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?
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!
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!
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!
Todd Pearson / Getty Images
Did you know that nori -- the black sushi seaweed -- was once scraped from pier legs? Or that Nigiri should be turned upside down so that the fish is against your tongue?
If you're among the millions who are dreadfully and incurably addicted to sushi, you may be interested in these 16 random facts about sushi.
Forget the mass-produced supermarket sushi. If you really want a glimpse into just how much time and effort is put into the art of sushi in Japan, look up the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi for a real treat.
If you aren't absolutely craving raw fish after watching, then you're one of the lucky ones -- stay far, far away from this expensive habit!
- See how to eat sushi the Japanese way.
Poras Chaudary / Getty Images
I often get asked similar questions about Asia travel from people who are considering a trip.
With such distance to cover from the US, no wonder travelers want a feel for the place before adding to an airline's bottom line. Questions range from topics about food to more practical matters such as safety and just how many bed bugs are waiting for a free continent change.
Some travelers don't fear the possibility of lurking squat toilets and rather fear that food will be too spicy or bizarre to enjoy.
To help alleviate fears and confirm suspicions, I've put together two FAQ pieces to get you in the know before you jump on a plane.
Photo by Greg Rodgers
It's November, and that means that the busy season is officially beginning in Thailand.
While the floodgates won't really begin pouring in the tourist masses until around January, both prices and crowds are already on the rise. A frenzy of last-minute construction is underway around many of the islands to prepare for the onslaught.
Bangkok recently topped London as the most visited city in the world. And while some of those visitors were only in the city for business meetings - poor souls - many of the other travelers take time to look around.
With flooding once again hurting rice crops and exports, Thailand's economy needs the tourism. I recently spent a pleasant week on Koh Chang, Thailand's second-largest island, before making my way to the Philippines only to be caught in the largest typhoon to ever make landfall.
White Sand Beach on Koh Chang could arguably be one of the most children-friendly beaches in Thailand. Imagine the largest swimming pool in the world with a soft, sandy bottom. And while resorts have taken over for a big part, you can still find those classic, charming bungalows on the far north end of the beach. A room with sea view can be had for US $20 per night or less!
I've just spent the last several days trapped on Panglao, a small island off of Bohol in the Philippines.
While fortunately Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda -- one of the largest typhoons to ever make landfall -- hit just slightly north of where I was staying, we have had no electricity, running water, communication, or transportation for many days. Thank you for the well wishes via email.
Sadly, Bohol had just weathered a very damaging earthquake in October and many displaced people were living in tents or cracked structures when the typhoon came through. With such devastating losses over the last two months, the people in the Philippines could really use some help. The Red Cross is here providing relief; they represent just one of many outlets with which you can send support.
You can even donate a small amount via text messaging. See a list of major charities that are helping in the Philippines.
When ferries became available again, I boarded a boat bound for nearby Siquijor Island, however, a tropical depression in the area has now diverted us to Negros. Thank you for your patience and I'll be able to provide better updates on the situation in the Philippines once the weather improves.
Typhoon Haiyan - known as Typhoon Yolanda here in the Philippines -- was the 13th named storm in 2013. That's enough to make someone turn superstitious!
- Read more about the weather in Southeast Asia.
SFU Public Affairs and Media Relations
Diwali, India's five-day Festival of Lights, peaks on November 3.
Beautiful, exciting, festive -- Diwali, or Deepavali, is a time to gather with family, enjoy special food treats, throw firecrackers at evil spirits, and hang lanterns all over. Brothers and sisters even get a special day to spend rare time together.
But you don't necessarily have to go to India to see Diwali. You'll find celebrations in Singapore, Malaysia, and other places with large numbers of Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs. President Obama even became the first president in history to celebrate Diwali at the White House in 2009.
- To find out more about this unique festival, see what is Diwali?
Photo by Greg Rodgers
Thailand's Supreme Patriarch -- their spiritual head of Buddhism and a friend of the 14th Dalai Lama -- passed away at age 100 on Thursday.
The loss was so devastating that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra extended the 15-day national mourning period to a full 30 days, ending on November 23.
To show respect, all live music shows and dancing at entertainment venues is to be suspended.
Tourists are being asked to dress appropriately, and not to wear bright colors when visiting temples and the Grand Palace. More than ever, now is the time to dress and behave properly when visiting temples.
Will Loy Krathong 2013 be postponed?
The extension of the mourning period has caused quite a bit of confusion about Loy Krathong, one of Thailand's most popular and beautiful festivals. The festival, along with Yi Peng, was supposed to take place on November 17 this year.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand announced that the Loy Krathong festival will be postponed this year. A new date has not yet been set, but it will occur sometime after November 23.
Some residents in Chiang Mai, unhappy that the TAT has the authority to cancel such an important cultural event, say that they will release lanterns and float candles on the river on November 17 anyway. But with temples not participating in the celebration and large fireworks shows postponed, the festival this year may be far less exciting than usual.
What do you think: Should Loy Krathong 2013 be postponed?
Oct 30 Update: TAT has said that some festivities will proceed and that people may celebrate in their own ways. Large shows and fireworks displays will be canceled, however, people will still float krathongs and release lanterns on November 17.