Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

Show & Tell

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

As camera-tooting visitors to Cambodia are drawn to the soaring temple of Angkor, the world’s top photo journalists pass on their craft to the next generation.

Written by Ron Gluckman Photos by Erik Almas

cambodia slide01 Show & Tell

The 19th-century French naturalist Henri Mouhot was among the first explorers in the modern era to marvel at the majestic temples of the ancient Khmer empire (802–1431), some of which he found crumbling beneath a dense canopy of banyan trees and tropical vines in northern Cambodia. Mouhot is credited with discovering Angkor, which 900 years ago may have been inhabited by half a million people.

cambodia slide02 Show & Tell

Of course the 1,160-square-mile Angkor, which contains more than 90 major temples and other buildings, was never totally lost, and several Europeans carved paths to the remote shrines before Mouhot. Yet the young French explorer did much to popularize what is widely regarded as an ancient world wonder.

cambodia slide03 Show & Tell

In recent years, millions of travelers have followed in Mouhot’s footsteps, cameras in hand to shoot Angkor Wat at sunset, touring temples, libraries, and fields still sustained by 900-year-old moats. Visitors still travel on the very same stone roads and bridges that once linked this Khmer capital to an empire that stretched to Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand.

cambodia slide04 Show & Tell

Many fly directly to the international airport in nearby Siem Reap, a riverside town featuring fine Cambodian cuisine, which is often likened to Thai food but tends to be more sour than spicy. Scores of restaurants like Abacus Café and Madame Butterfly, set in renovated traditional wooden houses, have revived traditional recipes, as well as concocted daring Khmer fusion dishes.

cambodia slide05 Show & Tell

Siem Reap also lays claim to considerable sophistication, evidenced by the presence of the 24-suite Amansara, a member of Amanresorts. Fashioned from King Norodom Sihanouk’s guesthouse, Amansara features a spa and one of the chain’s signature slate-surfaced pools.

cambodia slide06 Show & Tell

Siem Reap has emerged as a bustling regional arts center. A dozen local galleries have created art walks. Free guides to the various walks are available from the McDermott Gallery, run by John McDermott, a local photographer regarded as the Ansel Adams of Angkor.

cambodia slide07 Show & Tell

Picking out the star photographer from the crowds at the Angkor Photography Festival, held amid the locale’s ancient temples, is surprisingly easy. The six-foot, five-inch Gary Knight would stand out in any crowd. Famous for his fearless coverage of the world’s worst conflicts, from Bosnia to Darfur, Knight helped found the festival.

cambodia slide08 Show & Tell

The event was born in 2004, during a reunion of photographers who covered the decades of fighting in Cambodia dating back to the Vietnam War. “What really sets this festival apart is its noble spirit, its unique outreach,” says Roland Eng, a festival director. “It’s not just about photography and arts, but about humanity and compassion. This is like a gathering of old friends, all coming together to help Cambodia.”

cambodia slide09 Show & Tell

For scores of young photographers like Bangkok’s Satirat Dam-ampai, the Angkor Photography Festival offers them the rare chance to mingle with and be mentored by their idols. “I came here because these are legends, and you can learn so much from them,” she says.

cambodia slide10 Show & Tell

Growth of Siem Reap has come only in the last decade or so, according to Richard Yap, former manager of the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, a dazzling colonial-era property that played host to the early temple explorers of the 1930s. “The airport opened in 1997,” he recalls, “and it really took off.” Convenient to Angkor are more ruins, which are mostly blanketed in jungle.

 cambodia slide11 Show & Tell

Tom Marchant, the founder of travel website Black Tomato, can organize a four-day itinerary that includes a sunrise tour of Angkor Wat; micro-lighting (motorized hang gliding) over the jungle; and a tour of Koh Ker, an ancient Khmer capital, that ends with an overnight stay in a private camp.

cambodia slide12 Show & Tell

Didier Faraud, who has been a fixture in Cambodia since 1993, runs Siem Reap’s idyllic Heritage Suites Hotel, as well as Heritage Adventures. “Angkor is a magical destination that can be as luxurious or rustic as anyone desires,” he says. “Most visitors want to do something no one has ever done.”

cambodia slide13 Show & Tell

That’s exactly what Knight wanted to accomplish when he first gathered here with some cherished colleagues: to experience something rare and distinctive in a mystical place, which is still as mystical as the site Mouhot came upon a century ago.

cambodia slide14 Show & Tell


> Angkor Photography Festival
> Amansara resort
> Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor
> Heritage Suites Hotel
> Abacus Café
> Madame Butterfly
> Heritage Adventures

This guest post was orignally published in Lexus Magazine.

