Category Archives: Asia

A British Peek at North Korea

Observations from the rare Western tour group.

The Chinese city of Dandong has the easternmost section of the Great Wall. It also enables curious tourists to glimpse the formidable, secretive country North Korea just across the Yalu River. “Want to see North Korea? Head to Dandong, China,” a CNN Travel report on this curious spot, reports on the contrast between the two on-and-off friends.

It is, of course, almost impossible for Westerners to set foot in North Korea, and Americans would be wise not even put it on their bucket lists. But Hilary Bradt, founder of the highly regarded Bradt Travel Guides, visited with Regent Holidays and filed this blog report called “Hilary Bradt in North Korea.” I’m not sure when she made this guided and controlled excursion, but I just stumbled on it toady and wanted to share it.

Toilet Tales from China

Modernizing fast, but not always well. One exploded recently.

dsc01064One of the things that distresses many Western visitors to China are the public toilets. Most are very clean (attendants are often on hand in public restrooms to make sure), but squat toilets still predominate. Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, just don’t like them.

Even as China is building the tallest skyscrapers, the highest bridges, the longest tunnels and the most bullet trains, it is addressing more basic needs by modernizing public toilets, which in places other than tourist areas badly needed modernizing.

It doesn’t always go well. One person was killed and seven injured when a build-up of gas (methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide) in sewer pipes caused a public toilet to explode in northwestern China on New Year’s Eve.  A blast in Yulin, Shaanxi Province, caused a new toilet building to collapse. One person was killed and several were injured, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. Despite the inevitable jokes, it was no laughing matter.

Clean but not comfortable for many Westerners.
Clean but not comfortable for many Westerners.

Chinese toilets in public buildings (including at highway rest stops) come in two basic styles, “squatters” and “seats.” Squatters are porcelain fixtures at floor level, with places for the user’s feet. Seats are closer to Western-style.

Except in fancy hotels and restaurants, toilet paper is not provided. BYO — or, if you are on a tour, be grateful that tour buses usually have a supply. In many places, there is a waste basket next to the toilet. That’s where the TP goes. Flushing might often clog up that delicate plumbing.

Perhaps the most bizarre toilet I encountered was a concrete trench near a historic fort not far from Wenzhou.  A waist-high “privacy” wall enabled two women to squat over different parts of the trench. A flow of running water flushed it. I didn’t have my camera so sadly could not take a picture. #SATWChina

China Travel: Signs to Make You Smile

Disclaimer: I have nothing but admiration for people from China or any other Asian country who learn to communicate in English or any other Western language.  But some signs I saw during a recent three-week visit to China did make me chuckle. So with respect, I share these with you:dsc00344

"Abandoned kindling," a sign at Shanghai's Pudong Intl Airport, seems to mean "Matches."
“Abandoned kindling,” a sign at Shanghai’s Pudong Intl Airport, seems to mean “Matches.”

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Many signs tell visitors what not to do.
Many signs tell visitors what not to do.

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China Travel Report: A Wrap-Up

Observations from my fourth visit to China since 1999.

satw-logoThe first time I went to China was to see the fabled Three Gorges of the Yangtze before the completion of the grand dam at Sandoping. The second time was to experience skiing in Heilongjiang Province, north of North Korea. The third was to see the completed dam and sail through a lock. And the fourth time was for the Society of American Travel Writers 2016 Convention. Here are some observations about the China scene:

  • In cities, more skyscrapers and residential highrises (many built on former farmland on the outskirts).  The national bird of China is the construction crane.
  • Incredible transportation infrastructure improvements. To try to help those of the country’s 1.385 billion who wish to get around do so, there are new tollroads, new bullet trains and new metros all over this sprawling country. China is working hard to provide public transportation, but those who can afford them remain enamored of their cars.
  • Whistle-clean cities, kept that way by squadrons of street cleaners — individuals with brooms. Part of the full-employment situation.
  • Still a lot of smoking, but a lot less public spitting than during my previous visits.
  • Tourist-oriented vendors moved from the entrances to major attractions (such as the Terracotta Warriors near Xi’an) to the exits,
  • Serious commitment to recycling.
  • Impressive tree-planting projects in cities, as former dense low-rise neighborhoods are replaced by far taller buildings with significantly smaller footprints.
  • Creation of more and more “scenic areas” and “cultural attractions” for the benefit of both domestic and international visitors.

Major Earthquake Hits Kathmandu

Nepal capital stricken by 7.9 quake.

Sometimes I feel as I am the only Boulder adult who has not been to Nepal. The epicenter is roughly 50 miles northwest of Kathmandu the capital. Hundreds are reported dead, and many older buildings have collapsed. Avalanches reported in the Everest region. The CNN report is devastating. Very tragic.

50% Off Everest Base Camp Trek

Himalaya adventure company seeks to rebuild visitation.

AceHolidays-logoIf I thought that I were still able to make a 15-day Himalayan trek, I’d sign up in a heartbeat for this great deal. Sure, I’d have to get myself half-way around the world from the US, but what an opportunity. I hope you or someone you might know is up for it. Think of me.

