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The Silk Road. The road less travelled.

The Thaiger & The Nation

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The Silk Road. The road less travelled. | The Thaiger

The Silk Road – the ancient trade route linking China to Europe – passes through some of the least-visited and mysterious countries in the world. And if you’re thinking about exploring the road, you should read John Brenson’s guide, Silk Road Traveller: In The Heart Of Central Asia, for his insight and knowledge of the region.

The Silk Road passes through countries such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan – off-limits before the fall of the Soviet Union. But John says it’s now possible to visit these places and the history of the road has many parallels today. “It was an early form of globalization to connect the east and west – a place for merchants and travellers. Because of the nature of the land, with the deserts to the north and mountains to the south, it created a path with wonderful cities that sprung up along the route. Now they’re open again to people like us and well worth seeing.”

John wanted to experience the whole route actually on the ground, rather than just the well-known sections like Samarkand and Tashkent. “My idea has always been to travel overland rather than flying and missing bits out. I think you get more of an idea of the whole of Central Asia by doing that,” he told me. “You can start off in Turkmenistan then travel through into Uzbekistan and see what’s left off the Aral Sea. You can cross Uzbekistan by train – it’s got one of the best train networks in the area. And from there, you can see the vast Steppe in Kazakhstan. To the south of that is Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with the mountains. I think by doing it overland you appreciate the distances, the lay of the land and the way people would have seen it hundreds of years ago because it’s still physically the same. You still get the feeling of a path through Central Asia.”

I asked John whether the route of the Silk Road is fixed, but he explained that it’s constantly changed over time. “People have tried varying ways to reach their destinations over the years. The path would have changed depending on who was in charge at the time, which were the dangerous places to go and also which were the friendliest places, where they would have been welcome.”

The city of Samarkand is one of the most popular and well-known destinations on the Silk Road. It’s been given UNESCO World Heritage Status and John told me it’s well worth a visit. “It’s impressive and there’s something about it. The colours of the buildings change by the hour and it gives a powerful impression to a visitor.” And although it’s a big city, John said the historic centre is still very easy to visit. “Modern Samarkand is a city of half a million people and outside of the main tourist area it’s like any other large Uzbek city. But most of the tourist highlights are within a golden mile. You can walk in ten or fifteen minutes between the three major parts. There’s a lot to see within a fairly small area and it can be done on foot.”

But John also recommended getting away from the larger cities and tourist spots on the route. “I was very interested in some of the towns and villages along the east of Kazakhstan which are even less well known. These are places you’ve probably never heard of, like Taldykorgan, Ust’-Kamenogorsk and Semipalatinsk. They’re places that you wouldn’t even have an idea of what they look like.”

Another interesting spot on the route, but perhaps not for the best reasons, is the Aral Sea, which has been named as one of the worst environmental disasters on the planet. John told me it’s lost 80% of its size due to the mismanagement of rivers feeding the sea.

Visiting the country of Turkmenistan was also a difficult experience, said John, because of the authoritarian regime in charge there. “It’s a very closed country. You haven’t got the same freedom to walk around as you have in the others. You feel you’re being watched at every moment. As soon as you get a camera out, there’s a clamour of people running around to try to stop you doing anything, shouting ‘delete, delete.’ The other countries in the region feel more relaxed and the people seem more free to talk with you.”

The Silk Road. The road less travelled. | News by The Thaiger The Silk Road. The road less travelled. | News by The Thaiger

Although John encountered problems in Turkmenistan, he says he never felt unsafe in any of the places he visited. “I didn’t feel any danger at all throughout any of the countries,” he told me. “That’s always a good feeling. I think there’s less crime in that part of the world than there is in Europe.”

This ancient trade route has changed constantly over time and even today, it’s being heavily influenced by the politics of the region. John says the eastern end of the route, near China, still has a heavy Russian influence. “Some of the towns have a 19th century Tsarist feel with wooden houses and small villages. People settled there after escaping religious persecution. It’s an insight into how Russia developed as a power over two hundred years and built the towns in the borderland of what was to become the Soviet Union.”

That influence is still strong and John’s big tip for visiting the area is to learn some basic Russian. “I’d recommend learning at least the Russian Cyrillic alphabet, so you can read the signposts. And if you can use a few words of Russian it will be helpful because there aren’t many people who speak English in these areas.”

