I arrived in Kuwait last night only to find that the dust storm which had descended over Bahrain was even worse in Kuwait. I looked out of the window of the plane and it was a wall of beige.
All of the countries in the Gulf which I’ve visited so far have had very easy and common sense policies for tourist visas. Getting into Kuwait made no sense. Like several countries I’ve visited, you need to get a visa on arrival in Kuwait. The other countries which require that have been PNG, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos. I can understand if a country makes you apply for a visa, but when you are getting one at the airport, it is just needless paperwork. If they want to charge an entry fee, then they can just charge an entry fee. Filling out a form with the exact same information that is on your passport and requiring a photocopy of the passport is sort of redundant. Just scan the passport like every other country and you can get all the information you want instantly. Then just stamp the passport as if it were a visa.
Once I got that taken care of, I was surprised to see my hotel had a shuttle, so I didn’t have to pay for a cab. Nice to see something was going right. I was talking to the hotel employee who was from Morocco and he had raised his hands in the air while gesturing while a Kuwaiti man was walking past him from behind. He accidentally hit him in the face. It wasn’t very hard and it was totally an accident. I know I’ve had that happen to me and I’ve done it to other people. It happens. The Kuwaiti guy starts to go nuts and punches the Moroccan guy in the throat and walks off.
Now the Moroccan guy wasn’t really hurt either. He goes off to find the police, but the Kuwaiti guy disappeared. When he gets back to the car, he seems pissed, which is not surprising. The reason he’s pissed off, however is because he felt as if the guy who punched him thought he was an Indian.
That was my first hour in Kuwait.
Other than that I have little to say. It was dark by the time I left the airport and there is still heavy dust in the air which really reduces visibility. Everything here seems very nice, but I can’t see much at this point. Hopefully I’ll be able to get out and see some of the sights in Kuwait City without having to look through a wall of dust.
Today I had an interview with Nina Lauri from the Bahrain Tribune. We went to Fort Bahrain, a World Heritage Site and talked for two hours. I learned more about Bahrain in those two hours than I did during the several days I’ve been here. It is good to have a local explain things to you that you can’t see in only a few days.
Among the many things I learned about was the religious divide in the country (Sunni vs Shia), and saw some anti-government graffiti on the way out from the fort and some photos of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. (he is the head Shia official in Iraq)
Tonight is my last night in Bahrain. Tomorrow I’m off to Kuwait for two days and then Egypt. The flights from Kuwait to Cairo are very cheap, so the stay over in Kuwait City with hotel is almost the same a flight from Bahrain.
There isn’t a ton in Kuwait I’m that interested in seeing. I’ll do a day tour of Kuwait city or something similar and unless something exciting comes up, my primary focus for the next few weeks is obviously Egypt. The great pyramids and the ancient Egyptian ruins on the Nile are near the top of things to see in the entire world. I also plan on going diving in the Red Sea, which is something I haven’t done since last September in Phuket, Thailand.
I am crossing my fingers that bandwidth in Cairo will be better than in the Gulf states. I realize I have no reason to believe it will be so, but a guy can hope.
Ryan Ricard via Facebook: What is the weirdest thing you ate? Tastiest thing you ate?
Weirdest thing would probably have to be grasshopper (which gave me food poisoning) or some BBQ pig intestines I got from street vendors in Bangkok. I also had some Mekong river weed in Luang Prabang, Laos, which was actually pretty good. It was like a very light cracker.
I had fish and chips in Rarotonga made out of parrot fish, which I thought was sort of odd.
The best foods I’ve had would include:
Foie gras from Piccaso’s restaurant in Las Vegas. I ate there at the very start of my trip. I had always seen it used on the Iron Chef and wanted to taste it myself. It was great.
Samgyupsal in Busan, South Korea. It basically giant slabs of bacon you cook at your table. You cut the pork with a scissorsand wrap it in lettuce. It was a memorable meal because I was taken there by a woman I met on the boat from Fukuoka to Busan.
