Asia » Cambodia » East » KratiĆ© January 27th 2011

Now that we are back in Cambodia, memories are reactivated of our last visit to that country, which was just over 2 years ago. That was in my pre-blogging days. So here is one, as the TV chefs say, that I prepared earlier.... We were on our way from Kratie to Sen Monorom. The first part of this journey was no problem, just a regular bus journey to the little town of Snuol, from where, we had been told, we could easily catch a minibus to Sen Monorom. But it was in Snuol that things started to go slightly pear-shaped. Snuol. The very name of the place should have told us something. Instant mental associations are invoked with words like snide, snigger, sneaky, and snot. And indeed it turned out to be a bit of a ... read more

Asia » China » Yunnan » Lijiang January 5th 2011

The centre of the old town of Lijiang is a picturesque labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets, little canals, stone bridges, and quaint old buildings. But nobody seems to actually live there anymore. Every building is now a souvenir shop, a cafe, a restaurant, a hotel, or a travel agent. And even in mid-December, which is supposed to be low season, the narrow cobbled streets are packed with Chinese tour groups, with a few puzzled-looking westerners thrown in for good measure. On the main square, KFC and Pizza Hut are doing a roaring trade. Welcome to Disneyland Lijiang! In order to escape from all this, at least for a day, we took a minibus out to the small village of Baisha, which is about 6 km from Lijiang. To our relief, we seemed to be the only ... read more

Asia » China » Yunnan » Kunming January 2nd 2011

This was my first visit to mainland China. On the basis of what I had read about the great changes going on in the country, I was curious to see whether I was just in time to see any of the "Old China" before it disappeared under the steamroller of modernisation, industrialisation, westernisation, commercialisation, whatever-isation. Perhaps in a relatively small provincial capital like Kunming, in an outlying and still ethnically diverse province like Yunnan, there would still be something old or traditional to see? Maybe wide elegant tree-lined boulevards crowded with vendors' handcarts and pyjama-clad cyclists? Yeah, right, in your dreams! My first impressions were disappointing. Tall skyscrapers, streets jammed with cars, big shopping malls, pop music blasting out of the countless clothes shops, blinking neon signs, giant billboards advertising familiar international brands. McDo... read more

Asia » Thailand » Central Thailand » Bangkok December 9th 2010

The Vimanmek teak mansion is one of the "must-see" attractions of Bangkok. Reputed to be the largest golden teak mansion in the world, it was built by King Rama V in 1900, shortly after his return from a visit to Europe. The house suffered some years of neglect in the mid-20th century but has now been beautifully restored. The European influence can be seen in the house and especially in its contents. For the independent traveller, an oft-encountered problem with "must-see" attractions is that one is obliged to leap onto the same conveyor belt as the crowds of package tourists who are herded through the place at regular intervals. So it is with the Vimanmek mansion. It is not possible just to wander round the place on your own, at your own pace, but you have ... read more

Asia » India » Jammu & Kashmir » Jammu City » Patnitop April 24th 2010

We were in Jammu and wanted to get away from the heat, up to the old British hill station of Dalhousie. According to the Lonely Planet there was one bus a day; our hotel manager told us that it left at 8.00 a.m.. Just to be on the safe side we got to the bus station at 6.30 a.m., and were confronted by a hellish scene of total chaos. Hundreds of people milling about in all directions, ankle deep in rubbish, struggling with all kinds of oversized and bizarre luggage. Vendors, touts, hustlers, and beggars, all plying their various trades. Here and there a large pile of rags, which turned out, on closer inspection, to be a person asleep on the floor, surrounded by their worldly possessions. Dozens of buses of all kinds, colours, and states ... read more

Asia » India » Gujarat March 2nd 2010

Later on we would witness many other cremations, in Varanasi and Kathmandu, but the first cremation that we saw was in Dwarka, a seaside town in the state of Gujarat. Although only a small town, Dwarka is an important Hindu pilgrimage site, and many pilgrims go there to visit the temples and bathe in the river. At the same time, Dwarka is a minor seaside resort, with an unusual lighthouse, camel rides on the beach, and tea stalls and souvenir stands on the small headland overlooking the beach. And it was on this same headland that we came across the cremation site, a patch of ground no bigger than a tennis court, sandwiched between the clifftop and some rather nondescript buildings of uncertain function. The first clue that we had that this was a cremation site ... read more

Asia » India » Rajasthan February 4th 2010

It was in the town of Kota that a worrying rash appeared on my legs and arms. At first I told myself that it was merely mosquito bites, but after a while the itchy purple blotches became far too numerous for that to be a plausible explanation. Maybe an allergic reaction to a bite then. But out of the hypochondriac recesses of my mind emerged an alternative theory. What about all the beggars I had seen on the street with all manner of exotic skin diseases? Beggars who would occasionally clutch at my hand as I passed by. Maybe a good idea to get a professional opinion, then, just to be on the safe side... The hotel receptionist did not seem very concerned, when I asked whether they had a doctor on call. He glanced briefly ... read more

Asia » India February 4th 2010

In Europe, you can find plenty of information about India in up-market travel magazines or in glossy brochures in travel agents. They will invariably tell you that "Incredible India" is an assault on the senses: the light, the colours, the sounds, the tastes, above all the smells. The smells are an exotic blend of spices, temple incense, tropical fruit, and so on and so on. Well, it is perfectly true that India is an assault on the senses, but all those fancy magazines and brochures are being a bit economical with the truth. Especially when it comes to the smell: they are lying. In actual fact, after nearly 4 months of travelling in India, I regret to report that the dominant smell here is an exotic blend of excrement, open sewers, and stale urine. And of ... read more

Asia » India » Rajasthan » Chittorgarh February 1st 2010

We stopped at Chittorgarh for two nights, just to see the magnificent old hilltop fort. It is only a small town, and there is not much else to do there, and not many restaurants to choose from. As usual we opted for a Lonely Planet recommendation. This was a basement restaurant, with harsh fluorescent-strip lighting, formica table tops, a colour scheme dominated by dark brown, and a dog-eared plastic menu card in bizarre English. The buzzing flies outnumbered the human customers by about 50 to 1. We have seen quite a few restaurants like this in India. Most of the dishes consisted of a spicy dark brown sludge, with small amorphous black lumps that always seem to call for further investigation to ensure that they were not fragments of flies or cockroaches. Nevertheless the food turned ... read more

Asia » India » Rajasthan » Chittorgarh December 18th 2009

Now and again, maybe just a few times a year, I get what I call a transcendental moment. These are moments of extraordinary serenity and peace, when all the concerns and pre-occupations of everyday life just fall away, and I feel totally at equilibrium with the cosmos. To misquote some character out of Voltaire, everything seems to be for the best in the best of all possible universes. Unfortunately I do not have the ability to bring on this desirable state of mind at will. It just happens to me out of the blue. Since I am not religious, do not take drugs, do not believe in paranormal phenomena, and do not do meditation, I expect that these transcendental moments will continue to be unexpected events in my life. Of course I do have some idea ... read more

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