Monthly Archives: January 2009

Go Oman!

Posted by on January 19, 2009

I picked the right day to come to Oman. The night I arrived Oman beat Saudi Arabia in the Gulf Nations Cup in Soccer. The last two days everyone has been going nuts, wearing Omani flags and scarves, driving around with cars decked out in red, white and green, honking and cheering.

I’m typing this at an internet cafe in Muscat as I wait for the bus to take me to Nizwa. I’m beginning to think that renting a car might have been a smarter option. Gas is really cheap, and all the road signs are in English as well as Arabic. I might do that in Nizwa still. The early bus to Nizwa left at 8am and I showed up at 9:30am not knowing the bus schedule. The next bus leaves at 2:30pm, so I sit and wait.

I wasn’t really planning on visiting Oman, but I’m glad I did.

On some related news from places I’ve been before, officials in Japan have closed the Tsukiji Fish Market to tourists for a month. Having been to the Tsukiji Fish Market, I’m amazed at some of the things people were doing. I was hyper aware of the fact that I was in the middle of an active market where people were earning a living. It is really no different than being on the floor of a stock exchange….except it is fish. You have to get up really early to visit the fish market, and if you are drunk at 5am, you have issues.

On a personal level, must say I was glad to hear no Americans were involved.

You can read more about my experience at the Tsukiji Fish Market.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #36: Fraser Island

Posted by on January 18, 2009

World Heritage Site #36: Fraser Island

World Heritage Site #36: Fraser Island

From the World Heritage inscription:

Fraser Island lies just off the east coast of Australia. At 122 km long, it is the largest sand island in the world. Majestic remnants of tall rainforest growing on sand and half the world’s perched freshwater dune lakes are found inland from the beach. The combination of shifting sand-dunes, tropical rainforests and lakes makes it an exceptional site.

Fraser Island is a very popular stop on the route from Sydney or Brisbane to Cairns. As the largest sand island in the world, all the vehicles which operate on the island have to be 4-wheel drive. This includes tour buses. The island is a popular location for overnight camping an independent exploration. I ended up taking an organized tour which, in hindsight, I sort of regret doing. It would have been more fun to just rent a jeep and drive on the beach.

The most notable fauna on the island are the dingos. The Fraser Island dingos are considered the most “authentic” in all Australia as they have been protected from interbreeding. While they normally cause no problems, they are dangerous and only a few years ago a pack of dingos killed a 9 year old boy on the island.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #35: Gondwana Rainforests of Australia

Posted by on January 17, 2009

World Heritage Site #35: Gwandana Forests of Queensland

World Heritage Site #35: Gondwana Rainforests of Australia

From the World Heritage inscription:

This site, comprising several protected areas, is situated predominantly along the Great Escarpment on Australia’s east coast. The outstanding geological features displayed around shield volcanic craters and the high number of rare and threatened rainforest species are of international significance for science and conservation.

Unlike most World Heritage sites, the Gondwana Rainforests isn’t one particular place, rather it is a huge expanse of forest that covers much of southern Queensland. It covers multiple national parks, so there are multiple options on where you can visit.

I visited Springbrook National Park just outside of Gold Coast, Queensland. From the hills I could see the Gold Coast skyline and the ocean beyond. Springbrook is an easy drive from Gold Coast or Brisbane. I was there on a school holiday and the park was packed. In addition to some stunning waterfalls, there is an overlook where you can view the plains of New South Wales.

Oh, Man! First Thoughts On Oman.

Posted by on January 17, 2009

Going from Dubai to Muscat isn’t just crossing a border and moving a few hundred kilometers, it is going back in time 100 years. This is not to imply that Muscat is backwards. They have every modern amenity and an excellent infrastructure. However, you get the feel that you are really in an old port city when you are here. It is especially pronoucned after coming from Dubai.

In Dubai, you could be fooled into thinking you weren’t in a desert. The area is flat and until you get out of the city, you forget where you are. In Muscat there is no doubt; rocky hills all over the city. The harbor area is surrounded by rocky hills, which must have made for an excellent defense in an earlier age. It is easy to see why a city was built here.

Life seems a lot slower here. Men playing cards on the sidewalk and just shooting the breeze. I think there is a big soccer match tonight. Lots of Omani flags are flying.

My plan is to stay in Muscat for about 2 or 3 days then head inland to Nizwa to visit some nearby World Heritage Sites. Then I’ll head back to Muscat to fly to Doha, Qatar, probably via Abu Dhabi.

Oh, the internet here seems much better than Dubai, which I really find surprising.