Poisson Cru in Tahiti. This is the national dish of French Polynesia and it was great. I had it at a Roulette (lunch wagon) in Papeete. It is raw or seared tuna in a coconut sauce with cucumber and onion. It is really good.
Hommos with shawarma. I’ve been eating this all the time in the Middle East. It is just hommos with lamb and sometimes pine nuts mixed in. Simple but good. (FYI, Hommos is how I’ve seen it spelled in the Gulf, not hummus.)
Rambutan. I have discovered this fruit on my travels. I love it. I could eat it all day.
Japanese set dinner. I had several while I was in Japan. The courses may very, but every one was amazing. In Yakushima I had a crystal clear fish soup that was the best soup I’ve ever had in my life.
Bill Zalenski via Facebook: What do you carry on your daily excursions?
If I am just walking around I will usually have my wallet with me inside a special zippered pocket inside my front pockets, my iPod touch and my point and shoot camera.
If I am out at some tourist attraction, I will also have my camera bag with me. The contents of my camera bag is probably worthy of an entire post by itself. The bag just goes over one shoulder and has my SLR and my video camera.
If I am going out to eat I will bring my small backpack with me with a book and/or my laptop inside. If I bring my laptop I also bring a laptop cable.
@jessiev I’d love to know why you choose where you’re headed next. thanks!
The next countries I’ll be visiting:
Kuwait. I don’t plan on spending too much time here, but give the importance of the country in the last two decades, I thought I should visit if I was going to be in the region.
Egypt. You can’t really go around the world and not see the Great Pyramid. I am also going to cruise down the Nile, visit Alexandria, dive in the Red Sea and maybe visit a monastery in the Sinai.
Jordan. Petra is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Also, my favorite movie of all time is Lawrence of Arabia, which was shot in Jordan, so I’d like to see Wadi Rum.
Israel. Again, its the Holy Land. Its kind of a big deal. I’d like to swim in the Dead Sea and visit all the religious sights of Jerusalem.
Italy. I’m a sucker for Roman ruins and I’ve always wanted to visit the Vatican.
A better question might be why I am not visiting certain places. I want to get back to the US for a few months this spring, so I’m skipping some places like Turkey and Syria for a later time.
@urpisdream Any advice for people trying to figure out how they can start up their own ‘everywhere trip’?
Don’t worry about planning for the trip. Worry about taking care of things at home. There are a million reasons why people don’t take extended trips like this: job, home, family, etc. The actual traveling part is easy. Overcoming what is keeping you from traveling is the hard part.
Figure out how long you are going to be gone and what you need to take care of before you leave. It will be hard to take care of them once you are gone. Make sure you have access to money, talk to your bank, etc.
Don’t worry what people think about you leaving. They will change their mind once you are on the road.
If you’ve paid attention to the news in the last several days, you’ve probably heard about the brushfires in Australia. I’ve been paying closer attention to that story than I normally would have because I’ve been to many of the places which have been damaged by the fire. I’ve driven through country Victoria, I’ve seen first hand what the conditions are like and I’ve even seen brush fires (albeit nothing on the scale of what is happening now). I even got to see a rather large brush fire up close in Western Australia on my drive from Darwin to Perth.
There are tragedies which happen all around the world all the time. Floods, mudslides, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fire are natural disasters which occur every few months and probably will never end. When you hear these things, there is a ceratin intellectual sympathy for the victims which exists, but it is nothing on par with what you experience when something happens to someone you know. To quote Adam Smith from The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759:
Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.
Travel changes that equation. Travel creates a link and changes how you perceive far away events. Everyone in the world saw the events of 9/11 on television. The previous year I had visited the World Trade Center. I had been in the buildings and had a personal grasp of just how big they were. When they were destroyed, it wasn’t just an intellectual outrage at people dying, I was personally flabbergasted at how it was possible for something so large to disappear. That extra feeling came from having been there. Obviously, the closer you were to the event, the bigger the impact would be.
