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Friday, October 25, 2013

Tarkine Wilderness Adventure - At home in the wilderness

from 28 October 2013, Rod will disappear into the Tasmanian wilderness on a trip to the acclaimed Corinna Wilderness Experience
"an escape from mass tourism, to one of the most remote and beautiful parts of the world."
Editorial and pictorial will be available from first week November 2013
these images from the website

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Bangkok by Design: The Thai capital's fun and funky new hotels (updated)

Main image: Pullman Bangkok Hotel G foyer. Top: Scarlett
Following an on-going theme, Rod strives to investigate this new wave of 'designer' hotels sweeping the crazy capital of Thailand. Currently that roster reads:
  • Pullman Bangkok Hotel G (Accor)
  • Sofitel So Bangkok
  • VIE Hotel (Accor M Gallery)
  • Hansar
  • Mode Sathorn Hotel (by Siam@Siam)
  • Muse Hotel (Accor M Gallery)
  • The Siam
Plus Rod regularly samples the staple offerings from the best known chains.
For a complete list, please email.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Burmese Days - The Road to Mandalay - A tradition revived





Years in the making, Rod gets aboard the smaller boutique RV Katha Pandaw at Mandalay for an exploration of the upper Irrawaddy River and the historic colonial-era port of Katha, the spiritual home of the once great Irrawaddy Flotilla Company.
Editorial and pictorial will be available from mid-October 2013

Images on Flickr

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Freelancer or Freeloader: the quest for the 'free lunch'.

"The Travel Writer" (stolen from the Internet, source unknown)
It’s one of those things all professional travel writers have to endure.

“You’re always going on free trips!”

“So, who’s paying for this?”

Continually being interrogated by fellow travellers, family members and other office-bound journalists is something I always dread. While there is always varying financial participation by all parties in any given familiarisation trip, there is an old truism that always holds.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Now legend has it, that once upon a time all a journalist had to do was call their mate at the airline and a First Class ticket came by courier with a bottle of French Champagne. Now, there might be one or two esteemed scribes still alive who can command that kind of worship, but let me assure you, my dear reader, those days are OVER.

Even getting an upgrade on a fully paid ticket is a chore. Lounge admission, check-in queue jumping or an amenity pack is the best we can often hope for. While some airlines may be marginally more generous than others, every carrier is now constrained by this new austerity.

Hotels, depending on seasonal demand or other commercial imperatives, vary in their largesse, but even these pleasure palaces are now tightening their belts and scrutinising media guests more closely, both pre- and post-stay. Included breakfast is often a bonus and dinner, well, you must know someone!

But the moral of this story is a three-letter-word: ROI (Return On Investment). Put simply, it is the dividend obtained by any party after making a capital (or other) investment in a project.

And it’s not just an airline, hotel, cruise line or destination that makes such a calculation. A professional writer must also determine whether it is worth their while to accept any particular offer. My measurement criteria are similar, I’m confident, to my colleagues in this respect.
  • Exclusivity. How often has this product been featured? Will I be travelling with similar hungry freelancers all pummeling the same outlets? This directly relates to ...
  • Saleability. How many stories can I reasonably expect to sell from this single exercise? This often depends on stuff you won’t discover until you’re in the middle of the trip eg how rigid is the itinerary, how much free time to explore your own story leads, how fertile is the trip with regards to multiple story angles?
  • How much is it going to cost me? There’s no point forking out $3000 on airfares if you’re only going to sell two stories at a few hundred bucks each. Some hosts think they’re offering you this irresistible opportunity to travel to the other side of the country or overseas to stay at their to-die-for villa. No, sorry, that’s not such a good deal.
Public relations reps, CVB managers, and hotel GMs will measure the resultant publicity using a formula that multiplies the cost of taking an ad in the media by a factor that can vary from three to eight times. So, for example, if you stay in a 5-star hotel with dinner and niceties at a rack rate of $500 and the story runs over one page in a magazine that charges $5000 for a full page, that is conservatively $15,000 in equivalent value. An ROI any host should be delighted with.

In recent times, this whole scenario has been shaken up with the arrival of online media and the ‘blogger’. Measuring penetration in this new media has left many PR and media folks groping for traction on this slippery, muddy playing field. Bloggers can come from any part of the media sphere. Some are seasoned journalists and talented writers exploring or creating new outlets, while others are idle opportunists looking for that ‘free lunch’ with no concept of ROI, conflict-of-interest or even basic journalistic ethics.

There are lots of tricks used by bloggers, tweeters and Instagrammers to inflate their penetration and ‘engagement’ ranging from buying bulk ‘likes’ and followers to automatic click-bots. But that expose is for a whole different discussion.

But whether blogging or not, freelance journalists can suffer varying degrees of financial stress. Some can cheerfully rely on a well-heeled spouse to underwrite their exploits or have their own financial security through retirement funds or other canny investment.

When I bemoaned this to one respected PR host, my argument was quickly deflated with the retort “we don’t care”. And why should they? Their reports do not consider the individual financial status of the media guests and how hard they need to work to reach break-even or make a small profit. But maybe they could?

Let me make this point in conclusion. Any media guest who has in the back of his/her mind a mortgage, car payment or credit card inferno is more likely to go the extra length to sell just one more story that won’t cost the host an extra dime.

So, PRs, hosts, inquisitive colleagues and cousins let me make the case for the hungry freelance writer who, while sometimes enjoying the titillating byproducts of the job, is forgoing irretrievable family time and spending every waking (and many sleeping) moments wondering where they can sell your story and quell the cash advance flameout in their pocket.

I’ll close with another pearl passed to me by a much-loved PR host which pleads less brutality when calculating the ROI dividend.

“You pay for advertising, but pray for publicity.”

=========================================

See related story: How to be a good travel media guest

Monday, September 16, 2013

It's all just a SeaDream


* travel completed, stories available *

In early December 2013, Rod will board this much-lauded vessel for a week sampling what the respected Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships describe as the “Best Specialist Cruise Line”, achieving the top rating in the 'Boutique Ships' category (50 – 250 passengers).

Give your readers an intimate, very personal opinion on this luxurious vessel.

The writer will supply his own high quality images, supplemented by PR images. [email enquiry]

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Derelict Tourism: exploring deserted and abandoned places


Sometimes it's just a little building on street corner, other times a vast complex or even a city. What is the attraction we have with the empty and cast off? We wonder about the history, the stories of those who once lived (and died) within. Some are centuries old, others look like the inhabitants left just yesterday.
The deserted whaling station at Grytviken, South Georgia (Roderick Eime)

In this story I share my own fascination with the crumbling urban decay and mysterious emptiness of these forlorn structures. From sprawling whaling stations in the sub-Antarcitc to massive buildings in the middle of huge cities, let's investigate. [Email me]

Sunday, September 08, 2013

West Africa: Voodoo Town


“You will travel far and the spirits will guide you safely through many perils,” Anthony whispers into his hands cupping the tiny object. And with that short and sweet blessing, he inserts a tiny wooden pin into the little shaft and presents me with my travelling talisman. Anthony, not his real name I’m certain, looks at me with the satisfaction that reminds me of a triumphant used car salesman.

In his tiny, darkened back room, Dr David Conrad (a PhD in African studies) and I survey the bizarre assortment of fetish idols arranged on the little table. “You won’t find these legba (vodun idols) out in the market,” he says to me through barely moving lips, “these are the real deal.”

David accepts one of the idols with all the solemnity of a holy treasure, only this macabre, roughly carved figure about the size of a premature foetus has none of the beauty associated with divine objects. Its blank gnarly body is covered in coarse dust, cobwebs and lumpy red stains which need no further description. He inspects it briefly and raises his thick wiry eyebrows in my direction. “This one.”

Anthony and I complete the transaction and for about 20 dollars, I have a genuine West African voodoo doll and a couple of sundry talisman in the bargain.

Here in Togo’s Akodessewa Fetish Market hidden away in the backstreets of the capital Lomé, a small contingent of our tour group have ventured inside the compound to examine the piles of desiccated animal remains, withered heads and amputated parts on sale for vodun practitioners and curious tourists alike.

Like in any African market, hopeful young hucksters bound up to us with trinkets and baubles to thrust in our faces. Only here in Lomé, these souvenirs and forget-me-nots are tiny figurines impaled with nails or incomprehensible amalgams of animal parts.

“These are just for the tourists,” Dr David tells me, waving the clambering horde away in broken French. In the secret booths in the rear of the market, you can engage your own witch doctor or clairvoyant to seek a remedy for your ills - or revenge.

Despite centuries of Christian influence all the Gulf of Guinea from Nigeria to Ghana, the art of vodun is practicised in some shape or form in both the cities and villages. When the West African slaves were transported in their thousands from these shores to the Caribbean and Americas, it became ‘voodoo’ – and something else again.

The poignant slave history is the other predominant cultural experience available to visitors to the many sites, now UNESCO recognised, in Ghana, Gambia and Senegal.

Our ship, the MS Expedition, is tracing the western coast of the continent of Africa from Cape Town to Dakar, Senegal, over 24 days. Already we’ve gazed from the dizzying heights of Table Mountain in Cape Town, trudged the abandoned structures of Kolmanskop on the edge of the Namib Desert and investigated the Portuguese colonial remnants of the once worn-torn nation of Angola. Ahead of us are the grisly Ghanaian slave ports of Elmina and Cape Coast where visitors report hearing the ghostly whispers of long departed slaves in the pitch black dungeons.

The coast of West Africa is one of the last remaining parts of the world unexplored by the planet’s inquisitive fleet of adventure vessels. While the larger ships of Cunard and Crystal are comfortable stopping by the safe Namibian ports of Luderitz and Walvis Bay, it’s only recently that adventure cruise operators have deemed Angola, Congo, Sao Tome and the Gulf nations sufficiently crisis-free to allow tourist ship visits.

Even so, all precautions are taken and from Point Noire in Congo until Accra in Ghana, we are joined by three very businesslike ex-Royal Marines who stand vigil while MS Expedition passes through the region where their presence is deemed necessary.

Who else goes there?

Hapag-Lloyd is sending MS Bremen in October for 23 days and while Saga Cruises, Silversea, Lindblad and Zegrahm list the West Coast of Africa as an itinerary, none have scheduled departures at time of writing. Freighter voyages are available too. 40 days return from Amsterdam to Lagos.







Thursday, September 05, 2013

Bill Peach Journeys Classic Australian Aircruise


Around Australia by private jet. Sounds like a dream, but it's for real and Bill Peach Journeys have been doing it for 30 years. Jump aboard for the Classic Australian Air Cruise. [contact]

Monday, September 02, 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Malaysia's Ghost Capital





Malaysia's grand vision of a planned administrative capital was intended to follow the great examples of Brasilia, Islamabad, Washington and Canberra.

Located 25 km south of Kuala Lumpur, the city is laid out with much use of green space and state-of-the-art urban planning.

All the important government departments are there as well as regal residences, but where is the population?

MPs and diplomats were supposed to relocate from KL en masse, but have so far refused to do so. Their empty palatial residences await their arrival.

Hotels like Pullman and Shangri-La remain almost empty. Great skyscrapers lunge for the heavens, but how much space is occupied?

The cracks are starting to show as many facades are finished but the contents remain void. The futuristic monorail system lies idle and unfinished.

Despite its design prowess, it has been described variously on the web as:

"Pyongyang without the parades."
"artificial city lacking life"
"Malaysia’s Frankenstein city"
"Mahathir’s Fatehpur Sikri"
Malaysia’s Frankenstein city
Malaysia’s Frankenstein city
Malaysia’s Frankenstein city
"a 1:1 scale model city" or more bluntly
"a planning failure"

A weekend cycle ride around the wide flat pavements and you feel like a location scout for the next post-apocalyptic drama.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Kruger National Park: Life and Death in the Dark


(original images)

“The lions have made a kill,” crackled the thick Afrikaans-accented voice over the 2-way radio, “we’re on them now.”

And with that, our Land Rover sped off down the bumpy track, long shadows from the setting sun creating crazy shapes in the long grass and low shrubs.

Minutes later, we’re on the scene already now in near darkness as the last embers of the setting sun fall below the distant tree line. Jacob shuts off the 4WD’s noisy diesel engine and we coast the last few metres, coming to rest close to the action. At first it’s just a jumble of dark apparitions jostling in the bush interspersed with the occasional ‘crunch’ as a rib or leg bone is crushed in the lioness’s powerful jaw.

The spotlight reveals three young lions feasting on the carcass of a freshly killed buffalo. In rotation, they come in for a few mouthfuls, tearing the flesh and sinews from the bones then ambling away for a rest before resuming the bloody buffet. This is life and death in wild Africa and we’re right there in the thick of it.

For perhaps a half hour we just sit silently watching as the meat disappears into the bloated bellies of the small pride. The carnivores, intent on the task at hand, pay us not the slightest heed, despite the flashing of torches and spotlights, tearing and gnawing at the bush banquet.

At almost 20,000 sq kms, Kruger National Park in the far north-eastern corner of South Africa is one of the largest game reserves on the continent. Most visitors come for the day, but a handful of ultra-exclusive lodges retain legacy privileges and have premises within the boundaries of the UNESCO-listed biosphere.

----------------

The story continues to describe facilities and services at the host accommodations and venues:

JOCK SAFARI LODGE
www.jocksafarilodge.com

TINGA LODGE
www.tinga.co.za

LION SANDS
http://www.lionsands.com/

The writer was a guest of South African Tourism and also attended the INDABA Tourism Trade expo in Durban.

The writer can supply both original and PR-sourced imagery.

Travel was sponsored by South African Tourism and the respective resorts/hotels.

Also available: Durban, Cape Town, Franschhoek Winelands

EMAIL for further details

Monday, August 05, 2013

Chiang Mai: Pillars of Tranquility

Story starter only



The former royal city of Chiang Mai in Thailand’s mountainous north, rises above the noise from the rowdy south. Roderick Eime escapes the rabble.

“Everything in Siam has its own time”

So said the bold Anna Leonowens to King Mongkut in that famous piece of semi-fiction, “Anna and the King”

And if that time was now, the former Kingdom of Siam has indeed come into its own.

While the southern territories abound in hedonistic pleasures, attracting record tourist numbers, the north retains the charm and beauty that so enthralled the 19th century royal governess. With her precocious son, Louis, the two lived in the King of Siam’s court for six years from 1862. Anna left, never to return, while Louis returned 15 years later to begin an enterprise in the burgeoning teak trade.

He returned to the former seat of the royal family, Chiang Mai, and built a magnificent manor in the traditional Thai style. That residence has now been restored and forms the centrepiece of the superb new boutique resort, 137 Pillars House.

So called because of the number of teak pillars on which the house was built, the immaculately renovated structure now hosts the restaurant, bar and lounge of the property and transports guests back to a time of colonial opulence.

========

Further points to consider any story:
  • Chiang Mai supports a busy adventure/adrenalin tourism sector with animal parks, off-road tours, cultural villages and bungee/ziplines.
  • Chiang Mai is applying to UNESCO for ‘Creative City’ status along with cities such as Melbourne, Berlin and Buenos Aires.
  • Chiang Mai is the only tourist destination in Thailand to have made it into the 2012 TripAdvisor list of "25 Best Destinations in the World".
  • 137 Pillars House has been included in the 2013 HOT LIST of the Best New Hotels in the World by Conde Nast Publications.
  • 137 Pillars House featured in Travelite Spring 2013 Destination Hot List
  • 137 Pillars House is a member of the SLH group and is managed by SilverNeedle Hospitality.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

I think I'm going Macanese


In July I returned to Macau to see for myself the development that has occurred since my previous visit in May 2006. Macau is developing at a staggering pace, to say the least.
  • 2013 Images - includes Hong Kong and PR-sourced images
  • 2006 Images - includes Hong Kong and PR-sourced images
Earlier stories:

Friday, July 12, 2013

Iceland: Trolling about

This excerpt is published here as a guide to editors as to what material is available.


Trolling About Iceland

Be sure to pay your respects to little invisible Icelanders or your journey may end abruptly. Roderick Eime treads carefully.

“If you go walking, be careful not to kick around rocks and things. You could disturb a troll or an elf,” my guide tells me and I turn to share in the joke. But he’s not laughing.

Trolls, elves and fairies are serious business in Iceland and whoa betide any clumsy hiker who messes up the abode of one of these mysterious, unseen beings. In 2004, a golf course was being built just outside the capital, Reykjavik, when a bulldozer dislodged a massive boulder. Heavy machinery began failing and workers met with strange accidents until a very public apology ceremony was conducted. Only then could the golf course be completed.

But fantasy creatures aside, Icelanders have an enviable lifestyle. There is almost no crime or unemployment and the population enjoy the highest birth rate and lowest infant mortality in the entire EU. The president’s mansion is completely unguarded and the locals joke that you can go and invite yourself in for coffee and pancakes, the local hospitable offering to guests.

The heavily glaciated and volcanic landscape is a whole other world. Geysers, waterfalls, glaciers and steaming volcanic vents abound, making the countryside perfect for a science fiction setting.

“We have forests too, it’s true,” my guide assures me, “and do you know what to do if you get lost in the forest?” We look at each other quizzically then shake our heads.

“Stand up!” Chuckles ensue, and with that we gain an insight into the arid Icelandic humour that enabled them to cope with their recent total financial collapse.

For a county twice the size of Switzerland, Iceland has 50,000 semi-wild horses, 250 earthquakes every week, a world famous penis museum, a very healthy nightlife and a fascinating history that can be traced back beyond the first Viking settlers some 1200 years ago.

I’m travelling aboard Le Boreal, the first of La Compagnie du Ponant’s trio of super-sophisticated luxury expedition vessels now plying the world’s oceans from Antarctica to Spitsbergen.

Sample Original Images: (Iceland Tourism has excellent library)



[story includes description of Ponant Cruises' vessel Le Boreal]

Ponant has been around since 1986 specialising in small ship, niche market cruise products. Their first vessel, Le Ponant, is a gorgeous 64-pax, three-masted sailing ship in the mould of Windstar or Sea Cloud – yes, the one in the 2008 Somali pirate drama. The company added an expedition ship in 2004 with the 1974-built Le Diamant, now sold (along with Le Levant) to make way for a trio of state-of-the-art vessels. Le Boreal was launched in May 2010, L’Austral just last June and Le Soléal midyear.

Scoff as the purists might, these ships represent the cat’s whickers in maritime design. They are the first to be “green ship” certified and, at 10,000 tons with 132 suites and staterooms, are huge by expedition cruise standards. Each can transport up to 264 guests in stabilised, Sofitel-level comfort to all corners of the globe, although numbers are limited to 200 for Antarctic operations. The 142m hull is ice rated 1C (1A is the toughest) and the impressive satellite navigation will keep the vessel fixed without the need to drop anchor.

Dining is single seating in one of two restaurants with house wine included. Deck 6 has butler service and two of three cabins have private balconies. There’s a big gym, Sothy spa, kids club, wheelchair access throughout, beaut observation lounge bar/ library, pool and Wi-Fi internet access.

Friday, March 08, 2013

April 2013: Cape Town to Dakar aboard MS Expedition


West Africa aboard MS Expedition



For all of April 2013, Rod will travel the wild west coast of Africa, sailing aboard the 140-pax MS Expedition, visiting ports and countries seldom explored by cruise ships. Operated by G Adventures (formerly GAP), this 27-day odyssey is bound to be full of surprises.

You can see the whole itinerary here, but just quickly, we'll visit these countries:
    click to enlarge
  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Congo - Brazzaville
  • The Gambia
  • Ghana
  • Namibia
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • South Africa
  • Togo
If you'd like to see something from this trip, please let him know now. No obligation.

EMAIL