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What in the World?

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Welcome to another week of news updates!

South America

Briton Ed Stafford on Monday became the first person in history to walk the length of the Amazon River. He started in Peru 2 ½ years ago, and finished Monday morning by leaping into the Atlantic Ocean at Brazil’s Crispim Beach. Stafford embarked upon the walk in order to better understand and raise awareness about the Amazon and the complex forces that are bringing about its destruction. His mission literally saved his life. Along with meeting all manner of creepy crawlies and vicious things with large teeth, Stafford and a companion were captured by an Indian community that was distrustful of outsiders. Luckily, after hearing the purpose of Stafford’s expedition, he and his fellow walker were allowed to continue. Pretty crazy stuff. His mission cost roughly $100,000, and was paid for by sponsoring companies and donations. Do you think it was worth it?

The Middle-East

On Monday, Iran activated equipment to enrich uranium more efficiently. The move defies the U.N. security council, which has been trying to stop Iran from doing just such a thing. Many in the international community are not convinced by Iran’s claims that its nuclear activity is meant for peaceful purposes only.


Terrible flooding has been wreaking havoc in China, India and Pakistan — some of the worst flooding on record in each of the countries. In China, at least 330 have died and 1,100 more are missing. In India-controlled Kashmir, 140 have been confirmed dead, and another 500 are missing. In Pakistan, the government is estimating 13.8 million people have been affected by the flooding that has swept away people, homes, and most of the country’s crops. Over the past two weeks, 1,500 have been killed, and roughly 600,000 remain marooned in the Swat Valley, which rescue workers have so far failed to reach.

Tensions are still high between the Koreas. South Korea (along with the U.S.) ended five days of naval drills recently, and North Korea is still unhappy about it, and the claims that they sank a South Korean warship in March. On Monday, North Korea fired about 110 rounds of artillery near its disputed sea border with South Korea. No damage or injuries were caused, and the U.S. simply called it “chest-thumping.” Over the weekend, North Korea captured a South Korean fishing boat that may have drifted unknowingly into its waters.

Russia (especially Moscow) is really having a rough summer. They’re experiencing the worst heat wave they’ve seen in the past 1,000 years, with temperatures soaring into the 100s — compared to usual summer readings of around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. To compound matters, wildfires have broken out in the land surrounding Moscow, blanketing the city in poisonous smog that is only making the heat seem worse. Thousands have died as a result of the fires, smog and heat. An AP story reported up to 700 deaths per day.


If you’ve been to Rome, then you’ve probably seen the famous Roman Colosseum. And you’ve probably seen the structure lit up impressively after dark. But, up until now, you’ve only been able to tour the inside of the architectural wonder during daylight hours. Well, that’s going to change. Soon, tourists will be able to stroll through the inside of the arena on Saturday nights — but for a limited time only. For 7 straight Saturdays beginning August 21, groups of 40 people will be lead through the Colosseum from 9 p.m. to midnight. Night tours will also be offered at the Baths of Caracalla (ruins of ancient thermal baths) on Saturdays from August 21 until October 23. So, if you plan to be in Rome on any of these weekends, it might be something worth checking out.


Rwanda on Monday held its second presidential election since the infamous 1994 genocide that left hundreds of thousands dead. President Paul Kagame, utilizing pop music and a Facebook campaign, is expected to win re-election easily. He won election in 2003 with 95 percent of the vote. Kagame has guided the country through a period of relatively peaceful prosperity since the genocide, though reports have surfaced of the government cracking down harshly on any dissenters. The election is reported to have gone smoothly across the country.

The U.S.

All is still going fairly to plan in the Gulf of Mexico. The offending well has been plugged with a static kill (mud and cement pushed into the top of the blown well), and engineers have begun drilling the final 100 feet of a relief well that will be the final period to the oil spill sentence. Finally. Meanwhile, fishermen in the area are praying that they can still make a living this year.

