Monthly Archives: December 2008

Christmas in Asia

Posted by on December 24, 2008

Growing up, you would always see articles/book/tv shows about how people celebrate Christmas around the world. The impression you get is that everyone, everywhere celebrates something this time of year, even if it isn’t Christmas.

I can say categorically that Thailand, and SE Asia in general, really doesn’t celebrate anything around Christmas. Save for a few hotels which cater to tourists, I have seen nothing Christmas related.

This really should come as no surprise. Thailand is not a Christian country nor was it ever colonized by Europeans. Outside of expats and tourists, there has never been an historical reason to celebrate Christmas. Also, given its latitude, the winter solstice isn’t as big of a deal as it might be farther north.

One year ago I was in Macau on Christmas day. Being a former Portuguese colony, you could see Christmas decorations in middle of town. You could even see some Christmas things in Hong Kong. Here however, it is a Christmas desert.

I just got finished talking to my family over Skype. They were doing their annual Christmas Eve celebration at my parents house this year. This is the second year in a row I wasn’t there. I had been there every year of my life prior to leaving on this trip.

Later today I’ll be meeting up with some blog readers and other expats who live in Bangkok for Christmas dinner.

I’m glad to be in Bangkok. This marks the end of my SE Asian adventure. I’ll be posting the contest results tomorrow or the day after and sending emails out to the winners. I have a bunch of stuff to ship home which should reduce the amount of crap I carry around significantly. I’ve been lugging my old laptop around since I was in Saigon. I have a lot to do in Bangkok before I leave, which I should do around New Year’s Day.

If anyone in Bangkok or Dubai would like to meet up, please send me an email or contact me on Twitter.

Merry Christmas!

UNESCO World Heritage Site #13: Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

Posted by on December 23, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #13: Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

UNESCO World Heritage Site #13: Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

From the World Heritage inscription:

The island of Itsukushima, in the Seto inland sea, has been a holy place of Shintoism since the earliest times. The first shrine buildings here were probably erected in the 6th century. The present shrine dates from the 12th century and the harmoniously arranged buildings reveal great artistic and technical skill. The shrine plays on the contrasts in colour and form between mountains and sea and illustrates the Japanese concept of scenic beauty, which combines nature and human creativity.

Miyajima is a great place to visit. A tram ride in Hiroshima to the dock and a short 10 min ferry ride can take you to Miyajima. In addition to the Itsukushima Shrine (Shinto), there is the Ottori gate (one of the three great views in Japan), the Daisho-in Temple (Buddhist), and many stores and small restaurants, and tons of small red deer all over the island.

I found Miyajima to be the high point of my visit to Hiroshima.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #12: Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

Posted by on December 22, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #12: Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

UNESCO World Heritage Site #12: Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) was the only structure left standing in the area where the first atomic bomb exploded on 6 August 1945. Through the efforts of many people, including those of the city of Hiroshima, it has been preserved in the same state as immediately after the bombing. Not only is it a stark and powerful symbol of the most destructive force ever created by humankind; it also expresses the hope for world peace and the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons.

There isn’t much to say about the Peace Park in Hiroshima, which I haven’t said before.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Winter Solstice Housekeeping

Posted by on December 21, 2008

With the end of the year upon us, I wanted take the time to take some time and remind people that there are ways you can follow what I’m doing and support the site that you might not have been aware of.

The first thing is my map:



View Larger Map

If you have Goolge Earth installed, you can explore my route and the places I’ve been on a virtual globe. Just download the kml file. I love playing with my map. It is a work in progress and it is never complete. You can view it in Google Maps, but it isn’t quite the same thing. If you do explore it in Google Maps, make sure to move the map around or all the points wont show up. (If anyone knows how to format the pins in kml files let me know. I’d like to make it a bit more snazzy)

The next thing of course is Twitter. I’m pretty active on Twitter and I use it to post a lot of one or two sentence things which are too small to make it on the blog. If you weren’t on Twitter, then you would never know about the 2 hours I spent drinking with an expat Canadian who told me about his drug and hooker exploits. This is quality stuff!

If you don’t use Twitter, you can still get my messages on Facebook. You can add me as a friend, or follow me on my fan page. I suggest you do both, as the more people I have on the fan page, the more it helps spread the word.

