Tsunami Relief in the Form of Community-based Tourism
The 2004 tsunami, which ripped through Thailand’s Andaman coast, left thousands dead. The death toll only represents a fraction of those made homeless. Tens, even hundreds of thousands more lost their livelihood. When the angry sea finally receded, shop owners and farmers found they had nothing to return to. Near Koh Phratong, the bulk of the largely Muslim population made their living as subsistence fishermen, catching enough today to eat with little or nothing to spare for a rainy day. With their boats lost, the men realized they would be unable to feed their families.
The Road to Siem Reap
My guide, Thavrin, and I were at Pnom San Tok temple, 120 kilometers outside of Phnom Penh. When we pulled off the highway, every kid in the village came running out to greet us. When Thavrin opened the door and began speaking to the boys, I understood. The boys in this village picked up extra money by leading tourists up the mountain to the temple. As foreign tourists rarely visit, they were all very excited to earn a day's wage. They were pushing and fighting their way to the front to be chosen.
Burmese Daze: Traveling with a Literary Companion
Burmese Days was George Orwell's first novel, published seven years after the author had completed five years as an Imperial Indian policeman in Burma. There was little wonder when I noticed, among the few titles in English in a Rangoon bookstore, several copies of a well-done facsimile of the edition of Burmese Days I was carrying during my travels in Burma. Orwell, the perfect spokesman against the perfidy of foreign intruders, was now on the approved list of the masters of an indigenous imperialism.
Elephant Polo: The Biggest, Weirdest, Slowest, and Most Expensive Game in Thailand
My first experience with polo was with the granddaddy of all opulence, elephant polo. And yes, before you ask, elephant polo is played on the back of an elephant. The price tags associated with elephant polo are as massive as the elephants themselves. The only thing small about elephant polo is the circuit on which it is played. It includes only three countries: Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.
Get Away to Cebu
If your idea of a perfect getaway includes walking along white sandy beaches, watching a beautiful sunrise and sunset, swimming and diving with colorful fish, savoring succulent seafood, and shopping for the best bargains ever, Cebu island is the one place where you want to be.
A Visit to a Japanese Bathhouse
The Japanese Bathhouse provides a frazzled Japanese man with a place to relax. Not only was there the bath and massage, but there was a dormitory, restaurant, TV room - it was kind of like home away from home - all in the basement of the Tokyo Station!
Customs of Sindh
Today, the inhabitants of Sindh, a beautiful province of Pakistan, are suffering due to drought and their women continue to suffer from ancient customs such being married to the Holy Quran or being killed in the "name of honor" through Karo Kari. Learn more about these horrifying customs from our writer in Pakistan.
A China Saga: Our Trip to the People's Republic of China, Part 1, Part 2
Follow this writer as she shares her travels to China with us from information on getting there to the foods to handicraft factories to even the toilets.
Join Dipika Kohli as she journeys to her homeland of India for the first time.
Vietnam: Land of Smiles and Sales
To date, U.S. visitors to Vietnam are few and far between perhaps because most Americans are unsure of the reception they'll receive in what some still consider an "enemy nation"a wholly inaccurate assumption that most Vietnamese would like to see reversed soon. And it definitely looks like they're on the right track. Join Wayne Crawford as he tours Vietnam, a friendly new frontier for many travelers.
The Hard Road to Delhi
Join Dipika Kohli as she backpacks across India, despite the concerns of her parents.
WINDOW ON SOUTHEAST ASIA SERIES
Journey Along the Thai/Burmese Border
For a year after I started working in Thailand, I avoided traveling to Myanmar (previously known as Burma), despite the pull its beautiful and enigmatic culture had on me. There were many at the time who believed that boycotting tourism there would help the people free themselves of the terrible junta that rules the country. To explore Burmese culture without visiting Burma, I visited several towns near and just over the border. I would come to change my mind about the boycott, especially after talking to Burmese citizens in those towns.
Angkor Wat: The Pinnacle of Cambodian Art and Architecture
The saying, "The pictures don't do it justice" has become a bit cliche, but there are few places in the world that deserve that cliche as much as Cambodia's Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is only one part of the ancient city of Angkor, which I wrote about in the previous article. But most everyone—historian, archeologist or tourist—would agree that it was the pinnacle of Cambodian art and architecture.
Angkor, the Heart of Cambodia's Ancient Empire
If South East Asia can be said to have an equivalent to ancient Rome, then the ruined city of Angkor in Cambodia is it. The great city at the heart of Cambodia’s ancient empire made South East Asia what it is today. It was the place where the Cambodian people built their nation and their identity, and would transmit that culture throughout the region.
Visiting with Thai Spirits and Ghosts
One weekend I traveled to the ruins of Si Satchanali, which was once a satellite to the ancient capitol of Sukhotai, and then planned to go to the ruins of Kampang Phet. I missed the ruins, but I had tea with dragons, watched a god dance, and was blessed by a 200-year old king.
Visiting Heaven at Preah Vihear
Visiting ancient ruins has always left me longing for a time machine to give me just a glimpse of what a place looked like not only when it was complete, but when it was bustling with people. The ancient temple of Preah Vihear in Cambodia was one place that left me with such a desire, a desire to see the place in its full splendor filled with religious pilgrims who had taken a long, hard journey to be purified at the holy place. It was there that I learned that sometimes, by listening to the wind and calming the mind, you really can get a glimpse of what a place was like long ago.