Just For Fun

Headed to New York’s Times Square anytime soon? Then you should probably check out Pop-Tarts World. Times Square already boasts a giant Hershey’s store, and an ode to MnMs. But now it will also honor America’s favorite toaster pastry. At the new Kellogg’s-sponsored store, you’ll be able to try “Pop-Tart sushi,” order a customized pastry, suggest new types of Pop-Tarts, or create a custom box filled with a mix of your favorite flavors, among other things. If you go, let me know how awesome it is.

Naked News of the Week

Not quite truly naked news… but close enough. And definitely amusing. The owner of an Ohio strip club and some of his dancers began protesting at a church that has been doing the same to them for four years. On Sunday, bikini-clad dancers sat in camp chairs outside the church in protest of the church’s protests. For years, the congregation has been coming to the Foxhole strip club armed with bullhorns, signs, and video cameras to harass patrons and post customers’ license plate numbers online. The strip club got fed up, and decided to give the church a taste of its own medicine… just with substantially less clothing.

P.S. — I really enjoyed adding “strippers” as a tag for this post… haha.

Welcome to the Jungle

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Lexus Magazine’s man in Singapore swaps the heat of the city for a remote Malaysian hill town with a few unsettling stories to tell.  

Written by Rod Mackenzie Photos by Tom Salt

the route Welcome to the Jungle


This journey begins with Singapore native Rod Mackenzie stuck in the city’s rush-hour gridlock and fading fast. The only thing keeping him awake behind the wheel is his fevered daydream about a purportedly enchanted hill-station-turned-resort located 280 miles to the north, on the spine of Peninsular Malaysia. It’s called Fraser’s Hill, and it’s the kind of retreat you’d expect to find on an old, rolled-up map with burnt edges. 

border crossing Welcome to the Jungle


One thing to be said for Singapore’s gridlock: it allows ample time for my imagination to run riot. For years, I’ve fantasized about penetrating Malaysia’s dense jungle interior on a modern-day Heart of Darkness journey, complete with creeping tigers. This exotic road trip, however, comes with a major perk: after crossing the Singapore/Malaysian border, my chief rest stop will be the urban jungle of intriguing Kuala Lumpur.

 petronas towers Welcome to the Jungle


Once upon a pretty recent time, 1998 to 2004, the Petronas Towers were the tallest buildings in the world. They still dwarf the city—even their signature, the world’s tallest two-story sky bridge, is vertiginously high. It’s open to the public. I wouldn’t mind driving across it.

scene Welcome to the Jungle


Clinging to the 33rd floor of Traders Hotel, SkyBar isn’t only the choicest watering hole in Kuala Lumpur (complete with its own swimming pool); it also has the finest photo op of the Petronas Towers. The hip young things I see tapping their feet to the DJ’s 80s tunes are here less to admire the architecture than to eye up the glossy parade of revelers emerging from the elevators.

 fashion Welcome to the Jungle


I spot an array of styles—Hollywood to Hong Kong via Paris—that’s almost as dizzying as the view from the bar’s windows. Which makes sense. Style mavens should take note: Kuala Lumpur has one of Asia’s most impressive high-end fashion districts. KLCC, right under the Petronas Towers, has attracted most of the usual suspects: Choo, Vuitton, and Ferragamo; Cartier, Rolex, and Bulgari.

band of brothers Welcome to the Jungle


No, it’s not a boy band. It’s a representative sampling of Kuala Lumpur’s hipster kids, who aren’t shy about striking a pose. Translated, Kuala Lumpur means “muddy city.” That was before skinny vests and hair gel.

malaysia jungle Welcome to the Jungle


My excitement builds on the drive to Fraser’s Hill. The drive isn’t long (64 miles), but it feels like a road trip to Avatar’s deep-space Pandora. The road gets twisty, and the scenery, which is growing ever more dense, couldn’t offer a more striking contrast to Kuala Lumpur’s glass and neon playground. The farther I drive, the more I feel myself disappearing into the jungle’s 20 shades of green.

malaysia lake Welcome to the Jungle


It was Louis James Fraser, a Scottish prospector, who had the bright idea of founding Fraser’s Hill. Back in the 1890s, he discovered deposits of tin in the hillsides outside Kuala Lumpur (shown here). Fraser went native, cutting himself off from the constraints of “civilized” society, and reports spread that he ran opium and gambling dens for his Chinese workers—until the day in 1916 when he disappeared without a trace.