On New Year’s Eve there was a fire in Bangkok which killed 60 people. It was about a kilometer from where I was staying at the time. That night I heard sirens and sounds but had no idea what was going on. The next morning when I read the news, it sort of hit me harder than it would have if I had read about somewhere else. 60 people died……right over there. I heard the sirens. Maybe I met one of the people who died. It drove the story home a bit more than if I had been somewhere else.
Sometimes this can backfire. In the tsunami of 2004, a disproportionate amount of media attention was given to Thailand, in particular Phuket. The tsunami killed almost a quarter of a million people around the world. The death toll in Thailand was over 5,000 which would be a horrible disaster by itself on any other day. Of those 5,000, about half were western tourists. Most of the video of the tsunami which made it to the internet was from Thailand. Thailand was by far the biggest tourist destination hit by the tsunami.
The 5,000 deaths in Thailand, however, were dwarfed by the over 130,000 killed in Indonesia, 35,000 killed in Sri Lanka, and 12,000 killed in India. Yet, a disproportionate amount of attention was given to Thailand because that is where the westerners were and where everyone goes on vacation.
On balance, the ties and connections made by travel are beneficial. The more people can see other places and meet other people, the impact of disasters like these will be more than intellectual curiosities which are quickly forgotten.
I’m in Bahrain. The flight was exceptionally short from Qatar. The time I spend on the runway was more than the time spent in the air. As far as I could tell, there are no ferries which run from Doha to Bahrain, and unless you are a GCC resident, you can’t take a bus without applying for a Saudi visa. They are working on a bridge between the two countries, but it will not be open for several years.
Bahrain is small. It is one of those countries that is so small, the airport runway shows up on the map. Because of its size and lack of oil, Bahrain has been the traditional finance capital of the Persian Gulf. While there is some construction going on and some new buildings, most of the development here seems to have taken place in the 1970’s and 80s, during the last big oil boom.
The area where I’m staying is in the heart of the city. There are tons of small alleys side streets filled with shops. It almost feels like a movie set. As with the other countries I’ve been to in the Gulf, there are a lot of South Asians (Indian, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, and Bangladeshis) and Filipinos. More Arabs here seem to be shopkeepers and do manual labor here than in Dubai, Oman or Qatar, but it is still mostly foreign workers.
You can easily tell how big and important the South Asian population here is by turning on the TV. There must have been four or five channels showing cricket matches or talking about cricket.
Yesterday was my first full day in Bahrain and I didn’t do anything. It was Friday, which means that most everything was closed during the day (Friday being the Muslim equivalent of Sunday for Christians). I went to a building that had a bunch of nightclubs and had a beer with a bunch of Filipinos watching a Filipino band. I also stuck my head in the door of a place with an all Arab clientele. It appeared to be a belly dancing bar or something. It wasn’t a strip club or anything, just girls dancing and men drinking alcohol. It was very odd.
On a site news note, you may have noticed that my 53 day daily photo marathon of World Heritage sites has ended. Back to normal photos. I’ll be adding more of the World Heritage sites as I pass through them. I have two more lined up already, and I’ll be hitting the World Heritage jackpot as I get to Egypt, Jordan and Israel.
The Historic City of Ayutthaya, founded in 1350, was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom. It flourished from the 14th to the 18th centuries, during which time it grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas and a center of global diplomacy and commerce. Ayutthaya was strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting the city to the sea. This site was chosen because it was located above the tidal bore of the Gulf of Siam as it existed at that time, thus preventing the attack of the city by the sea-going warships of other nations. The location also helped to protect the city from seasonal flooding.
The city was attacked and razed by the Burmese army in 1767 who burned the city to the ground and forced the inhabitants to abandon the city. The city was never rebuilt in the same location and remains known today as an extensive archaeological site.
At present, it is located in Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya District, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Province. The total area of the World Heritage property is 289 ha.
