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Bhutan

Mar 30, 2010

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Playing with Brand Bhutan

Fregmonto is heading off to study in Bhutan -- the last hope for Western tourists searching for an authentic Buddhist cultural experience now that Tibet has been thoughtfully modernised by its caring older brother China.

bhutan2Fregmonto is heading off to study in Bhutan for 3 months. Expect him to become a Back in a Bit regular…

Today I leave for Bhutan, the last hope for Western tourists searching for an authentic Buddhist cultural experience now that Tibet has been thoughtfully modernised by its caring older brother China. Alas I will not be travelling as a tourist, as that costs $250 a night — the current Bhutanese tourism policy is to let in a few rich retirees a year, fleece them of their money and kick them out as quickly as possible, rather than be swamped by hordes of backpackers and child sex tourists like Nepal or Thailand.

As part of a political internship with my university, I will be working in the capital Thimphu for three months, devising a theatre show in collaboration with unemployed young people, exploring their experiences of Bhutan’s rapid modernisation. Since the abolition of serfdom in the 1960s, Bhutan has lurched straight from feudalism to post-industrialism — there is now a large proportion of university educated young people who cannot find employment in the country’s small civil service (the overall population is little over 600,000).

Cable television was introduced in 1999, with access to over 300 channels in rural areas. Since then there have been reports of children accidentally injuring each other using WWF wrestling moves, and a rise in reports of theft and begging. Continue reading “Playing with Brand Bhutan”

Slide Night

Mar 29, 2010

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And the snaps continue at Slide Night, showing off our favourite holiday photos and the little quirky stories that go along with them.

This week Crikey reader John R shares some snippets of life in Somalia.

Mogadisha, Somalia
Mogadishu, Somalia

John writes: There is nothing like an early morning convoy through the bashed up streets of Mogadishu. Scanning and looking, the armoured vehicles drive, as they do in Somalia, on both sides of the road. Avoiding the holes that might harbour surprises, beeping their horns to warn vehicles, pedestrians and goats, through K4 and turning right toward the port. The streets become narrower in the hill suburb above the port. Not a building untouched by more than 20 years of conflict. This place has Kabul looking like New York, sweeping down the hill, through the markets before the port, through the port security gates, and then into the open concreted surfaces of the port. Continue reading “Slide Night: Scanning the Somalian streets”

Laos

Mar 25, 2010

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guestbookNever really understanding the point of guestbooks before we left, I must confess that my journey to South East Asia has done little to clear up the issue for me. Two incidents in particular have left me questioning the wisdom of those who keep them, and especially those who write in them.

The first happened in a little French restaurant in Hoi An, Vietnam. After sitting down and ordering from the staggering two options we were offered, the restaurant manager plonked down two huge books on the table. At first assuming that this tiny business had a drinks list well out of proportion to the amount of food it was offering, I was surprised when he whipped open the pages and asked us where we had come from.

Going through my usual machinations about whether it would be safer to pretend New Zealand heritage in this instance, my partner chipped in with an ‘Australia’ and we were immediately being shown comments from what must have been every Skip guest this gentleman ever had.

Oddly, one of the first he showed us merely said “Didn’t try the food, but my beer was good. P.S Rob is a c*nt”. Now, I don’t know Rob, and I’m not about to speculate here whether in fact he is, or is not, a ‘c-word’. The case against the author of this message seems pretty open and shut though.

And this is what I don’t understand. Why show us these? Particularly after we’ve already decided to stay and eat. Is it some sort of insurance policy? Say I was to make a complaint along the lines of “I enjoyed the soup, but am a little annoyed by the fact you tried to pass off taro as beef in my casserole”, would I have the book shoved in my face? “Really? Well………Cheryl, from Adelaide claims this was the best meal she had in all of Vietnam. Are you calling Cheryl a liar? HMMMMMMM?” Continue reading ““Yep, it sucks”: the failure of the guestbook”

Italy

Mar 22, 2010

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It’s Slide Night at Back in a Bit. That means getting out your travel snaps and explaining the quirky stories behind them.

Melbourne writer Tristan is back to share another overseas adventure.

Shenzhen (click to enlarge)
Rome, Italy

Shot using: Sony Cybershot 7.2mp

Tristan writes: I love the composition of this shot because it depicts the two Romes: the homeless and the tourists. Our typical LA Sophomore ladies, Conner and Hunter, have just stepped off the plane from LA and they have hit Rome in search of good times with hot Italian men.

Unfortunately for Mr. HomelessItaliano2008 here, he don’t meet the selection criteria of these two Valley Girls. Continue reading “Slide Night: A tale of two Romes”

On travel

Mar 19, 2010

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Kevin O’Faircheallaigh is 28 and in 2009 decided to abandon all domestic commitments and to have one last big adventure before the impending doom of 30. With that in mind, he and his partner packed an ambitiously small backpack each and headed out to spend a year exploring Asia and Europe, with a brief sojourn into North Africa.

stayalertNestled in amongst my daily emails advertising increased sexual potency was the latest travel advisory warning for one of the countries on our itinerary. This time it was for Morocco, but the familiar dance that accompanies these arrivals was the same.

Before I expose my own, I must say I’m convinced everyone has their own travel neuroses. My partner’s is cleanliness. Back home, local holidays require our own pillows for sleeping and towels to be placed on any furniture before sitting. She’s convinced filthy people use the furniture in holiday units, and when I remark that I’m happy to sit on them unprotected, she says that merely strengthens her point.

Being overseas has made things tougher for her but she has adapted. If I see her laying down a sarong, followed by a sheet, followed by a sleeping bag on top of the hotel provided linen, I know we’re staying. If however, I hear the words ‘Oh. My. God.’ on the initial bathroom inspection, it’s time to collect my things.

My hangups are far more primitive. Quite simply, I’m convinced someone is going to try to kill me while I’m traveling. It’s a peculiar mix of narcissism (assuming that people have any idea who I am) and paranoia (assuming that knowing who I am, they’ll want to kill me). Continue reading “The apocalyptic language of travel advisory warnings”

Indonesia

Mar 18, 2010

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Ashlee Betteridge is an Australian freelance journalist who has been based in Indonesia for 1.5 years.

Ashlee writes: Tuesday (March 16) was Bali’s day of silence, known as Nyepi. Marking the Saka New Year on the predominantly Hindu island, the holiday means that streets are unusually empty. Tourists are locked inside their hotels. Locals stay inside their homes abstaining from entertainment, cooking, travel or work, just meditating and contemplating their actions in the past and for the future.

Yep, that’s right. No sunburnt bogans wandering along Kuta Beach still drunk from the night before, even though its 4pm. No “transport misses, where you going?”. No Ubud new-age types teaching yoga to street kids in the foothills of the mountains. No beep beep beep of motorcycle horns. Just quiet. Continue reading “A Bali without bogans, touts or yoga”

Slide Night

Mar 17, 2010

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Welcome to Slide Night at Back in a Bit. Sit back, relax and get ready to travel far away from your desk and your sore computer eyes as we share our favourite travel snaps and the quirky stories behind them.

Today we have Crikey reader and Melbourne writer Tristan, to share a few of his recent travel adventures.

Grinderwald 122b
Switzerland (click for larger image)

Shot using: Sony Cybershot 7.2mp with a Carl Zeiss lens

Tristan writes: There are two girls in the Geneva supermarket. I’m at the checkout line. They are chatting loudly in line behind me. The one ready to pay holds a 500 Euro bank note. I couldn’t believe that such a heavy note existed and I exclaimed as much to her. She was really unfriendly. Lesson one:  The Swiss are fanatically private people, despite their nude hiking. Continue reading “Slide Night: The secrets of the Swiss”

The Insider

Mar 15, 2010

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Darrell Wade, co-founder and CEO of Intrepid Travel, writes: Sometimes it’s hard to be a traveller.

If being charged with environmental crimes and cultural imperialism wasn’t enough, travellers are now being accused of insensitivity to the plight of the world’s poor.

More and more the very act of travelling is being pulled apart and scrutinised. Recent media reports suggest that movies like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ have not only grabbed the attention of the Oscar’s Academy but they’ve also seen tourist visits to the slums of Mumbai increase. It’s being referred to as ‘slum tourism’ and it’s the latest issue for people to growl about.

Before I get accused of being flippant, I do agree that the travel industry needs to wake up and take action around climate change. I’m also one of the founders of a travel company that actively celebrates cultural differences. And personally I abhor cookie-cutter resorts that make the world look the same, no matter what country you’re in.

I do however take issue with some of the criticism that’s being slung at slum tourism. Continue reading “The Insider: Slumming it not always a bad thing”

Morocco

Mar 12, 2010

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Welcome to Slide Night at Back in a Bit. Sit back, relax and get ready to travel far away from your desk and your sore computer eyes as we share our favourite travel snaps and the quirky stories behind them.

Today I’ve chosen three small photos rather than one large one.

Photobucket .

Photobucket
Photobucket

Shot using:

Casio EX-S600

During a whirlwhind trip to Morocco — a few days up in the mountains at the peaceful Chefchaouen, followed by a long and windy bus ride, nearly losing our luggage, confusing ourselves in the Fez medina, a cramped overnight train ride and the crappiest ‘Sahara desert’ trip ever with sore bums from the camels and not a dune in sight — I was not particularly excited about visiting Marrakesh. I assumed it would just be another bustling city, full of touts and markets selling the same leather sandals and beaded scarves. You know, interesting and pretty and everything, but travel fatigue was setting in and I didn’t have my hopes up. Continue reading “Slide Night: The madness of Marrakesh’s market”

Thailand

Mar 10, 2010

5 comments

Kevin O’Faircheallaigh is 28 and in 2009 decided to abandon all domestic commitments and to have one last big adventure before the impending doom of 30. With that in mind, he and his partner packed an ambitiously small backpack each and headed out to spend a year exploring Asia and Europe, with a brief sojourn into North Africa.

Kevin writes: One of the trickier ethical dilemmas of traveling through Asia comes in the form of the treatment of animals. I remember one particularly awful trip to Kyoto zoo which lasted all of 5 minutes, at which point we had to leave, my partner crying and me hugging myself while repeating the words ‘The seal was just sleeping’ over and over again.

So when our hostel manager in Ayutthaya, Thailand recommended we attend the Chinese New Year celebrations in town, largely due to the presence of a couple of very entertaining ‘tiger elephants’, I immediately became suspicious.

My first fear was that we were going to stumble upon some sort of grotesque Island of Dr Moreau situation, tigers with elephant heads and such, complete with a terrifying Thai version of Val Kilmer (only made less horrible by the fact that it wasn’t the real Val Kilmer).

Secondly, earlier in the day I had managed to turn a request for a single glass of orange juice into an order for four watermelon milkshakes, due to my ever present communication difficulties. Not liking watermelons or milkshakes, they remained lined up on the table in front of me, silently mocking my increasingly parched throat. This made me think that perhaps I was not comprehending what was being said.

Figuring that at the worst we would see some rare animals, at best the chance to watch a live version of ‘When Animals Attack’, we took the advice and caught a tuk tuk in to town. Continue reading “The reclusive tiger elephants of Ayutthaya”