road Welcome to the Jungle


Two hours after leaving Kuala Lumpur’s suburbs, I’ve climbed steadily through the foothills of the Titiwangsa Mountains to reach the guardhouse for the Gap. Completed in the 1920s, this pass marks the snaking approach to my final destination. Too narrow for two-way traffic, the road direction switches every hour or so.

looking Welcome to the Jungle


A century ago, the search parties that came looking for Fraser were impressed by the cooler hill climate and it didn’t take long for the British to establish a colonial hill station for government bigwigs. Perched 5,000 feet above sea level, up in the lush Titiwangsa mountain range, the site commands nearly 7,000 acres.

frasers hill Welcome to the Jungle 


Much of Fraser’s Hill retains a surreal Olde England appearance, with a stone-clad post office and police station built in 1919 overlooking a neat little clock tower. You’ll also find shops, restaurants, markets, modest hotels, and even two golf courses, one dating back to 1925. It could all be chocolate-box quaint and touristy—yet England this ain’t.

monkey Welcome to the Jungle


I hit the trails with a guide. The calls of birds and insects are intense, and now that I’m seeing the forest up close, the biological diversity is extraordinary. My guide says the area is home to everything from tigers to spider monkeys. Thinking of the former, it’s at this climax that I ask the obvious (or maybe smart) question, “Anything likely to eat me?” Doesn’t matter. Nothing beats a great road trip, especially over unknown roads.

drive Welcome to the Jungle


> Trader’s Hotel
> Ye Olde Smokehouse
> Malaysian Nature Society
> Fraser’s Hill Development Corporation (for accommodations and bungalow info) 

This guest post was orignally published in Lexus Magazine.

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Visiting Tokyo

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

From Daiwa Sushi and temple sightseeing to traditional Japenese bathhouses and retail therapy in Ginza, Tokyo local Keiya Utsumi offers suggestions on what to do in his hometown.  

 Written by Keiya Utsumi 

keiya Visiting Tokyo  The quintessential eastern capital, Tokyo is overwhelming, and first-time visitors expecting an Asian version of New York City are in for a surprise. There’s a kind of commercial energy and enthusiasm here that you won’t find anywhere else, and it’s best to just surrender yourself to the smash high fashion, neon lights and pop culture that pervade the central districts.  

Visitors are subject to the urge to do too much, but there’s a kind of sublime undercurrent in Tokyo for those who slow it down and absorb the entire scene in pieces. You’ll find Shinto down alleys behind your hotel; wood-block prints that hint at modern Manga; and, occasionally, a traditional wooden home stuck sideways into a side-street neighborhood. 

A Day in the Life 

It’s hard to do justice to this city of 12 million people in a single day. If you’re feeling ambitious, plan on getting up well before sunrise. 

Tsukiji Fish Market is a good place to start, in part because it’s teeming with life long before the rest of Tokyo has started the daily commute. Daily auctions start at 04:30. After you’ve seen enough, sample the freshest sushi you’ve ever had at an onsite restaurant like Daiwa Sushi or Sushi Dai. 

Later in the morning, you might embark on a Sumida River cruise or take a walk through the traditional neighborhoods of Nakamise Dori. Pick up a few inexpensive gifts at the pedestrian market and then walk on to Sensoji Temple. This 7th-century temple welcomes 20 million devotees each year. 

From here, you’ll need to make use of Tokyo’s brilliant public transportation. You may visit the Imperial Palace or Meiji shrine, or skip the sightseeing altogether and head over to Ginza’s up-market shopping complexes. 

Best of the Rest  

Spend a few days in Tokyo, and the city really starts to open up. Part of the joy of living here is the occasional glimpse into traditional life. Begin this quest at the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which follows the journey from 16th-century Edo to 21st-century Tokyo. 

After a day or two in Tokyo, a lot of visitors like to explore the surrounding area by day, retiring to the dining and clubbing districts of downtown Tokyo after dark. Kamakura was capital of feudal Japan the 12th century, and its beaches, shrines and temples make for a great escape from the city. 

mount fuji Visiting Tokyo

Mount Fuji

Another solid daytrip destination is Mt Fuji, looming more than 3,700 meters over the cityscape. Visit Hakone National Park and do some hiking around Fuji, whether it’s a leisurely stroll in the lowlands or an ambitious hike to higher ground. 