As for me, I’m off to see the long necked tribal women tomorrow. I hope everyone is enjoying the cold and snow back in North America. Temperature here is in the low 70s (22C) with sunny skies. The beer is cheap too….not to rub it in or anything.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #11: Yakushima

Posted by on December 21, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #11: Yakushima

UNESCO World Heritage Site #11: Yakushima

From the World Heritage Inscription:

Located in the interior of Yaku Island, at the meeting-point of the palaearctic and oriental biotic regions, Yakushima exhibits a rich flora, with some 1,900 species and subspecies, including ancient specimens of the sugi (Japanese cedar). It also contains a remnant of a warm-temperate ancient forest that is unique in this region.

Yakushima is a very special place. A about an hour ferry ride from Kagoshima, the interior of Yakushima (Yaku Island) is several thousand feet above sea level and often in the clouds.

Not only is it a beautiful place, but the food I had on Yakushima is some of the best I’ve experienced on my trip.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #10: Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

Posted by on December 20, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #10: Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

UNESCO World Heritage Site #10: Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

From the World Heritage inscription:

Five hundred years of Ryukyuan history (12th-17th century) are represented by this group of sites and monuments. The ruins of the castles, on imposing elevated sites, are evidence for the social structure over much of that period, while the sacred sites provide mute testimony to the rare survival of an ancient form of religion into the modern age. The wide- ranging economic and cultural contacts of the Ryukyu Islands over that period gave rise to a unique culture.

Okinawa is geographically and culturally different than the rest of Japan. I usually explain it as Japan’s Hawaii. Its language is distinct from Japanese and the islands weren’t even formally part of Japan until the 1870’s.

Much of Shuri-jo Castle and other landmarks in Okinawa were damaged during the battle of Okinawa in WWII, which took the lives of over 100,000 Japanese and 13,000 allied soldiers. The current castle is mostly rebuilt and reconstruction is still ongoing.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #10: Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

Posted by on December 20, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #10: Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

UNESCO World Heritage Site #10: Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu

From the World Heritage inscription:

Five hundred years of Ryukyuan history (12th-17th century) are represented by this group of sites and monuments. The ruins of the castles, on imposing elevated sites, are evidence for the social structure over much of that period, while the sacred sites provide mute testimony to the rare survival of an ancient form of religion into the modern age. The wide- ranging economic and cultural contacts of the Ryukyu Islands over that period gave rise to a unique culture.

Okinawa is geographically and culturally different than the rest of Japan. I usually explain it as Japan’s Hawaii. Its language is distinct from Japanese and the islands weren’t even formally part of Japan until the 1870’s.

Much of Shuri-jo Castle and other landmarks in Okinawa were damaged during the battle of Okinawa in WWII, which took the lives of over 100,000 Japanese and 13,000 allied soldiers. The current castle is mostly rebuilt and reconstruction is still ongoing.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #9: Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park

Posted by on December 19, 2008

UNESCO World Heritage Site #9: Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park

UNESCO World Heritage Site #9: Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

This park features a spectacular limestone karst landscape with an underground river. One of the river’s distinguishing features is that it emerges directly into the sea, and its lower portion is subject to tidal influences. The area also represents a significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full ‘mountain-to-sea’ ecosystem and has some of the most important forests in Asia.

First, I should note that the mayor of Puerto Princessa is Edward S. Hagedorn.

The underground river is really pretty cool. The river goes into the mountain about 6km, but the tours only go in about 1km. The inside of the cave has tons of stalactite and stalagmite formations, most of which are named after things they look like, which usually requires a lot of imagination. Outside the cave, I saw huge monitor lizards and macaque monkeys. The underground river on Palawan is the longest navigable underground river in the world.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Life in Chiang Mai

Posted by on December 19, 2008

I’ve been in Chiang Mai for two days now. It reminds me a lot of Phuket without the beaches. It is very touristy, and I mean that in the worst sense.

The night market area is just an endless row of vendors selling the same crap. Everyone I’ve been in SE Asia has some sort of tourist focus, I get that. What you see in Thailand is sort of a step beyond what you see everywhere else. You can’t set foot on the street without being barraged with tuk tuk drivers. (at least you don’t have the massage girls pestering you here like you do in Phuket). I know it isn’t as bad as some places, but I think the last few months in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos has lowered my threshold for this sort of stuff.

That being said, I haven’t gone out to do any of the real Chiang Mai type stuff yet. Tomorrow and the day after I’ll be going out to see the long neck village women and do elephant riding. The food here isn’t as good as what I had in Laos or Vietnam.

At this point I just want to make sure to get to Bangkok by Christmas, which I don’t think should be a problem.