Loy Kratong: Fireworks in the House? No Problem
My favorite Thai holiday was Loy Kratong, which came at the full moon in November (or rarely on the last day or two of October.) The origins are somewhat mysterious. The first records of the holiday come from the Sukhotai era (c. 1230 - 1350). Most historians seem to think it evolved from Hindu celebrations on the Ganges, the holy river of Hinduism. Whatever its origins, it is performed today to thank the spirit (some say "Goddess") of the river and to apologize to it for using the river to wash, clean dishes in, etc.
Teaching the Ghosts: The Thai Supernatural
One Father's Day, my girlfriend (now my wife) offered to take me on a family outing with her father to the cremation grounds, where a monk who lived there would take a break from teaching the ghosts to meet with us. The monk, she told me, often meditated in the cremation grounds to teach the ghosts.
Bago, on the Road to Mandalay
All along the road to Bago as on any road in Myanmar, there are signs. By far the most numerous are the red ones. A few of these give seemingly benign, patriotic slogans like, "Love and cherish the motherland." But most betray the totalitarian nature of the military government, known as the Tatmadaw (the military government), as they loom over the road with slogans like, "Anyone who is destructive or unruly is the enemy," "Love your country, obey the law," or, "Only when there is discipline will there be progress." Others proclaim that, "The Tatmadaw and the people work together to crush those who would damage our union." Those were probably the mildest slogans, as they were translated into English."
Mandalay and the Road to It
The road to Mandalay, immortalized by Kipling in his poem and in the song of the same name, would be a very bad road to drive on. That's because the "road" he wrote of was actually the Irrawaddi river. If he took the paved road to Mandalay he probably wouldn't have romanticized it.
From Monkey to Monk
Join English teacher Robert Wilson as he observes a Thai ceremony for ordaining boys 10 and 12 years into temporary monkhood, in the first article in our series on Southeast Asia.
Listening to the Rice Grow: A Journey Up the Nam Ou River in Laos
Part 1, Part 2
The geographical isolation of Laos has made it a difficult place to reach for years, and its political isolation after the victory of the communist Pathet Lao in 1975 made it a hermit state. Today, however, Laos is opening up to the world, and this charming, quaint, and surprisingly beautiful country is again accessible to those who don't mind a bit of roughing it. Join English teacher Robert Wilson as he explores Laos and her people.
Luang Phabang: The Lao Fairy-tale City
A tourist to Laos, marveling at the simplicity of the hill-tribe way of life, the peacefulness of the Lao villages, and the endless emerald green fields, could easily forget that Laos is an ancient and rich civilization. Join Robert Wilson as he explores Luang Phabang, the fairy-tale city of Laos, in his continuing series, Window on Southeast Asia. If ever there were a fairy-tale city, this city of sparkling temples, palaces, French architecture, teeming with art and culture and cut right out of a dense jungle, is it.
Finding ReligionsPlenty of Themin Kuala Lumpur
I'll never forget the feeling of getting off the plane at the Kuala Lumpur airport and realizing that I was finally standing in a city with what must be the most exotic name in the world. The name Kuala Lumpur is magical and makes one think of an ancient and exotic city. The history and the translation of the name, however, may lead to disappointment. The name is Malay and means "Muddy Convergence [of rivers]."
A Glimpse of "Last Time" in Borneo
"It shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that I was sitting next to someone whose great-grandparents used to eat people and preserve their skulls. The truth is that half of the world's people have ancestors who practiced cannibalism, maybe more. Still, as I sat there on the plane from Johor Bahru, Malaysia, to Kuching on the island of Borneo (also part of Malaysia), it was a strange feeling." Join writer Robert Wilson as he shares with us his glimpse of Borneo (a fascinating blend of interesting foods and culture)...
Brunei: The Abode of Peace
In the continuation of our series on Southeast Asia, follow writer Robert Wilson as he journeys to Borneo, a country best known for its sultan who was the richest man in the world until overtaken by Bill Gates.
Sukhotai, Birthplace of Thailand
In the continuation of our series on Southeast Asia, follow writer Robert Wilson as he journeys to Thailand's birthplace, Sukhotai, as he learns a few lessons about blessings in disguise.
A Thai Funeral
For southeast Asian Buddhists, death has a different meaning than it has for westerners. I found that fact reflected in how they marked the end of one's life, and it explained why funerals were not the weepy affairs they are in the west. At the same time, I also found that philosophy and religion don't prevent people from having the same reactions to the death of a loved one that people everywhere have. The funerals I saw that marked the natural end of a long life could be almost cheerful events, while the ones that marked more tragic ends were less so. The first Thai funeral I attended fell somewhere in the middle.
Into the Burmese Supernatural
The people of Myanmar (Burma) are amazingly creative. Storytelling and storytelling competitions are a favorite past time in Myanmar. Not surprisingly, the Burmese supernatural is a rich wonderland of stories and legends. At the heart of these legends is a spirit known as a "nat."
Shwedagon: Myanmar's Holy Land
It's been said that as soon as you leave the airport in Yangon, the capitol of Myanmar (Burma), you know you're in a different place. I remembered that as I started my vacation from my job in Thailand at Yangon's Mengaladon International airport. I didn't even have to leave the airport lobby. As soon as I reached the arrivals lounge I noticed the men in skirts.