But you don’t have to scale Mt Fuji for sweeping panoramas of Tokyo. Tokyo Tower is 333 meters tall, and it operates two observation decks. Other buildings like the World Trade Centre have a similar setup. 

Hidden Gems 

Traditional Japanese bathhouses (sento) were once central to local communities. These days, private apartment units have their own baths, and community sentos have lost a little ground. If you have even the slightest interest in taking a traditional soak in a bathhouse, look around the community where you’re based, or ask the hotel staff. Some sentos separate genders, while a few allow mixed bathing. It’s supposed to be a soak, not a bath, so make sure you’re clean before getting in. You’re likely to need your own towel, too.  


Hotels in Tokyo are clean and safe, and nearly all of them offer spot-on service. The trade-off, if one exists, is size. Rooms are necessarily small, especially those that are remotely affordable. 

Hotels in Tokyo are also universally new. You won’t find many historic inns housed in 16th-century houses, though it’s possible to book a room in an atmospheric hotel that at least carries on those old-world traditions. This kind of colloquial atmosphere is available in mid-range hotels throughout the central districts.  

The cheapest hotels are in outlying districts and aren’t always convenient. In many cases, the money you save by taking yourself out of the city center isn’t worth the time (or added expense) of commuting to sightseeing districts everyday. 

First-time visitors are surprised to learn that ‘budget’ accommodation still costs a hundred dollars or more per night. Any indignation quickly wears off when you see the truly deluxe hotels in key districts like Shinjuku or Shibuya. With lots of space and a full set of five-star amenities, rooms in these giants cost three to four times as much. 

tokyo at night Visiting Tokyo

View from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

Tokyo at Night  

If you arrived in Tokyo by day, you’re in for a surprise. What looks to be drab, urban jungle transforms into a wash of colors and neon lights after dark. One of the world’s most talked-about night scenes is here, but it’s not focused in any one district. Choose from every kind of themed bar you could imagine, along with dance clubs, swanky lounges, hostess and geisha clubs and beer gardens.  

Roppongi is the rowdiest night scene, popular with tourists and young Japanese. A few expatriate communities are located on the fringes of Roppongi, so there’s plenty of international restaurants and a few quieter pockets of activity where people that live here go for drinks and conversation. Tokyo’s red-light district is north of Shinjuku Station in Kabuki-cho. 

The other major night scene is Shibuya, where affordable watering holes attract office workers and students. The really posh scene is in Ginza, with its fine-dining restaurants, executive hostess clubs and sophisticated performance venues. 

Retail Therapy 

cats Visiting Tokyo

Cats, cats and more cats

If there is anywhere that could truly claim shopping as its ‘national pastime’, then there’s no question Tokyo would be at the helm. Cutting-edge electronics, up-to-the-minute fashions and traditional folk art are favorite purchases. Be advised that, while many of the gadgets you buy at home were conceived in this city, they’re not necessarily any cheaper here. Some of the best purchases for visitors are antiques and handicrafts at the Oriental Bazaar. 

Ginza is a dazzling and up-market commercial district. Dozens of department stores and designer boutiques are here. It’s popular with the moneyed and mature, especially on Sunday when the streets are only open to pedestrians. Harajuku caters to teenagers with its colorful, sometimes bizarre, fashions, while nearby Omotesando draws in their parents with designer boutiques.  

Getting There & Away  

Tokyo’s Narita International Airport is one of the most important transport junctions in the world. It operates two terminals and offers every traveler service imaginable. Haneda Airport is closer to town and only operates domestic services. 

Tokyo is connected to other cities in Japan by train. The network of railways and carriers is admittedly daunting for first-time users, but clear English signage takes some of the stress out of traveling. Shinjuku and Shibuya both have major railway stations. 

Getting Around 

Tokyo’s metro is an attraction in itself, and it covers more ground than any mass transit system in the world. The above-ground Yamanote Line circles the city center, while a labyrinth of subway lines connect to stations across the interior. If you plan to make the most of Tokyo’s excellent public transport, consider purchasing a discount ticket like the ‘Holiday Pass’. It’s only available on weekends and national holidays, but allows unlimited access to practically every mode of transport in the metropolitan area.  