You Say Dubai, I Say Hello

Posted by on January 16, 2009

I’m off to Muscat, Oman in about an hour. I take a bus which will leave Dubai at 7:30am and arrive in Muscat in 1:30pm. Hopefully I’ll be able to use the time on the bus to write up some of my thoughts on Dubai…..or I might just sleep.

My current plan is to spend about 3 days in Muscat then head inland to Nizwa for a few days, visit some of the World Heritage sites there, then return to Muscat for a flight to Qatar.

I’m hoping the internet connectivity in Oman is better, but somehow I really doubt it. I’m again in a position where I’m carrying too many books with me. There are no hostels in this part of the world, so no place to exchange books.

I hate leaving this early in the morning, but I hate arriving when it is dark even more, so it is worth it I guess.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #34: Tasmanian Wilderness

Posted by on January 16, 2009

World Heritage Site #34: Tasmanian Wilderness

World Heritage Site #34: Tasmanian Wilderness

From the World Heritage inscription:

In a region that has been subjected to severe glaciation, these parks and reserves, with their steep gorges, covering an area of over 1 million ha, constitute one of the last expanses of temperate rainforest in the world. Remains found in limestone caves attest to the human occupation of the area for more than 20,000 years.

Despite the popularity of Australia as a tourist destination, many people never get to Tasmania, which might be the most unspoiled and beautiful place in the entire country. You can find some of the largest trees in the world (giant eucalyptus) and most unique animals on Earth (Tasmanian Devil).

From an eco tourism standpoint, Tasmania might be the best place to visit in all of Australia.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #33: Sydney Opera House

Posted by on January 15, 2009

World Heritage Site #33: Sydney Opera House

World Heritage Site #33: Sydney Opera House

From the World Heritage inscription:

Inaugurated in 1973, the Sydney Opera House is a great architectural work of the 20th century that brings together multiple strands of creativity and innovation in both architectural form and structural design. A great urban sculpture set in a remarkable waterscape, at the tip of a peninsula projecting into Sydney Harbour, the building has had an enduring influence on architecture. The Sydney Opera House comprises three groups of interlocking vaulted ‘shells’ which roof two main performance halls and a restaurant. These shell-structures are set upon a vast platform and are surrounded by terrace areas that function as pedestrian concourses. In 1957, when the project of the Sydney Opera House was awarded by an international jury to Danish architect Jørn Utzon, it marked a radically new approach to construction.

OK, I get it. I understand that the Sydney Opera House is the symbol of Sydney, if not of all Australia. However, I’m not sure that any 30 year old building should really be declared a monument of human culture which should be preserved. It really isn’t even that impressive close up.

You can hear my thoughts on the Opera House on this episode of the podcast.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #32: Greater Blue Mountains Area

Posted by on January 14, 2009

World Heritage Site #32: Blue Mountains Area

World Heritage Site #32: Greater Blue Mountains Area

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Greater Blue Mountains Area consists of 1.03 million ha of sandstone plateaux, escarpments and gorges dominated by temperate eucalypt forest. The site, comprised of eight protected areas, is noted for its representation of the evolutionary adaptation and diversification of the eucalypts in post-Gondwana isolation on the Australian continent. Ninety-one eucalypt taxa occur within the Greater Blue Mountains Area which is also outstanding for its exceptional expression of the structural and ecological diversity of the eucalypts associated with its wide range of habitats. The site provides significant representation of Australia’s biodiversity with ten percent of the vascular flora as well as significant numbers of rare or threatened species, including endemic and evolutionary relict species, such as the Wollemi pine, which have persisted in highly-restricted microsites.

Katoomba and the Blue Mountains National Park is about an hour outside of Sydney. The amazing thing about Katoomba is that the town is located right on the rim of a canyon, which is one or the largest canyons in the world. You can literally walk through town and look out over the edge of the canyon.

The most prominent feature in Katoomba is the Three Sisters (shown above). In addition to the Three Sisters, you can take cable car rides to the bottom of the canyon where are the walking trails, several waterfalls, as well as hiking trails near the canyon rim.

The Blue Mountains is a must see for anyone visiting Sydney. You can easily take a train or drive to Katoomba from Sydney for a day trip.

2008 Travel Year in Review: Part 2

Posted by on January 14, 2009

Read part 1 of my 2008 travel round-up here


Landscape of Coober Pedy, South Australia

Landscape of Coober Pedy, South Australia

July marked my last month in Australia. I flew from Perth to Adelaide. After weeks of driving across Western Australia, the thought of more driving didn’t appeal to me. Adelaide was overcast and cold the entire time I was there, but I did get to visit the central market and Chinatown, both of which were the best I experienced in Australia.

From there I went north by bus to Coober Pedy, the interesting community in the middle of the outback that makes its living off opal mining. From there I went north to Alice Springs where I visited Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) and Kings Canyon.

