Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Phu Quoc: Great Vietnamese getaway from Singapore

I see a lot of Vietnam tours around which usually travels long distances between Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Hue and even Cambodia. Although it worth to see all these cities, they are very tiring. Some friends ask me what would be the best relaxing, 1 week holiday route in Vietnam. I advise this the plan: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City and without staying there fly to Phu Quoc from Ho Chi Minh City.  Stay there 3-4 days, then fly back to Ho Chi Minh City and spend a few days here for sightseeing and shopping. And fly back.

This mountainous and densely forested island is the largest island of Vietnam and is a great tropical holiday paradise. Phuket must have been like this island before its natural beauty was destroyed by tourism and related developments. Phu Quoc has some of most beautiful beaches in Vietnam and offers the best seafood in the country. Phu Quoc is becoming well known so it is best to go there in the next few years before it becomes one of those many tropic resort islands. The peek season is from November to March.

Phu Quoc Island - Source : Discover Phu Quoc
The best way to arrive Phu Quoc from Ho Chi Minh City is taking the Vietnam Airlines turbo prop ATR72 aircraft to the island. This is currently the only commercial airline that fly's to the island and it takes around 50 minutes. You can also arrive Rach Gia or Ha Tien from Ho Chi Minh City by bus and then take a boat but this means a 500 km journey by bus and boat!

This island is for relaxing in the beach bungalows, eating great seafood and diving into sea or forest for adventure. Since it is quite and peaceful, it is not a so great getaway for night life. I advise people based on their shopping decision. If you want to shop in Ho Chi Minh City, you can go to Phu Quoc first and then stay in Ho Chi Minh City. But this also may means rest first and get a little bit tired later. If you are OK to carry the things you bought or do not shop a lot then you can stay in Ho Chi Minh City for 1-2 days to do the following:

1 - Saigon Sightseeing
2 - Mekong Delta Tour
3 - Chu Chu Tunnels Tour

And then you can fly to Phu Quoc. You can also spend all your days in Phu Quoc, but if you have not been in Saigon before, I suggest strongly to spend some time in the city.

China's Hawaii: Hainan Island

One of the best thing about living in Singapore is its proximity to Asia's best beaches and tourist destinations. Although many people still do not think places other than Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, several less traveled destinations in Vietnam, Cambodia and China also offers great holiday escapes from Singapore, especially if you are tired of crowding and spoiling, heavy development in popular tourist destinations like Phuket.

Hainan Island of China, Southern most past of China, is one of these destinations. It is dubbed as "Hawaii of China" and the southern city of Sanya is positioning itself as a popular tourist destination. It takes 3 hours and 25 minutes to Haikou, capital city of Hainan Island, from Singapore. Jetstar Asia operates flights to Haikou, for 330 SGD (return trip). Another option is Tiger Airways, which flies to Haikou, 5 times a week for a cheaper 242 SGD (return trip). From November 2011, Jetstar will start to operate daily flights between Singapore and Hainan Island.

Sanya is the main tourist destination so from Haikou, you need to go to Sanya. Fortunately, there is a fast train operating from Haikou International Airport to Sanya and the journey takes approximately 90 minutes and costs around 20 SGD.

Sanya offers all year around sunshine,  a lot of water sports such as snorkeling and jet-skiing, rainforest hiking, and there are many hotels you can chose among ranging from zero to five stars. Yalong Bay, a 7.5 kilometers beach located southeast of Sanya City, is one of the best tropic holiday destinations in Sanya.

The peak tourist season is from October 1st to the end February and during this season, Sanya is a popular destination for Russians and Northern Chinese to escape from freezing winter. Probably Chinese New Year is the most crowded and expensive time.

Yalong Bay
What to do in Sanya? You should go to snorkeling or skuba diving Yalong Bay area. You can also pay a visit to Yalong Bay Underwater World which offers various water sports such as parasurfing, diving and snorkeling. For thos who like hiking and mountaineering, Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park offers good experience.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jetstar Airways

I have travelled from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City and back to Singapore on two Jetstar Asia Airways flights last week and I would like to comment on this Australian low-cost carrier. I have obviously chosen this airlines due to its cheap price and good public image. I have paid 200 Singapore Dollars for a round trip. Jetstar Asia Airways also departs from Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 1, unlike its only low-cost competitor on Singapore-Ho Chi Minh City route, Tiger Airways which departs from Budget Terminal. 2 years ago I had a bad experience with a rude ground staff in Changi Budget Terminal and since then I stopped using there and Tiger Airways.

The no-frills flights and the service was OK. For a 1 hour 40 minutes flight you only need a seat and a plane taking off and landing on time and a decent service. For all extras you have to pay but the prices are not unreasonable. I paid 15 Singapore Dollars for 20 kg check-in luggage (10 Kg of hand carry is free) and 4 Singapore Dollars for seat selection. Food and beverage are reasonable priced and food is delicious. I paid 8 Dollars for a beef-rice and 6 SGD for a beer. Overall good value to price ratio.

Jetstar Airways A330

And some news for you, if you are looking for cheap flight alternatives on  Singapore-Beijing, Singapore-Melbourne or Singapore-Auckland routes. Jetstar also operates long-haul budget flights from Singapore to Melbourne and Auckland on Airbus 330 (it takes approximately twice the number of passengers compared to 180 people capacity of Airbus 320, the typical work horse of Jetstar). By November 2011, Jetstar will add a Singapore Beijing low-cost, long-haul flight. According to Jetstar, economy seats on these A330s will be 78 cm, comparable to seats on full service carriers such as Qantas and Singapore Airlines flying the same type of aircraft. So if you are looking for cheap Singapore-Beijing, Singapore-Melbourne or Singapore-Auckland flight, Jetstar offers an alternative to look at. These flights comes with in flight hot meals and beverages, in-flight entertainment units for extra 15 SGD. Jetstar has recently added the fifth additional Airbus A330 to its fleet and it is planning to compete Air Asia X on the low-cost Australia to Europe market. Great to have another low-cost alternative to fly to Europe from Singapore!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Places to see in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

I am in Ho Chi Minh City now and as a person having been here many times, it is time to write my little things to do, places to see series about Saigon. Many attractions are concentrated in District 1, officially named Saigon, so a walking tour would make you see many. But a better alternative is cyclo tour. But if you will have one, negotiate the price in advance and clearly without any ambiguity and be careful with your camera and wallet since they can be easily grasped by motorbike riding thieves.

Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica

Saigon city center offers many attractions to visit. I would take Notre-Dame Basilica and Central Post Office as my start point. You may have probably seen the photos of this large cathedral in down town Ho Chi Minh City. Built in 1880 by French, it is a great tourist attraction and a beautiful cathedral from Indochina times. A Saigon photo album is not complete with a photo taken in front of it. Surrounding area is a great place to hang around day and night. It is also walking distance to several other attractions.

All the original construction material of this church was brought from France and the outside bricks came from Marseilles. Vietnam houses the second largest catholic christian population in South East Asia after Philippines and this church is still actively used as the main church of Ho Chi Minh City.

Saigon Notre Damme Basilica with Virgin Mary Statue
Just next to the cathedral, you will see the beautiful Gothic architectural masterpiece, Saigon Central Post Office. Many pass through this tourist attraction without knowing that it is designed and constructed by great French Gustave Eiffel, architect of Eiffel Tower, in Indochina past of Saigon. It is quite Saigon holiday tradition to send a Vietnam / Saigon post card from Saigon Post Office to loved ones around the world. One of those post cards I have sent to my sister is still on her fridge in Istanbul.

Saigon Central Post Office is designed and constructed by Gustave Eiffel
Saigon Zoo And Botanic Gardens
Many Saigon guides will direct you to Reunification Palace or War Remnants Museum from the Notre-Dame Basilica but I will suggest you to take Le Duan Street behind the cathedral all the way up to The Zoo. Saigon Zoo and Botanic Gardens eight oldest Zoo on the planet and a very famous place both for locals and foreigners.

First time I was there, I hand fed the elephants (do not try it yourself it is probably dangerous) and hand fed some deer which was very fun. Other than 260 species of animals and thousands of trees and plants (some of them are a century old), The Zoo also houses Saigon National Museum which keeps a lot of valuable exhibits and documents in two areas: one displays artifacts from the beginning of Vietnam to 1930, and the other displays things about culture and history of Vietnam. This is a great place to pay a visit if you are interested in the long and rich history of Vietnam.

Reunification Palace
This palace is simply known as "President Palace" in Ho Chi Minh City and it was named as Independence Palace until a North Vietnamese Army tank bulldozed through its main gate and ended the Vietnam War. Unified Vietnam renamed it to "Reunification Palace".

On the side of the current palace there was the old "Norodom Palace" built by French colonials in 1873 to be used as the official residence of the governor-general of French Indochina. After French left Vietnam in 1954, the Norodom Palace was handed over to the first president of South Vietnam. Norodom Palace was bombed by two rogue pilots of the South Vietnamese air force in an attempt to assasin the President and badly destroyed! Instead of going to a restoration, this old colonial landmark has been torn down and the structure was built in 1962.

Reunification Palace
The interesting thing about this palace is that it is like a time machine to early 70s. Things are kept so well that you really feel like it was abandoned a few days ago and you are in 1970s. There are several exhibits and photographs about the Vietnam history as well as Vietnam War era. You can read a detailed article about this tourist attraction in Reunification Palace.

The War Remnants Museum

Vietnam is still most known for Vietnam War (they call it American War here) and through some Hollywood movie masterpieces. This museum is mostly about that war and telling the story of the war from the other side. A section displays the results of air raids to Vietnamese Villages with of course full intention of "minimum civilian casuality(!)". You will say " you" when you hear "minimum civilian casuality" after seeing this part. And if you have somehow realized that South Vietnam is less "green" compared to South Thailand, the cause of this phenomenon is also displayed here: Agent Orange! Unfortunately, vegetation destruction is the least harmful thing this gas did in Vietnam.

Another section is about the life of Viet Kong during the "American War". If you have grown up in the western block of the divided world, you have seen them only a few seconds per movie without any story in the Vietnam War movies. So I was watching "Lost" when I first visited this section and I have named it as "The Others". It details the life of Viet Kong through out the war. I suggest you to read the visitors book. An old American man was writing while I was there and after he left I read what he and several people wrote. He was an American soldier in Vietnam when he was 20 and it was his first time in Saigon since 1974!

When I first came here, there was a section showing the Americans against the war in 60s and other western movements against the war. It was not there or I missed it in my second time. Outside the building there are many war relics, helicopters, bombs, planes, etc.

Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is one of the oldest buildings in Saigon and is popular place among tourists seeking Vietnamese handicrafts, textiles, souvenirs, and  local cuisine. Although it worth to see this place it is best to avoid any shopping here if you have time to pay a visit a little outside central Saigon (District 1) . It is a tiring experience to bargain here and always smiling shop owners here shamelessly deploys tricks to depart you and your money as fast as possible. Prices are always 50% - 100% over for you if you are a tourist so you need to hard bargain. But as I said for shopping, if you have choice (most tours unfortunately brings you to this tourist milking place) avoid to shop here and head to Binh Tay Market in Chinatown.

Ben Thanh Market
Binh Tay Market
This market in the Chinatown, is almost a twin of overrated Ben Thanh Market and largely overlooked by tourists. Everything you can buy in Saigon and Ben Thanh Market are sold here (actually they are largely sourced from here). It is very wise to skip the tourist trap Ben Thanh Market and come to Binh Tay if you want to make significant shopping in Saigon. If you know how to bargain and select quality products, Ho Chi Minh City offers great savings on shopping. Everything I wear in Singapore except some work clothes are from here or District 5 other bazaars with 25% of the price I can buy in Singapore.

Binh Tay Market in Ho Chi Minh City Chinatown

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Phuket Kata Beach Orchidacea Resort

This post is moved to Phuket Orchidacea Resort.

