I’m A Big Deal In Oman

Me celebrating Oman's victory in the Gulf Nations Cup

The Week, and English language weekly newspaper in Muscat has just published their interview with me. They took a bunch of photos. The one they used was taken in front of the Muscat clock tower, which is sort of the symbol of the city. They brought the scarf and flag :)

Staying Fit On The Road

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.

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 is obviously a need to do change things moving forward:

1) Buy a pair of sneakers. Believe it or not, I did not pack a pair 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 fine 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 a 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.

Ban Chiang Archaeological Site

World Heritage Site #51: Ban Chiang Archaeological Site
Ban Chiang Archaeological Site: My 51st UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Ban Chiang Archaeological Site:

The Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is a large, prehistoric earthen mound located in an agricultural area in the Ban Chiang Sub-district, Nong Han District of Udon Thani Province in northeast Thailand, within the watershed of the Mekong River. It is an oval-shaped mound formed by human habitation 500 meters x 1,350 meters and 8 meters high. The site was first discovered in 1966. It has since been extensively excavated and its remains studied by Thai and international scholars. Since 1966 the dating of the site has been adjusted and refined over time in line with advances in the understanding and techniques of radiometric dating. This research has revealed that the site dates from 1,495 BC .and contains early evidence for settled agrarian occupation in Southeast Asia, along with evidence of wet rice agriculture, an associated technological complex of domesticated farm animals, ceramic manufacture, and bronze tool-making technology. The total area of the property is 67.36 ha of which approximately 0.09% has been excavated (as of 2012)

The Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is a prehistoric human habitation and burial site. It is considered by scholars to be the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in Southeast Asia, marking the beginning and showing the development of the wet-rice culture typical of the region. The site has been dated by scientific chronometric means (C-14 and thermoluminescence) which have established that the site was continuously occupied from 1495BC until c. 900BC., making it the earliest scientifically dated prehistoric farming and habitation site in Southeast Asia known at the time of inscription onto the World Heritage List.

The Ban Chiang cultural complex is well-defined and distinctive from anything that preceded it. Though it can trace the spread and development of prehistoric society and its development into the settled agricultural civilizations which came to characterize the region throughout history which still continue up to the present day. Advances in the fields of agriculture, animal domestication, ceramic and metal technology are all evident in the archaeological record of the site. Also evident is an increasing economic prosperity and social complexity of the successive communities at Ban Chiang, made possible by their developing cultural practices, as revealed through the many burials, rich in ceramic and metal grave goods, uncovered at the site.

The Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is also the richest in Southeast Asia in the number and variety of artifacts recovered from the site. As such, the property has been extensively studied by scholars as the archaeological “type-site” for the beginnings of settled agricultural communities and their associated technologies in the region.

Ban Chiang Archaeological SiteBan 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 taking 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.

Overview

Archaeological tourism in Southeast Asia has been one of the major tourist draws. Sites like Angkor Wat and other temple ruins are one of the top destinations in Asia right now. But there are also other lesser known archaeological sites that provide a link to the old farming methods and pottery tools such as Ban Chiang Archaeological Site in Thailand. Even though it might not be as popular as the other temple ruins in Asia, it was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in Thailand due to its cultural value. It was added to the list in 1992.

The evidence of pottery and farming in this part of Thailand was discovered in 1966. Since then, the site attracted enormous attention from the public, especially archaeological researchers and enthusiasts.

History of Ban Chiang Archaeological Site

Ban Chiang Archaeological Site

Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is one of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Thailand. It is one of the three cultural sites: the others are Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. However, it is not as popular as the two mentioned above. This does not undermine the prehistoric significance of this site. It was discovered in 1966 by Steve Young, a Harvard Anthropology student.

The story goes that Young tripped on a tree during his exploration of the site. As he fell onto the dirt, he noticed some exposed parts of pottery in the area. A series of excavations followed his initial discovery until the search found several other cultural items such as spears, pottery, jewelry and farm tools. The archaeologists who studied the items found on the site were able to determine that some of these items date back to 2100 BC with the newest items dating back to 200 AD.

In addition to the tools and relics found at the Ban Chiang Archaeological Site, there were also several skeletons that were unearthed. Meanwhile, there were also rice fragments that were found at the same site that led researchers to conclude that the earlier settlers in the area were farmers.

All of the items that were discovered at the site are now on display at the Ban Chiang Archaeological Museum. This well curated facility provides information about each of the item that were collected at the excavation site. These items were able to showcase three main periods and six sub-periods during the prehistoric era in Ban Chiang.

How to Get There

To get to Ban Chiang, you must travel 50 kilometers from the city of Udon Thani. Most of the concierge on the hotel will help arrange transportation for you to get there. Udon Thani is therefore your best jumpoff point to get to the Ban Chiang Archaeology Site. There are several airlines that offer domestic flights to Udon Thani from Chiang Mai, Bangkok or Phuket. You can also take the bus from Bangkok’s Mor Chit station.

Controversy

There were some controversies that surround Ban Chiang Archaeology Site in 2008 when some of the relics that were unearthed from the site were transferred to a museum in California. These prehistoric artifacts were illegally transported to the US. It was believed that the items were smuggled out of Thailand and donated to museums to obtain large tax write-offs. This scheme was uncovered after a raid that was conducted with one of the National Park Service agents posed as a private collector. Since the expose, the items were returned to Thailand.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Thailand.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Aug 1, 2017 @ 6:42 pm

Welcome Back Qatar

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.

Google Earth 5.0 Beta Released

The beta version of Google Earth 5.0 has been released. You can download it here.

The new version looks pretty nice. Improvements to the UI and a much better view of the ocean floor.

I mention this as a remind to people to check out my other blog, Where On Google Earth. The site is a game where different screen shots from Google Earth are posted every few days and people guess where it is.

Town of Luang Prabang

World Heritage Site #50: Town of Luang Prabang
Town of Luang Prabang: My 50th UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Town of Luang Prabang:

Luang Prabang is located in northern Laos at the heart of a mountainous region. The town is built on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan River. Mountain ranges (in particular the PhouThao and PhouNang mountains) encircle the city in lush greenery.

Many legends are associated with the creation of the city, including one that recounts that Buddha would have smiled when he rested there during his travels, prophesying that it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful city. Known as Muang Sua, then Xieng Thong, from the 14th to the 16th century the town became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lane Xang (Kingdom of a Million Elephants), whose wealth and influence were related to its strategic location on the Silk Route. The city was also the center of Buddhism in the region. Luang Prabang takes its name from a statue of Buddha, the Prabang, offered by Cambodia.

After the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1893, following a period of turmoil during which the country was divided into three independent kingdoms, Luang Prabang once again became the royal and religious capital during the reign of King Sisavang Vong. It played this role until Vientiane became the administrative capital in 1946.
Luang Prabang is exceptional for both its rich architectural and artistic heritage that reflects the fusion of Lao traditional urban architecture with that of the colonial era. Its remarkably well-preserved townscape reflects the alliance of these two distinct cultural traditions.

The political and religious center of Luang Prabang is the peninsula, with its royal and noble residences and religious foundations. The traditional urban fabric of the old villages, each with its temple, was preserved by later constructions. The colonial urban morphology, including the network of streets, overlapped harmoniously with the previous model. Formerly the town limits were defined by defensive walls.

Town of Luang PrabangPrior to the communist takeover in Laos, the Town of Luang Prabang was the royal capital of the country. It is a very sleepy town (well, all of Laos is) on the Mekong river which is becoming a popular attraction on the tourist circuit in SE Asia. In addition to the European style colonial buildings, there are also several Buddhist temples in the area.

One of the most interesting things you’ll see in Luang Prabang is the daily alms ceremony. Every morning at sunrise, the monks of the local temples line up and walk through the streets of the town to get rice and food from the locals. If you wake up early, you can buy some sticky rice and fruit and line up to give something to the monks. The Korean and Japanese tourists took it much more seriously than the Western tourists did.

Overview

Luang Prabang is an ancient town in Laos. The town of Luang Prabang is located on the northern part of the country and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some would claim that this is one of the most charming and well-preserved towns in Southeast Asia. Luang Prabang consists of 34 Buddhist temples, as well as other Chinese and colonial architectural structures. This rich concoction of cultural and historical sites is set on a lush mountainous backdrop.

Meanwhile, the western of the town of Luang Prabang is bordered by the Mekong River. It also once served as an important transportation, recreational and commercial link in this part of Asia.

How to Get Here

Town of Luang Prabang

The town of Luang Prabang can be directly accessed by flights coming from other parts of Laos, or other cities in Asia such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Vientiane. Meanwhile, adventure travelers also prefer to travel overland to see the other parts of Laos. This is recommended during dry season.

Another transportation option to get to Luang Prabang is via boat cruise through the Mekong River. There are boat services available via Mekong on a regular basis. An average voyage in the Mekong River typically lasts two days.

Town of Luang Prabang: UNESCO World Heritage Site

The town of Luang Prabang is also known as Louangphabang, but was later transliterated by Western Language to its current name. The name of the city literally means “Royal Buddha Image”. It is located in northern central Laos with 58 villages, of which 33 are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing.

Town of Luang PrabangIt was inscribed into the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Laos in 1995. UNESCO cited that the town of Luang Prabang for its remarkable preservation of architectural, cultural and religious heritage. At the same time, it has also incorporated into its own culture various influences from the French colony and other invaders throughout its history. It was under the influence of the French colonizers from the 19th to the 20th century.

For all the things that Luang Prabang is known for, it is the collection of Buddhist temples and monasteries that it is most noted for. It has become a tradition for the monks to walk through the streets of Luang Prabang every morning to collect alms.

During the reign of the Lan Xang Kingdom, the city of Luang Prabang also served as the ancient royal capital. However, the new capital, Vientiane, was named in 1545. Despite of that, the ancient town of Luang Prabang continue to be the destination of choice for tourists who are looking to experience its extensive natural beauty that blends well with the glistening temples and ruins of French architecture in the city. In fact, tourism is one of the primary sources of economy in the town. To this day, this ancient capital remains as the center for Buddhist learning in Laos.

Important Travel Tips

  • A tropical wet and dry climate is expect when you visit the town of Luang Prabang.
  • It is generally warm throughout the year. The coolest months are from December to January.
  • Some of the notable dishes to try in Laos include O-lam, mokpa or steamed fish, and the Mekong River moss that is served with chili sauce.
  • Natural tourism is popular with tourists in Luang Prabang. Top natural attractions include Tat Sae Waterfalls, Pak Ou Caves, and Kuang Si Falls.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Laos.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

Last updated: Aug 1, 2017 @ 6:43 pm

The Burj Dubai: The Biggest God Damn Building In The World

I like tall buildings. I’ve been to the World Trade Center in New York before 9/11. I’ve been to the Sears Tower and John Hancock Building in Chicago and the CN Tower in Toronto. On this trip I’ve been to Taipei 101 in Taiwan and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. They are all very large, damn big buildings.

However, they are nothing compared to the Burj Dubai, which is God Damn Big.

It is hard to get the whole building in the camea if you are close
It is hard to get the whole building in the camea if you are close
Prior to the Burj Dubi, the title of the tallest building in the world was gained through incremental increases in height. The last several buildings to hold the title all had to create special categories to justify the title. The Petronas Tower gained the title of tallest building in the world over the Sears Tower, even though the top floor of the Sears Tower is above the top floor of the Petronas Tower. It was considered taller because its spire made it taller. The Sears Tower has a radio antenna on top which is higher than the spire of the Petronas Tower, but that doesn’t count because it isn’t an architectural element. Got that?

Taipei 101 was higher than the Petronas Towers in all respects, but it still wasn’t taller than the top antenna of the Sears Tower. Since the mid 70’s, the CN Tower in Toronto was taller than the Sears Tower, but it isn’t really a building. So they created a new category for free standing structures which are not buildings.

The building isnt finished, but has topped out
The building isn't finished, but the God damn thing has topped out

“Free standing” implies there are non-free standing structures, which is exactly what radio and TV antennas are. They have guide wires, and in that category there is the KVLY-TV antenna in North Dakota which is taller than either the CN Tower, Taipei 101 or the top of the antenna on the Sears Tower.

So you have all these categories for different structures and different ways of splitting hairs. The Burj Dubai has put an end to all that. It is the tallest thing by any measure. It is taller than any building, any structure, any antenna…..any thing.

It isn’t just taller. Is it way taller. It is almost twice the height of the Sears Tower. It is, to put it mildly, God Damn Big. The last numbers I’ve heard had the Burj topping out at 818m (2,683ft).

The Burj Dubai dwarfs anything else surrounding it
The God Damn Burj Dubai dwarfs anything else surrounding it

The history of the tallest building in the world goes back to the Great Pyramid. It held the record for 3,800 years. I’m sure in the day, the ancient Egyptians would look upon the pyramid and say “That is a Ra Damn Big pyramid”

In the 1311 Century, the Lincoln Cathedral in England took the title, and everyone said “Thou art a God dammeth big church”…..until its steeple fell down in 1549. Cathedrals kept holding the record until the end of the 19th Century when the Washington Monument and the Eiffel Tower were built, which were the first non-religious building to hold the record. At the 1889 World Fair, the Parisians said “C’est tour de rien d’un dieu une grande”

The Burj Dubai has a very similar look to a mile-high building designed in 1956 by Frank Lloyd Wright, called The Illinois. While the Burj Dubai is only half the height of the proposed mile-high building, it has a three pronged base and a similar spire type shape. The technology to build a mile-high building didn’t exist in the 1950’s. To build the Burj Dubai, they had to develop special techniques pump cement that high, as it had never been done before. They also had to pump cement in the evening when the heat wasn’t as intense.

I’d like to come back to Dubai in a few years just to go inside the finished building and go up to the observation deck. There are plans on the table to create a building even taller than the Burj Dubai which would top out at over 1km in height. It would be so tall that you could experience the sunset twice; once at the bottom and once at the top. Now THAT would be really God damn big!