You get a copy of Silk Road Traveller: In The Heart Of Central Asia by John Brenson on Amazon.

Keri Jones

Great Destinations Radio Show can be heard on The Thaiger 102.75 FM Saturdays and Sundays at 9am.

Keep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.



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News

30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands

Greeley Pulitzer

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30 dolphins greet visitors to Similan Islands | The Thaiger

Tourists were treated to the sight of a school of dolphins in the Similan Islands off the Phang Nga coast on Sunday.

Tour organisers said that around 30 dolphins swam close to the boat six or seven miles offshore, creating excitement for passengers. It was the first time dolphins had been seen in the vicinity since October 15.

The Similan Islands National Park director said they were bottlenose dolphins and were among several species now returning to the area following a five-year closure of the park for environmental rehabilitation. Food is again plentiful there for them, he said.

Tourists are forbidden to feed wildlife lest the free handouts alter the animals’ natural behaviour, and the park’s waters are also very sensitive to contamination from human disease and marine debris, according to the director.

SOURCE: nationthailand.com

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Business

Thai Airways under pressure to deliver workable business plan

May Taylor

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Thai Airways under pressure to deliver workable business plan | The Thaiger

Thai Airways is coming under more pressure, after being given 30 days to deliver its new rehabilitation and business plans.

Thaworn Senniam, the Deputy Transport Minister, gave the instruction yesterday while meeting with the executive of the national carrier for an update on its financial status.

He says the business plan must provide clear information on how the fortunes of the airline can be turned around, with a focus on making it profitable once more, while improving customer satisfaction.

The order comes after Thai Airways President, Sumeth Damrongchaitham, denied last week that the airline was experiencing a liquidity crunch, claiming it had sufficient cash flow “for present and future operations”.

Minister Thaworn has previously said he does not believe Thai Airways’ existing rehabilitation plan will help it succeed in a turnaround. He has also ordered a monthly progress report on the carrier’s plans to buy new aircraft.

In September, the directors of Thai Airways asked the Executive Board to review a plan to order 38 additional aircraft, worth a total of 156 billion baht.

According to their second-quarter 2019 filing to the Stock Exchange of Thailand, Thai Airways and its subsidiaries reported a net loss of 6.878 billion baht, compared to a loss of 3.086 billion baht over the same period last year.

SOURCE: The Nation

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Thailand

Airbnb reveals top 20 trending world destinations to visit in 2020

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Airbnb reveals top 20 trending world destinations to visit in 2020 | The Thaiger

Latest Airbnb booking data has revealed growing interest in lesser-known destinations and eco-conscious cities across the globe, as Airbnb travellers look for new, local and authentic travel experiences beyond big cities. Thailand made #3 in the list and it’s not Bangkok, Phuket or Chiang Mai.

And Paris, London and Sydney are nowhere to be seen.

In Thailand, emerging destinations across the country are increasingly appealing to both domestic and international travellers. Case-in-point is Buriram (home of the Thai Moto GP) in Thailand’s north-east, saw 383% growth in bookings* year-over-year, propelling it into third place on Airbnb’s top 20 global destinations to visit next year.

Here are Airbnb’s 20 trending destinations for 2020 based on year-over-year growth in bookings*…

1. Milwaukee, WI, US
729% YoY increase

The host of next year’s Democratic National Convention, Milwaukee makes it to the top of our trending list. This historic gem on the shores of Lake Michigan often slips under the radar but has a terrific bar and restaurant scene and fascinating cultural attractions that include a Calatrava-designed art museum. And with over 105 miles of scenic bike lanes, it’s easy to see why Milwaukee is experiencing an upsurge in interest among guests on Airbnb.

2. Bilbao, Spain
402% YoY increase

Bilbao’s transformation from rust belt city to flourishing culture hub is truly remarkable. The city’s Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum put Bilbao on the map when it opened back in 1997. Since then the Basque city has been on an ever upward ascent, winning the European City of the Year in 2018. Visitors to the area are rewarded with a lively dining scene, breathtaking architecture and an unforgettable cityscape. Next year, Bilbao will also become a top destination for sports fans: it’s one of the host cities of Europe’s most beloved soccer competition.