Images from Chinese Folklore

70 per cent of Singapore population is ethnically Chinese and when you are in Singapore, you will probably wonder the story of different images and sculptures from Chinese Folklore. First you need to realize that these images are not for decoration, they have religious importance and respect them. Here, we have written about some of the most common images of deities and historical figures from Chinese folklore, you can see in Singapore.

Three Lucky Gods (Fu Lu Shou)
You will see them nearly in all Chinese houses in Singapore. And you will see them in many Chinese shops. They are the three gods of fortune, always grouped together: The Fu Star (planet Jupiter), The Lu Star (Ursa Major) and The Shou Star (Argo Navis - alfa).

The Fu Star represents the concept of good fortune. The deity image is related to a governor of Daozhou, Yang Cheng, who risked his life by writing to emperor about people's suffering and deified after his death. He is usually depicted holding a child or surrounded by children, wears scholar dress and holds a scroll.

The Lu Star represents the concept of prosperity. It is believed that The Lu star is Zhang Xian, a government officer ived in late Shu dynasty. The word Lu actually refer to the salary of government official. The Lu star thus represents prosperity, rank, and influence. He is usually depicted in the dress of a mandarin.

The Shou star is The God of longevity. According to the Chinese folklore, The Shou Star was carried in his mother's womb for ten years before being born, and when he was finally born, he was already an old man. His high, domed forehead and warm, friendly smile makes him easily recognizable. He is depicted holding a peach. a symbol of immortality.

From Left, The Shou Star, The Lu Star and The Fu Star
Source : Oriental Wicca
Xuan Wu
The Northern Emperor or Teh Kong in Hokkien, Xuan Wu is one of the higher ranking Taoist gods and one of the more revered deities among Chinese. Xuan Wu is revered as a powerful god, he is believed to be able to control the elements (worshipped by those wishing to avoid fires), and capable of great magic. He is also the god of martial arts. 

Xuan Wu
Guan Yu
You will see the image of the great general Guan Yu frequently in Chinese dominated countries. Guan, who played a significant role in the civil war the Three Kingdoms period (which ended with the collapse of the Han Dynasty and the establishment of the state of Shu Han), was deified as early as the Sui Dynasty. He is still worshipped by many Chinese people today, especially in southern China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and their descendants overseas.[1]

He is usually depicted as a red-faced warrior with a long lush beard and holding Guan dao and popularly worshipped today among the Chinese people. In the Western World he is known as Taoist God of War. In Buddhist tradition he is worshiped as a bodhisattva and  in Taoism as a guardian deity:
Guan Yu-the great general of heaven, patron of policemen, soldiers and protectors of law, seen as the epitome of loyalty and righteosness. He was a mortal man living in the times of the 3 Kingdoms, a much romanticized period of history in China, where he was an important figure in the civil war to dispose the Han dynasty. He is portrayed as a powerful warrior with a red face (the color, not rouge) and black hair and a long beard. Though many modern artists have taken the red face away to show that he was born a mortal. He carried a guando, which is similar to a halberd, called the Green Dragon Cresent Blade (though I have also seen it called the Black Dragon Blade,) and wears a green robe with his body armor. After his defeat and death, he was apotheisized into a god. He is a Folk god, a Taoist god, a Boddhisatva, and a Confucian ideal of the virtues of honor and loyalty. He is a very popular deity, and there is a lot of information available about him, so look him up.
Guan Yu holding Guan Dao
Chinese guardian lions
Known as "Foo Dogs" in the Western world were common presentations of lions in the pre-modern China. Chinese artists of those times, who have never seen a lion with their own eyes, depicted this creature based on the narratives of travelling monks who have seen these creatures in the west and used a lot of imagination. They are believed to have powerful mythic protective benefits and still can be seen at the entrance of many Chinese buildings and businesses. The lions are always in pairs, one of them is male and the other one is female. The male lion usually presses his paw onto a sphere representing the world and the female lion is usually depicted playing with a lion cub.

The male guardian lion in front of Ngee Ann City in Singapore. The female can be seen  behind.

[1] - Guan Yu

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Matchbox The Concept Hostel is open

We have written last month that Singapore's first pod style flashpacker hostel, Matchbox The Concept Hostel, will be opened in August. Matchbox Hospitality officially launched this only boutique flashpacker hostel with pod-style dormitory in Singapore and Southeast Asia in August and on August 16th 2011. They were very kind to invite Asia Singapore to media open event.I will write a larger first hand review of this new hostel soon. Below is from the press release:

"Singapore, 16 August 2011 - Responding to the calls of a new generation of travellers, Matchbox The Concept Hostel appeals to flashpackers who have vastly different ‘wants’ from the typical backpacker. The only one in Singapore and Southeast Asia to feature exclusive custom-made pod-style dormitories, Matchbox is also the only hostel in the world to feature couple bunk beds within a dormitory."

The hostel offers three rooms, Sunkiss is 2 single bed mixed dormitory, Flamingo is 12 single bed Ladies’ dormitory, and Spring Mist is 18-bed mixed dormitory (2 double beds and 16 single beds). As I have written before in Singapore descent hotels prices range between expensive and very expensive, and hostels like The Matchbox are great to spend less on a bed and more on everything else. It is indeed better for young people to share a dorm with travellers from around the world even they can afford to lock themselves privately into a hotel room.

Matchbox The Concept Hostel Facade
So with its 45 SGD per night per pod, this hostel is flashpacker, affluent backpacker who is backpacking with a bigger budget. With this extra prices comes extras, a more luxury than an average space, cosy location with a soul and history, free all day breakfast, Wi-Fi, laundry facilities and custom designed pillows. Below photos would give you more idea about the hostel. What I will add for now is I especially like its location, Ang Siang Road, greeting you with its elegantly restored shophouses (Matchbox is in one of these shop houses) at the end of gentle slope of Ang Siang Hill is a very nice place to stay in Singapore.

Matchbox Lobby - Source :

Dormitory with pods  - Source :

Here are some other boutique style hostels in Singapore.
5footway.inn Project Chinatown 2Wink HostelBunc hostelAdler Hostel

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back to Ho Chi Minh City

My wife and I have decided to merge this weekend with Hari Raya Puasa holiday on Tuesday and I am flying to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  I have not been there in the last 2 years but this year and in 2012, I hope I will be there more.  Ho Chi Minh City is a surprisingly entertaining place. It has higher rating in my favourite holiday destinations than Bangkok.

One of the advantages of living in Singapore is to have easy and cheap access to surrounding South East Asian gems. You can easily have a weekend escape to a tourist paradise in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Lao or Cambodia thanks to competition among the low cost airliners. If you are flexible on time, there are usually promotions and with less than 150 SGD, you can buy a return ticket. It is even cheaper nowadays thanks to relatively expensive Singapore Dollar and many coupon sites offering luxury holiday packages with ultra-low prices. For example, I have just checked one of the coupon sites serving to Singapore and the latest deal is $ 288  per pax 4D3N Garden Villa Stay at Elements Boutique Resort in Thai paradise island Koh Samui with Private Pool! The usual price according to the site is $1266. More than 350 people bought so far. Great indeed!

As I have mentioned there are many budget airliner options to holiday destinations from Singapore. Air Asia, Tiger Airways, Jet Star, Firefly to name some.  I used to fly with Tiger Airways but since I had a bad experience with one of rude ground staff in Changi Budget Terminal, I stopped taking flights from there and I started to fly with Australian low-cost carrier Jet star. 2 return tickets from Singapore Changi Airport to Ho Chi Minh City  Tan Son Nhat International Airport cost me 450 Singapore Dollars with 2x20 kg luggage (cost extra 15 SGD per ticket) and 4 seat selections (each seat selection costs 4 SGD) J

Ho Chi Minh City, City Hall
Budget airliners put price on everything extra other than a random seat in a flight but they are still much cheaper than flying with full cost carriers like Singapore Airlines or Vietnam Airlines. As usual I have checked these two for any promotion but there was not any and 2 return tickets cost 800 SGD+ for taking one of them. For 2.5 hours flight to Saigon from Singapore, paying 800 SGD is too much.

This time I have bought our travel insurance from AIA (I usually use DBS). While my wife was extending her personal health insurance, we bought our insurances from the AIA agent. My insurance for 6 days of stay in Vietnam cost me 31 SGD while my wife’s 10 days stay there costs 40 SGD. Vietnam, like many South East Asian countries does not request an insurance when you apply for visa but you should better get a travel insurance since an emergency hospitalization in this region costs surprisingly high and ruin your finances for a long period of time.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Will Singapore property prices rise or fall?

Where are property prices in Singapore heading? Will they go up or fall down later this year? When will they start to fall? In 2012, 2013? Amid string of news and events, many having potential to pull the prices down and some up, many people have different views on where the prices are heading.

There seems to be a single yet very powerful force left to support prices: Zero interest policy of "Helicopter Ben" who pours money onto every single problem. Some experts think this will be a support for prices since households and developers will have holding powers. US FED can even go for another round of QE3 which will pour more money into Asia. Although both policies of FED will most probably create the mother of all financial crisis in the mid term, they may support the prices of property in Singapore. There is a big "if" here, if Helicopter Ben can keep his promise of zero interest rate which will be not so possible if inflation picks up in USA.

On the other hand, other events have potential to put pressure on the prices. Lets look at these events:

The end of debt super cycle is approaching. Most important event looks like the potential next financial crisis: In 2008, West has decided to transfer loses to their public and let the Wall Street run the casino more with printed money. Now we see the consequences: All developed countries with too much debt are approaching the end of debt super cycle and sooner or later they will have to pay back. Singapore is not exposed to debt but is exposed to outside world so we will be greatly effected.

HDB income ceiling is increased. This actually changes many thing. But also depends on how many additional households will be eligible for public housing. Vikrant Pandey, a property analyst from UOB Kay Hian, estimates that an additional 99,161 households will be eligible for BTO and an estimated 68,700 additional households will be eligible for Executive Condominium (EC).[1] I have read a lot of experts arguing that there won't be very large number of households effected with the income ceiling but these are quite large numbers. Although many will directly get out of resale HDB flat market, any resale HDB flat price correction will remove many from mass market condo demand and prices.

New pace of BTO building is increased. HDB was building with the pace of 8,000 units per year in first 10 years of 2000s now in September 2011 alone, they will release 8,000 units! 2011 and 2012 combined is planned to be 50,000 units. The supply crunch in public housing is one of the main drivers of ultra high resale HDB and mass market condo prices. Although the effect of this supply will not be felt immediately in the supply side, it will have immediate effect on demand side. Many young couples will have a chance to grap a unit directly from HDB instead of waiting for a long time and heading to resale HDB market.

Helicopter Ben must be crazy!

Number of new Singapore PRs. Jump in the number of Singapore PRs was one of the main drivers of resale HDB market and current trend, cutting the approval numbers significantly, will also have significant effect. In 2010, PR approval numbers were halved to 29,000 from 59,000 of 2009 which was down from the pick of 2008, 79,000. Event during the Singapore General Election 2011 and afterwards suggests that this downward trend will continue in 2011. Only Singaporeans and Singapore PRs can buy resale HDB flats and reduced number of them means reduced demand for resale HDB flats.

New bumper supply of private property for next 3 years. 50,000 new private property units will flood the market in the next 3 years. In my opinion its effect is exaggerated, given the fact that it will barely be enough to cover the shortage. Nevertheless, this fresh supply at least will ease the supply crunch.

Will the property prices crash? Well, one thing is certain, the URA property price index is at a historical high:

"While the stock markets around the world are turning bearish, it is still anyone’s guess as to whether the Singapore property market is heading for a crash.

To argue against a crash, property bulls will cite the extremely low mortgage interest rates offered by the banks here, a possible QE3 by the US Federal Reserve, and the hot money that is still flooding into the region."
Source : Property Crash Coming? (See Graph) made a prediction 3 years ago in October 2008 (see Property must crash) by superimposing the Straits Times Index (Singapore stock market) chart over the URA property index graph, and it turned out that they were correct. They do this again with fresh data and look at it in this link: Property Crash Coming? (See Graph). It tells its story.

So where are the prices heading? I think it is not time to answer this question. It is time to wait for to see where the global economic problems are heading and how the chart in will progress. We may well end up with a sudden "bang" event like we had in 2008 with Lehman Brothers. Or West can kick the can more up to 2015 or even a little bit later. How the drama of volatile global markets end will have great effect on where the prices will end. If I were thinking to buy a private property now, I would wait and see where all this mess end at least until 2012.

[1] To buy or not to buy? That is the question. The Straits Times

See also Singapore property update for 2012

This blog article is to provide general information only and should not be treated as an invitation to buy or sell any property or as sales material.  Users of this report should consider this report as a one of the many factors in making their investment decision. Users should make reference to other sources of information and specific investment advice to obtain a more objective view of the property market. Asia Singapore shall not be responsible for losses suffered.  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What is business intelligence?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Singapore Employment Pass criteria is stricter now

Last Sunday in his National Day Rally 2011 speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has told that Singapore Employment Pass criteria will become stricter for mid-level white collar workers. He has mentioned that Ministry Of Manpower (MOM) will soon announce the details. Singapore Employment is a Singapore work permit issued to white collar foreign employees which enables them to work in Singapore. Unlike S-Pass, Employment Pass is not subject to any quota system which limits the number of Employment Passes that can be employed in a company. There were around 142,000 Employment Pass holders as of December 2010. These foreign professionals are directly competing for the jobs with locals and many Singaporeans openly express their intake should be slowed.

Today in its press release, MOM released the details in its newsroom by the name "Enhanced Employment Pass Framework". New assessment criteria to take effect from January 2012:

MOM will tighten the educational qualifications requirements for Employment Pass Q1 "so that only those from good quality institutions will be eligible". The minimum salary requirement for this pass type is also increased to 3,000 SGD per month from 2,800 SGD per month. Older applicants will have to command even higher salaries to qualify for Employment Pass Q1. This seems to prevent

Minimum salary to qualify for Employment Pass P2 is also raised from $4,000 to $4,500 while the criteria did not change for the P1 pass which was recently raised to 8,000 SGD per month from 7,000 SGD per month.

Minimum fixed monthly
Work Pass

Type of

Before Jan 2012After Jan 2012
Pass P1
Professional, Managerial, Executive or Specialist jobs80008000
Pass P2
Professional, Managerial, Executive or Specialist jobs40004500
Pass Q1
Professional, Managerial, Executive or Specialist jobs28003000

All new Employment Pass applications will be subject to these new Employment Pass critera from 1 January 2012. How will these measures effect existing Employment Pass holders? For them, MOM announced transitional measures and it will phase in the new requirements over the next 1-2 years (depending on when their current passes expire).

"Existing EP holders whose passes expire:

Before 1 January 2012: receive a one-time renewal of up to two years based on the pre-July 2011 EP criteria.

Between 1 January 2012 and 30 June 2012 (both dates inclusive): receive a one-time renewal of up to one year on the existing EP criteria.

On or after 1 July 2012: The new EP criteria shall apply.

11. Existing EP holders who change employers after 1 January 2012 will have their applications considered under the new EP criteria."
Source : MOM - Enhancements to the Employment Pass Framework

The news for changes, as expected, echoed back in completely opposite ways from the different ways in the opposite sides of the force. Local employers will welcome it while local employers will feel it as a blow:

"DBS economist Irvin Seah said the policy change could encourage companies to have a closer look at and hire more Singaporeans. Business development manager Peter Toh, 45, said the changes would help to a certain extent. A formetr assistant general manager at a company in Hong Kong, he wanted to switch to the service industry but was unsuccessful even after sending more than 100 applications. Much still depends on individual employers and whether they are willing to hire older applicants, noted Mr. Toh, who is now with an accounting firm."
Source : The Straits Times - New rules offer hope to Singapore executives

And the employer side:

"Mr. Lawrence Leow, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) expects salary costs to "easily go up 2 to 3 per cent over a period of time" noting that Singaporeans will also expect a corresponding pay rise. The local service sector is expected to be most affected by the latest round of tightening measures, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also Manpower Minister, said yesterday."
Source : The Straits Times - SMEs feeling the heat of wave of changes

See Also : Singapore work pass salaries, foreigner intake and rents in 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Room for rent in Singapore

I see many are looking for a flat to rent in Singapore with a rental price below 1,000 SGD per month. Unfortunately, this is not possible for the last 4-5 years and currently the only rental unit type which goes below 1,000 SGD per month is a room. Fortunately, renting out a room for extra income is a quite common practice in Singapore.

Nowadays rooms are also relatively expensive and in great demand. Jut look at an advertisement board near an MRT station and you will see agents are looking landlords to rent out rooms more than tenants for available rooms (see our article room for rent in Singapore more demand).

The price range depends of the room type (common or master room) and size, room’s accessories (air conditioner, furnished, etc.), flat type (HDB or condominium) and last but not the least, location. So not surprisingly the cheapest available rooms for rent are common room of HDB units without air conditioning or furniture away from the city centre. And the most expensive ones (can go up to 2,000+ SGD per month!) are master room units in central condominiums with full accessories.

If you want to rent an HDB room, be sure that there is no legal restriction on the rental in the flat. Owners of 1 or 2 room flats are not allowed to rent their rooms. So avoid rents where landlord lives in the living room and rents out the only bedroom, it is not legal. Housing Development Board (HDB) only lets room rental in 3-room or bigger flats. The landlord needs no prior approval from HDB for renting the room to you but he needs to register within 7 days after rental starts. Also depending on the flat size, there are ceilings to maximum number of occupants allowed in each flat. So be cautious about very cheap rooms for rent in Singapore. They may have some issues for eligibility like above.

Agents are also involved in room rentals in Singapore and they expect you pay half of one month rent as a commission. But there are many web sites where you can directly contact the owner and bypass a property agent. My advice is to use for an agent if you are in hurry, they really shorten the search period but you do not need one so much if you have time to look for on your own.

There are no fixed rules for room rental arrangements in Singapore. Many even do not prepare any written document and things are usually handled verbally. But make sure that the rents you pay are documented. You try to make it a bank transfer. If the owner does not want it (many old folks do not like to use bank) at least take a signed paper from the owner and encourage him/her to keep a book.

The room may be rented out by the owner of the unit or sublet by the master tenant of the unit. It may look like second case is more preferable because it is more flexibility and many owners put more restrictions on you (i.e. cooking) then master tenants. But prefer to rent from an owner since you will probably not see the tenancy agreement of the apartment and subletting may not be allowed.

You can rent with all utilities included or excluded. If they are included, talk the utility usage in advance to prevent later arguments. Aircon is especially important; many owners do not like you to use it all day. Openly agree on its usage before going into agreement.

Talk about early termination conditions and if there is something written between you and the owner, include early termination conditions in it. For example request 1 month notice if your owner wants you out. Also try to agree that deposit will be used as rent in this last month so you do not bother about getting deposit back.

Notice : If you are looking for cheap short term rentals rooms and apartments in Singapore, you can check out our article here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A VIP Bus Trip From Bangkok To Phuket

A while ago, I was on holiday in Thailand and our plan was to stay in Bangkok for 4 days and then go to Phuket to spend 4 more days there before taking our flight from Phuket to Bangkok. Original plan was to fly from Bangkok to Phuket and buy the ticket while we were in Bangkok. But when there, I have decided that I want to see the rural Thailand from the window of its famous first class train compartment!

Well, let me tell the main message of this article before you read the rest. If you want to go from Bangkok to Phuket, just fly the route. There is not so much to see on the way. If you will not fly take a public train from Bangkok.

The rest of the post is moved to : A VIP Travel By Bus From Bangkok To Phuket

Sunday, August 14, 2011

NDP Rally 2011, impact on the property market

Yesterday in NDP Rally 2011 speech, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced two important policies which will have effect on broad Singapore property market, from re-sale HDB flats to private condominiums, and from flats for sale to flats for rent. The first one is that income ceiling for the primary market HDB units increased from 8,000 SGD to 10,000 SGD. Second, HDB will release 25,000 more units in 2012, on the top of 25,000 units to be released this year in 2011. Employment Pass issues of mid-level foreigners, major tenants of rental units, will be tightened further.

There are 2 markets for HDB units, primary market where Singaporeans can buy new flats directly from HDB and secondary market where Singapore residents (Singaporeans and Singapore PRs) can buy second hand HDB from HDB owners. To be eligible to buy new HDB flat, there is an income ceiling based on flat size, but if a household earns more than 8,000 SGD per month, they are not eligible for any type of unit. Last 10 years’ economic growth plus increased marriage age brought many above the threshold and these couples had to look for a unit in resale HDB market or private property market.

We have also seen a supply crunch in the years between 2000 and 2010, where HDB built on average 5,000 new units per year. This had a double impact on the resale HDB market. First, there are not enough resale HDB flats to satisfy demand for them since less are built 5 years back (an HDB flat can enter resale market at earliest 5 years after completion due to minimum occupancy rules). Second long waiting times for new HDB units made many new HDB eligible couples to buy from resale market. Decreased demand, increased supply resulted in current ultra-high public housing prices. This also had directly and indirectly effects on the mass market primary property market.

More HDB flats are welcomed news but it will take some time these released units be built and several years they enter the resale market. So the effect on supply crunch will not be immediate. But it will have immediate effect on the demand side. According to Ministry of Development blog, 23% of demand for resale HDB flats comes from first time buyers.  There are several reasons other than difficulty of getting a new HDB flat for these people to buy more expensive resale flats instead of new HDBs such as the location of these flats. But many probably do so because they are not eligible to buy a new HDB flat or frustrated with long waiting time. These measures will channel their demand back to new HDB flats from resale flats (although there will still be demand from many first timers who are earning more than 10,000 SGD but less than the number to make a private property affordable).

But some think, impact will be limited on resale HDB flat:

“As for the HDB market, Credo’s Mr. Ong expects the higher HDB income ceiling to draw some demand away from resale flats, but he does not think impact will be major.”[1]

He has a point since we are at one of the worst years in terms of HDB resale supply crunch due to the number of units completed in 2006 (five years before 2011). Still this new announcements combined with the tightening on Singapore PR approvals (20% of the demand for resale HDB flats) can alone have an effect on the resale market, more than a property broker want to see or share :) We later this year will have the number of PR approvals to have a better picture.

Higher income ceiling for executive condominiums will reduce some demand for mass market private property units. According to Business Times, “Jones LaSalle head of Research and consultancy for Singapore Chua Yang Liang estimates that annual new housing demand in the private market could drop as much as 5-15 per cent, or about 700 – 2,000 units”[1]

And the rental side: rents are one of the main supporters of property prices since investors usually count on the cash flow from rent to pay the mortgages. In this current zero interest rate environment, monthly mortgage rates are down and rents are up due to demand from foreigners working here, so the cash flow from a property investment is in the positive region.

In Singapore, where majority of its residents own their flat, major bulk of rental demand comes from foreigners on various employment passes. Private properties are demanded by expat packages and higher end employment pass holders (i.e. P1 and P2) while public housing flats are popular for rent among S-Pass and Employment Pass Q1 holders. So support on the rental prices heavily depend on the number of foreigners chasing for rental units. Since this year growth will be half of last year at best and these further tightening on mid-level employment pass criteria will reduce the demand for rentals. Couple this with the bumper supply on its way to private property rental market; there are few things to support the current very high rentals. And as you may have recognized, I am not factoring in any downturn in economy (although there is a panic in the market now after free money from QE2 disappeared), it is still a few weeks early to talk about permanent downturn in economy. In fact West is probably crazy enough to continue to kick the can a few years more by a QE3 or even QE4. But still, it is pretty obvious that 2011 – 2012 will not be like 2009-2010 period in terms of economy.