Once an important center of global diplomacy and commerce, Ayutthaya is now an archaeological ruin, characterized by the remains of tall prang (reliquary towers) and Buddhist monasteries of monumental proportions, which give an idea of the city’s past size and the splendor of its architecture.
Well-known from contemporary sources and maps, Ayutthaya was laid out according to a systematic and rigid city planning grid, consisting of roads, canals, and moats around all the principal structures. The scheme took maximum advantage of the city’s position in the midst of three rivers and had a hydraulic system for water management which was technologically extremely advanced and unique in the world.
Ayutthaya is very similar to Sukhothai, except it is a much busier city and the attractions are spread out over a much larger area, not confined to a single park. It is a northern suburb of Bangkok and can easily be reached by taxi or tour bus in 30-60 minutes depending on traffic. They day I went was New Year’s day and all the temples were packed with people.
The Historic City of Ayutthaya is a cultural site that is recognized into the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Thailand. It was added to the list in 1991 citing its role in shaping the history and culture of Thailand. The old city of Ayutthaya spans about 400 years in history. It was once a prosperous capital of trade and politics in Thailand. However, just as it quickly rose to its height, it was also defaced and abandoned. Today, what you see when you visit the Ayutthaya Historical Park is what was left of this once prosperous kingdom.
The religious monuments and temples within the Historic City of Ayutthaya exemplify the grandeur and power of this once-flourishing kingdom. It was a showcase of the wealth of the Kings at that time. Today, they serve as concrete reminders of the dark phase of Thailand’s history and that this time period really did exist.
How to Get Here
There are several options to get to the Historic City of Ayutthaya. The first option is to drive by car following a wide range of route options such as Highway 1, Highway 304, Highway 306 or Expressway No.9. Your choice of route to take will vary on where you are coming from. You can also hire a taxi to get you there.
The cheapest way to travel to Ayutthaya is via train. However, it is also the most scenic option. You must go to the Hualamphong Train Station in Bangkok and it will stop in Ayutthaya. The average duration of the trip is 1 hour and 20 minutes or up to 2 hours depending on the type of train you take.
Finally, you can travel to Ayutthaya by bus. You must head to Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal or in Moh Chit. There are buses you can ride there that will take you to Ayutthaya. The trip can take either 1 and a half hour or 2 hours.
About Ayutthaya Historical Park
The Ayutthaya Historical Park is the main attraction within the UNESCO site of the Historic City of Ayutthaya. This park was established to preserve the ruins of the old city of Ayutthaya. This city was founded in the mid-14th century by King Ramathibodi I until it was captured by the Burmese in 1569. The artistic objects and the elements from the temples and other structures in the city were lost and destroyed in the process, even though they were not pillaged. It was subsequently defeated by the Burmese Army in 1767, which no longer rendered it as the capital of Thai kingdom.
Two centuries later, in 1969 to be specific, the renovation and reconstruction job was conducted at the old city of Ayutthaya (particularly within the area now covered within the Ayutthaya Historical Park). Since it was named a historical park in 1976, the efforts at its conservation grew more serious and intense.
There are numerous temples within the historical park but some of the most notable ones include the following:
– This Buddhist temple is one of the main temples that belong within the Ayutthaya Historical Park. According to researchers, this temple was constructed in 1374 by King Borommaracha I.
Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
– This is considered as the holiest temple within the site of the old Royal Palace in Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand. The temple is considered as the grandest and most beautiful of all temples within the old city.
– This is another Buddhist temple located within Ayutthaya and was founded in 1424. The main prang of the temple is considered as one of the best in Ayutthaya. You can find this temple north of Wat Mahathat.
– This is one of the most recognizable temples within the ruins at the Historic City of Ayutthaya. The most distinctive feature of this temple is the central chedi that is surrounded by sculptures of guardian lions. There are several claims that say the temple existed even before the Ayutthaya period and researchers agree with this claim based on architectural evidence.
If you recall, I have written about why you don’t need a guidebook to travel. They are heavy, expensive and out of date. Since I’ve wrote that article, I’ve encountered even more examples of how guidebooks have failed travelers and they had to end up getting information locally anyhow.