Otherwise, passengers buy a prepaid card that can be recharged when needed. If your card runs out of credit while you’re in transit (i.e. the trip costs more than you thought), you can pay the difference when you exit. 

This article was originally published at Asian Correspondent.  

Keiya Utsumi works with remedial children in a specially designed school in Tokyo. He believes he and his colleagues make a big difference in the lives of the children and the parents. His spare time is taken up with his family, painting, writing and reading.

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What in the World?

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Here’s your weekly installment of news from around the world:

The Middle-East

The United Arab Emirates has announced that they’re going to crack down on BlackBerry capabilities, blocking things like e-mail, messaging and Web browsing on the popular smart phones within the country. The move would affect both UAE BlackBerry users (of which there are more than 500,000) and visitors, travelers, and businessmen coming through the country. Emirati authorities say the new measure is based on security concerns, because BlackBerry data is automatically sent to company computers abroad as part of its own security measures. Authorities say this makes it difficult to monitor the data for illegal activity or abuse. Critics say the crackdown is just another way for the UAE’s conservative government to further control content it deems objectionable.

This could backfire in a country that aims to become a business and tourism haven. About 100,000 travelers pass through the Dubai airport every day, and Abu Dhabi has become an oil industry center. Critics say the new measures could leave time-pressed business travelers hurrying through the country instead of staying there to conduct business. Not good for a city like Dubai, which is already more than $100 billion in debt.

Saudi Arabia plans to follow suit with similar BlackBerry restrictions. Other smart phones aren’t affected, because data from iPhones and the like is sent to local servers, which means it can be more easily monitored.

Over the weekend, terrible flooding ravaged northwest Pakistan. More than 1,200 have been confirmed dead, and at least 2 million are requiring assistance. Heavy monsoon rain triggered the flooding that washed away everything from bridges to homes to crops. Northwest Pakistan is the epicenter of the country’s battle against al-Qaida and the Taliban. It seems the Swat Valley just can’t catch a break.


On Monday, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on North Korea, aimed at cutting off the country’s illicit moneymaking sources by freezing assets of those who help the regime fund its nuclear weapons program. Such “illicit” source include drug trafficking, currency counterfeiting, and trade in conventional arms. The U.S. plans to begin freezing the assets and bank accounts of companies connected to North Korea, and is urging other nations to do the same.

A rabies epidemic has gripped the popular tourist destination of Bali. In the past two years, 78 deaths from rabies have officially been logged. More than 30,000 dog bites have been reported just in the first half of this year. Hospitals across Bali have faced periodic shortages of free post-exposure vaccines, leaving poor residents — who can’t afford the shots that remain at pharmacies — with few options. Several countries, including the U.S. and Australia, have issued warnings advising travelers to think about getting pre-exposure rabies vaccinations before visiting Bali, just in case, and a handful of foreign tourists have reported dog bites. It’s definitely a problem, and one Bali should consider addressing more forcefully. Once the “Eat Pray Love” movie is released (with portions of it shot on location in Bali), more visitors are likely to follow.

The U.S.

On Monday, President Barack Obama reaffirmed that this month’s planned withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq will happen “as promised and on schedule.” By the end of August, only a transitional force of 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq, down from the peak of 170,000 that were there in 2007. The transitional troops will mostly be charged with training and advising Iraqi security forces, but will likely still see some combat. Meanwhile, the focus of the war will turn to Afghanistan, where 66 U.S. troops were killed last month.

As if the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wasn’t enough, a burst pipeline last week in Michigan dumped between 800,000 and 1 million gallons of crude into a tributary that empties into the Kalamazoo River. The oil flow has (thankfully) been stopped by now, and officials say it has been contained in a 25-mile stretch of the river. The EPA has approved $13 million in federal funds for cleanup.

In the Gulf, the cap is still holding on the blown-out Deep Horizon well, though small leaks have begun being spotted. The two relief wells being relied on as a permanent fix are close to completion, however, and now engineers and officials must figure out exactly how to kill the ruptured well.

Odd News

Federal climate officials have confirmed that a hailstone that fell in Vivian, South Dakota, is the heaviest ever recorded on the continent. The hailstone weighed in a 1-pound, 15-ounces. The Associated Press’ headline for breaking the news? “Hail yes, it’s big.”