Guides don't need such signs! they know the route, but trekkers like seeing such markers. (Ace Adventures photo)
Guides don’t need such signs! they know the route, but trekkers like seeing such markers. (Ace Holidays photo)

Ace Holidays (a division of legendary Nepal operator, Ace the Himalayas) has announced 50 percent savings to guests who   book an epic 15-day Everest Base Camp Trek by February 28.  “Our rationale for offering this incredible price is to re-introduce people to Nepal after last year’s Everest issues,” said Prem K. Khatry, founder and director of Ace Holidays, referring to the April 18, 2014, tragedy that killed 16 Nepali mountain workers. Since then the number of foreign trekkers to this part of the world has declined.

There is no substitute for seeing the great mountain wonders one step at a time. (Photo courtesy Ace Adventures photo)
There is no substitute for seeing the great mountain wonders one step at a time. (Photo courtesy Ace Holidays photo)

Continue reading 50% Off Everest Base Camp Trek

Turkey’s New Intercontinental Tunnel

Rail tunnel links two continents to celebrate a notable anniversary

Marmaray-logoTurkey marked the 90th anniversary as a Republic by connecting the east and west by rail with the new the Marmaray Commuter Rail System, which opened a few weeks ago. The new high-speed train connects Asia and Europe via a railway tunnel under the Istanbul Strait. Intended to ease commuting and commerce, the tunnel might not initially be of touristic interest. Still, it is one of several infrastructure improvements designed to ease congestion on land, air and water.

The 47-mile Marmaray project includes underwater tube tunnels, bored tunnels and cut-and-cover tunnels, plus grade-level structures, three new underground stations, 37  renovated and upgraded stations, operations control center, yards, workshops, maintenance facilities, upgrading of existing tracks including a new third track on ground, completely new electrical and mechanical systems and procurement of modern railway cars.

MarmarayTrain

But there’s more to come in magical Istanbul, including a 30-mil ship canal and a new airport. The 30-mile ship canal will connect the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara to relieve the Bosphorus, which has about 50,000 ships pass through each year. When complete, the canal will transform the European side of Istanbul into a large island. The new canal will handle 85,000 ships a year, up from the 51,000 currently using the Bosphorus each year. The new airport will be one of the world’s largest with six runways. Slated for a first-stage opening in 2017, the airport will be an investment of more than $9 billion dollars and is expected to service 150 million passengers every year.

Chinese Culinary Experience in Las Vegas

A feast inspired by the pinnacle of Chinese VIP hospitality in America’s gambling mecca

DiyouotiGuesthouse-logoA gambler can lose 500 bucks in Las Vegas in minutes, or a culturally curious foodie can spend it on an evening feasting on a spectacular Chinese banquet, the likes of which is typically reserved for royalty, heads of state and other world leaders visiting the Chinese capital. The cuisine of Diaoyutai State Guesthouse of Beijing will be showcased in celebration of Chinese New Year next month in Las Vegas.

Bellagio’s Tuscany Kitchen will be transformed to host a three-day culinary event featuring exclusive prix fixe dinner menus  from Thursday, February 14 through Saturday, February 16 at 7:30 p.m. nightly. The Bellagio says that the eight-course meal features “a collection of historic dishes modernized from ancient menus, will be prepared and served by the Diaoyutai culinary team, dressed in traditional Chinese attire and led by executive chef Hao Baoli, who has hosted more than 1,000 world leaders in his decades at the Guesthouse. From décor and tradition to dishes showcasing rare and exotic ingredients, the Guesthouse experience will be transported to the luxurious Bellagio.”

Chef Baoli, a celebrity chef in China to celebrated guests, has more than 30 years leading the Diaoyutai culinary team. The Bellagio continues, “Chef Baoli’s celebratory menu will feature a diverse selection of dishes showcasing rare ingredients and skillful techniques. In addition, strict nutritional requirements ensure all dishes are low in both sugar and sodium and high in protein.  The result is cuisine that is visually stunning, legendary and nutritionally holistic.”

Guests will enjoy traditional presentations, including Diaoyutai’s Dragon Bearded Noodle ritual and extraordinary fruit carvings. The Diaoyutai team scrupulously executes what it calls the “Four Beauties” in every meal: food, service, tableware and environment. Celebratory décor includes tableware shipped from Beijing to Bellagio for the event to capture the essence and spirit of the Diaoyutai Guest House.

Curious about what $500 will buy?  Click here for the menu, whose simple graphics belie the intricate cuisine and ceremonial ambiance. To To purchase tickets, call the Concierge at 866-906-7171  or 702-693-7075.

Cross-posted to www.culinary-colorado.com

Dreamliner Makes 1st Commercial Flight

All Nippon Airways now flying the long-delayed Boeing 787

Once again indicating that the balance of investment, if not always in innovation, has shifted eastward. An American aircraft company developed a state-of-the-art, high-tech passenger airplane, but an Asian airline was the first to put it into commerical service between two Asian countries.

Japan’s All Nippon Airways was the first to put the revolutionary Boeing 787 Dreamliner into service. Yesterday (or given the International Dateline perhaps the day before), a special charter flight of the new airliner took off from Tokyo after being christened with sake and landed in Hong Kong where it was welcomed by a dragon dance. Nothing like combining tradition with futurism.

You can watch a video of the CBS interview with Thomas Lee who was on the commerical inaugural, of click here for footage of the Dreamliner’s earlier maiden flight. How times have changed. In 1969, when Boeing introduced the 747, the world’s first widebody, Pan Am was the first to put it into service.

Five Tranquil Getaways Around the World

Guest poster’s quintet of spots of beauty — Thailand, New Zealand, Norway, Dead Sea & Costa Rica. Make mine Fiji

Just over two weeks ago I was in Fiji at the luxurious and isolated Yasawa Island Resort. Each of only 18 spacious bures, as the private cottages are called,  has a view through the trees of a lovely sand beach and the improbably blue waters of the South Pacific. I  had my choice of stretching out on a comfortable bed or a couch indoors, or outside a day bed on the porch, a chaise under a thatched roof or a hammock between the trees I don’t often get a chance to enjoy such pure tranquility.

Each of the 18 Yasawa Island Resort's luxurious bures has its own thatched palapa with a view of the beach and the sea.
The experience made me very receptive to an  offer from Yuli Linssen Kaminitz of EasyToBook to provide a guest post on “the five most peacefulplaces on Earth.” I accepted, though I am not sure how an island that attracts “thousands” and is known forits monthly  beach parties, or Norway’s “vibrant cities” with “great nightlife” equate with tranquility. Still, it’s her list, not mine — and images she provided are  definitely tranquil.  Here are her recommendations:
The Five Most Tranquil Places on Earth by Yuli Linssen Kaminitz
White sandy beach, palm trees, green jungle, fresh juice shakes and fisherman boats, what else do you need? Koh Phangan is a small island that attracts thousands of visitors each year. Aside from chilled out atmosphere and breath taking surroundings, Koh Phangan is also famous for its monthly Full Moon Party. The party itself is a big reason for the popularity of the island. Once a month, during full moon, a huge party festival occurs in Haad Rin, the main beach of Koh Phangan. Even if you are not fan of beach parties, it is still worth to go and check it out. Thailand is warm throughout the entire year so make sure to bring your bathing suit and a lot of sunscreen!
New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places in the world and it explains why the entire “Lord of the rings” saga was filmed there. In New Zealand you don’t need to travel to a certain touristic location in order to enjoy the view, it is gorgeous everywhere! This relatively small country looks as if it was painted by an artist; blue lakes, ice glaciers, impressive mountains and huge oak trees are all part of the scenery. There are many different things to do in New Zealand but you should not count on too much mingling; the people who travel there like to enjoy the nature calmly and camp in secluded areas. The nicest thing about New Zealand is the fact that you can get a taste from both worlds: when you want some quiet you just stay in the nature area and when you feel like a bit more busyness, you can just travel to one of their main cities such as Auckland or Christchurch.
Norwegians people love nature and their respect for the environment is clearly seen when visiting this extremely green country. In many cases Norway might ring a bell to some of you only when talking about very cold places. However, Norway has so much more to offer other than that. Cities such as Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Trondheim are not only shockingly beautiful but also vibrant and offer great nightlife. If you want to see the country at its best go to visit one of Norway’s many national parks, they are so amazing you won’t be able to stop taking photos with your camera! Aside from the gorgeous national parks Norway is known for its stretched coastline, luxury ski resorts and huge waterfalls.
The Dead Sea, (also called the Salt Sea) is located 423 meters below sea level and that makes it the lowest elevation on the earth’s surface on dry land. This amazingly peaceful and quiet place was one of the first health resorts in the world and that is thanks to its fresh air and nurturing water. People from all over the world come to the Dead Sea not only for a vacation purpose, but also with a doctor recommendation, in case of skin diseases. The Dead Sea is proven to help relief skin problems and the strong sun there is apparently not as harmful like in other warm places. Because the sea is full with salt it is impossible to swim there, but you will be able to float in the water, an activity that still make people shocked after many times there. The Dead Sea produces amazing cosmetic products that are being sold all over the world. One of their very famous best-sellers is a facial and skin mud that moisturizes the skin and leaves it clean and fresh. This mud is available all over the Dead Sea and for just a small amount you will be able to cover yourself in it!
There is no better way to finish our list but with this stunning beach location. Just by reading the name, (Costa Rica sounds so exotic) you get the warm feeling of breath taking sunsets, tropical beaches and delicious cuisine. Costa Rica is the ultimate place to have a relax holiday where you can count on a lot of resting, eating, drinking and swimming. For those of you who like to be a bit more active, there are plenty of things to do here as well; Snorkelling, surfing and fishing are just some of the options you can pick from. Even though Costa Rica is an isolated location, it is still very accessible to reach, just 45 minutes by plane or three hours by car. Note: I am sure that Yuli means that Costa Rica's coasts are 45 minutes by air or a few hours by car -- not that this Central American country itself is that distance from whatever her reference point might be.