buy a ticket for an amphibious vehicle to take you around the lagoon. It was a bit cloudy when we got out on the lagoon, but apparently when there’s a bit of rain it brings out the blue colours in the icebergs. As seals and ducks swam around us, they dragged a chunk of ice out of the water and passed it around for people to eat as it was possibly 2,500 years old. Then we headed back to dry land and climbed a hill to look over the lagoon.

Listening to ice crack at Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Listening to ice crack at Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon

After a 7 hour journey to get to Jökulsárlón, we didn’t want to leave. The whole place was incredibly beautiful, but with mist rolling in and rain starting to fall, we got back into the car to start the journey back to Reykjavik. However, we noticed a small dirt road leading off towards the glacier and decided to see where it went. Eventually the road came to an end and we followed a little path down the hill that ended with a great view of the Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon and the Vatnajökull glacier. It was extremely quiet as there were only a couple of people around, and the silence was occasionally broken by sounds of the ice in the glacier cracking. I was so glad that I had decided to drive as tour buses don’t go to Fjallsárlón. I would’ve completely missed the experience if I didn’t have my own car.

The weather can change in minutes

The weather can change in minutes

The Journey Home

It was time to go back to our house in Kópavogur on the outskirts of Reykjavik. Even though we were driving back the way we’d come, the scenery was still stunning, so the drive was still great. We frequently stopped to take photos and have snacks, but surprisingly I didn’t feel tired at all. Perhaps it was because the sun was always up it felt like it was mid-afternoon all day, so my body was tricked into thinking that it wasn’t tired. From time to time heavy rain or fog rolled in which made the drive a bit more challenging, but thanks to the excellent condition of the roads and the way the car handled it wasn’t a problem.

Google map of Iceland

If you google the drive from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón it will tell you that it takes about 4.5 hours one way. This may be possible if you sit on 90km/h (the maximum speed limit) the whole way, but it’s not the reality. It took us 7 hours to get to Jökulsárlón and about 6 hours to drive back. Of course, this was because we made a lot of stops along the way. I would really suggest doing the drive in summer as the weather in Iceland can be extremely fickle and may add extra time. Another benefit of driving in summer is that we made it home by about 10pm and we didn’t feel tired because the sun was still out. The downside is that you won't see any Northern Lights in summer. Although I’m not in a hurry to drive 800 kilometers in one day any time soon, I’m really happy I did it and have heaps of great pictures and memories as a result.

If you want details about the rules and regulations of driving in Iceland, Visit Iceland has compiled everything you need to know.

SCOTT ALLFORD, OWNER AND CO-FOUNDER THE NEXT ESCAPE: TRAVEL, ARTS, SPORTS AND LIFESTYLE

TRAVEL TIP: See The Louvre in Under 3 hours by Scott Allford

A visit to Paris isn’t complete without a visit to the Louvre. However, even the biggest art fans can find it a bit overwhelming. An artist recently told me that he really can’t stay there for more than 3 hours because it gets a bit boring. The problem is that the place is huge, and if you don’t know where things are you can end up wandering aimlessly. So in order to maximize your time, I’ve put together a guide to see the best of the Louvre in under three hours. 

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Superhero Travel – Batman vs Superman destinations by Scott Allford

I have to be honest, I think about travel quite a bit. When I’m not travelling I love to research travel destinations, because it gives me a chance to imagine what it would be like in those places and not think about work, bills, etc. This month brings the latest superhero blockbuster - Batman vs Superman, and it got me to thinking, “Can I really go to Gotham?” Not just New York, or the filming locations, but actual places with those names. It turns out that I can. In fact, there are quite a few destinations that would certainly give some DC comic geeks a severe case of wanderlust. Here are my top 3.

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Food List: 9 Manila Restaurants You Should Take A Balikbayan Friend To by Ryan Buaron

Coming back home is an exciting event, for both the expatriate Filipino and their families and friends back home and no homecoming is complete without feasts upon feasts of delicious Filipino (and fusion) food which cannot be found in most of the countries worldwide. Normally, when I come home, I schedule meetings with my friends and family over food, basically meeting different friends and family for Breakfast, Snacks, Lunch, Merienda/Afternoon Tea, Dinner, and Nightcap. After 5 days, my pants began to feel a bit tighter around the waist!

With Manila becoming a very vibrant food capital in the Southeast Asia in recent years with the explosion of hip, trendy and international and local restaurants: there is so much to choose from, that it is pretty much easy to stay within the same area and never run out of restaurants to try.

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Sports Events: BMW Malaysian Open 2016 by Ryan Buaron

Last 1 March 2016, 14 foreign chambers (two of which where I was member of: CCIFM (the Malaysian French Chamber) and the MGCC (Malaysian German Chamber of Commerce) in Malaysia gathered at the elite Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club for the Sime Darby Property Networking Evening and an exclusive viewing of the the 2016 edition BMW Malaysian Open.

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Singapore On Foot: Top 7 Destinations To Check Out in the Lion City by Ryan Buaron

One of the most important thing to remember when one is planning a trip is choosing a hub as  well as the location of an accommodation. Having to choose a strategic point to base your trip from is essential as it cuts time, effort and costs and maximizes quality time spent in that destination.

At The Next Escape, we plan our itineraries very carefully (a few months ahead of our trip more often than not!) so we can make time extra time to enjoy, relax, meet people and of course to make time for any unforeseen delays or unscheduled side trips.

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Your Ultimate Boracay Side Trip Travel Checklist! by Ryan Buaron

Aside from the fun, sand and sun in Boracay, Northern Panay is filled with many beautiful destinations and activities. So be sure not limit your trip to Boracay alone..here are some of the side trips worth including in your next trip to Philippines’ most fun beach destination!

Make the most out of your Boracay trip!

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Traveling in Haze: What You Need To Do by Ryan Buaron

A perennial environmental issue in Southeast Asia, the transboundary haze has wreak havoc in many countries causing travel delays, school and airport closures and endangered the health of millions.

Caused by the slash and burn techniques in forest clearing in Indonesian provinces - the general public in many of the affected countries (including Indonesia) just feel so helpless and powerless.

If you are traveling or going to be staying in Malaysia, Singapore, Southern Thailand, Brunei Darussalam and parts of Indonesia, read on for some helpful tips in dealing with haze.

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11 Essential Travel Tips That You Must Remember! by Scott Allford

I’ve been travelling for a while now, and it’s been over a decade since I had a place to call my own in my home country. I’ve had a lot of great travel experiences and some not so great ones as well, but I like to think that as a whole they’ve brought me to where I am now and will help me to have even better experiences in the future. Fingers crossed!

I’ve read a lot of different blogs giving pointless ‘tips’ about you shouldn’t do when you travel – “Don’t pose like you’re holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.” “Don’t post too frequently about your travels on Facebook.” Seriously, if you want to do those things, go for it. It doesn’t hurt anyone and it’s your holiday. Rather than writing about what you shouldn’t do, I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learnt to do to make my travels even more enjoyable. 

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Contest: Fly In Style to Singapore or Hong Kong! by Ryan Buaron

We've sent you to exotic paradise, raffled of some serious bling, now we will be flying you to exciting Asian cities in style!

Lucky winners will get Flights and Hotel accommodations for 2 worth PHP 30,000.00 to either Hong Kong or Singapore, gorgeous Zalora outfits, gift cards and vouchers. Find out in our newest contest on The Next Escape!

 

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