Naked News of the Week

On Monday, Indonesian lawmakers and journalists got a bit of a shock when online porn blazed across dozens of computer monitors outside the press room at Parliament. The touch-screen monitors are used by visitors to check things like the Parliament agenda. The “unwanted interruption” was probably caused by someone trying to access a porn site on the computer system, an official said. It took security about 10 minutes to shut down the computers.

Taking a Cargo Boat, Up the Mekong River, From Thailand to China

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Johnny Ward of shares the story of when he and two mates hitched a ride with a Chinese cargo boat for a whole week.

Written by Johnny Ward Photo Johnny Ward

Thailand to China by boat Taking a Cargo Boat, Up the Mekong River, From Thailand to China

Now I was settled in Chiang Mai, Christmas came around and I had some time off from teaching so my two housemates (Max and Swede) decided to do a little hardcore backpacking… my first real adventure…

I wanted to go to China all my life but on 25,000 Baht per month teaching salary I couldn’t afford to fly from BKK to Beijing so another route must be found! I looked at a map and saw that the Mekong river runs from a little town in Thailand called Chaeng Saen and then the river ‘becomes’ the border between Burma (Myanmar) and Laos as it runs north until it reaches the Yunan province in Thailand. I hatched a plan.

Right boys, I know how we can get to China and not spend shit loads of money.” – Me

“Awesome, hows that?” – Max

“We’re gonna hitch a ride on a Chinese cargo boat from some random town in Northern Thailand and get off on the first port in China.” – Me again

“Oh shit…” – Swede

And so we got our ‘plan’ underway. Quick trip to the embassy to get our Chinese visas, surprisingly easy but this was 2007 (i.e pre-olympics, so no forged documents needed for this trip to China, we saved that one for the next trip to China), a week later we were set.

travelers Taking a Cargo Boat, Up the Mekong River, From Thailand to China

Bags packed – Check

Chinese Visa – Check.

The vaguest idea of what we actually do when we get to Chiang Saen – SHIT

And we left early in the morning, got a public bus from Chiang Mai bus station to Chiang Saen near the golden triangle and 8 hours later we were at the skanky port town of Chiang Saen. We found the cheapest accommodation possible (around 100 Baht) and hit the sack. Next morning, we grabbed a tuk-tuk and got him to take us to the port where the real fun was about to start…

By this point I had been in Thailand for about 9 months and I had been studying Thai for about 4 of those so I could get by if and when I needed, and right now I needed, and needed and needed! We managed to discover that the boats were heading to China (result!) and that some of them were leaving today (another result!) and that the entire crew of every boat were Chinese, spoke zero English and pigeon Thai (not such a good result!) but we had come this far, so we gave it a crack.

vessels at Chiang Saen Taking a Cargo Boat, Up the Mekong River, From Thailand to China

The international port of Chiang Saen.

I sauntered onto the nearest boat that was docked, receiving the strangest looks I had ever received (who the hell is this white guy and what’s he doing on our skanky boat?!). After a bit of coming and going between the tuk-tuk driver, who came back to see what was going on, the staff, the captain and me we came to an arrangement. What I understood was the boat was leaving in an hour, it would arrive in China tomorrow afternoon and if we gave them 1000 baht ($30AUD) we could go with them, sleep in a cabin and get fed — now that is cheap travel!

All we had to do was avoid the police during the whole journey, get off at the first available port and, before we leave, sign the register stating that we are fully fledged members of their crew in the Chinese-Thai sailor register in the port office. We obliged and I never laughed so hard when I saw the register… 3 columns which I guess said first name, last name and passport number  followed by pages upon pages of scrappy Chinese script and signatures with no English anywhere to be seen.. aside from our Johnny Ward, Thomas Edmunds, Max peters written amongst it all with our signatures beside, that must have made good reading when the immigration officer flicked through it next month!

With trepidation a plenty, we bought four bottles of whiskey at 7-11, loaded up on crisps and water and made our way down to boat, expecting to leave in the next hour or so.

