Daily Archives: January 30, 2009

Q&A #1

Posted by on January 30, 2009

I sent the word out on Twitter to see if people had any questions for me about my travels. Here are the first batch. I’ll be doing this every so often, so make sure to follow me on Twitter if you’d like me to answer a question.

@feureau If you could pick one place to live in for the rest of your life from all the places you’ve been to, which one will it be?

@Traveling_Man Yo Traveling Man, Just curious of all the places you been to, where would you consider rooting down for awhile?

That’s a hard question to answer. I’d want a place with good internet connectivity. That rules out many of the countries in the Pacific, even though I really enjoyed those places. Japan and Korea get cold, so those are out. I like Melbourne, but it can get sort of cold in the winter as well and Australian internet always bothered me. Noumea, New Caledonia is nice but expensive. Too much air pollution in Manila. Kuala Lumpur is nice, but sort of boring. Dubai I’ll explain in an upcoming post.

I suppose my short list based on places I’ve been so far would be: Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Auckland, Honolulu, Taipei, Cairns and Brisbane.

@HomeBiss Yes, I have a question. Can people use your travel photos?

It depends on what you want to use them for. If you want to sell prints, the answer is no. If you want to use it for a blog post, you usually just need to send me an email telling me you want to use it and provide a link to my site. I will usually want something in return. It doesn’t have to be money, it could just be a link back to my site.

Your best bet is to send me an email (gary at everything-everywhere.com) and just ask.

@Neil_Duckett How much have you spent? More or less than you’d budgeted and hoped?

I’ve probably spent about $60,000 over the last two years not including the purchase of my electronics. That amount isn’t evenly distributed. I spent way more in Australia and the Pacific than I did in SE Asia. I have tried to keep a mental budget of about $100/day. I tend to avoid dorm rooms in hostels and use the internet more than most people do, and I never cook my own meals, so I’m sure I could reduce my costs even more if I had to. I also travel alone, so any time I could share costs with someone, I am not able to. Here in Dubai I’ve spent more than $100/day just because hotel rooms are expensive.

$60,000 sounds like a lot (and it is), but if you consider how much it costs to live in a western country for two years (rent/mortgage, car payments, fuel, food, utilities, etc) you are probably looking at a sum very similar. $60,000 works out to about $82/day. Just like with travel, you could spend less or more depending on your lifestyle. If I hadn’t visited some of the more obscure places and did more things to limit my expenses, I’m sure I could have spent about 1/3 less than what I have.

@gtowna Is life on an isolated atoll in the middle of the Pacific all it’s cracked up to be — would you spend the rest of your days there?

No way in hell. People have these island fantasies because they see a pretty photo with a white sand beach and a palm tree. Atolls are nothing but long stretches of calcium carbonate (coral). It is very hard to grow anything, there is little in the way of materials to build anything, they are difficult to get to because you have to get across a reef, and you have no fresh water. All the water you have to drink has to come from catching rain water. Because you are only a foot above sea level, you are subject to getting washed away with every storm that hits.

There are three countries in the Pacific which are nothing abut atolls: Marhsall Islands, Kiribati, and Tuvalu. All are dirt poor and people are leaving in droves. Atolls are places where people washed ashore and survived, not places that people migrated to, to thrive.

A more idyllic island would be one with a mountain in the middle of the island. It has more vegetation, probably has streams or maybe a spring for water, you have a place to go in the event of a storm or tsunami, and just more land. Samoa, Fiji or Rarotonga better fit the bill.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #48: Complex of Hué Monuments

Posted by on January 30, 2009

World Heritage Site #48: Complex of Hué Monuments

World Heritage Site #48: Complex of Hué Monuments

From the World Heritage inscription:

Established as the capital of unified Viet Nam in 1802, Hué was not only the political but also the cultural and religious center under the Nguyen dynasty until 1945. The Perfume River winds its way through the Capital City, the Imperial City, the Forbidden Purple City and the Inner City, giving this unique feudal capital a setting of great natural beauty.