3. Buriram, Thailand
383% YoY increase

The rural province of Buriram is home to some of Thailand’s most treasured Khmer relics. Its best known monument is the incredible Phanom Rung complex which is comparable in grandeur to its much more famous Cambodian neighbor, Angkor Wat. In addition to ancient ruins, the province has also become a sporting hotspot: 2018 saw the inaugural MotoGP motor racing event at the Chang International Circuit which also plays host to the Buriram Marathon each year. MotoGP is scheduled to return in March next year.

Airbnb reveals top 20 trending world destinations to visit in 2020 | News by The Thaiger
4. Sunbury, Victoria, Australia
356% YoY increase

A short drive northwest of Melbourne, the suburb of Sunbury is a popular spot with savvy locals thanks to its wildlife, wineries and Victorian-era architecture. Its biggest claim to fame is as the birthplace of cricket’s most sought-after trophy — The Ashes. In 2020, Sunbury looks to attract cricket fans from near and far as Melbourne will be hosting the ICC T20 World Cup.

Airbnb reveals top 20 trending world destinations to visit in 2020 | News by The Thaiger

5. Romania
298% YoY increase

Romania, with its pristine hills and ancient rural villages, is the perfect destination for anyone looking for something off-the-beaten-track. The country has some of the best preserved virgin forests in Europe and, according to the 2018 Environmental Performance Index, ranks 15th globally when it comes to ecosystem vitality.

6. Xi’an, China
255% YoY increase

Often cited as one of the birthplaces of Chinese civilization, Xi’an is best known as the home of the terracotta warriors — a vast collection of prehistoric clay soldiers discovered by local farmers in 1974. Today, the capital of China’s western Shaanxi province is a major culinary melting pot while its numerous historical monuments have earned it the nickname “China’s outdoor museum”. The ancient city plans a new offering in 2020: a tourism program that will introduce 30 nighttime tour routes throughout Xi’an with highlights including nighttime markets and performances.

7. Eugene, OR, US
213% YoY increase

This medium-sized city in the Pacific Northwest punches above its weight: many multinational businesses were launched in Eugene and the city has made a name for itself as a culinary hub in Oregon. Thanks to the surrounding natural beauty, Eugene has long attracted eco-conscious newcomers many of whom have helped make the city a hub for the organic food industry. Eugene’s eco credentials are also apparent in its commitment to going carbon neutral next year**. This green city is also a track and field destination, and will welcome athletes and spectators when it hosts national qualifying trials in summer 2020.

8. Luxembourg
167% YoY increase

This diminutive European country packs a lot into its small landmass — the city of Luxembourg was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 thanks to its enchanting historic core, dramatically perched on a clifftop. Beyond the city itself, the country’s forested hills are home to medieval castles, rocky gorges, charming villages and superb vineyards.

9. Guadalajara, Mexico
158% YoY increase

Often overlooked, Mexico’s second city is steadily gaining the recognition it deserves. Guadalajara operates at a less frantic pace than Mexico City yet it has a wealth of attractions to reward visitors — from its colonial architecture in the hipster Chapultepec neighbourhood to an impressive selection of festivals and museums. Guadalajara’s green credentials are also worth noting: the local government has embarked on an initiative that encourages cyclists and pedestrians to reclaim public spaces normally dominated by cars.

10. Vanuatu
140% YoY increase

Almost 2,000 miles east of Australia, this picturesque archipelago nation is home to rugged islands, deserted beaches and stunning Pacific wildlife. Vanuatu comprises over 80 islands and has the highest density of languages per capita in the world — over 100 native languages are spoken throughout the archipelago. The range of activities on offer are also diverse — from hiking up a volcano to world-class scuba diving.

11. Cali, Colombia
137% YoY increase

The world’s salsa capital not only offers energizing local music and dance, its rich Afro-Colombian heritage has also infused the city with a distinctive caleño culture. Cali has a real zest and an unmistakably electrifying atmosphere. This melting pot of indigenous, European and African cultures has a tropical party vibe and energizing nightlife — and at around 1,000 meters above sea level it enjoys a warm and breezy temperature during the day and a refreshingly cool one at night.