But I’m not here to open up that can of worms again….
I want to talk about how great Twitter is for getting information while you are on the road. Twitter is called a “microblogging” platform. You can post messages upto 140 characters. If you think posting 140 character messages is stupid, you aren’t alone. Pretty much everyone things Twitter is stupid when they first hear about it. I thought it was stupid.
Once you start using it, however, it becomes addictive. Twitter is in some respects on a par with my website. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll be notified of my blog posts, but you can also have a conversation on top of that.
Tonight I posted two questions to the world via Twitter:
1) Serious question: how do I remove the smell from a pair of sandals? it is so bad I can’t stand to be near myself.
2) any suggestions for what to do/see in Bahrain?
Below are a sample of the answers I got from people over a period of about 30 minutes. Some people sent me private messages and some people replied via Facebook. (Its a long image, make sure to scroll down)
Within minutes I was able to pick the collective mind of the internet and get some really specific advice for the questions I had. Stinky sandals is pretty general but questions about Bahrain was pretty specific. In both cases, people came through with some pretty good advice.
This is sort of immediacy and specificity is something you will never get on the printed page and is another reason why guidebooks will go the way of the dodo in the 21st Century. Doubt me? @Benjilanyado is currently on a trip to Paris using nothing but Twitter to do research.
I’ll often answer questions from people if it deals with one of the places I’ve been, or if someone has questions about long term travel. Not only do you know who you are dealing with, you have the ability to ask follow up questions, which you can’t do with a guidebook.
If you aren’t on Twitter, give it a shot even if you think it is lame. It is something you really can’t “get” until you try it. If you are thinking of traveling anytime soon, you’ll find it indispensable.
I saw the sights, I ate the food, and I took some photos. There isn’t really much more to Qatar. It’s a small country.
Its a fine place. Nothing wrong with it. It isn’t really what you’d call exciting, however. . Sure, you can go ride a dune buggy in the desert, but you can do that anywhere with a desert.
The place I’m staying is cheap, but it is sort of far away from the action in Doha. Getting a taxi is a crap shoot and there is a ton of construction around here and major highways. It isn’t really conducive to walking. It makes it difficult to want to stay here longer when transportation is so difficult.
There is construction in Qatar, but it is nothing on the level of what you see in Dubai. They are doing there own artificial island project here too, but it doesn’t seem as large as any of the Palm projects in Dubai, either.
Doha would be a much more interesting place to visit I think if I hadn’t spent as much time as I did in Dubai. It is to Dubai what Des Monies is to Chicago.
Tomorrow I’m flying to Bahrain, which is sort of a joke of a flight. It is so short you have to begin landing as soon as you take off. The flight is so short, that it should be replaced in a few years by a bridge. Taking a bus to Bahrain is an option, and one that I considered, but getting a special transit visa for Saudi Arabia seemed like a hassle just to sit in a bus for 5 hours. Saudi Arabia does not make it easy to visit their country.
I’ve gotten the impression that Bahrain is sort of the Vegas of the Middle East. It is where Saudis go to drink. I’m sure “Vegas of the Middle East” has to be put in context and it is probably more like the “Branson, Missouri of the Middle East”, minus the Lawrence Welk Theater.
Situated in the lower northern region of present-day Thailand, the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns is a serial property consisting of three physically closely related ancient towns. The total property area is 11,852 ha., comprising Sukhothai 7,000 ha., Si Satchanalai 4,514 ha., and Kamphaeng Phet 338 ha. Sukhothai was the political and administrative capital of the first Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 15th centuries. Si Satchanalai was the spiritual center of the kingdom and the site of numerous temples and Buddhist monasteries. Si Satchanalai was also the center of the all-important ceramic export industry. The third town, Kamphaeng Phet, was located at the kingdom’s southern frontier and had important military functions in protecting the kingdom from foreign intruders as well as providing security for the kingdom’s extensive trading network. All three towns shared a common infrastructure to control water resources and were linked by a major highway known as the Thanon Phra Ruang after the king who constructed it.
Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai, and Kamphaeng Phet all shared a common language and alphabet, a common administrative and legal system, and other features which leave no doubt as to their unity as a single political entity. All three towns also boasted a number of fine monuments and works of monumental sculpture, illustrating the beginning of Thai architecture and art known as the “Sukhothai style.”
Under royal patronage, Buddhism flourished and many impressive monasteries were constructed of brick covered with carved stucco, illustrating the idealized beauty and the superhuman characteristics (mahapurisalakkhana) of the Lord Buddha and His Teachings. It is from the remains of these religious monuments that today we best know and appreciate the achievements of the people of the Historic Town of Sukhothai and AssociatedHistoricTowns.
The Kingdom of Sukhothai is accredited with the invention and development of many of the unique identifying characteristics of Siamese (Thai) culture, many of them attributed directly to the kingdom’s most famous and beloved King Ramkhamhaeng, who is considered the Founding Father of the Thai Nation.
Sukhothai is what I wish Angkor would become. While not nearly as large as Angkor, the grounds of Sukhothai is still very large, I’d estimate about the size of Central Park in New York. It is also cared for like a park. The grass is trimmed, the roads are in good shape, there are paved walking paths, and everyone just looks nice. They also offer bikes for going to the various temples, which is a very popular option.
It is one of the least visited tourist attractions I’ve been to in Thailand. It is about midway between Chaing Mai and Bangkok. I’d highly recommend it as a stop if you are going from Bangkok to the north.
The Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Thailand. It was inscribed into the list in 1991 citing its cultural value. The site comprises of several properties including the Sukhothai Historical Park (which is the main property included in this heritage site listing), the St. Satchanalai historical park and the Kamphaeng Phet historical park. All of these historical parks are considered of cultural importance since they make up what remains of the three main cities of the Sukhothai Kingdom that was at its peak during the 13th and 14th century CE.
The Sukhothai kingdom was not just one of the biggest in the Thailand, but also among the first kingdoms to be established in the country’s prehistoric times.
How to Get Here
To get to Sukhothai, you must travel to Bangkok and from Bangkok you can take another flight to Sukhothai Airport. There are two flights daily from Bangkok to Sukhothai. From the airport, you can take a shuttle to your booked accommodation.
Another transportation option from Bangkok is via train. The travel time from Bangkok or Chiang Mai to Sukhothai is 7 hours. You will be dropped off in Phitsanulok where you must take another bus for 1 hour to Sukhothai.
About 800 years ago, Sukhothai was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam (former name of Thailand). The exact year of its establishment remains undetermined although researchers point out some time between 1238 and 1257. The name Sukhothai literally translates to “Dawn of Happiness”.
Once the capital was established, it was only a matter of time until the first dynasty in Sukhothai was established as well: Phra Ruang Dynasty. Sukhothai served as capital for the next 120 years wherein it was under the rule of several kings. The kingdoms of Sukhothai existed until late 15th century.
About the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns
To get to know more about the historic town of Sukhothai and associated historic towns, you can learn more about each components site that make up this UNESCO property:
Sukhothai Historical Park: This historical park is the main component of the historic town of Sukhothai and associated historic towns listed by UNESCO. It consists of ruins from the 13th and 14th century Sukhothai kingdom. There are a total of 193 ruins within 70 square kilometers of land, which includes 26 temples and royal palace remains. The largest of the temple inside this park is Wat Mahathat.
Si Satchanalai Historical Park: This park is where you will find the ruins of Si Satchanalai. This is the second most important town during the reign of the Sukhothai Kingdom. Within this historical park, there are 215 ruins in total.
Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park: This is an archaeological site that is included within the historic site of Sukhothai in Thailand. In this park, you will find the archaeological remains of an ancient site. You will also see the preserved town planning concept of old Sukhothai and large structures made out of laterite.