Does this mean a fall in rentals of condo units? There will eventually be a fall in my opinion but not a crash. This is because the fresh foreigner demand vanished due to tightening will probably be replaced by the demand from people already in here but downgraded to HDB flats due to high private property prices. And people sharing units due to high rents will probably move to their private flats if the prices fall.
[1] – More Qualify for new flats, ECs as government raises income ceiling, The Business Times   

Further tightening on Singapore Employment Pass Says PM Lee

In  his National Day Rally 2011 speech, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has shared that Singapore government is progressively tightening up on foreign workers. He has announced that Singapore Ministry Of Manpower (MOM) will further tighten measures on the middle range of foreign workers. Middle range of foreign workers are those with Employment Pass and their competition on the white collar jobs with Singaporeans was one of the hottest topics in Singapore. Mr. Lee has said that the tightening on mid level foreign workers will include "raising the salary thresholds for Employment Passes and tightening the educational qualifications". He has told that he will be announced by MOM soon.

Singapore work pass salary threshold is the minimum monthly fixed salary that can be paid to a foreign worker. The minimum salary depends on the employment pass type. If this new measures are implemented in 2011, it will be the second time minimum salary threshold increased in this year. They have recently been increased in July 2011; "from 1,800 SGD to 2,000 SGD for S-Pass holders, 2,500 to 2,800 for Employment Pass Q1 holders, 3,500 SGD to 4,500 SGD for Employment Pass P2 holders and from 7,000 SGD to 8,000 SGD for Employment Pass P1 holders". Source : Singapore work pass salaries, foreigner intake and rents in 2011

These measures address one of the primary concerns of white collar Singaporean workers who seem increasingly uncomfortable and vocal about the influx of foreign workers. Many I know are not against foreign work force, the concern is more about the speed and volume of the foreign influx. And also there is a common view that the quality of these foreign workers are not well monitored. Tighter educational qualifications will address both of this issues.

However, PM cautioned that "tightening on foreign workers does not necessarily mean Singaporeans will automatically get better jobs or higher pay, as  Singaporeans are also competing with workers all over the world":

"Slowing down the inflow of foreign workers may also mean that Singapore will face lower economic growth. There would be lesser vibrancy in our economy and society and fewer opportunities for our people. Hence, Singapore will need to strike the right balance between managing influx of foreign workers and bringing in enough talent to grow the economy."

Source: Singaporeans First Jobs

Singapore has to keep a right balance of foreign workers influx since skilled worker migration is one of the engines of growth of the strong economy of Singapore. But to much reliance on the increase of working population as a source of growth also drags the prosperity creating source of growth down: productivity growth. Recently Singapore government increased its effort on balancing the influx of foreigners as well as increasing the productivity of Singaporeans.

See also : Singapore employment pass criteria is stricter now

HDB Income Ceiling Will Be Raised More HDB Will Be Built

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has just given his most important speech in 2011, his National Day Rally speech. This is the first rally since the last  GE 2011. He has announced that the income ceiling for BTO flats will be raised from $8,000 to $10,000 (On Monday, Minister of National Development Khaw Boon Wan announced that the ceiling is effective from August 15th 2011).

HDB will increase income ceiling first time in nearly 2 decades from 8,000 SGD to 12,000 SGD for BTO flats and 10,000 SGD to 12,000 SGD for the executive condominiums

He has also announced that next year in 2012, HDB will also release another 25,000 units on the top of 25,000 which will be released this year in 2011:

"PM Lee first hinted at an increase in the income ceiling in May during the General Elections when housing emerged as a top issue. 

In his speech, PM Lee noted that the ratio of applicants to flats at BTO projects have started to come down. 

Since taking over the portfolio for national development after the General Elections, Minister Khaw Boon Wan has increased the BTO supply this year to 25,000 flats and conducted large scale BTO launches to increase the chances of flat selection for applicants.

PM Lee also announced that the supply of rental flats will be increased by 7,000 in the next two years. The Government will delay the demolition of some En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme blocks for the flats to be used as temporary rental units."
Source : Income ceiling for BTO raised to $10,000, more rental flats in the pipeline.

Last few years, supply crunch in HDB flats as well as rising incomes of newly wed Singapore couples made many Singaporean couples to look for HDB flats in secondary market (called HDB resale market). They form a significant part of demand for resale HDB flats whose price has risen to very expensive levels thanks to increased demand from Singaporeans and increased number of PRs. Although these 50,000 new BTO flats will start to enter into resale market at earliest in 2015-2016 to ease the supply crunch, they will probably take significant demand out of the market as more young couples will be able to grap a unit directly from HDB primary market. 

Singapore Flight Simulations

We have previously written about the Flight Experience Singapore, unique experience of being in a Boeing 737 cockpit. There is one more company offering flight simulations in the town, in Orchard Central, it's name is SG Flight Simulations. The company offers customer to be the captain of an Airbus A320 and fly from busy Changi to challenging Kai Tak, from deserts to the tropics. There will be a flight instructor with you while you are "flying" and the experience appeals to enthusiastic amateurs as well as professional pilots.

The simulator, Airbus 320 Training Device, is a replica of one of the most common and successful aircraft of the aviation history, Airbus A320-200. The device, which is developed primarily for entertainment, is fixed-based (do not have hydraulics to bend the device while flying) but it offers 180-degrees round visual system with 3 projector setups. There is a room for extra passenger in the back of the simulator to watch you while you are flying.

30 minutes flight simulation package, which allows you to fly around an airport, basic controlling, take-off and manual landing, is priced $69.50 while a 90 minutes flight, which allows you to have full control of the aircraft while testing your jet airliner flying skills, will cost you $195. With extra $20, you can record your flight on a DVD.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Parrot AR Drone - iPhone Remote Control (RC) Helicopter

Yesterday, I was around Funan DigitaLife mall and as usual I have visited Challenger Electronics Supermarket. I have came across this innovative RC (remote control) model helicopter named Parrot AR Drone. The AR drone is a Wi-Fi quadricopter with 2 cameras which creates its own wi-fi network and an iPhone device can connect to this network and and control the drone. The model have some auto pilot features which helps piloting it. The catch is that it is equipped with cameras which relays real time video to your smartphone screen while piloting it. I do not remember the ar drone price but I think it was around 500 SGD. Parrot AR Drone 2.0 is only 299 USD (373 SGD) in Amazon and as you may have known Amazon has free shipping for Singapore.