12. Cape Canaveral, FL, US
136% YoY increase

This Floridian cape is best known around the world as the site of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station but it also offers an incredible 72 miles of beachfront and three significant protected areas — Canaveral National Seashore, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Sebastian Inlet State Park. In July 2020, Cape Canaveral will be poised once again for the international stage — this time as the launch site of NASA’s Mars 2020 Exploration Program.

13. Aberdeen, Scotland
119% YoY increase

Aberdeen, located in northeast Scotland, is known as the Granite City thanks to the gleaming white stone that much of the city has been built with. Scotland’s third largest city has much to offer besides a striking cityscape: from fine dining, galleries and museums in the city itself, to rugged coastal scenery and romantic ruins in the surrounding countryside. And like many other destinations on our list, Aberdeen has major sustainability plans in place with the aim of drastically reducing carbon emissions.

14. Courtenay, BC, Canada
114% YoY increase

Courtenay, set in the charming Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, is the perfect starting point for outdoor adventurers. Surrounded by rolling mountains, alpine meadows and bohemian villages, this charming small city is another favorite with the eco-conscious traveler: the local authority has embarked on a number of initiatives to reduce its environmental impact including the adoption of targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

15. Ubatuba, Brazil
108% YoY increase

With over 100 beaches, the city of Ubatuba is the undisputed surfing capital of São Paulo state and hosts numerous surf championships throughout the year. Ubatuba and its surroundings have become popular with Paulistanos, who are attracted by a stunning coastline and pristine nature; the area also has scores of hiking trails that weave their way through lush Atlantic rainforest.

16. Les Contamines-Montjoie, France
108% YoY increase

The village of Les Contamines is a jewel at the heart of the Mont Blanc region. Nestled between the well known resorts of Chamonix and Megève, it’s the ideal base for mountain climbing in summer or for skiing in winter. The village is picture-postcard-pretty and features many old farm buildings that have been faithfully restored in the local Savoy architectural style.

17. Tokyo, Japan
103% YoY increase

While Tokyo might not be off-the-beaten track, it has deservedly secured a place in our top trending list thanks in part to the upcoming Summer Olympics. In July and August next year, Japan will play host to the world’s best athletes for the fourth time. The world’s largest metropolitan area has put in place a comprehensive strategy to ensure the Games are an environmentally-friendly event: reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions and using renewable energy, public transport and low-energy vehicles.

18. Kerala, India
95% YoY increase

For many travelers, Kerala is South India’s most enchanting state. With its palm-lined coast, rolling coffee plantations and stunning Arabian Sea views, Kerala is an oasis of calm in a country that moves at a busy pace. And with an impressive array of beaches, lakes, mountains and waterfalls, Kerala is home to some of the best eco-friendly destinations on the subcontinent. The state runs a Responsible Tourism program encouraging residents and visitors alike to enjoy the culture of the place while also conserving it.

19. Malindi, Kenya
88% YoY increase

This bustling coastal village is home to a multicultural melting pot of African, Arab and European residents, and stunning natural beauty. Dotted with brawny palms, this historical Kenyan port town introduces travelers to the country’s diverse aquatic wildlife in Malindi Marine National Park, making it an idyllic spot for divers. Known for its Swahili architecture, fresh-caught seafood, and natural wonders like the Marafa Depression – also known as Hell’s Kitchen — this pristine beach town is much more than a laid-back sunny retreat. The country at large is also making sizeable strides in preserving our planet: at the recent UN Climate Action Summit, Kenya pledged to plant two billion trees by 2021 and committed to accelerating energy efficiency by three percent each year.

20. Maastricht, Netherlands
55% YoY increase

In 20th position is Maastricht, a Dutch city with a wealth of historic buildings — more than any Dutch city outside Amsterdam. With its Roman history and a warren of narrow streets, Maastricht is also home to numerous museums and in March 2020 will play host to one of the worlds largest art fairs — TEFAF Maastricht.

Airbnb reveals top 20 trending world destinations to visit in 2020 | News by The Thaiger

*Based on internal Airbnb data for bookings made for 2020 as of September 2019 vs. bookings made for 2019 as of September 2018.

**According to Eugene’s Climate Recovery ordinance which is committed to making all City of Eugene owned facilities and operations carbon neutral by 2020, meaning no net release of greenhouse gas emissions.

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