I ended my Australian adventure where it began, in Darwin, and from there flew to Singapore.


Stamford Raffels Statue in Singapore

Stamford Raffels Statue in Singapore

In Singapore I was able to meet my old college roommate David Bickford, who is currently a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Singapore. He was only the second person I’ve seen since I’ve left the United States that I knew before I left. I hadn’t seen Dave since the early 90s, so it was nice to catch up.

While he was doing profession things during the day, I was able to explore Singapore, which I had last visited back in 1999.

I also took a week and went to the Indonesian island of Bintan where I rented a bungalow near the beach for $10/night and edited video.

Returning to Singapore I took the train to Kuala Lumpur and then to Penang. I was stuck in Penang for several days as I waited for protesters to open up the Phuket, Thailand airport.

Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok, Thailand

Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok, Thailand


Most of September was spent in Thailand. My goal in Phuket was to do some diving and get my PADI Rescue Diver certification. I enrolled in a course at SeaBee’s Diving in Phuket and got certified. If you are in trouble while diving with me, I’m your hookup.

After that I went to Bangkok and hung out for two weeks where I was able to meet Nomadic Matt before going to Cambodia. I visited all the tourist spots in the city including the Royal Palace and Wat Prah Kaew. I flew into Siem Reap from Bangkok, forgoing the legendarily bad bus trip.


Cow in Temple, Angkor, Cambodia

Cow in Temple, Angkor, Cambodia

I started October by visiting the temples of Angkor. It was a really amazing experience. I took several days photographing most of the temples in the Angkor complex, including many of the smaller outlying temples. I also took the day trip from hell to visit the Preah Vihear temple on the border of Cambodia and Thailand. Preah Vihear was the scene of fighting between Thai and Cambodian soldiers in the months before, and weeks after I visited.

I also visited the floating villages of Tonle Sap and took the boat from Sieam Reap to Phnom Penh, where I paid homage to the victims of the Killing Fields. The last few days of the month I took the bus across the border into Vietnam and into Saigon.


Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam

Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam

All of November was in Vietnam. I started the month in Saigon where I had to purchase a new laptop. My old MacBook Pro was on its last legs. From there I took the bus on Mui Ne which is on the Pacific Ocean an enjoyed cheap, fresh seafood every night. From there I went into the central Vietnam rainy season in Nha Trang, where it rained non stop. A very long overnight bus ride took me to Hoi An just outside of Da Nang where I visited the Hoi An Ancient City and My Son Sanctuary World Heritage sites. I then spent a few days in the former royal capital of Hue before one final marathon bus ride to Hanoi.


December was a busy month. I started by visiting the beautiful islands of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. I returned to Hanoi to fly to Luang Prabang, Laos where I was able to visit the temples of this World Heritage City and take part in the morning alms giving ritual where the locals give food and rice to monks. I then took a bus to the capital of Laos, Vientiane, where I took advantage of the excellent open airs BBQs on the Mekong River. I then went to Udon Thani, Thailand, Chiang Mai, Sukhothai and ended up back in Bangkok, where I rang in the New Year.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #31: Willandra Lakes Region

Posted by on January 13, 2009

World Heritage Site #30: Willandra Lakes Region

World Heritage Site #31: Willandra Lakes Region

From the World Heritage inscription:

The fossil remains of a series of lakes and sand formations that date from the Pleistocene can be found in this region, together with archaeological evidence of human occupation dating from 45–60,000 years ago. It is a unique landmark in the study of human evolution on the Australian continent. Several well-preserved fossils of giant marsupials have also been found here.

If the Royal Exhibition Building was the most disappointing World Heritage site, then Mungo National Park in the Willandra Lakes Region was one of the most surprising. I really had no idea what to expect when I visited Mungo because it isn’t one of the more popular tourist destinations in Australia. It is out of the way located in the corner of NSW where it meets Victoria and South Australia.

It is about an hour drive from Mildura, Victoria through unpaved desert. When I was there the temperature was 40C (104F) in the sun. The flies were terrible, but disappeared once the sun went below the horizon. Our guide for the day was Graham Clarke, who was an aboriginal from the area who actually quasi-famous. He was the outback spokesperson of the year and I’ve seen him on some TV commercials for Australia.

Mungo is a dried lake bed, which used to be a watering hole during the last ice age. It was also a camp for human beings about 20-40,000 years ago. It is some of the earliest fossil evidence of modern homo saipen. They have also found some evidence of ritual human cremation.

Just walking around we were able to find the bones of wombats in the sand that were tens of thousands of years old.

If you ever get the chance, take the time to visit Mungo National Park.