Tuesday December 10, 2013
Official logo of the 2013 SE Asian Games
The biannual Southeast Asian Games are in progress again, this time hosted by Myanmar -- the first time the country has hosted the event in the last 44 years.
The Southeast Asian Games, an Olympic-style event, began in 1959 and eventually grew to include all 11 countries in Southeast Asia. East Timor was the last country to join the Games in 2003.
But unlike the Olympics, the hosting country of the Southeast Asian Games can nix or nominate certain sporting events, often in a controversial manner. This year for the 27th iteration of the Games, Myanmar has decided upon 33 sports, less than were in the event two years ago.
Dance sports and volleyball were cut out of the games because the committee felt that the uniforms were too revealing for Burmese women. Gymnastics and tennis were also removed from the program.
To tick people off even more, the hosting committee has decided to add in chinlone, a 1500-year-old traditional Burmese sport less familiar to other countries. Such a move is viewed as a way to increase the host country's number of gold medals, but it is legal. Call it getting a 'home court advantage.'
This year 1,557 gold medals are up for grabs among athletes from the 11 countries. Indonesia, the hosting country two years ago, came out on top of the 26th Southeast Asian Games. Can they do it again?
Friday December 6, 2013
Photo by Greg Rodgers
The anti-government protests and violence in Bangkok paused momentarily to show respect as King Bhumibol Adulyadej gave a moving speech for his 86th birthday on December 5.
The King of Thailand is the world's longest-serving head of state, and to say that many Thai people adore him is an understatement. The saddened king called for unity on his birthday as once again, Bangkok is in an uproar.
Fortunately, the new protests in Bangkok haven't reached the ferocity that they did in 2010 when the order to shoot protesters on sight was given. Thousands were injured and at least 80 civilians lost their lives. I was there only a week after and saw the bullet holes in national monuments.
So far, the 2013 protests have caused at least five deaths and more than 200 injuries.
Thailand's economy, already hit by more flooding and rice crop failures, will take another pounding as the busy tourist season should have begun this month. Bangkok holds the title as the most visited city in the world and Thailand is an extremely popular destination in Southeast Asia.
Hopefully, the protests will be cleared up peacefully without further damage and loss of life. I spend a big part of every year in Thailand and hate to see the country torn to pieces.
If you were planning a vacation to Thailand, don't despair. The protests are largely just a problem in Bangkok where you'll face serious difficulties with traffic. Points further afield such as Chiang Mai and the Thai Islands are still waiting!
Friday November 29, 2013
Photo by Greg Rodgers
Yes, it's that time of the year already.
While people are throwing elbows and obscene gestures to get the best deals on Black Friday, a few intrepid individuals balked the system and spent their shopping money on tickets to Asia instead.
Snow makes for nice scenery over the holidays, but white sand feels a lot better on bare feet!
Despite the fact that most countries in Asia are Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, or otherwise, Christmas is a big hit in a few warm places.
But in some Asian countries, Christmas is just another work day and you could be labeled as a madman for donning a Santa hat or white beard. You have to choose carefully.
Unsurprisingly, Christmas is celebrated with enthusiasm across the Philippines -- the most predominantly Christian country in Asia. Decorations were already up and restaurants were playing Christmas music when I arrived on November 1.
Another great Christmas destination is Singapore. With the most foreign workers of any country on earth, lots of people -- both locals and expats -- take Christmas seriously with plenty of parties and kitschy decorations.
If you can mentally process sweating under a decorated palm tree, you won't be disappointed with spending Christmas in either Singapore or the Philippines.
Should you decide to stick it out at home and go the traditional route, have a look at these gift ideas for any world travelers on your list. Hint: Travelers don't like sweaters!
Tuesday November 26, 2013
Photo by Greg Rodgers
I've just spent the last three weeks hopping around various islands in the Philippines and will be here until Christmas.
Aside from getting caught on Bohol Island during Typhoon Haiyan, jumping around the Visayas - the geographical heart of the Philippines - has been a very enjoyable experience. I've really never met more genuinely friendly people in any other place in Asia.
Busy Boracay and Alona Beach on Panglao Island excluded, of course, the best part about the Visayas is that the islands still maintain somewhat of a rough edge - particularly if you don't stay in the large resorts.
Getting around or finding what you need takes a little more effort than in other places with solid tourist infrastructures. For instance, I just had to knock on a family's door here on Siquijor Island to ask if they would be willing to do my laundry. They gladly accepted, and I paid them.
On many other touristed islands in Southeast Asia, signs for basic services such as laundry are stacked atop each other. Chickens run wild on the islands while men throw nets and spear fish. The man from whom I rented a motorbike - a necessity on many of the islands - gave me two large coconuts to open and drink.
The biggest source of entertainment on these small islands is karaoke - the sober kind. Many of the small shops have outdoor machines which are put to good use starting around noon. Basketball comes in at a close second to karaoke; the thump thump of dribbling balls can be heard throughout the afternoon.
If you're burned out on the ease of places such as Bali, Thailand, and other touristy stops in Southeast Asia, I highly recommend giving island life in the Philippines a try!