Cargo boat Taking a Cargo Boat, Up the Mekong River, From Thailand to China

We boarded, 5 hours later (and the realisation that we were low on the list of the crew’s priorities) we set off…

Well there was no turning back now, that’s for sure. We did actually get our own ‘cabin’, and by cabin I mean 4 wooden shelves attached to the wall but it was better than we expected. I was communicating with the boat’s second in command in Thai although I’m not sure if he could even speak Chinese nevermind Thai or English so that proved fruitless, aside from the rest of the crew finding it hilarious.

It was dark already and we made our way up the Mekong river at quite a slow pace but we were feeling very proud of ourselves at actually managing to sort the whole thing out and it looked as if we were going to be in China tomorrow and one of my childhood dreams would be fulfilled.

One thing we didn’t ask about was the toilet, or shower — which turned out to be the same thing in the end and it was a sight to behold. Around midnight, a few glasses of whiskey in, Max cracked and through a ridiculously funny attempt at some sort of charades/rudimentary sign language Max managed to find out where the toilet was, he probably wishes he hadn’t. I mean that in the most literal sense imaginable.

Chinese cargo boat Taking a Cargo Boat, Up the Mekong River, From Thailand to China

I mean who would have doubted that 8 multilingual, civilised, poetry reading, ballet watching, fine-dining Chinese sailors would have kept such a pristine area to piss, shit and shower in — it was certainly an experience.

We immediately decided to only use it to take a piss, anything else (showers included) could wait until we arrived in China tomorrow — wherever or whenever that would be…

Tomorrow came and all our pointing and shouting ‘China?’ was followed with ‘China, China, hahahahaha!’ by our Chinese friends which admittedly was pretty funny although the 3 bottles of whiskey that managed to disappear throughout the day may have added to the humour. The evening was upon us and as the sun began to set on the most beautiful backdrop I have ever seen with Burma to the left, Vietnam to the right, Thailand behind us and China (supposedly) in front of us it became obvious that the neither boat or crew ever had any intention on reaching China today… we were dismayed but holding onto hope that we’d get there tomorrow instead… to be continued.

sunset on the cargo boat Taking a Cargo Boat, Up the Mekong River, From Thailand to China

Sunset on the cargo boat

Curious about what happens next? Read the second part of the story at Traveling Cheap – the boat from Thailand to China.

Johnny Ward left his home country Ireland at 18 and lived/studied/worked in the USA, Korea, Australia, England and Thailand. Follow his adventures at, where this guest post was originally published.


Possibly related posts:

  1. Photo of the Week: Bangkok China Town
  2. Fun Tourist Attractions Shows You the Best of China
  3. Popular Attractions Along the Yangtze River

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Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong opened this week

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong opened in the top 18 floors of the Shanghai ifc South Tower earlier this week.

The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong opened in the top 18 floors of the Shanghai ifc South Tower earlier this week.

The Ritz-Carlton opened its second hotel in Shanghai and seventh in China on June 21: the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong. Overlooking The Bund, one of the most famous attractions for travelers in the city, the 285-room luxury hotel occupies the top 18 floors of the Lujiazui financial trade zone’s 250-meter Shanghai ifc South Tower.

Developed by architect Cesar Pelli, whose most famous work is the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur (the tallest twin buildings in the world) and designed in a contemporary style with touches of Shanghai art deco from the 1930s, the hotel features

  • four bars and restaurants, including the Flair Rooftop Restaurant and Bar with its rooftop (hence the name) terrace
  • Ritz-Carlton Spa by ESPA, a 1,500-meter spa  and 24-hour fitness area
  • luxurious rooms ranging from 538 to 4,413 square feet
Located on the 55th floor, the 10-room ESPA spa offers treatments inspired by Chinese, Indian, European and Balinese cultures.

Located on the 55th floor, the 10-room ESPA spa offers treatments inspired by Chinese, Indian, European and Balinese cultures.

One review is in so far and–executive summary–the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong is really nice and the author liked it (but you could’ve guessed that):

Simply put: the hotel will take your breath away. The Ritz-Carlton has spent the past few years redefining its brand to appeal to modern travelers who appreciate beauty and true comfort; the newest member of the family, The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong, is a proud representation of Shanghai culture and modern luxuries.–Gadling, Hotel Exclusive: The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong

Ritz-Carlton Shangahi, Pudong
Shanghai ifc, 8 Century Ave.
Shanghai, Lujiazui, Pudong 200120

Photos: Courtesy Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong