Moynaq, Uzbekistan, 2017

Moynaq, Uzbekistan city sign

The Town Haunted By The Ghost Of The Aral Sea

The Republic of Uzbekistan, in Central Asia, is little known, and seldom visited by Western travelers. A part of the former Soviet Union until 1991 when it gained independence, Uzbekistan has the distinction of being one of the two double landlocked countries on Earth. In other words, all five of the countries that border on Uzbekistan are landlocked themselves.

Despite its steadfastly continental geographic status Uzbekistan was, up into the late 20th century, home to a bustling port city called Moynaq that was the center of a large and thriving fishing industry. Moynaq once sat on the southern shore of the Aral Sea which was the fourth largest inland body of water in the world. Today Moynaq ia surrounded on all sides by the Kyzyl Kum Desert and what’s left of the Aral Sea is more than 150 km away.

The recent history of the Aral Sea is a tale of one of the greatest human-caused environmental disasters of all time. It is also a story of governmental arrogance, ignorance, and greed.
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Myanmar, 2016

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Myanmar Is A Travel Photographer’s Dream

Until quite recently Myanmar was a difficult country to visit. The country was ruled for many decades by a military junta that was deeply suspicious of foreigners and that sought to keep international businesses out of the country. The paranoid isolationism of the governing generals stunted economic and social progress and kept Myanmar poor and under developed. Tourism was not encouraged. It took some effort to get a visa to visit there.

So suspicious of outsiders was the military government that it refused admittance to international aid groups for a whole month after Cyclone Nargis swept through the Irrawaddy Delta in 2008 and killed an estimated 130,000 people outright. The government’s hesitance to accept outside help for survivors of the cyclone cost hundreds of thousands of more deaths from starvation, disease, and dehydration.

With democratic elections in 2015 that saw Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi leading a new civilian government, Myanmar’s days of self imposed solitude seem to be coming to an end. Tourist visas are considerably easier to get now and foreign visitors, eager to get there before an inevitable tidal wave of touristic commercialism descends on Myanmar, are streaming into the country.

That Myanmar is currently undergoing development at a breakneck pace was quite obvious to me when I was there. Without exception, in every part of the country I visited I saw evidence of such development. Hotels were under construction, roads were being improved, Yangon’s airport was being expanded, and various commercial properties were being built.

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Singapore, 2012

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Singapore: The Very Model Of An Asian Tiger Economy

When Singapore gained its independence from Britain in 1959 it was a poor country with an uncertain future. Unease over whether the government of the newly independent country would continue with business-friendly policies led many companies to close down their operations in the city. In fact the number one priority of the new leader, Lee Kuan Yew, was to promote prosperity and political stability. Under Yew’s leadership the economy grew rapidly and his policies became a model for other Asian economies to emulate.

Singapore is far wealthier on a per capita basis than any other country in the region. It’s is not a budget travel destination like Thailand. The cheapest room I could find to book online was in the Little India neighbourhood and it cost $50. There was scarcely room for the bed, which was a single. It was clean though and provided a safe spot for my gear. That’s all I cared about.

Most Singaporeans are of Chinese heritage but there are significant numbers of Indians and Malays. All three of these cultures have their own scrumptious cuisines to boast about. On top of that there is Singaporean food which is an amalgamation of all 3 of these. As to be expected, the food in Singapore is delectable, especially for those with an appetite for savoury cooking. Probably the best place to tuck into this delectable nourishment is in one of the food markets called “Hawker Centres”. It’s taste bud heaven.

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Laos, 2011

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Laos: South East Asia Without The Beach

It’s likely that Laos will never become as much of a tourist hub as neighbouring countries like Thailand or Vietnam. For starters, it’s a landlocked country completely lacking in palm-fringed beaches upon which to build all-inclusive seaside resorts. There are also no hugely famous tourist sites in the country. The traveler scene in Laos is mostly centered around the backpacking set.

There’s plenty of reasons for the independent traveler on a budget to make time for a visit to Laos. Prices are low, the food is as delicious as anywhere else in South East Asia, and travelers never have to deal with the crush of tourist throngs. Even in Luang Prabang the country’s number one draw for visitors, there are no lineups to get into any of the many temples.

With fewer than 7 million people, Laos is far less populated than other countries in the region. For this reason most of its forests are still intact and its natural beauty remains abundant.

Ostensibly a Communist country since 1975, the Laotian government has embraced pro-capitalist market reforms since the 1980’s. Once you arrive in the country there are almost no reminders of its recent revolutionary past.

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Thailand, 2011

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My Third Time In Thailand

In January 2011, I returned once again to Thailand. As before I flew into Bangkok and booked a room in Chinatown, my favourite neighbourhood in the city.

My main objective on this trip was to visit Laos. Back in 2008 I had spent a hurried few days in southern Laos. I had cut through that part of the country on my way from Vietnam back to Thailand. Unfortunately I had little time to spend in Laos because my return date back home from Bangkok was fast approaching .

Before journeying on to Laos I took a day trip from Bangkok to Lopburi, Thailand. Lopburi is famous for being a town where monkeys and people coexist peacefully together. Most of the time anyway.

The monkeys of Lopburi belong to a species known as Crab-Eating Macaques. They have free reign over the city. Not only is their presence just tolerated, they are regularly fed by the local people . In fact, since 1989 there has been an annual Monkey Festival held in November in honour of the simian residents of Lopburi. A huge, elaborate feast is laid out for them. In addition to tons of fresh fruit, cakes and ice cream, sticky rice and other treats are set out for the macaques to help themselves to. As the macaques throw themselves on the piles of succulent treats, mayhem ensues. They gorge themselves with abandon. They often also resort to food fights with each other. Imagine the mess they must create. I wish I had been in Lopburi to witness the Monkey Festival.

Monkeys have an honourary place in Thai culture because they are associated with the brave deeds attributed to the monkey-headed Hindu god Hanuman. Because of this, they are thought to bring good luck. This helps to explain why macaques get the red carpet treatment in Lopburi.

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