Hue is analogous to other Asian cities such as Kyoto, Gyeongju and Nanjing in that it is a former imperial city. Unlike the other cities, the history doesn’t date back nearly as far. The current structures only date back to the early 19th century.

There actual city of Hue is pretty large; almost one million people. The history part of the city consists of the walled outer city and the walled inner city, which contains the royal residences. Most of the royal buildings are undergoing renovation/reconstruction and there currently isn’t much to see.

In addition to the walled city, the Thien Mu Pagoda (shown above) is also part of the World Heritage site and is located on the river several kilometers out of the city. You can easily get there via bicycle rickshaw.

The Musandam Experience

Posted by on January 30, 2009

I am back from Oman and in Dubai for a few days before moving on. I am still having issues with finding a good internet connection anywhere in the Middle East. I still have photos from Thailand I have to upload. The hotel I’m at now in Dubai put a 120mb cap on bandwidth, which can easily be achieved without downloading any big files or watching video.

My trip to Musandam was interesting to say the least. The ferry which goes from Muscat to Musandam is perhaps the worst run business I have ever witnessed in my life. The ferry (of which there are two) is very expensive. I’ve read they cost US$60m each. They are high speed, diesel powered catamarans designed to carry 56 cars and 220 passengers from Muscat to Khasab, the largest city in Musandam. Because Musandam is separated from the rest of Oman, the ferry is designed to eliminate the need for two border crossings when you have to pass into the UAE.

Why is this a horrible business?

  1. The car ferry has never transported a car. In the excitement to have the world’s fastest ferry, they never built a ferry terminal to support loading cars onto the boat. It only carries passengers right now. I have seen no activity towards building an actual terminal for cars.
  2. The flight to Khasab is 55 minutes versus 5 hours for the ferry. The cost is the same. An airplane can carry as many vehicles as the ferry right now: zero. You have to show up at the ticket office two hours before the ferry leaves to get on a bus to take you to the ferry.
  3. The operating costs of the ferry are enormous. It burns 18,000 liters of fuel each trip. Even though Oman is an oil producer, with subsidized fuel it is almost impossible to break even with a full boat. There were about 10 crew on board the ship that I could tell and there would probably be more if they had to load cars. The snack bar was open and everything was free. There were about 20 passengers on the boat when I took it.
  4. There is no website where you can buy tickets. There are no agents which you can buy tickets from. I’ve seen no marketing material of any sort except for a very nice full color brochure you get after you buy a ticket. There has been no advertising and no one in Muscat seems to know anything about the ferry other than it exists and it is the best in the world.
  5. Musandam, the destination for the ferries, has a total population of 30,000 people and three hotels. They probably couldn’t support a full boat of people if they had one.
  6. The ferries were not designed for long haul routes. They were designed for trips no greater than an hour. The engines are being used far more than they were designed for with 5 hour trips. As a result, mechanical problems and issues with spare parts will start creeping up over the next few months.

The ferry is sort of a microcosm of what you see in much of Oman: pretty cool looking, but sort of dysfunctional once you look behind the scenes.

Musandam itself is an interesting place. Khasab is totally surrounded by bone dry mountains and cliffs. It is difficult to see any vegetation anywhere. I took a mountain safari with two Austrians and had a guide take us up into the hills.

Life up in the mountains isn’t too different than what it was a few decades ago when people lived in holes in the mountainside. You can still see some of the dugouts if you look closely enough. You can also see many marine fossils in the mountains, which date back about 2-300 million years.

If you look at a map of Musandam, the tip of the peninsula is a giant tangle of fjords. In addition to driving up into the mountains, you can also take short dhow trips into the fjords.

There are no taxis in Khasab and no buses which run to Dubai. This makes getting around difficult, but there aren’t too many places to go, so it sort of evens out. There are usually vans which will shuttle people to Dubai every day, but it isn’t a regularly scheduled run.

It is really a stunning and beautiful place which doesn’t get much in the way of tourism. If you have a vehicle, it might be worth a one to two day trip from Dubai if you have some extra time.