Malaysian tour leader finds joy in travelling again


By LEESAN

The best place to see autumn colours in Japan is Kyoto, the ancient capital of a thousand years.The estimated best viewing of the fall foliage in Kyoto is three weeks from late November to early December.

In the early autumn month of October in the northern hemisphere, the Earth is dreamily draped in bright colours and the weather is cool and pleasant, where agricultural and fishery harvests abound.

The leaves, too begin to fall in October, making the month the perfect time for travelling.

It is the best time to discover the charms of the Earth, even though I actually prefer to travel during spring time. Nevertheless, I do love the storybook-like romantic atmosphere of autumn more than anything else.

I do also think that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s plan to mobilise 300,000 troops, which is making many young Russians jittery, will not really affect people like us. In its stead, when Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida announced in New York recently that Japan will finally loosen its travel restrictions on Oct 11, many of us were rejoicing! This is the news that we have been waiting for, for nearly three years and it deserves to be celebrated in a big way.

With this announcement, we can assume that the Covid-19 pandemic situation in Japan is finally improving and the people there can now look forward to better days ahead. That said, though, are the Japanese people really ready to welcome back foreign tourists? Are they ready for the sudden influx of visitors?

To be frank, ordinary Japanese citizens are pretty resistant to getting such “excessive disruptions” from visitors.

Coincidentally, Taiwan also announced earlier that beginning Sept 29, anyone travelling into or returning to Taiwan are only required to undergo “3+4” days of quarantine. On top of that, there will be no PCR tests required, and all travellers will be entitled to full visa exemption.

Later, Taiwan changed the rule slightly: Beginning Oct 13, the quarantine requirement is simplified to “0+7” days, which means there is zero mandatory quarantine, but you do need to undergo seven days of self-quarantine.

Hopefully, Taiwan will soon end all its Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Following the announcement, airlines in Taiwan almost immediately added 50 new flights per week to major destinations worldwide, I suppose to try and woo as many international visitors as possible. It is not hard to deduce then that travel operators on the island are doing their utmost to welcome the visitors.

Back in Malaysia, travel agencies have also begun to offer attractive packages for Taiwan. For us, we have drawn up a series of themed Taiwanese itineraries in collaboration with Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, as well as Taiwan Leisure Farms Development Association, and other agencies.

Chua Lam holding the luxury Ekizen crab, a species only available during autumn in the Fukui prefecture in Japan. — Photos: Apple VacationsChua Lam holding the luxury Ekizen crab, a species only available during autumn in the Fukui prefecture in Japan. — Photos: Apple Vacations

If you have never been to Taiwan and ask me why you should visit the place, my answer will be, “because I really love the people’s sincerity, kindness and pure heart”.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong does not want to be left out of the October tourism revival game either. It recently announced new sets of Covid-19 travel restrictions for travellers coming into Hong Kong, as well as citizens and residents returning to the place. Currently, travellers would only need to follow a 0+3 home quarantine order, in which they are not allowed to dine-in or visit crowded areas or shops in the first three days of arriving.

This may not be great news for many foreign tourists just yet, as the cosmopolitan city is famous for its high-quality dining experiences.

My friend Chua Lam, who is a columnist, food critic and travel expert, texted me as soon as the announcement was made. “I’m all ready to take Hong Kong tourists to Malaysia!” he said.

We were both excited, but the thing is, flight tickets out of Hong Kong are either hard to come by or exorbitantly priced, a phenomenon I believe has become the new normal in the travel world today.

So far, other than China which has yet to open its borders to tourists, South Korea is probably the only other country that still imposes online K-ETA visa (although arrival PCR test requirements have just been lifted), while Australia still mandates its strict online ETA application. Verily, such requirements are not very tourist-friendly.

After Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan have opened up their borders and lifted their visa, mandatory quarantine and PCR test requirements, the travel scene in South Korea and Australia is expected to remain stagnant and sluggish.

If South Korea feels that it is missing out on the reward of the bountiful autumn travel season, I’m sure the government will also lift its foreign entry restrictions this October. As for Australia, there are no signs the country will liberalise the ETA requirement soon.

In short, starting from October, everyone can fly, freely (even Malaysia has dropped its mask mandate for flights!). Have you renewed your passport yet?

Post-lockdown travel today is very different from what we used to know. We may need to be mentally prepared for something totally unexpected. For example, you might be told that your booking – be it for a flight, cruise, hotel, car rental, restaurant, or anything else – has been cancelled, or “can’t be found”.

And that’s not all. If you are travelling in Europe or North America, there is a 30% chance your travel plans will be disrupted by airport or railway strikes. You need to know that the trade unions there are so powerful that in the event negotiations between employers and employees become inconclusive, you could be hit by abrupt service disruption which can literally turn your travel plans upside down.

Additionally, do expect severe energy shortage in Europe this winter and make sure you are fit enough to survive the biting cold. Or bring extra winter clothing.

But I do believe that all problems are happy problems, and there is always a solution. Moreover, the great beauty of autumn is bound to melt your heart and dissolve all your anxiety, so pack your bags and start travelling!

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.

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