The package comes with an AR drone, hull with guard rings (for indoor usage), hull without guard rings (for outdoor usage), battery, charger, adapters and stickers. iPhone control is not the only innovation. This model helicopter can be used in a game which combines reality and virtual reality. The video game, named AR FlyingAce, is a dogfight between two AR.Drones which deploys augmented reality. For example the game models a missile fire, which you can see from your iPhone screen.

The drone is a quadrocopter, it has 4 propellers instead of one. This already makes it more stable. But it has more: an auto pilot. When you push the launch button on your iPhone it automatically goes up to 1 meter above the ground and hovers there waiting for your input. When you stop piloting, it automatically hovers and waits for your input. Although it is only available on iPhone and iPad, it will be soon available to be controlled by Android smart phones.

New AR Drone Product Features Demo

The AR drone has a small fan site in Singapore. Below in the video you can see AR drone in Singapore flown at Changi Rise.

AR drone Singapore Changi Rise Condominium

Holiday in Singapore: Top 10 Family Activities in Singapore

1 - Singapore Zoo
Kids will love Singapore Zoo, in my opinion one of the best Zoos in the world. And based on my last experience , when I took a friends son to there, you will love it too. This 28 hectares world of wonder within the  heavily forested area offers an open concept experience, Singapore Zoo displays animals in naturalistic, 'open' exhibits, like hidden barriers, behind moats and shrubbery etc. The Zoo also houses the largest captive colony of orangutans in the world.

2 - Night Safari
Neighboring the Zoo, Night Safari is an entire open air zoo which is only open at night. Since most animals are active in the night rather than under day light, it is a very unique experience which you can probably only have in Singapore. The tropical forest background adds deeper experience, just turning a heavily forested corner and facing a large elephant under full moon light was one of the most epic experience in my entire 30 years! You will see how active those always sleeping tigers in the night. The rooms with glass walls next to lion and tiger cages, in which you can see the animals (but not the clean glass) and they cannot see you are great idea. Go early, take trum but then do not come back without a night walk. Walking in the night, in the tropical forest, among the animals with no visible cage between you and them is the real deal!

3 - River Safari
This is a coming soon theme park. The park has a tropical rainforest right next to the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari with river boat rides and animal exhibitions. Our giant pandas will be a part of this new exhibition.   I do not know how they will do it but white water rafting will also be offered as an activity in this park. It can be combined with Zoo, Night Safari in a single but long day visit. I hope they offer hourly rental hotel units around Zoo for families. This can allow families to plan long day visit from morning to the mid night.

4 - Jurong Bird Park Singapore
We have here, in this small islands, the second largest Bird Park in the world after Weltvogelpark Walsrode in Germany, in terms of area. The bird park is in the east, in Jurong. This is the largest bird park you can see in Asia Pasific region and a must see for you with kids or without kids.

Flamingos in Singapore Jurong Bird Park
5 - Underwater World
Underwater World in Singapore is a large Oceanarium on the Sentosa Island. The best attraction is the 83 meter travelator which will move you under swimming sharks, stingrays, turtles and many more sea creatures. You will probably take it several times to enjoy more, I always do when I go there. For me, the most interesting animals are sharks and the dugong, the fat, lazy sea cow you can probably see only in few places in the world.

6 - Universal Studios Singapore
It was a bit sad to see that the great, tick rain forest vegetation on that slope of Sentosa is torn down into concrete buildings of Universal Studios Singapore but I must admit, this is a great team park. Until someone builts disneyland Singapore (nearest disneyland is in Hong Kong), this is the best attraction for the kids visiting Singapore! This first Universal Studios theme park of South East Asia and the second in Asia (Japan has the first) has 7 theme zones named Hollywood, New York, Sci-Fi City, Ancient Egypt, The Lost World, Far Far Away and Madagascar it is a day long, tiring but fun experience. Just do not forget to go early otherwise you will not be able to have all the fun since there are hell a lot to do in this team park.

7 - Singapore Science Centre
Over a million visits this science park every year, which offers 850 exhibits over 8 exhibition galleries. Singapore OMNI Theatre, a dome shaped IMAX theatre is a must experience activity here. You can connect it with a Jurong Bird Park visit since both are on the west end of the island.

8 - Pulau Ubin
We have over developed theme park island Sentosa in the south and this little, urban development-free jewel in the north named Pulau Ubin. It is, in my opinion, under advertised maybe because it does not have a lot of facilities to milk tourist money. But it offers a lot fun for tourists as it offers to residents of Singapore. It is quite interesting to experience a development free tropical island with kids, it is very fun to cycle all the day on the roads of this untouched tropical island, have great sea food away from city. Do not miss Chek Jawa.

9 - Singapore Botanic Gardens
Singapore Botanic Gardens is the only botanic garden in the world that opens from 5 a.m. to 12 midnight every single day of the year, and does not charge an admission fee, except for the National Orchid Garden (Source: Wikipedia). It is easily accessible from Orchard Road, which you will probably visit at least once. The National Orchid Garden, the hilly three-hectare site with a collection of more than 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids of orchids, is the main attraction in Singapore Botanic Gardens. But there are other attractions to spend time especially the six hectares of small tropical rain forest right in the center of the city center.

Singapore Botanic Gardens
10 - Marina Bay Sands SkyPark
Marina Bay Sands SkyPark offers one of the best panaromic view of Singapore city. This is a man made marvel which sits on the top of the three 55-storey Marina Bay Sands hotel towers and offers a 360 degree view of the Singapore city from 200 meters height. The admission fee for adults is 20 SGD per person and for kids it is less.

Marina Bay Sands Sky Park