Monthly Archives: February 2009


Posted by on February 7, 2009

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.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #53: Historic City of Ayutthaya

Posted by on February 5, 2009

World Heritage Site #53: Historic City of Ayutthaya

World Heritage Site #53: Historic City of Ayutthaya

From the World Heritage inscription:

Founded c. 1350, Ayutthaya became the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai. It was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century. Its remains, characterized by the prang (reliquary towers) and gigantic monasteries, give an idea of its past splendour.

Ayutthaya is very similar to Skuhothai, 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 reach 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.

Using Twitter for Travel

Posted by on February 4, 2009

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.

Qatar Went Quickly

Posted by on February 4, 2009

..and so ends my time in Qatar.

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.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #52: Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns

Posted by on February 4, 2009

World Heritage Site #52: Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns

World Heritage Site #52: Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns

From the World Heritage inscription:

Sukhothai was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam in the 13th and 14th centuries. It has a number of fine monuments, illustrating the beginnings of Thai architecture. The great civilization which evolved in the Kingdom of Sukhothai absorbed numerous influences and ancient local traditions; the rapid assimilation of all these elements forged what is known as the ‘Sukhothai style’.

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.

Staying Fit On The Road

Posted by on February 3, 2009

One of the biggest problems I’ve had while traveling is staying fit.

I’ve heard many people say that they lose weight while traveling. I can totally understand that. Depending on where you are, you can walk a lot and eat well. When I was in the Pacific and in Japan, I probably lost about 10 pounds. This was because the bad food choices were really limited (and in the case of Japan, I love Japanese food which is good for you) and I was able to walk a lot. If you are on a shoestring budget, you can really cut your calorie intake. In places like Fiji or Samoa, I could go swimming/snorkeling every day, which is a great workout.

Other places I’ve gained weight. Australia was bad because I spent so much time driving and bad food was easily accessible. In Vietnam I could eat like a king for next to nothing. In Taipei there was a 24 McDonald’s a block away, and many of the Chinese food options aren’t necessarily that healthy. I know I’m not a lone in this. Dave from Go Backpacking (who I met in Bali, Indonesia) said he’s also gained some weight while traveling.

My camera bag isnt the biggest thing Im lugging around.

My camera bag isn't the biggest thing I'm lugging around.

The impetus for this article came from a photo posted on Arun Rajagopal’s blog. We went to the Muscat Fest in Oman and he took some photos of me. I am usually alone and there isn’t usually an opportunity for me to have my picture taken. This is one of the few times I’ve been able to have another person take a photo of me that didn’t involve me in a wet suit (and everyone looks good in a wet suit).

It is pretty obvious that I’ve developed a gut. It is not something I’m happy with.

There are obviously a need to do change things moving forward:

1) Buy a pair of sneakers. Believe it or not, I did not pack a par of sneakers with me. My footwear selection was one of the hardest I had to make. I ended up packing a pair of leather Keen shoes. They are find shoes, but they aren’t really made for running. At some point, I should buy a pair of running shoes and send the walking shoes home.

2) Eat better. This is a no brainer, but it is easier in some places than others. The more urbanized and modern a city is, usually the food within short distance of wherever I’m staying is going to be bad. A good rule of thumb (but not perfect) is to eat local food whenever possible. I’ve been trying to consume more fruit and vegetables.

3) Develop a work out routine I can do in a hotel room. I’ve started the 100 Push-Up Challenge and and plan on starting the 200 Sit-Up Challenge. These are both exercises I can do with very little space and zero equipment. Both of these have a related iPod Touch application, which really helps.

4) Try to do more physical activities while traveling. The biggest physical activity I’ve engaged in on my trip is SCUBA diving (yes, it is physical. If you dive 3 or 4 times in one day, you will be exhausted at the end). I haven’t done a lot of hiking. I don’t know how much I can schedule in the next few months, but in the future I’d like to schedule trips around something like this.

If there is anyone out there with suggestions, I’m all ears. The challenges of trying to keep fit with no steady place to live are difficult. If anyone has experienced similar problems, let me know in the comments.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #51: Ban Chiang Archaeological Site

Posted by on February 3, 2009

World Heritage Site #51: Ban Chiang Archaeological Site

UNESCO World Heritage Site #51: Ban Chiang Archaeological Site

From the World Heritage inscription:

Ban Chiang is considered the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in South-East Asia. It marks an important stage in human cultural, social and technological evolution. The site presents the earliest evidence of farming in the region and of the manufacture and use of metals.

This might be the lamest photo I’ve every shown as my daily photo.

Ban Chiang is an archeological site where they found pottery and evidence of a civilization thousands of years old. That’s great.

They also have a very nice museum which displays the artifacts they found at the site. However, they don’t allow photography in the museum, I had to check my bag at the front desk, so there wasn’t anything to see.

The only options for photos was to roam around the grounds outside of the museum. The jar in the photo is just a copy of the type found in the dig, and I think was used for cigarette butts.

The one notable thing about the museum is that a significant part of the whole museum is devoted to a trip made by the King of Thailand to the site on a single day in 1972.

Welcome Back Qatar

Posted by on February 2, 2009

I arrived in Qatar safely. There wasn’t much to the actual flight itself. It was only an hour in the air between Dubai and Qatar. Time spent in the airport waiting for the flight was much longer. The Dubai airport is very nice and on a par with what I’ve seen in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Qatar, on a per-capita GDP basis, is the richest country on Earth. From what I see on the ground, it doesn’t seem like it. Qatar certainly isn’t a poor country, but it doesn’t seem as wealthy as Dubai.

There is a fair amount of construction here, but nothing on the level of what you’ll see in Dubai.

I have real bandwidth for the first time since I’ve arrived in the Middle East. It is reasonably fast and there isn’t a cap on what I can use. I’m going to try and get caught up on my photo uploading before I leave here. I’m also staying at a real hostel for the first time in ages. They don’t really exist in SE Asia or Dubai. I probably haven’t been in one since I was in Australia.

I don’t want to comment too much on Qatar because I’ve only been here a few hours and haven’t seen much yet, but the first impression is that is it very similar to the other gulf states I’ve been to…which is to be expected.

On other news: Umar who I met in Dubai, has posted an interview he did with me on his blog.